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Spring 2012 First-Year Investigations

The Art of Political Bargaining
Jeb Barnes, Political Science
Tuesday 2-3:50; Section 34654

Drawing on a wide range of disciplines, including law, political science, economics and sociology, students will gain a greater appreciation of the federal policy-making process, the challenges facing lawmakers in building support for their policy preferences, and the prospects of our system of checks and balances for dealing with today's major policy problems.


The Classical World Today
Thomas Habinek, Classics
Thursday 2-3:50; Section 34660

This course will consider the potential relevance of classical Greek and Roman culture to contemporary social, political, and ethical concerns.  Through close reading of a small group of key texts we will reflect on the ways in which classical literature and philosophy challenge and expand contemporary notions of democracy, personhood, and ecology.  We will also consider how changing contemporary interests and audiences lead to new insights and perspectives on antiquity.    Readings will include selections from Plato, Cicero, Vergil, and Seneca.    No prior study of the classical world is required or expected.


Cult, Fiction, and Fantastic Archaeology
Lynn Swartz Dodd, Religion
Tuesday 2-3:50; Section 34653 

This course gives you an insider's view of what real archaeologists do -- and don't do. Together, we explore how the public image of archaeology has been created, why and by whom. The goal is to arm ourselves with the tools to tell the difference between science and pseudo-science. Our case studies include incredible discoveries that actually have been made and discoveries too incredible ever to have been made. We investigate current stories in the media; fictional archaeologists such as Indiana Jones and Lara Croft; and famous cases such as Atlantis, King Tut’s curse, Nazca Lines, the Shroud of Turin, Noah's Ark, Piltdown Man, the Mound Builders, UFOs and the pyramids, and much more. This is an entertaining way to develop critical thinking skills that apply beyond archaeology, in business and daily life. 


Film and Social Justice in Contemporary Los Angeles
Ange-Marie Hancock, Political Science and Gender Studies
Wednesday 2-3:50; Section 34658

“An Inconvenient Truth.” “Waiting for Superman.” “When the Levees Broke.” “Crossing Arizona.”  All of these documentaries focus on issues of social justice that currently challenge the United States.  Documentaries, however, are not the only media that examine issues of social justice – consider the films “Crash,” “Follow Me Home,” “Fight Club” and “Norma Rae,” all feature films which focus on bringing matters of race, class, gender, and sexuality to the broader public.  This FYI Seminar will examine the transformative power of film and new technology to push issues of justice onto the public agenda.  Students will learn the method of visual ethnography as a tool of community empowerment and participatory action research.  The 10-week seminar will include seminar discussions, visits from filmmakers and other guest speakers, a Visions and Voices event and a joint multimedia project, LA 2012, which will commemorate the 20th anniversary of the uprisings in Los Angeles.


Global Human Health on a Changing Planet
Donal Manahan, Biological Sciences
Monday 2-3:50; Section 34652

During this seminar we will explore the sustainability of human health and well-being, from local to global scales.  Daily we hear about human population growth and our ever increasing need for better health care, more energy, clean water, food, etc.  How will global human health be impacted in the foreseeable future under various scenarios of climate and other environmental changes?  What are the limits to growth and sustaining human health?  Using literature, film, current events, and overviews of global-scale research, we will examine the major environmental challenges that our global society is currently facing and discuss constraints and solutions in the context of human health. 


The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Particle Physics
Gene Bickers, Physics and Astronomy
Monday 3-4:50; Section 34662

What is a quark? How about a neutrino? What are the ultimate constituents of matter, and how do these constituents interact? Hundreds of physicists are now working at the world’s largest scientific machine, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), to expand our knowledge of the universe on the smallest length scales. In this First-Year Investigations seminar we will trace the history of particle physics from its origins in the late nineteenth century to the present day, examining the creation of the so-called Standard Model. We will look at the implications of experiments at the LHC for our understanding of the Standard Model and the physics that may lie beyond.


Ideas on Trial
Edwin McCann, Philosophy
Monday, 3-4:50; Section 34663

Great trials in the past have been important indicators of social and cultural attitudes.  We'll study some of these trials, usually through actual transcripts, to see how they not only crystallize but help to shape the attitudes regarding the duty of obedience a citizen owes to the state, the conflict between science and religion, the morality of war, and other issues of fundamental concern.  There is a rich variety of such trials to choose from:  the trial of Socrates, the trials of Joan of Arc, the trial of Galileo, the Salem witchcraft trials, the Scopes trial, the Nuremberg trials, the Eichmann trial.  We'll select several to discuss in the course.


LA Live! The Performing Arts in LA
David Roman, English
Tuesday 3-4:50; Section 34664

This course sets out to examine the role of the performing arts in contemporary American culture.   We’ll study some of the main categories of the live arts----dance, theatre, music, and performance—in venues throughout Los Angeles.   Our class will focus on the ways that performance contributes to our understanding of American life and culture.   The course places performance in the context of broader social and political issues affecting the nation and its people. That said, we’ll also study the ways that the performing arts affect us as individuals.  Why do people go to the theatre?  Why do others devote their lives to a life on the stage?   These questions will serve as the core of our study.  But we will also consider the following questions throughout the semester: what is to be gained by studying the many aspects of performance in the context of the humanities and social sciences?    And what is to be gained by incorporating the performing arts into our lives? Students should plan to attend dance and theatre performance and music concerts as part of the course.


Left Brain, Right Brain
Ann Renken, Psychology
Wednesday 2-3:50; Section 34669

You’ve undoubtedly heard something like this, maybe even from yourself! This seminar will examine what we know, and what we have yet to figure out, about the left and right sides of the brain. You will get acquainted with some of the methods in psychology and neuroscience for studying brain function. This requires no particular background in the sciences and would be relevant to a broad range of majors and interests. We will focus on the role that the right brain hemisphere may play in everyday experiences as diverse as art, magic, religion, power, emotion, body movement and navigation. You will get first-hand experience conducting exploratory research on these topics. Hopefully, you’ll develop a healthy curiosity and awareness about how your brain function and your surroundings influence one another, and also will be equipped to separate myth from reality.


A Petroleum Primer
Robert English, International Relations
Tuesday 2-3:50; Section 34655

Though we bombarded with news and commentary about energy, most of us know little about some essential aspects of “petropolitics.”   How is crude oil located, how is it extracted, and what engineering and environmental challenges are posed by new deep-water or Arctic sources?  How is petroleum refined, how is natural gas different, and what issues are raised by its transport via pipelines or liquification?  What is the real promise of shale oil, or the dangers of hydrofracking, and what are both the geopolitical and climactic implications of much-heralded new reserves?  These are some of the questions this seminar will examine in helping students learn the essentials of energy in order to make sense of the scientific, economic and environmental stakes of contemporary “petropolitics.”


The Politics of American Popular Culture
Steven J. Ross, History
Tuesday 3-4:50; Section 34665

Do the ways we amuse ourselves have larger ramifications than just a few hours of fun?  Can amusement parks, movies, and television really shape the ways we look at the world?  This seminar explores the changing nature and importance of popular culture in modern America.  We will be especially concerned with analyzing the ways in which certain modes mass culture have simultaneously reflected and shaped the nature of social, economic, and political life. 


Representing Los Angeles (Darkly) on the Page and on the Screen
William Thalmann, Classics
Wednesday 2-3:50; Section 34656

From at least the 1930’s to the present, Los Angeles has been a rich source of material for writers of novels and screenplays, as though the city itself were a character in the stories they told. Raymond Chandler, one of the greatest writers on Los Angeles, called it “a city rich and vigorous and full of pride, a city lost and beaten and full of emptiness.” A place at once of energy and of lack: Chandler and many other writers have taken a dark view of the city and have used it to explore, in a critical way, aspects of American society, especially gender, race, and class—especially, but not only, in crime fiction. In this course, we will sample some representative films and books and discuss these “noir” representations of this multi-faceted city.


Risk and the Future
Andy Lakoff , Anthropology
Wednesday 2-3:50; Section 34657

We hear every day about threats that the future may bring: catastrophic climate change, over-population and food shortages, emerging diseases, chemical carcinogens, nuclear accidents, and so on. Why does the future appear to be so fraught with risk? How do experts and the public plan for and try to mitigate these risks? This class will explore the theme of risk and the future through non-fiction, fiction, and film. It will focus especially on the city of Los Angeles as a place for reflection on the risky future.


Spirituality and Reality Today
Dallas Willard, Philosophy
Thursday 2-3:50; Section 34659

“Spirituality” in many forms has recently pushed itself forward as a major concern of the contemporary mind and as a significant influence on life. While it makes strong claims concerning what we ought to do, what the good life is, and who is a good or bad person, it frequently runs counter to traditional morality and religion.  Our object in this course is to achieve clarity on what this is all about. Some basic questions: What is “spirituality”? Who is a “spiritual” person today? Indeed, What is spirit? Does spirituality have anything to do with God or gods. What about spirituality and sports? Spirituality and business? (Just Google them—or any “spirituality and…”—  to see what a big deal they are.) We will briefly look at “spirituality” in major religions, but mainly to secure a contrast of religious spiritualities with the more free-standing, free-flowing “spirituality” of individuals now common.  We shall consider how spirituality mainly functions to provide energy (“power”) and identity to meet a felt need in contemporary life. It fits the individual into a “larger context” where meaning is experienced. But is there, after all, such a thing as “spirit”—is “spirituality” something real—and how is it known? Or is it just a popular fantasy called forth by wide spread alienation and loneliness? No doubt a “brain thing.”  The main book we read in the course is Dark Green Religion: Nature Spirituality and the Planetary Future, by Bron Taylor.


What Does It Mean to be Human?  Evolutionary Perspectives
Craig Stanford, Anthropology
Monday, 4-5:50; Section 34670

There are many ways to define a human being:  biologically, psychologically, philosophically, among many perspectives.  In this lecture I take an evolutionary, Darwinian approach to the human species, and present a series of short lectures on the meaning of the human species.  We will consider ourselves in relation to our earliest ancestors – based on our study of the human fossil record – and also based on perspective from the study of our closest relatives, the other primates.  We will also consider how recent advances in genetics and human biology have changed our views of our ancestry.  My goal is that you come away from this lecture series with a different level of understanding, and a new angle, of who you are and where you fit into your own evolutionary history, and into the universe.


Why Do We Get Sick?
Albert Herrera, Biology/Neurobiology
Thursday 2-3:50; Section 34661

Throughout history, even to the present day, humans have believed that illness results from negative thoughts, evil spirits, angering one’s ancestors, God’s punishment, an imbalance of humors, and other causes.  Modern medical science has provided many answers to this long-standing question, but those answers have spawned even more questions.  What are the roles of genetics, lifestyle, environmental agents, infectious organisms, and random chance/fate/bad karma?  What is the evolutionary significance of illness?  What limits healing and recovery?  Why is lifespan limited, or is it?  Is there a scientific basis for non-scientific methods of healing?  Grounded in the field of human physiology, this seminar will examine these and related questions, with particular attention paid to the evolutionary history and context of disease mechanisms.