Category Archives: General


ND de Paris: I keep thinking about a number of visits to the cathedral and how moving they were, especially when I didn’t believe any more, like most of the modern world, in the theologies that accompanied the history of such a site—from abbot Suger and kings to today’s global neoliberalism. I could think of the power plays of a Louis IX, a Louis XIV, the goddess Reason at the revolution, a Napoleon at his self-coronation, the Te Deum-s sung after major catastrophes, things that crowds could admire and even die for, but nothing that readers of the gospel could love or be faithful to. But at a free organ concert—Sunday at 18h00—, with Pierre Cochereau at the grandes orgues, there were moments of great emotion—Bach rather than Vierne would be the trigger—moments that would take the form of a loss or regret and make me think of previous generations of trusting people bent on giving meaning to their lives and transcending them, no matter the base politics of power and greed. It came as a call to my generation, a call that I still find difficult to answer, yet easy to decipher. It’s sad that the great forêt of early mediaeval wood beams that supported the roof and the spire above the nave is gone, but fortunately the stone vaults held up, firemen were quick and brave, and the inside of the cathedral or much of it survived. A monument to the ingenuity of mediaeval thinkers, architects, masons, and woodworkers who came from many nations can be rebuilt. Viollet le Duc’s nineteenth-century heritage can be reconciled to modern taste and revised with the restorations to come. More difficult to do, but as clear a decision to take as that of the reconstruction of this iconic stone vessel is the universal question of meaning of our lives. Can we respond to the faith and beauty ideals of these mediaeval ancestors in our own way? Can we steer away from systemic greed and respond to poverty, violence, solitude, and meaninglessness by taking the high road—by committing to share present global technical and economic achievements with all inhabitants of our blue planet?

Notre Dame

Here is a view of the spire that collapsed with two thirds of the roof in today’s fire at Notre-Dame de Paris. The spire had been rebuilt in oak and lead under Viollet-le-Duc in mid-nineteenth century, with new statuary at its foot.

ND of Paris spire, view to east
Spire of Paris Notre Dame, 1965

The western intrance to the cathedral often served as meeting point with family or friends, until crowds of tourists made it more difficult. One would enter through the western porch, walk along the nave toward the southern rosace, continue around the choir where some mass might be offered, and back through the northern part of the nave to exit under the buffet d’orgue rebuilt by Cavailhé-Coll in the nineteenth century. I was moved by the mystery of the place, the penumbra, the northern rose, no matter the hundreds and thousands of visitors from all over the world and the many languages spoken by people around me. And that is perhaps what was most striking: that in a world enthralled by economic success and moving fast away from the grasp of theologies, for the last two centuries, this place that had seen so many power plays could still sit like a question for tourists like me at the center of one of the great kingdoms and colonial powers of recent times. Notre-Dame de Paris can’t be separated in my mind from the much humbler sanctuaries scattered through the whole of Christendom. So, it has long been part and parcel of the development of the joined political powers of the church and monarchy. Yet, even as a ruin at the center of gleaming self-advertising modern structures, it still rises and invites reflection. Perhaps one day again, one will be able to go and listen to the great organ programs and improvisations offered every Sunday evening….

Styge, view to la Sainte Chapelle and Le Louvre
Styge, view west to la Sainte Chapelle and Le Louvre

view southeast from the south tower

View northeast from the north tower

east meadow appeal

Please see the attached argument for litigation to stop the destructive development of the East Meadow at UCSC. The lawsuit aims to force the UC Administration to adopt a better strategy for bringing new student beds to campus, expanding daycare, and providing for families with children.

The East Meadow Action Committee is appealing for financial support. Please give what you can. See details below.

April 8, 2019

An Appeal for Funds to Support Legal Action to Protect the East Meadow

The undulating emerald green of the East Meadow that greets those who come to UCSC makes for a beautiful spring prospect. It is a beauty, though, now tinged with the worry that this may be the last time the meadow turns green. The university administration has stuck to its guns, and it may not be long before the meadow is lost to parking lots and pre-fab housing for those 5% of the planned beds for Student Housing West.

Despite the university’s obstinacy, we’ve been optimistic. There were, after all, many better alternatives for the desperately needed student housing, all of which could preserve the campus’s beauty and design integrity. The university’s own appointed Design Advisory Board voted unanimously against building on the East Meadow. Most of the architects and planners associated with the university for its entire history joined the opposition. The Alumni Council and leaders of the UC Santa Cruz Foundation, former trustees, over 80,000 petition signers, the Student Union Assembly, members of the city government, the hundreds who came to meetings held in the community… all joined in the resounding chorus: DON’T DESTROY THE MEADOW. Could a public university, committed to rational planning and democratic values, really ignore all that? Yet the university persisted with the plan, initially proposed by the Alabama-based developer with whom it had decided to partner for the new student housing.

The Regents meetings in January and March of this year gave more cause for hope. Former Regents testified eloquently in opposition to the project. Hadi Makarechian, the leading Regent on building issues, and a major developer himself, grilled university administrators about their fuzzy math and obviously inadequate justification for building on the East Meadow instead of an alternate site. Of their cost-based rationale for the East Meadow project he flatly said “I do not buy” it, and there is “no way” it is accurate. Many Regents, however, were inclined to support the project, stating that the Regents shouldn’t second-guess the university administration, and those voices ultimately prevailed. On Friday March 29, the Regents approved the project.

So what is to be done? We have the good fortune to live in a state where there are laws protecting the environment from ill-considered, reckless plans for development. Some of the time, those laws are effective. Our reading of the California Environmental Quality Act convinces us—and our lawyers concur— that the university administration is in clear violation of the Act on a number of grounds. But this, of course, must be decided in court. The East Meadow Action Committee has retained the services of William Parkin, one of California’s most renowned environmental lawyers, with an excellent record in litigation. He thinks we have a very good chance of prevailing, and keeping the meadow in its current state for generations to come.

We need your help, and we need it now. Legal action costs money. The university wants to break ground this summer, which is approaching quickly. There are three ways to contribute:

1. For sizable tax-deductible donations, write a check to “Environment in the Public Interest” and send it with “EMAC” on the memo line, or with a note directing the contribution to EMAC. Address: EPI-Center, 1013 Monterey St., San Luis Obispo. CA 93401. If you need a Federal Tax Number to contribute, the number is: 522381905. Please send an email to letting us know you have chosen this method.

2. For smaller donations, also most welcome, you can make your donation at our GoFundMe site.

3. If you would like to send a non-deductible contribution by check, please use the following address: East Meadow Action Committee (c/o Karen Bassi) 217 Dickens Way, Santa Cruz, CA 95064.

If you are considering a large donation but would like to first speak with one of the organizing committee members, please email and we will arrange a conversation.

This effort is for all of us, and for generations to come. Once gone, the meadow is gone forever.

With many thanks,

The East Meadow Action Committee

deer at ucsc

As I was biking down from Cowell at UCSC, I stopped to contemplate this large herd of deer in the east meadow.

deer in the east meadow

The photo, looking east, was taken from the same location as the one below, which looks south. This is the part of the meadow where the building of a family student complex and a privately operated childcare unit are being contemplated. The UC Regents just signed up on the privatized plan but the story is not over.

Hagar Drive, UCSC
looking south on the east meadow

building residences

The photo below was taken yesterday at the entrance to the McHenry Library at UCSC. Apparently, the Sundt construction company has won the contract for building 3,000+ bedrooms and apartments at UCSC. Go to the East Meadow Action Committee for specific news, meetings, letters, etc.

Billboard at McHenry library

More student residences are critically needed at UCSC. The main decisions on building more dorms at UCSC have not been transparent, however. Of course, an Environmental Impact Report has been filed and discussed, since it is a compulsory part of the project. It has become a useful screen at the hands of the remote deciders, because it grants the project an aura of openness and meticulousness in its adherence to the legal process. The essential decisions regarding financing, tax status, legal structures—the nature of the rental contract especially: length, fees and other costs—, the status of the so-called non-profit Private Partnership (the Capstone company) vs related for-profit contractors for siting, architecture, cost of infrastructure, rents, maintenance, all of these seem hidden to me. I’m left guessing, as I couldn’t find anything so far about the composition of the committees of the real deciders, the minutes of their meetings, the real length of the rental contract—is it fifteen, twenty, thirty years?—, the legal nature of the property—is it owned by UC as a public entity? How exactly is it structured? And of course, siting decisions may have been guided mostly by a concern for the bottom line: building where there is existing infrastructure, for instance.

These questions come up as one thinks of the money to be made. At about $1000 per capita per month, we are looking at a gross revenue stream of nearly 30 million dollars annually. If the rental contract extends to 30 years, after which UCSC would “own” the property outright, the potential gross revenue is about 900 million dollars. If the rental contract is for 15 years, it represents half of this considerable sum.

The non-profit nature of the investment doesn’t eliminate the potential for excellent profits by contractors chosen and managed by the non-profit private partnership. How would these contractors for planning, construction, maintenance, rent management, etc., be chosen? Would there be bids? Any regulations by UC itself? In all of those decisions, UCOP and UCSC seem to have decided to privatize. The decision to go with Bright Horizons, a private company, for childcare, for instance—with charges of $2000 to $3000 per month—rather than continuing what exists ($869 for full-day care) indicates that the university doesn’t want to deal with employees, pensions, health, and other benefits. See the letter on this subject by the UCSC Graduate Student Association.

If the real nature of the whole project is that of a for-profit enterprise somehow under cover of an non-profit, should it hide behind the tax-exempt nature of public universities? Shouldn’t it pay taxes to county, city, and state?

But I’m left guessing as I don’t have the documentation on these crucial questions. Perhaps the UCSC Academic Senate Committee on Planning and Budget has some answers. In any case, it seems clear that the state and UCOP authorities decided at the highest level that they were not going to fund the expansion, apparently, and suggested that a magic partnership with private investors was the solution. It seems that public universities that pride themselves on their history of openness are willing to go along with powerful interests to accelerate their own privatization.

bits of knowledge

In the last blog, I mentioned the publication of the UC Emeriti Association’s bulletin, Newsletter 1.3, and its article on the decision taken already in 2014 by the Executive Vice-Chancellor and the UCSC Librarian to transform the Science & Engineering Library (SEL) into a space that would accommodate more students. Below, I share some reflections upon finding out that books of interest to me in the history of ancient technology were not on its shelves or in the catalog any more.

In the summer of 2016, after consultation limited to top administrators and the Academic Senate’s Library Committee, the UCSC Library removed 83,577 volumes from the Science & Engineering Library. They were not stored elsewhere as for instance the UC Berkeley Moffitt Library did when doing its fourth story renovation. They were not sold or given to individuals or to other schools, steps that might have taken time and been more costly. They were apparently shredded. A few books were left on the lower floor. The list of titles was eventually made available in two lists: list 1 and list 2.

I use the MacHenry Library almost daily for research and very rarely go to the Science and Engineering Library for history of technology items. It was December 2016 when I needed to consult a book on ancient technology. The book I was looking for is one of nine volumes by R. Forbes, a classic collection titled Studies in ancient technology. I knew exactly where it was supposed to be, as I had used the series a few times before. The whole collection was gone. The five large volumes of Singer’s History of Technology (1954–78) from Oxford University Press, or the valuable original French edition of Gille’s Histoire des techniques (Paris: la Pléiade, 1978), had also disappeared. When I learned about the removal of books, I wondered how many monographs in the history of techniques and technology had been weeded out. About two thousand items in my estimation, on the basis of the lists linked to above. More if one takes into account the fact that some of the one-line titles in the list of 83000 items removed from the collection represent multiple volumes. I looked into atlases also—there had been about 150 of them—and found by sampling that perhaps 65% had also been removed and destroyed. See my list of atlases.

My first questions regarding this particular removal of materials were about the quality of the selection and the availibility at other sites. I could see that important books had been removed, while what I thought were less useful books were still on the shelves. But de gustibus non est disputandum. The selection was apparently done on the basis of recent usage and acquisition (five years), which explains what to me looked like odd judgment calls. Everyone would probably agree that such a selection should not simply be made by quick mechanic means and that input from faculty and students should have been sought. Had there been a call to the faculty for input on the removal lists? Not that I know of.

Fortunately, those books or articles are still accessible in digital format or in print via Interlibrary Loan, ACLS Humanities E-books, WEST journal archives (Western Regional Storage Trust, part of the California Digital Library or CDL), JSTOR, JACS archives (Journal Archiving Campaigns, also part of the CDL), or (for texts before 1924). And fortunately also, since the library has switched to a user-defined needs after losing nearly all of its reference librarians or collection management personnel, I have been able to order new print books that I cannot find in the UC system or that are rare by using the recommend-a-purchase webpage.

This is relatively good news. As is good news—more broadly speaking—the fact that extraordinary open and free digital repositories and bibliographic tools are available universally. Examples of this are numerous: Perseus for classical texts and materials, the high-resolution photos of the Dead Sea Scrolls, Biblical materials, Neo-Assyrian documents, epigraphy collections, three-dimensional tools, etc. So, the abundance of digital tools—provided one knows what to look for—is a dream for anyone with limited access to printed books. Even more extraordinary is the instant, flexible access to scientific journals that university libraries provide.

But—to come back to the books culled from the Science & Engineering Library and available digitally—my experience is that it is not always convenient—compared to the quality provided by print—to read digital copies of books as page changes, size of images, column view for two-columned pages, difficulty of navigating indices, type of screen, make e-reading inherently cumbersome. Referencing page numbers in research is awkard and sometimes impossible. Permanent addresses for digital documents and digital object identifiers are only as good and persistent as the organizations behind the servers. Furthermore, some of the books and atlases that were removed are not accessible anymore in the other UC collections. For instance, one print copy of the Atlas Carta of Judaism in the Middle Ages exists at UCSB but is not circulating. The Singer volumes on technology mentioned above are available in digital format from five UC Library “groups,” but difficult to read in this format. I imagine that the use of the word “groups” means that each library system, for each campus of the University of California, has become a separate contracting unit trying to get a better deal from “knowledge-bundlers,” and that is a much broader problem.

The issue is not only the physical ease of consultation of the digital version or the print, if recalled from one of the repositories. There is also the financial and political matter of access, once university libraries begin to pay rent for digital pieces of knowledge rather than for the print version. Public and research libraries manage large collections of print materials. The acquisition of these materials in print gives certain rights to libraries and users. The libraries own the copies they bought and can use them with considerable freedom. In the past few years, however, libraries everywhere have been digitizing their holdings and purchasing limited rights to new digital works through contracts with distributors. The rights granted by the holders of these digital materials tend to be much more restrictive than the “first rights” associated with print copies. Typically, these digital copies are not sold but on loan (“license”). It is not clear how the commercial, legal, and copyright decisions are arrived at and what their parameters are. The universities have responded by encouraging the development of open source repositories (CDL, UC, etc.), but one wonders if they can scale up, especially given the financial and career pressures. The university is also trying to maintain universal open access as well as trying to control publishing expenses and subscription fees. On this difficult, moving target, see the recent failure of the negotiations with Elsevier. So, the rights of first use of the printed copy seem to be endangered by large bundling companies that prefer to rent knowledge for a short period of time and for a certain number of readers and have the means to impose their conditions on increasingly weakened libraries. The accessibility for the public at large is jeopardized because of security and cost concerns (no access to a Virtual Private Network or to university email, for instance). Richer and larger campuses can extract better conditions. The enlightenment’s ideal of common access to universal knowledge repositories is therefore threatened—not that it was ever achieved before—.

Back to UCSC and the elimination of thousands of books from the SEL. Why did it happen? One can guess at the local reasons: the urgent need for space for a much larger population of students; the pressure on admissions from the central administration of UC (UCOP = University of California Office of the President); the competition for students; the absence of public capital for building more residences; the tremendous technological changes and the broad perception that scientific culture and aspirations can be framed and acceded digitally, the disregard for the print medium, etc. This perception is reinforced by the obscure way contracts for publications are structured by bottomline-driven information and media companies. And Congress played an important role in abandoning the notion of a Digital Public Library in the late nineties and in extending copyright in 1998 to 75 years—in practice 95 years for the materials published between 1924 and 1977, see copyright page, The problem is exacerbated by the cost of access to public universities and the need felt by public institutions, including UC, to recharge expenses via units, departments, divisions, “groups” (i.e. UCB or UCLA vs UCR or UCSC). This is by default a “divide ut imperes” situation.

Given the seriousness of the political, financial, and intellectual issues I have alluded to above, I wish the leadership of the UCSC campus had engaged faculty and students in a much broader discussion before pulling the trigger on a radical transformation of the Science & Engineering Library.

pulp fiction

The UCSC Emeriti Association has just published its Newsletter 1.3. The UCSCEA newsletter is a much appreciated new feature started by the current President, Professor Todd Wipke, and maintained by volunteers. In this new issue, pages 5–8, Professor Wipke tells the extraordinary story of the secretive, inexplicably rushed, and incomprehensible management decisions—a series of them—that led to the botched selection and outrageous pulping of about 80,000 titles kept by the Science & Engineering Library (=SE Library).

Reading this article and the documents attached to it made me realize how risky and potentially ruinous management decisions have become in the new uncharted waters we find ourselves navigating presently—a public university on its way to privatization, among other things—and how much more important than ever it is to consult widely with faculty and staff. This is true of the series of decisions involving the SE Library as well as those behind the building of new residences by private partnerships. In the case of the SE Library, Wipke’s article makes clear that a major component of the catastrophic decisions was the absence of real consultation of the faculty.

The newsletter article reminded me of my own puzzlement and later shock at discovering in December 2016 that books in the history of ancient technology and historical atlases that I expected to find on the shelves had disappeared. I’ll tell that story in the coming hours. For now, I encourage readers to go to Professor Wipke’s newsletter article cited above.

a political center?

Where is the center in today’s capitalist politics? In yesterday’s NYT, Brooks argued that his own brand of conservatism is the only sane path between the equally nasty chaotic vulgarity of Trumpian associates, and the unrealistic ultra-liberal left. His efforts are symptomatic of the common search for an evanescent “middle.” There would be a way to avoid the two extremes and reach a wise, rational compromise based on community and moral values. Brooks’ position is absurd and naïve if not hypocritical. He defends the humaneness of capitalism and refuses to see that what he holds dear—moral values, care of the neighbor, community—is actually at cross purposes with capitalism and constantly under pressure of being destroyed by it. The greed exhibited by Trump and associates is not particular to them. The values of absolute freedom, infinite expansion of self, and spreading of desires as part of a market-based self-correcting machine—see already Pascal’s view on this in his Thoughts, no need to reach for your Ayn Rand—are actually destructive of trust, fidelity, cooperation, and community. And to equate the right—the extreme right actually—with the left side of the Democratic party makes no sense when the whole system of representation not only has long tilted right but has also become less representative of large urban segments of the population. What is called left wing in the US corresponds to the social democracy of several European countries. In response to the great depression of the thirties and two world wars, these national systems have controlled until now the most nefarious tendencies of capitalism by regulating it and ensuring basic universal systems of family support, education, health, retirement, and low military budgets. They represent a “middle” solution that Brooks sees as ultra left. One would expect his tendency to expound on morals and virtue to lead him to defend family support, a free public education of quality, a universal health system, a higher minimum salary, proper retirement, social security, a more rational use of the military, and environmental change. He doesn’t. The idea of a virtuous, rational middle he never stops peddling is a poor moralistic disguise and an excuse for more disastrous economic or political decisions and further wrecking of the communal and cooperative approach to life he considers most important.