Racist attacks revive Asian American studies program demand

As Dartmouth College sophomore Nicholas Sugiarto flipped through the course catalog last semester, two words caught his eye: “Asian American.”

The 19-year-old Chinese Indonesian American didn’t know Asian American-focused classes were even an option at the Hanover, New Hampshire, campus. The biomedical-engineering major ended up enrolling in “Gender and Sexuality in Asian American Literature” and now wishes he could minor in Asian American studies.

“I never realized how long and storied the history of Asians in America has been,” Sugiarto said. “You also hear about stories that just never made the news or never made it into the standard AP U.S. history textbooks.”

That feeling of being seen resonates now more than ever for Asian American and Pacific Islander students and faculty at college campuses around the country. For all the “Stop AAPI Hate” hashtagging, accounts keep emerging of new incidents of Asian Americans being coronavirus scapegoats or made to feel like foreigners in their own country.

Ongoing anti-Asian attacks along with the March massage business shootings in Georgia that left six Asian women dead have provoked national conversations about visibility.

The debate has renewed an appetite at some colleges for Asian American studies programs. As student diversity grows, so does the desire for representation in the syllabus. But qualified professors of color say such programs won’t last if they aren’t being offered permanent decision-making power.

Inspired by his literature class, Sugiarto added his signature to the nearly 1,000 on a petition calling on Dartmouth to establish an Asian American studies major, a challenge that’s been brought to the Ivy League school on and off for four decades.

Sugiarto and his classmates hope this time will be different given recent events.

Eng-Beng Lim, the Dartmouth professor who taught Sugiarto’s class, said the petition gained momentum after the massage business killings, and even fueled discussions with administrators.

Those talks recently stalled, though Lim still described it as a “promising and critical impasse.”

“When U.S. universities refuse to support Asian American studies that are framed in a way that we have framed it, it’s really a missed opportunity to think about how we might have a more nuanced understanding of American racism beyond binary terms of Black and white,” Lim said.

Pawan Dhingra, a professor at Amherst College and the incoming president of the Association for Asian American studies, said he is aware of a few other East Coast schools either considering Asian American studies or renewing their commitment to it.

“A lot of ethnic studies programs grew out of student demand during key inflection points in American history,” Dhingra said. “This is an inflection point. The push for ethnic studies — in this case Asian American studies — fits the tradition of how these programs come to be. It’s rarely the brainchild of administrators or faculty.”

The concept of ethnic studies is believed to have started in California, where it became state law in August that California State University students take one ethnic studies course to graduate.

In 1968, students of color at San Francisco State University, which was named San Francisco State College at the time, joined Black classmates demanding a curriculum that wasn’t just Euro-centric. What followed was five months of protests — the longest student strike in U.S. history — and hundreds of arrests.

In March 1969, after intense negotiations, the university officially launched a College of Ethnic Studies. Other schools also devised similar programs.

Alumni who were on strike 53 years ago see parallels with today’s “Stop Asian Hate” rallies, said Mai-Nhung Le, chair of San Francisco State University’s Asian American studies program. Young Asian Americans are again demanding classes relevant to them — not just history but everything from popular culture to environmental justice.

But while the backdrop in the ’60s was the Vietnam War, today it’s “two concurrent pandemics”: COVID-19 and structural racism, Le said.

Establishing an Asian American studies department is one thing — nurturing it is another. Ethnic studies programs are on shaky ground if schools don’t recruit instructors who can plan courses and mentor students.

Of more than 428,000 faculty who were tenured or on tenure-track at degree-granting institutions nationwide in 2019, 70% were white, 11% were Asian or Pacific Islander, 5% were Black, and 5% were Latino. Native Americans and Alaska Natives comprised just 0.4%, according to data gathered by the National Center for Education Statistics.

A furor erupted at Dartmouth in 2016 when Aimee Bahng, an assistant English professor, was denied tenure. She had unanimous support from a departmental committee but not with higher-ranking campus officials. The rejection came as students were making another push for Asian American studies. Bahng had even started planning potential classes.

She recalls receiving hundreds of sympathetic messages from female academics in the U.S. and abroad.

“I had an electronic folder of just women or women of color who had been denied tenure,” said Bahng, who now teaches at Pomona College. “It was amazing but also depressing. … I always know when it’s tenure-denial season because I still get a handful of emails.”

Dartmouth freshman Anais Zhang, 18, never gave Asian American studies much thought until she was assigned to write about it for the school newspaper after the Atlanta-area massage business shootings. In her research, Zhang learned of all the attempts to start a program that ultimately went nowhere. It left her frustrated.

“I talked to a lot of my friends about the article and my shock at how we really don’t have an institutionalized program and just my reaction learning about how previous students had put so much effort in petitioning the college and hiring professors … only to have this support trickle away and have all this progress undone in the subsequent years,” Zhang said.

A lot of times fledgling ethnic studies programs decline because junior professors who aren’t full time or permanent have to carry them, according to Dhingra.

“It’s just creating extra labor for faculty that burns people out and it isn’t able to grow because it wasn’t created with enough infrastructure in the first place,” Dhingra said.

At the University of Arizona in Tucson, an Asian Pacific American studies minor launched last month. While it is an “example of the way the university is combating anti-Asian hate and ignorance,” it was a culmination of efforts that started several years before the pandemic, said Brett Esaki, an assistant professor who helped come up with the coursework.

“The short- and long-term goals are definitely about stability,” said Esaki, who is not tenured. “We can’t just hope for another disaster to get people to say, ‘You’re important.’”

Keeler: Why is Nuggets star Nikola Jokic the NBA MVP? Unlike Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, he didn’t bail during Tank Week.

You want know why he’s the MVP? Because during NBA Tank Week, where teams embarrassed themselves and the spirit of competition, where grown men ducked and flopped like a diva striker in a soccer match, Nikola Jokic did something novel.

He tried.

As his fellow stars were busy pulling excuses out of the air and splinters out of their collective backsides, the Nuggets’ All-Star center and league MVP front-runner did something cool.

He just got on with it.

In the three games leading up to the Nuggets’ regular-season finale Sunday in Portland, the Joker averaged 30.3 minutes, 27 points, 13 boards and seven assists. Pretty much his season stat line.

Despite a rotating cast of wing men and a steady diet of Markus Howard and Vlatko Cancar, Denver went 3-0 on the road. And after every contest, some scribe or talking head would ask Jokic: “Why did you play tonight?” Or, “Are you planning on playing tomorrow?”

And the Joker would shrug.

On Friday night in Detroit, Jokic dropped 20 points, 15 boards and 11 dimes on the hapless Pistons. At same time, the Clippers sat Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and Patrick Beverley in a concerted effort to lose at Houston, the Pistons of the West. Mission accomplished.

As a result, the Nuggets leapfrogged the Clip Show for the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference playoff bracket, which was — well, bad, because it also crept them closer to a potential first-round meeting with the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers, LeBron James and Anthony Davis. A colossus who’s spent a good chunk of the last four months resting its wounded stars, sandbagging, or both.

Given a choice, you’d want to avoid two things during this NBA postseason scrum for as long as conceivably possible:

1. Any series against an active, and therefore able to work the refs, LeBron.

2. Any and all elimination games in Salt Lake City without the services of Jamal Murray. Or without someone who can replicate Murray whenever Donovan Mitchell goes into Michael Jordan mode.

Tanking stinks. The premise. The principle. The boundless, shameless cynicism of it all. If you’ve created this 4-dimensional chess game in which good teams and poor ones try to underperform one another, then you, my friend, are dealing with a broken system.

You need to further incentivize the top end of the bracket. Here’s one way: Once the bottom half of an eight-team group is lined up, the top seed in said group gets to pick its dance partner. Then the 2 seed gets to pick theirs, and so on, through to the 4th seed.

Given those parameters, the Clippers would’ve handled the Rockets a heck of a lot differently. You can be assured of that. The only thing worse than lottery shenanigans is seeding shenanigans. Is this the NBA, or the WWE?

Meanwhile, Jokic keeps chugging along, playing above the politics, above the crapola, focused solely on finishing what he started: The greatest individual season in Nuggets history.

“I’m just going to play,” Jokic said of the Portland game. “You know, (coach Michael Malone) can decide how many minutes.”

Kendrick Perkins says he can’t fight the Joker train anymore. Zach Lowe is in the same, beautful boat.

Hey, if ESPN’s talking heads won’t go to bat for you, and they haven’t, then the Worldwide Leader shrugging its shoulders and sighing at the inevitability of your ascent is probably the next best thing.

“I just want to be out there,” the Joker continued, “and available for the team.”

Availability helps. Caring helps, especially during Tank Week. And as the NBA MVP debate heats up, as a league flutters and flails around him, it’s turned into one hell of a closing argument.

 

Denver weather: Thunderstorms and hail could hit Denver area Saturday

Stormy weather with golf ball-size hail is forecast for northeastern Colorado on Saturday afternoon, and parts of the Front Range, including the Denver area, are in the storm path.

Scattered thunderstorms are expected this afternoon and evening, mainly over and east of the Front Range, and some storms could unleash severe weather including heavy rain, large hail and winds gusting to 60 mph, according to the National Weather Service in Boulder.

Severe storms are likely south of a line from Boulder to Limon in a time frame between 4 and 8 p.m., the weather service said. West of the Front Range, thunderstorms could produce brief heavy rain and gusty winds, but flooding or severe storms are not expected. Passing thunderstorms, that could drop an inch of rain in less than an hour, will bring a low risk of flooding to the wildfire-scar areas of Larimer and Boulder counties.

On Friday golf ball-size hail struck the Eastern Plains, including areas along Interstate 76 from Wiggins to Brush. Hail piled up on some roadways during the night, according to Dan Fitts, a storm chaser and local farmer.

In Denver on Saturday, mostly cloudy skies will bring a 50% chance of showers and thunderstorms after 1 p.m., according to the weather service. The high temperature in the city will top out at 69 degrees. On Saturday night there’s a 50% chance of showers and thunderstorms before 11 p.m. and the overnight low temperature, under mostly cloudy skies, will dip to 49 degrees.

On Sunday in Denver, showers and a stray thunderstorm are likely between noon and 3 p.m., according to the weather service. Thunderstorms will be more likely after 3 p.m. with the chance of precipitation at 70%. Skies will be mostly cloudy and the high temperature will hit 68 degrees.

Slow-moving showers and thunderstorms will be likely across much of northern Colorado Sunday afternoon and night, bringing an elevated threat of flooding over the burn areas. Severe storms, with hail and strong winds, will be possible along the Palmer Divide and on the Eastern Plains.

The chance for thunderstorms will continue on Monday and Tuesday in northeastern Colorado with widespread precipitation likely, although the weather should be less severe.

 

Dead & Company schedules two Colorado shows in October at Fiddler’s Green

Dead & Company will boogie at Fiddler’s Green Amphitheater this fall with two shows, back to back, in October.

The band will open its 2021 tour — What A Long Strange Trip It’s Been — on Aug. 16 in Raleigh, North Carolina, and close with three consecutive shows at the Hollywood Bowl, Los Angeles, Oct. 29, 30 and 31.

The Colorado shows at FGA, in Greenwood Village, are scheduled for Oct. 22 and 23.

Dead & Company canceled a 2020 summer tour, including what would have been the tour opener in Boulder at Folsom Field, because of COCID-19.

The jam band features former Grateful Dead members Bob Weir, Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann, along with Jeff Chimenti, Oteil Burbridge and John Mayer.

Verified fan presale tickets are available Wednesday along with VIP packages and travel packages at deadandcompany.com. General public ticket sales begin Friday.

The group has already sold out multiple shows — Playing In The Sand — in Puerto Cancún, Quintana Roo, in January of 2022.

Back-to-back tornadoes kill 12 in China; over 300 injured

BEIJING — Back-to-back tornadoes killed 12 people in central and eastern China and left more than 300 others injured, authorities said Saturday.

Eight people died in the inland city of Wuhan on Friday night and four others in the town of Shengze, about 250 miles east in Jiangsu province, local governments said.

The first tornado struck Shengze about 7 p.m., damaging homes and factories and knocking out power, the official Xinhua News Agency reported. The Suzhou city government, which oversees the town, said in a social media post that four people had died and 149 others had minor injuries. Shengze is near Shanghai on China’s east coast.

Another tornado hit Wuhan at about 8:40 p.m. with winds of 53 miles per hour, destroying more than two dozen homes and triggering a power outage affecting 26,600 households, Xinhua said. Officials in Wuhan said at a news conference Saturday that eight had died and 230 were injured.

They said that 28 homes collapsed in Wuhan, another 130 were damaged and put economic losses at $5.7 million, the Hubei Daily newspaper said. Construction site sheds and two cranes were also damaged, while downed power lines knocked out electricity, Xinhua said.

Photos showed a swarm of rescuers searching through building debris in Wuhan after midnight Friday and workers clearing metallic debris at a factory in Shengze in the morning.

Wuhan is the city where COVID-19 was first detected in late 2019.

Tornados are rare in China. In July 2019, a tornado killed six people in the northeastern Liaoning province, and another tornado the following month killed eight on the southern resort island of Hainan.

In 2016, a tornado and accompanying hailstorm killed 98 people in the eastern Jiangsu province.

Israeli strike destroys Gaza building with AP, other media

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — An Israeli airstrike on Saturday targeted and destroyed a high-rise building in Gaza City that housed offices of The Associated Press and other media outlets. AP’s president said the agency was “shocked and horrified” at the strike.

AP staffers and other tenants safely evacuated the building after the military telephoned a warning that the strike was imminent within an hour. Three heavy missiles struck the 12-story building, collapsing it in a giant cloud of dust.

For 15 years, the AP’s top-floor office and roof terrace were a prime location for covering Israel’s conflicts with Gaza’s Hamas rulers, including wars in 2009 and 2014. The news agency’s camera offered 24-hour live shots as militants’ rockets arched toward Israel and Israeli airstrikes hammered the city and its surrounding area this week.

“The world will know less about what is happening in Gaza because of what happened today,” AP President and CEO Gary Pruitt said in a statement. “We are shocked and horrified that the Israeli military would target and destroy the building housing AP’s bureau and other news organizations in Gaza.”

“This is an incredibly disturbing development. We narrowly avoided a terrible loss of life,” he said, adding that the AP was seeking information from the Israeli government and was engaged with the U.S. State Department to learn more.

The building also housed the offices of Qatari-run Al-Jazeera TV, as well as residential apartments. The Israeli military said it targeted the building because it contained assets of Hamas intelligence agencies, which it said were using media offices as “human shields.” It did not provide evidence for the claims.

Hours earlier, another Israeli air raid on a densely populated refugee camp killed at least 10 Palestinians from an extended family, mostly children, the deadliest single strike of the current conflict.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists demanded Israel “provide a detailed and documented justification” for the strike.

“This latest attack on a building long known by Israel to house international media raises the specter that the Israel Defense Forces is deliberately targeting media facilities in order to disrupt coverage of the human suffering in Gaza,” the group’s executive director, Joel Simon, said in a statement.

Since Monday night, Hamas has fired hundreds of rockets into Israel, which has pounded the Gaza Strip with strikes. In Gaza, at least 139 people have been killed, including 39 children and 22 women; in Israel, eight people have been killed, including a man killed by a rocket that hit in Ramat Gan, a suburb of Tel Aviv, on Saturday.

The latest outburst of violence started in Jerusalem and spread across the region over the past week, with Jewish-Arab clashes and rioting in mixed cities of Israel. There were also widespread Palestinian protests Friday in the occupied West Bank, where Israeli forces shot and killed 11 people.

The spiraling violence has raised fears of a new Palestinian “intifada,” or uprising, when peace talks have not taken place in years. Palestinians on Saturday were marking Nakba (Catastrophe) Day, when they commemorate the estimated 700,000 people who were expelled from or fled their homes in what was now Israel during the 1948 war surrounding its creation. That raised the possibility of even more unrest.

U.S. diplomat Hady Amr arrived Friday as part of Washington’s efforts to de-escalate the conflict, and the U.N. Security Council was set to meet Sunday. But Israel turned down an Egyptian proposal for a one-year truce that Hamas rulers had accepted, an Egyptian official said Friday on condition of anonymity to discuss the negotiations.

As the hostilities continued, an Israeli bombardment struck a three-story house in Gaza City’s Shati refugee camp on Saturday morning, killing eight children aged 14 and under and two women from an extended family.

Mohammed Hadidi told reporters his wife and five children had gone to celebrate the Eid al-Fitr holiday with her brother’s wife and three of their children. All were killed instantly, he said. The only known survivor from Hadidi’s family was his 5-month-old son Omar; another son, 11-year-old Yahya, was missing, he said.

Children’s toys and a Monopoly board game could be seen among the rubble, as well as plates of uneaten food from the holiday gathering.

“There was no warning,” Jamal Al-Naji, a neighbor living in the same building, said. “You filmed people eating and then you bombed them?” he said, addressing Israel. “Why are you confronting us? Go and confront the strong people!”

The Israeli military did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Hamas said it fired a salvo of rockets at southern Israel in response to the airstrike.

The strike on the building housing media offices came in the afternoon, after the owner received a call from the Israeli military warning that the building would be hit within the hour. A video broadcast by Al-Jazeera showed the building’s owner, Jawwad Mahdi, pleading over the phone with an Israeli intelligence officer to wait 10 minutes to allow journalists to go inside the building to retrieve valuable equipment before it is bombed.

“All I’m asking is to let four people … to go inside and get their cameras,” he says. “We respect your wishes, we will not do it if you don’t allow it, but give us 10 minutes.” When the officer rejected the request, Mahdi said, “You have destroyed our life’s work, memories, life. I will hang up, do what you want. There is a God.”

Al-Jazeera, the news network funded by Qatar’s government, broadcast the airstrikes live as the building collapsed.

“This channel will not be silenced. Al-Jazeera will not be silenced,” Halla Mohieddeen. on-air anchorperson for Al-Jazeera English said, her voice thick with emotion. “We can guarantee you that right now.”

Later in the day, the White House responded by saying Israel had a “paramount responsibility” to ensure the safety of journalists covering the spiraling conflict. U.S. President Joe Biden has urged a deescalation in the 5-day conflict between Hamas and Israel, but has publicly backed Israel’s right to self-defense from Hamas rockets fired from Gaza.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki tweeted Saturday that the U.S. had “communicated directly to the Israelis that ensuring the safety and security of journalists and independent media is a paramount responsibility.”

A furious Israeli barrage early Friday killed a family of six in their house and sent thousands fleeing to U.N.-run shelters. The military said the operation involved 160 warplanes dropping some 80 tons of explosives over the course of 40 minutes and succeeded in destroying a vast tunnel network used by Hamas.

Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, a military spokesman, said the military aims to minimize collateral damage in striking military targets. But measures it takes in other strikes, such as warning shots to get civilians to leave, were not “feasible this time.”

Israeli media said the military believed dozens of militants were killed inside the tunnels. The Hamas and Islamic Jihad militant groups have confirmed 20 deaths in their ranks, but the military said the real number is far higher.

Gaza’s infrastructure, already in widespread disrepair because of an Israeli-Egyptian blockade imposed after Hamas seized power in 2007, showed signs of breaking down further, compounding residents’ misery. The territory’s sole power plant is at risk of running out of fuel in the coming days.

The U.N. said Gazans already are experiencing daily power cuts of 8-12 hours and at least 230,000 have limited access to tap water. The impoverished and densely populated territory is home to 2 million Palestinians, most of them the descendants of refugees from what is now Israel.

The conflict has reverberated widely. Israeli cities with mixed Arab and Jewish populations have seen nightly violence, with mobs from each community fighting in the streets and trashing each other’s property.

Late on Friday, someone threw a firebomb at an Arab family’s home in the Ajami neighborhood of Tel Aviv, striking two children. A 12-year-old boy was in moderate condition with burns on his upper body and a 10-year-old girl was treated for a head injury, according to the Magen David Adom rescue service.

The tensions began in east Jerusalem earlier this month, with Palestinian protests against attempts by settlers to forcibly evict a number of Palestinian families from their homes and Israeli police measures at Al-Aqsa Mosque, a frequent flashpoint located on a mount in the Old City revered by Muslims and Jews.

Hamas fired rockets toward Jerusalem late Monday, in an apparent attempt to present itself as the champion of the protesters. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed that Hamas will “pay a very heavy price” for its rocket attacks.

___

Krauss reported from Jerusalem. Associated Press writers Bassem Mroue in Beirut and Samy Magdy in Cairo contributed.

2001 Avalanche vs. 2021 Avalanche: How Presidents’ Trophy winners stack up

The last Colorado Avalanche team to win the Presidents’ Trophy was also the last to win the Stanley Cup — the 2001 edition led by current general manager Joe Sakic. Here’s a look at how that team and the current one stack up:

Forwards

2021 Avalanche 2001 Avalanche
Line 1 Gabe Landeskog-Nathan MacKinnon-Mikko Rantanen Alex Tanguay-Joe Sakic-Milan Hejduk
Line 2 Andre Burakovsky-Nazem Kadri-Joonas Donskoi Ville Nieminen-Peter Forsberg-Chris Drury*
Line 3 Brandon Saad-Tyson Jost-Valeri Nichushkin Eric Messier-Stephane Yelle-Shjon Podein
Line 4 Carl Soderberg-Pierre-Edouard Bellemare-J.T. Compher Dave Reid-Steve Reinprecht-Dan Hinote
Extras  Alex Newhook, Kiefer Sherwood, Liam O’Brien Chris Dingman, Scott Parker, Brad Larsen

First-line center Joe Sakic was 31 in 2001 and played with two young wingers in Alex Tanguay, 22, and Milan Hejduk, 25. Sakic was in the prime of his career and reached a career-high 54 goals and 118 points in the regular season. His line combined for 26 goals and 70 points in 23 playoff games and Peter Forsberg was the world’s best second-line center until he had season-ending emergency surgery to remove his spleen after Game 7 of the second-round series against Los Angeles. The Avs’ current top line of center Nathan MacKinnon and wings Gabe Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen is arguably the best in the league, and overall, the club has more scoring potential from all four lines. In 2001, the third line was the shutdown trio matched against the opponent’s top line when possible. Today, the Avs aren’t as concerned about matchups and mostly focused on rolling lines and playing fast.

Edge: 2021

Defensemen

2021 Avalanche 2001 Avalanche
1st pair Devon Toews-Cale Makar Ray Bourque-Adam Foote
2nd pair Ryan Graves-Sam Girard Greg de Vries-Rob Blake
3rd pair Patrik Nemeth-Conor Timmins Martin Skoula-Jon Klemm
Extras Jacob MacDonald, Dan Renouf Brian Muir, Nolan Pratt

Three elite defensemen on both teams, but in 2001 those guys were much older and more proven. Ray Bourque was 40 in the 2001 playoffs, Rob Blake 30 and Adam Foote 29. Bourque and Blake, both Hall of Famers, were elite two-way Norris Trophy winners (Bourque won it five times) and Foote was the classic shutdown guy who mostly paired with Bourque. The current star trio of Cale Makar, Devon Toews and Sam Girard are state-of-the-art puck movers — with their skates and sticks. Any NHL team would love to have one of these elite skaters, and the Avs have three. Makar is 22, Girard 23 and Toews 27, and the Toews-Makar pairing is perhaps the best left-shot/right-shot twosome in the league. Bourque and Foote logged more than 29 minutes in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final against the New Jersey Devils, and Blake played more than 24. Makar, Girard and Toews are equally capable of that kind of workload in all three zones.

Edge: Even

Goaltenders

2021 Avalanche 2001 Avalanche
Starter Philipp Grubauer Patrick Roy
Backup Devan Dubnyk David Aebischer
Extra Jonas Johansson N/A

Hall of Famer Patrick Roy won his fourth Stanley Cup and second Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP in 2001, so there’s really no comparison to Philipp Grubauer. Grubauer won the Cup as a backup with the Washington Capitals in 2018, after beginning the playoffs as the No. 1 guy until he lost the first two games of the opening round. The Avs like their chances with Grubauer in net, but certainly not to the extent the club believed in St. Patrick in 2001.

Edge: 2001

* Peter Forsberg missed the 2001 Western Conference finals and Stanley Cup Final.

The robot surgeon will see you now

By Cade Metz, c. The New York Times Company

Sitting on a stool several feet from a long-armed robot, Dr. Danyal Fer wrapped his fingers around two metal handles near his chest.

As he moved the handles — up and down, left and right — the robot mimicked each small motion with its own two arms. Then, when he pinched his thumb and forefinger together, one of the robot’s tiny claws did much the same. This is how surgeons like Fer have long used robots when operating on patients. They can remove a prostate from a patient while sitting at a computer console across the room.

But after this brief demonstration, Fer and his fellow researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, showed how they hope to advance the state of the art. Fer let go of the handles, and a new kind of computer software took over. As he and the other researchers looked on, the robot started to move entirely on its own.

With one claw, the machine lifted a tiny plastic ring from an equally tiny peg on the table, passed the ring from one claw to the other, moved it across the table and gingerly hooked it onto a new peg. Then the robot did the same with several more rings, completing the task as quickly as it had when guided by Fer.

The training exercise was originally designed for humans; moving the rings from peg to peg is how surgeons learn to operate robots like the one in Berkeley. Now, an automated robot performing the test can match or even exceed a human in dexterity, precision and speed, according to a new research paper from the Berkeley team.

Sarahbeth Maney, The New York Times

The da Vinci Research Kit, a surgical robot designed to assist and train surgeons for minimally-invasive surgery, conducts a peg transfer at a lab at the University of California, Berkeley, April 6, 2021. A automated robot performing the test can match or even exceed a human in dexterity, precision and speed, according to a new research paper from the Berkeley team.

The project is a part of a much wider effort to bring artificial intelligence into the operating room. Using many of the same technologies that underpin self-driving cars, autonomous drones and warehouse robots, researchers are working to automate surgical robots too. These methods are still a long way from everyday use, but progress is accelerating.

“It is an exciting time,” said Russell Taylor, a professor at Johns Hopkins University and former IBM researcher known in the academic world as the father of robotic surgery. “It is where I hoped we would be 20 years ago.”

The aim is not to remove surgeons from the operating room but to ease their load and perhaps even raise success rates — where there is room for improvement — by automating particular phases of surgery.

Robots can already exceed human accuracy on some surgical tasks, like placing a pin into a bone (a particularly risky task during knee and hip replacements). The hope is that automated robots can bring greater accuracy to other tasks, like incisions or suturing, and reduce the risks that come with overworked surgeons.

During a recent phone call, Greg Hager, a computer scientist at Johns Hopkins, said that surgical automation would progress much like the Autopilot software that was guiding his Tesla down the New Jersey Turnpike as he spoke. The car was driving on its own, he said, but his wife still had her hands on the wheel, should anything go wrong. And she would take over when it was time to exit the highway.

“We can’t automate the whole process, at least not without human oversight,” he said. “But we can start to build automation tools that make the life of a surgeon a little bit easier.”

 

Five years ago, researchers with the Children’s National Health System in Washington, D.C., designed a robot that could automatically suture the intestines of a pig during surgery. It was a notable step toward the kind of future envisioned by Hager. But it came with an asterisk: The researchers had implanted tiny markers in the pig’s intestines that emitted a near-infrared light and helped guide the robot’s movements.

The method is far from practical, as the markers are not easily implanted or removed. But in recent years, artificial intelligence researchers have significantly improved the power of computer vision, which could allow robots to perform surgical tasks on their own, without such markers.

The change is driven by what are called neural networks, mathematical systems that can learn skills by analyzing vast amounts of data. By analyzing thousands of cat photos, for instance, a neural network can learn to recognize a cat. In much the same way, a neural network can learn from images captured by surgical robots.

Surgical robots are equipped with cameras that record three-dimensional video of each operation. The video streams into a viewfinder that surgeons peer into while guiding the operation, watching from the robot’s point of view.

But afterward, these images also provide a detailed road map showing how surgeries are performed. They can help new surgeons understand how to use these robots, and they can help train robots to handle tasks on their own. By analyzing images that show how a surgeon guides the robot, a neural network can learn the same skills.

This is how the Berkeley researchers have been working to automate their robot, which is based on the da Vinci Surgical System, a two-armed machine that helps surgeons perform more than 1 million procedures a year. Fer and his colleagues collect images of the robot moving the plastic rings while under human control. Then their system learns from these images, pinpointing the best ways of grabbing the rings, passing them between claws and moving them to new pegs.

But this process came with its own asterisk. When the system told the robot where to move, the robot often missed the spot by millimeters. Over months and years of use, the many metal cables inside the robot’s twin arms have stretched and bent in small ways, so its movements were not as precise as they needed to be.

Human operators could compensate for this shift, unconsciously. But the automated system could not. This is often the problem with automated technology: It struggles to deal with change and uncertainty. Autonomous vehicles are still far from widespread use because they aren’t yet nimble enough to handle all the chaos of the everyday world.

The Berkeley team decided to build a new neural network that analyzed the robot’s mistakes and learned how much precision it was losing with each passing day. “It learns how the robot’s joints evolve over time,” said Brijen Thananjeyan, a doctoral student on the team. Once the automated system could account for this change, the robot could grab and move the plastics rings, matching the performance of human operators.

Other labs are trying different approaches. Axel Krieger, a Johns Hopkins researcher who was part of the pig-suturing project in 2016, is working to automate a new kind of robotic arm, one with fewer moving parts and that behaves more consistently than the kind of robot used by the Berkeley team. Researchers at the Worcester Polytechnic Institute are developing ways for machines to carefully guide surgeons’ hands as they perform particular tasks, like inserting a needle for a cancer biopsy or burning into the brain to remove a tumor.

“It is like a car where the lane-following is autonomous but you still control the gas and the brake,” said Greg Fischer, one of the Worcester researchers.

Many obstacles lie ahead, scientists note. Moving plastic pegs is one thing; cutting, moving and suturing flesh is another. “What happens when the camera angle changes?” said Ann Majewicz Fey, an associate professor at the University of Texas at Austin. “What happens when smoke gets in the way?”

For the foreseeable future, automation will be something that works alongside surgeons rather than replaces them. But even that could have profound effects, Fer said. For instance, doctors could perform surgery across distances far greater than the width of the operating room — from miles or more away, perhaps, helping wounded soldiers on distant battlefields.

The signal lag is too great to make that possible today. But if a robot could handle at least some of the tasks on its own, long-distance surgery could become viable, Fer said: “You could send a high-level plan and then the robot could carry it out.”

The same technology would be essential to remote surgery across even longer distances. “When we start operating on people on the moon,” he said, “surgeons will need entirely new tools.”

Colorado’s housing market redefines Rocky Mountain high in April

The median of a single-family home sold in Colorado crossed above $500,000 for the first time ever in April and is running at an elevation 1.5 times higher than the U.S. median, according to a monthly update from the Colorado Association of Realtors.

“For the short term, there is no calm in sight. It’s a real estate storm and buying frenzy that does not appear to be burning out soon,” said Colorado Springs Realtor Patrick Muldoon in comments accompanying the report.

The median sales price represents the midpoint, or where half the homes sell for more and half sell for less. Colorado’s midpoint reached $502,000 for single-family homes last month, pushed up by a 19.5% price gain the past year.

Median prices get less skewed when high-end home sales become more dominant, which is now happening across the state, especially along the Front Range and in the mountain resorts. Reflecting a richer mix, the average price of a single-family home sold in the state has risen 36.4% the past year to $661,511.

Nationally, the median price of a single-family home sold in March, the most recent month available, was $334,500, up 18.4%, according to the National Association of Realtors. Colorado is tracking with the rest of the country for home price appreciation, but it started out at a higher point. Single-family home values, measured at the median sales price, are 50% higher than for the country overall, and showing no signs of backing down.

A mortgage qualification calculator from NerdWallet estimates buyers last month needed to make about $100,000 a year to afford a middle-of-the-road house in Colorado — assuming they came with a 10% downpayment. The affordability equation is worse in metro Denver, where the median-priced crossed $500,000 several months ago and is marching toward $600,000, and in Boulder, which is above $700,000.

Out of 183 metro areas that the NAR tracks, Boulder had the sixth-highest median price for a single-family home sold in the first quarter at $726,600, while metro Denver ranked 14th with a median sold price of $554,400. Of the two other Colorado metros tracked, Fort Collins came in 21st and Colorado Springs 29th.

And markets are even crazier up in the mountains, where remote workers, more likely remote entrepreneurs, executives and professionals, are dropping down big dollars. In Eagle County, the median price of a single-family home sold has more than doubled the past year from $742,000 on 28 sales in April 2020 to $1.5 million on 67 sales in April 2021.

Summit County, once a more affordable version of Eagle, has seen its single-family median home price go from $750,000 on 21 sales a year ago to nearly $1.7 million on 57 sales last month, a 126.5% increase. Eagle County, however, still maintains a price advantage on the condo side, which is a larger market in resort areas.

And no ritzy ski resort was required for home prices to soar this year. Five Colorado counties beat Summit in terms of annual percentage home price gains, including Las Animas, up 475%, Mineral up 194%, Costilla up 134%, Ouray up 131.6% and Conejos up 130.5%.

Granted, all those counties had fewer than 10 single-family homes close in April, and in the case of Conejos only two. But the numbers this year show housing markets across all of Colorado are facing extreme market conditions, not just the ones along the Front Range.

How to power up your to-do list

By J.D. Biersdorfer, The New York Times Company

Getting organized is serious business, judging by the number of checklist and chore-tracker programs available. If you are new to mobile task manager software, Apple and Google have their own free apps that combine the convenience of a notes app with the ability to set notification alerts to make sure things get done on time.

Apple’s Reminders app runs on its iPhones, iPads, iPod Touches, Apple Watches, Mac computers and iCloud.com. The Google Tasks app for Android and iOS is also integrated into Gmail and Google Calendar. Here are the basics for both apps.

Add a task

To get started on your iPhone, open the Reminders app, tap New Reminder in the screen’s bottom-left corner and enter a task. The toolbar below supplies shortcuts for assigning a notification date; you can set a specific time and a repeated schedule. You can choose a specific location to be notified (say, near your supermarket), flag the reminder to emphasize it or insert an image to it to add visual information.

To get started with Google Tasks on the phone, download it from the app store if it is not already installed. Open the Google Tasks app and tap the large + button at the bottom of the screen. Type in what you need to do. You can add more information by tapping the Details icon or set a timed reminder by selecting the Calendar icon. Tap the Save button.

You can also add a reminder to your schedule by commanding Apple’s Siri or the Google Assistant to create it for you. (Samsung’s Bixby assistant can similarly wrangle reminders on Galaxy phones.)

And when you finish a task, tap the circle next to it to mark it Done.

Create lists

Want to corral several related reminders in one place? Just group the tasks on a list. In Apple’s Reminders, tap Add List in the screen’s bottom-right corner. Name the list, assign it a color, give it an icon — and then assign specific reminders to it. The main Reminders screen will show all your lists in progress, including automatically generated lists for scheduled, flagged and current tasks.

In the Google Tasks app, tap the Menu icon in the screen’s bottom-left corner and select “+ Create new list.” Enter a name, tap the Done button in the upper-right corner and add tasks by tapping the + button at the bottom of the screen. To switch between lists, tap the Menu button and select the list you need.

Organize tasks

To reorder items in Apple Reminders, press down on a task and drag it to a new position on the list. To move an entry to a different list, swipe to the left on the item and tap the Details button. On the Details screen, go to List, tap it and choose another list.

To make an entry a subtask of another — like listing various kitchen gear to buy under your main “Buy New Appliances” task — swipe to the right next to an item and select Indent to make that entry a subtask of the one above it; you can also press and drag a task on top of another to make it a subtask.

To reorder items in Google Tasks, select an entry, then press down and drag it to a new position. To sort by date, tap the three-dot More menu in the bottom-right corner, tap Sort By and choose Date.

To move a task to a new list, tap it and use the drop-down menu on the next screen to select a different list; you also have options here for adding more details about the task, assigning a date and time or adding a subtask.

Share tasks

Any tasks added to the Family list in Apple Reminders are automatically pushed out to people in your iCloud-connected Family Sharing group. You can share lists with others via email, message, Slack or other apps, too, which can be helpful for project planning. Select a list, tap the More menu in the upper-right corner, choose Share List and pick your sharing method. Once you share a list, you can assign specific tasks by tapping the Assignment button and selecting someone from the group. Users on a shared list can add, delete and mark off items — and everyone is updated.

Google Tasks does not offer a dynamic sharing feature, but if you are a Gmail/Google Calendar user, you can see and share tasks from there. And you can easily create a task from an open message in the Gmail app by choosing Add to Tasks from the More menu. As with Apple’s Reminders app and iCloud accounts, your tasks show up in all the devices connected to your Google account so you are always up to date.