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Thursday, April 23, 2009
Alternative Theories

Of sewage, sneakers, chewing gum, and the pathologically suspicious. (And one more thing in the comments.)

I don't know what "fairness" means any more, so I'll say that, in the interest of conscientiousness, we must consider alternative theories of the crime, whatever the crime may be. Here are alternative theories for three of what some might very loosely call local crimes. All involve things that stink -- one literally, two figuratively -- and recent developments cast doubt upon the popular interpretations of all three.

In the Nose of the Beholder

First, there was the (recurring) furor over the stink: Early March brought us this headline in the Daily Herald: "Groups push for action on North County sewer stink." Then there was the stink over the furor, or, as the Herald put it in mid-March, "Furor over stink meets resistance." It's all very serious stuff, if you're trying to do business or to attract people to do business in a certain location near Utah Lake. Apparently, it will be a year or more before there is any significant (ahem) movement on the matter.

A mere four days after the latter Herald article, there was good news about that which locally stinketh. At least I suppose it's good news; there's no such thing as bad publicity, right? No, no, the stinky sewage reeks on. But now American Fork has an odor to be proud of, which, you might say, is a whole different kettle of rotten fish. And a little child shall lead them . . .

That is to say, seven-year-old Joshua Boothe of American Fork has won himself some serious pocket money and a trip to New York by winning a contest. It seems he has the stinkiest sneakers in America.

(In case you're interested in the timing of such things, the press release came out March 24, and KSL picked up the story the same day. The Deseret News ran it April 5, and the Daily Herald ran it April 8. To make them all look good, I'm running it two weeks later, because I was spending my blogging time reading a book back in March, when I first saw the press release.)

The Deseret News had the best headline, ""American Fork boy reeks out national win," and also divulged his recipe, which does indeed involve fish. The online press release names two of the four judges and lists their qualifications, and offers a video clip. I confess I don't know whether to admire such people as these judges must be, or to fear them. And did you know there's a "Hall of Fumes" in Vermont? The good news is, that's where the sneakers are going.

I hope I don't tarnish young Master Boothe's glory or his sense of personal satisfaction by noting that he only won the contest because my childhood friend Teddy did not enter the contest.

Here's the point: I've seen people wrinkle their noses in describing the sewage thing, and I've heard some sneaker snickers. I haven't yet heard anyone ask what seems to be the obvious question, so I will ask it: Is it possible that these two stories are related? At the very least, we should probably suspend our sewage-related finger-pointing while we find out where Joshua Boothe lives in American Fork and check the prevailing winds.

This One Kinda Sticks to Your Shoe

I am one of thousands of people -- known officially to the Alpine School Board as "a handful of malcontents" -- who find math education in the Alpine School District to be inexcusably weak (though not uniformly so). We have traditionally blamed the fuzzy math curriculum and its dogmatic, duplicitous defenders in the District bureaucracy, as well as a broken system which qualifies teachers to teach math who themselves are not and never were good at math. But today's story out of Baylor University's medical school demands that we consider another theory.

The problem may be that we are forbidding students to chew gum in the math classroom and wherever else they might do their math homework. According to this new study, they'll do better. Perhaps, in the spirit of the times, we should force them to chew gum when they do math. But you can read this UPI story and decide for yourself.

This Just In: American Fork Officials to Blame for Residents' Inattention

If we judge by some recent public and private communications between a few American Fork residents and their elected officials, the City has engaged in a three-year conspiracy to hide large, imminent water rate increases from city residents. The irony here is not that this is false, though it is false. The irony is that we're talking about the best large-scale public information campaign the City has conducted in recent years. (I'd say "decades," because I suspect it's true, but I haven't lived in American Fork that long, so I won't.)

My alternative theory of the crime is that this particular set of malcontents has been consistently and irresponsibly inattentive to the city around them for the space of at least three years.

The City has released a veritable flood of useful information about pressurized irrigation in the last few years. I'm not certain that its stated purpose was to leave every resident without a reasonable excuse for ignorance or surprise, but it might as well have been. I'm the one who has been most critical, at least publicly, of the City's public communications generally, but no such criticism is warranted in this case. The relative handful of souls now proclaiming that they have been duped by the Mayor and City Council have, in this instance, clearly placed themselves in the category of I-can't-believe-we-let-these-people-vote.

It's true that the bill to residents for the pressurized irrigation system would have been a small fraction of what it is now, had previous mayors and councils acted on the matter with reasonable wisdom and foresight. But this does not constitute grounds for branding the current batch of officials as conspirators.

One City Councilor reportedly responded to one critic by assembling a substantial pile of documents, including notices from water bills, separate flyers specifically devoted to pressurized irrigation, minutes of town hall meetings on the subject, and notices of public information meetings which are still being held here and there around town. He presented the documentation to the critic of the moment and invited him to read them and return if he still had complaints.

For her part, MFCC responded at her blog with commendable restraint, patience, and charm.

One critic wrote, "We need new and honest leadership."

I'm inclined to think we need new, attentive residents, not of the sort whose first instinct, unburdened by facts or reflection, is to charge others with misconduct.

Here's one more alternative theory for you: In American Fork we have honest leadership, even if you and I don't always agree with what they do or say. I'm not sure each one is absolutely the best person for the job, but I am sure we could do a lot worse. In any case, they will not be in office forever, which means the population at large has some responsibility to find honest new leadership sooner or later.

Some of our less attentive fellow residents have done us the service of suggesting an excellent question we may ask of anyone who promotes himself, herself, or someone else for public office in American Fork in the near future. Simply ask, "Do you believe the current Mayor and City Council deceived us in the matter of pressurized irrigation and water rates?" If the answer is yes, then we know what to do without further discussion: At least figuratively, send that person, his or her opinions, and possibly also the candidate of that person's choice . . . back to the bomb shelter from which they have so belatedly, unreflectively, and counterproductively emerged.

As citizens of what is still a relatively free nation, protected by constitutional governments that are at least intermittently democratic, we owe each other better than to throw patently false charges around because we are too lazy, too ignorant, or too cranky to know better.

David Rodeback comments (4/23/09):

Here's yet another alternative theory for you. I initially supposed that the foot of snow in American Fork last Wednesday must have been caused by global warming. Then I read DaltonGirl's arguably more plausible explanation. She is formidable indeed!

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