Supporting Sam Harris
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Supporting Sam Harris

I took a year of Arabic as an undergraduate at Yale. Along with the language, we also discussed the culture of the Arab world. This was the mid-80’s, so liberal sanctimony didn’t have quite the stranglehold on conversation that it now exerts–even at Yale. We were allowed to discuss things like the terrible oppression and enslavement of women in Islam. We were allowed to consider that oppression wrong.

At the same time, I was the only woman in the class. There were undercurrents of, first, curiosity: Why would a woman study Arabic? And then there was contempt: She must be an idiot to do so. I skipped class regularly, being unable to deal with it. At that time, being naive, I was unable even to articulate to myself how bad it felt to be the target of such jeering condescension.

I realized years later that I had taken the class because of an archetype whom I admire: Scheherazade, the resourceful and intelligent woman of unending stories. There was something in that archetype for me, who would one day be a prolific novelist. My final project was a translation from “One Thousand and One Nights.” I worked hard on the story and pulled off a “B” despite my spotty attendance record and near inability to speak in class because of the sneers I encountered.

Because I have a background in the topic, I understand what Sam Harris is saying: Many individual Muslims are good people, but the faith itself is based on a book and teachings that directly lead to intolerance, the demeaning and enslavement of women, and violence.

That’s my interpretation of Harris’ message. When he says, “…One can draw a straight line from specific doctrines in Islam to the intolerance and violence we see in the Muslim world” in his blogpost “Can Liberalism Be Saved from Itself?”, Harris is correct. He’s not acting in a racist, Islam-hating way. He’s witnessing a truth that must be uttered.

Now he’s written a post about the defamation campaign to which he has been subjected, “On the Mechanics of Defamation.” His words are being taken out of context and twisted to make him appear evil. It’s dreadful, and the people who are doing it ought to be ashamed.

I have some experience in what it is to be the subject of a smear campaign. Someone from my past has gone to a great deal of trouble to distort everything I have ever done or said to make me out to be a bad person. He is obsessed with his vendetta, and he carries it on while stalking my blog and reading my posts obsessively, at all hours of the night and day, from different locations.

So I have some sympathy for what Harris is going through now, on many levels. He’s telling the truth and being scorned, castigated, and defamed for it.

The thing is, there is no reasoning with malice. Harris is trying to present a rational thesis to irrational people: knee-jerk liberals.

I have never met more close-minded, self-certain, impregnable-to-logic people than knee-jerk liberals. Especially since Obama took office, their sanctimony and self-righteousness has become a bell jar bulwark against any kind of reason or logic.

I voted for Obama the first time. However, I grew disillusioned. I believe in women’s rights, reproductive freedom, gay rights, social justice, and gun control. So far, OK.

But I also believe in citizen privacy, supporting and encouraging small American businesses (not Wall Street and not Socialism), supporting Israel, accountability and oversight for multi-national corporations that function as sovereign nation-states, and getting the Health Insurance companies to pay for universal Health care (not the states).

I also find it extraordinarily hypocritical that Obama’s tactic is to rally people against “the Have’s” when he has taken more vacations, and more expensive vacations, and played more golf, than any president in history. So many of his supporters are the Limousine liberals of Wall Street, which may be why he bailed them out.

Whenever I have been asked by liberals, “Why don’t you like Obama?” I answer with the aforementioned reasons–citizen privacy, etc–the lengthy list of policies and presidential actions with which I do not agree. Inevitably, the liberals tell me, “You are racist.”

I provide a rational explanation that has nothing to do with the pigment in President Obama’s skin, but knee-jerk liberals can’t hear the logic. They reflexively answer with their standard dismissal of all criticism for Obama: “You are racist.”

Racism is a great social evil. It’s as bad as the misogyny in traditional Islam. I stand for the dissolution of racism and misogyny. Yes, I am equating them. Shouldn’t anyone who believes in social justice do so?

Back to Sam Harris. I support his intelligent, reasonable words and I support his right to speak them. I just doubt he’ll get anywhere with them. For one, traditional Muslims don’t want to hear what he’s saying. The many peace-loving, good Muslims are probably a bit ashamed of the intolerance, bigotry, and violence–and they perhaps feel at a loss for what to do about it. After all, the necessary end to an insistence on purity is terrorism, and Islam insists on purity.

For two, knee-jerk liberals can not hear or receive Harris’ message. They are closed and unavailable to discourse. They do not want to do the research and see truthful implications. They are just about solely interested in promoting their own ideology.

But I hope Sam Harris doesn’t give up. I hope he keeps defending himself and stating his views. I support what he says.

Sam Harris

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Word Crimes by Weird Al Yankovic

I couldn’t stop laughing when I first viewed this video.

I blast Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines on my iPhone when I’m on the elliptical trainer at the gym, working out until I shake with sweat. So I know the tune.

This is just fantastic, I love Weird Al. Can we elect him President?


IMMORTAL en francais, and Two great new blog posts
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IMMORTAL en francais, and Two great new blog posts

IMMORTAL en francais

IMMORTAL en francais, and Two great new blog posts


What an awesome cover! I love it. It reminds me of 1940’s pulp sci-fi, a genre I sorely miss. Reminds me of the juicy fun covers of Edgar Rice Burroughs books, when I used to save up money from my allowance and my paper route to buy books. To the French illustrator: my compliments!

Certainly, my French translator did an amazing and meticulous job of translation. He kept emailing me with questions until he really grokked everything I was trying to say. So, for all you French speakers: Buy this book!

The journey of this novel has been an extraordinary gift. The most interesting people respond to the book. Sometimes they contact me, sometimes they don’t.

Laura Faeth, herself the noted author of the visionary memoir I Found All the Parts: Healing the Soul through Rock ‘n’ Roll, recently emailed to tell me that she’d enjoyed the book. Her comments were thoughtful and she asked if she could send questions for me to answer for her blog, Rock ‘n’ Reincarnation. “Yes, please!” I replied.

Laura’s questions were intriguing, as expected from a close reader with a unique and self-aware perspective. Her deep sense of the soul of mysticism informs her writing. She posted my replies… So take a look at Rock ‘n’ Reincarnation.

Then sometimes something about Immortal pops up on the internet, unexpected and delightful. I set up google alerts to notify me, and something fun came through: a great review on The Bookworm’s Library. A reader named Lisa posted a review: “This is a great, unexpected treasure of a story that I came across, while I was looking for something else in the library recently…. This book offers a tremendous historical fiction of a fascinating time in history….This story is an amazing read… We are challenged to find that the most important thing in this life is the true nature of the self… I loved this book, this one is a great read!”

Lisa wrote several paragraphs. Like Laura, Lisa read passionately and thought carefully. It’s a blessing and a joy to have such readers.

So, thank you to Laura and to Lisa, and take a peek at the blogs…

Rock ‘n’ Reincarnation and also Sound of your Soul by Laura Faeth

The Bookworm’s Library which seems to be by AbbyW, Lisa, and Nikki.
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The Art of Asking Questions

The Art of Asking Questions

There’s a scene in the first HOME ALONE, a truly classic movie, where a child of about 5 years climbs into a van waiting to whisk a large family to the airport. The enterprising child besieges the driver with questions. He leans close into the driver and queries him relentlessly about all sorts of matters, a stunning barrage of interrogatory, verbal machine gun fire. The driver’s brain comes undone. He’s left rattled and nettled and hopelessly askew. It’s the first domino that falls in a trail of them, winding up with… a child left home alone to fend for himself during the holidays.

I think of this scene often (and isn’t that what makes a movie classic, the way particular scenes haunt you forever?). This scene comes to mind because I have a four-and-a-half-year old daughter who regularly enacts it. Daughter? Shall I call her the demon imp of questions, the patron saint of why, how, what, and how come?

As I write this, she sits next to me at the dining room table with a pad of paper. “What do we need from the store? Do we need sugar? How do I draw a ‘K’?” she asks. I surmise that she’s making a grocery list, something she’s watched me do a thousand times. “Can you show me how to draw a ‘K’?”

This is only the beginning. As long as she’s around me, and I don’t turn on the TV babysitter, she’s going to come up with questions. “Then what do we need, mama, after milk?”

“Eggs,” I tell her.

“How do you spell that? Do you like my ‘E’? Does ‘G’ have a kickstand like this? Do we need balloons? How do you spell ‘balloons’?”

It’s partly about observing and making sense of the world. The other day she launched herself like a missile into the bathtub and splashed around happily for a few minutes, making an aquarium of our bathroom. Then she turned serious. “Why does the water get higher when I get in? Why can’t I hear my hands when they clap underwater?”

So my hapless husband and I wracked our brains to explain the volumetrics of water to her.

Sometimes it’s about avoiding an unpleasant activity, like bedtime or picking up her crayons. Nothing will elicit a stream of questions like closing the cover of the last bedtime book. “How come the bear in that story has brown fur? Do all bears have brown fur? What about polar bears? Can you really fly all the way to the moon? How far away is the moon? Is the moon next door to the sun?” How long can she prolong the delicious moments of cuddling and conversation, before we flip off the light and close the door to her room?

And, naturally, the questions are about drawing my attention, or her father’s, or that of one of her three big sisters. This little sprite likes to engage with people. She enjoys the limelight. If she can draw us in with a question–she’s got us. She figured that out a long time ago. Not that it’s entirely self-serving. She can maximize the utility of what she’s doing, and suck in our attention while also… making sense of the world.

Most of the time I enjoy my little one’s questions. Sometimes they fry the gray matter rattling around in my cranium, sure. I get tired, I get exasperated, hey, I’m not the Buddha, and I don’t want to put together an explanation of why the sky is blue while I’m trying to make a dinner salad and, simultaneously, explain to my 14-year-old middle daughter why she can’t attend a football party where there will be 18-year-old men.

But often, in response to these questions, I experience the same piquant thrill that I do when I’m traveling. That is, I’m jolted out of my habitual way of seeing the world, and I look with new eyes, and fresh wonder, at the world around me. Isn’t the blue sky a kind of miracle, anyway?

My sweetie doesn’t do what adults sometimes do: disguise judgments as questions. This is the crucial difference, this matter of innocence. Her questions are really questions, not statements, even if they have an ulterior motive of getting me to pay attention to her or of getting her out of eating broccoli. She wants to know, and to understand. So her questions arise out of the innate art of our human core, the art of genuine curiosity.

On Beauty
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On Beauty

On Beauty

I have been reading Rumi.

I do this whenever I am heartsick, soulsick. Usually it’s for something I can’t identify, though there’s always some exterior thing like a convenient hook to hang it on: my dog bit my little one and had to be surrendered; my 14-year-old told me a great big whopper; my in-laws have rejected their own grand-daughter and disinherited my husband as a means to communicating their supreme dislike of me; my husband is cranky with exhaustion and overwork and a long string of fourteen hour days; the publishing industry is in a stupid place, and largely, in my view, because publishers publish the same damn crap rather than searching out interesting work, and then they wonder why people don’t want to buy it; our financial situation is fraught, as is our situation with our two former spouses…. There’s no end to people and matters that will serve as an excuse. Rumi says, “Everyone chooses a suffering that will change him or her to a well-baked loaf.”

But I think that is preferable to avoiding the suffering, and failing to rise. That happens, too.

So there is all this stuff amenable to being blamed for my anguish, not to mention that it is that time of the month. But is the body or its relationships or its contexts really the reason for this melancholy seeking without an end?

Yesterday this poem of Rumi’s manifest itself to me, in a moment of bibliomancy, or at least I like to think that the Divine was smiling wryly at all my flailing about, and granted me this mouthful of grace.

Coleman Barks calls it THE MOST ALIVE MOMENT:

“The most living moment comes when
those who love each other meet each
other’s eyes and in what flows
between them then. To see your face
in a crowd of others, or alone on a 
frightening street, I weep for that.
Our tears improve the earth. The
time you scolded me, your gratitude,
your laughing, always your qualities
increase the soul. Seeing you is a 
wine that does not muddle or numb.
We sit inside the cypress shadow
where amazement and clear thought
twine their slow growth into us.”

(THE SOUL OF RUMI, translations by Coleman Barks.)

I cried after I read it. I found excuses to cry all day. It’s something I rarely do. And then my husband showed me this photo on his iPhone of his Apollo’s outstretched arm. Even in process, it was beautiful: gesture and form, a supreme example of artistry. I cried some more, alone, in my bathroom, so no one knew I was being so silly. And I remembered why this man, this life, this set of choices that has led to this moment in all its bittersweet, empty fullness.

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In my next lifetime

In my next lifetime, when I come back, I will ski more and worry less.
I will begin every dinner with dessert, and it will be dark chocolate,
or something gooey
and coconut.
I will choose dresses for color and not for whether or not they make
me look slim. I am thinking yellow,
purple, and butterfly prints
in chintz.
I will start using sun-block when I am 12, the same age
when I will begin practicing
because it makes me feel so peaceful and good.

In my next lifetime, when I come back, I will choose
a comfortably upper-middle-class family to host my wandering
soul. I’ve seen that great wealth imposes anxiety
and demands of its own. Too little to work for
ruins people. So does poverty, my old scourge.
The lack of money–for graduate school, for good doctors,
for guitar lessons, for the occasional porterhouse steak and soul-ravishing
trip to Paris–
is one of the great evils that besets humanity.

In my next lifetime, and I hope the Earth isn’t ruined before
I make it back, I will play outside more, which can mean lying
on my back beneath an oak tree and reading something
like Dickens
or Yeats
or a cheesy romance novel. I will spend more time staring into the sky
and no time at all on a therapist’s couch.

I will say
more often and do the dishes only when they’re piled up to the ceiling.
I will turn off the TV but go to every sci-fi movie
that opens. I will choose more friends who understand
that I’m originally from
the planet Xetron
and that this beautiful blue and green orb
is just a way station on my peregrinations. They will laugh more with me
than at me and they will understand the value of
spontaneous dance.
I have only a few of those kind in this life.
I miss them all the time.

In my next lifetime, since
I’m not enlightened
and I will have to return to complete the balance
I will say “I love you” to the people I love:
on the hour, every hour. Even when I hate them.
And especially when they hate me.

In my next lifetime I will be
the luminous me
I always wanted to be now, and somehow fell short of.
It wasn’t for the absence of an open heart or effort.
Rather, I tried too hard, and let gravity weigh
me down. So in my next life, I will let my
open heart lift, and shine me to everyone I meet.

Traci L. Slatton