Archive for January, 2015

28india04-master675President Obama attended India’s Republic Day parade Monday, a stunning display of military might, including lavish floats, dance performances, and daredevil feats on motorcycles. Helicopters and fighter jets flew overhead. Military equipment rolled down Rajpath, complete with tanks, rocket launchers and regiments of Indian armed forces marching in formation.

Yet there’s a hidden side to the India political landscape. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is a savvy politician, with more than 6 million Twitter followers and ranked by Forbes as the 15th most powerful person.

In the real world, Modi would be labeled as a “dick.” During his political ascent, he kept his marriage a secret for decades, admitting only last year that his wife existed. Jashodaben Chimanlal Modi is a retired teacher living in a small town in Modi’s Gujarat home state. And although she’s not heard from Modi in years, she still hopes to join him one day in the capital as his spouse. After their marriage, Modi never returned. He never divorced either, even after becoming the high-profile chief minister of Gujarat and then Prime Minister.

Modi seems too self-absorbed. From afar, the suit Modi wore to meet President Obama appears to be navy blue with wide gold stripes. Yet the stripes were actually embroidered letters that spelling out Modi’s name. I don’t know, maybe he forgets who he is and requires such constant reminder.

Still, with all the pomp and circumstance, one would figure India could display something more than modern day weaponry. How about living wages, jobs and women’s rights? In the backdrop of Obama’s visit, there is no easy explanation of a woman’s life in modern day India. Depending upon where you live, whether you are rich or poor, almost every Indian woman has one thing in common: they have most certainly experienced some form of sexual harassment.

As traditional values dissolve, modern values are not widely accepted.

As the New York Times reported, “… in a pointed message, President Obama said India needed to combat human trafficking and slavery, elevate the status of girls and women in society, promote religious and racial tolerance and empower young people. He also argued that India had an obligation to curb greenhouse gases despite its economic challenges.”

Every girl’s life matters,” he said, as his wife, Michelle Obama, watched from the audience. “Every daughter deserves the same chance as our sons. Every woman should be able to go about her day, to walk the street or ride the bus, and be safe and be treated with respect and dignity. She deserves that.”

Just before the speech, Obama met with Kailash Satyarthi, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate who has long fought child slavery in India. Mr. Satyarthi told him there were still five million children living as slaves worldwide.

What if Pranab and Modi dedicated Obama’s entire visit to the referendum of social reform required for modernizing India. By focusing on education, social justice for women, healthcare, quality living away from slums, they could start dealing a severe blow to the prevalent caste system. Instead of a military procession, what if Pranab and Modi opened a chain of schools, hospitals, orphanages and libraries throughout the country? What if India provided relief during famines, earthquakes and epidemics?

That would be very Buddhist, very Christian. What if Pranab and Modi created positive karma for others and not for themselves? Should they have done so, they could transform the law of cause and effect by helping others create their own destiny.

Maybe all of us should do as much.

Screen Shot 2015-01-21 at 6.32.21 PMSenator Joni Ernst delivered the Republican Party’s official response to President Barack Obama’s State of the Union speech on Tuesday night, just days after being sworn in for the first time as a member of the august body.

The 44-year-old combat veteran and mother who grew up on an Iowa farm, was a rural county auditor just a few years ago came across like the Viagra guy on TV – totally plagued by a false smile and stupid stories. Her rhetoric darted on key GOP responses – repeal the Affordable Care Act, reduce government spending, support the troops, approve the Keystone pipeline and wear bread bags on your shoes.

Lizz Winstead’s tweet was hilarious, “Joni Ernst just lost the gluten intolerant people watching who are like, I can’t eat bread! How do I keep my poor feet dry!”

Ernst reiterated common GOP themes without providing any substance. Her celeb-cause to crush government overspending probably doesn’t apply to the Ernst family farm having benefited from over $460,000 in farm subsidies between 1995 and 2006.

Ernst’s father, Richard Culver, was given $14,705 in conservation payments and $23,690 in commodity subsidies by the federal government–with all but twelve dollars allocated for corn support. Richard’s brother benefited from $367,141 in federal agricultural aid, with over $250,000 geared toward corn subsidies while the brothers’ late grandfather received $57,479 from Washington—again, mostly corn subsidies—between 1995 and 2001.

As a sign of doing what’s right, I’m sure she’s giving all that back.

Terrorism was an interesting point.

“Some of it will occur where I stand tonight, in the Armed Services Committee room. This is where I’ll join committee colleagues — Republicans and Democrats — to discuss ways to support our exceptional military and its mission. This is where we’ll debate strategies to confront terrorism and the threats posed by Al Qaeda, ISIL, and those radicalized by them.”

“The forces of violence and oppression don’t care about the innocent. We need a comprehensive plan to defeat them.”

Debate is one thing. Action is another. For a while last night I presumed she’d march to the Middle East sand dunes and kick ISIL’s ass with the those stiletto Camo Heels she wore. But she promised debate, not action. Real change is hard.

Then there’s Boehner. He looked like man having a colonoscopy. In a video released hours before Obama’s speech, the Ohio Republican obliquely criticized the president for pursuing big-government policies. ”Tonight isn’t about the president’s legacy,” Boehner, dressed in a shirt and tie, says in the video, looking straight at the camera. “It’s about the people’s priorities. Making government bigger isn’t going to help the middle class. More growth and more opportunity will help the middle class, and those are the Republican priorities.”

As a Buddhist, social action is simply concerned with relieving suffering; ultimately, in creating social conditions which will favor the ending of suffering through the individual achievement of transcendent wisdom. Fundamental questions of social action cannot aren’t so logical or rational. We have complicated issues – and neither of these issues will ever be solved by repeated political rhetoric.

I was hoping the GOP would offer something more enlightening. In response, America received the same shit we’ve been eating for the last six years. In the end, one blogger got it right, “Ernst looked like a flight attendant describing all the ways we’re about to die.”

I guess I’ll stock up on a few bread bags.

celebrities-charlie-hebdo-violence_833D60E342464269AC0AE417BF4A4246Four cartoonists, journalists and bystanders were murdered by Islamist radicals in the offices of Charlie Hebdo. In the aftermath, much of the world rallied in solidarity with cartoonists and their right to free speech. Count me as another voice in solidarity.

It should be noted that Charlie Hebdo didn’t pull punches. Critics claimed the newspaper pushed the boundaries of decency by portraying nuns masturbating, popes wearing condoms and Muhammad in pornographic poses.

Still, as a whole, free speech has been under a conservative eye for some time.

For instance, whether Sony’s computer hack and extortion was the result of a ‘pissed-off’ employee or North Korea, the ability to distribute an uncensored film was targeted. When a treasure trove of highly personal information led Sony to censor themselves, free speech became the larger victim – simply because of widespread fears of violence. And for a while, caving emboldened those who hate free speech.

Sony’s isn’t alone. Russian President Putin fines bloggers, citizen journalists, and activists failing to register as members of the media, and further fines if bloggers failing to uphold strict media rules. Online media expert and high-profile Russian blogger Anton Nosik told the agency that China is “much more liberal” than Russia.

On Friday Saudi Arabia began publicly flogging a blogger sentenced to 1,000 blows, 10 years in prison and a large fine for starting a website critical of the country’s religious establishment. Jen Psaki, a State Department spokeswoman, stated Mr. Badawi would face “the inhumane punishment of a thousand lashes in addition to serving a 10-year sentence in prison for exercising his rights to freedom of expression and religion.”

In 2010, Jetsun Pema, the younger sister of the Dalai Lama, was scheduled to present a lecture at the Festival of Tibetan Spirituality, Arts, and Culture in Bangkok, Thailand. She was denied a visa because her presence might be seen as a Tibetan political statement by the Thai government.

Then there’s the Chinese. The Chinese government imprisoned three brothers of a Washington-based reporter for Radio Free Asia, apparently intensifying its suppression of free speech coverage of the troubled province of Xinjiang. The harassment of Hoshur’s family started after reporting on an Uighur torture victim. Additionally, in September, China sentenced moderate Uighur scholar Ilham Tohti to life imprisonment for “advocating separatism” and voicing support for terrorism, a move that the White House condemned as persecution of someone who merely expressed peaceful dissent.

When the Sony hack occurred, Columnist Deon Price argued that in the wake of The Interview, there should have been no rally in support of freedom of speech. Instead, there should have been a rally protesting Sony Pictures and their irresponsibility.

I couldn’t disagree more.

The problem free speech oppressors fail to comprehend is that free thinkers cannot be silenced. The reason we live in a free society is that offensive speech is allowed. Humor exposes the vices and follies of the powerful and is a wonderful means of resistance for ordinary citizens. One may not like someone’s particular thought process or viewpoint, but I like knowing one has the right to like or not to like it.

Laughter is the most terrifying sound to any and all terrorists, especially when such laughter is born from a satirical caricature, drawn from a cartoonist’s hand. For this reason, the pen is mightier than the sword. Ironically, the terrorists failed, as they emboldened surviving Charlie Hebdo staff to print 1 million copies of their next edition.

From a strict Buddhist perspective, speech is a very powerful tool. If we verbally attack someone, those words linger for years. On the other hand, well thought out words can stop conflict, make friends and heal rifts. This is the power of speech and this is why Buddha included Right Speech in the Eightfold Path.

While I concur with Buddha’s right speech perspective, I’m not about to censor anyone whose views conflict. Their words and perspective may establish credible dialogue. Thus, while I haven’t read any of its publications, I’m buying Charlie Hebdo’s next edition. And I’m buying Sony’s “The Interview.”

With that, my personal message to French citizens is I stand in support.

And my message to all upcoming terrorists? Simple … fuck you!

ITF4In the latest episode of Person of Interest If-Then-Else, Samaritan unleashes an attack on the stock market. Root, Finch, Reese, and Fusco attempt to counter the stock market crash by installing a computer program reversing Samaritan’s virus.

Root, Finch, Reese, and Fusco walk into a trap as Samaritan operatives surround the building. Trapped inside, the machine runs through possible scenarios. In the midst of the chaos, the machine is like the eye of the storm, calmly slowing everything down and weighing options.

The machine actually participates in a Star Trek like Kobayashi Maru. The story of the Kobayashi Maru is a test from the Star Trek universe—an unwinnable scenario designed to show the true colors of a commander under intense combat—a Starfleet cadet is given a mission to rescue a distressed ship. Little do they know the test is programmed to make this impossible.

The cadet faces a decision:

  • Attempt to rescue the freighter’s crew and passengers, which involves violating the Neutral Zone and potentially provoking the Klingons into an all-out war; or
  • Abandon the ship, potentially preventing war but leaving the freighter’s crew and passengers to die.

In If-Then-Else, the machine plays various simulations, with all possibilities ending badly. Similar to the Kobayashi Maru test where both the starship and the freighter are destroyed, the Person of Interest audience is forced to wait and watch as everyone, except Fusco dies agonizing deaths.

The real world problem is that Root, Finch, Reese, Fusco and Shaw face adversaries who do not play by the rules. Yet Finch reminds to never … ever … cheat. And just like Person of Interest, we’re taught ethical manners, lest we else face expulsion and castigation. The better option, as the Kobayashi Maru teaches, is to step outside the rules of the game – that we can succeed against no-win scenarios.

Some of my fans will question and complain, that I being a Buddhist am claiming cheating is good. The same complaints were heard when Captain Kirk “cheated” in order to pass the Kobayashi Maru test.

One important lesson of If-Then-Else comes from Harold Finch. “Chess is just a game. Real people are not pieces.” And that’s true. In the everyday world, people leave for work and die. They have a heart attack, get shot, have a car accident, get murdered, fall at work, etc., etc. That’s real.

In the If-Then-Else episode, Greer states Samaritan is needed. So I ask, do we need a Samaritan? In fact, some claim we already have a version of Samaritan. If you think a Samaritan is not required, then I offer:

On January 7, at 11:30 – Car arrives in front of the building on Rue Nicolas Appert where Charlie Hebdo’s office is located. Two people dressed in black and hooded emerge from the vehicle carrying automatic weapons called Kalashnikovs. The attack lasted five minutes, 12 dead.

~Terrorist Attack on French Newspaper~

Life doesn’t always play by ethical rules. One must learn to think creatively when considering adversary behavior. I always meditate creatively.

It’s trite to observe that the cost of successes only to further damage the political system we bring forward to heal.

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