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One week, four key lectures

12 March 2009

Thursday, March 12
Faculty Research Lecture: Robert Hass, professor of English, 5 p.m., International House

Wednesday, March 18
Hitchcock Lecture 1: Neil Shubin, associate dean, biological sciences, University of Chicago, 4:10 p.m., International House

Wednesday, March 18
Matsui Lecture: James Leach,
former U.S. Representative (R-Iowa), 4 p.m., Lipman Room, Barrows Hall

Thursday, March 19
Hitchcock Lecture 2: Neil Shubin, associate dean, biological sciences, University of Chicago, 4:10 p.m., International House

Faculty Research Lecture on March 12 features Robert Hass

Berkeley English professor Robert Hass, the U.S. poet laureate from 1995 to 1997 and a 2008 Pulitzer Prize winner in poetry for his book Time and Materials, will deliver the first of this year's two Faculty Research Lectures on Thursday, March 12, speaking — in prose, presumably — on the topic "Green Fire, the Still Point, and an Oak Grove: Some Reflections on the Humanities and the Environment."

Robert HassRobert Hass

The San Francisco native, acclaimed for his poetry, criticism, and translations of poets ranging from Czeslaw Milosz to practitioners of Japanese haiku, is a longtime champion of literacy and ecological awareness. On campus, he has served as the host of the popular Lunch Poems series for several years. Off campus, he co-founded in 1995 the local nonprofit River of Words, which promotes environmental and arts education.

Beginning with his first volume of poetry, 1973's Field Guide, Hass has explored questions of art and nature in a body of work known worldwide for its mastery, grace, and humor. Professor of Rhetoric and Comparative Literature Judith Butler, who in 2008 chaired the Academic Senate committee that selected this year's Faculty Research Lecturers, wrote at the time: "He is a poet, a scholar of poetry, but also an engaged, public intellectual.... His work bridges the public, the personal, and the natural with a keen power of observation, at once moving, unprecedented, complex, and beautiful."

As this year's initial Faculty Research Lecturer — the second, Professor of Genetics, Genomics, and Development Michael Levine, lectures on Thursday, April 4 — Hass follows a long line of eminent Berkeley speakers going back to 1913, when the program was launched under the auspices of the Academic Senate, which annually selects "a faculty member distinguished for scholarly research in his/her chosen field of study."

Hass is scheduled to speak from 5 to 6 p.m. at International House. For more information, call 642-3805 ro e-mail.

New ways of thinking about 'transitional' creatures

Hitchcock Lecturer Shubin led team that discovered what may
be the 'Archaeopteryx of fishes'

Hitchcock Lecturer Neil Shubin and TiktaalikHitchcock Lecturer Neil Shubin and Tiktaalik

The spring semester's Hitchcock Lecturer, University of Chicago developmental biologist Neil Shubin, made a worldwide media splash in April 2006 with the announcement that he and a team he'd led to the Canadian Arctic had discovered a 375-million-year-old fossil "fishapod" — a creature with fishlike features that had a neck, skull, ribs, and limb elements similar to those of land animals.

Labeled Tiktaalik roseae, the creature was no random discovery but the payoff for years of painstaking research fueled by Shubin's expertise in genomics as well as paleontology. As spectacular as the Tiktaalik discovery was, the greater accomplishment has been to advance our knowledge of the ways in which life forms "transition" significantly as they adapt to radically different environments. The confirmation of such transformations deflates the arguments of anti-evolutionists, who contend that the lack of fossil evidence supports the notion of intelligent design.

In his book Your Inner Fish: A Journey Into the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body (Pantheon, 2008), Shubin argues that fish provide an important evolutionary step in human history: "All of our extraordinary capabilities arose from basic components that evolved in ancient fish and other creatures. From common parts came a very unique construction. We are not separate from the rest of the living world; we are part of it down to our bones and . . . even in our genes."

Shubin is the Robert R. Bensley Professor of Organismal Biology and Anatomy at Chicago, as well as associate dean of the biological sciences division and provost at the university's Field Museum. A Harvard Ph.D. who was a Miller Postdoctoral Fellow at Berkeley from 1987-89, he spent more than a decade at the University of Pennsylvania before joining the University of Chicago faculty in 2000.

Shubin will deliver the first of two Hitchcock Lectures on Wednesday, March 18, at 4:10 p.m. in the Chevron Auditorium at International House; his topic will be "The Great Transitions in Evolution: Finding Fossils, Studying Genes, and Bridging Gaps." He will deliver the second Hitchcock Lecture the following day, Thursday, March 19, at the same time in the same venue; his topic then will be "Wings, Legs, and Fins: How Do New Organs Arise in Evolution?" Both lectures are free and open to the public.

—Jonathan King, Public Affairs

Does this sound like your congressperson?

If you live in Berkeley, Oakland, or San Francisco — well, sure. But if you're from Iowa…

At one point in this nation's not-so-distant past, there was a class of public servants called moderate Republicans. With names like Rockefeller, Lindsay, Warren, and Scranton, they occupied a middle ground between the growing Goldwater/Reagan wing of their party and the left-liberal leanings of the Democratic Party of their day. Hardly enemies of capital, they nonetheless spoke — and frequently voted — in support of such programs as federal aid to the disadvantaged and tax cuts that wouldn't transfer all burdens directly to the poor, and of such values as free speech, civil liberties, and conservation.

James LeachJames Leach

Over the past several decades, and particularly since the rise of Reaganism in the 1980s, moderate Republicans have become something of a rara avis on the national scene,  though some would say the tradition continues in the personages of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Michael Bloomberg, even John McCain. But by and large, public adherence to principles of moderation is no longer a ticket to success in Republican electoral politics.

Someone who knows that very well is also someone who survived 30 years in Congress adhering to just those principles: former U.S. Rep. James Leach, the 15-term Iowa Republican who made news last year by breaking ranks with his party leadership and endorsing Barack Obama for president. Even before then, though, Leach — who will deliver the inaugural Robert T. Matsui Lecture here on Wednesday, March 18 — had carved out a substantial legislative record by introducing and securing passage of measures to create an international AIDS Trust Fund, provide debt relief for the world's poorest countries, and make the Peace Corps an independent federal agency. Earlier in his tenure he supported a Comprehensive Test Ban treaty and was an early supporter of a nuclear freeze; more recently, though a supporter of the first Gulf War, he voted against the authorization of force against Iraq in 2002.

Leach was defeated for re-election in 2006 in part, it's believed, because he refused to distribute an anti-gay leaflet, earning him the wrath of social conservatives. Since then he has served as, first, interim director of the Institute of Politics and lecturer at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government, and most recently as the John L. Weinberg Visiting Professor of Public and International Affairs at Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.

Given his own political history, and his front-row seat for the last several decades of political conflict in Congress, Leach's lecture topic couldn't be more fitting: "The State of American Politics: Obama, the New Presidential Dynamic, and the Dilemma for the GOP." The lecture, which is free and open to the public, will take place in the Lipman Room on the 8th floor of Barrows Hall, starting at 4 p.m. Leach will take questions after his lecture, and a reception will follow. For information, phone 642-5158.

—Jonathan King, Public Affairs