Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Zazening Is Simple 9/25/16

http://prairiezen.org/Sunday_audio.html


Responding As Is - 9/18/16

http://prairiezen.org/Sunday_audio.html

Can we speak about what is difficult to speak about among those who hold strongly to positions? No, not the Presidential elections. The Question is, What To Do To Save Birds - or How Humans Can Easily (?) Stop Bird Extinctions - and the Moral Dilemnas Posed By This Issue.

It is not often that we can easily see the cause-effect consequences of our actions, or failure to act, in the world at large. Here are recent explorations and suggestions about "The Moral Cost of Cats." 

I will quote extensively from this article by Rachel E. Gross in Smithsonian.com about Peter Marra in order to lay out some of his major points. The article itself also discusses at length his "opponent's" positions and criticisms.

The full article is at:

http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/moral-cost-of-cats-180960505/

"(Peter) Marra might like cats. But he also sees a bigger picture. In his day job, he and his team at the migratory bird center track the global movements of birds and tease apart threats to their existence. He knows that birds don’t just twit around pointlessly. They pollinate plants, spread seeds, control insects and protect environments from the effects of climate change; they are the glue that binds healthy ecosystems together. “Birds are critical,” he says. And outdoor cats, he and other ecologists have determined, are the leading human-influenced cause of dead birds...

The majority of them (cats) —about two-thirds to three-fourths, surveys say—are your sweet, harmless, cuddly housecats, which seldom set foot outside...The other one-quarter to one-third, though, aren’t so harmless. These are outdoor pet cats, and they are murderers...sometimes their deadly instincts spell trouble for animals and ecosystems we value—and often, Marra argues, desperately need...The solution for these cats is simple, says Marra: Bring them indoors. The Humane Society of the United States agrees.

So far, so good. Now comes the real problem: unowned cats, which include strays and ferals. Born in the wild or abandoned, feral cats spend almost no time with humans; they’re basically wild animals. Stray cats, by contrast, often have a working relationship with humans. They might live in managed communities, where a human caretaker regular feeds and watches over them—“subsidizing” them, in Marra’s words—meaning their numbers can soar to rates they wouldn’t be able to otherwise. Whether stray or feral, these cats kill on average three times as many animals as owned cats, according to Marra...

Feral cat advocates say these dense numbers threaten the welfare of cats themselves, which lead miserable lives colored by fights and starvation. Ecologists, meanwhile, worry about those cats’ victims—as well whether the cats might be spreading disease to humans and other animals. Management of these overabundant felines is where the two disagree. For many animal welfare advocates, the solution is TNR, or Trap-Neuter-Return...

TNR is just what it sounds like: a policy that involves trapping stray and feral cats, sterilizing them and returning them to the urban wilds in the hopes that populations will decrease. In the past decade, TNR has gone mainstream in many cities, helped along by generous funding from pet food companies including Petco and PetSmart. The premise is simple: Cats live out their lives, but don’t reproduce.

Becky Robinson, president of the advocacy group Alley Cat Allies and a major proponent of TNR, calls the method “effective, humane control.” “This is a benefit directly to the cats,” she told me over the phone. (Two communications staffers from Robinson’s organization were listening in our conversation, to give you an idea of the delicateness of the topic.)....

The problem is that, for TNR to succeed in large populations, at least 75 percent of cats in a colony must be sterilized. That rarely happens. The trouble is that negligent pet owners continue to abandon pet cats, which then join existing colonies; additionally, non-neutered stray cats can wander in....

For Marra, TNR is a feel-good solution that is no solution at all—a Band-Aid that has done little to stem the flow of cats. By refusing to look at the reality, he says, we are letting our “misplaced compassion” for cats get the better of our reason. That is why he and some other ecologists call for a more draconian approach: widespread removal of feral and stray cats, including euthanasia....

At the heart of this debate is a question not of data, but of aesthetics, principles and philosophies. That is:

In a world fundamentally shaped by humans, who is to say whether birds and native wildlife have any more right to the landscape than domestic cats do? Should the goal be to rewind the urban landscape back to before the arrival of Europeans—and is that even possible?

...Cats kill; that much is clear. “The science is all pretty bloody obvious,” as Michael Clinchy, a Canadian biologist focusing on predator-prey relationships at the University of Victoria, puts it. But cats also spread disease. Outdoor cats can transmit plague, rabies, feline leukemia and a mysterious parasite known as Toxoplasma gondii. The extinction of the Hawaiian crow, or ʻalalā, in 2002 is thought to have been caused in part by the spread of Toxoplasma via feral cats. “The diseases from cats is what’s going to change this whole equation,” Marra says....

Conservation biologists have always called these kinds of shots themselves. “We’ve made a judgment that biodiversity is good,” says Temple. For Marra, cats represent yet another destructive footprint man has made on the landscape. To rid the country of their presence is therefore to restore some pre-human balance of nature, some lost sense of grace. It is to protect those creatures that cannot save themselves. “It is essential,” he says, “that we save these species.”

In his closing chapter, Marra warns that Americans may soon awaken to dead birds and “muted birdsong, if any at all.” It’s another nod to Rachel Carson, whose defense of nature helped spark the modern environmental movement. Today we’ve come to recognize Carson as an environmental Cassandra; history has vindicated many of her inconvenient truths. But when Silent Spring first came out, her ideas were met with hostility from other scientists, who deemed her hysterical, alarmist and “probably a Communist.”



For Marra, it is clear that outdoor cats represent the Silent Spring of our time. Not only are cats the single worst threat to birds caused directly by humans, but they are also the easiest problem to fix, as compared to many-leveled threats like climate change."

After reading this argument, are you convinced?

If you are interested, please read article and links within it to see the counter arguments of those who challenge Marra's positions, such as Peter Wolf.  http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/moral-cost-of-cats-180960505/

Do their positions convince you?

What should you do?

What can you do?

Saturday, September 24, 2016

An Insightful, Hillarious, Tragic and Frightening Exploration of Foreign Relations, Nuclear Weapons and the Presidential Candidates

The following article by Mark Helprin is all of the above and more - and since many of you will not be able to access the full article at the website link below (though if you can and are interested please do)  I will quote extensively from the introduction, the body and the conclusions.

"Even should nuclear brinkmanship not result in Armageddon, it can lead to abject defeat and a complete reordering of the international system. The extraordinarily complicated and consequential management of American nuclear policy rests upon the shoulders of those we elevate to the highest offices. Unfortunately, President Obama’s transparent hostility to America’s foundational principles and defensive powers is coupled with a dim and faddish understanding of nuclear realities. His successor will be no less ill-equipped.

Hillary Clinton’s robotic compulsion to power renders her immune to either respect for truth or clearheaded consideration of urgent problems. Theodore Roosevelt’s secretary of state once said that he was “pure act” (meaning action). Hillary Clinton is “pure lie” (meaning lie), with whatever intellectual power she possesses hopelessly enslaved to reflexive deviousness.

Donald Trump, surprised that nuclear weapons are inappropriate to counterinsurgency, has a long history of irrepressible urges and tropisms. Rather like the crazy boy-emperors after the fall of the Roman Republic, he may have problems with impulse control—and an uncontrolled, ill-formed, perpetually fragmented mind.

None of these perhaps three worst people in the Western Hemisphere, and few of their deplorable underlings, are alive to the gravest danger. Which is neither Islamic State, terrorism, the imprisoned economy, nor even the erosion of our national character, though all are of crucial importance.

The gravest danger we face is fast-approaching nuclear instability. Many believe it is possible safely to arrive at nuclear zero. It is not. Enough warheads to bring any country to its knees can fit in a space volumetrically equivalent to a Manhattan studio apartment. Try to find that in the vastness of Russia, China, or Iran. Even ICBMs and their transporter-erector-launchers can easily be concealed in warehouses, tunnels and caves. Nuclear weapons age out, but, thanks to supercomputing, reliable replacements can be manufactured with only minor physical testing. Unaccounted fissile material sloshing around the world can, with admitted difficulty, be fashioned into weapons. And when rogue states such as North Korea and Iran build their bombs, our response has been either impotence or a ticket to ride.

Nor do nuclear reductions lead to increased safety. Quite apart from encouraging proliferation by enabling every medium power in the world to aim for nuclear parity with the critically reduced U.S. arsenal, reductions create instability. The fewer targets, the more possible a (counter-force) first strike to eliminate an enemy’s retaliatory capacity. Nuclear stability depends, inter alia, upon deep reserves that make a successful first strike impossible to assure. The fewer warheads and the higher the ratio of warheads to delivery vehicles, the more dangerous and unstable...."

"...In a nuclear world, unsentimental and often counterintuitive analysis is necessary. As the genie will not be forced back into the lamp, the heart of the matter is balance and deterrence. But this successful dynamic of 70 years is about to be destroyed. Those whom the French call our “responsibles” have addressed the nuclear calculus—in terms of sufficiency, control regimes, and foreign policy—only toward Russia, as if China, a nuclear power for decades, did not exist. While it is true that to begin with its nuclear arsenal was de minimis, in the past 15 years China has increased its land-based ICBMs by more than 300%, its sea-based by more than 400%. Depending upon the configuration of its missiles, China can rain up to several hundred warheads upon the U.S.

As we shrink our nuclear forces and fail to introduce new types, China is doing the opposite, increasing them numerically and forging ahead of us in various technologies (quantum communications, super computers, maneuverable hypersonic re-entry vehicles), some of which we have forsworn, such as road-mobile missiles, which in survivability and range put to shame our Minuteman IIIs...."

"...Russia has 49 attack submarines, China 65, with which to track and kill American nuclear missile subs under way. Were either to build or cheat to 5,000 warheads (the U.S. once had more than 30,000) and two-thirds reached their targets, four warheads could strike each aim point, with 2,000 left to hold hostage American cities and industry. China and Russia are far less dense and developed than the U.S., and it would take more strikes for us to hold them at risk than vice versa, a further indictment of reliance upon sufficiency calculations and symmetrical reductions.

Russia dreams publicly of its former hold on Eastern Europe and cannot but see opportunity in a disintegrating European Union and faltering NATO. China annexes the South China Sea and looks to South Korea, Japan and Australasia as future subordinates. Given the degradation of U.S. and allied conventional forces previously able to hold such ambitions in check, critical confrontations are bound to occur.

When they do occur, and if without American reaction, China or Russia have continued to augment their strategic forces to the point of vast superiority where one or both consider a first strike feasible, we may see nuclear brinkmanship (or worse) in which the United States—startled from sleep and suddenly disabused of the myth of sufficiency—might have to capitulate, allowing totalitarian dictatorships to dominate the world.
Current trajectories point in exactly this direction, but in regard to such things Donald Trump hasn’t the foggiest, and, frankly, Hillary Clinton, like the president, doesn’t give a damn.

The way to avoid such a tragedy is to bring China into a nuclear control regime or answer its refusal with our own proportional increases and modernization. And to make sure that both our nuclear and conventional forces are strong, up-to-date, and survivable enough to deter the militant ambitions of the two great powers rising with daring vengeance from what they regard as the shame of their oppression."

"Mark Helprin, at the Claremont Institute, is the author of “Winter’s Tale,” “A Soldier of the Great War” and the forthcoming novel “Paris in the Present Tense.”

From the article, The Gathering Nuclear Storm : Lulled to believe nuclear catastrophe died with the Cold War, America is blind to rising dragons.


http://www.wsj.com/articles/the-gathering-nuclear-storm-1474668674

If you can access the link, I encourage examining some of the comments by readers for additional insight.

Also see:

http://www.wsj.com/articles/big-spending-on-warplanes-spurs-aerial-arms-race-1474824362

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Is the United Nations antisemitic?

What is antisemitism? Here is one of a number of criteria:

"If a person criticizes Israel and only Israel on certain issues, but chooses to ignore similar situations conducted by other countries he is performing a double standard policy against Israel.[7] The implementation of a different moral standard for Jews and Israel compared to the rest of the world, just like the Delegitimization claim, discriminates against a specific group and is labeled as antisemitism."

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/3D_Test_of_Antisemitism

By this criteria, the United Nations as a body seems to act antisemitic, as shown in following research findings!

"Our research shows that the U.N. uses an entirely different rhetoric and set of legal concepts when dealing with Israel compared with situations of occupation or settlements world-wide. For example, Israel is referred to as the “Occupying Power” 530 times in General Assembly resolutions. Yet in seven major instances of past or present prolonged military occupation—Indonesia in East Timor, Turkey in northern Cyprus, Russia in areas of Georgia, Morocco in Western Sahara, Vietnam in Cambodia, Armenia in areas of Azerbaijan, and Russia in Ukraine’s Crimea—the number is zero. The U.N. has not called any of these countries an “Occupying Power.” Not even once.

It gets worse. Since 1967, General Assembly resolutions have referred to Israeli-held territories as “occupied” 2,342 times, while the territories mentioned above are referred to as “occupied” a mere 16 times combined. The term appears in 90% of resolutions dealing with Israel, and only in 14% of the much smaller number of resolutions dealing with the all the other situations, a difference that vastly surpasses the threshold of statistical significance. Similarly, Security Council resolutions refer to the disputed territories in the Israeli-Arab conflict as “occupied” 31 times, but only a total of five times in reference to all seven other conflicts combined."

These findings are based on the following comparative study of conflict and subsequent population movements:

"First, the migration of people into occupied territory is a near-ubiquitous feature of extended belligerent occupations. Second, no occupying power has ever taken any measures to discourage or prevent such settlement activity, nor has any occupying power ever expressed opinio juris suggesting that it is bound to do so. Third, and perhaps most strikingly, in none of these situations have the international community or international organizations described the migration of persons into the occupied territory as a violation of Art. 49(6). Even in the rare cases in which such policies have met with international criticism, it has not been in legal terms. This suggests that the level of direct state involvement in “transfer” required to constitute an Art. 49(6) violation may be significantly greater than previously thought. Finally, neither international political bodies nor the new governments of previously occupied territories have ever embraced the removal of illegally transferred civilian settlers as an appropriate remedy.

The deeper understanding – based on a systematic survey of all available state practice – of the prohibition on settlements should inform legal discussions of the Arab-Israeli- conflict, including potential investigations into such activity by the International Criminal Court. More broadly, the new understanding of Art. 49(6) developed here can also shed significant light on the proper treatment of several ongoing occupations, from Western Sahara and Northern Cyprus, to the Russian occupations of Ukraine and Georgia, whose settlement policies this Article is the first to document."


(From the abstract of the study)

http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2835908 

For the full research study (67 pages) see:

http://poseidon01.ssrn.com/delivery.php?ID=344118088088083073098019010005106065020088069085027026127089027120105099117119108073029114036013107061038026005011012071111116024069091048041118080112080013020010053019055066074090099094091000093126000102082119118098099097087069090090111021012089098&EXT=pdf

And for a synopsis of the findings, conclusions and broader implications, see:

http://www.wsj.com/articles/at-the-u-n-only-israel-is-an-occupying-power-1473808544 

 


Tuesday, September 13, 2016

In Any Event - 9/11/16 Dharma Talk

http://prairiezen.org/Sunday_audio.html


Threats to religious freedom from politics and political agendas in the real weighing of the balance of conflicting rights and freedoms..

I have written about how significant I believe the religious rights, liberties and freedoms enshrined in the US Bill of Rights, the Constitution and other documents are to the practice of Buddha Dharma in the USA.

It seems that there are political appointees who wish to limit these religious freedoms in the service of their political agendas. This is also an instance of un-elected/appointed regulators and bureaucrats asserting their power and beliefs rather than protecting the people, the theme of posts regarding "Quis custodiet ipsos custodes - Who guards the people from the "guardian" governmental officials?"

Martin Castro, the Chairman of the United States Commission on Civil Rights appointed by President Obama, speaking for the Democrat majority of this Commission, has written and seems to believe that

"First Amendment Free Exercise Clause rights (are) only for individuals and religious institutions and only to the extent that they do not unduly burden civil liberties and civil rights protections against status-based discrimination"... ( and only) "protect religious beliefs rather than conduct."

https://securisync.intermedia.net/web/#/s/file?public_share=0Nv7dtHYDIwpoLI4da77wl

His explanation or excuse for limiting religious freedom based on his political beliefs are that “The phrases ‘religious liberty’ and ‘religious freedom’ will stand for nothing except hypocrisy so long as they remain code words for discrimination, intolerance, racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia, Christian supremacy or any form of intolerance.” (I wonder if he wants to simply say those who he finds are part of the population who are "the basket of deplorables"?)

Of course, this proscription is based on his political beliefs and agenda, deciding which religious liberty and religious freedom is acceptable to him. The Bill of Rights is intended to protect against exactly this sort of political governmental intrusion, the political agendas of those in power.

Even regarding antisemitism and anti-Buddhism, which I have personally experienced in many ways in the US, (and which I notice are not included in Mr. Castro's list, maybe because they are not part of the "politically correct") I would not want to limit the religious liberty and freedoms of others, even if they included espousing these views, as long as they do not also espouse violence and worse. (In fact, a number of religious traditions in the US, and political movements/agendas of some Democrats and Republicans, as well as third party groups, do espouse aspects of what seems to me to be antisemitism and anti-Buddhism even now.)

Castro's anti-religious liberty statement and political agenda has aroused articles and editorials. Below are links to a few critical articles:

http://www.cnsnews.com/news/article/penny-starr/civil-rights-commission-religious-liberty-religious-freedom-code-words

As "Roger Severino, director of the DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society at the conservative Heritage Foundation, a particularly troubling aspect of the report is what he called “the attempt to discredit sincere religious believers as being motivated by hate instead of faith and the implied recommendation that religious groups should change their beliefs on sexual morality to conform with liberal norms for the good of the country.  I would expect to see such a slanted and anti-religious report come out of China or France perhaps, but am disappointed to see it come from the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.”

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/powerpost/wp/2016/09/09/commission-says-religious-liberty-should-not-top-civil-rights/

Another commentator sums up the Commission's report and Castro's statement as,

“Civil rights protections ensuring nondiscrimination, as embodied in the Constitution, laws, and policies, are of pre-eminent importance in American jurisprudence.” Translation: Nuisances including the First Amendment’s “free exercise” of religion guarantee take a back seat to the rapidly multiplying non-discrimination causes.

He then states, in discussing a dissent to the report by a Commission member,

"In her own submission to the report, the commission’s Gail Heriot pinpoints the flaw in the finding. A University of San Diego law professor, Ms. Heriot says she could easily imagine a case for Mr. Castro’s position. But instead of an argument, she says, the commission offers a decree.

“By starting with an assertion that antidiscrimination laws are ‘pre-eminent,’ she writes, “the Commission’s analysis essentially begins with its conclusion. Why should anyone accept it? The Commission said so.”

The reasonableness of Ms. Heriot’s contribution almost makes this awful report worth its price. Here is a civil rights commissioner who takes the clash between nondiscrimination and religion seriously, who appreciates that these clashes are the result of government going places it never went before—and who recognizes that the questions raised are more complicated than Mr. Castro’s good guys versus bad guys caricature.

Ms. Heriot also recognizes the public-service aspect of publishing the chairman’s prejudice: Though she first thought of asking Chairman Castro to remove his statement, she writes, on further reflection she concluded that it “might be better for Christians, people of faith generally and advocates of limited government to know and understand where they stand with him.”

Indeed we are better off. The solitary virtue of Mr. Castro’s presentation is that he makes not the least effort to hide the ugly bits. These lead to a nation where the mediating institutions that stand between the citizen and government (churches, schools, private associations) are stripped of influence, and the political system no longer decides divisive issues through its elected representatives.

In Mr. Castro’s world, those who dissent from the prevailing pieties are deemed unfit for the public square."

http://www.wsj.com/articles/a-liberal-gets-religion-1473722200?mod=djemMER

Another article sums up Mr. Casto's report,

“Religious liberty was never intended to give one religion dominion over other religions, or a veto power over the civil rights and civil liberties of others,” he said in the 307-page document.

At the heart of the “Peaceful Coexistence” report is a USCCR assertion that granting religious exemptions to nondiscrimination laws “significantly infringe” on the civil rights of those claiming civil rights protections on the basis of “race, color, national origin, sex, disability status, sexual orientation, and gender identity.”

Among the document’s recommendations is the assertion that the 1993 federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, or RFRA, “protects only religious practitioners’ First Amendment free exercise rights, and it does not limit others’ freedom from government-imposed religious limitations under the Establishment Clause.”


http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2016/sep/8/religious-freedom-religious-liberty-just-code-word/