Science and Religion: Escape From The Center of (Robert) Sungenis

geocentrism_350pxw

Geocentrism: adding epicycles.

     TLDR ADVISORY: This article exceeds 1,000 words, and may be lengthy for some readers, including Mr. Robert Sungenis and anyone who missed the memo about the sun being the reason they call this the “solar” system.

     I’d like to tell you a story, my fine, young readers. It’s a story that’s over two thousand years in the making, and one that needs to be told. You see, we as a race are nearing a fork in the road of our development, between enlightenment and ignorance. This fork in the road means that those of us who honestly care where we are going, need to be diligent enough to tell these stories repeatedly, so that others don’t forget all that we’ve learned. I tell you this story, because I love each and every one of you. But, I digress…

Claudius Ptolemy: 90 - 168 AD.

Claudius Ptolemy: 90 – 168 AD.

     In the last years of the third century BC, Greek mathematician Appolonius of Perga posited a geometric model that would explain the movements of the planets as they tracked across the sky. Observed from the Earth, planets such as Mars seemed to move in one direction for a while, then stop, move backwards a bit, then return to their original direction of motion. What Appolonius proposed, was that these objects moved in what came to be known as “epicycles” as they tracked across the night sky. Appolonius’s epicycles were subsequently expanded upon and adopted by Claudius Ptolemy in the 2nd century AD, and became part of the Ptolemaic system of astronomy. (Ptolemy’s model was even turned into an ancient analog computer of sorts, in what is now known as the “Antikythera Mechanism.”) The Ptolemaic system would hold sway as scientific dogma for the next fifteen hundred years.

Nicholaus Copernicus: 1473 - 1543

Nicolaus Copernicus: 1473 – 1543

     Flash forward, to the year 1542. A man lies dying from apoplexy and paralysis. His name, is Nicolaus Copernicus. For the past few decades, Copernicus had been working on the problem of the Ptolemaic model, trying to answer various questions about its inability to make more accurate predictions of the motions of the planets. At the same time, the beginnings of the Protestant Reformation were spreading throughout Europe, challenging the long-held authority of the Roman Catholic church over what exactly the “truths of existence” were.

     Copernicus wasn’t an idiot. He knew that his observations and conclusions about how the heavenly bodies moved across the sky, would contradict church dogma. So, he waited until just before his death in 1543 to publish his observations in a book, “De revolutionibus orbium coelestium.” (“On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres”) In this daring treatise, Copernicus posited that the sun, not the Earth, was at the center of the planetary system, and that the planets orbited the sun in circular paths.

Tycho Brahe: 1546 - 1601

Tycho Brahe: 1546 – 1601

     Three years later, another pioneer in the field of astronomy was born. Tycho Brahe was a headstrong young man, who even lost part of the bridge of his nose in a sword duel (in the dark!) with a fellow Danish nobleman, over a mathematical formula. Tycho was serious. Even more so, he was all about accuracy. Because of this, Tycho began to make meticulous measurements of the planets’ motions, using a device called a “quadrant.”

Johannes Kepler: 1571 - 1630

Johannes Kepler: 1571 – 1630

     By 1600, Brahe had compiled a massive amount of data. It was at this time, that 29-year-old Johannes Kepler met Brahe near Prague, at Benatky nad Jizerou, and became his assistant. Brahe didn’t entirely trust Kepler with his data. For that matter, he didn’t trust anyone with it, and guarded his data closely. He did, however, set his young protege a task; reckon out the motion of the planet Mars. (“Here, kid. Take these measurements and figure it out.”) Kepler already had his own view of the world around him, and since he wasn’t a Catholic, wasn’t as worried about crossing the “powers-that-be” as Copernicus had been.

     Tycho Brahe died in 1601. Immediately following Brahe’s demise, Kepler purloined his vast collection of observational data, and eventually published his conclusions in the “Astronomia nova” (“New Astronomy”) in 1609. “Astronomia nova” made compelling arguments for heliocentrism, and built on the Copernican model of planetary orbits, positing that instead of circular paths, the planets followed elliptical orbits around the sun.

Galileo Galilei: 1564 - 1642

Galileo Galilei: 1564 – 1642

     In the same year that Kepler published “Astronomia nova”, a 45-year-old Italian mathematician and astronomer, by the name of Galileo Galilei, built a device modeled after the “Dutch spyglass.” This device, which could magnify distant objects to about 3x, was the first practical telescope. Galileo turned his telescope skyward…and Galileo saw. Galileo sketched. Galileo discovered.

     He discovered that Saturn had rings. He discovered that Jupiter had moons of its own. He noted that Venus went through phases, much like the moon. Galileo published his findings in “Sidereus Nuncius” (“Starry Messenger”) in 1610, and in “Dialogo sopra i due massimi sistemi del mondo” (“Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems”) in 1632. It was the latter book, which directly challenged established church dogmas, that would result in Galileo being tried for heresy by the Inquisition, and placed under house arrest until his death in 1642. The damage, however, had been done. The great man, Galileo Galilei, had dealt the death blow to the Ptolemaic system of geocentrism…or so it seemed.

Sir Issac Newton: 1642 - 1727

Sir Issac Newton: 1642 – 1727

     In the centuries after Galileo turned his telescope to the sky, science has made advances that Galileo would have found astounding. Issac Newton refined Galileo’s work, developing a new system of mathematics (Calculus) to explain the motions of the planets, as well as the reasons why they move the way that they do. His “Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica” (“Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy”) was a virtual watershed in the fields of mathematics, physics and astronomy.

     During the 1800’s, the sky was indeed the “greatest show on Earth.” Before the age of motion pictures, radio and television, people found entertainment and wonder in simply gazing up at the sky, identifying the stars and constellations, and acknowledging their place within the wider realm of existence…but then, that all changed.

     It is the year 2014. A recent poll by the National Science Foundation finds that 1 in 4 people in America don’t know that the sun is at the center of the solar system. America ranks 25th in science and math scoring of high-school students worldwide. (China, Finland and South Korea rank in the top three.) This spring, mail-order Ph.D. documentary producer and Holocaust denier, Robert Sungenis, is releasing a film based upon his book, “Galileo Was Wrong The Church Was Right”, titled “The Principle.” Sungenis is an adherent of the Ptolemaic model of geocentrism; the same model that was proven to be wrong almost 500 years ago.

     I can only hope that someone reads this story, and understands. I ache with the desire for someone to digest these words, and to be imbued with a child-like curiosity about science and the sky. Oh, God. If I had the money, I would gladly buy each and every one of you, my fine young readers, a brand new Celestron telescope, so that we could gaze together on the wonders of the Galilean moons of Jupiter, the rings around Saturn and other “awesomesauce” out there in the night sky, if for no other reason than to honor Copernicus, Brahe, Kepler, Galileo and others for their hard work and sacrifices. Sacrifice, they did, all in the name of making our world a better and smarter place to be.

Advertisements

Cybersattva SPECIAL: A Matter of Faith, Hair and Education

l. - Vanessa VanDyke. Photo courtesy of Jezebel Magazine online. r. - An example of 1980's hairstyles.

l. – Vanessa VanDyke. Photo courtesy of Jezebel Magazine online. r. – An example of 1980’s hairstyles.

     The 1980’s was the decade of “big hair.” Young girls and women were in a constant competition, it seemed, to see who could come up with the biggest, best hairstyles. Various products, including hairsprays and mousses, were used in this signature 80’s endeavor. My wife, beginning in 1984, attended school at First Assembly Christian School. She recalled to me just this morning, that there were a few girls who attended there, with hair styles that were typical of the era. My wife doesn’t recall that this was ever an issue with the school administration.

     I tell you this, my fine young readers, to lead in to the following developing news item, coming out of Orlando, Florida. On Monday, a story surfaced in the news regarding young Vanessa VanDyke, a 12-year-old student at Faith Christian Academy, a private Christian school in Orlando. It seems that young Vanessa has been the target of some ridicule from other students, regarding of all things, the natural hairstyle she wears. Concerns over the teasing were brought to the school’s administrators, who then informed Vanessa, according to the family, that she needed to either straighten and tone down her hair style, or face expulsion. When questioned on Monday evening by the media, school staff at FCA Orlando would not answer any questions regarding the matter. (1) (2) (3)

     Now, the fact that Vanessa is African-American, coupled with the school being a religious organisation, has made for some very interesting conversation on the subject since this story broke. The piece has been picked up by not only the local stations, but also national news outlets including CNN, the Huffington Post, Jezebel Online and the International Business Times. Once there, it made the jump into the global awareness, via sites such as Australia’s “News.com.au.” As a result, the school’s Facebook page began to be inundated with comments from concerned people from all over the world, the overwhelming majority of which were highly critical of the school’s actions. Late Tuesday evening, the administrators of the FCA Orlando page commenced a campaign of “page scrubbing,” and have since removed most of the comments from their page threads.

     Enter The Cybersattva. Following last night’s “sanitation” efforts by FCA Orlando page admins, I sent an email blast to several of the school and church’s pastors and administrators, questioning their actions in light of their status as a faith-based institution. This morning, I received a reply from none other than the senior pastor of the church, one Carl Stephens. The following is a screen capture of the actual email exchange, from Outlook:

email_exchange

     Additionally, school administrators informed WKMG-CBS on Tuesday, that they are “…not asking her to put products in her hair or cut her hair. We’re asking her to style her hair within the guidelines according to the school handbook.”

Faith Christian Academy Handbook (2012-2013)

Faith Christian Academy Handbook (2012-2013)

     (After giving this a second glance, there are two “linchpin” questions that need asked; “Okay, how exactly is she supposed to “style her hair within the guidelines according to the school handbook,” and if that involves shortening or straightening it, how is she supposed to accomplish this without cutting it or using chemical products!?” Quick FCA, claim ignorance!)

     In other words, pastor Stephens now asserts that the media did not get its story straight, and that Miss VanDyke was never in danger of being expelled. (The media is always the easiest one to scapegoat in situations like these, it seems.) Pastor Stephens did note in his reply, that Vanessa is an outstanding student, has “excelled and hopefully will continue to do so.” Having viewed the video footage of Vanessa’s interview on WKMG-CBS, however, something about pastor Stephens’ reply just doesn’t ring true. It wasn’t the media that asserted that Vanessa was facing expulsion over her hair style, it was Vanessa and her family, stating that they were informed of this by the staff of Faith Christian Academy of Orlando.

     Damage control is a tricky piece of business. Every word, every assertion and every insinuation gets parsed, examined and interpreted. In this case, it has become apparent that the “powers-that-be” at Faith Christian Academy are all but tripping over themselves in their efforts to re-spin this in their favor. Of course, they have no desire to either outright, or by nuance, call Vanessa or her mother liars, nor do they wish to admit any wrongdoing themselves. Their story keeps changing, though. On Tuesday, they attempted to clarify their request for Vanessa to change her hairstyle, placing it against the framework of their school handbook, while at the same time making no mention of the consequences that Vanessa would face for not complying with the request. Today, they deny that Vanessa was ever threatened with expulsion to begin with.

     At this point in the tale of “hair and all that is holy,” I have to give pastor Stephens et al. some credit for at least trying to learn how to pedal a bicycle in reverse. It’s not enough, though. In my own, not-so-humble opinion, the school needs to just come clean. They need to admit that they told the VanDyke’s what they did, and that by doing so, they sided with those who were picking on Vanessa in the first place. They need to admit that this unfortunate series of missteps sent the wrong message, and that they will (honestly and sincerely!) do their level best to change the way in which they address these situations, so that this will never happen again within the halls of Faith Christian Academy.

UPDATE – 02 December 2013: THE SCHOOL HAS RELENTED! Apparently, the “powers-that-be” at Faith Christian Academy have come to their senses, welcomed Vanessa back from the Thanksgiving break with open arms, and will not be requiring her to cut or straighten her lovely locks! Vive le coiffure!

Faith and Religion: The Finest and Oldest Traditions

Information age?

Information age?

     Immediately upon crossing the final “i” and dotting the final “t” of my previous article, I began to come to an even deeper realisation of exactly what Dr. Dobson’s statement implies, and its potential to do harm. (For those of you who are just now joining the story, I highly recommend that you read the other article, before continuing on with this one.)

     So, let’s recap. Dr. James Dobson, radio host, author and founder of “Focus On The Family,” has posited the idea that parents have a right to, as he puts it, “select their child’s religious orientation”:

“The right of parents to select their child’s religious orientation must be protected and no teacher or administrator should be allowed to contradict what the child has been taught at home.”

     I, on the other hand, refuted his assertion and claimed that parents could not hope to choose their child’s religion, any more than they can choose the child’s blood type or eye color. Then, the wheels in The Cybersattva’s head slowly started to turn, and I got to thinking; could it actually be possible for a parent to choose what a child will believe to be true? Frighteningly, the answer to this question is yes, it is possible. The mechanism for accomplishing this is one that has been employed by religious bodies for millennia, and is still being employed today. Governments employ this same tactic in their efforts to control their citizenry, through channels including the media. The mechanism? Control of the information.

     Let’s say that a mother, who we’ll call “Lucy,” has a small child, who she wants to believe that the sky is…yellow, for instance. Right from the beginning, Lucy manipulates and controls everything that the child sees and hears, to cause him / her to believe that the color blue is actually called “yellow,” even going so far as to change the text in books, and make the occasional statement, “Wow, that’s a pretty yellow sky today!” Before long, the youngster believes that the blue sky is actually yellow! (Of course, this approach also requires that Lucy change the real yellow to something else!)

     This can only go on as long as Lucy maintains complete control of the child’s access to information. Fortunately, forces of nature dictate that sooner or later, the child will be exposed to the truth, whether it be through television, talking to friends or enrollment in the compulsory education system. At any rate, the gig will be up, and Lucy will have some “‘splaining to do!”

     The same can be said for parents who would seek to choose their child’s religious beliefs, through the implementation of that ages old tradition of the church, information control. In this respect, it’s accomplished by such methods as home schooling and rigorous, compulsory attendance in a church. The parents of these children will also control who the child’s friends are, what they watch on television and what they listen to on the radio. Once again, it’s all about controlling the information, but there again, forces of nature will eventually bring some greater truths to bear against the limited info that the child has received. At that point, several problems arise and the questions start to flow like champagne at a wedding;

  • Who’s telling me the truth?
  • Who’s lying to me?
  • What’s real?
  • Why does the evidence point away from what my parents told me?
  • Why are people making fun of me and calling me dumb?
  • Why did my parents lie to me? I thought they loved me.

     My fine, young readers, let me ask you this; what kind of a parent would want to subject their child to this kind of eventual, existential dilemma? What gives any parent the moral, legal or parental right to put their child through this? Make no mistake, it’s the parent’s fault when this happens, not the fault of the people presenting the external information, even though the “Christian” parent will make (and often has made) that assumption.

     This is not what the founding fathers of this nation had in mind, when they penned the first amendment. The “Free Exercise” and “Establishment” clauses were never meant to enable parents to place their children in such a precarious position. As one who has, in the past, sworn to support and defend the constitution against all foreign and domestic enemies, I find James Dobson’s shameless purloining of the first amendment incredibly offensive.

Faith and Religion: Freedom of Choice of Religion?

     Yet again, Facebook has provided me some fodder for an article. (These people sure don’t disappoint!) Earlier this evening, one of my Facebook friends shared the following picture, with accompanying quote from “Focus On The Family” founder Dr. James Dobson:

Freedom by Dobson?

Freedom by Dobson?

“The right of parents to select their child’s religious orientation must be protected and no teacher or administrator should be allowed to contradict what the child has been taught at home.”

     Now, I have yet to verify the veracity of this quote, whether Dr. Dobson actually uttered or penned these words, however my thoughts on this would, either way, remain as follows; Oh, I don’t think so. Since when has the term, “Freedom of Religion,” meant a parent’s right to impose a particular belief set on a child?

     Before anyone attempts to say that I’m either taking Dobson’s statement out of context, or that this was not what Dobson meant, please allow me to say this about that; the statement above is what is known as a “face value” statement, and was presented as such by the nice folks at the “Family Talk with Dr. James Dobson” Facebook page. No accompanying source citation or contextual reference was provided, so we must therefore accept the statement as it reads, and proceed from that point.

     That being said, I’d like to clear up a few other things. First off, I’m not about to sit here and advocate for parental or spiritual anarchy. Should we, as the Bible suggests, “raise our children in the way that they should go”? Certainly, by giving them all of the information that we can. We should, with all due honesty and sincerity, tell them what we are compelled to believe, and why we are compelled to believe it. We should be doing our best to instill the virtues and values in our offspring that we hold dear. We should be providing evidence and examples, and doing our level best to teach. Then, as they grow older, we should allow them to make their own choice of what to believe. We shouldn’t be telling them what to believe…doing so is pure folly.

     If parents would take this approach in the home, while at the same time acknowledging what their children may be taught while at school, and how it relates to what’s being taught in the home, then perhaps this apparent dichotomy between religion and education would be lessened. Regardless, I’m of the opinion that Dobson et. al. are engaging in some selective hypocrisy here, by using the idea of religious freedom to in fact deprive their own progeny of this very same freedom!

     When I last read my Bible, (which wasn’t too terribly long ago, in fact!) I was given the impression that when we were created, we were created in God’s image. Now, what does that mean? On the face of it, one might suppose that God somehow looks like us, and we like God, because we were “created in his image.” Oh, but indeed, my fine young readers, this simple statement has far deeper implications! I personally believe in the Trinity; God the Father, God personified in his only begotten son, Jesus Christ, and his indwelling presence, the Holy Spirit. Likewise, we have been created with not only a physical body, but also a thinking mind and a spirit. In other words, since God is a triune being, he also created us as triune beings! Within that framework of how we were made, he also gave us a unique gift; freedom of choice.

     People, God does not desire automatons. He does not compel us to blindly and automatically serve him, but gives us the freedom to either choose him, or choose otherwise. We believe something because we choose to believe it…or choose not to. Now, what was that verse we learned as kids, early on in Sunday School?

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son; that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16, KJV)

     Whosoever believeth. Doesn’t say anything about having that belief chosen for you, or you choosing that belief for someone else. The Bible does say that we should raise our children in the ways that they should go, and that’s all well and good. Parents cannot however, choose what their kids will believe or not believe, any more than they can choose their hair color, their eye color, their skin tone or their blood type. Guide? Absolutely. Foist? No.

Faith and Religion: Christianity’s Idolatrous Tendencies

This is not God...this is a BOOK.

This is not God…this is a BOOK.

     I’ve heard the arguments before, and they seem to be getting louder…approaching deafening levels. The cries of the religious right, proclaiming that the government is “taking God out of our society!” “They’ve taken God out of our schools!” So, God is someone who can be led around by the hand, perhaps handcuffed and escorted off of the premises? “Put God back in our schools!” Ah, so God is an object, that can be moved at will by those in power? What exactly is the religious right trying to say here?

     According to Christianity’s ruling guidepost, the Bible, God is the creator of all that we see, hear, touch, smell and taste…everything in the observable universe. He, according to the Bible, exists outside and above the knowable reaches of existence. God is supposed to be omnipotent, omniscient and omni-present. If this is so, then how exactly is it possible for man, one of God’s creations, to remove him from somewhere?

     Well, let’s look at exactly what is being challenged, removed and / or otherwise affected in society. In the arena of public education, the endorsement of any single religion over another, or religion over irreligion, has been all but eliminated. This is the logical result of several court rulings, including those of SCOTUS, which are in line with the concepts enshrined in the first amendment’s “Free Exercise” and “Establishment” clauses. In other words, the government has established that taxpayer dollars, which fund our schools, won’t be used to proffer or prop up any particular religious dogma or preference. In essence, “faith-based biblical instruction” has been removed from the classroom. In other words, spoken words have been removed from the classroom. Since when did God become words, invented and spoken by Man?

     Bibles, Qu’rans and other religious texts have been removed from some school libraries, due to a desire by school districts to be compliant with state and federal laws concerning religious neutrality. In others, religious texts can still be accessed by students as valid reference material. Otherwise, students are still entitled and allowed to bring Bibles to school with them. (I know this for a fact, due to today’s call to the assistant principal of our local high school.) In the cases where these texts have been removed, it’s simply a case of books being removed. Since when did God become a book? (I know of only one other major religion that has elevated a religious text to the level of venerated, bordering on worship…)

     Let’s examine what’s being removed from city, county, state and federal properties; religious icons and symbols, such as crosses, menorahs and other representative items. Plaques bearing scriptural references and statements based in a particular religion. In other words, objects have been removed from these places. Since when did God become a physical object, invented and fashioned by the hands of Man?

     So let’s recap. The things, and that’s exactly what they are folks…things that have been removed or otherwise displaced from the taxpayer-funded, government run establishments are words, books and objects. Once again, these are all material and / or tangible “five senses” items. Isn’t the God of the Bible supposed to transcend the material, tangible world?

     According to the Bible, Matthew 18:20 states that; “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” So if two or three students gather together at break time to pray, God is there. That’s what the book says, people. This means that the religious right’s assertion that God is being, or has the ability to be removed from schools…is contradicted by scripture! The same goes for government buildings, public places…wherever people congregate. If two or more people are gathered together in prayer, according to Matthew 18:20, God is there.

     Now, let’s examine exactly what it means to be “idolatrous”. Idolatry, as defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary is;

idol·a·try: noun \-trē\

plural idol·a·tries
1 : the worship of a physical object as a god.
2 : immoderate attachment or devotion to something.

     Someone who engages in idolatry would be an idolater, yes? What does the Bible say about idolaters? The answer can be found in 1st Corinthians 6:9-10…

     “(9)Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, (10) Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.” (KJV)

     I think we all know where this is going. It’s yet another in a long litany of ways in which Christianity, which started out as a great idea, has been taken by some in a direction that even God never intended. In my own not-so-humble opinion, the religious right has taken faith, and morphed it into something else. This is another case of people…fallible, fragile and fussed-up people, having brought something unknowable and eternal down to something they can wrap their heads around in a “physical world” sense. Books, speech, icons and symbols are things that they can control. Is that what this debate is really about? Control? I’ll leave that to you, my fine young readers, to decide for yourselves.

Crime and Justice: Playing The Blame Game

Who's to blame?

Who’s to blame?

“Only a lad  (You really can’t blame him)
Only a lad  (Society made him)
Only a lad  (He’s our responsibility)

Only a lad  (He really couldn’t help it)
Only a lad  (He didn’t want to do it)
Only a lad  (He’s underprivileged and abused,
Perhaps a little bit confused…)”

(Oingo Boingo, “Only a Lad” c1981 A&M Records)

     I’m writing this article as a follow-up to the last one, only because I can’t believe that we’re still having this discussion. It’s been over 30 years since Danny Elfman and Oingo Boingo broached the subject in their 1981 release, “Only a Lad”. At around the same time, then president Ronald Reagan opined that as Americans, we needed to “reject the idea that every time a law’s broken, society is guilty rather than the lawbreaker.” It seems as though we (as a nation) are not unlike that dysfunctional family down the street, the one that has absolutely no solid communication skills. I mean, if we haven’t settled this argument in the past three decades, we haven’t been communicating in a meaningful way about it, have we?

     So, who is to blame when things like last Friday’s shooting take place? Do we place the onus squarely on the shoulders of the perpetrators of these heinous crimes, or do we expand the recriminations to encompass vast sectors, political groups and ideologies within our society? I guess it all depends on who you ask. As evinced by the previous post, the religious right will tell you that the decline of morals in society, or that “taking God out of our schools” is to blame. On the other hand, my first instinct is to lay the blame on the individual, as suggested by Reagan.

     You know, the fundies may however, have a valid point as well. It does seem like we are witnessing, and have been since at least the 60’s if not before then, an overall decline in…shall we say, the “scruples” of society at large. I can’t recall that criminals were as willing back in the decades preceding the 90’s, to commit crimes such as robbery and murder in churches, as they are these days. Indeed, there seems to be an overall lack of respect for boundaries that were once held as sacrosanct, even by the lowest of the low. Might that be a part of society’s responsibility in these instances of violent crime?

     Violent crime targeting schools is nothing new, my fine young readers. As early as 1764 in fact, there has been violence claiming the lives of children and teachers during school hours and on school premises in America. Even so, that doesn’t lessen the impact every time it happens, and immediately following each instance the grief often gives way to recrimination. Lines get drawn, policy gets debated, and tempers flare. Once the dust settles, we’re no better off than we were before the incident occurred, I’m afraid.

     Within the context of societal responsibility, we’re already witnessing increased debate over gun control in America. Some on the right are even suggesting turning our schools into heavily armed bastions of security, in order to deter any would-be shooter. On the opposite side of the debate, some are calling for a complete ban on firearms, citing instances where other countries have done so, and experienced a drastic decrease in gun-related crimes. Somewhere in between these diametrically opposed viewpoints, lies the vast majority of citizens who are either apathetic to the entire situation, or are leaving it up to the government to solve the problem…which unfortunately may never happen.

     Who do we blame? Do we blame ourselves as a society for allowing prison time to lose its sting, and become more like an “all expenses paid vacation getaway”? Do we blame our government for not taking definitive action with regard to gun control? Do we blame certain political factions within our nation for weakening and / or inhibiting stiffer gun control laws? Do we blame parents, for not raising their children properly? Do we blame the health care industry, for not having better mental health programs in place? Do we blame the perpetrator? One thing is for damned sure…there always seems to be entirely too much finger pointing, and too many people with fingers to point, and not nearly enough rational discourse going on.

     I’ll leave you all with this little “fill-a-bit” of wisdom; be careful when you point the finger at someone, because there are three fingers on that same hand, pointing back at you.

CHASER SPECIAL: Tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut

President Obama addresses the nation following the tragic events in Newtown, CT. on 12/14/2012.

President Obama addresses the nation following the tragic events in Newtown, CT. on 12/14/2012.

     This morning has been a blur. As I’m sure most of you know, there has been a tragedy of immense proportions in the town of Newtown, Connecticut. This morning, a gunman entered Sandy Hook Elementary School, and took the lives of six adults, as well as 20 young children. Even as I type this simple blog entry, the investigation into this tragic shooting continues.

     The one word on everyone’s lips, the singular though in everyone’s minds right now, is “why?” Why would someone walk into a school…any school, and just start killing innocent children? Honestly friends, I have no clue. I don’t think anyone can come up with a definitive answer that explains something this unthinkable, this…unbelievable.

     My thoughts harken back to September 11th of 2001, and the days that followed. Just like then, each one of us will end up dealing with this tragedy, and all of its implications, in our own personal ways. Parents will hug their children a little tighter today, schools across the country will begin examining their safety procedures, flags will be lowered to half-mast, and we will grieve. Yes, we will grieve.

     I can’t help but think of the 26 families in Newtown, whose Christmas will never be celebrated. My tears run like waterfalls for the 20 children, whose presents, wrapped in beautiful paper and placed lovingly under the tree, will now remain forever unopened. My heart aches for the families and friends of the victims of this…I don’t quite know just what to call it, even though there are probably a myriad of descriptive words out there.

     I’m sure that in the coming days and weeks, there will be a lot of introspection, questions, politicking and debate stemming from this…but today is not for that. Today, we mourn…together.

The Homefront: The Curious Case of Physical Education?

Hot for teacher?

…a new view of secondary education?

I think of all the education that I’ve missed…
But then my homework was never quite like this!
(Van Halen, “Hot For Teacher”, from the 1984 release, “1984”.)

     (UPDATED – SEE BELOW) I’m not entirely sure that this is a good thing, what with all of the talk about declining social values and such, but I finally get to “bookend” my Homefront article on “The Curious Case of Jordan Powers“. Lately, there have been a few instances of adult teacher – underage student…we’ll just call them “relations”, happening locally. Unlike the James Hooker / Jordan Powers imbroglio, these involve female teachers and male students. Yes, my fine young readers, it seems that we have a few “Mary Kay Letourneaus” down in the greater Fresno / Clovis area…

     The latest in the litany of  local “Letourneaus” (try saying that three times, really fast!) is one Lindsey Trimble. She is a 28-year-old former high school teacher at Clovis East HS, in Clovis, California. She has been arrested, and stands accused of carrying on a sexual tryst sometime last year, with a 17-year-old high school junior.(1) Immediately prior to this arrest, another case from last year finished its run through the court system. Nadia Diaz, a 24-year-old substitute teacher at Washington Union High School at the time the crime was committed, will see no jail time, nor will she be required to register as a sex offender after engaging in sexual acts with a 15-year-old sophomore back in 2009.(2) Back in early April of this year, yet another Fresno-area teacher was arrested for engaging in sex with a minor. 29-year-old Megan Denman was a Social Sciences (raised eyebrow) teacher at Hoover High School, which is part of the Fresno Unified School District.(3) Once again, that’s three cases in the local area, just in the past nine months.

     At this point, one has to wonder what is going on with these mid-to-late 20’s female teachers. Did they not get to sew their wild oats before stepping into the classroom environs? Are they trying to recapture a missing portion of their youth? There has been speculation that, in this new age of inter-connectedness, things like Twitter and Facebook are playing a part in the erosion of barriers between teacher and student, and may even be a contributing factor in these cases of libidinous poor judgement.(4) Honestly, I couldn’t tell you. I’m no Sociologist or Psychologist, I can only provide you, my fine young readers, with a layperson’s point of view in these matters…

     What I can tell you, is that this humble layperson has some very strong opinions regarding these incidences of teacher indiscretion. I recall having a discussion early this year, regarding the issue of teachers abusing their positions by engaging in “relations” with students. MY position was (and still is!) that these teachers, if found guilty, should lose their tenure, their retirement and their credentials. In addition to this, they should do at least a year in the county lock-up, and be given the extreme dishonor of having their name added to the Megan’s Law database of sexual offenders.

     I was having this discussion with a family member, who disagreed with me. In this family member’s opinion, the teacher shouldn’t be penalised in this manner. The ironic thing about the discussion, is that this family member embraces politically conservative positions most of the time! I thought conservatives were supposed to be tough on crime and abuses! Will wonders never cease?

     Over on Facebook, I’ve opined that maybe…just maybe, we need to engage in a bit of “age discrimination” where female teachers are concerned. My thoughts tend toward a “minimum age requirement” to be able to teach in a high school setting. For instance, introducing a provision into the California Education Code that states that no credentialed, female teacher under the age of 32, may instruct students in grades above the sixth or seventh. Once again, this is just a “for instance”, because then the question rises, “At what age can we state with absolute certainty, do females in the field of education gain the level of maturity required to deal with their own sexual urges?” Mary Kay Letourneau was in her mid-thirties when she commenced her extra-marital affair with then 13-year-old middle school student Vili Fualaau.

     If we also look at the case of Debra Lafave, a Florida middle school teacher at Angelo L. Greco Middle School in Temple Terrace, who was 24 at the time she was arrested for “lewd or lascivious battery” on a 14-year-old student, then the grade-level aspect comes into question as well. The short story is that there seem to be a few “bad apples” (pun intended…so intended.) in the educational system that have absolutely no moral compass, and / or haven’t acquired the requisite maturity level to be trusted in a classroom environment.

     Maybe we need to make available to these teachers, a copy of E.L. James’ “Fifty Shades of Grey” and a battery-operated “friend”. Maybe we need to start requiring our educators (all of our educators, not just the females. I’m not trying to be misogynistic here! Remember James Hooker up in Modesto, and that massive shake-up at Miramonte Elementary, down in the Los Angeles area?) to undergo a yearly psychiatric evaluation. What is the answer here, ladies and gentlemen? More support services? Stronger deterrents? One thing is for damned sure…any way one slices it, something must be done.

Megan Denman, 30, being handcuffed by the bailiff.

Megan Denman, 30, being handcuffed by the bailiff.

UPDATE: 02 January, 2013 –  Megan Denman is GOING TO JAIL!!

Life and Living: The Weakening of a Society?

     For the past few weeks, I’ve been trying like crazy to make some semblance of sense out of two possibly related, definitely troubling topics in today’s society; the issue of “bullying”, and how our views on corporal punishment have changed. The crux of my thoughts on these two issues has been how our present views on both could, not only possibly be affecting how we perceive and address the world around us, but also the ways in which society deals with things like crime, punishment, pain and loss.

I remember being bullied during my grade school days. At various times during my childhood, there were other kids who would seek to exert power and instill fear in others. To this very day, I couldn’t tell you exactly why they did this. Maybe it was because they weren’t being hugged enough at home, maybe it was to cover or compensate for some other inadequacy. I just don’t know.

What I do know is that it hurt. The pain of being ridiculed, picked on and even physically assaulted for who I was cut deep. Luckily, I also had several positive aspects in life to counter the negatives, including a very stable home life and family. I grew up with two parents who loved me, and a grandmother who did quite a bit to instill in me the concept of self-worth and the ability to cope with peer pressure. Due to the positive influences in my formative years, the negatives were far easier to parse, analyse, categorise and address.

Conversely, it seems that in today’s world, we’re concerning ourselves more with the attempt to stop bullying in its entirety, while at the same time we’re abdicating our responsibility to the youth; the responsibility to teach them things like self-worth, confidence and the ability to once again parse, analyse, categorise and address the bullying.

Looking back at my own adult life and the person that I have become, I can’t really complain. I have three wonderful and loving children, including two grown boys that I am extremely proud of, and a nine-year-old girl with a heart as big as the Montana sky. I have seen quite a bit of the world, having served six years in the U.S. Army. I’ve not only been to both oceans, but across them as well. I have few true friends to be sure, but those few are steadfast in nature. To the best of my knowledge, I’m generally well-liked. (Although sometimes I wonder why, as I can also be somewhat of an arse at times!)

You see, these musings have brought me to a quandary; what are we teaching our children when we attempt to shelter them from the cruelty in the world, yet make little or no attempt to reinforce their coping skills? Make no mistake, the wider world can be a very cruel place, driven by selfishness, avarice, ignorance and intolerance, and it is incumbent upon each one of us to counter that by building up the younger generation and giving them the proper ammunition and skill sets to offset the negatives.

Now, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t be trying to discourage bullying. Dealing with the source of pain is always a good idea! What I am saying is that no matter how hard we try, we’re never going to completely eradicate the problem of bullying, therefore we need to be covering down on the back end of the issue as well.

This brings me to the other topic; corporal punishment. (Plainly speaking, spanking children when they’ve broken the rules.) In today’s society, spanking has been all but outlawed, and I am at an utter loss as to why. Even the courts have occasionally ruled that spanking is detrimental to child rearing, and have punished parents for merely trying to raise their children.

Since time before antiquity, some parents have been spanking their children. Examples for this type of disciplinary practice can even be found in places such as the Bible, where Proverbs 13:24 connects the discipline of children to the way in which the parent(s) view their children;

“Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them.”

In other words, if you love your children, you’ll take a proactive stance on discipline. If not, then you’ll just allow them to “exist”, while doing nothing to reinforce concepts of discipline and accountability.

Logic dictates that at this point, we have to ask the question; what does spanking teach our children? Opponents of corporal punishment have made the case that spanking teaches children the following things:

  • That hitting is acceptable behaviour.
  • That “might makes right.”
  • That it only reinforces the fallacy of “do as I say, not as I do.”

I was spanked as a child. Whenever I broke the rules, whenever I operated in contravention to the expectations set forth for good discipline, I got the strap. In turn, my sons were raised in a similar fashion, and my daughter is also being raised in the same way. To date, I have never been in jail, never been arrested, I have no misdemeanors or felonies on my record, no tickets, no accidents, no trouble with the law. My sons are also living their adult lives with clean slates. (So far!)

If you ask me, (and I would hope that you would, simply for the sake of argument!) spanking if implemented properly, teaches children that there are (or darned well should be) real, tangible and painful consequenses for breaking the rules. Think about it. If you go out and rob a bank, and get caught, what are the consequenses? First, your freedoms are taken away. You get incarcerated. Second, you no longer get to see the people that mean something to you, whenever you want to see them, because of result number one. Again, think about it! How would you feel if you were no longer able to go wherever you wanted, do whatever you wanted, whenever you wanted? How would you feel if you were cut off from others? Would it cause you pain?

When I talk about proper implementation, I mean that there are rules for corporal punishment’s use. First of all, you should never, ever spank your child out of a sense of anger. In the midst of anger, your potential to do harm…even unintentional harm, is vastly increased. Second, every spanking should be followed up by positive reinforcement. (Now that I think about it, I might have even covered these things in a previous post!) The basic idea is to spank, let the child think about it for a bit, then sit them down and talk about the issue, asking questions such as if they know why they got spanked, were their actions the “right thing to do”, and what could they have done differently. The most important step in this discussion phase, is to let them know that you love them.

I can’t help but feel that by not spanking our children, we’re sending the message that breaking the rules is no big deal, and that there are no real consequenses to be expected when they do break those rules. In an unfortunate twist, this lack of consequense is now being reinforced and realised within the context of problems in the judicial and penal systems. Jail time no longer carries the undesirability or “sting” that it used to, due in no small part to a now “revolving door” issue in our jails. Cases are taking forever to adjudicate, and even those convicted of capital murder can sit in jail for over 20 years, while availing themselves of a lengthy appeals process.

Here’s the meat and potatoes of it, my fine young readers. What are we doing to the next generations of society, if we do not properly equip them to deal with stress and potential conflict, and do not instill in them any realistic expectation of consequenses? I’ll leave that bit for you to answer.

The Homefront: The Curious Case of Jordan Powers

Pictured, l to r: Tammie Powers, Jordan Powers and James Hooker.

     As a parent, certain stories involving the trials and tribulations that other parents go through often catch my eye. This morning while perusing the various local and national news sources, I came across an item that is fast becoming viral. It has gone from the local Modesto Bee, to the local ABC affiliates, to the national spotlight on Good Morning America. There’s even talk that Nancy Grace is going to have a go at this one; it is the torrid tale of Jordan Powers, 18-year-old former high school student of Modesto, California, and her 41-year-old lover, former business teacher James Hooker.

     Hooker it seems, is one of Jordan’s former teachers from her time at James C. Enochs High School in Modesto. According to news coverage of the issue, the two became acquainted while Jordan was a Freshman at Enochs High, but that the romantic aspect of their relationship only blossomed after she turned 18 in September of last year. For his part, Hooker has left a wife and children, and resigned (or has been suspended, depending on the news source) from his teaching post at the school so that he could facilitate this relationship with the young Miss Powers.

     Jordan’s mother, Tammie Powers (née Mullins) is skeptical of the claims being made by her daughter and Mr. Hooker regarding when the relationship began, and has voiced her suspicions of an earlier start to said relationship. “She looked up to him,” Powers said. “He was in the position of an educator, you don’t abuse your student. Period. She’s still in high school. She still lives at home. She has a curfew. … That’s not OK.” Now, mom has taken to her Facebook page, using it as a forum for her efforts to thwart the relationship between her daughter and James Hooker, as well as seeking his possible incarceration over the issue.

     My fine young readers, let me begin my opining on this one by noting that there is quite often, more to these types of stories than what meets the eye. Unfortunately, we can only go with what we know or have been told by those who are “in the know.” In that respect, there are a few things about the situation that bug the hell out of me, let alone the fact that this man is evidently having a mid-life crisis!

     First, the economics of the situation are impossible. James Hooker has been suspended from his teaching job, left a wife and children behind, obtained an apartment (separate dwelling from his house, where wife and children remain,) and commenced a romantic relationship with a girl that is still pursuing her last year of compulsory education. Oh, but wait! Allow me to map this out for you all in bullet points;

  •      James Hooker has lost his job = less / no income coming into either his former or current home(s). [NEGATIVE INCOME]
  •      James Hooker has left his wife and children = divorce, coupled with alimony and child support. [DEBIT COLUMN]
  •      James Hooker has left a home behind = possible house payment(s). [DEBIT COLUMN]
  •      James Hooker has assumed financial responsibility for a new apartment = increased housing and utility costs. [DEBIT COLUMN]
  •      Finally, James Hooker has assumed financial support of a young adult who is still in high school. [DEBIT COLUMN]

     Does anyone other than myself, see anything hinky about this? Unless Mr. Hooker is a trust fund baby, has a very lucrative side job or is rich beyond the dreams of avarice, I don’t see this ending well. Please keep in mind that the one thing that new couples argue and fight about, more than anything else, is the issue of money. I know this personally…been there, done that. Have the tee-shirt, the sweater and the coffee mug!

     Second, I don’t personally see how young Miss Powers could have any inkling of an idea about the psychology involved with this situation. It’s quite evident that James Hooker is in the throes of a mid-life crisis. Who else forsakes their job, their home, their family and whatever dignity they might have had, solely to pursue what could only be a “puppy love” relationship with a girl half their age? For the love of GOD, man! Buy a motorcycle or a convertible, grow a ponytail, start rollerblading, bungee jumping or white-water rafting, but cheeze and rice! Don’t go starting a fleeting “May-September” romance with a girl who’s too young to understand what’s going on, or what time it really is! Go grow a goatee, get an ear pierced or get a tattoo! Anything but robbing the cradle!

     In addition, I have a few simple thoughts as to what might have precipitated this move by young Jordan. Her mother stated that she was “still in high school, still at home and has a curfew.” She has also stated to the media that until Jordan was “of age,” that she was not allowed to view any “R-rated” movies, and was a “compliant” child in the home. It seems to me that Jordan might be coming out from under the umbrella of a situation that she felt was overly controlling or restrictive. (As I don’t know the Powers’ personally, I just don’t know.) But that would be my guess.

     As a parent, I sent “mom” Powers correspondence. In it, I expressed my opinion that since Jordan is indeed an adult now, that Tammie needs to let go. I also encouraged her to be vigilant, and to keep a weather eye on the situation. This problematic situation is however, one that young Jordan Powers will have to reckon out on her own, for her own growth.

______________________________

For further reading on the topic, please see the following articles:

1) Enochs High teacher resigns after leaving wife, kids for student, 18 // Modesto Bee // Published 28 February, 2012

2) California Teen Leaves School, Moves in With Former Teacher // ABC / GMA / Yahoo! News // Published 01 March, 2012

3) Modesto teacher moves in with former student, 18 // KFSN-ABC 30 // Published 01 March, 2012

4) Mother launches Facebook campaign against former teacher moving in with teen // Fox News / NewsCore // Published 02 March, 2012

5) Mom outraged after daughter moves in with teacher [VIDEO] // CNN Headline News / Nancy Grace // Published 01 March, 2012

6) Inappropriate student-teacher relationship revealed [VIDEO] // Fox News / O’Reilly Factor // Published 01 March, 2012

7) Family of Modesto teacher makes statement; Enochs’ staff ‘appalled’ // Modesto Bee // Published 02 March, 2012