Thursday, December 29, 2005

U2 concert

It's embarassing how one-tracked my mind has been since the U2 concert Dec. 7. Rather than search all over the internet and anywhere else for anyone who is talking (or willing to talk--or at least listen to me talk) about the U2 concert and eavesdropping or occasionally dropping some lame comment that exposes my healthy obsession, here was my experience of the concert to end all concerts.

First the context: We moved from Utah to New York in 2001, just after they (they will refer to the band U2 for the remainder of the post, and in my general language use until further notice) played in New York, and just before they were to play in Utah. I would of course miss both opportunities. We had also missed them by moving to Greece for 6 months in '97. I felt like I had been cursed to never see the one concert that I could ever really appreciate. Gabby couldn't figure out why she had never seen them play before either; it was a combination of bad timing on moves to DC and lack of transportation to Las Vegas. She was a big concert-goer in her day, but for some reason, she always missed them. In general, it was clear the world was conspiring against us.

I was a bit fanatic about U2 in Jr. High and High School. They are the only band about which I have read lengthy book(s). And I basically know every album by heart. They wrote the score for my youth. The backpacking trip to Gospel Hump was primarily October. The trip(s) to Lake Powell, and falling asleep most nights was the Joshua Tree. (I remember getting upset at Ricky Angulo because he only knew the songs on the radio from the Joshua Tree--everyone knows those! I knew like One Tree Hill, Red Hill Mining Town, Trip through your wires, etc. etc. etc.) Russia and the Summer before my mission was Achtung Baby. Most days after school was The Unforgettable Fire. Halloween with Cameron giving out Macaroni & Cheese to older trick-or-treaters was Rattle and Hum. The trip to Las Vegas for New Years was Zooropa. Baja was Pop. All that you can't and How to Dismantle are New York. Boy and War and Wide Awake in America and Under a Blood Red Sky were heavily sprinkled in between.

During the Summer of 1992, at my grandparents old cabin, we were watching Rattle and Hum, and Elliot Spencer made fun of Bono. I remember thinking something like: "I never thought anyone could think Bono was less than superhuman." But the seed of cynicism had been planted. Then I agreed with Elliot. Bono takes himself pretty seriously. Over the next several years, I became annoyed with (my perceived) Bono's self-importance and how serious he seemed to take himself.

How did I overcome this misinterpretation and get back to thinking he was superhuman again? It was a process called "growing up" and it culminated in the concert. A lot of the therapy came by way of recent conversations with Gabby. Our conversation concluded like this: "If Bono does what he does for a year or 2, then he's a dork. But when he just continues to be like he is, and does things about the political causes he discusses, and in general is consistently at once the biggest rock star persona and political activist, at some point, we have to accept that he is for real." I accept this now, and invite you to do the same.

I didn't own How to Dismantle prior to the concert. I looked up the play list from previous concerts and downloaded the songs off the new album so I wouldn't be taken too off guard. We listened to that CD the day before and on the drive to the concert. I really liked what I was listening to. Yahweh! Yahweh! don't break my heart today. I was imagining what it would be like to have all my childhood dreams fulfilled, but skeptical that I would actually get to witness the fulfillment, having them so mercilessly and frequently dashed before. When we got to Hartford (I gave up on tickets to MSG) I kept running ahead and getting annoyed that I was having to wait for Gabby: "Gabby, I know your pregnant, but if we miss the first song, we'll (I'll) be so upset." And I meant it. Wait this long, then miss their first appearance? I didn't know how long the opening act would take, and I definitely didn't know how long the break between opening act and real show would take. We waited in our seats for about 2 hours, each minute of which I looked stupider. But this was an experience 20 years in the making. I ought not blame myself for being a jerk probably.

The show began with some rocking song (help me here?), then City of Blinding Lights began. I could see Edge, Adam, and Larry, then all of a sudden, Bono appears. I wore an embarassingly big smile (it was already big seeing the other 3). Everything Bono says feels inspired. I just want to smile and nudge Gabby the whole time, to make sure she's catching it all. We sing along to every song, we lose our voices early on. Every song that comes on, and every encore, I feel the deeper magic just got deeper. If you've (you includes anyone, anyone at all that I have spoken with since--unless I was momentarily distracted) had a conversation with me since the concert, you've heard the other highlights: Bono chasing Edge. Bono saying: "She tells me its Wednesday; I'm pretty sure it's Saturday night!" Edge and Bono acoustic Stuck in a Moment. Gloria comes on and I had no idea how much I love that song.

The night is filled with memories from 20 years ago through yesterday. How many times have I air-guitared I will Follow or Bad or Where the Streets or Beautiful Day, or Desire, or In God's Country? Remember our homemade music video of Pride with Weston? How many times have I tried to impersonate Bono, trying to move like he does and feel my hair like he does and saying things like: "There's been a lot a talk about this next song..." or "Well here we are the Irish in America..." in my attempted Irish accent. Oh how I wish I had an accent!

After the concert, I'm still reeling. My sense is that they have invented what a rock band can be. They are the only band with a legitimate long-term vision. 25 years worth of solid songs and albums right up through last year. Even on the albums that others criticize, there are several strong songs, as part of a long-term strategy, they are fantastic. I left feeling how any band must want concert-goers to feel: That was amazing. It took me 20 years to be able to appreciate the show, and it took them 25 years to put together a show like that: our histories (and the history of the whole universe) converged. I wanted to hug the world and end poverty. I knew and loved every song and most every moment. I wanted another 10 hours, and I knew their material to fill it in, I wouldn't even mind some repeats. Which reminds me, where can I get that DVD of their Chicago show?

Friday, December 16, 2005

Ultra-sound results and more

Well, my suspicions were right. Dr. Stigler looked at my kidney stone and basically dismissed it. He said he would "send it off to have it analyzed." Great. Thanks Dr. Stigler. That's just what I want to have done to my kidney stone, have it analyzed in some laboratory. Nothing about how he had never seen one quite like it before. Nothing about the hard work I went through to bring it here. He did give me an ultra-sound and my kidneys are healthy. He mentioned that they were shaped like kidney beans. Cute, huh? I asked if I could keep the images, and he looked at me as if to say: "I suppose you could, but I don't understand why you would want to." Right, cause they're just like every other image of kidneys you see in your sick, prejudiced, uro-centric world. He also suggested I may have fertility issues. Huh.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

bureaucracy and education

If you take efficiency as a key value in education, you at once subject the enterprise to eventual bureaucratic administration. This is because, as Max Weber argues, bureaucracies are 1. the most efficient form of administration, and 2. inevitable in the modern world.

Bureaucracy usually has a negative connotation, but I'm not trying to capitalize on the bad taste the word leaves in our mouths. I buy Weber's argument. He is not pro-bureaucracy, but he gives a good account of its characteristics and advantages. My favorite summary of his is this: "The decisive reason for the advance of bureaucratic organization has always been its purely technical superiority over any other form of organization. [and the clencher:] The fully developed bureacratic mechanism compares with other organizations exactly as does the machine with the non-mechanical modes of production." (Essays in Sociology, 214, my italics).

The strength of bureaucracy is also its problem: it transforms the people carrying out the associated work into functionaries; in the case of education, this includes teachers.

A few responses:
1. But teachers are critical precisely when they escape a functionary role!
2. Central to the work of teaching is a little thing called 'judgment'. A functionary is characteristically, and patently non-judging. To be a functionary is, in some sense, to not be a teacher.
3. A bad teacher is a bureacratically convinced teacher, i.e. one that approaches his work as so many rules to follow, or reduces students to instantiations of prescribed profiles for which, in any given situation, his work is to heed a list of straight-forward rules.

To which we can respond:
4. Get over it teachers, you're instruments!
5. Can a teacher realistically, and regularly do otherwise than the portrait of a bad teacher in #3?

To which we can respond:
6. If no for #4, can there be a tradition of "great teaching?" or is there hope to attract great teachers to teaching?

If Weber is right, what is a good relation between teachers and (in general) increasingly bureaucratic schools?

Friday, December 09, 2005

bead & bandaid

Last year Maude stuck a bead up her nose. I tried to get it out with tweazers, but I couldn't. Gabby took her to the emergency room. The emergency room doctors couldn't get it out with their grab-nabber. They called in one of those, oh what's the word? That's right, autorhinolaryngologist, so he tried with the provided grab-nabber, but couldn't get it, Then, Oh Fortuna! he had his very own special custom made grab-nabber and he retracted the bead. Maude is much more cautious about sticking things up her nose now.

Olive isn't nearly as cautious. Why, just this last Tuesday, at Pre-school, she sneezed out a rolled up bandaid. She was super excited to show it to her pre-school teacher. She put it in her pocket so she could show us when she got home also. She had put the bandaid up there on Sunday. When we asked about how it got there, first she said that the wind blew it up into her nose. She did come clean a minute later and confessed to putting it up there herself. She thought she had swallowed it, so we didn't worry.

The difference between Olive and Maude in sticking things up their noses is really just a matter of degree of deliberation. Maude sticking a bead up her nose is a pretty deliberate act. It is (more or less) difficult to get a bead up your nose accidentally. But Olive had a rolled up bandaid up there, so she had to first scrunch up the bandaid into a little ball and then cram it up her nose. More deliberate. Of course the remaining question now is which is generally more enticing? Off hand you might say the bead--of course everyone wants to put a bead up his nose. But now that you know you can get a rolled up bandaid up there, keep it for two days then sneeze it out? It has its own appeal, doesn't it?

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Kidney stone

I really can't explain the connection I feel with the kidney stone I passed last week. You know, had I not gone through the pain of passing it, I couldn't love it like I do--like God wants me to. Somewhere in the great plan, God planned for me, little ol' Ben Blair to pass his very own kidney stone. I was so eager to see what it would look like. I have placed it in a little jar, and we anxiously await our first visit with Dr. Stigler, our urologist. Somehow I fear he'll treat my kidney stone like any other kidney stone. That is the sad thing about Doctors; they see so many patients and specimens, they often can't see what is special about the individual, in this case me and my specimen--my kidney stone. My worldly friends only see the downside to my passing a kidney stone. They can't understand the joy, joy such a quirky little pebble can bring someone.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

select inventions

I think I understand the potential foolishness of sharing my invention ideas in such a public forum. But I also think I know the value of having such a public record should an idea be stolen. Let's be clear here, you have been warned--don't steal my ideas; now, I'm not opposed to working with others to bring these ideas to life, in fact I welcome it, I need some collaboration. It has been a disheartening lack of collaboration with certain authors whose last names rhyme with 'bowling' that has stymied my (and his or her) progress on a novel in a series I'm working on, but that's another story. I am pretty excited about these inventions, for the most part they have been gathering dust, though whenever I reconsider them, I get excited all over again. I welcome any feedback to push or refine the ideas, or tell me your inventions--maybe we can collaborate? OK, here they are:

1. Transfer pen: OK, this is a pen-shaped device that can replace, or at least change how we might think about computer networking, the conventional computer 'mouse', and conventional electronic file storage. It works like this: I notice some files on your computer desktop. I want to get one. In the past, I would have to have you save it to a disk, or e-mail it, or I would have to search through the files on a network to locate it. Not with the transfer pen. I bring my transfer pen, I place the tip of the pen on the icon of the file on the screen, it "picks up" the file, and it is now stored on the transfer pen! When I return to my computer, I simply place the tip of the transfer pen on my desktop, and I successfully upload the file onto my computer. I can also use the transfer pen to manipulate icons on my desktop; I can draw, write, or use it in any way I use my conventional mouse. Dang, I really need to draw a picture here to illustrate how it functions. Please, please use your imagination(s). To proceed from here, I really need someone who knows how to make a transfer pen, or get it one step closer. Know anyone?

2. Human flying (this idea is the roughest--but still extremely exciting): OK, this is basically a device that lets humans fly. It's not an airplane, it would use technology like a hover-craft, only it wouldn't require any extra devices or gear, and any kid could "hook up" and fly. Wouldn't you like to fly? Wouldn't you be willing to pay a pretty penny to be able to fly? So would I. And so would millions of people around the world. To proceed from here, I really need someone who knows how to build a more fitting hover-craft type of device without extraneous gear or devices.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

etiquette journal: ballgames

I want to make a collection of etiquette journal entries. The idea is to provide basic guidelines and rubrics for improved etiquette. The first one is about etiquette at ballgames.

I think the first thing about etiquette at ballgames is that some people have really good food and other people don't. For example, at one ballgame, we had carrots, but the people next to us had my favorite pizza: pepperoni and sausage. Maybe one rule for etiquette at ballgames is that you could offer your neighbors a unit of your food (e.g. a half a sandwich, or a slice of pizza). People who really want your food don't always have the courage to ask, so good etiquette would be to offer them a taste. So even a comment like: "Would you like a taste of my hotdog/sandwich/pizza?" can go a long way. In retrospect, I probably should have offered them some carrots. But I thought I did.

The next thing about etiquette at ballgames concerns the vending and lines. Some people like a lot of condiments on their hotdogs, for example. If someone is in front of you in the line, it is because they got there first (usually--though if they didn't then an entirely different set of rules applies--etiquette can be complicated!) If someone got in the line before you, that means that they deserve to be in front of you. For the person in the front of the line, it doesn't really matter the length or the make-up of the line behind. And it is rude to say things like: "Hey, you're hogging all the catsup." or "Did you use the rest of the mustard because you needed like an inch thick of mustard, and now my 6 year old can't have any?" or "Hey there is a line behind you, do you really need that much relish?" I know that some people really do need that much relish, because it is delicious.

Related to the previous two things, if you have a hotdog, and you don't finish it, rather than waste it, you could ask your neighbor if he wants the rest of it. But often, your neighbor won't want to ask something like: "Are you going to finish that hotdog?" or "Could I please have the rest of your hotdog?" Remember etiquette involves a host of complications. For example, at ballgames, you often have never met your neighbor sitting next to you. The only bond you have is your team spirit if you are both cheering for the same team. And he/she may not be honest if you give a choice like: "Should I throw this away, or do you really want the rest of it?" So the best etiquette I think is to say something like: "I'm going to leave for a little bit, I really don't mind if you eat the rest of my hotdog, or if you throw it away, or give it to someone else. There will really be no way for me to know how it disappeared if it is gone when I come back, and I won't inquire after where it went either."

Monday, October 24, 2005

Ralph: Frankenstein, Maude: a pumpkin, Olive: Belle, Oscar: Oscar the Grouch

Halloween decisions have been finalized, and the results are in. Gabby decided to institute a "drop-dead-date" when costume decisions must be final. This was yet another demonstration of her unfathomable wisdom.

I guess the rule was mostly made for Ralph. Ralph averages changing ideas about what he wants to be for Halloween about 4 times per week. This year he has ranged from the boring: a ghost, to the cliched: a clown, to the zombie/robotic: Frankenstein (OK, it's cliched as well). These are intermixed with the generic: spy, adventure man, and astronaut. Other costumes under consideration for Ralph this year include: the headless horseman, a goblin, and Willie Wonka. See other costume ideas under consieration by Ralph here.

I liked Halloween as a child, but for my children it is as close to an ideal holiday as you can ask for. The activities for Halloween include: thinking about costumes, dressing up, seeing other kids dressed up, getting candy, and eating candy (and returning kit-kats, snickers, twix, and a portion of reesus peanut butter cups to Mom and Dad). For me, Halloween was reducible to the candy, and that was it and that was great, I saw the costume as more an obstacle to overcome in getting candy. (What are you Ben? Uh, I don't know. I found this robe in the closet, and this is my Dad's tie on my head. Do you have any candy?) Candy is huge for my kids, but so is the dressing up.

So Maude will be a pumpkin, and if she was someone else's kid I might say "Nice imagination!" (because I continually judge other parents severely, but I'm much more lax with me). But she will be adorable not only because she'll be a pumpkin (and any child dressed up like a pumpkin is usually cute) but she will complete the pumpkin. Actually, Maude basically completes any costume she ever wears. She is what parents hope their kids will look like with a given costume, but sadly and inevitably never do. You'll think I'm bragging when I tell you that...OK, I thought better.

I have read arguments against dressing as Disney princesses for Halloween, and I applaude the social consciousness of this view, and I understand the "nice imagination!" critique for Belle (i.e. Beauty in Beauty and the Beast) as well, but my response is this: 2 birds with one stone. Can you not appreciate that Olive gets to be Belle for Halloween, and she gets to dress up as Belle on any other day she dam wants? She will be loving herself (gazing in the mirror, dancing--i.e. twirling) all Halloween, and then November 1st, she'll dress up as Belle all over again! It really is that simple.

Oscar will be Oscar the Grouch. Because Oscar will always be Oscar the Grouch.
So, I'm pretty excited.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Elder Eli Jones memory

This is an account told me by one of my favorite companions on my mission, Elder (Eli) Jones. We also shared many great spiritual experiences, but this isn't one of those. Here is what happened to him:

He was in a college class, and they were talking about gender and appearance I believe:

Instructor: What is the first thing guys notice about girls...come on, this should be easy...

Eli Jones: Uh, their butts?

Class: (awkward murmuring)

Instructor: Anyone else?

Other Class member: Hair?

Instructor: Yes. Hair. A girl's hair is typically the first thing guys notice.

Monday, October 10, 2005


(this is part of a larger study I'm working on about robots)

With so much recent interest in robots, and with the possibilities that emerging technologies afford in working with and developing robots, I think its a good occasion to talk about robots.

Robots can do many things. For example, they can talk, walk, make cars, play soccer, and do the dishes. Probably the best robot is Richie Rich's robot maid, Irona. Also, electric Grandma--herself a robot--is a great robot. Probably the best feature about the electric Grandma is that she can pour juice out of her finger. There are also lots of different names for robots like mega-bots, junk-bots, humanoids, automatons, circuit-bots, microbots, and such.

People that don't like robots usually just don't understand robots, or haven't taken the time to get to know robots. There are some problems with robots. For example, if a robot runs into a wall or door or something else, it keeps walking. Also, their voices are a little bit wierd, here is a sample of how robots talk. Also they have a lot of things that can pop out of them, like different robot parts. You can learn about robots from a variety of sources: movies, TV, books, magazines, the internet (computers), robot experts, and history. I encourage you, if you haven't already, to learn more about robots.

Although most robots in movies move in mechanical ways, this can be misleading. For example, many robots don't even look like people, like some look more like dogs, or electrical boxes. Robots can move, compute, clean, lift up a piece of furniture with one hand and vacuum under it with the other, measure, add, and, as mentioned earlier, talk. One thing that allows some robots to do this is artificial intelligence. Probably the best way to describe artificial intelligence is to imagine a bowling ball that thinks. That is what artificial intelligence is like--a thinking bowling ball. What allows robots to have artificial intelligence? Simple: circuits.

The most basic, important feature of robots is probably circuits. No circuits, no robots. Know circuits, know robots. Unfortunately, many popular images of robots focus on wires, controls, and switches, not circuits. I think that we should probably learn more about circuits, and that would help us better understand robots. I think this is especially important if you want to become an expert on robots. Robots can be found all over the world, but most everyone in the world is not a robot.

If you want to learn more about robots, you can learn more about them here, here or here (this last link is a commercial site where people can buy robot parts. I don't make a commission if you purchase robot parts from them, but you might be interested in it anyway.) Here is an exciting blog about robots.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

On Learning and Plateaus

I don't think it is much of a stretch to say that the problem of education is the problem of 'plateau-ing'. Here is what I mean: unless pushed, or moved in some way, we tend to settle. In most endeavors, we experience tremendous rapid growth or development, and then, for a variety of reasons, we taper off. I lived in Russia for 6 months as part of a pioneering English-teaching effort by my college, Brigham Young University. I lived with a Russian family and taught their son, 4-year old Andrei, English. I was also learning Russian, and this account will focus on my efforts, triumphs, and obstacles in learning Russian, and highlight my 'plateaus'. This account is typical of language learning for most people. I will divide it into a few phases.

Phase 1: Freshly arrived in Russia. I landed in Moscow, and was overwhelmed by the speed with which people spoke. I thought I had no chance to ever be able to communicate with these people. There was too much to learn!

Phase 2: A month or so later: I had now grown accustomed to some routine language used in the house and in my routine schedule: "Come for breakfast!" "Good morning!" "Good night!" "Do you want some more?" "Be careful, the doors are closing, next station...Shabolovskaya" etc. I could also use simple phrases to make my way around. I had come a very long way in a short time.

Phase 3: A month or so later: I could now engage in simple conversations with my host family, taxi drivers, and strangers. I could get around and handle most any problem that confronted me. I could on my own order Chambourgers (hamburgers), and buy fresh chleb (bread) and moroshna (ice cream). Again, I had come a very long way in a short time.

Phase 4: At the end of the 6 months: I certainly could engage in conversations more easily than I could during phase 3, but my perceived "pace" in learning Russian had slowed down significantly. From phase 3 on, I could get around; learning, or improving my Russian, was no longer a priority, I could function as is. I could add a word or expression here and there, but by and large, I was independent and could express myself with what I had. I had, in a word, plateaued.

It is possible that I had not really slowed down, but that my learning was not as apparent as it had been in the earlier phases. I think that it is surely the case that I was learning in less apparent ways, but I'm also convinced that my learning had slowed down. I did not need to listen as carefully now that I could get around. I did not feel the need to push myself to express what I could and continually expand my available language. I did not push myself to more and more fluidly speak, and closer approximate the understandings and utterances of native Russians. I was satisfied with what I could do, it worked for me.

We get accustomed to a certain standard and mode of communication, and close our eyes to its shortcomings. Occasionally, we have a conversation, or read something, and become aware that we still have far to go, but this sensation typically passes, and we find a comfort zone and pursue a path of least resistance to communicate 'adequately'. We find few people who can sustain a long-term apprenticeship to a language (or discipline). It requires a child-like attitude, humility, an eagerness to learn rather than show-off, a willingness to make mistakes and look foolish. In general, it requires a conviction that the issue is not to demonstrate how you can function as is, or that you can often pass off as a native, but rather the issue is to never be satisfied until you understand and speak as a native--which may never happen, but it is the appropriate course.

Friday, September 30, 2005

Two memories

When I was in 6th grade I was really hoping to get the presidential fitness award. I had just barely missed it the year before, and I was running around to the Star Wars theme a lot more in 6th grade, so I was more fit than past years. It (the presidential fitness level) seemed to come so easily to Matt (Lohner) Seth (Trammell) Scott (Cloward) and the like. They could do the 50 yard dash in like 7 seconds consistently, no problem. I kept missing it.

Finally I asked Mrs. Hill if I could try it galloping once. She was a bit confused by my request. I told her to trust me, just man the clock, and let me gallop. "Please. You'll see, I'm positive I can gallop faster than I run." Soon she would see, I imagined, that I was well within the presidential benchmark. She finally gave in to my pleadings. I imagined obliterating my best time and the rest of the class—first blown away by my speed—lining up to learn how to gallop. I galloped the 50 yards, feeling that my speed was pushing nature's boundaries, and impressing my classmates and other kids on the playground. I approached Mrs. Hill in a sort of "told you so" attitude, and she told me that I was a little bit slower than my previous run.


To get the hiking merit badge, I had to complete a 5 mile hike through a city/village/or otherwise developed area. I asked Willard Gardner if he could be my counselor. I requested to do it like this: we would walk 2 miles to McDonalds, I would then order and eat a 20 piece chicken McNuggets, then we would walk back the long way home. He agreed, and that's what I did to complete my hiking merit badge.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Number 5 is alive

As a reward to my loyal readers, I'm letting you know before we've even told our families: We are expecting #5, due May 15.

Where I stand on global uniforms

So where do I stand on the whole global uniform issue? Briefly: I'm for it. But so I don't look too coo-coo, let me make as strong a case I can for rejecting a global uniform.

First there is the knee-jerk: I like to pick my clothes. Like probably many of you, I don't want to be "forced" into a “uniform” even if everyone else across the globe is doing likewise.

I think this knee-jerk reaction is probably pretty typical, and not just for silly reasons. Clothing has near universal religious, and cultural significance. Practically speaking, could there be a uniform that is acceptable to stringent clothing standards for e.g. the female face-covering apparel in the Mid- and Near East, that all others could get on board with? Not likely. And it's likewise not likely that we can easily get them to adopt something quite different. This brings up an important part of the issue. In considering a global uniform, we can't just flippantly disregard the religious and cultural significance of clothing. More generally, we can't look at clothing as simply a neutral "covering", and then go about pragmatically making the most sensible covering. So—to be clear—there is nothing that is straight-forward about the proposition of a global uniform, it is rife with controversy, we seem to run into significant religious and cultural obstacles the minute we even begin to explore the possibility.

Now I move from religious and cultural significance, to a more generic social tool that clothing plays. Not only from a human encountering another human needing to make some justifiable judgments--do a sorting of sorts--perspective where the efficiency of such sorting is dramatically increased when clothing is not uniform. (You and I can have a certain expectation about what kind of interaction we will have with: a man with a new suit and tie, a woman with a long, vibrant fur coat, or a young man with no shirt, cut offs and worn out Converse All Stars.) But also from the perspective of the man with a new suit and tie, the woman with the coat, and the skater; these people can create a sort of identity, and take on a persona that is deliberate and personally fulfilling. Not only can they take on a persona--and join in the tradition of people wearing suits, fur-coats, and cut-offs, but, to put it in more common terms: they can create and express their individuality. In today's world, and the forseeable future, such expressiveness is not only a basic human right, it’s basic to human dignity. To require a global uniform is to infringe on our basic humanity. Do you want to infringe on others' basic humanity?

Response: I genuinely have the knee-jerk reaction mentioned at the outset, and I appreciate that the issue is sensitive and complex. However, that our initial response is negative, and that a solution could be difficult is not reason to abandon any effort. At a time, emancipation seemed overly difficult and unappetizing, but it was in the end (as I hope all will agree), necessary and inevitable. It does suggest, however, that a persuasive enough case be made to motivate our best efforts to making a solution.

Now a few advantages: efficiency, improving social interactions across cultures and economic status, the result of schools that have tried suggest its good. So, first, efficiency. Obviously all costs associated with clothing take a nose-dive because of economies of scale. This in turn affects interactions between groups from differing socio-economic levels and makes perhaps the most frequently used prejudice obsolete (i.e. prejudice based on clothing). Schools provide an insightful lab. Schools as you know have conducted experiments with uniforms. Talk to a parent that has a child at a school where uniforms are required, chances are they are delighted that there is a uniform, it simplifies their child’s mornings, wardrobe, school anxiety, etc. Schools that have a required uniform don’t suffer from lack of individual expressiveness, rather, that expressiveness must turn to more creative forms than simply “apparel”. I would argue that that is a good thing. Further, schools that require a uniform systematically avoid problems of prejudice that more easily arise in non-uniform-requiring schools. Granted schools aren’t society, they do have characteristics of a social system—they are a sort of microcosm of society, and inasmuch as a simple adjustment can have important beneficial effects in this microcosm of society, I think it is worth exploring the possibilities of extrapolating from that experiment to society at large. What if we find the same or similar results? I think the promise is too great to neglect the effort, notwithstanding the difficulty it presents (let's be very realistic here the work ahead will be difficult).

At a fundamental level, I disagree with a claim, or at least an unstated assumption that individuality can only be expressed if one can pick his or her clothes. I think it is narrow-minded to think that we can't express our individuality if all share a global uniform. Do you really require your clothes to express yourself? To take a page from science fiction--which in a provocative sense makes a frequent portrait of future worlds with inhabitants as it were inevitably adorning a global uniform--Star Trek showcases heroes, heroines, sidekicks, intellectuals, villains, etc. Within the confines of the starship enterprise, we meet (metaphorically at least) the full spectrum of human possibility, yet for the most part, and for all intents and purposes, all share a uniform. Undoubtedly there are contemporary stringent religious and cultural dress codes, if we are talking about a 1-2 year solution, I think global uniforms are a stupid solution. But I think the problems associated with global apparel, and therefore workable solutions are much deeper and broader than that. I think it is near-sighted to only invoke the contemporary when a solution is sought for millennia. Obviously there is a lot to debate here, I will sum up my side by saying that if we can imagine a future world where there is a global uniform--however it got there--and I think conventional imagery of the future shares this imagination, why be so irrationally tied to the present?

Perhaps the most basic questions are these: What are the advantages of a global uniform? What are the disadvantages? Do the advantages outweigh the disadvantages? If yes, then aren’t we obliged to explore in depth the possibility of realizing a better solution? I think they do and I think we are.

Friday, September 23, 2005

On exposure to target language

A respectable language learning program must expose students to a rich target-language environment. It shouldn't be so rich that the student is overwhelmed and "turns off", nor should it be so simple as to either not push the student, or be reducible to a list of words to master. Proper abundant exposure to the target language is, or ought to be a fundamental consideration of any (language) learning program. Swap 'discipline to be learned' for 'target language' in the previous sentence, and the same holds true for any educational program. The ideal level is perhaps best expressed by the popular 2nd language acquisition notion of "i+1". 'i' represents the linguistic level of the student (in the target language), and '+1' suggests that the program is a small push beyond that (too small or too big and students turn off). Noted language acquisition scholar Stephen Krashen says it like this: "[Language][a]cquisition is brought about when you talk to acquirers so that they understand the message, and when the input includes a little language that is somewhat beyond them." Comprehensible input, my esteemed associates, is a (if not the) holy grail of language learning.

There are numerous ways to make language comprehensible. A couple examples are diglot weaves and demonstration lectures. In diglot weaves, a student's native language is weaved together with the target language so as to provide a comprehensible context. The "stuff" that can be weaved ranges from individual words (When the boy was younger, he would often pick his nariz. This disturbed his parents, who told him it was bad manners for a boy his age to pick his nariz in public ) to language structures--so if a student is a native English speaker learning Spanish, the teacher speaks mostly English but according to a Spanish structure (the hombre no has the desire to eat the sandwich) Another example is a demonstration lecture. The idea is a lecture whose meaning is at the same time demonstrated, the meaning is clear because of the context, and the language simply accompanies. For example, imagine I have a white paper, a yellow paper, a white pencil, and a yellow pencil. I could say something like this (all in the target language): "This is a sheet of paper. This is also a sheet of paper. This is a pencil. This is another pencil. This paper is yellow. This pencil is also yellow. This paper is white. It is not yellow. These two are pencils. These two are papers..." In both of these examples, the underlying principle is bridging from familiar to unfamiliar. In diglot weaves we bridge from the familiar native language vocabulary and structure to the target language. In demonstration lectures, we bridge from familiar objects and descriptions to their expressions in the target language. We also avoid drilling vocabulary and phrases outside of a meaningful context. A more traditional approach would be to give students a list of words and phrases and demand that they memorize them. By being deliberate about making a rich "i+1" situation, we can delve into a richer linguistic environment, retain a comprehensible experience, and avoid the drudgery that typifies most language learning programs.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Stanley Cup

The Stanley Cup* Sports Challenge began in the Summer, 1999. The Stanley Cup consists of 10 events which change every year. If you were to add the scores of each participant from each Stanley Cup, I am likely in the top 3, if not the outright top spot. Put briefly: I am a force to be reckoned with in the Stanley Cup. Of course, if you know the Stanleys, this may not be saying a whole lot. Following are some highlights and events from past Stanley Cup Sports Challenges:
1. Pulling a compact car 10 feet on level ground with a rope.
2. Dips
3. Ping-pong tournament
4. Dodgeball
5. BMX biking around the block
6. Who can gather the most pennies from the bottom of the pool over two minutes
7. Race to the top of Black Hill in St. George**.
8. High Jump
9. Bocce
10. Batting cages (note for next time: it's hits that matter, not power)
11. Laser tag
12. Bean bag toss from Josh's hot air balloon
13. Stand up comedy routine
14. Who can hold his breath the longest under water
15. Archery
16. Joust
17. Peg-board
18. Sportsmanship***
19. The winner of each year's competition gets the bronzed guzzler and the Stanley Cup plaque with the names**** of all past winners.

Some notes:
Q:Isn't it sexist to not involve female participants in the Stanley Cup?
A:I suppose so.

Q:Could you explain the Stand up comedy routine?
A: Yes. This is one of my personal favorite memories. The Stand up comedy routine competition took place in the Stanley's back yard at about 2:30 in the afternoon, the sun was bright, the seating was limited, and the audience was comprised of the other participants and 2 judges. Each participant had one minute to perform his routine in front of all the other participants (who had a vested interest in NOT thinking the other participants were funny). Imagine continuously striving (for 60 seconds) to be funny to a hostile, quiet crowd standing about 5 ft from you in bright daylight. I didn't do very well, but one joke I told that I still love (co-developed with Weston Spencer ca. 1989) goes like this:
Q: What is the longest thing known to man?
A: String

*My wife's maiden name is Stanley. The Stanley Cup takes it's name from her family (the Stanleys), and the Cup is a "bronzed" Guzzler used by my late Father-in-law, Mike Stanley.
**The Stanley Cup typically takes place in St. George, all legitimate Stanley Cups have been held here, except the one in New York.
***Sportsmanship is a separate event each year. This ensures that all participants conduct themselves in the spirit of good sportsmanship. It isn't actually true that sportsmanship is an event each year or any year.
****Each year's winner actually selects a "nickname" to go on the plaque. Past selected nicknames include: Jed, Snaggle-tooth, Pony-boy, and Pac-man. Technically, Pony-boy has never been selected.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Thursday, August 25, 2005

On Devon Call

People who know lots of my friends may be surprised that I probably laugh the hardest when I remember activities of Devon Call. He wasn't your typical class clown, or the guy with all the witty come-backs. Here are two scenes that illustrate for me why Devon makes me laugh.

One thing that is absolutely essential for you to know about the Call family is that they are always on the serious cutting edge with regard to telephony technology. For example, they had conference call before the rest of us even had such a concept. An entertainment activity Devon would do went like this: He would call up two people, sometimes they were boyfriend and girlfriend, sometimes they were a couple that had recently broken up, sometimes they were strangers that maybe had heard of each other. Devon would get one member of the couple on, and immediately say: "Oh, sorry, one second..." Then he would get the other member on and immediately say: "Oh, sorry, one second..." Then he would patch the two together and we could listen in on a muted phone. It was usually awkward (in an entertaining way) for the couple to start talking, neither daring to ask why the other called. And it was entertainingly awkward for either to say anything like: "Thanks for calling." Because the other would say, "Wait, did you think that I called you?" etc.

At his welcome home from his mission to Australia, Devon shared the meeting with another returned missionary, Twila Newey, who had recently returned from Hawaii. Twila was the first speaker. How did she begin her talk? Of course you know: Brothers and Sisters...Aloha! And the congregation responded in unison: Aloha! And as I recall, she gave an impassioned and spiritually uplifting talk.

Then it was Devon's turn, he got up and said: "Brothers and Sisters...G'day!" Most of the congregation shifted in their seats, then maybe 10-15 members hesitantly and questioningly responded: "G'day?"

I'm just a regular guy

Yeah, I just wanted to tell everyone that I'm just a regular guy. I know that's hard for some to imagine; but believe me, I'm just a normal person with normal wants and needs. It's really not all that complicated at all. I'm just a regular person!!

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

last blog was a jerk's perspective

I had a new post up most of today that was taking a jerk's perspective. I took it off because too many people thought I was really advocating a jerk's perspective. Not that I'm NOT a jerk, but I will re-work it for another day.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Three tasks of language learning

So, here is the most generic entry into how I think about language learning: Three general tasks enable a student to learn a language, they are: massive amounts of input in the language (exposure to the language), massive amounts of output in the language (opportunity to use the language), and plenty of opportunity to adjust understandings and utterances to closer match those of native speakers. Though these three tasks seem fairly obvious, it is surprising how routinely they are misunderstood, or misapplied. The third task--opportunity to adjust understandings and utterances--is critical, but many teachers overdose on an ugly step-sister to this task: the dreaded grammar drills. Such drilling before a student has a sort of feel for what is being drilled is a waste of time and effort.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Impressive/obscure things

I find that blogging can often be reduced to sharing impressive/obscure trivia/experiences. I started my blog with a list of chocolate bars, expressly saying that I'm not looking for impressive/obscure ones, or that sharing such is evidence you're a nerd; then what do I do? I give an example—Milka—to demonstrate that I am familiar with some impressive/obscure chocolate bars. In an effort to skip past the silly, childish games we play to get to the crux of what blogging is all about—sharing my impressive/obscure trivia/experiences—here is a list of my impressive/obscure trivia/things/experiences. Tell me you're impressed, comisserate, and/or impress me with yours!

1. Kant, Nietsche, MacIntyre, Arendt, Sartre: guys, these guys are really influencial philosophers, and I've read some of their stuff.
2. New York City (aka NYC), like for example 5th avenue, oh, and a little street I like to call BROADWAY, 56th street (I know LOTS of streets and avenues; hint: they roughly corollate to our numbering), Rizzoli, The Village, Strand, Labarynth, Bergdorf (the store, not my son), West side, Upper West side, Financial district, Midtown, Upper East side, Morningside Heights, Midtown, Chelsea, TriBeCa, etc. etc. etc.
3. creme broulle
4. The Silent Way language teaching technique
5. Goblin Valley
6. Peter Luger
7. Did I mention I hiked the Sawtooths, and Gospel Hump?
8. Latin
9. Freshly squeezed orange juice is the best drink on the planet.
10. Mother Hips, Jayhawks, the Strokes, Gillian Welch, Richard Julian
11. Gadamer, or how I often use in sentences: Gadamerian hermeneutics
12. Latin
13. The Denver Broncos drafted Clay Brown, the receiver of Jim McMahon's Hail Mary in the 1981 Miracle Bowl
14. Buffalo wings at the Trolley
15. I made eye-contact with Emmanuel Lewis when he was the guest celebrity at the Stadium of Fire
16. Diglot weaves--would you like me to tell you un cuento?
17. Constructivism: guys, seriously, it's rad.
18. Witahemaway, and Aluat Sukhema
19. Munschworks
20. Cinema Paradiso--or any foreign film, really--Toto le hero, Jean de Flourette, Ran, Das Boot, etc.
21. Quark Xpress, Illustrator, Photoshop, Flash--what's that? MS Office? Nice.
22. A scout is hungry!
23. Michel de Montaigne
24. I was hit on the head by a foul ball hit by Cory Snyder while he played for BYU. He signed it: "Sorry, should have been a home run. --Cory Snyder" I lost it playing in the back yard the next week.
25. When you first enter the MTC, dude, lose the dork dot.
26. Milka, Dolfin (au lait & noir), Chocolat Bonnat, Milka with yogurt
27. I am the reigning singles and doubles ping-pong champion at Wasatch Elementary school.
28. I saw Julia Stiles exit the Journalism building on Columbia campus.
29. Erin Robison won the Wasatch Elementary school spelling bee by correctly spelling 'arctic'
30. "How about a nice game of chess?" "No. I want Global, thermal, nuclear war."
31. I got out on the word 'jeep' in a spelling bee.
32. Cheese tortellini vinaigrette
33. Rootbeer New York Seltzers
34. My kingdom for a good shake source in Westchester, something like Stans in Provo.
35. Gabby cried at the Haagan Dazs commercials
36. I backpacked 11 miles tough terrain less than 24 hours of having 4 wisdom teeth pulled
37. Paul Hewson, and Dave Evans.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Harry Potter 7: If you want something done...

Like everyone in the whole wide world, I am anxious for book 7 of the Harry Potter series. I have been imagining, and imagining, and imagining what will happen. Then it donged on me. You know what Sebastian says: you want someteen done, you got to do eet yo-self! So here goes!

Chapter 1: Brunch, Be-muggling, and Bragadocio

Anselm's Literal and Figurative Spirits Tavern was by any account a busy but quiet destination on Knockturn Alley the morning after the Half-Blood Prince fulfilled his unbreakable vow. Though a longtime dark wizard destination, the bustle was noticeable, if not to muggles, at least to non-dark-wizarding folk. Quiet, devilish hands shook each other, and whispers of congratulations were growing into a steady murmur. The Dark Lord ordered floating fish and chips.

Alone at his table in the corner, this was the most public Lord Voldemort had been since his return, and yet there were series of hexes, charms, and Wizard cigar smokes occlimating his table. Still many of the dark wizards recognized that there was an air of triumph in the musty corner to which the order of floating fish and chips had just casually floated.

Snape entered Anselm's like a prince and marched straight to the triumphant table. "My Lord, I see you've ordered floating fish and chips"

"Yesssssssssssss SSSSSSnape"

"Come again?" asked Snape

"Sorry--Parseltongue, you know, you just get so used to speaking it, you forget that not everyone can understand, and you just kind of lapse into it! My apologies, Severus...sincerest." replied Voldemort, with care and precision.

"Lord Voldemort, we've not a moment to lose. The Potter boy is vulnerable."

"Oh Snape! Your focus is inimitable! Yes, we are moving on Potter this very moment. He is growing in strength you know Severus. I should like for him to drink from the Goblet of the Gninekaew!"

"A brilliant idea! Might I make a suggestion? If we were to..." (at this point, Snape's voice turned to a thin whisper, and he sketched some drawings with his wand on his tabula rasa) "...and before you can say 'Bob's your uncle'..."

"Yes. Severus. Yes." Voldermort nodded knowingly. Though Voldemort was not one to enjoy the company or friendship of others, he could scarcely contain his excitement now about the clearly realizable prospect of destroying Harry Potter for good. A sheepish but increasingly confident grin swept across The Dark Lord's face. The Dark Lord extended his hand and Snape swallowed it up in his, and the two shared a menacing, evil grimace which grimace's reverberations would be felt around both the muggle and the wizarding world, but most acutely in the lightning shaped remnant of Lord Voldemort on the forehead of one Harry Potter.


ubi meli, ibi apes ubique Harry shouted across the table to Fred Weasley as he had been using his Wizard's Beginning Dancing Kit for Kitchen Items to make a jar of honey appear to be dancing with a soft-boiled egg. They both started to smile before they recalled the depressing situation that brought the party together. Times were undeniably difficult for Harry Potter. Very, very difficult. This was not a time to be a simple young wizard. No. For whatever strange reason, Harry had been selected as "the chosen one" and Lord Voldemort had taken it upon himself to rid Harry of any meaningful support. As if it hadn't been enough to just leave him to be raised by the Dursleys, Voldemort had systematically removed Harry's most trusted mentors, Godfathers, and in short all reliable grown-ups. Harry came to the realization over a period of months now: If he is to be successful in defeating Voldemort, his greatest allies were the simple teen and pre-teen members of Gryffindor at Hogwarts; especially Ron, and Hermione.

But thinking about Ron and Hermione only made Harry remember that when he was around them now, he felt more and more like a third wheel. He had tried to read up on how to adjust. He had glanced through Irnesto Hagleby's Incantations, Inflamations, and Infatuations: An outsider's fieldguide to Friend's Who Become Lovers And even Gawain Prince's My Best Wizard Friend is Now Dating my Other Best Wizard Friend—and Where Does that Leave Me?

Harry had been through a lot. One need only review his tumultuous tenure at Hogwarts to see undeniable evidence of that! And yet, Harry Potter was still standing. And so was Lord Voldemort. Harry could sense clearer than ever that his destiny and Voldemort's were on an unrelenting collision course. Unthinkingly, he reached for his glowing, burning scar, and fainted in pain.

Well, it's not quite there. I would love any input, especially with regard to duh! spells, and also: dialogue between Harry, Ron, and Hermione, and Harry and Ginny Weasley, or other portions as you see fitting. If you didn't notice, I pretty much have Voldermort and Snape down, or I at least like the direction things are going for them so far. I am going to try to get this published as the 7th Harry Potter book. I know I will need A LOT more words and chapters, believe me. My friend's say that there is a slim chance, because of copyright issues and such, but my response is:
1. nothing that is of lasting value is easy.
2. You (and in this case I) can do anything you (I) set your (my) mind to.
3. This is something that I have set as a goal, and I REALLY have set my mind to it.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

My genealogy of instruction

My resume says very little about the most powerful influences in my thoughts about teaching and learning. I have loved graduate school, my program in philosophy and education has been enlightening and broadening, and I have loved my association with excellent colleagues and professors. I feel blessed to have studied with some of the most thoughtful, dedicated and renowned contemporary educational scholars. (I say this both to brag and to make the case for what I have learned through formal education strong.) But graduate school pales in comparison to the influence of my family upbringing, and my Dad in particular in how I think about teaching and learning.

My father, Robert Blair, is a linguist. He has spent his career learning languages and teaching languages. His approach was always results oriented. The results he sought were usually more broad than most: does the method give a student a meaningful "in" to the language community? Does it help a student become a robust language learner (i.e. not strictly dependent on the teacher) ? Is it based on a workable understanding of how humans learn? Our home was always somewhat of a laboratory, and all my brothers and sisters (8 in all) were taught at least some basics in several different languages and cultures.

We are probably not the most desirable students in most language classes. Our Dad raised us with a healthy dose of skepticism when it comes to language teaching. I remember being in a class with my brother, (I think it was my oldest brother, Dell). The teacher was basically reciting phrases and motioning the class to repeat. Most of the class seemed to be excited, as if to say, "Can you believe this? We're really learning Russian!". My brother and I looked at each other as if to say, "kak skazat: Are you kidding me?"

On the other hand, if a language teacher is doing something that appreciates that people are more capable than say, parrots, I can be a devoted if not enthusiastic student. Our upbringing (in the realm of language learning) was both skeptical about "traditional" language teaching, and optimistic--even perhaps overly excited about the possibility of transcending such efforts. One mantra infused in us (seemingly from birth) is that people were built to learn languages. Given good methods, success is all but inevitable.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Steve Urquhart for Senate!

I'm no political junkie, but I'm excited that Steve Urquhart is running for Senate against Orrin Hatch. I think Steve will win. I say this because he is a careful, thorough, straightforward politician, and because he has consistently performed well in the Stanley Cup. More on the latter at a future date.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Small Time Bluegrass

I just finished watching Geoff Groberg's documentary, Small Time Bluegrass. It is a great documentary, if you can get your hands on a copy, you won't be disappointed. It made me laugh with delight to know that Geoff produced this.

Geoff is my closest cousin, we even made a movie or two together back in the day. Geoff is as close as I can come to a living example of how I want my kids to approach life: He makes stuff. He made this movie. He made most of the music for the movie. He has made a few CDs--for which he made some of the instruments. And he has made some great websites. Here's another website.

In one of my ideal schools, I would have kids just gather around Geoff and participate in making relics--movies, CDs, websites, CD-Roms, books, etc.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Oon ah svers

It took some intense persuading by my friends to convince me that the song "We are spirits in a material world" by The Police did not actually say: "Oon ah svers, oon a mazerio..." (I think I sang 'Oon ah svers' for probably 7 years?) This morning I was listening to that great song by Macy Grey: "Try to walk away and I stumble, though I try to hide it, it's clear..." I was singing along, and I couldn't figure out what it said next, until finally it dawned on me: "...though I try to hide it, it's clear, I wore covers when you are not near!" It didn't make much sense at the time (and the tenses didn't match), but it made at least as much sense as "Oon ah svers..." So I stuck with that for a while.

I asked Gabby what it said, and she told me it said "My world crumbles when you are not near." Now THAT makes sense! Wow! what awesome lyrics! Macy Grey didn't give up during the chorus and throw in some obscure bed reference!

Gabby must find me both puzzling and embarassing. I imagine she greatly underestimated the number of lyrical corrections she would need to make for her husband. I shudder when I imagine what people would think of me if I didn't have her as a filter? Wisely, I try not to sing along with songs in front of others, unless I have first conferred on lyrics with Gabby. She is great at interpretive listening. I know I ought to just assume that songs make sense, that rarely does a song throw in a random phrase like "I wore covers..." or "oon ah svers" (unless it is introducing a new term for pop culture e.g. 'jiggy'). But I don't. I assume it's a mystery--covered, hidden, protected, eternally awaiting further revelation.

My analysis: I guess I assume first that every song is in a foreign language. When I start to hear English and a puzzling phrase comes up, I assume it is an inside joke the songwriter has with his or her long lost lover, or his or herself. There are some advantages to this approach. For example, I am blown away by lyrics that make sense the whole way through a song. Also, I can enjoy good music even in the midst of awful lyrics. I am in general a very generous judge of lyrics: "Well, it doesn't make much sense to me, but I don't assume it should. For all I know, it is the makings of a fantastic song."

Thursday, June 30, 2005

My guiding pedagogical questions

I have some questions that guide my assessment of a language (and by extension any) teacher. One quick question I find that reveals the appropriateness of a language teaching method is this:

"Could this same method work with parrots and achieve close to the same results?"

Another question I often ask is this:

"Would this teacher rather work with robots (instead of human students)?"

The answer to both these questions in many classes and programs is a resounding 'Yes!' I find these questions useful in assessing my own teaching, and the approaches of other teachers. They also provide a good rough basis for describing recurring problems in teaching. For example, to describe my frustrations with an aspect of my teaching, I could say: "My main problem with this teaching is that it's not clear that it would differ if you were teaching parrots." Or "My main issue with this teaching is that it seems you would rather work with robots--you seem to get frustrated at just the moments when robots would perform better."

Well, those are my guiding pedagogical questions--what are yours?

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Dinner, Dance, and Explanation

I reflect on a Valentine's date in high school maybe 1-2 times a year. Every time I think about it, I both cringe and stand in wonder at myself. This experience has profoundly shaped how I think of myself as a social person. I asked the Senior Class President at Provo High School, to the dance--I was a junior at the time. The plan was to double with another friend and his date, they were both quite close to my date also, and the dynamic of the group was going to make it perfect--just the right dancing skills, enough social skills to make up for me, and enough familiarity that there would always be awesome stuff to talk about.

In tribute to Latisha (name has been changed), I felt at the time that the date was a clear success. Plenty of laughter, lots of real fun times. In further tribute to Latisha, I imagine she might still remember it as at least permissible.

When we went to pick up my friend, I learned he had been grounded. Plan #1 was to go with his date and Latisha to the dance, but it was decided that that wouldn't work. So it was a single date with Latisha. We went to dinner and the dance.

So after the dance, the plan was to go play Phase 2 at my home. It was a great game for groups, it's a sort of jacked-up Trivial Pursuit (that's how the really smooth and cool 2005 me describes it). Now, I'm not stupid enough to play the game with only me and Latisha, that's not enough people to make it fun. So here is what I did:

(Entering my home)
Me: So, it's too bad that Jake (name has been changed) and Sally (likewise) couldn't be here. We had planned to play a really fun game, called Phase 2.

Latisha: Yeah, that is too bad, it would have been great to have them, but I have had so much fun anyway.

Me: Anyway, Phase 2 is a great game. The way it works is like this. You're familiar with Trivial Pursuit? So this is like Trivial Pursuit with a bonus feature. There are 10 questions like Trivial Pursuit questions, you know like: Which actor has won more Oscars than any other up to the year 1990? etc. So those questions are fun. But what I really love about this game is that there will be a theme to the answers of the questions. So imagine that of the 10 questions, some of the answers you got were: Scarecrow, Brick, Emerald, Lion, Dorothy, you can see the theme of the answers is The Wizard of Oz. Cool, huh? And you get even more points for guessing the theme. Doesn't that sound fun?

Latisha: Oh my gosh, that sounds like the funnest game!

Me: Yeah. It really is. Now you can see why I'm so bummed Jake and Sally aren't here so we could play it.


So what, technically, did we do after the dance? Well, when push comes to shove, I guess what we did was this: I explained how to play Phase 2 to Latisha.

As Gabby can testify now, I am WAY more awesome in social situations. And I wish we owned Phase 2, I really do love that game. If you don't understand how the game works from that explanation, I can explain it much better in person, and would be delighted to do so.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Ralph's and Maude's blogs

My two oldest children, Ralph and Maude, have their own blogs. They are pretty dang rocking, and by rocking, I mean totally sweet.

Check them out:

Maude's entry on favorite blues is, in my opinion, one of the best entries anywhere on the internet, be sure to look it up. This whole blog idea is catching on. Tonight, Ralph was asking what our favorite and least favorite foods were, and then telling us his. Maude walked in and said, "I think I feel a blog coming on!"

Adventures in Amway

My first adventure with Amway happened in 1994. I was then the president the so-called "Bean Society". We held monthly meetings to the tune of 75-100 participants. As anyone with a mind to make money off their friends would think, this was a golden opportunity, and so I was approached. The friend who approached me made it sound like he really wanted to catch up. Our last bonding experience was a drive to a Fathers and sons activity and during this drive we talked about the movie, "What about Bob?" When he called again, I was wondering if there was more to discuss about this movie. He was 4 years my senior, we never really did hang out, but after a mission, one is excited to catch up with anyone. He was very excited about meeting, and quite excited about the things I was working on, evidently. When the appointed day came, I was hanging out with my friend, Matthew, I asked my friend if it would be OK if I brought along a friend. To my surprise, he thought that would be most appropriate. He asked about the Bean Society, and I told him. At the time I was really enthralled with the Bean society--actually, I still am. He showed some good-will by showcasing some projects he had worked on that were similar in spirit--if not in any way--to projects of said society. This was by way of: "See, I totally get what you guys are all about, because I work on similarly fun projects!" He then took out a book with lots of pictures of very fancy houses. Exactly the kind of thing my unmarried, no commitments whatsoever mind was looking for:a gigantic golden house.

What really interested me was a card that depicted different levels of, shall we say 'success'. The houses I was looking at were houses of 'diamonds'. Well, you can well imagine I wanted to be a diamond. I then asked where he fell on the different levels. He was somewhere between rubies and emeralds (note: I'm not exactly sure on the names). Guess what? In just one week, a diamond was going to be giving a presentation! Talk about the chance of a lifetime! We didn't leave with any sort of commitment, or any clear sense for what the whole set-up was, except that it led to riches unfathomable. and my involvement with the society could very plausibly facilitate a rapid climb up the mineral ladder. At the time, I hadn't heard of Amway.

On another occasion, a networked friend of this previous friend spoke with me and my friend, Weston, about the prospects of using this society to get gain. He related that what he most looked forward to in his adult life was just being able to go skiing with his kids, or travel the world, and not to have to worry about financial matters. He then reminded us that we had assembled in whatever way we had, a group of up to 100 people, "You guys obviously have some drawing power!" and he asked: "Do you know how much money that is?" I don't think I had ANY idea.

One of my favorite experiences came during my married life. Apparently we had agreed to listen to a presentation at our home. The visitor was a very nice lady, and I suspect she was fairly fresh off an initiation in the book that displays the homes of 'diamonds'. She was most excited about these homes. "Can you imagine living there! Oh man!" I imagine we were one of her first presentations, she kept lobbing unconnected statistics and anecdotes that, if carefully tied together in some sort of overall narrative, could have presented a persuasive case to bum cash off your friends in exchange for everyday, household goods. My favorite line of hers was this:

Lady: OK, let me put it this way: Do you know how much a penny is worth if it doubles everyday? (She didn't specifiy any time-period).

Us: (shaking heads) No, no, we don't.

Lady: It's a million dollars! Can you believe that! A million dollars!

My next experience came surprisingly when a friend stayed over at our house. He was passing through New York, and the subject turned to "What is going on?":

Friend: Well, I'm working at this advertising agency for the time being, but I'm really excited about some other really exciting projects I'm working on.

Me: Really? What is it?

Friend: Well, it's a pretty slick idea. It's very simple. It's basically, well, you buy groceries, and other items that you buy anyway, and you basically eliminate the middleman. It's basically e-commerce. I have a simple e-commerce site, and you know how great e-commerce is these days! Then I help people set up their own on-line stores, and I save money by shopping from my store, and they can save money by purchasing the goods from my online place, or I can help them set up their own, then I am helping other people benefit in the same way by helping them set up their own e-commerce location, and I get a small percentage of their revenue. And they can do the same. I love it because I get to really help people. Like I say, it's a pretty slick idea.

Me: Yeah, it sounds pretty awesome.

My last adventure is the most brief, but in some ways the most telling. We were passing through Salt Lake en route to Provo and there was a convention happening at the Salt Palace. We pulled over to talk to some of the conference attendees. The exchange went like this:

Us: So what brings you here...what is all this activity about?

Them: It's a convention...(awkward pause) an, it's, uh it's an Amway Convention. [It's a Harley...compatible. It's a Harley compatible, its basically the same thing]

Friday, June 17, 2005

Alert: my past is catching up with me!

So my best friend, David Kendall calls yesterday, and we start up right where we left off 12 years ago. I would have been totally taken aback except for my recent history.

Let me go back 10 months: So my best friend Devon Call calls me to see if he can stay at our place. Of course he can. Dude stayed with us in Greece, in our one roomer. It's great to see Devon, I have clearly lost touch with my Provo roots. then 3 months ago, Devon sends an e-mail that is CCd to my best friends: Ryan Kineteder, David Taylor, Merrill Liechty, and Weston Spencer--OK I have talked with Weston in the last 3 years so that's not such a big deal. This leads to a rapid torrent of e-mails.

12 months ago, we get an e-mail that my best friend Chris Clark, has a bro. in law that is a freaking celebrity. Maybe you have heard of the little grammy winning band Maroon 5? Yeah.

My best friend John Rather sends us an e-mail about this new-fangled blog: Times and Seasons. One of the entries is about a new site that my best friend Matthew Faulconer, has made: Feast upon the word. I go to the site, I'm overcome once again by Matthew's brilliance. We get to e-mailing, and then we have a phone call.

Meanwhile, on Times and Seasons, my wife (i.e. Best friend--but this one is the most current; and eternal) Gabby says, she says: "There is a link to your friend, Kacy's blog on Times and Seasons, it is like the best blog there is." Gabby is all sending it to all her sisters and friends. I'm all, this is awesome.

So I look up my best friend, Kacy's blog, it is like the best blog there is, and I get connected to her husband, my best friend, Christian's blog. Christian's blog has a link to my best friend Cameron's blog. Cameron is all into triathlons now, and my in-laws put on the St. George triathlon, so we arrange to meet up in St. George for lunch.

When it comes to keeping up friendships, I am offensively horrible. Yet somehow, despite my best efforts to lose touch with my childhood over the last 15 years, in the last 5 months or so, I have been in touch with much of the crux of my High School friends--except I guess for the Trojans and Momos (except Devon, Weston, and David K.)

Now I'm all breaking out and saying 'I'm all' a lot, and stuff, I'm getting back into dungeons and dragons, and singing with Billy Ocean: "Get out of my dreams! Get into my car!" I'm all doing Chinese fire drills at like every stoplight like I used to always do. I'm all doing the worm and the locomotion, and well, I think you get the picture.

Honestly I have missed these people more than I ever imagined I had.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

How do you solve a problem like Maria?

(long entry, I know it's not good blogging etiquette, and I understand if you want to stay in your naive little world where Maria Von Trapp is a heroine). Yes, I'm following the trend of naming posts after lines from songs in The Sound of Music

Lately, I can't watch The Sound of Music without feeling uncomfortable, and annoyed. I can't think of a scene that I think works--bad acting, bad writing, whatever. Much of this, of course, is because it is a musical, and few things (among them perhaps wicked special effects) kill good acting like knowing that whatever dialogue is currently happening is going to develop into a song in the next minute or two. The same principle applies in real life as well.

But I want to focus on the heart of what offends me: Maria as educator. As a foil against this, I have become more and more impressed with Dewey Finn (Jack Black's character) in School of Rock. So I want to contrast these two models of educators. Many of my thoughts could be viewed as simply a preference for a contemporary model educator (one who guides learners as they construct and produce vs. one who instructs learners what to do) only Dewey Finn is unique even for model teachers in recent movies (see for example Coach Carter, Dead Poet's Society, and Lean on Me)

The scene that tips it for me is after the goat-herd puppet show. Maria has been the lead voice, and has been shouting directions to the Von Trapp kids, which they follow, and they put on a good show. After it is complete, the kids have left and the Captain, Max, and the Baroness remain and the Captain (Georg) says something like "That was great work Fne. Maria!" And Maria responds, "They're your children!" Gabby pointed out that this scene can be disturbing, but she completely rejects my further claims. So I thank her for opening this up, but she shouldn't be lumped in to the rapidly growing group of people that watch Sound of Music and School of Rock this way--but I hope and pray she will some day.

What is disturbing about this scene? The most basic is the false self-effacing (What?! You're congratulating ME?! I had hardly anything to do with this!! They were YOUR children captain, I simply supported their enthusiastic creativity!) The other contributing factors are just what was the back-drop for this false self-effacing: For starters, she had the lead role, no? It seems clear, or is at least suggested that she choreographed--produced--the production. The focus moments for the performers were Maria coughing from the foam-a-float, and Maria directing Gretel (?) to move the castle-mote person, and the new backdrop. Maria is the heart and engine of the effort. In an important and disturbing sense, the children are acting as Maria's puppets. I see the same features in her teaching "Doe, a deer" and music and singing in general--Maria is the center, do as she says and you will be beautiful. Even in the scene after they return from their outing, and the children are singing (without Maria) to the Baroness, Georg comes in and Maria waits by the side and motions to give the flower to the Baroness. This motion to deliver the flower says to me that Maria is still running the show. The children are doing as she has instructed them.

Some disclaimers: Of course what the children do under her teaching is impressive. They seem happier, they are obviously better singers, and they are in general more relaxed (but they didn't really have a direction to go except more relaxed, right?)

Now contrast Dewey Finn: The moment for me in the movie is when Dewey is playing the song Zach wrote with the kids ("...Maybe we were making straight As"), then steps back and watches the kids play. Even the words to the song seem to cut against Maria and her mis-guided teaching approach: "don't take much to memorize your lies...feel like I've been hypnotized". At this moment, Dewey is struck, and surprised, and he is transformed. The show is no longer about Dewey winning battle of the bands, it is about putting on a rockin' show. Dewey still plays a unique and important role, he is still a teacher--he knows more about rock-n-roll, and what goes into a rockin' show than the students, but it is now their production as much as it is his. After this epiphany, he asks if he can come in with a guitar solo. On the surface, this may appear that he is taking the center back from the students, but it is not like that at all. This request is the biggest compliment he can give--he shows that he takes these students seriously, he has been inspired by the music that they wrote, he asks if he can do the solo because he feels one coming on from their music. Contrast this with Maria directing to deliver the flower to the Baroness.

After the show, the principal congratulates Dewey, and he doesn't give some lame "They're your students!" He responds with something like: "Yeah, that was a rockin' show!" Not taking nor avoiding (un)due credit.

A few brief contrasts:

On initial thoughts and intents:
Maria: "I have confidence in me!" she is going to influence for good these kids.
Dewey: "Could I maybe get out a little early? I got some stuff I gotta do." He is not seeking to influence or be influenced. He is open and naive to the situation.

On setting the agenda:
Maria: After the kids have played some pranks (one could think to have fun) she guilts them into crying. They can have fun, and a lot of it, she shows them, if they do it on her terms: On her bed, in her clothes, with her songs. I get the sense that whichever students were there, Maria would give the same instruction.
Dewey: After he hears them rehearsing for their classical orchestra, he starts talking about making a rock band. This is all self-serving for Dewey, but at least it is in response to the students. They bring something to the table, they are each accomplished musicians. Had Dewey not heard them, he would not have recruited them for the band--he would have stuck with the fliers on light-posts

On original teaching approach:
Maria: Let's start at the very beginning...She teaches, and the students follow her instruction.
Dewey: At first, Dewey does the same sort of thing as Maria (do this! Now raise your goblet of rock!), he teaches and the students follow his instruction.

On their eventual teaching approach:
Maria: She is a static teacher. She does not change. She is the source of truth, knowledge, and wisdom. The students and family transform to accomodate her, but she sings in the hills to begin, and sings in the hills at the end.
Dewey: He is a dynamic teacher. He is transformed by the students. The students are also transformed and these transformations take place at the same time. They come to understand each other better.

Overall, School of Rock is much more hard-core and rockin'.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

On phones

The local Police responded to several 911 calls made from our phone in the last months. Our phone was made by idiots who are also jerks. The "push-button" dialing is confusing for our phone. I wouldn't make a fuss about it, except other people's phones seem to approach this "push-button" dialing so straight-forwardly. On our phone, you can push a button, any button, and it might work; and that is the best feeling in the world. On the other hand, you can push a button and it either doesn't respond, like some lifeless sea urchin, or it does respond multiple times, with eagerness. So, if for example, I want to dial the number: 914-555-4432, I might get a range of results, such as these:

914-555-5--sorry, now it's wrong. No backspace? Sorry, that is too confusing.
914-4--sorry, now it's wrong
9 (no response) 9 (no response) 9 (no response) 9 (no response) 99--sorry, now it's wrong.
914-555-4433--this is the most frustrating. Notice: I am ONE digit away from a successful call. All that work for nothing.

And of course:
911--sorry, it's wrong, and it's the emergency number. The police will be visiting momentarily.

I live in area code 914, this means that I don't even need to use this pre-fix. Technically, this means that my calling 911 was careless in addition to ill-founded. Imagine how many times I would have dialed 911 if I lived in a different area-code but frequently called the 914 area code!

We have been discussing the need to get a new phone for maybe 10 months. I hope that, someday, we will.

Which is more stupid: a stupid phone, or the stupid people who keep using it?

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Don't miss this Ensign gem!

In the midst of your struggle to express proper disappointment (or delight as the case may be) with the Ensign graphics editor, you may have missed this gem:

Spencer V. Jones, in his article "Finding Hope in the Second Coming" discusses prophecies of the second coming. He writes:

Some of the prophecies can seem overwhelming. Earthquakes, thunder, lightning, hailstorms, plagues, famine, waves of the sea heaving beyond their bounds, a desolating scourge, the sun darkened, and the moon turned to blood are all worldly conditions predicted to usher in that "great and dreadful day." The inhabitants of the earth will endure weeping and wailing, wars and rumors of wars, iniquity, false Christs and false prophets, men's hearts failing them, and the proud and the wicked burning as stubble.

[for me, this is when it gets good]

Some prophecies are even quite grotesque...

[at this point, I expect a bland overview, I certainly wasn't expecting his bold next move, but was I delighted? Yes.]

To repeat his last line:

Some prophecies are even quite grotesque, SUCH AS THIS ONE (my caps):

"Wherefore, I the Lord God will send forth flies upon the face of the earth, which shall take hold of the inhabitants thereof, and shall eat their flesh, and shall cause maggots to come in upon them...And their flesh shall fall from off their bones, and their eyes from their sockets; And it shall come to pass that the beasts of the forest and the fowls of the air shall devour them up"

And that was it--he then went into some insightful thoughts about what we can do to prepare for this.

I thought it opened all sorts of doors for church talks, lessons etc:

Some stories leave people confused and nauseous, such as this one:
Some stories shouldn't be told from the pulpit, such as this one:
Some scripture stories are best not brought up in mixed company, such as this one:
Some scripture stories are downright inappropriate for children, such as this one:
Some stories have the tendency to offend large portions of any given congregation, such as this one:

As mentioned, he continued by saying even in the midst of this, we can have hope...and I'm certain I could come up with a good conclusion after these openings as well.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

10 candy bars

I have a fairly popular and accurate nerd test. I ask the person to name a fruit (and there is no prompting except for this simple question) and if he or she answers 'tomato' it's a nerd. The one answer (that I actually got, and I have witnesses) that put the system in overload was 'avocado'. I hadn't even taken into consideration that someone could exceed the limits of my test.

In a similar vein, when I say, 'name a good candy bar.' And the person answers with some fancy 'Milka' (OOhh, is that a European candy?...Impressive selection!) or some other reference to some obscure/impressive candy, I can conclude perhaps not the the person is a nerd, but that they are demonstrating their cosmopolitan knowledge, not their taste for candy bars. (But Milkas really are my favorite! That chocolate is WAY better than the American psuedo stuff! Really? Impressive!.)

So here is a list of chocolate candy bars that I would saddle any of my horses with. I apologize if your favorite candy bars don't appear on the list, feel free to make suggestions, but based on my research methods (see below) I don't see much change coming), but you never know, do you? You never know.

10: Reeses peanut butter cup

9: Almond joy

8: Hershey's chocolate bar with almonds

7: Twix (peanut butter)

6: Hershey's chocolate bar

5: Krackel

4: Symphony with almonds and toffee bits

3: Snickers

2: Twix (caramel)

1: Kit-Kat

You probably didn't think that kit kat would win, huh? I was surprised as well. As background, most of my information comes from which candy bars I get at the check out at the grocery store. I know that there is a sense of getting ripped off with a kit-kat, like it doesn't have "the goods" (i.e. nougat, caramel, or peanut butter) of other bars that it outscores. But that isn't what I'm looking for in a candy bar, what I most look for in a candy bar (usually) is that it tastes like a kit-kat.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

License suspended

We got notice that my license has been suspended due to a traffic violation. The cost of the original ticket was $150.00. We paid the ticket, so ignored the follow-up letters saying we better pay it or else. Well, apparently we didn't pay it, our credit card had expired or something like that. Rather than asking us to pay again, we were given a late fee of $200.00. And, as I mentioned, my license is suspended--and we now owe $350.00. On so many levels this is awesome.

I'm not sure where to start, this could be an explanation of the ridiculousness of traffic laws and fines in New York, or it could be a complaint against a policeman that would actually enforce such ridiculous laws, or it could be my struggle to come to grips with the fact that, in any given situation, I am only capable of talking myself into further trouble (more on this another time).

I don't get tickets. I am a safe driver. I don't think it is cool to go real fast, or run stop-signs. Furthermore, I have rehearsed what to say to a policeman or woman in the event that I get pulled over, emphasizing the respected officer's authority (this is a tip I got from my brother, Jim):

(I first turn on the cabin light, and put both my hands in the 10 and 2 positions on the stearing wheel and look ahead)

Officer: (says whatever)
Me: Yes Officer.
Officer: (says whatever, makes a clever remark about my disregard for the law and civil society)
Me: Yes Officer. I understand that you have the authority to issue this notice, and I certainly appreciate your authority to do so, are you also authorized to issue a warning? You can check my record, I am a very conscientious driver...Are you authorized to issue a warning?
Officer: Yes, here is a warning, you take care now!

I have rehearsed in my head a hundred times what I could have said to the policeman who gave me a ticket for turning right (Folks in the West know that I meant 'right') at a red light. It is illegal to turn right at a red light in New York. Of course 500 yards from where I got the ticket, I would have been outside of New York and it would have been OK, but I maniacally burst through the red light on the empty street to turn right.

I could have said, "I'm sorry officer, I'm used to Utah (or Westchester) where it is not illegal to turn right on a red light" I guess I thought I was in Westchester, [not 500 yards from it]. (then continue with original dialogue above). Instead, I panicked, said that I couldn't recall turning on a red light (a note of defense: in speeding situations, when asked "Do you know how fast you were going?" I have rehearsed to reply "I can't recall, I wasn't watching, I thought I was going with the flow of traffic" this is usually a good response in such situations. My mistake here was a simple bad translation between situations for which different rules apply). Then, to explain why I couldn't remember turning right at a red light, I said, "I guess I'm a little frazzled, I just finished taking a test."

lets get back to dialogue mode:

Officer: How did you do?
Me: I actually administered the test, I'm a teacher. (I thought being a teacher could recall fond memories for the police officer, and why would anyone give a teacher a ticket? But I think it probably made him see me as a quasi authority figure, and so a threat.)
Officer: Oh, you're a teacher are you?...

I really didn't see the ticket coming. Why would a policeman ever give a ticket for turning right on a red light? I thought it was a great opportunity for a policeman to lecture on the dangers of turning right at a red light then issue a warning. But he went ahead and gave me a ticket to help me recognize the seriousness of my actions.