Into the Neon Light

Here’s a holiday story for you. A major department store in Japan once put out an elaborate Christmas display featuring a smiling Santa Claus nailed to a cross. Whether this tale is true or not, it does show what might be called the religious flexibility of the Japanese.
Not only do many Japanese celebrate Christmas and other Christian holidays such as Valentines Day, they also take part in Shinto holidays and have Shinto weddings. At the same time, the majority also claims Buddhism as a religious preference.
[xmas]Then, to further confuse us poor Westerners, a majority do not describe themselves as religious.
How can all this be resolved?
Only about one percent of Japanese are Christians. The Japanese version of Christmas is a secularized, commercial version of our Christmas. Not that our holiday season isn’t a commercial wasteland too, but most Japanese don’t even bother paying homage to the Christian God. They eat cake. Yes, on the way home from work Christmas Eve, salaried men will purchase a Christmas cake and bring it home for the family. The parents then give presents to their children.
Another feature of the Japanese celebration of Christmas is the romantic aspect. Young lovers will go out Christmas Eve to a lavish dinner and spend the night in an expensive hotel together. A scantily-clad elf might lead you up to your room, which is often decorated with a Christmas tree or other holiday decoration.
But commercialism is not the only thing the Japanese believe. A majority also are Buddhist. Angie Nakano, a Buddhist, feels that part of the reason Buddhism is different is because it’s not a God-centered religion.
“We are supposed to show respect for the Buddha, for our ancestors, our families, ourselves, basically, to everyone as much as is reasonable, but we are not spending all our spiritual time trying to impress some external power who will judge us and deem us worthy of heaven or condemn us to hell,” she said. “The power to attain enlightenment is within each of us, and the only ones we can fail are ourselves.”
Buddhism could be considered an agnostic religion. When asked about the existence of God, the Buddha refused to answer. When asked again, he emphasized the importance of personal enlightenment. But that doesn’t mean it is a meaningless religion. It offers a moral framework for people to in, and try to better their lives by.
Part of this moral framework includes the universal Golden Rule, present in all of the world’s major religions, “Hurt not others in ways yourself would find hurtful.” The Five Precepts and Eightfold Path provide the basic rules for attaining enlightenment. These include basic rules such as, “you should not harm any living thing” and “don’t steal.”
It’s probably because of the agnostic aspect of Buddhism that it made it able to meld with Shintoism, the ancient Japanese religion rooted in nature worship. But while many Japanese consider themselves Shinto, like Buddhism it does not play an overt role in their daily life. They visit Shinto shrines during special events such as New Year, weddings, or a newborn baby’s first visit to the shrine.
The personal nature of Buddhism is also another factor in the often playful and light nature of Japanese religion. Some Buddhist temples in Japan sell hand puppets of Buddha.
“The whole Buddha story behind the religion also makes it a very personal religion,” Nakano added. “It’s the story of this guy’s life, and how he went through various human experiences and in the end figured it all out…”

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UnPATRIOTic?

The first rule of the Patriot Act is you do not talk about the Patriot Act.
[flag] The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against the Patriot Act on April 6, but the Patriot Act itself prohibited them from revealing the fact that they were challenging the Act. The Justice Department tried to censor more than a dozen passages from the court filings.
When the ACLU finally did release information on its web site about the lawsuit, the Justice Department again forced them to remove two paragraphs from the release. One paragraph explained the type of information that the FBI could request under the law; another just listed the briefing schedule on the case.
The Senate passed the Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001 on October 11, 2001. It’s more affectionately and briefly known as the USA Patriot Act or the Patriot Act.
[act] Many people would also prefer that the Patriot Act affect the country briefly.
According to Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, the bill was not available to members of the house before the vote. “Maybe a handful of staffers actually read it, but the bill definitely was not available to members before the vote,” he said in an Insight magazine interview on Nov. 9, 2001.
The Act is a dense 342 pages that changes over a dozen statutes. One of the most contested parts is Section 215. Section 215 violates the Fourth Amendment by giving the FBI the ability to search through personal records without a warrant and without probable cause. The FBI can request medical records, information from universities and Internet providers and libraries to turn over circulation records, even if that person has committed no crime. In addition, a gag order is placed on the person that served the orders.
Cliff Haka, director of the MSU libraries, said that the library has not received any requests for information under the act. “But if we had received requests, as you know, we wouldn’t be able to release that information,” he said, “We would never release private information about out patrons unless we were required to do so under a court order. Privacy is extremely important to us.”
[deport] While the MSU libraries have not released any official notices about the Patriot Act, the American Library Association, and the Association of Research Libraries, professional organizations representing libraries and librarians, have both taken a strong stance against the Act, releasing statements condemning it.
Section 215 is not the only part of the act that concerns people. Section 213 allows “sneak and peek” warrants to be used in criminal investigations. No longer do authorities need to inform people of searches of homes or belongings ahead of time. Eventually the government must people that they searched a home, but the act also says this can be extended indefinitely for good cause.
Foreign students have also been affected by the Patriot Act. Syed Ahmed, an electrical engineering junior said he is especially concerned about the effects of the Patriot Act and other similar laws infringing on his rights. “They made us sign papers before we were allowed to enter saying they could read our e-mail, enter our house, whenever they wanted,” he said.
Several weeks after September 11, 2001 the Bush Administration boasted nearly 1200 arrests and eventually they stopped reporting how many people have been detained. Some 5,000 have been arrested since the act and hundreds deported; yet no arrests have been made for terrorism. Thus, it is unclear how effective the act has been in “intercepting and obstructing terrorism.”
Supporters of the Patriot Act argue that it removes barriers set up between the intelligence agencies, barriers that are hindering the War on Terror. Some of these barriers were enacted because of the results of the Church Committee in the 1970s. The Church Committee, named after Sen. Frank Church, investigated domestic surveillance programs such as COINTELPRO. COINTELPRO was a program by the FBI to infiltrate and intimidate domestic civil rights groups, antiwar groups, and other protest groups. One operation included agents writing an anonymous letter to a MSU student’s parents, telling them their daughter had “a serious infection”, implying she had contracted a venereal disease.
Programs like COINTELPRO are often brought up in arguments against the act. Henry Silverman, a professor emeritus of history at MSU, has written for the City Pulse about the Patriot Act. In an e-mail exchange, he said, “Certainly, the historical perspective reveals how intelligence agencies can be misused for political purposes- and this is what Congress tried to prevent… It’s still a good thing to prevent.”
Attorney General John Ashcroft stated in a speech on September 18, 2003 in Louisville, Ky., and many others like it, that the Patriot Act does not limit the freedoms of innocent people. A document obtained by a Freedom of Information Act request dated October 29, 2003 states that the FBI can use Section 215 to obtain information about innocent people. Several other attempts to get statistics on Patriot Act requests via the FOIA have been shot down.
In July, the House passed the “Otter Amendment”, which removes funding from the “sneak and peek” provision of the Patriot Act. C.L. “Butch” Otter, a conservative Republican from Idaho, introduced the Act. The bill has yet to be passed by the Senate. President Bush has threatened to veto any bill reducing the powers granted by the Patriot Act.
But that’s not all. The Patriot Act II was signed into law by President Bush on Dec. 13, 2003. A Saturday most people will remember as the day we captured Saddam Hussein. What was President Bush doing signing the act on a Saturday, a day where the major news organizations were focusing on the capture of Saddam? A White House spokesperson said that he signs bills seven days a week. But the last time he had signed a bill on a Saturday was over a year ago, and it was a necessary spending bill.
It may important to keep an eye on bills like the USA Patriot Act and the Patriot Act II that limit civil liberties, even if they do so in the name of fighting terror. Until then, don’t even try to check out The Anarchist’s Cookbook.

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