Old News, New News: The St. Andrew’s School Sex Scandal

I said a couple of weeks ago that I was shifting away from commenting on things Anglican, but my past has caught up with me again.  As I have mentioned more than once, I am an alumnus of the St. Andrew’s School in Boca Raton, FL, and same school is now caught up in a sex scandal.  I hadn’t been paying much attention, but a friend brought up some things and I decided to do a little research.

I found that the best “executive summary” of the business can be found at the Episcopal Café.  That’s one of the most prominent blogs on the left side of the Anglican blogosphere.  I don’t pretend to be in the same rank on the other side, but it brings me to my first point: St. Andrew’s was and is a very liberal institution, one that didn’t commend left-wing Anglicanism to me in a very convincing way.

Although things really broke in the Spring–and Headmaster Peter Benedict resigned at the time–it’s still an ongoing business, as Interim Head of School Jim Byer discussed in an email to the alumni:

At the same time, the start of this school year has been a difficult time for all of us at Saint Andrew’s, and I appreciate your interest and concern for what has happened here. Many of you are aware of the results of two independent investigations related to violations of faculty/student boundaries and inadequate policies and procedures to protect students, as well as the stories that have been reported in the local media.

Please know that our school is committed to student safety, and I fully expect our community will be stronger and safer as the result of improvements in this regard. We have instituted mandatory child abuse annual training for all faculty and staff in accordance with Florida Department of Education training curriculum, we will hold accountable all who interact and engage with students on a daily basis, and we have engaged qualified, trained professionals to thoroughly examine and closely supervise the residential life program. I am also engaging an expert to oversee the restructuring of all aspects of risk in the school, to further safeguard the welfare of each and every student here.

That said, let me make some comments on the situation:

  1. The fact that the school decided to “lawyer up” tells me that something bad has really happened.  Colleges and universities have gone “whole hog” on this subject due to the “Dear Colleague” letter that the Department of Education sent out, but this is the result, IMHO, of things that happened at the school.  Bringing the attorneys in shield the investigation using attorney-client privilege, and coupled with the raft of confidentiality requirements in education, it’s pretty simple to put the “quietus” (a good TN expression) on something like this.
  2. Contrary to what some of the commenters on the Café said, St. Andrew’s was not started in response to the integration of public schools in Palm Beach County.  It was started as a boarding school to replicate the prep schools in New England and the Northeast.  Social trends and the explosive growth of South Florida have converted it primarily into a day school, where it addressed another issue: the lacklustre quality of Florida’s public schools.
  3. One thing that St. Andrew’s has always been is sensitive to a fault about its community reputation.  Although any institution needs to pay attention to that, in St. Andrew’s case there’s a very relevant issue: the school wasn’t properly endowed when it was set up, the seed money largely going to physical plant.  Its early survival was a difficult proposition and it’s not as ready as some of its older, prep school counterparts to take the hit that a scandal such as this brings.
  4. Unless the years I was there were an anomaly, I don’t think that St. Andrew’s has an innate culture which encourages sexual harassment of the students by the faculty.  That may be relevant in considering the role of the Rev. George Andrews, Headmaster from 1989 to 2008.  He is involved in the sex abuse scandals at St. George’s School in Middletown, RI, one of the New England boarding schools involved in their own imbroglio.  In spite of the founders’ intentions, St. Andrew’s had a dynamic that was different from its Northern counterparts, something faculty who had taught at both noted.

As is always the case in situations like this, it will be a long time before the truth comes out, if it ever does completely.  But South Florida in general and St. Andrew’s in particular was a hard schoolmaster on many issues of a sexual nature, albeit for reasons other than the ones in this scandal.  I explored many of these issues about a decade ago in my book The Ten Weeks.

What I am about to say will probably make some people blow their stack.   That isn’t hard to do these days.  But I think this is the time to say it.  We live in a society with two polar opposite ideas on this subject, and they cannot stay conjoined indefinitely.

I’ve consistently defended the Christian sexual ethic on this blog.  One important corollary to that is that everyone is inviolate in their person with regard to sexual activity, i.e., it’s entirely voluntary.  I want to make it clear that I support that corollary.  That’s the underlying assumption to things such as the prohibition against rape, molestation, and sexual harassment.  The persistence of these is part of our post-Christian condition.

On the other hand, we have the pervasive ethic these days that sexual activity is a necessity for life (not in a procreative sense,) and that one is defined by same.  A corollary to that is that people who refrain, temporarily or permanently, are a) not really human and b) need to be brought into line, most usually these days by peer pressure, or now the internet.

Given the realities of the human condition, I believe that sooner or later society will realise that, as my father would say, we “have a no-fit going here.”  Our educational system, which is expected in inculcate all kinds of values it was not designed to do, will be brought to bear on making sex education not only a “how-to” project but to make sure the lesson is carried out.

When that happens, the scandal such as is unfolding at St. Andrew’s will no longer be about doing something wrong as it will be about doing something outside of proper channels.  In other words, after all the years of such scandals rocking the Catholic Church, boarding schools, etc., they will no longer be scandals, and the victims who have not “kept up” with the times will be left in the lurch.

Whether our civilisation, such as it is, will survive to that point is another matter altogether.  But the business of same-sex civil marriage shows that public opinion, led by élite opinion, can turn around very quickly under the right conditions.  As always, I doubt most people are ready to face a societal flip of that kind, but just because we’re not ready to face it doesn’t mean it won’t happen.

If You Want to Support Press Freedom, Start At Home

Things in China got off to a rough start:

President Barack Obama downplayed dust-ups involving the U.S. delegation and Chinese security officials during the opening hours of his trip to Hangzhou for the G-20 summit, but said Sunday the U.S. would not apologize for its efforts to expand media access in the country.

“We don’t leave our values and ideals behind when we take these trips,” Obama said after a meeting with British Prime Minister Theresa May, when asked about the incidents. “It can cause some friction. It’s not the first time it’s happened.”

I find it highly duplicitous that the President, whose administration is paranoid about leaks, and who has used social media aggressively to bypass his own media, should be lecturing the Chinese on this subject.  I’m not saying that the Chinese are paragons of virtue on press freedom.  But Americans–especially the neocons–spend a lot of time wondering how we’re going to respond to the “Chinese threat.”  The best way to do that is for us to get our own house in order, and be a strong, free country, and not just a toy of our elites with a large military budget.  That’s what bothers me about Hillary Clinton: she combines a neocon’s instincts for intervention with liberal’s dislike of a strong military and economy, and the result of a major “pushback” on her part would probably be a disaster.

It’s also amazing that our own media, sycophantic as they are, should be held up an example of a functioning free press.  Barack Obama has had as favourable a media as one could want, and yet he still bypasses it every chance he gets.  And they’re selective, too.  An example, Christians: last week, when a would-be jihadi tried to blow himself and a church up in Sumatra, guess where this first surfaced on my Twitter account?  CCTV!  And I have a few news sources there.  Our own media could care less if jihadis blow up churches, they’re scared that publicising it it would encourage “Islamophobia.”

Media note: I’d urge my readers to keep in front of them a variety of media, domestic and foreign.   I’ve enjoyed picking up CCTV and other Chinese outlets; it’s been informative.

Waking Up Too Late on Medicaid Expansion and “Fixing” Obamacare

Megan McCardle has a great revelation, now that Obamacare is in serious trouble:

Here’s my radical plan: If the Obamacare exchanges are going to result in, at best, people being able to buy Medicaid-style plans with limited choices and benefits, then why not just eliminate the middleman and give them … Medicaid?

Where was she six years ago, in the middle of “debate” on Obamacare, when I wrote this:

Here’s a suggestion: nationalise (or more accurately federalise) Medicaid.  Currently a joint venture of the states and the Feds, making it an entirely Federal program would have many possibilities:

  1. It would relieve the states of their largest running budget headache.  That would insure the support of all fifty governors, Republican and Democrat alike.
  2. It would enable the Feds to set a uniform standard for eligibility, etc.   That problem has bedevilled the current process, and led to the more egregious payoffs (LA, NE, etc.) we saw in the Senate process.
  3. It’s already a government program, so this (in principle) doesn’t “expand the role of government.”  That would put the small-government Republicans in a box.
  4. It addresses the medical insurance issues of the portion of the population least able to afford it.  Isn’t that what social welfare is all about?
  5. It would end the “health insurance shopping” that helped turn TennCare into the disaster it became before the state pared down the eligibility requirements.

I’ll also pass this along from three years ago.

Obamacare is the result of a political system–really, a life system in the U.S.–that puts “leadership” and “doing good” ahead of common sense and doing things that actually work.

Beijing Sinks to New Lows

In this case literally, as can be see in the CCTV video linked here.

It’s a classic example of a problem called subsidence.  When cities expand, the water delivery systems often lag, which means that people use well water.  Many wells result in the lowering of the water table, which in turn results in the ground sinking as the space between the grains of soil (referred to technically as the “voids” or “pores”) contracts.

This problem is not unique to Beijing; Houston experienced it during the 1950’s and 1960’s, along with many communities along the Gulf Coast.  The result was that areas near bodies of water were susceptible to damage not only from storm surges but in some cases from high tide.

The Chinese solution to the problem is to run water from the Yangtze in the south, which is helping to mitigate the subsidence.


Ten Years of a WordPress Blog

It’s nice to mark milestones, so ten years ago today Positive Infinity began its migration (it took some time to complete it) to a WordPress blog. The post that announced it is here and you can catch up on some of the history up to that point. I want to look at two things: what’s happened to the Internet during that time and what’s happened to the communities and topics in which this blog takes part.

My sites had their genesis in 1997, when static sites were pretty much the norm. I’ve written code since I was eighteen; that came in handy to get my start with HTML. HTML has always been a type of code. For a static site that could get a little cumbersome; the advent of programs like Microsoft FrontPage was a blessing and made all of my sites looks better. I went on to Adobe GoLive in 2002 and Dreamweaver (for most my static sites) in 2010. In the process I got into PHP, and that’s what led me to WordPress.

It was (and is) possible to write an active site (a site which changes with comments, mobile devices, and the like) from the ground up. There are two things which make it especially difficult: a)appearance and functionality issues and b)security issues. As I delved into PHP, it became clear that an active site was doable, but the first vehicle I chose to get there just wasn’t up to the task. So when I found WordPress it seemed to fit the bill. It was a good choice: WordPress today is the single most used platform for websites, be they blogs, news sites, or whatever. It has worked well here.

Every silver lining has a cloud, and the shifting sands of the Internet were doing what they do best. With multiple sites, the most successful of which being vulcanhammer.net, I lacked the time to convert this one into a blog in a timely fashion. Blogging had its best day in the first half of the last decade, doing things like destroying Dan Rather’s stupid reporting and rallying the orthodox to the Anglican Revolt. As the decade wore on traffic started to shift towards social media, and even in the open net it tended to centralise. The dream of everyone a journalist began to fade.

Starting a PhD pursuit in 2011 forced me to put a great deal aside; I was forced to cut back on my commitment to this blog. Fortunately WordPress took care of the mechanics, but the problems of the open Internet have only gotten worse. It’s tempting to migrate entirely to social media (and I have shifted much of the day-to-day to Twitter) but I think that the free nature of the Internet—and of society in general—is imperilled by going behind the gates and their gatekeepers.

Getting past the technicalities, there have been several threads I have pursued over the years with varying results.

  • The Anglican Revolt is pretty much spent, and would be done if the Communion would split and be done. It was my aim to further the cause of the orthodox in this struggle; I think I have made my contribution, even before going to WordPress. It has been a gratifying experience, but I find myself shifting away towards discussing Roman Catholic issues.

  • Music blogging has been an up and down proposition. Many have been blessed by the effort, and I have made many friends in the process, especially among the artists and their friends (and in some cases their children.) The copyright issue persists, and the Kim Dotcom business in 2012 was a disaster. But it’s been worth it.

  • Political commentary has been a frustrating business. It’s difficult to get Americans to see a left-wing regime for what it is (which explains why they voted for one twice, and may repeat the feat in November) or come up with a workable alternative. It doesn’t help that some of my commenters feel it more important to be fashionable than right. I’ve cut back on political commentary; I think we’re going to have to seek personal solutions to our problems and not to look to a dysfunctional political system run by a self-centred, out-of-touch élite.

  • I’ve been gratified by the response to some of my mathematical and engineering posts, which mystify many of my other readers. My goal is to educate and surprise those who didn’t expect such things at a site like this, and I think I’ve achieved what I set out to do.

At this point it’s hard to predict the future. I think that basic freedom of expression is on the line here and elsewhere; too many debt-laden careerists and people who put sexual freedom at the top of the list are afraid of dissenting voices. That’s a sad state of affairs, but that’s where we’re at these days. As long as the opportunity presents itself I will make a contribution whether the morally anxious like it or not, because “We must do the work of him who sent me, while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work.” (John 9:4, TCNT.)

For all of you who have visited or contributed—even adversely—thanks, hopefully there will be more to come.

When the Social Justice Warriors Get in Their Own Way

As the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland is doing:

The Church’s wooing of the SNP is largely to blame. It started when Cardinal Winning clashed with the then Labour Executive over their social liberalism. Winning and many of the other people in charge convinced themselves that the nationalists were going to be more onside on issues like abortion. There was absolutely no evidence that this would ever be the case, as the Catholic community are about to find out. Instead, they have been played for useful fools by Salmond et al, whose entryists have done the necessary spade work from within.

There’s no evidence that the SNP will champion causes near and dear to the RCC such as being pro-life.  But both the people and the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland, with Anglophobe memories running half a millennium deep, allow their emotions to think that an independent Scotland would further the cause of the RCC and its flock.  (They should have first remembered that it was an independent Scotland that broke the RCC in the first place, long before the Union or even James I/VI.)

The SNP’s goal is a Scotland that is independent of England and part of the EU, and there’s nothing particularly Christian in that agenda.  And letting the BDS people run hog-wild during a football match just plain stupid on many levels.

But that’s what happens when you have SJW’s who act before they think.

Note: the Spectator article mentioned the Scottish Catholic Observer.  When I was in the UK forty years ago this summer, I read an article about the appalling treatment beggars got at Westminster Cathedral, something I attempted to make a dent in the following Sunday after Mass.  The paper’s downfall is really sad indeed.

What’s Really Important When You Hit the Field

As we start another football season, it’s good to pause and look back at those who have hit the field, lead others to do so, or both.  Nearly two score and two conferences back, Texas A&M‘s coach was Tom Wilson, who led the Aggies to victory in the 1981 Independence Bowl.

This week Coach Wilson was laid to rest.  I’ll leave it to David Moon Walker, quarterback when Wilson was Emory Bellard’s Offensive Coordinator, to note the following on Facebook:

It was a beautiful service for Coach Tom Wilson yesterday in Corsicana. He gave everyone in attendance his final coaching point in the form of this card he designed. Tom was very much a man of Faith and Family, and he loved his football, golf and fishing.

13920939_10208855047591182_3470187700367552432_nWe all remember from college how much he loved his fishing. What we didn’t know is he didn’t have a clue how to use an outboard motor when he first got to A&M, and he once threw an anchor into the water that he hadn’t yet tied to the boat.

And we’ll recall that every time the A&M coaching staff went out to play golf, Tom always won. But he got the only hole-in-one of his life just a few weeks before he died, only because his grandson insisted they play that day. He wanted to play one more round with his Papa.

But with all that said, what Coach wanted most was for all of us, his Red Raider teammates, fellow coaches, his high school and college players, family and friends, he wanted all of us to understand and appreciate how important the word of Jesus is in our lives.

This is the card he created weeks before with The Sinner’s Prayer. It was stapled to the Memory handout. Yesterday we celebrated Tom’s life, and he was still teaching. RIP.

14063829_10208855047671184_8894296839532779318_nIt’s the most important lesson to learn.  If you want to learn more about this, click here.

Advice to Graduates: The Two Promises I Made to Myself

It may seem an odd time to do a pseudo-graduation piece. Obviously the University of Tennessee thinks so: this weekend I am supposed to officially receive my PhD degree, but the university, having spent a great deal of money on a new, traditional looking quad, doesn’t do an August graduation ceremony, with a graduation speech of any kind. So this will have to suffice.

In accreditation standards, this degree is referred to as the “terminal degree.” I agree: by the time you’re done with it, you’re just about dead. But I have other things to commemorate this year. One of those is the twentieth anniversary of our family divesting itself of our business. Accompanied by the loss of my father and brother, it was one of those times when everything was different at the end than it was at the beginning. In the wake of those events I took stock of things, sought God and made myself two interrelated promises that I have pretty much kept in the score that followed. I think they’re worth passing on because, in the midst of swelling words, it’s easy to lose sight of practicalities.

The first was that I would never again allow myself to be dependent upon one source of income. Up until that point the family business—a company with one product to boot—had been my main livelihood for eighteen years. In those years it was impressed upon me that, from a professional standpoint, the business should be like segregation to George Wallace: first, last and always. Although I had the usual consulting contracts, they wouldn’t last that long, and there were the equally usual non-compete agreements in them. With the unhappy memory of every day being a “hero or zero” event, I decided to diversify my income. It’s been very helpful. We’re supposed to sleep a third of the time; that decision made that third (and the other two-thirds) a lot happier.

One of those diversifications has been my online activity, which started the year after the business went away. It hasn’t been the most lucrative thing, but in the process of putting stuff up I’ve delved back into our family history. We’ve been successful since we’ve been here, and for my father’s family that’s about a century and a half. Much of that success has been due to the diverse nature of the income: my great-grandfather’s yachts, my grandfather’s cars and airplanes, etc. Even the “one product” family business, at the turn of the last century, had a diverse offering which included bridges, dredges, and other products. There was a historical lesson that had been forgotten, and this is a country which habitually forgets historical lessons.

To make that really work involves another family habit: living below your means and staying out of debt to the greatest extent possible. That flies in the face of a credit-driven society driven by instant gratification, and it isn’t always easy in a country where wages are compressed the way they are. That being so, without it, the advantage in your life will always shift towards those who make the payments.

The second was that I would never let my professional (or other) identity be taken over by another institution or individual. This will take a little more explaining.

When your family has been in our business as long as ours was, the public image of the two tend to run together. But which came first? My great-great-grandfather started the company in 1852, sold it eleven years later, his sons bought it back in 1881, we got out of it in 1996. It should be obvious that the company was ours as long as we had it. But that wasn’t the message I heard, especially from the family and those in the company. The message I heard all too often was that the business made us what we were and that we owed the business in perpetuity because of that. That justified the aforementioned idea that it should be the sole source of income.

Getting out of the business didn’t solve that problem. I worked for people who wanted my professional identity completely contained in the work and institution which they ran. That wasn’t any better at what was strictly a job than it was at my own business. But there are others who saw it to their advantage to let “me be me” and they reap the benefits from that. In those cases it’s been a “win-win” situation for everyone. (Remember that, in job hunting, they’re not only choosing you; you’re choosing them.)

There are two parts to this issue: the practical and the “theoretical.” From a practical standpoint, in a world where companies, institutions and even lines of work are in a perpetual state of upheaval, it doesn’t make sense to have one’s reputation in the marketplace dependent upon one institution. Sometimes one can end up the “last man (or woman) standing” in a profession, where the skill set has gone out of currency and you’re the “go-to” person. But even then the reputation needs to be yours, not your employer’s.

The “theoretical” part is a little trickier but just as important, because it goes to how you look at life in general, which in turn will determine where that life goes.

Christianity teaches that we derive our worth and value from God who created us and made our salvation possible. That being the case, it’s always amazing that, in what has been up until now a predominantly Christian country, that so many in church every Sunday pursue personal validation in this society with such gusto. We insist on driving the proper car, living in the proper house, and raising the proper children to communicate the message of success, when the Gospel tells us that none of these things is necessary for happiness.

Secularizing the country will only make this problem worse, because it takes away the alternative to worldly success without obviating the need for perpetual validation in the society. The enforced online groupthink, where we are forced to go along with the herd’s course or else, is only the most distasteful manifestation of this problem. Consider the matter of same-sex civil marriage; in a society as polarized as our is and where cohabitation is as common as it is, it’s really strange that neither or both sides could bring themselves to pitch the institution of civil marriage altogether. Everyone argued under the assumption that the state had to validate a marriage in order for it to be one. The same thing goes for our elite institutions. Whether they provide a better education is open to question; whether they confer on those who endure their degree programs a glow of respectability is not.

I used to think that my family I was born into didn’t like my Christianity because it put God in charge of things, not them. That’s true as far as it goes, but the more I think about it the more I realize that they didn’t like the fact that God defined who I was and not them. The person who defines who you are controls you, which is why identity is such a big deal in this society. My God loves and forgives, and that’s more than I can say about many people and institutions in this world.

These, then, are the two promises I made to myself past the mid-point. I am glad I did. I think you will be glad if you do too. May God richly bless you.

Hey Hipsters, Like the Industrial Look? We’ve Got the Site For You!

The Guardian laments the sameness of the “new” look:

It’s no accident that these places look similar. Though they’re not part of a chain and don’t have their interior design directed by a single corporate overlord, these coffee shops have a way of mimicking the same tired style, a hipster reduction obsessed with a superficial sense of history and the remnants of industrial machinery that once occupied the neighbourhoods they take over. And it’s not just London and Manchester – this style is spreading across the world, from Bangkok to Beijing, Seoul to San Francisco.

If you’re looking for inspiration for the “old industrial” look (and some inspiration is in order) come visit vulcanhammer.info, which is my site for the family business which we (mostly) owned from 1852 to 1996.  I’ve in the process of updating the site, or maybe backdating it: adding drawings from the 1880’s and 1890’s to match the photos from those eras and beyond.  The best part for this is the part which documents our years in Chicago, from 1852 to 1960.

What’s on the site only scratches the surface; if you’re interested in discussing some other things, contact me.

It’s Hard to Humble Americans, But It Can Be Done

That’s what Uber and others have found out the hard way in China:

“Uber’s approach to markets around the world has been fairly arrogant,” from flouting local taxi regulations to threatening to sabotage media critics by digging up personal dirt, says Zennon Kapron, managing director of Shanghai-based consulting firm Kapronasia. “But arrogance is a very difficult attitude to have to be successful in China.”

In addition to their obsession with their time in bed, Americans are an arrogant bunch these days, especially if they think the world will go their way (it used to be called “historical determinism” but people educated in our system have a hard time with the phrase.) To some extent that’s the result of the end of the Cold War, which left the world with only one superpower.

But reality checks always come sooner or later, and China has been a persistent one to non-Chinese business people since we went there many years ago.  And it’s too much to expect that a country which has obsessed with making its people smart would play second fiddle forever.

It’s also worth noting that humility is a Christian virtue; as our country secularises, the arrogance increases, and the contempt for the humble does likewise.  China also has a fast growing Christian population.  It’s a country that has the sense to value humility and the ability to teach hard lessons to those who don’t.

Sailing the Last Voyage with Newton and Pascal

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