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Golden Scholars: Richard Pryor, Bill Maher, and the dangers of the rat race!

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UC Berkeley's intersections with comedians Bill Maher and Richard Pryor and the research of Sheri Johnson finds there's some truth to Elf's message about forcing yourself up the ladder of success. How timely!

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This combines one of the stories I'm discussing today and the holiday season. AM I GOOD OR WHAT?
This combines one of the stories I'm discussing today and the holiday season. AM I GOOD OR WHAT?
Steven Henry/Getty Images

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Emeritus professor of chemistry Herb Strauss has passed away. Our condolences to his friends and family.

Professor John M. Quigley has been posthumously honored by being the namesake of a medal for scholars "whose work advances the academic fields of real estate, urban economics, public finance, and regional science."

Our engineering students are showing off their self-driving cars.

English professor Scott Saul wrote a biography of comedian Richard Pryor, including building a website full of media from Pryor's early life.

Kiplinger Personal Finance named UC Berkeley as #4 on their list of the Top 100 Best Values in Public Colleges for 2015.

The University of California system has highlighted the top research from our schools. The contributions from Berkeley feature studies of the Neanderthal genome and the first analysis of space dust from beyond our solar system.

Evolutionary biologist Robert Dudley gives a short interview explaining why cats always land on their feet—it's an evolutionary artifact from their arboreal ancestors. (Audio autoplays)

Check out the latest botanical art exhibit that will be on display at Berkeley:

Kudos to the Berkeley Lab for establishing a worldwide standard for neuroscience data.

After a history of using canaries to detect gases in coal mines, UC Berkeley is using birds to detect super storms.

Assistant professor Roberto Zoncu is among the "inaugural class of the Pew-Stewart Scholars for Cancer Research" and trying to figure out how to starve cancer cells.

Don't Maher our commencement!

Welp, it's official. UC Berkeley has destroyed the Winter 2014 Commencement Ceremony and all of our futures by allowing that scoundrel Bill Maher to speak at the ceremony.

And somehow, things managed not to mushroom cloud.

On Saturday, though, the stars of the show were the nearly 500 graduating seniors in Haas Pavilion. Save for a brief, silent protest by a half-dozen students as Maher took the podium, most reserved their enthusiasm for getting their UC Berkeley diplomas and posing for pictures with families and friends. They welcomed Maher as they might any visiting lecturer, albeit one blessed with a famous face and impeccable comic timing.

"Graduates, today is your day," said Chancellor Nicholas Dirks, an assertion that proved uncontroversial.

Maher touched on the controversy by emphasizing the importance of free speech at UC Berkeley (especially on the 50th anniversary of the Free Speech Movement) and mocking the differences between conservatives and liberals--particularly when it comes to free speech.

Check out this picture of Chancellor Dirks and Maher. #besties!

Ladder of success

Aside: Last week, I was challenged to find a way to use Miley Cyrus as the main image for this week's edition. I tried to find an image of her related to her song about climbing, but we don't have the rights to that image. Does that count as a technical win for me? Half a win?

Second aside: I then almost chose a picture from a ladder match in wrestling because of that whole "ladder of success." Sorry to all the wrestling fans (i.e., Nam).

Cue up all those cliched films and stories about how a man (because only the man can work #genderroles) works himself to the bone for success, only to realize there's more to life, especially during the holidays. Hey, that sounds a lot like Elf NOOO I SPOILED THE MOVIE FOR YOU ALL.

UC Berkeley psychologist Sheri Johnson believes there's more to that tale than Hollywood BS; this rat race for money or social standing can have immensely detrimental effects on mental health. I mean, I guess it sounds plausible. If you try try try for success and just fail, then of course that'll make you depressed. Oh wait. Successful people can have mental health disorders, too? You mean their lives aren't just golden toilets and hundreds of adoring friends kneeling at your feet?

Whether [people] achieved success by these definitions or not, the outcome was dim: A deflated sense of power or disappointment in social standing was associated with a higher risk of depression and anxiety, while excessive striving and ambition meant a higher risk of bipolar disorder and narcissistic personality disorder.

One piece of evidence that backs this up is the finding that people who live in a developed country with income disparity are thrice as likely to have some mental health affliction that people who live in a developed country with relative economic equality. Wait, aren't those people miserable to be living in those socialist hell-holes?

Psychologists find there are two main classes of motivation for advancing self-worth. There are intrinsic goals that are altruistic and about helping others; on the other hand, some seek self-advancement in order to see themselves or for other to see them as superior. The most dangerous cases are those who pursue advances in self-worth obsessively and in order to feel or appear better than others.

So, go out and do good for the sake of helping others, not because you think you'll look like all kinds of cool! It's okay to get involved in the rat race, but do it compassionately and without losing sight of what's important--and hey I'm just stealing from Bill Maher's commencement speech at this point.