Saturday, July 30, 2005

Black Beans

Gabby, Bea and the Black Beans of Nicaragua

By John Taylor; 30 July, 2005

I worry constantly about the picky eating of our offspring. A horrible
diet, worsened by the fact that their mother is no lover of veggies
herself. My longtime, despairing joke to her is that if a Czech person
ever met a veggie in the street they would cross to the other side and
avert their eyes. When I harp long enough she reluctantly reaches into
the freezer, dumps a pile of bagged mixed veggies onto a plate, partly
warms it in the microwave and presents that repast to already
skeptical little ones. Secretly, all of them believe that I am
hopelessly harebrained.

In desperation of late I pulled out all the stops and openly told
scare stories to persuade Tomaso and Silvie at least to nibble on a
vegetable. I do not have to go far for story material; my sainted
mother prepared full, balanced meals for the family but never ate
herself, contenting herself with white bread downed while cooking in
the kitchen. I tell them the harrowing story of her wasting illness,
the slowest, most painful death imaginable. I would not wish such an
end on my worst enemy. It started as cancer of the breast and
eventually ended up as cancer of the body. When I retold this the
other day, dwelling for a long time on a sad time which I would rather
forget Silvie for once finished off her mother's batch of partly
unfrozen mixed veggies soaked in Campbell's mushroom soup sauce. Then,
when I cooked a mess of fresh vegetables in the new solar oven the
following day it was as always, they distained even a taste. I did not
even try. The first use of the solar oven was fairly successful, but
the second time they were more bleached than cooked. I think I need to
improve the seal to the upper glass somehow.

Today I came up with another ploy. Why not simply translate the
findings of nutritional science reported by the press directly into
Gabby and Bea stories? One spate of Internet based articles about
black beans last week furnished the material of the following story.

One day Gabby and Bea were asked to come to Nicaragua to help with
their dietary crisis, known to the world as the Black Bean Problem...

I refused to begin the tale until Silvie had sampled at least one
black bean, a can of which I added to this week's bean medley salad.
Mixed bean salad has become my dietary staple over the past months. I
stipulated: "You have to know what black beans taste like if you are
going to understand this story." She balked for a long time but such
is Silvie's love for Gabby and Bea that finally she picked out one
lonely black bean, lifting it gingerly on the tips of two fingers,
carefully wiping it over arms and table to remove all hint of my
horrible, poisonous olive oil and vinegar dressing, and rolled it over
lips and tongue. When it seemed certain that the bean would not
resurface, I finally started the story.

Managua is the capital of Nicaragua and here all rich people in
Nicaragua cluster. When they get bigger paychecks they go straight to
the big city and buy big houses and stick out their tongues in mockery
at the poor peasants in the countryside. "We are rich now, nya, nya,
nya, we live better, we eat better, we have better education, we are
better in every way. We never have to eat your horrible burritos made
with black beans." When they hear this poor people lowered their heads
in shame and feel sad. Whenever peasant children do well at school,
get "A"'s and finally attain better jobs, they do the same thing, they
too move to Managua, throw out all their black beans and get in their
big cars and drive to McDonalds for a hamburger. Then they go home and
mock parents, brothers and sisters, saying,

"Bla to you, I do not have to eat a single burrito. We do not even
have to go near a Taco Bell. On Monday we go to McDonald's, on Tuesday
to Wendy's, on Wednesday to Harvey's, and so forth. You have nothing
but your black beans."

Doctors meanwhile made scientific studies and found that the rich were
getting sicker and that the humble diet of the peasant was healthier,
thanks in large part to the black bean. But nothing could persuade the
rich that their fatty diet was killing them or indeed the poor that
their beans were any good. It was time to call in Gabby and Bea. The
fox and wolf went to Baha'i local assemblies with a plan. Every
Assembly called rich and poor together in a single meeting and
projected these words of the Master on the wall.

"At whatever time highly-skilled physicians shall have developed the
healing of illnesses by means of foods, and shall make provision for
simple foods, and shall prohibit humankind from living as slaves to
their lustful appetites, it is certain that the incidence of chronic
and diversified illnesses will abate, and the general health of all
mankind will be much improved. This is destined to come about. In the
same way, in the character, the conduct and the manners of men,
universal modifications will be made." (Abdu'l-Baha, Selections, 156)

Then Gabby and Bea presented the doctors' requirements and
descriptions of what a simple, natural diet would be, along with their
questions about how to get people to eat it. They also asked about
cutting back on the underlying problem, self-enslavement to lustful
appetites. Gabby and Bea asked:

"What suggestions do you have for `universal modifications' in conduct
and manners?"

To everybody's surprise, the rich were silent. They were flummoxed.
The poor had the most ideas, and being schooled in hardship, they
proved the most willing and morally capable of changing their
lifestyle. After visiting many villages and getting to know the
country mice and spending much time consulting with the city mice in
Managua, Gabby and Bea took the plan to stage two. Rich and poor got
together and made up a better diet, not a richer or poorer diet but a
better one. Everyone got together and agreed upon goals to aim for
over twenty years, over ten and over one year. They hired dieticians
and cooks and teachers; once everybody knew where they were going it
was simple, like the diet they were aiming for. They made things
happen according to a timetable.

It was the custom in Nicaragua to lift a conquering hero onto the
people's shoulders and throw her in the air. When they came back to
visit Nicaragua every year, Gabby and Bea were lifted on stronger,
healthier, happier shoulders. They were therefore thrown a little
higher each year. At the tenth year, Gabby and Bea hit the ceiling. It
was decided to hold the ceremony outdoors. The twentieth year of the
plan marked the time when all vices had been eliminated. People had
learned to love virtue, to cling always to the Golden Mean. Slavery to
lusts and desires was rare and highly disapproved of. The Nicaraguan
diet was ruled by the WHO to be at optimum for every citizen -- that
means that they ate the best diet for the genes of that body in that
economy. The black bean had become a staple not only here but, on its
own merits, included in the diets of all, around the world. Gabby and
Bea went to many places in the world, picking out the best parts of
the poor people's diets, and everywhere they were first to learn a
new, world diet. But the Nicaraguan country mice were the most famous
of all, hired to work around the world as dietary consultants, as food
plan executives and teachers of virtue. Gabby and Bea were so
acclaimed that they had to wear parachutes when thrown in the air. As
they floated to the ground they sang praises for the One who had got
them there, `Abdu'l-Baha, the Master, the perfect exemplar.

John Taylor

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Child Meets the Master

A Child Meets the Master; Anecdote in Ruhi, Book V

John Taylor; 28 July 2005

Friends, our community is studying Ruhi Book Five, which goes through
the plans and preparation for teaching a second year level of
children's classes to children of about 8 years old. In one of the
lessons we went through this week, Lesson 5 I think it was, the
children's class teacher is asked to retell an anecdote of Leroy Ioas
meeting the Master as a young child in Chicago. Although I already
sent most of the following out on the Badi' list about a year ago, I
am sending it out again now because it documents the original source
of this story, which is not attributed in the Ruhi book.

The authoritative version of this anecdote I have pointed out here by
adding "xxxx" before and after it, and I have included in the text
Piff's footnote documenting it. The Ruhi version of this story is
commendably accurate, unlike many others, though it does leave out
some details, notably the blood the Master spilt on the flower. If it
were up to me, I might pick out a different story of the Master to
tell to children, but the fact that it has been changed and twisted
around so much may indicate that it does have a certain appeal; it is
certainly one of only a few that I can think of that tell of a meeting
with the Master from a child's point of view.

Anecdotes about `Abdu'l-Baha

"... Abdu'l-Baha's visits to the West in 1911-13 greatly consolidated
and encouraged the nascent Bahai communities in Europe and North
America and his talks, and anecdotes about him provided an important
body of information the community could use to shape its beliefs,
attitudes and conduct. Official Baha'i doctrine identifies Abdul-Baha
as the perfect exemplar of Baha'u'llah's teachings; indeed, when
contemplating a course of action, Baha'is often ask themselves what
Abdul-Baha would have done. Thus knowing what Abdu'l-Baha did do in
various situations is important. Despite discouragement from Baha'i
leaders to attach importance to stories told about Abdul-Baha,
exemplary stories in which he is the central character are circulated
widely and frequently in the Baha'i community.

"Anecdotes about Abdu'l-Baha are too numerous to treat comprehensively
in the scope of the present study. Popular lore recounts episodes in
which Abdul-Baha defeated a hypnotist sent by enemies of Baha'i to
disrupt one of his talks; walked out of an unchaste movie or stage
performance; joked with Emily Pankhurst, a leading English
suffragette; met with industrialist Andrew Carnegie and afterwards
declared that in the next world Mr Carnegie would be a stone; rejected
a gift given by a devotee on behalf of her husband; and replied to
questions posed by Baha'i followers by answering them in their dreams.

"Often the stories convey a moral teaching as well as indicating the
mysterious, spiritual powers of Abdul-Baha. The following story
illustrates a number of important elements present in Baha'i community
discourse about Abdul-Baha and will perhaps serve as an example of an
entire class of anecdotes. It is useful for our purposes because it
exists in at least two variants, one American and one Iranian, and
also for the fact that its origin can be traced to an autobiographical
account, enabling some analysis of the shaping process the story has
undergone. The following is an American version:

"At one of Abdul-Baha's speaking engagements in the United States a
young boy sat in the audience, drinking in the Master's words. At the
end of the meeting the Master began to distribute flowers to the
guests. The boy thought to himself, If I am a good Baha'i, Abdul-Baha
will give me one of His red roses. But all the flowers were
distributed before Abdul-Baha reached the boy. The boy sadly left the
room and sat down on the stairs outside. Abdul-Baha appeared beside
the lad. He plucked a white rose from His robe, took out a pin and
gashed His finger so that the blood flowed freely. The Master
proceeded to paint the rose red with His own blood, then handed the
crimson flower to the boy, saying, `You are a good Baha'i.' The boy
later became a Hand of the Cause of God.

"Official Bahai history acknowledges that some of the incidents
associated with Abdul-Baha during his Western visits were marvellous
or strange. Popular lore attributes to him a miraculous insight into
the wishes and desires of his devotees; he was deemed capable of, in
effect, reading their minds (or at least of knowing the condition of
their hearts). For this reason, some Baha'is certainly consider the
above story plausible.

"The episode illustrates Abdul-Baha's supernatural gift as well as his
exemplary kindness. One of the Baha'is, a young boy, has made a secret
wish: If I am a good Baha'i, Abdul-Baha will give me one of his red
roses. Abdul-Baha's response is wonderful beyond expectation: he
removes a white rose from his own robe, cuts his finger with a pin,
paints the rose red with his blood, and hands it to the boy saying the
very words, `You are a good Baha'i.' The fact that the boy later grows
up to become a Hand of the Cause of God adds an additional prophetic
appropriateness to Abdul-Baha's act.

"The episode above is said to have occurred during Abdul-Baha's
sojourn among the Baha'is of North America in 1912. The original
source for the story appears to be an incident in the boyhood life of
the late Hand of the Cause Leroy Ioas; the following is Mr. Ioas'
account of the episode:


"I recall another . . . visit to the Master in the Plaza Hotel [in
Chicago]. We were going there, and I decided. . . to buy Him some
flowers. . . I didn't have much money, but I bought Him a beautiful
bouquet of white carnations... After we approached the hotel and got
into the main floor, I said to my father, I am just not going to bring
the Master these flowers. He said, Why not? ... the Master loves
flowers. I said, I know He does, but... I come to the Master offering
Him my heart and I don't want Him to think that I am currying any
favours. He knows the condition of a person's heart, and that is all I
have to offer. My father took the flowers and went upstairs, and he
handed them to the Master, and the Master sat talking, feeling those
flowers, smelling them, putting His face into them.

"With this, He gave this beautiful talk after He finished, He stood up
shaking hands with everyone, and to everyone He gave one of these
white carnations. He shook hands with them and gave them a white
carnation, shook hands with the next one and gave him a white
carnation; shook hands with the next one and gave him a white
carnation. These white carnations were getting to be very few, and I
was standing behind Abdul-Baha, and He had three or four left, and I
thought, Gee, I wish He would turn around and shake hands with me
before those are all gone. Just as I thought that, He turned around
and looked at me, and He had a beautiful red rose. He pulled this red
rose off His coat and handed it to me. As He did so, some of the blood
of His finger was cut on the pin, so that I have that red rose with
the Masters blood on it.

[fn: This incident is recorded in an unpublished historical document
prepared by the Ioas family, "Part of the Baha'i History of the Family
of Charles and Maria Ioas", August, 1978, pp. 14-15. See also Chapman,
Leroy Ioas, p. 23]


"Mr Ioas's written version of the narrative contains many of the same
points as the oral version. In both versions, Abdul-Baha is the
central character; in both he is able to read the condition of a
persons heart; in both there is a marvellous synchronicity: Mr Ioas
thought, Gee I wish He would turn around and Abdul-Baha did.

As in the oral version, Abdu'l-Baha presents the boy with a flower
from his own clothing; and in both versions the flower the boy
receives is different in colour from those received by the others. But
the most dramatic and wonderful element of the episode the deliberate
painting of the flower with blood has been inflated from Abdul-Bahas
having cut his finger on a pin as he removed the flower from his coat.
The character of the act has changed from an accident to an
intentional performance on the part of Abdul-Baha. The original
version does not mention the boy's silent wish, his dejection at not
receiving a flower or Abdul-Baha's reassuring pronouncement you are a
good Baha'i. Self- doubt and a need for reassurance are, of course,
universal human feelings. Baha'is, like others who strive to live up
to certain ideals of behaviour, are often acutely aware of their
personal shortcomings and the distance separating their individual
lives and attitudes from the Bahai standard.

"The Iranian variant, attributed by my informant to an Iranian Hand of
the Cause, differs in some details from the American version and has a
slightly different conclusion (and theme):

"The episode occurred in the West at a Baha'i meeting. Abdul-Baha had
spoken and was passing out roses. All of the roses were red but one,
which was white. The Baha'i who received the white rose felt singled
out -- was something wrong with him? Why had his rose been white and
all the others red? Abdu'l-Baha turned, took the rose, cut his flesh
so that blood flowed down his arm, reddened the petals in the blood
and handed it back saying,

"I love all of you, all of you the same."

The central act of the story is the same in this version: the white
rose is intentionally painted by Abdu'l-Baha with his own blood. The
Baha'i, however, is no longer identified as a young person nor as a
future Baha'i dignitary. The flower, again different in hue from the
others, has not come from Abdul-Baha's robe and the point Abdul-Baha
is making is not that the person receiving the rose is a good Baha'i
but that he is loved the same as all other members of the community.

"Again, however, Abdu'l-Baha seems to have read the mind (Or guessed
the secret doubt or question) of the Baha'i and, unasked, given a
wonderful answer. This version would seem to address a need on the
part of the Iranian Baha'is for reassurance that all of them were
loved, important members of the community. Perhaps issues of division
based on Bahai status, family connection or wealth troubled the
community and were addressed by the story.

"All versions of the anecdote, including the original, reinforce for
Baha'is their belief in the special powers and capacity for love
exhibited by `Abdul-Baha. However, in the oral versions, details have
been shaped to emphasize with more force the message that Abdul-Baha
was a unique figure with superhuman insight and the capability for
gestures of poetic kindness. The story illustrates Abdul-Baha's
sacrificial spirit; he is willing to shed his blood for the happiness
of the Baha'is. The story also illustrates the infusion of the
marvellous into Bahai community life.

-From David Piff, Baha'i Lore, George Ronald, Oxford, 2000, pp. 93-5

John Taylor

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Most Shameful Story

please note: from now on back essay of the Badi' list will be
available at the blog in the "message to:" line of this mailout.

The Most Shameful Story Ever Told; Why the Manifestation Must Suffer

By John Taylor; 26 July, 2005

Our theme for the day comes from our morning reading for today, a
passage from the Persian Bayan (VI, 11). The Bab writes,

"Everyone is eagerly awaiting His appearance, yet since their inner
eyes are not directed towards Him sorrow must needs befall Him." (The
Bab, Selections, 96)

The Bab puts it unambiguously and emphatically: "He must needs
suffer." Where is the justice? Why do the Manifestations have to
suffer when it is our fault? The shame of shutting our inner eyes is
ours, surely. The fault is in us. We overdeveloped our outer eyes and
left the inner eye blind. Why are the Holiest Beings in history forced
to take on our sorrow and regret? I guess in order to understand the
answer to these questions, I will have to open my inner eye myself.
But what does that mean, the inner and outer eye?

We have inner eyes as well as outer eyes, and the Bab earlier on in
this Bayan has established that inner sight is not a purely
intellectual faculty or a product of formal human learning, inasmuch
as every nation in every age has a cadre of learned and accomplished
thinkers. It is axiomatic: the only way truly to know something is
through the One who conceived of it and owns it, God, or rather
through the One He appoints to represent it to us. "True knowledge,"
He says, "... is the knowledge of God, and this is none other than the
recognition of His Manifestation in each Dispensation." (Selections,
89) Suffering, sincerity and reflection are prime requisites for the
inner sight, and here the poor and unknown tend to have a head start
over the advantaged and famous.

Privileged or not, all are equally responsible to turn their inner eye
to the Manifestation, to recognize what we see and to obey it. If we
do not, He suffers more. What? In our reading for this morning the Bab
expands his meaning further, using the historical precedent of the
life of Muhammad,

"In the case of the Apostle of God -- may the blessings of God rest
upon Him -- before the revelation of the Qur'an everyone bore witness
to His piety and noble virtues. Behold Him then after the revelation
of the Qur'an. What outrageous insults were levelled against Him, as
indeed the pen is ashamed to recount." (Id.)

The greatest story ever told, then, is also the most shameful ever
told. Why does the Bab single out Muhammad's story here? After all,
Christianity talks about the shame of Jesus' story too. Take Paul's
expression, to "crucify Christ again." Here is the context in which
Paul originated this strange sounding way of expressing the shame of
human blindness,

"For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have
tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy
Ghost, and have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the
world to come, if they shall fall away, to renew them again unto
repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh,
and put him to an open shame. For the earth which drinketh in the rain
that cometh oft upon it, and bringeth forth herbs meet for them by
whom it is dressed, receiveth blessing from God: but that which
beareth thorns and briers is rejected, and is nigh unto cursing; whose
end is to be burned." (Hebrews 6:4-7)

Believers are domesticated plants, expected to grow and bear fruit for
the gardener. If they grow as they please, if they do what comes
naturally they will be fit only for burning. From the gardener's point
of view, burning is the most shameful fate possible for one of his
plants. It must cause any gardener pain to dispose of what he planted
with his own hands, weeded and watered over many weeks. Thus a
superficial, lukewarm Christian is shameful because he causes not
himself but Jesus pain and shame, Whose name he wears and bears. Thus
he re-enacts the crucifixion in his own heart, in the same way that an
unfaithful Muslim shames Muhammad by siding with the idolatrous
Meccans who persecuted Him, and a worldly Jew shames Moses, the Great
Liberator, by going over to the makers of idols in the wilderness. In
every age the most shameful story ever told is retold, over and over.

Yet there is a crucial difference with the advent of Muhammad and now
with the Bab. These two revelations greatly intensify the shame. How
so? Consider how the Bab continues in the Bayan, telling His own

"Likewise behold the Point of the Bayan. His behaviour prior to the
declaration of His mission is clearly evident unto those who knew Him.
Now, following His manifestation, although He hath, up to the present,
revealed no less than five hundred thousand verses on different
subjects, behold what calumnies are uttered, so unseemly that the pen
is stricken with shame at the mention of them." (Selections, 96-7)

Muhammad, then, was the first prophet to have His message written
down, and his frozen text, the Qu'ran or recitation, made him the Seal
of the Prophets, a stamp that gives authenticity and closure to the
verbal messages of the ages before. The fact that he provided written
testimony made the shame worse for His opponents, for they had no
valid excuses for attacking Him.

An enemy of a prophet with a book need only read it for himself if he
doubts to uncover undisputed evidence as to whether the words are of
God. The Gospels, on the other hand, existed only in the heads of the
Apostles for at least a generation after the crucifixion. Therefore
the pain and shame were quicker, more intense and unreasoned for
Muhammad than any Manifestations before Him. And now the Bab, with
even more unmistakable written proofs, arrives as the second
Manifestation with a Book written by Himself.

As the Bab says, His very pen shrinks in shame to tell of the violent
rejection. As mentioned, "Qu'ran" is an Arabic word meaning recitation
or dictation, inspired or memorized words dictated to a secretary;
from a literary point of view this text is challenging, extremely
condensed and abstruse. However "Bayan" the Universal House of Justice
(Messages 1963 to 1986, 735) defines as "exposition, explanation,
lucidity, eloquence, utterance." A Bayan is a turning point in our
collective evolution because it contains many verses "on different
subjects," which I take to mean that it covers a broader range of
human experience, that it not only pronounces but explains and
completes, that it is, in a word, beautiful. With a Bayan as well as a
Qu'ran we have fewer excuses than ever before.

But the final sentence of our selection for this morning is the
kicker. The Bab writes:

"But if all men were to observe the ordinances of God no sadness would
befall that heavenly Tree." (The Bab, Selections, 96-97)

This surely gives a good hint at why a more complete, authoritative,
written testimony increases sadness for its Revelator. The first
reason the Bab gave is because we do not use our inner eye, the second
is because we disobey God's law by rejecting the Manifestation. For as
the Aqdas states right off, it is first to know God and then to obey
Him. Even an authentically written set of laws is still a dead letter
if we do not put it into action.

So to love Him is to do our best to reduce His anguish, to make Him
happy not out of hope of reward or fear of punishment but out of love,
because we see Him whole and follow with total purity and sincerity.

"Believe ye then part of the Book, and deny part? And who committeth a
greater wrong than he who hindereth God's name from being remembered
in his temples, and who hasteth to ruin them? such men cannot enter
them but with fear. Their's is shame in this world, and a severe
torment in the next." (Qur'an 2:75-80, Rodwell, tr)

John Taylor

Monday, July 25, 2005

Slots and Solar Oven

A Day At the Races and Slots, Solar Oven Experiment

By John Taylor; 24 July, 2005

Two days I have missed writing you, dear reader of the Badi list. On
day one of my break, Friday, I visited my non-Baha'i, philosopher's
cafe and chess friend Stu. In his new car he showed me the trailer he
owns in Sherkston Shores, a vacation beach resort near Fort Erie, then
we drove to Fort Erie and he showed me around its "Race Track and
Slots." Marie likes horses and wants to visit this establishment and
so I asked him to show me how to get there and get around. I had never
been to a race track or a gambling establishment, so it was a totally
new experience.

They were not racing that day and everything was as empty as it gets.
The stands were windswept and ghostly, but immaculate. Above were
sparsely peopled lounges with walls papered with television screens
depicting races going on in other parts of North America. If you must
bet, you can still put your money on these pari-mutuels, anytime,
anywhere. I walked in and a muscled young man came up to me and asked
how you place a bet. "You are definitely talking to the wrong person,"
I replied.

The "slots," it turned out, was a huge slot machine emporium next to
the stadium, about the size of an airplane hanger or football field.
It was nowhere near full but still there must have been two or three
hundred seniors betting away there, filling the one-armed bandits with
their chips and quarters, most smoking away contentedly. Smokers are
banished from most public places now but not here; one vice cancels
out another, I guess. The bright lights mesmerized but after a while
the sight went from sad to depressing. A great many older folk
inhabited the place, a mere handful of middle aged, the rest ranging
from their fifties to their eighties; the real losers in the long run,
I suppose, would be not themselves so much as their heirs and
families. I stopped to ask a security guard if I was allowed to take
photos -- I have learned to do that since I was accosted by a guard in
Toys-R-Us, of all places, for taking pictures on "private property."
No way, was the guard's reply, unless you win a jackpot, in which case
they take your picture for you.

Though a sign warned that the place was monitored by video cameras, I
was well aware that by crossing that threshold I was being
photographed, my image was being checked by facial recognition
software and that this data was being shared instantaneously with
every other casino across the province, and who knows what other
institutions, legal or otherwise. Yes, my curiosity eroded my privacy
rights that afternoon just a little bit more than before. If I had
pulled out Silvie's little digicam just them, which I carry in my
shirt pocket, I would have made myself instant persona non grata in
every gambling establishment across the nation. Not that that is a

The place was so big that Stu and I got lost and could not find the
exit for a time. Many slot machines, I noticed, were themed around
television shows of the Sixties and Seventies, like Bewitched, Hogan's
Heroes, and so forth. I really wished I could have taken photos of the
clientele, they looked so sad and pathetic. You hear the usual jokes
about gamblers, the quip came to mind that lotteries and gambling
amount to nothing less than voluntary taxes on the mathematically
challenged, but to see the victims in all their squalid glory there
before me was truly heart rending.

I am sure that on the face of it the casinos justify stomping on
people's privacy rights with their hidden cameras in order to prevent
cheating, but I felt certain that the underlying reason is that they
do not want it to be generally known how decrepit and exploited these
aged gamblers look. Is that all the wisdom these codgers have gained
over their lifetime, to spend their time in an utterly futile and
selfish quest of somehow beating the odds? No wonder they are so
determined that only the smiling winners are photographed and get into
the papers, that the hunched over majority remain as invisible as
possible. And since the government is the biggest gambling addict,
they see that the newspapers cooperate in this flow of information,
that headlines always read, "So and so wins," and, "So and so beats
the odds," and not, "Millions of losers lose out on their life

As we drove back to Port (as locals call Port Colbourne) we drove by a
battlefield museum devoted to an engagement during the war of 1812,
and I thought, here is a place I'd rather take the kids to see though
it probably does not have the horses that would satisfy the wife. That
kind of thing is much more edifying than a gambling hole, however
shiny and well equipped. Then after we loaded my old computer into my
car and I drove back home alone from Port to Dunnville, somebody on
the radio quoted this passage from the Bible:

"For they have healed the hurt of the daughter of my people slightly,
saying, Peace, peace; when there is no peace." (Jer 8:11, KJV)

A cry of false peace is all you expect from an addicted government,
lies instead of truth, cynicism rather than plans or hope for a cure;
excuses and crippled rights rather than real justice; a semblance of
order, not law. Just keep things going enough to keep the organism
alive and the flow of exploitation continuing apace.

Then yesterday, Saturday, I cooked my first solar barbeque. Here is
how it happened. On Thursday I had to drive to Hamilton to return a
long overdue library book. When I entered the library I found that the
lights were out. It was a conservation measure; they were doing their
part to prevent the rolling blackouts that Ontario Hydro is
threatening if we do not cut back on power consumption. Since I had
forgotten my reading glasses that combined with the darkness prevented
my actually reading in this Glanbrook Library. Sitting in the dark
with a magazine on my knee, unable to read it, well that set me to
thinking. I should do my part too by getting a solar oven going. I was
on a "solar and independent living" Internet mailing group a few years
ago where most of the participants were sharing recipes for their
solar ovens. I collected plans for solar ovens but never did anything
about it. It was almost too easy for me; you can make such an oven out
of a cardboard box and a piece of glass.

On the way home I stopped off at "Triple M Demolition," a huge lot
near the one store town of Canfield (its general store is called,
simply, "The Store.") that is jammed with industrial castoffs stored
in old streetcars, buses and derelict truck containers. I had not
visited Triple M for several years. I took pictures as I walked
through (here is a moral dictum for me from now on, never go anywhere
that does not allow you to take photos freely), and if I have the
gumption I will include some shots in the finished version of this
letter. One object on a corner that fascinated me was a black, rounded
steel outhouse-like structure that the guy at the gate called a
"darkroom." Indeed, when you slide the curved door shut around you,
you find yourself in pitch darkness; I positively drooled at what a
perfect camera obscura this tiny out-building would make. Put it on
the roof of a building on a street corner, or on Hamilton's mountain
brow, and you would have a wonderful observation post.

Going through the grounds I picked up about five items that I thought
might be good for a solar oven, and when I went to inquire about
prices the gatekeeper upon seeing them said simply, "Ten bucks for all
of it." The pile included what looked like a microwave carousel
platter, made of glass, smooth on the outside and knobby on the
inside, except that it was dome-like, circular and concave. There was
a broken plastic lamp fixture that he said came out of a big box
store, perhaps a Wal-Mart or Canadian Tire. Combined with an old
lidless crock pot that I got from a free garage sale, I thought that
this might make an efficient solar oven that would, most important of
all, be very easy to put together. As for the ten bucks, I realized
that I needed to spend something in order to force a commitment to
actually completing this long delayed project; so after my usual
stewing and dawdling I shelled out for it on the spot.

Laziness still probably would have won out over initiative had I not
blabbed about my solar oven plan at the dinner table. This got the
curiosity of the children primed and the next day, even though it was
raining all morning, what I heard from them when I got back from Fort
Erie was not hello we missed you but,

"Why did you not do the solar barbeque today? We want to see what it is like!"

So the next day, Saturday, I was pushed into finally putting my dream
into action. I was still sitting here around 10 AM writing away when
Thomas rushed in and asked about the barbeque. I answered,

"Yes, now is the time I should put it out, thank you for reminding me."

I kissed my essay for that day goodbye and collected two beets, some
carrots, an onion and a yam, put them on tinfoil in the crock pot, and
covered it with one item in the ten buck solar oven kit, a round, flat
piece of glass that may well have been the porthole on a submarine for
all I know, and on top of that I placed the broken plastic light
fixture. This is shaped like a megaphone, a half-cone, and it directed
the light onto the top of the crock pot. It looked quite impressive;
turn it upside down and it would make the model for a pretty good
looking Mashriqu'l-Adhkar, certainly better than that horrible thing
going up in Santiago, Chile, I must say.

After about an hour, at noon, the oven was hot enough to have fogged
over on the inside, with many beads of water obscuring the view of the
veggies inside. Every once in a while Thomas would come running in
complaining about how long it was taking. I took pictures of the oven,
which inspired Silvie to include it in her daily drama, this one being
called, "Bea and Blakey." She took many pictures of her own (it is her
camera, after all), some with Thomas standing by the new oven with the
two stuffed animals in his arms.

The oven got direct radiation until about four in the afternoon, when
a neighbor's huge tree started to overshadow it. I figured all I had
to do was retain the heat that was already in there for the next hour,
so I added the dome shaped microwave platter onto the flat surface of
the submarine porthole, with the fanned out reflector on top of both.
With this added warm air layer insulating the oven, the lighting
fixture kept the underneath layers hot to the touch until 5 PM,
suppertime. With great drama and fanfare I carried the meal into the
dining room in a triumphal procession. To my surprise, the oven
actually worked. The yam was cooked through, as was the onion and even
one of the beets. The other beet and the carrots on the bottom needed
another minute in the microwave. That was cheating of course but on
the whole I was very pleased with this first meal direct from the star
Sol. Experienced solar cooks can do a large meal even on overcast
winter days. I still have the option of covering the outside of the
plastic fixture with aluminum foil, which should increase its
reflectivity to the point where I might manage as well as any of the
members of the Solar and Independent Living list.

If you want to see some gallows humor in reaction to the London
bombings, check out:


This is almost as good an idea as my proposed "Warning Labels Dot
Com." Now that I am cut off from television the atmosphere of
widespread fear caused by terrorist acts seems strangely distant and
muted. When I first heard the news my father rushed up the stairs
saying breathlessly, "They blew up the underground in London." I
imagined that the whole subway system had been destroyed and the city
was near collapse. When I finally got to a newspaper a day later I was
relieved to read that it was not nearly as bad as I had feared. Fear
is the fruit and the fertilizer of the politics of terror. Jeremiah
had something to say about that, too.

"For thus saith the LORD; We have heard a voice of trembling, of fear,
and not of peace." (Jeremiah 30:5, KJV)

John Taylor