Dec 28, 2007

We Eat Our Own.

"When a leader speaks,
that leader dies." - Living Color, Cult of Personality

I don't know a lot about South Asia, even if I write about things related to the diaspora regularly on here. I know less about Pakistan than I do India, and realize that as the news of Benazir Bhutto's death washes over the world, people with no business commenting on it will do so anyway. Still, I feel like her killing raised two quick thoughts for me:

1) It reminded me, again, of how complex global politics are, and how people can be easily mislead to think that one person, or one family, can serve either as the savior for the nation or the key architect(s) of its damning. The Bhutto family's destiny is linked with Pakistan's, in some way, but it just seems crazy the way that the Western media is playing her role and her importance out.

2) It also made me think more about how hard it is for leaders in South Asian nations to really push for change (whatever kind) without risking their lives. The history over the past 60 years has not been a pretty one, particularly in India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. It's no wonder that people: a) are less willing to step forward and challenge business as usual, and b) have a hard time remaining hopeful and not cynical about change and leadership. While there's still fervent support of political parties (at least in India), the view from afar may be askew. I used to think that the BJP had massive support from the people - and Modi's reelection may testify to that - but it may be just the idea of belonging to something rather than real faith in actual change.

Maybe people aren't really that supportive of any particular candidate or perspective. And maybe it's that cynicism that we confront with people in the diaspora, here in the U.S. and elsewhere, who don't have the faith in change that some of us still offer as an alternative to going along with the same old ways - whether that's regarding civil rights or anything else.

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Dec 21, 2007

A World Without Art.

I have spent the last two and a half years stuck in the timesuck that is law school, and while I see the tunnel's end, it isn't really lit up yet. I'm thankful to be back in school, but a quick accounting of what I've lost along the way makes it a less than fully rosy picture.

But what affects me more, and in a far deeper way, is how I have lost my connection to the arts. This has happened over a longer period time, maybe about 4-5 years, spanning from the dog days of the last full-time gig that I held down. In my first life after school, I spent a lot of time checking out performances, readings, and even some visual stuff. It's easy to overlook things in NY, even though it's all over the place, but I was fortunate enough to be in a setting where I had access and I was around artists.

Cut to more social service and policy work, and I didn't have as much exposure, but still took advantage when I could. There's something rejuvenating and pure about art, and engaging with people who want to talk about the (per)mutations of human experience, thought, culture, and political galaxies that intertwine with good work. To feel inspired, to feel challenged, to experience something that is, in most cases, ephemeral... momentary... unique in that moment. That's probably why I love performance. Though live music can fill that gap, but it's still a different experience than other performance, especially good theater and performance art.

I've dug deep into music as a refuge, but it is not a satisfactory replacement, no matter how much I love it. At least not recorded music. I've not been able to read much fiction for a long time, and I still feel that reading is too isolating - it doesn't feel like I'm experiencing something with people the same you feel with performance. The journey is generally inward, and I don't feel satiated or inspired by inwardness.

So I feel empty, in some critical, crucial way. There is a vibrant, creative, urgent world right outside of my viewpoint, and I have not dipped into it for any sustained time in years. And honestly, lawyers, law students, policy wonks - they are too literal, too limited, too linear. Their language is tightly wound around single meanings and objectives - their time too guarded by objectives (worthwhile or otherwise). Spontaneity is a "waste of time" rather than a tapping of the real lifestream that is meant to replenish our weariness with passion for the struggles and stories that make liberation more than just an academic exercise.

No press release nor policy brief ever moved me. No legal argument ever fundamentally changed my view of the world and my place in it. No conversation with a lawyer has ever really kept me guessing about which turn or angle it will take next, careening from random association to crystal clarity and connecting dots I didn't even know existed. I don't begrudge any lawyers this, because it's not their role, but I miss what I have lost.

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Dec 19, 2007

Proud to be from New Jersey

Though I moved to NY in my early adolescence, I'm still NJ-born. And while it's always hip to say you're from NY (though much of the state is not NYC - it's more like a weird cross of the midWest and the South), people remain down on NJ. Well, without the long thought process on my own reevaluation of the way I've approached it myself.

I'm just writing to say that today, in light of the Governor's ending capital punishment in the state, I am proud to be of New Jerseyian descent, as it were.

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Dec 16, 2007

Sikh Org Battle Royale: Pt II

I knew I shouldn't give up on superlatives from another Sikh group. Just when I was looking at handing the prize for most "accomplishments" (or at least the most times I've seen "only Sikh organization" on one page) to the Sikh Coalition, watch out! Here comes SALDEF. My inbox was graced with a press release/solicitation:

SALDEF: The Sikh American Voice in Congress
(wait, they have a seat now? or is that an advisory position?)

1) SALDEF is the only Sikh American organization working with Congress to protect Sikh American families from hate crimes.

2) SALDEF is the only Sikh American organization working with Congress to ensure that Sikhs are not forced to check their religion at the door of their workplace.

3) SALDEF is the only Sikh American organization working with Congress to ensure our children attend school free from harassment and bullying.

4) SALDEF is the only Sikh American organization working with Congress on the End Racial Profiling Act (ERPA).

Okay - so I don't know a lot about Washington, but how, exactly, does one "work with Congress," and how does one claim to be the only group to do so? Does that mean that all the other groups never call the Representatives or Senators of states that house their office, initiatives, or constituencies? This series of claims seems pretty hard to understand - and it's basically all about the same work. I mean, all you have to do is be a part of a task force called together by some staffers on the Hill, and then you're working with Congress! Well, I mean, that's what I would think.

Boy, I can't wait to see what United Sikhs and SCORE come up with.

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Dec 15, 2007

The Inevitable Rise and Liberation of NiggyTardust!

You know, it's amazing how even the underground has its levels of hype and overhype. Not to say that Radiohead is "underground" by any means, but their decision to put up the new album, "in Rainbows," as a digital download for which listeners could pay what they want has been heralded as a move that will change the face of the music industry. Meanwhile, a remarkable collaboration that went further than radiohead (with big names of its own, but maybe not names that stack up against the unlikely combination of stadium-filling grandeur and art rock that is the radiohead phenomenon) hasn't gotten much play. Well, maybe real music heads know about it, but I sure didn't.

It's a collaboration by Saul Williams, poet, MC, and voice, and trent reznor. Yeah, that trent reznor. Called "The Inevitable Rise and Liberation of NiggyTardust!", an obvious tip of the hat to Bowie's Stardust album, it was made available in two formats online in November 2007: a $5 version that comes in either 192Kbps DRM-free MP3 or FLAC (lossless), or, completely free, which comes in the 192Kbps DRM-free version. Both come with a beautiful, 33 page PDF of lyrics and intricate artwork that's worth the $5 alone. I still have to listen to most of it, but it's an edgy piece of work - Reznor's production shines, unhampered by his usual attempts to rewrite his angst from his first 2 albums in new and interesting ways. Williams is a powerful MC, and he even pulls in a cover of U2's Sunday Bloody Sunday for good measure.

I strongly recommend this album to anyone looking for something new and interesting, and in the interest of supporting artists who aren't afraid to take on the record companies and distribute their own music at a far more reasonable price than what you get for packaging at a big box store. And this album, unlike the Radiohead album, will not be available on CD after the fact (which folks didn't know when the rh album hit the net).

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Dec 3, 2007

Queensryche Cover Album: Two Devils Horns Waaaaay Down

I had to write something about this. The 'Ryche are not my favorite prog-metal/hard rock band out there. Not as presumptuous and prevalent as the reviled/revered Dream Theater, not nearly as underground as all those prog metal bands none of us have ever heard of, I kind of likened them to a mainstream power metal band, without a lot of power. Still, when Geoff Tate brought it, he really could sing (without excessive shrieking). 

I liked a good number of tracks from the original Operation: Mindcrime album, and I thought "Best I Can," "Empire," and even "Silent Lucidity" were really great off the follow-up. Never cared enough to check out the louder previous material, and just checked out afterwards, not even caring enough to see if Mindcrime II was worth the 18 year wait. Album sequels don't generally do it for me anyway - I'm prone to think the wait should be as short as the gap between Use Your Illusion I and II. Though Metallica's Load and Reload underscore the reason we should just skip sequels altogether.

Anyway, after all that, I found out about this covers album Queensryche released last month and thought "wow - I'd be interested in hearing how they approach some of these tracks." "Synchronicity II," "Red Rain," and a cover from Jesus Christ Superstar? Bring it on. Well, even if the album was not particularly ill-conceived, the execution is excruciating. I'm not sure if it was the streaming quality on Free Napster, though I haven't had this complaint with them before, but the mix sounded god awful. And Tate's lackluster delivery was painful - he's lost his voice completely. It's shameful that he's still trying to sing, actually. He should hang up the mic and get a desk job. Seriously, it was *awful* - his moaning at the beginning of "Synchronicity II" sounds like he has no monitors to guide him -- he's off time, off tune, and shouldn't sing this way in his shower.   What happened to his voice?

It was a terrible waste, and honestly, the worst disappointment was Queensryche's attempt at "Heaven on Their Minds." Andrew Lloyd Webber generally annoys me, but his work on Superstar was pretty rocking. And you can almost feel that if Queensryche were in top form, from their "golden" period, they would have made this one shine. But it's just terrible and I couldn't listen through it. I almost put on that Def Leppard cover album of 70s glam (from Napster, okay - I don't own that crap) just to cleanse my listening palate after subjecting it to pieces of this record. I don't know what the reviewers were listening to, but it sure couldn't be what I heard.

And what is it with bad covers from the soundtrack of JC Superstar, anyway? Sinead turned in a very poor performance of "I Don't Know How to Love Him" on her latest, Theology. And now this awful recording. Webber would be rolling over in his grave, if he were dead.  Yeah, so just don't bother with this one.  It's not that it's mellow -- it just sucks.

and what's with the cover of the album? Hey 'Ryche: Sacred Reich called, they want their gas-masked motif back.

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