Digital Dharma

The Middle Path, One Day At A Time


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The Rise of the Professional Military | Miller-McCune

In 1975 the American science fiction author Joe Haldeman, himself just back from Vietnam, wrote a “future history” novel called The Forever War. Joe saw then how a standing military and long standing threat (or perceived threat) could change society. He was right, as this article from Miller-McCune Magazine so clearly delineates.

…the professional military has taken the public out of the mix, something noted at the highest levels of government. Speaking at Duke University in September, Secretary of Defense Robert … noted the disconnect: “Whatever their fond sentiments for men and women in uniform, for most Americans the wars [in Iraq and Afghanistan] remain an abstraction. A distant and unpleasant series of news items that does not affect them personally … warfare has become something for other people to do.”

via The Rise of the Professional Military | Miller-McCune.


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The Value and Harm of Religion

People who believe that I am an Atheist sometimes seem nonplussed that I’m tolerant of religion in general.  There appears to be an idea amongst some non-believers that they must either be completely disinterested in religious ideas, or vehemently opposed and outspoken about it.  In either case, it seems, they must be prepared to pooh-pooh “superstition” and point out at the drop of a hat all the evils perpetrated in the names of various gods throughout history, and all of the ways that the shamans take advantage of the folks they’ve hoodwinked.  While I find the former positions distastefully closed-minded, I am indeed inclined to agree with the latter — at least when it involves the religious hierarchy.

My feeling is that those who are obtrusively dogmatic, pro or con, are just as bound up by the chains of their beliefs as any fanatic building bombs in the mountains of Pakistan.  To paraphrase John Bradshaw, a 180 degree turn leaves us in the same rut, only now we’re moving against the flow and annoying the other travelers.  If we want to change things, we need to get off the treadmill for a different perspective.

For the record, I am neither an Atheist nor an Agnostic. The latter claim that they are not convinced of the existence of a god or gods, the former that they are convinced that there are no such entities.  I am Ignostic, one who believes that no discussion about the question of gods’ existence can even be held, because it is not possible to come up with a coherent definition of a god.  To put it another way, I believe that when it comes to gods, no one really knows what they’re talking about, and no one ever will.

But I am not anti-religious.  I try to practice Buddhism which is, by most definitions, a religion.  While I accept that definition, I do not practice for religious reasons, but because Buddhist teachings give me a structure, based on pure logic, around which I can try to live my life and discipline my thinking.

That gets around to my position on religion in general.  I believe it is inevitable, for most people in most circumstances, and that generally-speaking it does far more good than harm.  It provides structure, guidance, community, hope — in short, a framework for living.  It matters not a whit to me whether the underlying beliefs are pure superstition or divine revelation, except when religious teachings are used for ill rather than good; to separate, rather than to draw people together.

The folks who administer religion are usually the problem in that regard.  They are the ones who teach, by their example, inflexibility, lack of compassion (although many of them give great lip service), and who perpetuate the tribal concepts of “us” and “other,” with their implied conclusions that “we are right” and “they are wrong.”  They are the ones who foster self-serving and self-congratulatory, complacent followers who seem unwilling or unable to think for themselves.

This tribal thinking is, perhaps, hard-wired into some people’s brains.  We are beginning to learn that the brains of liberals literally function  somewhat differently than those of conservatives.  There is every reason to believe that such dichotomies are necessary in primitive societies.  They are not, however, appropriate to situations such as those that exist on the Earth at present, with many people in need, and many who are unwilling to share.  This seems often to involve use of force on both sides, and in many circles it seems that two wrongs are presumed to make a right…or, at least, a lot of money for the people who profit from wars and strife in general.

Those are character defects that are engendered and supported by some shamans in the guise of the “will of God/Allah,” and in that respect religion is not a good thing at all.

The troubles in the world today cannot, it seems to me, be resolved by black and white thinking.  The True Believer in the hut is evidence of that, and those who attempt to hunt him down, without regard to the number of innocents killed in the process, are yet another.  People who seem to feel that they must contradict the beliefs of others, and put down the intelligence of those who believe other than they, are a third.  That ain’t how you build togetherness, folks.

Ben Franklin wrote at another critical point in history, “If we do not hang together, we shall certainly hang separately.”  As long as we continue to blame our problems on the other guy, we continue our trek to the gallows. To the extent that religion (or non-religion) supports that journey, it is most certainly at fault.


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A Conversation With Tariq Ramadan

A Conversation With Tariq Ramadan: Islam, the West and the Challenges of Modernity – Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life

Ramadan is a professor of Islamic studies at the University of Oxford’s St Antony’s College. He is also the president of a Brussels-based think tank, European Muslim Network, and the author of more than 20 books, including What I Believe, published in November 2009. Foreign Policy magazine named him one of the Top 100 Global Thinkers of 2009.

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Liberia’s Model for Better Mental Health

Liberia’s Model for Better Mental Health

…In late 2009, Liberia developed a comprehensive, community-based national mental health policy—the first of its kind in a post-conflict country. It’s an ambitious approach designed to address a substantial need: A recent survey of 1,600 households indicates that 44 percent of Liberians meet diagnostic criteria for posttraumatic stress disorder; up to 40 percent meet the criteria for major depressive illnesses….

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Make Birth Control, Not War

Make Birth Control, Not War | Smart Journalism. Real Solutions. | Miller-McCune Online Magazine

Humans — human males, really — are not peaceful animals. They are in fact a spectacularly violent species, and very nearly uniquely so. Despite high-minded modern wishes and the received wisdom of three generations of anthropologists and sociologists, warfare is not an aberration in human development, nor is it a learned, culturally determined behavior. War and its ancillary behaviors — including racism, slavery, mass rape and the subjugation of women — are not cultural problems and thus do not have neat, sociological solutions. Along with terrorism, these most destructive of human behaviors derive clearly and directly from our biology, bequeathed to us by an evolutionary pathway that we share with just one other extant species, the chimpanzees.

War, simply put, is in our genes.

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Fallujah doctors report rise in birth defects

BBC News – Fallujah doctors report rise in birth defects

A spokesman for the US military, Michael Kilpatrick, said it always took public health concerns “very seriously”.

“No studies to date have indicated environmental issues resulting in specific health issues,” he said.

“Unexploded ordinance, including improvised explosive devises, are a recognised hazard,” he added.

Depleted Uranium comes to mind, although the military assures us there’s no hazard.


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I’ve Been Waiting A Long Time To Feel This Way

I’m truly proud to be an American these last few days.  It’s heartening to see my country finally stepping up and leading in an endeavor from which it can expect to gain nothing but the knowledge that it did the right thing — and the approval, at last, of the rest of the world.  It’s been far too long.

For nearly two centuries we have been the tough kid on the block. We were blessed by having managed to steal a land, rich in resources, from the previous tenants. We made rapid use of those resources and our relative isolation from the powers in Europe and Asia to build a worldwide economic power alongside which the 1st Century power of Rome pales in comparison. We have pretty much told the rest of the world how things were going to be, and made it stick through the power of our money and, too often, by force of arms.  Yes, yes, on a couple of occasions that was warranted by circumstances beyond our control, but even those wars were as much about economics as principle.

As Americans, we tend to forget that we are members of a global community, and that all we are depends on so many who preceded us.  We owe who and what we are to other cultures, those that went before and those that attempt to coexist with us today. The currently much-maligned Arabs invented the zero, without which modern mathematics would not exist. Africa gave us the rhythms that melded with European influences and became jazz. The Far East gave us philosophical insights; the Native Americans — the true owners of this land — an understanding of how we fit into the big picture along with all God’s other creations.

And so it goes. Every culture, every religion, every idea is built on those that have gone before. We Americans are the sum of all those parts: the Arabs, the Yoruba — stolen from their homes and forced to find another way to be themselves — the Hindu mystic, the Ojibway shaman, the Druid in his grove.

We need to think about this carefully. We need to understand that we are not isolated here in the US; that we are very much a part of the world, and it of us, and that we have the ability to decide the course of history. That course will be predicated, in turn, on our ability to discern our true place in the scheme of things: not whether we can kick the asses of those who disagree with our policies, but whether we can influence them to not want to kick ours.  The days of gunboat diplomacy are over.  They ended with the development of that most guided of missiles, the suicide bomber.

It is time to take our place as leaders in the quest for peace, not in the art and appliances of war.  When I see our powers diverted from that end to wage peace and compassion, as we are this week in Haiti, I have hope again.

If only we can remember that everyone hates a bully.


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Woman who helped hide Anne Frank dies at 100

Miep Gies who helped hide Anne Frank dies at 100 – Times Online

Miep Gies, the woman who rescued Anne’s diary after the family was arrested in 1944, died at a Dutch nursing home aged 100 after suffering a fall.

Soon there will be no witnesses left. Then will the deniers have their way?


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Drones and Dishonor in Central New York

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Drone aircraft are being stationed to patrol the US borders with Mexico and Canada. (Photo: Tom Tschida | wikimedia.com)

If war becomes unreal to the citizens of modern democracies, will they care enough to restrain and control the violence exercised in their name? Will they do so, if they and their sons and daughters are spared the hazards of combat?
– Michael Ignatieff, Virtual War (2000)

Drones and Dishonor in Central New York


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Gaza’s Underground Water Supplies on the Verge of Collapse

The report, “Environmental Assessment of the Gaza Strip: following the escalation of hostilities in December 2008-January 2009,” was requested in February by the UNEP Governing Council, made up of environment ministers from 58 countries, including Israel and the United States.

“The international community has indicated its willingness to assist with providing technical, financial and diplomatic assistance in order to turn environmental restoration into an opportunity for cooperation and restoration,” said UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner.

The report finds that strikes on buildings and other infrastructure have generated 600,000 metric tonnes of demolition debris, some of which is contaminated with asbestos. The removal and safe disposal of rubble is calculated at over US$7 million.

An estimated 17 percent of cultivated land, including orchards and greenhouses, was severely affected. The report estimates the costs in terms of damage to farmers’ livelihoods alongside clean-up measures at around US$11 million.

Other impacts include sewage spills as a result of power cuts to treatment facilities. Some of the sewage is likely to have percolated through the Gaza Strip’s porous soils into the groundwater, the report finds.

Gaza’s Underground Water Supplies on the Verge of Collapse


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What Would Gary Cooper Do?

A Seven-Step Program to a Quieter, Less Muscular, Patriotism

It’s high time we ended the post-Vietnam obsession with Rambo’s rippling pecs as well as the jaw-dropping technological firepower of the recent cinematic version of G.I. Joe and return to the resolute, undemonstrative strength that Gary Cooper showed in movies like High Noon.


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What every American should be made to learn about the IG Torture Report

…I wrote earlier today about Eric Holder’s decision to “review” whether criminal prosecutions are warranted in connection with the torture of Terrorism suspects — that can be read here — but I want to write separately about the release today of the 2004 CIA’s Inspector General Report (.pdf), both because it’s extraordinary in its own right and because it underscores how unjust it would be to prosecute only low-level interrogators rather than the high-level officials who implemented the torture regime….

What every American should be made to learn about the IG Torture Report – Glenn Greenwald – Salon.com


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Army’s 1st Buddhist chaplain

“The question that arose in my mind is, ‘Why is there so much suffering?’ Christianity did not have a satisfactory answer,” said Thomas Dyer, a former Baptist minister. Dyer is now the first Buddhist chaplain in the U.S. Army.

Army’s 1st Buddhist chaplain