Q: Is Waterboarding Torture? A: DUH!

Michael Mukasy, Bush nominee to replace Alberto Gonzales as U.S. Attorney General, says he needs to research the matter before he can say whether waterboarding is torture.  Why is this even a question that must come up at a confirmation hearing?  Because “Fredo” and his friends at the Imperial Justice Department of the Bush Imperial Presidency said it’s OK for the U.S. interrogators to do pretty much whatever they think they need to do to get information from suspected/alleged terrorists.  So if Mukasy agrees it is [DUH] torture, then he implicates Fredo and friends in criminal behavior.  Torture is and should be illegal.  Waterboarding has been around since the Spanish Inquisition say the news articles.  The U.S. itself has prosecuted people for it on many occasions.  So how or why might it be OK now?  Because the people who are being tortured are “outsiders,” Islamic terrorists (allegedly).  See Shankar Vedantam article on how and why torture has actually increased in the last 100 years as civilization has supposedly progressed.

When a group of people persist in blocking the entrance to a building, in protest of some policy or another, they are arrested for trespass.  They expect and accept this arrest as a legitimate consequence of their act of civil disobedience.   Why should a government interrogator be protected from prosecution for torture, knowing full well that what he or she is doing is both legally and morally wrong?  Why should he or she expect to be immune to the laws against torturing prisoners?

Oh, it must be because of 9/11.  These people are so dangerous, their behavior so heinous, the risk of not getting information from them too great.  So it is OK to torture them.  Isn’t that what Kiefer Sutherland teaches us on 24?  Well no, the end doesn’t justify the means.   Forget about the similarities of Vietnam and Iraq; look at the similarities of government lawlessness during Nixon and Reagan days and now.  It used to be that the School of the Americas at Fort Benning just taught all the Latin American right-wing dictatorships and others how to torture their own citizens.  While we still have extraordinary renditions by the CIA to let other countries with fewer compunctions against torture really get into prisoners, we are now willing to get our own hands dirty directly.  Thank you, cowboy Dubya and your Texas mafia.

We in America have never quite lived up to the moral high ground that is drilled into us by our history and civics courses in K-12.  Still, we have at least aspired to that higher moral ground–some of the time.  Relatively speaking, we torture less, engage in less indefensible conduct, commit fewer war crimes, etc.  We should continue to aspire, not sink to the level of the lowest common denominator for the sake of military and political expediency.

I am an ethical pragmatist, a secular humanist, a Buddhist.  If torturing one person would save the lives of hundreds or thousands of others, would that not be a pragmatic choice?  Perhaps, if it were certain that the torture would produce reliable information.  But there’s the rub; there is no such guarantee.  But if the interrogator has an urgent need for information, thinks there is no other way to get it and proceeds to torture–shouldn’t he or she get off the hook?  NO!  He or she has still inflicted incalculable pain and suffering in a potentially vain effort to extract information, in violation of law, and to let him or her off gives every other nation, every terrorist group and anybody else free rein to point out America allows this so why shouldn’t they?  But let me add this, there is a law of cause and effect at work at all times and places.  Despite the differences in religious beliefs in practices among the world’s religions, they all share a common understanding of “as ye sow, so shall ye reap.”  In Buddhism it is karma–you will get what you have coming.  The religions may differ on when, from whom and how–but it will be coming.  So all of you who approve, endorse, permit and encourage torture, realize that you are just as complicit as the one pouring the water over the cloth atop someone’s nose and mouth.

David Caruso–Descended from a Parrot?

OK, I don’t see a snarky pose as appropriate for this blog.  But I am still not rid of the cold so I am picking an easy target just so I can say I posted something today.  Plus, I am still trying to get a rise out of readers (all 2 or 3 of you out there).  Will being snarky help?  Then let’s get to it. 

Take a look at the previews for CSI-Miami (please don’t watch the show; that is too–eww!).  Look at Caruso (who plays Horatio Caine) and the next time you’re at a pet shop or see a parrot on TV, compare the head movements.  See the resemblance?  What normal human being affects such odd head tilts while talking or moving around a room as he does?  Then there’s the random sunglasses on/off/on/off routine that accompanies the head moves.  This conveys what?! 

OK, so parrots don’t wear sunglasses but if you gave them a pair, I’ll bet it wouldn’t be long before they’re doing an on/off routine imitating people–especially if they watched Caruso for a day or two.  Perhaps you get the idea that I don’t think much of his acting ability AND you would be correct!  He seems so entirely full of himself.  Unfortunately for him, what he seems full of is something most people flush away once or twice a day.  I won’t even comment on the odd intonations, stresses and pauses in his dialogue that seem to be yet another affectation intended to convey some meaning or feeling but which just grates against the senses and conflicts with the plot/simple meaning of words, etc.  About the only sensible role I could see for him would be in a remake of Madonna’s music video for “Vogue.”  Because striking a pose is about all he is capable of.  So I guess he could also make it as a male model.  But as the star of a TV show?  Gimme a break!

Writing and Marketing

I am short on things to say today.  I am fighting a cold I caught promoting Waiting for Westmoreland at the 30th reunion of my law school class this past weekend.  Too much handshaking and intermittent nibbling will do that to me every time.  I am supposed to be expanding the content on the websites, as well as finding other marketing steps, but I will put that off.  Although daimoku (chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo) will help eradicate illness, while in the midst of it some common sense says don’t try to do intellectually demanding tasks that require attention to detail.  So it’s a good time to catch up on reading.  Anyway, I will leave you with this potential item to write yourself–I don’t really think it’s right for me:  An Idiots Guide to Writing a For Dummies Book.  I just have a feeling the market is right for that title, don’t you?  Seriously, though, if you have content ideas for the blog or the websites, don’t keep it to yourself, please let me know.  Thanks.  Oh, and if you have a radio show on which I could talk about the book, let me know.

Daily Lama Report

Oh, I’m sorry; that’s the Dalai Lama.  It’s just that the Washington Post has had at least one item (often two or more) about his visit to the DC area for at least the past week.  No need to be snarky or whiny here; he is doubtless a well-spoken exponent of peace and understanding.  He is revered both as a political leader (most Americans love championing the underdog; as the exiled leader of the theocratic Tibet he qualifies) and as a charismatically hipper version of the familiar Buddhist monks.  So what is it then, that I am trying to say here?  That news reports might mislead the uninitiated or uninformed into thinking that the Dalai Lama’s significance in the world of Buddhism is greater than it is or that Tibetan Buddhism is a dominant form of Buddhism. 

The fact is that Daisaku Ikeda, leader of the Nichiren-Buddhist international lay organization, the Soka Gakkai International (SGI), has received over 200 honorary degrees from prestigious universities throughout the world.  The SGI has members in more than 190 countries and is the largest Buddhist organization in both Japan and the United States.  Its membership is exceedingly diverse (not just intellectuals, Hollywood celebrities, New Age types, etc.) racially, ethnically, educationally, economically, and otherwise.  This certainly cannot be said of most Western religions and not even of other Eastern religions, including Tibetan Buddhism.  Why is this so?  It is because the practice of Nichiren Buddhism can be easily learned by anyone, creates value for everyone and provides a plausible hope of peace and happiness for the entire world.  Don’t take my word for it; look at the 20-minute video on the SGI website.  

Old Tech, New Tech–Noise and Air Pollution

Usually, I suspect, most people associate new technology with decreasing pollution; that is not necessarily the case.  Old technology–thousands of years technology, such as the rake, creates no air pollution, unlike gasoline powered leaf blowers.  The rake is also quiet, making little or no noise beyond a soothing susurration as the leaves brush against each other and the grass.  The leaf blower, of course, roars like a horrible hive of very angry bees–virtually stinging the ears and obliterating all hope of contemplation or concentration.  In little more time (if more at all) it took two men to push leaves across a neighbor’s lawn today, they easily could have pulled the leaves into a pile with wide-swath rakes.

Happy Anniversaries

October 18th marks 27 happy years of marriage for me.  It easily might not have been, had my father-in-law carried out his reported threat to kill his daughter and I were we to marry.  He didn’t of course.  Did he really mean it?  I don’t know, but Juanita thought him capable of it.  We had no choice but to take him at his word; it would have been foolish to do otherwise.  As it turned out, his threat and our response to it was what secured our future happiness.  What greater motivation to practice your religion seriously than a bona fide fear of imminent death?  Consequently, we accepted the challenge of overcoming his animosity and prayed daily for his happiness.  As a result, he did in fact become happy.  For more details, read my book, Waiting for Westmoreland.  Despite the title, it is not primarily a book about Vietnam or life in the military–although those certainly are important parts of the memoir.

Blackwater in Hot Water

It’s been years, many years, since I last marched in protest of anything.  Then it was the Cambodian incursion of May, 1972.  Two and one-half years of protesting hadn’t brought an end to the war.  Campaigning for McGovern didn’t work either.  It only ended when Dick Nixon and Henry Kissinger decided it was time.  Several more years passed before I realized that politics and protest didn’t change much of anything.  What brings about change is inner reformation, that kills the will to kill.  An inner reformation that entails becoming a more humane person, a person that values not only the lives of people who look like oneself, speak like oneself, pray or have beliefs like oneself.  If I were to march in protest now, it wouldn’t just be in Lafayette Square or Pennsylvania Avenue near the White House–assuming one could actually do that without being subject to arrest by the Secret Service or being run off by the President’s goons as has happened at various locations where W travels.  No, today I would march in front of the State Department’s Office of Diplomatic Security.

It’s time for Blackwater’s contract to come to an end.  Maybe they haven’t really been guilty of all the allegedly unnecessary shootings in Iraq.  I have worked for a government agency; I know the press can and does make mistakes.  But when U.S. Army personnel say that the rear windows of civilian vehicles leaving the scene of a gun battle were shot out but not the front windows, something is wrong.  When military personnel say they can’t find shell casings from insurgents but only shell casings from Blackwater weapons, something is wrong.  One isolated incident, two isolated incidents, three or four could perhaps be aberrations.  But the reports keep coming.  Where there is smoke, there is generally fire.  When it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it probably is a duck.

I have not met anyone face to face who is employed by Blackwater, so I can’t pretend to know for certain what is in their hearts or their minds.  Yet I can’t help but suspect, given the images of the personnel in news reports and the comments from a wide range of American civilian and military personnel in a position to know, that there is a swagger and an attitude that comes from having powerful weapons and no effective constraint on how or when they are used.  The hypervigilance, the shoot first ask questions later behavior happens to many people facing death at the hands of unknown combatants.  The defensiveness comes through loud and clear from the spokespersons, on up to the founder and CEO of the company.  The bottom line is, the people who work there are mercenaries.  Their job, if necessary, is to shoot to kill to protect the clients they guard.  The problem is, like pit bulls and other guard dogs, when employed too long in such an occupation–without adequate control, supervision and retraining, such people can become as dangerous as the people they are supposed to protect others from.  They lose their humanity.

Luck

Is there such a thing as luck?  A blues song recorded long ago and covered again and again says, “If it weren’t for bad luck, I wouldn’t have no luck at all.”  People go to casinos across America and play the lotteries hoping for that big strike.  Some do it for entertainment but more probably hope that luck will bring them fortune.  Sadly, it is often those who can least afford to lose who blow the most money. 

Adrian Savage has an excellent post about luck on Lifehack.  Once again, it is interesting to find congruence with Buddhist principles of cause and effect, even when they are not denominated as such.  The Savage post doesn’t deal with gambling per se but discusses other perspectives about people attributing their circumstances to bad luck.  He dismisses such thoughts, suggesting that people realize that they can and should simply take control of their own lives.  He concludes that “your luck … is pretty much what you choose it to be.” 

I couldn’t agree more.  However, I would add to the discussion that effects of negative karma, could readily be perceived as bad luck–when in fact, of course, they are a consequence of bad causes made at a prior time.  Making good causes now will create better effects in the future, that will not necessarily eradicate karma (luck, very loosely speaking) or effects from past causes.  To really change that negative karma entails a Buddhist practice for oneself and others–chanting the words Nam-myoho-renge-kyo and explaining the reality of this teaching to others.

You the Buddha!

Yes, that’s right; you are a Buddha.   Maybe you’re used to hearing, “you the man.”  Well, this is like that, only it’s better.  We all have a Buddha nature.  In some of us it is more encrusted with mean and nasty stuff.  Some of us just have trouble expressing it.  One day, some time ago now, my lovely wife Juanita remarked, “I can’t find the words in my mind.”  I put a note in an Outlook folder, thinking I might use this some day–so here it is.  I can’t always find the words in my mind either, which is why I didn’t post anything yesterday.  I couldn’t let another day go by without saying something, even if it doesn’t seem as though many people are reading what I am posting.  Anyway, the point about being the Buddha in reality and not just in potential lies in exerting yourself to practice and study Buddhism both for yourself and for others.  What, you are not a Buddhist?  Then why are you still reading this?  If you want to be genuinely happy, in control of your own destiny, then you need to at least consider what it means to practice Buddhism.  Chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is the basic practice.  The purpose is to fuse your life with the mystic law, elevating your life condition and enabling your Buddha nature to emerge.  Find out more at SGI, SGI-USA, or other links you will find on Eagle Peak Press.

Memories of a Bodhisattva

Two years ago today, she passed away. Perhaps an unlikely bodhisattva, Jackie brought joy to everyone she met. Bounding down the hall at Hayfield Animal Hospital, enthusiastically wiggling her nubby tail in anticipation of visiting one doctor or veterinary technician or another–so unlike the other pets quivering frantic and fear struck in the waiting room.

She came from the animal shelter, abandoned by her former owner. Nine-year-old Jennifer wanted a dog. Reluctantly we agreed. On a test walk, Jackie flopped on her back to expose a belly for rubbing. We took this to mean that she liked and trusted us. Actually, that was her personality–loving and friendly to everyone. Still, as a 75-pound Giant Schnauzer, she was a fierce watchdog behind the family door–barking furiously at a knock until certain of who was on the other side.

Jackie, Jenn and Dad

Jackie turned out to be my dog–or more accurately, I turned out to be her person. She adopted me. She did gongyo with mom and I every morning and night. If I were a little late, she reminded me that I needed to conduct the Buddhist ceremony.

She had been with us for ten years when cancer struck. She went quickly, without complaint or obvious pain. We took a trip to the mountains of West Virginia her last week of life. She scampered carefree and happy 60 yards ahead of us on the wooded trails, looking back for us to catch up. On the way home she couldn’t keep food or water down. At the hospital, she still wagged her stubby tail in friendly greeting to the staff, but the next morning we had to let her go, after doing gongyo and chanting with her one last time in the family room of the hospital.  In the “Treasure of a Filial Child,” Nichiren Daishonin says, “When the fox of Mount Shita encountered the Buddha’s teachings, he grew dissatisfied with life, longed for death, and was reborn as the god Shakra.” WND, p. 1041. I cannot say if that will be Jackie’s destiny in her next life; but at least a human, I am sure.

Seeing things as they really are, without the illusions or delusions

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