DAILY PHOTO: Indian Weapon Display

Taken in September of 2017 at the Government Museum of Bangalore

BOOK REVIEW: Buddhist Ethics: A Very Short Introduction by Damien Keown

Buddhist Ethics: A Very Short IntroductionBuddhist Ethics: A Very Short Introduction by Damien Keown
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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Most people, if they know anything about Buddhist ethics, have heard of the Eightfold Path (right + view, intention, speech, action, livelihood, effort, mindfulness, and concentration.) However, just knowing that can lead to the impression that Buddhist ethics are blurry and that it’s all a matter of doing as one pleases within one’s personal interpretation of rightness. This concise guide offers an overview of the Buddhist ethics and morality, focusing on issues of global and modern interest (as opposed to those issues only of interest in places where Buddhism is practiced or at the time in which Buddha was teaching – i.e. issues like abortion, vegetarianism, war, suicide, and cloning and not subjects like caste, traditional family roles, etc.)

The first two chapters present a broad overview, and the rest focus on particular ethical issues. I found the second chapter beneficial; it asks how Buddhist ethics fit in the categorization scheme employed by Western Philosophy. I considered it useful even though the answer was that Buddhist ethics aren’t neatly contained by this way of thinking, but rather can be seen as a mix of multiple approaches. (e.g. Buddhism has sets of precepts – ala deontology, has a karmic doctrine that is arguably consequentialist, and, also, has elements similar to the virtue ethics of ancient Greece.)

Chapters three through eight investigate specific issues: animal rights and environmental ethics (ch. 3,) sexuality and gender (ch. 4,) war and violence (ch. 5,) abortion (ch. 6,) suicide / euthanasia (ch. 7,) and upcoming technologies that will change what it means to be alive and conscious (i.e. cloning, artificial intelligence, cryogenics, and CRISPR.) As with chapter two, there’s often no tidy answer. For one thing, the author tries to contend with what is common across various sects, and this is often reflected in the laws of countries, laws which are only partially informed by Buddhist philosophy. Also, it’s not like the Buddha had anything to say on many of these issues, which either weren’t issues (e.g. cloning) or were considered radically differently (e.g. gender.) Still, one does get an idea of how these questions relate to ideas such as karma and dharma, and how contemporary Buddhist thinkers might begin to consider them.

One will note that there are ethical territories that aren’t addressed (e.g. justice / punishment, ethics of governance, business ethics, etc.,) but a brief guide needs filters, and this one chose to focus heavily on modern, individual ethical questions of broad international interest.

If you’re looking to better understand Buddhist ethics, this book is worth reading.


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The War Mangled [Free Verse]

I heard the dead children,
their voices lilting on the wind.

The war-torn twice born
came crawling in under the wire,
bloody and shell-shocked,
but among the living, 

but the rest floated away:
their words
becoming both milder 
& more raucous,
never fully drowned out by
bombs or crossfire chaos.

Gunsmoke [Free Verse]

the acrid smell
of 
burnt gun-smoke
dulls
in the mind,
but not 
in the air

the brain tires of smelling it,
and so it fades,
but
it has nowhere to go --
not in this violent place
of dead & heavy air

BOOK REVIEW: Military Strategy: A Very Short Introduction by Antulio J. Echevarria II

Military Strategy: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions, #523)Military Strategy: A Very Short Introduction by Antulio J. Echevarria II
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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This concise guide to military strategy is well-organized and can be readily understood by an amateur reader. The book provides an overview of the domain of military strategy by comparing and contrasting related pairs of strategic paradigms.

After an overview chapter (ch. 1) that broadly defines the subject and lays out the organization for the rest of the book, chapter two explores strategies of annihilation and how they are similar to and different from strategies of dislocation. Chapter three investigates attrition and exhaustion, strategies that deal in destroying warfighting resources and will to fight, respectively. Chapter four elucidates how the threat of force can be used to keep the enemy from making a move (deterrence,) or force them to make a desired move (coercion.) Chapter five looks at strategies that rely on instilling fear to change an opponent’s behavior, including aerial bombardment and terrorist tactics. Chapter six considers different approaches to using selective targeting to achieve strategic goals: i.e. decapitation and targeted killing. The penultimate chapter (ch. 7) contrasts the various approaches to cyber warfare with cyber-power, more generally.

The final chapter (ch. 8) briefly examines the determinants of success and failure of military strategy.

The book is straightforward and uses historical cases to provide clear examples of each type of strategy. It doesn’t go much beyond definition and some classic examples, but it is an excellent starting point for organizing one’s thoughts on the topic in preparation to learn more.

If you’re in need of a concise overview of (or refresher on) military strategy, this is a fine guide to consider.


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I Read the News Today, Oh Boy! [Free Verse]

I
A young man set his ex-fiancé on fire.
(Or, so the story goes.
[He claims she self-immolated.])

She succumbed to third-degree burns...
but not right away.
She lived long enough to know
the agony of third-degree burns. 

They'd met in college,
both studying to be engineers --
I mention that because
at the heart of the issue was caste.
It seems absurd enough
to murder a fiancé over
some imaginary mark of superiority,
but even more so when one considers
that they would have had the same qualification --
possibly similar jobs --
but for the boy's bigoted parents,
who insisted he call off the engagement,
and the boy, himself, 
who took things that extra murderous mile.

So, it wasn't even about who the couple were,
it was about what their grandfathers 
did for a living.

What a world.
 

II
The war is still burning. 
Among the latest questions are:

 Will Belarus be forced to join in the fighting?
&
If so, will having another set
of soldiers who are completely uninterested in the war -- 
other than as a trial to be survived, that is --
help or hurt Putin's position?

A related question is whether Putin
would rather watch the world burn 
than to lose face?

What a world.


III
The Pandemic said, "Psyche!"

This means America will roll the odometer
on COVID deaths.

We had things almost back to normal,
and then the virus caught its breath,
got it's footing,...
whatever viruses do.

What a world.

***

I think I'll check the news, again,
maybe sometime next year.

Midnight Circus [Free Verse]

The Midnight Circus
was not as it seemed.

It was bright colors:
motion-blurred.

It was the tinny monotony 
of music box-style 
tinkling tunes
&
organ tones.

One could even make
out the scent of fried foods
and cotton candy,
among the many other
[uncircus-like]
odors.

But there was also the story
a mind wrote to
dance sensory facts 
into sensory fictions;
that was where the falsity lie.

If one opened one's eyes,
letting them focus:
there'd be sparking wires,
&
 flames licking ever closer.

The shrill organ tones would 
become screams.

The summer night's 
humid heat would become 
third degree burns.

The circus smells would
become dust and death 
and acrid burnt combustibles.

So, he didn't open his eyes
to war or his impending demise,
but let his mind march
into that big musty, canvas tent,
surrendering to its irreality.

DAILY PHOTO: Gorkha Monuments

Taken in December of 2021 at the Batasia Loop Garden War Memorial
Taken in December of 2021 at the Eagle’s Crag, Kurseong

Apocalypse, Soon [Sonnet]

When time stopped behaving, I should have known
that war was coming - perhaps, something worse.
Those who saw themselves sinless grabbed their stones,
and started chanting bile -- their wicked curse.

The hopeless cried with wide eyes, but in vain
as they were huddled around burning fires.
The best of us opted to go insane,
and build crude armor from old belts and tires.

We'd flank a castle that did not exist
like Don Quixote, tilting at windmills. 
Better to charge a false monster and miss
than to have Folly chase one to the hills.

Who says it's worse to slouch to lunacy
than suffer the world's fury lucidly?