Apr. 13, 2006

Afghanistan


(Warning, rant to follow. )

At the very end of the nineteenth century the Dominion of Canada sent 7,400 young men to the veldt of South Africa. Of these, 224 were killed. This was a war fought solely for the imperial ambitions of the British Empire, of which Canada was a part. A generation later we sent 626,000 men into the muddy hell-realm of Flanders, losing 61,663 of these. Once again the war had nothing to do with Canada, but was fought between rival European imperial systems. Our Prime Minister, Sir Robert Borden, a good God-fearing capitalist Tory said at the outbreak of war that Canada was "ready, aye ready."

At the start of the 21st century has the spirit of the country's policy changed all that much? Aren't we still acting as the junior partners in other people's imperial wars? Of course the empire is under new management now; the new guys don't go in for so much pomp and circumstance and don't seem to know how to run the show as well as the sahibs did once they get there.

Canadians are by and large uninterested in foreign policy, unless it involves a lot of skating and slap-shooting. Witness the almost complete absence of any reaction to the former Martin government's role in the US engineered coup in Haiti. The Americans didn't like the president, Aristide, because he showed signs of actually wanting to give his people some protection against the sweat-shops run by US corporations there. Never mind he was the people's choice, democratically elected and all. Bang, bang you're out.

And Canada's in like a dirty shirt helping with troops to shore up the new regime, and give the whole affair a spurious air of international legitimacy. We're like the annoying obsequious side-kick of the class bully.

Now Harper, another God-fearing capitalist Tory but new-school, with a predatory neo-con edge, is in charge. He's made a big deal about "improving relations with the Americans" but his first visit to the Imperial capital was a big flop from Canada's point-of-view. No deal on soft-wood lumber (in fact a Canadian back down), no deal on the new passport regulations that will cripple the Canadian tourist trade, no nothing.

Big surprise? Just look at the way the Bushies treat their poodle Blair over in the old Imperial capital. These guys don't make deals, they lay down the law and lesser breeds fall into line.

So, getting to the meat of the rant, what are we doing in Afghanistan? Wouldn't have anything to do with a pipe-line for Caspian gas now would it? Oh, yeah it's about democracy. That's the new buzz word for the Empire. So long as you vote for the guy they want. Or can be made to seem like you voted for the guy they want. Democracy in Afghanistan is about as likely as snow in Tahiti.

It came out this week that when Canadian troops take prisoners in Afghanistan they hand them over to "Afghan authorities." Presumably for a nice hot cup of cocoa. A military spokesman said this was in respect of Afghanistan's sovereignty.

Several questions arise from this scenario. Why are we going along with the charade that Afghanistan's government is sovereign? (or Canada's for that matter, but I digress.) What do you think happens to the poor sods when the "Afghan authorities" get hold of them? Can Canada's military be liable as accomplices to torture?

If we are going to be fighting as junior partners in Imperial wars, why can't we do what we did in every other war and set up proper P.O.W. camps, and run them according to the Geneva convention? Do we have to sink into the same moral sewer as Abu Ghraib?

The US is holding thousands of people in a new-school gulag archipelago from Guatanamo Bay to Bagram to shadowy locations in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. What is the legal basis for their detention? Just the president's say-so as far as anyone can see.

If any semblance of legality were involved these prisoners would be sorted into three categories. Those taken in combat would be awarded P.O.W. status and treated accordingly. Those involved in criminal acts, including terrorism, would be properly charged by the relevant authorities in the jurisdiction were the crime was committed and given a fair trial. The rest, probably the vast majority, would be paid compensation and set free.

If Canada had any back-bone, we'd insist that something like this be done before we sign up on any more campaigns against the Boers (or whoever is annoying the Imperial power by rudely sitting on natural resources). But, hey, aren't the Leafs on tonight?

Apr. 12, 2006

What? Not like Spam?

Some lame-brain has been spamming this blog. I've seen this crap on other blogs too - "Hey, Great Blog! You might want to click here for free software, blah blah."

So I've enabled the word verification option. My apologies but I think the annoyance of typing in a nonsense word when you post is probably less than wading through spam when you read the comments.

Apr. 11, 2006

Last Post on Narnia

I've finished the Narnia books and want to make a few more observations.

The very last book in the series "The Last Battle" is basically an account of the Narnian apocalypse. The world ends, Aslan the Lion-Christ winnows the wheat from the chaff and all the good creatures go to a heaven Narnia for evermore.

C.S. Lewis was not only a good story-teller, but an interesting theologian. He makes heaven to be a "realer" version of Narnia (and likewise the earth's heaven is a realer version of earth.) One of the characters, a professor, references Plato in an aside. The mundane Narnia and Earth are called the Shadowlands. The children get to visit a heavenly England.

This is an intriguing take on the Christian idea of eternity. Nevertheless, even as clever a heaven as Mr. Lewis' perforce seems rather insipid to a Buddhist. It's all green grass and lolly-pops, for sure, but it's still all conditioned isn't it? The idea of conditioned existence prolonged for ever, even in a perfect Narnia, has a horrific edge if you think about it.

Notching down from the metaphysical a bit; I've commented before on Lewis' use of language and I'd like to cite one example. Remember this is from a children's book written in the fifties.

The children are about to leap into a churning waterfall in the heaven-Narnia;

"Isn't it wonderful?"said Lucy "Have you noticed one can't feel afraid even if one wants to?"

"By Jove, neither one can." said Eustace after he had tried.

That kind of syntax must be what comes of teaching Latin and Greek in the schools.

Meditation on Voidness

Lately I've been experimenting with the Meditation on Voidness from the Cula-Sunnata Sutta. I've also taught it as a guided meditation to groups and people seem to get something out of it so long as they don't let themselves get lost in speculative thought (trying to figure it out)

This is a wonderful practise which has received very little attention. Here are instructions in a nut-shell.

The meditation proceeds through a series of contemplations. The whole trick of making it work is to remember that nothing new is added at any stage. On the contrary, each stage is a successive subtraction. You advance through the stages by a process of selective non-attention.

1 - Begin with contemplation of village - this is a simple mindfulness exercise. Be aware of your surroundings, as they actually are, the room, the furnishings, any other people. Don't analyze or judge or compare. Just hold the surroundings in mindful awareness. When this is established, extend your imagination beyond the visible surroundings to take in the immediate area, the street etc., extending only as wide as is comfortable for you.

2 - Next, move on to contemplation of forest. (In scriptural useage village is a word for the whole human constructed world, forest for the natural environment.) Simply remove all human constructions from the previous mind-field and focus only on the natural world, the plants and trees especially. Remember, selective non-attention. You don't add anything, you subtract. The "forest" was a part of the first contemplation, now you make it the foreground by non-attention to "village."

3 - Next, by selective non-attention to the living world you move on to contemplation of earth. By non-attention to the living growth, become aware of the wide earth-element underlying things. Be aware in the imagination of the hills and valleys, bowls for any nearby lakes, etc. Allow your field of imaginative awareness to expand until you are holding the whole globe of this planet in awareness.

4 - Next, by non-attention to earth one should become aware of space. At first, this will be the space occupied by the earth. Removing the earth from awareness, space becomes the foreground. (Again note it was present all along - we subtract and do not add) Space by it's nature has no boundaries, so the idea of an earth-sized area should quickly dissolve into boundlessness. Hold the awareness of boundless space.

5 - Your consciousness is now filling boundless space. Okay, stop noticing space and only pay attention to the boundlessness of consciousness. Mind without limit.

6 - In the next contemplation, we stop paying attention to boundless mind and let the mind rest in nothingness.

7 - If you're able to take it this far, eventually even nothingness starts to seem "busy". In the next step we remove the concept of nothingness from our field of awareness and rest in the field called "neither-perception-nor-nonperception." Don't try to figure it out. The name is meaningless really, it's what's left when you remove nothingness.

After holding this for a while, return to the body with some mindful breathing before getting up. Good luck with this if you are inspired to try it; let me know if it works for you.