Shrub–a Fable ’bout ‘Murrica

Although I still have a lot to do in promoting Waiting for Westmoreland, I am eager to get started on the next book. I want to get it out before the 2008 general election campaigns. So let me give you a little flavor of how this fable might go.

Once upon a time, in a great and powerful nation, a shrub became president. He wasn’t actually a shrub, that’s just what a nice lady named Molly called him. Shrub called the nation Murrica–most people didn’t call it that, but that’s just the way he talked. Oddly enough, brush always played a large part in his life. If he got tired or bored with being in the nation’s capitol, as he often did, he would go back to his ranch and clear brush. That is also where he received his religious inspirations. You see, he considered himself a devout man. So whenever a creosote-rich sagebrush caught fire, as they did now and then, he thought he heard the voice of God telling him what to do. Unfortunately for Murrica, Shrub was no Moses.  

copyright 2007, John Maberry

Where is the shame; where is the outrage?

The bile, the anger rises only occasionally–when I read an op ed or news article that brings the reality of the abuses to my consciousness. Torture. Blackwater. George Bush praising General Musharraff’s grasp of democracy. Warrantless wiretaps. Secret detentions. Legal proceedings that Franz Kafka could not have imagined happening here. Lies and deceptions about why we started a war with Iraq that shifted from one phony rationale to another as each was discredited: Imaginary WMD, non-existent connections between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein, eliminating a dictator to bring democracy to an oppressed people.

America was attacked by terrorists. Yes we want to prevent future attacks. Yes we want to punish those who did it. But will giving up our civil liberties, our civil rights, our system of jurisprudence, our morality and humanity–heading down a road that leads to a police state make us a happier and safer country? A country that we want to live in and bring our children up in? I don’t think so. So I think I have found my next book topic.

It will be a biting satire to make Vonnegut, Kafka and even Michael Moore proud. Perhaps it may be in a fable form; a story that might even be readable by children. Because that is who it will benefit.  My first book, Waiting for Westmoreland, recalls a time when the United States trained Latin American soldiers to prop up right-wing dictatorships by any means necessary–because we thought we needed to do that to keep the Communist menace from America’s doorstep. Today, in the name of stopping terrorists, we no longer use surrogates to do our dirty deeds–we do them ourselves! This must stop.

President Daisaku Ikeda, leader of the worldwide Buddhist lay organization Soka Gakkai International, often encourages his fellow Buddhists to use anger to fight injustice. I intend to do that in my next book. Shrub, Darth Vader and friends–I am putting you on notice.

Thanksgiving, an everyday celebration

Several months after beginning my practice of Buddhism, more than 30 years ago, I found the Thanksgiving holiday easily adaptable to my new philosophy of life. The expression of appreciation is part of the daily ritual of Buddhist prayers as well as a common theme running through a substantial percentage of the collected writings of  Nichiren Daishonin, most of which are letters to his followers. But Thanksgiving offers a heightened focus for me, especially in light of the special nature of one I observed in 1982.

That Thanksgiving was the first one that my wife and I spent with her family since we were married two years before.  When I informed her father that we planned on marrying, he was none too happy with the news.  So unhappy, in fact, that he reportedly threatened to kill the both of us.  Convinced that our determined prayers would protect us, we got married anyway. In November 1981, I determined that a child would be born into our family and that I would shake her father’s hand within the next year.

Sure enough, when our son Richard was born in early November 1982, my father-in-law came to the hospital to visit and shook my hand. It was his first visit with his daughter in over two years. He invited us to Thanksgiving dinner and later on for Christmas celebrations. He and I grew very close over the years, until he passed away five years ago. Along the way, all aspects of our lives have expanded into realms of joy I could never have imagined. So I appreciate and offer thanks to those in my family, my workplace and the world around me who have posed one problem or another for me, for it is they who have led me to challenge my karma and strengthen my religious practices. Of course, I also appreciate those who offer assistance rather than difficulty, although they may not force my growth in the same fashion.


This is kind of rude, so if that puts you off, just click away.  It comes from a strange contemplative mood one day a couple years ago.  It’s not so strange to be contemplative; the observation is what’s odd:

The world is full of assholes.  If you let them, they will crap all over you.  If you fight them, you usually wind up with sh** flying all over the place.  It may be best just to ignore them and walk away, leaving them standing there constipated.

The redeeming Buddhist value is to go home and chant for their happiness, of course, allowing the mystic law to work as metaphorical milk of magnesia.

Waiting for Westmoreland

What, that again?  Yes.  OK readers, time to promote.  It’s been two months now since the book hit the internet and now it’s available online in Europe and Asia–at least in the UK, Ireland, Netherlands, Taiwan and elsewhere.  So if you have read it already, please let your overseas friends know about it.  Oh, and don’t forget your American friends too.  It’s only x shopping days until that Christian holiday when people give gifts.  It is supposed to be a major book selling time of year.  What more could you do for your friends or relatives than turning them on to Buddhism for the new year.

I will be at Dawn Williams shop, Whispering Bear in Occoquan, Virginia on Saturday, December 15th for a book signing (see panel at right).  I have my eye on Bus Boys and Poets in Arlington and Borders in Springfield too, but there is nothing lined up yet.  I am trying to get to Virginia Beach but it depends on what brick and mortar store I can connect with.  If you have a favorite or a contact there, please let me know.


I am here at the Florida Nature and Culture Center, enjoying the sunny warm weather and the Active Duty Military and Veterans Conference.  What better way to ensure the future safety of American–and the entire world, than further expanding and developing the network of Buddhists among this group of people.  Many years ago, I recall hearing an Air Force missle officer describing a conversation he had with his commanding officer (CO).  He explained how he had asked the CO,  “You know I am a Buddhist and therefore a pacifist; are you sure you want me responsible for turning a key and launching a nuclear missle?”  The CO reportedly replied, “Would you rather have someone who is not a pacifist on the key?”  The reality of the situation is that these people constantly undergo training to ensure that they are not at risk of trying to launch when unauthorized (despite the fact that two key officers were required to launch).  Of course if authorized, they were supposed to launch–but which is more crazy:  launching an intercontinental missle capable of massive destruction of life and property or refusing?

As I alluded to in my previous post, there haven’t been any Buddhist initiated holy wars.  That is not to say that there is no such thing as a Buddhist warrior, just that the actively practicing Buddhist is unlikely to initiate combat.  In a message to participants at the FNCC conference, Daisaku Ikeda, (president of Buddhist lay organization Soka Gakkai International) said the following:

“Nichiren Daishonin wrote, ‘Regard your service to your lord as the practice of the Lotus Sutra’ (The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 905). Please be convinced that all the painstaking efforts you have dedicated to your country and society are a great cause for kosen-rufu [the widespread propagation of Buddhism as an essential element of achieving world peace] and the prosperity of your family and loved ones, thanks to the great, beneficial power of the Mystic Law [Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, the fundamental law of the universe].

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.