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  • 184. A blueprint for housing reform

    In Berkeley Talks episode 184, Richard Rothstein, a senior fellow at UC Berkeley's Othering and Belonging Institute, and housing policy expert Leah Rothstein discuss their 2023 book, Just Action: How to Challenge Segregation Enacted Under the Color of Law. The conversation was moderated by Tamika Moss, founder and CEO of the Bay Area organization, All Home. In the book, the father-daughter co-authors describe how unconstitutional government policy on the part of federal, state and local governments created the segregation that we know in this country today, where every metropolitan area has clearly defined areas that either are all white or mostly white, and clearly defined areas that are all Black or mostly Black."We had a myth term that what we had in this country was 'defacto segregation,' something that just happened because of private bigotry or discriminatory actions on the part of private businesses or people just liking to live with each other of the same race ... something that just happened by accident," said Richard Rothstein, author of the 2017 book, The Color of Law, and a distinguished fellow of the Economic Policy Institute and senior fellow emeritus of the Thurgood Marshall Institute of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.  "And the reason that that distinction is so important is because if it just happened by accident, then we might not like it, but it's easy to think that the only way it's going to unhappen is by accident. But when we understand that this is the creation of racially explicit written public policy on the part of federal, state and local governments ... (and) if we take our responsibilities as citizens of this country seriously, then we know we have an obligation to fix it, to undo this unconstitutional system."Listen to the episode and read the transcript on Berkeley News ( by Blue Dot Sessions.

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  • 183. Poulomi Saha on why we're so obsessed with cults

    In Berkeley Talks episode 183, Poulomi Saha, an associate professor in the Department of English and co-director of the Program in Critical Theory at UC Berkeley, discusses how cult culture, once a fringe phenomenon, has moved into the mainstream — and what that tells us about what we long for, what we fear and who we hope to be."In this crisis moment, we have a return to desire for overarching meaning, radical acceptance, transformative experience, transcendence," says Saha. "But unlike in the 1960s, we're not dropping out, we're tuning in ... to a highly regularized representation of cults. If in the 1960s we had the sense that fringe groups and communes might offer us a way out of conformity and regularity, in this current incarnation, when cults appear in our everyday lives, they do so highly regularized."Saha is currently working on a book about America’s long obsession with its own invented visions of Indian spirituality, and why so often those groups and communities come to be called cults.(Editing note: Because of an audio issue, we left out the Q&A portion of this talk.)Listen to the episode and read a transcript on Berkeley News ( by Jen Siska.Music by Blue Dot Sessions.
  • 182. Ezra Klein on building the things we need for the future we want

    In Berkeley Talks episode 182, Ezra Klein, a New York Times columnist and host of the podcast The Ezra Klein Show, discusses the difficulties Democratic governments encounter when working to build real things in the real world. "To have the future we want, we need to build and invent more of the things that we need," began Klein, who joined in conversation on Oct. 5 with Amy Lerman, a UC Berkeley political scientist and director of the Possibility Lab."It's so stupidly simple, so obvious, that it seems weird there could be any need to write articles or podcasts or truly, God forbid, a book about it. "And yet, the story of America in the 21st century, more than that, the story of liberalism, and particularly California liberalism, is a story of chosen scarcity. Why did we choose to build so few homes in the places people most need to live, including here? Why do we choose to build so little clean energy, and make it so hard to build clean energy, that red states are getting far more of the money in the Inflation Reduction Act than blue states?"Listen to the episode and read a transcript on Berkeley News ( by Lucas Foglia.Music by Blue Dot Sessions.
  • 181. Chinese activist Ai WeiWei on art, exile and politics

    In Berkeley Talks episode 181, renowned artist and human rights activist Ai WeiWei discusses art, exile and politics in a conversation with noted theater director and UCLA professor Peter Sellars and Orville Schell, director of the Center on U.S.-China Relations at the Asia Society and former dean of Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism.Ai, who grew up in northwest China under harsh conditions because of his poet father's exile, is openly critical of the Chinese government's stance on democracy and human rights. He is well-known for his provocative works, including his 2014-15 installation on San Francisco Bay's Alcatraz Island, @Large, that the LA Times called, "an always-poignant, often-powerful meditation on soul-deadening repressions of human thought and feeling.""Normally, people call me an artist or activist, and I am often forced into one condition," he says. "It's not that I intentionally try to create something or to crystallize something, but rather I've been put in extreme conditions, and I have to focus on dealing with those situations. Normally, I don't accept the easy answer. "So I think I have to find a language to illustrate my expression, and it comes out in certain ideas or materials. We can call it art. I don't think my art really looks like art, but still, it's hard to categorize it. I'm a bit ashamed about it because everything in real life, it has a purpose. It has clear problems and solutions. But the art is not really about that. It rather creates problems after problems. So yeah, that's what I do."This Sept. 24 event was co-presented by Cal Performances, the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA) and the Townsend Center for the Humanities.Read about 10 of Ai WeiWei's adventurous works on Cal Performances' blog Beyond the Stage.Listen to the episode and read the transcript on Berkeley News ( by Blue Dot Sessions.Photo courtesy of Ai WeiWei.
  • 180. What are Berkeley's Latinx Thriving Initiatives?

    In Berkeley Talks episode 180, Dania Matos and Fabrizio Mejia, vice chancellor and associate vice chancellor, respectively, for UC Berkeley’s Division of Equity and Inclusion, join Berkeley student Angelica Garcia to discuss the campus’s Latinx Thriving Initiatives (LTI) and how these efforts are supporting Berkeley’s goal of not only becoming a Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI), but also of transforming Berkeley into a Latinx Thriving Institution.“There's a practical standpoint of this that's about becoming a Hispanic Serving Institution,” begins Matos. “That's why you'll hear HSIs a lot, and it's important in that naming and framing. Dr. Gina Garcia is a sort of national expert who talks about this, but for us, it's really taking it beyond that. Because becoming an HSI is about 25% enrollment of undergraduate students, which, by the way, the federal government does not count graduate students, and we care about graduate students here, too.“For us, we're thinking about (how to) build this ecosystem where we are honoring, bringing in more Latinx communities, but also honoring the different ways of knowing and being, which are so counter to the way U.S. higher educational system is done.“Latinx Thriving Initiatives is a multifaceted campuswide effort, but not just campus. It's really thinking and honoring our mission as a public institution, and (asking), ‘How do we center community in that?’ We're not just a community center that people come to or get admitted to and leave from in four years, but a place where they're having an impact and creating that.”“It’s collecting all the work that is happening,” added Mejia, “honoring that historical effort, that ongoing effort, but also asking ourselves, ‘What else? What does it look like to have a Latinx student body, Latinx staff, Latinx faculty that are all thriving from the moment they conceptualize “Is Berkeley a place for me?” to the moment they land on the campus and say, “Where do I see myself in this environment? How do I meet my aspirations? Am I getting the support all the way through?"’Listen to the full conversation in Berkeley Talks episode 180, “What are Berkeley’s Latinx Thriving Initiatives?”This conversation was recorded in March 2023 as the first episode of Berkeley’s Latinx Thriving Initiatives podcast, which explores what it means for Berkeley to become a Latinx Thriving Institution, and the direct impact it’ll have on its Latinx-identifying campus community. It was created in partnership with Ethnic Studies Changemaker, a campus group of students plus a faculty adviser that aims to “amplify the voices and diverse experiences of marginalized communities.”Learn more about Berkeley’s Latinx Thriving Initiatives and watch a video of what these efforts have accomplished over the past year on the Latinx Thriving Initiatives website.Photo by H.G. Villaseñor and I. Torres.Music by Blue Dot Sessions.Listen to the episode and read the transcript on Berkeley News (
  • 179. Poet Ishion Hutchinson reads 'The Mud Sermon' and other poems

    In Berkeley Talks episode 179, Jamaican poet Ishion Hutchinson reads several poems, including "The Mud Sermon," "The Bicycle Eclogue" and "After the Hurricane." His April reading was part of the UC Berkeley Library’s monthly event Lunch Poems."I take this voyage into poetry very seriously," begins Hutchinson, "and take none of it for granted, because of the weight of history, both growing up in Jamaica and knowing the violent history that comes with that. But also the violence, too, of canon, and seeing that my work as a poet, in part, is to figure out what sort of emancipatory forces I should summon. Luckily, I stand in great shoulders within the Caribbean tradition of many poets and writers that I admire, and envy, and wish they hadn't been born. Don't tell them that. This isn't recorded, of course."Here’s “A Mud Sermon,” one of the poems Hutchinson read during the event:They shovelled the long trenches day and night.Frostbitten mud. Shellshock mud. Dungheap mud. Imperial mud.Venereal mud. Malaria mud. Hun bait mud. Mating mud.1655 mud: white flashes of sharks. Golgotha mud. Chilblain mud.Caliban mud. Cannibal mud. Ha ha ha mud. Amnesia mud.Drapetomania mud. Lice mud. Pyrexia mud. Exposure mud. Aphasia mud.No-man’s-land’s-Everyman’s mud. And the smoking flax mud.Dysentery mud. Septic sore mud. Hog pen mud. Nephritis mud.Constipated mud. Faith mud. Sandfly fever mud. Rat mud.Sheol mud. Ir-ha-cheres mud. Ague mud. Asquith mud. Parade mud.Scabies mud. Mumps mud. Memra mud. Pneumonia mud.Mene Mene Tekel Upharsin mud. Civil war mud.And darkness and worms will be their dwelling-place mud.Yaws mud. Gog mud. Magog mud. God mud.Canaan the unseen, as promised, saw mud.They resurrected new counter-kingdoms,by the arbitrament of the sword mud.Ishion Hutchinson was born in Port Antonio, Jamaica. He is the author of two poetry collections: Far District and House of Lords and Commons. He is the recipient of the National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry, a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Joseph Brodsky Rome Prize, the Whiting Writers Award, the PEN/Joyce Osterweil Award, the Windham-Campbell Prize for Poetry and the American Academy of Arts and Letters Award in Literature, among others. He is a contributing editor to the literary journals The Common and Tongue: A Journal of Writing & Art, and teaches in the graduate writing program at Cornell University.Lunch Poems is an ongoing poetry reading series at Berkeley that began in 2014. All readings happen from 12:10 p.m. to 12:50 p.m. on the first Thursday of the month. A new season of Lunch Poems will begin on Oct. 5 with Inuit poet dg nanouk okpik in the Morrison Library.Find upcoming talks on the Lunch Poems website and watch videos of past readings on the Lunch Poems YouTube channel. Listen to the episode and read the transcript on Berkeley News ( by Neil-Anthony Watson.Music by Blue Dot Sessions.
  • 178. Michael Brown's family on keeping his memory alive

    In Berkeley Talks episode 178, Rashad Arman Timmons, a fellow at UC Berkeley’s Black Studies Collaboratory, joins in conversation with the family of Michael Brown Jr., whose 2014 killing by police in Ferguson, Missouri, ignited a wave of protests across the country.During the March 8, 2023, discussion, Brown’s father, Michael Brown Sr., his stepmother, Cal Brown, and Timmons consider the enduring significance of Ferguson in the nation’s racial landscape and ponder Black grief as a resource for social transformation.“A note on grief,” begins Timmons. “We grieve because we care. We grieve because we love. And we grieve because we remember. I feel a responsibility to say this, to acknowledge grief for what it truly is: an ethical act of care, a radical act of love and a persistent triumph of memory.“When we grieve the Black dead and dying, we enact an urgent care for them. We profess a vigilant love over them and nurture a commitment to remember them. Christina Sharpe in her beautiful theorizing calls the unison of these practices ‘wake work.’ ‘Wake work,’ she writes, "describes how we attend to physical, social and figurative death, and also to the largeness that is Black life, or Black life insisted from death. Wake work describes how we imagine, defend and care for Black lives always already threatened, in our present or the future, that chattel slavery made possible.”Read more about the event and learn more about the Black Studies Collaboratory.Listen to the episode and read the transcript on Berkeley News ( by Blue Dot Sessions.