8 More Old Albums

Picking up where the last entry left off…


8. The Cranberries, Everyone Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We?

I listened to this after hearing of the passing of Dolores O’Riordan in January. The album more than holds up; though the singles still strike me as the most impressive tracks, little if anything here is filler. Most tracks pop out with a fiercely effervescent personality.

New verdict: B


9. The Sundays, Blind

As I listened to The Cranberries, the 1990 single “Here’s Where the Story Ends,” by The Sundays, came back to mind, so I returned to their biggest album, the one after the album that ave us that great single. Sadly, though I liked Blind, and I truly loved Harriet Wheeler’s singing (which sounds not unlike Dolores O’Riordan’s), many tracks felt a little flat, a bit incomplete. The last track on Blind, a cover of the Rolling Stones’ “Wild Horses,” may be the most surprisingly solid, but regardless, you should go back and enjoy “Here’s Where the Story Ends.”

New verdict: C


10. INXS, Welcome To Wherever You Are

Continue reading


Notes on Biblical Archaeology Review’s Greatest Hits, part 1

40by40One of my goals for the year is to read 40 articles about the Bible. Casting about online and through library catalogues in January for suitable material, I came across this: in 2015, the venerable journal Biblical Archaeology Review celebrated their 40th year with a “greatest hits” collection of their 40 best articles ever. And that’s what we call serendipity.

I was able to borrow a copy of the massive, 600-page, two-volume set from the good people at the University of New Mexico. I just finished volume 1, and it was an amazing experience. I’ve never read anything like this before–it’s not technical at all; on the contrary, it’s clearly written to be accessible and exciting to a general audience. Every article was at least very good, and some were actually gripping page turners. Here are my notes on the first 20 articles, the ones in volume one. I’ll start volume 2 today.

    1. 3rd millennium BCE for patriarchal age–Joseph story reflects drought and famine in Egypt @2000 BCE–now-extinct “Kuwait River” may be Pishon, because of minerals nearby (like gold and bdellium)
    2. 2nd millennium BCE Mesopotamia inspired Biblical religion, esp. with a parental, personal God
    3. First alphabet invented by Canaanite miners (many immigrant cultures came to work in Egypt at this time) adapting Egyptian hieroglyphs, 19th century BCE–the evolution of forms is apparent in inscriptions. They took hieroglyphics and simplified their forms, but used them for the initial sound of each, to spell out their intended subject phonetically. “The alphabet was invented in this way by Canaanites at Serabit in the Middle Bronze Age, in the middle of the 19th century BCE, probably during the reign of Amenemhet III of the XIIth Dynasty.” alphabet
    4. First illustration of Israelites is in the 4th of pharoah Merenptah’s reliefs near his stele mentioning them, end of 13th century BCE, 600 years before any other reference outside Bible. They have no city and dress like Canaanites. merenptah stele
    5. Egyptian documents that indirectly parallel elements of the Exodus–as a series of smaller events over time, climaxing in late 13th century BC–include the Leiden Payrus 348 (mentioning ‘Apiru [Hebrew?] workers at Ramesses), Merneptah Stele, Papyri Anastasi (mentioning groups immigrating from drought and slaves escaping into the Sinai), and the Elephantine Stele (“Asiatic” enemies in Egypt robbing them before escaping).
    6. The common assumption that “Red Sea” means “Reed Sea” has no linguistic or physical basis–more likely is that the term is often literal but, as in the case of the parting mentioned in Exodus, symbolic of chaos and ending.
    7. Interview with legendary Israeli archaeologist about the uses and abuses of Biblical archaeology. yadin.jpg
    8. Physical evidence that Canaanite city Hathor was destroyed by intense fire in late 13th century BCE, as book of Joshua says, and by process of elimination, that the early Israelites are the only real contender for the destroyers. (However, most of Joshua, including battle of Jericho, has no physical evidence.)
    9. Lack of formal burial sites, as well as Spartan nature of pottery and architecture, and the lack of temples and royal inscriptions–all common to nearby societies–suggest that Iron Age I-IIA Israel (the time of the Judges) had an ideology of simplicity and egalitarianism.
    10. Ancient Arab town of Izbet Sartah is likely the Israelite town of Ebeneezer in 1 Samuel 4–geography and distances between known places, and location on a road used to get to Shiloh, make this probable. / Izbet Sartah pottery sherd from 1200-1000 BC (the time of the Judges) has longest Proto-Canaanite inscription, and oldest Hebrew abecedary, evidence for literacy among early Bible peoples, early Hebrew read from left to right, and letter forms show that Greek borrowing was also quite early, around 1100 BC. Biblical acrostics with two reversed letters also consistent with this early alphabet, with those letters in the same reversed order.
    11. Large 9-foot tall cultic center on Mt. Ebal from 12th-13th century BC may actually be Joshua’s altar from Joshua 8:30-35. It has very similar form to known altars in and around Israel, w/ evidence of animal sacrifice. It’s boxed to the compass, follows building directions in Exodus 20:26, 27:8 Deut. 27:1-10, and Mishnah. Independent altar–no town or temple nearby. No inscriptions found yet but it’s the oldest Hebrew altar known.
    12. Philistines were clearly part of the Sea Peoples–their armor and pottery attest to that. No Philistine text or language yet discovered.
    13. City of Ashkelon, ruled by Canaanites, innovated metal calf worship, condemned later in the Bible when it was ruled by Philistines during the Iron Age. Philistines are Aegean in origin, migrating from Greek world in 12th century BC. Mycenaean Greek pottery styles showing up later in Palestine, made from local Canaanite clay, shows this. Also, Ashkelon had an engraving of a scene from Homer’s Odyssey, made in Roman times, suggesting an ancient tale original settlers (Philistines) brought over that persisted. Goliath–with riddles, “magic” hair, and super strength–may be influenced by Hercules. Israelite tribe of Dan may come from the Danaoi of Greek legends–they “dwell on ships” & have no Biblical genealogy.
    14. “…the evidence is strong that iron technology developed in the Aegean and was probably brought to Palestine by the Sea Peoples, and perhaps by the Philistines themselves. Based on excavated evidence, it appears that the Philistines did not have a monopoly of sorts on ironworking, as reflected in [1 Samuel 13:19-22]. Iron weapons are found at Philistine sites only; at Israelite sites we find iron agricultural implements, as reflected in the literary tradition preserved in the Bible.”
    15. Excavation at Horvat Qitmit yields first find of Edomite shrine (though we know nothing of their gods and ceremonies), from around the time of the Babylonian destruction of 586 BC. Exact reason why Edomites were living in Judah in 7th and 6th centuries BC is unknown, though invasion of this edge of the ailing nation of Judah is likely. Pomegranates, found on pottery there, represent fertility in the Near East.
    16. 1993 excavation at Tel Dan, in north Israel, found an amazing fragment of a stele from 9th century BCE covered in clear fragments of script, which mentions both the “House of David” and the “King of Israel.” This is the first mention of David outside the Bible, and the oldest reference to Israel in Semitic script.The stele is from Aramean military/royalty boasting of victory over Israel & Judah, maybe a reference to events in 1 Kings 15:16-22 or something similar (the dates match, and both Bible and stele mention Hadad). This site also yields other items of interest with important Hebrew names in the Bible. name of david.jpg
    17. 2005 excavation north of the 12-story “Stepped-Stone Structure” in Jerusalem found a huge, regal palace adjacent to it–some sort of major public building, at least–that may be King David’s palace, called “Large-Stone Structure” for now. That spot satisfies 2 Samuel 5:17–the fortress is “down” from the palace; the rest of the City of David is lower. Pottery dates this building to around 1000 BCE, the time of David; nothing is beneath this excavation, meaning that it was not built on an older site–indeed, this is outside the border of town from the Jebusite period. Beautiful, intact pottery shows that this area existed and ended peacefully. A fascinating find there: a document seal engraved “Belonging to Yehuchal son of Shelemiyahu ben Shovi.” This royal minister is mentioned in Jeremiah 37:3. [In 2014, a scholar from a skeptical university agreed that this site is a good candidate for David’s palace.] david grandfather.jpg


      There are many exciting first-person narratives like this in the book!

    18. No archaeological evidence for Jerusalem as a major city before King David, but the very important Egyptian “Amarna letters” between two pharaohs show that it was. Complexity and detail of later Biblical writing shows literacy in David’s time because of the records that later writers must have referred to. Pottery writing (ostraca) from 8th and 7th centuries BCE show elements of hieratic Egyptian, which must have been incorporated hundreds of years before, since other neighbors closer to Egypt then didn’t use it. Jerusalem may have been more of a “chiefdom” at that time, but they and their neighbors saw Israel’s leaders as kings.
    19. In 1979 an archaeologist found a small ivory pomegranate in an antiquities store that, upon inspection, seems to come from Solomon’s Temple. If so, it’s the only part of that temple ever found. Pre-Babylonian exile Hebrew on it reads, “Belonging to the temple of the Lord, holy to the priests.” Exact function is unknown. Most who have inspected it declare it genuine. Now on display in a museum in Israel. 
    20. The ‘Ain Dara temple in northern Syria, excavated between 1980-1985, is the closest parallel in size and age to Solomon’s temple, of which nothing remains. They have a nearly identical floor plan; indeed, dozens of others also do, showing this to be a standard template. Faces southeast. 1 Kings 6:5,8 also calls for an outer hallway around the perimeter; ‘Ain Dara also has these. 1 Kings 6:4 calls for some kind of window–scholars can only guess what they were, but ‘Ain Dara has some false windows made of recessed frames. Walls of both are heavily decorated with nature and mythology pictures (1 Kings 6:29). Apparently built to honor Ishtar (due to the art’s lion motif), ‘Ain Dara also has a series of 3-foot long footprints carved into the floor. 

      Who *wouldn’t* want to read a book with lines like this in it?


Continue reading

40 For 40 Progress Report 4/12

I just finished my fourth month of being 40–that’s 25% of the way through the year now–and I finished three more goals this month, bringing my total from 4 to 7. The three I just did were: Read the Book of Mormon cover to cover in 40 days, Make 40 positive contacts with students’ parents, and Read Calvin and Hobbes every day for 40 days.

I already wrote about my Book of Mormon reading. Since then, I’ve been reading it in Portuguese, listening here and following along with dual-language text here. The biggest thing I’ve learned so far is “E aconteceu.” Book of Mormon readers can probably guess what that means.

I’ve made efforts to make purely random, positive parent phone calls a few times in recent years, but never anywhere near this many. I simply praised the student for some quality, and thanked the parent for the great job they’re doing. Some folks were befuddled, most were sweetly touched, a few cried. Often, the student was grateful to be recognized and rewarded in any way, though some clearly thought it was odd to be complimented like this. I tried to focus on those who don’t always get as much attention in school as they deserve. Even after forty, there are plenty more who need and deserve some extra positive feedback. So…

I’ve loved Calvin and Hobbes since the first collection I got in 7th grade. In fact, that book, Weirdos From Another Planet, might actually be the oldest book I still have from my childhood. Not only has it aged well, I appreciate it more now than ever. Obviously, it’s full of social commentary, but there are satirical aspects that younger me couldn’t appreciate. This was by far the easiest goal I’ve checked off so far!

I’m actively in the middle of eleven other goals right now, many I hope to have done by next month. I was trying to give up soda for 40 days, a second attempt this year, but only lasted 15 days. That was still better than the other time–11 days. I was inspired by Lent, so I feel extra bad for failing. But I’m also in the middle of a Lenten Netflix fast, and that’s going surprisingly well!

There are also eleven goals where I’ve made very little to no progress at all yet…


Whatever Happened To Eric Coyle?

This spring marks 20 years since UNLV student Eric Coyle made national news when he took 64 credits in one semester, graduating with five degrees at once. I heard about it as I was a sophomore there at the time, and it made a big impression. I’ve told his story to many classes over the years, for motivation and perspective, but they always want a follow up that I can’t give–try as I might, I’ve never found anything else about him anywhere online.

The news reports at the time said that he’d be going to Georgetown for law school, but after that he basically disappears from public record. A Google search for “Eric Coyle lawyer” doesn’t bring up anything useful, and social media doesn’t provide any solid returns at all. His is a fantastic story, and I hope the last two decades have seen great joy and success for him, but I wish he’d pop up somewhere with an update. Eric, dude, where are you?

Dean Koontz on Science Fiction Classics

For some reason, I’m reading a 1988 Dean Koontz novel, and I come across this:


Really? Really? These three movies belong together in a list of the genre-defining benchmarks in science fiction? Two record breaking franchises and a kids’ movie with 15 reviews on Rotten Tomatoes?

And being aware of those three things is enough, apparently, to make someone an “expert in the weird.”



After Reading The Book of Mormon Again

fd445fc55ad1517bb03f62e79b2441de--count-to-readI started this year by reading the Book of Mormon in 40 days, using this schedule. I really enjoyed it this way, because that schedule breaks the text into big but natural narrative chunks–all the Abinadi chapters in one day, all the Ammonihah chapters in one day, etc. The stories made a lot of sense, and the connections from day to day were clear.

The biggest take away from this reading is just how eventful the Book of Mormon is. I’ve read it many times, but I still found myself saying, almost every day, “Oh, yeah, that’s right! I forgot all about this awesome part!” Those moments just kept piling up. Hardly a day passed without some major, deep, impressive section making me pause and think. The mere fact of the book’s density of originality and quality would be enough alone to make me love it!

I was really overwhelmed with how strongly I was drawn to Helaman 7, until that reaction rang a bell and I checked this blog, to find that I’d had the exact same reaction just last year. To that entry’s love for Helaman 7 and 3 Nephi 5, I now need to add Ether 4: I never realized until now just how special and powerful that obscure little chapter is–the Savior starts speaking in verse 6, but verse 13 begins a direct plea from Him to the latter-day readers of the book, that lasts for the rest of the chapter. That’s a pretty big deal!



Friday At the Park

The sun sits low off to the side,
Sliding in sideways:
A perfect light for reading.

Only when I focus do I notice the birds,
Invisible infinities in the distance,
Their overlapping music a hum
So loud it becomes a dull roar we don’t notice:
A drumroll at the horizon.

Three little girls squat at the edge of the pond
Throwing old grapes to the ducks.
The girls stare at the patterns of rippled water
Spreading out behind the ducks,
And squeal in surprise when long wings suddenly appear
And flutter at the sides of geese.

The Happy Days / Scarlet Letter Crossover You Never Knew You Needed

At the end of major reading units, I often have students do a series of small creative tasks to demonstrate understanding by extending or reinterpreting material in various ways. This pivotal scene from The Scarlet Letter has been combined with a classic TV reference. It’s one of the best I’ve seen in a while. Several months ago, the same student who did this drew the courthouse scene in The Crucible with Sesame Street‘s Big Bird sitting in the rafters. Very clever.


Some Recent Listenings

I listen to music a lot while working. One of my Spotify accounts is called “Grading Papers” because that’s when I listen to it. Lately, I’ve been listening to some long, mellow tracks as I slog away:


But then again, I’ve also really liked having this one on in the background, too!

I came across that one while listening to this on a loop:

40 For 40 Progress Report 3/12

Yesterday marked the end of the third month of being 40–that puts me 25% of the way through the year. Ideally, for the things I want to do 40 times, I should have ten by now. Here’s where I stand on my goals:

  • The big item first: I only finished one more item in the last month–40 straight days of sit ups–bringing my grand total of completed goals up to big fat whopping…four. My abs are pretty strong now–I can do 40 (coincidence) crunches in a set with no resistance on my feet.
  • I wanted to check off the “40 push ups in one set” goal this month, but I tested myself twice in the last couple of weeks, and I can only do 30.
  • Today was day 34 of reading the Book of Mormon in 40 days. It’s a pretty amazing experience. More on that next week, after I finish.
  • I’ve done 15 days of temple or family history work.
  • I also wanted to be able to check off the 40 positive contacts with students’ parents, but reaching people is harder than it sounds–I’m only up to 16.
  • This is day 12 of tracking what I eat–I need to do better with recording calories and protein, though, but I’ve never stuck with this kind of resolution this long. It’s sobering.
  • This is day 8 of no soda. Man, I love Dr. Pepper.
  • I’m starting to wonder when I’ll even try 40 days of no social media or no Netflix. Not sure if I even can. How sad.
  • I’ve changed the “run ten miles 40 times” goal–which was far too ambitious to be realistic–to the much more sensible “run a 10k 40 times.” I’ve only done 4 of those since my last birthday, though, so I’m still way behind. I’ll try to add a 5th later today.
  • I’ve only relaxed in the bathtub eight times. Two behind schedule! I’ll add a 9th to that later today, after my 10k run :)
  • Twenty bike rides so far…but only 4 if I don’t count the ones at UNLV…
  • If I want to learn 40 Portuguese words a month, I’m already over that goal! According to Duolingo, I know over 600 words. Still, I’m not checking off this goal–I need consistent practice over time–the real goal is to become fluent. I’m averaging every other day for practice since December, but I need to step that up.
  • I’ve finished 12 books since my birthday, just slightly ahead of the goal.
  • Not sure why I specified “symphonies” in the list of goals, but any classical music will do. Actually, I’ve decided to do nothing but Haydn this year, and it’s been great. I recently heard his Piano Concerto in D major, and it was fantastic!
  • 12 albums from my youth listened to again, but only 4 new jazz and blues albums. Hmm.
  • I’ve eaten at nine new places so far. Mostly really great!
  • Last week I sent out 12 cards for Sunshine Snail Mail. I’ll do 5-10 more this month.
  • I’ve decided that my Simpsons goal will be achieved by re-watching all of seasons 4 and 5. Glorious!
  • This is day 15 of reading Calvin and Hobbes again. It seriously does get better as I get older!
  • Ten great movies with the kids so far, including a few Marvel movies, a nature documentary, a history documentary, and two black and white classics.
  • I’m finding it hard not say anything negative for long at all. Sarcasm comes much too naturally to me. I’ve had to start that one over three times already :(
  • I’m over halfway through 40 journal entries, but barely started any poetry. Not sure my heart’s really in that last one. Maybe it’ll end up being mostly limericks and haiku. We’ll see.
  • Last month, there were 17 goals that I hadn’t started yet at all. Now there are only nine!
  • This project would have been much easier when I was ten.


Romanticism PowerPoint

I did up this presentation to start off our current unit in American Lit. I started with this Powerpoint I found online, and gussied it up a bit. Students filled in these notes while we discussed the slides:

Romanticism Notes

As always, my pop culture and arts references are meant to spur further connections in the minds of students–I try to draw these out from them while we talk. Each piece we read and analyze in this unit includes a discussion of which elements of Romanticism are present in the text and where: this leads to some very natural compare/contrast exercises.

How To Use Turnitin.com and Why

I’m a big fan of the website Turnitin.com, which assists in grading written work and in checking for plagiarism. If you’re a teacher and your school doesn’t subscribe, bug your admin until they get it for you.

It streamlines the writing process, collects all documents and communication electronically, simplifies feedback, and even reveals nearly any kind of cheating a student writer may have done (it was even once used to demonstrate that a professor at UNLV was a serial plagiarist and got him fired!).

It’s thanks to things like this that I don’t carry around boxes of papers to grade any more–all I need is a computer–and it even goes faster, since I don’t have to laboriously scribble my sorry handwriting on each paper. And everything is automatically documented! (More than once, I’ve had a parent insist that their perfect angel turned in an assignment that I’ve marked missing, and where I used to only have my word to go on, I can now take a screen shot of the empty submission page and send it to the parent.)

Last year I put together this quick illustrated user guide for teachers. In case it might be useful for any of you out there in Internet Land, here it is. I also hope you enjoy looking for the little jokes I worked in.


RIP Dolores O’Riordan of The Cranberries

Dolores O’Riordan, lead singer of The Cranberries, died today at the age of 46. This is a sad day for those who love Ireland and 90s music.

Just last month, I was thinking about their song “Dreams” again. At first blush it can come off as too light, too fluffy–it was featured in the movie You’ve Got Mail, after all–but the song’s pop catchiness is deceptive. It’s not a simple, formulaic pop song–far from it. The story presents a new infatuation as a chance for self discovery and reinvention, optimistically claiming that such growth is inevitable. The iconic guitar riff complemented that perfectly, and perfectly represented the early 90s with its bubbly electricity, part gritty grunge, part power pop.

But back to the words–not only did O’Riordan’s lyrics delve deeper than they seemed to, in ways that strayed outside the norm, but so did her vocal work itself. If the guitar in “Dreams” was prototypical early 90s, her voice was the exact opposite. It was the style for women at the time to try to sound as tormented and angry as their male counterparts, but she was happy to chirp out pretty melodies which were no less affecting for it. To be earnestly positive while still communicating a solid connection to elemental reality–that’s a tough balance to strike. Few try. Dolores did it. Witness “Linger” and “Ode To My Family.”

And yet, this is the woman who also wrote and sang “Zombie,” a passionate lament about actual political violence! This was a deep well of lyric and vocal artistry, friends.

46 is far too young. Her work will be missed.

Continue reading