Turin Turnabout

Turn about, they say, is fair play.  Turin, on the other hand, is a city in Italy.  Its claim to fame is a shroud housed there that is believed by many to be Jesus’ burial cloth.  Tests have been done over the years, most authoritatively a carbon-dating done by three independent laboratories, with the results suggesting a medieval origin to the cloth itself.  In case your chronology is a little hazy, the medieval period comes centuries after the time Jesus lived.  Now, some thirty years after the definitive study, some scientists are questioning the results.  They’re being skeptical of the skeptics.  Turn about.  According to a story in The Catholic Register, a Freedom of Information Act request, honored only by one of the three labs (the one at Oxford University) has revealed that the bits of the shroud subjected to analysis were the worst possible parts of the cloth to test.  Herein lies the rub: scientists like to poke holes in credulousness—what do you do when your science is itself the subject of skepticism?

The Shroud of Turin, like Donald Trump, is one of those utterly arcane artifacts that unites Catholics and Evangelicals.  When I was growing up these two groups were the cats and dogs of the theological world.  They united under the umbrella of conservative social causes during the Bush years and have been sleeping together ever since (while both convinced that the other is going straight to Hell when it’s all over).  You see, the Shroud is a Catholic possession and allegedly bears wounds that support the Catholic narrative.  (The Vatican has never declared it an authentic relic, however.)  Evangelicals see it as proof positive that Jesus was resurrected, and so they tend to go further than the Catholics in citing it as proof.  We live in odd times when believers successfully out-skeptic the skeptics.

Since the other two laboratories (the University of Arizona and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology) haven’t released the raw data, the grounds for a conspiracy theory grow fertile.  When information is kept secret, that’s a natural enough response.  The conspiracy-prone mind asks why the data isn’t being made public.  They do have a point.  The claims of religion are often hoisted on the petard of “no evidence” and when evidence (such as the lab results) exists but isn’t shown, that suggests somebody’s hiding something.  I have no vested interest in the authenticity of the shroud, but we all should have such an interest in getting at the truth.  The turnabout in this case, however, was completely unexpected.

Devil’s Ethics

It’s that time of year when state employees (even part-timers) are subjected to ethics training. Each year the irony of the situation becomes thicker and more viscous. You see, those of us who have part-time engagements are often on the receiving end of ethical violations, and we know better than to make ripples since we are disposable. I’ll say nothing of the well-known (almost infamous) ethical history of New Jersey, but today’s headlines suggest an even higher power when it comes to unethical actions. An Associated Press story bears the headline “U.S. biological horror stories brought before commission.” The report concerns official United States studies conducted on its own citizens by exposing people to and deliberately infecting them with various diseases. This may come as a shock to many, but already in the 1980s it was documented that America’s guinea pigs were its own citizens.

Leonard Cole’s Clouds of Secrecy: The Army’s Germ Warfare Tests over Populated Areas, published in 1988, exposed many documented incidents of biological agent testing on non-consenting, and unsuspecting citizens. The testing was done in the name of national security (for which you may now be groped by any TSA official whose hands are not otherwise engaged). As this report demonstrates, our own government has viewed those of us not in positions of power as manipulable, expendable, and somehow less valuable than those elected by schemes they devise themselves. Democracy, it seems, is not free.

We are expected to heave a sigh of relief (come on now, everybody, it’s okay) since the history exposed is between 40 and 80 years old. That’s ancient history, right? An industrial-military complex today would never violate the rights of citizens. At least not officially. At least not as long as the Freedom of Information Act ensures that citizens have access to records (several years after the fact), and as long as it is not deemed a matter of national security. The color of your underwear and the shape of what is beneath are government assets. Also, so is your immune system. Otherwise you are free to live your life uninhibited. Unless, that is, you are a state employee with an extensive ethics background. Excuse me, but I’ve got to get back to my ethics training.