40 For 40 Progress Report 12/12

My year of being 40 is now over. Of the 40 goals I set for myself this year, I finished 36. Here are the three I did in the last month, followed by some overall reflections and a look to the future.

34. Give my wife 40 back rubs. I feel a little bad that only one of my 40 goals involved my wife, but I think this was a pleasant bit of loving service, and I should keep this up. I’ve already done another since finishing the goal. I also feel a little bad that it took me until the final month to complete this one. Note to self: do something special for your wife in the near future.

35. Don’t say anything negative about anyone for 40 straight days. This one was *super* hard. I had minimizing my sarcasm at school in mind here, and especially making sure my children know that I love and respect them with the words and tone I use at home. As the year went on, I kept struggling with how to really make this practical, since I have to discipline others and since I can’t control how they react to me. Still, the ball is in my court, and over the last several years I’ve gained a lot of awareness about how deficient my own social skills have always been, and I’ve made a lot of progress there, but there is still quite a ways to go. I kept having to start this over, often with modified expectations and definitions for myself, and only as this new school year started have I felt consistent enough in maintaining positive relationships with young people that I can honestly check this off….but I need to keep focusing on this as much as any of the other things I’ve done this year, and maybe more.

36. Learn 40 new Portuguese words each month. Probably my greatest success this whole year. Technically, I finished this goal after just a few months, with the expected word count at just 480 (Duolingo puts my vocabulary today at 3145), but I’ve never studied or practiced anything this consistently before. Today is day 70 of my current streak on Duolingo; gunning to break my record of 81 days. I’m at level 15. I understand and use some choppy Portuguese pretty regularly at home, but I’m nowhere near fluent yet–not even conversationally–and I intend to keep going until I am. Learning a new language has been a challenging joy.

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The four goals that are as yet unfinished are running a 10k 40 times (I only have 25 done), listening to 40 jazz albums (I’ve loved the several I’ve done so far, but there’s very little progress here), sketching 40 drawings (about halfway done, but I recently decided that I want to focus on drawing birds, and the rest of the goal will be directed at that), and learning 40 new chess moves (I’ve made a ton of growth in chess this year, but still have a ways to go before calling this one good).

One reason why I didn’t finish is merely the overwhelming stress of the first quarter of a school year. I get so busy, so stressed out, that I disappear into my work. I’ve never figured out how to cope with that and still live my life. I guess I need to keep working on that, so I don’t keep losing so much of myself for two months a year. At least I got over that bought of bronchitis a few weeks ago.

I’ll extend my deadline for those four last goals until the end of this year. I want to keep up good habits, including the habit of goal setting for self improvement itself, so today I’m starting a new fitness goal to do planks every morning and evening. This is a great way to live.

Since just a few months into the project, I’ve been analyzing it and asking myself if it was really making me happier, though. Was this just robotic list checking? Was I focusing on that instead of experiencing life more deeply?

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40 For 40 Progress Report 11/12

School started in the middle of August here in Clark County, so September represented most of the year so far–a heinously busy time when I’m swamped by learning hundreds of new names and trying to establish a solid foundation for the rest of the year. I often get sick near the start of a school year, and this year was no different–I’ve had bronchitis for a few weeks now (though I’m getting much better).

This is all to explain (though not excuse) my relative lack of progress in the last month. Despite how far I am into most of the remaining goals, I only finished two since last time.

That leaves me with seven to go, and while I probably could push through and finish, I’m not sure I want to. Doing so would be stressful, and while these activities have been very valuable to me, cramming so much into the last month seems arbitrary, if not destructive. I don’t want to punish myself, or come to hate these things. I’ll gladly give myself an extension, just as I’ve felt free to modify goals as the year has gone on.

So I only expect to finish a few more, and do the rest maybe by the end of the year. And I’m happy with that. And isn’t that what matters here?

Here’s the two I finished in September:

REVISED: Wrestle or play chess with my kids 40 times. I revised this from just wrestling to adding another activity that we could bond over and which would be good for the kids, largely because wrestling in the hot summer is such a drag. I taught two of my daughters to play, though neither of them loves it like my two sons at home do–we all still play frequently, and I usually lose now (and I’m really trying to win!). This has been extremely rewarding all around.

REVISED: Do push ups for 40 straight days. Originally this said “40 push ups in a set,” which was odd–it didn’t match the ethos of most other goals. I changed it to this much more rational version (besides, I could never get further than the low 30’s in a single set!). My fitness habits tend to rotate back and forth between running and weights–mostly depending on what’s injured when–but because of my running goal for this project, I’ve ignored weights for months. This goal didn’t help as much as I’d hoped it would–after 40 days of (often lackluster) push up sets, the only real difference is that I got slightly better at doing push ups. *sigh* Back to the gym…

40 Haydn Symphonies

I used the top 40 entries in this ranking of all 104 Haydn symphonies, from ClassicFM. Oddly, the one that’s likely my very favorite, No. 45 (“the Farewell”) wasn’t on this list at all.

40. Symphony No. 91
Vivacious–alternately pastoral and balletic; middle movements reminded me of Beethoven’s symphony 6–not very similar, but in the same genre. Ebulliently positive! Grade: B (7/16)

39. Symphony No. 27
Even more energetic than the last one, this little symphony is downright assertive–an in-your-face slice of life adventure that clearly, cleanly illustrates the basic narrative pattern, including a sweet daydream center and a rousing, victorious finale. Simple, but not insubstantial. Grade: B- (7/16)

38. Symphony No. 86
I enjoyed the sprightly, peppy final movement, but even that felt…uninspired. A good listen, but nothing special. Grade: C+ (7/17)

37. Symphony No. 100 (‘Military’)
The ClassicFM reviewer said, “If you played the ‘Military’ as you were going into battle, you’d be more likely to ponder the true meaning of combat, the myriad social and emotional implications for those who partake, the poetry you might write as a result.” Way wrong. The 2nd movement especially is thoroughly martial in spirit, and the whole work is aggressive (but, being Haydn, never quite violent). A solid and rousing piece! Grade: B (7/17)

36. Symphony No. 53 (‘L’imepriale’)
The ClassicFM reviewer called this Haydn’s “most overtly stately symphony. You can pretty much march around the room in a wig to this one for the duration.” I think that’s too limited, too narrow. Only the very beginning and much of the central episodes sound like that to me. I also hear the same dreaming gestation at the core, as well as the bubbling triumph so typical of his final movements–this symphony, as usual, is a hearty slice of joie de vivre. Grade: B (7/17)

35. Symphony No. 14
My reaction here surely shows my illiterate ignorance of music. I didn’t identify the progressive genius in the final movement extolled by the ClassicFM reviewer as well as on the Wikipedia entry for this work. I found this whole piece simplistic, predictable…and often dull. Grade: D (7/17)

34. Symphony No. 99
What a huge difference going from early in his career with the last entry to late in his career with this one! THIS is a masculine symphony, full of controlled strength, and a joyous celebration of it. Great stuff! Grade: A (7/18)

33. Symphony No. 82 (‘The Bear’)
The reviewer’s comments about the manliness of this piece are spot on. I listened to the “Composers by Numbers” version on YouTube at first, and found it pretty blah, but then I tried the live one linked above, and liked it much better. I love watching an orchestra play. The orchestra is one of history’s greatest inventions. Grade: B+ (7/21)

32. Symphony No. 61
The reviewers called this one “bracing,” and I think that’s a good fit, if too stuffy. It’s more like “vivacious.” This is another one full of joie de vivre, bookended by movements so sharp they almost sting. Grade: B+ (7/30)

31. Symphony No. 79
There must be more going on here than my untrained ear picked up on. This one seemed decent and fine–bland, backhanded compliments. The general tone came across as pastoral, and I always enjoy that. Still, nothing here was especially surprising or pleasing. I liked it, but didn’t love it. Maybe if I got to know it better… Grade: B (7/30)

30. Symphony No. 90
Now THIS is a masterpiece! I can’t believe it’s only #30 on the reviewer’s list. I love how perfectly in thematic harmony the slow movements are with the faster ones. And the series of false “Return of the King” endings are a bold joke. Finally, the music itself is simply so superior here–this is quite a dazzling feast of audio excellence. Grade: A+ (7/30) Continue reading

40 For 40 Progress Report 9/12

In the last month, I’ve finished 6 more of my goals, bringing the total to 26. That leaves the final three months of being 40 to do the remaining 14. I actually feel pretty good about it–I have significant progress and/or a plan for each of those. Here’s what I completed in July:

21. Listen to 40 blues classics. Posted about this here.

22. Send 40 encouraging cards. I sent cards to 40 sick kids and their families through Sunshine Snail Mail, a great group with a simple idea–sick kids love getting cute stuff in the mail. Most of the cards I sent were of a funny off-brand variety: few regular birthday cards and such; mostly “happy 45th anniversary” and “happy father’s day, grandpa!” cards, just at random. I also sent some Christmas cards in July. That oughta make them smile, or at least take their mind off things.

23. REVISED: Read a poem every day for 40 days. I altered this from the original about *writing* 40 poems, because that goal just didn’t make me happy–I didn’t see what I would get out if it. It felt like an arbitrary chore. The idea for this one made me smile, and I *did* get something wonderful out of it: I discovered the amazing Donald Hall. More details here.

24. Study 40 paintings. I read three art books this summer–Thomas Cole, The Annotated Mona Lisa, and Art Explained–each of which could have technically counted for this. After the third, I felt like I had learned enough about specific works to check this off. Art history is really interesting.

25. Read 40 great books. The list is in this post here. I notice I’m reading more non-fiction than usual this year.

26. Take 40 baths. I love a good relaxing soak, but I never feel like I get enough time for it, thus this goal. Unfortunately, it sometimes felt like a chore, also, just forcing myself to do this, but fortunately, it was still really refreshing. Probably not necessary to try to do this so often, but definitely don’t regret trying to rest more.

40 Books and 40 Poems

I’ve now finished 40 books since my last birthday. Here they are:

  1. Fear and Trembling, Soren Kierkegaard (11.10, philosophy, Lowrie trans.)–A
  2. Troilus and Criseyde, Chaucer (11.20, classic, Windeatt trans.)–D
  3. Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling, Richard Bushman (11.22, biography)–A+
  4. Beyond Good and Evil, Nietzsche (11.23, philosophy, Kaufmann trans.)–C
  5. Backwards and Forwards: A Technical Manual For Reading Plays, David Ball (11.25, literary criticism)–A+
  6. Candide, Voltaire (12.2, satire, classic)–A
  7. It’s All Relative, A.J. Jacobs (12.8, genealogy, humor)–B
  8. The Best American Short Stories 2017, Heidi Pitlor, ed. (12.16, literature)–B
  9. The Mistletoe Murder and Other Stories, P.D. James (12.19, mystery)–B
  10. Rameau’s Nephew, Denis Diderot (12.21, satire, Leonard Tancock trans.)–C
  11. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, J.K. Rowling (1.20, fantasy)–A
  12. The Way Things Are, Lucretius (1.24, philosophy/poetry, Humphries trans)–C
  13. A Life Without Limits, Chrissie Wellington (2.9, memoir, sports)–A
  14. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, J.K. Rowling (2.13, fantasy)–A+
  15. Praise of Folly, Erasmus (2.17, satire, Radice trans.)–B
  16. Lightning, Dean Koontz (3.2, suspense)–C
  17. I Will Lead You Along: The Life of Henry B. Eyring, Robert I. Eaton & Henry J. Eyring (3.5, biography)–A+
  18. 40 By 40: Forty Groundbreaking Articles from Forty Years of Biblical Archaeology Review, volume 1, Hershel Shanks, ed. (3.10, history)–A+
  19. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, J.K. Rowling (3.20, fantasy)–A
  20. 40 By 40: Forty Groundbreaking Articles from Forty Years of Biblical Archaeology Review, volume 2, Hershel Shanks, ed. (3.30, history)–A
  21. What Have I Ever Lost By Dying?, Robert Bly (4.5, poetry)–B
  22. A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived: The Human Story Retold Through Our Genes, Adam Rutherford (4.20, science)–A
  23. Talking into the Ear of a Donkey, Robert Bly (4.20, poetry)–C
  24. Godsong: A Verse Translation of the Bhagavad-Gita, with Commentary, Amit Majmudar (5.3, religion, poetry)–A+
  25. Adrian Mole: The Cappuccino Years, Sue Townsend (5.14, humor)–A
  26. Dust Devils, Robert Laxalt (5.23, Western)–B
  27. The Spy Who Came In From The Cold, John Le Carre (5.28, fiction)–C
  28. Seven Men and the Secret of Their Greatness, Eric Metaxas (6.5, biography)–A+
  29. The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning, Margareta Magnusson (6.8, living well)–B
  30. Educated, Tara Westover (6.18, memoir)–A+
  31. Ender’s Game, Orson Scott Card (6.23, science fiction)–A+
  32. Things That Matter, Charles Krauthammer (6.28, commentary)–A
  33. Thomas Cole, Matthew Baigell (7.2, art history)–A
  34. Wonder, R.J. Palacio (7.4, young adult)–B
  35. The Selected Poems of Donald Hall, Donald Hall (7.6, poetry)–A+
  36. Between Planets, Robert Heinlein (7.6, science fiction)–B
  37. Bobby Fischer Teaches Chess, Bobby Fischer (7.11, chess)–A
  38. The Annotated Mona Lisa, Carol Strickland (7.19, art history)–B
  39. Murder on the Orient Express, Agatha Christie (7.20, mystery)–A
  40. Art Explained, Robert Cumming (7.23, art)–A+
  41. Based on a True Story, Norm Macdonald (7.24, humor)–A

Also, I revised an original goal to write 40 poems, which just seemed like a chore as I tried to start it, with reading poetry for 40 straight days, which made me smile as soon as I thought of it. I reflected on the point of the goal in the first place–what did I want to get out of it?–and realizing that the experience here was more important to me than creation, I decided to delve into appreciation a bit more.

I started mostly by using the poem in each day’s Prufrock email, supplemented with other sources I know and like. Most of them were OK, but rarely did one really grab me. During this time, though, the great poet Donald Hall died, and as I saw eulogies online, along with quotes from his work, I was intrigued and picked up his self-selected greatest hits, and it was perhaps the greatest book of poetry I’ve ever read. Absolutely amazing. Can’t recommend it highly enough.

After that, I tried bits and pieces of other books and authors I’ve liked, but nothing really stood up to Hall. One awesome new take away from a project like this is more than worth it, though!

  1. Richard O’Connell, “Prospero” 6/11
  2. Morri Creech, “The Sentence” 6/12
  3. Elizabeth Knapp, “After the Flood” 6/13
  4. Charlotte Mew, “The Farmer’s Bride” 6/14
  5. Joseph Mirra, “Who Are We Not to Judge?” 6/15
  6. Rachel A. Lott, “The Parting” 6/16
  7. Jason Guriel, “My Father’s Stamps” 6/17
  8. Richie Hofmann, “Pictures of Mozart” 6/18
  9. Edward Hirsch, “The Unveiling” 6/19
  10. Scott Cairns, “Adiáphora” 6/20, A+
  11. Dana Gioia, “The Stars Now Rearrange Themselves” 6/21, A
  12. Maryann Corbett, “Creed,” 6/22
  13. Rachel Hadas, “Cold Prose” 6/23
  14. Joshua Hren, “The Lesser Angels of Our Nature,” 6/24
  15. Donald Hall, “The Man in the Dead Machine,” 6/25, A
  16. Micheal O’Siadhail, “Conversation with Messiaen,” 6/26
  17. Donald Hall, “The Reasonable Nap,” 6/27
  18. Richard Wilbur, “On the Marginal Way,” 6/28
  19. Elizabeth Poreba, “Kenosis,” 6/29
  20. Eduardo C. Corral, “To the Angelbeast,” 6/30
  21. Derek Otsuji, “The Ditch Kids of the Maui Sugar Company,” 7/1
  22. Geoffrey Brock, “The Day,” 7/2
  23. Donald Hall, The Selected Poems of Donald Hall, 7/3
  24. Donald Hall, The Selected Poems of Donald Hall, 7/4
  25. Donald Hall, The Selected Poems of Donald Hall, 7/5
  26. Donald Hall, The Selected Poems of Donald Hall, 7/6
  27. Ernest Hilbert, “Until the Sea above Us Closed Again,” 7/7
  28. William W. Runyeon, “Church Bells,” 7/8
  29. David Yezzi, “Learning the Piano at 50,” 7/9
  30. Thomas Cole’s Poetry, 7/10
  31. Thomas Cole’s Poetry, 7/11
  32. Thomas Cole’s Poetry, 7/12
  33. Thomas Cole’s Poetry, 7/13
  34. Thomas Cole’s Poetry, 7/14
  35. Sara Teasdale, “Afterwards,” 7/15
  36. Sara Teasdale, “The Answer,” 7/16
  37. Sara Teasdale, “Autumn Dusk,” 7/17
  38. Sara Teasdale, “Blue Squills,” 7/18
  39. William Wordsworth, The Essential Wordsworth, selected by Seamus Heaney, 7/19
  40. William Wordsworth, The Essential Wordsworth, selected by Seamus Heaney, 7/20

 

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)

 

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!

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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

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.

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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Eleven More Old Albums

There are actually seven other albums between the last music post and this one, but I’ll cover those on Wednesday.

23. Pixies, Doolittle 

I really liked this as a kid, but found much of the B-side hard to get into. Not anymore. This is an enjoyably eccentric success from start to finish.

New verdict: A

 

24. Depeche Mode, Music for the Masses 

For a while I’ve felt that, of the bands I really liked as a teen, the one that still holds up the least has to be Depeche Mode, but I was only thinking that from memory, so I was worried about revisiting a few of their albums. Imagine my surprise at really liking this one still! Some tracks are weaker than others, but overall, I got back into this one pretty cleanly. Not awesome, but not bad at all.

New verdict: B

 

25. Depeche Mode, Violator 

The first album I heard by this band, when it was new, is still my favorite. I once read a disparaging remark about DM to the effect that their catalog is so simplistic that a truly talented musician like Leonard Cohen could have tapped it out on a keyboard while eating breakfast. That had a ring of truth, and maybe it’s why I devalued them in hindsight. But putting this influential album back on brought it all back, and even the minor tracks felt great, maybe even more so than the hits. Alas, nostalgia is like that, isn’t it?

 

New verdict: A

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Eleven More New Places To Eat

One of my goals for my year of being 40 is to eat at 40 new places, and I’m up to 17. Four of the first Mexican places I went are reviewed here. Here are the most recent eleven:

 

7. La Casita De Doña Machi, 1/18. I saw this on the drive from work to my son’s basketball game, and stopped in. I loved the atmosphere right away–the TV was tuned to a Spanish language news station. I had a burrito, which was so different from the fast food I’m used to–not nearly as mushy and juicy. Though that made it seem a bit dry to me, it was tasty, and washed down well with some hot sauce and soda. Very nice place–would definitely go again.

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8. New China Cuisine, 1/26. One of a few Asian places near my house that I’ve never gone to. It doesn’t look like much from outside, near the edge of a middlebrow strip mall, but on the inside the atmosphere wraps you up and draws you in. I took my wife there on a date night–she likes Chinese food even more than I do. The waitress had solid suggestions for us–I tried some excellent sweet and sour shrimp. The appetizer was egg drop soup, which I love and haven’t had for years. It made me find some recipes online and try to make it at home–alas, not nearly as good as theirs.

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9. Tacos El Gordo, 2/1. This came recommended from an old colleague, and I’m seriously grateful. The counter setup inside is a bit odd, but the food is sweet and solid. It’s like an In-N-Out Burger for genuine Tijuana tacos. Almost as good as the tacos was a creamy orange soda called Bang! Totally have to go back again soon.

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10. El Nopal Mexican Grill, 2/3. Continue reading

40 For 40 Progress Report 5/12

Today ends my 5th month of being 40. I finished 5 more goals this month, bringing my total to 12:

Watch 40 classic Simpsons episodes: I did this by re-watching all of seasons 4 and 5. Holy cow, not a dud in the bunch! So many great moments I’d forgotten about. Maybe the biggest surprise was “Whacking Day,” a Schwartzwelder masterpiece that was even better than I’s remembered: the snake story is really a small part of it–this episode has the awesome Alien parody at the start, just after the bullies are locked up and forgotten until the episode’s final joke. Genius. I’m also surprised at just how many different great writers worked on those seasons, though the biggest writer surprise was noticing that Conan O’Brien wrote “New Kid on the Block.” I never knew that.

Write in my journal 40 times: I recently finished a biography of Henry B. Eyring, a book which was helped along greatly by the fact that he was apparently an inveterate journal-keeper in his middle years, when he was my age. Inspiring. I really enjoy this habit, and tend to be bemused/motivated/flabbergasted by reviewing old entries. I’ve tried to inculcate this habit in my children as well. Still, it’s a tough habit for me to keep: I’ve written more in that journal since my birthday than in the last few years combined.

No Netflix for 40 straight days: Continue reading

Notes on Biblical Archaeology Review’s Greatest Hits, part 2

And here are my notes on the twenty articles in the second volume!

 

    1. Israelites and pre-Israelites built elaborate water tunnels in rock that provided water during sieges. Impressive engineering feats that developed over time, and were refined throughout centuries.
    2. Underground tombs in First Temple period Israel have a standard floor plan similar to older catacombs in nearby parts of the world: entrance chamber with several rooms attached to it for burying bodies, with a preparation/funeral room. Engraved walls may resemble what the walls of Solomon’s temple looked like. Empty space between rooms stored bones as new generations were buried, perhaps inspiring Biblical phrases “gathered unto/buried with/slept with his fathers.” Such complexes are large–some are 10k square feet, including one under St. Etienne’s monastery. Rooms are built with a 8:10 cubit ratio, as with the temple–1 Kings 7:10.
    3. Excavations at Lachish show massive destruction in 12th century BC, as Joshua 10 says (by Israelites or Sea Peoples)–clearly done by fire. A large, detailed wall relief of Sennacherib at Nineveh shows his Assyrian conquest of Lachish in 701 BC (2 Kings 18:13), and another destruction by Babylon in 588/6 BC (including the burying of the very important Lachish letters). Side note: in 1938, the original British excavator of this area, James L. Starkey, was murdered in the street on his way to a museum ceremony!
    4. Kuntillet ‘Ajrud, a random 8th century BCE structure west of the Gaza Road in Sinai, was some sort of religious site, but no other details are clear. Multiple pottery inscriptions of YHWH and the Egyptian figure Bes are ambiguous, maybe indicating an asherah (a symbol of divinity) or Asherah (proper name–a goddess–and maybe even Yahweh’s wife). One inscription there contains a poetic blessing similar to that in Numbers 6. Name suffixes used there connect it to northern kingdom of Israel, not the nearer southern kingdom of Judah. As with all else at this site, nobody knows why. Side note: Artifacts were given to Egypt in 1994 as part of a peace treaty, and never seen since. A 2011 robbery, soon recovered by government and moved to Cairo, might be them.
    5. Israel was a victim of conflicts between Egypt to the southwest and Babylon to the east. Babylonian Chronicle tells of the destruction of Philistine city of Ashkelon in 604 BCE. Jeremiah 47:4 alludes to economic partnerships. Ashkelon has evidence for rooftop altars, condemned in Jeremiah 32:29. Many Egyptian artifacts there, such as figures of Bes, show a strong cultural influence. A 7th c. BCE ostracon there uses a pseudo-Hebrew script called Neo-Philistine. Contrary to stereotypes that Philistines were beer guzzlers, Ashkelon had refined wine facilities and stores. “Streets” in 2 Samuel 1:20 should be “bazaars.” Jeremiah railed against pro-Egypt policy of Judah; they ignored him and were destroyed.
    6. Small figures show lots of cultural exchange and borrowing from Egypt and Greece in Palestine. Pagan idols were very popular in Israel (despite reforms of Hezekiah in 2 Kings 18:3-6 and Josiah in 2 Kings 23:1-15), until after the return from Babylonian exile, when they suddenly disappear forever. Elephantine papyri from Egypt shows that dispersed Jews built a new temple there; Samaritans did the same at Gerizim in 4th century BC after being expelled.
    7. 1975-1996 excavation at Ketef Hinnom, a hill outside St. Andrew’s Scottish Church and Hospice of Jerusalem, found uses by several civilizations from 700 BCE (burial tombs) to World War I (ammo and weapons storage for Ottoman Turks). A Byzantine church on the site may have been “The Church of St. George Outside the Walls.” Most important find: a First Temple Period tomb repository unraided by looters! Includes a seal from “Palta” (maybe the official from Ezekiel 11:1,13), jewelry like that in Isaiah 3:18-21, two silver scrolls with variations of Numbers 6:24-26 and Deuteronomy 7:9. These inscriptions are the oldest known copies of writing similar to Biblical text–400 years older than the oldest Dead Sea Scrolls. This shows that the text of P (Priestly) author was developed by First Temple Period.
    8. 1970 excavation found a house in Jerusalem burned by Romans in 70 AD, belonging to family of Kathros, a High Priest (name inscribed on a stone weight in the ruins). Bones and a spear in the debris tell a dramatic story of sudden destruction.
    9. Dead Sea Scrolls were clearly written by Essene sect. Essenes applied Joshua 6:26 in their Testimonia document to their own plight; the “Cursed Man” there may be the same as their arch-enemy, the “Wicked Priest”; best candidate for that is High Priest Simon Maccabeus, founder of an illegitimate priestly line who persecuted those minorities who opposed him, like the Essenes.
    10. A house south of a synagogue in Capernaum dates from 1st century BC; in middle of 1st century AD, its largest room became a Christian church–domestic items disappeared, it was built up, and Christian inscriptions appeared on the new walls; in 4th and 5th centuries it was built up into even larger holy structures, ending with an octagonal church, a shape used for very sacred spaces. Early pilgrims identified it as originally St. Peter’s house, and there are ambiguous inscriptions on the walls that may or may not confirm that.
    11. Around Sea of Galilee, fish species named “musht” is called St. Peter’s fish, but the fish in Matthew 17:24-27 is probably a barbel, though the fish in Luke 5:1-7 is surely a musht caught by a trammel net (multiple nets are mentioned, partners are involved). Different kinds of nets are mentioned in figures of speech by the prophets.
    12. A drought on the Sea of Galilee in early 1986 revealed a sunken boat that was excavated and dated to the 1st century BC or 1st century AD. It is of the kind used by Jesus and the Apostles: four rowers (or an option for sailing with a mast), and could carry up to 15 men. Sandbags at one end could be used as pillows (Mark 4:37-39). Exciting story of digging it up while racing rising waters, would-be looters, and decaying timbers!
    13. A student photographing Jerusalem’s Golden Gate in 1969 kneeled in the adjacent cemetery and fell through the ground, into an old tomb that revealed parts of another double-door gate below the Golden Gate. Its age is unknown, but 19th century digging by Charles Warren found a wall 41 feet underground and 46 feet in front of Golden Gate. He described masonry similar to lowest courses of the wall on either side of the GG, which is probably pre-Herodian, and maybe as old as Solomon.
    14. In June 2004, a sewer repair project in Jerusalem revealed steps that were then fully excavated; they turn out to be part of the Pool of Siloam, from John 9:1-11. Coins in the plaster of the steps show that it is from the time of Jesus. (This corrects a location for the pool from Byzantine times by the end of Hezekiah’s Tunnel.)
    15. The historian Josephus says that John the Baptist was imprisoned and beheaded at the remote hilltop fortress of Machaerus. Forgotten for centuries, it was rediscovered in the 19th century, and explored from 1968 off and on until recently. Very well preserved, it’s easy to see the courtyard where Salome would have danced and even where Herod’s throne would have been there!
    16. In 1968 a tomb was discovered in Jerusalem from the Second Temple Period with eight ossuaries (boxes to hold bones permanently after the rest of the body has gone). One of these boxes held the bones of the only victim of crucifixion ever found (though many near Eastern and Mediterranean civilizations did so). His heels had been pinned together by a nail that bent in the upright wood, so his feet were cut off so the body could be buried; some wood was still on the nail. His legs had been lined up together, then, with his knees sticking out to the side from the cross. Arms bones showed that he was nailed between the bones of the forearm, not his hands. His legs were broken so he would die faster, so he could have been buried before dark the same day (see John 19:18). Evidence from throughout the tomb shows that his family was wealthy, but most died young. He was in his 20’s, and was probably executed for politics. His name was scratched into the box: “Yehohanan, the son of Hagakol.”
    17. A plaque in the Colosseum in Rome gives information about the emperor who built it and when, but holes in the stone suggest other metal letters had been attached before this carving. An expert did some great logic puzzle work and surmised that the letters on those holes said that it was built with “booty.” The only place that much money could have come from for Rome at that time was their recent looting of the temple when they destroyed Jerusalem. The riches stolen from the Jewish temple financed the building of the Roman Colosseum.
    18. Christians were often sent to the infamous ancient copper mines of Faynan district in Jordan as punishment by Roman and even by early Byzantine rulers (for being the wrong kind of Christian). Faynan is mentioned, with different spellings, in Genesis 36:41 and Numbers 33:42. These mines were very dangerous–early Christian historians thought of men sent there as martyrs. Damnatio ad metalla: condemned to the mines!
    19. Sussita was an impressive mid-size city on the west shore of the Sea of Galilee, probably established 3rd century BCE by Hellenistic Ptolemies, then integrated into Roman territory as part of the decapolis, and later by Byzantines. All three civilizations built sacred structures there, including hundreds of heavy columns. Sussita was destroyed by an earthquake in 749 CE and never inhabited again.
    20. Aphrodisias is a city in southeast Turkey. In late classical times, it was clearly home to a diverse array of religious groups, pagan, Christian, and Jewish. Religious graffiti (such as menorahs and crosses) is common in the city. A marble pillar has the longest Jewish inscription in Greek, a list of donors to the synagogue. Among the many names are theosebeis (“Godfearers”), non-Jews who supported and even participated in Jewish religious life.

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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

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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

      david.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. 
      giant

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

      temple

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