Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Paying Hidden Costs

A thirty second sound bite on the radio news this morning announced that the Utah National Parks Council of the Boy Scouts of America is laying some people off as donations are down and they cannot afford to employ the people anymore. I have not been able to find confirmation for this tidbit elsewhere, but the rest of this post is based on the assumption that the information is correct.

This is sad for those laid off. I am sure that at least some (and perhaps all) of those who will be laid off sincerely worked for the good of the boys.

On the other hand, this was entirely predictable. No one wants to support an organization that abandons its principles and betrays its constituents.

Unfortunately, my observations about this sort of situation is that those who caused it are never the ones to suffer the ill effects. They will be lauded and praised for how they led the organization through difficult times and given a golden parachute instead of being sacked for their abandonment of principle or betrayal.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Apologetics for Not Doing Apologetics

Yesterday at Utah Valley University there was a panel discussion on Mormon apologetics. The panelists were Brian Hauglid, Ralph Hancock, Brian Birch, Julie Smith, and Ben Park. Each had ten minutes to make their case and then there was an hour-long discussion. Here are some brief summaries of the arguments (losing most of the detail to perhaps the point of caricature--sorry, I do not mean to be inaccurate, just brief).

Brian Hauglid summarized Stephen Cowan's classification of Evangelical apologists but did not deal with how this classification system might apply to Mormon apologetics or which Latter-day Saint scholars might fit in which classification if it did apply. He argued that apologetics should not be a full-contact sport. He said that apologetics ought to be done in such a fashion that no one got their feelings hurt.

Ralph Hancock argued that apologetics meant defending one's beliefs using arguments. Thus everyone does apologetics for their own opinions. He argued that irony and satire have a legitimate place in apologetics and that it was generally best to be straightforward in presenting one's arguments.

Brian Birch applauded the Maxwell Institute's abandonment of defending the Church. He reiterated a claim that he has made elsewhere that apologetics of any sort could only have a chair at the academic table if it bowed to scholarship. He claimed that no satire or irony ought to be used in academic arguments and put forward the academy as a model of being humble and charitable. He voiced his opinion that apologetics was not really ready for the rough and tumble of scholarship.

Julie Smith thought that apologetics was most appropriate for missionaries and seminary teachers. She thought apologetics was dangerous because it fossilized the status quo and made women collateral damage. She wanted more numbered lists. She voiced her opinion that the next frontier in Mormon apologetics would be the Bible.

Ben Park thought that there should be a wall between apologetics and Mormon Studies. Maintaining a wall between the two would, he claimed, make better apologetics and better scholarship. For him Leonard Arrington and Eugene England were his heroes because they used the latest scholarly fads in their work. Mormon Studies was, however, better because it sheds the insider focus in the study of Mormonism.

The panel was big on generalities and short on specifics. This was most clearly apparent when an actual apologist asked them about how they might respond to a hypothetical sister in Parowan who might be troubled by things she had read. None of the panel betrayed the least indication of ever having done such a thing. It was like witnessing a bunch of arm-chair quarterbacks who had never set foot on a football field discussing what a professional team ought to do. To extend the metaphor and grossly oversimplify the arguments: Hauglid seem to be arguing that the best way for a team to win was to play touch football. Hancock was arguing that the team should actually play football since they were engaged in a match whether they wanted to or not. Birch seemed to argue that one team should only be allowed on the field if it was not allowed to score any points. Smith seemed to think that the best strategy was for the coach to provide the players with a numbered list of all possible plays without any guidance on which ones were likely to work in a particular situation. Park seem to think that there should be a wall between the football team and the stadium to keep the team out of the stadium. Which of these would you rather have coaching your team?

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

On Supposed Tips for LDS Graduate Students

A recent blog post over on the ironically named "Faith Promoting Rumor" blog purports to give advice to prospective graduate students in "in Religious Studies (broadly conceived), the Ancient Near East, Hebrew Bible, New Testament, Early Christian Lit., Late Antique, Patristics, etc." This has caused some concern in certain quarters, though perhaps not for the reasons someone might think. I have a few comments to make in general and some on the specific recommendations made.

In the first place, the recommendations are made by someone who writes anonymously, apparently with no qualifications whatsoever. How would she know what a graduate school is looking for? Has she even been to graduate school? Anonymous recommendations on the internet should have no credibility. If someone is not willing to sign their real name to something, why should anyone trust it?

There are some clear indications that the author of the blog post does not know what she is talking about. Thus it is the product of some ignorant ideological biases.

I write this post as someone who successfully was admitted to graduate school, successfully completed graduate school and has successfully gotten a job in academia, who advises prospective graduate students, who has sat on graduate degree committees and on committees that award graduate school funding, and who has actually talks with people who are involved in graduate school admissions.

Committees are not monolithic entities. They are composed of individuals who come to the committee with their own ideas, qualifications, and biases. All it may take is one wrong person to change the entire committee. For example, I once sat on a committee where one individual insisted that money be given to a candidate who did not even meet the minimal qualifications for it. Sometimes success or failure is simply a matter of who is sitting on the committee.
  1. The first piece of advice is to avoid Studia Antiqua. Studia Antiqua is a student journal. The papers are usually suggested by professors who thought that the paper was promising. The papers are peer reviewed and authors work with a faculty mentor and a faculty editor to get the paper ready for publication. Our anonymous author thinks that this is a bad thing, saying: "I would avoid it." After all, who needs intensive help on your writing or experience with the academic publication process? I looked through the past issues of Studia Antiqua and see that many of the students who published in its pages in the past not only made it into graduate school but now have academic jobs. Obviously, this is the kind of thing that our anonymous author wants to avoid.

  2. The second and third pieces of advice deals with being a professor's research assistant or co-authoring a paper with a professor. "Avoid this," our anonymous author advises. I have not had many research assistants but half of them made it into top graduate programs. If that is a consequence that you want to avoid, please do so.

  3. See point two.

  4. The fourth piece of advice has to do with starting a personal blog. Don't do this. If you need any reasons not to do it, look no further than our anonymous blog author. I have seen many graduate students sink their careers with blogs.

  5. The fifth point advises students against working with FAIR or Interpreter. Our anonymous author advises: "DO NOT DO THIS." Actually, FAIR prefers to work with people who already have finished their schooling, like Michael Otterson, Richard Bushman, Terryl Givens, and so on. Surely that must be disreputable company. The last graduate student I knew of to publish with Interpreter just got a tenure-track job. If you do not want that to happen to you, then by all means avoid Interpreter and FAIR. There are publications that will seriously damage your job prospects. I have known individuals whose involvement with Sunstone and Dialogue have cost them jobs that otherwise they would have gotten.

  6. The last piece of advice has to do with accepting jobs on academic projects. Our anonymous adviser says, "DO NOT DO THIS unless you really, really need the job." Well, yes, someday you probably will need the job. I am reminded of a certain non-Mormon academic who really, really needed the job. She took a job doing research on one of these Mormon projects. Later she got a job at a certain Ivy League school and now runs one of the top graduate programs in the country. Going to "work with [Mormon apologists] on their latest project on something that only deals with LDS matters" certainly hurt her job prospects.
So our anonymous author advises:
Listen, friends, we know that you want to help your faith community, we know that these various opportunities and venues are incredibly enticing (and let’s be honest, flattering), but if you are applying or will be applying to grad school, you simply must watch out for number one. You are number one. Not the big name apologist, not the security of your faith community (it will be just fine!), not anyone else but you.
There is a word for this attitude, and it is selfish. What does it profit someone if they gain their degree and lose their soul? If personal integrity and your covenants mean nothing to you, you can follow the advice of someone who not only will not even sign her own name to her opinions, but will not even take her own advice. This individual is well-meaning but not necessarily well-informed. Somehow people who don't follow her advice have managed to get into graduate school, to earn degrees, and get jobs, sometimes precisely because they did not follow her advice.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

More on Parental Effects on Youth Religiosity

About a year ago, Richard Petts used the National Survey of Youth and Religion to study the effects of family structure on youth religiosity. Along the way, he found some interesting things about things that parents do that help their youth retain their religion. He published this in the journal Sociology of Religion but my page numbers will refer to the online publication.

In his first hypothesis test (pp. 13-14), he found that the most significant positive impact on the religiosity of youth was parental religiosity (1.10). The second most significant positive impact was if their parent was a Mormon (0.64). The third most positive impact was if their parent was a conservative Protestant (0.61). The most negative impacts were if the parents were cohabiting, that is living together without being married (-0.39), if the parent was single without ever being married (-0.35), or if the parents owned their own home (-0.34).

In his third hypothesis test (pp. 13-14), Petts found that besides parental religiosity, the most important things were "family religious practices" (0.84) which meant: "Youth are considered to engage in religious practices with their family if they had prayed together with their family in the past year and talked with their family about religious things at least once a week" (pp. 8-9). In a Latter-day Saint context that would include family prayer and family home evening.

Petts also tested for religious salience, that is, how important religion is for the youth (pp. 16-17). The most important positive factors were: Parental religiosity (0.61), if the parent is a conservative Protestant ( 0.48), and if the parent is a Mormon (0.46). The three most detrimental things were having a single parent who had never married (-0.24), living in a step family (-0.20), and having a child who is a different race from their parent (-0.17).

When Petts tested for things that make youth feel close to God, the most important thing was family religious practices (0.36) while the most detrimental thing was divorce (-0.28).

Here are some of Petts's conclusions:
Although there were a few exceptions, family structure generally did not have a direct influence on youth religious outcomes. (p. 19)
Parental religiosity was a strong predictor of youth religiosity; youth were less likely to be religious when raised by parents with low levels of religiosity and vice versa. (p. 19)
Overall, religious transmission in nontraditional families appears to be less effective for religious participation and religious salience among youth, and these differences are most pronounced at higher levels of parental religiosity. That is, youth raised in nontraditional families with highly religious parents have lower levels of religious participation and religious salience than those raised by highly religious married parents. (p. 22)
Consistency in religious affiliation among family members and engaging in religious behavior as a family are important in predicting youth religiosity. (p. 23)
So, the take away for parents who want to keep their children in the faith:
  1. Set a positive example by participating yourself.

  2. Marry your spouse.

  3. Stay married.

  4. Hold family prayer.

  5. Hold family home evening.
I'm sure I must have heard this somewhere before.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Why You Might Not Want to "Upgrade" to Windows 10

When we bought our last family computer, I did some research and decided on a system that used Windows 8.1 because I would get the following features:
  • Each child could have their own account.

  • The accounts could be local, without each child having to register with some big corporation that would be collecting data on their every move.

  • Parents could control when children got on the computer.

  • Individual children could have specific time limits when they could use the computer and the computer would be keeping track of the time so there would be no arguing that what seemed like five minutes was really an hour.

  • There were options for limiting websites and downloads.

  • Parents can get weekly reports on how much time children have been on the computer and what they have been doing.

  • Parents can override certain functions on a case by case basis.

These features and others are lumped together into something called "Family Safety." I have recommended them to many parents, and do so again.

Recently I upgraded to Windows 10 for one of my computers and it fixed one of the recurring glitches I had been having. That was well done. Windows 10 also has a much better start menu than Windows 8.1. There are other improvements, but I have not really noticed them yet.

This experience led me to upgrade to Windows 10 on the family computer. That was a huge mistake. Every reason for which I got a Windows 8.1 computer instantly vanished. Windows 10 converted all the family safety accounts into regular accounts with no possibility of converting them back to family safety accounts. No controls or limitations of any sort could be put on the accounts.

Windows 10 still offers something it calls "family safety" but in a form which makes me feel anything but safe.

In Windows 10 to create any sort of account (temporary, local, family) you have to register with Microsoft so that they can collect the following information on you and your kids and anyone else who uses your computer (and I quote from Microsoft's own (lack of) privacy statements):
  • "your first and last name, email address, postal address, phone number, and other similar contact data."

  • "passwords, password hints, and similar security information"

  • "demographic data . . . such as your age, gender, country and preferred language"

  • "your interests and favorites, such as the teams you follow, . . . the stocks you track, . . . or the favorite cities your add to a weather app. In addition to those you explicitly provide, your interests and favorites may also be inferred ro derived from other data we collect"

  • "payment data . . . if you make purchases, such as your payment instrument number (such as a credit card number), and the security code associated with your payment instrument."

  • "usage data . . . such as the features you used, the items you purchase, the web pages you visit, the search terms you enter . . . you device, including IP address, device identifiers, regional and language settings, and data about the network, operating system, browser or other software you use."

  • "your contacts and relationships."

  • "your locations, which can be precise or imprecise . . . Global Position System (GPS) data, as well as data identifying nearby cell towers and Wi-Fi hotspots, . . . your IP address . . . city or postal code"

  • "content of your files and communications . . . your documents, photos, music or video . . . subject line and body of an email, text or other content of an instant message, audio and video recording of a video message, and audio recording and transcript of a voice message you receive or a text message you dictate"
Additionally, Microsoft says that they "also obtain data from third parties (including other companies)" about you.

This, of course, is precisely why a parent might want to create a local account and not register their children with Microsoft data collection.

Supposedly, by registering your children with Microsoft on every device you use the same controls will apply across the board to all devices running Microsoft. I can see some advantages to this but also some disadvantages. I can see reasons why a parent might want to have different devices have different settings. Perhaps you want your child doing their homework between the time they get home and when the family eats dinner and so want the computer available at that time, and you will let them play the X-box only after dinner on the assumption that their homework is done. In that case you would want different settings for different devices.

So there are some legitimate concerns why parents might not want to upgrade to Windows 10.

What if, like I did, you made the mistake of upgrading?

You can downgrade back to Windows 8.1 if it has been less than a month since you upgraded.

Simply click on the Start menu

Go to "Settings" (which is in the bottom left-hand corner and has the gear icon next to it). Then go to "Update & Security" which is in the lower right of the menu options. Then go to "Recovery" which is the fourth option down on the left-hand side. Then select the option "Go back to Windows 8.1". It took less time than upgrading to Windows 10. I did have to reenter wireless router passwords but all my family's accounts and old family safety settings were still there.

When you downgrade, Microsoft will ask for feedback about why you want to downgrade. I listed some of my concerns about the lack of real Family Safety in Windows 10.

Is it hypocritical for a parent to track her children's computer activities and complain when Microsoft does it? Possibly. But there are some key differences. (1) Parents have a responsibility to train their children in how to use tools (including computers) responsibly; Microsoft does not. (2) Parents are only tracking their own children, not everyone's children. (3) Parents need not use all the tracking tools; they can be customized to the child and the situation but one never knows if Microsoft is using the tracking tools or how.

It is nice that Microsoft is at least pretending to provide tools of some sort to parents, but who will protect your kids from Microsoft?

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Read This, Not That!

Richard Bushman's discussion of the Book of Mormon in Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism was really good. Surprisingly, his discussion of the Book of Mormon in Rough Stone Rolling was as weak as the one in Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism was strong.

Now, however, there is something better. The best discussion of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon is now Michael MacKay and Gerrit Dirkmaat's From Darkness unto Light published this year. If you are reading Rough Stone Rolling, skip the section on the Book of Mormon and read this instead. (Skip what Bushman says about the Book of Abraham too.)

If you think you know how the Book of Mormon was translated, you should read MacKay and Dirkmaat because you find out all kinds of things that you did not know.

Friday, October 2, 2015

One Less Worry

I was comforted by this thought from Elder Russell M. Nelson reflecting on the calling of apostles:
You look at a university or a big business where there’s a vacancy. A search committee works hard to find suitable successors. They do well but it’s always a worry. Here, it is not a worry. You know the work of the Lord will be done by His servants.
Thank heavens that the calling of apostles is done by the Lord instead of a university committee.