Sunday, August 24, 2003

karma catches the priest (and other tales)

Whether the strangulation of Father John Geoghan (the priest involved in a major pedophilia scandal in the Archdiocese of Boston) represents karmic justice will depend on the Buddhist you speak to. The more philosophically inclined will tell you that karma doesn't work that way, it's not mathematical; the more folkorically-minded might say otherwise.

I choose to side with the folklorics on this one, if only because the very sight of this priest, after reading article after article about what he had done to so many, filled me with disgust.

Harmful action begets harmful action.

The bastard had it coming.

A couple days ago, I posted about the Reverend Alvin O'Neal Jackson of National City Christian Church, Washington, DC. The good Reverend had been plagiarizing sermon material for over 18 months. It seemed like a scandal was brewing, and if you read the initial article, you saw that Rev. Jackson wasn't happy with the flak he was getting. But Jackson apparently did some soul-searching and decided to out-and-out apologize in public-- unreservedly and with no mincing of words. And whatever scandal might have been brewing seems to have evaporated.

I can't help but compare these two people. Obviously, Geoghan's crimes are far more reprehensible. But how repentant was he? One victim of Geoghan's predations recalled that the priest stared coldly at him the entire time he [the victim] was on the stand, testifying. This is the picture many have of Geoghan: cold, unrepentant, projecting the air of not deserving what was happening to him.

And I laugh. Here's a hilarious paragraph from the article about Geoghan's death:

Geoghan, whose case triggered the worldwide church sex abuse scandal, was being held in isolation as one of two dozen inmates at the maximum-security Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center - a new prison designed specifically to house inmates considered to be at risk of being harmed by other prisoners.

I feel this is more just than rewarding Geoghan with solitary confinement, guaranteed meals, and a bed.

Moving on...

Nothing new (yet) from IA and Marmot, but Brian at Cathartidae asks (has been asking) a pointed question about Bush's deceptiveness: This lefty wanted Clinton to step down during the Lewinsky scandal... when will we see conservatives who are principled enough to call Bush on his bullshit?

Satan's Anus links to an interesting article about how the Bush Administration may actually have been underplaying the Saddam-al Qaeda connection.

In other religious news, we have this little piece of hilarity: Bush is the enemy of Islam. Yeah, well, he's also the enemy of liberal Christians, so get in line, Hamas.

Damn. Almost sounds like liberal Christians are in bed with Hamas. Heh.

"If you don't legalize gay marriage I'll blow up this bus!" Yeah... that's how religious liberals act.

ArnoldWatch: Bill Simon, one of Arnold's Republican competitors, can no longer make this a race issue. Har har.

Your tired, your poor, your biometrically scanned...

Frank J at IMAO links to the Rottweiler re: something that might actually serve as an indirect response to the Vulture.

Glenn disses Anna Kournikova... AND I AGREE.

Merde in France kicks De Villepin's ass for the French government's support of Hamas.

Brainy Smurf asks some probing questions about Bush policy and where we think we're going.

DUdu engages in some paranoid speculation.

One paragraph from the DUdu article, with which I was nodding in agreement until the very... last... sentence (a question):

President Bush inherited a country with a budget surplus, and now he has the distinction of spending our surplus and raising our federal debt ceiling to 7.4 trillion dollars. We are now turning federal budget deficits of 455 billion dollars in 2003, and there is no end in sight to the spending bonanza. An estimated 1 billion dollars a week is being burned on occupying and rebuilding Iraq, with the continual killings, sabotage and instability as the only result. The total Iraq bill in the foreseeable future could reach as high at 100 billion dollars. In addition to that, President Bush approved the enormously expensive anti-ballistic missile shield, and did away with the ABM treaty with Russia in the process. Add the understandable expenses associated with the terrible fall out of 9/11, and our President's spending excesses and overseas military adventures look like pure madness. Why, in turn, does nobody want to recall him?

The answer to that extremely stupid question, dickhead, is one that's been offered many times by those in your own party: Bush is a leader in a time of crisis. If you interpret this cynically, this means the public is perhaps blinded to Bush's foibles, especially in the fiscal department. If you interpret it more generously, it means Bush's leadership seems to be what most people want at the moment. Either way, you've got at least two explanations for why no one wants to recall him. Clear?

All that could change for Bush, of course, and indications are that people are worried about the economy and our projects in Iraq, etc.

I just added a permalink to a fascinating, fascinating article about "Dogen as philosopher," by TY Kasulis, Asst. Prof. of Philosophy at the University of Hawaii. If you have the time, read it. If you're into that sort of thing.

NB: He's TP Kasulis at the top of the screen, but if you scroll down to where the article begins, he's TY. A quick search at U. Hawaii's site reveals the official answer:

TP. If I'm not mistaken, he's the author of the very deep, very dense Zen Action/Zen Person.

Amritas is blogging again. Many interesting posts. Go visit.

Thomas St. John points out this article about a recent scuffle between North Korean journalists and South Koreans protesting the NK government. Yes! We are all one people!

In Iraq: ethnic tension. Surprise, surprise.

A disturbing MSNBC article about the US's possible use of torture. Disturbing, because it asserts and implies things without actually presenting hard evidence. And here's an ironic excerpt:

Padilla was declared an "enemy combatant" based on the assertion-- not the presentation-- of "some evidence" by the administration that he was a bin Laden bad guy.

Please don't think I'm taking this out of context. The author's moral outrage runs through the entire piece. But if he's outraged that no hard evidence was used in detaining Padilla, he should hold himself to his own standards in writing the piece, and provide more than just speculation and hearsay (about interrogation prodecures) to damn our operatives in the Middle East. Chief Wiggles? Your response?

Another person who should roast in hell.

PETA's tactics are just... shitty.

Ah, life in the South. Retarded assholes.

Chief Justice Roy Moore, the Alabama judge who had a huge monument of the Ten Commandments placed in the Alabama Judicial Building, has been suspended after refusing a court order to remove the monument. Interesting snippet from the article:

Moore supporters' around-the-clock vigil near the monument continued in downtown Montgomery. They have prayed, sung hymns, preached and kept an eye on the monument through the building's glass doors since Wednesday night, the deadline Thompson gave Moore to move the monument.

On Friday, about 100 protesters moved from the steps of the judicial building to a sidewalk in front of the federal courthouse, where Thompson works. Some ripped to pieces and burned a copy of Thompson's ruling. Demonstrators also held a mock trial, in which Thompson was charged with breaking the law of God.

"We hold you, Judge Thompson, and the United States Supreme Court in contempt of God's law," said Flip Benham, director of the anti-abortion group Operation Rescue.

[see this article as well, because I know human idiocy always makes you morbidly curious]

I came back from Fukuoka around 12:30 today, grabbed a cab and went over to Hwagye-sa for 1PM meditation. I was too late-- by about 5 seconds, as it turned out; I heard the chukpi (wooden clapper signaling phases in meditation) sounding for the first 30-minute session of ch'am-seon (zazen), but waited downstairs until the 1:30PM walking meditation period and hopped in line, just like the other latecomers usually do (the place has awful discipline... I really shouldn't have been allowed to do this, but the temple wants your money, like any religious institution).

Hyon Gak sunim gave the 3PM dharma talk, as usual, and part of his talk focused on the Alabama Ten Commandments ("Thou shalt not fuck thy sister"?) case. One theme of the monk's talk, as you might have guessed from my recent essay about attachment (in which I mentioned that dharma talks tend to be repetitive), was... attachment.

Attachment to precepts, in this case. Hyon Gak was talking about the five precepts taken by Buddhist clergy and laity, one of which is "don't lie." He told the famous story about the Buddhist who sees a rabbit going along a forest path, then watches the rabbit take the right-hand fork in the path ahead. A hunter runs up and demands, "Where'd that rabbit go?" The Buddhist cries, "He went that way!" and points leftward. The hunter sprints up the wrong path.

Hyon Gak's point was that attachment to precepts, especially for egotistical reasons (e.g., "I have to keep the precepts so I can be a good Buddhist!") can cause suffering, just as any other attachment can (in this case, a rabbit could get killed and a hunter could generate bad karma). A deep understanding of what lies behind the precepts, however, will allow one to relate to the precepts in a nonattached way, to act with compassion in a way that's "right" at that moment (cf. my essay on "right and wrong"), allowing one even to defy the literal meaning of the precepts in service to the higher principle of compassion, which is, after all, what underlies the precepts. Hyon Gak went on to talk about how the judge in Alabama was clinging only to the surface of the precepts embodied in the Ten Commandments, and wasn't seeing anything deeper.

And the result of this clinging is the stupidity we see in Alabama: anger, discord, people physically trying to protect the monument from being moved. From the Buddhist perspective, the whole thing looks stupid.

Hyon Gak said, "And I watched the news about these protestors, and saw them demonstrating, making faces like this"-- he pantomimed screaming and pumping his fists in the air-- "but I got bored with that and switched channels to see what was happening in Iraq, and I saw this--" he does exactly the same screaming, fist-pumping pantomime. "And I realized: it's the same mind!"

Yup. I think that about sums it up. Attachment leads to suffering.

Back to other news...

I'm a huge advocate of way more intel in the Middle East. This is a good first step.

A nation choking on its own ignorance...

Korean products aren't faring so well in the US.

An interesting article about Korean college students taking leaves of absence. Negative feedback loop:

A new disturbing trend on campus is that more students in advanced years are intentionally deferring graduation in order to gain practical job skills and find shelter due to the tight job market. Also contributing to the trend is widespread discrimination against unemployed college graduates by employers, experts note.

More opportunity for entrepreneurship! You can never have enough.

An article with a "no DUH" title. Some quotes:

Negotiators from the two Koreas, the United States, China, Japan and Russia are heading to Beijing to achieve the unanimous objective of ending North Korea's nuclear weapons development, but they will bring their own strategies and issues that are molded to maximize their national stakes in the process of resolving the nuclear issue.

They say the objective is unanimous... I think NK would beg to differ.

"The talks will be complex and time-consuming because they involve various issues and national interests of the participating countries," said Paik Hak-soon, a senior researcher at the private Sejong Institute.

"Complex and time-consuming..." I think it might actually go quickly:

NK: America, will you give us the nonaggression treaty?

US: No. But we'd like to talk about--

NK: Fuck you. Bye.

[wait a few months/years; repeat as necessary until someone wakes up and realizes there is a discernible cycle]

The United States is using "dialogue" and applying "pressure" to urge North Korea to dismantle its nuclear weapons facilities in a "verifiable and irreversible" manner.

Actually, those quotation marks are all entirely apropos.

A senior U.S. State Department official also said Friday that North Korea's abandonment of its nuclear ambition can open "the door to a new kind of relationship" between the two countries.

Yes! NK is delighted to find out how far we've improved our biotech: we've grown a second asshole so that NK can rape that as well! Open that door to a new kind of relationship, baby! And don't forget the SEVENTH party at the talks, along with NK, SK, US, PRC, etc.: KY! To be applied in gobs to poop chutes everywhere! Are you lubed and de-pubed?

Caught between its Northern brethren and the blood-tied United States, South Korea is expected to focus its role in preventing the collapse of the six-party talks by the Pyongyang-Washington standoff and a smooth process of dialogue.

I.e., groan, grovel, gripe, groan, grovel, gripe...

..."Northern brethren"?

China, which has been crucial in realizing the multilateral talks, attempts to enhance its international status by continuing its mediation between North Korea and the United States.

Yes, I think that's a fair statement.

According to experts, China has been active in seeking a settlement to the nuclear issue because North Korea's nuclearization can arm other countries like Japan and Taiwan, and that could lead to a negative impact on its economic development. It also does not want to see U.S. influence strengthened in Northeast Asia.

Maybe with too many armed countries in the area, it gets dicier for China to bully Taiwan.

Sharing common interests with other countries in keeping the Korean Peninsula nuclear-free, Russia is also concerned about economic issues that may emerge as the international community resolves the nuclear problem.

Russia is particularly interested in the connection of the Trans-Korean Railway and the Trans-Siberian Railway, and setting up gas lines that straddle the two Koreas.

If you haven't done so already, I advise you to go and read Kevin at IA's remarks about the railway, etc. in his rebuttal of Slate's Kaplan.

"Participating countries definitely have their own interests. South Korea should make every effort to fully reflect its position during the talks as the main party of the nuclear issue and will have to shoulder the economic burden regarding the matter," said Prof. Yun Duk-min of the Institute of Foreign Affairs and National Security.

What exactly IS South Korea's position gonna be? At a guess, jumping on the biotech lab table and requesting a second anus of its own.

Comrade Queef update:

The Korea Herald is beginning a series of articles discussing President Noh's six-month performance. This is the first article.

Other news:

South Koreans are facing larger and larger amounts of personal debt, and it's affecting their spending. The whole society has succumbed pretty quickly to the evil temptations of credit cards & other forms of revolving debt. The national psychology is going to have to switch over a little faster from its old-time "savings, savings, savings" mentality to the more American "cash flow to stay happy" paradigm. The switch has begun, but it's gotta happen faster. Can it, though?

It gets back to that nettlesome "values" question that keeps popping up when people discuss how "Westernized" certain "beneficiaries" of nation-building are (such as Japan and South Korea). In my opinion (as I've contended before), the Westernization doesn't run as deep as the pro-nation-building contingent contends. I think, in fact, that Koreans may not be emotionally equipped to handle the current rate of societal change. Koreans of all age demographics are plumping up thanks to a more Western diet and the ass-fattening PC-bahng culture. Spending is, as already mentioned, problematic. Signs of addictive behavior are rampant (thanks, Dr. Drew Pinksy of the old MTV LoveLine & radio show, for teaching me so much about this subject). The younger Korean folks, caught up in the wave of "Me Here Now" [sic], seem to have forgotten important chunks of their country's history (esp. recent history). Adultery is becoming a pressing problem with the advent of Net/cell phone chat, and broadband ISPs. Koreans continue to migrate lemminglike to Seoul, basking in the comfort and protection of the almighty DMZ.

Koreans are by nature passionate and moved to extremes-- even more so than the notoriously fickle American public. It's no surprise that, in such a charged and antipodal environment, an emotionally dramatic religion like Christianity has made far deeper inroads in South Korean society than modern Buddhism, which for multiple reasons seems to be teetering on the edge of irrelevance (a long discussion of this issue is in order, but I haven't done enough research to present a coherent viewpoint). Rapid social change among a people with little experience with moderation is going to produce some strange and maybe spectacular results (good or bad)-- just you watch.

I don't think Americans necessarily know more about moderation, especially when the stats place overweight and obesity at 55% of the US population. But because we're a varied people, the variances tend to produce a sort of epiphenomenal moderation on a large scale. Americans have been dealing with revolving debt longer than Koreans; many of us manage to cope with it, in various ways, without plunging into despair. We've also been dealing with "rich country" syndromes (including obesity) longer than other countries, and have been coming up with a huge variety of strategies for facing them. South Korea is prosperous, and some of its citizens are becoming a bit more worldly, but the still-inbred nature of the society shows they have a long way to go.

A recent conversation with a rich couple is illustrative. I was eating dinner with them last week; we'd met through a strange series of connections: my mother's 60-something Korean friend, a certain Mrs. Quigg (yes, she's a naturalized American and married to a white guy... it just never ends), was on a Mediterranean cruise with her hubby when they met this young married couple, Mr. Yoon and Mrs. Im, who are Korean nationals. Mrs. Quigg passed their contact info on to Mom, who passed it along to me as a possible private English teaching opportunity.

So we're at dinner, the young couple and I, digging messily into some samgye-t'ang (a traditional chicken soup). Most of the conversation is getting-to-know-you stuff, but it becomes obvious that this couple has traveled. They've been all over Europe, and all through the US and Canada (their young kids are living and studying in Canada right now).

"Europe's so dirty," says Mrs. Im. I just smile and nod. "When you go to the public bathrooms, you can't put your handbag on the floor." I resist the urge to point out that this is true in most of the public restrooms I've encountered in Seoul.

"Korea's clean, isn't it?" asks Mrs. Im, leaning across the table and staring hard at me.

I hesitate, then decide to lie: "Yes. Very."

Mr. Yoon asks me what I find good and bad about the Korean culture (if you're an expat, you can groan: this is a question from the short list of Ten Standard Questions to Ask All Foreigners, which also includes "What do you think of Korean food?" and "What do you think of Korean women?"). I talk a bit about Confucianism's emphasis on respect and the value Koreans place on education. As one of the minuses, I mention how rushed people are, and the rudeness I encounter when people cut in line (as they do constantly here). I quickly add that I've gotten used to this, and do my own line-cutting because I don't take it personally (which is true).

"Really? Koreans are like that?" Mr. Yoon asks, sincerely taken aback.

Please understand: Mr. Yoon's blindness (?) seems to arise in part from his being rich. He and his wife have very little experience with the Seoul subway system, for example. They never travel like proles. But richness is no excuse: I've seen this same blindness in other Koreans, like the ones who sermonize about racism in America. As Kevin at IA says: GBFKM. Gotta be fuckin' kidding me. In case you haven't noticed, Korea's racism problem makes America look like a color-blind paradise.

Anyway, back to the values question. Rich, well-traveled, thoroughly modern and technologized Koreans may take advantage of the trappings of Western culture, and the shape of their society may, in its legal and administrative aspects, be quite Westernized... but make no mistake: Koreans remain thoroughly Korean. I don't think any truly fundamental Westernization has happened here.

OK... I want to write a bit about my trip to Fukuoka, so I think I'll just end this post here. Damn, I crapped quite a big cyber-log.

UPDATE: The Marmot has chosen a new burrow, at least for the moment, HERE.

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