The stasis you
sense from Greg Benford's New Orleans postcard is still, more
or less, the way it is in the Big Easy. Rosy and I have visited
New Orleans half a dozen times since Katrina. As we close in
on the anniversary of the cursed hurricane, the sense we get
from the city is still one of waiting in the ruins - in anticipation
of reconstruction, in anxiety of the new hurricane season, or
simply more days, weeks, months of decay and indecision, take
your pick: both are true.
New Orleans has not rebuilt. Of 37,000
"pre-K" businesses, as of the beginning of summer,
only 2,000 have reopened. Only three out of the Easy's 11 hospitals
are - heh - operating. 25 public schools are open out of 128
a year ago, serving only 12,000 students out of 60,000 in attendance
before the hurricane. The city's police force is down to 200,
from almost 1700, pre-K, and the legal system, my particular
concern, is in chaos. New Orleans is in no way whole - it won't
be and it can't be, not until some coherent strategy is found,
and adopted, among the property owners and the insurance companies
and above all, the government. No one imagines that will happen
But in the midst of anarchy and confusion,
New Orleans' people have not surrendered. Along "the sliver
on the river" - the high ground along the Mississippi crescent
- Orleanians survive, even celebrate. Though the city remains
crippled economically, the Big Easy spirit endures. Mardi Gras
2006, as I hope to depict in this issue, was small but exuberant.
As you'll find in Don Markstein's "Rebuilding New Orleans,
a Party at a Time", a few pages along. Jazz Fest was a success.
Even the 2006 Symphony Book Fair, noted in Chall #22's "A
Symphony of Books", was a noisy, crowded, defiant expression
of the people's determination to live ... and keep reading.
These are not all people who are wealthy,
or even well off. Among them are folks who lost everything to
the wind and the flood. But among them, alas, you will find few
of the truly poor. Those were scattered to the four corners of
America by Katrina - where their desperation and anger caused
immediate crises in raw human need and the crime nurtured by
that need. When the poor began to return to New Orleans, the
old ways and the old disorders came with them. Gang violence
resurfaced. Murder soared.
There must be a way to share the hope we've
seen at Mardi Gras and the Book Fair with the poor. To start
all over again in New Orleans
to make it a city secure
from nature and safe from despair
to insure that New Orleans'
joy is, this time, universal.
Fighting despair and understanding nature
- the underlying themes of An Inconvenient Truth. I voted for
Al Gore, like most Americans in 2000, and I hope to vote for
him again. If I get that chance - and, prayerfully, see him inaugurated
- his filmed lecture on global warming will stand as the strongest
positive rationale to date for that choice. As you know, the
film is a lecture, hitherto delivered to live audiences, on Gore's
lifelong cause: the perils of CO2 pollution and the global warming
it is causing. Its message is alarmist; bolstered by unarguable
facts and trenchant argument. Gore establishes that a terrible
threat is abroad upon the Earth - as if he had to tell an adopted
Orleanian. I asked last issue: what part did global warming play
in the tragedy of Katrina? Gore answers that question, and the
answer is, plenty.
Gore is a terrific teacher, well-versed,
convincing, and passionate - he gives a splendid performance.
One leaves An Inconvenient Truth convinced of its accuracy, baffled
and incensed by the refusal of politics to deal with the issue,
and curious to the point of tears as to how much better this
country would be had the sleaze not been allowed to steal the
2000 election. If the film has a flaw, it is in its implicit
politics - the biographical material on Gore and his family.
Nary a mention of Tipper, but plenty on his sister, who lost
her life to lung cancer and, much later than is admitted, caused
Gore's father to abandon tobacco farming. That stuff, and Gore's
own musings on the reprehensible election, seem transparently
partisan and unnecessary.
But they also add drama and pathos to Gore's
crusade. His lonely progress, airport to airport, classroom to
classroom, armed only with a laptop and a mission and the truth,
needs such a human touch to succeed. Imagine, we think: this
solitary traveler, in a just world, would have been the most
powerful human being alive, and his ideas of sanity and probity
would have been national policy. He is a man of erudition, passion,
and principle - some contrast to what we got.
It's probably too late for Gore to achieve
the rank he won but was denied. The devil has America by the
throat, and as this benighted country flails into its 231st
year, sunk in a pointless war, spewing heartless bigotry and
sophistry, I have my doubts that Satan will ever let us go. A
man of erudition, principle and passion might never have a chance
in a country dominated by the corrupt and the ignorant and the
smug - but who knows? America never has been anything but surprising.
Half of any election is imagination. What sort of leader will
America imagine it needs in 2008?
While we wait to find that out, An Inconvenient
Truth and its author are out there, telling their truth. Al Gore's
example in the never-ending fight for truth and justice - and
against despair - is one to cherish. I hope they give the movie
the Oscar. I hope they give the man the Nobel Peace Prize.
In 1969 the Jets won the Super Bowl, the
Mets won the World Series, Ronald Reagan invaded People's Park,
Armstrong and Aldrin invaded the Moon (on my 20th birthday).
I lived through that selfsame People's Park, survived Hurricane
Camille, went to my first Worldcon, divested myself of my most
useless distinction, ahem, and
did my first fanzines.
No year before or since has so formed me.
Often have I spoken of that year. In Chall
#1 I described St. Louiscon, the '69 Worldcon. In issue #2 I
talked about People's Park, the event that created my social
conscience and made me a lifelong liberal. In #5 I interviewed
Leslie van Houten; in 1969 she took a life, and destroyed her
own, on the orders of Charles Manson, the ultimate creature of
the sixties. In issue #16 I mourned the genius I discovered -
and met - that year, Ray Lafferty. Now it's time to talk about
my life in fanzining, begun in 1969
because of a personal
This issue of Challenger is GHLIII Press
Publication #999, and such a number can't help but cause me to
introspect about myself and this hobby. Check out "The Barrington
Bull" if you're interested in my earliest days as something
of a faned. I rather enjoy zining, so I hope David Williams'
"Better Late than Never" isn't correct that its writer
bears the kiss of death for publications in which he appears.
Mentioning David's funny article prompts
a rundown of the other non-GHLIII writing in this issue. I rarely
run fiction in these pages, but Taral Wayne's two-part piece
is too rich to pass up. Check also Mike Resnick's account of
the genesis of some of his many and varied novels, Joe Major's
impassioned tale of the molested child who wasn't, James Bacon's
paean to a great comics writer and the city that informs them
both, and the demands of my brother and sister SFPAns, Rich Lynch
and Toni Weisskopf Reinhardt, for a sympathetic ear - each in
their own way. Rosy and I offer our deepest sympathy, by the
way, to Toni on the death of Jim Baen.
I'll have more to say later - in the meantime,