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The first half of “When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts“–a documentary from Spike Lee that chronicles New Orleans’ struggle before, during, and after Hurricane Katrina–is terribly disappointing in just one aspect: more people are not able to see it, since it airs on HBO. Luckily, in our multimedia age, it’s likely that the film will be released on DVD in the near future. Not only does Lee present a compilation of raw footage of both human and meteorological emotion, but he also offers a pinpointed look at the people whom some blame for the high level of chaos that occurred in the city, and which, to some extent, still exists there.

Acts I and II (which aired last night) examine the days between the first reports of the storm’s formation and the actions eventually taken by the federal government to aid stranded and dying citizens several days after the town was submerged. While a peppy jazz trumpet plays, chronological scenes from the destruction unfold–the people who refused to leave, those who did leave, those who took shelter in the Superdome, and those who stayed behind to help. Survivors tell their stories, one after another, unrelentless and strong, just like Katrina. After a while it becomes hard to watch, though Lee was right not to cut their testimonty down.

I assume that Acts III and IV (airing tonight) will examine Katrina’s aftermath: the rescue and salvage efforts, the outrage of those victims who feel their situations were made worse not by any act of nature but by a lack of care from their own government, and the grassroots efforts during the past year from individuals and groups across the globe to aid those who were and are displaced.

Alarmingly unexpected is the story behind the politics of the situation, which Lee unravels for us. This includes conflicts between New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin and Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco and the ineptness of the federal government’s response, to name two examples. Few mainstream media outlets dared go into any in-depth exploration of the political reasons of why Katrina aid was handled as it was. Some did, and Lee, who has proved himself a reliable and relentless cultural commentator, grabs hold of their coverage and runs with it.

In “When the Levees Broke,” the reality of Katrina’s wrath becomes most real with the still shots of dead bodies floating on top of cars, on chairs under blankets in the middle of the street, and inside the Superdome. Lee offers these images while avoiding the shock factor and staying clear of any hint of tastelessness. Watching Lee’s film (which will be rebroadcast in its entirety on Aug. 29.), I felt angry and perplexed. Acts III and IV are sure to invoke more of the same–along with a sharp sense of urgency, when we see that, unlike most stories, this one has yet to come to a happy ending.

Last week marked the introduction of a new character on “Sesame Street”: Abby Cadabby, a fairy-in-training. Abby, who hails from Fairyside Gardens, Queens, is young, eager to learn, and has been described as a feminist who also likes being a “real girly-girl.” Looking different than your typical Muppet, Abby was conceived as a strong female character who is “someone from a different culture, without having consciously to introduce somebody from Indonesia or India.” According to the Muppet Wiki, “Her design was originally very earthy.”

Earthy? Could that be a code word for Pagan? Certain Earth-based sects hold a belief in fairies, or the Fae, as they are known. And, like Abby, they work magic, although Abby’s repertoire is currently limited. Plus Abby embodies the strong feminist message often espoused by pagan groups.

While it’s fun to speculate about Abby’s religious affiliation, she seems to be more pink moppet than pagan Muppet. Besides, it’s more likely that she’ll raise eyeballs amongst the conservative Tinki-Winkie’s-holding-a-purse set for being a feminist, pink Muppet from Fairyside Gardens, Queens. Is today’s episode is being brought to you by the letter “L”?

One thing is certain, however, “Sesame Street” producers are praying that she can work some powerful magic–powerful enough to bring in Elmo-sized dollars.

Last night on The Colbert Report, host Stephen Colbert–in his phony pundit persona, of course– mentioned that he’d visited Beliefnet.com (where he goes, he said, “after sinning on other sites”) and found our Atheists in Foxholes article by Rebecca Phillips.

Upset by the phrase “there are no atheists in foxholes,” Colbert argued that it is atheists who should be in foxholes, since they’re “not afraid to go to hell and be tortured by Satan for all eternity (which is what’s going to happen),” and so that good Christian boys can stay safe at home.

— Posted by Lisa Schneider

I’m not sure the mainstream music industry has ever given Canadian folk-rocker Bruce Cockburn his due along side the likes of Paul Simon, James Taylor, or even Bob Dylan. And I know that the Christian music industry has never known what to think of his politically charged lyrics mixed with a faith in God that isn’t easy to pigeonhole. And while I haven’t listened to Cockburn since my college days, consider me a prodigal fan returning to rave–no, gush–about his recent release “Life Short Call Now.” It is not only the best CD I have listened to this year, but also is a work of art to be reflected upon for a long time to come.

Cockburn’s political musings–the songwriter has always been an ardent pacifist–are still at the forefront of some of his songs, such as “This is Baghdad” and “Tell The Universe.” In these, he skillfully puts a human face on the devastation of war and on the destruction of our planet, and calls all of us to accountability. His prowess as a guitarist is displayed on instrumental tracks like “Jerusalem Poker” and “Peace March,” while the prophetic nature of his songwriting is especially evident in the searing lament found in “Beautiful Creatures” and in the warnings of the urgent “Slow Down Fast.” Woven together, all of these songs reveal a restless, questioning spirit searching for truth and beauty but discovering them harder and harder to find in a chaotic world unconcerned with the divine.

But it is the paradoxical yet whimsical portraits he paints of his faith in God that truly take my breath away. In “See You Tomorrow,” Cockburn sees God in a beautiful woman’s walk as well as in his own sin stalking him. In the song “Mystery,” he joyfully comments that “infinity always gives me vertigo and fills me up with grace.” And in “To Fit In My Heart,” Cockburn sums up his assurance in the vastness and agelessness of God’s nature as he quietly proclaims, “Spacetime strings bend, world without end / God’s too big to fit in a book / But nothing’s too big to fit in my heart.”

There is so much more I could say about the layers and nuances of Cockburn’s songs, but they need to be experienced individually to be appreciated. So don’t waste any more time. Your life is short, and you’ll definitely want to give Cockburn’s “Life” a listen. Now.