Category Archives: BYU

Royal Skousen lectures on the Book of Mormon [UPDATED]

UPDATE [2/13]: I received word from Dr. Skousen tonight that attendance at the lectures may be quite high due to large numbers of BYU students attending. He strongly recommends that you arrive no later than 6:30 pm. Frankly, I’d recommend 6 pm and bring a good book (or an iPad).


Yes, yes, I know, I haven’t posted much here in ages. I burned out a bit on blogging last year, but I may be starting up again.

In the meantime, Royal Skousen — and if you don’t know who he is, you should — is giving a series of lectures on the Book of Mormon, based on his work of over two decades in creating a critical text for the Book of Mormon. The lectures are on the topic “25 Years of Research: What We Have Learned about the Book of Mormon Text”, and here’s the schedule (covering three successive Tuesday evenings):

  • February 26: The Original and Printer’s Manuscripts
  • March 5: The Printed Editions
  • March 12: The Nature of the Original Text

All three lectures are being held at the Gordon B. Hinckley Center on the campus of Brigham Young University; they are free and open to the public. I actually hope to make the first lecture myself, since business will have me in Utah that week. As someone who has read most of what Skousen has published to date on the Book of Mormon critical text project, I highly recommend these lectures.  ..bruce..


Mormons, Vietnam, Romney and the Draft, revisited

Five years ago, the Boston Globe ran an article suggesting collusion between the LDS Church and the US Selective Services regarding deferments for missionaries in general, and Mitt Romney in particular. The simple truth was, yes, young men could get a ministerial deferment (one of many different deferments available) for the duration of their mission, but the deferment vanished as soon as the mission ended — and the mission was fixed in duration. I should know: my own draft number was 4, and the only reason I didn’t end up enlisting in the US Navy was that the draft was suspended before I returned home from my mission.

More significant, though, is that during an era in which anti-war protests were common on many college campuses, they were almost non-existent at Brigham Young University. What’s more, BYU had large, active Army and Air Force ROTC programs all through the war, even though many other colleges and universities were criticizing, curtailing, or even shutting down their own ROTC programs.

Well, the issue has come up again, triggered in part by Ann Romney’s appearance on The View, where Whoopi Goldberg inexplicably thought that Mormons weren’t allowed to fight. (Seriously? Did someone feed her this question, or did she come up with it on her own?) But that brought up the fact that Mitt Romney didn’t serve in the military and has resurrected the same themes of collusion and draft dodging. I made the statement in my post five years ago that Latter-day Saints if anything were probably over-represented in the US military during the Vietnam War; now I have evidence of that.

Let’s look at the figures. During the period of the Vietnam War — say, 1965-1974 — the total US population was around 200 million. During that same period of time, LDS Church membership grew from roughly 2.4 million to 3.4 million. That membership is men, women, and children of all ages, both inside and outside of the United States. I have not yet been able to find the actual United States LDS membership for that period, but I will assume that it was on the order of 75% of the total LDS membership, or about 2 to 2.5 million — just a bit over 1% of the US population.

Furthermore, probably only about 50% (if that much) of that membership within the United States represented actively practicing and attending members. So the ratio of active LDS members living in the US to the US population at large during that period was probably on the order of 0.5%, perhaps less.

So, how many self-identified Mormons were killed in Vietnam? 589 out of 58,193, or just over 1% of all US military deaths. In other words, Mormons were at least proportionately represented by population among US military deaths in Vietnam and were likely over-represented. 

How many Mormons served in uniform for the US military in Vietnam? Assuming they died at the same rate as everyone else, it would be about 27,000 (1% of 2.7 million).

So, yes, Mormons did fight — and die –in Vietnam in numbers at least proportional to their percentage of the US population and likely higher.

As for Mitt Romney, my understanding was that he had a ministerial deferment for his mission and one or more student deferments (which didn’t end until 1971) while attending college. Millions of other students had legitimate student deferments, too, usually in multiples (since you had to reaffirm each year that you were still enrolled in college) — that wasn’t draft dodging, that was the norm, and it actually increased college enrollment during the period in question. ..bruce..


A reflection on the BYU football independence announcement

BYU announced this afternoon that they are going independent in football as of mid-2011, while other sports will be played against the West Coast Conference. This is widely seen (and rightly so) as a risky move, since BYU will now have to line up football opponents for every single game in a season, instead of having most of those games against conference members. It also creates additional obstacles for BYU getting into a BCS bowl. There is, to say the least, great skepticism about this move on BYU’s part; most sports columnists, in and out of Utah, consider it risky at best and downright stupid at worst.

And yet….

While thinking about the announcement this afternoon, I remembered a well-known line from the 1983 movie, “WarGames”. Joshua, the self-aware computer, after playing through countless nuclear war scenarios, observes: “A strange game. The only winning move is not to play.”

That, I think, is it. BYU has deliberately chosen not to play the BCS game, at least not on BCS’s terms. In fact, I think that BYU is ready, at least for the near term, to deliberately step off the BCS treadmill, completely give up the idea of repeating its 1984 national championship and instead take a very different approach to football from the rest of the NCAA.

As has been pointed out by others, BYU now has one of the best high-definition broadcast facilities in the  United States, including a complete sports studio and mobile HD truck. BYU has its own satellite channel, which I suspect will soon have an HD parallel channel. BYU is in negotiations with ESPN for scheduling and broadcasting football games, reportedly at a much, much higher return than BYU was getting through the Mountain West Conference. Outside of those games, BYU can — like Texas — now run its own independent sports channel (in high def, no less) and gain revenue, or can sell broadcast rights of specific games to other networks.

All this will increase the income to BYU from football, as well as its exposure. BYU should not have any trouble lining up bowl game invitations each year — BYU fans are well-known for showing up. And in the meantime — and, again, others have already noted this as a consideration — a greater portion of the US and the world at large becomes familiar with BYU and, through it, the LDS Church.

The end game? If the approach remains lucrative and meets exposure goals, and if they truly are giving up (for now) on a national championship, BYU has no real reason to join a conference for football. In fact, with the PAC-10 (soon to be PAC-12) and the WAC both clearly out of contention (though for different reasons), the only other conference that really makes sense for BYU geographically would be the Big 12. They may yet come after BYU with the pending departure of Colorado and Nebraska, but neither side is going to be in a hurry at this point.

Should be interesting to see how this all unfolds.  ..bruce..

Well, that answers that question

Some 39 years ago, as a group of (mostly) freshmen at BYU, a bunch of us on the same dorm floor (3rd floor, T Hall, Deseret Towers) had a discussion going in the commons room about majors. Finally, one of us — I’m pretty sure it was Greg Zippi — said, “Yeah, what we’re all really wondering is: what should you major in so that you end up as a General Authority?”

Well, that question has now been answered, at least for our group. Gerrit Gong — one of our 3rd floor gang — was just called to the 1st Quorum of the Seventy (assuming I heard things correctly; I’m listening to General Conference over the internet from my hotel room in Richmond, VA). Way to go, Gerrit! ..bruce..

P.S. Uh, as I sit here, I’m not sure what Gerrit’s undergraduate major was, though I suspect it was International Studies.

Tales of the Dorms

Back in January, BYU Magazine (or whatever its called) solicited tales of dorm life. I submitted the stories below, and they apparently chose one of them (based on my daughter-in-law’s comments on Facebook). Here are my original stories. These are all from 1971-72, my freshman year at BYU. I was living on the 3rd floor in Penrose (“T”) Hall in Deseret Towers.

Glow-ball Warfare and Other Dorm Games

When you put 40+ young men, mostly freshman, all on the same dorm floor — in this case, the 3rd floor of Penrose (T) Hall in Deseret Towers (1971-72) — interesting activities develop. One of our periodic games was called “Glow-ball Warfare”, and we played it in the commons room (with all the furniture in place). The main playing instrument was a plastic, glow-in-the-dark ball. All the players would gather into the commons room, with a few towels to block out light coming from beneath the doors. One person would start out with the ball, holding it up to one of the ceiling lights. After a minute or so, he’d nod, and all the lights would be turned out. He would now do his best to hit someone else with the now-glowing ball, the only thing visible in the room. Everyone else would do their best to get away from him in the darkness, usually running into each other and the furniture (the worst I ever got hurt in the game was crawling head-first into the heavy metal pole holding up one of the tables). Once the ball was thrown, there was a scramble to grab the ball; whoever got it now did his best to hit someone else. When the ball got too dim, we’d call a halt, turn on the lights to recharge it, and then continue. There were no teams; it was strictly a free-for-all.

In high school, I had played football for four years. There was another guy on my dorm floor, Layne Jensen (’74, ’76, ’78), who had been in wrestling in high school for four years. Every now and then, Layne and I would have contests where we would take turns hitting each other in the stomach as hard as we could to see if the other guy could take it. For the life of me, I can’t remember how this got started or why we thought it was a good idea, but I know we always walked away feeling that both of us had done well.

Greg Zippi (’77, ’83), another floor-mate, came up with a less violent and painful game: Hallway Frisbee. The two players would start a modest distance apart in one of the long dorm hallways. One player would toss a frisbee to the other player. If the frisbee didn’t touch the wall, ceilings or (of course) floor, then both players would take a stride back, and the second player would throw to the first player. If the frisbee did touch the floor/walls/ceiling, then we stayed the same distance apart. The goal was to throw the frisbee the full length of the hallway without it touching anything. Given how long and narrow the Deseret Towers hallways were, that was a rare accomplishment, but always much celebrated and bragged about when accomplished.

I will pass over in silence the Hallway Whiffleball games, which were a bit, ah, rougher on the ceiling light fixtures than Hallway Frisbee.

Finally, at the end of our freshman year, at the end of finals, we challenged another floor in our hall to a few outdoor competitions, one of which was a tug-of-war across one of the the irrigation canals that ran near Heritage Halls. Because the heights of the two banks of the canal weren’t quite the same, we decided to switch sides after the first event and repeat the tug-of-war. Many of us, not wanting to walk the 30 yards or so to one side to walk across the canal, simply ran and jumped over it. Since the canal had 2-3″ of water in it, and since the canal had sloping banks, I kept a careful eye on the ground as I ran up to the canal and leapt. I then looked up just in time to see that someone from the opposing team had done exactly the same thing at exactly the same time in exactly the same (but opposite) place along the canal. One of my floormates (it may well have been Greg) later told me — once he could stop laughing — that it was like watching a live-action cartoon. This other young man and I hit one another full on right over the middle of the canal, exactly canceled out each other’s momentum, hung for a split-second in mid-air, and then dropped into the canal’s cold, cold water together. For my own part, I put out my right hand to break my fall and slammed it onto one of the large, water-smoothed rocks at the bottom of the canal. I was unable to shake hands for a month.

It was a great year.

Bruce F. Webster (BS, ’78)
Parker, Colo.

Mormons, the Mossad, and 9/11

Courtesy of Article VI Blog comes a link to this, ah, fascinating article that not only repeats the tired and ridiculous trope that Israel was behind the destruction of the World Trade Center on 9/11/2001, but that the Mormons were involved as well. A few excerpts (all errors and typos are in the original article):

The establishment of a branch of Brigham Young University in Israel created a legitimate front for covert activities of the secret/CIA element of the church. It is from there that Mormon world political interests are promoted and pursued lobbying the Israeli government to pursue its unenlightened, inhuman activities under Mosaic Law of an eye for an eye philosophy against Arab states and the deprived Palestinian people. . . .

The first public awareness of the nexus between Mossad and Mormon secret agents was published by Norman Mailer in A Harlot High and Low in the 60’s when a reconditioned WWII Liberty ship was “hijacked” on the Thames River in London by Mossad. The ship had a cargo of uranium ore that had been originally mined in southern Utah. The details of that intrigue were published in an earlier article on OpedNews

It involved the Utah Corporation which mines the surface of Australia as well as Chile.I mentioned that Secret elements of the church conspired with the CIA to overthrow democratically elected president Allende of Chile so that the business interests of the church could continue uninterrupted by the then recent action of Allende in nationalizing the mines in Chile.

The most recent exposure of that nexus came within the framework of the 9-11 event.Being pre-informed if not directly involved in the plans for destroying the Twin Towers as well as Building 7 on September 11, 2001 is demonstrated by official advice given toMormons working in the World Trade Center to not show up for work that day. . . .

The nexus between the church and the Bush Administration has been documented by the pressure placed on the church from a personal visit by Bush to church headquarters in Salt Lake City prior to the forced retirement of BYU physics professor Steven Jones in late 2006.  Jones was/is in the forefront of scientifically establishing a conspiracy to destroy the World trade Center by pre planted explosives. He is just doing what church founder Smith predicted elders of the church would do in saving the Constitution.

If this weren’t so amusing, I’d be offended. I was living and working in Washington DC on 9/11/2001; in fact, the house that Sandra and I had just moved into was about 4 miles due north of the Pentagon. While I didn’t personally know anyone who was killed on that day, there were plenty of people in our ward who did. And I can assure Wallace that none of us were warned about anything. (Note to Wallace: we had been living in DC proper for nearly two years at that point; the house we had just moved into was 2 miles closer to the Mall and the Pentagon.)

What makes this article even more amusing is that there are anti-Mormon evangelicals who claim that the LDS Church is supporting Arab terrorism. (The Church sent hygiene kits and blankets to the Gaza strip, just as they have sent relief to North Korea. All God’s chilluns need warmth and first aid.) And in all this, I wonder what Douglas Wallace, who authored this article, thinks of the terrorists who keep claiming credit for the 9/11 attacks.

For what it’s worth, Wallace (as he alludes to in his credits at the end of the article) is the LDS lawyer who was excommunicated in 1976 for ordaining a black to the priesthood. The incoherence, paranoia, and anti-Semitism of this article renders him a less understandable and sympathetic character than he might otherwise be.  ..bruce..

LDS International Society Conference Proceedings

The proceedings of the 19th Annual LDS International Society Conference are available online as a PDF file.  This was held last April at the Hinckley Center at BYU. Here’s the table of contents:

  • “Building Bridges: Ambassador Hosting Program” — Panel discussion and presentation
    • Moderator: Jeff Ringer, director, Kennedy Center
    • Panel members: Ann Santini, manager, Public and International Affairs, Washington DC office, LDS Church;
      Erlend Peterson, associate international vice president, BYU;
      Elder Ben Banks and Sister Susan Banks, directors, Church Hosting, LDS Church
  • Keynote Speech: “The Church in the Twenty-First Century: Public Perception and the ‘Man with the Stamp’
    • Speaker: Elder Lance B. Wickman, Quorum of the Seventy and general counsel, LDS Church
  • “Strengthening Relations via Diplomatic Outreach” — Panel Discussion
    • Moderator/Introductions: William F. Akin, associate general counsel, LDS Church
    • Panel members: Olene S. Walker, former Utah Governor;
      M. Kenneth Bowler, director, Public and International Affairs, LDS Church;
      Elder Ralph W. Hardy, Jr., Area Seventy
  • “The Perfect Storm? LDS Media Events and the Foreign Press”
    • Speaker: Joel J. Campbell, assistant professor of communications, BYU
  • “Public Perception and Humanitarian Initiatives” — Panel discussion and presentation
    • Moderator/Introductions: Daryl K. Hobson, former president, Cape Verde Priaia Mission
    • Panel members: Sharon Eubanks, manager, LDS Charities;
      Warner P. Woodworth, professor of organizational behavior, BYU

In the aftermath of Prop 8, I’ve seen plenty of postings around the blogosphere suggesting that the leadership of the Church “blundered” into this situation and clearly didn’t think through the political and public perception ramifications. As I’ve said before, hogwash; I believe the Church knew full well what the likely ramifications would be.

Here’s a great quote, from Elder Banks (he and his wife are responsible for hosting foreign ambassadors, consuls, and other state officials who come to or live in Salt Lake):

One of the more interesting ones was Prince Turki al-Faisal of Saudi Arabia. President Hinckley asked him, “Why can’t all you guys get along over there?” And I waited for the Prince’s answer, and he said, “Well, President, it goes back to the Ottoman Empire when France and Britain made all of the countries in this part of the world colonies, and they didn’t want to have anything to do with us, because we didn’t have anything.” And President Hinckley said, “Yes, and now you’ve struck oil, haven’t you?” And the Prince said, “Yes, and now we don’t want anything to do with them.”

Here’s one from Erlend Peterson (BYU):

The important link is Ann Santini and the work she does in Washington, and with Elder and Sister Bans and the work they do in public affairs. Ann’s working with the ambassadors on a regular basis. It creates an opportunity for us probably no one else has. As we’ve talked to ambassadors, they say that they don’t know of another state or university doing what we’re doing. . . . We’ve now hosted 157 ambassadors from ninety-one countries.

And from Jeff Ringer (Kennedy Center):

Years ago, when I first began at the [Kennedy Center] and had some hosting responsibilities, we were hosting a noted Jewish rabbi from New York. At the conclusion of his visit, I was assigned to take him back to Salt Lake City and get him on his flight. I was doing that — this was before increased security — so we had walked back to his gate, and I had wandered off to grab him a drink or something. He was sitting in his chair with tears streaming down his face, and as a new employee at BYU I thought, well there it is, I’ll turn in my card, I’m fired. I somehow managed to ask him what was wrong. He said, “Look around. This is the most remarkable thing I have ever seen.” I’d become used to it, so I hadn’t paid attention, but it happened to be one of those days when missionaries are coming and going. There were families saying goodbye, and families saying welcome home. He went on to tell me it was the most remarkable thing he had ever seen, and he wondered how we created such a sense of service and sacrifice among our people.

Read the whole conference report. It  shows just how carefully and thoughtfully the Church deals with political relations and public perceptions, not just here in the US but around the world as well. ..bruce..

BYU Honors Program reading list (mid-1970s)

It is, of course, fashionable to mock BYU as somehow being parochial or backwards, even (especially!) among the Bloggernacle. Having attended BYU in the 1970s and taught there in the 1980s, I don’t really buy that. BYU students as a body have more real-world exposure to international culture, language and politics — not to mention genuine third-world poverty — than any other major US university. Also, as I have written here before, my freshman Honors English class was actually “composition and reasoning”, and we had to learn to construct and defend a logical argument, a skill sadly lacking in current public discourse, especially in academia and politics (and, frankly, religion).

Scrounging through my files after an e-mail exchange on reading lists with a good friend (hi, Linsey!), I ran across an “HONORS PROGRAM RECOMMENDED READING LIST” from my undergraduate years (1971-72, 74-78). I don’t know exactly when this was compiled; some analysis of the articles cited might establish a “no earlier than” date. But I had this before I graduated in 1978, since I didn’t have a lot of interaction with the Honors Program during my two years of teaching at BYU (1985-87; I was an instructor in the Computer Science department).

So, here’s what the Honors Program recommended back in the 1970s that we as undergraduates read. I’ve reformatted it a bit (and corrected a few typos, though probably introduced a few of my own; this was most likely typed upon on a typewriter on a mimeograph stencil), but the overall structure is still the same. Note that the original takes up seven pages, two columns per page. I’ve put in a few notes in italics and brackets. The list itself contains occasional duplications (e.g., Captial/Das Kapital by Karl Marx shows up in two different places); I’ve left those intact.

Given that this list was complied 30 years ago, what would you add or drop? What entries surprise you the most? [UPDATE: Here is the current BYU Honors “Great Works” list.]

Continue reading BYU Honors Program reading list (mid-1970s)

How sweet it is! [updated]

We interrupt our regular coverage of religion to talk about sports (and, no, I don’t confuse the two).

I have been watching (and following) BYU football since arriving on campus as a freshman in 1971. This means, of course, lots of excitement mixed in with varying levels of frustration.

But today’s game against UCLA (the final score, for those who don’t know: 59-0) is possibly the most perfect game of football I’ve ever seen BYU play. There have been plenty of other routs in BYU history, but they were usually against relatively weak conference rivals. This was against a UCLA team that beat 18th ranked Tennessee two weeks ago.

Yeah, there were a few early penalties, and one interception (which did nothing for UCLA), but BYU was pretty much invincible in all its departments: offense, defense, special teams, and coaching. If Coach Mendenhall had left Max Hall in the game (he pulled him — and much of the 1st team offense — halfway through the 3rd quarter, with the score 52-0), the final score might well have been around 80-0. As it was, our second-string offense went on score a touchdown on UCLA.

By the way, I’ve found two great blogs for covering BYU football: the Cougar Blog at the Salt Lake Tribune, and Deep Shades of Blue, a blog by former BYU player Quinn Gooch.

59-zip against UCLA. Heh. I’ll be smiling about this one all season long.  ..bruce..


Holy crap! The MWC went 4-0 against Pac-10 opponents today:

  • BYU beats UCLA 59-0
  • TCU beats Stanford 31-14
  • New Mexico beats Arizona 36-28
  • and UNLV(!) beats #15 Arizona State (!!!) 23-20 in overtime!

If you’re wondering why the gloating, it’s because just a few years ago, Pac-10 coaches (I’m thinking in particular of the coach at Oregon State) said that BYU and the rest of the MWC teams were in no way good enough to compete in the Pac-10. Heh.  ..bruce..

We now resume our regular programming.