2022 - 35th Annual Asilomar Conference was very successful!
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"Science and technology revolutionize our lives, but memory, tradition and myth frame our response." Arthur M. Schlesinger
35th Annual Asilomar Conference - February 18 – 21, 2022
If the isolation and upheavals of the past year are getting you down, take heart – it’s once again time to reserve your weekend of learning, inspiration and fellowship on the magnificent Monterey coast! After an extended hiatus, PBKNCA is delighted to announce that plans for Asilomar 2022 are finally in the works.
This year we'll explore both the scientific and technical advances that have transformed our social landscape, and the cultural responses that varied people have brought to frame and understand these often-confusing times. Past participants describe the weekend as a “the best aspects of college, without the exams” and “the greatest high of the year – without drugs!”
Friday night – Nancy Abrams, Crone-at-Large :) Cosmic Cabaret! Songs of Social Justice, Satire, and Myth. take a look/listen here
Nancy Ellen Abrams got started singing cabaret with a troupe in Italy. She came back to the USA, earned a law degree, spent another year in Italy on a Fulbright working on international environmental cooperation, worked on the staff of the US Congress on science and the future, lectured at the University of California, Santa Cruz, co-authored two books with her astrophysicist husband Joel Primack (speaker, Saturday morning) on the meaning of the dark matter/dark energy picture of the universe for our lives and societies, and has authored a third book that radically rethinks the concept of God for a scientific future. Through it all she has continued to write and perform topical songs, most often as entertainment for conferences. Most songs you will hear tonight were inspired by the opportunity to perform at a conference. Sometimes a bigger picture can emerge from a 5-minute song than from a day of lectures
Saturday morning – Joel Primack (PBK Princeton 1966; summa cum laude and valedictorian), Distinguished Professor of Physics Emeritus, UC Santa Cruz: State of the Universe Report
This lecture will discuss the current understanding and some recent challenges regarding cosmology, galaxies, and planets. There is persuasive cosmological evidence that most of the density of the universe is invisible dark matter and dark energy, with atomic matter making up only about five percent of cosmic density. But the latest high-precision measurements of the expansion rate of the universe have revealed potential discrepancies that may require new physics.
Galaxies were long thought to start as disks of gas and stars, but observations by Hubble Space Telescope show that most galaxies instead start pickle-shaped. Forming-galaxies are also observed to have giant clumps of stars, which simulations struggle to explain. Information about planetary systems is growing rapidly with new observations.
The recent gravity-wave discovery that many heavy elements are made in rare neutron star mergers implies that the abundance of such elements varies in stars, which affects the vulcanism, tectonics, and magnetic fields of their rocky planets. Earth appears to be a Goldilocks planet, with just the right amount of radioactive heating.
Saturday afternoon – Jonathan Lear (PBK UMass/Amherst), 2021 recipient of a PBKNCA graduate scholarship award (video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_NHkm_WsT24), Ph.D. Candidate in History: Japan, West Germany, and the Global Atomic Age
The Atomic Age typically evokes a certain set of images, events, and ideas: for instance, the mushroom cloud, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and deterrence theory. When the "peaceful uses" of atomic energy are brought into the discussion, we often view the early promises of nuclear power with a healthy dose of skepticism and sometimes simply as cold war propaganda. My talk shifts the focus of the Atomic Age to Japan and West Germany, two countries that shared recent experiences of fascism, total war, and catastrophic defeat. I will discuss how a range of historical actors– among them engineers, journalists, scientists, and managers– used the promise of the peaceful atom to repurpose their personal and professional lives and to conceive their nations anew after decades of social and political crisis. By focusing on how Japanese and West German elites conceptualized their commercial nuclear projects, we might come to a more global understanding of the Atomic Age that goes beyond the usual focus on the United States and the Soviet Union.
Jonathan Andrew Lear is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of History at the University of California, Berkeley. He is broadly interested in global history and the history of science, with a comparative focus on East Asia and Europe. He is currently finishing a dissertation on the parallel histories of Japan and West Germany’s commercial atomic energy programs. Previously, Jonathan earned an M.A. in the social sciences at the University of Chicago and a B.A. in history from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. In 2021, he received a PBKNCA graduate scholarship.
Saturday night – Judy Bicknell (PBK U. Oregon) and Neil Bicknell, Filmmakers: Of Poetry and Power: JFK’s Last Speech
JFK: The Last Speech, the documentary, the companion book and the website, were created with the conviction that the messages and civic values of President Kennedy and Robert Frost speak to us today. Those messages and those values can point a way for actions we can take to move us beyond our debilitating polarized politics to a "more hopeful, civilized and peaceful American future."
In honoring Robert Frost on that idyllic fall day in 1963, the President honored the arts and artists and those who speak truth to power. He challenged those who receive a great education to recognize their responsibility to sustain our democratic system, a responsibility that rises above that of others. His words that day remind us of the beauty, insight and expression of universal feelings in Frost's poetry and remind us of the qualities of a leader, who can inspire a nation to do great things and who can "stand up to bullies abroad..."
This presentation and the ensuing film is a call to action to rebuild our civic sphere – infused with "broad sympathy, understanding and compassion."
Neil Bicknell is executive producer of JFK: The Last Speech and co-editor of the companion book of the same name and was a senior at Amherst when JFK came to campus. He received his MBA in finance from Columbia University then served as an officer in the U.S. Navy during Vietnam. His professional career was as a strategic planner and financial analyst with IBM and on Wall Street, prior to founding and managing, with Judy, their own investment banking firm. Neil's civic activities in Scarsdale, New York include village trustee, chairman of the largest civic organization, founder and chairman of an effort to build a community center, and board member for the New York State League of Women Voters.
Judy Bicknell is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the University of Oregon Honors College and holds a masters in computer science from Purdue University. She began her professional career as a programmer with the IBM Corporation and ended as an investment banker working with Neil for twenty years. She served on village, school and community boards in Scarsdale and joined Neil in doing background research for two documentaries concerning our dysfunctional politics, which included a year in residence at the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia. She joined Neil in organizing a series of democracy seminars in New York, Washington, Boulder and Amherst and in founding a non-profit in support of the democracy work of the Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist, Hedrick Smith. Judy is designer and author of the website, www.jfkthelastspeech.org.
Sunday morning – Bruce Cain (PBK Bowdoin), Political Science, Stanford: California’s Extreme Weather Challenge: A Battle on Two Fronts
Extreme weather is battering California in multiple ways. Decades ago, climate scientists predicted that heat, drought, flooding, wildfires and sea level rise would become more extreme, but California is still not well prepared to deal with these problems. Decarbonization and extreme weather adaption are political as well as technical problems. Climate change denial is the obvious challenge at the moment, but NIMBYism, localism, governmental fracture, and the like also play a role. What can we do to be more effective in meeting the climate change challenge?
Bruce E. Cain is a Professor of Political Science at Stanford University and Director of the Bill Lane Center for the American West. He received a BA from Bowdoin College (1970), a B.Phil. from Oxford University (1972) as a Rhodes Scholar, and a Ph.D. from Harvard University (1976). Before joining Stanford, he taught at Caltech (1976-89) and UC Berkeley (1989-2012), where he also served as Director of the Institute of Governmental Studies, and of the U.C. Washington Center.
Cain was elected the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2000 and has won awards for his research (Richard F. Fenno Prize, 1988), teaching (Caltech 1988 and UC Berkeley 2003) and public service (Zale Award for Outstanding Achievement in Policy Research and Public Service, 2000). His expertise includes political regulation, applied democratic theory, representation and state politics. Some of Professor Cain’s most recent publications include “Malleable Constitutions: Reflections on State Constitutional Design,” (2009); “Redistricting Commissions: A Better Political Buffer?” in The Yale Law Journal, (2012); and Democracy More or Less. He is currently working on problems of environmental governance.
Sunday afternoon – Zeke Hausfather, PBK Grinnell, Climate Science, Berkeley / Director of Climate and Energy, The Breakthrough Institute. The Magnitude of the Climate Challenge: Where we are, where we are headed and what’s needed to meet Paris Agreement goals
A decade ago the world seemed on track for a particularly grim climate future. China was building a new coal plant every three days; global emissions were increasing at a rate of 3% per year and increased by 31% between 2001 and 2010. Scenarios where global carbon emissions tripled by the end of the 21st century with coal use increasing sixfold seemed plausible to many. Researchers argued that “business as usual” would likely lead to a world 4ºC or 5ºC above pre-industrial levels by 2100. Today, the world is a very different place. We are succeeding in making clean energy cheap, with solar power and battery storage costs falling 10-fold since 2009. The world produced more electricity from clean energy — solar, wind, hydro, and nuclear — than from coal over the past two years. The International Energy Agency (IEA) now argues global coal use is in structural decline, unlikely to ever surpass its 2013 peak, while the odds of a 21st century dominated by coal now seem vanishingly small. The world has made real progress toward bending down the curve of future emissions. The worst-case outcomes of a decade ago are much less plausible today. At the same time, we have a long way to go to reduce global emissions if we want to meet Paris Agreement goals of limiting warming to well-below-2ºC. We can both acknowledge the progress we have made and how far we still have to go.
Zeke Hausfather is a climate scientist and energy systems analyst whose research focuses on observational temperature records, climate models, and mitigation technologies. He spent 10 years working as a data scientist and entrepreneur in the cleantech sector, where he was the lead data scientist at…thebreakthrough.org
Sunday night – Kristin Kusanovich, Theater and Dance, Santa Clara: The Interdisciplinary tUrn: A New Invitational Model for Climate Crisis Awareness & Action in Higher Education
The climate crisis – including environmental racism, ecological collapse, and runaway global warming, with their implications for all living beings – is upon us. So are political upheavals and social injustices of every sort. And the pace of events, their severity, their aggregate power to disrupt and take lives and livelihoods away is breathtaking.
Most people know this, and say they care. But of those, fewer than half are taking decisive action. Many educated people, including those with resources, energy and skills to spare, still do not create the time or space to discuss the climate crisis with those with whom they work, live, teach or lead – let alone get involved in influencing the outcome of our future history. This talk explores how an intercultural, interdisciplinary and intergenerational project is expanding connections locally and internationally, helping to ensure that no one graduates in 2022 without adequate preparation to take their own leadership role.
Kristin Kusanovich, Lecturer in Theater and Dance at Santa Clara University, brings a background in performing arts to her work as the imaginer (and manager) of tUrn, a weekly series of events focused on climate awareness and action (https://www.scu.edu/turn/). For the semi-annual tUrn weeks, she coordinates 30 different talks/panels/ workshops that offer varied, cross-disciplinary pathways to understanding the climate crisis and moving toward a meaningful choreography of our shared futures. Her additional research interests – in child studies, ethics, leadership, mathematics, transdisciplinary research and spirituality – have developed a skill set that appears quite helpful in bridging scientific findings with successful communication of these findings to broad audiences – that is, “expressive interdisciplinarity” with a practical focus.
Though most people would not call tUrn a dance, Kristin considers it one of the most complex choreographed works into which she has poured her mind, heart and self; she hopes to see the model scaled up across all of higher education, and beyond.
Monday morning: Sam Buttrey, is an Associate Professor at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, where he teaches statistical computing and graphics. Winner of the first Jeopardy Professors Tournament, in 2021, he holds a Bachelors degree from Princeton and a Ph.D. from U.C. Berkeley, both in Statistics.
In 1996 he joined the Department of Operations Research at the
Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California. He was promoted to Associate Professor with tenure in 2002 and was awarded the Rear Admiral John J.
Schieffelin Teaching award in 2004. Dr. Buttrey has taught courses on machine learning, data science, probability, statistics, techniques for manpower data, reliability, and more. He has published papers on nearest-neighbor and other classification methods and on applied problems ranging from numismatics and oceanography to human vision. He has also published papers describing his implementations of algorithms in software, and a book, “A Data Scientist’s Guide to Acquiring, Cleaning, and Managing Data in R,” (Wiley, 2018)
In December Dr. Buttrey, a native of Pacific Grove, took home the title and grand prize after facing off against fellow professors in two days of finals. Winning the Professors Tournament grants him a spot in the upcoming Tournament of Champions. After a brief introduction to operations research for the curious, Buttrey will describe the nature of trivia, the progression of trivia as an activity, and the attributes of trivia questions, borrowing heavily from Ken Jennings’s book “Brainiac.” Then he will describe his experiences getting to Jeopardy!, what it was like being on the set, and what it was like preparing for, competing in, and winning the tournament.
If you have questions on this year’s plans, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org. For logistics matters, please contact Barry Haskell at email@example.com.
All registered participants should have received forms to reserve their Asilomar accommodations, including meals, please check your email. (Remember, to be part of the PBKNCA package, do not reserve directly with the facility)
We can't wait to see you again for a weekend of discovery and celebration.