Thursday, August 23, 2007

Communities of the 21st Century

Cars, cars, cars. We love them, we drive them, we develop asthma from their exhaust, and we waste an unbelievable number of hours sitting in them. There is a better way, but it is going to take some work. The real problem is that we have built our communities in such a way that it is very difficult to get along without a car. We've created a vicious circle of need and demand, and now we must live with the daily commute to wherever we need to be. Stores, schools, and workplaces are all just too far to get to easily by walking. Modern roads are not friendly to bicyclers and public transportation just takes two long. Now American's are fatter then ever and consume more resources per capita than just about everybody in the world. American's pollute more than anybody, and we've been getting away with it simply because we are so spread out. What a sorry state of affairs.

Things are going to have to change, but how? Even though many environmentalist would like us too, Americans are not going to voluntarily slow down, let alone reverse, economic growth for the sake of environmental concerns. We want to have our cake and eat it too.

China, on the other hand, is discovering that if they build their economy the same way America has, they won't have enough good air to breath or water to drink. This difficult truth is starting to sink in. As a result, China is at the forefront of a new paradigm shift. They have chosen to invest in communities that will be "sustainable." It makes good sense to replace what you consume, but historically we haven't done a good job. We've always depended on the environment to clean our air, clean our water, rejuvenate the soil, provide animals that we can eat, and keep this world of our a nice place to live. Now there are so many of us that natural cycles can't keep up. This is something that we like to ignore, and we do a reasonable job of doing so in the US. China doesn't have the luxury.

China is investing in an experimental city called Dongtan. This metropolis will contain half a million people, and do so without tearing down the environment around it. People will live close together so they can share resources and access public transportation. Open spaces will be preserved and power will come from renewable sources. To learn more about this experiment, look here:

This dramatic effort for developing the ideal 21st Century City is not limited to China. Smaller communities with more modest goals tuned to American sensibilities are also in development. Daybreak Community near Salt Lake City, Utah, is another effort to make cities better. With store, homes, workplaces, and schools all within walking distance, this community hopes to drastically reduce the need for cars. Bike trails and sidewalks wander around homes, parks, and open spaces. Water and power are conserved through good engineering and design. You can read more about it right here:

These communities are not just about saving the environment, they are about recapturing what it means to be a community: where everyone knows their neighbors, and no one feels like a stranger. These communities are bound to have problems, but problems will be overcome and improvements made. I feel that these efforts will bear valuable fruit and future generations will live in communities that are more sustainable, friendly, and beautiful than anything we've ever dreamed of.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

What is the Good Life?

A few months ago I thought of an interesting analogy that concerns the challenges of our world. I, for one, have seen how people in newspapers, magazines, Hollywood, in the media in general try to deceive people into leaving the straight and narrow, under the illusion that doing so will lead to an "exciting and liberated lifestyle". Hopefully, this piece will help exemplify how wrong this concept really is:

You are starting on your way home from a vacation far away, and as you reach the highway, a handsome, well-dressed man standing next to an intersecting dirt road waves you to the side of the road. You stop, curious, and the man asks you where you are going "I'm heading home of course - about a hundred miles down the road", you reply. The handsome man's looks suprised. "Why on earth are you taking the road?" he replies, a hint of exasperation in his voice. "Why wouldn't I?" you ask, confused. The man's face becomes angry. "You're telling me you're going to let yourself be restricted to this thin strip of pavement for your entire drive home? Where is your independence, your sense of adventure? Strong people like you shouldn't be limited in such a way! You need to blaze your own path, be your own person, live life to the fullest!" For a moment you can't think straight, the handsome man's enticing words ringing through your head. "What about my kids?", you ask him. "They've got to be home tonight because they have school tomorrow." The man laughs. "You're not going to let them get in the way of this, are you? This is your moment. Take advantage of it, you kids will be fine.", the man cried persuasively. You look out at the bright hilly terrain, and then down at the new off-road tires you recently installed on your SUV. Suddenly, the horn of a large semi-truck honks behind you, snapping you out of your momentary stupor. "What was I thinking", you wonder to yourself. "You're nuts!" you cry suddenly, accidentally out loud. Hurriedly, you slam on the pedal as the handsome man's face contorts in fury, spinning your wheels as you return to the peaceful highway.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

The Deep Influence of Harry Potter

After I read the seventh and final book of Harry Potter, I, like a lot of you probably, was amazed. I loved it. Often I have talked with my brother about all the deep meanings and morals experienced and learned as we went through the saga. It moved me greatly, and it was hard to have the story end.

For this reason, I was very surprised and a bit offended to see an article in the Deseret News entitled, "Harry Potter is Missing a Real Moral Struggle". This statement couldn't be farther from the truth! I started thinking of the many moral lessons I had learned from the series, and the many moral struggles Harry had endured. I remembered the line Dumbledore said, about choosing between "what is right and what is easy". How many times did this statement exemplify Harry? How many readers found the temptation to give in during Umbrage's detentions almost too much to bear? How many, like Dumbledore, found the invitation of glory given by the Hallows overwhelming to decline? These were the temptations that Harry faced in every book. And Harry is our hero, because to the end, because of love, he did choose the right over the easy. And it was because of love that he won.

In addition to the choices of Harry, there are so many other conflicts in the series that also caused us to stop and think. If I were to look into the Mirror of Erised, what would I see? If I were to encounter a boggart, what would it turn into? A dementor, what memory would come to my mind? Do I have the will power to face such situations and succeed?

These are some of the thoughts that came to my mind, as I read that Deseret News article. There are more, which I wasn't sure I'd be able to write down. Luckily, I was forwarded a link to an amazing article by Orson Scott Card which says much of what I was thinking, and it made me happy to know I wasn't the only one!

So here I give you the link. Read, and enjoy!

Friday, August 3, 2007

Mystery Movie Review

Last night, I was bored, and so I went out into the lobby and turned on the TV. “Who knows?” was my line of thinking. “Maybe there’s something good on.” It was about 8:05 PM, and I was almost despairing that I would find something worthwhile to do that night.

Well, I was flipping through the channels when something on channel 11 (KBYU) caught my eye. It was a black and white movie which I had never seen before. It was about three veterans coming home from World War II, all from the same town. One is an ordinary seaman from the navy, one is a sergeant from the army, and the last is a captain from the air force. They have a long flight home together on a B-17, and get to know each other very well. The ordinary seaman is the most striking at this point, because you discover right off that he has no hands—just prosthetic hooks. However, you quickly learn that he is amazingly adept with those hooks: he can take a cigarette from his pocket, light a match, and light that same cigarette—just with those hooks. We also learn that this sailor has a girl waiting for him at home, and he’s worried. Meanwhile, the sergeant, we discover, has been married for twenty-some years, while the captain was married about a week before he left—three years ago. Each of these men has not seen their families for more than two and a half years.

At this point, I was just trying to figure out what was happening. I had absolutely no idea what was going to happen for the rest of the movie.

Since this was an old, black and white movie, I guess I was expecting it to be sentimental and so-forth, with perfect families welcoming home returning heroes and whatnot. How wrong was I.

First off, when the sailor (who’s name is Homer) gets home, things get off on a bad start immediately. His family joyfully welcomes him, but instead of acknowledging his hooks, they just try to ignore them as if he was still perfectly normal. They do this to try and help him, but it has the opposite effect, making him depressed and sullen.

Next, when the sergeant (named Al) gets home, we discover that he is a rich banker, with two grown children (well, the boy is about 17, the girl, Peggy, is probably 20). He has been gone for four full years, and so his family has changed a lot, and he feels awkward.

Last, the captain, the only officer of the three, named Fred, gets home and we discover that he comes from a poor family, while his wife, whom he married like a week before he left, has gone and gotten a job at a nightclub. He isn’t even able to find her for another day or two.

Basically, these three men come home and their lives stink royally. I was amazed. What sort of a movie was this? It was like… completely realistic! How could it ever end?

Well, it ended all right—three hours after it started. And remember, this was on PBS—there were no advertisements. Without nary a single bit of action, this movie had suspense so thick you could cut it with a knife. I cared so much about the three main characters, every little setback was a blow to my heart, while at every success, my heart soared. It was incredible.

What I also found to be extraordinary was how against-the-mold this movie was: in many movies, there is a lot of dramatic tension simply because characters won’t speak honestly with each other—if they would simply communicate properly, all their problems would be resolved. However, in this movie, the characters DO communicate with each other, and not about easy things to talk about either. And additionally, when Al and Fred have a dispute, they actually talk it over. And when Al asks Fred to do something (very difficult), Fred does it because he respects Al and does not want to lose his trust. IT’S AMAZING!!! This simply doesn’t happen in movies these days!! (Well, except in “Bridge to Terabithea,” but the things they communicate about in this movie are a lot more difficult to talk about—believe me) And additionally, the men hold themselves as men—with a responsibility to bridal their passions. And when Al gets drunk and a little overbearing, his wife takes it in stride, helps him home, and forgives him. It is amazing!!! This movie acknowledges that love isn’t the only thing that keeps a marriage together—it is commitment on both sides, with forgiveness and compromise!

This movie won the 1947 Oscar for Best Picture—over “It’s a Wonderful Life.” However, I’m not going to say it’s a better picture than Frank Capra’s masterpiece—it’s too different a movie, too difficult to compare. However, if I was Frank Capra, I would be honored to have my picture lose out to such a great movie—it’s better than most of the Best Picture winners over the year.

What’s the name of this movie? "The Best Years of Our Lives"!! Yes, it is three hours long, but it’s amazing! Really, get it and see it tonight if you can!