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.

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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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40 For 40 Progress Report 6/12

And my year of being 40 is now halfway over. In the last month, I’ve finished four more goals, bringing my total to 16. Here they are, with some comments, an update on all the goals not done yet, and an overall thought about this project so far.

Study 40 General Conference talks: I just finished studying last October’s conference (which had 35 talks) right before the one a month ago, and annotated five more talks as soon as they were on the Gospel Library app. These last three conferences have all been increasingly legendary. Do we take them for granted because there’s just so much awesomeness so often? Maybe so. I know I do.

Talk to 40 people about the Book of Mormon: I always knew this wouldn’t be one-on-one, but to a group. I’ve been trying to set up a live debate since late December, but the guy who said he’d do it must be too busy–I’ll email him again. However, a few weeks ago, a critic of the LDS church asked to interview me on YouTube, and I think it turned out really well. It has over 100 views, so I’m counting that for this.

Listen to 40 great albums from my teenage years: I need to update my posting about this, but it’s been a ton of fun. I want to keep going, because there are so many more than forty I want to hear again! But I need to do my other music goals first.

No soda for 40 days: today is day 40. This was by far the hardest thing so far. Going without Netflix was easy, and I’m about four weeks into no social media–which is also surprisingly easy–but I must be addicted to soda pretty hard. It took me three tries this year, and I only finished because I let myself have a Slurpee every week or so. Still, I’ve gained a new appreciation for lemonade, and I don’t really crave soda like I did, so I want to keep going without this one. But I’ll still have a Slurpee sometimes.

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What Avengers: Infinity War Is Really About [SPOILERS]

Warning: this is a very spoiler-heavy analysis. Do not read this unless you’ve seen the movie. (I’ve already seen it twice!)

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Consider these key details from the film:

  • Vision tells Wanda to run when they’re attacked and he’s badly hurt, but she refuses, joking that in a romantic moment before the fight started, he had asked her to stay.
  • Vision later says that the stone in his head must be destroyed, even if it kills him, so that he can ensure the safety of others. Steve Rogers declines that plan, saying that “We don’t trade lives.” Later, when Steve tells Vision to run so he can save him from death, Vision stays and kills the attacker, saving Steve instead. Vision then tells Steve, “We don’t trade lives.”
  • In a twist on this theme, Gamora asks Quill to kill her if she’s taken by Thanos, so he won’t be able to use her to hurt anyone else.
  • In fact, both Quill and Wanda are forced by people they love to kill them in order to save others. In each case, they hesitate and only do so with extreme pain to themselves evident on their faces.

All of these are examples of self-sacrifice, motivated by love and honor, but there’s a third instance of someone killing a loved one in the film.

Thanos, of course, kills Gamora, but not to save others, and not at her request. Where all the acts listed above were voluntary and selfless, Thanos acts against the will of others, for his own selfish wants.

But this isn’t a generic theme of loving sacrifice here. Consider three other moments:

  • Loki, in a singularly unusual act, attempts to kill Thanos after noting his relationship to Odin in an aside to Thor, to stop Thanos from torturing Thor to get what he wants. Loki dies as a result. The only motivation the generally selfish Loki could have had for this is to save others, probably a result of character growth in Thor: Ragnarok.
  • In a parallel scene of saving a sibling from torture, Gamora gives up secret information to Thanos to stop him from torturing her sister Nebula, with whom she had reconciled in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.
  • We first see Tony Stark in this movie as he enthusiastically tells Pepper about a dream where he would become a father. Though there’s no baby, Pepper says, Tony spends the rest of the movie becoming an ever closer mentor to Peter Parker, even holding the younger man as he dies in Tony’s arms, which devastates him. That’s why there’s no Uncle Ben in the MCU: Tony is Peter’s surrogate dad here. [This is another missed opportunity by DC, who created their current franchise with an aging, grizzled Batman and a young, inexperienced Superman. A lot could have been gained by having Bruce Wayne become a father figure to Clark Kent. Alas.]
  • Thor and Quill share some darkly humorous banter about the stresses of having family members kill other family members, obligating you to kill them in return. In fact, with Gamora’s situation as the focal point there, they bond over it.

All of these details emphasize family, especially the power of love in a family. Thanos is the villain here because he is the one character who perverts that power and twists it backward for his own good. Everyone else sacrifices for family love. Thanos abuses it for his own glory. In the moral universe of Infinity War, that’s what makes him evil. And sacrificing yourself out of love for family is what makes the heroes truly heroic.

Adventures in Indexing

I spent some time this morning indexing some marriage records from 1882, and I noticed something funny in the lines shown here.

The top half is the marriage of John Dwyer (1) and Eliza Horan (4). John’s parents are Patrick Dwyer (2) and Ann Young (3). Eliza’s parents are Thomas Horan (5) and Mary McGrath (6).

But then, on the bottom half, we see the marriage of Michael Horan (11) and Mary A. Dwyer (12). Yes, they seem to be the siblings of the couple above. However, Michael’s parents are given here as Thomas Horan (5) and ANN YOUNG (3). And then Mary’s parents are Patrick Dwyer (12) and MARY McGRATH (6).

Whoever recorded this list seems to have switched the fathers’ wives by accident. I mean, either that or there was some crazy 19th century partying going on. But then some of the newly wedded couples would be half siblings already, so that’s much worse than a simple clerical error.

At any rate, I wonder if this was a double wedding–both weddings happened on April 17th (7) and were performed by the same reverend (9). I’m guessing the weddings recorded in this register happened in the order they’re written, which means that John married Eliza and then Eliza’s big brother Michael immediately married his brand new sister-in-law Mary. Notice that, in a delightful family arrangement, Michael was the witness at John’s wedding and John was the witness at Michael’s (8).

Another cute detail: under each groom’s name is his occupation. John Dwyer was an engineer (10), and Michael Horan was a “saloon keeper” (13), which seems like a pretty stereotypical job considering that he was born in Ireland (14).

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