Saturday, December 29, 2007

The best songs of 2007

Music. It makes the road wider, faster, emptier and simultaneously less lonely. It makes the heart beat faster, ache harder, dance more gracefully. It makes the mind focus and rest and wake up. It makes life more interesting. So thank you 2007! I created what I feel like is an even stronger Best-Of this year than last year, and I didn't think I'd ever top 2006 (that year was so good that nothing from Neko Case's Fox Confessor Brings the Flood made it).

This year's just-misses include: Radiohead, Missy Higgins, Lucinda Williams, Norah Jones, Maps, Peter, Bjorn and John, Blair (Gimma) and The Shins or Jens Lenkman. I am shocked that Missy Higgins didn't make it. Her concert at the Hotel Cafe this year was awesome.

So without further ado ...

1. Take Me To The Riot -- Stars from In Our Bedroom After The War; My favorite song from my favorite album of the year. Also the band that gave a tie for the best show of the year that I saw.

2. Paper Planes -- M.I.A. from Kala; One of the most creative forces in music, she incorporates some Wreckx-N-Effect along with gunshots and cash registers in the chorus to say it ALL.

3. Silver Lining -- Rilo Kiley from Under The Blacklight; my favorite band (sorry R.E.M.) released an ultimately good, though not great, album. Never has breaking up sounded so complete. The most deceptively delivered, yet powerful lyric of the year "I never felt so wicked as when I willed our love to die."

4. Fluorescent Adolescent -- Arctic Monkeys from Favourite Worst Nightmare; music should be about joy and sex and emotion.

5. After All These Years -- Abra Moore from On The Way; back after a hiatus, the Austin-based-singer is back with one of the most beautiful songs I've heard in any year.

6. If The Brakeman Turns My Way -- Bright Eyes from Cassadaga; another fave who released an album that didn't measure up to his previous, although the Omaha-indie-mogul didn't miss by near as much as Rilo Kiley. Just by listening to this song you'll transform.

7. Foundations -- Kate Nash from Made Of Bricks; Amy Winehouse only wishes she could be this brilliant. Lyrics with more bite, melodies more beautiful and a voice far less gimmicky.

8. Underwater (You & Me) -- Clap Your Hands Say Yeah from Some Loud Thunder; do-it-yourself rock-n-roll lives from these guys. They don't use a label to distribute domestically, so please don't download, go see them!

9. Icky Thump -- The White Stripes from Icky Thump; the dirtiest record of the year.

10. Say It To Me Now -- Glen Hansard from the Once soundtrack; Best movie of the year and best single song performance of the year for me. His amp or mic blew out during the show at the El Rey forcing him to sing with his lungs and his heart. The audience was rapt.

11. Umbrella (feat. Jay-Z) -- Rihanna from Good Girl Gone Bad; best pop song of the year by A LOT. And in an era of panty-less fallen ingenues trying to out skank each other, this song celebrates commitment.

12. The Story -- Brandi Carlile from The Story; One of many artists who has covered Hallelujah. One of few who have done it justice. This song is sincere and Mitch Album could learn something about the difference between that and sentimentality.

13. What Light -- Wilco from Sky Blue Sky; An incredibly accessible song from the American masters of music snobbery.

14. Adventures In Solitude -- The New Pornographers from Challengers; The saddest song of the year? Probably.

15. Take What You Take -- Lily Allen from Alright, Still; You've probably heard Smile, which is great, but this song not only has a stronger rhythmic edge, it also has wittier lyrics.

16. Stronger -- Kanye West from Graduation (Deluxe Edition); the ego has landed with a kick-ass song. Fusing Kanye's viscious point of view with Daft Punk's musical genius yields greatness.

17. Lips Are Unhappy -- Lucky Soul from The Great Unwanted; Probably the most obscure act on the list. They're another part of the neo-British soul invasion. But unlike the wicked as they are cute Pipettes, Lucky Soul bring the 60s back 60s style.

18. 1234 -- Feist from The Reminder; The Broken Social Scene Collective gets two on the list (Stars members) with the catchiest most delicious piece of candy-coated pop music in 4-eva!

19. Intervention -- Arcade Fire from Neon Bible; "Who's gonna reset the bone?" Well, who? Whoever does it will have answered the most urgent question posed by anyone this year. See this band in your lifetime and it will change your life for the bester.

If you read this and would like a copy, lmk by posting a comment.

I'm not dead ...

... I've just been basking in traffic, lines, over-worked/underpaid customer service reps, spending, lazing and video-gaming ... in other words the Holidays. Over Thanksgiving the roommates equipped us with an HDTV, Wii and Xbox 360. YIKES! They're all fab. I told two friends to call me to invite me to do something OUT every week to make sure I get out of the house. I've been pretty good about that. But this week has had lots of Wii, lots of Wii.

Though I did find time to finish my best of 2007 CD. I love it. It was more difficult this year than ever. That post coming later today, but first I have to get back to work and edit two more stories (and finish the one I'm currently working on) and then dust and clean the room and deal with mail and banking stuff. I note the list only to point out that once again my best laid plans to evenly distribute the work tasks of my break have failed. But that's OK, I'm learning that legit rest and relaxation is IMPORTANT. The bags I carried under my eyes all fall REALLY FUCKING taught me that.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Triumph of reason plus faith

I've said it before in this blog (I think), but it's worth saying again—writing is hard. Back in high school, I used to think that it was inspiration. In grad school I learned that it was effort, rejection, determination, dejection and blood.

So it's with great joy that I now try to impart that messsage to students. Hopefully it won't take them so long to learn it, because maybe that will mean they, too, can write some stuff this good.

First, this was on the Washington Post/Newsweek site recently. It's a column about "moderate Muslims" and the root of the title of this entry. I found this incredibly intelligent, moving and hopeful—could there be three better words to be described as?


Eboo Patel

Eboo Patel


Eboo Patel is founder and executive director of the Interfaith Youth Core, a Chicago-based international nonprofit that promotes interfaith cooperation. His blog, The Faith Divide, explores what drives faiths apart and what brings them together. He is the author of Acts of Faith: The Story of an American Muslim, the Struggle for the Soul of a Generation. An American Muslim of Indian heritage, Eboo has a doctorate in the sociology of religion from Oxford University, where he studied on a Rhodes scholarship. He is on the Religious Advisory Committee of the Council on Foreign Relations, the National Committee of the Aga Khan Foundation and the Advisory Board of Duke University's Islamic Studies Center. Eboo is an Ashoka Fellow, part of a select network of social entrepreneurs with ideas that could change the world. Close.

Eboo Patel is founder and executive director of the Interfaith Youth Core, a Chicago-based international nonprofit that promotes interfaith cooperation. His blog, The Faith Divide, explores what drives faiths apart and what brings them together. more »

Faith Divide | Eboo Patel Archives | On Faith Archives | Interfaith Youth Core

Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Muslim Dirty Laundry

When I wrote an article for this website a few months ago called On Muslim Antisemitism, a Muslim friend of mine remarked, “What you say is true, but why do you have to air our dirty laundry?”

I stared at her in disbelief. Did she really think that the world was unaware of our dirty laundry?

The sad truth is that too many people think it’s the only kind of laundry Muslims have.

And one of the reasons for this is because mainstream Muslims aren’t talking openly about the problem.

My wife was at a dinner party last week and someone asked about the English woman in the Sudan who, at the urging of her Muslim students, named the class teddy bear Muhammad and received jail time and death threats for her efforts.

My wife’s friend asked: “Does Islam really say that she should be punished?”

“I don’t want to talk about it,” my wife responded.

I understand why my wife took a pass. Mainstream Muslims are tired of being put on the defensive, of only being asked about their religion in relation to violence or the oppression of women, as if that’s all that Islam has ever or could ever produce.

But her friend still wanted an answer to her question. And if my wife wasn’t going to provide one, then she would have to find someone who would.

In this case, it was Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who wrote an OpEd in The New York Times effectively stating that Islam requires Muslims to severely punish teachers who name teddy bears Muhammad (Sudan), rape victims who are accused of being in the presence of a man who is not a family member (Saudi Arabia) and female writers who criticize Islam (India).

Ayaan Hirsi Ali is right on two important points. The first is that all of these punishments are appalling and brutal. The second is that moderate Muslims should be louder about these matters. There are some things that are true even if Ayaan Hirsi Ali believes them.

And once moderate Muslims are louder, not in the form of angry indignation but as eloquent articulators of the depth and meaning of their faith, then people like Ayaan Hirsi Ali will suddenly find themselves consigned to the place where they should have been all along: the margins, where they can froth at the mouth all they want.

Hirsi Ali and people like her are widely-read because they offer a theory of the problem: they tell the world a convincing story of why Muslims keep popping up on the front pages of newspapers in negative articles. Hirsi Ali’s theory, and the theory of other Islamophobes, is that Muslims have dirty laundry because the body and soul of Islam are dirty.

Hirsi Ali ends her Times OpEd with a subtle but scathing indictment of Islam – that it is a tradition opposed to conscience and compassion. “When a “moderate” Muslim’s sense of compassion and conscience collides with matters prescribed by Allah, he should choose compassion,” she writes.

I wonder if my wife’s dinner part friend thinks that’s true. As far as I know, it’s the only theory that she’s heard.

A lesson for mainstream Muslims: Whenever you don’t offer a theory of the problem, someone else will. When there is a vacuum of information about a hot topic and you don’t fill it, other people will aggressively move in.

Too many mainstream Muslims believe they have only two options in the face of the current discourse on Islam: angry indignation or stony silence.

I believe there is a third way. It is what University of Michigan Professor Sherman Jackson, one of America’s leading scholars of Islam, calls ‘Islamic literacy’.

Here is how someone literate in Islam, Muslim or not, might have responded to Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s contention that Islam and compassionate conscience are mutually exclusive. First, by saying that there should be no excuses made for those who sought the punishments in any of the three cases she named. They were indeed brutal, and as such, were in conflict with the core ethos of Islam – compassion and mercy, which are enshrined both in the Muslim tradition and in the human conscience.

Compassion and mercy are the two most repeated qualities of God in Islam, best illustrated by the most common Muslim prayer, “Bismillah Ar-Rahman Ar-Rahim” – In the name of God, the Most Compassionate, the most Merciful. As they are qualities of God, they are attributes that Muslims are required to emulate.

Compassion and mercy are also enshrined in the first lesson that classical Muslim scholars would teach their students, what came to be known as the Tradition of Primacy in Islam: “If you are merciful to those on Earth, then He who is in Heaven will be merciful to you.”
Islam, like other traditions, has internal contradictions. The Qur’an and Muslim law say different things in different places. That is precisely why compassion and mercy play such an important role in Muslim interpretation and practice. When in doubt about how to deal with a particular situation, a Muslim should always be guided by compassion and mercy.

Compassion and mercy are given to human beings by God – they are the content of our conscience. Dr. Umar Abdallah, the most senior scholar in Western Islam, writes in one of the most important essays in contemporary Islam that mercy is the central quality that God “stamped” on His creation.

Fazlur Rahman, amongst the most widely-respected Muslim scholars of the twentieth century (and Dr. Umar’s intellectual mentor), wrote that the single most important term in the Qur’an is “taqwa”, which translates roughly as “God-consciousness” or “inner torch” or “conscience.”

Khaled Abou El Fadl, one of America’s most important scholars of Islamic thought and law, believes that people are required to bring their God-given compassion to the reading of the text of the Qur’an. “The text will morally enrich the reader, but only if the reader will morally enrich the text.,” he writes in a remarkable essay called The Place of Tolerance in Islam.

Shaykh Hamza Yusuf, the most prominent Muslim scholar and preacher in the West, wrote in a piece for this website, “Unfortunately, millions of Muslims all over the globe are humiliated and betrayed by the ignorance and lack of basic humanity that a small minority of Muslims too often exhibits.”

He continued, “True religion – as well as the highest secular values – demands we … attempt to understand each other, recognize our real differences, and display mutual respect.”
That is a statement of both liberation and guidance for mainstream Muslims. Muslims who speak only of brutality and severity and punishment are not just betraying mainstream Muslims, they are violating our tradition. They do not speak for us. We are not required to defend them.

To mainstream Muslims everywhere: When we act and speak with compassion and conviction and knowledge, even about our ‘dirty laundry’, we are following the straight path of our faith, educating those with genuine questions about Islam, marginalizing people with destructive agendas, and doing our part to build a world based on understanding and respect.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Merry Dec. 17

I love Christmas. I am not a Christian or even religious, but I love Christmas the most. At its best this is the time of year that makes people happier, nicer, more generous and move willing to open themselves to love, forgiveness, gratitude and redemption. I've thought about these things a lot lately for no real reasons save it's the holidays and I've been drinking in my fave Christmas songs and holiday cheer. Well, I think also because we had the work Xmas party with the teen staff Saturday and trying to convince one particular girl that the Holidays were awesome (or at least could be) made me think back to how I felt during the holidays when I was her age (14 years ago).

I wasn't nearly so light and hopeful about them back then, far more cynical, though still drunk on the retail and days off of school.

In that spirit (poor connection here warning) here's a fave song from high school, though in no way holidays-related. This is one of the first songs I loved that not many other people had heard of. Thus birthed the music snob I've become, but I think a good person, too? Btw, to all music snobs out there, Mariah Carey's "All I Want for Christmas Is You" is a FUCKING great song. But back to the Sundays ...

Thursday, December 13, 2007

The spirit of the commercial season

Over the past two-plus seasons the Buffalo Sabres have captured my heart, mind and soul, just not my wallet, at least not entirely. I've bought several T-shirts, but opted against the big ticket hockey fan item ... the jersey. The only reason I passed last season when they won the President's Trophy and inspired at least a half dozen hour-long late night phone calls with my friend Jon, was because I strongly dislike the logo the team adopted coming out of the lockout.

It's been called the Chargalo or Barney Rubble's wig. In short, it has prevented me from showing my true fandom, but it has saved me probably $200-plus. Why oh why couldn't they have returned to the original logo? Or even stayed with their updated cartoon goathead logo, which was the ONLY 90s-update era logo that I ever liked.

Well, now temptation has emerged. The Sabres were selected to play in the Winter Classic—an outdoor game to held at Ralph Wilson Staidum (where the Buffalo Bills play). The game will be on national television on New Year's Day. Pray for 30 degrees and no wind.

And in honor of this stupendous sports occasion, the Sabres will be wearing the new Reebok version of the original uniforms.Oh man do I want one of these! Unfortunately, it's about $130 with no name or number and about $210+ (depending on how long the name is) to get customization. Well, there's no way in hell I'm gonna be blank jersey guy. The only thing worse than that is YOUROWNNAME jersey guy.

The only thing that kept me from buying it right now is that my two fave guys from last year—Chris Drury and Daniel Briere aren't on the team this year.

Check back in a week when I've probably bought it.

Upcoming blog posts this year will be best ofs ... movies, concerts, albums, songs, sports moments and my two least favorite developments of the Presidential race (hint: Romney and Huckabee and social issues are involved, even though I say that people should be more concerned with the non-social issues).

Monday, December 10, 2007

Merry Christmas Deux

This is one of my favortie Christmas songs ever. Maybe Xmas ain't purrfect, but it's not supposed to be, is it? It wouldn't be nearly as memorable that way. And so I present The Pogues performing "Fairytale of New York."

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

In the spirit of the season ...

Throughout the rest of this month until Dec. 25 I'm going to post some of my favorite recorded musical holiday moments. This is Band-Aid (a boatload of British pop superstars) inspiring entertainers for causes (see USA for Africa's "We Are the World," Farm Aid, Comic Relief, etc.). If you're watching this tonight, thank God it's them instead of you.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

All shootings are sad

As 3,000 people, including the Rev. Jesse Jackson, turned out Monday to pay their respects to slain Washington Redskins safety Sean Taylor and bemoan the senseless gun violence in this country, I couldn't help but wonder why "leaders" like Jackson don't show up at the tragic funerals of regular people and preach the same message. Draw attention to that, Rev. Jackson, and let's put those killings and shootings out front. Make the public pay attention.

Thankfully, there's Jill Leovy at the Los Angeles Times, who with her Homicide Report blog chronicles at least cursorily the homicides of every person in Los Angeles County. Occasionall, her work still appears in the Times, including this amazing story that appeared in Sunday's paper about a pregnant woman who was shot and has been paralyzed from the waist down.

You can read the story in this blog, but I highly recommend going to the LATimes website and reading it, because you can see Barbara Davidson's pictures, which add the poingancy to this story. Rose Smith and her boyfriend Tyrin Tisdale are who most of us are--hard-working people trying to make their family's life better. Honestly, people who are way more relatable than Sean Taylor.,1,3172307.story
From the Los Angeles Times

Rebuilding a shattered dream

After a bullet paralyzes a pregnant mother in Los Angeles, her family is learning to live again.
By Jill Leovy
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

December 2, 2007

Rose Smith had forgotten the ground turkey for her dirty rice recipe. So the 23-year-old pregnant mother of two waited until their father, Tyrin Tisdale, got home to watch the kids, then headed to the store.

It was May 27 in Watts, and in another hour or so, Smith's life would be shattered. But at that moment, everything was routine -- the way she and Tisdale, 24, liked it.

Raised on the same tough street, the young couple had a shared dream of pulling their young family up and out of the Nickerson Gardens public housing project and of buying a house in a better neighborhood.

That goal required an austere, ceaseless dedication for two people in their early 20s with few resources, no college education and a world of poverty and unemployment at their doorstep.

The rhythm of their lives was like a metronome: Get 2-year-old Mariah and 1-year-old Tyrin Jr. out of bed. Feed them. Dress them. Take them to day care. Go to work, she as a receptionist and he as a mental health worker.

The dirty rice was for one of their few breaks, a Memorial Day potluck with Tisdale's family. Smith hurried through the shopping, then called Tisdale on her cellphone for help unloading the groceries.

Later, both of them would describe what happened as dream-like -- fast and slow at the same time. The children were sleeping in the living room. Smith parked across the street.

A large group of teenagers gathered nearby -- 14-year-olds, black and Latino. Tisdale and Smith both describe a jump in tension, the sound of male voices arguing. Then, like a match dropped in gasoline, a fistfight in the dark. Gunshots booming, close enough to rattle the eardrums.

They remembered the next few seconds differently. Smith's eyes were on the door. The children were awake, standing behind the mesh door, looking out at her. She had one thought -- to get to them.

Tisdale thought the children were still asleep. His eyes were on Smith. He watched her jog across the street. She jumped on the porch and reached for the door handle.

The bullets tore into her one by one, each producing a sharp, burning sensation. Her cheek. Her jaw. Her arm. And there was something else, unlike anything she had felt before. One second her legs were there, the next they weren't.

Even in all the confusion, she knew. "Something in my head had registered that I wasn't going to use my legs any more," she said.

From across the street, Tisdale saw her fall. He thought she was just getting down for safety. "Get up!" he told her as he reached her side. She couldn't.

Tisdale jumped over her, through the door, and called 911. The dispatcher questioned him, saying, "Slow down!" He grew impatient. "My girlfriend's been shot!" he kept saying.

When the police arrived, they wouldn't let Tisdale near Smith.

"Just stand back," they told him.

Lying on the porch, unable to move, Smith felt her heart starting to race. She closed her eyes, willed herself not to panic. She had heard of bullets traveling inside the body, so she concentrated on holding still.

In her ear came the voice of a police officer, bent down close to her. "You look fine. I've seen worse," he was telling her.

At Martin Luther King Jr.-Harbor Hospital's trauma center, the doctor talked to her. Partly because of reverberation from the bullet's impact, her nerves were so damaged they were no longer sending signals. One technical term would stick with her: The injury was "complete." She would almost certainly never walk again. But the baby was fine.

Smith watched Tisdale's head drop as the doctor spoke. They both cried, Tisdale careful not to become too emotional, for fear the hospital security guards would eject him.

All the way to the hospital, Smith had been thinking, "Is the baby OK? Is the baby OK?" But by this point, she had stopped caring about the pregnancy -- about anything but the pain. "It's sad to say, but it's true. I told them, 'I don't care about the baby right now, tell them to give me medicine!' "

Some medications are too dangerous to use on a pregnant woman. The doctors declined even to X-ray her spine for fear of harming the fetus.

In the coming weeks, Tisdale was back and forth between home and hospital, caring alone for the children, arranging child care, cleaning, cooking.

Doctors at Long Beach Memorial Hospital later operated on Smith's jaw, then wired it shut for four weeks. She was pregnant and very hungry. Tisdale brought her protein-infused Jamba Juice and mashed potatoes and gravy from Kentucky Fried Chicken. He also brought the children. Seeing her cry, Mariah would try to comfort her.

One of the bullets had damaged the nerves around her rib cage, causing constant shooting pain. Smith was still taking limited painkillers.

Tisdale took a leave of absence from his job. He was with Smith every day, watching everything the doctors did, knowing it would soon be his turn. He knew that, from the day she went home, she would have to urinate using a catheter and, with Tisdale's help, empty her bowels using a suppository every four to six hours, even at night.

With help from the state Victims of Crime program, Tisdale moved the family from Nickerson Gardens to an adapted apartment nearby and set it up for the day when she finally went home, July 27. She was nearly four months pregnant.

Their first mistake was to try to put the bed on the floor. It was too hard to get Smith up.

Tisdale felt financial pressure to return to his $8-an-hour job. Then, he worried he would be fired if he was late a single day. He asked for a second leave when the baby came in November and had to produce a doctor's note to get it.

Tisdale became a caretaker around the clock: for severely mentally ill adults at work; for the children; and for Smith at home. She could see how tired he was, and it worried her. But even if he could take a break, he would just worry about Smith, he said. The pace was exhausting. But, "this just seems like something I have to do right now," he said.

Smith was home all day, bored, depressed and in pain. Her legs would jerk uncontrollably and seize up. Friends visited, including Tisdale's family members when they could, but she grieved for all the things she could no longer do -- especially as a parent. How could she volunteer at her children's school now?

"It's going to be OK. You are still here. Your life is not over," Tisdale told her.

They had been happy about the baby, but now her feelings were more complicated. Because of her paralysis, she was scheduled to deliver by caesarean section. Then, she decided, she would have her tubes tied.

On the worst days, home alone sipping juice from a straw and trying to manage the pain with Tylenol and codeine, "it felt like the end of the world," she said. "I had a feeling of being the only soul living, the only soul suffering. I couldn't make up my mind that anyone was in worse condition than I am in."

At the same time, it still seemed unreal. She replayed the events of that night over and over in her head. At night, in secret, Smith would try to move her toes, just in case the doctors were wrong.

On better days, the couple felt a little bit of their old routine returning. Tyrin Jr. saw the wheelchair as a fun new toy. Smith's bosses and co-workers at Timcor, a manufacturer of dome structures, were sympathetic. She would be able to keep her job, and her co-workers held a fundraiser and presented her with a check for $5,000.

During her hospital stay, Smith had gotten to know Det. Linda Heitzman of the Los Angeles Police Department's Southeast Division. Heitzman had a suspect in her case, Evan Rivas, 31, a train conductor who worked in the Port of Los Angeles area. He is believed to have fled and is wanted on an arrest warrant on suspicion of attempted murder.

Heitzman said she was struck by the enormity of what had happened to Smith and her young family. How would they make ends meet with three children and hourly jobs, the detective wondered. How could Tisdale provide so much care without help? How could they adapt a crib so that Smith could lift the baby out?

Heitzman has worked for years in Watts and has long bemoaned the invisibility of victims like Smith. Violent crime is at historically low levels in the city. Even so, shootings are a constant backdrop in some neighborhoods. For every person who dies from homicide in Los Angeles, five survive gunfire: more than 1,700 people just this year.

Four days before Smith's scheduled delivery, two 25-year-old men were struck by gunfire just north of where she lives. One died, the other was left a paraplegic.

Heitzman said the shooting of a child occasionally makes the news. But mostly, "people just don't care, or they think, 'They had it coming,' " Heitzman said. " 'She's just one more number.' But if you want to look at who are the numbers, well, here's a taste. They aren't all gangster thugs. And even some of those are just kids anyway."

On Nov. 16, Smith gave birth to a girl -- addicted to her mother's pain medication but otherwise healthy. Smith named her Miracle.

She and Tisdale remain worried about the future -- about money, their ability to handle all this. But Smith said that in some ways, their relationship has grown stronger. "He saves me," she said of Tisdale. "He is the only one who makes me feel protected and OK."

Tisdale said he had reflected many times that Smith easily could have died.

"I think about if I had lost her. I don't know what I would be doing," he said. "Who would I talk to? Who would I come home to?"

Southeast Det. Linda Heitzman asks anyone with information about the May 27 brawl that led to Smith's injury to call (213) 972-7906.