Things To Act
Friday, January 30, 2004
Why do I keep citing the New York Times? Who knows.
This editorial in today's NYTimes struck a nerve, if only because it's so badly argued. The author's basic thesis is that Red states are more likely to receive more money from the federal government than they pay in taxes, while Blue states are more likely to pay more than they receive, which is supposed to be ironic, since Republicans favor limited government and Democrats don't.

The major flaw in the author's logic is that he presents no data over time, and no analysis of the underlying numbers to attempt to explain why things are they way they are. Simply looking at the map, at least two things immediately strike me. First is that the entire South, except for Texas, is in the Taker category--could this not have something to do with the well-documented comparatively worse socioeconomic situation in the South (going back to Reconstruction)? Second is that population density seems to be a big factor as well. States in the West and in the heartland seem to be disproportionately Takers (and, coincidentally, tend to be more culturally conservative--Red states), while states on the West coast and in the Northeast (Blue states) tend to be Givers. But is ideology the most important factor here? For starters, many infrastructure projects (such as highways) are based on geography--hence, areas of high population density will tend to spend less per capita on such projects, while areas of low population density will tend to spend more (and everyone benefits, even if only indirectly, from an cross-continent interstate system). Ceterus peribus, we would expect densely populated states to spend less per capita on many projects, while income taxes tend to follow population.

Ultimately, the author's point is far from proven, as the data he presents are so incomplete. If his argument was limited only to pork projects (by whose definition?), he might be onto something, though unless he could show that the Democrats, in their most recent 40 years, were not just as bad, he still wouldn't have a valid point. But the data as presented simply don't tell us enough to draw any political conclusions one way or the other. Normally, I'd be one of the first to argue that the budgetary process needs significant reform, and that Republicans are spending too much. But this argument (and most arguments that the Democrats would be better) borders on the ridiculous.

In Our Lovely Deseret...
This is one of the more amusing things I've seen in awhile: ""Last winter semester we had the highest marriage rate at BYU," said Meghan MacAskill, assistant manager of the Elms Apartments." I think they should take out full page ads in the DU with just that statement.

Of course, one wonders where they got their info. Did someone actually run a formal comparative study? Perhaps church membership keeps track of marriage rates by BYU ward for some reason. Or perhaps the manager is just relying on anecdotal evidence, and the DU doesn't bother fact-checking. Either way, I think someone in the School of Family Life should publish a paper or two.

Choice & Satisfaction II
Monday's NYTimes carried several whining letters to the editor, showing that the original piece on choice and public policy had struck a nerve. What struck me was how incompetent so many people seemed to be in finding satisfaction in making choices. I suppose, as a matter of policy, letting such people turn significant portions of their agency over to others (or even the government) should probably be allowed--but I don't think that their squeamishness with making choices should be allowed to constrain the rest of us.

The complaints about too many products to choose from are even more baffling. Certainly it can be annoying to try to decipher which of 20 brands of jam is superior--unless you decide that whatever you used last time is good enough, or else was so inferior that you'd rather try something randomly new, in which case you still don't spend a lot of time on the decision because if it doesn't work out, you'll just try again the next time. It's amazing how this technique simplifies shopping. I suspect that many of the same people who complain about the confusing array of choices are the same ones who complain when a particular product they like is taken off the market because of insufficient demand. In any event, the problem with choice and satisfaction is an internal psychological problem much more than a public policy problem--and the solution, if you feel overwhelmed by choice, is to artificially constrain the choices yourself (as everybody does in some circumstances) rather than expecting someone else to do it for you.

There may be a compelling argument in the public policy arena that government agencies aren't very good at designing programs that give citizens choices, because bureaucratic complexity makes the choices hard to understand. But that's actually an argument for greater competition and privatization, as private companies are remarkable good at figuring out what the paying customers want, even down to the acceptable level of choice versus simplicity.

God & Guns
While I'm normally somewhat agnostic on second amendment issues, yesterday's DU editorial on the Church's new guns policy is pretty obnoxious [it's not online--perhaps they were too embarrassed].

"Guns are weapons that kill people..." As opposed to weapons that don't?

"weapons that kill people should not be allowed in places where people go to find peace." In addition to having obvious impractical applications (should my former roommate, a black belt who can kill people with his bare hands, be banned from Church?), this argument assumes that everyone shares the author's discomfort with guns. Now some of us suburbanites grew up without the need or desire to have guns around, and thus may not be fully comfortable with them. However, plenty of other people did grow up around guns and are quite comfortable with them across a variety of settings. It seems arrogant to assume that one's own opinion on the matter is supreme. There may be a seed of an argument that those who are comfortable with guns should refrain from displaying them in some places as a matter of courtesy to those who are uncomfortable--but the editorial doesn't even try to make that argument, and it isn't clear that it should, prima facie, prevail over other arguments.

"There is so much ambiguity if guns were [sic] allowed in church." And of course the Gospel, and life in general, is all about removing all ambiguity ever.

A string of dumb rhetorical questions follows: "What if a child or another unfamiliar weapon holder [sic] got a hold of the gun? What if a member carrying a gun made a bad judgment call on a supposed attacker? What if a gun went off accidentally during a crowded church gathering?" None of the arguments hinted at by these questions, of course, are actually specific to church settings. My understanding is that all of them are addressed by concealed carry permit requirements. If the DU wants to come out against any type of concealed carry whatsoever, these arguments might be relevant--but they would face considerable difficulty, as evidenced by the next question. "Should trust and confidence be placed in the hands of all people who attend church?" Strangely, I thought that was a large part of what the gospel was about. We believe in community, which comes down to trusting others to influence our spiritual salvation. The insinuation that we shouldn't put any trust in members is frankly ridiculous.

Ultimately, this is not to say that good arguments can't be made for the church's new gun policy [I suspect the actual argument goes, "Church Legal sat down, ran the numbers, and decided that liability issues required the policy, for reasons having nothing to do with theology"]. But the DU, through its idiotic editorial, probably did more damage to those who were inclined to struggle with this policy than help for the cause.

Tuesday, January 27, 2004
The Meaning of Libraries
Today's editorial page (but not Newsnet) also carries a curious badly-written, ineffectively sarcastic letter to the editor, decrying the fact that the library has the audacity to carry a work of "homosexual literature." Ignoring some of the other issues raised by the letter [mostly because the author's ideas don't rise to the level of intelligent conversation], we are left with the issue of the proper role of the BYU library. The library is not, in my understanding, a repository of Church-approved, faith-promoting, non-secular, prescreened literature. Rather, it is intended to be a broad repository of knowledge about virtually every subject known to man. In this specific case, I can think of several valid reasons for the library to carry the work in question--students may want to consult it to write papers in several subjects, or professors may want to use it in the course of their research. In fact, it seems to make more sense for the library to acquire needed ideologically or theologically objectionable materials (such as the Church's extensive collection of anti), rather than one or several professors subsidizing such works through their research budgets. Ultimately, the premise that everything in the library has been cleared by the Correlation Committee is, I think, wrongheaded and betrays a fundamental lack of understanding of the mission of both the library (to collect and make available knowledge) and the university (to teach truth and confront lies, in the light of faith).

The "Meaning" of Marriage
The DU's lead editorial today (not online, of course), is a rather dull discussion of public policy and marriage. The most interesting quote: "In the dictionary, marriage is defined as, "closely or intimately joined; living together as husband and wife." But to many people, marriage is a chance to air their political views or to form a temporary union that will be undone by divorce in a few years. In such circumstances, marriage becomes meaningless; an act done for self-interest."

The logic here is sloppy at best. The 'meaningless' marriages decried actually fit the dictionary [which dictionary? Points off for incomplete citation] definition provided. Furthermore, simply because an act has a different meaning than one would prefer does not make the act meaningless (indeed, 'airing political views,' whatever that means, would seem to be meaningful by design). Many of the policy debates about marriage seem to revolve around a cultural consensus (or lack thereof) of what marriage means, or what it should be changed to mean. Starting discussion by saying "all other ideas of marriage are totally meaningless" seems a sure way to lose the policy debate.

Saturday, January 24, 2004
Choice, Satisfaction, and Public Policy
This NYTimes article from a couple of days ago raises interesting issues, though in the typical NYTimes editorial page fashion doesn't analyze them well. The basic political message that the editors want to give seems to be that Bush's offers of choice will, prima facie, decrease satisfaction, which is clearly ridiculous. It is true that poorly designed initiatives (like some of those mentioned in the studies cited in the article) may not increase satisfaction among any but the most interested, but the underlying logic that proposing a greater number of choices is automatically bad doesn't follow, and is dangerous close to the master/slave caricature decried by libertarians--the policymakers, with their vast wisdom, decide what is best for the masses, who aren't smart enough to choose for themselves. This may not be what the author was trying to say (though I wouldn't put it past the editorial board at the Times).

In actuality, of course, whether an increase in options will lead to greater or lesser satisfaction depends on several factors. Is the issue of sufficient importance to the consumer to justify the costs of researching the best option? Is the menu of new choices carefully crafted or overwhelmingly large? Is the person educationally equipped to competantly choose? Is the person a maven who enjoys the decision-making process, and if not, are there experts who can assist in making the choice?

The specific policy proposals in the article, relating to retirement funds, health care, and education, are arguably of sufficient importance that many Americans will feel it well worth the costs of doing more research in order to have more options that will meet their individual needs. For those individuals who don't want to do the research, the traditional government-run options will still be available. Thus, critiquing the addition of choices in these programs seems to me to be unjustified (unless the array of choices approached tax-code complexity, in which case the relevant critique is of the complexity, not the choice).

More broadly, however, difficult choices will always exist in life--which college to attend, which house to buy, etc. Simply because some of us are more indecisive and prone to regrets than others is no reason to take these types of choices out of our hands--learning to deal with the consequences of our agency is one of the main reasons we're here on earth--and turning our agency over to government bureaucrats (unless done by choice) strikes me as not only as frequently leading to bad policy, but as immoral. Even if many people are happier under state control, those who prefer to choose for themselves should, as long as they don't hurt others, be given that option.

In addition, part of the wonder of the Information Age is the array of private solutions to the problem of too much information. Companies are learning the balance between personal customization and simplicity that consumers desire, and individuals are learning how to structure their lives to take advantage of the vast amounts of information now available without getting overloaded. Most individuals have trusted sources they turn to for information about areas in which they don't have enough information to make an intelligent choice. Perhaps the true liberal fear of choice is not that some individuals might feel unsatisfied, but that so many would feel more satisfied with competing options.

Friday, January 23, 2004
Will Someone Get Fired Over This?
Along Public Trail, a Church Recounts Its History [registration required. Evil, evil, evil New York Times].

The New York Times, in a front page article, actually doesn't manage to offend me when discussing the Church.

Some of the people quoted in the article, on the other hand, try pretty hard.

""It's historical revisionism — they're using a particular place to enshrine these deaths, but in the history of the western movement, thousands of people died, so it's very difficult to claim this particular spot as sacred ground," said Barbara Dobos, a resident of Casper and public-lands advocate who has led the opposition to the church's efforts." Does this even make sense? It's historical revisionism to have someone at the site telling visitors what happened? And the logic that "lots of people died, so no one person's death can be significant" is rather frightening, though I suppose it's typical of the sort of morally banal drivel we get from several quarters in national politics these days. Perhaps the most fascinating thing about this entire episode, though, is that there are apparently people who have nothing better to do than oppose private organizations' attempts to expand Americans' knowledge of history.

BYU Disapproved
BYU NewsNet - Branbury apartments lose BYU housing approval

I don't know that I have a lot to say about this one, beyond the fact that most of the "chatter" I've heard about the place seems to indicate that the move is justified. Money quote from a former resident: 'Every week we would get most of the sacrament back.' Should be interesting to see if they can recover their approved status or not.

Oddly, the DU claims that "Only six students have decided to leave the complex," while the Desnews says that "More than a dozen renters have chosen to [terminate their contracts] already and more are expected."

Thursday, January 22, 2004
Party Editorials
The presidents of three campus political-party affiliated clubs showcase their insight into the electoral process on today's editorial page. I remain unimpressed.

The Libertarian editorial argues that primaries favor incumbent presidents (which, since the Libertarians have never had one, seems to lead to sour grapes). "The recent caucus in Iowa has simply emphasized the fact that the system of primary elections provides incumbent presidential candidates with a huge advantage." Like in 1976, 1980, 1992, or 2000. Four of the last seven presidential elections have resulted in a switch in party control (thrice defeating an incumbent president), and each featured primaries, usually hotly contested. So much for that thesis. And the article's final paragraph, which seems to imply that a recount in Florida would have given Gore the presidency, is confusing and inexplicable as well.

The Democrat editorial, on the other hand, seems to be trying to encourage civil involvement and campaign finance reform in the same argument. Don't look for a detailed explanation of the logic, as it isn't forthcoming. "We, as citizens and voters, need to continuously demand a system that holds our elected officials more responsible to their voters than to moneyed interests." Strangely, I thought that was why we held elections every two years. Perhaps I'm missing something. "Solutions, such as free and equal advertising time on television stations, have been met with much resistence from the establishment." Probably because these 'solutions' (to a 'problem' not proven to exist) are actually problems in disguise, with many very good reasons not to adopt them. Perhaps the best reason is to note that despite passage of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance 'reform' by the Democrats after years of agitation on the issue, they are immediately simultaneously exploiting loopholes in the law while calling for further 'reforms.' Apparently past success of reform efforts shouldn't be a factor in judging the credibility of the present tribunes for 'reform.'

The Republican editorial, alas, is not quite as easy to mock, though not for lack of trying. The author uses the editorial to call for the abolishment of the Electoral College, for a variety of not terribly persuasive reasons. Strangely, I didn't think that getting rid of the Electoral College was a Republican issue, particularly after 2000, but what the heck. Obviously arguing about tradition Republican virtues like fiscal restraint didn't seem prudent this week, and does Utah really need a lecture about how the Republican Party will someday save Western civilization from moral decay [note the multiple layers of irony in that statement, please]? I suppose if I were to try to defend the Republican Party, I'd have ample reason to be random too.

So does BYU not have a Green Party club? I'm so disappointed.

Reading, Writing, & Responsibility
So I sat through an entire class which consisted of going over material about how to write a paper, all of which was in a packet we were required to buy for the class. Net result: 50 minutes I won't get back in which I didn't actually learn anything (from the lecture, at least). So I wonder why the professor couldn't just make an announcement that anyone who could read and follow directions was free to skip that class with no adverse effects.

And yet, as a TA, I am baffled at how many students simply can't follow written directions, and at how many times I find myself explaining the same things over and over, when I think they should be obvious based on the syllabus, an email, or some other written communication with the student. And as I planned the first round of review sessions for this semester, I explicitly rejected the notion of sending out a detailed email about course policies and tips (in part because I seem to still be getting such emails back unread from last semester's class). So if I don't communicate in writing, I have a good chance of covering everyone who cares thoroughly with a chance for feedback, yet some will wonder why I didn't just put it all in writing, or why I feel the need to reiterate things they already know. And if I put it all in writing, some students just won't get the message.

I don't know that there's any good solution, except to begin requiring a higher standard throughout the university (or throughout the culture). But further discussion on that line would take me to my opinion of how good a job the university does at teaching basic writing competence, and that would be a far lengthier post...

Wednesday, January 21, 2004
BYU NewsNet - SAC discusses full impact of new 2-mile radius rule

I was interested in this issue when it first was reported last month, not that I have any personal stake in the outcome (it's likely I'll be out of Provo by then), and not that I think my opinion matters very much to those who decide these things (it's a private university).

However, I did think this policy was curious because the justifications given were weak (original article not currently available via Newsnet, as far as I can tell). The justifications, as I recall, as reported by the DU, included:

*'Students who live closer to campus tend to have better GPAs than students who don't.' Okay, except that one of the first rules of social science is that correlation is not causation. There may be a causal element at work, or it could be that forcing lower-GPA students to live closer to campus won't actually change their study habits.

*'We want to preserve the BYU atmosphere in off-campus housing.' This arguments seems to have overtones of 'we only want BYU students to live with other BYU students,' an argument I'm not entirely comfortable with. Students who want to live only with BYU students can presently choose to live on campus, while students who want to live around BYU students even if they don't go to BYU, for whatever reason, should be given that opportunity, I tend to think. I've lost count of how many premies we've had come through our ward who moved here to work before their missions just for the atmosphere.

*There may have been some arguments about the ease of administering BYU approval. This isn't something I'm competent to evaluate, though it doesn't seem this policy makes a substantive difference in the administrative load.

That said, the policy will have several obvious effects. First, rent prices will tend to increase, as follows any supply restriction (particularly as the demand for BYU approved housing has a certain degree of inflexibility to it). Second, consumer surplus will definitely decrease, while producer surplus will probably increase [get a friendly econ student to draw the diagrams for you, as making them show up through Blogger is beyond my present technical competence]. Third, the lessened competition will give complexes less incentive to upgrade their facilities or contract offers. Fourth, a lot of students will whine about being oppressed (this isn't actually a strike against the proposal, except in the sense that the administration shouldn't go out of its way to encourage whining, however unjustified).

There may be valid reason to incur these effects, such as an effort to prevent developers from turning Provo residential neighborhoods into student neighborhoods (which can be a valid social goal, though I would think that the administration could say so if that was its intention).

I do have to wonder at the logic expressed by this quote, though: "Most feel this new policy will give landlords an incentive to raise prices. The off-campus housing office does not expect this to happen. Rent for this year has actually decreased, and they are hoping that will be the trend in the upcoming years, [Garry Briggs, the manager of BYU Off-Campus Housing] said."

First, in my understanding as a renter (and I haven't seen anything to dispute it), the major reason rents (including mine) dropped in September was because, coincidentally enough, Parkway Crossing opened after heavily advertising, taking several thousand students out of the Provo housing market. Demand drops, prices drop, landlords get desperate to fill vacancies. Pretty straightforward. Furthermore, any Econ 110 student can draw the supply & demand diagram that shows that rent will almost certainly increase under the new boundaries. I predict a strong possibility of angry letters, possibly from economics faculty (they did take on the Bookstore's assertion that it isn't a monopoly a few years ago).

Your Logic Does Not Resemble Our Earth Logic
Two gems from today's opinion page [remarkably, some semi-current opinion stuff is now on newsnet, but not, of course, anything I actually want to quote]:

"Throughout history, other people have died for their sacrifices and visions to seize [interesting word choice--not the best connotations] the lands and liberties we all enjoy today. People such as Christopher Columbus, Martin Luther King Jr. and even the Prophet Joseph Smith demonstrated tremendous amounts of faith in their personal quests and missions here in this life. To restrict future space travel is to mock all of the sacrifices our forefathers have made for us."

If this was supposed to be comically over the top, it worked. If serious, not so much. You could argue that Columbus has a record supporting exploration (though basing the space program on his methods would lead to colonies on a planet other than the one we were aiming at), but King and Smith? While I'm quite supportive of the expansion of the space program generally, I can understand reasonable arguments against it--and hardly think that there's any logical (or persuasive) reason for pro-space advocates to appropriate the legacies of heroes who had nothing to do with space exploration.

"Consider that Kerry voted against the majority of senators and representatives who fought to approve an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to protect the U.S. flag from desecration. For a man proud of his military service, I am unimpressed."

Do these two ideas have a logical connection I'm not seeing? Most arguments linking veterans and flags that I recall hearing link the idea that veterans fought for freedom, not for attempts to limit obnoxious expression. And this is the first, presumably most important argument the author can come up with as to why Kerry is "downright scary" (I can think of others).

As a side note, the best way to know that Texas v. Johnson was decided correctly is to read the dissents [] . Bad poetry and faulty analogies utterly fail to carry the day.

Tuesday, January 20, 2004
Stupid Letters--"Church and State"
Other than an extremely weird, probably parody letter ("These are not what normal women do. Do we see men wanting to play dolls, sewing clubs [sic], etc?"), which seems to speak for itself, the only noteworthy letter to the editor today was regarding the selling of religious literature at the Grand Canyon (opinion links still not online. Silly, incompetent Newsnet).

"A certain professor's comments especially made me again question the real beliefs of some professors that we are taught by every day." Because, heaven forbid you should just ask professors what they believe about topics you're curious about. Good thing we have DU reporters getting quotes so we can tell when professors are secretly godless apostates.

"Creationism is just as much a scientific explanation as evolution or any other explanations of the creation and history of our world." Depending what is meant by creationism, this statement is at best very tenuous, and at worst totally false. Not that some mainstream science is as good as at it could be, but any system of beliefs that starts from propositions of sheer faith is not 'scientific' in the accepted sense of the term, even if you approach your faith scientifically. And I'm not sure what evolution is supposed to have to do with the creation of the world. Wouldn't a combination of astronomy, cosmology, and geology be more relevant?

"I cringed as I read that the professor invoked the classical "separation of church and state" and that he believed, [sic] "the government cannot use public facilities to advance the cause of a religion." Were I given to cringing, I would cringe at the thought that any BYU student thinks the government should under any circumstances be violating the First Amendment.

"So what the professor wants is to silence the government's opinion if a hint of divine intervention is proposed as an explanation." More like what the Founders and the First Amendment want, and I dearly hope the American people still want as well. It is most certainly not the government's job to pass judgment on when divine inspiration occurs, and when it does not. Missouri 1838 should be enough to convince any Latter-day Saint of that proposition.

"I guess we shouldn't be teaching the idea that God created the world in our public schools either." Not if it does so in a way that violates the Establishment Clause.

"I understand that the professor is probably caught up in the sciences and has lost sight of what education and teaching is [sic] really about." Since the author disavows science and can't write grammatically, I wonder just what he is studying. Education?

"I ask the professor to practice a little faith..." I'm sure he'll appreciate the advice. Why don't you try practicing a little science, just to keep things even?

UPDATE: now online

"Style" concerns
BYU NewsNet - Students turned in without knowing accusers

"Editor's Note: It is not The Daily Universe's style to omit sources' last names; however, the last names in this article were omitted to protect the reputations of the sources."

In other words, 'we don't omit last names, except for when we do.'

As far as the article itself goes, I suspect that most complaints about Honor Code enforcement are either relatively minor, or 'friend of a friend' type rumors. However, I do wonder about any policy which doesn't seem to take seriously the scriptural command [see Matt 18:15-16] to first speak with the person about whom you have a problem before doing anything else. The quote, "Baker said sometimes people are afraid to pull their friends aside and talk to them, and this is when the Honor Code Office will take reports on behavior," is therefore troubling, assuming the DU is reporting it accurately, which is, of course, an open question.

News Priorities
The first-in-the nation Iowa caucuses were yesterday, with one of the more competitive and interesting contests in a long time. And the lead headline in the DU? "Pres. Monson speaks today." The Campus is Our World!

Sunday, January 18, 2004
Today's observations
*Someone ended a sacrament meeting talk with one of my pet peeves, "in the name of thy Son" in a nonprayer setting, which is not only grammatically inaccurate, but blasphemous.

*A high council speaker decried a supposed Supreme Court decision that 'replaced Christianity with secular humanism.' He claimed to be quoting something said by one of the modern prophets, in which case I hope he badly mangled the actual quote, as the constitutional and doctrinal analysis are so bad as to be staggering. Between the First Amendment, hymn 240 ("God will force no man to heaven), and several other scriptural sources about agency and government, you'd think more members would stop implying that we should try to make Christianity the state religion.

*In a non-peeve related note, in Sunday School the teacher raised, but didn't follow up on the question of why the Lord reveals certain things in dreams, which I hadn't thought of in those terms before. She mentioned, besides the tree of life vision in 1 Nephi 8, Pharaoh’s plenty/famine dream from Genesis and the dream of the stone cut without hands from Daniel 2. The best I can come up with is the following: largely symbolic narrative teaching will have more of an impact if experienced than if explained; thus, the original recipient of each vision had a far more powerful experience than if the Lord had just said, 'imagine a wide field, &tc.' This could also shed light on why Nephi was so desirous to see the things his father saw--hearing about it isn't as powerful as experiencing it. Further, dreams often have an air of reality about them--the experience you get upon awakening and not being quite sure if something you were dreaming about really happened or not. I suspect that such powerful dreams leave a much deeper impression than if the imagery had been revealed by other means. On the other hand, I suspect that more direct revelation works better for detailed doctrine and such.

*In a final peeve-related note, one of the sacrament speakers said something to the effect that Ammon must have been a better missionary than the other sons of Mosiah since he had baptized so many people, while the others ended up in jail. Saying something like this is sometimes enough to set me off in full rant mode, because:
*as far as I know, we have no evidence that Aaron et al used methods any different than those employed by Ammon.
*the Lord judges us not by how others use their agency, but by how we use ours.
*Judging missionary success based solely on baptisms is really really stupid, not only for the above reasons, but because it encourages stat baptizing rather than conversion or establishing the Church.
*And ultimately the implication is that successful Church work, in any form, will lead to obvious tangible results. This concept is something I've decided to call the Efficiency Fallacy. We hear so many stories of people being inspired to do such-and-such, whereupon the target is baptized/reactivated/healed/whatever. While such things do happen, the implication that the Spirit will hit us upside the head whenever anything urgent is going down, or that every time the Spirit hits us upside the head something tangible will result is, in my opinion, wrong and destructive. It's easy to construct a model where every home teaching visit leads to greater activity, every missionary contact leads to conversion, etc, and we feel good about how efficient we are being. However, I don't think life works like that. Just as the Savior's Atonement doesn't, in my understanding, only cover those who repent, but rather would allow all to take advantage if they only would, our labors will yield mixed results. Some people won't join the Church, but needed to be warned anyway. Some inactives won't ever reactivate, but need to be home taught anyway so that we can say that we've done all we can. In my understanding, no one will get to heaven and be told "even though no one tried to reach you, you still don't get in because you wouldn't have accepted anyway." [long, complicated discussion about the interaction of agency, foreknowledge, salvation, accountability etc omitted for purposes of not getting too bogged down]. The ultimate point is that most of the work we are called to do is worth doing for its own sake, regardless of how others respond. That doesn't mean that we don't need to make intelligent decisions about how best to use our time, but it does mean that we shouldn't expect the best decisions to always have the most tangible results. God's ideas of efficiency are not the same as ours.

Thursday, January 15, 2004
Today's news
Tattoos have now replaced modesty as the talking points of the day, but I still haven't managed to bring myself to care about either. The DU editorial bashing the SLTrib for bashing the BYU speaks for itself, theough:

"All newspapers have to establish credibility. It only takes a few bad stories for a newspaper, or a reporter, to lose credibility ... it should constantly be a journalistic pursuit to get things right and accurate ... Journalists should stop being lazy. Their work effects [sic] the lives of thousands of people everyday ... The supreme job of journalists is to report the truth. Is there any higher calling in a career?"

I would commence with the mockery, but I did say that it speaks for itself. Perhaps Patrick Driscoll, who on the same page writes a somewhat banal letter about double-standards in athletic modesty, will take on DU double-standards.

Yesterday's news
Entirely too much homework to post what I intended to yesterday, but here's a brief rundown.

*the DU runs a curious article about Dr. King's daughter's UVSC speech with the subheadline "Human rights still a dream but can be reality." Oddly enough, the article doesn't actually quote King as saying this (she does say some things I could quibble with, but doesn't say that human rights don't exist today). So the question is is this normal DU incompetance, or something more sinister? If it's deliberate slanting of the article, what does it hope to accomplish? My guess is that it has more of an effect to discredit King that it does to promote her message, but whether or not that was the intention of the headline writer is hard to say.

*I didn't watch Tuesday's Devotional yet, and thus have not yet formulated an opinion on 'the modesty issue.'

*An incoherant anti-Bush-immigration-plan editorial manages to neatly contradict itself in the final two paragraphs, claiming that Bush is 'leaving his Republican base,' yet doing so to '[gain] popularity for the primaries.' Does this even make sense (well, about as much as the editorial assertion that the capture of Saddam alone would guarantee reelection, if not for this immigration plan)?

*An amusing editorial on the power of film, which, among other things, touts the power of LOTR and To Kill a Mockingbird. If you think the films are good, you should try reading the books.

*The letters to the editor were fairly uninteresting--a whiner complaining about having to actually learn something in religion classes, and another whiner neatly mixing up who actually is wanting to play without paying in Iraqi reconstruction.

*Still no idea why newsnet doesn't update its 'opinion' online content. Though since the only reason I want it online is so I can link my criticisms to the original banality, maybe it's enlightened self-defense on their part.

Tuesday, January 13, 2004
An interesting abortion discussion
Hatrack River Forum: Sorry, I Need Some Opinions.

This thread actually has a higher-than-average signal/noise ratio for Hatrack. The discussion is interesting for a couple of reasons.

First of all, the fact that so many self-identified pro-choice people are willing to sanction some restrictions on abortion implies that the incremental strategy adopted by the pro-life movement may be working well, and may be able to accomplish a considerable amount more than the limited success so far (in achieving the partial-birth abortion ban).

Second, this discussion makes me think even more that it's high time the SC overturned Roe and explicitly returned the issue to the state legislatures. A shocking number of people seem willing to make principled compromises--instead of playing all or nothing judicial politics, perhaps we should let them, through their elected representatives.

DU--print edition
So newsnet doesn't seem to actually carry every non-AP article that appears in the print edition, not even front page articles. I'm baffled as to the logic, but whatever. Some of today's print articles included:

*A long meandering article on LDS-themed travel that doesn't ever mention the fact that pilgramages aren't part of our doctrine (admittedly I have no better source on this than a faintly-remembered passage from Mormon Doctrine, but in this instance I won't quibble about its reliability). It does, however, quote a tour guide article as saying "every member of the Church would like to visit Israel." Excuse me? While many members might find such a visit personally enriching, plenty of other members may feel that it would be better for them to use their resources on other needs, wants, or worthy causes. Implying in any way that members who can afford to gallavant around to all of the Church history sites they want are somehow superior to those who cannot or do not is wrongheaded at best.

*The lead editorial spends a considerable amount of time whining about celebrity journalism crowding out news. So why, praytell, does the DU run these same pointless celebrity stories instead of remaining above the fray?

Reynolds Challenge
BYU NewsNet - Lawsuit challenges 1879 polygamy ruling

A modern polygamist challenge to Reynolds made not only the DU, but Desnews and the SLTrib as well. Interesting. Based on my limited knowledge of con law, I suspect the courts have ample reason to disregard this case.

The Smith precedent allows the government to regulate activites, even those with a (claimed) explicitly religious purpose, as long as the state has some justifiable interest. Regardless of how muddled and wrong that line of precedent may be, it is the current law of the land, and has some grounding in rational jurisprudence. Some religous practices clearly should be subject to criminalization--human sacrifice, abuse, etc, for instace. Smith merely seems to take the matter too far, allowing any 'justifiable' governmental intervention, rather than making reasonable accomodation the standard.

Thus, since regulating marriage is clearly a justifiable state interest, restrictions on polygamous marriage are seemingly constitutional on First Amendment grounds under this analysis. An equal protection challenge, however, is a different ball game, particularly given recent events in MA.

That said, Reynolds did have serious problems. The ex post facto nature of the Edmunds-Tucker statute, the clear attempts to criminalize belief, and the general explicit discimination against one particular religion make the upholding of ET extremely wrongheaded--but the core attempt to regulate marraige may be justifiable under current constitutional doctrine.

Monday, January 12, 2004
0.01 Introduction, Credits, and Contents

The WOTFAQ was updated (finally) last week for COT. Alas, I spent entirely too much time purusing it and rereading COT. Even a slower book like COT can provide plenty of material for discussion, though if the pace doesn't pick up soon...

Wednesday, January 07, 2004
DU Blunder of the Day
"Gun bands do not reduce violent crime..." Margin quote from this article on page 4 of today's DU. They get the quote right in text. The newswriters who can write (if any exist) who work for the DU must hate having their articles mangled by the layout people.

Tuesday, January 06, 2004
Second day of class--random observations
The sidewalk along the new 'student athlete building' or whatever it's called is finally open.

One Stop screwed up by not having my refund check ready, as they have in the past. But then they printed it out on the spot, so maybe they aren't evil after all.

Speaking of Wilk-related evilness, the textbook line yesterday around 4 wasn't bad, comparatively. It looked like it would be at least an hour (stretching around back to the back wall by the Honors books), but only took 15 minutes.

New Spring, the novel, is in the Bookstore. At least one other person was reading it, and one person saw me looking at it and asked about it, while in the middle of Crossroads of Twilight. Jordan clearly hasn't managed to alienate his entire fan base yet (though the three chapters I read weren't as exciting as they otherwise might have been).

Legends II is also finally in the Bookstore. I read the Hobb and Card stories yesterday. The Hobb was is fairly interesting if you've read the Liveship books, giving an account of the original expedition that colonized the Rain Wilds. The Card story was all right, but having already read Crystal City, contained few to no surprises. All of the main plot points were implied in CC. Some people complained that the jump made CC hard to follow, but I didn't think so. Everything important was alluded to, and the gap of years between Heartfire and CC had many other significant non-Yazoo events also not shown onscreen. I think the heart of the concerns with CC were that so much happens in the Makerverse that it can't all be shown onscreen and move the story as fast as OSC wants. I think he may be overcompensating, and giving us more detail wouldn't immediately bring on WOT comparisons, but when has my opinion ever mattered? At any rate, Yazoo is worth looking at, but not as memorable. Of course, that could just be an artifact of needing to be able to stand independently of the main narrative.

no need to PANIC! you won't DIE from MAD COW DISEASE
BYU NewsNet - Utahns safe from mad cow disease

"According to Lonny Ward, manager of the BYU Dairy Farm, the economic effect of the mad cow scare in Utah will mainly depend on the reaction of consumers.

If people believe the negative hype associated with the disease, demand will go down and lower the price, he said."

So why is this the lead article on the front page of the print edition?

Drought? What drought?
BYU NewsNet - Ski resorts make changes to accommodate snowfall

This was amusing. First, we had the 'snowboarders rejoice' article run on the same front page as the 'nation mourns 9/11 anniversary' article last September. Now, the first article the DU rushes to the presses about the heavy snowfall over Christmas deals with skiing. At least they have priorities...

Monday, January 05, 2004
First Day Introductions
Why do professors persist in making every student in the class introduce himself on the first day of class? A) In a large class, no one can possibly remember every name. B) It's two weeks before the drop deadline, so significant numbers of students may drop or add, rendering the process irrelevent. C) It's boring, especially in a class so large it's impossible to get to know everyone. One wonders why professors can't wait a week or two, at least, if they insist on taking class time to do another round of formula introductions. Perhaps I'm just bitter because one of my classes this morning spent five minutes on the syllabus and an hour on introductions.

UPDATE: Sure enough, I dropped the class. I hope the professor spent lots of time memorizing my name.

BYU blogging from TTA
This blog is intended to cover BYU-related issues, as well as broader issues of interest to me, such as LDS issues, current events, law, politics, etc. We'll see how things develop.

In Some Alternate Universe, This Would Be Journalism
This Daily Universe story starts the semester off on about the usual level of irrelevence for the Daily Unifarce. Of all of the research reporters could have done on campus issues or on BYU's UTA contract, I didn't think some reporter's conception of a link between public transportation and romance was the most pressing issue, but the DU continues to break new ground. Doubtless professors from the marriage, family, & human development program will be conducting in-depth scientific surveys of bus-riders to document this phenomenon.

Daily Universe Blunder of the Day
An AP story on page 4 has a sentence fragment in the first paragraph. Interestingly enough, the same story on the Deseret News' website is written correctly [,1249,575041363,00.html]. Does DesNews proofread AP, or does the Daily Universe need to downgrade the grammar of the AP stories it runs to make them fit in with the rest of the paper?

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