Wednesday, January 30, 2008

My Six Non-important things/habits/quirks

The Rules:
Post the rules on your blog.
Share six non-important things/habits/quirks about yourself.

Now, without further ado, my six.

1. I drive 25 mph in the 25 mph zone and relish the huge line of cars behind me.

2. I fantasize that I am a performer on radio dramas.

3. I feed my 4 year old hot dogs and cheese sticks for breakfast on Saturday mornings.

4. I wear 13 year old woolen socks to bed, but never under any circumstances walk anywhere in them.

5. I have watched every movie that Tom Cruise and Keanu Reeves have made, but I never tell anyone.

6. I dread bathroom doors that have a handle you have to pull from the inside to get out so I only open them by balling my hands into fists and pulling with my wrists.

Sand Mandala

The sand mandala by itself is just an intricate geometric pattern. Looking at a completed mandala, one is struck by how beautiful the design is. However, beautiful sand paintings are not unique to Buddhism. Native Americans and Australian Aborigines also produce beautiful and striking sand art. However, those cultures intend for their art to last. Both cultures have developed elaborate means to preserve their works. This is the primary difference with the Mandala.

But merely creating something that is impermanent does not give that creating any special power. We do not view sand castles as anything special, not even large elaborate ones created by sand castle building professionals. Instead, the unique power of the mandala comes from its arch of creation, from opening ceremony to dissolution, the intricateness of the design and its temporary nature. Even non-Buddhists are struck by the mandala and the rituals that surround it. Recently at Lehigh University, a number of Buddhist monks created a mandala and then dissolved it. The university president who witnessed and participated in the ceremony had this to say: “I learned that only two or three of these are created each year. And the dismantling ceremony that followed it was so beautiful and touching…it was a wonderful experience.” A deputy provost noticed that many of the non-Buddhists in the audience were moved by the dissolution of something so beautiful: “The experience I had as a Western watching this was contradictory since we’re conditioned to preserve beauty. I noticed a lot of people sort of choked up over this as the monks dismantled it.” A Buddhist in the audience summed the ceremony in a way that seems to answer the professors question: “The beauty of the art the monks create just underscores their love of life. Also, it’s a very real appreciation of just how fleeting life is.”

The creation and dissolution of the mandala shows a love of life and teaches a lesson about its impermanence.

Harbrect, Laura. “Sand mandala's dismantling illustrates impermanence of life” Lehigh University News Article October 26, 2007 at accessed 29 January 2008.

Tchaicovsky, Melitta. “Sand Mandala Construction Process” at accessed 29 January 2008.

What is counter-insurgency?

Sam Sarkesian, in his book, Revolutionary Guerrilla Warfare lamented the confusion and lack of agreement about basic terminology in the study of “revolutionary guerrilla warfare. “Revolutionary war, civil war, internal war, insurgency, resistance movements, guerrilla war, wars of national liberation, stability operations, internal defense, counter-insurgency - these are but a few examples of the proliferating terminology.”1  Sarkesian went on to point out that in studying the topic, scholars must remain conscious of the differences among the terms “definitions, concepts, model building and theories.”2  Given that the topic is large and confusing, it can nonetheless be approached as one might eat an elephant, one bite at a time. Therefore, let us examine the concept of insurgency and counter-insurgency, and examine their relative attributes in order to compare their characteristics.

The root of the English word insurgency is the Latin “insurgo”, a verb meaning “to rise up.” The Elementary Latin Dictionary quotes a line from Ovid: “Caesar paulatim insurgere” or Caesar rose to power.”3  The quotation highlights the neutral connotation in the Latin root of a political action in contrast with the current English usage4 that implies violence. Interestingly, the fourth principle part of the verb is “insurrectus,” from which it is clear that the English word “insurrection” arises. A current United States military doctrinal publication defines insurgency as “an organized, protracted politico-military struggle designed to weaken the control and legitimacy of an established government, occupying power, or other political authority while increasing insurgent control.”5  Thomas Marks fit this definition within the framework of the levels of military operations. "Insurgency is violence in support, strategically, of a political goal, operationally, of a political infrastructure, tactically, of local political domination.”6  Wray Johnson made the point that by the 1930’s, theorists in the Marine Corps had noted that insurrectionists seem to have a political goal the pursuit of which must be countered in novel ways. “This is a remarkable statement for an American military organization, with its emphasis on non-military solutions, to what had hitherto been viewed as exclusively a military problem.”7  Thus, we see a clear lineage of the term “insurgency” from its roots as a political term in the Latin to its consensus usage as a primarily political struggle between an authority and a challenger that features violence as one of the tools in the struggle.

Insurgencies contain a trap for leaders attempting to create a counter-insurgency strategy. Since the most visible features of insurgencies, especially the current generation insurgencies in the Middle East, Africa and Thailand, are brutal, nihilistic attacks on soft civilian targets, the natural reaction of authorities to such atrocities is to send troops to find and exact vengeance on the perpetrators. It is tempting for a government to respond with force against force, not only because the government views such a response as an effective counter-measure, but also because internal politics among the government’s supporters demands such a response. Although not exactly analogous, one calls to mind President Bush standing on the rubble of the World Trade Center rallying the workers there to rousing cheers by assuring them that the ones responsible for this would be hearing from America. The trouble with reprisal as the primary response to atrocity is that it is counter-productive. History has shown that unless the government is willing to exterminate everyone associated with an insurgency, including innocents, an insurgency is not diminished, but in fact grows. Insurgents convince their supporters that their shared grievances are political, economic or religious, and that their grievances are being ignored or actively thwarted by the government. Hence, reprisals serve to reinforce the idea implanted by the insurgents in the minds of the people that the government wants to attack rather than help.

To counter an insurgency, policy makers must adopt a multi-pronged response. The perpetrators of violence against civilians must be hunted down and destroyed but to the extent possible, with measured application of force. In general terms, armed insurgents must be countered with the minimum effective force of arms with the key being “effective. Not to respond is to encourage more attacks that will grow in severity in an effort to provoke a disproportionate response that the insurgency can exploit for propaganda purposes. In the words of the Small Wars Manual: “Delay in the use of force, and hesitation to accept responsibility for its employment when the situation clearly demands it, will always be interpreted as a weakness.”8

Additionally, the insurgent’s political claims must be countered with all other means. Counter-insurgency must provide peaceful political opportunities, bountiful economic opportunities, and display respect for indigenous cultures. The Small Wars Manual said it best: “Every means should be employed to convince such people of the altruistic intention of our Government.”9  An observer of the current situation in Iraq echoed the prescription offered in the Small Wars Manual: “Sustaining a commitment to allocating sufficient economic and political resources to get the job done will not be easy. It will require the indefinite presence of American advisers, political pressure, and persistence.”10   LtGen Odierno detailed the concrete economic steps that US forces have taken to show the Iraqis that the US has learned the lessons of the Small Wars Manual and is prepared to sustain the economic commitment: [Effective counterinsurgency] also requires the delivery of essential services, economic development and improved governance. It is what the Iraqi people want and what they deserve. In this regard, we are vigorously pursuing several programs to sustain our momentum, like establishment of a civil service corps, awarding microgrants and developing vocational technical courses.”11  While the ultimate success of the counter-insurgency in Iraq is still in question, it is clear that the counter-insurgency strategists are enacting policies first identified in the 1940’s.

Analysts of the type of conflicts known as “small wars” or “revolutionary guerrilla warfare” or “insurgencies” concur that the conflicts share a defining and common characteristic. This common characteristic is the political contest that underpins the conflict. Effective counter insurgency engages the insurgency where the insurgents are, in the economic and political realm, only replying to violence in a measured way. Ineffective counterinsurgency focuses on the secondary battlefield where the kinetic fight is and ignores or downplays the political and economic dimension. Therefore, the question must be answered, in terms of insurgency and counter-insurgency, is one the flip side of the other? In the strict definitions of the terms, the answer is yes. Anything the government does to resist the insurgency is a “counter-insurgency” until all areas are “white,” in Malay Emergency terms, or until the insurgency triumphs. The more pertinent question is, given the primacy of the political and economic components of an insurgency, what constitutes an effective counter-insurgency? The real contest is one of ideas about governance and about whom can best provide opportunities for the people. Effective counterinsurgency offers better ideas and opportunities under difficult and dangerous conditions.

1. Sarkesian, Sam Charles. Revolutionary Guerrilla Warfare (Chicago: Precedent Publishing) 1975. Pg 4.
2. Ibid. Pg 19.
3. Lewis, Thomas Charlton and Hugh McMaster Kingery. An Elementary Latin Dictionary (New York: American Book Company) 1918. Pg 429.
4. Webster’s Online Dictionary. “Insurgency” at accessed 16 January 2008.
5. Marine Corps Warfighting Publication 3-33.5 Counterinsurgency (Washington: United States Marine Corps) 15 December 2006. Paragraph 1-2.
6. Marks, Thomas. Maoist Insurgency Since Vietnam (London: Frank Cass) 2003. Pg 4.
7. Johnson, Wray. Vietnam and the American Doctrine for Small Wars (Bangkok: White Lotus Press) 2001. Pg 21.
8. United States Marine Corps Publications Small Wars Manual (Washington: United States Government) 1940. Pg 27.
9. Ibid. Pg 23.
10. Siperco, Ian. “Subversive Markets: The Economic Roots of the Iraq Insurgency” Royal United Services Institute Defence and Security Studies Website at accessed 18 January 2008. Pg 8.
11. Odierno, LtGen Raymond T. “DoD News Briefing with Lt. Gen. Odierno from Iraq” US Department of Defense News Transcript at accessed 17 January 2008.

Johnson, Wray. Vietnam and the American Doctrine for Small Wars (Bangkok: White Lotus
Press) 2001
Lewis, Thomas Charlton and Hugh McMaster Kingery. An Elementary Latin Dictionary (New
York: American Book Company) 1918
Marine Corps Publication.Small Wars Manual (Washington: United States Government) 1940.
Marine Corps Warfighting Publication 3-33.5 Counterinsurgency (Washington: United States
Marine Corps) 15 December 2006
Marks, Thomas. Maoist Insurgency Since Vietnam (London: Frank Cass) 2003
Odierno, LtGen Raymond T. “DoD News Briefing with Lt. Gen. Odierno from Iraq” US
Department of Defense News Transcript at
Sarkesian, Sam Charles. Revolutionary Guerrilla Warfare (Chicago: Precedent Publishing) 1975.
Siperco, Ian. “Subversive Markets: The Economic Roots of the Iraq Insurgency” Royal United
Services Institute Defence and Security Studies Website, 2007 at accessed 18 January 2008
Webster’s Online Dictionary. “Insurgency” at http://www.websters-dictionary- accessed 16 January 2008.

Monday, January 28, 2008

In which TO solves all the problems in the Marine Legal Services Community

People are always asking me: “TO, why is the Marine Corps legal community so screwed up?” The first answer is trite, but there is a lot of truth to it: it is full of lawyers. The other services promote their lawyers and legal servicemen within their service' Judge Advocate Corps. Their proficiency as lawyers and legalmen determines their promotion opportunities. However, for Marines, lawyers are promoted based on their competitiveness vis a vis all other Marine officers. So you have lawyers competing against infantrymen, tankers, and adjutants for promotion. The criteria for promotion therefore has little to do with legal skills, and much more to do with things like punching the right tickets, serving in the right billets and the Marine lawyer’s relative proficiency in Marine officer common skills. So, what you end up with are well rounded officers who happen to lawyers serving in senior Marine legal billets. The question most people ask when they need a lawyer is: “Is this guy any good as a lawyer?” The Marine Corps’ answer is “for a lawyer, he is a good officer.”

So how about the Staff Non-commissioned officer ranks? Surely, they must be better. Well, not necessarily. Marine legal staff NCO’s are promoted using the same system as Marine officers. Staff NCO’s are promoted on the basis of there relative competitiveness against all other Marine Staff NCOs. So their proficiency as para-legals or legal office administrators does not figure into their promotion into senior positions, their proficiency as a Marine Staff NCO does. Whether a legal administrative chief has the wherewithal to follow through on all the paperwork that is necessary to respond to a guilty Marine’s appeal is not really a concern. Unfortunately, this institutionalized lack of concern about legal proficiency has real world consequences. I just heard a story about a Marine sent to the brig for 4 years on a rape conviction. His attorney’s filed a routine appeal even though their was no doubt about the Marine’s guilt. The legal administrative chief ignored deadlines to complete the transcript of trial and to forward other necessary documents. Then, that Marine Staff NCO left to unit and moved to Okinawa to fulfill another set of orders. Meanwhile, 18 months later, the appeals court vacated the conviction because the government did not meet their deadlines, and the Marine left the brig, free, and reported back to his unit.

Who was responsible for this debacle? Well, the unit could not blame the Marines currently in the positions of responsibility, because they had no visibility on the convict’s appeal. The unit could blame the newly promoted Gunnery Sergeant who left for Japan, but that did not good, since the unit had sent him on his way with a nice fitness report and a medal. And those tangible things matter more to promotion boards than angry emails exchanged between commanding officers. So the upshot is a rapist goes free, no one can be blamed, and Marine Corps legal services receives yet another well-deserved black eye.

What can be done? Make the JAG a Corps, must as they are in the Army. Allow promotions to occur only within the JAG Corps. Allow the JAG Corps to control orders and to punish mis- mal- and nonfeasance among Marines in the JAG Corps. Then, you will see real, competent justice being done in the Marine Corps.

Monday, January 21, 2008

The four noble truths

The four noble truths spring from Buddha’s first sermon in Banares. During that sermon Buddha, according the Lawrence Ullrich’s translation, said: “"He who recognizes the existence of suffering, its cause, its remedy, and its cessation has fathomed the four noble truths.” This translation, with its mention of a “cause” or suffering and a “remedy” for suffering, sheds light on Paul Williams’ view. Williams states that “the formula for the four Noble Truths is probably based on the formula for a medical diagnosis. That is, it states the illness, the source of the illness, then the cure for the illness, and finally the way to bring about the cure.” (Williams, pg 42) This view is echoed by other analysts. “The Four Noble Truths are structured like a medical diagnosis and therapy. For this reason, Buddha is sometimes imagined as a medical doctor who understands the existential sickness inherent in the human condition and who provides and effective (religious) cure.”(Holder 43) The medical diagnosis and cure view of the Noble Truths is holistic; since the entire body is infected with suffering, and the entire body must be cured at once.

The Dalai Lama seems to have a different view than the holistic medical diagnosis conception of the Noble Truths. For him, it appears that the Noble Truths are a sequential listing of steps an individual must recognize and enact. “These must also be understood in their sequential order: from the cause of suffering arises the reality of suffering; from the cause of practicing the path arises the reality wherein there is a cessation of suffering. Thus the first two truths describe samsara and how we wander in it, and the latter two refer to ultimate peace and how we obtain it.” (Dalai Lama 107)

Still another conception of the Noble Truths is that they are an inextricable part of the Buddhist web of beliefs and practices. Rather than standing alone as a diagnosis or some kind of sequential ordering of cause and effect, they are instead part of a larger whole. “The four noble truths are set in this network of doctrinal propositions, and their relation to other doctrines are outlined according to a specific abhidhamma methodology. They function items as knowledge in a larger web of interconnected teachings that show how reality is divided and arranged in a multitude of ways. [italics added]” (pg 110) An example of this interconnectedness can be found within the truth about the remedy or destruction of suffering. “What leads to peace of mind, to higher wisdom, to full enlightenment, to Nirvana? Verily, it is the eightfold noble path; that is to say: Right views, right aspirations, right speech, right conduct, right livelihood, right effort, right mindedness, right contemplation.” Just as the four noble truths can be interpreted in different ways, so too can the eightfold path be seen both as a sequential series of stepping stones as well as eight lilypads floating on the water, each of which can be reached from the others.

This multitude of interpretations within interpretations is location of the origin of various ancient Buddhist schools. Buddha’s four truths were the expression of his observation of the world as it is. When he began to offer his descriptions for remaining on the path, Buddha’s listeners began to filter these teachings through their own experiences and points of views. Almost immediately, Buddha’s followers began to vary from one another in their interpretations of the truths “in a complex web of mutual influences, now appropriating, now rejecting, together developed and were themselves expressions of a shared "nonlinear" reconception of the problem of salvation, which in each case was fleshed out in the specifics of a different religious vision and ideological orientations.” (Stone 241)

Further, the differences among Buddhists soon found expression in the differences in the actions that Buddhists take, the vinaya, and in the ordination of new believers. These differences grew until by the third century after Buddha there were 18 schools. Differences in interpretation and differences in actions resulted in differences in schools.


Anderson, Carol S. Pain and Its Ending: The Four Noble Truths in the Theravada Buddhist Canon (London: Routledge) 1999.

Dalai Lama, Bstan-dzin-rgya-mtsho, Glenn H. Mullin, Tsepak Rigzin. The Path to Enlightenment (Ithica, New York: Snow Lion Publications) 1995.

Stone, Jacqueline I. Original Enlightenment and the Transformation of Medieval Japanese Buddhism. (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press) 1999.

Williams, Paul. Buddhist Thought (London: Routledge) 2000.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Answer to a question from a reader

The etymology of the word "homosexual" is relatively recent. Therefore, it is true that the first Bible translation that had the word "homosexual" was only published in 1938 or 1946 depending on the source you like. But I am not sure what that proves.

If you read the King James Version, which represents one of the earliest English translations of Leviticus Chapter 20, it is pretty clear what is being forbidden: "13 If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination : they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them." There are other instances in the Bible where the behavior is condemned, but this passage seems pretty clear. Not that I think all of Leviticus should be followed; there are actually some pretty strange requirements in there, like a soldier should not pleasure himself the night before a battle and men should not shave the side of their heads or trim their beards. We have kind of taken an ala carte view of Leviticus, a fact that drives non-believers batty.

But Jesus came with a new covenant, not to replace the old covenant, but to fulfill it. In real terms however, He did overturn a lot of the law but most importantly he did not condemn sinners, even the ones lying down with other men. He forgave them and told them, as he told the woman he rescued from stoning, "Go and sin no more."

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Japanese Gambit

I have always thought that it would be a useful gambit for the Japanese to withdraw from the 6 Party Talks, claiming that their interests on the Peninsula were not being given enough consideration. Then, it could leak that the Japanese were preparing to rush in and grab a sector of North Korea around Wonson when North Korea collapses. If the US and the ROK act convincingly aghast but impotent at the prospect of the Japanese bogeyman reasserting himself on the peninsula, it might be the impetus that China and Kim need to find a way to end the regime in negotiations with the US and the ROK without North Korea dissolving in chaos. Let Kim and his selected henchmen select their retirement locales, pay them a few billion and get on with the reunification. Japan would then have a change of heart about having a Japanese sector, and all would be better than it is now.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Is Buddhism a religion?

Gethin, in the opening lines of his book Foundations of Buddhism, answers this question definitively. “The term ‘Buddhism’ refers to a vast and complex religious and philosophical tradition…” (pg 1) On that page Gethin then goes on to quote Cousins to the effect that “half the world’s population lives in areas where Buddhism has at one time or another been the dominant religious influence.” Given this opening to a book-length introduction to Buddhism, it would seem that the answer to the question about whether Buddhism is a religion is clear. However, Gethin seems to step back a little from this assessment later in the book. “I am not concerned here to pronounce on the question sometimes asked of Buddhism: Is it a religion? Obviously, it depends on how one defines ‘a religion.’ Gethin then goes on to give the argument that it is NOT a religion: there is no belief in a creator god, no belief in a god who controls human destiny, nor does it have a creed. On the other hand, Gethin argues that Buddhism does share some traits with religious faiths. “Buddhism views activities that would be generally understood as religious-such as devotional practices and rituals—as a legitimate, useful, and even essential part of the practice and training that leads to the cessation of suffering.” (p 65) It seems that Gethin would side with the idea that something is a religion if you think it is.

In response to the observation that Buddhism is non theistic, Helmuth Von Glasenapp agreed with the premise, but nonetheless concluded that even as a non-theistic tradition, Buddhism is still as religion. He even went so far as to title his work: Buddhism – A Non-theisic Religion. John Bowker in his book The Religious Imagination and the Sense of God argued that Von Glasenapp saw Buddhism as a religion “despite the absence of an absolute deity, since many of the functions which other religions supply in the construction of human lives are certainly found in Buddhism.” (pg 247)

So what are we left with, when we try to define religion? Start with von Glasenapp’s idea that religion supplies functions in the construction of human lives. Add to this Tillich’s definition: “as whatever a person believes will give him an 'ultimate transformation' or something that will result in given desired end-state”. Then, read those ideas again in the light of Gethin’s observation that whether you see something as religion depends on what your own definition of religion is. We are left with a pretty broad category of beliefs, even non-theistic beliefs, that can be considered religions. So, in answer to the question, I would conclude that Buddhism is a religion.


Bowker, John. The Religious Imagination and the Sense of God (Oxford: Oxford University Press) 1978.

Gethin, Rupert. The Foundations of Buddhism (Oxford: Oxford University Press) 1998.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Here is a question for you

Why is it that Ron Paul has a ton of money and no votes and Huckabee has a ton of votes and no money?