Tuesday, May 31, 2011

How to hold a Public Meeting in your area

By holding a regular public meeting our Dunnville Baha'i community (LSA of Haldimand) has built up over a decade a regular following of about a dozen people who attend our public meetings. In Hamilton, a much larger community, we built up a similar following of about sixty non-Baha'is turning up within a couple of years. I include the following information about how this is done so that other communities will know how to go about it and all that it takes to do the same thing.


In the past, Betty Frost had a monthly column in our local paper, but there was a shakeup in the administration and now only paid journalists have that job. Undeterred, every month she writes a letter to the editor about our upcoming meeting. Here is what she submitted this month.


To the Editor,


On June 8th the usual monthly program sponsored by the Haldimand Baha’i Community(held in the Garfield Disher Room of Dunnville’s library) will have quite a different approach. Our speaker, Nola Marion of St. Catharines, will not be "addressing" the group on the subject of how we can build healthy communities. In her own words, via email, she said:






In conversation we can share ideas, co-create knowledge and nurture relationships. Conversations are based on the idea that no single person has the whole answer to a question but rather that each person's thinking can be enriched by the perspective of others. Come out and join our conversation about 'community' and explore the concept that 'community' is where we discover our strengths and interests, and feel a sense of belonging. In 'community', we have the opportunity to develop an understanding and appreciation of others as we live together and share experiences.


Our connection to the globe begins with participation in our local communities. Join us in exploring what a community is and how building healthy communities is an essential component to the betterment of society.


We hope that you will respond to her invitation and join us at 8:00 p.m. next Wednesday. The "conversation" will conclude with light refreshments.


Betty Frost


Haldimand Baha’i Community


Every month Betty sends this material to me, and it is then my job to squeeze what she said and make up a poster, which I print out and distribute around town.


Here is this month's poster:


Bahá’í Principles Series



“What does community mean and how can we build better ones? Our connection to the globe begins with our local community. Here we can discover our strengths and interests and find a sense of belonging. Come and join the conversation.”


Featured Speaker:  Nola Marion



Wednesday, June 08, 2011


8 PM


Garfield Disher Room,

Dunnville Branch,

Haldimand Public Library



Thursday, May 12, 2011

Newness of Comenius' Reform Plan

The Consultatio; the World's First Proposal for a Democratic World Government

By John Taylor; 2011 May 11, Jamal 14, 168 BE

After Columbus, Magellan and other explorers had revealed the full extent of our planet's geography, the first detailed proposal for a world government was put forward in 1623 by a French monk by the name of Emeric Cruce. Cruce's conception closely resembles the United Nations that we know and love today.


Specifically, he suggested a permanent "council of ambassadors" who would meet in a neutral city to iron out conflicts among nations. Kingdoms that did not obey its decisions would be "shamed," and if that did not work, a global police force would insist -- further than our present U.N. is empowered to go. Cruce also advocated religious toleration, unlike previous triumphalist proposals aimed at uniting the world by defeating all infidel faiths and nations. (see James A. Yunker, The Idea of World Government, Routledge, New York, 2011, pp. 18-23)

The difference beween Cruce's proposed world government and that of John Amos Comenius can be summed up in one word, democracy. Cruce imagined kings and despots sending their chosen representatives to the "counsel of ambassadors." Instead, Comenius suggested a unification that started with the involvement of every human being. This process that gives everyone a say that he called the Consultation. In the introduction to the book that he intended as the opening volume of the Consultation, called the Panegersia, or Universal Awakening, Comenius pointed to what he regarded as the main point of novelty about his multi-volume work.

"I am proposing a `general consultation on the reform of human affairs,' that is, a reform in more universal and profound ways than any since the world began. There is nothing new about the subject, but my method will be totally different. Never in history has such folly afflicted humanity that intelligent men of every age and race and estate openly deplore the reign of evil and strive for some long-awaited improvement. But never before has _everyone_ conspired to improve all the corruptions, and I intend to support this process, and show that it is for the good of the whole world." (John Amos Comenius, Panegersia, Or Universal Awakening, translated by A.M.O. Dobbie, Drinkwater Publ., Warwickshire, Eng., 1990, p. iv)


Comenius, then, did not have in mind the throw-away voting that passes for democracy today. This modern rebirth of democracy on a global scale would start with a grand consultation that involves everyone on earth.

"It is only right that all people should take a part in matters of common concern. Could anyone be so apathetic as to refuse to talk about his own affairs or to listen to other speakers on the subject? It is natural for every creature to love his own possessions and to make every effort to improve them. Therefore I say to my reader, Wake up! and in the certain knowledge that your case will be included in our deliberation, lend me your ear, your mind and your tongue, and be equally ready to welcome the thoughts of others and to contribute your own as we begin our consultation for the common good." (Panegersia, Ch. 3, para 2 & 3, p. 7)

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

In Memoriam: Hanna Newcomb

I knew Hanna when we served on the Hamilton Mundialization Committee. Here is the text of a memorial printed about her in the World Federalist's Newpaper for May.

In Memoriam
Hanna Newcombe’s commitment to peace

"Hanna Newcombe, an active member of the World Federalists for nearly four decades, died April 10 after a short illness.

She served twice as national president of the organization. Although she received her PhD in chemistry, she will be remembered as a pioneer in the field of peace research. In the mid-1960s, after meeting Norman Alcock, a physicist who had founded the Canadian Peace Research Institute (CPRI), Hanna realized that
she had found her calling: the use of science to better understand the path to peace.

With her husband Alan, she worked at CPRI and then cofounded the Peace Research Institute – Dundas (PRI-D). The Newcombes published numerous Peace Research Review monographs as well as the Peace Research Abstracts Journal. During the Cold War years, peace research and peace studies was not widely accepted by mainstream academia. Selling the peace research abstracts to libraries across North America was what maintained a modest revenue flow to the PRI-D.

A quote at the bottom of the PRI-D letterhead (adapted from Epictetus, the Discourses) summed up Hanna Newcombe’s broad-based scholarly approach:

“Observe, this is the beginning of philosophy - a recognition of the conflicts among men, an inquiry into their causes, the discovery of a standard of judgment, and a condemnation of mere opinion.”

It was the problem of peace that brought her to world federalism, a recognition of the need not only for institutions of law and world order to avert war and promote international security, but also as mechanisms for providing justice and welfare for the world’s citizens.

Her views became more widely recognized in the 1980s with the rise of a broadbased peace and disarmament movement. She was also actively involved with the Quakers and Canadian Voice of Women for Peace and helped establish the Canadian Peace Research and Education Association.

She received the Pearson Peace Medal in 1997 and was awarded the Order of Canada in 2007. In 2006, WFM–Canada inaugurated an award in her honour, the “Hanna Newcombe Lifetime Achievement Award,”
recognizing the outstanding contributions made by individuals from within the movement.

With modesty, considerable intellect and a genuine intellectual curiosity, and with a strong belief in humanity and the power of ideas, Hanna Newcombe set a fine example, and made a difference.

From the World Federalist Newsletter, May 2011 http://www.worldfederalistscanada.org/Mondial%20May%202011.pdf

Monday, May 09, 2011

Bahá’í Principles Series



Life after Life

“Bahá'u'lláh said that the world beyond is as different from this world as this world is from that of the child while still in the womb of its mother.”


Featured Speaker:  Beth Fachnie



Wednesday, May 11, 2011

8 PM


Garfield Disher Room,

Dunnville Branch,

Haldimand Public Library

Why Suffer?

Suffering as Pruning

By John Taylor; 2011 May 09, Jamal 12, 168 BE



"Men who suffer not, attain no perfection. The plant most pruned by the gardeners is that one which, when the summer comes, will have the most beautiful blossoms and the most abundant fruit. ... The more a man is chastened, the greater is the harvest of spiritual virtues shown forth by him." (Abdu'l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 50)


This was our morning reading today, and 11 year-old Thomas asked what it meant. I recalled a recent meeting with Cornelius, a farmer who has been attending our firesides and my Philosopher's Cafe in Wainfleet.





I asked Cor to look at our overgrown grape vine, which has spread all over the tall, eastern trellis of our deck, and even up into the eavestrough and the roof. Its fruits last year were small and so tart and strong in taste that they were inedible. As Cor hacked away at the vines, he dramatized the effect of pruning on the plant. He said,


"If you do it right, and chop off enough branches at the right places, the plant says to itself, `Oh my God, this is terrible. I may die from this.' So instead of expending energy to grow more branches and leaves, it decides to produce fruit as fast as it can. It does that so that if, as it thinks is happening, it soon dies, at least its genes will have a chance to live on through some of the fruits that it produces right away."


Thomas was unimpressed. For him, the purpose of these grapes is to attract the raccoons, which come in the dead of night every year to eat, often hanging upside down on our clothesline, as we photograph them and the dog works itself into a fit of mad barking. "If there are fewer grapes," Thomas worried, "People are liable to eat them first, and we will have less fun." Less fun, I would add, at three A.M. on a school night.






It depends on who is benefiting. Human suffering is terrible and pointless from the point of view of our good here and now, but it moves us to bear the fruit of a love that transcends what can be appreciated at the present moment. And that divine love is the whole point of life.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Leadership Tolerance

An Interlude on Tolerance

Tolerance, not force, is the most effective way to lead






Comments on a Passage in Panorthosia



Although world government is the obvious solution to environmental concerns, many reject the idea out of hand. Why? Essentially because of issues of trust. What could we do if a world government becomes a global tyranny? Or if it declines into a faceless, impenetrable bureaucracy? Even in the Seventeenth Century Comenius recognized the force of this objection, and addressed it by emphasizing that the keynote to power has to be tolerance. No matter how perfect the system may be technically, if it is run by bigots, warmongers or unfeeling functionaries, it will be tyrannical or violent or heartless. In an early passage in Panorthosia, Comenius wrote,



"Something should also be said about the tolerance which ought to be extended by those in positions of power both towards one another and to their subjects." (Comenius, Panorthosia II, Ch. 8, para 27, p. 120)



Comenius upholds tolerance as a positive virtue. Today, it is politically correct to make a nod at the need for tolerance, but we look at the problem mostly in a negative way. We condemn blatant intolerance, especially when it is violent. But we despair of ever rooting out jingoism, bigotry, prejudice and fundamentalism and stamping them out in all their manifestations. We point fingers all around, but accusations only distract from the self-critical stance that would improve the situation overall. Like creatures trapped in a sealed bottle, the more we flail about, the quicker we use up the oxygen that keeps us alive.




Instead, let us concentrate our minds on tolerant attitudes. Let us teach tolerance in schools, and accept only tolerant discourse in the media. Let us expect tolerant speech from leaders of thought, especially in faith groups. And, needless to say, let us choose tolerant leaders when we vote. We should expect more of such assessment in a tolerant society rather than less, for the same reasons we would expect that the designers of a high tolerance machine would make more minute measurements, rather than fewer, as they build it.


Furthermore, Comenius understood that there is an opposition between tolerant power and power based upon force. In the same passage, he continues,



"The situation calls for lenient, not violent action, on both sides, since it is clear that a noble spirit has been granted to the whole of human nature, preferring to be guided rather than dragged along or compelled. Anyone choosing to use compulsion only embitters, poisons and alienates men, and either makes them hypocrites or prepares the way for a fresh and perhaps greater breakaway."



A lack of lenity in wielding power explains why revolutions, in spite of noble and inspiring ideals, tend to nullify the good they aim to establish. By forcing change, they provoke resentment, reaction and violence. As Comenius says, any proposal for change has to appeal to our complete human nature, or the entire atmosphere will be poisoned. Tolerance and openness invite consent; they bolster the will and purify our common ground.




Nobody wants to be compelled to obey; to be jammed into somebody else's idea of what is right. This was portrayed in classical thought by the proverbial bed of Procrustes, an early serial killer who, the myth says, chopped off the legs of guests too tall to fit into his iron bed; when they were too short to fit, he stretched them on the rack. Tolerance describes the virtue of a good host, who seeks a larger or smaller to accommodate the needs of every guest. Without tolerance, there is no happy guest-host relationship, nor can leaders and followers get along without dissent.


Politically, tolerance is summed up in the supreme law of service, "Salus populi suprema lex." (Let the welfare of the people be the supreme law.) Ethically, tolerance is the desire of a friend to seek good for one's friend, even against his or her own interest. In a word, love. For Comenius, love among friends has to be the prime motivation in power relations -- not compulsion or fear. Otherwise relationships are illusory and fleeting.


"Fear is a poor guarantee of lasting friendship. As Terence says in one of his comedies - `He who does his duty under the lash of punishment has no dread except in the thought of detection: if he thinks he will not be found out, back he goes to his natural bent. When you link a son to you by kindness, there is sincerity in all his acts, he sets himself to make a return, and will be the same behind your back as to your face'. Therefore anyone who thinks that men should be treated with violence and not kindness has no idea of how to govern human nature."


Love unites all with all, permanently. Fear? It can only unite against a single, immediate, naked threat. It is, in the words of the Tablet of Ahmad, uniting to assist one another, rather than true unity. As soon as the threat disappears, the fearful go right back to where they were in the beginning. This eradicates the only real ground between us, trust. There must be trust among friends. There must be trust for love to last. Otherwise, fear, like a fire, destroys the garden of goodwill between leader and follower. Baha'u'llah holds trust, and lack of fear, to be the basis of faith in God when He declares, "If thy faith be fearful, seize thou My Tablet, and preserve it in the bosom of trust." (Baha'u'llah, Epistle, 103) In the image of the Qur'an, if you place your hand in your bosom and it comes out white, then your truth is pure, your trust justified by divine confirmation.






As Comenius implies, arbitrary power is incompetent power. We all know how important tolerance and trust are, but we do not act upon this knowledge. Comenius continues,


"We can put our trust in those who have been won over willingly, but never in those who have been compelled by force or attracted under false pretences, which is the way to multiply our disagreements instead of removing them. For as Claudian observes 'Peaceful exercise of power succeeds where violence fails'."


Claudian hits the nail on the head here. There is a huge difference between compulsion and the peaceful use of power. This is what the people in the Middle East have learned as they peacefully demonstrate the power of the people. This can overturn tyrants who, until recently, had learned to suppress the slightest hint of opposition. They should be putting Claudian's statement on their placards:



"Peaceful exercise of power succeeds where violence fails."


The only reason that violence and oppression dominate is that most do not really believe that this is true. We vaguely agree, but in practice we accept that force always wins out. Tyrants rise to the top because in practice, compulsion works. The same is true in the family. Spouses use force because they believe that they really can dominate their spouses. Similarly, parents use violence to oppress their innocent children. Torturers inflict pain to extract information out of the mouths of prisoners.


In the media, torturers openly defend their cruelty to victims by referring to precedent. "Torture has been used from day one for good reason; it works, plain and simple. Otherwise, it would not have been used." On a certain level, this is true. For victors, there are undeniably benefits from the use of force and violence. Force and fear of force does bring compliance, but it is temporary. In the same way, slavery was ubiquitous for thousands of years. A people with a stronger army can conquer an entire people and force them to work as slaves.






But again, as Comenius points out, as soon as the threat dissipates, so does the power of compulsion. The real ground of enduring power, friendship, dissipates and crumbles before our feet. And, most important of all, the breach of faith poisons us because it cuts off friendship with God, Who created us all as equals. His faith keeps us alive spiritually, in the same way that oxygen keeps our bodies going. A tyrant, torturer or slave owner may temporarily benefit from oppression, like a drowning mouse frantically flailing about as it drowns. But faith and trust are capable of building an entire world, one where the threat of violence is a thing forgotten.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Plans, Personal and Continental


A Plan and Two Ideas

By John Taylor; 2011 May 01, Azamat 03, 168 BE





A Plan and Some Thoughts about Weight Loss

Idea One: An Idea About Continental Embassies

Idea Two: Pooled Funding and Voting




My Plan for Weight Loss




My body mass index is, as I recall, 36, just over line into "obese," as opposed to just overweight, which is under 35. I just weighed myself, and I presently weigh some 232 pounds. About five years ago I became a vegetarian, and stopped eating the horrible diet of junk food, sugary cereals and TV dinners that my wife prepares for our kids. I started cooking my own meals, which tend to make more sense from a dietary point of view. At the time I dropped down to about 205 lbs. Unfortunately, the weight loss lasted less than a year. As happens in about 95 percent of diets, I shot right back up to where I had been before, to slightly less than 240 pounds.


Now that I think of it, probably what happened was that I started to eat my meals and the junk food that is always left lying around the kitchen as well. If food is set before me, I eat it. It is not only hunger, but a desire not to waste. As a result, I become around here a sort of walking garbage can. This is probably because I was an athlete as a teenager, and I got into a lifetime habit of vacuuming up whatever is presented before me. So now I subsist on two diets at once, one sensible and the other junky. I do not know much about dieting, but I think it is safe to say that two diets are not a good idea, even if one of them is a fairly decent diet.


Last week, some hope broke on my horizon as I was going through a science magazine. I read about a study that was inspired by an old bit of folk wisdom, the proposition that if you drink a glass of water before a meal, it will be easier to lose weight. These scientists decided to test it with a controlled experiment. They set up a year-long randomized study that had some subjects do nothing, just eat normally, while others drank a half a litre of water just before each of three meals a day. The results after six months showed that in fact they had lost weight. Subjects were so encouraged by their weight loss that after a whole year all but one of them were still drinking the two large glasses (by my calculation) of water before meals, and still losing weight.


You could not ask for a cheaper and easier diet! I swear, even I, weak willed non-entity that I am, could do it.


So, I think I will try.


I have been on the water before meals diet a couple of days now, and it is easy as pie to follow. Already I find I can go longer without eating than I tended to do before. It is so easy probably because I already drink prodigious amounts of water during the day in order to control my migraines. Now it is just a matter of switching the times that I drink water over to just before mealtime.


I noted above what I weigh right now. Next year at this time let us note on the blog what my weight and BMI are. Hopefully, this will work.


Continental Embassies.




We have friend who is a teacher at the high school where my daughter is a student. This teacher runs an annual school sponsored trip, lasting ten days or less, sometimes. This year they are going to Paris and Spain, at a cost of several thousand dollars, well beyond our means. Even if I could afford it, though, I would hesitate to send our daughter on such a brief trip. It seems extravagant to travel so far, and burn up so much carbon into the upper atmosphere, just for an experience, however edifying, of only a few days.


To save on flying, and to encourage immigration, we should start up continental tourism centres tied to the educational system in each locality. Then we could eliminate much unnecessary travel, while still reaping the advantages of frequent flying. With these centers, tied in closely to local immigrant groups, whenever tourists, students and businesspersons contemplate visiting a certain continent, they can go to the center and take an orientation or a more in depth course. Contacts can be made and consultations carried on virtually, without having to leave in person at all.


Build a continental embassy and tourism center into every neighbourhood, and you would expand the educational uses of tourism -- and, better still, you would do it in a much more egalitarian way. Let every student take a virtual tour of a given continent as a class trip, instead of the small minority who can afford it, as now. A continental center would be much closer and cheaper to visit, so why restrict students to a rare trip to one continent? You could require, as part of the curriculum, that students visit and study virtually at least one new continent every year.


Starting in the earliest grades, send every class of young people every summer or Christmas vacation on a two or three week virtual tour of one continent. Make sure that when every student graduates from high school they have studied and toured all of the continents. This would, at the very least, assure that parochialism, local bias and geographical ignorance would soon be a thing of the past. Once students enter post-secondary education, they could then be prepared to go on to visiting places in the flesh.

What would be in these continental tourist embassies? Build in them huge multimedia cinemas that can duplicate as closely as possible a trip to any point on that continent. Stage in the center epic educational adventure games set in the continent to which it is dedicated, rather like the old computer game, "Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?" Bring along touring musicians, artists and other cultural groups from that continent; this would expand contacts of visitors with that continent's legacy to the world. Also, the center would strive to tie in local residents who are native to that continent.


The great advantage of these continental centers is that, organized properly, they would equalize the cultural impact of the several continents. The domination of the rich continents, meaning Europe and North America, over the minds and hearts of the world would be gradually reduced as each school child throughout their formative years visits virtually all continents, include places presently ignored, like Antarctica, South America and Australia. Indeed, why not consider the sea as a "continent," the most ignored one of all, the one that takes up most of the surface area of this planet? We would be much more cosmopolitan if we visited places like that as often as we do the usual tourist magnets.


Pooled Funding




How would all this happen? Such things always start with money. All you need to do, then, is forbid donations directly to the embassy/tourist centers of any given continent. Every dollar, be it a donation or tax allocation, must go into a common pool, which then is distributed by a world cultural authority equitably to all of the continental educational centers. That way, the poorest continent, Africa, would have same representation as any other continent.


This has to apply especially for the rich nations. Right now, the United States, Earth's richest nation, spends great sums spreading its influence, which goes beyond cultural to the geopolitical realm. With a world government all geopolitical spending would simply be converted into international taxes. If the U.S. wants to spread its cultural influence, let it contribute to the central continental tourist center fund, which in turn will improve all continental centers, including those of North America.


Generally speaking, this idea of limiting funding options should be applied to other areas as well. Medical research, for example. For whatever reason, people are willing to open their wallets to fund research on breast cancer but not on lung disease or lower bowel disease. As a result, diseases that are more likely to kill us are ignored, while those that pull on our heart strings are given lavish attention, even when, as with cancer, the possibility of a cure or of having an effect on mortality is remote. Let epidemiologists and other disease experts decide where research money is spent, not the general public.


This principle of funneling funding into larger pools should apply for science generally. For example, it should be illegal for companies to pay for research in areas in which they have a vested interest. All money for forestry research, for example, should go into a single fund that is distributed in such a way that humanity, not any single industry or company, will be the main beneficiary. If a company wants to spend money researching something in their interest, let them do so, but do not call it scientific unless and until it bears scientific scrutiny. If a scientist wants to research something that is clearly wrongheaded or futile, let him, but strip him of the title "scientist" until he proves to his peers that he is right and they are wrong.


This is what my Cosmopolis Earth book series contemplates for the funding of religion and politics too. When I give money to my religion, a percentage of my donation should automatically be directed into an interfaith funding pool. If it is true that all religions have a common purpose and similar ideals and teaching, then that should be reflected in how people fund their faith. A common interfaith pool would pay for projects that are in the interest of all religions, not just my parochial religion.


Same thing for political donations. Redirect part of every political donation into a common fund promoting the purpose of politics, which of course is peace. Let this peace fund help fund world peace through world government, and then when that is secure, direct it into more local bases of peace.


Pooled Voting






Not only funding and taxes but democracy as well should reflect our commonalities and the fact that we live on one planet. Why not have votes and representation not only for politics, but for official interfaith affairs organizations? These interfaith groups would have a neutral goal, to encourage cooperative initiatives that involve all faith groups in the local population, as well as all people who are not committed to any particular affiliation as well. Elections should be a part of the world of work and careers -- why do so few workers have the right to vote in their own bosses? -- and schooling too.


Future historians will look back at us and wonder why were content with so little democracy, and why our so-called democracies tolerated such primitive, stunted ways of choosing our leaders.