Monthly Archives: June 2011

Lambs to the slaughter

Although I had been through security at Dulles many times in the past, this time I was corralled into a machine that images individuals with X-radiation.  I did not know this was going to happen nor was I aware that I could opt-out. Before I knew it I was commanded by a TSA worker how to stand in the contraption and ding!

I was not happy. I don’t need any more radiation than I’ve had in my lifetime and the moment I left that security area, I became an activist.

On my way back I was subjected to the same sort of cattle prodding but this time I opted out. That set a bunch of things in motion which culminated into a professional pat down by two TSA officers in a small room. It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be and the TSA officers were over-the-top polite—understandable given all the bad press they get. But still, it’s hard to shake the idea that we’ve come to this:

  • Remove all contents of our pockets
  • Remove our shoes
  • Package liquids in a particular way limited in size in a plastic baggy
  • Prohibited from carrying nail clippers or anything that can be construed as a weapon
  • Remove our laptop from its travel case
  • Walk through metal detectors
  • Have a wand raked over our bodies
  • Received dosages of radiation
  • Get frisked by a TSA officer
  • Sacrifice our freedoms
  • More to come…

I’m sure there’s an echo of people that suggest this is all very safe and maybe it is, but I’m not going to be the beta tester, nor or my kids. Knowing what I know about the software engineering, technology, science, human greed and political expediency[1], I predict that in a very few years from now there will be a bumper crop of people with leukemia, particularly TSA workers who drape around these machines casually as well as frequent flyers, young adults and babies emerging from the womb.

In any event, when we promised ourselves that terrorists would not change our way of life, who were we kidding?

[1] See the story in Wikipedia about Therac-25


Traditions of literacy

What do the following literary quotes have in common?

  • The American businessmen, as a class, have demonstrated the greatest productive genius and the most spectacular achievements ever recorded in the economic history of mankind. What reward did they receive from our culture and its intellectuals? The position of a hated, persecuted minority. The position of a scapegoat for the evils of the bureaucrats. -Ayn Rand
  • Every parent is at some time the father of the unreturned prodigal, with nothing to do but keep his house open to hope. – John Ciardi
  • I wash my hands of those who imagine chattering to be knowledge, silence to be ignorance, and affection to be art. – Kahlil Gibran

Could you guess that each of the quotation above make some reference or allusion originating from the Bible?[1]

Frequently, one of the categories on the game show Jeopardy will test Bible knowledge. This should not be a surprise to anyone since, as even the creators of Jeopardy know, Bible knowledge is still considered general knowledge.  And this category should be a cash cow for all the intelligent contestants the show prides itself on cultivating; should you rather be entertained by a judicious selection of idiots and airheads, you may wish to tune into MTV. Unfortunately, I find that even the cream of North American intellect featured on Jeopardy is woefully illiterate when it comes to the Bible; one of the contestants may dominate the category while the other two stand there blinking like parakeets in a cage.

To say that the Bible is “just a book” is simply ignorant. The Bible is not “just a book” even if you don’t believe a word of it or hate it altogether.  Consider the following quote:

  • Not to know the Bible is, in some ways, to be illiterate, to neglect the very roots of philosophy, art, literature, poetry and music.

This comes from American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America by Chris Hedges who, as you know, is not at all sympathetic to my worldview. Having read all his books[2] I’m still not sure if Hedges even believes in God at all despite (or maybe because of) his Harvard Divinity degree. Nevertheless, he knows enough, as do all educated people, that the Bible is not “just a book”.

In fact the Bible is not even a book—it’s a collection of books with contributors from all facets of life: chronicler, fisherman, tax-collector, physician, farmer, intellect, king, lawyer, shepherd, philosopher, renegade, Jew, and Gentile.  The collection consists of multiple literary genres: poetry, history, prophecy, genealogy, biography, tutorial, lyrical, legal, letters and accounting.  The work also spans several millennia describing a chronology of events that include wars, empires, heroes, heroines, people and places that still exist or have been wiped off the face of the Earth altogether. And yet, with all this variety and scale, the book relates an astonishingly cohesive theme.

I will not propose that the entirety of the Bible is true since such a conclusion requires, at some point, an act of faith. No one can prove that everything in the Bible actually happened or is factual. Likewise, no one can prove that everything in the Bible is concocted and fictional. In any case, the Bible is not “just a book”.

Given the centrality of the Bible in Western thought and, yes, the religions that lay claim to it—what is astounding is our blanket censorship and virtual book burning of this work at all levels of public and non-sectarian education. At least when I was in high school a mere three decades ago, my polymath English teacher, Mr. Wesley Walker (who I believe was an atheist of Jewish and West Virginian descent) recommended, among other literary works, portions of the Bible including Job, Ecclesiastes and at least one Gospel. Today, with that same recommendation, Mr. Walker and the Montgomery County Public School system would be sued by the ACLU.

[1] If you could not guess that each of these quotes use a term, phrase or allusion from the Bible you may be suffering from a condition known as illiteracy.  Other symptoms may include dizziness from phrases such as “a pearl of great price”, “good Samaritan”, “walk on water”, “golden rule”, “doubting Thomas” and thousands of other references from the works of William Shakespeare, Thomas Hardy, William Blake, Johann Sebastian Bach, Sir Isaac Newton, Thomas Aquinas, Michelangelo, Leo Tolstoy, Fyodor Dostoyevsky and others.  Education may relieve the symptoms of illiteracy; as your doctor if an education is right for you.

[2] I do recommend Hedges War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning and Empire of Illusion.

A world without suffering

A recent video by wannabe pop-artist Rebecca Black has become viral with over 100 million views on YouTube.  “Friday” is a rap-like music video about a girl who

…cries out for reprieve from a life in the inner city where shootings and crime are a way of life? No.

…seeks peace in a country torn apart by war and bloodshed? No.

…lives in the shadow of a terminal illness? No.

…suffers from negligence and abuse? No.

…lives with an unusual perspective on life? Uh, no.

It’s about a fourteen year old suburban California girl with rich parents and a passive inclination to be famous – a girl whose point in life is to be “kicking” with two hundred of her closest friends on Friday after a week of activity, education and privilege.  Not that there are a myriad of songs with similar themes, except that her manufactured song is SOOooo bad, along with the accompanying music video, it’s downright cringe-worthy. Even an excessive use of auto-tune could not suppress the spiritually void execution of a song financed by her mom and outsourced to a professional music video company with a commission to make their little Veruca Salt[1] a star!  Well, it worked. Rebecca Black IS a star, in the imploding, red-dwarf sense of the word.

Juxtapose this music video to another less viewed one of a 22 year old Korean man Sung Bong Choi who lived on the streets since he was five selling gum and energy drinks.  If I am to believe the translation of this video of Korea’s Got Talent, the young man explains his story to the judges as he stands there in laborers clothes, apologizes that he does not sing well at all, but then proceeds to belt out a song that only a life of deep deprivation could supply. Only moments into the performance and the audience and judges were weeping.

If we ever manage to achieve our utopia where everyone is privileged, everyone is rich, no one works, no one is ill and no one suffers—don’t get me wrong, that will be great!!!

But our music will suck.

[1] Veruca Salt was the rich girl contestant on Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Her song “I want it now!” was well within character and required no auto-tune.

A country of fundamentalists

There was a lot of lip service dedicating ourselves to civility not long ago after Congresswoman Giffords was shot in Arizona earlier this year. Then there was a small amount of national unity when U.S. arch enemy Usama bin Laden was assassinated by Navy Seals. Neither lasted that long.

Civility and unity will never be maintained when political sides keep polarizing the nation. When we find that, a priori, the “other side” is 100% wrong and “my side” is 100% right we’ve become a nation of fundamentalists be they liberal or conservative or anything in between.

Let me just say that I did not vote for Barack Obama in the last election. As a social conservative my views and his views simply differ. We are far from political allies.  But contrary to the trend of vilifying and demonizing one’s political opponents, let me kindle the spirit of civility if not unity by highlighting the things l find agreeable about Barack Obama:

  • The president’s recent decision to go after Usama bin Laden is to be applauded. Maybe his predecessor should get some credit but, good or bad, it was going to be his keister on the line. He took the gamble; he should get the return. And yes, the Seals did the hard stuff but Obama would have paid a huge price if any of them had been harmed or the operation went sour.
  • I also agreed with his decision not to reveal the photographs. Honestly, there could be no good to come of that and he was spot-on to take the moral highroad on this issue.  Yeah, like, I’m going to recognize a man I’ve never met with half his head missing? I don’t need to see those photographs and neither do you.
  • Obama is a dedicated husband and father. I don’t think he’s the type to get caught up in some sex-scandal, thank God, because I don’t need to see the photographs of him either after Michele hunts him down with a team of Navy Seals.
  • Barack Obama is not an idiot. I don’t like it when people say a politician or president is an idiot only because they don’t agree with their policies. That’s just a lame excuse for not being able to frame one’s own thoughts on an issue. “Ha! He doesn’t know the capital of Assyria!” And you don’t know one of hundreds of proofs for the Pythagorean Theorem—are you an idiot too? In any case Barack Obama is no idiot and has the degrees to prove it.
  • He’s a Christian. He probably prays, like I do, to a resurrected Jewish rabbi named Joshua. And this was a deliberate decision on his part and not part of some upbringing. Think about it—if he’s not an idiot and he chose to be a Christian…well?
  • He can change his mind on an issue. I do to sometimes. That’s called growth. If you’ve never been persuaded that your view on an issue was totally wrong, your spouse is probably miserable.
  • Maybe he invited the rapper Common to the White House but he also invited Rick Warran to pray at his inauguration. You win some, you lose some.
  • The beer summit was brilliant. I never heard from those two guys again. Why can’t we have more beer summits? Could this work in the Middle East?

Barack Obama is my president, right or wrong, good or bad. I will not put a bumper sticker on my car that vilifies him or assassinates his character or dates the last day of his presidency.  He has not done anything to merit impeachment or the epithet that he’s the “worse president ever”.  It may surprise people that, as a Christian, I am commanded to pray for those in authority over me which include the president of the United States. Romans 13 is quite clear that Barack Obama is God’s servant.  This may seem peculiar to those who don’t know the Bible or the traditions of Christianity—but that’s what we do, or should do.

Do you pray for Barack Obama? Do you vilify politicians that you don’t agree with?

Are you a fundamentalist…