The Pacific Standard magazine has published a fascinating article about how popular science fiction TV shows examine contemporary injustices. The article specifically discusses how three shows set in present-day America — The Leftovers, Black Mirror, and Mr. Robot — explore dystopian realities. I’ve seen every episode of the concluded seasons of The Leftovers and Black Mirror, but only finished season one of Mr. Robot, as that show was not as compelling to me as the other two. Maybe I should give it another chance and watch season two, but first I’ll need to check out the just-released season three of Black Mirror!

The Pacific Standard website has an interesting new series: “When Hollywood Gets Things Right!” Here’s the series description:

When Hollywood Gets Things Right! is a new Culture Pages series where we highlight titles that experts say shattered stereotypes, made nuanced observations, and otherwise did not insult entire peoples and populations. At a time when the industry continues to disappoint audiences with dubious representation or casting decisions, this series will celebrate causes for optimism, comfort, and some commendable alternative viewing options.

The Asian Lead Actors edition discusses five films with great representations of Asian Americans and Asian Canadians. I have seen three of them. Hopefully I can catch the other two on Netflix!


Around the corner from my house in Oakland is a shrine built around a Buddha statue. A couple of months ago I discovered an article about the “Buddha of Oakland,” which also includes a video.  Last week I was informed about a podcast about the Buddha of Oakland. The podcast is an interview with the person who originally placed the Buddha on the corner to deter illegal dumping. The article/video provides additional information about the family who built and maintain the shrine. There is a new faculty member in the SJSU Department of Urban and Regional Planning who studies “do-it-yourself urban design” community interventions; I’ll have to tell him about this!

Constitution Day  commemorates the formation and signing of the U.S. Constitution. Many universities celebrate the day as a condition of receiving federal funding. The official day is September 17, but at SJSU we held an event on Thursday, September 15 given that a) September 17 is a Saturday, when very few students are on campus; and b) Fridays usually have fewer students on campus, so a Thursday event would draw more folks. We celebrated by reading the Constitution aloud, from 10:00 AM to 2:00 PM! Readers spook in 15 minutes shifts, including SJSU President Mary Papazian; my shift followed hers. It was a fun event!CD

“How to Get Americans to Talk About Race” is a recent article in The Atlantic that details a powerful community-based process for facilitating productive conversations about race. Reverend Sylvester Turner is the director of reconciliation programs for Hope in the Cities. He notes that there are a number of reasons why we don’t like to discuss race:

One is that most people don’t know how to talk about it. The other thing is, people are ignorant to the systemic nature of it. Another reason is the privilege that has come as a byproduct of it, that ‘I don’t have to talk about it.’ A major reason is guilt and shame that people carry, which is what I call the byproduct or legacy of it. And some people just think it’s not worth talking about. They just want to move on. When you start peeling back the layers of it, there are often people in power who don’t want to give up their power, or they don’t want the threat of losing their power. So there’s a number of different reasons why people don’t want to talk about it, but guilt and shame and ignorance to me have been the reasons that always rise to the top when you bring people together.

If we want to improve as a society we need to have these difficult conversations.

The National Public Radio All Tech Considered series recently released a very interesting segment: “Social Network Nextdoor Moves To Block Racial Profiling Online.” This is a very encouraging move, as Nextdoor posts often reinforce racial stereotypes, and these virtual actions can have very serious real world implications. Preliminary tests of Nextdoor’s efforts have reduced racial profiling by as much as 75%. Hopefully they will have similar success when the changes are widely implemented!

Each year in August Beloit College releases its Mindset List, which provides “a look at the cultural touchstones that shape the lives of students about to enter college.” The list for the class of 2020 includes items such as “Serena Williams has always been winning Grand Slam singles titles” and “presidents have always been denied line item veto power.” I wondered what the list for my graduation year (1990) included, but I discovered that the list was started in 1998, for the class of 2002. An interesting class project would be for students to create pre-1998 lists!

The “digital divide” has classically referred to the gap between those with access to computer-based technologies such as the internet, and those without. The Pacific Standard article “The Term ‘Digital Divide’ Doesn’t Work Anymore” extends more recent arguments that the divide is now not so much about access to technology, it’s also about how technology is used.

Simple “yes or no” questions no longer suffice. The questions now must also address access (does the person have a home computer or are they smartphone-dependent?) and speed (do they have dial-up or broadband?). These factors aren’t simply ancillary, they are integral.

This distinction is important because it casts light on another concept at play: Those left behind are further behind than ever before.

The article closes with this argument:

“Digital divide” denotes a chasm that can be crossed. What we should be talking about is a “digital spectrum,” the endpoints of which widen with each innovation.

Moving from a discussion of the “digital divide” to the “digital spectrum” sounds like a good project to me. Non-profit organizations can play a strong role in this expanded understanding, as discussed in an earlier Pacific Standard article, “How Non-Profits Help Close the Digital Divide.”

A July 25, 2016 post on the Google Maps blog notes a new feature: “As you explore the new map, you’ll notice areas shaded in orange representing ‘areas of interest’—places where there’s a lot of activities and things to do.” The post goes on to note, “we determine ‘areas of interest’ with an algorithmic process that allows us to highlight the areas with the highest concentration of restaurants, bars and shops. In high-density areas like NYC, we use a human touch to make sure we’re showing the most active areas.” It turns out, however, that the algorithm and/or human touch seems to embed class and racial biases, as non-areas of interests reflect real-life geographic divides. Hopefully the next update of Google Maps will tweak the algorithm and human guidance processes.

SJSU Professor Kate Davis is currently attending a National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Seminar for College and University Faculty on Mapping, Texts, and Travel. In the archives she recently encountered a 1959 booklet, the Go Guide for Motor Tourists, which provided information about safe places for African Americans to visit while traveling by car. I had not heard of this publication, and a quick web search did not turn up any information. The booklet was probably a competitor to the more well-known Negro Motorist Green Book. I learned about this publication a few years ago, and asked my aunt and mother-in-law about it. Both are in their 70s and remember traveling in the Jim Crow South, but don’t remember this book. Maybe it was only used by men, who would be the drivers. My paternal grandfather drove through many states of the Jim Crow South, and thus would have been a perfect person to ask, but he passed away years ago, unfortunately. A PBS story referenced a documentary that briefly discussed traveling while Black in that era; I’ll have to check it out!