Monthly Archives: November 2011

Boycott UC Davis Until They Fire Offending Officers

By now this video and ones like it have been seen by literally millions of people.

I graduated from UC Davis in 2000. I loved attending UC Davis and I try to take my kids there at least once a year to see the beautiful campus. I was a proud Aggie alumni until this weekend.

Then something happened: police Lieutenant John Pike sprayed a group of students with pepper spray for sitting on the quad.

I have very little to say about that other than that I am now deeply disappointed and ashamed of UC Davis. The school’s reputation is internationally sullied. And all of us graduates now have to think about that.

There has been a petition to get Chancellor Linda Katehi to resign, and for her role in these actions she should be held responsible.

But rather than focusing on Katehi, I think we need to examine and punish the officers involved in this raid themselves. Pike needs to be fired and sent to court for assault. The officers who directly assisted him and the police chief who ordered the attack should face the same charges as well.

The officers who stood by and watched and did nothing to protect the students should also face disciplinary action. Their job is to protect the UC Davis community and they grossly failed in their job. They should at least face penalization such as loss of pay.

Not only the leaders but also the officers directly involved MUST be punished for their actions. They should be made an example of so that others in their position will learn not to act in the same way.

So far the Occupy protests have elicited a widespread egregious police response, but never has it been so clear who was at fault and needs to be punished. If these officers remain unpunished, then it will give police everywhere the green light to abuse the rest of us as they see fit. And then we will no longer live in America, but in a police state.

And how we can help protect UC Davis and restore its good name: by demanding that this injustice be fully corrected. How? For starters, through a boycott.

UC Davis calls me every year to ask for money. I have now sent them an email informing them that they will get nothing from me until these officers are fired.

You can do the same. Here is the UC Davis Development Office’s email:

And their website for further contact information.

Please contact them to politely voice your concern. If they want to use our dollars to brutalize students, then they won’t get any from me.

This is the text of the letter that I sent, subject line: BOYCOTT UC DAVIS

Dear UC Davis Office of University Development,

I am a UC Davis alumni and I love the school.

But I want to inform you that I will not contribute any money nor recommend any student to attend UC Davis until the police officers involved in Friday’s pepper-spraying assault upon students are fired. I am further recommending all of my friends to do the same, and asking for them to ask all of their friends to do the same, and so on.

If UC Davis wants donations or a good name that we can recommend to future students, these officers must be removed as soon as possible. Until that time I will not provide any form of material assistance that could enable such actions, nor recommend any student to attend UC Davis and perhaps be subject to such hostile police behavior.

I do want to support UC Davis. And right now, because of this serious and internationally disgraceful police behavior, I think boycotting the school in order to promote positive change is the best support I can give.

I hope that this situation can be resolved quickly so that UC Davis can have its good name restored as soon as possible.

Thank you,

Brian Green
Class of 2000, Genetics

Feel free to use this text for your email and/or adjust it as you see fit.  Please tell others to contact the UC Davis Development office as well.

Tell UC Davis its wallet is about to get thinner, until these “public safety officers” are brought to justice.


Brian’s Links 9 November 2011: Psychology, Economics, Outrage and Death

Quantum levitation.  Not sure what’s quantum about it (at least any more than anything else), but hey, it’s definitely cool.

Cute TV chimps make humans care less about dying wild chimps.

California bans foie gras.

New religious studies journal.

If Dr. Seuss wrote “The Call of Cthulhu.” Seuss and Lovecraft, who would have thought they’re even better together!

FOXP2, a fossil of the evolution of language within us.

A modest malaria vaccine. Modest because only partially effective, but better than nothing, perhaps.

Southern states pay the price of persecuting illegal migrant workers. Well, they got what they wanted, even if it wasn’t what they really wanted…

Graph of how Cain’s 9-9-9 tax plan works for various segments of society.  It’s a long graph… just keep scrolling…

Teenage IQ fluctuates dramatically as their brains re-wire for adulthood. Yes, it really does.

A prominent climate skeptic changes his mind, even though his study is funded by climate-change deniers. Here’s the project website and the Economist magazine’s take on it too.

For when you simply have too much money… Pay people to write your name in the desert so that it can be seen from space.

Story from June: the Saudis behead an Indonesian maid, sparking an international incident and competing bans on workers. “You can’t have our workers anymore!” and then “Oh yeah? Well we won’t take your workers anymore!”

A Chinese commentary on the death of Yueyue. Because running over a toddler, twice, and letting her die in the street – because you are “just minding your own business” (18 people!) – is really not acceptable.

Armless archer setting world records! He wants to be the world’s best archer “hands down.”

Dismantling giant 9 megaton nukes.  Now we only have a bunch 1.2 megaton nukes (and smaller) to protects us from, um, uh, whatever might… hmm.

Looking for the gene for hypersociality. For those individuals with Williams syndrome, everyone is your friend. Extremely interesting from both an ethics and a social theory perspective.

Even National Catholic Register is in on the Jesus and aliens thing! (Which I’ve talked about previously here and here.)

Lastly, giant mysterious Lego man, save us! We know you can.

The Illusion of Validity vs. Phronesis

Last night I was lucky enough to catch KQED’s Forum with Nobel Prize winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman. One of the most interesting concepts that he mentioned last night was what he calls the “illusion of validity.” The idea is that oftentimes the stories we know, tell ourselves, and interpret our experience through can be misleading (perhaps that’s really not so earth-shattering). Even in instances where we may really think we see something, interpret it, and are highly confident in our interpretation, our conclusions can be totally wrong (he points this out especially among financial advisors who often cannot predict market directions regardless of knowledge).

Yet, Kahneman differentiates this from expertise. Over long periods of time, if we are engaged in a practice that involves trial and error wherein we can learn from our mistakes and there is a regularity in the phenomenon we are looking at, we can develop a skill–something akin to Aristotle’s notion of phronesis (or practical wisdom).

I find Kahneman’s work interesting and intend to look into it further. The concept of the “illusion of validity” will be of interest, perhaps, to those also who utilize Bourdieusian theory in their work. Bourdieu’s notion of “illusio” (i.e., a socialized interest in the particular culture and social position within one lives) combined with his concept of “misrecognition” and Kahneman’s “illusion of validity” are worth comparing and maybe even integrating.

If these stories we tell ourselves or these internalized social schemas really filter and organize the internal and external stimulus we experience, there are interesting implications to explore in the realm of practical ethics and even in the study of how religious beliefs may either affect behavior or at least the interpretation of behavior.

Dear Occupy Oakland: Declare Victory, Cut Your Losses, and Go Home

I kinda hate to say it. But only kinda.

Occupy Oakland should go home now.

With the general strike on Wednesday you made a huge point. Not as big as it could have been, but still huge. Very important. But with the follow-up riot, the second in only a few days, Occupy Oakland proved without a doubt that it cannot control its violent elements. A little law-breaking leads to a lot of law breaking, at least in Oakland.

The solution is easy.  Declare victory and disperse the camp.You shut down the city with a (relatively) peaceful general strike. Your demonstrated your power. Good for you.

Also good for you is that the rioters are not identified as intrinsically a part of you, which is very important. However, if these unseemly elements keep acting as they do, they will become more and more identified with the movement. And then you will incur loss of the moral high ground (insofar as you have it in the eyes of some, as of now).

The violent element requires your presence in order to have any shred of legitimacy. The camp’s unlawfulness makes the rioter’s unlawfulness possible. This is no minor point, it is essential. OO is indirectly at fault for both riots, it is a material (unintended) cooperation in evil. And if it becomes foreseeable that future riots may occur due to OO, the the cooperation starts to approach formal (intended). And then you lose the moral high ground, and you lose big time in the eyes of the public. So cut your losses now.

I know you have no hierarchy so that can’t actually be done with any kind of coordination. I’m just presenting this as one voice. But as a person who studies human action, good and bad (aka ethics), that’s my take on it.

You have demonstrated both your power and your weakness. Your power in in popular support.  Your weakness is in your uncontrolled elements; elements which you cannot control because in order to control them you need police cooperation, which is precisely what you cannot have because you are already breaking the law, thus denying yourself your only solution.

So comply with the city and disperse. Then you can cooperate with the police and achieve your solution, maintaining the moral high ground and ridding yourself of the bad element which may destroy you. You can still make your point as a cooperative occupation, say, during the day or whatever you can agree to with the city.

But you cannot remain breaking the law. That opens you up to being named culpable for indirect causation of serious damage to the city in the eyes of the public.

Other cities need not do this, this is an Oakland-specific problem and solution. Unfortunately, circumstances, I think, necessitate this. You risk the OWS movement if you continue to facilitate major law-breaking by your minor law-breaking. Its a bad break, but you are at a point of power now (and soon may no longer be), so now is the time to declare victory and go home.

They are the 97%

Created by Kira Treibergs and Laurel Heibert of the Oregon Institute of Marine Biology, and undoubtedly already appearing on a Facebook page near you.

What has been Occupying my thoughts

I’ve been trying to find something to say regarding the Occupy movement but have struggled to find a voice to contribute to the discussion.  After seeing people’s responses to the Occupy Oakland General Strike yesterday, I decided I had a small contribution.  It is not substantial, or even original, but here it goes anyway.

I believe that we bring our previous preconceived notions about economics, politics, and protests to our analysis of the Occupy movement.  Surprise! This should be expected and some people may think it does not need to be stated, but take a moment and really think about it.

Without getting super technical, I’m going to throw out three concepts: biosemiotics, intergroup bias, and confirmation bias.

1.  biosemiotics: From the International Society for Biosemiotic Studies website, they define biosemiotics as “the study of representation, meaning, sense, and the biological significance of codes and sign processes, from genetic code sequences to intercellular signaling processes to animal display behavior to human semiotic artifacts such as language and abstract symbolic thought.” I’m not an expert by any means on biosemiotics, but I think it could bring something to the conversation, bear with me.

2. intergroup bias: From a review article in the Annual Review of Psychology, “Intergroup bias refers to the systematic tendency to evaluate one’s own membership group (the in-group) or its members more favorably than a nonmembership group (the out-group) or its members.  Bias can encompass behavior (discrimination), attitude (prejudice), and cognition (stereotyping) (Hewstone, Rubin, and Willis, 2002).”

3. confirmation bias:  From ScienceDaily, confirmation bias “is a tendency to search for or interpret information in a way that confirms one’s preconceptions, leading to statistical errors.”

Now let me attempt to briefly put these topics into conversation with one another.  The ability to interpret signals and signs probably proved to be a very useful adaptation for organisms.  However, the interpretation can lead to a large amount of information that needs to be classified.  Knowing whether someone is a part of your “group” could have helped keep early hominids alive, but in today’s pluralistic and global society, group membership is different.  It should not be surprising though, that the space between identifying and identification with is not very far.  People who part of my “inner circle” are important to me and I want to see them flourish, so I will help them, or play down their mistakes, etc.   It is even possible to seek out information that holds these bonds together, especially if it becomes harder to identify who is in and out.

So now I will bring it back to the original topic of this post, the Occupy movement.  I know people who have participated in Occupy assemblies and protests.  I also know people who think it is a terrible idea and wish it would go away.  I know people who support certain aspects of the movement and some who think it will not result in any meaningful change.  When I see people I am close with discuss the events of the past weeks in status updates, tweets, conversations, and in the sharing of links, photographs, videos, and articles, I cannot help but think about other conversations we have had in the past.

Some explain away the vandalism and violence, some lift that up as an example of what is wrong with the movement.  The truth probably is somewhere in between.  Regardless of whether they have a job or not, regardless of one’s income, regardless of which political party you support, regardless of religion, race, gender, age, or even favorite sports teams, everyone is capable of looking past these affiliations and seeing others for who they are, people just like them, imperfect, trying to live their lives, taking care of the things and people they value.  I don’t care which side you are on, if you even have one.  1%, 99%, Democrat, Republican, Texan, Californian, we are all on a small planet, in a galaxy that is far, far away from a great deal of the universe.  We need to find ways to live together.

Why hugging a banker may be the answer the 99% are looking for:

And if that doesn’t work mace ’em with oxytocin.