Friday, April 27, 2007

BYU Graduation -- The Day After

Near as I could judge, the visit of US Vice President Dick Cheney at the BYU commencement ceremonies had to be one of the most overhyped non-events in the history of BYU.

The ominous rumblings about massive protests failed to materialize anywhere within sight. I suppose something might have been happening elsewhere, but on campus it looked just about like any other graduation day. Lots of graduates flapping around in their cap and gown. Proud parents and family gathering for picnics and photos. Crying babies (might be a more common feature at BYU than at other campuses).

The commencement program went off as planned, without interruption. The only unexpected surprise to members of the audience was the attendance of President Hinckley. He presided over the program, which included presentation of an honorary degree to Vice President Cheney and four others.

I've looked over some of the press coverage of the protests and rallies that were intended to make some kind of political statement, mostly for consumption by the hordes of media people who flocked into town looking for "news". I presume that what the media people found was what they sought -- a few hundred exceptional and miserable malcontents shouting slogans at each other off in some corner, away from all the other BYU students who were celebrating the day. By contrast, BYU President Samuelson reported that more than 6000 graduates participated in the orderly and otherwise rather unremarkable commencement, with more than 20,000 in attendance.

I thought it was interesting that the First Presidency also invited Vice President Cheney to visit with them before the commencement ceremony, in a private meeting.

I have been really entertained by most of the press coverage and attention-getting theatrics of this issue. It has been way better than any talk show. Even better than the last BYU protest I was involved in.

I was especially amused to note that the “alternative” ceremonieswere all timed to take place _after_ the real commencement ritual. Even BYU political protesters didn’t want to miss out on their own graduation.

I personally don’t see the point. I did not attend my own graduation ceremony at University of California. They sent my diploma in the mail. At that point in time, I had everything I ever wanted of beneficent gifts bestowed by my Alma Mater. I just wanted to get away from there.

Incidentally, the last BYU protest I was personally involved in was the occasion of the departure from the BYU faculty of a certain Assistant Professor, by the name of Cecilia. Those of you with good memories will know of whom I speak.

On that occasion, I also sided with BYU trustees.

BYU President Samuelson announced the awarding of honorary degrees and read the curriculum vitae for each of the recipients. President Hinckley sat just behind the speakers podium, and applauded each of the awards. Elders David Bednar and Richard G. Scott sat between vice president Cheney and President Hinckley.

President Hinckley and Vice President Cheney walked into the Marriot Center together, both waving at an obviously friendly and enthusiastic crowd.

As far as I know, President Hinckley’s appearance yesterday was unannounced and a total surprise to most of those in attendance. As he entered, spontaneous applause quickly spread through the audience. He waved his cane in response.

It was a moment of joyous exultation. If I’d had a white handkerchief, I would have waved it.

To be honest, I almost neglected to note the entrance of Vice President Cheney, following right behind President Hinckley and the two apostles in his company. Cheney might just as well have been absent, for all the attention he got at that moment

I personally will interpret President Hinckley’s leadership at this meeting as reaffirmation from church leaders that they continue to support our US government leaders.

The commencement ceremonies were totally unremarkable in every respect. The speakers addressed issues relating to BYU, graduation, and the challenges of life. Cheney’s address itself was brief and entertaining. My impression, as on previous occasions, is that he is an accomplished public speaker.

I saw no indication to justify the notion that church leaders or BYU administrators were attempting to be “silent” about their continuing patriotic support and loyalty, as some have suggested. It is obvious that they are not “speaking out against the administration” of Bush and company because they have no substantive criticism. I cannot understand why anyone would reasonably imagine otherwise.

The strongest impression I had at the commencement ceremony was that this occasion is _not_ a political statement. Nobody is announcing official church sanction of wars or government officials. I am certain that Cheney did not obtain absolution for his sins from the church leaders.

Rather than hearing political themes, what I saw and heard was a unanimous expression of approval for the intergenerational process at BYU that produces college-educated people. BYU perpetuates family traditions in higher education. The most important people in attendance — families. Graduates and their spouses and children. Mothers and fathers, grandparents, aunts and uncles, siblings.

It was not an occasion to make critical remarks about political issues. It was a family celebration.

As a side note, Hugh Nibley’s disparaging remarks about robes and vestments is well taken. I have attended dozens of graduation ceremonies in the last three decades, and this aspect always seems to lend a dark and foreboding air. Why doesn’t academia dispense with this cumbersome artifact from the dark ages?

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Advocates of Impeachment

SLTrib article says there is a "growing tide" of advocates to impeach the Bush presidency.

It then goes on to list all the important players.

Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson.

Cindy Sheehan.

Sen. Dennis Kucinich.

And a whole host of certifiably rabid and vacuous Hollywood activists.

Imagine that.

This really sounds like the same cast that has been playing the same "anti-war" tune for several years. Difficult to read from the article how this constitutes a "growing tide". Maybe it's just wishful thinking on part of the SLTrib editorial staff.

Anyway, the article then goes on to explain, in rather lame terms, that there's actually only mixed support for impeachment. Apparently Senator Kucinich has introduced articles of impeachment against Cheney, but with certain foreknowledge that the impeachment proposal will not be considered by the Congress. Here's a news article on that.

I would like to think that accusers at such a level have something at stake. In an ideal world, false accusations would not matter, since everyone would learn the truth and the innocent accused would be vindicated. Under the less-than-ideal circumstances of today's trial-by-media mentality, however, public opinion has a significant impact, and would seem to be rather easy to manipulate. I would feel far less cynical about this whole matter if it were stipulated up front that "anti-war" advocates face serious consequences when their false accusations prove to be without basis.

Let Rocky Anderson and Dennis Kucinich be removed from office themselves.

Let Cindy Sheehan and the other Hollywood hysterics resume their status as cartoon caricatures.

And let all the newspaper editors and media experts remember their own immoderate rhetoric, and be ashamed.

Wouldn't that be the day!

PS: Here a KSL news article reporting an "Impeachment Rally" in Salt Lake City this Saturday. Near as I can tell from the photos, only a handful of people were in attendance.

Additional evidence of the "growing tide" of support for this idea.

BYU to give Cheney honorary degree

From the Deseret News story, BYU announces plans to confer an honorary degree on visiting US Vice President Cheney.
Cheney will arrive in Utah Thursday at 1:55 p.m. and meet with the First Presidency of the church at 2:30. Commencement begins at 4 p.m.
The visit with the First Presidency is the norm for international leaders who visit Utah. Church and BYU spokesmen said the honorary degree is not an endorsement of Cheney's policies.
Those who can't attend can watch the commencement live on KBYU-TV Channel 11 in Utah and on BYU Television on cable or satellite stations, or listen live on KBYU-FM 89.1 or BYU Radio on the air or the Web.
The commencement exercises will be rebroadcast Saturday at 4:30 p.m. (MDT) on BYU Television. The event also will be available through video-on-demand to Comcast digital cable subscribers in Utah from Saturday through May 4, Jenkins said.
Well, I'll save some trouble by agreeing that none of this means a whole lot.

The First Presidency routinely meets with visiting officials. Not all of them are particularly nice people.

And the news article points out that such attentions as paid to Cheney do not constitute tacit approval of his politics, nor are they a reflection of any personal merit. He is an official representative of our government, and appropriate respect for his office must be given.

However, I think perhaps it might suggest to the dispassionate observer that it would be quite remarkable for church leaders to meet with such a devil incarnate as Cheney has been portrayed. Who knows? Perhaps they are not even wont to think of him as a murderer or a liar.

Looks like I have a front-row seat at the Marriot Center for Cheney's speech. I will post a report later.

I think part of the problem with the protesters position on this matter is that it doesn't seem to be all that well based in reality. Too wrapped up in divisive hyperbole.

So far as I know, Vice President Cheney has not been convicted of any of the crimes he has been accused of, though the issue has been tried in court a number of times. His culpability has all been established through "trial by media".

Look at this example from yesterdays DesNews article, quoting a protesting BYU history professor.
"I believe this is the first time in BYU history the school has so honored a commencement speaker who is in the process of being impeached by Congress."

This is baffling to me, as I have yet to learn of any official impeachment proceedings by the Congress. (Though I'm certain that members of have tried, convicted, and burned him at the stake many times over.)

If we simply imagine such things, will it make them so?

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Bees don't sting idiots

From Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn...

Jim said bees wouldn't sting idiots; but I didn't believe that, because I had tried them lots of times myself, and they wouldn't sting me.

I'm almost sure Mr. Clemens had a great time thinking about this aphorism, just imagining how many idiots would go right out and try it.

I've tried it many times. The bees always sting me with the greatest enthusiasm.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Gun control, peace and safety

Obviously there are two sides to this argument. So many things happening in the world that add information to the discussion. More to know than I can process effectively. The news tends to magnify the proportions. Extreme violence is remarkably rare, so when it happens it is all the more shocking.

Today I look at the reports of seemingly routine violence in places like Iraq. Yesterday's news showed the human remains of blood and gore splashed all over the place. It would seem that the average Iraqi citizen has dozens of automatic weapons and a supply of ammo that would stagger Arnold Schwarzenegger - before his heart attack. Apparently there are enough explosives in country to launch a shuttle mission.

I review the news about a berserk college student in Virginia murdering dozens of helpless people whose only imaginable offense against him was that they happened to be there. This is not Iraq. Why did this person have available resources to wield such destructive power? What could have prevented such a senseless outrageous act of wanton killing? Do we need to have battle armor ready in case of such incidents to protect ourselves?

An editorial in today's SLTrib says
Laws don't deter people with criminal intent; otherwise our prisons would be empty. A criminal is one who violates the law. How does the gun-control lobby propose to make lawbreakers into law-abiders? If lawbreakers are not deterred from criminal pursuits by laws currently in place, why should more laws deter them?
I well understand those who look for means to stop such awful things. But it does not appear that the answer lies in keeping everyone from having guns. The ones who do the damage here were able to obtain the weapons and ammo in spite of the laws. Thus the laws apparently just make it impossible for the innocent to defend themselves. Instead of being subject to return fire, attackers know they may slaughter at will for an interminable period, while we summon out the select few who supposedly defend us from this kind of predation.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

April 2007 General Conference : Divorce

Elder Dallin Oaks delivered the only comprehensive overview of this subject that I have ever heard from church authorities. To me, this is an indication that divorce as an issue has now reached a level of general concern among the brethren. Divorce is no longer a personal or private matter, over whether we each choose to maintain our marriages and families. As Elder Oaks asserts, it touches most all of us in some way.

The wide incidence of divorce is evidence of failure of the option of an essential "escape hatch" from marriage. It touches most families in the church

The very concept of marriage is in peril, because divorce is so commonplace.

In our culture, one popular idea is that marriage is only a private relationship between consenting adults, terminable by either. It seems easier to sever a marriage relationship with an unwanted spouse than a job with an unwanted employee.

Today some young people shun marriage. Some withhold full commitment.

Modern prophets warn that looking at marriage as a mere contract is an evil meriting severe condemnation.

Under the Law of Moses, remarriage for the divorced was considered adultery. Because of the hardness of our hearts, the Lord does not currently enforce the consequences of this Celestial standard.

Many of those divorced are innocent victims, with firsthand experience of circumstances worse than marriage. Victims of desertion otherwise may have no way of looking forward and getting on with their lives.

The remedy for this problem is not divorce, but repentance. Often the cause is not incompatibility but selfishness. Divorce is not an all-purpose solution. It creates long-term heartache.

We do not give up on a marriage. If there is any hope of recovery, we seek help, again and again.

There are times when one spouse falls short, and the other is wounded. We must balance current disappointments against the good of the past, and the brighter prospects of the future. Don't treasure up past wrongs, reprocessing them again and again. Festering is destructive, forgiving is divine. Forgive wrongs.

Consider these observations of a wise bishop with extensive experience in counselling. Every couple recognized that divorce was not a good thing, but they all insisted that their situation was different. Worried about the children, but said it's worse for them to have us stay together and fighting.

We should be aware that there are three parties to our marriage -- the two spouses, and the Lord. If two of us could hang in there...

Love the Lord, keep his commandments, and just do the best you can.

He shall consecrate thine afflictions for thy gain.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Irreconcilable Differences: on Domestic Violence

Consider a feature series on Domestic Violence in the Deseret News...

The several stories aim to report on different aspects of this problem.

Family war zones: Research shows increasing physical and psychological impacts on kids
Silent victims: Kids who witness abuse face psychological woes
The abusers — They usually find blame hard to accept
Gaps in system put families in jeopardy
Domestic violence: Facts and resources

What kind of images characterize this concern about domestic violence?

The Deseret News articles provide a perfect icon.

Lots of other gratuitous hints let us know that domestic violence is always something done by men, husbands, fathers, boyfriends. Always "perpetrated" against females, wifes, girlfriends, women. And of course, children. "Compassion" and protective actions in behalf of children can justify almost anything.

• According to 2005 data, 5,891 Utahns made their way to local domestic violence shelters that year — 3,173 were children, 2,686 were women and 32 were men. There was no room for thousands of others who were turned away.

From another point of view, we find information of a different sort...

A quote from "The Politics of Family Destruction,"Stephen Baskerville, November 4 , 2002.

Domestic violence has now been federalized in a legislative agenda whose conscious aim is to promote easy divorce. Donna Laframboise of Canada’s National Post wrote that federally funded battered women’s shelters in the United States and Canada constituted "one-stop divorce shops" whose purpose was not to shelter women but to secure custody for divorcing mothers. The Violence Against Women Act, renewed by Congress in 2000, "offers abundant rewards" for making false accusations, writes Professor Susan Sarnoff of Ohio State University, "including the ‘rights’ to refuse custody and even visitation to accused fathers, with virtually no requirements of proof." The law’s definition of domestic violence is so broad that "it does not even require that the violence be physical."

Child Custody Statistics
"Ninety percent of divorced fathers have less than full custody of their children." Jonathan M. Honeycutt, Ph.D.(c), M.P.A., M.A., I.P.C. Director of Research, Clinical & Consulting Psychotherapist, National Institute for Divorce Research, Panama City, Florida.

37.9% of fathers have no access/visitation rights. (Source: p.6, col.II, para. 6, lines 4 & 5, Census Bureau P-60, #173, Sept 1991.)

"40% of mothers reported that they had interfered with the non-custodial father's visitation on at least one occasion, to punish the ex-spouse." (Source: p. 449, col. II, lines 3-6, (citing Fulton) Frequency of visitation by Divorced Fathers; Differences in Reports by Fathers and Mothers. Sanford Braver et al, Am. J. of Orthopsychiatry, 1991.)

"Very few of the children were satisfied with the amount of contact with their fathers, after divorce." (Source: Visitation and the Noncustodial Father, Koch & Lowery, Journal of Divorce and Remarriage, Vol. 8, No. 2, p. 50, Winter 1984.)

In a study: "Visitational Interference - A National Study" by Ms. J Annette Vanini, M.S.W. and Edward Nichols, M.S.W., it was found that 77% of non-custodial fathers are NOT able to "visit" their children, as ordered by the court, as a result of "visitation interference" perpetuated by the custodial parent. In other words, non-compliance with court ordered visitation is three times the problem of non-compliance with court ordered child support and impacts the children of divorce even more. Originally published Sept. 1992

Domestic violence: Not Always One Sided, Harvard Medical School

Mention of domestic violence immediately brings to mind an intimidating male batterer. But a 2007 article shows that the problem — also called intimate partner violence — is often more complicated and may involve both women and men as perpetrators.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

April 2007 General Conference: Favorites

Some of the addresses from this conference really stand out.

Elder David A. Bednar's talk about the born again transition was one of the most unusual metaphors I have ever heard. He called it the "Pickle Parable".

President James E. Faust's talk on forgiveness was the most moving of the conference. At several points during delivery of the talk, he was overcome by the poignancy of expression, and had to pause to regain control of his emotions. I thought it was a rare and exemplary moment of spiritual insight and inspiration.

Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin's football anecdotes were unexpected and delightful.

President Gordon B. Hinckley's good humor was threaded throughout the conference. He has such indomitable spirit and good will.