Anonymous Group Challenges Statistical Validity of Fireside Report

In a report dropped just after the close of the Hugo nomination deadline last night, the timing chosen purposefully (I’m told by a source) though the reasons are not obvious, “a group of writers and editors” has challenged the statistical basis of the Fireside Report which said last July,” We don’t need the numbers to know that racism is a problem in our field. But we have them.”

Published at Medium under the pseudonym “Lev Bronstein” (Leon Trotsky’s real name), “Bias in Speculative Fiction” counters the Fireside Report by applying additional statistical study methods to the data, or enlarging the field from which relevant data can be drawn.

Fireside Fiction’s July 2016 report “Antiblack Racism in Speculative Fiction” [FR] purports to have found pervasive racism in speculative fiction publishing. With 38 out of 2,039 (1.9%) published works authored by black-identifying authors, there is unquestionable underrepresentation. FR ascribes this disparity to widespread anti-black editorial bias. We share Fireside’s concerns about underrepresentation and commend its authors for raising awareness. At the same time we find the report to be fraught with error.

The article’s many examples include:

The misuse of the binomial distribution in FR is a significant cause for concern. Under the binomial distribution, we treat each publication as an independent random event with some fixed probability of occurrence. FR assumes that each submitted submission should have a 13.2% chance of black authorship. The probability of observing their data subject to this assumption is 3.207×10^–76. They provide no rationale for using population rather than occupational rates. Suppose instead that science fiction slush is submitted from a pool of professional writers uniformly at random. Under these assumptions we assume that there’s a a 4% probability that a story is written by a black author. The data becomes 68 orders of magnitude more likely. Still unlikely, yes, but this demonstrate the impact of our assumptions.

The article can be presumed to serve as a defense of editors in the speculative fiction field. It argues there is bias, but that it is exerted in the culture in ways not directly related to the fate of slushpile manuscripts, such as in the educational system where PoC may or may not take degrees in literature, and other things that discourage black people from becoming authors at all.

The authors of the article defended their choice to remain anonymous in these terms —

Who are you?

We’re a group of writers and editors. We have chosen to publish under a collective pseudonym. Our identities would only serve as a distraction.

It’s puzzling why a group that agrees in their preamble that “There is a race problem in speculative fiction and we need to make an effort to understand its causes” is unwilling to engage under their own names, essentially reducing this to a drive-by correction of somebody else’s homework.

Justina Ireland, an executive editor at FIYAH magazine, has responded at length on Twitter. Here are several of her tweets:

Another comment:

Brandon O’Brien, a poet and writer in Trinidad and Tobago, also has made some observations:

O’Brien has many other comments, though one in particular about “nebulous maths” begs the question:

Bear in mind this quote from the Fireside Report —

To adjust for the methodological flaws, as well as the fact that we don’t have access to submission-rate data concerning race and ethnicity either overall or by individual magazine, we used binomial distributions. The purpose of this was to find the probability that such numbers could be random?—?the chances that numbers like that could exist without biases in play (which could extend to biases that are literary in nature, such as story structure), systemic problems, and/or structural gaps. In the first binomial distribution we ran the data assuming that submission rates of black authors are equal to the proportion of the black population in the United States, which was 13.2% in 2015 (according to Census projections).

The Fireside Report picked U.S. population statistics as the battleground, treated them as a valid tool for analyzing racism, and made arguments based on their own analysis of them. It’s not fair in that context to say the Fireside Report is above criticism because there are PoC writing SFF throughout the world, or that we all know racism is a problem in the publishing industry (as it is elsewhere).

Troy L. Wiggins, the other FIYAH executive editor, questioned the motive behind the new article:

Update: Hours later the authors of the article took it down and left in place the statement, “We’ve been receiving threats. Forget we were ever here.”  

For as long as it lasts, the original post can be read in the Google cache file.

March Is Ray Bradbury Month

The South Pasadena Public Library and the Friends of the South Pasadena Public Library remind everyone that throughout the month of March they are presenting a “One Book, One City” Project focusing on Ray Bradbury’s enduring masterpiece Fahrenheit 451.

Ray Bradbury (1920-2012) was born in Waukegan, Illinois to a family that moved to LA in 1934 in a jalopy. In 1947 Ray started publishing his stories and his second book The Martian Chronicles gained a following among Science Fiction readers. In the early 50s, he wrote Fahrenheit 451 in UCLA”S Lawrence Clark Powell Library, named after the South Pasadena native. The book came out to rapturous reviews, became a classic, and still sells more than 50,000 copies per year. Bradbury went on to write more than 50 acclaimed books and 200 short stories. In Ray’s later years he visited South Pasadena many times for events at both the Fremont Centre Theatre and South Pasadena Public Library.

Community-wide Reading Programs create opportunities for readers to enjoyably explore a great work of literature together.

  • Presentation of  Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451” Play, March 16 at 7 pm in the Library Community Room* with the  Pandemonium Theatre Company.
  • Reading and Discussion of “Fahrenheit 451” Book, March 20 at 7 pm in the Library Ray Bradbury Conference Room** with renowned Actor and Author Duffy Hudson.
  • Performance by acclaimed Actor Bill Oberst, March 24  at 7 pm  in Library Community Room* of Ray Bradbury’s “Pillar of Fire”, a precursor to “Fahrenheit 451”.
  • Screening of  classic  1966 “Fahrenheit 451” motion picture, March 30 at 7 p.m. in Library Community Room*. Directed by  Francois Truffaut and starring Julie Christie and Oskar Werner.

Many copies of the “Fahrenheit 451” book, as well as many other books and other materials by and about Ray Bradbury, are available for checkout at the South Pasadena Public Library.

(*) Library Community Room– 1115 El Centro Street
(**) South Pasadena Public Library (including Ray Bradbury Conference Room — 1100 Oxley Street

Come to the South Pasadena Fire Station for the Fahrenheit 451 Reading Project on March 2

The “One Book-One City” Reading Project of the South Pasadena Public Library and the Friends of the South Pasadena Public Library will focus on Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451.

On Thursday, March 2 at  5:00 p.m., the Kickoff for the Reading Project will take place at the South Pasadena Fire Station. It will present Micah the Magician from the World Famous Magic Castle in Hollywood. Special guests will also offer some Ray Bradbury reminiscences.

Micah will be performing a magic show for all ages in honor of Bradbury who wanted to be a magician while growing up – before he decided on a writing career. It will be presented at the Fire Station because firemen play central roles in the Fahrenheit 451 plot.

Bradbury wrote Fahrenheit 451 on a rental typewriter in the basement of UCLA’s Lawrence Clark Powell Library, where he had taken refuge from a small house filled with the distractions of two young children. Ballantine editor Stanley Kauffman, later the longtime film critic for The New Republic magazine, flew out to Los Angeles to go over the manuscript with Bradbury, plying the sweet-toothed perfectionist author with copious doses of ice cream. The book came out to glorious reviews. To this day it sells at least 50,000 copies a year and has become a touchstone around the world for readers and writers living under repressive regimes.

Lissa Reynolds of the Fremont Center Theater helps Ray Bradbury read his 90th birthday card.

Ray Bradbury’s plays were performed at South Pasadena’s Fremont Centre Theatre for many years by his own Ray Bradbury’s Pandemonium Theatre Company. He also appeared for two Author Nights for the South Pasadena Public Library, including for his 90th Birthday Celebration which attracted hundreds to the Library Community Room and Library Park. At that event, he exhorted his fans to “Do what you love and love what you do!” Ray had done just that, until his death at age 91.

The South Pasadena Fire Station is located at 817 Mound Avenue. Doors will open at 4:30 p.m.

A Chance To Help Ted White

Ted White at the 2004 Corflu

Ted White needs help to stay in his Falls Church home and keep the tax man off his back. He has started a GoFundMe to “Save My House”.

Ted, now 79, has a deep resume in the sf field. He is a writer with a dozen books published, former editor of Amazing and Fantastic, a past Worldcon chairman, winner of the Best Fan Writer Hugo, and the 1985 Worldcon fan guest of honor.

Since 1970 I’ve lived in the house in Falls Church, Virginia, in which I grew up.  It was built by my parents in 1935 and expanded in 1946.  I did extensive remodeling in the ’70s.

The problem is property taxes.  They keep going up, and are currently around $12,000 a year (with the threat of a 3% increase).  I have paid them out of my dwindling savings, and my savings are now gone.  I cannot pay the current (half-annual) bill of $6,048.89, which was due last December.

At my age, opportunities for employment are limited.  Currently I work one day a week as the copyeditor of my local weekly newspaper.

I fear becoming homeless.  Losing my house is a certainty unless I can keep the property taxes paid, and do the necessary upkeep on the house (it needs painting and a new roof, at a minimum).  With the exception of 12 years in New York City, I’ve lived in this house all my life.  All my memories (and all my possessions) are here.  Losing my house would be devastating.

 [Thanks to JJ, Cathy, Glenn Glazer, and Danny Sichel for the story.]

Remembering Jerry Goldsmith on His Birthday

By Steve Vertlieb: Here’s a personal letter from Jerry Goldsmith in response to an article I’d written about him for Cinemacabre Magazine nearly four decades ago.

I’d left a message with his housekeeper, requesting some photos of him with which to illustrate the article. He telephoned me at home some twelve hours later, and was most gracious and cordial in our conversation, offering to ship out a package of stills once he’d received them from his photographer. I pinch myself to this day, recalling that I’d actually received an intimate telephone call from Jerry.

Our brief association so many years ago remains a cherished memory, and certainly a highlight of my own life and experience. Today, February 10th, would have been Jerry’s 88th Birthday. Remembering a very special man…and a very great composer.

[With apologies to Steve, we’re going to pretend I posted this when I received it from him yesterday, instead of being late, like Goldsmith himself, who passed away in 2004.]

Wu You Gonna Call?

By Frank Wu: I knew Brianna was a fighter the weekend we met. It was 2007, at MileHiCon. Even though we had hit it off and even though the con was totally fun (partly because I was AGOH), she totally abandoned me on Saturday afternoon. Why? Because she had a date… to go protest George W. Bush and his pointless, destructive wars.

Years before that (back in 2004), Brianna had a throw-down with her ultra-conservative dad in Mississippi. The conversation went something like this:

Dad: “Why is there a John Kerry bumper sticker on your car? George W. Bush is the best president we’ve ever had.”

Brianna: “No, he’s the worst. And you know how I know that? Because I don’t watch FOX NEWS and let it tell me everything’s OK.”

I’ve seen her stand up to bullies, to Gamergate. To sexists and racists. To liars. To people who’ve sent her rape threats. People who’ve sent her death threats.


Because she cares. And she’s not willing to back down from a fight.

People ask me when Brianna decided to run for Congress. I tell them: The day Donald Trump was “elected”.

I really look forward to my chance to introduce her on stage at a rally. This is what I am going to say:

“Who here is a billionaire? Anyone? Anyone? Well, do you know that billionaires now run all three branches of the government? Pick any random three people on Donald Trump’s cabinet and they have more money than all the people of Massachusetts combined. Do you think that billionaires have your best interests in mind? Or do you think they’re going to lower their taxes, so they can raise taxes on you… you… and you? Who’s going to stand up to them when they do that? Brianna Wu, that’s who!

“Or when they try to take away the rights of people who don’t look like them? Who don’t go to the right church? Or have the right skin color? Or the right chromosomes? Or people whose only crime is loving whom they want to love? Who’s going to say, ‘Not on my watch!”? Brianna Wu, that’s who!

“And when Donald Trump picks the former head of Exxon to be in his cabinet… do you think this guy cares if our drinking water is fit to drink, or our breathing air is fit to breathe? And do you think this guy gives a flying flip about climate change? Do you? Well, what’s going to happen when sea levels rise and Dorchester Bay is flowing into your basement and Rock Island and Fort Andrews are washed away and Cohasset is underwater? What is the former head of Exxon going to care? No, he’ll just float away on his yacht. And then Wu gonna call? Brianna Wu, that’s who!”

I can’t wait to take these people on.

Pat Rogers Visits Ray Bradbury’s Old Neighborhood


On the quiet tree-lined streets of Cheviot Hills in Los Angeles there is the new house being built on Ray Bradbury’s old lot.

In November, Pat Rogers made a pilgrimage to see what the new owner is doing. She wrote, “The owner said he bought in that area because he liked the quaint charm of the neighborhood. Which is now a little less quaint and charming. He also just had the last tree over the sidewalk cut down. Sigh. So it goes.”

John King Tarpinian’s photos of the Bradbury house being torn down went viral in January 2015.

Interior A RESIZE


Bradbury house


The property had been acquired by Thom Mayne – a famous LA architect — and his wife, Blythe Alison-Mayne. They discussed the plans for their new house with a KCRW reporter a week after the teardown.

DnA: What are you planning to build? On the blogosphere one of the terms that’s being thrown around is McMansion.

BM: That is so, so wrong. It’s the exact opposite of a McMansion.

We are building this really, really modest house. Most of it is landscaping.

It’s really interesting because the ground is being excavated and the house is going down below the level of the ground, a lot of it, not all of it. We come up only four feet from the ground level.

TM: If you look at the maximum envelope which everybody’s building, we are we are building only 20 percent of the volume that we are allowed to build so it’s actually an anti, a super-anti-McMansion.

We are attacking that issue because I see this very much as a prototype for a California house. I’m aware of the Case Study program; I studied with Pierre Koenig and I see this as the next generation of a Case Study for a residential environment in California and it has do with scale, it it has to do with landscape, it has no air conditioning, it has to do with climate, it has to do with lifestyle. The main room is exterior, it’s an outside room and we’ve learned that because that’s how we live in our house currently.

Blythe also said, “There is a wall that we will design that will be seen from the outside of the house and all of the titles of his books will be embedded in this wall.”

How does it look right now?

Pat Rogers said, “If I put aside my bias about Ray’s house being torn down and take it as interesting architecture (the metallic looking walls may be adapted solar panels) — I would still have a problem with it in this neighborhood. Maybe if it was located out in the desert near Palm Springs or on Mars, it would be OK.”


Pat's shadow points to where the last tree used to be.

Pat’s shadow points to where the last tree used to be.

Brianna Wu Running for Congress


Brianna Wu has gone public on Facebook with her hope of running for Congress in 2018.

Along with Anita Sarkeesian and Zoë Quinn, Wu is frequently cited by the media as one of the targets of GamerGate supporters’ harassment of women in the gaming industry.

She told an interviewer from Venture Beat:

“The reason I decided to run is simple: [President-elect Donald] Trump is terrifyingly now in the White House. I can’t sit by making pleasant video game distractions for the next four years while the constitution is under assault. Hillary [Clinton] ran a brave marathon, and now it’s time for women of my generation to pick up that baton and commit to public service.”

“The other reason I’m running is because I’m ready for a bolder Democratic Party. I didn’t personally support Sanders in the primary, but he tapped into a very powerful disconnect between our party’s leadership and our base. We want leaders that will fight for us, and all too often the Democrats don’t stand up to the fringe extreme of the Republican Party. I’ve been called a lot of names over my career, but I’ve never been told I’m scared of a fight. You know just how passionate I am about women in tech. But I believe we’ve hit an asymptote with what activism in tech can accomplish. People are aware of the problem, but all that’s getting done is window dressing. We don’t need more catered women in tech lunches, we don’t need speeches – we need structural bias against us to stop. And I think women in tech serving in the legislative branch is the next step forward.”

Wu says she has her eye on the 8th Massachusetts Congressional district, currently served by Democratic incumbent Stephen Lynch, just re-elected to his ninth term with 74% of the vote. He’s regarded as a moderate Democrat, but says to those trying to categorize him, “Calling me the least liberal member from Massachusetts is like calling me the slowest Kenyan in the Boston Marathon. It’s all relative.”

Less than 5% of the district’s eligible voters cast ballots in the 2016 Democratic primary (29,352). Wu says she feels she is capable of getting the necessary 10,000-15,000 votes needed to knock out the incumbent.

Barkley — So Glad You (Didn’t) Ask: A Column of Unsolicited Opinions — #3

nobel_prizeAn Incredibly Modest Set of Proposals to the Royal Swedish Academy for the Nobel Prize for Literature

By Chris M. Barkley:

Come gather ’round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You’ll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you
Is worth savin’
Then you better start swimmin’
Or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’

Bob Dylan, The Times They Are a_Changin’, January 1964.

On October 13, Bob Dylan was announced as the 113th recipient of the 2016 Nobel Prize for Literature, the Mount Everest of literary achievement. Surprised? Dylan’s accomplishment, in the official announcement from the Royal Swedish Academy was “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.”

The announcement itself was an anomaly for another reason; it was made a week after all of the other Nobel laureates were announced. I’m just causally speculating here, but it could have taken that long for the members of the Royal Academy to convince Dylan that this wasn’t an elaborate prank set up by his ex-Traveling Wilbury band mate, Jeff Lynne. And I admit that while I was mildly surprised but not overly shocked by his selection. Dylan had been rumored to be a nominee in some circles for several years now.

Although there has been some harsh criticism of Dylan’s selection by literary elites in America, I think that there can be no doubt that he deserves the recognition as one of America’s greatest and most influential songwriters. And as poetry, his songs have few equals in this modern era.

This year, it is also notable because Dylan is the first American to win the honor since Toni Morrison in 1993. Like a lot of other readers and writers around the world, we feel badly for those of us who are big fans of the works American mainstream authors such as Joyce Carol Oates, Philip Roth, Thomas Pynchon, Joan Didion, Stephen King, Cormac McCarthy, Louise Erdrich and Don DiLillo.

The Swedish Academy, which administers the Literature Prize honors, in the words from the will of Alfred Nobel, “in the field of literature the most outstanding work in an ideal direction”. And I must congratulate the current secretary of the Royal Swedish Academy, Sara Danius, for leading the committing to make a bold, innovative choice of Bob Dylan for this year’s Literature Prize. But I am hoping for much, much, more with the Academy’s future recipients.

Consider this; some of the finest writers of mainstream fiction who have ever walked this planet, Virginia Woolf, Jorge Luis Borges, Anton Chekov, Willa Cather, Leo Tolstoy, Zora Neale Hurston, Vladimir Nabokov, Isak Dinesen, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., C.S. Lewis and Graham Greene among others, have never won the honor. It is well-known that previous Nobel Committees have not only been notoriously political and divisive over the decades, they, just as literary critics around the world, have been scornful and dismissive of anything outside of mainstream literature.

The question must be asked: would it be better for the Royal Academy, and as a consequence, for the world of literature as well, to vastly broaden the scope of nominees with the inclusion of other so-called “genre authors” as well?

The very definition of the noun literature is, “written works, especially those considered of superior or lasting artistic merit.” Surely writers of humor, children’s, mystery and thrillers, feminist, romance, fantasy, sf and horror, have produced such works over the past century.  But, as anyone who has done any research in this area, the selection process shows that there has been a deliberate shunning of other forms of literature.

Voting for the Nobel Prizes has been opaque since the very beginnings of the awards. All of the deliberations are done only by the members of the Nobel branches. Past nominees cannot be named until 50 years after the awards were given.

Of all of the recipients of the Literature Prize, only one, Doris Lessing in 2007, could be considered as someone who wrote works other than mainstream fiction. Her most and acclaimed works was the Canopus in Argos: Archives, an astonishing quintet of novels which used science fiction as a template to explore various interactions between aliens and humans.  In a 2011 Locus review of Lessing works, Graham Sleight wrote, “If nothing else, they display a full knowledge with the possibilities of the genre, including very visible influences from people like (Arthur C.) Clarke, (Olaf) Stapledon, and (Ursula K.) Le Guin. “


Doris Lessing

Incidentally, Lessing was one of the professional guests of honor at Conspiracy, the 1987 Worldcon in Brighton, UK, a fact that the Nobel committee must have been aware of during the period she was under consideration.

Limiting myself just to fantasy and sf, I believe that there are a number of critically acclaimed writers who, when they were alive, deserved a Nobel nomination during their lifetimes. The late Octavia Butler, J.R.R. Tolkien, Diana Wynne Jones, Ray Bradbury, J.G. Ballard, Madeleine L’Engle, Theodore Sturgeon, Jack Vance, Stanislaw Lem and Philip K. Dick easily come to mind.

Among the contemporary world-class authors; the aforementioned Ursula K. Le Guin, Harlan Ellison, Brian Aldiss, Tamora Pierce, Neil Gaiman, Margaret Atwood, Gene Wolfe, Jo Walton, Guy Gavriel Kay, Christopher Priest, Karen Joy Fowler, China Mieville, Kij Johnson, Tim Powers, Nalo Hopkinson and Michael Moorcock have all produced intensely personal works of high quality that I feel the Nobel Committee should give them all some serious of consideration.

Are the members of the Swedish Academy trying to tell us these people don’t write well? Or that their contributions to literature and world culture don’t amount to much? Because that’s exactly what the majority of mainstream book critics, academics and literary scholars still think.

I do have a few modest ideas that I freely offer to the members of Royal Academy:

First, announce long and short lists of nominees for the Nobel Prize; as it has been demonstrated in the past, when nominees for a major award is announced, the interest (and sales) of the nominee’s works rise exponentially. The Booker Prize, The Book Critics Circle, the National Book Awards, the Edgar Awards from the Mystery Writers of America, Australia’s  Ditmar and the John W. Campbell, Nebula and the Hugo Awards, all widely publicize their nominees each year, to great effect.

Secondly, extend an invitation to a varied, rotating slate of writers, reviewers and critics from other countries to become voting members on the Literature Committee. Surely adding them can widen the net of nominees from just the usual set of suspects each year. (Of course, it would be just as helpful if some of those invited in would be our own John Clute or the New York Times’ crime and mystery reviewer Marilyn Stasio.)

Lastly, offer multiple winners each year. Such a thing is not unprecedented; in fact, it has occurred three times in the past; in 1917 (Karl Adolph Gjellerup and Henrik Pontoppidan of Denmark), 1966 (Schmuel Yosef Agnon of Israel and Nelly Sachs of Germany) and 1974 (Eyvind Johnson and Harry Martinson of Sweden). I personally feel that offering two or more winners each year will not dilute the honor and insure that more worthy living recipients are honored while they’re alive, as the Kennedy Center Honors or the Presidential Medal of Freedom do each year.

In a world that has seen a rise in the number of people who either have no interest in reading (“aliteracy”) or a diminished interest, it’s important to keep people engaged and energized, whether it is for pleasure or their own edification. A Nobel Prize, one of the most publicized and widely known of all awards, gives it recipients the possibility that their works will not fall into obscurity.

As for Mr. Dylan, he did not make the ceremony last Saturday due to “prior engagements”, but prepared some remarks that were read in Stockholm by the US ambassador to Sweden.  And legendary songstress Patti Smith was enlisted to sing one of Dylan’s most famous songs, “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” at the ceremony that evening.

I have no doubt that Fiona Apple, the boys from U2, Pink, Jewel, Bruce Springsteen (and the E Street Band) and a lot of other musician-poets will be paying more attention to the news coming out of Stockholm in future Octobers. We can only hope that fans of all sorts of literature can look forward to a more diverse set of nominees and winners in the future as well.

Come mothers and fathers
Throughout the land
And don’t criticize
What you can’t understand
Your sons and your daughters
Are beyond your command
Your old road is rapidly agin’
Please get out of the new one
If you can’t lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin’

Barkley — So Glad You (Didn’t) Ask: A Column of Unsolicited Opinions — #2

When the Blinders Are On, The Knives Come Out

By Chris M. Barkley:

Belief – Understanding = Ignorance

We, collectively, live on a very large, complex, noisy, crowded and messy planet.  And on this planet, at this particular time, communicating your ideas clearly and concisely is not only important, it’s essential.

If only it were that easy.

Mind you, if you wanted to communicate your feelings to a broad audience, you can do it as easily as ordering a latte from Starbucks. Which can be a big problem when you have a lot of people with conflicting ideas and ideologies competing for you money, attention and time.

But consider this; what if your fervent belief in your own values could be hindering your ability to engage your empathy for those who you disagree with, politically or socially?

On the afternoon of September 15, on Hoffman Avenue in the Olde Towne East neighborhood of Columbus Ohio, a thirteen year old black teenager, Tyre King, was shot left temple, the upper left chest and upper left side of the abdomen by Bryan Mason, a white Columbus Police officer. It was alleged by police that King, along with several other teenagers, had robbed a man of ten dollars with a gun. When police responded and confronted two of the teens, King allegedly pulled a gun from his waistband, which is when Officer Mason fired.

On September 16, knowing just these few scant details, I came across a post on Facebook page of a prominent fan from the United Kingdom, lamenting about this latest police involved shooting.

(Note: I am not naming this fan or any of those who support this point of view, because as much as I disagree with what happened next; no one should not be subject to recriminations or harassment by anyone reading this.)

I wrote that the situation was terrible but, under the circumstances, we should withhold any final judgment about what happened until the investigation had been completed. The reaction, from this person and other friends from around the UK and Europe was swift, harsh and unrelenting.

What the hell was I talking about? A cop shot a child. America’s police forces were out of control. America is full of corrupt cops. America is like the Wild West. When will the police stop killing? End of story, pal.

I found myself being quite startled and bewildered by these reactions. I have to explain that I have always been a bit of an optimist and that I have always considered myself to be a human being first, then an American and black, in that order. But being an African-American, I have always had to walk a tightrope of emotions when it comes to living here. I have experienced the worst sorts of discrimination, violence, insults and racism just based on my appearance as a black man. I feel and experience it every day, whether I like it not. But one of the safe spaces I have enjoyed over the past forty years, until very recently was being in the company of fans, writers, artists and editors in sf and fantasy fandom.

When I was in my formative years, I briefly entertained thoughts of being a police officer myself. And that period, the late 60’s through the early 70’s, the United States was rife with more violent crime and domestic terrorism than we do today. But as a teenager, I was more attracted to the gritty movies and tv shows of the day, The French Connection, Dirty Harry, The Seven Ups, Kojak, Hawaii Five-O and Adam-12.

All of this came to a grinding halt at the tender age of fifteen, thanks to Detective Sergeant Joseph Wambaugh of the Los Angeles Police Department.

Wambaugh, a former marine, served with the LAPD for fourteen years before retiring to write full-time.

I first stumbled across his first novel, The New Centurions (1971), at the public library in 1973. That, plus his other early novels, The Blue Knight, The Choirboys and his stunning non-fiction best seller, The Onion Field, pulled back the glamorous veneer of police work and showed me what it truly was, dark, dangerous and only occasionally fulfilling. He was also an executive story consultant for NBC’s Police Story (1973-1979), an anthology series whose episodes, more often than not, dared to show the dark underbelly of policing.

Reading Joseph Wambaugh’s works probably saved my life. I could not imagine that I would have survived the emotional and physical toll the job would have taken on me over any lengthy period of time.

On top of all this, my brother-in-law, who married my sister straight out of high school, went straight to the police academy and served in the Cincinnati Police department for thirty years, on patrol duty, undercover, an elite street robbery unit and internal affairs. I find it remarkable that he appears to be whole and sane after seeing, hearing and experiencing what he did over his career in police work.

So, when I graduated from high school, I opted for a slightly safer occupation; journalism courses and a degree in English.

Throughout my life of sixty years, I have stayed alive because of my knowledge of the police and how they operate, along with a good dose of common sense. I also have a great deal of empathy for the police, because I know what it is doing to them on emotional level.

Which brings me back to the Facebook discussion; I explained, several times to the posters on the thread that police work, no matter where or who is practicing it, is not only physically dangerous, it is, more importantly, emotionally dangerous, which is what Joseph Wambaugh taught me. No one wants to see a cop unless someone is shooting or robbing them. Otherwise, some people feel, your speeding, broken car parts, expired license, decrepit vehicle, driving with your headlights off, public drunkenness or impaired driving, is no one else’s business.

And of course, this is dead wrong. Public safety, which incorporates all of the activities above and countless other infractions, comes under their purview.

The police, I explained, are human beings, too. And like all human beings, they miscalculate, misunderstand and, through their own experiences, come with a set of values and judgments that come from dealing with the public on a daily basis. Most cops deal with this precarious balance of sense and sensibility. Others, unfortunately, do not.

Over the decades, the police departments in many cities, most notably in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and yes, even Cincinnati, have been placed under investigation or scrutiny by the Department of Justice for unwarranted shootings or violence, against unarmed civilians, most of them being minorities.

I tried to explain to the thread that In this day and age of cell phone cameras, dashcams, the internet and the vigilance of an informed public, police shootings, justified or not, will not go unnoticed. I told them that as flawed as it was, I believe in our system of due process and trial by evidence, not public opinion.

Will justice be served in the case of every shooting? No. But the record for posterity and the memories of those left behind will never be erased from history.

As far as I could tell, all of the correspondents condemned me.  One poster wrote, “Well, obviously you must be white”, an astonishing and surreal accusation that could have been easily avoided had she bothered to check my Facebook profile. A child was dead and a cop shot him, case closed. I, in turn, asked if you were a police officer in that situation, and a gun was present, such as a 2014 case in Cleveland, Ohio, when twelve-year-old Tamir Rice was shot in a public park while holding a realistic looking air rifle, could you tell the difference between a real gun and air gun? A police officer, who is already under duress, has to make a choice in seconds whether or not that gun is real. No one wanted to deal with the reality they face EVERY SINGLE DAY that they might end up being on the receiving end of a fatal gunshot.

But this argument came to a head the very next day. Some of my posts featured words in caps, when I tried to emphasize a point when everyone was ignoring my arguments, the owner of the wall declared that I was “shouting” and I summarily blocked.

Now mind you, I have known this person for a few years and had some pleasant conversations at Worldcons in the past. Being summarily dismissed over a difference of opinion shocked and angered me.

And as for the shooting in Columbus that started this argument? Upon examination, the weapon in fact, turned out to be an air gun fitted with a laser sight. An autopsy released by the coroner on November 10th revealed that King had no drugs or alcohol in his system and that the left side wound indicates that King was turning to run or was running when he was shot. An independent autopsy done at the behest of the King family matched the official autopsy. Sean Walton, an attorney for the family, planned to call for an independent investigation and send their report to other forensic experts for further analysis.

On November 22, Demetrius E. Braxton, 19, who was also arrested at the scene, was sentenced to three years in prison for one count of robbery as part of a plea agreement.

As of this date, Officer Mason is still on desk duty and Columbus Police are still investigating the shooting. I wonder if any of the people who denigrated me actually followed up on what happened in Columbus?

Indeed, I wonder if any of these righteous people had heard of or care about the five valiant police officers who died protecting Black Lives Matter protesters when the officers were brutally ambushed by a sniper this past July.

How about Detective Benjamin Marconi of San Antonio, Texas, who was fatally shot on November 20th while writing a traffic ticket. And Deputy Sherriff Eric James Oliver of the Nassau County Sheriff’s Office, Florida, who was struck by a vehicle while pursuing a suspect on November 22nd.? And what about Officer Reginald “Jake” Gutierrez of Tacoma, Washington, who was killed by gunfire when he responded to a domestic disturbance call on November 30th? NOTE: The total of police killed in the line of duty in 2016 as of November 30th stood at 133, according to the Officer Down Memorial Page. Of those, 60 deaths were from gunfire.

So yeah, I get it; there are some police officers who kill or maim unarmed civilians with malice. Some of them are caught and punished, others are not. But do you care, do you give a damn or a thought to the police officers who are hurt or killed performing their sworn duty to protect the public?

Why do some people vehemently turn on other people they know over some minor disagreement?  Especially people, neighbors or friends who have similar views and outlooks?

Actually, as a progressive leaning person, this is not something I had really not given much thought to until, strangely enough, Black Friday morning. I had planned on getting up at 5 a.m. to attend a sale at a local bookstore but, in deference to my rather sleepy partner, I opted to listen to National Public Radio’s Morning Edition instead.

The very first story that morning featured host Steve Inskeep interviewing Columbia University professor Mark Lilla, who had published a controversial essay in the New York Times on what he called identity liberalism and how that was one of the main causes of the startling election of Donald Trump. The interview can be heard here and the essay is here.

In brief, Professor Lilla thinks that enlightened self-interest is at times overcome by myopic concerns on a few or even one issue. As I lay in bed listening, I found myself flashing back to that incident on Facebook. And what Lilla theorized made perfect sense in retrospect; when the blinders go on, the knives come out.

Now, before we all start feeling all smug and condescending about liberals or sf fandom, these same of standards could be equally applied to the conservative forces that have been obstructing President Obama’s agenda during his two terms or any of the more strident supporters of President-Elect Trump.

We all carry some inherently bias in one way or another, either through our political or social or intimate interactions.

A few days after the NPR interview, I encountered a few Trump supporters on my open and public page. Instead of blasting them and summarily blocking them, as I had done in the past, I tried a different approach. I told them while I was not pleased at all with President-Elect Trump and his cabinet appointees; there were serious concerns about his conflicts of interests with his businesses. I also pointed out that the people peacefully protesting were not the enemy, they were citizens and had a right to do so. Furthermore, since we’re all in this boat together, we should concentrate on finding common areas to work on together instead of attacking each other on everything we disagree on.

And the responses in return were remarkable. One man explained why he voted for Trump and said that for one, he enjoyed engaging with someone who wasn’t calling him an “alt-right nazi” at the drop of a hat. The other said that he did not like fighting all the time online and wished that more people like me would just try talking instead of shouting at each other all of the time.

Buddhists have a phrase, “the middle path”, in which they describe a philosophy where extremism is avoided and wisdom is gained through understanding. Western political thought has other comparable terms, compromise and empathy.

Over the past few years, fandom has faced a problem with dissidents; the Sad and Rabid Puppies. The us and them, push and pull and political gamesmanship over the very nature of the fandom has stressed it to the point of being permanently fractured, much like the United States is presently.

The only way any of us are going to survive the Trump Administration, or each other, is to stop shouting at each other and start listening more. I say this not as an excuse to accommodate the racism, sexism, homophobia or religious persecution. We are going to be fighting these battles for some time to come and we, collectively, should spare no effort to combating it.

But we need to start somewhere. We need to understand in order to overcome the conflict, animosity and anger we all carry with us each day.

We start by listening.

Knowledge + Empathy = Enlightenment