Monday, December 5, 2011

A few new things

I have a few new things to say today. First, have you checked out my other blog about Provo? I would truly love it if you did, and I post new stuff a lot.

Next, Melancholia was a really great film.

And finally, two annoyances: first, I have come to hate plot synopsis in movie reviews. Tell me if it's worth seeing. Raise some interesting questions. Point out the allusions and references. But don't waste my time on a plot that I'll either learn about soon enough, or won't ever care about.

Also, I was saddened today to learn that they are making an Indiana Jones 5. The first and third of those movies are fun, but the fourth was one of the most painful cinema experiences I can remember. Truly horrible. I guess the 5th movie literally can't be any worse, but still.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Billy Crystal

How is Billy Crystal hosting the Oscars? Sure, mostly old people watch the telecast, and sure, mostly old people think Billy Crystal is funny. But seriously! He hasn't done anything worth mentioning in recent memory. And, in fact, he hasn't done much worth mentioning ever. When Harry Met Sally is a bland, only mildly entertaining knockoff of every Woody Allen movie ever made. City Slickers is alright.

I'm not going to talk about relevancy. The Oscars don't seem concerned with remaining relevant to a new generation (despite last year's host experiment). But dredging up an old, burned out actor just seems so pointless.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

New Blog: (pro(vo)cation)

Lately, a lot of my posts have been about Provo. But sometimes, I just feel like posting something unrelated to the city in which I live (or even, something unrelated to anything at all).

As a result, I've decided to start a new blog: (pro(vo)cation). The new blog will only be about Provo. This blog, however, will now be where I post other things, including thoughts on culture, politics, media, or whatever else happens to cross my mind. Enjoy.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Why Keep Debating (Things Like the Provo Tabernacle)?

In the time since my last post and piece in the newspaper, I've had some great conversations with people both who disagree and agree with me. But one response that I've encountered repeatedly — and it's a response that really bugs me — is the one that seeks to end the conversation.

More specifically, I'm talking about people who say "whatever our feelings on the issue, the decision is made so let's move on and talk about other things." I've seen this response again and again with respect to the tabernacle/temple issue, and I've encountered it generally in discussions about a wide array of questions.

I have some basic and fundamental issues with this argument. Most basically, I enjoy debate and think it's healthy for the mind; people who can't rhetorically defend their positions should grow up and learn to assert themselves.

More generally, I also think that cutting off debate once authority figures make a decision sets a dangerous precedent. Leaders — political, religious, civic, etc. — sometimes make mistakes and confronting them with hard questions is an important check. Modern movements like the Tea Party and the Occupy Wall Street protests operate under this principle, as did most revolutionaries of the past.

But I have an even bigger problem with this argument when it comes to something like the Provo Tabernacle. To begin with, there was never a public debate about the building despite it's clear function as a public (if privately owned) resource. Even if the LDS church had a right to do with the building as they pleased, the public has the right to weigh the pros and cons of the final decision. (This was something I basically didn't see anyone do. Even if the outcome was a net gain for Provo, every decision has pros and cons. Yet as far as I'm aware, I was the only person who — in my small way — publicly expressed the possibility that turning the building into a temple would have negative repercussions as well as positive ones. I know other people had this opinion, but I didn't see it printed anywhere.)

I think it's also important to have a debate because that debate can influence future decisions. For example, years ago Provo demolished two iconic buildings — the Hotel Roberts and a local catholic church. Some people were outraged and publicly expressed that anger via debate, and I think in the time since the city has gradually become more sensitive to its historic structures.

In other words, debating past decisions influenced the future. I think that if the debate about those past buildings had been even more robust we might have had a more balanced discussion about the fate of the Provo Tabernacle, even if the outcome was the same.

In addition, one specific reason that a debate about the Tabernacle is important is because the church constantly is altering its historic structures, and may revamp the existing Provo Temple in the very near future. It is important that we, as a community, discuss now what we want to do with our architectural heritage in the future. Even if the decision about the Tabernacle is over, the decisions about the Provo temple are not. The church is unlikely to change the facade of the building if the community opposes it, for example, and the elected city officials obviously have a say in what gets approved. (I have heard from reliable sources that the church did, in fact, weigh people's reactions in its decision to turn the Tabernacle into a temple.)

In other words, if we want the LDS church to preserve history (or, I suppose, if we want the church to discard history, as I feel it often does), we need to debate that topic and formulate our opinions now. This principle holds true for most policy decisions that have public ramifications. No single event or decision is completely isolated, and an honest (and spirited) debate will only ever enrich our views, and our community.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Provo Tabernacle

Today (Wednesday) the paper ran this article, in which I argue that turning the Provo Tabernacle into an LDS temple is going to leave a (cultural or spiritual) gap in the city.

But because I want to alienate every last person I know, I thought I'd expand on that article here. Just kidding! Actually, I was limited to 325 words but I had a lot more to say.

In the time since the announcement that the destroyed Tabernacle would be converted to a temple, I've debated the pros and cons of the change numerous times with many different people. And I have to admit, I find the economic arguments in favor of a temple compelling. Many people have tried to convince me that having a temple will increase foot traffic and activity in downtown Provo, thereby bolstering business.

Downtown Provo is struggling, and I'm in favor of anything that boosts the area economically. If having an LDS temple in the area accomplishes that, I'm happy.

My only issue with this argument is that I haven't been able to come up with a single historical precedent to support it. Most LDS temples are in quiet residential areas. Those that are located in commercial areas (and a there are several) generally were built after those areas were thriving. In other words, in all the debates I've had no one has been able to think of a single instance where a temple revitalized a commercial area. Whatever goes into downtown Provo needs to be an engine for economic growth, and I'm unable to think of an example where that happened before.

But there is a first time for everything, and I'm hopeful.

At the same time, I'm still fairly saddened by the decision to change the Tabernacle into a temple. In my article in the paper, I point to post-war Europe as an example of rebuilding after tragedy. My point is that buildings don't have to be particularly old to be true to their historic nature. In other words, a historic building can be one that serves a historic function, or one that symbolizes a historic moment in a community, even if it isn't technically old any more.

I have to admit that my feelings are influenced by a growing resentment of the way I've seen historic structures treated in Utah and by my own church (LDS). In Provo, the beautiful Hotel Roberts was secretly demolished in the middle of the night. Not long after, St. Francis Church was torn down.

Similarly, the LDS Church is currently r̶u̶i̶n̶i̶n̶g̶ remodeling the Ogden Utah Temple, changing it from a relatively unique architectural gem to a bland, suburban, cookie cutter building. There are pervasive and reliable rumors that Provo's temple is next on the chopping block. (And don't get me started on the travesty that is BYU's architecture.)

The point is that there seems to be precious little regard for history in this state and church. As I mention in the newspaper, the church would certainly not have scraped the idea of a tabernacle if the one in Salt Lake had burned. But in Provo, the wishes of the church — which could have been satisfied in any number of other ways, such as building another temple and keeping the tabernacle — were put above the needs of the community.

And I'd argue that the community really does need a tabernacle. To compare Provo to Salt Lake again, imagine if the only buildings on Temple Square were closed to the public. Imagine if there were two temples, or the current tabernacle just let in Mormons. How much of a draw would Temple Square be? Certainly less of one than it currently is.

The point is that a community benefits from a gathering place, especially one that is tied to the community's history but open to everyone. Americans love to visit European cities for precisely that reason. Interestingly, urban planning has increasingly validated the ideas put into place by Utah's early settlers: a logical street grid, trees, walkability, etc. (Visit The Atlantic Cities to generally read more about these ideas).

The Tabernacle was part of that vision. It was a centrally located gathering point, and it encapsulated the values on which the community was built. And as it gets brushed aside for something new, I can't help but wonder if the cohesion, vibrancy, and diversity of the community will go with it.

Friday, October 14, 2011


This is not a Provo-related post, per se, but nonetheless something that has recently interested me. I've been thinking about the word "trendy." For me, this word has a wholly negative connotation. When I think of things that are trendy, I think of things that are passe, out of style, and boring. When I think of people being trendy, I think of shallowness, caprice, and a lack of creativity. Basically, trendy signifies (to me) being on the tail end of a trend at best, and getting caught up in a vapid, flavor of the week at worst.

But I get the sense that not everyone shares my impression of this word, which genuinely surprised me when I realized it. I began to realize this when I was covering a brutal rape case for the newspaper. After raping a woman, a guy held up a children's clothing store called "Trendy Tots" (or something like that). Though it was beyond the scope of what I wrote about the case, I was always perplexed by that store name; why did they basically call their store "Out of Date Clothes"?

But Laura was just telling me that for her mom, trendy doesn't have a negative connotation (or, at least, didn't). So what is going on? Is this just a generational thing? A regional thing? Are you reading this, thinking I've completely gotten it wrong?

(After reading through what I just wrote, I realize that my underlying assumption is that once something is "trendy" I wouldn't want to wear/use/subscribe/etc. to it. Or, trendy means something is over. Is that a common impression?)

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Provo Post 8: Things I Like

This past weekend Provo learned some big news: the burned-out tabernacle will become an LDS temple. I have conflicted feelings about this, and I'm not especially pleased (though I have found some arguments that its a good thing persuasive). But I'm going to wait to share my thoughts on that until later.

For now, I basically wanted to list off stuff in Provo that is good.

The (newly commercial) airport
Muse Music
Mayor John Curtis. Though I've only talked to him a couple of times, the progress Provo has experienced since he took office has been amazing. Also, he's focus on information is refreshing. He comes off as the polar opposite of Provo's previous mayor.
The weather
The trees
The Provo River Trial
Historic Downtown
NuSkin (sure, there's a lot to dislike about NuSkin — and I don't know anyone my age who likes them — but it's unlikely Provo's downtown would have ever been turned around without them. I have never participated, purchased or collaborated with NuSkin. However, my interactions with the company have been marked by uncommon and unfailing grace on their part.)
Sensuous Sandwich
The Freedom Festival
Gallery Stroll (when it happens, which is not enough)

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Provo Post 7: Biking to the Airport

Last week Laura and I flew to New York. We had flight vouchers on American Airlines, but decided to use Provo's newly commercial airport to fly to Denver (on Frontier Airlines), and then fly from there to New York. Because we live in downtown Provo, we decided to bike to the airport. According to Google Maps, the airport is 4.4 miles from our house, and the ride should take 25 minutes.

Our ride to the airport was generally pleasant, with relatively cool morning air and not much traffic. The only hairy part was going over the Center Street bridge. There's no bike lane on the bridge and the ground is littered with small rocks and rubble, so it felt a little dangerous to be riding a bike. Laura has a mountain bike and was able to ride on the (mostly destroyed) sidewalk, but that seemed way too rough for my road tires.

However, there wasn't much traffic and once we passed the freeway there is a bike lane.

When we got to the airport we locked our bikes to the metal fence. Laura and I were fairly nervous that our bikes would be impounded or otherwise removed, but we had been told the night before by the city spokeswoman that using the fence should be alright. When we got into the airport we were greeted by two men (sort of like Walmart greeters, but at the airport), one of whom told us that using the fence should be fine.

A week later, we returned and to our great relief discovered that our bikes were still chained to the fence. Because we were siting in the front of the plane and the airport is so small, we were literally riding home before all of our fellow passengers had deplaned.

Riding home, however, was a significantly more harrowing experience than getting to the airport. The first problem was that the road immediately outside the airport has no street lights. It's also a fairly rural road, so it's not even lit by surrounding buildings. The result was that we basically were riding blind. Cars passed us fairly constantly, offering brief light and then lingering blindness. Because we had been traveling, we also weren't wearing especially reflective gear or clothing.

Luckily we made it to Center Street without getting hit, run over, or falling in a pot hole. We used the bike lane again and experienced another pleasant ride until we got to the bridge. At that point, we again had to go over, but this time in the dark and with more traffic. We didn't get hit, but I wouldn't recommend riding over that bridge in the dark. Oddly, there is no real road that goes under the bridge that I know of, but I think it would be possible to get off and carry a bike beneath the bridge. It's slower (and maybe the area under the bridge is a bit shady?) but I'd recommend that option over riding.

Once we got over the bridge (and through the related construction) we got back in the Center Street bike lane. It was a pleasant ride the rest of the way to our home.


Riding a bike to the Provo airport was great. It had all the advantages that the Provo airport promises — close proximity to my and other homes, ultra easy security, no crowds, etc. — with the added benefits of bike riding — exercise, lower carbon footprint, being closer to the outdoors, etc. The ride was relatively short, flat, easy, and laid back. Even a child could easily do most of the ride.

However, as far as I know, there is no real way to get around the more dangerous areas. The Provo River Trail is pleasant and would circumvent the bridge, but is out of the way for anyone south of 800 North, and would surely take much longer for anyone. Also, at night I probably wouldn't feel safe riding for miles on the trail.

I assume the bridge issue will be solved when all the construction is finished (assuming a bike lane goes in on that part of the road), but the lighting at night also was a serious problem. I imagine the city or airport has plans to improve that road, but additional lighting seems like it would benefit everyone, so I hope it's a top priority.

A bike rack at the airport also would be nice. I don't know of many airports that are as close to city centers and residential areas as Provo's. A bike rack could serve both travelers, as well as airport workers and aviation students. Plus, once the rack is installed I think it would serve as its own advertisement, suggesting the possibility of cycling to travelers and workers who may not have previously considered it.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Provo Post 6: A Tale of Another City

Contemplating future prosperity in Provo, I've been surprised at how strongly schools keep standing out as the missing piece of the puzzle. Though I wouldn't be opposed to Provo becoming a hip urban center filled with child-less twenty- and thirty-somethings, long term economic development certainly hinges on families making the city their home. Moreover, I've heard many permanent residents in Provo express a desire to draw more families to the area (specifically who will buy homes).

But here's some not-even-close-to-breaking news: Provo schools are terrible. I've pointed this out in past posts, and mentioned how that fact drives people to other parts of the state (or, also, to other states). Still, however, there is little or no discussion about the connections between economic growth/prosperity and good schools. So, let me tell a story about Glendora, where I grew up.

Glendora is a relatively upscale suburb of L.A. The population was somewhere in the neighborhood of 50,000 when I lived there and I don't think it has changed dramatically since. Also, it's a (grueling, miserable) hour drive from downtown L.A. and has no significant industry to speak of.

Anyway, when I was in high school, Glendora voted on a school bond. As a high school student I wasn't deeply immersed in local politics, but I know that the bond basically required property owners to pay higher taxes, which would then go to the schools.

The bond was fairly controversial because Glendora isn't just comparatively rich, it's also kind of old. The city is and was home to many empty nesters and otherwise elderly people, many of whom were outraged that they would have to pay for the education of another generation of kids.

But still, the bond passed.

As I understand it, Glendora's schools have had their ups and downs over the years, but throughout it all they have remained highly ranked. Again, remember that there is no industry, higher education, etc. in Glendora that compels people to live there. In a sea of similar suburbs, Glendora's biggest selling point is its schools. That's the main reason my family moved there when I was very young, and it was the reason lots of families did the same. I also don't think it is unreasonable to say that if Glendora's schools suddenly declined in quality the city would gradually shrink and become a ghetto, like many other Southern California suburbs.

The point here is that Glendora used taxation to better the city. I think that is an important point that people in Provo could learn. Sure, we all hate paying taxes and having less money. I know I do. But any family that has a choice will not move to an area with bad schools. Similarly, people will not move to places with dilapidated downtowns, bad roads, crumbling community centers, a lack of culture, etc. If these things do not exist, the city can create them. Provo did this with the upcoming recreation center. But whatever money is going to the schools is still not enough.

If there is any doubt the wisdom of this, I would again cite Glendora. While I know that contrasting it with Provo may be like comparing apples to oranges, many of the things Provo wants Glendora already has. Despite much steeper competition, stores in downtown Glendora are doing better than those in downtown Provo. The entire area doesn't feel run down and slummy. The houses are well-kept. The people more prosperous. (While eating at a charming sidewalk cafe in Glendora this last weekend I was surprised at how much more foot traffic the area had, compared to Provo, and how the cars parked along the street were clearly those of established residents as opposed to beater college student vehicles, like the ones I see in Provo. Provo doesn't need fewer college students, it needs more people willing like Glendora's who are willing to invest in the community and consume it's products.) In essence, Glendora invested heavily in one area, and is reaping the rewards of having attracted a desirable population in all areas.

I don't want Provo to become like Glendora. I don't want to live in Glendora (not by a long shot). But like so many communities in the U.S., Glendora offers an example of (a staunchly conservative) community pooling together, sacrificing, and working hard for the greater good. Until people in Provo do the same, our city will always lag behind.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Provo Post 5: Young People in Provo

I've considered giving up on this series, because I've been getting discouraged by Provo in the last couple of weeks. Frankly, the petty political bickering and short-sightedness in the city sickens me. I fell in love with Provo as a student and recent grad, and now living in Provo as a permanent resident I'm beginning to fall deeply out of love with it.

Nevertheless, I press on:

How can Provo get more young people — especially educated young people who are starting families — to settle in the city? These people are a key to economic growth ‚ or even just stability, and yet few of them stick around. Having lived in Provo for a number of years, I've watched wave after wave of my friends move away. Even people from Utah have typically left. That bodes very badly for the city.

On a related note, Wikipedia projects only 7% growth in the city between 2000 and 2010. Though the population has increased, that is the smallest augmentation Provo has seen since 1880.

These are serious problems for the city. If Provo doesn't have sufficient growth, it'll become an even more polarized community filled exclusively with college students and the old people who hate college students. And nobody wants to live in a place like that. (Though, judging by the attitudes I see some people express online about Provo, it seems like that is what they want.) So here are a few issues that plague Provo:

Jobs: The biggest reason people leave, in my experience, is the job market. I was literally about to leave myself, because I couldn't find a job, before I was hired at the Daily Herald. Sadly, Provo has few jobs, and many of those aren't the kind that ambitious and excited new college graduates are looking for. Provo needs to create more jobs, especially those requiring highly skilled workers. And the so-called "free market" isn't going to do this on it's own. Instead, Provo needs to actively create an environment that provides economic incentives to young people and the kinds of places that employ them. Yes, this is easier said than done, but I haven't seen or heard any public discussion about how this can happen.

Schools: I have a lot of respect for Provo's schools because everyone I've ever met who attended them was a great person. Unfortunately, Provo's schools look terrible on paper. Utah gets some of the worst rankings in the country when it comes to public education, and Provo doesn't do great even compared to other districts throughout the state. As evidence of this fact, I cite the existence of the entire Highland-Alpine-Cedar Hills area. Several years ago my family moved from California to Cedar Hills. My dad got a job in Provo, but they chose to live in Cedar Hills in large part because of the school district. Huge swaths of those cities are filled with people who have similar stories. I don't have kids and this issue isn't a big deal to me personally, but the economic success of Provo hinges on improving it's schools, which are a huge deal for anyone considering (re-)locating themselves, their family, or their business in Utah.

Social Environment: Who hasn't heard someone slamming Provo? "Provo is lame," people say. "Provo has nothing to do," they complain. (Ironically, many people coming to Provo hail from vapid suburbs where there is significantly less to do, but that is a topic for another post.) Whether these allegations are true or not, Provo definitely suffers from an image problem. It's one of a clean but boring city, where there is little (political, ethnic, social, etc.) diversity. I would argue that there is a surprising amount of diversity in Provo (being a crime reporter has made that apparent to me), but Provo needs to work on its branding and image.

I think Provo's image problem is epitomized by the dilapidated downtown, which why I've been so excited by Mayor Curtis's interest in revitalization. Maybe some of Provo's more libertarian-leaning residents want to sit at home all the time, clutching their guns and hording food for the apocalypse, but I believe that young adults (not only college students, but potential permanent residents as well) want exciting public spaces and community engagement. They want a city they can show off — for its visuals, it's cultural offerings, it's economic opportunities — to their family and friends. In other words, one way to lure new people to become contributing members of the community is to create a community that is vibrant, interactive, and appealing. Don't hope for new people who will bring a community with them, build a community that people want to join.

Which brings me back to my first paragraph. I came to love Provo for a lot of reasons. I like the weather (seasons! but more temperate than many places). I like the old buildings. I love living in the midst of a student community. I was inspired by businesses — Velour, Muse Music, Communal, Lady Danburry, The Covey Center, etc. — that are run by passionate people who have chosen to locate in the city, sometimes against long odds. Without these places I, and others like me, would not have decided to live here for any amount of time. If they stopped existing, I would (or will) leave.

I'm similarly excited about upcoming projects. The rec center, the opt-out recycling program and the bike plans are the types of things that will attract people to Provo.

The ultimate point here, I think, is that Provo needs to invest in it's future if it wants to attract young people. That doesn't mean some sort of abstract, spiritual investment with all our hearts and minds (though that is nice, too). Rather, it means a real, physical, monetary investment on the part of those already in the community.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Provo Post 4: Can We Be a Winning Team?

Question: Why do some sports teams win year after year?
Answer: Obviously, because they have the resources to hire and train the best players.

While writing my last post, I happened on a distinction that I hope is a major theme in this series: exhorting verses incentivizing. Think about it. When a pro sports team like the Lakers or the Yankees wants a major player, they don't just harp on how great the team is. Instead, they prove to the player that there is a direct personal benefit to be won by coming to the new team. Usually that benefit is a fat paycheck.

The lesson, I think, is that if Provo is not (yet) as successful, exciting, hip, or whatever as we want it to be, the incentives aren't (yet) sweet enough.

Provo is definitely getting better at attracting talent. New businesses are opening, the airport has gone commercial, old businesses are expanding, etc., etc. If Provo wasn't showing a lot of promise right now I don't think I would have been inspired to blog about the city.

But Provo needs to do a better job. Do we want to be the Los Angeles Lakers, or the Sacramento Kings? Daily I look at the handful of decent business on State Street in Orem and wonder why they would choose to be in the midst of sleazy payday loan centers and (what look like) meth labs, when they could be in Provo. Before my current job, I worked at a successful, very cool technology company. The only downside was it's location, in an ugly building on an ugly street in American Fork. Similarly Adobe is opening up a new facility, near Point of the Mountain. Why there? (Proximity to the prison? All new Adobe employees will hang-glide to work?)

Obviously reasons behind location choices are diverse and complex, but each time a business chooses to locate elsewhere it's a loss for Provo. To counter this, Provo should actively court and lobby businesses from both in and out of the state, enticing and incentivizing them to come to Provo. (Perhaps something like this already exists? Maybe some sort of lobbying committee organized or run by the city government? I hope so, but I haven't heard about it. Also, the gains of such an effort should far outweigh the costs.)

Of course, enticing strong businesses to come to the city is fairly obvious. Who doesn't want that? But equally important is getting residents to embrace those businesses, as well as the incentives offered to them. That could include land deals, fee or license waivers, rent control, or any number of actions the city could take to make Provo more economically and culturally attractive. "Whatever it takes" could be the slogan. Some of these actions may not be initially popular, but they will have long-term benefits.

I was reminded of the importance residents embracing incentivizing Saturday night, when I was at the grocery store around 11:50 p.m. As I poked around for cheeses, an employee got on the PA and announced that alcohol sales would stop at midnight. I don't drink and had forgotten that such a policy exists in Provo, but as soon as I heard the announcement I realized it was a perfect example of a law that hamstrings Provo's development. On top of Utah's generally byzantine liquor laws (which are widely seen in the hospitality industry as economically damaging), Provo has additional rules that not only reduce local stores' sales tax, but generally make life a pain for anyone who isn't an orthodox Mormon.

The point is that if Provo residents want to become more prosperous, have more cultural offerings, and enjoy a higher standard of living (which I believe they do), we need to make the city more inviting to diverse people with diverse values. Related to alcohol sales on Sunday, that survey the city recently conducted returned several comments about getting rid of the bars and smoke shops in downtown. Fair enough, I guess, but those are apparently successful businesses. They generate sales tax revenue. They bring people into the city who might not otherwise come. They make it more diverse and ensure that downtown isn't completely empty.

Whether or not new businesses coming to Provo have anything to do with alcohol or other things local Mormons avoid, the point is that prosperity hinges on diversity. Returning to the sports analogy, when a team courts a star player they don't worry much about the player's background, tattoos, or even scandals. They worry about what that player can do on the court or field. Having strange policies (or even a subtle cultural leaning) that demonized some backgrounds, body art, or scandals would doom a team because the best players couldn't join.

Likewise, the city must make itself appealing to more than the usual crowd. Residents have to realize that the presence of people with different values — who dress and look differently, who patronize different kinds of entertainment, who consume different foods and drinks — is actually beneficial to them for so many reasons.

In other words, incentivizing means compromising, both of which produce prosperity.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Provo Post 3: Bookstores, Art Galleries and Other Unsustainable Ideas

Here's the short version of this post: As much as we'd all like downtown Provo to be filled with cool art galleries, bistros, cafes, bookstores and other stuff (that's definitely what I want, at least), I believe it's currently premature to focus much energy on cultivating new establishments in that vein. Downtown probably has as many (or more, maybe) of these types of businesses as it can sustain.

Here's the longer version:

My desire to blog about Provo was kicked started by a recent survey the city conducted. As most people in Provo (should) know, the city is trying to revitalize the downtown area, and the survey focused on what people want. Here's a quote from the comments section:

"New small biz retail, unique eats, urban living space, cafe's and bookstores,
cultural events and artspace, independent film house and sundance film festival venue"

And another:

"I would love to see a chain restaurant where Los Hermanos was evicted from
(like Olive Garden) and a good bookstore such as Barnes and Noble or Borders. "

I pulled these two comments because the both mention bookstores, which was a recurring theme in the survey.

First off, I find these comments ironic because until very recently, downtown Provo had two bookstores. Also, a new bookstore just barely opened up on Center Street. But aside from betraying a lack of familiarity with downtown Provo (why are you taking the survey if you don't even know what stores are there?), the comments reveal that a lot of people want downtown to be an exiting, cosmopolitan, urbane place. In addition to the comments about bookstores, I've heard/read people frequently express a desire to have more art galleries, cool restaurants/cafes, unique retailers, and other fun businesses.

I count myself among those who would like to see Provo filled with that kind of business. But after living in Provo for eight continuous years, I have become convinced that a downtown filled with these kinds of businesses is currently unsustainable. Why? Well, most obviously, because they keep opening, and almost as fast they keep closing.

But beside that, downtown Provo already seems to have reached it's saturation point with regard to cool businesses. There are a bunch of restaurants. A couple of (or three) great music venues. Two bars. Every once in a while a new consumer business will open (Gloria's Little Italy, for example) but surprisingly often these new businesses are merely filling a niche that was only recently vacated. (Ottavio's closed shortly before Gloria's opened, for example. Similarly, a new night club is planned for downtown, which will fill the niche recently vacated by the closure of Atchafalaya.)

Relatedly, there seems to be little or no market for some kinds of businesses. Bookstores are cool and I'd love to sit around sipping fancy drinks and reading newspapers in them, but the reality is that they're going the way of the dinosaur. Even big box chains are not immune to this. The reality is that not a lot of people buy books, and those who do increasingly use the internet to get them.

"Small biz", to quote from the survey comment above, has a similar problem. There have been — and still are to a lesser extent — very unique retailers in downtown Provo. For example, I occasionally purchased clothing from Coal Umbrella and Mode Boutique. So did a lot of people. But it wasn't enough to keep these places in business. Things like art galleries seem to have even more trouble. Every time a new one opens up I get really excited, and every time one closes I get a depressed. Can't we just all choose to patronize awesome places, and then Provo will finally be really cool?

Unfortunately, no. A few committed people just don't have the money, time and resources to do that. Wanting people to patronize cool businesses is not enough. I, my friends, and people like me can't afford to constantly buy things at galleries, eat at nice restaurants, etc. Also, telling people to patronize cool businesses is not enough. I remember casually overhearing someone at the old Sego Gallery complain that people just weren't supportive enough of the arts. I agree, but complaining about it won't change that fact. Behavior is rarely changed by exhorting — it's changed by incentivizing.

Ultimately, I think this is a good illustration of what I was talking about in my last post: population density. I think the ulimate thing we need in downtown Provo are more consumers. Sure, broad cultural changes can and should take place. People in Provo should become more supportive of independent businesses, local artisans, and the arts generally. But those changes will take time and will likely not come soon enough to adequately sustain what we currently have, or inspire new ideas.

So, while I laud individual efforts to start new businesses in downtown Provo, as I think about the larger efforts I believe we (individuals, entrepreneurs, the city, etc.) ought to focus on increasing demand for a revitalized downtown, not on increasing the supply of things in downtown. After all, supply without demand in downtown Provo (e.g. real estate and commercial space) is what gave us the relative ghost town we have today.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Provo Post 2: Downtown population and an underlying assumption

Not long ago I was involved in a discussion about rail service linking Provo to Salt Lake City. I'm excited for it, but during the discussion a couple of people mentioned how they had discussed the issue with economics professors who believe that it is an economically unjustified project. Their reasoning was essentially that population density is too low in Provo (and Utah County) for the rail service to be worth the cost. Basically, they think not enough people will ride it, because there simply aren't enough people. (They contrasted Utah with the East Coast and Europe.)

Economics isn't the only lens through which to view the world, of course, and there are other reasons to build rail lines. Also, I'm no economist and I was hearing all this in a debate (while arguing against it, actually).

But I find it persuasive and, more importantly, a useful way to think about many of the problems plaguing downtown Provo. Think about it: if population density in Provo was comparable to, say, Boston, there would be more potential consumers in a very small area. If it was comparable to Paris, all the better.

Obviously higher population density comes with its own challenges, but it seems like one of the primary reasons downtown Provo struggles is that there simply aren't enough people to sustain a lot of consumer-oriented businesses. To make matters (economically) worse, the conservative, LDS culture of Provo hardly encourages residents to living in downtown to lead extravagant, spendy lifestyles.

As a result, the population is flung out in a way that divides consumers. Some people go to the Riverwoods. Some to the malls. Some to American Fork. And none of these areas truly become community gather places, and none really thrive.

This problem is compounded in downtown Provo because it is not, in fact, centrally located. Even commuting consumers are only marginally likely to visit it. Though it is the biggest urban center in Utah Valley, it is actually several miles south of the more affluent communities — Highland, Alpine, Cedar Hills, etc. — that could actually patronize downtown business. I have no love of these communities, but they generally have more disposable income than communities in south Utah County. And unfortunately it's often easier for north county residents to go to American Fork, Thanksgiving Point, etc.

All this is to say one thing: among all the solutions to solve downtown Provo's problems, gradually increasing population density around the area is the most obvious to me. The logistics of doing that are beyond the scope of this post, but as I discuss Provo, the need for higher density population will be a major underlying assumption. Some posts will try to justify that assumption. Others will simply take it for granted that Provo cannot have a vibrant, urban center smack in the middle of a sleepy, suburban-style community.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Provo Post 1: Introduction

I've lived in Provo almost continuously since 2003. (Traveling abroad has taken me out of the city on a couple of occasions for months at a time.) For most of my time in Provo I have lived in the historic Joaquin neighborhood. I also lived in Provo for a year from 2000 to 2001, and I was born in Provo in the early 80s. For what it's worth (not much to some, more to others) I'm also a descendant of the prominent families that founded and built the city up.

I've decided to write a few blog posts on Provo, which because of my background is both my native and adoptive home. It is not my favorite city on earth, but it is my favorite city among those in which I have been a long term resident. I also believe that despite what many people say, it is not "lame" or boring, and that it is definitely getting better and better.

I want to write these posts because Provo seems to be approaching a unique and exciting moment. It frequently ranks as a good place to live, a city with promising economic prospects, and a place that is projected to grow dramatically in coming years. On the other hand, there obviously are a lot of competing visions about what Provo should be. The neighborhood where I just bought a house (and where I had been living for years) has been roiled by controversy over a recent change in paving laws. Provo's downtown is pathetic (but improving). Many aspects of the youth culture — including successful businesses— are seemingly marginalized, or worse, but government and older residents. As someone who is choosing to live in Provo, I have strong opinions about all of these issues, and others.

For my part, I’ve lived in the city as an undergrad, a grad student, a working professional, a home owner, a musician, a filmmaker, and a bunch of other things. I recently bought an old home on a tree-lined street. I was attracted to the city by the music scene, the (unfortunately ebbing and flowing) arts scene, the bike-ability, the climate, and other things. So there's a brief introduction for anyone (or no one?) who cares.

Public Radio

I hate it when I'm driving around and I change the radio channel from KRCL to KUER (because, after all, those are the only two radio stations worth listening to in Utah) and KUER is super quiet. So often the volume is way lower than other stations, and to make matters worse half the time the program that's airing is taking a call from someone on a phone. So garbled cell phone noise and quiet volume. It makes it so hard to hear/understand anything. (I realize this post makes me sound like an old man.)

Thursday, June 23, 2011

"Friends Events"

I've become terrible at checking Facebook events, but I recently noticed a feature (on the right side of the screen) called "Friends Events."

Why does the feature exist? Is it so I see all the cool things everyone else is up to, that I won't be attending? Is it so I can see how my friends in other cities are leading exciting, cosmopolitan lives? Is it so I can sit at home crying on the weekends, knowing that the cool kids didn't invite me to their hip shindigs?

I do not know. But I have to say, I'm not in love with this feature.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Becoming Immune to Mosquitos

I have so many mosquito bites that last night I literally could not sleep. Many are from going down to the lake a couple of nights ago, but many others are simply from being outside in the evening around my home.

But I’m comforted by the (little-known) fact that the more bites one suffers, the more immune to bites that person becomes. I first learned this last year, when Laura and I went into the Amazon rainforest without any sort of immunizations. While reading about how all sorts of diseases could kill us, I also read that locals don’t get bites because after a lifetime in a particular place they’re immune (though my understanding is that they wouldn’t necessarily be immune to mosquito-transmitted diseases.)

Anyway, Laura and I didn’t die in the Amazon — though my leg did swell up quite a bit from a bit — but after we returned I read more about becoming immune to bites. Apparently the more a particular species bites you, the less you get irritated by the bites. Many of the articles on this phenomenon start out by trying to explain the fact that most people suffer far more bites when they go on trips than when they’re at home. Some people simply think that that happens because there are more mosquitos where they travel too (which could also be true), but the biggest factor is that the mosquitos in that new location are really just a different species.

The downside to this is that I recently read that there are more than 9,000 species of mosquito in the world, and that many different ones can exist in the same place. (Judging by the way my body differently reacts to mosquitoes at my house and at the nearby lake, I’d bet that they are slightly different species.)

But in any case, while I sit here trying to resist scratching the many bites I have, I’m also looking forward to the day when I have become immune to local mosquitos.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Provo in Businessweek

Businessweek recently ran a story about Mormons and business. It’s fairly interesting, but on the fifth page it describes Provo as

“a city of roughly 100,000, laid out on a grid of colossal six-lane streets built up into a maze of housing developments, hotels, and fast-food chains.”

I think the tone of the sentence is (meant to be) vaguely insulting, and at very least it’s meant to contrast the city to others that have successful business schools. But I also think its really kind of interesting. It makes Provo seem so much bigger, and wilder, than I typically perceive it to be.

Clearly, whoever wrote the sentence has never been to Provo. After all, I can’t think of any six lane streets, and I wouldn’t describe it as a maze (when I think of maze-like cities I think of alley-filled places in Europe or South America).

But in any case and despite it’s intentions, I don’t think it’s a wholly unflattering description.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Laundry Chute

I just used the laundry chute at my house. Yes, you read that correctly. The laundry chute. At my house. As in, a classy and discrete hole that drops dirty clothing from one floor to another.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Provo Bakery

Today I felt like a traitor. I needed to get some sort of treat to bring to work, and I got raspberry rolls from Shirley's Bakery. After living next to the Provo Bakery (which bizarrely has no website) for months, going to Shirley's seemed like a betrayal. I've eaten and loved so many things from the Provo Bakery. I've sung it's praises to so many people.

But the honestly, the Provo Bakery needs to step up its game. A lot. First, get a website. Second, I keep getting dried out things from them. The more bakeries I go to, the more disappointing the Provo Bakery is becoming. And that's terrible. I say this not to be mean, or as a disgruntled customer. I still love the Provo Bakery. Rather, I'm trying to offer constructive criticism. I feel like I can never go wrong with the orange rolls or the Mexican wedding cakes. But the cookies? The bread? I feel like I can almost never go right with the donuts. Please, improve. I love you.

So, today, I needed something good, and I needed to know it would be good. I've brought all the good things from the Provo Bakery to work, and so I turned to Shirley's. And you know what, it was delicious.

Thursday, June 9, 2011


Often, I microwave things for 11 seconds, or 22 seconds, or 33 seconds, or so on. I think it's because it's easier to press 1 twice, than press both a 1 and a 0. Lazy, perhaps. But over the course of my lifetime all those saved milliseconds will add up.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Mormons and Evangelicals

I just read this post, by LDS church spokesperson and Washington Post blogger Michael Otterson. Though I think Otterson is overly idealistic/unrealistic about how politically neutral and diverse the church is, I really loved the tone and attitude of the piece. Finally, a Mormon officially pointing out how idiotic people are. Finally, something that is aggressive, combative. Usually you only see that sort of attitude when Mormon leaders are criticizing "the world" and it's moral decline. The only thing that could have been better is a(n unedited) post simply saying "F*** You, moronic evangelical bloggers."

Movies I have watched “lately”

Below are the movies I’ve watched in the last little while. My favorites were probably Monsters, Elegy, and Insomnia, though I’d recommend all of them.

Mary and Max
Union Station
Paper Heart
Inside Job

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Pioneer Day

I just discovered that Pioneer Day is a paid holiday at my work. To say that I am happy would be an understatement.

Saturday, May 28, 2011


Today, while I was chopping down a tree, a woman walked by in the street, pulling a cooler in a wagon.
"Tamale?" she said, pointing to the cooler.
I considered, then gestured with my fingers to wait a second. I ran inside and found a couple of dollars, then ran back out.
"Cheekin?" she asked (that's my best attempt at phonetic spelling). I nodded yes. Then added "Si!" for good measure.
She rummaged through her cooler and found a couple of chicken tamales. After a second she found them, put them in a brown lunch bag, and handed them to me. Then she more or less said "Tienes Agua para tomar?" (That's my best attempt at using my Portuguese to understand, and write, her Spanish). Luckily, she also made a drinking motion with her hands.
I ran inside and got her a glass of water. When I came back out, a guy had pulled up in a truck and was buying something like 20 tamales. He told me he had purchased them from the woman before and that they were great. Before he left, he wished the woman a good weekend in what I'd describe as "Mormon mission president Spanish," i.e. heavily accented but grammatically correct Spanish.
While the woman was drinking the glass of water, I said "Como...tu...chamas?" (That is literally what I said, not an estimate.) She responded by telling me her name was Consuela.
Anyway, the woman eventually left and went on selling tamales to other people nearby. I eventually tried the tamales, and they were delicious.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Sunday and animal cookies

Because I work at a newspaper, I occasionally have to work on Sundays. May is my month, where I work each Sunday for four hours, and work 9 hour days four other times during the week. It's an interesting schedule, that has both pros and cons.

However, today a serious con turned out to be Circus Animal cookies. Actually, it turned out to be a con is pro's clothing.

Apparently on Friday (when I was not working) my part of the office had an little celebration in honor of the pending Rapture. People brought treats, etc.

But when I got to the office, some of that food was still sitting out. Actually a bunch of cans of root beer and half a bag of the cookies were still siting out. Over the course of my time at work today, I have eaten most of those cookies. They aren't really good. In small quantities, they can be alright, in a nostalgic sort of way. But after handfuls and handfuls, they get pretty disgusting. I can say that, because that's what I have experienced today. I don't know why I did it, but learn from my mistake and never eat half a bag of Circus Animal cookies.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Utah Valley Spring Art Show

Earlier today I was perusing the blogosphere when I saw a post about the 2011 Utah Valley Spring Art Show. Somehow I hadn't heard about it, but it sounded cool so Laura and I went, along with Laura's brother, Will. I figured it would be cool, and I heard it would be in the top of the big Zion's Bank building, which I was excited to see.

But as it turns out, it was much more than cool. Most of the floors had tons of art, with each floor having different live music and catering. There were also a ton of people there. (I don't know how I didn't hear about it earlier.) As it turned out, it was one of the coolest things I have been to in Provo in a while. It was also good to see that the arts are still very much alive in the area, considering the general collapse of the student-ish art scene in the 100 Block over the last couple of years.

Anyway, by the time we left, I was already looking forward to next year.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Movies I have watched "lately"

So I moved about a week and a half ago. That meant no instant streaming while we set up internet at our new home, plus way less time to watch movies generally. So here is the very small list, which spans probably at least two weeks.

Black Swan
The Knack... and How to Get It
Mean Streets (I'm actually still in the process of watching this one)

I also watched significant parts of:
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

I listed those last two separately because, unlike Mean Streets, there is a good chance that I won't finish them. Neither were terrible, but neither were great either and I just don't have the time for them at the moment.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011


This evening Laura had to get some things for her school so we went to Costco, aka Price Club. (We do not have a membership, nor do I really ever plan to get membership, but she had her school's card.)

Anyway, visiting the store was about as nostalgic an experience as I've ever had. When I was little I used to go to Price Club with my mom, and it was a huge adventure. The store was sublimely big, almost a city, or maybe even a civilization, within a building. To this day I don't think we ever reached the outer regions of the structure.

On really special occasions, my mom would get one of those flat cart-palate things, and my sister and I would get to ride on it. We always asked to do this, but only rarely were allowed. Sometimes we climbed through the products — probably to our mom's embarrassment, but to our own delight. (I saw some kids doing this tonight and felt like Holden Caulfield. Stay in the boxes kids, I wanted to say, it doesn't get better than that.)

In any case, there was always a wealth of free samples, unexplored corridors, and mysterious products filled with the allure of the unknown.

In short, and like the world itself, as a child Costco was filled with wonder, promise and possibility.

Before tonight I hadn't been to Costco in years, and as an adult it was considerably less exciting (I could see the walls, for example, destroying the illusion of an endless landscape of products.) Still, the store smelled the same way that it used to — sort of like a clean warehouse filled with packaging materials. There were also products I haven't seen since my childhood, and consequently associate with that period. Things like family sized boxes of fruit rollups and granola bars, huge packages of cleaning supplies and toiletries. Ice cream sandwiches. Kirkland products. Some things even brought back specific memories, like the dog food and the golden retriever my family had when I was five, or the double boxes of milk and the structures we built out of those same boxes.

Like I said, I don't plan to get a membership to Costco. It's sort of a nightmare as an adult. But occasionally, when I got a whiff of the bakery or the book section, that nightmare turned into a dream.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Hulu Commercials

What's with the commercials on Hulu that are either a still image, or a moving image embedded within a still frame? I get the idea that they are designed to be clicked on (maybe they're supposed to look like a website?) and that they're probably some new innovation. But these commercials are ugly. They're sort of confusing. And they really don't take advantage of technology the way their designers probably anticipated.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Of Course...

I run about 5.5 miles a day, six days a week, in Provo’s Joaquin neighborhood. I’ve been doing it for almost 3 years now, and for the most part it’s pretty pleasant. However, one major drawback is how many large dogs are on the loose. I’ve been chased by German shepherds, pitbulls, and a variety of mean looking mutts. I don’t have a problem with dogs (though I generally prefer looking at them from a distance), but I’m always astonished at how many people just let their large, aggresive pets roam free (or who don’t take adequate measures to restrain these animals).

Anyway, about a month ago I was running up a street (right by the house I recently moved into, coincidentally) when an insane doberman pinscher ran out from a drive way and started chasing me. I was pretty terrified. Once I got a little way down the street the dog stopped, but I was once again left wondering what kind moron unleashes such a beast on the public. WTF.

Well, then a few days ago I was driving by the same house with Laura when she noticed a shirtless guy working on his bullet bike. Then she noticed a dog, and pointed it out to me. That’s when I realized it was the same dog.

Now, I’m sure there are lots of cool people who ride bullet bikes and like to show off their abs to the world. But generally, I have a negative association with both of these activities. Most of the people I have met who ride bullet bikes would best be described as pricks, and the guys who show off their abs to the unsuspecting public come off a douche bags to me. I’m not saying that everyone who enjoys these activities could be described this way, I’m just saying that my personal experience has brought me into contact with such people. Unfortunately.

So, as Laura and I passed we noted how fitting it would be, that such a person would also have a near-rabid assault dog that would be allowed to roam freely around the neighborhood. Of course, we thought, what a douche. Of course, this guy doesn't care about anyone because he lets his dog scare people, creates sound pollution with his crotch rocket, and implicitly gloats about how he must spend hours and hours at the gym. Of course.

Did we stereotype? Did we profile? Yes, of course. How could we have helped ourselves, when he fit so many stock features of an idiot.

This story has no uplifting moral — something like how we met the guy and he turned out to be really cool and then we learned to not judge others, or be nicer, or something. No, in my heart of hearts I still think the guy was just as lame as he seemed.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Wanting a candidate to win...

... doesn't mean he/she will.

Living in Utah, I sometimes have political conversations with people. A typical trajectory for these conversations involves me advocating anything left of far-right extremism, while whoever I'm talking to uses a bristling arsenal of logical fallacies to refute my points.

But sometimes in these conversations I encounter the view that something is going to happen, but for no apparent reason. In other words, people want it to happen, therefore it will (they think).

A good example of this — and something I've seen countless times lately — is the notion that Mitt Romney is going to be the next president. Romney, though perhaps the current Republican front runner, is not doing great now and I think he'll only do worse and worse as the election season gears up. Here is why:

1. He's Mormon. Though Romney is sometimes compared to JFK, Mormons don't enjoy anything close to the status that Catholics did in the mid twentieth century. I simply don't think Romney will survive a Republican primary, where his religion will be viewed with great skepticism. I think Mormons sometimes don't realize that just because people have a generally favorable impression of the religion they won't automatically be willing to put up with a Mormon leader. And, despite the impression within Mormonism that the church is widely recognized and respected, a lot of people know nothing about the church, while others hold negative or wildly distorted views of it.

2. Slipperiness. Even if Romney did overcome the religion issue, no one really knows where Romney stands on anything, and the general sense is that he's willing to say and do whatever it takes to win. In other words, he's viewed by many as someone without integrity.

3. His record. Romney is ultimately a moderate. The Onion recently posted a funny article about this. But the problem is that it's absolutely true. Romney did some impressive things in Mass., but now he has to try to "overcome" most of the political accomplishments he's had.

These are basic facts that anyone who spends ten minutes a day reading political news would know.

But strangely, I keep running into people who either A) aren't aware that these perceptions exist, or B) don't think they'll matter.

If someone thinks that these points are wrong, or if they think they have counterpoints that they think addresses them, well then fair enough. But I've been surprised a lot of people I meet don't fall into either of those categories. They want Romney to win, so they think he will. When I ask them why, they usually just give some vague answer. (I wish someone would just be honest with me and say "he's Mormon, and he looks like a president.") And even when they have good reasons, they have no good response to the fact that Romney has perhaps more obstacles going into a Republican primary than any other major candidate.

I can testify to the fact that wanting a candidate to win doesn't ensure anything (Obama's victory was the first time in my life that my candidate won).

But more interestingly, I think that this attitude actually is self-defeating. I don't think that Romney has a chance. But I think that in four or eight years, Huntsman might. He's a moderate and a Mormon, but he doesn't yet have a reputation for flip-flopping and political two-facedness. If moderate Republicans, Mormons and others wanted to elect a candidate like Romney, they would do well to abandon him and begin supporting Huntsman. In 2012 he can raise his profile, and by 2016 he'll be a strong candidate.

In the end, I don't really care if my friends, family and neighbors support Romney. I'll be voting against whoever gets the Republican nomination anyway.

But think the situation is illustrative of the fact that wishful thinking alone is not enough.

I'm a reporter

I just realized that a year ago today my internship at the Daily Herald ended. I was the features intern and covered arts and entertainment in Utah County.

By the time it was over I had discovered that I really like newspaper writing, and had decided to make a go at being a reporter. I figured if I kept at it I should be able to get a job within a few years.

But, it only took about six months, two of which were spend out of the country not looking for jobs (after returning to the country I applied for hundreds of jobs, in and out of the news industry). With today being the one year mark since my internship ended, I was thinking about how interesting and great that fact is. Today I'm a court and crime reporter at the Daily Herald. Huzzah.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Beehive Bazaar

This weekend one of the best things in Provo is taking place. It's the Beehive Bazaar! Basically the bazaar is a craft, art, and cool-stuff fair held in the Provo Women's Center. Except for the one held in American Fork, I've attended all of these for the last few years. There is always a lot of cool things for sale by local artisans. In fact this is sort of the physical manifestation of what Salon was talking about in the article "Mormon Housewife Blogs."

However, as a male with no kids, I can also say that the bazaar has a wider appeal. I will definitely be attending, and so should you.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Movies I have watched this week (or so)


All of these films ended up being pretty great, but my favorites were probably Hanna, Dear Murderer, and Smiles of a Summer Night.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Provo Spring

I just went for a run and was reminded at how amazing Provo is in the Spring. The air is cool, the mountains green (and still snow capped) and all the trees are in bloom. Plus, the population has dropped dramatically with so many BYU students going home. On my run I even saw several cool people that I know. The overall result is that I remembered how of all the places in the world I've been, Provo is sometimes the most pleasant.

To Each Her/His Own (Movies)

So my last post might need a little explanation. As a Mormon, I frequently encounter the belief that people should not watch movies filled with sex, violence, swearing, etc. Many, many Mormons also believe that people should not watch movies that are rated R by the MPAA.

Personally I disagree with these beliefs. I believe films have to portray difficult, sometimes graphic content in order to make positive points. (Think of a film like Schindler's List, for example.) Not watching these movies, or editing out part's that the filmmaker obviously thought were important, isolates viewers and impedes intellectual and spiritual growth, in my opinion. Also, like many people, I believe the MPAA is a wildly corrupt institution.

But, in the end I don't really care what people do. There's a limited amount of time and some people like me chose to watch a lot of films, and other people chose to other things. To each her/his own.

But what annoys me is when people try to tell me A) I should not watch movies that I consider uplifting because they contain "bad parts," B) That it's better to watch edited versions of movies, C) It's bad to have graphic content in movies, D) that they love movies but don't watch R rated movies.

A) To each her/his own. Somewhat paradoxically, I know, I expect people to reciprocate that attitude. At least when it comes to things like movies.

B) Edited movies are still technically rated R, or whatever the MPAA assigned them. In other countries there is no "R" rating. A movie is the vision of a group of artists and to cut it up is disrespectful. It disrupts the movie. Blah, blah, blah. There are a million reasons that watching edited movies is bad. If you want to watch edited movies, I suppose that's you're right, but don't tell me to do the same. And don't tell other people to do the same without giving the other side of the argument a chance to voice their views.

C) Brigham Young, a once-prominent Mormon, once pointed out that the arts have to portray evil to show good. Fast forward to today, when a church leader recently said media should not "portray" anything AT ALL that is bad. Yikes. Obviously, that would mean ending all media production. I don't know what this leader was going for, but I wish people would consider what they're saying when the constantly quote stuff like this.

D) And finally, if you are a film buff, you have to watch the classics. Things like "The Godfather," and "Raging Bull." The best picture-winning "Midnight Cowboy," which is also on AFI's list of all-time greatest films, was even rated X! I don't care if people watch these films or not, but don't go around pretending to be into films and then say you're unwilling to watch these masterpieces.

It's probably worth mentioning that this post stems from an incident that occurred at a church meeting recently. Like usual, people were talking about the supposed decline in civilized values and how evil the media apparently is. I was playing angry birds.

But then, this guy started rambling on about how he saw the PG-13 version of "The King's Speech" and how great it was. The movie is good, but the PG-13 version cuts out some important stuff. The swearing in that movie has a purpose and is vital to the story, unlike so many movies (rated everything from G to PG-13) where the swearing is just put in for laughs, or to make the movie more "hard core." Cutting out those parts or editing over them (which the filmmakers expressly condemned in this case) dilutes the point (which is, of all things, charity). (Note, there is more cut out of the PG-13 version than some people realize.)

Anyway, this guy at church was annoying and, ultimately, talking moronically about things I love, study, and work hard to understand. It was frustrating and I just wanted to yell that we should all just be able to do whatever we think is best. But of course, as always, I didn't.

You can't be a film buff...

...cinephile, or cineaste if you categorically refuse to watch any particular kind of film. Or films with any particular rating. Sure, you can say you like movies or whatever, but you're not a true lover of the art form if you haven't seen the classics (or if you've only seen edited or "clean" — meaning chopped up and ruined — versions). Sorry.

(Obviously, if you've chosen to not watch some kinds of films or those with any particular rating, the world of film buff-ery may just not be for you. If you've made that decision, that reality obviously isn't abhorrent to you.)

Friday, April 22, 2011

The (so-called) Cougareat

Today I saw a random tweet about how someone loves the Cougareat at BYU (the school's main student eatery, for the non-BYU people). It reminded me that I used to love the Cougareat when I was little, but that today it's completely lame.

When I was a kid and came to BYU during family vacations, it was still more of a cafeteria type place. I loved the food at the time, but even if it wasn't haute cuisine at least it was unique-ish to BYU. In other words, it was something at BYU that could be found nowhere else in the world.

Fast forward to today, and it's mostly filled with generic chain fast food places. Taco Bell, Subway, blah blah blah. Sure, these places aren't bad, but they're nothing to write home about. There are a few unique places (Sugar and Spice, for instance), but for the most part the place feels like it could be anywhere. Actually, no that's not true. It feels like it could be in any suburban mall. And I can think of no greater insult. (I heard students in the 90s actually wanted the Cougareat to be based on a mall food court. WTF.)

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Movies I have watched this week...

... or, rather, in the last week and a couple of days. Anyway here are the good ones:

Tell No One
The Kids Are Alright

Unfortunately, I also watched a few mediocre or downright bad films in the last few days. Here are the mediocre ones:

The Other Guys
Despite not being much of a Will Ferrell fan, this film got decent reviews. I also typically like cop movies, and so I had high hopes. As it turns out, though, I found the movie kind of hit and miss. It wasn't terrible, but I wasn't all the entertained either. There were funny moments, but overall I'd describe this film as boring.

I had even high hopes for this film because it was made by the same people who did Hot Fuzz and Shawn of the Dead, both which were great. This film also got good reviews. However, Paul seemed filmed with cheap jokes and cardboard characters. It didn't have the charm of the team's earlier work, and seemed to generally convey what must be British stereotypes of the United States. I didn't hate this movie, but as with The Other Guys, I was kind of bored by it.

I also watched one downright bad movie this week. It was:

Again, high hopes and dashed expectations. This film is directed by Guy Ritchie, who did Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, which is one of my favorite films. Ritchie also did Snatch, which is pretty decent too. But for some reason Revolver was terrible. It was confusing and pretentious, and lacked the almost palpable setting of Ritchie's earlier films. By the end, I kept checking the timer on the instant streaming thing to see how long was left. So don't bother watching this movie.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Dog Days

A few days ago I was running and a dog passed me. As it passed, I noticed that it had a huge tumor or growth on its side. The growth was under the skin, but larger than a football. It was strange because while I've seen many stray dogs with bizarre and disturbing health problems in developing countries, I've never seen one running around in Provo.

As I jogged past I thought about how the dog would probably not live much longer. Then I realized: "This dog's days are over!" It made me wish someone was with me — or that I had a camera — so I could share the thought.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Movies I have watched this week

This week I didn't have to work insane hours, and Laura and I were sick over the weekend. So, we got in some good movie watching. Here's the list (not necessarily in the order we watched them in):

(In retrospect we had a generally violent, surprisingly Swedish week of films.)

Monday, April 4, 2011

Sam Anders

Today I learned that both Battlestar Galactica and Clarissa Explains It All include characters named "Sam Anders." How could this be? Though Sam Anders isn't the most unique name out there, it's also not the most common. Could it be that the (re)makers of Battlestar Galactica were really, secretly fans of the Melissa Joan Hart teen classic? If only Clarissa was around, to explain this strange and miraculous "coincidence."

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Movies I have watched this week

This week I worked crazy hours, and Laura and I also watched the mini series Downton Abbey (which takes more time than a two hour film). As a result, the number of titles I've watched is lower this week than normal. But here they are:

Saturday, April 2, 2011

The Kills

I'm really loving Blood Pressure, the new album by The Kills. And best of all, you can stream it for free here.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Sam Fuller and Netflix

I want to know why Netflix has only two Sam Fuller films for instant streaming. Seriously. These are old movies that ought to be easily accessible. Get on this Netflix.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Movies I have watched this week

Typically I only watch good movies, so consider all of these recommended:

The Killing
Herb and Dorothy
Night and the City
The Runaways
The Parking Lot Movie

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Nostalgia for Musak

Today when someone put my phone call on hold I got to listen to some musak. And while I would never buy an album of that type of stuff, I realized that I have a strong nostalgic attachment to the genre. It conjures up for me memories of going to the grocery store with my mom, riding in elevators, and generally going out into what I conceived as the adult world. In other words, as a kid I learned to associate musak with maturity and sophistication. And, at least a little bit, I guess I still do.

Monday, March 21, 2011

New food weekend

This last weekend Laura and I received a free hotel room in Salt Lake City. So we decided to forego our recent extreme thriftiness and have a good time. And that meant eating at several new restaurants.

First, we ate at Mountain West Burrito. Its a new shop located right in between Provo and Orem. Despite its terrible name and location — it's literally in gas station — I'd constantly been hearing good things about this place, from people whose tastes I highly respect.

So we went and it was pretty fantastic. I got the "half and half" burrito, which had chicken and vegetables, among other (more typical) burrito ingredients. At one point I took a bite and realized there was zucchini in my burrito. It blew my mind. And the chicken was probably one of my top five experiences with restaurant chicken. Ever. So try this place out if you're in the area.

After eating our burritos we drove the rest of the way up to SLC. We went to gallery stroll, which was cool(ish). While we were walking around we saw this place called Gourmadise. We thought it would be a good place for desert, and it was. Though the atmosphere was extremely chaotic and disorganized, the food was delicious. I had the croissant pudding, and Laura had a raspberry tart. Though I would never go back to this place at 9:30 p.m. on a Friday night, I would definitely go back at a time when there was a smaller crowd. (Laura just told me she wouldn't go back to this place because she thought it was overpriced and under-qualitied. I think she just ordered the wrong thing, but take that for what it's worth.)

The next morning we ate breakfast at Bruges, a Belgium waffle place near Tony Caputo's. We both got waffles. We were especially excited to eat at this place because we went to the actual city of Bruges over the summer, and ate Belgium waffles there. Surprising as it might sound, the ones we got in SLC were actually better. There was quite amazing, and filling (despite looking small, we were both full afterward.) I've read some people complain that this place is too expensive. And it was pricey; for two waffles we spent something like $13. So obviously I wouldn't eat here all the time. But on the other hand, I was as full and satisfied as if I had purchased a larger-looking meal. Also, the taste was incredible.

Finally, on our way home from SLC, we stopped and got sandwiches at Flour Girls and Dough Boys, in American Fork. Though sort of out of the way (it's in American Fork, after all), I can't say enough good things about this place. I ordered a ham and honeybutter panini, which was great, but I also highly recommend the apple and brie panini, or the cranberry-walnut-turkey-brie sandwich. The environment is cool (allbeit in a sort of, middle-aged, mom-ish way), and the sandwiches are delicious.

Friday, March 18, 2011

TV News

I really can't adquately express my disdain for network TV news. Before working at a newspaper, I thought it was just pointless fluff that existed as a relic from a previous time. At best, it was mindnumbing, and at worst it made (usually middle aged) people mistakenly think they are informed.

But since working for a newspaper I've seen an even worse side of the TV news business. After a recent rape hearing, camera's chased down the victim and stuck lights and lenses in her face. They literally chased her and her family into an elevator, despite the fact that new organizations pretty much all have a policy against revealing the identity of sex crime victims.

Earlier this week, I also saw a man get some tragic news (possibly that a family member died in a fire, though I was out of earshot). The man nearly collapsed on the ground with sorrow, and was sobbing uncontrollably. And of course, a TV camera man ran over with a huge light and got in the guy's face.

Of course, not every TV camera man is bad (I knew a cool one not too long ago), but I can't say I've ever seen a network news broadcast that wasn't pointless. And now, I can add insensitivity to the idiotic things TV news does.

(I should mention though that I'm talking exclusively about network affiliates of ABC, NBC, Fox, etc. not CNN and MSNBC.)

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Job Realities

A few days ago I dreamed I was a film critic for Vanity Fair. It was awesome. Then I woke up, only to realize I was a crime writer at the Daily Herald.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

"Poetry Month" and a little bragging

Yesterday I learned that if you google the words "poetry month" this Rhombus article is in the top 10 hits. What makes that amazing is that I wrote that article!

Now, granted, not a lot of people google "poetry month," but the search returned about 4.3 million hits when I tried it. That means of those millions of hits, my article is deemed by google to be one of the most relevant. Huzzah!

I discovered the high ranking of this article, btw, when I was curious why the article has consistently been in the top 10 articles on Rhombus lately. Other articles I've written, such as this one on the Neon Trees, will show up in the top google results, but only with more specific queries (googling "neon trees provo" will get you to that one). "Poetry month" on the other hand is something that's pretty general and which people who have never heard of Rhombus, Provo, etc. might look up. And apparently they are because the article continues to get traffic.

Obviously this could change at any moment, but I was both thrilled and astonished by this news. It was a great reminder that the internet is a crazy place where something can blow up or go viral at any minute.