“Once upon a time in America, unions were a force to be reckoned with. In 1954, labor union membership in the United States hit a peak of 34.8 percent…” So begins a Pacific Standard introduction to a series on the status of labor unions in the Unites States. “Today,” the introduction continues, “the footprint of unions has shrunk dramatically due to both the general decline of traditionally unionized private-sector industries in this country, and more concerted efforts to weaken unions. In 2017, only 10.7 percent of U.S. workers belonged to a union.” Check out the site for several additional articles, such as “What caused the decline of unions in America?”

In collaboration with The Marshall Project, the Pacific Standard has published a powerful story about recently retired U.S. District Court judge Thelton Henderson, who is credited with transforming California’s criminal justice system. Sadly, his legacy is in danger of being undone.

“There has never been a time when so much data existed about human behavior,” begins a Chronicle of Higher Education article about the academic use of Facebook’s data. “What many of us buy, sell, like, dislike, read, and tell our friends is recorded on the internet thanks to sites like Facebook. To social scientists, the company is sitting on a gold mine… [A] commission, would be trained on the company’s policies and would theoretically know why some information can be shared and some can’t, presumably because of legal proceedings or certain privacy laws. The scholars on the commission would not be able to do their own research or share the company’s secrets, but they would solicit proposals from others and serve as a filter for the data, meting it out to the researchers as deemed appropriate.”

The Pacific Standard also has an article about Facebook releasing its data to social scientists. This is a very interesting and potentially powerful development!

Today (April 4, 2018) is the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. At 4:01 PM PST Bay Area community members will join San José State University in a ceremony to commemorate the moment that stunned the world. The west coast time symbolizes the moment Dr. King was struck in the neck by an assassin’s bullet on the third floor balcony at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, TN. Local K-12 students will join community elders and the SJSU campus community in ringing 50 chimes in Dr. King’s honor at the MLK Library on campus.

The Atlantic magazine has published a special issue about Dr. King. I’m a subscriber but haven’t received my issue yet, but read one article online: William Barber II’s argument that the nation’s problem isn’t that we don’t have enough money to face what ails society, we lack the moral capacity to do so.

“Soon, talking to strangers will be even easier” is the title of a recent article in Wired magazine about language translation technology. Author David Pierce begins the article with a description of current technology that helps travelers navigate foreign locations. He continues with “as translation tech improves, though, the benefit will extend way beyond just helping you get around. When translation happens quickly and accurately enough to have a conversation that spans two languages and feels almost natural, we’ll be able to experience places in an entirely new way.” Maybe the technology will evolve to better enable conversation between two people speaking the same language but using different dialects. For example, I was surprised by how many times I did not quite get what a British person was saying to me during my recent vacation to London. Eventually, of course, translator microbes will solve all of our problems :).

More than a dozen United States cities have pledged to pressure Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to honor net neutrality, in response to last year’s Federal Communications Commission’s decision to eliminate requirements for equal access to the Internet, so now ISPs can block content, throttle speeds to some sites or services, or give preferential treatment to others. According to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, “We’re gonna use our economic power to force the hands of these companies. We’re gonna build a movement among other cities.” It will interesting to see if this movement really takes off. Perhaps it may even lead to a resurgence of technorealism. We’ll see…

A couple of weeks ago I posted a note about an online game designed to help people detect fake news. This game is even more timely than I initially thought, as I just learned about a new research study that found that falsehoods are more popular than truths on Twitter. The study “analyzes every major contested news story in English across the span of Twitter’s existence—some 126,000 stories, tweeted by 3 million users, over more than 10 years—and finds that the truth simply cannot compete with hoax and rumor. By every common metric, falsehood consistently dominates the truth on Twitter, the study finds: Fake news and false rumors reach more people, penetrate deeper into the social network, and spread much faster than accurate stories.” Wow!

Smartphones are heavily used for checking social media, taking pictures, and playing games. Now it appears that they are also being used to increase our health and wellness. The Pacific Standard website has an interesting article about a new app for those who have survived heart attacks. The app reduces those patients’ hospital re-admission rates, which creates the potential to save lives, improve outcomes, and reduce expenses. Hopefully many more apps like this are in development!

In a recent Pacific Standard article — “How to Immunize Yourself Against Fake News” — author Tom Jacobs argues, “it’s imperative that citizens become more media savvy, and learn to distinguish between authentic information and dubious material designed to sow discord.” The articles discusses www.fakenewsgame.org, a new online game that invites users to assume the role of a fake news disseminator. “This gives users insight into both the mindset of such propagandists, and the techniques they use,” Jacobs notes.  A pilot study of the game played by 95 high school students in the Netherlands produced encouraging results. Hopefully other studies will provide confirmation!

The new movie Black Panther is breaking records at the box office, and generating lots of commentary online. The article that has most resonated with me is “Why ‘Black Panther’ is a Defining Moment for Black America.” Author Carvell Wallace begins with “the Grand Lake Theater — the kind of old-time movie house with cavernous ceilings and ornate crown moldings — is one place I take my kids to remind us that we belong to Oakland, Calif. Whenever there is a film or community event that has meaning for this town, the Grand Lake is where you go to see it.” My wife, mother-in-law, and I saw the movie at the Grand Lake Theater the day after it was released. The jam-packed multicultural crowd roared when the opening scene was identified as being set in Oakland, and many other scenes generated thunderous applause. I experienced the movie again the next day at a special screening for SJSU students. I’ll probably go view the movie a third time soon!

Carvell begins the analysis of the movie by contrasting it with earlier films with Black superheroes, which were either comedies or action films with the hero’s blackness being incidental.

Black Panther, by contrast, is steeped very specifically and purposefully in its blackness. “It’s the first time in a very long time that we’re seeing a film with centered black people, where we have a lot of agency,” says Jamie Broadnax, the founder of Black Girl Nerds, a pop-culture site focused on sci-fi and comic-book fandoms. These characters, she notes, “are rulers of a kingdom, inventors and creators of advanced technology. We’re not dealing with black pain, and black suffering, and black poverty” — the usual topics of acclaimed movies about the black experience.

“Black Panther is a Hollywood movie,” Carvell continues, “and Wakanda is a fictional nation. But coming when they do, from a director like Coogler, they must also function as a place for multiple generations of black Americans to store some of our most deeply held aspirations.” The movie sits squarely in the Afrofuturism artistic movement:

Afrofuturism, a decidedly black creation, is meant to go far beyond the limitations of the white imagination. It isn’t just the idea that black people will exist in the future, will use technology and science, will travel deep into space. It is the idea that we will have won the future. There exists, somewhere within us, an image in which we are whole, in which we are home. Afrofuturism is, if nothing else, an attempt to imagine what that home would be. Black Panther cannot help being part of this.

Carvell closes with “we hold one another as a family because we must be a family in order to survive. Our individual successes and failures belong, in a perfectly real sense, to all of us. That can be for good or ill. But when it is good, it is very good. It is sunlight and gold on vast African mountains, it is the shining splendor of the Wakandan warriors poised and ready to fight, it is a collective soul as timeless and indestructible as vibranium. And with this love we seek to make the future ours, by making the present ours. We seek to make a place where we belong.” Indeed!