Masking Identity

Who am I, really?  Identity has been on my mind quite a bit during this pandemic.  With millions dying I suppose it’s important that “the officials” know who we are.  At the same time I don’t feel comfortable taking my mask off in front of strangers.  It’s kind of like a facial striptease that puts you at risk for some communicable disease.  Because I had to fly for Thanksgiving this year I got to put my Real ID to the test.  I removed my mask for the photo—at the DMV, of all places—so there was risk involved to prove that I am who I’ve always been.  When I went to get a Pennsylvania license three years ago, the system remembered me from when I got my permit and asked if I still lived in the county where that had occurred.  They seem to know a lot about me.

At the airport the TSA guy told me to take off my mask.  He had to confirm that I was the same person my Real ID stated I was.  I wish our government would tell me who I am.  And of course my passport decided to expire also during this pandemic.  I went to a local pharmacy to get my passport photo taken.  (I know you can do this at home, but you need a printer that handles photo paper.)  Then you can send the application in by mail.  How do they know it’s really me in the photo?  I had an uncanny experience many years ago when a visiting team from the Association of Theological Schools (ATS) visited Nashotah House for an accreditation visit.  One of the inspectors looked very like me.  I think we both noticed the resemblance immediately.  It was like we were twins.  Later I found his photo on the school website and asked my pre-literate daughter who it was.  She said “Daddy.”

Who is that masked man?

So I’m standing here with my mask off in a store for confirmation that I am who I claim to be.  I wonder if this other guy’s photo were sent in would they know the difference?  In fact I’ve had the experience I suspect many people have had of being mistaken for someone else.  Helping a friend move to Kentucky after college, I had several people in a small town I’d never visited before identify me as Joe’s son.  I looked just like him.  Of course, that was way before the pandemic when our faces were public property.  Now I just wish I could put my mask back on so that I could feel a little less naked.

Speedy Delivery (SD)

Ritual, no matter what scientists say, is deeply woven into the fabric of human psyches.  It may be either the warp or the weft, but it’s downright basic.  I was reminded of this on my hurried and slow trip to San Diego yesterday.  I always wear the same shirt when I fly to this conference.  This isn’t superstition, but rather it’s a case of sticking with something that works.  I don’t often wear turtlenecks, and one reason is that they seldom fit well.  More years ago than I care to admit (I’m wearing the shirt in the photo below, which was taken at Nashotah House nearly two decades in the past) I found a navy blue turtleneck from Land’s End (this is not a sponsored post, although it probably should be) that works perfectly.  Even today it fits snugly around the neck after hours of wear.  Maybe ten years back I bought a black turtleneck from the same company and after pulling it over my head, it gaps something awful.  I tend only to wear it around the house.  The original still does the job.

I was ready to drive myself to the airport yesterday and I grabbed a quick lunch at home.  Part of said lunch involved opening a ketchup bottle probably nearly as old as the shirt I was wearing.  (I’m sure you can see where this is going.)  I ended up looking like a murderer, which is not something you want to try to explain to a TSA agent.  I quick threw said ritual shirt into the washer and the drier buzzed at the same time as my phone did for when I had to leave for my two-hour-ahead check-in.  This remarkable shirt was dry and ready to serve.  Maybe you can see now why I’m so ritualistic about clothes.  I also opt-out of those Star Trek scanners at the airport.  This means I get lots of governmental pat-downs.  It feels more authentic when you have actual hands running down your body—at least it’s honest.

The TSA agent commented that you don’t see many turtlenecks these days.  I explained that it’s good for flying because I’m always cold on planes.  As this stranger’s hands were rubbing down my chest, I was wondering how many times this shirt has been felt up by the US government.  It has no pockets to pick, and besides, at airport screenings everything is stowed in my carry-on, including wallet.  At midnight San Diego time, I checked into my hotel.  East coast time said I’d been awake 24 hours because who can really sleep on a plane?  Once my patted-down body reaches 3 a.m., Eastern Time, it wakes up.  In these circumstances it’s good to know I can rely on that shirt in my drawer.  That’s what rituals are all about.

Traveling Unplugged

Those who pay close attention, or who have nothing better to do in July, may have noticed that I missed a day posting on this blog on Saturday.  That hasn’t happened for a few years now.  I think maybe I ‘m growing up.  Or learning to resist.  Saturday was a travel day—the first I had to make from Pennsylvania, back to Newark in order to fly to Washington state and drive a few hours to the lake.  All in all, it turned out to be a long day in which I didn’t even notice that I was unplugged.  I had a book that I read along the way.  Although it’s against my religion—(call it Moby)—(but I jest)—I even fell into a cat nap or two on the plane.  I didn’t have a window seat and strangers don’t like you staring in their direction for five hours at a time.

Upon awaking, eyes refusing at first to work in tandem, in the chill mountain air, I realized I’d spent the entire day off the internet.  We had to pull out at 2:30 a.m. to meet TSA requirements, and you have to pay for the privilege of connecting to the web in airports and on board jets.  I’ve become so accustomed to being wired that I feel I have to explain why I wasn’t able to post a few thoughts when circumstances were so adverse to getting tangled in the world-wide web.  Yes, it still has a few gaps where one might buzz through without being caught.

It was remarkably freeing to be unplugged.  I believe Morpheus may be correct that they want us to believe reality is otherwise.  I feel guilty for not checking email manically.  What if someone requires something right away?  Some sage response to a communique that just can’t wait until I’m back from vacation?  Some reason that I must ask to be inserted back into the matrix if just for a few moments, to hit the reply button?  We’ve perhaps been exposed to what The Incredibles 2 calls the Screenslaver, the force that draws our gaze from even the beauty of a mountain lake to the device in our hand, whining for attention.  We have wifi here, of course, for the fantasy of living raw is sustainable for only a few hours at a time.  Reality, as you know if you’re reading this, is electronic.  But until I have to reinsert myself at the cost of my soul, I think I’m going to take a dip in the lake.

Of Fancy

Later today—at this time of morning the use of the word “day” feels ironic—I’ll be on a plane heading out of civilization. Well, to be more precise I’ll be flying to a place from which I can drive out of civilization. Airports only serve cities, after all. Until we get individual drone service to remote locations I guess we’re stuck with jets and their inconveniences. I have to admit I’m more nervous than usual about this. I’ve been reading the stories about airline thugs who, like terrorists, beat and drag passengers off the plane. I try to take extra care to choose an undesirable location on the jet—next to the restroom, for example, or really near an engine—so that an airline employee would rather wait for the next flight than to sit here. I remember when flying used to be fun.

One year I’d lingered a little too long with my girlfriend and I had to rush to Logan Airport to catch my flight to Pittsburgh for the holidays. Arriving maybe half an hour before my scheduled flight, like a pre-murderous O. J. Simpson I ran through the concourse with nary a TSA agent in sight. To the what I am now sure was annoyance of the other passengers, I arrived at the gate just as the door was closing. With a sigh they let me board. I tried to ignore the angry stares of those already seated and belted. We all made it to Pittsburgh, however, in time to celebrate with our families. Now flying means adding at least two hours to your travel time so that you can get through security that makes you feel no more secure. I’m frisked and prodded and made to feel guilty for doing nothing more than wanting to get away from civilization for a while. We call it civilization anyway.

The wait in the airport is the hard thing. They’ll offer wifi, but you’ll have to pay for it. I’ve trained myself to read on the bus, but when you’re awaiting the announcement of your flight when you’ll have to line up just like at the Port Authority, it’s difficult to concentrate on your book. You don’t want to be lost in another world when they call your zone. There are, after all, airline employees hovering, seeking empty seats. I remind myself at the end of this ordeal a lack of civilization awaits. This is why we do it, and there’s a reason we call it getting away. Time to end this flight of fancy and head toward an actual flight that will be anything but fancy.

Welcoming the Stranger

Profiling is alive and well. In our post-9/11 state, we are even more suspicious than those who are different than we were before. After the Ferguson decision, profiling once again led to unrest. If we didn’t do it so much, cases like this wouldn’t be necessary. If we didn’t shoot first and ask questions later, how much more would we understand? It happens, unfortunately, at all levels. I have no desire to trivialize the tragedy that continues to unfold over race relations, but divisions of those perceived potentially to cause trouble occur at even smaller, less significant levels. We tell ourselves that it is possible to gauge a person’s potential for violence based on a number of factors which happen to fall along lines of gender and race. Your typical airport screening is an example.

As my readers know, I object to the millimeter wave scanners in use in many airports. In general, I object to being treated as a criminal when I have been a pacifist since high school. (And likely before.) I am treated like a law-abiding citizen everywhere except the airport. Flying home from San Diego, I noticed that at check-in men traveling alone were separated out and sent through the scanner. The side on which I had to pull off my shoes and belt and coat, empty my laptop from my bag, and stand on the chilly floor awaiting an opt-out, was very masculine indeed. The woman in front of me, who looked far more frazzled than I did, was sent to the metal detector, along with her stroller. No threat there. Being male, however, is always a threat. Two priests stood before me in line. They didn’t go for the pat-down.

Potential terrorists, all.

Potential terrorists, all.

On the plane, many passengers began to talk about the American Academy of Religion and Society of Biblical Literature meeting. After all, about half the passengers had just come from the conference. For me, I was ready for some quiet. Some time to center myself after playing the extrovert and talking to people I don’t know for four long days. As debates about religion broke out on the Boeing 737, I began to understand why religious folk are often profiled as potential threats. Their convictions, public and firmly held, are more likely to remain constant in the face of contrary evidence than are most opinions. I wonder if airport security couldn’t save us all some time, money, and embarrassment. Couldn’t they just ask passengers to declare their faith? Of course, we’d need to find some other employment for government officials whose duties involving feeling strangers with latex gloves before wishing them a pleasant trip. While high above the planet riots are breaking out down below because we distrust those who are different.

Free Freedom

A weary-looking TSA official asked me why I opted out of the full-body scanner at the airport recently. As always, I responded that it is against my religion. The haunting lyrics from a Larry Norman song waft through my head; “I was born and raised an orphan, in a land that once was free…” It used to be, when I was little, that you were innocent until proven guilty. As I stand in line at the airport, next to an eerily humming x-ray machine that is examining all my secrets, learning what I’m reading without ever having to read my blog, I watch fellow citizens step inside a sci-fi-inspired glass chamber while being bombarded with God-knows-what so that any unnatural contusions might be spotted and analyzed. They raise their hands above their heads like outlaws in the old west. We are all guilty now, until proven innocent. If you are Trayvon Martin, you pay for the assumption of guilt with your life. Don’t worry, Mr. Zimmerman, you’ll be acquitted.


In my darker moments, I wonder who benefits from a government that keeps increasing amounts of data on its citizens while cutting programs to ensure their comfort and health. We have elected a police force, not officials of the people, by the people, for the people. Vigilantes can literally get away with murder, as long as the skin-tone algorithm is correct, but if you’re perverted enough to want to fly, you have nothing about which your government is not interested. Who is being protected here? Who is being kept safe? A stranger has his gloved hands on my crotch. I’m feeling a little more than vulnerable.

Protest is a sign of love in this troubled world. If I step inside that glass chamber and raise my arms, I am declaring that I am guilty. Let me prove my innocence to you. Technology has made our private lives so easy to scrutinize. I used to think the future envisioned by Jacques Ellul was just a touch paranoid. I’m now beginning to think he didn’t go far enough. This computer on my lap can be like a TSA official in my own home. My website visits may be traced and analyzed, and my self-publish words misconstrued. And if I go to the store at night, a stranger can follow and shoot me with the blessings of our legal system. Of what are we so afraid? Is it time to stand our ground yet?

Flight of Fancy

I’m about fully recovered from my recent visit to Texas. Travel is perhaps the greatest form of education. After having my regular government pat-down, and hearing the airport loudspeakers warning me not even to joke with a TSA official, I was in a subdued mood as I awaited my flight. Airlines have learned to fine-tune human vanity. I know they are hurting for money, as many deregulated industries are, and there must be a marketing trick to get people to pay different prices for the arriving at the same destination at the same time. One of the most ridiculous is that of United Airlines’ Priority Access. Don’t get me wrong, I like United Airlines well enough. Their service has generally been on time, and they make being a human sardine as comfortable as possible. Some of the in-flight snacks, if you can afford them, are actually pretty tasty. But first you have to get onto the plane.

Of course, active duty military are free to board at any time. Tree-hugging pacifists, wait your turn. The part that really gets to me is that those held in special esteem by the Airline (i.e., those who can afford to pay more) are invited to board via the “Priority Access Lane.” This “lane” is created by laying a ratty carpet on the left side (or right side, for some gates) of an imaginary line composed of a couple of those retractable belt stanchions. To the left, sheep. To the right, goats. (Or vice-versa. We’re pretty hard to tell apart.) I’ve written about this before, but what caught my attention this time around was that a seeing-eye dog was boarded along with his human, via the “Priority Access Lane.” As I watched my canine brother sauntering towards the jetway, I was lost in thought. Not one sparrow falls to the ground. The privileged are boarding with a dog.

On my return trip home, at the ironically named George Bush International Airport, every few minutes a public announcement was broadcast about the interfaith chapel. Passengers were told that it was available 24 hours a day, and were given its precise location. Over the past couple of years I’ve had to fly a lot. I always notice the airport chapels, and I feel for those who are anxious about flying. I’ve never heard such a p-a announcement encouraging use of these chapels before. Perhaps I’m too fixated on how I never get to walk down the “Priority Access Lane.” I know my place; I was born among the working class, and when the plane goes down, I’ll be among my own kind. But I do feel sorry for the dog. He has no choice but to be classed with those who are, in the airline’s opinion, of higher priority than the common citizen. Next time I think I’ll just wait in the chapel, contemplating how god spelled backward is dog.


Private Property

I’m receiving a government-sponsored massage at Newark’s ironically named “Liberty Airport.” Like most federal freebies, this massage leaves me wanting. Now, I’ve had many pat-downs to protect me from people like myself, and each time I find myself feeling like so much meat for politicians’ pork-bellies in this culture of fear. I am afraid. It isn’t terrorists who worry me, but my own elected (sometimes) guardians. When being a citizen is considered the same thing as an enemy of the state, there is a problem. In the line next to me is an infant-in-arms being given a pat-down by a stranger. Yes, ma’am, my tax dollars help pay for that. Please, don’t bother to thank me. It will be only the first of many.

The last time I flew was from London to New York. In Heathrow US citizens aren’t sent through the humility of full-body scanners. Only a nation afraid of its own does that. I often ponder what this means. Frequently I hear, “these colors don’t run.” I wonder if it’s because they’re too busy sticking their hands down their own citizens’ pants. Home of the brave? Only if bravery means giving in to the intimidations of terrorists. I’ve fallen off a bicycle a time or two. One time it was with pretty messy results. I’ve even actually fallen off a cantering horse. (That may explain a thing or two.) As a child I was always told that you need to get right back on and try again. After 9/11, however, our country showed its naked fear in the overregulation of air security while continuing deregulation of the airlines. Money does not guarantee a secure future.

If our government has a desire to see its citizens naked, what more need they do? They know every penny we earn or exchange, taking a cut each time, and the only way to get on a plane without hassle is to let them view everything. It’s not good for my Constitution. Our Constitution. Moral outrage, however, is apparently a thing of the past. Full-body scanners may be science, but I still believe in the humanities. And when a babe in arms is considered a threat to national security, I have to wonder what we’re truly afraid of. And next time do you think you could use a little more pressure on my neck? I feel like I’m coming down with a wicked headache.

Read the sign

Religion Undisclosed

I’m getting to be a pat-down connoisseur. In Raleigh-Durham it was a more intimate affair with Mr. TSA—I don’t even have his name or number—narrating the intimate details. “I will move my hands up your thigh until I encounter ‘resistance,’” he said. At Newark the pat-down was quicker, more business-like, almost as if Mr. TSA were embarrassed. In Raleigh-Durham, nobody batted a lash when I said full-body scanners were against my religion. At Newark, they laughed. The gate attendants began asking me what my religion is. Private. My religion is as private as my “resistance.” And I was being ridiculed for it. This is the Patriot Act vision of America. Regular readers of this blog know that I have never revealed my religious convictions. They are a very private matter with me, and I had supposed that I’d been born in a nation where that was respected. Instead, I am laughed at.

We extend religious liberty to those who wish to handle rattlesnakes. To men who wear black dresses and have an historic penchant for young boys. To people who believe the world was created in six days. To people who believe golden tablets only seen by one man through rose-colored glasses are the basis for sacred scriptures. To the traveler who believes in the integrity of the human body and cannot divorce it from the respect and dignity of human modesty, this does not apply. Religions arm military forces. Religions rape women. Religions murder children as well as adults. Who’s laughing at them?

I wonder if I might have a legal case here. When has the free practice of my religion—which decrees that full-body scanners are immoral—been opened to public scorn? And don’t tell me it’s the price of security. I walked through “security” with my eyes open; first class passengers do not get scanned like hoi polloi. It’s not a matter of security—it’s about control and money. When will the people take back control of their own country from officials inebriated with power? I feel no safer with a stranger’s latex-gloved hand on my resistance. I feel no safer when people who couldn’t cut college get jobs in the US government and look at their fellow citizens naked. You’ll blank out my face? That makes it even worse. If someone’s going to violate my dignity I want him to look me in the eye and realize that it’s a human being he’s humiliating, not just a hunk of meat. Or in the language of the TSA, mere resistance.

First, show me yours

Naked Before the Almighty

Okay, so I’m a bearded white man traveling alone. Perhaps I look like I have nothing to lose. So at the Raleigh-Durham Airport I’m singled out for a full-body scan. I told the very serious-looking woman that it was against my religion. She said, “You can have a pat-down then.” Oh boy! I was very stoic as the stranger with a southern accent told me just how he was going to touch me, using the back of his hands until he met “resistance.” Echoes of Pulp Fiction. By the time it was all over, I think he kinda liked me.

We, as Americans, have allowed our government to subject us to horror. My younger colleagues tell me that the terror of high school after-gym shower time has finally been eliminated. I grew up taught that no one, not least myself, had a right to look “down there.” Naked in a windowless room with a bunch of boys whose hormones are tearing them apart was never comfortable for me. One gym teacher sadistically told us if we could hold our hand under the hot water tap wide open for a full minute we’d get an A in phys ed without having to do a thing more. Pain makes the man.

Now I go to the airport where some voyeur I don’t know and will never meet makes an assessment of my endowment, analyzes my assets. Thank you, no. Who gives him the right? Of course, the Bush Administration did. We, as citizens, stand bare before our rich and powerful leaders. I don’t think that’s what the right to bare arms is all about. From a shop below wafts Bob Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues.” The irony seems lost on all but me. But then, a stranger’s hands are down my pants. Bush’s legacy in the Patriot Act is that all are guilty until proven innocent. After being felt up, I feel like I need a shower. I need to check my “resistance.”

Then again, maybe my government will do it for me.

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.

2012 Reconsidered

Maybe I was a little too hasty on the 2012 thing. Back in first grade Mrs. Shaw told us, “one bad one ruins it for everyone.” Nevertheless, I was somewhat content with my educational experience: not too many privileges were revoked over the years. But then things changed. When my wife and I expatriated to Scotland back in ’89, we flew on what had formerly been known as Pan Am flight 103, the route of the airliner that had been blown up over Lockerbie just three months before our international move. Being resident aliens, we had to register with the police in Edinburgh, so at 26 I acquired my first police record. Other than a disputed traffic violation ticket, after returning to the States, I’ve kept a clean record since.

Now I try to volunteer at the local schools. I had been newly elected as PTO president in Wisconsin just before I will dismissed from a position I’d held for some 12 years with nothing but excellent teaching reviews. Paranoia may have begun then. Here in New Jersey, to volunteer to help high school clubs (such as Robotics), you must be fingerprinted. As I made my way to a bio-tech company set up in a back room like a shady fly-by-night business venture, I reflected on how strange this world has become. I was duly fingerprinted and released. Then as I attempted to get back to the highway there was a roadblock with a sign reading “Check Point.” A black-garbed police officer was stopping cars and sending select drivers off to a detention point at the side of the road. I wondered if somehow I’d mistakenly awoken in Kosovo. Was this “the land of the free and the home of the brave”?

Not that I ever felt terribly secure at the best of times, I wonder what has happened to the country I was born in. Freedom now requires groping at airports, random check-points on local roads, and regular “silver alerts” on the highway. It feels like it’s a crime to be born American now. As a kid who was always taught to do what’s right, and who’s tried to live that exacting standard his whole life, the world has come to confound me. Fired for excellent work, fingerprinted for volunteering, felt-up for wanting to fly – the world may well have already ended before 2012 has a chance to get here. Now, what’s that guy doing on the telephone pole outside my window?

Is this now the game of Life?

Brave New Whirled

Today marks the triumph of capitalism. Having just finished reading Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World for the first time since my undergraduate days, I found it strangely appropriate and prescient. Huxley foresaw a bleak future where comfort and convenience outweighed concerns for truth and meaning. As the World Controller of Western Europe reveals to Mr. Savage, it was the Nine Year’s War that made people so docile that they would accept complete government control over their private lives. Read “9-11” for the Nine Year’s War, and he pretty much nailed it. Americans today put up with severely restricted freedoms because only the rich and powerful are truly free. We even have Huxley’s “feelies” – we just call it the TSA checkpoint at the airport.

“But I don’t want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness. I want sin.” So says Mr. Savage shortly before his tragic end. The remainder of society – those willing to play along with the game, those willing to be anesthetized with the little perks the government throws their way – are already dead. “Let them eat cake.” We have our hedonistic day of shopping frenzy, looking forward to the soma of Christmas. We will comply despite the dehumanization the unemployed, the unwary traveler, the racially profiled, face every other day. As long as we have our electronic toys and the network into which they may be plugged, guide us o thou great Patriot Act. Freedom is not free. Orwell called it doublethink. Today it is doubleclick.

Novels have the capacity to say what libraries full of dusty dissertations cannot. Perhaps the future has not turned out quite the way Orwell or Huxley or Burgess predicted, but they were not far off. November has become the month of the novel. The Office of Letters and Light hosts National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo for those in the know) each year to encourage others to find their creative voice. The challenge: write a 50,000-word novel fully in the month of November. I finished mine in just over two weeks. Perhaps someone who has the good fortune to break into the publishing world will once again sound that warning shot before society takes its next Huxleyian turn. But until then, anyone who says they don’t need a gramme or two of soma, well, they’re just plain lying.

Tax Dollar Peep Shows

Yesterday’s New Jersey Star-Ledger ran a column by Paul Mulshine entitled “It may be 2010, but it sure feels like 1984.” The topic, of course, is the increasingly invasive procedures that TSA officers have been granted. For a guy who “held it in” every day for the six years of middle and high school because of bashful bladder syndrome, the airport has begun to feel like the shower room after gym class. Having been raised with the idea that certain body parts were to be viewed by God alone (and the occasional physician), being undressed in front of others was a nightmare scenario. I still avoid public restrooms when at all feasible. Now TSA officials have tickets to a free “scope and grope” fest whenever you want to fly. I say the terrorists have already won.

Perhaps by coincidence, in trying to keep up with my daughter’s reading assignments, I have started to reread Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. The grandson of Thomas Huxley, Darwin’s bulldog, Aldous had written a foreword in 1946 that was affixed to the front of my college edition of his novel. In it he states his bleak vision of a future where governments have all become totalitarian and control vast numbers of slaves made willing by apathy (read “world-wide web” or “Internet”). Showing your private parts to a total stranger who then gets to grope you later? This is freedom? Abandon hope all ye who enter here.

Have these TSA officials been trained, seriously trained, to deal with the fact that they see what many people would pay good money to glimpse? (Well, not in my case, but you get the picture.) Where are their credentials? No, wait, don’t show me that! If I decide to display myself in public, I could easily be arrested for indecent exposure, but if a pervert wants a free look, all s/he has to do is apply to TSA. What will it take for Americans to shake off their electronically induced haze and say “No more!”? Perhaps I am alone in feeling vulnerable naked before strangers. Perhaps others enjoy giving it all away. Is it not better to survive that flight so that another stranger gets a gander at the jewels when you fly back home? You can kiss my arse goodbye and call it government work. 1984? Brave New World? I think Silence of the Lambs might be a better paradigm.

Proselytizing Phylacteries

Two related stories appeared in today’s newspaper, both of which concern the Bible in public life. A commercial airliner was forced to undertake an emergency landing in Philadelphia while en route from New York to Louisville, Kentucky yesterday because of terrorist concerns. The cause for alarm? A Jewish teenager’s use of his tefillin in public. Often translated as “phylacteries,” tefillin are prayer boxes worn on the arm or forehead during prayer in some sects of Judaism. This idea is not really obscure if someone has basic religious training. People on the US Air flight, afraid that the scripture-bearing artifact might be a bomb, had their lives disrupted while the boy calmly explained what he was doing. After landing, TSA officials came aboard, just to make sure. That’s a comfort! TSA officials seem unable to spot a real bomb but take a more than academic interest in a boy saying his prayers. Perhaps reading a Chaim Potok novel should be required training for TSA service? As my wife observed: what if someone took out a rosary or a crucifix? Would the flight be diverted to van Helsing’s residence? The level of this religious ignorance belies the grumbling in my post yesterday. Religious study is vitally important in an increasingly global society.

Is this phylactery da bomb or what?

The second story, again courtesy of my wife, was first run on MSNBC earlier this week and reprised in the paper today. Trijicon, a major defense contractor for the U.S. military, has for years been stamping Bible verse references on its rifle scopes. Concerned citizens, perhaps after watching sniper Private Jackson quoting the Bible in Saving Private Ryan, have raised concerns that Bible verses on rifle scopes constitute proselytizing. In Muslim countries, after all, those who have been shredded by a bullet before they ever saw their assaultant might be tempted to convert if they ever glimpsed the rifle scope and saw the Bible emblazoned on it.

Today’s story indicates that Trijicon has agreed to provide “Bible verse removal kits” to the military so that the verse references might be easily erased. What is so sad about this situation is that no one seems concerned that the maker of lethal weapons adds Bible citations to their products. The purpose of these devices is the killing of other people. The Bible seems an odd choice of supporting literature for this cause. Well, maybe not. The Bible knows how to call down the wrath of the Almighty on enemies as well. And the Bible gives instructions on how to pray with a phylactery. These stories demonstrate as clearly as possible how selective reading of the Bible leads to hypocritically varying results in an overly religious, but religiously uninformed, society.