Things To Act
Sunday, February 29, 2004
 
Newsnet Opinion Roundup
Is there an anti-sports conspiracy at the Department of French and Italian? You be the judge.

The "web editor" not only is more professional than the inept print headline writer, but he points it out to everyone.

Evidently, filling our stadiums is more important than filling our classrooms. This letter is one of the better arguments for canceling our participation in intercollegiate athletics that I've seen in a while.

Then there's this letter. "First, I am appalled that an assistant professor in the field of education would fail to realize the educational value of sports. I cannot find a better field for learning perseverance, determination, faith and unity than in sports. " Orson Scott Card does a better job with this one than I could.

"Second, it was mentioned that there is one coach for every athlete. That is not an accurate statement and to prove it, simply attend a track practice -- it speaks for itself."

And how long has track been representative of the entire athletics program? If athletes really can't tell the difference between the whole and the part, their education is in even worse shape than I thought.

"And what does it matter anyway? It simply improves performance and eventually entertainment that many people enjoy."

Ahh. Normative questions. One solution would be a pure market regime in which every sport must support itself through the contributions of the 'many people' who enjoy the 'entertainment' provided. I suspect track & field would disappear pretty quickly under such a regime. Or we could employ a system in which we allocate scarce resources where they will do the most good for the Church and the University. Where such a course would lead, of course, would depend on opinions of what exactly that entails (but I'm not convinced that making the news so often for honor code violations or fan misbehavior gets us the best results).

Another student gives us the groundbreaking insight (based on one anecdote and no statistics) that "when it comes right down to it, guns don't solve problems." I guess we should have armed our soldiers with slingshots for the invasion of Iraq, since their guns clearly didn't help them at all.

"I am for tightening the reigns on student athletes and their violations of the honor code, but to get rid of the whole athletic department because of a few violations would be like getting rid of the business school because some of the graduates do dishonest things in their careers. " Hugh Nibley probably wouldn't have a problem with that.

One of the better mockeries of BYUSA.

Shocking Ignorance of History: [Letter of 25 Feb, not online] "There has never been a time in which I have had a reason to look down upon our blessed country. Now with the consideration of legalizing gay marriage, there might be."

And finally, another amusing bit [letter of Feb 26, not online]: "...The Daily Universe is not a real newspaper. It's a mix between the National Enquirer and something a middle school English department might put together."

Saturday, February 28, 2004
 
Garmentgate
I wasn’t sure if I had anything to say about the recent kerfuffle over the selling of garments on EBay (see Nauvoo discussion here), and now that I finally have my thoughts more or less organized, the issue seems to have moved on. Regardless:

*I get the impression we (as a community of Latter-day Saints) don’t always do a good enough job teaching the importance of keeping certain things pertaining to the Temple sacred. For instance, some missionaries in my MTC district certainly didn’t know where the lines were, as they discussed (outside the Temple) some things they had just covenanted not to discuss. If this is a systematic problem (of people receiving their endowments without adequately understanding where the boundaries are on what should and should not be done outside the Temple), I’m not sure what should be done about it, other than better teaching at a local level, and more preparation for first-time Temple goers.

*Many things relating to the Temple are more or less in the public domain for those whose base curiosity leads them to seek them out. Realizing this should not overly agitate us (after all, as Nibley points out, corrupted forms of the endowment are available in numerous ancient records as well). I think some members go too far in expressing dismay over these things (for instance, a recent hatrack discussion featured someone making repeated comparisons to the practice of stoning for certain blasphemies under the Law of Moses—as if we would even consider such today, in our non-theocratic society). The Church has, for whatever reasons, opted not to take the legal route on most of these issues. The way to deal with those who would violate and/or mock sacred things is to ignore them. Decent people will respect others’ privacy. Indecent people who will not should probably be ignored as not quite fit for civilized company.

*That said, it would seem that there’s no good way to resolve the situation if EBay allows auctions of things we consider sacred to go forward and we are offended. We are free to pressure EBay to change its policies, and to boycott it if it doesn’t. However, since practically anything has the potential to offend someone, I’m not sure that EBay should automatically ban anything considered offensive. This could easily lead to popular, well-organized pressure groups setting standards while everyone is free to ignore smaller, less popular groups (some might argue that this is happening in the current situation). I’m not convinced such a result would be healthy, but am still somewhat agnostic as to what EBay should do. It seems like a quality brand would keep illicit and uncivilized behavior off of its services, but the definitions of civilized are subjective enough to make this problematic. Perhaps the only way to arrive at a societal solution is to allow various brands to compete at various levels of attentiveness to offense, and see which ones thrive and which do not.

Friday, February 27, 2004
 
Marriage, Society, and the Latter-day Saints
For a long time, the same-sex marriage issue was one I didn’t particularly want to discuss. Many people who discuss the issue utterly fail to persuade me, and many people who endorse views close to my own either endorse views anathematic to me or defend their views so speciously that I want to disagree with them. I also was unconvinced that the issue was significant enough in the short-term sense to justify spending tons of time on it.

Strangely, recent events have begun to change my mind. I don’t mean that in the trite “oh look at what MA/SF is doing, I’m shocked into action” sense of the phrase, though I’m sure it could come across that way. Those developments neither terribly surprised nor terribly threatened me. President Bush’s endorsement of a Constitutional amendment was more surprising, and adds an element of urgency to matters (see below). However, in all of the reaction and hubbub surrounding these issues, my views began to change in some ways that I think are important. The issue of same-sex marriage has become more relevant to me, not in and of itself, but as a catalyst or flashpoint in evaluating how society deals with marriage and the family.

I’ve heard comments to the effect that ‘even the Brethren who participating in warning the Church about the decline of the family through writing the Family Proclamation have been shocked by developments since 1995.’ I’d always taken such statements with a grain of salt, partly because things didn’t seem demonstrably worse, at least not in any ways that weren’t more or less obvious projections of existing trendlines. However, I think the FP does serve as an important warning, as many of those trendlines are decidedly negative. In essence, members of the Church do not seem to be doing an adequate job in either maintaining their own families or in defending family-friendly policies. I think, by and large, we don’t even understand the relationships between family, society, and law well enough to convincingly defend our position (such as it is). Until we know what we believe, why we believe it, and how we can best put our beliefs into action, we are severely limited in our ability to do much more than sit back and whine about how bad society is getting (an activity which has always utterly failed to impress me as productive).

A few related insights:

*Viewing the issue as a ‘culture war’ strikes me as unproductive. We do believe that Satan is working to undermine mankind. However, we also believe that we are not called to judge who is being influenced by Satan and to what degree. If we cannot find common ground with those not of our faith, and if we cannot manage to express our preferences in terms they will understand, we will not only contribute to hostility and misunderstanding, but we will likely fail to convince enough others to share our policy preferences to enact them into law (or prevent them from being overturned). Remaking society in an image more to our liking is a participatory process, not a withdrawing process. We cannot be overwhelmed by or take our cues from the world, but we are called to interact with the world on many significant levels on a constant basis. Instead of overly polarizing our view of our ‘enemies,’ we should look for ways to keep them from being our enemies.

*Many members of the Church are likely in a bubble with respect to family related issues. I grew up in a fairly healthy home and took it for granted. The older I got, the more gradually aware I became that others not only had quite different views of the world/morality/etc, but had formative experiences shaped in vastly different ways. For me, a strong marriage, a large family, and extensive extended family ties are the norm. This is not the case for large segments of society today, which, to a degree, puts me at a disadvantage in understanding others. As long as I take my upbringing for granted as ‘normal,’ I will not only be handicapped in communicating with others who do not share my narrow frame of reference, but I will fail to see the extent of the social problems caused by unhealthy deviations from what I consider to be the norm.
**Corollary: To the extent that significant numbers of BYU students have less experience with divorce and no experience with people who deal with same-sex attraction, their views on these subjects will be unrefined and possibly misguided, in the absence of a deliberate attempt to educate themselves on the issues.

*Framing is important: As the debate over same-sex marriage plays out on the national stage over the next few months, a critical mass of people will form opinions based on the way information is presented and framed. If the dominant frame is one of tolerance versus bigotry, it is obvious who will win. Even on more subtle issues, the public perception at earlier stages will influence final decisions. For example, recent speculations by some law professors (though not the only ones, see here here and particularly here) about how the courts are likely to interpret the ‘legal incidents’ phase of the FMA are being seized on by SSmarriage advocates as evidence that FMA supporters are trying to bar all ‘civil union’ possibilities. Without endorsing or opposing the FMA/Musgrave amendment, any of the alternatives, or the concept of civil unions, it seems obvious that the amount of correct information about what various people do and do not support, as well as the value frame surrounding the tradeoffs, is important to getting one’s preferred policy outcome.

*Now that Bush has endorsed a Constitutional amendment, the timer is running faster than before. Not only are more people paying attention to the issues (thus causing the process of shaping both elite and mass opinion to begin in earnest), but the status quo has changed [I am indebted to some online pundit somewhere for this idea, but can’t even remember which site I read it on]. Before, the status quo was ‘no SSMarriage, maybe civil unions in some liberal states.’ Now, thanks to the 1-2 of MA/SF and Bush’s endorsement of an amendment, the status quo is in flux, but civil unions suddenly look like a downright conservative approach, while the extremes duke it out over whether SSMarriage will be constitutionally prohibited or protected. Now that the concept of an amendment has been endorsed, backers must move quickly. Once an amendment starts moving, then stops, its failure will become a permanent part of the status quo. The ERA is a dead issue. Similarly, if the FMA (or its equivalent) fails to clear Congress, the issue will likely be shouted down the next time anti-SSMarriage politicians try to bring it up.
**This is not to say that I necessarily support an amendment just yet. But if I decide I like the idea, now is the time to act. More analysis later.

*Satan may be more devious than we think. The target we’re defending may be different from the one he’s aiming at. This idea occurred to me after reading yet another proposal to get the government out of the marriage business entirely. It seems an obvious compromise—since differing sides will never agree on what marriage ought to mean, get the government out of the business of doing anything except civil unions, etc, and allow religions to define marriage however they want. This idea is a tempting compromise (as are several other civil-union style compromises), but I suddenly wonder: will more harm come from a few same-sex couples getting married, or from a complete governmental repudiation of much of family law? Perhaps Satan is really aiming at completely delegitimizing the family as a legal institution, and those who are eager to compromise to stop the specter of ‘gay marriage’ are playing into his hands. I do not know if this is the case or not, but I am not comfortable supporting any policy position (including the status quo) without being a lot more sure of its probable outcomes.

Several interrelated questions I plan to try to look at:

Theology: What do we really believe about marriage and families? What do these beliefs imply about how society and the state structure family relations?

Policy: What policy proposals are on the table? What are the likely consequences? Which ones yield the highest expected utility for members of the Church [EU = value of outcome times probability of achievement, or “an 80% chance at half a loaf is better than a 1% chance at the whole thing”]?

Advocacy: Who is in favor of what? What significant things are being said about the issue? What, if anything, can we LDS do to influence matters?

Outreach: How are we doing at framing the debate? Which significant ideas are not being heard, and which fallacious ideas are getting too much credence?

Responsibility: Now, while the issue is in flux, what ought we to do? Assuming we get a less-than-preferred outcome, then what?

 
Fisking time
Bush: “Today I call upon the Congress to promptly pass, and to send to the states for ratification, an amendment to our Constitution defining and protecting marriage as a union of man and woman as husband and wife. The amendment should fully protect marriage, while leaving the state legislatures free to make their own choices in defining legal arrangements other than marriage.”

The NYTimes Wednesday lead editorial, "Putting Bias in the Constitution:

“With his re-election campaign barely started and his conservative base already demanding tribute,”

Like immigration reform, NASA expenditures, etc.

“…President Bush proposes to radically rewrite the Constitution.”

By eliminating separation of powers, or perhaps overturning federalism? I’m expecting something significant from a ‘radical rewrite.’ If a mere tidying up of whether judges or states gets to decide policy in one specific area counts, then Roe v. Wade certainly counts as a radical rewrite, but we don’t hear the Times criticizing that.

“The amendment he announced support for yesterday could not only keep gay couples from marrying, as he maintains, but could also threaten the basic legal protections gay Americans have won in recent years.”

Such as? The right to marry others of the same gender? That’s not available anywhere in the US right now (it will likely be in Massachusetts come May, and you can get a worthless license in SF, but that’s it). It’s hard to see how Bush’s proposed amendment limits any existing rights—it prevents judges from creating new ones, while leaving that option to legislatures.

“It would inject meanspiritedness and exclusion into the document embodying our highest principles and aspirations.”

So if the Times thinks something is ‘meanspirited,’ (with no real evidence offered), it clearly must not become public policy. Whatever. Meanspiritedness seems beyond the reach of some of us mere mortals to judge, but certain constitutional provisions are certainly ‘exclusive’ by any reasonable definition. The elimination of the right of voters to elect a president who has already served two terms (22nd Amendment), or the removal of the ability of the Supreme Court to hear certain types of cases (11th Amendment), or provisions limiting who may serve in various offices, and so forth. If we’re crusading against exclusion in the Constitution, it looks like we’ll need a ‘radical rewrite.’

“If Mr. Bush had been acting as a president yesterday, rather than a presidential candidate, he would have tried to guide the nation on the divisive question of what rights gay Americans have.”

Perhaps by redirecting the debate from unelected judges to elected legislatures? No, too obvious. Evidently, the Times wanted him to tell the nation that the judges were right and to stop whining about it already. That’s leadership, after all (under the Orwellian definitions in use at the Times).

“Across the nation, elected officials and others have been weighing in on whether they believe gays should be allowed to marry, have civil unions, adopt, visit their partners in hospitals and be free from employment discrimination.”

Yes. The elected officials weigh in, and the ‘others’ (judges) throw out their decisions when they don’t come to the proper liberal conclusions. “Democracy” in action.

“Except for a throwaway line about proceeding with "kindness and good will and decency," the president's speech was a call for taking rights away from gay Americans.”

Obviously this was a throwaway line, because if he’d meant it, the cognitive dissonance would have caused the Times’ editors’ heads to explode. For ‘taking rights away,’ see above.

“President Bush's studied unwillingness to talk about the rights gay people do have is particularly significant given the wording of the Federal Marriage Amendment now pending in Congress. It calls for denying same-sex couples not only marriage, but also its "legal incidents." It could well be used to deny gay couples even economic benefits, which are now widely recognized by cities, states and corporations. Such an amendment could radically roll back the rights of millions of Americans.”

Truth alert! Bush didn’t endorse the FMA.
Truth alert II! The FMA actually says "Marriage in the United States shall consist only of the union of a man and a woman. Neither this constitution or the constitution of any state, nor state or federal law, shall be construed to require that marital status or the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon unmarried couples or groups." Thus, according to the Times, not requiring something is equivalent to denying it. Prohibiting judges from ordering the government to do something is the same as empowering judges to tell corporations not to do something. The logic here is dizzying.
Of course, it’s possible that the Times was referring to some discussion (on blogs such as the Volokh Conspiracy) of whether a judge might deliberately misread the intent of the statute to deny civil-union type benefits. Such discussion, as far as I can tell, is centered around possibilities, not probabilities. Perhaps the Times neglected to elaborate because a thorough discussion of judicial discretion, the composition of the courts, and the practice of ignoring the plain meaning of the Constitution might remind people just who is more likely to engage in such manipulative behavior when it suits their ends.

“In his remarks yesterday, President Bush tried to create a sense of crisis. He talked of the highest Massachusetts court's recognition of gay marriage, San Francisco officials' decision to grant marriage licenses to gay couples and a New Mexico county's doing the same thing. He did not say the New Mexico attorney general found that gay marriages violate state law, the California attorney general is asking the California Supreme Court to review San Francisco's actions, and Massachusetts is considering amending its State Constitution to prohibit gay marriage. The president, who believes so strongly in states' rights in other contexts, should let the states do their jobs and work out their marriage laws before resorting to a constitutional amendment.”

In other words, let us change the status quo, have the advantage of a new status quo for several years, and then come back with your radical plans for change. Does anyone seriously think the Times is going to react to a Supreme Court strikedown of the DOMA by editorializing “oops, you were right after all. We’d better amend the Constitution so each state can work this out for itself?”

“The Constitution has been amended over the years to bring women, blacks and young people into fuller citizenship.”

If by ‘fuller citizenship,’ we mean giving the right to vote (in the first and third case). The second case is interesting, in that the citizenship-granting amendment (14th) was egregiously misread by the Supreme Court almost immediately after ratification, bringing us back to the problem of judicial discretion to ignore the intended meaning of a text. In any event, voting rights and marriage statutes are quite different.

“President Bush's amendment would be the first adopted to stigmatize and exclude a group of Americans.”

Truth Alert: The 22nd Amendment stigmatizes and excludes former two-term presidents. Even the liberal hero Bill Clinton has been whining about being excluded by it. Plenty of other amendments are ‘stigmatizing’ as well, by the logic that if someone is offended, offense must have been meant. Members of Congress are stigmatized as greedy and unscrupulous by the 27th Amendment. Southern politicians are stigmatized as racists by the 24th Amendment. Alcohol manufacturers and drinkers likely felt stigmatized by the 18th amendment, as with prohibitionists and the 21st. State legislatures could easily feel excluded by the 17th Amendment, and slaveowners have certainly been stigmatized since the adoption of the 13th. Of course, a more levelheaded person might realize that if there is a problem so fundamental that it requires a Constitutional amendment, someone is going to disagree with someone else and be ‘stigmatized’ by the eventual result. “Stigmatization” and “exclusion” are code words for “if you don’t agree, you must be a bigot,” not any attempt at rational analysis.

“Polls show that while a majority of Americans oppose gay marriage, many would prefer to allow the states to resolve the issue rather than adopting a constitutional amendment.”

And polls are a relevant argument because? The President should be completely poll driven? Or is it just that polls should be followed when the Times agrees with the people, and ignored as the whims of the uneducated masses when it doesn’t? In any event, after a public discussion of the tradeoffs and benefits of amending the Constitution, Americans will participate in the most significant series of public opinion polls when they go to the real polls for the election.

“They understand what President Bush does not: the Constitution is too important to be folded, spindled or mutilated for political gain.”

Putting aside the assumption that political gain flows to Bush from this, let’s analyze the implications. Both parties should stop playing politics with judicial nominations (remind me again who the worst offenders have been lately). The Supreme Court should reverse some of its ‘constitution-mutilating’ decisions and return power to elected legislatures rather than rewriting the Constitution to achieve policy goals. And perhaps the New York Times should stop editorializing about how it wants the Supreme Court to rule on pending cases, since the monolithic Constitution is clearly so clear that no politician or interest group should ever sully it by questioning its provisions or their interpretations (after all, if there’s one clear right answer, there’s no need to discuss it). That is, if we’re serious about taking the Constitution seriously and never using it for political gain.

 
NYTimes Endorses Bush?
Yesterday's editorial, with the omission of 1 word:

"Sacking a president usually makes things worse. Politicians will not make unpopular decisions — or decisions that offend powerful groups — if they must face the political guillotine every day. While many protesters want to destroy everything and start from zero, ... America needs more continuity, not less. Also, with the presidency in constant play, opposition leaders will not make constructive compromises, instead manipulating every issue to try to win power."

Adding to the irony, of course, is that the NYTimes writes to the 'powerful groups' who are offended by the President's decisions, and have a history of 'manipulating every issue to try to win power.'

Wednesday, February 25, 2004
 
Primary Results & Impressions
The Utah Democratic Party has the results of the primary:

Kerry 19432 55.2%
Edwards 10486 29.8%
Kucinich 2602 7.3%
Dean 1343 3.8%
Clark 492 1.4%
Lieberman 407 1.2%
Gephardt 124 Less than 1%
Uncommitted 305 Less than 1%

Turnout: Though they don't seem to believe in totaling, it looks like 35,191 votes were cast. The news articles were trying to spin this as a dramatic increase in participation, but I'm not sure that holds up. Looking at some hastily-googled population numbers from this site, we have 1990 population at 1,722,850 and 2002 population estimated at 2,316,256. This is about a 34% increase over 12 years. Meanwhile, turnout in the last contested Democratic primary (1992) was put at about 27,000. That makes the increase from 1992 to 2004 about 30% over a similar 12 year period. While this data obviously doesn't take the relative level of partisanship of the Utah electorate into account (and I don't care to dig up those numbers, if available), an 8000 vote increase looks entirely reasonable given population trends [further caveat: I'm not sure offhand if the rules changed significantly between 1992 and 2004--obviously, if voting was either easier or harder then, that would say something]. My bottom line is that, based on evidence presented, attempting to spin this election as generating unusually high turnout doesn't hold up, at least in Utah.

Results: My initial reaction is that Edwards is doomed. Barring some major mistake by Kerry, there's no way Edwards can reverse his distant second trend. He doesn't even seem to have picked up enough Dean supporters to seriously have a shot at a 50-50 split. The way the trends are looking now, my impression is that Kerry may effectively have the nomination mathematically wrapped up after Super Tuesday, barring a major turnaround in the next week. I still think a major blitz on Utah (or Idaho, or Hawaii) at the last minute may have been a more effective campaign strategy for Edwards, as going winless into Super Tuesday makes his task basically impossible (the free media a win would have generated would have been worth more than all of the time Edwards has spent in next week's states).

That said, the 2671 voters who voted for Dean, Clark, Kerry, Lieberman, or who spoiled their ballots strike me as fairly dumb. There was no realistic chance for any of those candidates to get delegates, making the protest vote a wasted gesture (staying home would have done more). The 2602 Kucinich voters, on the other hand, strike me as amusingly misguided, but at least within the ballpark of intelligent protest voting (especially since Hawaii just awarded Kucinich his first pledged delegates)--Kucinich supporters are hopelessly idealistic enough to count for a third/minor party, rather than serious Democrats. Amusingly enough, all of the none K & E votes add up to just under 15%. Can they send a delegate in the name of "none of the above?"

Media: The DU runs an AP-credited article (not on newsnet), the only interesting feature of which is that partial numbers. It puts Kerry ahead (53-32) with "more than one-third of voting locations reporting." The accompanying chart shows numbers for 41 of 111 precincts, which add up to 3579 (about 10% of total votes). While some disparities are inevitable, presenting data from the lowest-turnout precincts first is problematic in the long run, and a gap between 10% of the votes and 37% of the turnout seems like it should be noticeable enough to be worth mentioning in the article. That kind of statistical nonrepresentativeness can get you into trouble--just ask President Dewey.

Acceptance: Kerry's quote ("ready to kick George W. Bush out of the White House") seems a little harsh to be motivating swing voters, particularly in Utah. I tend to think the worries about civility in politics are overrated, but this example looks, to me at least, like a tactical mistake more likely to alienate swing Republicans than to energize angry Democrats.

Monday, February 23, 2004
 
Utah Primary Update II
Desnews finally has some poll numbers. Kerry 49, Edwards 23. My main reaction--it was a big mistake for Edwards to ignore the state. If the momentum strategy is so effective in IA and NH, one shouldn't rule it out in this sort of small state contest on the eve of a bigger showdown.

Sunday, February 22, 2004
 
Nader's Influence
It's fairly accepted conventional wisdom that Nader's presence in the 2000 presidential election was counterproductive and helped Bush win--his margin of victory was larger than the difference between Bush and Gore in several states, and Nader voters disproportionately favored Gore to Bush. However, this premise is by no means universally conceded, as some argue that Nader voters otherwise would have stayed home, or might have felt it was worth it to send the Democratic Party a message to take their issues more seriously. Nader's effects on the 2004 race, therefore, are not immediately obvious. Some arguments:

*Nader will help Republicans, as many who would have voted for the Democratic nominee will vote for Nader.
*Counterargument: Many disgruntled Democrats will use the 2000 experience to justify avoiding supporting Nader.
*Counterargument 2: Such voters would have stayed home anyway, and thus will not significantly affect the race.
*Counterargument 3: Voters energized by Nader's candidacy who would otherwise have stayed home will probably vote disproportionately for Democrats in the down-ballot races, helping Democrats more than Republicans in Congressional and state races.

*Nader will help Republicans, as his attacks on the Democratic nominee from the left will keep the Dem from moving as far to the middle as he needs to to attract swing voters.
*Counterargument: Or it could be that the issues of the Left will get more press coverage, and the additional attacks on President Bush will hurt him more than the posited electoral help.

*Nader's candidacy might "[invigorate] efforts to improve ballot access for third parties." Some would consider this a good thing.
*Counterargument: Some consider it a bad thing.
*Counterargument II: Between the California recall circus and disgruntled Democrats afraid Nader will throw the race to Bush again, many might work make it harder to get a third party on the ballot (which may be either a good or bad thing, depending).

*Nader's candidacy might elevate the level of political discourse in America, as issues and ideas which otherwise might not have been addressed will likely be considered.
*Counterargument: Or the horse race 'who will it help/hurt' coverage might continue to drown out issue coverage.

The Nader campaign's discussion of ballot access requirements in each state is here, and makes interesting skimming (275 signatures in TN versus 18,000 in NM?). I wonder to what degree Republicans convinced that Nader's entry helps them more than it hurts would find it productive to help in gathering signatures.

 
Democratic Primary Update
Desnews interprets the Demos' mostly open primary differently than I do below. "Unfortunately, Utah's Democratic primary is only a semi-open affair this year, following on the heels of the state Republican Party's decision to close its primaries. Anyone who will be at least 18 years old by the Nov. 2 general election is eligible to cast a ballot at his or her local library between noon and 8 p.m. But they [sic] will be required to sign a statement declaring themselves [sic] to be participating as Democrats and agreeing not to vote in any other party's primary for the same election."

I don't know that this is actually a significant obstacle, but maybe I just think too much like a political scientist, in that party affiliation is largely self-determined--you are what you say you are, for as long as you say you are. American parties, for better or for worse, are largely not discriminating associations--they have no way to prevent people from calling themselves members of the party. They can do certain things, like limit their primary ballots to publicly registered party members, but that doesn't seem to be the case in this instance.

In thinking over the electoral consequences of this primary, I suspect that the only way it will even register on the national radar is if Edwards wins, with the margin of victory determining the amount of coverage. A narrow Kerry win on the eve of Super Tuesday wouldn't get nearly the amount of coverage as a narrow Edwards win, since Edwards needs to win somewhere to show that his 'late surging' has potential. A big win, of course, could lead to proportionally more coverage, as well as giving Edwards a much-needed boost if he hopes to survive long in March. In any event, if the state Democratic Party wants it primary to get the most news coverage, its members probably should vote for Edwards. If Kerry wins, expect it to have less impact than even North Dakota or Delaware (for whom frontloading also didn’t seem to help).

Saturday, February 21, 2004
 
The Hobgoblin of Little Minds?
"Effective separation of church and state requires the government to get rid of government sponsored religious symbols." --Daily Universe editorial, Off with their headscarves, February 17, 2004.

"However, the important quest to protect the rights of minorities has turned into the protection of minority opinions ... Courts across the country are ordering statues of the Ten Commandments - the foundation of our American political system - to be removed from public property." --Daily Universe editorial, Don't impose opinions, 8 October 2002.

We'll see what they think the next time the TC issue comes up.

 
Admissions Stats
According to the Winter 2004 issue of BYU Magazine (pp. 80, 83), the alumni magazine that's also distributed for free on campus:
*The average high school unweighted GPA is 3.74, and the average ACT score is 27.3 for this year's freshmen.
*78% of new freshman applicants were admitted in 2003.
*Historically, 96% of incoming freshmen are four-year seminary graduates.

Knowing very little about the admissions process, the first item strikes me as too low, and the second two as too high. Despite everything I hear about how much more selective the BYU is getting, the current crop of freshmen don't provide much evidence for the proposition, in my experience (which isn't to say there aren't exceptionally good students--it's just that there is a nontrivial number of unimpressive to exceptionally bad students who either weren't taught enough in high school or don't care enough to apply themselves in college).

 
A Democratic Primary? In Utah?!?
The Utah Democratic presidential primary is on Tuesday. Interestingly, according to the party webpage, the primary is open to effectively anyone--"all citizens of the United States who will be 18 years of age by the 2004 general election and reside in the State of Utah. Additionally, voters must publicly declare themselves to be participating as Democrats and that they will not participate in the nominating process of any other party for the corresponding election." Methinks many BYU students who didn't vote in their home state Republican primaries could take advantage of this, if they wanted to and didn't mind getting Democratic junk mail ("Participants do not need to be registered to vote, although they will have to sign a form adding them to the party's mailing list."--Desnews).

The question, of course, would be who to vote for, if one were intent on doing so. There are basically three options (Kucinich, though on the ballot, seems highly unlikely to break 15% for the first time in one of the most conservative states in the Union).

1. Dean. Incredibly, Dean still wants voters to vote for him, despite having dropped out, supposedly because "if we receive a sufficient number of votes, we can receive delegates to send to the national convention." The downside to this, of course, is that Dean was barely breaking 15% in states he actually tried in, so it seems highly likely that anyone foolish enough to vote for Dean will merely waste his vote, and Dean won't get any more delegates.

2. Kerry. Seems to be winning contests mainly by virtue of having won contests elsewhere, not through any deep affinity with the voters. Strategic Republicans might want this to continue to force Edwards to drop out sooner, taking Kerry (and his attacks on President Bush) out of the headlines to a degree.

3. Edwards. Claims that he's gaining in every state at the time of voting, implying that if the calendar weren't so frontloaded he'd be winning, as voters would have time to get to know him better. Also may gain if the voters who voted for Dean (for whom the 'electability' argument wouldn't seem to hold much sway) move disproportionately to him. Strategic Republicans might want him to do better, so as to force Kerry to spend time and money fighting him off, to increase the chances that one or both will go negative, and to keep the Dems from 'unifying' around Kerry yet.

Which of these strategies/scenarios would be better (for either party) depends on many other variables, of course.

Other primary tidbits: Frontloading seems not to have worked for Utah Democrats after all, as everyone is more or less ignoring their 29 delegates. No candidate seems likely to visit the state. Furthermore, I can't find any polling data, suggesting that no one else cares either (and we already knew that the Legislature doesn't care, since it declined to fund the primary). Past Democratic primaries had turnout of 27,000 in 1992 and 17,000 in 2000 (after Bradley had dropped out)--it should be interesting to see if that number changes significantly. Finally, insofar as I've been able to tell, no one is visibly campaigning in Provo--I've heard that there are BYU student organizations for both Kerry and Edwards, but haven't seen either of them do anything, on or off campus. Which is a shame, as Democrats at BYU are so misunderstood that they really need to do a better job of getting their message out.

Saturday, February 14, 2004
 
I Hope "Sex" Didn't Just Become a Search-Engine Keyword For This Blog
More reader reactions, with responses.

"Which is worse (since you raised this subject anyway)--one who sins without premeditation (in moments of weakness), or one who plans to be ready just in case?"

I rather prefer leaving that one up to God to judge, though in general premeditated sin is pretty bad. I suspect that individual circumstances would play a considerable role.

"The problem with teaching "safe sex" is that it unfortunately legitimatizes the very sins we are trying to teach youth to avoid at all costs."

I’m not sure that this always follows. In large part, it depends on the manner of the teaching and the previous rapport established between the parent and the child (in a parent-child setting). There’s a big difference between ‘here’s a condom to keep you out of trouble’ and ‘chances are you’re going to hear people talking about birth control, and a lot of what they’re going to say may not be true. So let’s talk about what really is true, and what we believe about the consequences.’ In any event, if the proper groundwork is laid by the parent, the kid is already going to realize the seriousness of chastity independent of the temporal consequences, and will generally, I suspect, find knowing more useful than not in combating the misinformation put out by the world.

The school setting, of course, is different. To me, the chain of reasoning still goes something along the lines of:
*It may be the appropriate role of the schools to educate children about reproduction, if parents aren’t going to. (This is obviously highly controversial right here, but everything I’ve seen suggests that a nontrivial number of parents aren’t teaching their kids anything, and I’m inclined to think that formal instruction will lead to fewer problems than peer instruction).
*Due to cultural changes, a nontrivial number of adolescents are going to fornicate. Regardless of one’s moral beliefs, this is going to create serious public policy problems due to both STDs and out-of-wedlock births. Social science is pretty clear that children raised out of marriage are at greater risk. We are also not well-served by sickness and death among youth, regardless of their morals. Thus, some sort of governmental intervention may be necessary.
*If we have a fairly cheap method of cutting into the STD and OOWB problem, it may make sense to make it available, particularly if we add in a strong discouragement of any premarital sexual activity at all. However, knowing that some will disregard this counsel, we make available ways to cut into the resulting problems.
*Reaching this point, the argument seems to be that at the margin will be some adolescents who will take the official information about preventing out-of-wedlock birth and STDs to be official sanction, and thus some youth will fornicate who, in the absence of government information, would not have. This would seem to be the sticking point to sex ed in schools. However, it would seem to be necessary to know how many youth would be convinced by the same instruction not to be sexually active, and how much other harm would be prevented by this course of action. At this point, however, I lean toward more knowledge being more desirable, as adolescents can repent of their own mistakes, but innocent children shouldn’t have to deal with their (unwed) parents’ mistakes.


"In everything we do we teach something:

If we go on vacation, we teach the children the importance of family. We also teach them to value fun over work.
If we don't go on vacation because finances are tight, we teach them thrift and carefulness in providing for the family. We also teach them that family doesn't matter as much as they thought.
If we go on vacation even though finances are tight, we teach them the importance of family; we may also teach financial irresponsibility (at the same time).

The problem with teaching "safe sex" for the unmarried is that despite our best efforts, we not only teach them how to avoid other problems, but we also undermine our efforts to teach them chastity. Which is worse? I admit there is a problem. But the solution proposed seems to be little better than the problem."


The one point here that I don’t think I already addressed above is that I don’t it’s a bad thing to teach people how to avoid problems, particularly when the problems in question affect other people, often innocent. Punishment belongs to God—our job is to relieve suffering and encourage righteousness through persuasion, not punishment. We would look on someone who biologically engineered a new fatal STD as morally repugnant, regardless of whether it scared some people into being more chaste in action (if not in desire). Thus, I find the appeal to fear in not teaching children about modern contraception to be an unjustifiable argument. As someone on Nauvoo said, I’d prefer that they live long enough to repent.

Another analogy. Suppose parents who don’t believe in keeping guns are trying to decide what to teach their children about guns. The easy answer would be to simply not ever bring the subject up—except that kids will eventually learn about guns anyway from the surrounding culture, and may someday be in a situation where their lack of authoritative knowledge will be dangerous. Thus, even the most anti-Second Amendment parents should still probably see that their children learn such basics as ‘always treat any gun as loaded’ and ‘never point a gun at a person you don’t fully intend to shoot.’ Additional facts, such as how lethal guns are and what will and won’t kill someone, could conceivably lead a child to eventually want to use a gun to kill someone—but it seems just as likely that he might use his knowledge to deter a peer from reckless action. I’m inclined to think that in almost everything, knowledge (including knowing how to use that knowledge) is better than ignorance.

Ultimately, I agree that the decisions of how and what to teach children are not easy (and my public policy preferences are certainly open to change, if I find more compelling evidence to think differently). However, if we build on a strong moral foundation, any knowledge we give our children should be used for good, if they are inherently good.

 
Ten Commandments Yet Again--First Amendment, Religion, & Government Speech
A reader emails the following questions, and asks for elaboration.

“I don't necessarily disagree with any of your conclusions, but I still wonder:
How can the right answer be for the state to become a-religious, required to spend funds to assure that no non-believer (or different believer, or believer) is offended by the beliefs or practices of another?”


I’m not sure that this follows. If the state is doing its job properly, it won’t be advocating any particular set of religious beliefs (which may still be offensive to some, but they could always move to a non-First Amendment-protected country). It shouldn’t cost anything extra to not advocate a belief, and even if the state could do something cheaper, it wouldn’t be worth the tradeoff in loss of religious neutrality, by and large.

“The book of Joshua and the BofM clearly recount the results of disbelief and wickedness. Somehow we need to come to a result that encourages people of faith, without trampling the right of a person not to believe.”

Alma 1:17 seems to give a good answer: “and now the law could have no power on any man for his belief.” My understanding of the message of this chapter (and of our theology in general) is that forced belief is bad. We must encourage people to be righteous through noncoercive means.

“Until religion is stamped out of society, it is impossible to create a society not touched by religion. Creating an environment hostile to religion in the name of the 1st amendment is just a different manifestation of a state religion, is it not?”

I suppose this gets into a semantic discussion of what an environment ‘hostile’ to religion is. Others are free to believe as they will, but I don’t think it’s ‘hostile’ to tell Christians they can’t put the Ten Commandments up in a courtroom any more than it’s ‘hostile’ to prevent Muslims from putting the Five Pillars up, or for that matter, any group to put up some statement of belief that has nothing to do with our judicial system. The walls of the courthouse are not a place for interest groups to be posting messages of any sort.

“If a judge wishes to pray in his courtroom, should he not have that privilege?”

I’m inclined to think not, at least not publicly. Interjecting religion into a secular process, particularly one fraught with such important decisions that we go to great lengths to try to assure the impartiality and fairness of the judge, seems problematic at the least. Other peoples’ prayers frequently make me uncomfortable, even when the prayer is not in a position of authority over me. I imagine it would be much worse in a situation in which the judge has a considerable degree of power over you. Even if the judge did manage to stay neutral, why take the risk of making the process seem biased through nonrelevant means? Finally, the judge is an employee of the state, and, as with any nonelected employee of the state, waives certain privileges while on duty (elected officials, I think, are different—they serve at the will of the people, and have greater latitude. But the courts are specifically in place to keep them from getting out of hand, not least on matters of religion).

“Those who do not wish to pray with him should not be forced to do so. Neither should he be prevented, for the same reason.”

So why can’t he pray alone, in his chambers? What purpose does making the prayer public serve, other than to make people feel either more or less comfortable (either of which is not a good outcome, from a perspective of maintaining an impartial judicial system—the judge shouldn’t form any attachments with one party over the other, for any reason. And if both parties are so fired up abut prayer that it will make a difference in their attitudes, why are they in court at all, given the New Testament’s advice on the subject of suing believers?)

“In an earlier time, people thought it appropriate to place the 10 commandments in a public building. To keep them there requires no expenditure of public funds. They stand as a monument to what an earlier generation believed, but are not necessarily an endorsement of the state of any particular religious views. Does not the expenditure of public funds to remove them (given that they are already there) violate the 1st Amendment as much or more so than leaving them there simply as part of the historical heritage of that building?”

A more dedicated civil libertarian than I would argue that keeping totally immobile obscure monuments there does indeed violate the First Amendment. Personally, if they’re just engraved on the outside of the building, I don’t think it’s that big a deal. If it’s cheap and easy to remove a posted monument, though, it should be removed. And, in my understanding, most of the current controversies (at least the ones linked with Moore) aren’t so much over old monuments (though some of those exist), but over activist judges wanting to post new ones. This kind of behavior strikes me as fundamentally ridiculous, not only serving no constructive end, but actively undermining public perceptions of Christianity.

“Do we push the limits of the First Amendment by allowing people to hold opinions about religion and express them freely, not as representatives of the state but as private citizens? If they do not use their office to enforce those views, can we forbid them to express those views simply because they hold public office?”

But there is a difference between expressing such views as a private citizen and using the powers of one’s office to push them on others. In all responsibilities as a representative of the state, the official must be scrupulously impartial in all matters of religion, or, if he is unable to, to recluse himself (as discussed above, I don’t think this applies as much to elected legislators or executive officers; judges, however, definitely shouldn’t cross this line, even if elected (itself a questionable idea)). It strikes me as rather like my responsibilities as a TA—in accepting employment, I agree to represent my professor, the department, and the university, not my own views. In grading student papers, I cannot mark down simply because a student expresses an opinion I find distasteful—I must use objective criteria in all my grading. In addition, if I get a student who I know in some context other than class, I decline to grade his material if I have the slightest doubt I could remain impartial. To do otherwise undermines the credibility of the entire system. I don’t have any inherent right to force my ideological viewpoint on students, or to reward those whose views I find superior, just as judges don’t have the right to use their office to force their ideology on others. In their private actions, judges are free to do whatever they want, just as all citizens are.

“Must all public discourse be devoid of all religious views? Must we delete all references to God and religion from all of the history and historical documents of our culture?”

It depends what you mean by public discourse. Normal public expression is fully protected by the First Amendment. When the government is the speaker, however, the First Amendment prohibits the government from endorsing any particular religious viewpoint. It is possible for the government to discuss religion’s impact on history without taking a stance for or against the beliefs in question (though it doesn’t always do it very well, at least in my schools—one of the reasons I’m touchy about the issue). And, for the record, I think that having “In God We Trust” on our money or the mention of God in the third verse of the national anthem may not be fully justifiable, but don’t really matter, and so should be allowed under a grandfather clause. The Pledge of Allegiance, however, is a different, issue, but in the interests of avoiding flaming, one I’ll leave alone for now.

 
Save he shall accomplish...
This thread on Nauvoo, discussing an apparent contradiction between 1 Nephi 3:7 and D&C 124:49, raises several interesting points. The major point I felt was only partially addressed, though, was how we know whether we've done what God has commanded.

Someone did say "I am heartened, though, by the fact that the two scriptures that you cited have at least one common theme: and that is that, when we receive a commandment from the Lord, we must strive to obey it with all our strength. Perhaps that commonality has more to tell us than the apparent contradiction."

This is true, as far as it goes. However, I think it still leaves plenty of ambiguity.

First, due to human nature, no one is perfect. In my experience, only the Lord can judge when a person has really employed 'all his strength' in a task. It is too easy for us to deceive ourselves and think we are trying harder than we are, or just to plain screw up. This line of thought, though, seems to lead to an easy out clause for God with respect to 1N3:7--'well, I had a way prepared, but you just didn't have enough faith...' This can lead me to not want to try as hard, rather than spurring me to try harder, as I will always be able to find some imperfection in my effort.

Second, our decisions about how to spend our time and energy carry opportunity costs. Every bit of effort we spend maximizing our effort on one problem is effort that can't be spent on a different problem. We are given much counsel to seek for balance, rather than extremism, in many endeavors. For instance, studying the scriptures, raising children, developing talents, temple worship, and even prayer could each, in theory, take every minute of every day--but we can't drop everything else to just put all of our strength into one thing.

Third, many of the commandments we receive interrelate in many ways to the agency of others. Getting married, baptizing converts, going home teaching, etc, all depend to a great degree on the agency of the other party/ies in the process. I don't think that we can write off the commandments to do any of those things because of this objection though--the Lord wants the Church collectively to be engaged in these pursuits--it's at the individual level that things get sticky. But at the same time, often these things are undone at least in part due to others.

All of these problems intersect in ways that don't necessarily have easy or quick answers. For instance, the plight of the unmarried. On the one hand, it's easy to say 'the Lord must have prepared someone for you, so if you're righteous enough you'll find him/her.' On the other hand, it seems entirely possible that the intersection of agency, personal shortcomings, temporal factors, etc, may make it so the person's unwed status is not her/his fault at the present time. In the area of missionary work, I had an acquaintance say that in his mission, 1N3:7 was most associated with unrighteous dominion and guilt-tripping missionaries; while missionaries do need to have faith the Lord is preparing a work for them to do, it seems wrong to assume sin or weakness in every case where no obvious marvel is forthcoming.

Ultimately, I think we need to be careful in suggesting applications of either scripture, especially in situations in which the individual is already experiencing significant concern/pain/guilt. On the other hand, individuals must work out for themselves just what the good faith effort the Lord requires of them is--which is in and of itself a subject far too complicated for this post. I will say that I suspect the ambiguity may be intentional, to allow room for personal inspiration rather than mechanical compliance with a rigid standard. Perhaps the Spirit is the only one who can direct us between 'there must be some easy solution I could find if I just tried harder' and 'I may as well stop stressing, as it will all work out in the Millennium.'

Friday, February 13, 2004
 
The Plot Thickens
In today's DU: "Correction. BYUSA contacted NewsNet after Tuesday's editorial and said videos and Web sites are not illegal in a BYUSA presidential campaigns [sic], although neither are mentioned in the elections handbook. As stated in the editorial, the campaign team in question was disqualified for numerous infractions."

The DU reported the substantive allegation that the video/website issue was at the heart of the matter on at least two separate occasions. Therefore, either the DU was systematically incompetent at covering basic news, or the BYUSA office is incompetent/covering up. Either way, it seems like a credible newspaper would have some serious explaining/investigating to do.

Meanwhile, to reassure us about its objective journalistic standards, the DU runs an article entitled BYUSA president supports Glanzer. "Johnson said traditionally BYUSA presidents do not endorse candidates in the next election, and he maintains that his support for Glanzer is not an official endorsement from the BYUSA president. He said he is just supporting Glanzer as a regular student." And of course all regular students also get an entire article devoted to their campaign preferences.


Monday, February 09, 2004
 
'Free,' 'Fair,' and Irrelevent Elections: BYUSA at 'Work'
This story, along with one that ran in Friday's DU (but doesn't seem to be online) leaves one wondering whether the university even cares that BYUSA, despite not having any to begin with, is trying to destroy its credibility. The issues seem to be:

*Candidates were disqualified for having a website. It is evidently against the rules to have a website, as that might lead to communication with voters or something equally sinister. Putting aside the issue of whether the candidates knew that this was against the rules (the DU makes it into a he-said, she-said case), the fact remains that candidates apparently aren't supposed to communicate with voters. The 'campaign' is already ridiculously short--less than 48 hours of voting, next to no information about candidates other than their (badly-written) official platforms, no opportunity for structured interaction (except for one evidently unannounced Q&A in the Wilk, with DU coverage so bad that the event was either meaningless, or the 99% of the student body who didn't attend is left thinking it was), etc. Why even have candidates campaign?--just have them anonymously post their platforms, and let the 10% of the student body that bothers to vote cast votes based on punctuation or something.

*A campaign team was disqualified during the voting process. And removed from the ballots. And voters who voted in the first half of the election cycle couldn't recast their votes. Changing the rules during the process sparked quite a controversy in Florida four years ago. The basic problem, in addition to some voters being disenfranchised) is that we have no way of knowing whether those whose votes weren't counted would have voted disproportionately for another candidate--for all we know, #3 should be in the finals, and either of the top two not. Once the voting had started, given the 'technology limitations' constraining the options, the administration should have waited for voting to close to make any official announcement--if the affected candidate lost by a large margin, no problem, and if not, the primary could either be rerun or, even if not, the candidate would still be disqualified without disrupting the process and allowing some votes to count more than others.

*And, with all of those problems, and a 16-vote margin, the DU runs a headline
Glanzer, Nielson win BYU primary election. Which, or course, they didn't, as there were likely easily more than 16 votes in doubt given the above-discussed rule changes. Perhaps students should vote against those candidates just to offset the advantage the DU is trying to give them.

*Other concerns, such as the 'self-policing' that turns spying into a viable campaign strategy, or the DU's biased coverage against some candidates, are also valid. But what's the point? The irrelevant 'student service' association is now shown (yet again) to have biased 'elections' whose rules are designed to prevent voters from actually learning about the candidates. Arthur Henry King was right.

 
Public Opinion at $50/vote
As mentioned immediately below, I managed to score a ticket to the Utah County Republican straw poll on Saturday (links to DesNews and SLTrib below--newsnet ran an article today but doesn't have it online. However, it's the only one of the three that even hints that the reporter was actually there). The event was interesting--political pageantry, various forms of bribery, etc. The food wasn't worth $50, but then, I doubt very many people actually paid for their own tickets, thanks to the generosity of campaigns trolling for votes.

General comments on the voting: No ballot security whatsoever--I could have run to Kinko's and run off dozens more ballots had I wanted to skew the vote, and the party would have had no way of knowing. Not only that, but they announced halfway through the voting period not to vote in both Congressional races (badly designed ballot), then proceeded to count double-votes anyway. Not impressive at all. (No dinner security for that matter—you only needed a ticket to get a ballot, not to get in. Maybe next time I’ll go for free…)

My impressions of the various politicians on display:

General comments on the speeches: equipped with the proper "Republican Bingo" card, this event could have been fun for even the nonpolitical. Just mark the box every time someone mentions activist judges, honoring the military, the importance of family, the fact that his wife is in the audience, the desirability of lower taxes, the evils of the Super Bowl, etc. The other issue I noted generally is that if the rumblings here were any indication, the right base is not at all happy with the President on No Child Left Behind, immigration reform, and spending generally. That could spell trouble come November (or not, as it's not like anyone there would vote for Kerry).

Senator Bennett (no credible opposition in either party) was the first speaker with five minutes to use as he wanted (everyone else got three). He chose to use it to bash the Democrats running for president--comparing Edwards to Moseley Braun ('less time in Senate, smaller state, less important committee assignments--why is everyone taking him more seriously then her?'), bashing Clark's political opportunism and 'character and integrity' issues, bashing Dean's temperament, and pointing out that Kerry complains about the deficit while voting for greater spending, and is inconsistent on the war. On the whole, this choice of topic struck me as odd--it's not as if anyone there was going to vote Democratic, and if Bush can't hold Utah without effort, he hasn't got a prayer in November. A more effective approach, it would have seemed to me, would be to simply remind everyone there that their votes wouldn't matter much, but $2000 to Bush's campaign would. I would also have appreciated hearing the Senator talk about something a little more meaningful, as I don't know much about him (Hatch tending to overshadow the whole Utah delegation). Oh well. At least the campaign literature he had on hand, consisting of the text of an Independence Day celebration speech he gave last year, was interesting reading.

District 2 (3 challengers, Matheson (D) is the incumbent):

Wild[?]--didn't catch the guy's name, but his platform was mainly that he could carry Salt Lake county while the other two couldn't. Since he only pulled in 4% of the straw poll vote, Utah County doesn't seem to be buying it (while the straw poll is horribly unscientific, my impression was that the gubernatorial campaigns did most of the vote-buying, meaning the congressional races are probably closer to useful, for what it's worth. Not that I trust them that much, but what else do we have at this point?).

Swallow: Hit the standard Republican stock phrases (limited government, Lincoln, liberal judges, family, etc), along with mentioning the $500K he's raised already. I rated his speech at so-so. For some reason he manages to really annoy me (probably at least party because he managed to lose a district specifically gerrymandered for an easy Republican win--and acts like his close finish gives the right to be the nominee again without opposition). His campaign literature is also pretty annoying. The most relevant part of his speech was his highlighting (to a limited degree) of Matheson's nonrepresentativeness of Utah voters--but he failed to make the case as to why he should be Matheson's replacement.

Bridgewater: Unfortunately didn't do much better. Was somewhat stumbling and halting, and wasted quite a bit of time bashing the Democratic presidential candidates--then ran over his allotted time, which was obvious to everyone in the audience by the time he realized it. Mentioned that he was running on conservative Republican principles, but didn't really highlight the differences between himself and Swallow, or make his case that Swallow had blown his chance already. Pulled in 36% of the straw poll to Swallow's 60%--he's got quite a bit of work to do if that's at all indicative of delegate sentiment, particularly since he probably can't afford a primary (and hence needs 60% in convention). However, a source in the campaign said they hadn't really begun in earnest yet (which is either good or bad, depending).

District 3 (Chris Cannon (R) is the incumbent, two party challengers). In general, this set of speakers was more compelling (with respect to speaking style) than any of the last three:

Throckmorten: Evidently just entered the race. Mainly talked about immigration--mentioned that Utah allowed illegal aliens to have drivers’ licenses and instate college tuition. Also went off on NCLB, calling for its conversion into block grants for the states. As I disagree with several of the implications of his immigration arguments, and have yet to be convinced of the evils (or virtues) of NCLB, I didn't feel he made much of a case against Cannon.

Hawkins: Went off on NCLB, the deficit, entitlements. Didn't, however, make much of a case as to why Cannon should go. His literature is interesting--a long booklet about policy, which is better than the vague statements most candidates put out. However, it wasn't nearly specific enough to consist of detailed policy proposals (as if one Rep could even get such a thing passed without significant compromise), and had an annoying habit of not citing sources on the spot, an anathema to someone in the social sciences. My two biggest concerns with him, however, are the fact that all of his discussion of civility doesn't seem to fit in with Senator Hatch's account of how his supporters behaved at the 2000 convention (see Square Peg), and he doesn't ever make the case against Cannon, an essential requirement to make an intraparty challenge credible.

Cannon: Put in a plug for Jim Hansen (off in DC saving Hill AFB), and for the state officials working with the feds to implement NCLB. Seemed a nice piece of defense on NCLB without giving his challengers the dignity of a direct response. I suspect he's probably pretty safe (63% of the straw vote, with his opponents essentially splitting the difference). His literature, featuring actual policy discussion (no one else mentioned, say, health savings accounts), was effective as well.

Gubernatorial race:

Hellewell: Talked about controlling spending and taxes. Didn't explain how a conservative legislator from the most conservative county in the state could expect to win statewide. Didn't change the impression I'd already had that he doesn't have a snowball's chance in hell.

Stephens: Talked about economic development, quality of education (funding, accountability, choice), governmental efficiency (called for a Grace commission for Utah), governmental protection of freedoms (life, arms, property, parental rights--quite the Republican list), and the principle of individual responsibility (dependence on government costs freedom). All nice sounding rhetoric, though he didn't really explain how he would put it into practice.

Eyre: Blamed the then-open primary for his '92 loss to Leavitt. Mad at the Utah media for giving more time to the Democratic presidential candidates than to the gubernatorial race. Claimed he'd spent the past 12 years working for the family, and wanted to continue doing so by running for office.

Hansen: Not only could he not make it, but his surrogate couldn't make it either, leading to an awkward moment. Hopefully that won't cost him too much Utah County support.

Lampropolous: Couldn't make it, but had a video prepared. Basically nothing that hadn't already been said by someone else. No mention of his double-divorce, unless that was the reason the other candidates kept introducing their wives.

Huntsman: My first impression was 'he looks even younger than I thought he would,' which is probably not a good sign unless he gets to the general (Matheson is about the same age). He tried to joke about being the ideal candidate to challenge Matheson's use of family coattails, but I'm not sure how well it works. Discussed economic development, etc. I'm still not sure what he has besides a famous name, but perhaps time will tell.

Herbert: bragged about the record of Utah county--low taxes, high growth, etc, during his watch. While I have sympathy for his effort (whoever heard of a county commissioner being famous for anything, let alone becoming governor?), I don't know if he was engaging enough to stand out in the crowd.

Karras: an imposing presence--somewhat dry and dignified (and he told the extroverted CPA joke)--but he looks like a governor should. Probably one of the only ones up there I'd actually trust to analyze a policy problem himself instead of relying on his advisers or rhetoric. However, his message was basically more of the same, if better delivered--education (empowered parents, local control), economic development (using the universities/colleges as growth incubators), and innovation.

Overall, good fun, though a bit disappointing in the sense that the candidates could have made much better policy/ideology arguments instead of preaching to the choir. We'll see how the delegates do at sifting the wheat from the chaff.

 
Coming Attractions
Having now finished a longwinded post I'd been meaning to get to all week, I can move on to my account of the Utah County Republican straw poll, or to my response to another correspondent who took issue with some of last week's posts, or the recent BYUSA shenanigans, or the post I've been meaning to write on inspiration in fiction, or even the review of Lord of the Rings that's been percolating since December. Except that it's late, and I bucketloads of homework to do this week, so it will have to wait until later.

Sunday, February 08, 2004
 
What is Doctrine?
A correspondent sent me the link to this Robert L. Millet article about the boundaries of our doctrine, which someone also referenced in this Times & Seasons discussion. I didn't get around to reading the article until today, but did think off and on about how we answer the question of what exactly is official Church doctrine.

It's not a terribly easy question to answer, though it's also not one I spend a lot of time worrying about (but then, having grown up in the Church, I have the advantage of instinct helping me out). The comment Millet quotes is amusing but has an element of truth--trying to pin down our exact doctrine is rather like trying to nail jello to the wall.

Our sources of official doctrine include:
*The standard works (OT, NT, BOM, D&C, PGP, anything canonized as such in GC).
*Teachings of the living prophets, particularly in General Conference
*Teachings found in official Church curriculum, websites, manuals, etc.
*Official standards of the Church, particularly the Temple Recommend questions, as well as the exact patterns of the ordinances.
[*And, at a more subtle level, negative doctrine, including things about which the Church either says nothing (regardless of what some of its leaders may have said in the distant past) or says there is no official position.]

To these we can add unofficial sources, including:
*nonstandard works, by BYU professors, General Authorities' personal writings, Sunday School teachers' interpretations, etc.
*conclusions reached through reason and rationality
*conclusions reached through personal revelation/inspiration (including one's patriarchal blessing, though it is received by another on one's behalf).

One could, in theory, rank these sources according to some priority scheme to resolve conflicts and draw the boundaries of 'official' versus 'unofficial/cultural/etc.' The problem is, however, that all of these sources are fallible or problematic under at least some circumstances.

*We believe the Bible as far as it is translated correctly, and believe that all scripture is generally received through imperfect men; hence, there's always a chance that error crept in (though the chance is higher with certain types of scripture compared to others--Song of Solomon versus D&C 76).
*The Prophet (and GAs generally) is only a prophet when acting as such, according to Joseph Smith. Prophets are fallible humans, and can make mistakes, particularly on more trivial matters. Wilford Woodruff's teaching that the Prophet would never lead the Church astray, at its heart, means that the Prophet is more reliable than not on the important issues, but does not guarantee perfection in all of his teachings.
*Official curriculum, therefore, is both safer and riskier. It's safer in the sense that (lately, anyway) the Brethren have been quite careful with it. On the other hand, given how many people are involved in the production of manuals, websites, etc, the possibility of human error (by a non-GA, no less) cannot be totally discounted. Furthermore, the official materials of the Church (for various good reasons) definitely tilt towards milk, rather than meat, and hence may not make authoritative or complete statements on the 'meatier' matters of doctrine.
*This same problem applies to practical applications--they cover the milk (and most important things), but fundamentally, they are about what we do, not necessarily about what we believe. Furthermore, the exact form of the ordinances or standards can change in minor ways from dispensation to dispensation or even within dispensations, suggesting that we should be cautious about reading too much into certain things.
*Negative doctrine doesn't tell us very much about positive doctrine; at best it warns us off of certain paths.
**All of this adds up not to a statement that we can't trust anything, but that we can't fully trust our conclusions about everything in the 'official' sources, at least on their face.

As for the unofficial sources, things get even worse. None (even one's own personal revelation) is binding on the Church, and all are fallible due to human weakness (even to the point of counterfeit revelation, as taught by President Packer).

So how do we decide what is official doctrine and what is not (or even what degree of semi-officialness doctrine has)? First, a couple of principles:

*The "D&C 91" principle: The Lord didn't give Joseph an authoritative translation of the Apocrypha (in fact, arguments about how complete/reliable the entire JST is continue). Instead, He basically said, 'everyone read it for yourself, in the light of the Spirit, and work things out for yourself.' From this, I draw the lesson that God expects us to work things out, and isn't just going to give us the answers (except in circumstances where He deems it necessary, which, of course, He gets to be the judge of). Similarly, we are commanded to seek out the 'best books,' but are not told which those are, and are not guaranteed that they will be 100% true. In all of our studies, we need to be actively sifting reliable truth from not-as-reliable truth, and can't expect to have the answers handed to us.

*The “good enough” principle: this one was introduced to me by a fellow cynical office elder, but I think there's a lot of truth in it. The theory goes, 'the Lord doesn't always (or even usually) hand you the One Perfect Answer, but rather allows you to work out the best possible answer, and, if it's good enough, tells you that it's good enough or allows you to go forward (if it isn't good enough, he'll tell you to get back to work, presumably).' The specific application was transfers, which I can believe. This principle makes sense to me because Church leaders are human too, and it seems logical that the Lord permits them to make their own mistakes, as well as to have their own successes in helping Him with His work. Certainly he directs them--but they aren't heavenly fax machines. This ties in with the fact that greater light leads to greater responsibility. While this is probably a controversial proposition, it makes sense to me (though I'm not wedded to it being proven right on the Day of Judgment). The counterargument seems indicative--if the Lord really does have One Right Transfer (every six weeks exactly, right on schedule) that will maximize everyone's personalized temporal growing experiences, and the mission president isn't quite on the ball that day with the personal revelation, and accidentally mixes up Elder A and Elder B's assignments, does that mean that they are being punished or held back somehow due to the president’s human weakness? Or should we assume the president is infallible? And what about unrighteous Church leaders (which, sadly, do exist occasionally)? Do they have the power to screw up The Plan for others? To a degree, I think that God can make it so our mistakes cancel each other out, but largely I suspect that the decisions of Church leaders are held to the 'good enough' standard--the Lord guides them to the point that the necessary decisions/statements are made, but the minor details may just be good enough. In the transfer example, it could be that Elders C and D need to serve together, and the president will be prompted to redo the transfer to put them together if he hadn't already done so--but Elders E and F may not need one particular companion or area, and hence may simply be assigned according to the best judgment of the President. (Presumably with enough experience, the president gets enough in tune with the Lord's way of doing things that he can come up with the One Right Transfer without help, eventually. Except by then he's been released).

So the D&C 91 principles suggests that we're not going to have one uniform body of doctrine, all the i's dotted and all the t's crossed. Rather, we're going to have to work things out on the margins for ourselves. Meanwhile, the 'good enough' principles suggests that we don't need to find precise perfection in every circumstance; rather, we need to realize that the Lord made sure that what the Saints of past dispensations had was good enough to get them to salvation, and the doctrine we have today is good enough for that same purpose.

But that still leaves us with the problem of how to work things out on the margins, which is certainly nontrivial in many circumstances. After all, if we believe the scriptures, except when they're mistranslated, and we believe the prophets, except when they're speculating, how do we reconcile a confusing scripture with a confusing statement in the Journal of Discourses? (Which is wrong, or are they both wrong together, or are they both right and the contradiction isn't a contradiction when you understand what's going on)?

The easy answer is the one I mentioned above--instinct. After long enough in the Church, you get an idea of how much weight to put on certain things, and what generally outranks what in terms of deciding on official doctrine. Talks such as '14 Fundamentals in Following the Prophet' or scriptures about revelation give a pretty good idea of what's going on--and consistency among sources is highly indicative. In a way, it's not much different from the judgment calls we're asked to make in other fields. For instance, if confronted with a scientific claim I find dubious, I instinctively look at several things--who said it? What authority does he have? What were his methods/reasons? Does this fit in with what I already know? Is there any counterevidence, from which sources? I generally consider the WSJ to be more credible than the NYT, and both to be more credible than the National Inquirer. Similarly, certain scriptures and recent prophetic statements are extremely credible, while the Journal of Discourse isn't as much, but still outranks my personal opinion in some matters.

But there's still one more piece of the puzzle, as it's still possible for instincts to vary. Two people could still come to radically different conclusions about what's important and what isn't. We need something to guide our interpretation in deciding what fits into the doctrinal puzzle and what doesn't. In other words, we need some sort of foundation, or cornerstone, or something. Here 2 Nephi 31 comes in handy, as does 3 Nephi 11: the root of all of our doctrine is the Atonement of Christ, accessible through faith, repentance, baptism, and the Holy Ghost. Everything else, in the words of the prophet, is an appendage to that set of fundamental truths. (Thus, when the Savior commands us not to declare more or less than this (3 Nephi 11:40), I understand him to mean not that we are misguided in teaching the Word of Wisdom, but that all our doctrine must build on the foundation of His atonement (see v. 39 for the building imagery)). [And details about those fundamental truths, such as the exact mechanism of the Atonement, quibbles about the nature of God or Christ, etc pale in comparison to the fundamental truth that through Him we can find salvation].

Thus, in trying to decide where to draw our chalk line of Exact Doctrine, we have a mess of sources of varying reliability, and the margins of the circle can generate much controversy about what 'really' is and is not official doctrine (I suspect the zone of actual official doctrine, that you Must Believe To Be Saved, is probably remarkably small). However, we have a Grand Unifying Principle at the center of the circle, that Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and all doctrine must somehow relate to that central truth.

Thursday, February 05, 2004
 
Musical Seats
Out of nowhere today it suddenly occurred to me to wonder why no one was talking about the fact that Kerry, a sitting senator, has some interesting decisions to make about what to do with his Senate seat after (if?) he wins the nomination (the only thing I could dig up in a couple of minutes of Googling was this, other than this Volokh mention.

A sitting Senator running for the presidency (or vice presidency) is a fairly rare phenomenon, with interesting implications. A potential argument one can make against said Senator is that he doesn't think much of his chances if he's hedging his bets by keeping his safe seat (I seem to recall this being used to tar Lieberman in 2000, and seems to be a factor in Edwards' decision to decline seeking reelection before even coming close to winning the nomination). In addition, the nature of a campaign does not lend itself well to legislative work, so one can complain that the home state is getting shafted because its supposed representative isn't doing his duty (and, if the Hill article linked above can be believed, Republicans may play this up by scheduling key votes to force Kerry to either take a controversial stand or be conspicuously absent) (though on the other hand, he's been effectively AWOL for the entire campaign so far).

Resigning carries its own perils, of course, not least being that defeated Presidential candidates tend to fade away. So let's look at the options and implications:

*Kerry wins the nomination and doesn't resign his Senate seat. Republicans and nervous Democrats make much of this decision, as mentioned above.

*Kerry wins the nomination and resigns his Senate seat. It would be a sign that he's going for broke. It would also enable Governor Romney to appoint a Republican successor. This would have the short-term effect of helping the Republicans in the Senate slightly (it takes one more jittery moderate to derail legislation, one fewer vote to get to cloture, etc), as well as possible electoral implications. Presumably, Kerry would leave enough time that MA would have to put the appointee up for reelection in November--which would put another state in play. If Romney can pick a strong enough candidate, Republicans may be able to either hang on to the seat, or at least force Democrats to spend scarce resources defending it.

Now let's look at the Senate implications. General consensus seems to be that, barring a landslide presidential candidate with significant coattails one way or the other, Republicans should be able to pick up 1-2 seats at least, for a majority of 52-48 or 53-47 (see here to look at the nationwide Senate picture). Putting MA in play could change these dynamics--if a Republican appointee campaigns with incumbent advantage, he could win.

*On the other hand, if Kerry wins the presidency, he must resign his Senate seat upon taking office (at which point Governor Romney's replacement gets to serve until 2006 without a challenge). This opens up some ironic possibilities--for instance, if Democrats do better than expected and net one seat, Kerry's VP could in theory break the tie to let the Dems control the Senate--except that as the VP takes the oath of office, the Dem caucus shrinks to 49, and the Reps keep control after all.

Of course, as long as we're on loony theories, we could speculate that Governor Romney could appoint one of the MA Supreme Court Four, allowing him to appoint a successor there as well, who could then reverse the marriage ruling... But somehow I doubt it.

 
TwoMileGate II
Well, my prediction of angry letters was almost fulfilled, as today featured a whopping two articles and four editorials on the new boundary issue. The editorials, thanks to typical Newsnet inefficiency, are not online, but two of them are angry indeed. One, by a student reporter, simply parrots the administration line instead of asking the obvious questions ("Will rental prices go up? The housing office says no"). The last, from the infamous Econ-challenged Gary Briggs, gives the closest thing to a coherent university justification for the change, including:

*The new boundaries will help achieve BYU's off-campus housing environment goals.
*98% of single students live close to campus; far complexes have a small percentage of BYU students. "The university does not want to--nor can it--impose control over housing for all of the single young adults in Utah Valley."
*A reference to benefiting "academically and socially, as [students] are able to play an important role in helping to build our campus community."

Oops. That wasn't a justification after all, other then "we want to." Of course, as BYU is a private university, it can indeed do what it wants to, but everyone else can be puzzled at the logic. Despite the official spin, this still looks like either A) a major windfall to landlords close to campus, with the brunt of the cost being borne by students or, B) if the administration really intends to impose price controls as a condition of BYU approval (and how well will that really work?) a bizarre attempt at social engineering. I suppose one could consider the BYU itself to be a bizarre attempt at social engineering, but it makes more sense to me for the university to buy the housing directly if it wants to extend its control that far. But then, I tend to prefer market solutions, particularly when there doesn't seem to be a 'problem' to justify a change (and if the problem really is that it isn't cost-effective to monitor complexes far away from BYU, there's an obvious market solution--charge each complex a fee equal to the administrative costs (or some fraction thereof), thus inducing those complexes who don't want BYU approval that badly to drop out of the program, while those who will house a significant number of students will pay the administrative costs themselves. This could, of course, result in slightly higher rent, but then, it should also result in slightly lower tuition. Aren't property rights wonderful?).

Wednesday, February 04, 2004
 
Decalogue Dismay
As promised, an explanation of my confusion over the 10 Commandments posting issue.

Establishment Clause--the government can't endorse any particular religion. This seems pretty straightforward. So what justification is there for a governmental endorsement of 10 commandments of a particular religion or set of religions? No good one that I can think of. The only close to credible argument I've heard is that 'our legal system is based on the 10 commandments as found in Exodus, so posting them serves as a reminder/celebration of that heritage.' Even if that was true once (and I have my doubts), the claim doesn't seem to bear up today. Let's look at the record:

1. No other Gods. A pretty blatant endorsement of not just religion, but monotheism. And the issue of whether or not two particular religions 'worship the same God' definitely seems to be something the government should stay out of.

2. No graven images. Again, no secular purpose, but a heck of a religious one. It's simply not the government's business (though the thought of the Consumer Products Safety Commission regulating idols does strike me as amusing, for some reason).

3. Not take the name of God in vain.
3.1. Blasphemy. You might be able to carve out a clever First Amendment exception argument revolving around community standards or respect or something, but it seems to have all of the same troubling provisions as 'hate speech' legislation or other PC codes of regulation. And it would still be an establishment of religion, unless we ban disrespectful speaking about any deity or set of beliefs, which blows a pretty big hole in the First Amendment. The way to deal with those who don't respect others' beliefs is to ignore them, not use the power of the state to persecute them.
3.2. Contracts. If you prefer the interpretation that 'taking' the name of the Lord is entering a covenant with him, as through baptism, you could tie in a relation to contract law--but there'd still be no need to bring religion into it (and I doubt the courts would want to enforce a purely religious contract, even between private parties--there'd have to be some sort of property dispute at stake to avoid excessive entanglement).

4. Sabbath. Picking just one is an establishment of everyone who thinks that day is The Sabbath, and a disestablishment of those who don't. So Sunday closing laws, without some major secular purpose, are pretty clearly unconstitutional. Discourage Sabbath commerce by declining to take part, not by forcing those who honor a different Sabbath to conform to your standards.

5. Honor Parents. Do children have legal obligations to their parents? Most of the laws in our system seem to work the other way, and the subjective definition of 'honor' seems to make government involvement pretty silly ($50 off your taxes if you call Mom on Mother's Day?). You could bring the 'care for the elderly' argument into it, in which case I leave as an exercise for the student whether the Social Security program is the nationwide observance of this commandment or its wholesale abandonment.

6. Don't Murder. Finally! A law with a secular purpose. And one our society supporter (except for the unborn, and possibly the elderly/disabled who must want to die anyway. And then there's the issue of the higher abortion rate for the potentially disabled. And so on...).

7. Don't Commit Adultery. We may have once enforced this one through law, but not anymore. No fault divorce, the general trend toward sexual permissiveness, etc. Lawrence v. Texas implies that any law regulating fornication is unconstitutional (under the current Court, anyway), and one could make a compelling case for adultery as well, unless we start taking the contract aspect of marriage seriously again. Which I'm not holding my breath over.

8. Don't Steal. Hey. It's another secular purpose. Now if we just had a good definition of 'steal' to work with... While I'm sure there are quibbles, I'll let this one go through. Our laws, by and large, discourage theft.

9. Don't Bear False Witness.
9.1. Perjury. The literal meaning of this commandment. Still illegal, if not enforced nearly enough. Point Decalogue.
9.2. Lying. The conventional meaning of this commandment. Can be illegal in some circumstances, and covered by free speech in others. Tie.

10. Coveting. As long as it's not acted upon, fully protected by the First Amendment's right to freedom of expression/belief.

So the tally is 3-7, with areas of quibbling even within the three that relate to our legal system today. And for six of the seven, attempting to enforce with the police powers of the state is pretty clearly either violating the Constitution or outside the scope of appropriate government action (I would welcome a more serious legal approach to marriage/divorce/adultery, but doubt the culture will permit it anytime soon).

This leads me to the conclusion that, regardless of history, our legal system pretty clearly is not presently founded on the Ten Commandments (and probably shouldn't be, outside of a theocracy established after the Second Coming). Hence, all attempts to get the government to endorse the Ten Commandments look to me like blatant attempts to use the power of the state to either browbeat one's religious opponents or to feel good about oneself (with a corresponding lack of good feeling by those of different beliefs).

I'm somewhat sympathetic to arguments for displays celebrating heritage in nonjudicial settings (such as public parks), though not very without some pretty clear standards to keep things fair (such as allowing displays from multiple traditions). But if we want to celebrate our legal heritage, why not use the Bill of Rights, or some other set of foundational principles which all Americans agree upon?


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