Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Noam Chomsky Show

What about a talk show styled after Jerry Springer

hosted by Noam Chomsky. Here it is.


Christopher Walken Bar Joke Impression

I have become strangely fascinated with impressions of Walkin. This is one of the better ones.


Monday, March 29, 2010

Esperanto Meeting

On Saturday we visited the Lily Show at Gage Park in Hamilton with some Esperantist friends,

From Badi Blog

Reward and Punishment

Thinking about two "Great Being" Statements


By John Taylor; 2010 March 29, Ala' 09, 166 BE

Let us look today at a "Great Being" statement from the Tablet to Maqsud, one of Baha'u'llah's most important tablets. As my regular readers know, I have been mystified for a long time by these pronouncements labelled as coming from the "Great Being." Who is this Great Being? Is it another name for God? Why did Baha'u'llah label these, and not other statements, as coming from this Being? Indisputably, these are "great" in the sense that they are salient teachings of Baha'u'llah.

Certainly, the Master seems to have thought so.

Many, if not most of the Baha'i principles that Abdu'l-Baha proclaimed throughout Europe and North America, for example, come out of one or more of these Great Being statements. As we shall see, the two that I have selected for today can be applied to the principles of economic equity and of the promotion of education.

Here is the Great Being statement for today,

"The Great Being saith: The structure of world stability and order hath been reared upon, and will continue to be sustained by, the twin pillars of reward and punishment." (Tablets, 163)

But this all ends at the border.

Pollution and climate change are the result of the fact that on the international level corporations and other groups act with total impunity. Money is easily shifted around the world at a keystroke; even the 9-11 attacks on the U.S. only briefly slowed the flood of hot money. Interpol reports that this finances a veritable explosion of international criminal activity over the past decade. The chaotic, failed state of Somalia, for example, allows organized criminals to turn it into an illegal dumping ground for toxic waste from around the world. Most terrorism is a cross-border phenomenon, as is modern war, particular the bloodiest war in recent memory, the free-for-all for mineral wealth in the Congo. Even stable states, like India, are uprooting their aboriginal population in exchange for bribes from mining conglomerates. I could go on but it would only discourage both myself and my readers.

Nor are there any international awards or titles available to encourage good behaviour across borders. Here is an idea, let Queen Elizabeth and other royal houses pass on their right to confer knighthoods and other aristocratic titles to some world institution devoted to that purpose. Then that body could hand out knighthoods, for example, to the police operatives who bring down the new mafias. Or perhaps a sort of Nobel prize given to officials instrumental in blocking the flow of hot money.

I would like to see a title, like "sir," awarded to entire families. That way, any man in the family can call himself "sir," or any woman call herself "dame," as long as that family maintains the highest moral standard. Let one of them be caught committing adultery or some other sexual transgression, and they all lose their title. Every family member loses out on an international honour.

I am old enough to remember when adultery was illegal, and the concern of the wronged spouse at that time was that even if he or she felt very hurt and angry at the betrayal, it remained in their material interest to be sure that their wandering spouse was not arrested and thrown in jail. The only result of imprisoning an adulterer is worse privation for the whole family unit. The innocent suffer more than the guilty. But if the loss is entirely nominal or titular, then it would remain in every family member's interest to keep each other honest -- "honest" in the Shakespearian sense of "chaste".

Another idea for a cosmopolitan award that might appeal to a more egalitarian world is to keep the bar very low, at least in the beginning. At the opening ceremonies of a world government, say, let the new institution confer upon everybody on earth a title, like "human," as in "Human Jane Jones," or, "Citizen John Smith," or perhaps the Shakespearean title for the lowborn: "sirrah," like, "Sirrah Joan Smith." Make the title universal, but a privilege that can be lost. Once the right to bear a title is revoked due, say, to wrongdoing, make it easy, after taking a course or two, to earn this basic title back with a little work. Higher titles would be correspondingly harder to regain. This could be the start of an entire system of moral education based on rewards and incentives rather than the little we have now, sterile condemnation and impotent indignation.

One reason personal sexual morality was tossed out in Western nations after the 1960's was that, as explained by a slogan of the time, "The state has no business sticking its nose into the bedrooms of the nation." That may be so, but under a Comenian world government, families would be given the power to maintain their own integrity. Thus any title would have to be approved by families first, and then confirmed by all three wings of governance, science, religion and politics. It would not be just the state, it would be science and religion, as well as the family, that stick their noses in. This would not satisfy the most liberal among us, but it would at least assure that any laws enforcing morality would be the opinion of the whole society as to what is right and what is wrong. This would strike a proper balance between being too Puritanical and being overly liberal and tolerant. The award of a title would come with high expectations of righteousness, without encouraging dour severity or a moralizing, patronizing attitude.

This prepares us for a second "Great Being" statement, which I will look at next time.


Two turtles at play Dvě želvy si hrajou

Marie took this of some turtles and our kids at the
Hamilton Children's Museum on Saturday.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Spiritual Conference Rooms

At the Plaza


Abdu'l-Baha at the Plaza

By John Taylor; 2010 March 28, Ala' 08, 166 BE

A week or so ago I was watching a new DVD called "Bride Wars," about two girlfriends who grow up dreaming of a wedding at the Plaza Hotel in New York. They end up fighting over the coveted reservation at the Plaza of their respective weddings. In the end they reconcile in the middle of a fistfight in the Plaza ballroom. A sort of chick buddy flick, starring the decorative Anne Hathaway. I found out from the Plaza Hotel website that it is the same Plaza Hotel where dozens of other films have been set, including Disney's Eloise series, which is about a little girl who lives in the hotel permanently.

As I was watching Bride Wars, I began to wonder if this is the same Plaza Hotel where 'Abdu'l-Baha stayed. If so, it would certainly change the flavour of this and several other movies for me. As far as I have been able to determine, it is not the same one. There is evidently another Plaza Hotel in Chicago, and that is where 'Abdu'l-Baha definitely stayed. Promulgation calls it the "Hotel Plaza" whether the two Plazas are affiliated, and whether the Master stayed in the New York Plaza Hotel and just did not give any talks there, I have no idea. Maybe some resident New Yorkers can enlighten us about that. Maybe some resident Chicagoans can enlighten us about any movies that are set in the Chicago Plaza, assuming that it is still standing.

Anyway, I did uncover some information about the Master's stay in the Chicago Plaza.

We know that, because of the presence and activity of the covenant breakers, the Master was not at His happiest in Chicago. This seems to have been behind the following reaction to the luxury of the Plaza, one which He does not seem to have had in the other major Western capitals.

"One day 'Abdu'l-Baha was invited to the Hotel Plaza. He chose to sit in one of the smallest rooms and declined to inspect the palatial rooms of the hotel. He told the members of His retinue that whenever He encountered magnificent buildings and enchanting scenery He was immediately reminded of the dark pit of Tihran and the desolate barracks of 'Akka, of the sufferings of Baha'u'llah. He was then overcome by sorrow and had no heart for sightseeing." (H.M. Balyuzi, Abdu'l-Baha - The Centre of the Covenant, p. 226)

It was at the Chicago Plaza that the Master gave one of His most oft-cited talks about consultation. Here He said, in part,

"In this Cause consultation is of vital importance, but spiritual conference and not the mere voicing of personal views is intended." (2 May 1912, Promulgation, 72-74)

I look at that sentence and wonder about our democracies. How often we spew our opinions at one another like upchuck and think that we have accomplished something! No, that only spreads revulsion and disease. What makes the democratic process holy and good is not the mere fact that the people express themselves but their ability, given of God, to go beyond, to open up in love, to melt hearts into one and become of one opinion, e pluribus unum.

That is spiritual conference.
Here is some more interesting information that turned up about the visit to the Plaza.


Honore J. Jaxon wrote a report that started off:

"During 'Abdu'l-Baha's stay in Chicago at the Plaza Hotel, it became a matter of frequent occurrence for him to take a morning or evening stroll in Lincoln Park that magnificent pleasance where lawns and woods extend northward from the hotel for several miles along the shore of Lake Michigan..."
-from Star of the West, Vol. 3, No. 4, p. 27


Marzieh Gail writes:

"Just before leaving for the West Coast -- John [Bosch] did not give me the date; I assume it was May 2, a day when the Master had delivered five public addresses -- he was paying his hotel bill at the Plaza when 'Abdu'l-Baha came in.

'One of the Persians in His party called to me. The man at the desk said, "Those people want you." I stepped over to the elevator, and 'Abdu'l-Baha seized my hand and wouldn't let go, and pulled me into the elevator and up to His room on the fifth floor.'

Nobody was there except Dr. Baghdadi. 'Abdu'l-Baha did not speak until they were in the room. Then he went to His bed, lay down, and began talking with Baghdadi; He told how He had addressed four hundred women, and described how the ladies looked. The Master had found them terribly funny; with keen enjoyment, He described them to John and the Doctor.

Anyone who remembers the ladies of 1912, not as Hollywood films them but as they were, mostly plain and dumpy, with stiff skirts, jutting bosoms, 'rats,' (these were hair pads with tapering ends) and to crown all, hats that were wedding cakes and nesting birds, knows. Then He said, 'Now it's time for you to go.' Somebody had given Him a big cake. He put that in John's arms, with apples and bananas, so many that John had to get somebody else to push the elevator button, and John left."

(Marzieh Gail, Dawn Over Mount Hira, p. 210)


From Baha'is


Saturday, March 27, 2010

World in Travail

Master Tablet


The Tablet on a World in Travail
When Abdu'l-Baha returned from Europe, we know that the journey had taken a lot out of Him, and that in Paris He had been very close to death. His time in Egypt was mostly a time of convalescence in a climate that was more healthful than Haifa. Before He returned home to the Holy Land, nobody shoved a microphone in His face and asked, "What were your impressions of the West?" Nonetheless, He wrote the following extraordinary communication about the state of the world that He had just visited.
"Look thou with seeing eyes at the world about thee and at the inhabitants thereof. Upon the stage of this immense theatre, most spectacular plays are being enacted. On one side thereof thou wilt see the victorious and the vanquished legions of profit and loss. On the other side thou wilt observe the waves of the sea of folly rising and falling. Cries are being raised on every side and the agonies of revolution, revolt and unrest reach unto the ears of progressive men. There is a tremendous strike and clash between capital and labor, and the war between the aristocrats and democrats is carried relentlessly with bow and arrow, sword and javelin. The phalanxes of a great army are drawn in battle array, each division taking its position. Armed troops and artillery are to be found in every part of the field. The flash of the swords of enmity blind the eyes from even the most remote distance, the lightning effect of breast-plate and lance and the sparkle of the bucklers of hatred light up the night and bewilder the sight. In short: strife, battle, slaughter and war are prepared in organized perfection.
"On the other hand thou wilt hear that from every house strains of music are raised, and confusing melodies of harp, lyre, cymbal and flute are heard, and mad revellers are dancing to the tunes, while they are inebriated with the wine of vanishing pleasures. In one place thou wilt behold the wanton and soiled decorations, and in another the flimsy shows of the gilded class of creatures. On the one hand is to be seen the embellishment and luxury made possible through illicit wealth, and on the other hand, the ravishing of this mortal world of its beautiful appearance.
"From different parts are to heard sighs of anguish, lamentations of poverty, cries of agony and misery, --- and the calls for succor have reached to the gate of heaven. One hears the weeping of the hopeless, the appeals of the oppressed, the trembling murmurs of the helpless and the harrowing wails of the ship-wrecked in the sea of persecution. The heat of the conflagration of separation spreads on all sides, the fire of longing is raging with great intensity and the tougues of the flames of calamity leap forth in every direction. Here one sees the oppression of kings and the thoughtlessness of cabinet ministers; there one sees conflict on the battlefield of thoughts and ideals by ambitious generals, statesmen and administrators of the nations and countries. They consult, scheme, plot and exchange views; they organize fallacious and superfluous companies and make false the established values; and thus do they lay and destroy the foundation of their political careers.
"In short: when thou observest these things with the eye of reality, thou wilt see that the outcome, result and fruit of all these theatrical performances are mirages and their sweetness is bitter poison. A few days the earth shall roll on its axis, and these fleeting visions will be completely forgotten.
"When thou shuttest thine eyes to this dark world and lookest upward and heavenward, thou wilt see light upon light stretching from eternity to eternity. The reality of the mysteries will be revealed. Happy is the pure soul who does not attach himself to the transient conditions and comforts, but rather seeks to attach himself to the purity, nobility and splendor of the world which endures." ---Abdul-Baha Abbas

(from Tablet revealed at Ramleh, Egypt, September 1913 - Star of the West Book 3 pg. 273)


Friday, March 26, 2010


Brian Tracy: Four Steps to Getting Past Obstacles

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Is there any remover of corruption?

Agencies of World Reform

Corruption and the Fifth Chapter of Panorthosia

By John Taylor; 2010 March 24, Ala' 04, 166 BE

Today let us continue our essay series on John Amos Comenius's ideas about how to eliminate corruption.

Defining Justice and Corruption; Balance and Moderation

Like a well managed flock of sheep, society has to balance security, the sheepdogs that guide and protect the flock, with enterprise and growth, the sheep themselves. Too much of one or the other will bankrupt a pastoral farmer.

This state of moderate balance we term justice. The Arabic word for justice, "'Adl," comes from the problem of loading a camel. Too much weight on one side or the other will at worst topple the beast of burden, and at best it will tire it long before other, properly loaded animals.

Furthermore, the greater the weight in question, the more crucial proper balance becomes. A recent study of the gait of running elephants found that these largest of land animals move less than two centimetres around their center of balance when they are running at top speed. With so much mass to move, any jostling at all would shake it apart. This implies that the more universal the justice, the more important moderation and balance become. Justice on the world level, therefore, must be extremely stable in order to move the seven billion souls that make up the human race anywhere at all.

This definition of justice applies especially to the question of corruption. Corruption is a state of imbalance that prematurely weakens and impedes the natural progress of society.

Reform Starts By Extirpating Corruption

In the fifth chapter of Panorthosia, called "The Idea of Universal Reform," Comenius sets up two apparently contradictory facets of truth that security officials must keep in balance. The first is the need, as far as possible, to avoid being infected with the attitudes and thinking of the corrupt,

"To be uncorrupted is better than to be reformed, for being constantly is better than being intermittently. It is better not to be wounded, than to be healed. It is better not to commit crime than to pray for forgiveness." (Panorthosia, Ch. 5, Para 3, p. 88)

Avoidance of the causes of criminality is the preventive medicine of security. It is far better to avoid wrongdoing in the first place than to have catch and punish wrongdoers. It follows, therefore, that the real front line of any policing operation is not the beat cop but the teachers in the schools. Protection of society must be a major concern of all, but especially of intellectuals.

On the other hand, Comenius says, one is often better for having been infected and worked a form of corruption out of one's system. Many illness leave the survivor with immunity from future infection. As Nietzsche said, what does not kill me only makes me stronger. Two hundred years before, Comenius put it like this:

"Nevertheless to be reformed to a better or fuller or stronger state than before is better than to be uncorrupted." (Ch. 5, Para 3, p. 88)

Thus every crime or instance of corruption must be looked upon as a learning experience. Don't just call in the detectives after a murder, call in the teachers, professors and thinkers. For once a learning experience is understood, it then becomes a teaching opportunity. It is important, therefore, to distinguish between what is inherently good, and what is not, before we can say that something is basically or incidentally corrupt. As Comenius puts it, "A Subject of Reform is a good thing which has begun to be corrupted and must be restored to its former condition." (Id.) If it is not essentially good, it is harder to deal with.

"A thing that is not good in itself is more liable to corruption than to reform."

Comenius evidently is seeking to extend the parable of the house built on the foundation of sand and the house on rock. He compares this aspect of the elimination of corruption to a building. A thing that is not a good in itself is a building that is located "on a disagreeable, unhealthy site." As long as there is mobility and choice, nobody will want to go near such a building, so its state of purity or corruption is moot. Things that are inherently good are likely to be less corrupt than otherwise,

"The less corrupt things are more easily reformed (like a building with some trivial structural fault). Things that are exceedingly corrupt are difficult to reform (like a building in a tumble-down condition)."

Thus the job of the security professional is not to monitor and control every move that every individual makes, it is simply to shift the overall balance so that society can move forward efficiently. This demands a proper understanding both of universals and of what is best left to rot.

"A thing that is utterly corrupt is not open to reform. If it must be restored, it needs to be constructed anew, such as a building that has collapsed, a garment that is completely worn out, a vine that is completely destroyed, a clock that is totally damaged, or a life that is lost. (For there is no medicine for the dead)." (Para 3, p. 87-88)

Universal Measures Against Corruption

If there is to be reform on a universal level, which is the very title of the work in question, Universal Reform, or Panorthosia, there must be some way to abolish the skewed burdens and unfair distribution that lead to corruption. Comenius holds that a solution to corruption can only be worked out by applying reason and spreading education,

"Without knowledge of the causes of corruption, he does not know the form of his restoration. ... Without knowledge of the cures, he does not know the efficient means to his restoration. This means that he does not know how to reform corrupt things. On the other hand, an understanding of the causes of corruption is the foundation of reform." (Comenius, Panorthosia II, Ch. 5, Para 5, p. 88)

Comenius uses the example of a farmer whose fields are threatened with flooding. The systematic approach he uses is the same thing we should do when faced with corruption,

"If you wish to stop a flood which is destroying your fields, you must put up flood-gates, divert the waters or drain them away; and to prevent their return, you must build an embankment on both sides of the river, so that the waters cannot breach it or overflow again. In time you will have reformed the dangers of flood damage. (Comenius, Panorthosia II, Ch. 5, Para 8, p. 89)

Our family lives on land in Ontario beside the Grand River. As in Comenius's example, it was constantly under threat of severe flooding until a system of barrages and fish gates was built along its entire length in the late 1970's. Building reinforced embankment did not prove necessary; a simple system of concrete floodgates in the towns of Dunnville and Caledonia solved the problem long before we moved here. In order to build such a system, expert knowledge was necessary, along with the means, money and materials, and organization, government authority, a bureaucracy and police to maintain rule of law. All these are necessary to solve any large problem -- the difficulty now is that at the world level these means are not yet operative.


"The Agency of Reform is something that has the power to reform a thing. (Obviously every original agency needs an instrument to assist it in action). Hence the axiom: Nothing is reformed unless an agency of reform is forthcoming). The power of the agency of reform can be subdivided into three functions (1) to check the corrupting factors, (2) to restore corrupt things to their proper form, (3) to establish them when reformed. Hence the axioms:

I. Evil is not removed unless you remove its cause.

II. Nothing is reformed unless you restore it to its true form.

III. Corruption returns very easily, unless you firmly establish the things that have been restored." (Ibid.)


Comenius's suggestion here to make up universal tools for extirpating corruption is a good mission statement for a department of planetary security under a world government.

The task of this security agency would be largely technical. It is impossible for the average person to say exactly what a world security apparatus might do to reduce corruption. For the same reason back in the 1970's it would not have been possible for anybody but a civil engineer to decide what might stop the flooding on the Grand River. However, we the people can and must draw up general principles for experts to follow. One of the most important is the principle of keeping everybody honest.


This principle cannot be fully implemented under a state capitalist system that breeds and thrives in a closed atmosphere of rivalry, competition and secrecy. Often officials are more cloaked than the criminals they are charged with controlling. Under a world government, though, the dream of complete transparency would at last be possible. Open bidding in fair auctions would precede every purchase. The use of undercover agents would cease, and every security agent would be charged with speaking the truth under all conditions -- studies have found doctors and police officers lie more often than any other profession.


Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Democracy as Scam

Come the Postliminium

The following was written in response to this news report,  http://www.democracynow.org/2010/3/22/arundhati_roy_on_obamas_wars_india

By John Taylor; 2010 March 23, Ala' 03, 166 BE

In his peace plan, John Amos Comenius suggested that the time after a world government forms should be proclaimed the "Great Postlimininum." A postliminium is the time when a knight returns home after long years fighting military campaigns in foreign parts. Relieved of the military life, he takes over his farms, lands and estates from their stewards. Described in the parable of the talents, the Postliminium is a time of reckoning, when lower management gives account of their stewardship and the new boss rectifies past wrongs.

Among the worst of these wrongs are being committed by the world's large democracies, including the world's largest, India. Activist Arundhati Roy describes democracy as little more than a scam, a way for the elites to bilk the majority of their wealth. In a recent broadcast she describes how she became an eyewitness to the wholesale murder and uprooting of hundreds of thousands of "tribals" throughout central India. This genocide is committed by the national government on behalf of what she calls "corporates," mining companies who have bought mineral rights directly under the feet of thousands of villages.

Come the Postliminium, all this greed and injustice must stop. The natural wealth of our planet will come under the ownership and purview of the entire human race. The exploitation of mineral resources will no doubt continue, and may even increase, but only after the entire wheel of human governance is rolling smoothly. That is, the tread of the wheel, local people, must have a say and gain a share in ownership of the project. The hub of the wheel, the world government, must also have a veto and a controlling share in every such project.

In the meantime, we need an Einstein of ownership, a legal genius to work out standard, universal formulas for distributing wealth, for encouraging enterprise without trampling on anybody's rights. Once such a revised proprietary order is established, a world government will arrive at decisions without conflict, and locals will have a stake in whatever is going on nearby.

Roy describes the agony of these hapless villagers, who are forced to either leave or starve. Come the postliminium, the increased mobility of hillside housing will enable large populations to move to where the action is without dislocation -- the very word "dislocation" implies the hurt of being uprooted, but if entire homes and estates can be moved smoothely and easily anywhere in the world, suddenly the trauma of mobility will be removed. Suddenly, one of the most fundamental democratic rights, freedom to roam, will be a reality for everybody.


Monday, March 22, 2010

Counsellor Birkland shares an amusing anecdote about miscommunication. He was just elected to the UHJ.

"Qurban-i-Shoma" means literally, "may I be your sacrifice," as in, "How are you?" "Qurban-i-Shoma," This is high formal speech, ta'arof, and the correct response is, "Khoda nakonad," God forbid.

Instead, Stephan Birkland unknowingly says something different.

I did not find any brief videos with Stephen Hall, but here is a transcript of an interview with him on ABC (Australian Broadcasting),


Revising MLK Day

Revolutionizing Values; Notes on MLK, Oratory and Rhetoric

In Dunnville a super-church was just built and is opening. They distributed a flyer inviting everybody to an open house. At the top is the following quotation from the Bible,

"Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders will have toiled in vain. Unless the Lord keeps watch over a city, in vain the watchman stands on guard." (Ps 127:1, NEB)

This describes the two basic things human beings do, and how both depend upon the confirmation of God. All the activity of us mortals boils down to either building or protecting, making or preserving. The destructive part of the creative process is left over to the contingent world, to God, or Shiva, or whatever you want to call Him.

This duality is reflected in the commonwealth of Baha'u'llah. In the Aqdas, He took power away from the learned and handed it off to the people. As compensation, He gave the learned the gift of indirect influence, and He channelled this influence into those two streams: propagation and protection. He explained that the learned have a choice between words of fire and words of milk, and admonished them to choose words of milk, kind, gentle, nurturing words.

Thus, most of what you hear from one who is truly learned in Baha will be uplifting, inspiring, expansive. I can see them being accused, one day, of being mealy mouthed and wishy-washy, but far better than, heaven forbid, being accused of being a fiery orator.


One of my favourite podcasts consists of readings of great speeches of history -- and by history they mean American history. What about famous speeches from around the world? Is nobody talking on this level? Kant was right, we need a cosmopolitan history, a history of the world, and in order to write such a history we will surely need a planetary speaker's circuit. We have a world championship in the most obscure sports, but no world association of lecturers and debaters.

Such a group should be formed to choose the best orators and send them on tours to major capitals around the planet. As it is now, judging by the powerful oratory you can listen to in this podcast, the force, skill and wisdom of the best speakers is dissipated as soon as it crosses a national border. In order for there to be a future world government, we must first build up a world constituency.

The latest podcast consists of a late speech of Martin Luther King where he takes a position against the war in Vietnam. What a glorious tradition of stirring oratory people of African descent have given the world! And MLK was among the greatest of them all. The most interesting part of this speech is where, having dismissed in great detail any claim to justice or even sense that the Vietnam war may have had, King turns to what he thinks should happen now, what he calls a "Revolution of Values."

He points out that America clings to death rather than life, to hate more than love. "A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death." Although America started off at the forefront of the revolutionary changes of modernity, of late it had become reactionary.

"It is a sad fact that, because of comfort, complacency, a morbid fear of communism, and our proneness to adjust to injustice, the Western nations that initiated so much of the revolutionary spirit of the modern world have now become the arch anti-revolutionaries."

The solution is an about-face, a switch back to the ways of loving thy neighbour.

"I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values ... [that will] cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies."

Although in recent years Christian leaders in America have identified their the rich and the right, MLK asserts the liberal leanings of his faith firmly and unequivocally:

"Our only hope today lies in our ability to recapture the revolutionary spirit and go out into a sometimes hostile world declaring eternal hostility to poverty, racism, and militarism. With this powerful commitment we shall boldly challenge the status quo and unjust mores and thereby speed the day when `every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight and the rough places plain.' ... Let us hope that this spirit will become the order of the day. We can no longer afford to worship the god of hate or bow before the altar of retaliation. The oceans of history are made turbulent by the ever-rising tides of hate. History is cluttered with the wreckage of nations and individuals that pursued this self-defeating path of hate."

Since MLK made this stirring declaration, little has been done to formally channel his idealism. In 1985, his widow Loretta King, wrote leaders and heads of religious groups (including the Universal House of Justice) and suggested that there be a "Martin Luther King Day," to be celebrated on the third Monday in January. She saw this as a sort of truce day, a chance for groups around the world to stop violent conflict and to turn to love.

It seems to me that MLK Day would be a good time to coordinate a "world cup of oratory." Have the best speakers compete all year long in giving speeches about peace, how to end violence and all the values that MLK stood for. Then have the champions address the world in a televised event similar to the Oscars or the World Cup. Let MLK have the last word, again from that same, fateful address known as his "Vietnam speech."

"A genuine revolution of values means in the final analysis that our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Every nation must now develop an overriding loyalty to mankind as a whole in order to preserve the best in their individual societies. This call for a world-wide fellowship that lifts neighborly concern beyond one's tribe, race, class and nation is in reality a call for an all-embracing and unconditional love for all men. This oft misunderstood and misinterpreted concept -- so readily dismissed by the Nietzsches of the world as a weak and cowardly force -- has now become an absolute necessity for the survival of man."


Saturday, March 20, 2010

local kitchens and gardens


Block Kitchens for Avoiding Sin

By John Taylor; 2010 March 20, Ala' 19, 166 BE

My mother taught us that waste is a sin. In fact, her generation had lived through the depression, and they were very economical by today's standards. If she was right about the sin of waste, then the reverse must be true: any measure that gets rid of waste in our infrastructure has to be virtuous to the point of saintliness.

Bearing my upbringing in mind, one of the goads that prompted me to think through the idea of hillside housing was a report of a study in Sweden that found shocking levels of food waste by the average household. A great proportion of the fresh vegetables that are purchased rot in the refrigerator, even in well run homes (do not even get me started on poorly run ones, like ours). Another study, using more accurate measures, just discovered that the waste is even worse than I had imagined, and that it is built into the very structure of the capitalist economy.

"There are reports of rich countries throwing out 25-30% of what is bought. Add in what never even makes it to the cupboard or the refrigerator, and the scale of the problem is considerably larger. [the study found that] ... the average American wastes 1,400 kilocalories a day. That amounts to 150 trillion kilocalories a year for the country as a whole -- about 40% of its food supply, up from 28% in 1974. Producing these wasted calories accounts for more than one-quarter of America's consumption of freshwater, and also uses about 300m barrels of oil a year. On top of that, a lot of methane (a far more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide) emerges when all this food rots." (A hill of beans; America's food-waste problem is getting worse," The Economist, Nov 28, 2009, p. 94)

The present economy specializes in making food cheap, but the result is that people are tempted to gorge it all down (I am guilty of this: the quickest way of avoiding wasted food is to eat it, resulting in gluttony -- I calculated this morning that I am carrying around more fat than my ten year old son presently weighs, eighty pounds; I tried lifting him and could barely do it), and retailers find it more economical to just throw out food that is not bought at the end of the day. The waste is horrendous.

"Such supply-chain waste can be built into the price, and usually makes economic sense. Throwing away leftovers is often better business than risking running out of stock." (Id.)

Another study found that cooking smells, traditional and enticing as they may be, contain surprising amounts of gases, volatile organic compounds and other toxic materials. There has to be a better way to deliver food, thought I. Why not eliminate the kitchen in the home completely?
Surely, it would be possible to have a large kitchen in every neighbourhood that quickly prepares and efficiently delivers hot meals to houses nearby on demand. Such a community kitchen would be large enough that higher codes and standards would be enforceable. Waste is minimized, food remainders composted, and cooking smells properly contained. As a bonus, it could be run cooperatively, offering both professional employment opportunities as well as a chance for amateurs to participate in exchange for a reduction in their food bill. Such a cooperative block kitchen would offer neighbours a chance to socialize, rather like the building bees that the pioneers held in earlier centuries.

Indeed, the tendency for women to use such gatherings not only to prepare food but also to organize and uphold their rights is probably a major reason why separate kitchens were maintained so strictly by the old patriarchal order. Now corporations have co-opted home cooking with factory supplied meals. Almost two generations of mothers have forgotten how to cook for themselves, and as a result we are suffering an epidemic of obesity, cancer and heart disease.
A similar inter-generational loss of knowledge is happening with farming. Now that less than two percent of the population are farmers, we are in danger of forgetting not only how to prepare food, but to grow it too. Having growing know-how concentrated into so few hands is extremely dangerous; the slightest disaster could wipe out the few growers and threaten our very survival.

Once again, the idea of neighbourhood-level organization seems to be the answer. Just combine the block kitchen with a kitchen garden, or even a small community farm. Even if no land is available, windows can be used to grow leafy vegetables, packed with Omega 3's, which nutritionists tell us is what we all need most for a healthy diet. With cooperative gardening combined with cooperative farming, the greens served by the block kitchen will always be as local and fresh as possible. Having a larger proportion of the population directly involved in urban agriculture will spread the experience around, increasing the stability and security of all.