31 March 2006

"Purple Haze" - Protest for Hendricks

Today we received an email from our friends at BYU Political Review. Editor Zach Davis and co. are putting their weight behind a protest to be held tomorrow at 1 pm. in the quad immediately adjacent the Wilkinson Center.

At first we thought this was an April Fools joke, then our brother Matt reminded us that March has thirty-one days. Thanks Matt. Maybe they are a day early?

Mr. Davis included a copy of their reasons for protest written by Ms. Ashley Sanders. We support Ms. Sanders, Mr. Davis, et al. to the extent that they protest the ridiculous dismissal of Mr. Hendricks. On Monday we explained our critique of BYUSA and their handling of the situation. However, we have a tough time extending full support to this protest, in part because some of their stated reasons are nonsensical. Says Ms. Sanders,
We are protesting serveral [sic] things: one, that BYU espouses the virtues of honor and integrity unless those virtues find fault with its own policies and practices.
When was the last time "virtues [found] fault with anything (hat tip: Matt Lybbert)? Perhaps she meant to say that 'BYU espouses honor and integrity unless they don't jive with their own policies and practices?' She goes on:
two, that BYU students have no legislative voice in their own governmental organization (which is merely a social planning organization and has no real power to affect [sic] change) and therefore have no legitimate avenue to express dissent and to make suggestions.
Lack of a legislative voice for students is not the issue in Hendricks termination kerfuffle. It may be a problem--we'll save debate there for another day--but BYU will never permit such student involvement. Considering what University of Washington students have done with their legislative body, maybe it's a good thing.

The third issue Ms. Sanders raises is tough for several reasons:
three, that the emphasis on honor and integrity--being codified and formalized through a system of codes and consequences--hinders critical thinking and expression of conscience against the majority.
We assume this is a shot across the bow of the Honor Code. How or why what started as a protest of Hendricks' firing turned into an attack on the Honor Code is not clear. In our original post about this issue we state clearly our support of the Honor Code and continue to believe that the two are disparate issues.

Furthermore, attacking the Honor Code will not win much support and is such an extreme position that many who may have been supportive otherwise, will simply tune this group out. We've never participated in a sit-in, but we imagine that Protest 101 must teach that messages should be simple and clear--and hold broad appeal. When was the last time the Honor Code kept someone from writing a letter to the Daily Universe complaining about the prohibition of facial hair?

Reason #4 and the big finish:
that these same codes and consequences create and [sic] environment where image is more important than reality and in which unscrupulous things are done to maintain that image despite all evidence to the contrary. In short, we believe that students should be able to express their opinions without fear of punishment (if these opinions are stated in a mature, analytical way[analytical?]) and that there should be a legitimate political avenue to provide for and safeguard these expressions. Without these safegaurds [sic], the administration will continue to be able to do whatever it wants without informing the students, being responsible to the campus community, or providing clear arguments in order to obtain student consent.
On Monday we focused our criticism on BYUSA. The wording of this letter, and the protest tomorrow, attacks more than just BYUSA, it attacks BYU and the Honor Code. We share their disappointment in the BYU administration for standing by, but we are convinced that the bad policy and decisions came from BYUSA.

BYU contains too many departments, schools, colleges, etc., for President Samuelson to personally oversee personnel decisions at every level. Ideally, the fallout caused by this incident will bring about fundamental change to BYUSA. It's easy to ignore meaningless student elections for meaningless positions, but when tempered efforts to effect change are met with termination of an excellent employee, one hopes President Samuelson would take note.

30 March 2006

#100 - On Life and Lybberty on TV

Last night we were a guest on the local TV show, "Talk it Up Provo." Our friends Caroline Christiansen and Emily Clark asked us on to discuss blogs and their effect on mainstream media. For iProvo subscribers, it will be broadcast tomorrow (Thursday) night at 6 pm on channel 1.

We recently joined the provopulse community (Hat Tip: Mason Konkle). A summary of our most recent post about the Todd Hendricks kerfuffle and link has increased the OL&L traffic.

The Hendricks story seems to be generating a lot of good discussion on campus. If you aren't familiar with the story, scroll down and read "If You Can't Beat 'em (or shut them up)."

On Friday we will attend a Consource dinner reception. Justice Sandra Day O'Connor will attend and give some brief remarks. We've been promised an introduction and with a little bit of luck may be able to ask Justice O'Connor a question or two. Watch for the after-action report.

This is the 100th post we've made to OL&L. Some have been bad, many have been fair, and one or two have been good. Many thanks to the loyal readers and an extra measure of gratitude to those making regular comments. As any smart blogger will tell you, the comments make the blog.

27 March 2006

If You Can't Beat 'em (or shut them up)

Last week we read with dismay about the termination of BYU Student Leadership Coordinator, Todd Hendricks. His firing resulted from a letter he wrote regarding the recent BYUSA elections. His letter ran in the 10 March 2006 edition and described the convoluted system used to monitor student elections.
As a coordinator with student leadership and adviser with BYUSA, I share my concerns about the BYUSA student body elections and the recent disqualification of candidates. Each year, a full-time employee takes a turn rewriting election regulations, then appoints a student to chair the elections committee that will ensure candidates' compliance.

Conflict of interest and anonymity can hamper the committee. The committee comprises 10 students who are anonymous to the student body but, through associations in BYUSA, generally have strong ties to one or more of the candidates or to a full-time employee. The committee meets every evening prior to and during elections to discuss reports of "infractions" - complaints filed by candidates against one another, often anonymously, in hopes of securing penalties for the opposing team.

It is a system that rewards collusion and exaggeration. In addressing alleged infractions, the committee's anonymous identities and confidential proceedings sometimes cloud judgment. Special interest, rather than actual student votes, may thus determine the BYUSA presidency.

It is important to scrutinize candidates during election week, but it is also important to scrutinize the methodologies of the election's sponsors. I encourage the campus community to work with next year's BYUSA president and Student Advisory Council to establish clear election criteria and procedures. The elections committee must be housed outside BYUSA so the election outcome will not be decided by student leadership, full-time staff and volunteers with special interests. Proceedings of the committee must be fully transparent and, with few exceptions, disclosed to the press. Decision makers must be held accountable before the student body, whose election this is.

Todd J. Hendricks
Coordinator, BYU Student Leadership
Published reports in Provo's Daily Herald and subsequently in BYU's student newspaper, the Daily Universe, report that Hendricks was fired because his letter was "very disloyal and not helpful." In other words, 'we don't like constructive criticism.' Compared to most whistleblowers, Hendrick's letter is tame.

For the uninitiated, a summary. BYUSA's most recent presidential elections marked the third election in as many years that an election committee decided the outcome rather than students. This time, the front-runners--Linford and Romney--were disqualified for exceeding limits on spending. According to the Daily Universe, the student campaign cheated by finding a cheap printing company which allowed them to print more handbills and fliers than their competitors. The reward for their cost conscious compulsions was elimination from the contest.

Each team is given $500 to pay for campaign-related costs. We will ignore for the moment the obvious free speech issues associated with caps on campaign spending. In ruling against the cost-conscious team, the "clandestine" campaign committee ruled that Kinko's costs should be applied to their printing. This ex post facto accounting put them over the $500 limit. Yeah, that makes sense. Punish the candidates for smartly seeking cheaper alternatives.

We should disclose that we personally know the chair of this moronic committee, Greg Moody. Moody was the Vice President half of a team that started the "win by default" trend three years ago.

According to unofficial reports (unofficial because the results were never released), Jason Smith and J. Griggs received some 80% of the popular vote in the final runoff of last year's election (Full disclosure: Jason Smith is an erstwhile colleague). A landslide if we ever saw one. On the eve of their win, an anonymous accuser reported that Griggs had violated curfew and thus, the Honor Code. We endorse the Honor Code, however, its application in this instance was excessive. Griggs was waiting for a ride home and reportedly stayed some 15 minutes past the deadline. Though all campaign infraction and Honor Code accuser's identities remain confidential, indications are that this person was a friend of last year's winners by default--Adam and Chrissie (we don't remember their last names). BYUSA rules dictate that competitors monitor each other's campaigns. This has been taken to its Puritan Salem Witch trial extreme as we personally know of instances where friends of candidates have followed their opponents, hoping to detect an Honor Code violation or some other campaign infraction.

Back to the matter at hand. By all accounts, the fired BYUSA official, Todd Hendricks, was a model employee. University spokeswoman Carri Jenkins claims that the letter "was only part of the reason Hendricks was terminated." In the Daily Herald report, Jenkins is quoted as saying that "there were certainly other issues involved" while the Daily Universe iteration reports the Hendricks was told the other reasons were that he "wasn’t happy at [his] job," whatever that means.

Hendricks rebuttal is easy and makes BYUSA look foolish. His most recent performance review, undertaken in January, reported that he was "meeting or exceeding expectations for performance." Additionally, BYU did not follow the normal termination procedure which requires a verbal and written warning. Apparently his tempered critique of BYUSA elections warranted fast-track termination.

Hendricks and his wife felt strongly enough about the stand they are taking that they declined BYU's settlement offer. The offer included a month's pay and insurance through the delivery of their baby in June. In exchange, the deal required that Hendricks discuss this matter only with close family, write a retraction letter, and list the names of those with whom he discussed the letter previous to the agreement.

That he would turn down the security promised his family and expectant wife is a strong argument in Hendricks favor. In other words, if he weren't sure his termination came as response to his letter, he wouldn't take this principled stand mere months before the birth of his child.

Jenkins' assertion that "there were certainly other issues involved" smacks of a smear campaign after the fact. Realizing how foolish the story would play in the press, she claimed there were other reasons justifying his termination. We wonder if this was Jenkins' spin or the creation of BYUSA officials.

This affair is just another example of inept, criticism-averse culture that exists over at BYUSA. According to both articles, Hendricks tried to engage in a dialogue meant to reform the election process, but was met with the pat, bureaucratic response that, "well, there's only so much we can do." "Everything [they] could do" has resulted in winners by default in the last three elections.

The candidates for these elections are not parolees just let out from the state penitentiary, these are BYU's best and brightest. They are smart, hard working, service minded overachievers who for some strange reason want to kill themselves serving long hours. This do-gooder zeal is then run through the ringer that is the BYUSA election process and results in disqualification and Honor Code violation. Those who, like Hendricks, Griggs, and Smith, critique the system hoping to improve or reform it, are met only with obloquy.

If nothing else, BYU administration should wonder at an organization that divides its best overachievers into two camps: sycophants and cynics.

15 March 2006

Pandering to Scientologists

I've never been a fan of Southpark, their humor has always been just a little crass for my taste. One thing I have to give them credit for; they are equal opportunity in their harassment of every niche of human existence. Apparently one of their frequent collaborators, Isaac Hayes, doesn't appreciate their fairness in distribution as he recently quit in response to an episode "exploring" Scientology. From the Associated Press:
There is a place in this world for satire, but there is a time when satire ends and intolerance and bigotry towards religious beliefs of others begins," the 63-year-old soul singer and outspoken Scientologist said...

Last November, "South Park" targeted the Church of Scientology and its celebrity followers, including actors Tom Cruise and John Travolta, in a top-rated episode called "Trapped in the Closet." In the episode, Stan, one of the show's four mischievous fourth graders, is hailed as a reluctant savior by Scientology leaders, while a cartoon Cruise locks himself in a closet and won't come out.

Stone told The AP he and co-creator Trey Parker "never heard a peep out of Isaac in any way until we did Scientology. He wants a different standard for religions other than his own, and to me, that is where intolerance and bigotry begin.

I think it was Dennis Miller (MJ, correct me if I'm wrong, but wasn't it from his rant on "Civility"?) who said (paraphrasing, of course) that if someone made fun of you, rather than going home and crying to your mother, you should 'kick start that weed whacker of a brain and come back with a comeback.' Isaac Heyes had no problem helping Southpark make fun of everyone else on God's green earth, why now turn into a conscientious objector?

James Taranto's observation is right on:
Well, after all, it's one thing to mock Jews, Muslims, Mormons, Catholics, Evangelicals, blacks, gays, whites, Mexicans, Asians, Canadians, Frenchmen, people with birth defects, women, transsexuals, Democrats, Republicans, lawyers, cops, cows, people with red hair and freckles, goths, the handicapped and fat kids. But satirizing Scientology--that's just intolerant!
I hope you, dear readers, see the parallels between this double standard and the one addressed in "Pandering to Muslims." I suppose it is human nature to want to be excluded from the school-yard name calling.

I continue to think of the West's response to the Muslim uproar in response to the printed caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed. In my last post I raised two issues I still haven't seen raised anywhere else.

The first was the fallacious Muslim claim that their religion is somehow "more sacred" or that they are "more serious" about their religious devotion. This has been parroted by moderates in the West who, perhaps because they themselves are not religious, nod their heads in agreement. "Of course," they think to themselves, "these people are more serious about their religion." I rejected this claim and noted that it would be difficult to assess until that time when God, in His great wisdom, decides to air publicly His views on which religion is best. Until then, we should all be content worship how we may and respect the rights of others to do the same.

My second observation was that the moderate pandering was just the latest iteration of liberal condescension towards Muslims. The imagery that comes quickest to mind is that of doting parents and an ill behaved child. Confronted with the child's tantrum, the parent, rather than punishing the child for bad behavior, encourages it by satisfying the every want of the child. It is all too clear that the liberal press and academics see themselves in this role. Rather than rebuking Muslim leaders who inflame the public with their violent rhetoric, they castigate those who embrace the freedom of the press for "causing" the violence.

13 March 2006

Pandering to Muslims

Nearly a month ago I wrote about the fallout resulting from the printing caricatures of Mohammed. To summarize, I wrote that the Muslim "street" response was due in large part to promotion by tyrannical rulers who wished to focus public discontent on the 'depravity of Western Civilization' rather than human rights abuses in the Middle East. This was a predictable and understandable response.

Commentary from "moderates" in the US and Europe seemed to suggest that the freedom of the press was limited to lampooning Jews and Christians. I remain dumbfounded at this editorial double standard. Have "moderates" been scared into submission by violent elements in the Muslim world?

Last week the carnage continued. This time, the victim was a student newspaper in Corvallis, Oregon (Oregon State University).
A student's column in the Oregon State University campus newspaper has prompted protests by Muslim students, who say it is offensive to their faith.

The piece headlined "The Islamic Double Standard" was written by OSU microbiology student Nathanael Blake and published in the Daily Barometer on Feb. 8.

The column accused Muslims of expecting special treatment after a Danish newspaper published cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad. Riots over the cartoons amounted to "savagery," Blake said. "Bluntly put, we expect Muslims to behave barbarously," his column said. . . .

At the Daily Barometer, editors said e-mail and phone calls poured in. Senior editors have met with the Muslim Student Association.

"The pain that it caused . . . did not subside with time," said DD Bixby, the Barometer's editor-in-chief. "It kind of just festered."

She said editors have been checking copy with Muslim students, and on Tuesday deleted one paragraph from a piece scheduled to be published the next day.
From James Taranto of Best of the Web,
So let's see if we have this straight: Muslims are upset over being accused of "expecting special treatment," and they respond by agitating for the newspaper to allow them to censor material they find offensive. What's wrong with this picture?
I feel I need to repeat something I've mentioned before, lest someone accuse me of being anti-Muslim. I do not condone ridiculing religion. However, this expected double standard is ridiculous.

This suggests an attitude that somehow Muslims are more serious about their religion, or that their faith is more sacred. I reject that thesis outright. It may be possible to suggest a superiority of one religion, nevertheless, barring a widely publicized heavenly visitation, it is impossible to establish such a claim.

Here again, a trend that defies understanding. This argument hasn't been limited to my few Muslim acquaintances. It has been popular among many who, inexplicably, feel it necessary to explain away the violent Muslim response.

I'm beginning to think this is just another manifestation of a common belief from intellectual "elites" that the Muslim world is incapable of embracing liberal democracy, liberty and freedom. If that's the case, then their pander is just the latest iteration of condescension from the same groups that always thinks they know best: liberal press and academics.

10 March 2006

Wait for it...

Between grad school applications and skiing Targhee and Jackson, I've been distracted from my goal of global dominance by way of this blog. I'm still not finished with applications or caught up from ski days, but I thought I'd make a quick post before I tended to the tedium of school work.

Though I haven't posted since the end of February, the discussion and debate in the comments section of my last post was great. I hope everyone reads the comments. I have said before and re-state it here--comments are the best part of the blog.

The last post examined the misguided efforts of the UW Student Senate. Like many in the U.S., they mistakenly conflated any war (in this case WWII) with Iraq. Because they hate Bush and the war in Iraq, they look for any opportunity to protest. This ridiculous outburst against Boyington is just one example.

I understand the critique about blind loyalty to President Bush. I wonder if the liberals who make this accusation are aware that they are at least as blinded by their hate.

Besides, my blind loyalty isn't that blind. Off the top of my head I can think of several issues where I've been at odds with President Bush--Harriet Miers, McCain-Feingold, prescription drug benefits, immigration--to name a few. However, on the issues most important to me--the war, courts, and taxes (in that order)--Bush has, for the most part, performed well.

What complicates the debate about Iraq, Supreme Court nominees, or anything political, is the liberal slant purveyed ad nauseum by the press. Exhibit #5,467,342 from James Taranto of Best of the Web
What's for Desert?
The U.S. military's desertion rate "has plunged since the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001," USA Today reports:
The Army, Navy and Air Force reported 7,978 desertions in 2001, compared with 3,456 in 2005. The Marine Corps showed 1,603 Marines in desertion status in 2001. That had declined by 148 in 2005.

The desertion rate was much higher during the Vietnam era. The Army saw a high of 33,094 deserters in 1971--3.4% of the Army force. But there was a draft and the active-duty force was 2.7 million.

Desertions in 2005 represent 0.24% of the 1.4 million U.S. forces.
Accompanying the story is a chart that shows Army desertions have declined every year since 2001.

So how does USA package this good news for the military? As bad news: The headline reads "8,000 Desert During Iraq War," and the first paragraph begins:
At least 8,000 members of the all-volunteer U.S. military have deserted since the Iraq war began, Pentagon records show, although . . .
Many in the press seem determined to follow their Iraq-as-Vietnam script, whether or not it's consistent with the facts.
I discussed the gross infatuation the press has with Vietnam at length here in the concluding paragraphs. Writers and talking heads who cut their teeth reporting on the war or Watergate are hungry to once again attain what they see as the zenith of their power and influence.

They think they got the U.S. out of Southeast Asia and brought down a president. To read their Op-Eds and slanted news reporting, it seems they would like a repeat performance and return to the "glories" of Watergate and Vietnam.

When news first broke about "illegal" wiretaps, the predictable knee-jerk response from members of the press who called for impeachment was almost laughable.

For the sake of the country, Afghanistan, Iraq, etc., lets hope the press is unsuccessful in its bid to return us to the Watergate/Vietnam era.