Monday, 31 October 2016

100 years ago: The death of Charles Taze Russell

On October 31, 1916, Charles Taze Russell died at the age of 64. Mr. Russell founded the Bible Student movement in the 1870s, and Zion's Watch Tower Tract Society in 1881. The latter became known as the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society in 1886, and the headquarters moved to Brooklyn, New York in 1908. Mr. Russell's theology was a mixture of truth and error, with the errors being serious enough to constitute heresy from the perspective of Biblical Christian doctrine. For instance, Mr. Russell believed that Jesus received His divinity after dying on the cross; taught that the Holy Spirit is not a person, but merely a manifestation of God's power; that Christ had begun ruling the world invisibly in 1874 and that the "Times of the Gentiles" would end in 1914, and Christ would visibly take control of Earth's affairs at that time.

Mr. Russell died of cystitis while returning home to Brooklyn from a tour of western and southwestern states. His death resulted in a dispute over the presidency and a split among Mr. Russell's followers; Joseph F. Rutherford was elected president of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society in January 1917 and held the position until his death in 1942, adopting the name Jehovah's Witnesses for the organization in 1931.

I haven't time or space here to go into the numerous errors of Jehovah's Witnesses. For information on Jehovah's Witnesses from a Christian perspective, I recommend the site of MacGregor Ministries. The book Witnesses of Jehovah (1988) by Leonard & Marjorie Chretien is written by Jehovah's Witnesses who came to saving faith in Jesus Christ. There is also a documentary film of the same name; I have a VHS copy, but I don't know if it's available in DVD. The Cult Explosion (1980) by Dave Hunt contains an interview with a former member of Jehovah's Witnesses, with an insider's fascinating information on life at headquarters in Brooklyn (known as "Bethel" within the organization). The Orwellian World of Jehovah's Witnesses (1984) by Gary Botting and Apocalypse Delayed (1984) by James Penton are exposes by members of the organization, but are not written from a Christian perspective.

Texas mother sets an inspiring example as her baby is removed from her uterus in order to have life-saving surgery

Kudos to this mother for not only wanting to save her baby's life, but for being diligent enough to seek more than one medical opinion. As reported by Reuters, October 25, 2016:

When Margaret Boemer went for an ultrasound pregnancy checkup, she was told that her baby had a rare condition and would require surgery if she were to survive.

“16 weeks being pregnant I found out that our baby had a sacrococcygeal teratoma,” Boemer said.

The condition is a form of malignant tumor that forms at the base of a baby’s tailbone, which can be life-threatening.

“LynLee didn’t have much of a chance, you have a 50/50 chance of making it and the tumour was so big. I was coming for regular checkups and by the time at 23 weeks the tumour was shutting her heart down and causing her to go into cardiac failure,” Boemer said.

While other doctors at different hospitals recommended termination of the pregnancy, Dr. Oluyinka Olutoye, pediatric surgeon and co-director of Texas Children’s Fetal Center and Dr. Darrell Cass, explained the surgery option, having performed one seven years ago.

“If we didn’t choose the option of surgery that night within a day or two she would pass,” Boemer said.

“So it was a choice of allowing the tumour to take over her body or giving her a chance at life and so that’s what we chose to give her a chance.”

At 23 weeks in her pregnancy, Boemer had her baby surgically removed from her womb and the tumour taken out. The baby was then returned to her mother’s womb and Boemer remained on bed rest for 12 weeks, before delivering her baby via C-section at week 36.

LynLee was whisked away and examined by the doctors as soon as she was born. She was deemed healthy and was placed in the nursery with the other newborns.

At eight days old, LynLee had another minor surgery to remove the bits of tumour that could not be reached earlier.

“She had more surgery and they were able to remove the rest of the tumour and kind of reconstruct how things looked and moved her muscles around and everything to fill in where the tumour was,” Boemer said.

LynLee was seen with her parents on Oct. 21 nursing and being weighed on.

“How exciting it is that she’s made it through and not only made it through but done so well,” Boemer said. “It’ll be exciting to see how she grows up and what she does,” she added.

Lynlee recovered in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit and was able to go home just weeks after her surgery. The family, from Lewisville, Texas, is now enjoying life at home as a family of five and they come to Texas Children’s for checkups as Lynlee grows, the hospital said in a statement.

Hospital officials say the type of tumour LynLee had occurs in one of only 40,000 pregnancies. Its cause is unknown but baby girls are affected four times more often than boys.

HT: Will Morrow

Interview on Dr. Phil leads to increased charges against teacher who had sex with student

...and be sure your sin will find you out. Numbers 32:23b

Confession may be good for the soul, but not for the reputation--or the criminal record. As reported by Chris Jancelewicz of Global News, October 28, 2016:

Dr. Phil McGraw has been on a roll lately.

Not only did he secure the first interviews with JonBenét Ramsey’s brother and Steven Avery’s fiancée, but one of his recent sit-downs has resulted in increased charges for a teacher who admitted to having sex with her 17-year-old student.

Mary Beth Haglin, 24, of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, was initially charged last July with sexually assaulting a minor after turning herself in. The crime is viewed as an aggravated misdemeanour in the U.S., and carries a maximum prison sentence of two years. She pleaded not guilty.

But Haglin admitted further details on Dr. Phil, including that she had sex with the unidentified student “almost daily” while working as a supply teacher — she later specified “hundreds of times” over the course of six months — and claimed that she was the victim in the relationship, not the perpetrator. Haglin says that his love letters and text messages seduced her, even though she frequently sent him sexually suggestive selfies.

“He did so with such intelligence and such an elevated vocabulary that I was completely duped by the whole facade,” she said to Dr. Phil. “He caught me in my weakest moments, and he used that to his advantage. We had sex — almost daily — in his car, my car, his mom’s house, and his dad’s house. When things got way out of control, and I wanted out, he began saying ‘I will light a match and burn your life down.'”

“Many people see him as the victim and me as the perpetrator,” she continued. “From a psychological standpoint and from every other standpoint, I feel like I am the victim.”

Dr. Phil retorted bluntly, “You have got to be dumber than a box of rocks to share naked pictures with a 17-year-old boy.”

Haglin claimed that she was too afraid to end the relationship for fear of being exposed, but it stopped abruptly when another student caught them together.

Iowa prosecutors happened to catch the Dr. Phil episode, and are now upping the charge against Haglin, who now faces up to five years in jail.

“The defendant has participated in a series of public interviews in which she admitted engaging in a pattern or practice of sexual conduct with a student while employed as a teacher at Washington High School, which supports the more serious felony offence,” a motion filed by the Linn County Attorney’s Office said.

After being fired from teaching, Haglin went on to become a stripper under the name “Bambi.”

She will be arraigned on the new charges on Nov. 4.

HT: Will Morrow

Subaru practices censorship with its car radios

If I hear something on my car radio I don't like, I want to make the choice to turn it off or switch to something else, not have the car manufacturer make that choice. If car manufacturers censor certain words, how far can they be from creating technology that puts those words together and ends up censoring ideas? From a column by Lorraine Sommerfeld in the Postmedia newspaper supplement Driving, October 31, 2016 (link in original):

...Speaking of that radio, a colleague recently brought a Subaru bugaboo to my attention. Subaru is now your raunchy radio censor. If Howard Stern and other adultish talk radio is your groove, rest assured that each time you turn the car off, it will helpfully reset the radio to the preview station to protect any youngsters that may be joining you on your next outing. That’s right: The manufacturer has hardwired a non-overridable command into its Legacy and Outback models that protects you from all the bad words. Talk about annoying.

While Subaru is thinking about the toddlers, other manufacturers are more concerned about the teens. Teen nanny systems – preset radio levels, no radio until seatbelts are done up, speed governors, software to trace where your kid has driven – are all big selling points to owners of teens. My sons have aged out of this sector but I spent years being targeted by carmakers who thought I would love these ideas. I don’t. If I don’t trust my kids, I don’t give them the keys. To monitor their every move is not beneficial, and merely delays people (and yes, teens are people) taking responsibility for their actions. Am I the only one who feels manipulated by auto manufacturers who raced to include ridiculous amounts of distracting technology in cars, only to have them turn around and propose yet more systems that will now protect me from what they introduced in the first place?...

Friday, 28 October 2016

50 years ago: Roman Catholic leaders in Canada relax the ban on eating meat on Friday

Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. Mark 7:7 (citing Isaiah 29:13)

Since you died with Christ to the elemental spiritual forces of this world, why, as though you still belonged to the world, do you submit to its rules:
“Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”?
These rules, which have to do with things that are all destined to perish with use, are based on merely human commands and teachings.
Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.
Colossians 2:20-23 (NIV)

Submitted for your approval, for those who aren't aware or have forgotten, this little item that serves as a reminder that Roman Catholicism is manmade religion that can be changed on the whim of the leaders. As reported by Canadian Press and published in The Edmonton Journal, October 15, 1966:

Ottawa--Canadian Roman Catholics still observing meatless Fridays have been released from the church ban in a general relaxation of penitential discipline.

The new voluntary code went into effect at 2 P.M. Edmonton time Friday.

Children, the aging, the ailing and those who carry their lunch to work had been released from the rule in earlier years. But for other adult Roman Catholics, eating meat on Friday was a mild sin.

Although it eliminates rigid rules on fastings and abstinence, the directive from the Canadian church hierarchy said pentential observance should be continued on Fridays and during Lent. Lent Fridays are particularly important.

Archbishop Philip Pocock of Toronto told a press conference that Catholics, in following their individual conscience, must not go too far on penance relaxation.

"Someone who never does penance in the Lenten season, for example, would be sinful," he said.

The changes are in line with Vatican decisions last year that authorized bishops in each country to set their own fast and abstinence rules.
Roman Catholic bishops in the United States followed suit on November 18, 1966.

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Alberta government orders closure of Christian home schooling association amid allegations of financial impropriety

I don't know which side is telling the truth, but it's an item in the news.

As reported by Lucie Edwardson of Metro News, October 25, 2016 (links in original):

An Alberta home-schooling association has been ousted for allegedly pocketing nearly $1 million taxpayer dollars from Alberta Education that was meant to fund the education of thousands of students.

According to the ministry of education, Trinity Christian School Association is suspected siphoning government funds for years.

Effective immediately, the ministry has cancelled their registration and accreditation as a private school operator.

Minister of Education David Eggen said the decision to close the school comes after an audit of Trinity’s financials, which found numerous issues and determined that public funding was directed to a third party, Wisdom Home Schooling Society.

“The decision to cancel accreditation and registration from Trinity Christian School Association was made out of respect for taxpayers and the many families who entrusted this school to properly account for the funding granted for the purposes of their children’s education,” Eggen said.

Alberta Education said they will provide the findings of their review to both the Canada Revenue Agency and the RCMP to allow them to determine if further investigation is warranted.

According to Alberta Education, issues include conflict of interest involving senior management and related-party transactions, including terms of employment contracts and terms of leases with related parties.

They said inappropriate expenses were also found for things not limited to babysitting, funeral expenses and “double dipping” of mileage.

The financial audit also found that Wisdom — who is not the grant recipient — had retained $988,000 in “unclaimed parent funding” for the last three years.

“Our government is committed to supporting Alberta’s students and to ensuring that as much public funding as possible is being directed to the classroom, whether that classroom is in a home or in a bricks-and-mortar school,” Eggen said.

Alberta Education said they have also determined that Trinity hasn’t demonstrated appropriate accountability for the supervision of its home-education program or for public funds.

They said this is due to issues including the transfer of responsibility and supervision of their home-education program and accountability for government funding to Wisdom Home Schooling Society of Alberta.

Wisdom responded directly to many of the allegations on its website.

It claims that it has always overseen Trinity's operations for 21 years, that it has undergone routine financial audits, and that it retained the $988,000 in unclaimed funding because it is supposed to hold onto those funds as per Alberta Education mandates.

There are currently 13 in-school students and almost 3,500 home-education students registered with TCSA for the current school year.

Alberta Education said their staff will be made available to help students register in an alternative public or private school.

Further information for affected families is available on Alberta Education’s website.
As reported by Lucie Edwardson of Metro News, October 26, 2016 (bold in original, links inserted by blogger):

The principal and superintendent of an Alberta school association that was stripped of their registration and accreditation Tuesday said they were blindsided by the closure.

Richard Scheinbein, principal and superintendent of the Trinity Christian School Association which was shut down by Alberta Education due to alleged “financial impropriety,” was shocked by the ministry’s decision.

The comment comes after a government review alleges that nearly $1 million in funds supposed to be returned to parents is apparently listed as revenue for Wisdom Home Schooling Society, which is contracted by Trinity to run their home-education program.

“To tell you the truth I don’t know what’s going on—if we have an enemy there or not—but for the last 10-15 years, every year we’ve had this kind of stuff, and every year it passes,” Scheinbein said.

Education Minister David Eggen announced the decision to close the school citing a financial review of the last three years.

“These are very concerning financial practices,” Eggen said at a Tuesday afternoon news conference in Edmonton.

According to Alberta Education, 3,500 of the 11,000 home-educated students in the province were registered to TCSA’s home-schooling program with Wisdom—which has no legal relationship with the ministry. An additional 13 students attend Trinity in a classroom setting.

“The scale is quite large,” said Eggen.

Family ties

The minister said familial relationships within the school and positions of power were also concerning.

According to the websites of both Trinity and Wisdom, members of the Noster and Bekolay families serve on both boards and are also employed by Wisdom.

The websites indicate that husband and wife Kenneth and Marlane Noster are on the Wisdom board, while Kenneth sits on both boards.

Their son, Saul Noster, is listed as Wisdom’s financial services administrator since 2012.

Metro tried various methods to reach the aforementioned members of the Noster family, but no calls were returned by print deadline.

Audit documents provided by Alberta Education show that Trinity and Wisdom spent approximately 32 per cent of expenses on payments and administration compared to 3.4 to 5.6 per cent range in public school boards.

Although names have been redacted, the document indicated the majority of administration salaries went to members of two families—with total compensation to all members of the two families exceeding $2.76 million over three years.

The audit

Eggen said the review of Trinity financials took place after the school got a new auditor who raised red flags with the ministry.

The minister said through the audit it became obvious that money wasn’t being spent efficiently and that third party contractor—Wisdom—was handling most of the money.

Eggen said their review found inappropriate leases between Trinity and Wisdom, where they were leasing their own properties to themselves at 10 times the market rate, as well as spending money on alcohol, parties and gift-certificates.

“There’s a whole long litany of improprieties,” Eggen said. “They weren’t doing bank reconciliations on a monthly basis—which is the most basic thing you need to do to ensure transparency—so we felt a call to act.”

The audit also noted that in reviewing Trinity and Wisdom’s records they found Trinity’s practices were inconsistent with legislation.

The 13 certificated teachers referred by Wisdom as ‘facilitators’ are paid by Wisdom as independent contractors and aren’t employees at either organization— and Trinity didn’t pay any of the home education facilitators in the periods under review, according to the audit.

Further, the one certified teacher paid by Trinity for the 13 in-school students has no employment contract—all of which goes against the School Act, according to the government.

Wisdom parents question government motives for closure

Members of the Wisdom Home Schooling Society’s parent advisory council said not even Wisdom saw the closure of Trinity Christian School Association coming.

Susanne and David Knoch said they were waiting to hear from Alberta Education at a telephone conference town hall, Tuesday evening, about the closure before making any decisions.

“It’s a total shock. It’s an absolute shock. This is like a sideswipe, not even Wisdom saw it coming,” said David.

But, the couple said they question the government’s objectives.

“We know the NDP government hasn’t been especially welcoming—we’ve just questioned their motives,” said Susanne, when asked if she was referring to Bill 10.

They said throughout the audit Wisdom has fully cooperated with the government.

“The Alberta government has been speaking very favourably to Wisdom,” said Susanne. “Wisdom has been so cooperative, they’ve responded to all their demands, and the government even said thank you.”

She added that the closure of the school in this fashion is “just so unethical based on what the communication has been up until now.”
And Wisdom's response:

WISDOM Shutdown - Statement

October 25, 2016

Dear Parents,

WISDOM/Trinity has been shut down by AB Education. They announced this with a press release filled with partial truths amounting to calumny.

You are being told to give notification to another school for this year, but we are encouraging you not to do anything yet. Over the next few days the WISDOM Parent Advisory Council will communicate suggestions regarding your options.

Here is a brief overview of the AB Education allegations and our responses.

AB Education has shut down our school. They make untrue claims:

Trinity Christian School has neglected to adequately supervise home schooling.

Response: WISDOM has been Trinity’s home education administration for 21 years. In fact, in 1997 AB Education mandated the establishment of WISDOM Home Schooling Society. Through its WISDOM office, Trinity has administrated home schooling in an exemplary manner.

Alberta Education will be providing the findings of its review to both Canada Revenue Agency and the RCMP so those agencies can determine whether further investigation is warranted….

Response: There has been a transparent financial audit of Trinity/WISDOM every year, and AB Education has conducted many additional audits. Every income and expense is meticulously recorded and accounted for.

The review also uncovered that Wisdom – which is not the grant recipient – had retained $988,000 in unclaimed parent funding over the past three years.

Response: AB Education mandates that unclaimed funding stay with the school. Since WISDOM is Trinity’s home education administration, it is logical that WISDOM retained unspent funds and used them on home education programing.

Alberta Education also determined that Trinity has not demonstrated sufficient accountability for the supervision of its home-education program or for public funds, including transferring its responsibility for supervision of its home-education program — and accountability for government funding — to Wisdom Home Schooling Society of Alberta.

Response: AB Education has arbitrarily determined that the work of WISDOM is not the work of Trinity. All allegations are based upon this false assumption.
October 28, 2016 update: As reported by Lucie Edwardson of Metro News, October 27, 2016 (bold, link in original):

A review into a Christian school board by the Alberta government shows that a “hard deadline,” set by a third-party for parents to request unused government funds be carried over to the following year goes against the School Act.

Alberta education says this resulted in nearly $1 million in funds not returned to parents.

Education Minister David Eggen shut down Trinity Christian School Association, in northern Alberta, and Wisdom Homeschooling Tuesday due to alleged “financial impropriety."

They catered to 3,500 home-schooled students across the province and 13 students in a classroom setting.

Metro reached out Wednesday to employees at both Trinity and Wisdom, and only one responded. Jim Burgess of Wisdom’s financial services said little but that they are considering legal action.

On Tuesday, Metro spoke with Trinity principal Richard Scheinbein who said they’d submitted financial reports to Alberta Education annually with no issues.

According to the review released Tuesday, Wisdom’s policy is that unused monies from the parent portion of the government grant will only be carried to the next year if a form requesting the carry over is received by the set deadline of June 30.

“Otherwise it will end up in the general revenue of Wisdom and unavailable for parents the following year. Any late forms received are not accepted as this is a hard deadline” reads the report.

Metro confirmed this was Wisdom’s policy as it is on their website, also indicating this deadline is imposed by Alberta Education.

“In fact, this deadline is an in-house deadline and is not based on provincial legislation, regulation or policy,” said the report.

Eggen said Tuesday another concern raised during the review of Trinity and Wisdom was inappropriate leases.

According to the report, although a lease with Living Water Arts Foundation – which was founded by Wisdom founders Kenneth and Marlane Noster— was considered a reasonable rate, questions were raised as to why Wisdom paid an annual lease plus utilities for a facility that isn’t used all year.

Again, Metro reached out to the Noster family and calls were not returned.

The facility was constructed using government grants paid to Trinity (approximately $0.5M), then reportedly sold ‘by’ Trinity at a loss, to Living Water only to be leased back to Wisdom, said the report.

Further, the report indicates that Trinity’s audited financial statements are inconsistent with facts about the sale of the land.

The financial statements said the sale occurred in 2006-07, yet not transfer of land happened until 2008, was only for $1 and was never owned by Trinity, but the Noster family.

Petition demands reinstatement of Trinity accreditation

A petition has been launched by supporters of Trinity Christian School Association – and third party Wisdom Homeschooling – saying they’re “under attack” and demanding their reinstatement, after their accreditation was taken away Tuesday by Alberta’s education ministry.

The petition, created by Adam Soos, calls the actions of Education Minister David Eggen and his ministry “reckless” and says they “undermined the education of some 3,500 Albertan home-schooled students.”

The petition, which set a goal of 1,500 signatures had been signed 1,195 times and includes signatures from Wisdom's financial services head, Saul Noster who also made social media posts about the issue Wednesday with #WeStandWithWisdom.

Hundreds of people have commented on the petition calling Eggen’s decision anti-Christian.

“Nothing could be further from the truth,” said Eggen. “We know that the various education providers in our province include the separate school system with private schools and home schooling, and when everything is moving as it should it’s a very high quality of education.”
As reported by Lucie Edwardson of Metro News, October 27, 2016 (links in original):

Parents who have used the northern Alberta home-education company Wisdom Homeschooling Society are coming to their defence using social media and a petition.

Education Minister David Eggen shut down Trinity Christian School Association, in northern Alberta, and Wisdom Homeschooling Tuesday due to alleged “financial impropriety."

They catered to 3,500 home-schooled students across the province and 13 students in a classroom setting.

Allegations against Trinity/Wisdom from Alberta’s education ministry include that Wisdom created a false fee deadline that’s in conflict with the School Act. The deadline required parents to fill out a form before the deadline to get reimbursed.

As a result, Alberta Education said in nearly $1 million was not returned to parents.

Despite these allegations, many supporters are calling the move by the NDP unfair and anti-Christian.

Metro reported Wednesday about the petition launched to have the accreditation reinstated and the #WeStandWithWisdom social media hashtag being used by supporters.

Brian Holdsworth took to Facebook to post an email he sent to Minister of Education David Eggen following the decision, Tuesday. Holdsworth argued the ministry wouldn’t have taken “such heavy-handed action” had Trinity/Wisdom been a “conventional school board.”

“If a superintendent was caught making accounting errors (or at worst corrupt kickbacks), you wouldn’t close down the school board in the middle of a semester,” he wrote. “You’d pressure the superintendent to resign and get the organization running properly.”

Holdsworth said there should be “some kind of due process,” and the allegations should be investigated and the accused should have an opportunity to make a legal defence .

Another parent, Shayne Neal, wrote a blog post about the ordeal titled: How can someone care so little about our youth?

In the post, he lays out a number of his concerns, and stated that although Alberta Education has encouraged parents to register their kids with another accredited school board, he will not.

“As I am concerned I can just send my paperwork into Education Minister David Eggen since he closed down the school that was allowed to accept it for the past 21 years,” he wrote.

On Wednesday Eggen again reiterated that parents should take this step so that they are able to get the funding meant for their child.

Trinity/Wisdom released a statement Thursday saying they will be retaining legal counsel to fight the claims made by Alberta Education.

The message also said the association will continue to advise parents of further developments and deny the accusation of misappropriating funds from Alberta Education.

“WISDOM's holding of funds on behalf of Trinity is neither illegal nor deceptive, a fact that is expected to be substantiated by the Courts in the days ahead.”
As reported by Josie Lukey of Metro News, October 27, 2016:

The Alberta school association at the centre of allegations by Alberta Education of financial impropriety will fight the loss of accreditation through legal channels.

On Tuesday, Alberta Education Minister David Eggen stripped the Trinity Christian School Assocation in northern Alberta, of its license and accreditation after a review that looked at the association for three years was released outlining areas of concern in the board's financial reporting.

According to a message to parents posted on Trinity’s website, they will be retaining legal counsel to fight the claims made by Alberta Education.

“Trinity and WISDOM remain committed to the provision of education in the province of Alberta and hope to be in a position to resume operations soon,” the statement read.

The message also said the association will continue to advise parents of further developments and deny the accusation of misappropriating funds from Alberta Education.

“WISDOM's holding of funds on behalf of Trinity is neither illegal nor deceptive, a fact that is expected to be substantiated by the Courts in the days ahead.”
November 8, 2016 update: As reported by Svjetlana Mlinarevic of the Grande Prairie Daily Herald Tribune, November 5, 2016:

A small Cold Lake private school and society overseeing a third of Alberta’s home-schooled students will reopen Monday after a judge temporarily set aside the government’s move to cancel their accreditation.

Grande Prairie Court of Queen’s Bench Justice E. J. Simpson granted a temporary injunction Friday that allows Trinity Christian School Association and its contractor, Wisdom Home Schooling, to oversee students’ education until a hearing on Jan. 5. The education minister revoked Trinity’s accreditation Oct. 25, alleging financial mismanagement.

Simpson also ruled Alberta Education can withhold funding from Trinity while it operates for the next six weeks.

“I’m very pleased with the decision. It reinstates the status quo, with the exception of funding, and it ensures that the parents and the students who have been tremendously disrupted by this ill-considered decision will continue to have a school to go to until Jan. 5 at the least,” said Jay Cameron, Trinity’s lawyer.

The ruling is not a final decision on the merits of the case, Alberta’s Education Minister David Eggen said in a Friday afternoon statement.

“We stand behind the actions that we have taken to date based on the evidence made public in the audit,” Eggen wrote.

An investigation by the education ministry alleged that during the last three years, Wisdom had misused public education dollars on alcohol, gifts, gift cards, parties, babysitting costs, and funeral expenses.

Almost all the money given to Trinity was redirected to Wisdom, where alleged financial irregularities included lavish per diems, double dipping on mileage and travel expenses, and employment contracts to family members.

The province also contends Wisdom improperly held back $988,000 in grant money that should have flowed to parents for home-schooling costs.

The government reported its findings to RCMP and the Canada Revenue Agency.

Although contracting out home-schooling services is legal, Eggen has said it leaves school authorities vulnerable to misconduct.

Trinity and Wisdom refute all allegations of financial impropriety.

The judge said his move to temporarily restore accreditation was to allow children to continue with their education until the Christmas break. Simpson said Trinity will have to re-state its case to stay open after January, when court will hear arguments about Trinity’s alleged misuse of funds.

The judge also ordered Trinity to turn over the records of 160 students who have enrolled with a new school or school board.

In a statement, Trinity Christian School/Wisdom Home Schooling said it is grateful for the interim ruling.

“Alberta Education’s imposition of the closure upon the families of 3,500 students, without due process, has been overturned today by due process. The rights of parents, upheld by the Canadian Charter, have been upheld by the Court of Queen’s Bench,” the statement said.

In his arguments, Cameron told the judge the government’s move to yank accreditation was “ill-considered, draconian, unlawful, in bad faith, as well as being extremely rude and inconsiderate to the parents and the children of this province.”

He also said government had done irreparable harm to Trinity’s reputation.

In their application for an injunction, Trinity and Wisdom said people from Alberta Education showed up at the 13-pupil school in Cold Lake Oct. 25, refused to identify themselves to teachers and parents, “accosted” students by demanding their names and handing them letters.

Some home-schooling parents objected to being informed of the shutdown by robocalls, and being suddenly told to register their children with another school.

Parents can continue to home school their children while they look for a new place to enrol their children, the ministry has said. There are 45 other public and private schools and districts in Alberta that accept home schooled students.

The judge requested the next court date be held in Cold Lake or Edmonton.
As reported by Dean Bennett of Canadian Press, November 7, 2016:

EDMONTON — The Alberta government says it will continue to cover the costs of textbooks and other incidentals for thousands of home-schooled students caught in the middle of a funding fight.

A spokesman for Education Minister David Eggen says parents who are having their children home-schooled through the Trinity Christian School Association can soon send their receipts to the government for reimbursement.

Parents of home-schooled children can get slightly more than $800 reimbursed a year for items such as textbooks.

"We're setting up a process where in the interim at least they can go directly through Alberta Education for that funding," spokesman Jeremy Nolais said in an interview Monday.

Nolais said the department will have the reimbursement plan running this week or next.

The province is currently embroiled in a court fight with Trinity, which had been receiving more than $5 million a year from the province to oversee 3,500 home-schooled students along with 13 others being taught in a school in Cold Lake.

That's about one-third of all home-schooled children in the province...

...Each home-schooled student in Alberta receives $1,670 a year to be distributed by the agency that oversees the education, which in this case would be Trinity.

Half of that $1,670 is to go to parents for textbooks and other education-related expenses, while the rest goes for administration and oversight.

Nolais confirmed the other half of that $1,670, which normally goes to Trinity, will not be paid.

Ken Noster, an associate principal at Trinity and the administrator of Wisdom, could not be reached for comment.

The province is urging parents with Trinity to get their students signed up with other boards. Nolais said so far about 135 students have done so.

During question period in the legislature Monday, Opposition Wildrose member Angela Pitt said the government has handled the situation poorly and families are paying the price.

"The minister and this NDP government need to start thinking more about the human impact their heavy-handed governance has on everyday Albertans," Pitt told the house.

Eggen closed Trinity based on the audit, which said the senior ranks of both Trinity and Wisdom were essentially made up of two families. It said those families, whose names were not made public, received $2.8 million in compensation over the last three years.

It also said that almost all the money given to Trinity was redirected to Wisdom, where multiple financial irregularities included lavish per diems, double dipping on mileage and travel expenses, and employment contracts to other family members.

It said taxpayer money was used for alcohol, gifts, gift cards, pizza, parties, babysitting costs and funeral expenses.

The report stated that over the last three years, Wisdom improperly held back $988,000 that was to go to parents for home-schooling.
February 2, 2017 update:
As reported by Lucie Edwardson of Metro News, January 5, 2017:

Trinity Christian School Association is back in business—but this time without the controversial WISDOM Home Schooling Society.

Back in October, the home-schooling association was shut down by the province after they alleged the group pocketed nearly $1 million taxpayer dollars from Alberta Education that was meant to fund the education of thousands of students. Trinity's registration and accreditation as a private school operator was canceled.

A deal reached between Alberta Education and Trinity Christian School Association means additional oversight of operations, and stability for more than 3,500 students, according to the province—but it also means WISDOM will no longer be involved in any of the governance or financial involvement in the education of students.

In a news release, the province said the agreement filed in a Grand Prairie court Thursday is the end of the legal battle between Alberta Education and Trinity.

Education Minister David Eggen said they will appoint a financial administrator, for at least a year, to help Trinity’s board of directors in developing financial policies and practices that meet taxpayer expectations. The administrator will also have oversight over public funding directed to Trinity.

“Our priority has been ensuring that the funding we provide for education is being used to support students. We believe that today’s agreement achieves this goal. It also ensures stability for more than 3,500 Alberta students,” he said. “I stand behind the actions we have taken in this matter and officials will now move to assisting Trinity with developing governance and accounting practices that are at the standard expected by Alberta taxpayers.”

Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley echoed these sentiments at a press conference Thursday and said the administrator will play a vital role in ensuring funds reach students (although she couldn’t say how much the administrator would cost Alberta Education).

“They’ll be tasked with making sure they have the proper procedures in place, so everyone can see transparently where the money is going,” she said.

When Trinity was shut down in October, Alberta Education said they would be providing the findings of their review to both the Canada Revenue Agency and the RCMP to allow them to determine if further investigation is warranted.

“In terms of other investigations by the RCMP of CRA, those folks will determine the outcomes of their investigations and the government has no influence over that,” said Ganley.
Click on the link to see the Trinity Christian School Association Consent Order.

Graham Thomson offered a critical view of the whole affair in his column in the Edmonton Journal, January 6, 2017:

Something here doesn’t add up.

How can the Alberta government publicly decertify a school association one day over allegations of “financial impropriety,” then recertify the association another day while the allegations still hang over the school board’s head?

Either the government recertified the association prematurely this week, or the government unfairly decertified the association in the first place back in October.

We’re talking here, of course, about the Trinity Christian School Association.

It was on Tuesday, Oct. 25, that a sombre Education Minister David Eggen called a news conference to announce he was immediately shutting down the province’s largest provider of home schooling after a government audit had discovered “significant misuse of public funding.”

The government had been giving Trinity Christian about $5.5 million a year, which was directed to a third party, Wisdom Home Schooling Society, to run the home-schooling operations.

Among the apparently troubling things discovered by the audit: Wisdom leased a modular from a “non-arm’s length party” for $105,000 a year — 10 times what the government thought reasonable.

Eggen said the “financial impropriety” was so great he was sending the audit to the RCMP for further investigation.

At the time, I said Eggen was so unhappy he looked downright sick. But I wasn’t sure if he was ill at the possibility of government money going astray, or if he was queasy at the thought of a showdown with home-schooling parents.

Politically, the latter is a much larger problem than the former — as Eggen discovered thanks to a very loud and heated reaction from parents who supported Trinity.

The association defiantly told the parents to ignore the government’s recommendation to enrol their children with another board. Keeping the fight alive, the association won a court injunction to keep the board open.

All the while, home-schooling parents — always a fiercely independent lot — accused the government of interfering with their rights to educate their children.

Thanks to a court ruling Thursday — that criticized both sides in the tussle — the government and the association have reached a truce.

Eggen recertified the organization after it agreed to be placed under a government-appointed financial adviser for the next year.

Yet, the RCMP is still investigating the government’s complaint against Trinity.

How can the government climb back into bed with an organization it apparently didn’t trust a few months ago?

You get the impression that maybe the government overreacted in October by decertifying the school association. Maybe the government should have waited.

Or, at the very least, it should have done the decertification with more tact and more planning. Instead, its abrupt move left thousands of parents and students confused.

The government should have listened more intently to the Wildrose Party, which managed to manoeuvre though this political minefield with some agility.

The official Opposition has said all along that while any financial mismanagement must be investigated and dealt with, the main focus should have been on the students, ensuring their education was not interrupted.

In a news release Thursday, the Wildrose happily gave itself a pat on the back: “The decision to appoint a financial administrator to handle their concerns surrounding financial management of the school was what Wildrose initially called for. It’s disappointing that it took months of legal battles and court filings to come to what was an obvious and appropriate solution.”

This saga is not over. If the police find evidence of wrongdoing, people will ask why the government is in bed with such a troubled organization.

If the police don’t find enough evidence to lay charges, people will ask why the government was so quick to shut down Trinity.

Either way, something doesn’t add up — and the education minister is the one doing the math.

Saturday, 22 October 2016

New York exhibit shows diversity of medieval Jerusalem

As reported by Milene Fernandez of The Epoch Times, September 29, 2016 (updated October 3, 2016) (bold, links in original):

NEW YORK—If asked to pick the most culturally diverse and tolerant city in the world today, you might think of Amsterdam, London, Paris, São Paulo, or New York City. But in medieval times, Jerusalem would have readily come to mind.

Beginning at around the year 1000, thousands of people from as far as Iceland and India ventured toward Jerusalem to trade and make a profit and to receive artistic or divine inspiration. The phenomenon of “Jerusalem fever,” as it was described at the time, gripped and tugged merchants, artisans, scholars, and pilgrims of various faiths to a city that is just about the size of Midtown Manhattan.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art attempts to capture this medieval cosmopolitan fever with Jerusalem 1000–1400: Every People Under Heaven. The exhibition opened on Sept. 26 and is running until Jan. 8, 2017, along with a variety of educational programs, tours, live concerts, and a series of talks.

The Met selected more than 200 objects from 60 lenders from around the world—including treasures that had never been loaned before. About one-fourth came directly from Jerusalem.

The planning for the exhibition began about six years ago. Curators Barbara Drake Boehm and Melanie Holcomb explained: “At the time, our thought was that everyone focuses on the biblical Jerusalem or on the present-day city, but there had not been much attention paid to medieval Jerusalem. Because medieval art is our specialty, we felt this was a topic that we could and should study.”

The exhibition is organized thematically into six sections: trade, diversity, religion, war, patrons, and the concept of Jerusalem as a city situated at the gates of heaven, according to the Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Tying it to the present, it also includes videos giving glimpses of people today reflecting on Jerusalem’s legacy.

The scope and ambition of Jerusalem 1000–1400: Every People Under Heaven, as the title implies, is overwhelming and warrants repeat visits. Perhaps the museum’s decision to take on this epic feat stemmed from a desire to dispel the public’s general tendency to immediately associate Jerusalem with adversity, and to remind us of a Jerusalem that embodied a more generous spirit of tolerance and coexistence, amid its incredible complexity.

“When people plan a trip to Jerusalem—and likely to our exhibition—they have an expectation of what they will see based on their own background. We hope that visitors who come to our show will find not only what they expected but also things they could not have imagined,” Boehm and Holcomb wrote in an email.

The following are snippets of just a few of the many fascinating pieces in the exhibition, which includes illuminations, devotional objects, architectural elements, weapons, ceramics, glassworks, textiles, and jewelry. They each give some insight into what Jerusalem once was, with threads of influence still palpable today.

Exhibition Highlights

Upon entering the exhibition, next to a heap of gold coins at the very center, are three astrolabes that were created on the Iberian Peninsula with inscriptions in three languages: Arabic, Latin, and Judeo-Arabic (Arabic written in a Hebrew script). The practical objects, showing a beautiful sense of precision, were used to answer questions related to time, geography, and the position of the stars. Jerusalem is inscribed on all three, “raising questions about the owners’ relationship to the city: was it a focus of business travel, pilgrimage, or religious devotion from afar?” the Met’s description reads.

An English monk, Matthew Paris, who never set foot in Jerusalem, created a map detailing a vivid journey to the Holy Land entirely from his imagination. It serves as a little testament to the grand fascination with Jerusalem. In the map, the monk depicted the port of Acre, a frequent place of arrival for European Christian pilgrims; the city of Tyre, famous for its glassware; and Mount Ararat in Armenia, where Noah’s Ark was believed to have landed, among numerous other intriguing landmarks.

Exquisite, opulent 14th-century Jewish wedding rings from Germany’s Rhine Valley were made in the form of miniature buildings, symbolizing the lost Temple of Jerusalem. The Met’s description explains that they were probably used only during the ceremony, since Jewish law stipulates that wedding rings should be unadorned, but played a vital role in the remembrance of a lost temple that perhaps holds a stronger presence in people’s minds than if it were physically present.

Other objects indicate how significantly charged Jerusalem became as a location to be fought over. A knight of the d’Aluye family, a crusader whose mission was to reclaim the Holy Land for European Christians, chose to be remembered as a warrior. The sculpted figure representing him has a sword that does not match his armor but is typical Chinese weaponry. Perhaps he purchased it from a market in Jerusalem or acquired it in battle. A page from “Saladin’s Treatise on Armor” shows an exquisitely detailed gilded drawing of a shield and concealed crossbow, a weapon intended to bring an end to European control of Jerusalem.

In contrast, Christian Gospel books in Arabic, Greek, Armenian, and Syriac, a Samaritan Bible in a distinctive Hebrew script, and the biblical book of Kings in Ge’ez, an ancient language of Ethiopia, given by that land’s king to his community in Jerusalem, show the incredible spiritual richness at times of greater tolerance in the city.

Voices of Jerusalem Today

A total of 10 videos distributed throughout each section of the exhibition show a range of stories from modern pilgrims to scholars to simply travelers.

These videos remind us that Jerusalem is as spiritually vibrant, varied, and complex today as ever.

A textile merchant from Kurdistan describes the striped fabrics he sells to Arabs, the black-and-white vestments he sells to Christian priests, and the embroidered brocade robes he sells to Jewish rabbis.

A scholar in search of Jerusalem’s hidden archives talks about different people preserving the memory of others, of texts translated into various languages. “I think there was much more interaction than we appreciate today. Instead of focusing on the history of Jerusalem as a sequence of wars, it would be more about the exchange—cultural exchange—the debate. It’s fine not to agree but they were talking to each other,” said Merav Mack, a professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and an authority on the libraries and archives of Jerusalem.

A professor of philosophy and Islamic studies at al-Quds University, Mustafa Abu Sway, summed up Jerusalem quite well, not only as a city but also as a place of hope. He said: “There are traders, there are businesses, there are people, families who live here in the Old City. But mostly, Jerusalem is a place of spirituality. Not only al-Aqsa Mosque is there when you enter Lion’s Gate, but all these churches that line up north of the alley. And it’s basically this beautiful mosaic of the whole city. Through which gate you enter, it’s a different experience. And I still find it mesmerizing. It’s poetic.”

Catalog-Related Programs

A lavishly illustrated catalog by more than 50 scholars from the United States, Europe, and the Middle East, suitable for specialists and general readers alike, is available at The Met Store (hardcover, $75)...
Click on the links below to see pictures of some of the works exhibited:

View of Jerusalem

The Archangel Israfil

The Book of Divine Service

The Prophet Isaiah at the Walls of Jerusalem

Map of the Holy Land

Jewish wedding ring

Chasse of Ambazac

Goblet of Charlemagne

The Saint Matthew Capital

A Knight of the d'Aluye Family

Saladin's Treatise on Armor

Gospel Book

The Entry into Jerusalem

Mosque Lamp of Sultan Barquq

Reliquary of St. Anastasios

Bottle with Christian Scenes

Incense box

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Toyota unveils tiny robot friends for lonely people

There is one alone, and there is not a second; yea, he hath neither child nor brother: yet is there no end of all his labour; neither is his eye satisfied with riches; neither saith he, For whom do I labour, and bereave my soul of good? This is also vanity, yea, it is a sore travail.
Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour.
For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but woe to him that is alone when he falleth; for he hath not another to help him up.
Again, if two lie together, then they have heat: but how can one be warm alone?
Ecclesiastes 4:8-11

You can always trust the Japanese to come up with something like this--as reported by Yuri Kageyama of The Associated Press, October 3, 2016:

TOKYO - The new robot from Japanese automaker Toyota Motor Corp. can't do much but chatter in a high-pitched voice.

The ¥39,800 ($390), 10-centimetre-tall, doll-like Kirobo Mini - whose name comes from "kibo," or "hope," and "robot" - supposedly has the smarts of a 5-year-old.

Fuminori Kataoka, general manager in charge of the project, says its value is emotional, going from home to car to the outdoors as a faithful companion, although the owner must do all the walking and driving.

Preorders start later this year. Shipments are set for next year. No overseas sales are planned so far. The company said it planned a gradual rollout, initially limited to Tokyo and Aichi prefecture in central Japan, near company headquarters, to get feedback from consumers.

It comes equipped with a camera, microphone and Bluetooth, and connects to a smartphone, which needs to be installed with a special software application. It turns its head toward a voice, although sometimes that function fails as its voice recognition is far from perfect.

"Toyota has been making cars that have a lot of valuable uses. But this time we're just pushing emotional value," Kataoka said.

During an interview with The Associated Press, the robot turned its head to the reporter and then to Kataoka when he replied. But the first time Kataoka asked the robot for its name, it replied by asking what kind of car he had. It got it right the second time. Kataoka just laughed.

The robot is not equipped with face recognition technology, and so it cannot recognize different people. The idea is one Kiribo Mini per person, according to Toyota.

More people in Japan are living alone, including the elderly and young singles. And they need someone, or in this case something, to talk to, Kataoka said.

But he was amazingly frank about how useless his robot is.

"This is not smart enough to be called artificial intelligence," he said. "This is about the existence of something you can talk to. A stuffed animal might not answer back, but people do talk to it, like my daughter once did this. But if it talked back, wouldn't that be better? And isn't this better than talking to a box?"

Some may find depressing, if not disturbing, a vision of a society of lonely people turning to dialogue with machines. But proponents say that's the reality, and that the technology can serve as a tool to help care for the sick or the elderly.

Naoki Mizushina, researcher at Tokyo-based MM Research Institute, which studies the robotics market, said the robot was too much like talking toys, on sale at cheaper prices, and it seemed to lack concrete functions to make it a big hit, such as linking to online shopping or furnishing convenient information.

"Will this take off? It might be tough," he said.

But those who like gadgets - and there are quite a few in Japan - may want one. Toyota declined to say how many it planned to ready for preorder, or how many it planned to sell in the first year.

Toyota remains skeptical about how a partner robot would fare abroad, although it remained open to assessing such interest.

The idea of companion robots is already widely accepted in Japan.

Japanese technology and telecom company Softbank Corp. began selling its ¥198,000 ($1,960) Pepper humanoid last year. The first batch of 1,000 sold out immediately, and it has sold 10,000 in Japan so far.

Robo Garage, headed by robot designer Tomotaka Takahashi, has brought an array of Kirobo lookalikes, many with more sophisticated functions at higher prices, including Robi, which must be assembled.

Kataoka is hopeful Kirobo will be able to avoid the fate of the Aibo dog-shaped robot from Sony Corp., which was discontinued in 2006, despite outcries from fans. He cited advances in technology, such as cloud-based upgrades.

Robotics is widely used in auto-assembly plants. Toyota has shown other human-shaped robots before, although this is the first being offered to consumers.

Honda Motor Co., another Japanese automaker, makes Asimo, a humanoid, which can run, pick up objects and talk.

Artificial intelligence is increasingly a part of the auto industry in another critical way - self-driving vehicles. Vehicles are also increasingly connected online.

Toyota, which manufactures the Prius hybrid, Camry sedan and Lexus luxury models, remained vague about how Kiribo Mini might work with its autos, an obvious application.

The only examples it gave were that it might say, "Oh, oh, oh, oh. Be careful" when it detects sudden braking, or chirp, "Let's take a break" when the drive gets long.
I disagree with Mr. Kataoka. I'll take teddy bears; they're a lot cheaper, and I regard their inability to talk as a good thing. As Andy Rooney said about dogs, if they could talk, it would take a lot of the fun out of owning them. See also my previous post Never trust a talking teddy bear (August 15, 2013) .

Sunday, 2 October 2016

25 years ago: the death of Eastern Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople Demetrios I

On October 2, 1991, Eastern Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople Demetrios I died at the age of 77. Demetrios I, born Demetrios Papadopoulos, was Metropolitan Bishop of Imvros before succeeding Athenagoras I as Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople. Demetrios I helped further the ecumenical movement, meeting with two different Archbishops of Canterbury, and proclaiming the establishment of the official theological dialogue between the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church, then led by Pope John Paul. Pope John Paul received Patriarch Demetrios at the Vatican in 1987, and the two recited the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed of the Church in Greek, in a ceremony at St. Peter's Basilica.

Demetrios I was succeeded as Ecumenical Patriarch by Bartholomew I, who has cooperated with Popes Benedict XVI and Francis in furthering the movement toward a one-world religion.

Recent space discoveries reveal more of God's greatness

When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained;
What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?
Psalms 8:3-4

The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament showeth his handiwork. Psalms 19:1

Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created. Revelation 4:11

Although the scientific establishment insists on trying to see the universe through the lens of evolution, it makes more sense to see the discoveries reported in the items below as evidence of God's creativity. While the achivements of the scientists and engineers are impressive, I'm more impressed by the God who created these heavenly bodies in the first place.

As reported by Associated Press, September 15, 2016:

CAPE CANAVERAL (USA): A new study finds that Pluto is ``spray-painting'' the red poles of its big moon Charon.

The paint is actually Pluto's continually escaping atmosphere. Methane and other gases from Pluto end up coating Charon's frozen poles, which are so cold and where winters are so long that this buildup remains for decades.

A chemical transformation, via solar radiation, turns the polar caps a dark red.

Planetary scientist Will Grundy of Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona, bases his findings on observations last year by NASA's New Horizons spacecraft.

The study was reported in the journal Nature on Wednesday, 14 months to the day after New Horizons' historic flyby of Pluto.

Grundy, lead author of the paper, called it a new phenomenon for scientists.

``It's almost like Pluto is a graffiti artist, spray-painting Charon's poles with its escaping atmosphere, leaving planet-scale colored spots,'' Grundy said in an email. ``This sort of thing might not be unusual among double planets, but we never had a close look at such a system until New Horizons flew through the Pluto system last year.''

He and other scientists- including New Horizons' principal scientist Alan Stern- were curious as to how such a large surface feature became such a conspicuous color.

``This study solves one of the greatest mysteries we found on Charon,'' Stern, a co-author on the paper, said in a statement. It opens up the possibility that other small bodies in this faraway twilight zone known as the Kuiper Belt may be undergoing the same thing, he noted.

Pluto's little moon Nix, for example, has a reddish spot. But it orbits farther from Pluto and is so small that the so-called spray-painting wouldn't be nearly as efficient, according to the study.

Meanwhile, a second study finds Pluto is emitting X-rays.

NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory detected the low-energy rays last year. Until then, the most distant body in the solar system with detected X-ray emission was the ringed Saturn system, according to scientists. The source of Pluto's X-rays is still a mystery.

The X-ray findings were announced Wednesday.
Click on the link to see the abstract and references for the original article The formation of Charon’s red poles from seasonally cold-trapped volatiles in Nature, published online September 14, 2016.

As reported by Daniel Garisto of Eos, September 28, 2016 (bold, links in original):

What could be towering plumes of water vapor that rise as high as 200 kilometers above the icy surface of Jupiter’s moon Europa appear as no more than a few grainy pixels when viewed from Earth. Nonetheless, such images from the Hubble Space Telescope unveiled on Monday strengthen previous evidence that these otherworldly fountains do exist.

The results, to be published in the Astrophysical Journal later this month, add to a long saga of interest in Europa. Ever since the Galileo mission discovered Europa’s subsurface ocean in 1996, Europa has held the attention of both scientists and nonscientists as a space oddity—notably, one that might have the potential for life because of its liquid water.

If these plumes do exist, they would likely open the door to other avenues of investigation, according to Louise Prockter, director of the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston, Texas.

“It’s potentially great if [the images] do show plumes from Europa … because that means Europa’s subsurface is coming to us. We could sample the subsurface material without digging through ice,” she said in an interview. Prockter, a former member of the Galileo Europa Mission, didn’t participate in the new Hubble observations.

Taking a Different View

The team of scientists, led by William Sparks, a researcher at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Md., used a novel method to acquire an independent corroboration of the plumes that they say is statistically significant.

The plumes were discovered by Lorenz Roth and his coauthors in 2012 when they surveyed a silhouette of Europa against the background of space for spectral lines of hydrogen and oxygen—indicators of water. Sparks and his colleagues, however, made their observations as Europa passed in front of its mother planet Jupiter, as Sparks explained at the press conference.

Exoplanet discoverers commonly use this method, called transit photometry, to find their quarry against the backdrop of the star it orbits. The technique relies on a simple principle: When an object moves in front of a light source, it blocks out part of that light. The amount of this occlusion can tell observers about the exoplanet, in much the same way that a shadow can tell them about the object that cast it.

Here the task was slightly different. Sparks and his team used Jupiter as a light source but went beyond just detecting dimmed light. Instead, Jupiter’s glow provided a sufficiently smooth background against which potential plumes from Europa could be viewed.

The team took its photos of Europa’s transit of Jupiter in 2014, but processing them to achieve adequate resolution to spot the plumes took months and months. By using a method different from that used for the original discovery, Sparks and his team gave further credence to the possibility that the plumes exist. “These are different approaches, but they complement each other,” senior Hubble project scientist Jennifer Wiseman said during the press conference. Wiseman did not participate in the research but served as the project’s Hubble science expert.

Three of the 10 images the team made show signs of plumes, all in the same region. Still, Sparks urged caution, warning that the result was not 100% verifiable, in part because Hubble is at its technological limits and lacks the capacity to observe in greater resolution.

But most scientists are in agreement that at the very least, the results are cause for optimism. “Now, an independent group using an independent technique seemed to have detected the same thing in more or less the same place,” said Francis Nimmo, a professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and a collaborator on the first sightings in 2012.

In this video, NASA explains how techniques used in 2012 and in these newer observations, although different, both yielded evidence of possible water plumes on Europa.

Uncovering Mysteries

If Europa’s plumes are really there, they could potentially reveal the secrets of the subsurface ocean to which they may be connected. They could also possibly help expand scientists’ understanding of how planets, and icy satellites in particular, form and continue to exist, according to Nimmo. He is also an editor of the Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets, a publication, as is, of the American Geophysical Union.

Enceladus, a moon of Saturn, had its own plumes confirmed about a decade ago. “What it’s telling you is it’s not too hard for icy bodies to hang on to their oceans,” he said. “Enceladus is tiny, yet somehow, it has an ocean and that ocean has presumably lasted for billions of years.”

Although NASA plans to send a spacecraft to Europa in the next decade and the James Webb Space Telescope promises better views of the moon after it becomes operational in 2018, scientists are relying until then on the Hubble Space Telescope for their sharpest views of Europa.

“We can’t fly a mission up close, so the next best thing is to use the Hubble Space Telescope to study Europa from afar,” said the director of NASA’s Astrophysics Division, Paul Hertz, at the press conference.
As reported by the European Space Agency, September 30, 2016 (links in original):

ESA’s historic Rosetta mission has concluded as planned, with the controlled impact onto the comet it had been investigating for more than two years.

Confirmation of the end of the mission arrived at ESA’s control centre in Darmstadt, Germany at 11:19 GMT (13:19 CEST) with the loss of Rosetta’s signal upon impact.

Rosetta carried out its final manoeuvre last night at 20:50 GMT (22:50 CEST), setting it on a collision course with the comet from an altitude of about 19 km. Rosetta had targeted a region on the small lobe of Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko, close to a region of active pits in the Ma’at region.

The descent gave Rosetta the opportunity to study the comet’s gas, dust and plasma environment very close to its surface, as well as take very high-resolution images.

Pits are of particular interest because they play an important role in the comet’s activity. They also provide a unique window into its internal building blocks.

The information collected on the descent to this fascinating region was returned to Earth before the impact. It is now no longer possible to communicate with the spacecraft.

“Rosetta has entered the history books once again,” says Johann-Dietrich Wörner, ESA’s Director General. “Today we celebrate the success of a game-changing mission, one that has surpassed all our dreams and expectations, and one that continues ESA’s legacy of ‘firsts’ at comets.”

“Thanks to a huge international, decades-long endeavour, we have achieved our mission to take a world-class science laboratory to a comet to study its evolution over time, something that no other comet-chasing mission has attempted,” notes Alvaro Giménez, ESA’s Director of Science.

“Rosetta was on the drawing board even before ESA’s first deep-space mission, Giotto, had taken the first image of a comet nucleus as it flew past Halley in 1986.

“The mission has spanned entire careers, and the data returned will keep generations of scientist busy for decades to come.”

“As well as being a scientific and technical triumph, the amazing journey of Rosetta and its lander Philae also captured the world’s imagination, engaging new audiences far beyond the science community. It has been exciting to have everyone along for the ride,” adds Mark McCaughrean, ESA’s senior science advisor.

Since launch in 2004, Rosetta is now in its sixth orbit around the Sun. Its nearly 8 billion-kilometre journey included three Earth flybys and one at Mars, and two asteroid encounters.

The craft endured 31 months in deep-space hibernation on the most distant leg of its journey, before waking up in January 2014 and finally arriving at the comet in August 2014.

After becoming the first spacecraft to orbit a comet, and the first to deploy a lander, Philae, in November 2014, Rosetta continued to monitor the comet’s evolution during their closest approach to the Sun and beyond.

“We’ve operated in the harsh environment of the comet for 786 days, made a number of dramatic flybys close to its surface, survived several unexpected outbursts from the comet, and recovered from two spacecraft ‘safe modes’,” says operations manager Sylvain Lodiot.

“The operations in this final phase have challenged us more than ever before, but it’s a fitting end to Rosetta’s incredible adventure to follow its lander down to the comet.”

The decision to end the mission on the surface is a result of Rosetta and the comet heading out beyond the orbit of Jupiter again. Further from the Sun than Rosetta has ever journeyed before, there would be little power to operate the craft.

Mission operators were also faced with an imminent month-long period when the Sun is close to the line-of-sight between Earth and Rosetta, meaning communications with the craft would have become increasingly more difficult.

“With the decision to take Rosetta down to the comet’s surface, we boosted the scientific return of the mission through this last, once-in-a-lifetime operation,” says mission manager Patrick Martin.

Many surprising discoveries have already been made during the mission, not least the curious shape of the comet that became apparent during Rosetta’s approach in July and August 2014. Scientists now believe that the comet’s two lobes formed independently, joining in a low-speed collision in the early days of the Solar System.

Long-term monitoring has also shown just how important the comet’s shape is in influencing its seasons, in moving dust across its surface, and in explaining the variations measured in the density and composition of the coma, the comet’s ‘atmosphere’.

Some of the most unexpected and important results are linked to the gases streaming from the comet’s nucleus, including the discovery of molecular oxygen and nitrogen, and water with a different ‘flavour’ to that in Earth’s oceans.

Together, these results point to the comet being born in a very cold region of the protoplanetary nebula when the Solar System was still forming more than 4.5 billion years ago.

While it seems that the impact of comets like Rosetta’s may not have delivered as much of Earth’s water as previously thought, another much anticipated question was whether they could have brought ingredients regarded as crucial for the origin of life.

Rosetta did not disappoint, detecting the amino acid glycine, which is commonly found in proteins, and phosphorus, a key component of DNA and cell membranes. Numerous organic compounds were also detected ¬by Rosetta from orbit, and also by Philae in situ on the surface.

“It’s a bittersweet ending, but in the end the mechanics of the Solar System were simply against us: Rosetta’s destiny was set a long time ago. But its superb achievements will now remain for posterity and be used by the next generation of young scientists and engineers around the world.”

While the operational side of the mission has finished today, the science analysis will continue for many years to come.

Overall, the results delivered by Rosetta so far paint comets as ancient leftovers of early Solar System formation, rather than fragments of collisions between larger bodies later on, giving an unparalleled insight into what the building blocks of the planets may have looked like 4.6 billion years ago.

“Just as the Rosetta Stone after which this mission was named was pivotal in understanding ancient language and history, the vast treasure trove of Rosetta spacecraft data is changing our view on how comets and the Solar System formed,” says project scientist Matt Taylor.

“Inevitably, we now have new mysteries to solve. The comet hasn’t given up all of its secrets yet, and there are sure to be many surprises hidden in this incredible archive. So don’t go anywhere yet – we’re only just beginning.”
See photos here, here, here, here, and here, and a video here.

October 31, 2016 update: As reported by Metro News, October 28, 2016:

Researchers re-analyzing 1986 data found odd, periodic disturbances in Uranus's rings that suggest the icy planet has two very small moons near its surface.