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Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Will Salt Lake City's 'Jingle Bus' lead to a Happy New Year?

Photo Source: Salt Lake Tribune
Salt Lake City is doing away with free holiday parking in the downtown area. However, a 'Jingle Bus' (i.e., free trolleys) will be available to help ferry customers from place to place to eliminate the occasional need to park several different times during a single visit.

The fees to park will likely keep away certain patrons, but overall this appears to be a change with a lot of upside.

The city's cost to cover the tab for holiday shopping has been significant. I'd have to take a look to see what precise numbers are involved, but the gift of free parking easily came at an annual cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars. The idea was to make that money back on sales tax while growing the economy at the same time, making the downtown area attractive to merchants.

However, the landscape of downtown Salt Lake is not what it once was. Temple Square remains an attractive tourist location, but the presence of The Gateway and the new City Creek Center provides most customers with incentive enough to make the trip. The mass transit system only makes things easier, even for those who drive and park but then take a TRAX train in between the two malls. It is unlikely most vendors will have serious complaints about a lack of traffic.

What makes this fantastic is that almost everybody wins. The only real loser I can think of at this point are those customers who would really like to shop downtown, but for any number of reasons see the parking fees as a deal-breaker.

The store-owners are likely to do well.

Customers will have access to an array of increasingly impressive goods.

And the city can turn around and put the parking revenue right back into downtown transportation line items.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The therapeutic nature of words carefully considered

This evening, all of my pains suddenly stopped. I can feel them nearby preparing for a triumphal return, but right now my mind has cleared and the relief of being temporarily free from the pain is… liberating. I don’t know if the freedom is a result of the pain medication kicking in, an answer to my prayers and those of my family, or perhaps a mere physiological reaction as my body moves further along in the healing process.

Regardless of the reason, it has given me an opportunity to ponder the essence of who I am — and who I desire to become over the course of what I hope will be a long life. 

While going through this season of disability, I have used media and literature for distraction. But tonight, I have been able to use it like I used to — for edification, for learning, for application. 

Through a series of numerous miracles, I was able to receive my graduate degree. One of my sisters gave me a beautiful leather journal with a hand-stitched binding. I have finally decided what to use it for.

I love to memorize. My approach probably differs from that used by others. I don’t want to just be able to recite words from memory. I want to internalize the text, so I make a conscious effort to ponder about what I am memorizing. It’s not merely the words that are important to me, but what the words are trying to say. 

Some of my favorite memories are of early morning or late night walks by the river near my home, squeezing every ounce of knowledge and enlightenment out of words by Tennyson, Hugo, Lincoln. 

This type of careful pondering opens up a world of understanding that is simultaneously beautiful and elusive. The peace I feel of being able to think this way again is incredibly fulfilling, and I sincerely hope it is a sign that all will soon be well. 

I have decided to use the leather notebook my sister gave me to record some of my favorite quotes. During this period of freedom tonight, I have put together a short list of some of the quotes I have found myself going back to time and time again over the years. I look forward to reviewing some of the words I have chosen to live by — and discovering many more.

These are the ones that came to mind this evening:

Theodore Roosevelt: Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those poor spirits who know neither victory nor defeat.

Ezra Taft Benson: Thoughts lead to acts, acts lead to habits, habits lead to character—and our character will determine our eternal destiny.[1]

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow: The heights by great men reached and kept, were not attained by sudden flight. But they, while their companions slept, were toiling upward in the night.

Spencer W. Kimball: Man radiates what he is, and that radiation affects to a greater or lesser degree every person who comes within that radiation.

Victor Hugo: Sometimes, because Cosette was so beautiful, Marius closed his eyes before her. With eyes closed is the best way to look at the soul.

[1] I’m uncertain about the origins of this quote. I’ve seen it used in numerous sources, sometimes with slightly altered wording.This particular version comes from an address given at Brigham Young University, entitled, "Think on Christ."

Gallup toward irrelvance

In the run-up to the 2012 presidential election, it became clear the polls Gallup was putting out would either make the company the laughing stock or the envy of pollsters.

At a time when most polls showed a nationwide dead heat or a slight Obama lead, Gallup showed Romney with an enormous lead.

Did Gallup come up with a methodology or series of assumptions that saw something no one else did? No, unless that "something" was a mirage.

Were they excessively partisan? Nate Silver, the reigning deity of statisticians and New York Times blogger, calculated the political bias of various pollsters. For example, RAND Corporation was shown to have a Democratic-leaning bias of 1.5 percent.

Republican bias was much more common. Rasumssen Reports had a right-leaning bias of 3.7 percent and American Research Group's bias was 4.5 percent. But Gallop's prejudice toward Romney was more severely skewed by far than any other pollster figured into the analysis: 7.2 percent.

Gallup's projections were startlingly inaccurate. After having shown poorly in the previous two elections, I wonder if they employed some kind of high-risk, high-reward methodology in a desperate attempt to regain legitimacy and relevance.

The degree to which they were off base has me really curious to see if a narrative eventually emerges explaining what happened. Was the outcome the result of a conscious gamble? Legitimate partisan bias? Something far less sexy and even more inexcusable?

Explanation or no, Gallup is trending steadily in the direction of irrelevancy. Minus significant changes, a mediocre showing in 2014 would be a significant step forward.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Introducing "The God Who Weeps: How Mormonism Makes Sense of Life"

When I first saw this book in the bookstore, I was attracted by the beautiful simplicity of the cover. As I picked up a copy, read the title, and noticed who the authors were, I was intrigued.

It is one thing to know God lives. It is another to have an accurate understanding of “who” God is.[1] And in Mormon theology, one of the reasons we yearn so instinctually and intimately for our Heavenly Father is because of His great love for us. 

The New Testament teaches it is because of this love that “he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). 

As Mormons, we believe the bible to be the word of God. We also believe God has revealed His word to other holy prophets throughout time that have been preserved in writing but are not contained in the books of the traditional Old and New Testaments. A book in our scriptural cannon by the name of The Pearl of Great Price records a vision of the prophet Enoch in which he witnesses God weeping and proceeds to meditate on its significance (Moses 7:28-29).

God’s love and compassion are central to His character. Without an understanding of His possession of every good attribute in its fullness, God remains a very large but incomplete mosaic. 

My desire to more fully know God makes me drawn towards discussions of who God is and what implications that knowledge has for mankind in general and me in particular. Thus I was excited to see a book by two respected individuals with a title suggesting a feast on the implications of God’s love was in store.

I contacted the Deseret News and suggested a notice for the book might be a good idea.[2]  Although the word-limit for these articles is typically around 300-words, I thought a book that dived deeply into Mormon theology was something it would be good for others to know about. My proposal was accepted. 

However, unbeknownst to me, a lengthy and informative article about the book’s development was being drafted by a full-time staff member, Trent Toone. The piece is superior to mine in every way and I recommend reading it

Had I known, I wouldn’t have submitted my own much shorter piece. Still, perhaps having two articles about the book will encourage more people to read the book. Regardless of whether one agrees with the genesis for the book or its varied interpretations (I have a reservation or two myself), there is a great deal that can be gained from reading the work and meditating on the implications of God’s love.

My short book notice for the Deseret News can be read here.

[1] In the Lectures on Faith written for the School of the Prophets in 1834, the author comments on the relationship between faith and an accurate understanding of God’s nature, teaching that “a correct idea of his character, perfections, and attributes… [is] necessary in order to exercise faith in him unto life and salvation.”

[2] The Deseret News does not typically publish book reviews per se. Instead, short book notices (usually preceded by a “What’s New” title) are printed that introduce readers very briefly to the book and its authors, along with relevant connections to Utah (where the paper is published) and family values.

Contemplating books of past and future impact

Reading is always something that I have loved to do.

Before I began graduate school, I would try to maintain a consistent reading habit where I would read a book from various perspectives each year. The topics I mainly used in my rotation were biographies (probably my favorite genre), history, religion (history, theology, etc), politics, business, classics, and various current events. I found that by reading often, but alternating between a consistent group of topics, I developed an ability to view issues from many different perspectives. It also helped in conversation, because while I was expertly knowledgeable in only a few areas, I had a basic understanding of many topics. With the exception of those few areas of expertise, my general knowledge was, as they say, a mile wide and an inch deep.

When I began graduate school, a wise friend, Jenny Lund, suggested that I stop my personal reading program and focus strictly on the books needed for school. Any spare time used for reading should be devoted to class-related books that went beyond the basic requirements of the syllabus.

I had a hard time with that counsel and even ignored it for a few weeks. But it quickly became clear that if I didn't devote myself to my studies, I wouldn't be able to master the subjects of my degree - even if I came away with a diploma.

I reluctantly gave heed to her advice and soon found my reluctance giving way to gratitude.

Unfortunately, a car accident changed my reading habits again. On the way to pick up a blue blazer to use in business meetings, a woman ran a red light and hit me. The recovery has been slow and two injuries in particular altered my reading regimen. First, my cognitive abilities took a hit. For a long time, I couldn't process information. I couldn't think into the past or into the future. I forgot the meaning of words. I would read the same paragraph over and over, rarely understanding it. Second, the intensity of the pain made it almost impossible to concentrate on reading. My passion for learning gave way to hours and hours spent watching television or movies on the internet. I had to have powerful distractions just to get by.

The last six weeks or so have finally demonstrated what I hope will be a generally positive trend. There are still rough times. When the pains come, they come with full force. The stresses of all that has been lost and all that I anticipate losing as a result never leave me. Their power over my mind sees me up through the night, paralyzed by fear. But I am learning, slowly but consistently, to deal with the pains and the stress. And while the last month or so has been a roller coaster ride, I choose to emphasize as much as possible the fact that the roller coaster has gone up several times. There is still a long road to travel. I anticipate certain things will be lost forever. The efforts of the last several years will no longer yield the fruits they were devoted to producing. Yet pain and suffering have the remarkable ability to create depth of character and forgiveness that cannot be purchased with any amount of money and no duration of ease.

One of the thing that symbolizes the occasional, but increasing, upward motions of this roller coaster has been my ability to read again. Certain things are beyond my grasp. The complexities of national health care reform to which I devoted so much time and energy and on which I depended to secure substantial, yet reasonable, financial reward now seems largely like a foreign language. I expect over time I will be able to grasp it with the mastery I once did. But for now, I am pleased that I can sit in a chair with a book for several hours instead of having to depend on television and movies to see me through the pains.

This morning, I read a newspaper article in which two individuals, Terry and Fiona Givens, shared "five must-read books from each of their personal bookshelves." I found the lists very interesting and began to think of what I considered must-read books.

My mind went in a little bit of a different direction, however. Every person approaches a book for a different reason, from a different background, with different degrees of sincerity and intensity. Unless I was speaking to a very specific audience, I don't think I could come up with a list of must-read books.

But I do think I can come up with a list of books that have had a significant impact on my life for one reason or another, a list of books that have shaped who I am, who I want to be, and how I view books.

In the next little while, if my health allows, I plan on writing a couple of blogs that will probably focus on (1) books that I consider to have had the most influence on the first 32-years of my life and (2) books that I hope to read over the next several years.

I may also share some thoughts on my approach to reading and some general thoughts about books, either in a separate blog posting or weaved in somehow with the other two.