October 17, 2013
By Stafford L. Battle
Special to the NNPA from the New Pittsburgh Courier
(BlackNews.com) — October has been dubbed African American Speculative Fiction Month by a group of online enthusiasts. This was done to acknowledge the writers, artists, entertainers and independent publishers around the country and elsewhere who are producing science fiction narratives, performances and art featuring Afrocentric themes. African Americans also use October to celebrate the merger of science and the arts via AFROFuturism.
Speculative fiction encourages people to look beyond their day-to-day existence and consider new possibilities that could benefit and enrich their lives. AFROFuturism incorporates novels, short stories, comic books, graphic arts, music, dance, video and other artistic forms that embrace science fiction and fantasy — for entertainment, encouragement and education.
The unofficial hub of African American speculative fiction is Atlanta, Georgia.
During October for the last three years, the Auburn Avenue Research Library on African American Culture and History has offered readings, panel discussions, music and art demonstrating the Afrocentric involvement in science fiction and fantasy.
Digital communities such as “The Afrofuturist Affair”, “The Black Science Fiction Society” and “The Black Author Showcase” have sponsored online and offline activities to promote Black sci-fi and fantasy not only during October but throughout the year.
Black writers, artists, and filmmakers are gaining popularity as well as earning a few extra dollars. Book sales are low compared to urban romance and celebrity authors. But profitability is improving as more readers are exposed to Black sci-fi and fantasy. New titles are being published traditionally and independently.
Conventions and special events are drawing larger, multicultural audiences who are anxious to meet new writers and artists as well as pay homage to established Black Science Fiction icons such as Samuel Delany, Steven Barnes, Walter Mosley, and LaVar Burton. There are several well attended Black oriented comic book conventions such as the East Coast Black Age of Comics Convention in Philadelphia and ONYXCON in Atlanta.
According to public opinion and casual surveys at conferences and online, African Americans have moved beyond the desire to simply drink from a forbidden water fountain or live in a prestigious neighborhood outside of crowded urban centers; that was the past. People of African descent now can envision living on gravity-free space stations, traveling to distant planets or stars, building fantastic devices and molding new societies. Science and its literary kin, Speculative Fiction, is the catalyst for a dynamic and prosperous future.
Mae Jemison, the first African-American woman to become a U.S. astronaut is currently working on humanity’s first starship. Her goal: “to help change the world by leading the effort to send and sustain humans in interstellar space travel within the next 100 years.” It has taken NASA’s Voyager spacecraft, the fastest man-made object to date, more than three decades just to penetrate the outer edge of the solar system to enter interstellar space. A conventional spaceship traveling to the nearest star, more than four light years away (25 trillion miles) would need 70,000 years to arrive at the destination. But the 100 Year Starship project is exploring techniques to reduce that travel time to a few decades or even hours.
In 2009, President Barack Obama appointed Charles Frank Bolden, Jr., an African American, Marine Corps Major General, and an astronaut to be senior administrator of NASA that has a long-term ambition to land humans on the planet Mars. In a video published April 2010, titled “NASA’s New Era of Innovation and Discovery”, Bolden said, “We’re gonna turn science fiction into science fact.” Bolden told interviewers that one of the top goals he was tasked with by President Obama was to “help re-inspire children to want to get into science and math.”
What better way to influence students to pursue interplanetary and hi-tech careers, than by offering visions of individuals who mastered the challenges of space and technology at the end of each television episode or the closing credits of a movie. An ambitious Black student has a much better chance of becoming a highly paid, prestigious scientist than being recruited by the National Football League or any professional sports league.
Entertainers such as Will Smith (I, Robot), Laurence Fishburne (The Matrix), Avery Brooks (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine) brought to the public eye, heroic figures deep in the sci-fi genre. In reality, Astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson takes us to the edge of the universe and beyond. He appears frequently on television and among enthusiastic live audiences at conferences and special events. These and many other like-minded individuals are to be considered as AFROFuturists who are changing America’s expectations.
Black people are not strangers to speculative fiction.
In the early 1900s, writers such Pauline Hopkins, Sutton Griggs, Martin Delany and George Schuyler were publishing stories about people of color who were discovering lost civilizations, building ray guns and flying machines, conquering Europe and charting a revolutionary Black destiny. Their tales gave hope to communities that were suffering devastating racial inequalities purposely enforced to stunt progress and create a 2nd class citizenship.
In 2013, African Americans face new road blocks such as lack of satisfying employment and health disparities. AFROFuturists use art and science to encourage others to make dreams become reality.
Anyone can participate. Science fiction is not just a geeky, White male American concept. Women and men are writing, drawing and filmmaking. Africa has a new crop of science fiction writers. There are Islamic authors producing stories of the fantastic. Asian, Native American, and Latino graphic and literary artists are contributing. In fact, speculative fiction has probably been expressed in all human cultures.
Black Speculative Fiction Month for October 2013 has humble beginnings similar to the gestation of February’s Black History Month that began in the 1920s by Carter G. Woodson. But the Sci-fi movement is taking off – like a rocket. The payload includes “Sword and Soul”, “Steam Funk”, “Afro Sci-Fi”, “Weird Black Westerns” and other subgenres. Welcome aboard.
For more about the African American involvement in Speculative Fiction go to www.africanamericansciencefiction.com
Stafford Battle is a writer and blogger living in a quiet suburb just outside of Washington, DC. He is also an Instructional Designer creating online educational modules for Medical Students. He is currently working on his latest book, “The Architects of AFROFuturism”. He can be reached at sbattle@ sbattle.com or 202-607-3771 or via his web site at www.staffordbattle.com.
October 17, 2013
By Barbara Surk
CAIRO (AP) — Egypt’s foreign minister said Wednesday that relations between his country and the United States are in “turmoil” following Washington’s decision to suspend delivery of tanks, helicopters and fighter jets to Egypt.
The suspension, announced last week, came in response to the unrest in the wake of the July 3 military coup that ousted Mohammed Morsi, Egypt’s first freely elected president, and that led to the deaths of hundreds in police crackdowns.
In an interview with state-owned Al-Ahram newspaper, Egypt’s Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy said that there is “unrest in relations” between the two countries, warning that the strain could affect the whole Middle East region. The interview was published Wednesday.
However, Fahmy said he was “not worried about this turmoil in relations,” because it’s also a chance for the two to “better evaluate their relationship in the future.”
The Obama administration’s decision to cut off military aid was meant as a warning that it no longer can be “business as usual” with Cairo, as President Barack Obama put it last week.
In announcing the decision, the State Department did not say how much of the $1.5 billion in annual military and economic aid to Egypt was affected. It held up the delivery of Apache helicopters, F-16 fighter jets, M1A1 Abrams tank kits, which are put together in Egyptian factories, and Harpoon anti-ship missiles.
But the U.S. decision is more of a symbolic slap than a punishing wound to Egypt’s new military-backed government for its slog toward a return to democratic rule.
The military-backed government enjoys the support of wealthy Gulf Arab states such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. These oil-rich states have poured billions of dollars into Egypt’s anemic coffers and to continue the common fight against Islamists.
The U.S. also is withholding $260 million in cash assistance to the government in Cairo until “credible progress” is made toward an inclusive government set up through free and fair elections.
The U.S. said it will keep providing support for health and education and counterterrorism, spare military parts, military training and border security and security assistance in the volatile Sinai Peninsula.
Near-daily attacks against Egyptian security forces and soldiers in Sinai have increasingly resembled a full-fledged insurgency.
October 17, 2013
By Freddie Allen
NNPA Washington Correspondent
Following the terrorist attack of September 11, 2001 that brought down the World Trade Center towers in New York and punched a hole in the Pentagon in northern Virginia, the United States government ramped up a massive data collection campaign that effectively claimed privacy rights have become another casualty of the War on Terror.
A new report from the Brennan Center, a nonpartisan think tank and public interest law firm at New York University School of Law, details the government’s enormous data collection and storage efforts fueled by the fear of another September 11.
According to the report, the U.S. government can collect your public Facebook posts and tweets, all non-deleted and non-encrypted information from your computer, telephone, or iPad, your e-mails, where you travel, who you meet with, your credit history and your driving record.
Every 30 days, the National Security Agency stores 41 billion communications records through its XKEYSCORE program that tracks a wide range of Internet activity and e-mails. Through the program, some data with no connections to terrorism can be saved for more than 75 years.
“One of the things that comes up often is that there was too much information in the system and that really did hinder accurate analysis,” said Rachel Levinson-Waldman the author of the Brennan Center report, titled “What The Government Does With Americans’ Data.”
The report stated, “The failure of the intelligence community to intercept the so-called ‘underwear bomber’ – the suicide bomber who nearly brought down a plane to Detroit on Christmas Day 2009 – was blamed in significant part not on insufficient information but on an overabundance of data.”
Levinson-Wardman said democracy works best when there is a lot of information flowing from the government to the people and, by and large, that pattern has been reversed. “There’s a lot of information flowing from us and there is very little transparency in reverse,” she said.
The government’s surveillance powers have grown under the Obama administration, even as experts warn that the current approach to data collection clogs the system making it harder to find the real terrorists. Some experts warn that a billion “false alarms” could be generated from the administration’s current levels of data collection.
In 2012, the National Counterterrorism Center [NCTC] received a new mandate that allowed for increased collection of American data that had no current link to terrorism – “a ten-fold increase from the previous limit,” according to the Brennan Center.
The report states, “the NCTC may utilize, keep, or share information about Americans in order to monitor their First Amendment-protected activities or other constitutional rights as long as that is not the sole justification for using the data.”
When the National Security Agency was audited in 2012, investigators found that the organization had violated privacy rights of thousands of Americans that ultimately led to zero terrorism plots.
“NSA analysts have also misused the agency’s surveillance systems to spy on spouses or romantic interests,” stated the Brennan Center report. Even though the NSA vowed to comply with all privacy laws, experts say that the violations highlight the need for greater transparency and independent oversight of the surveillance programs.
The Brennan Center report outlined a number of recommendations including making sure that the data set has a “publicly available policy” to increase transparency of the programs, that government agencies “require reasonable suspicion of criminal activity to retain or share information about Americans for law enforcement or intelligence purposes,” and “Reform the Privacy Act to better protect against the long-term retention and broad sharing of innocuous, sensitive personal information, and institute oversight mechanisms.”
Levinson-Wardman said that experts from the CIA, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Defense have said that there is so much information flowing from the public to the government that the system is overloaded.
“It’s impossible to find the important parts, it clogs up the system, but people are afraid not to bring it all in,” said Levinson-Wardman. “They are afraid of missing something, but the fact that there is so much [data] makes it almost inevitable that they are going to.”
October 17, 2013
By Cierra Duncan
Special to the NNPA from The Houston Defender
HOUSTON – Should “sagging” be banned? Some establishments think so. Two Houston McDonald’s locations recently joined the list of Texas restaurants that have banned customers wearing sagging pants with their underwear showing.
Signs placed on the doors read, “Pull your pants up or don’t come in. Try to have some decency and respect for others. No one wants to see your underwear.” Children under the age of three are exempt.
In September, 25 Dallas McDonald’s restaurants outlawed sagging. They posted signs that read, “No sagging allowed in this restaurant. Thank you. Management.” (The McDonald’s owners could not be reached for comment).
Bans on saggy pants have become a nationwide issue. Cocoa, Fla. and Terrebone Parish in Louisiana both enacted saggy pants ordinances.
USAirways faces a lawsuit from an African American college student who was arrested for his saggy pants on a San Francisco to New Mexico flight in 2011. Deshon Marman, a football player for the University of New Mexico, was removed from the flight. He said an airline employee yelled for him to pull up his pants while collecting board passes.
Two Houston activists who mentor young Black men say that that unfortunately, sagging pants can lead to negative stereotypes.
“Most young people who have sagging pants are not a part of the criminal class,” said Luthuli-Allen, co-founder of the International Youth Friendship and Development Program. “However, it’s a question of perception. So many youth are engaged in oppositional and defiant behaviors that people who don’t have daily interaction with youth have bought into deep stereotypes about young people.”
Deloyd Parker, co-founder and executive director of SHAPE Community Center, agrees. He said that bans on sagging pants by certain establishments are another strike against young men.
“By creating that rule, they’re creating another reason to mess with and profile young Black men,” Parker said.
Luthuli-Allen said policies banning customers from wearing sagging pants are “reactive rather proactive.”
He added that such policies are an attempt to protect companies’ customer bases and their ability to continue to remain profitable. He said that if a part of the customer base is offended by something, for example sagging pants, they will not continue to patronize the establishment.
“They are trying to make sure paying customers are not alienated because of something that is perceived as offensive,” Luthuli-Allen said.
Parker echoed his thoughts. “It has to be addressed in a way that does not turn away people,” he said.
Like Luthuli-Allen, Parker has the opportunity to interact with young people from the surrounding community. He also has rules in place about what to wear at the center. Sagging pants are not allowed and women cannot wear excessively revealing clothing.
“When they come into SHAPE I tell them I don’t want to see their underwear,” Parker said.
Luthuli-Allen said if youth have proper guidance they will understand they can be profiled solely based on their appearance.
“Youth who don’t have the proper guidance from adult mentors may not understand they can be profiled and victimized based on something as simple as sagging pants,” he said.
He added that as they did in the past, institutions of family, church and school should become more active in the lives of young people. If they do, youth would understand the importance of appearances and proper behavior in public.
“Kids are being socialized by popular culture,” Luthuli-Allen said. “They are having to learn what is required to be successful in this culture by trial and error.”
October 17, 2013
By Ed White
DETROIT (AP) — A former Detroit mayor was sent to federal prison for nearly three decades Thursday, after offering little remorse for the widespread corruption under his watch but acknowledging he let down the troubled city during a critical period before it landed in bankruptcy.
Prosecutors argued that Kwame Kilpatrick’s “corrupt administration exacerbated the crisis” that Detroit now finds itself in. A judge agreed with the government’s recommendation that 28 years in prison was appropriate for rigging contracts, taking bribes and putting his own price on public business.
It is one of the toughest penalties doled out for public corruption in recent U.S. history and seals a dramatic fall for Kilpatrick, who was elected mayor in 2001 at age 31 and is the son of a former senior member of Congress.
While Detroit’s finances were eroding, he was getting bags of cash from city contractors, kickbacks hidden in the bra of his political fundraiser and private cross-country travel from businessmen, according to trial evidence.
Kilpatrick, 43, said he was sorry if he let down his hometown but denied ever stealing from the citizens of Detroit.
“I’m ready to go so the city can move on,” Kilpatrick said, speaking softly with a few pages of notes before U.S. District Judge Nancy Edmunds ordered the sentence.
“The people here are suffering, they’re hurting. A great deal of that hurt I accept responsibility for,” he said.
In March, he was convicted of racketeering conspiracy, fraud, extortion and tax crimes. The government called it the “Kilpatrick enterprise,” a yearslong scheme to shake down contractors and reward allies. He was doomed by his own text messages, which revealed efforts to fix deals for a pal, Bobby Ferguson, an excavator.
Prosecutors said $73 million of Ferguson’s $127 million in revenue from city work came through extortion. The government alleged that he in turn shared cash with Kilpatrick.
Agents who pored over bank accounts and credit cards said Kilpatrick spent $840,000 beyond his salary during his time as mayor, from 2002 to fall 2008. Defense attorneys tried to portray the money as generous gifts from political supporters who opened their wallets for birthdays or holidays.
“It is difficult to quantify the total cost of the devastating corruption instigated by Kilpatrick. ... But one thing was certain: It was the citizens of Detroit who suffered when they turned over their hard-earned tax dollars but failed to receive the best services,” the judge said.
Kilpatrick was convicted in March, just days before Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder sent an emergency manager to Detroit to take control of city operations. The city filed for Chapter 9 bankruptcy in July, overloaded with at least $18 billion in long-term debt.
Edmunds said Kilpatrick can’t be blamed for the bankruptcy — he’s been out of office for five years — but “corruption has its own cost.”
“We’re demanding transparency and accountability in our government. We expect it,” the judge said. “If there has been corruption in the past, there will be corruption no more. We’re done. It’s over.”
Kilpatrick covered much ground in his 30 minutes of remarks to the judge. He said he hated being mayor after just six months because the job was so difficult. He lamented that his three sons now will grow up without their father, a problem in Black families, and said his scandals “killed” the political career of his mother, former U.S. Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick, a Democrat who lost re-election in 2010.
The former mayor didn’t specifically address his crimes, though he said he respected the jury’s verdict. An appeal is certain. He said his family wasn’t in the courtroom because he didn't want to make them uncomfortable under the media glare.
“I want the city to heal. I want it to prosper. I want the city to be great again,” he told the judge. “I want the city to have the same feeling it had in 2006, when the Super Bowl was here.”
The sentence was a victory for prosecutors. Defense attorneys argued for no more than 15 years in prison.
The punishment matches the 28-year sentence given to former Cuyahoga County, Ohio, Commissioner James Dimora in 2012. In Illinois, former Gov. Rod Blagojevich was sentenced to 14 years in prison for trying to peddle President Barack Obama's U.S. Senate seat for personal gain.
Outside court, U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade said Kilpatrick seemed to be contrite but not enough.
“At the end of the day, he did not accept responsibility for stealing from the people of Detroit. ... That to me diminished the impact of his words,” said McQuade, who noted that public contracts ended up costing more money because the fix was in for Kilpatrick’s buddy Ferguson.
Kilpatrick also tapped a nonprofit fund, which was created to help distressed Detroit residents, to pay for yoga, camps for his kids, golf clubs and travel, according to evidence.
Kilpatrick quit office in 2008 in a different scandal. Sexually explicit text messages revealed that he had lied during a trial to cover up an affair with his top aide, Christine Beatty, and to hide the reasons for demoting or firing police officers who suspected wrongdoing at city hall.
After more than three hours in court Thursday, Kilpatrick stood up and stretched by twisting his waist. He looked for friendly faces in the gallery, placed his hands behind his back for handcuffs and was escorted away. He hopes to be assigned to a federal prison near family in Texas.