In the playfully faux-autobiographical "Kicking Me Out of the Band," Harvey Danger's Sean Nelson closes his solo debut by painting a comical portrait of a deluded former frontman whose hedonistic exploits get him booted from the band he'd founded. It's a stinging, clever bit of satire — the sort of song Nelson ought to trot out at a key moment in the stage musical he was born to write one day — but it also draws a sharp contrast to the singer's own story.
Unlike the subject of "Kicking Me Out of the Band," Harvey Danger followed its own tremendous success — in the form of a smash single called "Flagpole Sitta" back in 1998 — with a pair of lovely records, neither of which did much of anything commercially. But Nelson never seemed to chase another chart-topper: His band's second album, 2000's King James Version, was a lush, thoughtful, sonically ambitious flop, and Harvey Danger self-released a near-perfect power-pop record (Little by Little...) five years later, before slowly winding down operations by the end of the decade. The group disbanded amid no apparent animosity, and Nelson has kept busy as a writer, actor and occasional musician ever since.
Now, eight years after Little by Little..., Nelson returns with Make Good Choices, a wonderfully catchy and quotable solo album to which he'd devoted years of intermittent tinkering. Recorded with an assortment of sure-handed all-stars, including R.E.M.'s Peter Buck and Death Cab for Cutie's Chris Walla, Make Good Choices fits perfectly on the irregular-but-unimpeachable Harvey Danger continuum. The title track even serves as a sequel of sorts to the group's last song, "The Show Must Not Go On," as Nelson looks back on a failed relationship through the lenses of temptation and bitterness, only to wisely conclude that the past is best left where it belongs.
True to virtually every piece of music Nelson has ever written, Make Good Choices (out June 4) is fueled by a cocktail of quotability and charm — not to mention a gift for gorgeous ballads like "Advance and Retreat" — but also clearly informed by the unlikely career that led him to this point. In all, it's a fine new beginning for Nelson, a singer who's all the wiser for the endings he's faced.
Dozens of people are dead in heavy fighting around the Syrian rebel-held city of Qusair where troops loyal to President Bashar Assad are making a strong push.
News reports say as many as 50 people are dead.
NPR's Jonathan Blakley, who is in the Lebanese capital, Beirut, is reporting on the fighting for our Newscast Unit:
"Qusair is a strategically important town that lies between the city of Homs, where the Syrian uprising began two years ago, and the Lebanese border. The area has been under siege for weeks.
"If the government regains control of Qusair, it would also control an important route from the coast to the capital, Damascus.
"Opposition activists say the city has been bombarded by heavy shelling since early Sunday and residents have been forced into shelters.
"Syrian State TV says its troops have made their way into Qusair's city center, but opposition groups deny it."
The New York Times is reporting that Assad's forces are being backed by fighters from the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah. The Times reports that the battle "has brought Hezbollah's role in Syria to the forefront as the war becomes a regional conflict, pitting Shiite-led Iran, the main backer of ... Assad and Hezbollah, against the Sunni Muslim states and their Western allies that support the uprising."
The fighting comes ahead of a U.S.-Russian brokered peace conference slated for next month. But as Eyder reported, Assad "essentially dismissed" to bring the civil war to a political solution.
"Believing that a political conference will stop terrorism on the ground is unreal," Assad said in an exclusive interview with the Argentine newspaper El Clarin.
You're out navigating the jammed sidewalks of Kenya's capital city when you suddenly realize you're in desperate need of a toilet. You crane your neck over the crowds, vainly seeking a McDonalds, a Starbucks — no such luck. What next?
There could be an app for that. Twendeloo, which is Swahili for "Let's Go to the Loo," would allow you to use your phone to locate the nearest public restroom in Nairobi's business district, then give it a rating for cleanliness.
Twendeloo is still only an idea in the mind of its developer, Andrew Moro, one of the young Kenyans competing in a "mobile apps garage showcase" this weekend in Nairobi for prizes and seed money from Samsung.
College students fresh off their exams and recent university graduates crammed the top floor of a downtown tech hub for the competition, organized by the women technologist collective known as Akirachix and built around the theme "Solutions for the Next Billion Mobile Users." Africa has more than 600 million mobile phone users (approximately 11 percent of the global total). As that number increases, there is expected to be increasing demand for apps developed by and for Africans.
Eric Wasambo, a child of farmers, took a five-hour bus ride from Kisumu to pitch an app to help subsistence farmers select the best seeds for their soil and climate and thus lift themselves more quickly out of poverty.
Another would-be developer ventured into thorny Kenyan politics with his app JuaKatibaYako: Know Your Constitution.
"People complain that our constitution is written in language that's hard to understand," explained Eric Wesonga to the four judges and a crowd of 20-somethings tweeting the event. His app would allow Kenyans to use their phones to search the text of the country's constitution annotated with links decoding the juridical jargon.
During a break between pitches, I sat next to a man huddled over his laptop making last-minute tweaks to his PowerPoint slides. Boniface Muganda, an unemployed computer science graduate from the University of Nairobi, said he had the day before won first place in a Google-sponsored hackathon to create an Android app for an order-and-delivery service for Nairobi restaurants. Now, he was hoping to win a prize in this Samsung competition as well with an app "to help Kenyans find cheap and affordable housing for rent or purchase."
The mic was temporarily handed over to Samsung's East Africa mobile division business leader Manoj Changarampatt.
"I'm still waiting for the next big breakthrough," he said. "And I urge you all to get your ideas to market as soon as possible."
The students listened patiently to the Samsung rep whose up-vote could help them do just that.
President Obama, on Sunday, delivered a rare, very personal commencement address at Morehouse College, the historically black, all-male insitution that is the alma mater of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
It was a short speech, but Obama did not shy away the subject of race and responsibility. We've embedded video of the address above, but here are two excerpts you should read. They are taken from his prepared remarks:
On Personal Responsibility:
"We know that too many young men in our community continue to make bad choices. Growing up, I made a few myself. And I have to confess, sometimes I wrote off my own failings as just another example of the world trying to keep a black man down. But one of the things you've learned over the last four years is that there's no longer any room for excuses. I understand that there's a common fraternity creed here at Morehouse: 'excuses are tools of the incompetent, used to build bridges to nowhere and monuments of nothingness.' We've got no time for excuses - not because the bitter legacies of slavery and segregation have vanished entirely; they haven't. Not because racism and discrimination no longer exist; that's still out there. It's just that in today's hyperconnected, hypercompetitive world, with a billion young people from China and India and Brazil entering the global workforce alongside you, nobody is going to give you anything you haven't earned. And whatever hardships you may experience because of your race, they pale in comparison to the hardships previous generations endured - and overcame.
"You now hail from a lineage and legacy of immeasurably strong men - men who bore tremendous burdens and still laid the stones for the path on which we now walk. You wear the mantle of Frederick Douglass and Booker T. Washington, Ralph Bunche and Langston Hughes, George Washington Carver and Ralph Abernathy, Thurgood Marshall and yes, Dr. King. These men were many things to many people. They knew full well the role that racism played in their lives. But when it came to their own accomplishments and sense of purpose, they had no time for excuses."
"I was raised by a heroic single mother and wonderful grandparents who made incredible sacrifices for me. And I know there are moms and grandparents here today who did the same thing for all of you. But I still wish I had a father who was not only present, but involved. And so my whole life, I've tried to be for Michelle and my girls what my father wasn't for my mother and me. I've tried to be a better husband, a better father, and a better man.
"It's hard work that demands your constant attention, and frequent sacrifice. And Michelle will be the first to tell you that I'm not perfect. Even now, I'm still learning how to be the best husband and father I can be. Because success in everything else is unfulfilling if we fail at family. I know that when I'm on my deathbed someday, I won't be thinking about any particular legislation I passed, or policy I promoted; I won't be thinking about the speech I gave, or the Nobel Prize I received. I'll be thinking about a walk I took with my daughters. A lazy afternoon with my wife. Whether I did right by all of them.
"Be a good role model and set a good example for that young brother coming up. If you know someone who isn't on point, go back and bring that brother along. The brothers who have been left behind - who haven't had the same opportunities we have - they need to hear from us. We've got to be in the barbershops with them, at church with them, spending time and energy and presence helping pull them up, exposing them to new opportunities, and supporting their dreams. We have to teach them what it means to be a man - to serve your city like Maynard Jackson; to shape the culture like Spike Lee. Chester Davenport was one of the first people to integrate the University of Georgia law school. When he got there, no one would sit next to him in class. But Chester didn't mind. Later on, he said, 'It was the thing for me to do. Someone needed to be the first.' Today, Chester is here celebrating his 50th reunion. If you've had role models, fathers, brothers like that - thank them today. If you haven't, commit yourself to being that man for someone else."