Things To Act
Wednesday, April 28, 2004
Nauvoo poster Pink Floyd points to apparent changes in curriculum and Church administration, as well as a Church News article about the formation of the Sixth Quorum of the Seventy. I don't know that enough detail is provided for me to form a coherent opinion beyond that it will be interesting to see what develops. And perhaps that certain CES employees' opinions to the contrary, it's probably not necessary to assume that every major change in Church administration is a Major Sign of the Second Coming.

Eagerness to Baptize & the Risk of Error
This post on Let Us Reason has got me thinking about attitudes toward baptism (and here I'm supposed to be thinking about European social welfare policy, alas). Baptism for the living, this time. My mission experiences have suggested to me that missionaries are quite reluctant to turn down a candidate for baptism during the baptismal interview. Grasshopper suggests a similar effect at work in baptizing children of record. One can wonder whether this is a good thing or not.

Scientists like to distinguish between types of errors with the oh-so-insightfully named Type I and Type II errors, referring to false positives and false negatives, respectively. A Type I error occurs when your process calls something a problem when it isn't. A Type II error occurs when your process calls something fine when it's a problem. Your process is almost certainly not going to be foolproof, but you can err in one direction or the other. For example, the costs of harassing travelers who weren't terrorists (a Type I error) looked high enough to us that we employed lax airport security pre-9/11. Post 9/11, the costs of allowing another terrorist attack seem high enough that we are willing to tolerate a lot of harassment of non-terrorist travelers to attempt to avoid another Type II error of letting terrorists through the security system [I have opinions about how effective this is, but will forebear for now]. In this and any public policy question, whether it be drug approval, judicial safeguards, welfare generosity, etc, the tradeoffs are often perceived differently by different people, depending who sees which type of error as more serious.

A baptismal interview, which is supposed to screen out unprepared candidates for baptism, can err in either direction. The interview could prevent a worthy and prepared person from being baptized (Type I error), or could fail to stop an unworthy or unprepared person from being baptized (Type II error). My impression is that we in the Church are so eager to baptize that we are willing to tolerate a depressingly high rate of Type II errors to prevent a Type I error. One could argue that this is similar to the American 'better that ten guilty men go free than one innocent be falsely convicted' approach to justice, but I'm not convinced that the analogy holds. Theologically, we're supposed to take baptismal covenants seriously enough that we withhold them from the unprepared. One could try to get around this with arguments about second chances in the next life, or with the even lamer 'well, the home teachers might reactivate him [or 'activate him in the first place'] someday' excuse, but I don't think I've ever seen either done convincingly.

Note that I don't necessarily have a problem with the Church's current policies as written (except perhaps for my skepticism about the supervising DL/ZL's ability to be truly objective in assessing the worthiness of the people he's been trying to get his missionaries to baptize for the past umpteen weeks), but more how we seem to implement them. At least, I've met a depressing number of less-active members who don't seem to have ever been converted in the first place.

It's also interesting to speculate about circumstances that might require changing Church policy in one direction or the other. For instance, if the quality of parents' teaching of their children deteriorated enough, the Church might find it advisable to raise the standards for baptism of children of record. Similarly, if significant nonspiritual benefits were attached to joining the Church, a nontrivial number of people might be motivated to seek baptism for less than pure motives, which could require the Church to increase the level of scrutiny it gives investigators to prevent too many Type II errors. Could this happen with the PEF or a similar program? I'm inclined to think it isn't currently a problem, but don't have enough firsthand knowledge to be sure.

Nibley's Eleventh Commandment: Thou Shalt Not Commit Sociology
The current issue of BYU Magazine has an article about the closing of Geneva Steel with which I have some issues. While it does raise some valid points, it has some problems as well.

Perhaps the first reason I'm inclined to view the article less than charitably is its word choice in the first paragraph. The characterization of Geneva going under due to "cheap foreign imports" is suspicious. "Cheap" is a word in English with connotations affecting both quality and price. However, the more perfectly competitive the market, the less relevance quality has, as the commodity in question will not vary as much by quality. In my understanding, most steel production trends toward the more perfectly competitive end of the spectrum. In this context, "less expensive" is probably a better way to describe foreign-produced steel that is identical to Geneva's, only differing in that it costs less. Better yet might be "more efficient." "Cheap" seems designed to play on fears of inferior shabby foreign products--at a bare minimum, using the word "cheaper" would be slightly more accurate.

The next problem is the rather limited focus of the researchers' choice to "[study] the steelworkers' experience from many angles." Talking about "reemployment prospects, financial status, and marital, physical, and mental health" of steelworkers is fine as far as it goes, but hardly gives the whole picture if we're interested in whether or not "the costs are high." One obvious factor to consider is the economic effect of less expensive steel (and hence, all sorts of less expensive products for the American consumer). Thus, for instance, studies have shown that the Bush steel tariffs cost more jobs than they helped preserve, due to increase prices of steel inputs in a host of industries. The problem with protectionism is that it always leads to deadweight social loss; in this particular case, we were faced with the moral absurdity of deciding that steelworkers were Special enough that we had to protect their jobs at the expense of more jobs belonging to other, less politically Special individuals. There are other factors to consider as well (wasn't Geneva's air pollution the bane of environmentalists, including Nibley?). Thus, while the BYU sociologists' study may document some specific costs, their analysis is neither complete nor helpful without analyzing accompanying benefits.

A final interesting question is raised by the stats documenting an increase in depression among the unemployed workers. While depressed individuals deserve sympathy, I wonder about the mindset that facilitates depression for this reason. It seems to me that it can be dangerous to put too much faith in the assumption that one's present job will always be there, unchanged. Perhaps it was just because of the nature of the times in which I was raised, but I've always had the impression that it was my job to find a job in which I could create value, and that my employer(s) had no obligation beyond the letter of the contract I signed. The cliche I can remember being told at least as far back as junior high was that I could expect to change jobs many times, and that the notion of working for one company for one's entire life was out of date already. Because of this, I can see how losing a job would be depressing, but view it as my responsibility to go out and find another one. And hence, I get suspicious when discussion of job loss turns into searching for scapegoats and villians other than the laws of economics (can we say "Benedict Arnold CEOs?"), and get downright hostile when talk turns to protecting other people's inefficient jobs by levying direct and indirect taxes on me. I can never recall being told that the universe owes me a job, and thus get resentful when others try to enact public policy based on that curious notion applying to themselves.

Thus, while I have a limited degree of sympathy for those left unemployed in the wake of Geneva's collapse (and may even have a limited degree of sympathy for social programs designed to help them readjust their lives and find more productive work), I think I can muster far greater sympathy for starving Third World children and others who are helpless in the face of life's challenges and unfairness.

In posting the last, I discovered that Blogger's own spellchecker (never terribly impressive) refuses to recognize the verb "blogging," instead suggesting "flogging." I suppose there's some degree of overlap...

Google Ads
A while back Nate Cardon pointed out the amusing nature of the Google ads Blogger pastes across the top of this site. I do appreciate the fact that Blogger manages to provide this service free for me, but I react with a combination of bemusement and horror at some of the ads. If I post on same-sex marriage, I promptly get all sorts of pro-SSM ads. If I post on baptisms for the dead, I get anti-Mormon sites. And I shudder to think what might happen if I post anything on p*rnography.

Some questions arise. Is it a better idea to simply ignore such ads, or would clicking through (on the non-obscene ones) perhaps be more fun (don't they pay Google per clickthrough?)? And why don't the anti-SSM forces do a better job of advertising, anyway? When I first started blogging about SSM issues, I got the impression that there weren't very many interest groups out there defending marriage. Now I've picked up on enough leads (some of which are in my 'to-research' pile) that I'm starting to think that there are plenty, but that most of them don't do a very good job.

In other Google-related news, they're now offering Gmail beta-test opportunities to anyone with a Blogger account. I'm trying to decide whether to start using that instead of Yahoo (which I've decided I don't like much), though The Volokh Conspiracy points out a potential problem.

BYU Refunds Tuition For Half Of Its Graduates?
According to the DU's account of President Samuelson's commencement remarks, "49 percent of the graduating class is married and 16 percent have children, with an average age of 24.3 for the graduates." I wouldn't have guessed that over half of the student body graduates unwed, though I think he did say something (not reported by the DU) about how many would wed in the next few months (and, given that my own mother graduated and got married the next day, the figure may already be changing).

The DU also reports that 4678 students graduated last week, and 1777 last December.

My personal experience with graduation this time around was to skip the first half (except for a bit of the beginning overheard on a radio), and attend one college's convocation. It was, I'm afraid, so utterly noninteresting that I'm already making plans for how to get away with skipping my own next year.

Speaking of end-of-semester adventures, I've wondered in the past about the practice of giving class credit for filling out teacher evaluations. The Daily Universe ran an article a while back which mentioned that an associate academic vice president opposes the practice:

""If I had my personal say-so I wouldn't have them do it because I don't think it's related to course content," Williams said. "I would much rather that this all be done because students feel responsible and faculty feel responsible.""

My question is not why the university wants feedback from students who don't want to bother. It's free to request it if it thinks it valuable. My question is why the university allows the giving of academic credit for merely filling out the evaluations. It doesn't seem like it would be terribly difficult to set up the computer system so as to prevent giving a student a grade on any course for which he has not filled out an evaluation. Fill out the evaluation, and AIM spits out your grade. This would not only maintain the double-blind nature of the exercise, but would avoid the silliness of professors giving obscene amounts of extra credit in return for an activity with no bearing on the actual course material.

And We're Back...
In the past couple of weeks blogging has been light for a variety of reasons, including finals [BYU not only has the power to turn Tuesdays into Mondays, but it now can turn Saturdays into weekdays, and cause me to spend the better part of a weekend grading freshman finals...], moving, sibling graduation, etc.

Thanks to all of my faithful readers, who allowed the triumph of hope over experience as they kept checking daily for nonexistent new posts. We'll be better in the immediate future. For now, we'll go on to the pile of stuff that hasn't aged too badly while being shuffled from pile to pile and apartment to apartment.

While we're on the subject of thanks, thanks to The Baron of Deseret and Grasshopper's Let Us Reason, who have joined the esteemed company of Nate Cardon's This Liberal, A Soft Answer, and the formidable Times and Seasons in the Category of Blogs Of Such Penetrating Insight That They Decided To Link To Things To Act.

Wednesday, April 14, 2004
Baptisms for the Dead
A Hatrack thread is at 15 pages after three days and still going [to 16 in the time in took me to write this post]. AP article that explains the how the latest kerfuffle got underway. I thought about doing a meta-analysis essay, but am settling for a few ruminations, plus some mandatory DU bashing.

A Public Relations Black Eye--for the Activists. Are these the same people who thought that accusing The Passion of antiSemitism was smart? The AP article leaves them looking pretty bad:

"If not, Michel said, his group will consider other options, "possibly legal steps."" Can we say "First Amendment?" All together now, "Congress shall make no law respecting the free exercise of religion." That wasn't so hard, was it? Any law attempting to stop baptisms for the dead would be so clearly unconstitutional that anyone even hinting at such a step (or some 'legal steps' under existing law) is mind-bogglingly dumb. [And think of the fun 'excessive entanglement' we'd get from trying to enforce it. Monetary fines for proxy baptisms? What standards of proof? Federal marshals raiding temples? What about proxy baptisms performed in utter secrecy with no record kept? Let's think about how well the (unconstitutional) efforts to stamp out polygamy (a much more far-reaching practice in daily life) went...]

""It's ridiculous for people to pretend they have the key to heaven," said Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean and founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles. "And even if they say they want to do somebody a favor ... it's not a symbol of love. It's a symbol of arrogance."" Arrogance... as in the first part of that statement? I could point out the arrogance of pretending one has the key to arrogance, but it's too obvious.

""The Jews have to either accept what the Mormons are doing or take legal action," Radkey said." Well, if one has totally bought into the hyper-litigious mentality that we budding lawyers find profitable. Or if, under some strange twisted new definition, accept now means "not like, but realize that freedom requires living with the choices of others."

Confusion of Harms and Offenses. I can't quite wrap my mind around the mentality that because someone finds something offensive, there must be some way to ban it. [We'll put aside for now general LDS inability to wrap the mind around the concept of BFTD being offensive, as that doesn't have bearing on the present issue]. All sorts of things offend me, not least the outrageous and false beliefs of others. Of course, I only have the right to seek legal recourse when others' offenses actually do me some sort of quantifiable harm. The law can punish theft, assault, libel [though not easily in the US], etc, but won't punish in the absence of harm [we'll also put aside the libertarian 'victimless crime' debate, as that doesn't have bearing on the point at hand either]. The First Amendment protects not only religious practice, but also freedom of conscience. Part of the costs I get for living in a society in which I'm free to believe and worship as I please are that I must put up with others' exercising of that same freedom in ways I find distasteful. But it takes courage to live in a free society, and, on the whole, I prefer freedom to its absence. It's also worth noting that once we start criminalizing actions that cause offense, almost all actions may become criminalized. Volokh did a good job illustrating the absurdity a few months ago.

Overlooked Scriptural Implications. Much bandwidth has been spent on the question of the alleged arrogance of the alleged refusing to accept nonmembers' choices. Putting aside the absurdities of the careless form of this argument (which often assumes that every individual had a complete chance to hear and accept the gospel on earth), some propose (on Hatrack, and doubtless elsewhere) a forum by which individuals could state their express desires to not have BFTD performed for them after their decease. While this idea is a bit silly, it does touch at a sensitive issue, and I've been bothered in the past by some members' apparent casual disregard for the desires of (and their promises to) the deceased. However, it recently occurred to me to apply D&C 132:7 to this concept:

"...All covenants, contracts, bonds, obligations, oaths, vows, performances, connections, associations, or expectations, that are not made and entered into and sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise, of him who is anointed, both as well for time and for all eternity, and that too most holy, by revelation and commandment through the medium of mine anointed...are of no efficacy, virtue, or force in and after the resurrection from the dead; for all contracts that are not made unto this end have an end when men are dead."

This suggests several things: In our theology, an individual's contracts (and by extension, even stated intentions) do not have force after death absent a sealing ordinance. Thus, an individual's statement "Don't perform proxy baptism for me," cannot be seen as having force in the world to come (which makes sense, given the rather dramatic revelatory nature of death (though it is by no means certain how much knowledge will be revealed while crossing the veil, it seems logical to assume that continued existence in whatever form will give some answers and raise new questions)). This, of course, does not excuse the living from honoring their contracts, as they are not yet dead (which solves the problem of what to do with inheritance laws and the like, as they are as much contracts among the living as with the dead). Theologically, any 'contract' or legal request can't have force after death. Practically, since we believe that individuals who refuse the gospel are by and large doing so on the basis of incomplete information, assuming they have full capacity to contract with respect to this issue can be problematic as well.

Privacy & Counterfactuals. Just for fun, how should we analyze the following scenario: I found a new religion, calling it The Church of the Holy Proletariat. A foundational belief is that all forms of property ownership are immoral. A key ritual of this religion is to ensure the damnation of property-owning blasphemers, unless they repent and renounce their ways. Since a depressingly small number of individuals convert in life, we also help those on the other side by scouring public records for copies of legal transactions involving property ownership. In a sacred ritual, we carefully copy every such legal deed we can find that names an individual, and then burn the deed in an ordinance designed to allow the person to spiritually renounce his crass materialism.

Now some people may object to this on various grounds. Some may believe that the ritual has actual power, and thus object to its supposed harms of the deceased. They would have as much difficulty proving their case as those who feel threatened by voodoo practitioners, soul-stealing video cameras, or whatever. Others may feel the ritual is disrespectful to the deceased, though perhaps their offense is based in a misunderstanding of what the ritual actually entails (after all, minority religions often are misrepresented in the public mind). Still others might, I suppose, work to limit the uses of information in the public domain, though their efforts would face serious First Amendment concerns, not only due to freedom of the press but due to the fact that their efforts would be clearly aimed at suppressing religious practice they find distasteful, constitutionally forbidden and enforced as recently as the Florida animal sacrifice case. In any event, it looks to me that those who object to the practice have no legal means to go about stopping it, other than attempting, through their own protected expression, to convince those doing it that they are wrong or misguided. I suspect, however, that a significant number of pragmatists would merely ignore the whole thing as harmless.

Perhaps this isn't helping. But I still can't really wrap my mind around the notion that others think they have a right to stop these sorts of religious practices. As far as I can tell, the only shadow of any legal reason to care is the fact that the ritual uses the name of an actual person--but since said name is a matter of public record, it's hard to see how that's relevant (and laws forbidding the usage of others' names in religious ritual would be laughably unenforceable (given how many people pray for others, whether by name or not) and unconstitutional (see Amendment 1)).

Speaking of Privacy. I'm suddenly confused as to why this is even much of an issue. As I recall, the Church puts ordinance information behind a firewall, which is why you need your membership record # and confirmation date to check the status of ordinance work in the IGI. Thus, I can't even think how a nonmember would legitimately get his hands on the information of who has been BFTD and who hasn't. It's not like we're shouting it from the housetops (there went the last faint flickering hope for some grounds for some sort of libel case...). As far as I can tell, the church is taking information (including names) from the public domain and performing private rituals. The rituals are constitutionally protected; publicizing them is as well, barring certain narrow exceptions (such as obscenity, libel, etc) but we don't even publicize them, except in the general sense that we do BFTD, and we make specific information available to members who accept the practice anyway.

Mandatory DU Bashing. Rushing to the rescue with its particular brand of moral clarity, the DU saw fit to address the issue yesterday, in an editorial entitled "Lobbying for the church?" Since they don't seem to believe in publishing dumb editorials online, I'll have to excerpt:

"[on the Clinton/Hatch meeting] But the actions that follow are where the situation gets shady. Society has always begged for the separation of church and state, so why would Clinton join efforts with the Jewish community to end the practice of baptizing Holocaust victims? Clinton's expectations of Hatch seem skewed. It is wrong for her to expect him to lobby for the church. Even Hatch--one of the most prominent and powerful LDS members in Utah--should separate his religion from his job. His job as a senator is to legislate for his state, not his church."

Where to begin? Well, first with the AP article the DU ran (a longer version of the one linked above). Said article said the following about C&H: outraged NY organization 'asked C to intervene.' C met with H in early March. Neither commented on the meeting, except C's comment that "it was a private meeting between two senators." Activist claims C is 'involved in planning our next step." C found out her father had been BFTD after meeting with H. No comment about whether future meetings planned.

Based on this scanty information, the DU leaps to all sorts of conclusions, which are not supported by the data (unless the DU has other data, but one would think that a responsible 'news' organization would be interested in oh, say, printing such data...). Whether or not C has 'joined efforts' with anyone is far from clear--Senators spend lots of time meeting with interest groups, and not as much time actually doing anything about what the groups want as said groups would like (one reason so many bills get introduced only to die in committee, unmourned by even the sponsor). It's not as if C is even introducing a bill, she's just meeting with constituents and meeting with another senator on the issue. The fact that she's not meeting with church leaders is also indicative--it looks to me much more like a situation where's she's gathering information (from a conveniently placed fellow senator, who can give insight into the LDS perspective), rather than actually doing anything substantive. But of course I don't know her motives for sure, not having access to the Ouiji board by which the DU learned of her 'expectations.' That they then jump on H (mixing up 'lobbying on behalf of' with 'lobbying a person/institution') for doing NOTHING WHATSOEVER except meeting with a fellow Senator (the sort of courtesy extended by normal people) is absurd.

And, while I agree with the sentiment that H and his fellow Utah delegates represent the state and not the church, I find it amusing that the DU seems to be calling for the separation of religion from work. We'll see if they hold to that stance the next time some high-profile LDS businessman gets indicted for fraud or something.

Tuesday, April 06, 2004
Sister Hinckley
Desnews and SLTrib now have articles up.

Also, poking around on BYU's site yields this article on the establishment of the Marjorie Pay Hinckley Chair in Social Work and Social Sciences last year:

"According to Dean David B. Magleby of the College of Family, Home and Social Sciences, the Hinckley Chair will serve four main purposes: to focus on the family through research and education, to expand learning by lectures and mentored-learning experiences for students, to increase community involvement in family issues and to provide service."

"For more information on the chair and the endowment, contact the BYU College of Family, Home and Social Sciences, (801) 422-2083."

Marriage Amendment Debates
A helpful reader sends me the link to this NRO article which continues to take The Weekly Standard's Maggie Gallagher to task for her attacks on Senator Hatch's proposal. The article itself is relevant, but I find the framing of the larger debate quite relevant as well. Some excerpts:

"For this idea, he was subjected to some fairly harsh attacks on his motives from the likes of the Family Research Council. For the time being, the opponents of Hatch's idea have won this battle. They continue, however, to lose the war. It still seems highly unlikely that the Congress will vote for the FMA by the necessary two-thirds margin."

"To repeat a point I made in response to Gallagher's last blast: Who are the 20 Democratic senators who might even in theory be willing to support the FMA? The social-conservative groups are circling the wagons now and trashing Hatch. I have seen joint letters against Hatch including signatures from people who three weeks ago were saying they liked Hatch's idea. They were open to the idea, that is, when they didn't have other social-conservative groups looking over their shoulders. If the social groups want to have a debate whose purpose is to prove that there's nobody more opposed to same-sex marriage than they are, that's fine. It will probably make them all some money. It is less likely to result in an actual amendment to the Constitution."

I find this particularly significant as the professor I work for researches this sort of framing conflict in other contexts (such as environmental politics). History is replete with examples of those who gamble and win spectacularly, and those who refuse to compromise and end up losing everything. The trick, of course, is sorting out which case is which. Thus far, I'm inclined to think that the FMA might be overreaching at this point, at least without much more of a concerted public campaign for it (which would provoke a significant backlash as well). Family groups need to realize that they're not playing defense anymore, and solidarity amongst themselves is not enough to get their way. If they can't convince majorities, they'll lose.

Catfight! BYUSA vs. The Daily Universe
The DU ran a series of articles exploring BYUSA (some referenced below). Evidently, some members of BYUSA didn't take too kindly to public accountability (even of the tame sort provided by the DU). Today's editorial page contained two reporters' editorials defending their work, and one letter from four BYUSA VPs.

We'll take the BYUSA letter first. They attack the DU ("unethical and fallacious reporting of The Daily Universe"), then turn to attacking BYUSA presidents ("the failures of impossible promises"). Also, either the DU edited their letter to make them look dumb(er), or else of four BYUSA VPs, none is afraid to sign his name to a letter demonstrating serious defects in literacy ("we took from the stories the student body's need to be heard," "they are the president BYUSA," "their desires for success will come as they lead the organization").

Notable, of course, is the lack of any attempt to factually rebut whatever the "unethical" and "fallacious" charges against BYUSA were. Also notable is the evident dislike of the BYUSA presidents by the VPs. Since the DU just ran an article on how the new president-elect gets to pick the VPs, this seems puzzling. Either he's prevented from stacking it with his friends (length of service requirements?), or it's sore-loser election sour grapes or something. Sounds like an angle for more investigative journalism either way.

I'm also bemused by the sense of entitlement and self-righteous indignation coming from the VPs. Perhaps our farcial electoral system isn't as bad as I thought. We may not be able to vote against incumbents, but we have something of a semblance of democratic accountability--student body presidents can leave knowing that they wouldn't have been reelected! Or perhaps the root problem is still the self-selection of BYUSA officers of all stripes.

Moving on, Reporter #1's editorial is interesting. I won't bother with a detailed analysis, as he obviously isn't a neutral party, so it's probably better to read his defense in his own words.

One paragraph is worth noting for other reasons: "I feel that in many ways the reporting was misconstrued, especially with the headline, "Survey says students find BYUSA pointless." I don't think BYUSA is pointless. " Proof for my theory that the reporters hate the headline writers!

Reporter #2's editorial is not online. At great personal sacrifice for the Public Good, I'll excerpt some of the more interesting bits (while renewing my longstanding policy of frequent criticism of newsnet's inability to get content up promptly):

"Most of the negative emails I have received (a grand total of four--all from people associated with BYUSA) stem from a "stop the hate" e-mail campaign that apparently didn't work too well." Four emails--four irate VPs. Coincidence?

"If I did anything unethical in my reporting, it was spending my time searching for a positive comment from someone not affiliated with the organization." Heh.

"One e-mail said our articles must have stemmed from "an inside leak," as if BYUSA had something to hide." The idea of BYUSA whistleblowers leaking Top Secret Damaging Information strikes me as quite comical.

My conclusion: The logical follow-up to all of this is that the DU should investigate itself as well. Greater transparency for everyone!

Semi-Shocking Ignorance of History
While I hardly make it a practice to debunk every stupid letter to the DU (I do, after all, have two jobs, 14.5 credits, two callings, etc. to hold down), every once in a while something sets off my Annoyance Meter:

"In the days of Nauvoo, Joseph Smith would tell the members who to vote for ... They would vote republican in one election, then democrat in the next and whig in the following."

The Republican Party was, of course, founded in the 1850s, some time after Joseph's death and the westward exodus.

Hey, It's a Slanted NYT Story That Doesn't Attack Bush!

In addition to the reporter's direct jab ("Mr. Kerry apparently meant John XXIII, as there is no Pius XXIII."), the article contains this gem:

"...and said that he expected to win some states in the South, although he declined to name them."

Is this "International Man of Mystery" Round II? "Oh, I've talked to various Southern governors who are really pulling for me to win this, but it wouldn't be proper for me to name names..."

And of course, I'm paranoid enough to think that the reporter's inclusion of Kerry's ""Who are they?" he demanded of his questioner. "Name them" a mere three paragraphs later is no accident. Still, who'd have thought that equal-opportunity bias would rear its ugly head at the NYT?

Sister Hinckley Passes Away press release. Desnews and SLTrib don't seem to have anything yet.

Monday, April 05, 2004
General Conference Stats
Just for fun, I whipped up an Excel table of the stats for the last several years (1996-2003). If anyone knows if Blogger will post embedded files, let me know, but I can't see a way, so I'll just excerpt interesting bits. Well, interesting to me, anyway.

Stakes: Growth under 2% since 1998 (and even negative in 2002). Not much seems to be going on here. Districts, missions, and W&B don't seem to have dramatic swings either.

Growth in membership

2003: 2.2%
2002: 2.9%
2001: 2.9%
2000: 2.9%
1999: 3.9%
1998: 2.8%
1997: 3.9%

Of course, membership by itself doesn't take many factors into account. The Church doesn't release activity rates, and even the listing of members of record is probably overstated as less-actives who die aren't as likely to have their records cancelled promptly (and recording of deaths itself depends on local ward clerks, whose diligence varies dramatically). Trying to work out the death rate is also interesting. I tried, based on the assumption that children of record are included in the membership totals, and got the following:

Membership minus last year's minus converts minus increase in COR (should equal deaths?)
2003: -78,674
2002: -37,244
2001: -36,473
2000: -39,548
1999: 8,456
1998: -92,246
1997: -17,037

The problem being, of course, that negative 8000 people seem to have died in 1999, so one of my assumptions seems to be wrong somewhere (maybe 8K excommunicated members were rebaptised?). Trying again:

Membership minus last year's minus converts (should equal 8-year old baptisms minus deaths?)
2003: 20,783
2003: 43,888
2002: 33,049
2001: 41,902
2000: 92,574
1999: -15,417
1998: 58,177

This still gives some wild swings, but at least it's more plausible, if less useful. Interestingly, the Church used to list 8-year old baptisms, but switched to increase in COR.

Speaking of COR, the last several years:
2003: 99,457
2002: 81,132
2001: 69,522
2000: 81,450
1999: 84,118
1998: 76,829
1997: 75,214

I don't know enough about demographics to even speculate about the differences from year to year.

Convert baptisms had a high of 321,385 in 1996 on my table (maybe it was higher before that, but I'm not going to bother to look). The numbers have gone down, but with two upticks (1999 and 2001), but plenty can affect that, not least the practice of GA's going around to various missions and telling them to stop stat-baptising (on my mission, a Seventy told us how on his previous assignment, they had worked to bring the baptism rate down, as retention was horrible. I view this decrease as a good thing). Absent data on activity rates, I'm inclined to view a lower number as nothing to worry about, as I suspect that retention is up, percentagewise.

Full-time missionaries rose to a high of 61,638 in 2002, to drop to 56,237 in 2003--evidently an artifact of the 'raising the bar' standards. In my mission, at least, I suspect that at least 8.9% of the missionaries were slackers, so I don't view this drop as anything to worry about either (particularly as some who were prevented from going last year may yet qualify themselves, and be better missionaries for it).

Another measure of missionary effectiveness would be converts per missionary:
2003: 4.3
2002: 4.6
2001: 4.8
2000: 4.5
1999: 5.22
1998: 5.17
1997: 5.6

The general trend here seems to have been downward the last several years. It’ll be interesting to see if the long-term impact of raising the bar (which should simultaneously raise missionary quality while lowering the number of missionaries serving) is enough to reverse that trend. Other unknown variables, of course, include the number of individuals prepared to join the Church in the countries in which we currently proselytize, as well as the effectiveness of members in sharing the gospel.

Saturday, April 03, 2004
Not Quite LiveBlogging: General Conference Report
Conference on TV in Utah is an interesting exercise in contrasts. As the session ends, you go from spirituality to crass consumerism about 'spirituality.' Buying commercial time immediately before or after GC seems like such a hideously tacky thing to do that perhaps someone should organize a boycott of all LDS retailers who have the bad taste to do so.

President Hinckley's Saturday morning talks are getting awfully predictable. Good thing they're still true, and uplifting.

The Primary counselor who spoke is the odds-on favorite to win the 'Most Frightening Eyebrows' award. Her talk turned out to be pretty good, though (of course, after the bar set by the "Exclamation Points" talk, almost anything seems good).

'The recent decision to not have 70s in SS and YM presidencies' was said like he expected us to have heard about it, which I hadn't. An interesting change.

Elders Haight (understandably) and Maxwell weren't on the stand during the sustainings camera-pan. I was therefore surprised to see Elder Maxwell speak in the PS, and am now entertaining bizarre theories about an 'apostle in reserve' in case of terrorist attacks, or something.

The stats, as I caught them (roommate talking may have glitched one or two, so caveat emptor):
As of 31Dec2003:
Stakes: 2624
Missions: 337
Districts: 644
Wards & Branches: 26,237
Members: 11,985,254
Increase in Children of Record: 99,457 (this is the most likely candidate for a glitch)
Convert Confirmations: 242,923
FT Missionaries: 56,237
Temples dedicated in 2K3: 2
Temples Operational: 116

I spent a good portion of President Faust's PS talk working out the following: If my recollections of basic kinematics are correct, the kid would have hit the water at a velocity of approximately 40 meters/second, assuming a starting height of 80 meters, except that it was probably 80 feet, which I just realized, to my embarrassment (the perils of doing physics during Conference). So the corrected figure would be approximately 27 m height for an entrance velocity of around 20-25 meters per second. Some days I'm less theologically drenched than others.

President Hinckley's stats:
563,000 days of labor donated to welfare projects
$98 million in cash and in-kind donated to humanitarian projects last year, for $643 million [?] over the last 18 years.
PEF operating in 23 countries.
Over 10,000 individuals now being assisted by the PEF.
Early returns indicate an increase in potential income by a factor of 3-4.

Friday, April 02, 2004
Reader Response: Headline Bias
A reader comments on my NYT-bashing below: I have to say that I don't think that the "Setback" headline is as bad you suppose. Maybe I've been indoctrinated for too long, but it strikes that the term is appropriate in the context. Saying that a setback has been dealt to gay marriage is true. It is not necessarily a value judgment, just a statement of fact: the gay marriage movement has been dealt a setback, just as the deficit hawks have been dealt setbacks by the Bush administration. I agree that the author probably has a definite position favoring gay marriage, but that bias was not necessarily reflected in the titling.

My response: First, the headline didn't actually address the core news of the article, namely that the MA legislature had passed a proposed amendment. Not actually addressing the content of the article is one of my pet peeves, so I tend to whine about bad headline writing in any news context.

Second, if the Times is strictly objective, it shouldn't be overeager to either frame stories as either/or clashes or to be biased against the status quo. The first phenomenon consists of taking a complex issue and trying to boil it down to two opposing sides. Conflict is a news value, but most issues are (dare we say) nuanced enough that a simple either/or perspective doesn't work well. Supporters of 'gay marriage' might support the MA legislature's action, for whatever reason (such as keeping the issue in the news), or opponents oppose it (for favoring civil unions, perhaps), but you won't learn that from the Times' oversimplification. Instead, your first impression on looking at the story is of a clash between two positions (one of which must be Right and the other Wrong, and the Times gives a broad hint which it favors). Second, any departure from the assumption of the status quo opens the possibility of bias. We don't hear about setbacks to 'prohibition' or 'free silver,' and would assume that any paper that chose to run such stories would probably have an ax to grind. Emerging social trends are, of course, news, but they should be framed as possibly emerging, not taken for granted. A headline such as 'SSM Advocacy Group X Sees MA Amendment as Setback' could be valid, as it would reflect actual news (though of a probably trivial sort, depending on the group), but the headline as it stands is no more appropriate than 'MA Legislature Defends Marriage.' Both imply a value judgment, and neither communicates actual news.

Disturbing Trends at the Library?
This letter seems to be illustrating that reaction to a nonproblem I mentioned before is now making the library harder to use for its intended purpose.

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