Monday, May 27, 2002

On Living in a "Safe" Suburb

We live on a busy street in a nice suburb of Pittsburgh. We moved here in 1993 because we were looking for an area with an excellent school system, close to town, with a house we could afford. We really weren't all that concerned with "safety" issues per se. We lock doors out of habit no matter where we've lived, and aside from petty theft from a pair of break-ins, have been lucky to not been victims of real crime.

Over the last few years, major crime has seeped into our suburb. In April 2000, a guy in a nearby neighborhood went on a shooting spree. His first victim was his neighbor, a Jewish woman. He drove to the next town and started shooting Indian people at a grocery. He shot-out the windows of two synagogues. He murdered a man in a Chinese restaurant, and finally shot a black karate instructor. When he was done, five people had been murdered, one man was left paralyzed from the neck down.

I wasn't very surprised, in some ways, because folks in Pennsylvania love their guns and there's a fairly ugly current of racism among some people. In fairness to my home, some folks in the town have started to deal with diversity issues and are at least talking about them.

More recently, though, the pace of murders has quickened. Two young men whom my daughter went to high school with, "allegedly" killed another man in what, "allegedly," was a drug deal gone wrong. While this murder did not happen in our town, it "allegedly" involved people who do.

A few weeks ago, a young man murdered his girlfriend. We don't need the "allegedlys" in this case - he killed himself before the police could arrest him.

Just last night, a policeman was shot during a domestic disbute. While the policeman was shot in the chest, he was wearing a bullet-proof vest and is expected to recover.

This level of violence in a "safe" suburb is depressing. I suppose it's just a reminder that nowhere is safe. It doesn't mean we should panic and crawl in our homes and never emerged - it just means we need to be vigilant everywhere.

Friday, May 17, 2002

Two Truths and a Lie

This was Kate Nepveu's fault - she alerted rec.arts.sf.fandom to the Weblog harrump, still crazy, where people were instructed to list two truths and a lie about themselves.

Here are mine:

1. I was in a train wreck with my family because my mother was afraid to fly.
2. I was on a local TV special when I was 15 talking about space travel and the future.
3. Eddie Mekka failed to teach me how to dance during a summer theater workshop (or, more correctly, I have always had two left feet and failed to learn how to dance from anyone).

Monday, May 13, 2002

Why American Slavery Reparations Are Such a Terrible Idea

I am politically liberal. I used to feel more middle-of the-road, but not so much lately. And that, in theory, should mean that I am in favor of the current suit for slavery reparations some African Americans have filed.

The more I have read about the suit, the more I am convinced it is a terrible idea, and I hope some judge throws it out soon.

The suit deals with wrongs that are over 140 years old. None of the people who made the decisions at that time are alive today. None of the people who were slaves are alive today. True, the ugly spectre of racism is still alive in some Americans today, but it has been fading over the last 40 years or so. The legal apparatus that reinforced racist behavior has mostly been dismantled.

I had mixed feelings about the moves to pay slave laborers from World War II, but at least a few of those laborers are still alive.

For Americans to take the American slavery suit seriously means we are becoming as obsessed about redressing generational past wrongs as people in the Balkans, Turkey, Armenia or the Middle East. We must be aware of our history, but we should never run our lives to make sure that wrongs against our father's father's father are refought in our own time. For that just means that we can't get beyond past ills.

Focusing on past wrongs means people are less likely to pay attention to current wrongs. We should be much more worried about the remaining vestiges of racism (housing, education, jobs) and work to erradicate them, rather than fighting issues related to past slavery.

Does this suit mean I should be suing the government because my grandmothers (and those before them) were not permitted to vote? My great-great-great-great-great-great* grandparents were Quaker immigrants to America who were exiled to an island and who starved to death; should I sue the English government or the American government to complain? Almost everyone in America can find a reason to sue someone over generational past wrongs. Suing will do nothing to change the lives of the people who died long ago.

Slavery does exist in our time, particularly in parts of Africa and Asia. We need to make people more aware of contemporary slavery, and we need to find ways to fight it. Suing over past slavery offenses can aid current slaveholders by keeping people distracted about the present.

We live in the present. At least, we ought to. I've always believed that we should learn from the past, live in the present and plan for the future. Suing over wrongs from hundreds of years ago keeps people too tied to the past.

Friday, May 10, 2002

Too Many Recent Deaths...

We all gotta go. I know that. I edit Dead People Server, partially to track "people's status," but also as a reminder - we all gotta go some day.



The last few weeks, a number of people connected to the science fiction field have died. Weirdly, each death has gotten a little "closer." First Lafferty and Knight, older men whom I knew slightly. Sad, but not all that unexpected. Then, George Alec Effinger, younger and more of a friend. Then, very suddenly last night, Bruce Pelz.

Non-fans reading this blog might have heard of R. A. Lafferty, Damon Knight or George Alec Effinger, but might be scratching their heads over Bruce Pelz. Bruce was "just" a fan, but what a fan. He was one of the first people to take collecting and recording fan history seriously. He was a librarian for many years, and had arranged to donate material he'd collected to UC Irvine. He and his wife Elayne had spent much of the last few years taking fabulous cruises. They'd been to Africa and Greece and Alaska in recent years; I know because he would bring his photo albums to cons and share them with us. He'd helped to run cons for many years, and was a founder of Smofcon (to help run cons) and FanHistoriCon (to celebrate fan history).

Patrick Nielsen Hayden keeps saying that we should stop dying. He knows there are some things out of our control. I'm sure Bruce didn't choose last night to die; he was 66 and still had things in his date book beyond doctor visits. But, if you have a choice about it, go fast without the weeks or months of wasting away and loosing your love of life. While I regret I won't be running into him at the next few Midwestcons and Worldcons, I'm happy to have known him, and to know that he had a great impact on fandom and will be well-remembered.

My sympathies to Elayne, his wife and Cecy his daughter. And to the rest of us who knew him.

Monday, May 06, 2002

Today, I'm Ashamed to Be an American...

I find the unilateral actions of our government, particularly under the Bush administration, to be an embarassment. But today's decision to renounce obligations to the World court goes beyond the embarassment I've felt over the last 18 months. I'm genuinely ashamed.

How can we encourage renegade nations to listen to world sanctions when we won't? This could lead to isolationism during a time in world history when isolationism is particularly dangerous.

I wish President Bush and his team would come to their collective senses, but I do not see it happening any time soon.

Oh, and I've just found out that this president does not have a public E-mail address. E-mail to bounces, and when you visit the Web site, the contact page does not include an E-mail address. This is particularly interesting when you consider that, over the fall, many people were praising what a vital link to the public E-mail was when everyone was afraid of traditional snail in the wake of the anthrax panic.