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:

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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!

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

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Another duo, this one from Fitzgerald

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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. 

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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. 

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“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

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Reviewed and Recommended: Godsong, by Amit Majmudar

Amit Majmudar’s new translation of the Bhagavad-Gita is the third one I’ve read, and the second one I’ve loved. Overall, it’s the best of the three. It strikes the perfect balance between the first two: it has the strain of clear pragmatism with the idioms and images of the source culture (which I really liked in the first one), along with a direct, point-blank Western style that doesn’t try to impress with mysticism but which still retains the originally foreign flavor (unlike the second version I read, which just watered it down in trying to make it sound too American).

Majmudar’s poetry sometimes does go a bit too far into prosaic territory, I felt, such as when he liberally peppers a stanza with the prefix “meta” to describe cosmic concepts. There, his Millennial-ness shines through.

But not only are his lines generally clear, gripping, and clever, but his short personal notes on each chapter are genuinely insightful and enjoyable. It’s not too often that one reads an old classic and finds translator’s notes that equal the beauty and power of the work itself. I think the last time that happened was when I read Anthony Esolen’s version of the Divine Comedy of Dante.

This new Bhagavad-Gita complements the literature and religion of the West both when it’s similar and when it’s different–either way, it’s so thoughtful that it makes you think., too. The magic of Majmudar’s work is that it can’t be clear if that’s mostly due to the translator’s subconscious or the text’s original ethos…probably some of both.

 

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Real Teacher Appreciation

This is a positive post about gratitude that starts with disappointment. UNLV has an annual “teacher of the year”-type award for part timers, and I applied this year. I spent dozens of hours on a 49-page application and thought I had a great chance, but I lost. Honestly, though, as much as I would have loved to win, something even better came out of it.

Part of the application was letters of recommendation from former students. In January, I emailed about 30 of my favorite students from last semester and asked if they’d be willing to write one for me. By the end of that day, nearly half had already replied in the affirmative. Ultimately, I got eight really great letters on time. They were sincere and moving, and I had a hard time choosing just two to use in my application.

It’s such a cliché to say that grateful students make teaching worth it, but teaching is already really awesome. The fantastic people we get to work with just make it even better.

Here are two emails I got from college students this semester:

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It isn’t just college students being so wonderful, either. Last week was the official teacher appreciation week, and among the great notes I got from current high school students was a heartfelt two-page letter from a former student, which ended like this:

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Wow. I want to thank everyone who has ever thanked their teachers. Knowing that we can make such a big difference makes me want to be better. It’s also incredibly humbling to be blessed to work with so many amazing students. Many teachers aren’t nearly this lucky to get to hear such gratitude, even though they deserve ten times as many thanks.

One of the best things you could ever do is to thank a teacher like this. Any of us could live for weeks on these simple compliments.

All 19 Marvel Cinematic Universe Films Ranked

Here’s my list. Fight me.

19. Thor: The Dark World. The only MCU film I haven’t even finished. I got bored halfway through and turned it off–it was predictable, irrelevant, and trying too hard to be something it didn’t have to be. By far the weakest Marvel movie.

18. The Incredible Hulk. There’s a reason Hulk never got another stand alone movie after the first year of the MCU. Not awful, but also predictable and pedestrian. Also, Edward Norton.

17. Iron Man 2. The MCU’s flagship character returned with a pretty meh sequel where the internal and external conflicts are both so forgettable that they’ve literally never been mentioned again. 

16. Thor. A fun little movie that hits all the standard beats, Thor’s strongest suit is Kenneth Brannagh’s underrated directing, which helped cement Marvel’s colorfully glossy look more than people acknowledge. Also, Tom Hiddleston.

15. Iron Man 3. By this point, the ongoing soap opera arc of the MCU was well under way, and this entry provided a nice small-scale opportunity for Tony Stark to get some of the lasting character growth that Iron Man 2 oddly only played around at creating. Super derivative, though.

14. Ant Man. We’re in the realm of really good movies now, and this one captures the fun of the MCU as well as anything else. Another standard template is at work here–not all that different from Iron Man–but Paul Rudd is a joy to watch, and where this movie is “fill in the blanks” in its structure, it gets creative with the details, allowing itself to never take itself too seriously. 

13. Doctor Strange. Yet another movie where the details are creative–the gorgeous visuals alone make this movie worth it, and they’re even organic and solidly integrated–but the narrative is generic. Strange’s hero’s journey is forced, but everything about him is forced, like at beginning when we see that he has a complete mastery of obscure pop music trivia, which never gets mentioned again. It’s like the screenwriters said, “OK, he needs some random quirk in Act I, then we can move on…”

12. Captain America: The First Avenger. The skill of the MCU is to take their formula (and by now I hope we see that Marvel is a very formulaic outfit) and just use it with as much pop energy as possible. This genuinely rousing movie is the zenith of that art, with all the wholesome “gee whiz!” spectacle of the Superman movies of the 80’s. Also, Hugo Weaving.

11. Avengers: Age of Ultron. I remember one review of this one saying that it was a miracle it was any good at all, what with all the pressure and competing agendas at work here, and while that may be true, the consistent success of the Russo brothers in making movies even better than this one proves that it’s possible. Joss Whedon is a genius, but even genius can be overrated. Still, this Avengers outing was a solid follow up and immensely enjoyable. Also, James Spader.

10. Guardians of the Galaxy. Even more fun and even funnier than Ant Man, this is the movie that proved that Marvel could make a great popcorn movie out of anything.  Continue reading

Self Reflection, Self Analysis, and Self-Fulfilling Prophecies

One of the gravest weaknesses of our society’s discourse (and especially its political discourse, on both sides) is that it is militantly unreflective. The vast majority of what anyone has to say anymore boils down to ridiculing the other side for being dumb and bad. This rests on a fluffy bedrock of assumptions about one’s own righteousness. But nobody anywhere seems to even try to analyze those assumptions, much less justify them. I guess there’s no market for that. So we all march on, convinced that every knee-jerk reaction to the perceived flaws of anyone who’s different is automatic evidence of their subhuman venality, and everyone goes home at night reassured that they’re very very good and the Other is very very bad. Good thing we’re all so grown up.

On this subject, we could all find a valuable parable in this anecdote from Robert Wright’s 2017 book, Why Buddhism Is True. Just swap out the belief in the scar of the subjects in this story for whatever ideology you find axiomatic.

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Twilight of the Conservative Mormon Group Blogs

Things are out of balance. While one side of the socio-political (and faithfully orthodox) divide waxes ever more prominent in the online Mormon world, the other side wanes, wasting away, evaporating into nothing.

Consider the position of some of the most notable conservative Mormon group blogs from recent years:

  • Real Intent launched in 2012 with more than two dozen great bloggers, including some widely known names, and produced some intriguing and even powerful posts. However, after publishing a total of seven items in the years 2015 and 2016 combined, they have yet to post anything since then.
  • Orson Scott Card created Nauvoo Times and seemed to have hit on an easy success formula: not only did it also have a roster of admirable authors, many of the posts were merely reprints from the authors’ home blogs–constant content should have been a simple thing. But this site also failed and folded, though archives are still online.
  • The great standard bearer of this group is undoubtedly the Millennial Star, but even that’s not immune from these doldrums. Frequency of posts declined sharply several years ago, and at the end of 2013, they brought in Meg Stout to apparently fill the void and keep their product fresh. Meg’s writing is thoughtful, lucid, and original, bringing views and concerns to the table that would otherwise be largely absent. But most importantly–and most relevantly for this post–she’s productive. Of the last fifty posts at Millennial Star as of 5/5/18, Meg has written 21 of them–nearly half. That’s as many as the three next most frequent contributors combined. This isn’t to criticize Meg or anyone else at M*–again, she brings a lot of quality to the table, but the point is that M* isn’t really much of a group blog right now, at least not to the degree it once was. It’s become more like Jr. Ganymede, a great personal blog that sometimes features other voices.

Meanwhile, how many of the socially/politically liberal Mormon group blogs have expired or declined? The only one I can think of is Mormon Matters, which didn’t really die so much as it evolved into something else.

Is no one else worried by this trend? Where have all the great voices–faithful to the church, dissenting from the world’s culture–gone?

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Recent Political Thoughts

I hardly ever write about politics any more, and not just because I’m so disillusioned with it, but because I’ve realized how little it really matters to a full and joyous life. Still, the condition of society is something I think about a lot. Here, for the record, are a few things that have crossed my mind recently that I think are worth sharing.

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In January, I resigned from the Republican party. I was never a “capital R” type, anyway, but I mostly vote Republican, and to participate in primary elections around here, one must be so registered. Now I realize I can have a greater influence on things through recommendations, though.

I withdrew, of course, because of Trump. I don’t want to scribble a screed here, but suffice it to say, I think he’s a bad man, one so thoroughly foul that to be on his side is to be tainted.

“But what about all the good things he’s done!” say supporters.

  1. He really hasn’t achieved as much as you think he has.
  2. “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” Mark 8:36

That second one, especially, encapsulates why I don’t care as much about the political realm anymore. How in the world do so many “conservatives” not see that winning these transient, pitiful little squabbles now means absolutely nothing in the long run, in a world where the social fabric continues to unravel ever faster? We’re rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. We can’t hold families together, we can’t keep jobs even when they’re available, we can’t even stop record numbers of people from drowning their sorrows so ferociously that they actually die by the thousands each week. But hey, we scored some kind of win on paper in Washington, DC, so hooray for us! What a farce.

“He’s better than Hillary!”

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