Today is the startof that annual week when many people begin taking stock of the old year and peering into the new.

For pundits, the latter is dangerous territory. Predicting the future is about as easy as following the flight of a single snowflake with your eyes during a blizzard, guessing precisely where it will land. Until she died in 1997, Jeane Dixon made a handsome living out of being wrong year after year. Here are just a few glaring examples: World War III will start in 1959. The world will see a new holocaust in the 1980s. Cancer will be cured sometime in 1967.

The educated experts haven't fared much better. For example, in 1964 researchers who were worried about the "population explosion" predicted a catastrophic worldwide famine would destroy much of Asia and the Middle East by 1980. That was, of course, before McDonald's took root in Beijing.

No, it's much easier to take stock of the past. In this case, Utah in 2004 offers a few lessons to ponder:

Scandals will periodically rock Salt Lake County regardless of which form of government is used: This is, apparently, inevitable — like putting a herd of 2-year-olds in a room with expensive porcelain knick-knacks and telling them to organize a committee to discuss ways to limit breakage.

A lot of people thought they voted to change to a mayor-council form of government in order to limit the kinds of problems that had the county attorney and county commissioners fighting each other in the 1990s. This year they discovered they had instead ended up with people using county credit cards for personal gain, double-dipping on gasoline reimbursements and funding phantom positions at local charities. But don't despair.

The truth is people voted for change in 1998 because the new form of government is more representative and accountable.

The other truth people tend to overlook is that whenever a scandal breaks, that is far better than having an ongoing scandal no one ever finds out about. As long as people get caught doing bad things, there is hope.

It's possible to be a hero even as a lame duck: Gov. Olene Walker was not content with simply fading into the sunset like a good general who has been relieved of command. Thank goodness.

Walker, who was unceremoniously dumped during the state Republican convention despite wide public support, has managed to leave her mark in the past few weeks. First she unveiled a tax-overhaul plan that, while not perfect, is stunning in scope. Second, she presented lawmakers with a prudent budget that would take care of a lot of the state's lingering needs without costing anyone more in taxes.

Sure, these both are destined to become museum pieces, items kept safely under glass while the new governor struggles to make his mark. But Walker did prove herself a capable and talented leader. Too bad she was sidelined so fast.

Professional sports teams will never abandon their quest to take money from taxpayers: Ten years ago, Salt Lake City was promising all kinds of economic development, neighborhood revitalization and community benefits if taxpayers would build a new minor-league baseball stadium. Today, while Franklin Covey Field is a baseball jewel, the surrounding neighborhood looks about the same.

Now, a new Major League Soccer franchise is promising the same stuff if the city, county and state will help build a 20,000-seat soccer stadium. How many times will we fall for this one?

The good news is it appears taxpayers may be allowed to vote on the proposal. The bad news is they might vote yes.

• Utah voters still prefer clean campaigns, no matter how boring: Jim Matheson withstood a withering barrage of negative television ads in his race against John Swallow this year. Even though Matheson was a Democrat running in an overwhelmingly Republican congressional district, he won. Matheson's brother, however, lost an unquestionably high-minded race for governor against Jon Huntsman Jr. The congressional race generated headlines such as "GOP rips Matheson" and "Demos say GOP breaking the law." The governor's race, on the other hand, generated headlines such as "Governor hopefuls make cases."

Bad for newspapers, good for Utahns.

Whether anyone remembers or learns from these lessons, I can't predict.

However, and with a nod to the late Jeane Dixon, I do offer the following bold predictions for 2005: Some people will die, others will be born, and everyone else will muddle through somehow.


Jay Evensen is editor of the Deseret Morning News editorial page. E-mail: [email protected].