Memorial Day special: Let There Be Light

In 1945, legendary director John Huston was assigned by the US Army to make a documentary about men returning from war with “shell shock” or “psychoneurosis” — what we would now call post-traumatic stress disorder. But after the documentary, “Let There Be Light,” was completed, the Army refused to allow it to be shown and it disappeared from view. It was shown in a poor quality print in 1980, but not widely appreciated by critics.

Now the National Film Preservation Foundation has released a new, restored version of the film, available online. Scott Simmon, professor and chair of English at UC Davis and a well-known film historian, supplied notes for the NFPF site.

Dogs are from China, Cats are from Iraq

A new genetic study from the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine shows that Western dog breeds are descended from animals that originated in Southeast Asia, rather than in the Middle East or Europe as previously thought. An earlier study of the genetics of cats, however, shows that they originated in the ‘Fertile Crescent’ of the Middle East, running from the Eastern shore of the Mediterranean through Turkey and Iraq.

UC Davis researchers lead by Ben Sacks, director of the Canid Diversity and Conservation Group in the UC Davis Veterinary Genetics Laboratory, with collaborators in California, Taiwan, Israel and Iran, studied genetics markers from hundreds of domestic and wild dogs including Western pure-breds, dogs from Middle Eastern villages and Australian dingoes.

On TV: Memories of the Manhattan Project

Watch John Jungerman, professor emeritus of physics, recalling the effort to build the first atomic bomb July 8 and 9 on Davis Community Television (Channel 15 on local cable). Jungerman’s talk, which was given at UC Extension’s Osher Lifetime Learning Institute earlier this year, will be broadcast at 5 pm July 8 and 1 pm the next day. We hope to be able to load a copy onto the UC Davis iTunes site, as well.

Jungerman was a graduate student at UC Berkeley and Los Alamos during World War II, when he worked on the Manhattan Project. He witnessed the first test of a atomic bomb, ‘Trinity,’ at White Sands, N.M. in 1945.

400-year old oyster shells and the history of Jamestown

The English colony at Jamestown, Va. was nearly wiped out in its early years by a severe drought. Now UC Davis geologists are helping archaeologists understand the history of the settlement by studying layers of oyster shells dumped in a well four hundred years ago.

Shell archaeology“We were able to demonstrate that the oyster shells record this huge drought,” said Howard Spero, professor of geology at UC Davis and co-first author on the study, which is published online this week by the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“Henrietta Lacks” author Rebecca Skloot to speak on campus

Rebecca Skloot, author of the new bestseller “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks,” will be giving a talk on campus April 23, 4-6 pm in the ARC Ballroom. Her visit to campus is being sponsored by the UC Davis Genome Center, the Science and Technology Studies Program, the University Writing Program, and the Davis Humanities Institute and being hosted by Jonathan Eisen at the Genome Center.

More information and links to reviews and interviews, including Skloot’s recent appearance on the Colbert Report, here.

Duelling voices: Obama vs Osama

Religious studies professor Flagg Miller was extensively quoted in this article from the New York Times Week in Review section on reaction to President Obama’s Cairo speech — especially the apparent attempt to upstage it with a new audio tape message from Osama bin Laden.

Miller noted that Obama’s speech was about consensus building, while bin Laden’s rhetoric was polarizing. But many in the West miss how effective bin Laden’s language can be, Miller says: he is a good poet in classical Arabic, using imagery of 12-century Muslim warriors fighting heroically against Crusaders.

Video: Rauchway on the New Deal

UC Davis historian Eric Rauchway talks with C-SPAN about the Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal. He also took phone-in questions and the whole item lasts about an hour. Before it starts, there are some short excerpts from FDR’s “fireside chat” from March, 1933. I am struck by how stern FDR’s tone seems; yet he was also gives the impression that he is being frank with the people, and telling them they have to help.

Academic economists get a shock

At the Atlantic, UC Davis economist Greg Clark writes with some humor of the shock that academic economists have received in the past few months — going from pampered superstars no university could be without, to bemused bystanders in a national debate that doesn’t go beyond Econ 1.

The bailout debate has also been conducted in terms that would be quite familiar to economists in the 1920s and 1930s.  There has essentially been no advance in our knowledge in 80 years. …

Bizarrely, suddenly everyone is interested in economics, but most academic economists are ill-equipped to address these issues.

Letters to Darwin mark bicentenary

To mark the bicentenary of Charles Darwin’s birth, we asked some UC Davis scientists who study evolution what they would say if they had the opportunity to write a letter to the naturalist. The results are featured on the campus home page today.

Mathematical geneticist Graham Coop regales Darwin with the tale of a gene that links stickleback fish directly to humans.

Geneticist David Begun confides that he and other modern-day scientists still share the sense of wonder that Darwin expressed when he wrote, “ … from so simple a beginning, endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being evolved.”

Darwin’s World

Science News has a special web section on the Darwin bicentenary, including this essay from editor-in-chief Tom Siegfried. I think his opening is particularly interesting — setting out the state of science, circa 1809.

Dalton had just recently articulated the modern theory of the chemical atom, but nobody had any idea what atoms were really like. Physicists had not yet heard of the conservation of energy or any other laws of thermodynamics. Faraday hadn’t yet shown how to make electricity from magnetism, and no one had a clue about light’s electromagnetic identity. Geology was trapped in an ante-diluvian paradigm, psychology hadn’t been invented yet and biology still seemed, in several key ways, to be infused with religion, resistant to the probes of experiment and reason.