Wednesday, September 14, 2011

North Ogden Voters to City Council Incumbents: Get Lost!

A few weeks ago I wrote about the kerfuffle in North Ogden over city leadership's handling of the public works facility issue. I noted that about 3,000 of North Ogden residents had signed a petition demanding that the $10 million bond for the proposed facility be put to a general vote. The city responded by filing a lawsuit against two of the sponsors of the petition.

Frankly, the mayor and most members of the city council members have demonstrated a disgracefully dismissive attitude toward residents that have concerns about the project, its costs, and the way it has been handled. It's not that their position is without merit; it's that they have treated a fair number of those they supposedly represent with disdain.

The city attorney and some of the city's employees haven't helped matters much. Someone should have instructed these people to keep their mouths shut. Instead they made a number of public statements that smacked of an elitist attitude. They seemed to quite forget that they work for the taxpayers of North Ogden, not vice versa.

By the time the primary election rolled around yesterday, the cake had been baked. Four years ago when 10 candidates ran for three city council seats, only 866 of the city's 9,532 registered voters went to the polls (as noted in this post). I thought that was pathetic, but not unexpected.

In yesterday's election where 11 candidates vied for the same three council seats, 1,558 of the city's 9,715 registered voters cast ballots. Hmmm.... That's still pretty pathetic; although, the passion behind the current issue nearly doubled voter turnout. But this time around incumbents fared poorly. (See election results.)

The purpose of the election was to winnow the 11 candidates down to six, three of whom will be selected for city council in the final vote on November 8. That meant that five of the candidates had to be eliminated in yesterday's primary election. The three incumbents came in in the sixth, seventh, and eight position. So only one of the incumbents will be on the final ballot.

However, it should be noted that the three incumbents together garnered only 18.29% of the vote. Had there been fewer opposition candidates, the opposition vote would have been less diluted and none of the incumbents would have made it to the final ballot. Those that voted in the primary election were pretty ticked off at the incumbents.

As I expected, the two candidates against whom the city filed suit came out on top in yesterday's election. The lawsuit was probably the most effective campaign tool for these candidates.

In past city council elections, those that came out on top in the primary election have almost always won the general election. I suspect it will be the same this time around, although, something unexpected could alter that outcome.

I doubt that the one incumbent that survived the primary election will have much hope of winning the general election. Given turnout in past elections, I doubt we will see more than 600 additional voters show up at the general election. Even if every last one of the additional ballots were cast for the lone incumbent, it is doubtful that she would win a seat.

The two council members that lost their bid last night are actually better off than the lone survivor. She now has to go through the motions of campaigning for nearly two months knowing that she will likely lose.

In January, the mayor and the city employees will be dealing with a very different city council than they have dealt with in the past. One of the sitting council members is already a strong supporter of limited government. The other guy does not seem to be the type to put up much opposition against a crew that is determined to reign in the city government.

If the mayor's seat had been on the ballot yesterday, the incumbent would have lost. Yesterday's vote was as much a referendum on his handling of his job as anything else. But much could happen over the next two years. It will be interesting to see if the mayor decides to run for re-election and what the public sentiment will be if he chooses to do so.

In the meantime, one thing is abundantly clear. A very vocal and involved group of concerned citizens isn't happy about being treated as if their concerns are of no importance. City officials need to take a different approach to dealing with these people.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

And Help You to to You Impart

Today in church one of the congregational hymns was Improve the Shining Moments. The lyrics of the final verse conclude with the phrase, "And God will love and bless you And help to you impart." Every time our congregation sings this song, many sing, "And help you to impart" rather than, "And help to you impart."

I suspect that the word "impart" is mainly to blame for the mix up. If you ask the average American youth what the word impart means, you will likely either get a blank stare or a guess that turns out to be incorrect. Many adults have some kind of foggy idea of the word's definition, but few are sufficiently familiar with its usage to know what they are singing regardless of whether they sing "you to" or "to you."

If you know what the word means, I guess that either way presents a good message. If you sing the hymn's actual lyrics, you are testifying that God will give those that rely on him help when they need it. If you switch the words and sing, "And help you to impart," you are testifying that those that rely on God will be helped to help others in their times of need. Either way, it's a good Christian message.

About a year and a half ago, I wrote a post about hymns. There are hymns that I dearly love, hymns that are OK with me, some that I prefer to sing rarely, and a few that I would prefer to completely avoid. I noted, for example, that there is a whole section of absolutely dreary hymns in the current LDS hymnal. Personally, I find no comfort or peace from these depressing odes.

One challenge with any words that get recorded is that the record stays in its original format while the language of the culture continues to evolve. Without anyone really designing or being in control of language, words and phrases come into being, develop new meanings, and drop from common usage on an ongoing basis.

We have all experienced generational differences in understanding of language. Our kids start throwing around terms or usages with which we are unfamiliar. A couple of years ago I heard a teenager say, "Man, that is sick!" From the tone of his voice I could tell that he was expressing approval. When my friends and I uttered the precise same phrase at that age, we meant that something was depraved or highly distasteful.

It happens the other way too. Older people use terms that the younger generation doesn't understand. They also user terms that are dated. Although the younger generation understands the term, they don't use it. Usually this means that the term will die out within a generation.

Nowhere is the example of time-framed linguistic alienation more clear than in scripture. The LDS Church uses the King James Version of the Bible. This version is noted for its beautiful prose and linguistic quality. It is felt by many that the KJV Bible preserves the original scripture in English better than other versions.

But the fact that the translation is more than 400 years old presents a difficulty for modern readers of the scripture. There are many cases where the phraseology differs so drastically from current language usage that it is very difficult to understand without special training. Some words have changed meaning so that some passages read by moderns can even appear to mean the exact opposite of their original intent.

A similar condition exists for hymn lyrics. As the language evolves, the phrases and words used in some hymns become unfamiliar to those singing the hymns nowadays. The problem can be compounded by the fact that hymn phrasing may vary from accepted sentence structure in order to achieve the lyrical qualities that make words work with music.

But hymns differ from scripture. While both hymns and scripture are meant for spiritual and moral edification, scripture is canonized while hymns are not (except for Psalms). Thus, it is far more acceptable to change the wording of hymns to meet currently common understanding than it is to alter scripture for the same reason. It is completely acceptable to write new hymns and stop using hymns, whereas, this isn't general the case with scripture.

Still, it isn't a simple thing for a church with thousands of congregations to switch hymnals. As I noted in last year's hymn post, the current LDS hymnal was published 26 years ago in 1985. The previous edition was published some 35 years earlier. It takes time and resources to change out millions of hymn books.

I opined to my son that it may not be many years before this will become a moot point. Given the rate of technological evolution, I can imagine a time not too distant when few new books are published in hard copy format. The ability to publish a new edition of a hymnal to thousands of meeting houses and millions of homes could be as simple as changing a file on a server.

Perhaps I'm too optimistic about the rate of technological adoption, if not about the rate of technological advance.

At any rate, I suspect that we're probably a decade away from a new edition of the LDS hymnal. I also suspect that when such a publication is released it will still include many hymns that I consider too archaic to be of much use. I'm also guessing that there will still be a smattering of numbers that are odd enough by modern standards that they end up never being seen or heard by the vast majority of church members.

Even when a new hymnal is released, I will continue to find solace, edification, and spiritual enlightenment through the hymns in the book. Sacred music will continue to speak to my soul in ways unmatched by other music.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

I Dropped My Total Cholesterol Nearly 300 mg By Diet Alone

Our medical system has morphed into a huge one-size-fits-all top-down system where frontline care providers are rewarded for pushing drugs.  Doctors are increasingly herded into large conglomerates where treatments are guided by orthodoxies developed by an oligarchy and where punishment is meted out for operating outside of ‘guidelines’ that have become inviolable rules.

Physicians are not permitted to think outside the box.  Is it any wonder that the alternative medicine industry in the U.S. continues to expand and flourish?  What this tells us is that many feel ill served by the mainstream medical system.

A year and a half ago, I decided that I needed to do something different with my diet.  Although I had eaten a challengingly healthy diet for years, I found my girth expanding.  I had added nearly three inches around my waistline in as many years.

After being introduced to the low-carb lifestyle by a family member, I decided to give it a try.  I described my efforts in four posts last summer (part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4).  I had read horror stories about low-carb diets, but I found that the plan described in these posts allowed me to cut visceral fat rapidly.  Not only that, after the first two weeks the plan was tasty and satisfying.  Frankly, I can’t say that about my previous healthy dietary approaches.

All went well for about a year until I went in for my annual checkup.  My cholesterol level had always been in the healthy range.  I expected that total cholesterol might have risen 20-30 mg, since I had read that low-carb diets can increase the size of the LDL particles (without actually increasing their number).  Large LDL particles don’t seem to cause much in the way of negative heart outcomes.  Small LDL particles do.

Imagine my surprise when my total cholesterol came back at a whopping 446, with LDL at 383!  My doctor couldn’t believe the results.  He said that he didn’t think it was humanly possible for total cholesterol to jump 300 mg in one year.  So he had me redo the test.  The result was the same.

While low-carb proponents suggest that a rise in blood serum cholesterol is not dangerous, none of them are talking about a 300 mg rise.  At most, they are talking about one-tenth of that.  I’ve done a fair amount of study on cholesterol.  By itself, it isn’t that strong of an indicator of imminent heart problems.  But I figured that an outlandishly high reading can’t be good and  I decided to do something about it.

I wasn’t about to go on cholesterol lowering drugs.  I figured that my cholesterol had gone through the roof via diet alone, so it stood to reason that it could be lowered through diet alone.  So I started doing some research.

Harkening back to the first paragraph in this post, I note that most frontline physicians don’t know squat about diet.  The oligarchy has fed them the official line about what is healthy and what isn’t.  They are required to promote that line.  But few of them really have much clue about health management via diet.

I think part of the reason for this is that it is extraordinarily difficult to isolate diet as a factor in medical outcomes.  A few very broad statements can somewhat safely be made, but diet simply isn’t a one-size-fits-all affair.  We respond genetically differently to the same thing and diet is deeply intertwined with psychological and emotional responses that vary by person.  The average low-carb dieter doesn’t experience a 300 mg increase in total cholesterol.  But that obviously matters little to me because I did.

After some research, I found several diet variants that promised to lower cholesterol with a high fat diet.  It would still be a low carb diet.  Most of the fat would come from olives, olive oil, and tree nuts such as almonds, walnuts, and pecans.  The nuts had to be mostly raw, although, some dry roasted nuts were acceptable.  Most of the carbs would come from the nuts too, but one could also eat green leafy vegetables in abundance.  Chicken breast, salmon, and tuna were among the staples as far as protein goes.

So I once again overhauled my diet.  I didn’t give up on eggs.  I usually had two boiled eggs daily.  But the diet was overall much less satisfying than my previous diet.  Basically, eating became somewhat of a utilitarian thing for me over the next two months.  Frankly, there were a few times that I skipped meals because I preferred hunger to eating what was on my diet plan.

After two months of very strict eating, my weight stayed about the same but I added about an inch in waist girth.  I was able to lift more weight in my regular weightlifting exercises in pretty much every muscle group, but I added no measurable bulk to my muscles.  Finally the day arrived to do the fasting lipid panel once again.  When the lab results came back, my total cholesterol was 164.  My HDL, LDL, VLDL, and triglycerides were all in the optimum range.

Most doctors will tell you that the results I achieved are simply not possible without drug supplementation.  Let me put this as succinctly as possible.  THEY ARE WRONG!  I have proven that one can drastically cut blood serum cholesterol in a relatively short period of time with diet alone.  But it comes at a cost.

Thus, I am still left wondering what to do about my diet.  I certainly don’t want to add any waist girth.  I was more slender when I was eating tastier but higher cholesterol foods.  I was also more psychologically and physically satisfied.  But I’m not about to return to a 400+ total cholesterol reading.

Maybe I am stuck with the unpleasant fact that Mark Twain was right when he quipped, “The only way to keep your health is to eat what you don't want, drink what you don't like, and do what you'd rather not.”

It’s stuff like this that makes the eternal world look increasingly appealing.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Moving a Parent Out of Their Home of 50 Years

Mom had difficulty sleeping the night after first meeting with the realtor. She had known for years that she needed to get out of her home due to ongoing yard and home maintenance issues that now exceed her capacities (and interests). But contemplating the sheer amount of work involved in the project coupled with the emotional impact of leaving her home of five decades left Mom feeling overwhelmed.

A couple of days later we began the process of boxing up stuff and moving furniture to a storage unit. The realtor had explained that selling a home in a declining real estate market requires some different strategies than selling in an appreciating market — which is roughly the kind of market we had for two decades straight before it crashed.

First, we were told to remove all wall hangings and any non-fixed items that give the home personality, including religious icons and family photos. Next we were to take all furniture out of the house that Mom could live without for 90 days. We could leave essentials along with a few pieces that went against walls without taking much floor space.

The concept behind these measures is that the average homebuyer in a declining market is seeking to move up from something smaller, perhaps an apartment. Taking things out of the home makes it look larger. Removing things that give the home personality allows prospective buyers to ‘paint themselves into a somewhat empty canvas.’

The third element was to price the home just right. Realtors got used to overpricing homes when the market was appreciating. If you didn’t sell a home right away, you’d sell it a few months later when the market caught up to the asking price.

In a declining market it becomes difficult to reach the going market rate if you price the property too high at the outset. The longer the home remains on the market, the greater the disparity between the asking price and the market value. As the home fails to sell, the owner often drops the price every couple of months without ever catching up to the market.

For this reason, the realtor explained that it’s best to sell a home rapidly when the market is declining. He had done his homework. He laid out his case for pricing the home. But he also explained that if they didn’t see serious buyer interest within 10 days, it was a clear sign that we were asking too much.

After the initial work party, we continued to make trips to the storage unit with additional boxes and items. So the home looked fairly open by the time the first customers came to look.

Mom had a serious offer seven days after the realtor’s sign went up in front of the home. The prospective buyer was pre-qualified for the loan. That meant that everything could go pretty quickly.

We had a couple of weeks to consider options. During that time, Mom looked at a series of homes. She had considered moving to a location that was more centrally located to her various children. She found a lovely home in that area. But after much thought, she felt that it would ultimately be best to live closer to the area with which she is already familiar.

We then looked at every home in the target area that had a chance of meeting Mom’s criteria. Alas, none of them was quite right for Mom. As the date for moving out neared, Mom decided to temporarily stay with a family friend so that she could look for a new home at a more relaxed pace.

We had the final moving out party scheduled for last Saturday. Unfortunately, Mom’s older sister passed away earlier that week and the funeral was scheduled for Saturday. So we moved stuff on Friday. Some family members took time off work for that event.

During the week, several friends and family members had spent days working at Mom’s house boxing things up. In the evenings after work, I would go over and haul the boxes to the storage unit. This made the final moving event a little easier, as we were mainly left with appliances and larger pieces of furniture.

As it happened, that Friday was one of the hottest days of the year. We worked like the dickens to move stuff to the storage unit. One of the big jobs was clearing out the shed. We had concentrated on getting stuff out of the house over the previous month, but we had left the outside shed until the last moment.

Still, within seven hours, the home was cleared out. Everyone relinquished their keys to the place. We placed the keys on the kitchen counter, locked the door for the last time, and left the home where I had grown up.

I had expected to feel some kind of separation anxiety myself as we drove away from the home. Oddly, that didn’t happen. I guess I had already gone through that during the process of moving Mom out over the space of a month. I felt only the relief of a hard task finally being finished.

Mom hasn’t gone looking for homes for the past week. She wanted to give that a rest for a while. She will get back to house hunting soon.

On the plus side, this is a buyer’s market. On the downside, the home that meets all of Mom’s criteria doesn’t exist in the real world. Nor could it be built, since some of Mom’s desires conflict with each other. Mom will have to compromise with herself before she can settle on a new residence.

Frankly, I do not look forward to moving Mom into a new place. I look at the stuff in the storage unit and think to myself that there is no rational reason that a single person of Mom’s age should have even a third of that stuff. But it will all have to be moved out and handled.

Some of the stuff (probably a lot more than should) will go to Mom’s new place. Some will be sold. Some will be given away. And some will be thrown out. That is going to be a big project. The emotional attachment to things will make it harder than necessary. But perhaps having lived without some of these things for a while will allow Mom to realize which items she really needs and which she can live without.