Ever since seeing the first Star Wars movie in the summer of 1977 I have been a huge fan of the series, and it launched my love of science fiction in general. The first six movies’ depiction of people of color have not always been the best — Jar Jar Binks, anyone? — but a Star Wars scholar thinks that Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story have improved the track record. I haven’t seen the newly released Rogue One yet, but will definitely check it out over the holiday break!

Citylab has posted a story about the status of various high-speed railroad projects in the United States. As daily commuter on Amtrak between Oakland and San José, CA I would love for a high speed line to be built along the Capitol Corridor. Alas, nothing appears to be currently on the drawing board, but one can hope!

Recently Ibram X. Kendi’s book  Stamped From the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America was awarded the National Book Award for nonfiction. The Pacific Standard interviewed Dr. Kendi, who provides ideas about how those who want to create an anti-racist United States of America might proceed.

I have recently discovered a great podcast series, Social Sciences Bites. Here’s the series description:

The social world is a world we create, that we all have in common. In this series of illuminating podcasts, hear leading social scientists present their perspectives on how our social world is created, and how social science can help us understand people and how they behave. Each podcast includes a downloadable written transcript of the conversation.

An article on the Pacific Standard website provides additional information. This podcast series will be very valuable in the Unites States if expected significant policy changes occur in President Trump’s administration. One future podcast could be with SJSU sociology professor Scott Myers-Lipton, who argues that President Trump should launch a civic works program.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016 was Election Day in the United States of America. The results of the presidential election raised lots of concern about the country’s future. I sent the following email to faculty and staff in San José State U’s College of Social Sciences.

Dear Social Sciences Family-

Many of us are shocked and saddened by yesterday’s election and our nation’s deep divisions. It seems that across all aspects of the political spectrum many actions were driven by ignorance and fear instead of knowledge and hope. As we process these results two social media posts by colleagues may be good to keep in mind:

“Out of touch. Like me, you are out of touch with the majority of our country if you did not vote for Trump. (I am not a Hillary supporter either….so I am even more out of touch than most.) Whether or not you are right, does not change that we are out of touch. That said, the best route forward is not to vilify those who don’t think like us, nor condemn them as stupid or ignorant, but instead to understand how and why the majority came to be so different from us.”

“Being a teacher/writer/advocate has never been more important.
Let’s fight for the next generation.
I’m fired up and ready to go.”

In these challenging times let’s remind ourselves of our mission to help our students and the broader community create more complex and nuanced understandings of their social worlds. Our work matters more than ever now.

Warmest Regards,
Walt

The October 22, 2016 episode of Saturday Night Live included a very interesting skit about “Black Jeopardy.” My colleague Doug Hartmann has posted a great analysis. Check it out!

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