Archive for academia

Workers Vanguard

My favourite Trotskyists are back with a new issue of The Spartacist. I was afraid that the International Communist League (Fourth Internationalist), which publishes that periodical as well as the newspaper Workers Vanguard, had ceased operations. No doubt its leadership is getting old; indeed, this issue of The Spartacist has three obituaries of former leading members.

I value these publications for their erudite, brilliantly written propaganda (their word), which has come in handy for me any number of times. I met a couple of their editors back at Stanford University in the mid-nineties, and featured an issue from their Women and Revolution series in my “Writing and the Bill of Rights” classes there.

I hope a younger generation of true Marxist-Leninists takes up the banner. I will miss this voice terribly otherwise.

The evolution of intelligence

My sister Jenny Basil, a brilliant biologist headquartered at the City University of New York (Brooklyn College), makes a spirited appearance in this piece in bioGraphic (by Kate Evans, with photographs and video by Dave Abbott and others):

What would be lost, if we lost the nautilus? Not just beauty, but brains, too. In the past, some marine biologists have dismissed nautiluses as “dumb snails,” the least intelligent of the cephalopods. The suggestion greatly offends Basil, who has studied chambered nautiluses in her Brooklyn lab for more than 25 years. Her hair is a color her students call “nautilus auburn,” and she has nothing but enthusiasm for her subjects. She and her doctoral students call them “the kids,” and Basil says looking after them is like parenting a gang of troublesome 12-year-olds: “‘I’m gonna go out the outlet pipe. I’m gonna fight for some shrimp even though I have some.’ They’re always trying to injure themselves.”

Basil studies animal brains and behavior—hamsters, jays, chickadees, lobsters—but she finds nautiluses particularly compelling because they can help answer questions about the evolution of intelligence. As a group, cephalopods have the most grey matter of any invertebrate on Earth, Basil says—“big, fat, sassy brains” that evolved hundreds of millions of years before the vertebrate brain. But while octopuses, cuttlefish, and squid live fast and die young after laying a thousand eggs, nautiluses don’t mate until they are at least 10 years old, then lay a handful of eggs that take a year to hatch. “They are solving problems in a different way with a different brain.”

Basil’s early studies showed that nautiluses have superior powers of smell—they are able to detect very low concentrations of odors at distances of more than 10 meters, and move toward the source with great accuracy by comparing minute differences in the intensity of the odor reaching the receptors on each side of their body. In other words, they smell in stereo—an adaptation requiring complex sensory processing, and a surprise in such an ancient animal.

Their eyesight isn’t bad, either. In another experiment, Basil and doctoral student Robyn Crook strapped each nautilus into a harness—dubbed the “nautilus car seat”—and exposed them to a flash of blue light, giving the animals some food immediately afterward. Just like Pavlov’s dog, the nautiluses learned to respond and continued to do so hours later, proving they have both short-term and long-term memory.

The whole piece is utterly engrossing.

Solidarity

Kwantlen Polytechnic University president Alan Davis sent out this message to faculty and staff today:

KPU is honouring the lost Indigenous children and survivors of residential schools by participating in Lighting the Country Orange from September 27 to October 1. The orange lighting displays are featured at KPU’s Surrey and Langley campuses every evening this week. You can see pictures of the lighting display on the KPU News Flickr channel. My thanks to Facilities Services for making this happen.

Lighting our Langley and Surrey campuses orange is a display of solidarity with Indigenous communities. But on the first national day for Truth and Reconciliation it is important for those of us who are uninvited settlers in this land to do more than simply acknowledge the profound loss of life and culture and ways of being as a result of colonization. We must take time to listen, read, and learn in partnership with Indigenous peoples to figure out what actions are needed for true justice to be served and for true healing to begin.

Indigenous Services at KPU has compiled the following selected list of virtual and in-person events on September 30 recognizing the National Day of Truth and Reconciliation:

Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc calls on people worldwide to drum simultaneously for the missing children of Indian Residential Schools at 2:15pm PT. Learn the Secwepemc Honour Song and join Tk’emlúps te Secwepemc Drum for the Children.

Squamish Stories with Kung Jaadee – 8-8:45am PT (virtual)

In this live storytelling performance, Kung Jaadee will share her telling of Squamish legends popularized by Indigenous activist and poet E. Pauline Johnson’s book, Legends of Vancouver. The legends she’ll share may include Siwash Rock; the Two-headed Sea Serpent; Two Sisters (The Lions mountains); and how the Squamish People Came to Be.

XWEÝENE:MSTA:M ?ƏKWƏSQWEL, SEÝEḾ – Vancouver Art Gallery, Noon PT (in-person)

Co-created by Tsatsu Stalqayu, Mortal Coil and Butterflies in Spirit, Xweýene:msta:m ?əkwəsqwel, seýeḿ (translation: call to witness / listen to respected one) is a performance to honour Orange Shirt Day.

Skookum Surrey National Day for Truth & Reconciliation – Holland Park, near the fountain, 2-4pm PT (in-person)

An afternoon of stories, tea, bannock and drumming will be held rain or shine. Wearing orange shirts and bringing drums is encouraged.

• Beyond Orange Shirt Day – National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation, 10:30am CT (virtual)

Survivor Phyllis Webstad speaks live on the NCTR Youtube page.

• Reconciliation and Me – APTN, 11am ET CT MT (broadcast)

Sarain Fox leads a meaningful conversation on truth and reconciliation with five youth allies.

Walk for Reconciliation – Grand Chief Bernard Charles Memorial Plaza, White Rock, 1-2:30pm PT

The Semiahmoo First Nation is hosting ‘Walk for Reconciliation’ on Thursday, September 30th 2021 for Truth and Reconciliation Day to honour the lost children and Survivors of residential schools, their families and communities.

Salut, Kwantlen!

My university‘s beer-brewing program gets another accolade. From the Aldergrove Star:

Student brewers at Langley’s Kwantlen Polytechnic University (KPU) campus have tied for second place overall in the top brewing schools in North America. KPU also won one gold, two silver and one bronze medal in the 2021 U.S. Open College Beer Championship (USOCBC) this month.

Competing against 11 other colleges and universities from Canada and the United States, KPU won gold in the American Amber/Red Ale category for Birra Rossa, brewed by then first-year students Michael Hodgson, Peter Bartnik, and Donghwan Chang.

The two silver medals were awarded for KPU’s Noble Steed Coconut Porter brewed by second-year students and now graduates Emily Comeau, Rebecca Deil, and Alex Paul in the Hybrids Coconut category; and for the Pale Ale in the American Strong Pale Ale category brewed by then first-year students Jacob Wideman, Colton Yakabuski, and Donghwan Chang. KPU won bronze for the Helles Lager brewed by Kayla Gibson, Wakana Sakurai, Philip Chrinko, and Kevin Reid during their first year of study. …

Alex Paul, a recent KPU brewing grad now working at Mariner Brewing in Coquitlam said their team was “blown away” to win a medal for their signature recipe beer, Noble Steed. “This was our capstone brewing project, so Rebecca, Emily and I were fully responsible for creating the recipe, brewing, analysis, and quality control, as well as being involved with marketing and sales of our beer,” says Paul. “It’s so cool that it won an award and we really appreciate all the amazing support of our instructors to help us get to where we are.”

Fall semester!

Classes at Kwantlen Polytechnic University start this week. One of my three courses was going to be face to face. Unaccountably, though, the province required that students be vaccinated to enter any room on campus EXCEPT the classrooms, so I moved that class to an online platform for everybody’s peace of mind and safety (the administration gave a green light to all faculty for that). I was truly hoping to step into a classroom again. (I am a lot funnier in person – I try to graft Johnny Carson onto Professor Kingsfield while talking about not necessarily enchanting topics.)

At any rate, I’m looking forward to meeting my new students in our online environment. I am very grateful I have this blessed gig.

7 Sept. – New guidance from my university today: “Individuals can remove their masks while actively consuming food or drink when seated in classrooms.” Pot luck time!