All posts by John Maberry

A writer, a lapsed lawyer, a former government employee, a father of two and a 30+ year (in this lifetime) Bodhisattva of the Earth. Author of Waiting for Westmoreland. A happy man and a funny guy.

Veterans Day

On November 11, I will be at the Florida Nature and Culture Center, an SGI-USA facility for a conference focused on veterans and active duty military personnel.  SGI-USA has always had a large number of active duty military members because so many of the early members accompanied spouses from Japan.  In more recent times, many Americans with no connection to Japan or Japanese-Americans have begun practicing Buddhism.  With rare exceptions (seen mostly in martial arts movies of dubious relation to reality) Buddhism is a religious philosophy that doesn’t support or even condone war to resolve differences between nations.  You will need to look hard to find any Buddhist terrorists anywhere in the world or point to any wars initiated by Buddhists.  Nonetheless, there may be occasions that require combat.  Shijo Kingo, devoted follower of Nichiren Daishonin, the 13th-century priest whose teachings I follow, was a samurai and a physician.  Now there is an odd combination–along with being a Buddhist.  If you read the writings of Nichiren, it is clear that Shijo Kingo had a hot temper but it is not suggested that he went around indiscriminately killing people.

Forty years ago I spent Veterans Day in Vietnam.  I had been there only a little more than a month at that time.  Two years later, I was out of the Army and protesting the Vietnam War.  Although I hadn’t volunteered, I thought what we were doing there was the right thing.  By the time I left, I realized I had been greatly mistaken.  Not until I encountered Buddhism did I find a religion that would supply the moral compass critical to an effective military.  The focus of a military force must inevitably seem to be on killing the enemy.  Yet that has to be the last resort.  The military must be capable of killing but must not wish to kill.  The lethal, the near-lethal and the simply horrific consequences of combat desensitize human beings to the point that they often do get to the point of wishing death on others.  When we honor those who have died or served in the military for their service, we need to keep that sacrifice of their soul in mind as well.   Buddhism allows redemption of those thoughts and deeds that war brings to the veteran. 

Anti-gravity bra

OK, what the hell is a guy doing writing about this?  Well after the last couple of posts, I thought it was time to lighten up (very punny, haha).  But seriously, this a good story line that I stuck in my writing topics folder for future use.  Let’s be clear here, I am not talking about annoying underwires and strap architecture; no I am talking about a device that could actually repel gravity.  A total defeat for the effects of aging and the increasing mass that may accumulate over time.  Now there would be a real-world application of technology to ensure an inventor’s  financial fortune, eh?

In case I haven’t offended anyone, let me try one more joke line I have been wanting to use if I ever get the chance to do stand-up comedy.  What is up with those stupid leather bras that go on the front of cars.  Let’s say you have a car with a big front end; you know the kind of I’m talking about, right?  So if you don’t buy a bra for it, what I want to know is, will the bumper start sagging after a while?  See, just another use for the anti-gravity bra!

© Copyright 2007 by John Maberry

Bitch-slap Bush?

Don’t you want to?  I do, until the smirk fades and he cries for his mommy.  I couldn’t waterboard him, not after my post yesterday.  In Vietnam, I lay in my bunk at night or sat in a guard tower on a berm dreaming of rolling a grenade into the Commo Chief’s hooch.  Stubby was a drunken lifer and near-psychotic.  But I couldn’t do it; I couldn’t get access to a grenade and besides, how could I get back to my bunk before it went off–implicating me.  I never felt that strongly about anyone before or since.  Still, when I saw the blood gushing from a student’s face on a bridge in Mankato, Minnesota I was angry enough to throw a rock at the state trooper whose baton had struck the protestor.  I regretted immediately; how could I respond with violence to violence when I wanted the killing to stop and the war to end?  It’s all in the memoir, Waiting for Westmoreland.

It actually bothers me that I don’t feel the same rage, the same disgust, the same revulsion, against Bush that I felt against Nixon.  If anything, he is more dangerous than Nixon in his intellectual weakness, his moral shortcomings, his persistent but mistaken certitude in the wisdom of his own judgments and the sycophants that support him and the persuasive neocons that influence him.  So the best I can muster is the desire to slap him.

Not a very enlightened, not a very bodhisattva perspective, eh?  There surely is a Buddha nature in him, just as there is in any human being.  I know that; I just forget sometimes.  The interesting parallel to the Nixon era is that after he beat McGovern in a landslide in his run for a second term, that he would up resigning less than two years later, in August 1974, before impeachment could remove him from office.  I prayed all of 2006 that the American people would come to their senses about Dubya as they did with Nixon and that he too would be forced to resign as the truth came out.  Well, he didn’t, but the American people did wake up–clear enough from the national elections a year ago and Bush’s current approval ratings. 

Still, we are stuck with this man saying if the Senate won’t approve his nominee for AG, then the Justice Department will have to go leaderless through the end of the Bush era.  The CIA must be able to waterboard people and it is none of the business of the Senate to expect the president’s nominee to say otherwise.  Resign, be impeached–no, Bush should be committed for psychiatric treatment.  More importantly, somebody close to him needs to explain world history to him and teach him about karma.  While he still breathes, there is still time for him to eradicate the bad causes he has been making for the last six years.  For all of our sakes, and his, let’s get him help now.

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.