Saturday, May 31, 2008

Education for Everyone? Not so Fast...

It's hard to make a case today, in 2008, that it's okay to discriminate based on race and ethnicity when it comes to access to education.

I'm not talking about money, the old: it-would-be-nice-if-everyone-who-wanted-to-could-go-to-Harvard-but-let's-be-realistic-here argument - I'm talking about turning down someone who'd qualified for a scholarship on the basis of his or her race.

No, this is not happening in Somalia, Iran, or North Vietnam.

It's happening in America, sort of. Under America's nose, even though America issued the scholarship.

If there's anyone out there who doesn't think Gaza is effectively (and not metaphorically) an open-air prison, here's some food for thought: 7 Palestinian students who had qualified for and been granted Fulbright scholarships have had their scholarships revoked. Why? Did they have suspicious records? Nope. Had someone, somewhere thought they may have ties to terrorism? Guess again.

Israel will not let them out of Gaza, so they can take up the studies they earned the privilege to undertake, because Gaza - the whole city, and everyone in it, is under siege. And what does America, whose tax dollars flow like wine at an ancient Roman orgy to Israel's treasury, have to say to its favorite ally in the Middle East? Right then, we'll just go ahead and cancel the scholarships, no worries... would you like us to get that bar of soap you dropped while we're at it?

Here is the New York Times article - feel free to read it for yourselves and enlighten me in case you come upon a "oh, right, that makes TOTAL sense!" moment I might have missed.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Why Writing Rocks, Reason #981

... You get to read about all kinds of stuff just because it sounds interesting/off-beat/might-want-to-put-in-a-book-or-article-one-day, and it's called "research".

And then when you find yourself standing on a yacht deck one fine, starry evening, fizzy cocktail in hand and the sequins on your dress catching the moonlight, you get to inject otherwise boring cocktail party conversation with nuggets from this so-called "research (e.g: Did you know that The Palms Casino and Hotel is owned by the Maloof family, fifth-generation Lebanese dynasty founded by a common peddler? No? Well...)

Or, say, in someone's backyard in Winnipeg, a Molson Dry in hand, swatting mosquitoes with the other. It's all good.

I bring this up today because I've just returned from an adorable indie bookstore down the street with a book I'd flipped through before, wanted to buy, but told myself I own way too many books as it is, and so begrudgingly put it back.

Until today, when I proudly returned to the store, and bought it.

The book is entitled "The White Guy" and is a tongue-on-cheek look at your regular, beer-guzzling, football-watching, spending-too-much-time-at-the-office-to-have-a-normal-sex-life kinda guys. In other words, the kind of guys I know all too well, am considering writing about in considerably more depth in my current novel, but am afraid of venturing into cliche territory. You see, I've spent far too much time thinking about one of life's most mystifying unanswered questions: when you ask a man what he's thinking about and he says nothing, could he really mean... nothing? Would that not imply that men don't think of anything, ever? Or are they hiding something from us, which just might be the key to all the misunderstanding between the sexes?

In the course of all this heavy thinking, I did make this one important observation: white guys are a lot more likely to be thinking about "nothing" than non-white guys (and by "white" I strictly mean of the North American, Western European, non-Mediteranean variety). Ask a nineteen-year-old Latino guy what he's thinking about, and he is far more likely to say "how hot your boobs look in that top" than "nothing". Same goes for Arab guys. A French guy might recite you a poem, but the French are generally odd anyway, and a race unto themselves.

So, to rephrase, could the white guy be suffering from an acute inability to communicate, as compared to, say, his Latin brothers (in other words, is the white guy also busy thinking about your boobs in that top but cannot articulate that thought), or have beer, sports, long hours at the office, equating emotional IQ with gayness, taken their toll on the white guy through a slow process of cultural evolution, bringing us to a stage where the white guy thinks that thinking of "nothing" all the time is perfectly normal?

As I said, it's question for the ages.

And to my Winnipeger blog readers, married to quintessential White Guys (I know you're reading this even though you are too lazy-ass to comment), you might be interested to know that the author is a white guy from Winnipeg.

I'll be sure to share my findings with you once I've had a chance to review all the data and make an informed conclusion. Or, maybe you can read all about in my next novel ; )

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Not Your Regular Reality TV Drama

Disclaimer: Please ignore the snippet of commercial and Arabic introduction at the beginning of this video... it's the cleanest one I could find!

Since we’re on the topic of Middle-Eastern hotties and Arabic TV, here’s a little story about a certain Star Academy contestant (this show was adapted from a French version of American Idol) who underwent drama of a different sort than his American counterparts…

The way this show works is that once a certain number of finalists are chosen from countries all over the Arab world, they are then taken to a secluded villa in the Lebanese countryside where they get voice lessons, dancing and music lessons, to prepare for the weekly show, and for the four months leading up to the finale. After each performance, someone gets the boot, à la American Idol.

The purpose of this isolation was sorely tested during the latest bout of Lebanese infighting. The show’s directors contacted the parents and it was decided that the kids were in a safe place, and the less they knew about the political situation, the better especially since one of the contestants, Sa’ad, is Lebanese and comes from one of the affected areas.

One set of parents however, wanted to ask their kid, Abdullah, a Saudi Arabian, if he wanted to come home in light of the situation. So, he was the only one among the finalists who was made aware of the situation.

But then, Abdullah (that’s the skinny one in the yellow t-shirt), upset about all this secrecy, started sowing suspicion among the contestants, and forced the director (the redheaded angry lady) to come clean about the mess in Lebanon… in front of Sa’ad (the tearful hottie… tell me that doesn’t break your heart).

Now, you don’t get that kind of drama on American Idol, do you?

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

So This Blog is Supposed to be About Books...

...but every time I think of a great book-related topic to blog about, I read something which makes my blood boil and it trumps the book post. Sorry.

Last weekend I did something I don't do nearly enough, and that was to read the movie reviews in the paper, pick a movie, and actually go see it. I was very happily surprised to see lots of documentaries out, and one in particular caught my eye: The World According to Monsanto.

Its format is more PBS than blockbuster, but the message was chilling nonetheless. It was about genetically engineered (GE) crops, what's supposed to be so great about them, how, like a whole lot of those fancy schmancy nouveau weapons they keep making grand promises about, they turn out to be crap, and how no one can really do much about it right now. Here's what Monsanto did, in as few words as possible:

1) They invented a really groovy pesticide that killed JUST ABOUT ANYTHING you could think of! It's called "Roundup" (disclaimer: I don't have a green cell in my whole body, much less a green thumb, but apparently this Roundup thing was da bomb for the weed-battling masses).

2) Then, in a stroke of genius, they invented the only plants (well... Franken-plants) that could survive Roundup, called "Roundup Ready". (recap: everything gets coated in a lovely, glossy Roundup sheen, causing everything to die, except for the stuff destined for our plates)

3) Roundup turns out to be a carcinogen, which is a fancy word for "gives you cancer". Well... not so much of a carcinogen as a cancer-enabler. So, it's not so much like an abusive husband, as the mother who tells her daughter to go back to the abusive husband and give him another chance. Roundup messes up your cells enough that down the line, they are that much more vulnerable to cancer.

So far there isn't anything truly Franken-like about this tale. We all know pesticides are bad. But here's the hilarious thing - if you were to walk through a Roundup-sprayed field on a regular basis, your skin would start to fester very unbecomingly, almost like you'd dipped it in acid.

Yes, yes, but think about all the masses of poor who can at least eat! Well... and this was the part that did it for me, it seems that when you mess with nature, nature finds innovative (and deadly) ways to mess with you back. While the Franken-plants were not killed by Roundup, they were vulnerable to pretty much everything else that nature had previously equipped plants to withstand. I'm sure Monsanto isn't terribly bothered by this... it's license to keep coming up with pesticides to kill these old-new plant diseases, perpetuating an eternal circle of treat-kill-treat-kill-treat-kill until human beings start spontaneously com busting when they come into contact with anything sprouting from the Earth. And poor people don't seem that stupid either... Indian cotton farmers figured out, all on their own, that they were getting a better yield (and at far better prices) using non-genetically engineered seeds. So basically, the same stuff humans have been using for millennia. But, in one last shocking twist, when they started requesting the good old regular stuff back... there was none left on the market! Somehow, regular seeds are no longer readily available. I know this sounds kinda kooky, but think about how expensive "organic" food is compared to your run-of-the-mill, icky-yucky-mad-cow-disease-riddled stuff all over the supermarket.

You'd think something grown using old technology (ie: an ox on grandpa's ranch) versus new technology (ie: a humungous factory in Sri Lanka) would cost less. But no - it's all about volume baby, and Monsanto has got volume.

What impressed me the most about this movie was (partly) the sort-of sleuthing-around-for-Dummies approach it took, coupled with some uncomfortable interviews with some high-placed people (Ali-G-meets-mousy-librarian style).

The reporter would type questions into the Google search bar, and all kinds of golden information nuggets would pop up.

I decided to use this approach to try and figure out why oil was so damned expensive. I don't have a car, so I don't care all that much, but since it seems like people are starting to make food-vs-gas decisions, I think this is as good a question as any to pose. Here are my starting points:

1) Iraq is supposed to lie atop the world's second largest reserve of easily-extractable oil (after Saudi Arabia) - how come we mighty westerners can't seem to get a piece of that action and must resort to playing suck-up to the Saudis, who stopped caring what we say or how much we threaten? Don't they know we could pull an Iraq on them and bomb their country back to the Stone Age???

2) Why are we sucking up to Saudi Arabia and not bombing them back to the Stone Age? King Faisal was assassinated for being an oil-snob back in the 70s - what, are we suddenly above callous assassination, or something?

3) No one was making a fuss over this a mere three years ago. What changed? Not Iraq - that happened 5 years ago, and it was pretty clear from the get-go that no one was going to be greeted with any flowers or rice or whatever carb they were expecting. 9/11 happened more than 7 years ago. I remember learning about the notion of "peak oil" back when I was a wee high-school-attending lass, and yet, the idea of "peak oil" was just as popular as "global warming" was a few years ago. Again - what changed?

I Googled "Iraqi Oil" for fun. And then perused some articles about what's happening with oil this week. It was very enlightening.

My favorite was a 2004 USA Today article where the author is freaking out over the idea of "prices far above $50 a barrel, perhaps $60 or more".

Well, it's early 2008 and the current price of a barrel of oil is set to reach... "an average of $141 in the second half of 2008 and to $148 in 2009. OPEC no longer rules out $200".

Wow. That sure put things into perspective for me. You can have fun googling yourself, or check this, this, and this out and see a big picture emerge.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Turkey's Answer to Brad Pitt

I’ve been spending a lot of time at my parents’ place lately where I’ve been exposed to ungodly amounts of Arabic satellite tv. Besides learning that virtually every single American hit show has been purchased by Arabic stations and repackaged for an Arab audience giving us Arabic versions of American Idol (called “Superstar”), The Biggest Loser, Project Runway (sponsored by the Lebanese crown jewel Elie Saab), Friends, and yes, even The View, there’s a new soap opera that’s been causing quite the sensation in the Arab world right now, and this one isn’t of American origins…

It should be clarified that soap operas in the Arab world run more along the Mexican ‘telenovela’ model, with a run of about 3 to 4 months, than the American version which goes on forever and probably into the next world.

My mother introduced this soap to me like so: “It’s worse than those American soap operas, with this woman having a child from that man, and being separated from this one, and that one having a dubious past… it’s terrible. But the hero is quite an eyeful.”

See for yourselves…

PS: I can’t wait for the Arabic version of “The Bachelor”.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Guilty Pleasures and Maggie Marr

Okay, so let’s take a brief reprieve from politics (of course it’ll be brief… I won’t make promises I can’t keep!) and get on my guilty pleasure topic: Hollywood gossip.

I don’t have many guilty pleasures in life, mostly because I’ve come to think that if you’re going to feel guilty about doing something, it takes away half the fun, so do it wholeheartedly or don’t do it all. Or try not to anyway.

Not so Hollywood gossip. It’s certainly a pleasure, and yes, it is sinfully, double-Oreo-brownie-a-la-mode guilty.

Here’s a typical scenario: me, standing in the grocery store check out aisle, clutching a carton of milk and the latest Marie-Claire, trying to look away. But I can’t. I sneak a peak. Brittany has a bump. Jen has found true love – for real this time. Nicole has gained a pound. Suddenly it becomes too much to bear. I tell myself there are still two people ahead of me in line… if I pick one and speed read I’ll manage to take all the crucial info in, no need to waste my money on this brain crack. I know they are lying to me. I know it’s all padding. I know those headlines are exaggerated… but I can’t help it. I am weak. Just when it’s my turn to pay I grab the In Touch staring me in the face (does it snicker at me? Does it know it won?) and fork over three dollars I’ll never see again. Score: Hollywood gossip: one, me: zilch. And so it goes.

Meet Maggie Marr, an author who’s managed to take our obsession with juicy Hollywood insider info and turn it into a novel praised by chick lit royalty Sarah Mlynowski (“Move over Jackie Collins! Secrets of The Hollywood Girls Club is a steamy page-turner bursting with insider Hollywood gossip. I loved it!") and Marian Keyes (“This is a juicy, delicious read! I just loved the insider secrets and the access to what really goes on in Hollywood—the stuff we suspect happens but is always denied by scary publicists").

Who is Maggie Marr, you ask? A bitter ex-assistant looking to do some damage in roman a clef mode? Not quite. Maggie has earned her Hollywood cred as an LA motion picture literary agent, where she’s worked with the likes of Owen Wilson, Cameron Diaz, Ashton Kutcher (eek!), and Reese Witherspoon. And get this… she used to be a lawyer before become an agent and an author, so you just know this is going to be a smart read.

Secrets of the Hollywood Girls Club is the follow-up to Hollywood Girls Club where A-list friends Jessica, Celeste, Lydia and Mary-Anne attempt to beat the plastic-surgery/secret affaires/sex tapes rumor mill to keep hold on to the spot at the top.

Without further ado, here’ s the scoop from Maggie.

Who’s your favorite Hollywood heartthrob?

It's a three way tie...Brad Pit, George Clooney, and Daniel Craig...oh wait… did I mention Mark Wahlberg?

Name three authors at the top of your “to watch” list.

Okay so this list changes all the time! But I have to say..I love Carl Hiaasen. Adore him. I think he's a brilliant writer. His characters are quirky and fun and I always enjoy reading his books. Next...right now...I'd say Janet Evanovich. I just recently discovered the Plum series. I love the pace of Janet's books. How the stories keep moving. And I love the character Stephanie Plum. Jennifer Weiner. I just finished Certain Girls and although I'm a little up and down on this book, I think more because of my memories of Good In Bed than Jennifer's story choices, Jennifer's writing is brilliant and she continues to get better as a writer. So of course, I am always interested in the stories she's telling.

Which book do you wish you’d written?

Carpe Demon by Julie Kenner

Can you tell us a bit about your writing process? Do you have a writing routine you stick to or a special writing space that brings out your creativity?

Let’s see. I love the mornings. I love to be at my computer by 7:30 or 8 am to get started. I have a goal of one chapter a day which for me is about 10 pages. Some days I make it, other days I don’t. But when I’m working on the first draft, whizzing along, I try for ten pages. I work in the morning until noonish and then I take a break and have lunch with my girls. I put them down for nap and write another two hours, from two to four. Usually I’m pretty shot by four pm. I might read or edit in the evening once the girls are in bed, but I don’t usually get much writing accomplished.

Do you have an agent, if so, can you tell us the story behind meeting and signing with her?

Prior to becoming a full time writer, I was a motion picture agent for ICM. I worked full time repping writers and directors. So Hollywood is my home. I started hearing a character voice in my head and late at night when I couldn’t sleep or on the weekends, I would write down the story I was told. This story became the first draft of my first book Hollywood Girls Club. Secrets of The Hollywood Girls Club is the second book in the series and a continuation of the lives of these four fabulous women who live and work in Hollywood.

So while I was agenting, I wrote for fun, in my spare time. It was my husband who convinced me to give four chapters to my friend and colleague (and now agent) at ICM. I gave her four chapters without my name on them, guessing she’d pass and then I could go on about my life repping my screenplay writer and directing clients. But instead she loved it. I finished the manuscript and when she took it out, there were two houses that wanted the book…so I ended up going with Crown. And suddenly, I was a writer.

So… What up next for you?

I just turned in a draft of a television pilot that I'm developing. I also finished the first draft of my third book, a stand alone women's fiction book, unrelated to the Hollywood Girls Club Series. Once I have the women's fiction book complete, I plan on finishing a screenplay I've been writing of and on for a while.

What has being published changed about your life?

I have a whole lot more work! There is the writing, plus the business of being a published writer. I'm always trying to get the word out about the books. Trying to let people know what a fun read they are. The promotion of the books, takes a ton of time. But I can't complain, my life, is truly blessed.

Thanks so much Maggie!

Saturday, May 17, 2008

How Not to Write an Article

I was going to write a nice, tame post about a movie I saw last week and why it reminded me of plotting techniques, but then something appeared on the opinion page of the Montreal Gazette that nearly drove me out of my mind, as happens every single weekend with the Montreal Gazette. (A legitimate question might be: “why do you read the Montreal Gazette, Nadine, when it incenses you so?” and I don’t have a better answer than quoting the Gazette’s branding motto which is: “The Gazette – The English Language, daily”. In overwhelmingly French Quebec, it’s The Gazette or nothing, I’m afraid).

This is how the article, by David Brooks of the New York Times, begins:

“Hezbollah is one of the world’s most radical terrorist organizations. Over the last week or so, it has staged an armed assault on the democratic government of Lebanon.”

Contrast this with what Robert Fisk, award-winning British correspondent for The Independent, author of several excellent books (one in particular I’ve read and that made me cry with empathy, sadness and nostalgia all at once, Pity the Nation) and longtime Beirut resident had to say:

“That [the widely held perception that if Lebanon plunges into another civil war, it’s because of religious strife] is the problem. For the war in West Beirut is not about religion. It is about the political legitimacy of the Lebanese government and its "pro-American" support (the latter an essential adjective to any US news agency report), which Iran understandably challenges.”

David Brooks of the New York Times has also authored a hard-hitting, non-fiction book, so in the interest of full disclosure, I must give you the title: “Bobos in Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There

I must say, it sounds pretty fascinating (plus, it’s on sale!) and I’d love to read it if I didn’t have better ways to send my time than supporting self-important nincompoops pontificating on subjects they know little about, but I digress.

For my problem with Mr. Brooks' article isn’t based merely on his lack of credentials, but it’s because he, and pundits like him, are the reason many people are stunned to learn that Hezbollah (should be written “Hezb’Allah, btw, since it literally translates to “Party of God”) currently holds seats in Lebanon’s parliament and enjoys support from a cross-cultural swath of Lebanese society, which is saying a lot in a tiny country gutted by clashes between its 16 religious sects, ravaged by Israeli military occupation, and destabilized by a large Palestinian refugee population (spilling over from Israel).

Out of the multitudes of guerillas the 15-year long Lebanese civil war spawned, Hezb’Allah was the only one allowed to hold on to its weapons after the war ended.


Because it is largely due to Hezb’Allah’s military campaign against Israeli occupation of Southern Lebanon, an occupation distasteful even to Israelis themselves, that the south of Lebanon was eventually liberated in May 2000.

So, while the US still considers Hezb’Allah as a terrorist organization, the Lebanese parliament crowned the group with “national resistance movement” status.

Mr. Brooks does not expend time and ink explaining to his readers why Hezb’Allah deserves to be listed among the “world’s most radical terrorist organizations”. Are they as bloodthirsty as say, the Khmer Rouge of Cambodia? The Tamil Tigers of Sri Lanka? Why does Hezb’Allah, a guerilla movement consisting of Muslim Shia leadership more popular among Lebanese of different faiths than say, the Phalangist party (created to represent “Christian” interests) which has lost so much support, even among Christians, as to be virtually irrelevant? I doubt Mr. Brooks is using Hizb’Allah’s killing record as a basis for his conclusion, because until the summer 2006 Israeli invasion of Lebanon, Hizb’Allah’s offensive was targeted at soldiers, and soldiers only. Never any civilians.

Of course, Mr. Brooks would not mention that. This is why Hezb’Allah is the only ex-Guerilla movement to hold seats the current Lebanese parliament. Because when everyone was busy killing each other, Hezb’Allah focused only on driving Israel (and US Marines) out of Lebanon.

David Brooks' opinion piece is not about Hezb’Allah. He is simply using Hezb’Allah to paint Barack Obama as someone who panders to “one of the world’s most radical terrorist organizations” and counting on reader laziness, misinformation and stereotype to advance a point without a shred of backup.

And that, dear readers, is exactly how a principled journalist should never write an article.

For a lucid, short, and easy-to-understand assessment of the current situation in Lebanon, you can read Robert Fisk’s latest piece here.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Tag Love

Wow - it's been a long time since I've been tagged. So long, in fact, that I think a pretty big segment of taggers from the olden days don't blog anymore, but it's a tag that's both fun and doesn't use up too many brain cells, so here goes. Here are the rules:

1) Pick up the nearest book - I happen to be blogging from my parents' place right now, so I had to get up and go to my sister's bedroom to find a selection of books I left behind. My eyes fells on a very bright pink cover I remembered from back when I first got into chick lit - Valerie Frankel's The Accidental Virgin.

It's probably worth telling the story behind this book. It was 2003, I'd just fallen in love with a new author I'd never heard of before called Sophie Kinsella, and I was desperately searching for similar books. Also, I'd just moved to the Cayman Islands where pretty much anything besides sand and sea water was scarce. I could order books from but then I'd have to wait a month to get them (who wants to do that??!) or I could order them from our one local bookstore. Wait time: one week. It was a no-brainer. Except that in retrospect, I should have probably ordered a book with a title like "The Accidental Virgin" over the anonymous net, month-long wait time and all. Because our local bookstore was run (and still is - though other book stores have popped up in the meantime)but a little old Caymanian lady with a Brooklyn accent (don't ask) and a hearing problem. I went to pick up the book on a Saturday afternoon when everyone and their grandmother was at the bookstore. The conversation went a little like this:

Me (a little bit embarassed): Hi, uh, you called me... you said my book was ready for pick up?

Little Old Lady: And what book was that, dear?

Me (leaning over the counter and whispering): Er, The Accidental Virgin, please.

LOL: What was that dear?

Me (leaning in closer and whispering and breaking out into a mild sweat): The Accidental Virgin.

LOL: The Accidental what? You'll have to excuse me dear, I'm a little hard of hearing.

Me (wanting to die): The Accidental Virgin

LOL (screaming at the top of her lungs, because she's a little deaf): The Accidental what? Virgin? Ed... do we have The Accidental Virgin back there? This young lady wants The Accidental... oh, uh, virgin (says last word a little more quietly this time).

Entire store turns to look, or at least that how it feels. I tuck my chin into my chest, pay, and run out of the store. I have since been back many, many times, and have a lovely friendship with the owners of the store, and even signed there once, so at least this story has a happy ending: )

Okay - back to the tag rules.

2) Turn to page 123, find the fifth sentence and post the next three:

The idea was to differentiate itself from the upscale lingerie retailers on the Internet. Hitching with a porn site would send their cart careening down-market, downhill, down the toilet.

"I say this with the deepest respect for Stanley's business acumen," said Stacy, "but isn't kind of smutty?"

There you have it. If you're not intrigued, I don't know what else to tell you.

Now for the tough part... I'm going to go ahead and tag Mary Castillo of Chica Lit, Karin Gillespie of Southern Comfort, my friend and intrepid traveller Bride-to-Be, and Dona Sarkar who hasn't blogged in about 17 years (though I'm pretty sure she's still blogging over at Books, Boys & Buzz Girls).

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Are You Ready?

...for some seriously exciting announcements?

After years and years of waiting (okay - maybe about a year and a half), I have finally made it on to the Girlfriends' Cyber Circuit networking virtual group, which means you'll be seeing a lot more writing related blogging from me in the future. I pledge to try and make my interview questions as quirky and original as possible so that those of you who blog-hop (you know who you are...) don't feel like you're reading the same interview over and over again.

And that's not it.I've been waiting for the relaunch of my website to announce this but it's looking like that might take a little while, so here goes: I've got the galleys for Cutting Loose and I am absolutely smitten with my cover!!!

Take a look:

Getting your cover is one of those moments in the writing process that gets you through the rougher patches and reminds you of how totally cool it is to be a working author.

Well... what do you guys think? Effective? Pick-upable?