Witchhunting Barak Obama
I've been meaning to write about the whole flapdoodle over Barak Obama's childhood education. For those who may not have heard, someone purporting to be from Hilary Clinton's campaign (they've denied this) raised concerns about Barak Obama having been educated at a madressah when he lived in Indonesia as a child. While this has been discounted -- the school turns out to have been a government school that taught a normal curriculum along with classes that discussed various religions -- it certainly raises a lot issues about politics and prejudice in America.
1) So what if Barak Obama attended a madressah when he was a kid? Does attending a madressah mean you are automatically going to be some fanatical warrior for fundamentalist Islam? (as the reports seemed to imply)
Of course not.
First, most madressahs do not teach radical, militant Islam, even today. There are some groups using madressahs to promote radical visions, but most madressahs are teaching a more mainstream version of Islam. This was even more true thirty years ago when Obama was in school.
And even if he did go to one that taught a radical strain of Islam, does that mean he must necessarily espouse their views? No. Obviously, their success rate is not going to be 100%. In fact, it is going to be much, much lower than that.
2) Is a Muslim ineligible to be President of the United States of America? Last I checked, religious affiliation, or lack thereof, is not a prerequisite to holding public office in this country. Yet the pundits who were up in arms over Obama's alleged attendance at a madressah made it seem as though simply having been in contact with Muslims would disqualify him, let alone him actually being a Muslim today.
We are supposedly engaged in a war against terror, not a war against Islam. The bombing this month by the ETA in Madrid which destroyed half the Madrid airport parking garage, and the attack on the American Embassy in Greece by Greek militants, should be proof enough that Muslims are not the only one's capable of terrorist attacks, and that the war on terror should not focus solely on Muslims. (I'm actually quite angry about the lack of media coverage of these two events -- if they had been carried out by Muslims you know they would have been on the front page for days.) Would we be up in arms about a man of Greek heritage running for the Presidency? Or Basque?
3) Has prejudice against Muslim got to the point that it is assumed that if you are a Muslim you must be anti-US? That you must be reactionary, backwards, barbaric? Barak Obama was seen as polished, erudite, dedicated, one of the best Democratic orators to come across the stage in 40 years. Suddenly, his having attended a madressah makes him suspect, perhaps dangerous. How much more so those of us who actually practice Islam, unlike Obama who attends a Chicago church from time to time?
It reminds me a bit of the controversy surrounding Kennedy and his election -- could a Catholic be loyal to the US? Wouldn't he take his orders from the Pope, rather than follow the constitution he swore to uphold. Why wouldn't the same questions pertain to a Protestant -- won't he put his pastor's advice ahead of the Constitution? Or to a Hindu -- wouldn't he put his guru's advice ahead of the Constitution? Can only an atheist be President? (Heck, after Bush this is sounding like a good idea *grin*)
I suppose it isn't suprising that we are having this very same conversation fifty years later with Muslim substitued for Catholic, and Qur'an substituted for Pope. Especially not in light of events since 2001. But still, I always hope we've learned something from our past.
For Better or For Worse gets it wrong
I usually am a big fan of this comic strip, but boy did the author blow it today. One of the characters, Mike, finished his novel about a month ago, just before his family's apartment house went up in flames the day before Christmas. In today's script he gets a contract in the mail from a publishing house.
Hah! Fat chance.
We see him celebrating it was done, then his whole house is destroyed. Even if he put it in the mail the day after Christmas (while he was preoccupied with salvaging what he could from his house), they wouldn't have gotten it until three days later... Dec 29, the Friday before New Years. The earliest they could have possibly gotten to it would have been January 2nd. The chances of them hitting the slush pile after a week or two of vacation are pretty darn slim... but let's say the acquisitions editor did sit down and read it (before getting to the rest of the slush pile that's been pilling up since before Christmas, heck maybe even before Thanksgiving...), then there'd be meetings with the rest of the editorial staff, the marketing and publicity team, etc. All in three weeks. I just don't buy it, especially as he doesn't have an agent (or at least, we've never heard about him having an agent, or him trying to get one.)
Then there's the advance... $25,000. I know that debut novelists can get advances like that (I know one who got an advance four times that) but the average advance is more like 5,000 (at least in sf... thanks to Tobias Bucknell who did a survey of authors and found out that precious info.). The chances of an unagented author getting a higher advance is pretty slim. The woman I know who got the very high advance had a bidding war going on for her book -- several publishers wanted it and her agent was able to get an auction going for it. Just sending it off in the mail to the publisher is not likely to get an offer out of the blue for that kind of advance.
I wonder if dentists sit and pick apart the depictions of Mike's Dad's business, or if only authors go through this agony....
Bad News Burnout
Every day for months, the top news item on the yahoo homepage has been a story about deaths in Iraq. 15 one day, 34 the next, 122 the next. When you start to add them up, it's a horrific number. But when they dribble in day after day after day, it's easy to say, "Oh yeah, a few more died in Iraq... business as usual." Or, "Gee, it was only 12 today, not so bad."
Only, imagine if it had been twelve men, women, and children who died in a ten car pile up in the latest snowstorm. The reaction would be quite different, I imagine.
The question is how to prevent desensitization, when every day there are reports of bombings and killings? If kids who watch a lot of violence on tv begin to think it's ok and normal, so too we are in danger of thinking the ongoing slaughter in Iraq is normal and ok.
No wonder the media is resorting more and more to sensationalized news. When every day brings a plateful of murder and mayhem, even murder and mayhem become commonplace.
I believe it is important not to let ourselves become complacent about the steady bloodletting in Iraq. (Or other areas of the world such as Darfur) Otherwise, it's far to easy for us to dismiss it as the way things are, and to absolve ourselves from doing whatever it is we can to improve the situation, whether that is going to a demonstration or writing letters to our senators.
The real reason to write novels
Because the business side of short stories is a pain in the butt!
I've got a novel I'm working on (one of many) which grew out of what I thought was going to be a short story idea. I like the novel, but I felt there was still potential for the idea as a short story. So I started over with the short story part of it. It came out at about 3400 words. Of course, I need to go back and revise, and send it out for critique, and revise again before I even think about submitting it anywhere.
But once the revisions are done, then the hard part starts... the submission process. It's bad enough submitting novels, but submitting short stories is just a pain. Half the places don't take e-submissions (I can sympathize with that, e-submissions are simply too easy to do, resulting in a billion bad stories flooding your inbox). So you've got to mail off your story, wait two to three months for an answer, and then, if you're rejected, which is a good possiblity, start it all over again. Figure five or six rejections (at least) for one story before you sell it, and you're talking a year and a half or more to make a sale, since no one wants simultaneous submissions either (again I can sympathize, but gosh for any author trying to make a living at this, it is a real pain in the neck).
Of course, you also have to figure in hours of researching good markets for that particular story, and the cost of mailing it out repeatedly (and don't forget the cost of the SASE).
If you're trying to make even a modest income from short stories, you've got to publish a LOT of stories -- 1 or 2 a month. Tracking all those submissions is a nightmare in itself. It's bad enough when you get a response, but some magazines don't bother to send you a polite "no thanks" even though you sent the SASE, so you are stuck guessing, should I send this off yet.
Having been doing this for a while, I lean towards the give them three months and move on strategy.
So, why bother with short stories. Cause common wisdom is that agents and publishers like to see that you've been published before. It gives them a sense of confidence in your writing ability. In it's marketability. Of course, that should be obvious from the writing itself, but if it's going to give even a tiny edge to a novel's chances with an editor or an agent, then guess I'll continue jumping through the hoops.
Well, I'm going to be on TV this Wednesday on Vision TV.
Here's the press release:
Muslim women in revolt
360 Vision reports from the front line of a "feminist revolution" in Islam
In a nondescript suburb of Toronto, an unknown American woman makes history. For the first time in any mosque, anywhere, a female voice is heard leading both men and women in prayer. And 360 Vision is there.
In a special report, VisionTV's Gemini Award-nominated current affairs series documents the events leading up to this historic moment. The program airs on Wednesday Jan. 24, at 10 p.m. ET, repeating Monday, Jan. 29 at 8:30 p.m. ET.
Pamela Taylor, the freelance writer and mother of four who led the prayer, says there is a feminist revolution growing within the Muslim world, and that until women are at the front of the mosque, there will be no peace in Islam.
Taylor converted to Islam as a young adult, attracted by the beauty of its theology, its emphasis on social justice, and the many passages in the Qur'an that speak of spiritual equality between the sexes. However, while studying at the University of British Columbia, she was shocked by the segregation of men and women in her mosque.
While studying theology at Harvard, she began to question the role of women in North American mosques. She later watched another Muslim woman face death threats for leading mixed-gender prayer at a church. It was then that Taylor made up her mind: she would be the first to lead prayers in a mosque.
[Note: this is not exactly what happened, I decided that we needed to take some pressure off this other woman -- Amina Wadad -- and that if the opportunity arose I would lead prayers as well. Fortunately for me the opportunity did arise, but not of my own making, rather it was the doing of the Muslim Canadian Congress and the United Muslim Association of Etobicoke. But, that doesn't sound as good for the pr...]
The controversial move would pit her against other Muslims. Even her husband believes that women should not lead mixed congregations.
Here in Canada, a small Toronto-based group was moving in the same direction, trying to organize a woman-led prayer at a local mosque, only to be turned away. Eventually, they held the event in a backyard. Raheel Raza led the prayer.
"I hope this will open doors for many Muslim women who are on the fringe and don't have a safe space in which they can go and pray," Raza tells 360 Vision's Sadia Zaman. "Hopefully this will empower them to understand ... there is nothing in the Qur'an that says a woman can't lead prayer." Undaunted by the controversy, the Toronto group pushed ahead with plans for an event at an Etobicoke, Ont. mosque on Canada Day with Pamela Taylor.
Ottawa-based scientific researcher and consultant Sheema Khan questions the religious arguments used to support the idea of women leading prayer. Still, she acknowledges that it's time for Muslim women to step into leadership roles.
"Our mosques just don't have a place for women ... and I think that's just a metaphor for a wider issue," she tells Zaman. "The wider issue is that the Muslim community ... has not found a way to fully incorporate or use the talents of half of its community."
360 Vision is the only weekly Canadian television program that probes the intersection of spirituality and daily events. Its mandate is to give viewers a compass to help them to navigate the diverse and complex world of belief.
The half-hour weekly series features provocative documentary reports, along with further installments of "Heretics," a series of interviews with world-renowned men and women who have acted on their faith in ways that challenge traditional power structures and orthodoxies.
For more news and information on 360 Vision, please visit http://www.visiontv.ca/
So Hilary is in the race. I hope she wins. I don't agree with everything she's ever said, or every vote she's ever cast, but I think she's a decent politician, and she's certainly someone I admire. She's smart, she's strong, and she's amibitious. She handled the entire Monica Lewinsky situation with more grace than I can imagine. And she has good positions on many issues.
Most important, it way past time that this country had a female president, and I think Hilary has a better chance to win the race than any woman ever has.
My ideal race-- Hilary vs Condi. Not that I would want Ms. Rice to win -- I shudder to think of the policies she would enact, or perpetuate --but it would guarantee a woman in the White House, by hook or by crook.
I'm very hopeful that given President Bush's more of the same way of "changing course" in Iraq (talk about Orwellian doublespeak!) that we will have a Democratic President. There are quite a few people I'd be happy to vote for, but I think Hilary tops the list.
literary taste and the subjectivity of the publishing world
A story I had on submission was recently rejected and returned along with some comments. Three out of four readers really liked it. Two thought it was great, the third thought it was very good but some of the dialogue could be less modern sounding (it's set in modern times, but the characters are vampires who are several hundred years old and so have a bit of an archaic feel to their pov; thus their use of language is a debatable point -- would their word choice remain archaic, or would they unconciously modify it to fit in; if their pov still carries a bit of the mideval, mightn't their language, not so much as to draw attention to themselves, but just hints of it... certainly an issue worth revisiting and perhaps tweaking some word choice a bit.)
The fourth, however, panned the story, saying there was too much irrelevant detail.
I guess between the third's concerns over dialogue and the fourth's panning, it was a no-go, but it certainly gives a writer pause. Clearly many times you don't have four reviewers giving you their opinions, rather you have one editor. If that one is the one out of four that thinks you've got too much detail, you're sunk. If he/she happens to be one of the the other three, you've either got a sale or a request for a rewrite. Either way, it's clear that personal preference plays a huge role in the publishing game.
I personally like a lot of detail. I like lush writing that lets me not only see the setting, but smell, hear it, feel it. One of the reasons I usually don't read many short stories is I don't get enough sensory detail, nor enough complexity to the character development and the plotline. The short stories I write tend to have more complicated plots, more complex characters, and more sensory detail than many I've read. As a result, they tend to run on the long side as I hate to compromise on those details that to me bring a story alive.
Obviously, that's not everyone's cup of tea, although the comments would suggest that more people like that style of writing than the writing manuals imply. I guess, as a writer, you just have to decide do I care? Do I want to write for that market that wants lush prose, or should I work on trimming? Common advice is to trim away anything that doesn't move the plot forward. To me, that leaves an awful lot of stories very bare. Of course, you don't want to squash the plot either, but there does need to be some balance.
I guess, with three out of four liking the story, I feel satisfied that I've achieved a decent balance in this story, and will try to sell it elsewhere after revisiting the dialogue rather than trying to make major cuts.
Recently in a writer's group I'm on, someone asked about whether we ever felt we'd written the perfect story. This story may not be perfect, but I like it the way it is. I like being a lush writer. I don't want to be a terse one. I guess that is what is meant by being true to your craft. Editor concerns are important, but at some level, you have to write the way you like to write.
Another Australian Imam
Another Australian Imam is raising waves with his extreme harangues. This time sermons calling for children to be taught the beauty of martyrdom, the joys of jihad, and denouncing Jews as pigs. Not having heard the sermons myself, I'm aware that things can be twisted, taken out of context, etc. Jihad can in fact be a beautiful thing... if you are speaking about the struggle against one's own demons that the Prophet called the greater jihad. But one suspects, in this case, the imam's words were not taken out of context.
I had a couple reactions when I heard of this.
1) Not again! What's up with Australia and imported imams! Why can't they find some decent Australian born imams? (The imam in question has been living in Lebanon for the past year, so calling him Australian may be a bit dubious, but it still begs the question, what happened to home-grown imams? Clearly the anti-Jewish rhetoric has to be understood in the context of the recent Lebanon-Israel war. That war doesn't justify calling Jews pigs, but it certainly goes a long way to explaining why this particular Lebanese imam might be angry at Israeli Jews.)
2) Why does this kind of thing make the news? When my Amway upline used to get up on stage and haul out his kids calling them "his little warriors for Christ," no one batted an eye. But is it really that different -- the idea that children need to be inculcated to go to battle for their religion (physical or psychological battle). When the Left Behind series describes in details the horrible sufferings the non-raptured (read Jews, Muslims and other infidels), few decry the anti-semitism inherent in that.
3) When will this sort of thing end? Do people really think we are in some monumental struggle for the soul of humanity and that by killing each other one side or the other will actually win? Don't they see that dead humans aren't going to benefit from any religion? Hello? If they're dead, the soul's already gone, you can't save it...
4) Again the big double standard. ETA terrorists blow up the parking garage at the Madrid airport and we barely hear about it in America. If they had been Muslim terrorists, it would be emblazoned on the headlines, dissected, disseminated, sensationalized, and used to instill fear of every practicing Muslim in the states.
5) What the heck can a Muslim woman living in Ohio do to stem this flood of vitriol? Gnashing one's teeth and pulling one's hair hardly seems effective. Unfortunately, writing on blogs probably isn't much better. Heck, even writing in the New York Times probably wouldn't make a dent. Guess the answer is not much. Not a very comforting thought.
The problem with vacation...
is that when you get home there are 65,000 things waiting to be done. Bleh!
Seattle was wonderful. The backlog isn't so hot.
This I Believe
A long time ago -- like a year ago, give or take a few months -- I submitted an essay to the NPR program, This I Believe. I just found out that my essay was published on their website.http://www.thisibelieve.org/dsp_ShowEssay.php?lastname=Taylor&city=Indianapolis&state=IN&uid=4912&start=0
It discusses the challenges of putting deeply held, but controversial beliefs into action.
Needless to say, I'm pleased that it was published.
I'm in Seattle now. As I was getting ready to leave yesterday, I told my youngest several times that I was going to Seattle for a few days. Finally, she said to me, "Who is Atl?"
President Bush Living in La-La Land
Listening to President Bush speak tonight, I couldn't help but wonder where he is living... Pleasantville? The Truman Show? La-La Land?
He (or his speechwriter and advisors) seem to have missed the most salient point. The sectarian violence in Iraq isn't about Sunni and Shii. Iraqi Sunnis and Shiis have historically gotten along well. It's about politics. It's about who supported America's strong man, Saddam Hussein back when he was still our buddy. It's about who supports the current American sponsored government, and who doesn't. It's about who cooperated with American troops and who didn't. That is the fundamental, root source of the conflict -- not concerns about sectarian theological differences.
As long as the US is involved, the conflict will escalate. The reprisals against collaborators will grow ever more intense. The stakes for those who are in power (more or less) will become higher and higher, as the guarantee of disruption and wholesale rebellion grows with each passing day they are seen as sell outs to the US occupation.
And, yes, that's what most of the world perceives it as. Not a war. Not a humanitarian effort to bring freedom to Iraq. But an occupation aimed as ensuring the US and Israel have access to Iraq's oil.
The resistence (otherwise known as terrorists in Bush's lingo) perceives themselves as trying to oust an invading and occupying army. Stepping up the number of troops on police duty isn't going to solve that problem.The longer we are there, the more intense the resistence will become.
President Bush did have one thing right. If we leave now, Iraq will descend into chaos. I'm pretty sure that is accurrate. What he didn't say, was that when we leave in a year, or two or ten, that chaos will no doubt be even worse, the attrocities even more horrific.
I don't see any hope of the US and the new Iraqi government transforming Iraq into some fairy tale democracy like Bush spoke of. That has to be done by the Iraqis, not imposed by the army of another country. The longer we are there, the longer it will take for Iraqi to achieve those dreams after we leave.
Next Saturday I'll be giving a reading during RustyCon 24. (3 pm in the Yestler boardroom of the Seatac Holiday Inn). Happily, I have a story that will be just perfect as the theme of the conference is Pirates. (If you follow this blog at all, you'll know the one I'm talking about.) As this is my third reading at a sf conference, I'm feeling pretty confident.
Except... I'm thinking there's going to be about three people in the audience, if I'm lucky. Even fairly well known authors seem to pull very small crowds for readings. In fact, you hear about readings at Barnes and Nobles to audience of three or four, all of whom just happened to be in the store and decided to check it out. I'm hoping that a variety of posters and bribes of pirate loot (chocolate coins) will entice a few takers to check it out, but I'm prepared for it to be just me and my mom.
In which case, we commiserate on a lack of audience over all that pirate booty...
IWA, PMU, MPV
Too many organizations... especially too may that I'm associated with!
I've been re-elected Director of the Islamic Writers Alliance
I resigned as Co-Chair from the Progressive Muslim Union
along with Executive Director, Ani Zonneveld. The reasons: personal attacks and undermining of our efforts by one board member, and the unwillingness of the other board members to rein said board member in. It was ugly, I'm moving on, nuff said.
Since the remaining board members have shut down that organization's discussion list, Ani and I have started a list called Muslims for Progressive Values
. (and we invite anyone interested in talking with Muslims about progressive values, progressive interpretations of Islam, and opportunities for activism to join us.) We are also exploring ways to keep the PMU mission alive, despite problems that have plagued that organization from the start.
And no, don't ask me to volunteer for anything!
Ellison to swear on Jefferson's Qur'an
Ok, this is just the coolest. Muslim congressman-elect, Keith Ellison, will be sworn in tomorrow using a Qur'an that was once owned by none other than Thomas Jefferson, a book stored in the Library of Congress. As Mr. Ellison says, this dates the religious tolerance of America right to the founding fathers. Hopefully, it will take a bit of wind out of the sails of all the pundits who have been screaming about how swearing on a Qur'an is un-American.
The full story here:http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20070103/ap_on_go_co/ellison_quran
Many people have been reminiscing about Preisdent Ford, his life, his character, and his career today. I have my own President Ford story. He was probably the first President I was really aware of. I was too young for Nixon to register, and even President Ford didn't make a great impression on me. In fact, I'm thinking my story dates from after his term as President, given that I must have been 15 or 16 at the time and which would have made it 1980ish. On the other hand, he was travelling in Air Force 1, so it must have been while he was President, which means I must have been younger, or he was out on official business for President Carter...
Anyway, I spent a month (give or take) each summer with my grandparents in Columbus, Indiana. The summer in question President Ford stopped by Columbus, I think on the campaign trail. He was just in town for a couple hours, touched down out at Bakalar airport, made a speech, and then flew on to the next stop. My grandfather was all excited about the possibility of me and him flying his little Piper Comanche and being the first plane to touch down at Bakalar after Air Force One. My grandmother was thoroughly disgusted. Maybe, she said, I'd rather hear what the President had to say, rather than land an airplane after his.
Well, being a teenager, I thought it's be more fun to go flying than to hear what a politician had to say, even the President. Lo and behold, we were indeed the first plane to touch down after Air Force One. I think we even made it back to the hangar and down the field in time to hear what President Ford had to say. That, however, wasn't as memorable as the flight, or the discussion between my grandfather and grandmother, one of the few times I can remember them being in disagreement.
Well, now my grandmother and grandfather have both passed away, and so has President Ford, and all that's left of that summer, and all the summers I spent in Columbus, are my own precious memories. Maybe I need to start writing them down before I too am gone.
I've just received checks in the mail for a poem I had published in Star*Line (available now at www.sfpoetry.com
) and for a political blog I post on occassionally (http://hopeandpolitics.blogspot.com/
) (My column on Eid and Consumerism that was published last year is up there now for those who haven't had a chance to read it.)
Which gives me bragging rights as a paid poet and a paid blogger. I've had lots of poetry published here and there, and have won several contests that had decent prizes, but this is the first paid publication of a poem. Similarly with blogging... I blog here and have contributed to other blogs once in a while, but this is the first time I've been paid for my blogging.
Of course, the two checks put together would probably buy my husband and me dinner at a moderately nice restaurant... there's a reason we're called starving artists...
Ah well, still a nice way to start the year, with hopes of more and better in 2007!
Happy New Year to All! May all your dreams come true!