Saturday, April 25, 2009

Patriotism, Not Vengeance

To David Broder, columnist for the Washington Post.

Dear Mr. Broder,

Coming right to the point, you are misrepresenting the rationale for investigating possible war crimes by officers of the previous administration.

You claim that all we want, deep down, is vengeance, but you are wrong. I want to know, first of all, whether any laws were actually broken. I suspect there were, but this is not something I know as a fact yet. That is why we have processes in place to investigate our leaders and those who work for them.

If, and only if, our laws were broken, I believe those laws should be enforced. Don't you? If, and only if, war crimes were committed, then yes, we should prosecute them. In fact, we are obligated to do so by our own laws and by international treaties to which we are a party. In fact, those treaties obligate us to investigate the matter.

Let me ask you, sir: if we fail to follow up on credible evidence of war crimes, what kind of country does that make us?

It is not a desire for vengeance, Mr. Broder, but a desire for justice, for our laws to mean something, for our principles to guide our actions, and for our words to matter.

That isn't vengeance.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Still Think It's A Simulation?

In Aliso Viejo on Friday, we stopped and bought a copy of the Los Angeles Times to read about the latest release of Bush Administration memos on CIA interrogation tactics.

Greg Miller and Josh Meyer reported in the April 17 Times on the new releases, which detail the interrogation tools used by the CIA and the legal wrangling by the Justice Department to articulate a legal rationale for torture. Obama calls this a "dark and painful chapter in our history," and in case the use of past tense does not communicate his meaning well enough, he goes on to say he is concerned with "reflection" and not "retribution."

In other words, no justice for anyone who violated domestic and international laws on torture. CIA operatives have been granted immunity, and there will presumably be no action taken to hold former elected officials accountable for sanctioning the use of torture.

The Times continues to refer to waterboarding as "simulated drowning," even while reporting that the Justice Department required the CIA to keep a physician present while performing the procedure in case a subject needed an emergency tracheotomy. Well, jeekers! If the drowning is just a simulation, they shouldn't need a real tracheotomy. Simulated medical care should do just fine.

That is, of course, silly. The risks are real, and so is the drowning. Waterboarding is not "simulated" drowning -- it is drowning, nice and simple. Can we discard the deceptive euphemism and tell the truth about what our government has perpetrated?

Saturday, April 18, 2009

We're Home

We took a week and had a family vacation in Los Angeles, driving out there on Sunday and returning today.

The traffic did not seem worse than we remembered -- but it is bad enough. In fact, the traffic is even harder for me to deal with as my child rides in the car with us. The anger at the reckless incompetence, so routine that people delude themselves that this is something we can and should put up with as "normal," is enough to make me tear a car apart to get at the driver whose driving habits are an invitation to manslaughter.

While we were out there in that nightmare, my friend Quid also had some thoughts about traffic.

We love our friends, we only wish they didn't live so far away and in a place that is so miserable to navigate.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

On Vacation

We will be in California all week, and I am not likely to get near a computer.

Stories when we get back...

Friday, April 10, 2009

On Teabagging

Oh dear. Oh dear. Oh dear.

On Tax Day, there are going to be some protests against the federal budget, adopting the Boston Tea Party as their theme. People will be waving tea bags and/or sending them to Obama.

Partisan activists have attempted to coin a new slang verb, teabagging. Unfortunately, as you may already know, this verb has been taken. It is sexual slang for um, an oral act. Nuff said?

The innocence of some on-air personalities and activists as they call on citizens to "teabag Obama" and "teabag them before they teabag you" leads to the kind of unintentional humor that is hard to comment on in prime time news.

But Rachel Maddow pulled it off, in one of my favorite moments in this week's news. Here she is, along with an Air America colleague, having so much fun over "teabagging" that Maddow actually has to quiet the offstage laughter of the TV crew!

Thanks, folks. I needed the laugh.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Ji Jang Bosal

Dear Sangha,

Our dear friend J.W. Harrington took his own life today. We are devastated. Please chant Ji Jang Bosal for him and Kwan Seum Bosal for his wife Jayne.

In the Dharma,
Soeng Hyang Zen Master

JW was the long-time administrative director for the Kwan Um School of Zen, occasionally my boss when I lived at Providence Zen Center and worked in its offices, and a personal friend for 15 years.

Although most of us knew he had had a very difficult winter, this action came as a surprise and a shock.

Here is JW (with my friend Tam) the last day I saw him. He had helped us arrange a 100-day blessing ceremony for my son last summer, and was on hand that day to celebrate.

Our chant for the deceased is the name of Ji Jang Bosal, a bodhisattva thought to protect the dead, children, and travelers. Chanting is a way to grieve with conscious awareness. It feels almost like gathering up all the sadness and the relief from slowly, painfully, letting go of someone we love (thus allowing their transition to be complete), and dedicating all of it to the deliverance of all sentient beings.

So I went into the garage tonight and broke out the chanting book (it has been some time since I did a Ji Jang Bosal chant), found my hands shaking.

His loss will be felt by a great many people whom he helped. He was an efficient and friendly presence, an indispensable team member, and did I mention a good friend who laughed often.

Some things in this life are incomprehensible. We acknowledge this all the time in Zen lore, but this is an event that reminds us just how surprising and incomprehensible it can be. Damn, this hurts.

During the next 49 days I will be doing Ji Jang Bosal chanting for JW, and his name will be on our altar. Please feel free to add more names to the altar, now or at any time.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Cow Patty Bingo

No, they do not.

Oh, but yes, apparently they do.

In the teacher's lounge at school, I saw a flyer about buying tickets for something called "Cow Patty Bingo" and finally asked one of the other teachers about it.

She said, "Oh, it's disgusting." Still, the terrible secret had to be revealed to the newcomer. She went on: "They draw lines and numbers on the football field, and let a cow loose in there. If the first cow patty lands on your number, you're a winner."

"They do not do this."

"They do. Yes, they do. Welcome to Deming."


Thursday, April 02, 2009

A Mug Shot

Playing the role of small-time gangster Larry Regan in
Ayn Rand's Night of January 16th
Deming Performing Arts Theatre, March 2009

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Don't Burn It, Buy It

DP showed up for his testing -- this week, I am administering New Mexico standards-based assessments to two fifth graders -- and he announced he had brought a movie for us to watch. He flipped a DVD onto my desk. It was Bedtime Stories, the Adam Sandler movie, which has not yet been released on disk.

As I was putting two and two together, DP said, "I'm thinking of selling movies, actually."

"You mean bootlegs."


Pause to rub my eyes. "Daniel, you know it's against the law."


"Do you know why it's against the law?"

He shrugged.

"Bootlegging is stealing," I said.

"I call it borrowing."

"You can call it anything you want. It's still robbery. Don't you think the artists deserve to get paid?"

"They got paid!"

"They didn't get paid for this." I wagged the DVD at him. "You stole this. And now you're talking about selling copies so you can make money off of their work! We're not watching this."

Sometimes, on this issue, one has to be a pain in the ass. I was in a movie recently that found an appreciative audience, and it wasn't long before you could download bootlegged versions from websites. Every download represents a rental or sale for which I would be entitled to a royalty. Not just me, but Matt the director, the producers who pulled their hair out and strained friendships trying to get the thing made, my friend Chris who stayed up nights building the sets and looking for locations, the crew who busted their butts in cramped conditions, and so on and so on. To get paid anything for our toil, we depend on people paying to see the movie.

The attitude strikes me that because of the ease of duplication, a great many people feel entitled to free content. They even bitch about the thirty-second ads that precede their free screenings of Jon Stewart or other favorite shows on the web, even though the advertisers are paying for them to watch the show for free.

What a bunch of spoiled brats. Could I be more plain?

Here is Hollywood writer Harlan Ellison, delivering a whammo tirade about copyright theft and piracy. The sound quality is not great, but if you can hang with it, he tells a very funny story and makes a number of important points.

Take THAT, Mr. and Mrs. "I'll burn you a copy!"

Seriously, folks. If you have that wonderful CD by Jars of Clay or The White Stripes or Garth Brooks or whatever you're into, and you think you're cousin would love a copy -- buy them one. Don't throw it into your computer and rip it, because you're ripping off an artist. If you think you like that artist, why would you pick their pocket?

This problem is not new. Even before we all became creative pirates, there was an idea in too many people's minds that artists should be happy to lay golden eggs for free. "Why don't you sing for us?" "Do a monologue for us!" "Could you write something up for the paper on that?" "Oh, we just figured you'd like the exposure." Right.

That's why Harlan is a great spokesman on the issue. How rarely do "creative types" respond to this attitude by saying, "Uh! How dare you?!" Harlan does. Here he is again, with much better sound quality...

Damn straight, baby.