40 Blues Albums

Seven of these 40 are actually films in Martin Scorsese’s Blues series from 2003, which I’ve wanted to see since then, but never made time for until now. Most of them were excellent. Of the 33 actual records I listened to, most were also really great, and six got a perfect score from me.

  1. Lead Belly, Where Did You Sleep Last Night: Lead Belly Legacy, Volume 1. What an easy album to listen to! Nearly every track is a toe tapper. The stories are deep–like much great art, it’s deceptively simple. The guitar is always sweet and smooth–also deceptively simple, but the more I listened, the more skillful the playing obviously was. Some really fundamentally amazing tracks here. Grade: A (6/1)
  2. Robert Jonson, King of the Delta Blues Singers, Volume 1. Easy to see why this is a classic! Not only does it have the smooth, easy power of blues in general, but these blues are…really blue. Like, black and blue. These songs are pretty violent. Check out the lyrics to “32-30 Blues,” which is all about threats of violence against women. Other songs on the album are similar. So, a pretty honest slice of poor Southern life nearly a century ago. His voice is a weird and wild miracle of tones–who else sings like this? Grade: A- (6/1)
  3. Elmore James, Blues Master Works. I’m really impressed by just how contemporary most of this sounds in some ways, and how early it sounds in others, but even then it’s clear how deeply James influenced early rock and roll–the 50’s sound we think of in that first generation of rock was heavily indebted to this man’s work. Still, it has even stronger staying power than much of that decade’s mainstream stuff. I want to throw a party now just so I can put this on for everybody–these are some solidly sweet jams right here. Bet it’d make a good road trip record, too. Grade: A (6/4)
  4. Howlin’ Wolf, Moanin’ in the Moonlight. If Elmore James inspired Buddy Holly and such, then Howlin’ Wolf’s far grittier, grungier sound inspired later Southern rock like CCR and the Black Crowes. Lots of harmonica here, and plenty of drawling to go along with it. Grade: A (6/4)
  5. Muddy Waters, At Newport 1960. No wonder this was recorded at a jazz festival–it’s a very jazzy album! In fact, Waters uses jazz flexibility to cover a pretty wide range of genres–this is a blues album that includes snippets of a lot of styles, so there’s no monochromatic tone here. A fun little ride! Grade: A+ (6/6)
  6. B.B. King, Live At the Regal. What a great sound each of these tracks has! King’s narrative quips between songs are almost as good as his golden singing, and the way Lucille wails…there are a lot of shades of blue in here, and some of them are pretty bright. The first one of these albums that I listened to twice in a row! Grade: A+ (6/7)
  7. John Mayall, Blues Breakers. This is solid and enjoyable, but already by this point in my listening, some of this relatively later work seems derivative, even generic. Loved the drum solo on their cover of “What’d I Say.” Grade: B (6/11)
  8. Albert King, Born Under a Bad Sign. I must be in a blues funk or something, because I thought this album was just meh. I liked it, but nothing–not one song–jumped out and grabbed me. And I listened to it twice to be sure! Grade: C (6/12)
  9. KoKo Taylor, KoKo Taylor. I know this is a classic, but it just didn’t do anything for me at all. It’s not bad–there’s nothing wrong with it–but this jazzy electric funk version of late blues just struck me as proto-disco more than what I wanted. Grade: C (6/13)
  10. The Blues: Feel Like Going Home. I watched this first film in the seven part Martin Scorsese documentary series that I’ve been wanting to see for 15 years…and why did I wait so long?! It was incredible. As much as I loved the interviews and performances (and Scorsese’s style of quick, smooth transitions that aren’t strictly connected but still make thematic and tonal sense), the best part was the final act, in Africa. So much great music was shared there. It makes me want to find some more old Putumayo collections and dig deeper into this aspect of music. What a joy! I can’t wait to see the other six entries in the series. Grade: A+ (6/18)      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7TfIIhkFUzo
  11. The Blues: The Soul of a Man. Great storytelling structure, mostly about three great musicians: Blind Willie Johnson, Skip James, JB Lenoir. All worth a further look! Grade: A (6/21)
  12. Keb Mo, Keb Mo. Wow, what a great sound! I can’t believe this came out when I was in high school and I’ve never heard of it until now. Most of this is a folksy kind of blues, often with a soulfully positive twist. Can’t wait to hear his other albums. Grade: A (6/21)
  13. Skip James, Devil Got My Woman. I was surprised that this was also such a folksy-sounding album–way more mellow than I would have expected. I loved this sound! Grade: A+ (6/23)
  14. Son House, The Original Delta Blues. Powerful–whether he’s sad or glad, he goes all in. The masterful guitar work–picking, pounding, and sliding–are matched by his vocal range–whispering and wailing, growling and crying, often in the same line. “John the Revelator” is haunting! Grade: A+ (6/25)
  15. Blind Willie Johnson, Dark Was the Night. Prototypical early blues sound. Not always my cup of tea, but these tracks are earthy, elemental, and ethereal all at once–maybe the pervasive gospel theme helps there–and it works more often than not. His original version of the track I just praised from Son House, “John the Revelator,” seems busy and fussy compared to the more sparse Son House cover, but the album’s title track takes the “haunting” title here. Still, this album’s frequent use of female backing vocals is rare in early blues, and I enjoyed it here. Grade: A (6/25)
  16. Magic Sam, West Side Soul. Odd that this came out in 1967, because it sounds mostly like basic 1950’s rock to me–lots of Chuck Berry and Buddy Holly riffs and whatnot. A safe, pleasant, and pretty unremarkable album. That being said, I actually liked his cover of “Sweet Home Chicago” even more than Robert Johnson’s original! Grade: C (6/25)
  17. Junior Wells, Hoodoo Man Blues. Great guitar work here, but fairly narrow–nowhere did I hear the variety evident on most of these records. That’s a major flaw for a record so often given to instrumentals over lyrics. Speaking of lyrics, one track is called “Hound Dog,” and even though it’s not a cover of the Elvis track, I couldn’t help comparing two songs with the same name. Junior Wells came in second. Still, the writing and singing is strong overall. I enjoyed it. Grade: B- (6/27)
  18. Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, The Peacock Recordings 1949-1959. A little more original than some of the other 50’s blues albums I’ve heard, but still derivative. The best thing here is the lyrics, especially on “My Time Is Expensive.” At first I though the line “You are a married woman and I have a family too” would be a paean to fidelity, but the follow up showed a more pragmatic concern: “We can’t waste no time darlin, I got other things to do.” That plus an earlier line–“So you’ve been bound to get together–we better do it fast”–reveal the singer to want the affair to be quick, so he could get back to his other commitments. Pretty darn funny. Some truly sad tracks are enriched by great writing, also, especially “Sad Hour” and “Dirty Work at the Crossroad.” Grade: B (6/27)
  19. The Paul Butterfield Blues Band, The Paul Butterfield Blues Band. I liked this a lot more than I thought I would. This guy knew his stuff! A few of these recent albums have been heavier on instrumental tracks. Excellent cowbell! Grade: B+ (6/27)
  20. Albert Collins, Ice Pickin’. This guy knows how to have fun! The chatty breaks in songs, the voices–he loves what he does. Some of the most impressive variety of any album so far. I’d heard “Master Charge” before and enjoyed it, and it’s a good fit for the album. Very strong–if I listen again, this one might go even higher. Grade: B+ (6/27)
  21. Slim Harpo, Best of Slim Harpo. I liked the nasal twang in his voice–he gets billed as swamp blues, but along with that harmonica, some of these songs could have come out of Nashville. I also like the bits where he talks in the middle of songs–other guys above have done that, too. A cool blues thing. Not quite as great as I hoped, since I really love “Raining in My Heart,” but solid. Grade: B (6/28)
  22. Muddy Waters, Folk Singer. Not sure what I expected from the title, but not this. It starts out the way you’d expect from a classic blues legend–one can imagine the smoky club–but you soon notice how intense it is; this is a moody, emo, pseudo-goth kind of blues. The stripped down nature, especially compared to most of these records I’ve heard now, makes the existing elements pop out more–the bass and drums resonate deeper. Still, some tracks get ponderously pretentious, they’re trying so hard to be deep (I’m looking at you, “Cold Weather Blues”). Some of this album is The Cure on Disintegration, but much of it is just The Cure on Seventeen Seconds. A handful of bonus tracks on a recent edition add much needed life to this often dour effort. (I thought “I rub my John the Conqueror root” was a dirty joke, but nope.) Grade: B- (6/28)
  23. J.B. Lenoir, Down in Mississippi. An album full of blunt 60’s protest songs (like “Vietnam Blues,” “Born Dead,” “Tax Payin’ Blues”) but which ends with an upbeat party track (“Feelin’ Good”). And it works! As with the best albums on this list, lots of variety is united by solid quality from end to end. Grade: A- (6/29)
  24. The Blues: The Road to Memphis. I noticed the very different directing style right from the start–this is much more of a traditional documentary…and it’s often boring. The personalities and stories are great–I loved learning about Beale Street and WDIA radio–but the transition segments are too slow and there wasn’t as much variety and depth in the musical choices as the first two films. Grade: C (6/29)
  25. The Blues: Warming By the Devil’s Fire. Yes! The series comes roaring back with this awesome entry! A nostalgic coming-of-age story about director Charles Burnett’s own childhood, the historical recreation is interspersed with actual performance and interview footage (one bit of Son House was also used in episode 2). Fantastic stuff–every artist was wonderful. I either learned new stuff or gained a deeper appreciation for the ones I knew. Some great female artists here, too. Grade: A+ (6/30)
  26. Mississippi John Hurt, The Best of Mississippi John Hurt. I love the simple, acoustic guitar sound, and his voice, and the songs are just magical. This is old, grassroots, gospel folk blues, just what I like. Grade: A+ (7/2)
  27. Rosco Gordon, The Original Sun Recordings. I was looking forward to this one, but it was only so-so for me. Another pop-heavy 50’s sounding record, it’s good at what it does, but this sound just doesn’t do much for me. Oh well. Grade: B- (7/2)
  28. Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Gospel Train. Dang, I really wanted to like this one. I enjoyed the clips in the 4th film in Scorsese’s Blues series, but the pervasive organ sounded intrusive, and her singing didn’t connect with me, either. Grade: C (7/2)
  29. Keb Mo and Taj Mahal, Tajmo. Not sure what I expected, but this was a lot of easy fun! If this is contemporary blues, then today’s blues is an upbeat fusion of everything from old fashioned slide guitar to bluegrass and rockabilly. Each song was a radio-friendly package of adult contemporary sweets, and that’s not faint praise–I liked relaxing and being energized at the same time. The cover songs are really decent, too. Grade: B (7/9)
  30. John Lee Hooker, The Real Blues: Live in Houston 1979. Lots of fun at the outset turns to brooding melancholy later in, but the intensity works here much better than on Muddy Waters’ Folk Singer album. His voice is the perfect blend of gravel and gravity. I was mesmerized the whole way through! Grade: A (7/11)
  31. John Lee Hooker, The Healer. This album from the 80’s has a lot of collabs on it, and it mostly works. I enjoyed it, but it lacked the immediacy and intensity of the live album I heard right before it. Still, a strong, polished, fun ride. Grade: A- (7/11)
  32. The Blues: Godfathers and Sons. Structurally, this one is lot like The Road to Memphis, following a protagonist and a growing crew as they work towards a big new musical gig meant as a reunion/Renaissance. This film works a bit better than that previous one, though the music itself often seems to get short shrift. Still, the infectious energy–and pure, rapturous joy–of the music in the final act would be impossible to miss! The song the created at the end was a really cool bit of fusion, though–always cool. [note for future viewings: major language warning] Grade: B (7/11)
  33. Skip James, Complete Early Recordings. There’s some great stuff on here, including a few tracks that he would re-record later, and good thing, because the sound quality here is pretty awful. It gets in the way. Other than that, the things I loved on Devil Got My Woman are all in evidence here: the guitar, the lyrics, the vocals…all amazing. “I’m So Glad” is an especially special treat. Grade: B (7/12)
  34. The Blues: Red, White and Blues. Meh. This format was the opposite of other episodes–instead of following a main character’s story, this was a rambling collection of interviews–more like sound bites, really, as most segments are just a few seconds long–creating a scattershot mess of ideas. Little substantial information is delivered–most of this is just British musicians acknowledging the influence of Americans. Some good music here, sure, but not all of it, and it’s always in the background. This entry doesn’t really add much at all. A final segment asks the subjects–including frequent figure Eric Clapton–if British blues makes a difference in blues overall. No, and the fact that the question is asked at all shows how peripheral this is. *yawn* Grade: D (7/12)
  35. The Blues: Piano Blues. The frame here is a meld of some earlier entries: mostly interviews, but longer than the previous entry’s “scattershot mess,” and they’re between director Clint Eastwood and a host of historical worthies (mostly Ray Charles–and bonus, apparently Eastwood plays the piano!). Light on history and info per se, most of the joy from this one is watching old guys hammer on the keys like the legendary masters they are, interspersed with largely black and white footage of them (and their deceased mentors) absolutely shredding it on the piano. Seriously, I never got tired of watching those fingers fly–it was something special to behold. Grade: B+ (7/13)
  36. T-Bone Walker, T-Bone Blues. Here’s a solid classic! I haven’t really liked most of the 50’s-era stuff here, but this was better. Having just watched Piano Blues, I paid a lot of attention to that instrument here, and how it worked with the other instruments. Walker’s droning whine was a sweet compliment to the other components, and I enjoyed the deep richness in variety here–the sub-genres present on many tracks, and even within the songs themselves. This is a great bridge between first generation and more contemporary blues. Grade: A+ (7/13)
  37. Blind Lemon Jefferson, King of the Country Blues. Like the old Skip James record a few entries above, the constant static from the age of this one was an almost impossible distraction, but behind that was a fairly solid roots blues album. Many of the tracks here seem pretty monochromatic, though–too much of the same. Grade: B- (7/14)
  38. R.L. Burnside, Too Bad Jim. A solid, more recent album, it still doesn’t really distinguish itself. Fun to listen to, though, undeniably. Grade: B (7/14)
  39. Guitar Slim, Sufferin’ Mind. Another blues album of 50’s-era proto-rock. This sound doesn’t do much for me, but this album does it better than most. Worth listening to. Grade: C+ (7/14)
  40. B.B. King, Singin’ the Blues. I wanted to end this project on a high note, and this album seemed like a good bet. I’ve been underwhelmed by a lot of 50’s-era blues on this list, but this album was far and away the very best one of those. I didn’t quite love everything, but it was a terrific record, and on every track I could appreciate the massive quality of guitar, piano, and vocals. Definitely a solid end to this blues adventure for now! Grade: A (7/16)

 

Advertisements

President Nelson’s 8-Step Guide to Revelation

This quote was, for me, the most important part of the most important talk in the most important General Conference in decades. It seemed to me that the prophet’s words naturally broke down into an eight step process, in order. The attachment below has his words verbatim from his talk–I added the numbering.

Revelation for the Church, Revelation for Our Lives

Revelation

11 New Places Where I Ate

Making progress on my quest to try 40 new places to eat before my next birthday!

19. Samurai Sam’s, 4/20. Of all the new places I’ve tried, this is the only one I really didn’t like. The service was dour (a young woman and a middle aged man who both seemed profoundly depressed and uninterested in us), the food was dry, and the menu was as uninspired and flat as the lackluster decor. My fish wrap was mostly rice, and poorly cooked rice, at that. There’s a Teriyaki Madness literally across the street–go there instead.

20. Waffles Cafe, 5/3. A decent place, surely, but I just couldn’t finish a sandwich on a waffle. If you can, more power to you. The traditional breakfasts would probably work better for me. Good value (but not great), though; worth trying.

21. Taqueria La Casa Del Pastor, 5/10. This is the new taco truck on the SE corner of Las Vegas Blvd. and Bonanza, which opened after the superb Taqueria El Buen Pastor moved kitty corner (NW corner) and expanded their operation. This place is, obviously, very similar, and while I liked it, I put too much spicy sauce on right away and kind of ruined the meal–my bad. Still, they clearly have everything one would want. Two corners on one intersection now have powerhouse taco trucks!

IMG_20180510_110209450

22. Rick’s Rollin Smoke BBQ, 5/21. Enjoyed a huge nacho meal from here with my English department at work, and there was enough left over for another meal! Fresh, flavorful, abundant good stuff made this a great, meaty treat.  Continue reading

Reviewed and Recommended: Educated, by Tara Westover

IMG_20180619_083551502As a teacher, I loved this book. Westover’s memoir of slowly growing into literacy despite coming from an abusive, rural, fundamentalist environment that harshly discouraged it is inspiring in many ways–it makes readers grateful for the lives we’re blessed with, it makes us grateful that Westover’s voice gets to be heard now, it gives us an example of determination and passion to follow–but for me, it mostly reminded me of just how much difference good teachers can make.

It reminded me that teachers have great power to shape minds by opening them and challenging them. That might be a cliché, but the proof is in the prose: consider this passage where Westover remembers early writing sessions with a great teacher. I wish that my students would look back on their writing development and credit me for this much concrete guidance!

IMG_20180619_083834307

Beyond nuts and bolts, the teacher as mentor who helps students find their true selves is also given due time to shine:

IMG_20180619_083954370.jpg

As a reader, I loved this book. Continue reading

40 For 40 Progress Report 8/12

I’m 2/3 of the way through being 40, and I’m now 1/2 way through my list of goals. I only have two more to add since last time:

One is watching 40 episodes of the Twilight Zone, which I reported on earlier today.

The other is doing 40 days of temple and family history work. Most of that was just research and subsequent work on FamilySearch and Ancestry–creating records, updating them, combining them, etc. A few of those days were indexing at home, and some others were baptisms, initiatories, and endowments. This made me realize that I really need to schedule time to go out to the temple, that trying to do more temple work gets results, and that the cycle of getting names ready and going out to do the work keeps creating more opportunities to do even more. Not a bad way to live at all!

The good news is that on Wednesday I calculated how many more days I had until I have to go back to work, and it was 40 days, so I started some more of the goals, and I’m already in the middle of several. If all goes well, when I report back in another month, I should be able to add seven or eight more, and several more the month after that.

I’ve revised a few of the ones that never really made sense, either in how they’d work or why I’m doing them. I’ll report on those as they roll in. Also, I’m already (still) reflecting a lot on what I am and what I am not getting out of this. Some interesting lessons are coming up, but I’ll hold of on more commentary for now, too.

Overall, this is time well spent. What else can we ask for?

 

40 Episodes of The Twilight Zone

I was surprised to see how many season 5 episodes I’d never seen–the first 33 listed here are the ones I hadn’t watched yet from that year. The rest are other episodes that had gotten under my radar until now. Overall, great stuff, and I’m really glad I set aside time to do this–I really love The Twilight Zone! (The full series, except for season 4, is on Netflix.)

  1. In Praise of Pip” A heartwarming, sentimental episode, this made me choke up a bit as a father. A pean to priorities. Like “Willoughby,” one where we have to wonder if it was all in his head, but either way, he’s better off for it. Grade: B
  2. Steel” Well made and well played, but in retrospect a bit obvious. So much more could have been done here–a remake is called for. Grade: C
  3. A Kind of a Stopwatch” Very similar to “Time Enough At Last.” Still, it looks good, is edited well for the needed effect, and has fun with the concept. This nebbish little dweeb got old and played Leonard on Community! Grade: B
  4. The Last Night of a Jockey” Pretty bold–the ultimate bottle episode–one room *and* only one character. He carries it well. A simple idea, executed quite well. Grade: B
  5. The Old Man in the Cave” Now here’s some solid science fiction! Excellent fable about faith’s relationship to society, and how human nature relates to both. Grade: A+
  6. Uncle Simon” A dark morality tale, with solid work all around. Reminds me of the episode “The Masks,” which came later in the season, but which I’ve already seen. Grade: B
  7. Probe 7, Over and Out” Meh. An obvious story full of simplistic tropes. You see everything coming from a mile away, and none of it really has much to say. Grade: C
  8. The 7th Is Made Up of Phantoms” Some creepiness works here, but it’s still full of holes. Decent enough; nothing special. Grade: B-
  9. A Short Drink from a Certain Fountain” Another simple morality tale. Predictable. Yawn. Grade: C
  10. Ninety Years Without Slumbering” The delightful Ed Wynn makes this worthwhile, and it even subverts your expectations, delivering a rousingly fresh take on the theme. Excellent! Grade: A
  11. Ring-a-Ding Girl” A serviceable ghost story with decent misdirection. Grade: B
  12. You Drive” Straightforward morality tale; done well, but nothing too ambitious here. Grade: C
  13. The Long Morrow” A sci-fi tragedy a la “The Gift of the Magi,” in a way. Not bad at all, but hardly a big deal. Takes place in the far off future year of 1988! Grade: B
  14. The Self-Improvement of Salvadore Ross” Above average quality here, in how this story plays itself out, with panache and irony. Grade: B
  15. Number 12 Looks Just Like You” Yes! How had I never seen this one before? A dark social commentary masterpiece! Grade: A+
  16. Black Leather Jackets” An OK tragedy about an alien invasion, that stacks the deck pretty high in its own favor. Nothing special. Grade: C
  17. Night Call” Another episode whose slow build up leads to an unnecessary tragedy. Well made, atmospheric, fairly effective ending. Grade: B
  18. From Agnes—With Love” An obvious, comedic episode that hasn’t aged well at all, not in any way. The protagonist is played well; that’s about it. Grade: D
  19. Spur of the Moment” The twist in this one actually surprised me–here’s something of a cautionary tale about youthful abandon and the futility of regret. Grade: B
  20. An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” Visually gorgeous and, as an international product imported into the series, stylistically different enough to add much needed variety to the severely limited closed-and-empty sets typical of The Twilight Zone. The lack of dialogue is almost always a refreshing challenge, but the music in its place here is dates and ineffective–it hurries nowhere, like much of the action. Like soccer. Great ending, though! Unlike soccer. Grade: B
  21. Queen of the Nile” Decent. Cool idea, executed well, especially in its final scenes, though the best part is the old lady’s chilling declaration, “I’m not her mother. I’m her daughter!” Grade: B
  22. What’s in the Box” Another morality tale, like “You Drive,” earlier in the season. Better than that one, though, with a dark, jaundiced timeline that presages the great X-Files episode “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose.” Grade: B
  23. I Am the Night—Color Me Black” Wow! Social commentary is often simplistic, as it is here, but the imagery and atmosphere are undeniably awesome. Some of Serling’s best dialogue is here–I took screenshots of some scenes with subtitles near the end. Grade: A
  24. Sounds and Silences” Ugh, what a lazy episode this is–the cheapest template for a Twilight Zone episode. If you start one with a growling, insulting protagonist who hates One Thing–let’s say silence–then we already know what his supernatural, ironic punishment will be at the end. Couple that with the fact that the sound effects are often unintentionally hilarious here, and you have one lame episode. Grade: D
  25. Caesar and Me” A fairly pedestrian episode, but made truly enjoyable by great performances by both the hero and the villain. I thought the little girl must have been a young Karen Allen at first, but nope. Grade: B
  26. The Jeopardy Room” A nice change of pace here–something of an action-y, cloak and dagger sort of story. The set up in the first half is too slow, and even though the plot holes in the second half are too big, it still manages to impress. No surprise that young-ish Martin Landau is pretty intense. Grade: B
  27. Stopover in a Quiet Town” Hey! I remember seeing this episode when I was a young kid! The couple was much older in my memory, though–now, they’re much younger than I am. Alas. Anyway, this one consistently creates a solid atmosphere of creeping dread, in broad daylight, and the acting is immensely convincing. A great and terrifying ending, too! Everything here fires on all cylinders. Grade: A+
  28. The Encounter” Great try, but deeply flawed. Psychological bottle episodes can be wonderful, but nobody talks the way the script has these two poor men speaking–way too much happens too fast in under half an hour. Their heart was in the right place, but despite the solid acting and directing, the idea doesn’t quite come off the way they intended. Grade: B-
  29. Mr. Garrity and the Graves” I always enjoy a good dark satire on human nature, and this is ruefully clever, weird, and completely effective. The twist ending here was unnecessary and actually watered down an already solid conclusion, though. Grade: A-
  30. The Brain Center at Whipple’s” Decent but forgettable story about corporate greed, with some nice thoughts about humanity’s value. Rod Serling meets Frank Capra. Grade: B-
  31. Come Wander with Me” Meh. Smarmy city boy makes a Wrong Turn and ends up befuddled and then terrorized by creepy hillbillies. Yawn. Only the interesting song angle takes this from a D to a C. Grade: C
  32. The Fear” Clever and mostly effective (though, oddly, *also* about a smarmy city type who ends up trapped in a hostile country environment). Grade: B
  33. The Bewitchin’ Pool” What a meh episode to end the series on! The girl who famously played Scout here plays…Sport. Still, nice to see a portrayal of how much divorce sucks for kids. Grade: C
  34. The Arrival” More of a mystery episode than usual, and it mostly works. Intense middle act, and the lead acting is solid enough to bring us along the protagonist’s path, like in Shutter Island. Grade: B
  35. The Mirror” Worse than meh! This is a paean to the paranoia of the powerful, a cautionary tale with zero surprises. Later episodes were actually more clever with the template than this one was. Ugh. Grade: D
  36. The Dummy” The first half is largely wasted as random, slow build-up, but the final act is shot amazingly well, and the big twist at the end is nothing short of perfect. Watching this, I mostly thought the later episode “Living Doll” was much better, but the end of this one is much, much better than that episode’s ending. If I had seen this as a kid, it would have terrified me. Grade: B+
  37. Long Distance Call” Supremely creepy and well made–a realistic and heartbreaking nightmare. Grade: A
  38. Little Girl Lost” Wow! Exact same comment as the last episode, but even more so! Grade: A+
  39. The Lateness of the Hour” A decent story, but not especially surprising. Great ending, though. Grade: B
  40. The Last Flight” What a great episode to end this project on! A brilliant bit of time travel redemption, played out flawlessly in narrative and production. Lots of solid little details come together perfectly here. This is exactly what makes The Twilight Zone great. Grade: A+

Three Great New Mormon Podcasts

I’ve written before about the awesome LDS Perspectives podcast, and lately three more worthwhile productions have started and caught my eye. It’s worth your time to check them out:

The Interpreter Radio Show. A weekly audio broadcast by the Interpreter Foundation, publishers of the eponymous journal of scripture scholarship, this roundtable discussion has a rotating panel that discusses various timely topics of interest to Latter-day Saints. Like the journal itself, it’s a reliable source for enlightenment, entertainment, and edification.

Rare Possessions Podcast. This one is put out by Book of Mormon Central, and each weekly edition features a discussion of–and then a short reading from–classic but largely forgotten works about the Book of Mormon. The most recent show is devoted to the life and work of the great, recently-departed scholar John Tvedtnes. Definitely listen.

True Blue Mormon Podcast. The newest entry in this list–they have three episodes under their belt–this new show has a cast of hosts who are active in the online world (the excellent Jr. Ganymede blog gets more than one shout out), and thus the show has a largely apologetic bent, both in terms of doctrine and culture. This fills a major hole, and is much appreciated.

Used Book Treasures At The Aliante Library

If you never browse the used book racks at this excellent library, you’re missing out on high quality, discount summer reading. Here’s just some of what I noticed a few days ago:

IMG_20180605_112137066

The humor of Augusten Burroughs, the macho side of Elmore Leonard, a Faulkner classic, and a novel from a series that was made into movies where Sean Bean *doesn’t* die!

IMG_20180605_112151395

Margaret Atwood is very popular right now, so this duo will likely go quickly.

IMG_20180605_112223484

Another duo, this one from Fitzgerald

IMG_20180605_112258631

And such variety! Here we see great looking copies of contemporary classic Bel Canto, the legendary One Hundred Years of Solitude, some stories of Fitzgerald, Crime and Punishment, and if you’re looking for recent genre fun, some of F. Paul Wilson’s Repairman Jack stories. 

IMG_20180605_112511862

Plenty more quality here! What do we see? Out front, it’s already hard to miss three classics: Madame Bovary, The Two Towers, and a comic masterpiece by Oscar Wilde. Behind those: the excellent memoir Reading Lolita in Tehran, next to an older classic by Cormac McCarthy, a couple of titles away from McEwan’s magnum opus Atonement, a few more titles away from the first “Ladies Detective Agency” novel. Speaking of comedy, I just noticed in this picture that the row under these appears to have a book by Al Roker in it. 

Continue reading

“Illegal Scam”

scamKudos to whatever genius made this appear on my caller ID. It was enough to get me to pick up the phone, but the girl at the call center didn’t think it was funny. In fact, she wouldn’t go off her script about solar panels to even speculate with me how this bit of subversive honesty happened. Since I wouldn’t stop asking, she eventually just hung up on me. Pretty rude.

Elevating the Elders Quorum President

Another positive effect of combining priesthood groups in a ward into one quorum: the position of elders quorum president, as the single head of all the men in the ward, will be recognized as a calling of greater importance than it has been seen as in the past.

If this calling is being magnified properly, the EQP is really sort of a junior bishop. That’s not meant to eat into the bishop’s authority, of course, but there are so many things a bishop does that should be shared by others in the ward–and not just by the ward council leaders, but by all of us helping each other–and the EQP is the only other man in a ward who holds priesthood keys, so a large share of the responsibility for ministering overall falls on his shoulders.

People often joke the the EQP is the president of a moving company, but nobody would ever say that the bishop is just “the tithing settlement guy” or “the dude who signs temple recommends,” because his many other, more vital functions are so visible. I wonder if, around the church, the elders quorum presidents have been living beneath their privileges, as it were, if people don’t see how much power to serve and bless that this calling really has.

Consider this summary from the church handbook:

The elders quorum presidency…preside over, sit in council with, and teach quorum and group members… They direct the efforts of quorum and group members to advance the work of salvation in the ward…. They serve as members of the ward priesthood executive committee and ward council. As members of this committee and council, they participate in efforts to build faith and strengthen individuals and families…

There’s a whole world of possibilities in those general outlines!

I’ve been very lucky to live in a ward where every man who holds this calling rises up to make the most of it and make a real positive difference for others (full disclosure: I had the privilege of serving as EQP myself over a decade ago, and I loved it). A man who catches the vision of this opportunity can be a major force for good in a community. He can truly challenge, lead, and help draw everyone in a ward closer to the Lord.

When ward members think of men with inspired directions, noble examples, pure and fervent testimonies, constant priesthood service, and selfless sacrifice for the whole ward, they should think of the elders quorum president and the bishopric together. I think that’s a worthy vision for this calling in its new, expanded, elevated form.

40 For 40 Progress Report 7/12

7 months down, 5 to go. This month I only added two more finished goals, bringing my total up to 18, still less than half.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what makes life happy and worthwhile. Is this little project doing that? Am I living more deeply, more consciously, more in tune with who I want to be, or am I just jumping through hoops, creating an illusion of satisfaction?

I once pondered this in my journal, wondering if all that time spent chronicling my life might be better spent out doing other stuff, but in the years since then, I’ve found that looking back over that journal feels wonderful. I expect the same will hold true here–in another decade, I’ll look back on this project and enjoy these experiences just as much if not more than I do now.

Speaking of a decade from now, I already want to spend the year that I’m 50 going back and re-reading my 50 favorite books. Looking forward to it!

Here’s what little I finished in May:

Track my meals and nutrition for 40 straight days. I didn’t try to eat better or anything, I just wanted to record my reality, though I did obviously try to “be especially good” sometimes, and failed pretty spectacularly. Here are my notes. What did I learn from this? I get more protein than I thought, but much of that may not exactly be the best kind of protein. Also, some days I don’t eat very much, because I’m really busy, and it doesn’t seem to bother me much; on the flip side, it is super easy to eat way too much–over 3000 calories–largely due to fast food meals. I guess I’ve learned how important it is to avoid too many of those.

No social media for 40 straight days. This was surprisingly easy, maybe because I just went even deeper into news aggregators like Instapundit during these 40 days, but this was a great illustration for me of just how ephemeral social media is. It really does suck up time and distort reality, but it also obviously has legitimate good uses, when done in moderation. Moderation may be the big buzz word for habits like this that I need to reign in. Also, I missed Twitter more than I missed Facebook. Hmmm.

Why didn’t more get done this month? I could say the end of the school year is busy at work, which is true, but I don’t think that’s why. I think I’m running out of steam for some of this–maybe some of what’s left are lower-priority goals, anyway. With summer here, I have much more time to devote to these projects, so I’ll try to punch out a bunch more soon, and hopefully make some more enjoyable memories in the process.

Clark County, Nevada, 2018 Republican Primary Election Endorsements

When I withdrew from the Republican party earlier this year, I knew I wouldn’t be able to vote in the primary election, and I decided to publish recommendations for as many offices on that ballot as I could, to still do my part in the process. These recommendations are from a very traditionally conservative mindset, fiscally and socially, which means more like Russell Kirk and William F. Buckley than like the current neocons or populists, such as Donald Trump, about whom I’m very skeptical. For each candidate, I tried to find and survey their website, social media, YouTube, and any local media mentioning them, such as the Las Vegas Review-Journal. In some cases, I also consulted people who would know more about these candidates and issues than I do, though all final endorsements here are solely my own. I welcome any constructive discussion in the comments.

 

UNITED STATES SENATE

A lot of conservatives are mad at Dean Heller for not supporting a full repeal of Obamacare–I understand that, but I don’t see him as a Trump lackey or as a rabid anti-Trumper. Heller is his own man, who does what he thinks is best for Nevada. I admire that independence. He’s surely done far more good than harm. We should keep him.

Vote for: Dean Heller

 

REPRESENTATIVE IN CONGRESS, DISTRICT 1

Joyce Bentley is an unqualified amateur, and Fred Horne is just a little better, but it hardly matters. Neither one of them stands a chance against either Democratic nominee. Why would anyone agree to be set up as a token sacrifice by the state party like this? It’s just an embarrassing waste. This would be a good place for my regular rant about the local GOP’s consistent failure to find strong people to run for office…

Vote for: Mickey Mouse

 

REPRESENTATIVE IN CONGRESS, DISTRICT 3

Scott Hammond is solidly experienced and qualified, to a degree far above anyone else in this race. I enthusiastically endorse him!

I’ve mentioned before on this blog how much I like Annette Teijeiro, and I wish she’d run for something more realistic. I know a previous primary win must have emboldened her, but a county commission / city council seat would be a much better fit than these statewide races–please, Ms. Teijeiro, focus and develop your political career on smaller races.

I notice that Danny Tarkanian is running for this office as well, so this would be a good time to remind the world that I wouldn’t vote for him for dog catcher. He’s an obnoxious wanna be, and I hope we can all agree to encourage him to disappear from politics.

Vote for: Scott Hammond

 

REPRESENTATIVE IN CONGRESS, DISTRICT 4

This is another easy one: I’ve always liked Crescent Hardy, and there’s no one else in this race with anywhere near his credentials–certainly, none of his opponents stands a chance of beating either Spearman or Horsford in the general election, so he’s our man.

Vote for: Crescent Hardy

 

GOVERNOR

Continue reading