Idol Chatter

Tonight will mark the return of perhaps the one and only positive representation of American Muslims currently on primetime television. Unfortunately, instead of being on a show that is substantial and thought-provoking, it will be on something shallow and salacious–a reality TV show.

On the last season of CBS’ “Big Brother,” the show where a group of people are sequestered in a house and monitored by cameras 24/7, the smart but soft-spoken Kaysar Ridha became the clear fan favorite, even if he didn’t win the grand prize. With this season of “Big Brother” being an “all-star” season in which former house guests can be voted back into the Big Brother house by fans, it is almost inevitable that Ridha, the son of Iraqi immigrants, will be one of the former housemates to return.

Ridha, who is a graphic designer and has used his “Big Brother” fame to start a clothing company called IRockStar, said often last season that the only reason he went on the show was to help raise understanding of the issues Muslims in the Middle East as well as America face.

With the war still going on in Iraq, I think that is a better reason than most to go on a reality show. And I admit I liked watching Kaysar last season, and I do hope he returns for this season. I just don’t know if I can take another three months or four months of listening to host Julie Chen ask inane questions of the house guests or watch one more idiotic challenge to win “Head of Household.”

Couldn’t those of us who are not “Big Brother” fans just vote for CBS to give him a sitcom instead?

There comes a time in every musical artist or band’s life when he, she, or they recognize the superior majesty of another being and succumb to his control. I refer, of course, to the superiority of sound engineer Brian Eno, who has cast his spell in the past over Talking Heads, U2, and David Bowie, among others. That moment of surrender has now happened to Paul Simon.

Simon’s new album, “Surprise,” can’t really be called a collaboration between Eno and Simon, since the songwriter’s restless patter and wondering voice are too intimately recognizable. But there are moments where Eno’s skein of background sound seems to levitate the usually solidly earthbound Simon into a more transcendent musical place.

Which is entirely suitable to what is Simon’s most openly transcendent album. He has spoken in earlier songs of living in “an age of miracles and wonder,” but awe is not the prevailing spirit of the new album. “Surprise,” which has the wide-awake face of a baby on its cover, is the work of a man looking back on a life mostly lived, one who claims to be tired. “Who’s gonna love you when your looks are gone?” Simon asks in the song “Outrageous.” And he is thinking not only of his dotage, but beyond. Since his days with Art Garfunkel, Simon has sung about how to live rightly within situations (like the world, we are meant to understand) that are inherently morally compromised. Drug dealers, lovelorn misfits, bad kids on the lam, broken-down boxers have all spoken through Simon’s voice. On “Surprise,” they all seem to show up looking for peace at the end. “I want to rid my heart of envy, and cleanse my soul of rage before I’m through,” he sings in “Wartime Prayers.”

There is some direct discussion of religion on the album, much of it championing a liberal Democrat’s view of the Higher Power. The opening track reduces the notion of individual religions, sects, or denominations to a matter of regionalism. The song’s title, “How Can You Live in the Northeast?” is followed by a list of questions, including “How can you be a Christian? How can you be a Jew? How can you be a Muslim, a Buddhist, a Hindu?” and follows this by asking, “If the answer is infinite light, why do we sleep in the dark?” A bout of conscience, Simon sings, “sure don’t feel like love.” It sounds more like low self-esteem.

But the surprise of the album—the surprise for all of his characters and for all of us–is that God does exist, and Simon’s not afraid to say it. To his question in “Outrageous”–Who’s gonna love you when your looks are gone?”–he answers simply, “God will.” Even in “I Don’t Believe,” in which the speaker doubts whether even kindness is anything more than a fairy tale, he ends with a plea that one’s love not be “all that there is or could ever exist.”

In a time when even churchmen urge us to approach faith from a place of doubt, Simon approaches doubt from the point of view of faith.

For those who last watched Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock in the thriller “Speed,” re-imagining their relationship at a much slower pace and across different times in “The Lake House” might be challenging at first, but it’s worth the effort.

The film, which centers around a breathtaking lake house designed by Alex Wyler’s (played by Keanu Reeves) father, is at once occupied by Alex, a young architect, and Kate Forster (played by Sandra Bullock), a young doctor–only they exist simultaneously in different years. Through a series of letters left in the mailbox, Alex and Kate discover what seems like the impossible: They are communicating across time, Alex still living in the year 2004 and Kate living in our time, the year 2006. As they puzzle over this mystery, their letters become quite humorous at points and poignant in others, giving new meaning to the idea behind “Instant Messaging.”

Though much of the plot is easily guessed from early on, the romance that emerges between Alex and Kate is quite palpable;this despite the fact that, for almost the entirety of the film, each is unavailable to the other–except through their letters. Film reviewers Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat express the allure of “The Lake House” beautifully:

It is waiting that holds the key to everything that matters in this love story. Kate’s favorite novel is “Persuasion” by Jane Austen, and it celebrates this virtue. Carlo Carretto, one of the great spiritual writers of our time, once spent a number of years living by himself as a hermit, praying in the Sahara desert. When someone asked him what he thought he heard God saying to him in all that silence and after all that prayer, Carretto replied: “God is telling us: learn to wait–wait–wait for your God, wait for love, be patient with everything. Everything that is worthwhile must be waited for!

The film itself moves at a slow pace–yet not slow in the way that it drags. Instead, it progresses calmly, the characters taking their time as they take in each other and their odd situation, and contemplate whether or not a love for them in real-time will ever be possible.

Anyone who has ever waited for love will understand the slowness and mystery behind this odd love affair, and anyone who believes in waiting for love will find “The Lake House” an encouraging film to watch.

Dr. Judith Dushku is best known–in some circles, at least–for being a professor of government at Suffolk University in Boston. She also spent time as the dean of their satellite campus in Senegal, where she became involved with various African relief charities, a job which continues even now that she’s back on U.S. soil. You’d probably know her best, though, as the mom of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Tru Calling” star Eliza Dushku.

She’s also an outspoken Mormon feminist who was profiled in last weekend’s Boston Globe.

Dr. Dushku is a founder of Exponent II, an online women’s Mormon collective. The project’s first inception was in the 1970s, when a group of LDS (Latter-day Saint) women from all over the spectrum–including Dushku–started having informal chats about their faith and their feminism. During the 1990s, several women were excommunicated from the church for expressing feminist beliefs that some considered to be opposing official doctrine. At that point, says Dushku, their feminist collective also became a support group.

One of Exponent II’s major topics, according to the Globe, is the lack of women in Church leadership roles. Dushku, who gives speeches on subjects like “How Mormon Hymns Saved the Gospel from the Mormon Church.” She believes that these hymns contain messages of peace, unity, and helping others. Clearly, these principles inspired and informed her activism. It’s also pretty clear who trained Eliza to be such a strong woman.

Speaking of Eliza, the actress smokes cigarettes, drinks caffeine, and engages in other habits that go against her religious upbringing. Although she no longer considers herself a Mormon, her choice of roles don’t go over easily with her family, particularly her grandmother, who once personally called Michael Ovitz to complain about a sex scene Eliza did on “Buffy.”

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