See more articles, reviews, fiction and poetry, including more of my writings, at group blog PLUTO'S REALM.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

How to Treat a War Criminal

In 1941, Hitler's whack job of a deputy, Rudolph Hess, in a truly odd historical incident, flew from Germany to Scotland. That's right, over the English Channel, in the midst of WWII, right before Germany invaded Russia. Some claim he was trying to broker a separate peace with England; it looks like a misguided attempt to save his own ass. Regardless, he was taken prisoner, of course, and was amazingly enough sentenced at Nuremberg as a war criminal.

Nuremberg, like the more limited tribunals following the Treaty of Versailles that ended WWI (and arguably led straight to WWII through its leniency to the German command), ended in a wide array of convictions, but most of its criminals were pardoned or released early, by the '50's. After 1966, when Albert Speer (Hitler's architect) and Baldur von Shirach (Hitler Youth leader) were released, Hess was the sole inhabitant of Spandau prison, a sprawling compound in California. He died, supposedly of suicide, with an electrical cord around his neck, in 1987.

In 2001, as part of an overall Fascist clampdown, the Bush cabal opened Gitmo -- Guantanamo Bay prison camp, at a US Naval Base in Cuba. From then til now, hundreds of people have been held without trial on ill-documented charges of treason; 200+ remain. The United States military, under orders from BushCo, have behaved just liked the Nazi's, torturing their prisoner victims, in violation of the US Constitution and of every concept which underlay the philosophy on which this country was founded. About 500 of the prisoners have been released by the US before their situations could be examined by the Courts. Of those remaining, about 25 have been to Court; all but two have been released for lack of evidence to hold them in the first place.

In 2008, Barack Obama was swept into office as US President. I think you probably heard about that. He rode into office on a tide of very, very late American outrage about Bush's wars of imperialism; most Americans didn't react until it became clear that their own foolish spawn who signed up to kill foreigners for money, were being killed without benefit. Most Americans didn't turn on Bush until they saw that he was an incompetent totalitarian strongman wannabe.
What took so long for the little pig-like hearts of Americans to turn? If their God exists, may he forgive them.

Barack Obama was not my first choice for President, as my readers know. However, as you also know, I've been very impressed with something about him that his naive supporters seem not to have seen, and I sure couldn't see it for all the hoopla; he is a pragmatist, hard-schooled in Chicago, and he is getting shit done. And he seems to be doing most of the right things, with the support of most of the right people. Although the economic news is all bad, this less-than-a-week since the Inauguration, most of the political news is good. Bush's legacy will stain us for a long time to come, but Obama is doing what he can to turn things around.

With one exception.

Most of the pre-inaugural reports indicated that Obama intended to go soft on the war criminals of the Bush administration. This seems to be the case, and that is a crime itself, and a mistake.

One of the main reasons Hitler was able to come to power in the 1930's was the backing of the Worker's Party, which ultimately became the Nazi party, by the remnants of Germany's WWI military leaders, who felt betrayed by their civilian leaders and by the Treaty of Versailles. Not taking down these people, long term, cost millions of lives in Europe.

In addition, in the modern history of the United States and of the West in general, the main residence of social injustice is in the discriminatory administration of the criminal code, between the rich and the poor, a division which was prospered and widened under eight years of nutball Republicanism. The kid on the corner gets busted for a minor drug possession (pumped up into resale by insane Federal codes and boot licking State imitators), and goes to jail for twenty years to life. Bernard Madoff steals $50 billion dollars, ruins the lives of thousand and effects the lives of millions (and how suicides are, or will be involved?) and sits in his $7-million dollar apartment. How could it be more evident, between this and Obama's election, that the administration of "justice" is divided not among lines of color, gender or preference, but along lines of economics? The US government loves its rich and hates its poor, except when it is beneficial to symbolically embrace them.

Bush, Cheney, and all those who willingly followed their lead, the torturers for money, the psychopathic guards, and all their fans, are war criminals by any definition of the words, and need to be tried and convicted for their crimes against humanity. For Obama to let them go free, while your average street corner mugger and the drug dealer go to jail, may be an indication that the accusations of him levelled in the campaign for alleged elitism, may not be wide of the mark.

And don't talk to me about the philosophy of punishment. I have always maintained that vengeance has no place in government, that it accomplishes nothing and wastes money. I have always been opposed to the death penalty, because (as becomes clear now in the age of DNA), it can be an irreversible mistake. I merely say that, if a government takes it upon itself to punish, it must punish equally.

And yes, I can see why in this time of crisis, Obama wants to just move forward, and just let bygones be bygones. But that is not appropriate where the bygones are murderers, thugs and thieves, and he is leaving dangerous adversaries behind him.

Bush, Cheney and company are murderers, traitors, and more, and they need to be tried and convicted as such in a court of law. Obama has ordered the closing of Guantanamo, but not for another year.

Cheney won't live long in captivity. When Bush is convicted, I know of a nice, expensive facility that doesn't need to go to waste.

But why wait? I'm sure the cheerful folks who live there now would be welcome to hold him in their warm embrace for the rest of 2009.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Black Lagoon

In my continuing effort to introduce those of you who haven't already figured it out, to anime, I present: Black Lagoon.

I just finished watching the last four episodes of Season I; I'd been waiting for about six months for the third and final disc to arrive from Netflix, finally gave up and bought the set, and it was worth every penny. This one is the story of a young Japanese salaryman who is kidnapped by Southeast Asian pirates and goes all Patty Hearst on his company (which betrays him, as employers will). It's an action series with some great characters, the best reason to watch of which is Revy, the Chinese-American two-handed gunner who's the real "muscle" of the outfit. This series doesn't hold back on the seedy realism, the language, the bars or the brothels of Asia, and the graphics are beautiful. See for yourself. I put up the video with the English lyrics overdub; the lyrics, in some Japanese writer's version of English, are all the more chilling because of the language problem.

The theme song, by the way, is by a Japanese artist called MEL, and you can find the video on the special features disc that comes with the set.

So, if your kind of anti-heroine is a fugitive from the NYC cops, smokes and drinks like a sailor (which she is, I guess) and moonlights for both the CIA and the Asian gang lords, this series is for you.

We all have to find inspiration where we can.

Now back to watching Ghost in the Shell: Solid State Society for the millionth time...

Friday, January 02, 2009

Begin in Silence

New Year's Eve is one of those holidays I could do without. It's not quite as annoying as the Fourth of July, with its perverted nationalism, though the fireworks can be just as bad. Ms. Johnson really used to hate them. Wednesday night, my total firecracker experience was a few sets of wimpy ladyfingers or whatever they're selling these days, set off in the street by the neighbors. Bing Bing yourself.

The day we begin the New Year is absolutely arbitrary of course. It'd make more sense to begin it in the spring, like some cultures have done, instead of sticking it in the week after the Solstice, when everything is about as dead as it is going to get.

I don't know of anyone who's sad to see 2008 go, though I'm not that optimistic for the next few years. The people who voted for Bush and his lackeys in 2000 were idiots, and those who supported him in 2004 are criminals and traitors -- which everyone knows now, but how on earth did you let yourselves be deceived for so long? You should have just gone to Texas and checked it out.

Now we have Obama, who I really think is going to do the best that can be done. It's amusing to me that his liberal supporters are disappointed; anyone who'd actually looked at the candidate would've realized that he was politically to the right of Hillary Clinton, schooled in Chicago hardball, and a pragmatist. Which, may be exactly what we need. The early indications are, he's competent, which is more than we've seen in eight years. The fact that he's over-reached his Lincoln-esque policies by putting some dangerous opponents in positions of power and influence -- hope that works out for him. His invitation to a noted homophobic zealot for the inaugural invocation is a little scary. As a non-Christian, I don't see any real likelihood of the Constitutionally-mandated separation of Church and State manifesting any time soon. But it could be worse.

Anyway. I never did well with the drinking New Year's Eve, hungover New Year's Day thing. It's not a good night to go out drinking, either for your pocketbook or your criminal record. so I've usually stayed in. I do remember one night in the late '90's when I stayed in, put up with the noise at midnight sober, then headed down to lower Broadway to begin my own, independent celebration at Robert's Western Wear, probably to the astonishment of the hungover honky-tonkers trying to stare down their eggs and sausage.

But this year began with some much-needed silence and zazen, joining the good folks of the 12South Dharma Center (who in this case consisted of members of Rinzai sangha Alaya Dhyana, me, an impressive NZC newcomer, and one confused participant from another group) for some much-needed silence.

There are worse ways to begin your New Year (like all of those listed above) than four hour of zazen. Particularly necessary for me in this instance was the stark minimalism of the service. Sometimes the administrative crap involved in trying to keep an organization functional obscures the purpose you're really there. I never wanted to be involved in any of that, but sometimes shit must be done. And believe me, after dealing with t-shirts and arguments over furniture, as well as the prospect of trying to fix a long-neglected financial system, petty as it may be, it's nice just to sit.

This sit, using Alaya Dhyana's minimalist protocols, a sort of deconstruction of the old NZC rituals, was really refreshing. The NZC's affiliation with the ASZC and consequent adoption of more orthodox Soto protocols, sometime leaves us with a bit more ritual than I'm in the mood for. When I did my first NZC sesshin (zazkenkai, really) in 2005, I really looked forward to kin-hin, the intervals of chanting, anything but endless zazen. And when I started my ASZC weekends in early 2006, the (then-emerging) orthodoxy of their ritual seemed appropriate, comforting and somehow reinforcing. But when you cram all that bell-ringing and chanting into a ninety-minute space with only a total hour of zazen, it seems that one has boiled away all the soup and left the salt. Add in some dead reading of dead words, a little singing and extraneous philosophizing -- at some point, you're working against yourself.

So I began my year in silence. Real silence. Ding, ding, sit. Ahhh.

Tomorrow morning, five a.m., more of the same (or as close as I can get). Happy New Year!

Photo courtesy of Paul Felton.