27 November 2006

So Now Peace is Anti-Christian

From the Durango Herald comes the following bit of joyous Xmas news:

Pagosa Springs, Colorado--A homeowner's association has ordered a local resident to take down part of her Christmas display, a wreath shaped like the peace symbol. The homeowner's association claims that "Loma Linda residents are offended by the Peace Sign displayed on the front of your house." The association also claims that the wreath falls under a prohibition banning signs, billboards or advertising structures.

While other residents have been allowed to display Christmas decor on their properties, Lisa Jensen apparently has been singled out on account of the message of peace itself. A neighbor of Jensen's had been ordered to take down a peace symbol as being inappropriate while the United States is at war.

Bob Kearns, president of the association, refused to describe the "numerous" complaints supposedly received about the Christmas display. Instead he asserted "The peace sign has a lot of negativity associated with it ... It's also an anti-Christ sign. That's how it started." He also claimed that legal advisors had "laughed at" allowing the display of a peace symbol. Board members Jeff Heitz and Tammy Spezze joined with him and asserted that they are doing "what is best for the entire community."

Jensen notes (The Journal on Pagosa.com | The Grinch Who Stole Peace | News & Perspectives for Pagosa Springs, CO): "the rule has never been applied to wooden, paper and metal signs currently on display all over the subdivision, advertising contractors, builders, realtors, yard sales, and lost or found pets".

Jensen appealed the decision to the Architectural Control Committee for the subdivision. Chairman Jack Lilly explains what happened next:
...we have a list of do's and dont's in our neighborhood just like all the others. One of these dont's is to place offensive or political signs on your property unless its in support of a candidate and only at election time. One of our neighbors placed a Pie Plate siged Peace symbol on his driveway. Another placed a large wreath in the shape of a peace symbol on their house. The three person Board of Directors received two complaints from residents who are understandibly sensitive to the current efforts in Iraq and believed these symbols to be other that a wish for peace.

The Architectural Committee was asked to intervene. The five members met and decided that no message, other than a wish for peace could be inferred in the symbols and saw no violation of the CC&R's. The Board of Directors has the authority to override the ACC and did so. But that wasn't enough. They demanded that anyone that disagreed with them should be removed from the committee. We all resigned. Gives us more time to enjoy our neighbors. No more meetings.
The official website of the town of Pagosa Springs says "The Loma Linda Subdivision and Home Owner Association is not located in Town limits. Also, municipalities like the town do not regulate home owner associations' covenents, codes and restrictions (CC&R). THE TOWN WHOLLY SUPPORTS THEIR PEACE SIGN DISPLAY AND ALSO WISHES FOR PEACE ON EARTH."

Where do you start with something like this? This Bob Kearns character seems to be a piece of work. What could he possibly be thinking? What kind of "sign" or "advertising structure" is a Christmas wreath?

As for his lunatic allegation that the peace symbol started as a sign of the antichrist--well, it passeth belief. Who does he think he's kidding? Or is he remembering some of the fundamentalist propaganda of the sixties, when christian crazies of all varieties came out in support of napalming villagers, murdering civilians, and all the other atrocities of a war designed to impose Roman Catholicism on the largely Buddhist population of southern Vietnam. So soon we forget. Then the peace symbol was called a "witch's foot," a "broken cross," and a "symbol of Satan". No supporting evidence was ever given for any of these claims, which were all bogus anyway. They were the invention of know-nothing fundamentalists.

There is, for example, a symbol known as the broken cross. It is a cross with the upright broken or bent so that the upper part with the cross angles downward. As I recall it was supposed to symbolize the power of Christ's resurrection overcoming his death on the cross or something like that; I wasn't paying that much attention that day in class, and decades have gone by since then. But it has nothing to do with the peace symbol.

The peace symbol was first used in 1958 in an Easter march protesting the nuclear arms race. It was designed especially for that event, employing the semaphor signals for N and D and standing for Nuclear Disarmament. It has been to my knowledge a part of traditional Christmas displays since then, standing for "Peace on Earth", and symbolizing the day that ancient unknown prophet (quoted by Micah and Isaiah) wrote of, when swords should be beaten into plowshares.

As the Vietnam War energized the peace movement of the sixties christian crazies (as opposed to non-christian crazies) began to seek "biblical" or "christian" reasons to support the war. One of the ways they chose was to badmouth anything and everything connected with the anti-war movement. Jesus, for example, was said to be opposed to men wearing their hair long, as Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 11:14. The peace symbol did not escape these lies and slanders, even though these supposed origins were ludicrous and far off the mark. (For an online example of this sort of lunacy, check here.)

Presumably it is these sorts of people that Bob Kearns has in mind when he says that the peace symbol has a lot of negativity associated with it. It would seem to me under the circumstances that he should have gently but firmly informed the alleged complainers that they were full of crap, and should learn the truth on the subject. To kowtow to the ignorant and uninformed only encourages them in their folly. Of course it's always possible that Kearns is the one who has problems with the peace symbol. In my opinion, if he can't tell the difference between the hope that nation shall not lift up sword against nation and an advertising slogan, he should resign and take up some position he's more suited for. Street-sweeping, maybe.

See also The Broken Cross

Update (28 November 2006):
Apparently Bob Kearns' crack team of legal advisors who laughed at the idea of allowing the display of a peace symbol for Christmas have backed down. At any rate the homeowners association is now claiming that their demand was all a mistake, and that they have no intention of fining Lisa Jensen. None of the three ringleaders in this idiocy have made a statement, and two of them have apparently changed to unlisted phone numbers since they started all this nonsense. Selah.

23 November 2006

The Giving of Thanks

It's Thanksgiving, but I'm not in the mood today. My back hurts, my leg hurts, and things are not working well. Still--

I'm thankful that Matthew LaClair recorded that New Jersey coach turned U. S. History teacher preaching in class, and I hope that some corrective action will be taken soon.

I'm thankful for my family--for my beloved niece Rachel, and for my amazing newphews Sage, Brandon, and Skye, and my mother Ruth and my step-father Fred, and my brothers Bryan and Greg, and for my sister-in-law Michelle, and for my nephew Sage's wife Carlee.

I'm thankful that the Democrats will control the House and Senate for the next two years--or at least that it looks that way now. (And I'm a Republican, god help us all.)

I'm thankful for the many and bizarre blessings that have come this year.

I am thankful that our dog Zephyr is still alive, and still very puppy-like in many ways, in spite of her advancing years.

I'm thankful that the world continues to turn.

I'm thankful that we're all (or many of us anyway) gathering together for one more year's worth of thanksgiving.

20 November 2006

A Little Attitude Adjustment

Okay, I don't like to do this, but here is still more on the New Jersey history teacher recorded while preaching in class. This is a transcript of sorts from a section of the available recording. While I don't mean to defend this guy in any way, I'd like to point out that he probably did not say (as he has been quoted) "I phrase this very very diplomatically, but that's the generation that did not have terrorism did not have race aggression and all of that." At least what I hear is "a very very different attitude. But that’s also the generation that [inaudible] totalitarianism, communism, [inaudible] great depression and all of that." Note especially his belief that children should be taught homophobia, and that it's somehow wrong to present them with less bigoted views. Note also his hypothetical reaction to a child who doubts the existence of god--beat the hell out of him and drag him to church. What a real prince this guy is.

Teacher: I hope there are no—no thieves here, because I don’t always lock my doors.

Students: [indistinguishable remarks] Really?

Teacher: One day somebody may take advantage of me. [inaudible] not many places in the world left where you can do that. [inaudible] changed everything. Desperate people do desperate things. [inaudible] It really is not bad, even the schools. My problem—my problem with schools is not that I don’t think my kids are going to learn reading and writing and arithmetic or learn it well. [inaudible] The highest value in public education is tolerance, but tolerance of what? Deviant behavior? There are a lot of things I don't want my kids tolerating. Ethnic diversity, yes. Deviant sexual behavior, no. Uh, things like that. And that's all being taught right from—right from kindergarten up. I still believe in the concept of sin, man's fallen nature, all that stuff that is considered old-fashioned nowadays, and that’s how my kids are going to be raised. You know. When you think about those things, that’s what people that are concerned about education are for the most part concerned with. Down [inaudible] we had great schools as far as qualified teachers and stuff like that, but there’s a lot of disparity when it comes to world views. Public schools in general. Your family—let’s suppose you have a religious family. You send your kid—you surrender your kid to the state from preschool on up to twelfth grade. Mom and dad are trying to tell you that the Bible is God’s word and their lives are deeply rooted in faith. But yet the “smart” people—and I say that in quotations because they're not all really that smart—the teachers that you're exposed to from kindergarten to twelfth grade, never once will you see them crack open a Bible. Never once will you hear them quote it. And never once will you hear a prayer uttered from their lips. Over the course of twelve years, what's the transfer? Smart people don’t have faith. Don’t believe. That’s the transfer. [inaudible] Now my parents grew up, they went to public schools, but they went prior to 1962 so the teachers read the bible and the teacher prayed and it was part of the school day and, you know, a very very different attitude. But that’s also the generation that [inaudible] totalitarianism, communism, [inaudible] great depression and all of that.

Student (female): But then there’s also like you can’t [inaudible] exceptions to every rule, [inaudible] like my mom, and my dad, [inaudible] and like my grandparents—

Teacher: And that’s their prerogative.

Student: Yeah, and my—

Teacher: But should they impose that on the rest of the world?

Student: No no no no I know that, but like [inaudible] both my grandparents, and my grandpa especially, he goes to church every single day. Every day in the morning he gets up and goes to church, and … and like … I go to church every sunday … I go by myself, and, like, now I got a whole [inaudible] of friends I bring on church every sunday. And so like, if I’m always, you know—

Teacher: I realize there are exceptions; I don’t disagree with that. My only thing is that those are the exceptions. Like you said it’s the exceptions, not the rule. As a parent I want to create an environment that makes it more likely that my kid is going to have faith, not less likely, you know what I mean? That was one of my concerns. And now I think we’re sufficiently [inaudible]. [pause] It’s a battle.

Student: But then what would you do if one kid like [inaudible] “Thanks for teaching me all this but like I don’t agree. I don’t have faith.”

Teacher: Until you’re eighteen—

Student: Yeah?

Teacher: —you have to agree.

Student: Okay, but I’m saying, like, what if you’re eighteen—

Teacher: If you’re eighteen years old, and you made that decision I’ll still love you, but I don’t have to agree with you. I’d never abandon you regardless of what decision you made. [inaudible] God, the way he’s portrayed in the scriptures. People have done horrible things in the bible, but did he stop loving them? But in a relationship with them [inaudible] didn’t stop loving them. And that’s the example of how we should act as parents. But if my kid is age twelve and he’s telling me Dad, I appreciate your time and effort but I’ve decided in my twelve years of wisdom that I’m going to stop going to church, after I break his backside we’re going to have a little attitude adjustment on the subject, he’s going to get in the car with the rest of the family and go to church. You’re entitled to your own opinions, but you’re still going to do what your old man tells you to or suffer the consequences. [inaudible]

Student [male]: Isn’t the whole point of public school so that you can separate personal beliefs from teachers and administrators from non—non-religious, you know, non-religious teachings during school, like school prayer and all that?

Teacher: No. The purpose of public school is to provide free education to people that couldn’t afford education. Period. That’s the purpose of public school. What it’s become is social engineering. It’s supposed to reflect the values and belief-systems of the parents; that’s why we have school boards elected from the population. Now I gotta believe that most of people on the school board have faiths may be similar to mine but yet the state comes up with some weird perception of what education ought to be and they jump on the bandwagon.

Student: What—what would decide what should be—what religion should be taught in schools; what would decide that?

Teacher: No, it’s not about teaching—My point is that it’s not about teaching religion, and these issues will all come up when we get to the 1920s and things begin to get legislated and we’ll talk about them then. But the public school shouldn’t teach a religion, but the scriptures aren’t religion.

Student: They’re not?

Teacher: The scriptures are at the foundation of the world’s religions—of the world’s main religions, anyway. Religion is a set way of doing things. Like for example if you take Christian faith you have many varieties. You have Roman Catholicism, the Methodists, the Presbyterians, the Baptists. We differ on church government, things like that, but [inaudible] the book. The bible. We should be able to bring that into the classroom, read it, and shouldn’t be threatened [inaudible].

Student: What if some students don’t believe in the bible?

Another Student: I don’t either.

Teacher: That’s their prerogative. What if the student doesn’t believe in evolution? What if the student doesn’t believe in some, you know, other aspect of the educational curriculum?

Student: Well, evolution is scientific.

Teacher: Is it?

Student: I could get you a whole bunch of information on it.

Teacher: Yeah, I’m 38 years old; I’ve seen the information, but here’s the scientific method.

[At this point there is considerable confusion as members of the class try to figure out what the scientific method is according to what they can remember from science. The teacher suggests "experimentation" as one of the steps at one point, this being the only part of it he's interested in. For a further update on the situation check out The Lippard Blog.]

18 November 2006

Thank God for Matthew LaClair

There’s small life, and there’s big life. Or there’s simple life and intelligent life and somehow we all evolved from simpler life forms and got to the complex life forms—that’s the assumption, that may be your hypothesis. Anybody ever observe it?
This explanation of a basic scientific principle, delivered in a sneering tone, was given in a New Jersey High School. So what, you ask. Kids say a lot of stupid things; that's why they're in high school in the first place, to learn stuff, and to improve their minds. Doubtless the teacher stepped in and set the poor kid straight.

One would think, wouldn't one?

The trouble is, the oyster responsible for this particular pearl was the teacher. Yes, believe it or not, a twenty-first century educator actually said this, as part of a confused explanation of why he thought the big bang, the fossil record of the development of life, and the account of billions of years of pre-history clearly visible in the night sky, are all not science. As he babbled on this teacher cruelly revealed his utter lack of understanding of the basics of science, of the discipline of historical research, and of simple forensics.

The funny thing is that this guy has his defenders. One of them wrote:
I've had this teacher and he is one of the best teachers. He taught history the way it was and in group discussions he would view both points without no religion remarks. So who ever reads this, don't be ignorants and know the facts first.
Given the imbecilic tone and lack of logic to this screed I'm afraid the writer may well be correct, and this ignorant yahoo (I speak of him as I heard him in the recording) may well be "one of the best teachers" in New Jersey. God help the students there if that is true.

Another writes:
i know this teacher personally and know he is a good person and diddnt mean to offend ne one... and fuck the little bitch ass who recorded this shiit... im a senior @ khs and this just adds to all the fucking drama in this school.. so u know wat fuck all u bitch asses who want to see action taken...

It's teachers like this guy--his name is David Paszkiewicz by the way--telling kids nonsense about the scientific record and babbling incoherently about the bible, who are destroying the public school system. I've had my own David Paszkiewiczes in my educational life. There was one Barbara Allen, my fifth grade teacher, who believed that electricity was some awesome and mysterious gift from god, and who taught that it was immoral for people to sit in such a way that any part of the body touched another part. (In later years when I read Tertullian for the first time, I was instantly reminded of poor demented Mrs. Allen.) There was a lady named Hughes who taught Spanish and was obsessed with the notion that her students were making out behind her back. There was a guy named Bertram something or other who thought the best way to teach high school seniors about "Contemporary World Problems" was to have them endlessly color maps. (Even some of the other teachers spoke derogatorily of that particular crochet. In our hearing, even.)

But none of my teachers had the distinction of sounding crazier than Mr. Garrison (except Mrs. Allen sometimes). This guy manages it:
...the public school shouldn’t teach a religion, but the scriptures aren’t religion. ... The scriptures are at the foundation of the world’s religions—of the world’s main religions. Religion is a set way of doing things.
This comes about ten minutes into the available recording of Mr. Garrison's American History class. This is breathtaking. The Christian holy book is not religious--it is the foundation of the world's main religions. What are they? Mr. Paszkiewicz names four of them--Roman Catholicism, Methodism, Presbyterianism, and, uh, Baptism, I guess. The Baptists. At this point we begin to gather that this character has his own private definition of religion, and that it apparently excludes Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and a host of other faiths.

"We should be able to bring the bible into the classroom [and] read it," Mr. Garrison-Paszkiewisz says, the remainder of the comment being drowned out on the recording. One of his supporters adds that he said something like "Schools used to be able to open the Bible and read it as if it were a history book." (And congratulations to Joelle Perry for using the subjunctive correctly.) "As if it were a history book." Exactly. But the bible is not a history book (though it is a collection of works from which history may be derived), and should not be read as one. Does Paszkiewisz have his own definition of history as well? It's hard to say, but it should be kept in mind that this oddball is supposed to be teaching American History.

The kids in the classroom are obviously startled by the novel declaration that the bible is not a religious anthology, and the question is asked, what if a student doesn't believe in the bible. The response:
That’s their prerogative. What if the student doesn’t believe in evolution? What if the student doesn’t believe in some other aspect of the educational curriculum?
Now, up to this point Paszkiewisz has been guilty of nothing more than abysmal ignorance. At this point he veers off into preaching over teaching. With no information (apparently) whatsoever he begins to preach to the class his own religious views. This is not an "intellectual debate" as one of his former students describes--to be an intellectual debate there would have to be intellect, and all importantly, information involved. Paszkiewisz proclaims his religious views, clearly, and shows his absolute ignorance of the scientific questions involved.

Note, please, that this is not an opinion. This is an observation, based directly on the teacher's recorded comments. Paszkiewisz introduced the topic of evolution himself, without any prompting, and then went off on a strange religious tirade.
The argument goes something like this: “You’re a believer. Your argument is based on faith, but I believe in evolution; my ideas are based on ["facts?" suggests a student] science, or facts, right?
This is said in the sneering tone the teacher apparently affects any time he is talking about some point with which he disagrees. (At least he does so in this recording.) He goes on to lay out a familiar fundamentalist argument to the effect that scientific concepts are based on faith while belief in the Biblical accounts of creation is soundly based on fulfilled prophecy. He doesn't deal with the more disturbing question of why the grand creator should have written one vast and superfluous lie in the skies, and another consistent one in the layers of rock on the surface of the earth, but allowed the truth to be revealed only in one collection of ancient literature. "If there’s nothing, it can’t explode," he says at one point, referring to the big bang. Of course nobody ever said that nothing (or maybe nothingness) exploded; that's some notion that Paszkiewisz cooked up in his own brain. Nor do scientists describe life as coming about by spontaneous generation (actually an old folk belief long since discarded by science) as he seems to think. Nor are paleontology, archaeology, astronomy, and the like--sciences that peer into the past--somehow not scientific, as he seems to think, because they do not depend heavily on laboratory experiments. This is a notion that the Creation Research Institute (a fundamentalist outfit) used to push, and may still push for all I know, but it's a crazy idea that misunderstands both the nature of the scientific method and the way the sciences in question actually work. None of this is science, history, or philosophy, and all of it is religious discourse. None of it, in this context at least, has any place in a public high school.

A student, Matthew LaClair, complained about this little sermonette, and requested that the teacher apologize and correct his numerous scientific misstatements. After a suitable delay Matthew LaClair was allowed to present his complaint with the teacher present. Paszkiewisz denied everything, claiming that remarks he made had been fabricated or taken out of context. And--

Well you know the rest, right. So many times have I heard this same story, where it always comes down to the teacher's word vs. the student's, and you-know-who wins that contest. Friends, relatives, and total strangers have told me the old familiar story--yes, I admit to being a batshit insane fundamentalist, but I didn't bring my crazy religious notions to class. It's all an invention. One person I know had a teacher who during an anatomy presentation went nuts over the suggestion that some human bones were similar to the equivilent bones in animals--it seems that human beings were a special creation or something and their bones had nothing to do with the bones of animals. And every time the teacher is reinstated with a pat on the head and a "go forth and continue as you have been" from the powers that be. As a victim myself of intellectually perverse teachers I am enraged every time one of these cases comes to my attention. It makes me even angrier when I see the "teacher" in question claiming to be a victim in some fundamentalist rag. It's wretched--enough to make any thinking person retch anyway.

And that's why I say thank god for Matthew LaClair. For once the story didn't have the familiar ending. When Paszkiewisz denied the charges, his student produced the recordings of his little sermon on disk. Paszkiewisz responded (it is said) like an old-time movie villain caught in the act:
You got the big fish ... you got the big Christian guy who is a teacher...!"
Nailed, and he knew it. And yet one of his defenders finds it in his or heart to absolve him:
I know that if he denied some things he said, it was by accident, and not intentional. Its not his fault that he didn't record the discussion and listen to it over and over. That would be the only way he would remember such remarks.
What an indictment. Does the writer mean that Paszkiewisz launches into religious tirades so often that he could hardly be expected to remember the content of one in particular? Or that he's generally forgetful? Or what? Personally I find it impossible to believe that an adult man (he claims to be thirty-eight) could forget flagrantly crossing the line between teaching and preaching in public school. And if he did, well, shame on him.

If a man charged with hitting a pedestrian while out driving two weeks before denies doing it, what do we conclude? We conclude that he's either innocent, or lying. If we subsequently determine that he was not innocent, are we not entitled to assume that he was lying? No, says this defender--he might have forgotten it. But why would somebody forget something like that? Well, he didn't have a video of the event--how could he be expected to remember every little detail of his life without one?

Because of the magnitude of the event. For a man to forget hitting a pedestrian we have to assume either (1) he hits pedestrians so often that one incident could easily be forgotten in the crush of events, or (2) hitting a pedestrian is no big thing with him. Either way, he's a menace.

I suppose there's a third possibility--he could have been blind drunk.

But the fact is, once Paszkiewisz found out that he had been recorded, he acted like a man who knew he was in manure up to his waist. He demanded a union representative and shut up. And high time, too.

For a fuller look at the case, and for all necessary links, check out The Lippard Blog.
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