Wednesday, December 13, 2006

UCLA Library Incident

I'm appalled.

Recently a California student entered into Powell Library, one of the UCLA university libraries, but did not (or was not able to) show his student ID. After a bit of commotion, the university police stepped in and used unnecessary violent force to remove the student from his own facility. The police repeatedly shocked him with tasers as they alternatively dragged him to the exit and dropped him in order to shock him. While the student is pissed at first, after being tased multiple times he becomes hysterical, stating that he would leave, and then going limp after they repeatedly attack him.

I've included the video so you can see for yourself. Watch the entire thing. I've got to warn you, though, it's definately above PG-13 for violence and brutality.

The police obviously have no reason to use such violent force to remove someone. After the repeated shocking, the police are able to simply pick the student up and remove him. The authorities should have removed him sooner, rather than use the force they did. The victim shows no signs of struggle and poses no armed threat to the university police. I see no reason, whatsoever, to use ANY FORCE AT ALL in a situation such as this.

Of course, the policemen deserve due process before judgment, as UCLA chancellor
Norman Abrams is so keen to state. However, the cold manner in which UCLA has dealt with this incident has lowered their standing as an academic institution in my eyes.

After years of studying academic leadership, one gains insight into methods of transferring empowerment and information within institutions. Still, it doesn't take a great level of knowledge to know that students don't learn if they do not feel safe. This goes for everything ranging from reports of physical brutality to fear caused by social violence, such as that fear experienced by LGBT students during school. It's hard to empower someone who is afraid to say anything or express themselves for fear of being beaten or tased.

Regardless of whether this display of brutal force in Powell Library is right or not, UCLA will be affected by the attitude now growing within their campus. The perception of freedom is so easily lost when it comes to academic communities. Once something like this happens, it's incredibly difficult to reinstate the confidence that fosters empowerment and learning.

Funny enough, I was looking at UCLA's website just as someone informed me of what had happened. I've been thinking of Graduate Schools to apply to and I had heard wonderful things about the program at UCLA. However, I guarantee you that UCLA won't be the same after this incident and the way the university responded to the shocking news.

If I had invested so much in a UCLA degree, I would be pissed that this had happened. Not only is this a horrible thing to happen at any university, but the value of that diploma just dropped dramatically. I'm sad that UCLA doesn't have better leadership than it does. It could be such a great university.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Mad About Science

The Mad Scientist is one of the most recognizable figures in our culture. In many ways, he represents the growing inhumanity in science after rapid industrialization in Europe and America. Huge academic and government laboratories replaced the individual scientist's salon, where he explored the nature of the universe. Not only did industrialization make science about production, rather than exploration, it also boosted the rate at which science was conducted. Our rapid rate of discovery led to an astounding mastery over nature.

Of course, this frightened us. For the first time, a single individual, with the proper education and access to resources, could create atomic bombs. If science held this sort of power, what else could someone do with that sort of knowledge.

The Mad Scientist was born. He (always he) pursues scientific understanding without regards to morality or consequence. Then, the Evil Mad Scientist used this information to control and manipulate others... or just plain ol' destruction and devastation.

With this level of cultural representation in mind, how is it that I cannot think of ONE major Mad Scientist character that isn't white? I mean, we people of color can threaten you with a gun or steal your children, but we can't seem to use nuclear power to destroy the world.

Take the growing stereotype of terrorists, for example. They can build bombs and weapons, grow pathogens and get them safely into envelopes, even manage to lick the stamps without dying... but are they Mad Scientists?


Perhaps black Mad Scientists blend in with their nocturnal surrounding? Maybe this is why we never see them!

Of course, the problem is historical. Science has always been taught as originating from brilliant white men in England and Germany, Isaac Newton, Francis Galton, Charles Darwin, Albert Einstein, and maybe a French Louis Pasteur or two... However, science has become a mass enterprise. Yes, research laboratories are still like medieval feudal states, but overall, it's a cooperative endeavor.

Regardless of this shift in science, women and people of color are continually disregarded as candidates for Evil Mad Scientist-hood. Historically, science has been a white male enterprise and it follows through to modern times.

I tell you, the Mad Science community needs some affirmative action, quick!

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Organozational Information Retention

Recently, I've been thinking a lot about social organization. I'm trying to do that stereotypical post-collegiate project. That's right, I'm going to attempt to write a book. Don't know if I'll succeed, but I think it will be a fun process nonetheless.

However, I'm not exactly a fiction type of guy. I'm pretty sure all my characters would be just like me and the plot would be too complicated to understand. So, something other than personal fame and glory is prompting me to do this writing. That thing, my friends, is impatience. There's a specific book I've been waiting to come out, but nobody has written it yet.

No worries, then I'll do it. I know the old saying about ideas who's time has come.

Regardless, social organization plays a major role in the book. I've teamed up with an amazing guy who loves this sort of stuff, but I'm having trouble communicating my thoughts. You see, I'm sort of stuck behind years of biological training, so most things I know about organizing are related to very technical biological processes. I'm really glad I have someone to start this journey with.

Anyway, I have been reading up on DNA as information storage. At the same time, I have been having concerns about turn-over in an organization I'm in. Turn-over, where people graduate and move on to other things, takes the experiences these individuals have and removes them from the group. I like to think of people as retaining organizational memory, they remember ways to do things more efficiently and hold social connections with others inside and outside the group. When these experienced people leave, the group loses an immense amount of information.

Of course, it's necessary that people move on, but how does one retain the good changes in retained information?

... That's when it hit me. Changes in retained information are the same things as mutations. In a way, people act as the informational storage for social organizing. They retain the social capital and the knowledge it takes to run a group. In order to keep this new information, it has to be passed in some way. If it is not passed on before these individuals leave, then you get a sort of organismal death. The group, almost literally, has to start over from scratch, being exposed to the same environmental factors that it had to go through before.

Even bacteria think information transference is sexy

By golly, well that means that empowerment is a fundamental life function of an organization. Without it, you're just starting over every time someone leaves. The only trouble is how to institute mechanisms in an organization to transfer this information. A type of breeding of ideas, each transmission changes it in some way, but the ones that work well are retained.

I have lots of suggestion on how to do that, but it will have to wait for another blog...

or perhaps a later book?
I can only hope.