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.