Friday, December 30, 2005

Breaking News - NSA Orders Boycott of Kalimat Press

Just today, the US NSA released a letter announcing that all LSAs should stop distributing books from Kalimat Press.

Kalimat Press has played a pivotal role in developing a Baha'i intellectual life and Baha'i scholarship -- particularly through its *Studies in the Babi and Baha'i Religions* series. And it has had to tolerate the interference of the Baha'i administration on many occasions. Even as early as 1982, the UHJ demanded that passages from Salmani's memoires be censored -- as I understand it, Kalimat was required to literally "stop the presses" because of this demand, as the book was just being printed.

However, there are many occasions that have been connected to events in recent years. Kalimat co-owner Tony Lee received a threatening letter in 1999 because of his distribution and advertisement of Juan Cole's groundbreaking *Modernity and the Millenium* -- a letter which warned him of penalties in the afterlife if he continued to do this. Just this last summer he was warned about carrying Abbas Amanat's *Resurrection and Renewal* -- the best book out there about the Babi era. Amanat, like a lot of other Baha'i scholars who experience the administration's wrath, had some pointed criticisms about it in the new introduction to this book -- and the administration cannot abide any criticism.

Kalimat also carries Sen McGlinn's *Church and State*, which has been condemned by the administration and its author disenrolled.

Well, it is no longer news that the Baha'i administration is unalterably opposed to new ideas, creative thinking, or solid academic scholarship. The talk is that, along with the LSAs, most ordinary Baha'is will avoid even the non-controversial publications of Kalimat Press. I hope this isn't true. Kalimat's customers, overall, probably represent the most intellectually curious segment of the Baha'i community. Baha'is who don't like history written in an academic style probably aren't buying from them anyway.

Besides the *Studies* series, Kalimat offers devotional materials, children's books, books on Christian issues and spirituality, and introductory materials. Next on my list to get is the book of translations of Tahirih's poetry -- which is a groundbreaking effort in itself.

So, I would ask my readers not to allow this effort to drive Kalimat into the ground to succeed. The Baha'i community needs this publisher -- buy a book or two from them, as soon as you can, to show your support and put this blatant effort at censorship in the toilet where it belongs.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Creating Communities in Exile

As many of you know, I have come to a place where I've been seeking ways to create real-life community among liberal and alienated Baha'is, without falling into the schismatic trap of creating an alternative "Baha'i Faith" -- which I pretty much view as an unworkable dead-end. But what I'm seeing out there, as a product of natural evolution, are groups that are both strongly oriented towards the spiritual and mystical teachings of the Faith, that are inclusive in their approach, and local in their reach. All it really takes is for someone who wants such a group is to contact like-minded people, whatever their "official" Baha'i status, within driving distance and set up meetings.

And there are all kinds of people who would be interested in such an approach: Unenrolled Baha'is, inactive Baha'is, ex-Baha'is who are still inspired by the Writings of Baha'u'llah, non-Baha'is who investigated the Faith, but were dissuaded from signing a card by some of the more authoritarian aspects of the Faith. The fundamentalist strain in the community has left a lot of disappointed people in its wake -- it really is just a matter of finding them, which can be a daunting task, I'll admit, but it can be done.

In some ways, conditions within the Faith has made such a development inevitable. I cannot be expected to forever hang around the edges of a religious community that has made it abundantly clear that it doesn't want me, or people like me, within its ranks. It kicks people out that think like I do, declaring us unqualified to be on the rolls of the Baha'i Faith. So, what's a lover of Baha'u'llah to do? One thing that fundamentalists always do is underestimate the commitment and depth of feeling on the part of religious liberals -- that's true no matter what religion you're talking about. We are expected to just drift away, since after all, we are assumed not to really take religion seriously anyway.

And, you know, I don't think that the Baha'i administration will be all that much bothered by this development -- assuming that such groups do not recruit aggressively and don't have an excessive focus on the flaws of the mainstream. At least, such groups have gone pretty much unnoticed or have been ignored, so far. The fears that were around in the late 90s, that Baha'i liberals would be named as covenant-breakers and shunned by their fellows, has not materialized. It seems to regard the problem as solved by liberals either leaving voluntarily, or being deprived of membership. The administration appears to be virtually asking us to create our own kind of community, since it sees us as being unqualified to be among "real" Baha'is.

It just took a while, I think, for that message to really sink into our heads. We are Baha'is, after all, and we really do believe in unity. It has been hard for us to accept that what the administration means by that word, and what we always thought it meant, are as different as night and day.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Adventures in Audio

I've been messing around with audio a bit, hoping that it will add to "quality of life" out here in Baha'i cyberspace. This clip *is* Baha'i oriented, so any other folks who stop by my blog are likely to find some things I say a bit mysterious -- although, of course, if anybody's just curious about what I sound like, they can check it out.

I've been doing a lot of Baha'i stuff lately. I sort of do whatever I feel on this blog, and I realize that this lack of consistency probably hurts my chances for building up an audience here -- but I do like the freedom of just writing what I feel like writing, which was one of the reasons I started a blog in the first place.

Anyway, my first blogcast.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Sen McGlinn's Disenrollment

Again, I'm running late with the big story, having been busy with work all last week, then sick all weekend. But Sen McGlinn has been disenrolled for "statements" he has "published", as well as the usual "behavior and attitude" charge that regularly reappears in UHJ disenrollment letters. Sen has responded by submitting another declaration card and attempting to re-enroll.

Baha'i fundamentalists are responding by either saying that it's none of our business, that Sen must have done something more wrong that what's apparent, or to actually enumerate his supposed sins. The letter from the Secretariat about his book, that I posted previously only, as Sen reminds folks, mentions the introduction of his book, where he calls himself a "Baha'i theologian" implying that this is the key issue. However, I find it hard to believe that the actual content of his book isn't at issue as well.

While you're sifting through these events, it might be a good idea to actually read
*Chuch and State: A Postmodern Political Theology*. My own copy's on order. There have been fears expressed that Kalimat Press will be next on the hit list, or that some action has already been taken against them, but I have not yet heard anything solid.

Juan Cole has made a rare venture into his old stomping-ground, Baha'i cyberspace, in order to comment. Alison, besides putting up Juan's post has also commented in her weblog. Baquia at Baha'i Rants has also commented.

The key issue, the one which ties all the disenrollments together, is lack of belief in UHJ infallibility where doctrine is concerned. Sen's book flies in the face of the interpretation of a body that openly says it has no scriptural authority to interpret, yet it insists on things that it calls "fundamentals" -- which now appears to include a belief that separation of church and state are depicted in a negative light in the Baha'i teachings. Juan's analysis, especially, pointed up this shift from a rather freewheeling enthusiastic religious group, as many experienced it in the early 70s, to one concerned with proper doctrine. Of course, the Baha'i Faith has experienced such shifts before, as in the late teens in the American Baha'i community. And, as in the earlier shift, it is accompanied by stagnant growth, disillusionment, and a shake-out of those who joined the Baha'i Faith believing it was an escape from the rigidity of older traditions.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

November 14 UHJ Letter

This letter has sparked considerable discussion on Baha'i forums for the last week or so, and only now have I had the chance to comment:

To all National Spiritual Assemblies

Dear Bahá’í Friends,
Recently, questions have arisen which have prompted the Universal House of Justice to comment further on matters treated in the compilation “Issues Related to the Study of the Bahá’í Faith”.

The Bahá’í principle calling for investigation of reality encourages an unfettered search for knowledge and truth by whoever wishes to engage in it. When applied to the Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh, it inevitably gives rise to a wide range of responses. Some, attracted to the Message, embrace the Cause as their own. Some may respond positively to certain precepts or principles and willingly collaborate toward shared aims. Some may find it to be an interesting social phenomenon worthy of study. Still others, content with their own beliefs, may reject its claims. Bahá’ís are taught to be respectful of the views of others, believing that conscience should not be coerced.

The claim that the Baha'i administration does not believe conscience should be coerced is quite simply false; they have repeatedly used the threat of sanctions and loss of membership on those they disapprove of. While, like most Baha'is they are tolerant of the beliefs of non-Baha'is, they are quite ruthless in making sure that Baha'is, especially those who are writers or public in some other way, toe the party line. In other words, freedom of conscience ends when you sign your membership card. The only way to regain that freedom, once you are made a target, is to resign that membership. When they say "freedom of conscience", they mean "freedom to be an enrolled member of the Baha'i Faith or not". They are quite happy for you to leave if you disagree with their interpretation of the Baha'i Writings, even if you are a passionate believer in Baha'u'llah -- and sometimes, they'll make you leave, whether you want to or not.

Upon becoming a Bahá’í, one accepts certain fundamental beliefs; but invariably one’s knowledge of the Teachings is limited and often mixed with personal ideas. Shoghi Effendi explains that “an exact and thorough comprehension of so vast a system, so sublime a revelation, so sacred a trust, is for obvious reasons beyond the reach and ken of our finite minds.” Over time, through study, prayerful reflection, and an effort to live a Bahá’í life, immature ideas yield to a more profound understanding of Bahá’u’lláh’s Revelation. Service to the Cause plays a particular role in the process, for the meaning of the Text is clarified as one translates insights into effective action. As a matter of principle, individual understanding or interpretation should not be suppressed, but valued for whatever contribution it can make to the discourse of the Bahá’í community. Nor should it, through dogmatic insistence of the individual, be allowed to bring about disputes and arguments among the friends; personal opinion must always be distinguished from the explicit Text and its authoritative interpretation by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and Shoghi Effendi and from the elucidations of the Universal House of Justice on “problems which have caused difference, questions that are obscure and matters that are not expressly recorded in the Book”.

This sounds very broad and liberal, but virtually *any* new perspective has the potential to cause "contention" because Baha'i conservatives react in such an extreme manner. The April 1999 letter, puts in this category such things as discussing the possibility of women serving on the House, the idea that the Baha'i Writings support the separation of church and state, and the hope that the mashriqu'l-adhkar will help develop a Baha'i community that is less administration-centered. All of these positions are squarely centered in the Baha'i Writings, yet people have been forced out of the Faith, or threatened for holding such "contentious" views.

As far as separating scripture from personal opinion, that's well-nigh impossible because people form differing views about what scripture actually means. What the administration means is that *their* collective and official view must be seen as the objective truth, and all other views are merely personal -- and if there is direct conflict, the other views can be targetted as unacceptable and "contentious". It should be remembered here that the House is, scripturally, given no interpretive power. That authority belonged to the now-defunct Guardianship, in whose name the UHJ now speaks.

In searching for understanding, Bahá’ís naturally acquaint themselves with published materials from a variety of sources. A book written by a disinterested non-Bahá’í scholar about the Faith, even if it reflects certain assumptions and puts forward conclusions acceptable within a given discipline but which are at variance with Bahá’í belief, poses no particular problem for Bahá’ís, who would regard these perceptions as an honest attempt to explore a religious phenomenon as yet little understood generally. Any non-biased effort to make the Faith comprehensible to a thoughtful readership, however inadequate it might appear, would evoke genuine Bahá’í appreciation for the perspective offered and research skill invested in the project. The matter is wholly different, however, when someone intentionally attacks the Faith.

This is an idea that has been repeated in several letters from the 1990s onward -- that it is perfectly o.k. for non-Baha'i scholars to approach the Baha'i Faith from an academic point of view, but it's not o.k. for a Baha'i to do so. There's a certain patronizing attitude here i.e. "It's so nice that you tried, within your inadequate and limited materialistic framework,to understand the Faith."

An inescapable duty devolves upon the friends so to situate themselves in the knowledge of the Teachings as to be able to respond appropriately to such a challenge as it arises and thus uphold the integrity of the Faith. The words of Bahá’u’lláh Himself shed light on the proper attitude to adopt. He warns
the believers “not to view with too critical an eye the sayings and writings of men”. “Let them”, He instructs, “rather approach such sayings and writings in a spirit of open-mindedness and loving sympathy. Those men, however, who, in this may, have been led to assail, in their inflammatory writings, the tenets of the Cause of God, are to be treated differently. It is incumbent upon all men, each according to his ability, to refute the arguments of those that have attacked the Faith of God.”

A different type of challenge arises when an individual or group, using the privilege of Bahá’í membership, adopts various means to impose personal views or an ideological agenda on the Bahá’í community.

This is back to the claim made in the April 1999 letter, that certain persons who are believed to be part of "a campaign of internal opposition" are attempting to "impose" their views. It has always baffled me how such "views" are to be "imposed". The world of ideas just doesn't work like that; one puts forth a thesis, and evidence to support it. The reader is free to accept or reject it. But the administration doesn't want that freedom; the fear is that ideas that conflict with the popular perception of Baha'i teaching may, through well-presented academic writings, become accepted within a significant portion of the community. It is, in fact, the administration that is trying to "impose" views; the scholars I know are trying to examine Baha'i history and scripture, and are putting forth their personal insights, and they have no power to "impose" anything. It is the administrators that have the power, and the status, within the community to insist that certain things are "fundamental" and may not be questioned or challenged, without undesirable consequences.

In one recent instance, for example, an individual has declared himself a “Bahá’í theologian, writing from and for a religious community,” whose aim is “to criticize, clarify, purify and strengthen the ideas of the Bahá’í community, to enable Bahá’ís to understand their relatively new Faith and to see what it can offer the world”.

This is presented as kind of a nefarious thing, but in context it is clear that the author is making a distinction between talking within a religious tradition, and coming from a purely academic viewpoint. To announce that one has some bias or vested interest in the subject being examined is a part of academic ethics; it is expected. Not only does the author specifically say that his book represents his personal viewpoint but that "I should declare at the outset that my stance is not that of a historian or academic scholar of the science of religion, but of a Bahai theologian, writing from and for a religious community . . ." Since Baha'is writing from an academic point of view "as if they were non-Baha'is" have been condemned, and a Baha'i writing "from and for a religious community" is also considered wrong, I'm not sure exactly how Baha'i writers are supposed to write at all -- except to echo what has already been established as orthodoxy. It's sad really that such a strict orthodoxy has arisen so early in the Baha'i Faith's history; we don't even have most of the Writings translated for most people to be able to read them and know what they say -- how, then, can we be so dogmatic about what is allowable and what is not?

Assertions of this kind go far beyond expressions of personal opinion, which any Bahá’í is free to voice. As illustrated, here is a claim that lies well outside the framework of Bahá’í belief and practice. Bahá’u’lláh has liberated human minds by prohibiting within His Faith any caste with ecclesiastical prerogatives that seeks to foist a self-assumed authority upon the thought and behaviour of the mass of believers.

To say that one is a "Baha'i theologian" does not imply "authority" within the religion. But I don't think that's the issue. If an approved-of author, particularly one having an administrative position, had written a book promoting a conservative point of view, and called himself a "Baha'i theologian", I doubt we'd be getting any objections. The problem is that the book in question challenges popular beliefs about the relationship between church and state in the Baha'i Writings. The author is not putting himself within a "caste with ecceslesiatical prerogatives", but challenging the entrenched dogma of the ecclesiastical authorities that already exist, who have made a pro-theocratic viewpoint into an official and unchallengeable teaching of the Baha'i Faith. The author's book, from what I understand, puts forward the thesis that the Baha'i Writings are, in fact, anti-theocratic. I leave it to the reader to decide which perspective is more likely to support a "caste with ecclesiastical prerogatives".

What is striking about this letter is that there seems to no other purpose to it other than to slander this particular author. Virtually everything else in it has been already said in earlier letters.

Indeed, He has prescribed a system that combines democratic practices with the application of knowledge through consultative processes.

And why should Baha'i authors, scholars, and yes, even theologians, not be allowed to participate in that process without fear that they will be accused of trying to undermine the Faith in some way?

The House of Justice is confident that the principles herein presented will enable the friends to benefit from diverse contributions resulting from exploration of the manifold implications of Bahá’u’lláh’s vast Revelation, while remaining impervious to the efforts of those few who, whether in an explicit or veiled manner, attempt to divert the Bahá’í community from essential understandings of the Faith.

O.K., here's the real issue -- that this author's belief that the Baha'i Faith institutions are not destined to evolve into a theocratic state, and that a "Baha'i State", by definition, would keep religion and government separate is considered a diversion from the "true" Baha'i teaching. But what "true" Baha'i teaching is what is contained in Baha'i scriptures, and those that are anti-theocracy argue from scripture, just like those who are pro-theocracy do. There is no longer any individual or institution that is scripturally qualified to impose a uniform interpretation of scripture on the Baha'i community. As in any other debate about ideas, the side with the strongest arguments and most solid evidence wins. But the UHJ has decided that a pro-theocratic stance is one of the "essentials" upon which Baha'is must agree, if they are to remain Baha'is. The question is "Why?" We are, after all, talking about something very speculative here; we are in the realm of millennial beliefs, ideas about what "God's Plan" for the future entails. It is just another instance where the definition of what it is to be a Baha'i is narrowing. Exactly how they think their dreams of the Baha'i Faith even growing enough even to become a significant influence in the world, much less a world theocracy, is going to happen if believing Baha'is are defined out of existence, and friends are named as enemies.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

California Special Election

Californians are having a special election Tuesday, but they don't exactly feel special about it. In fact, a whole lot of people are downright pissed at the waste -- there is no pressing issue that couldn't be handled in a regular election. It's just Arnold's way of getting his agenda through, but it's going over like a lead balloon.

Some voters are staying home; others are just saying "no" to all the propositions. Teachers and other public employees are furious at the shots being taken at them. I'm really unhappy that our polling place has been taken from us. That is, I live in a town of 400 people, so the county has decided that it's not worth their while to pay for a polling station and everyone who lives here is forced to vote absentee. I have a hunch a lot of people won't bother.

In fact, the election is overshadowing the issues involved, some of which are pretty major, like parental consent for abortion and two separate programs to reduce prescription drug costs. In a normal year, those things would really have tongues wagging, but now all the news is about the election itself.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

How Much is a Blog Worth?

Yeah, I know -- every time I have gone a long while without writing, I come up with the one of these goofy quizzes. This one is based on research that analyzes the worth of a blog based on links:

My blog is worth $2,258.16.
How much is your blog worth?

A famous blog like Juan's is "worth" over a million. I put that in quotation marks, because no matter what anybody says, a thing is worth what somebody is willing to pay for it -- and as far as I know, nobody ever buys blogs. It seems to be based on what companies that advertise in cyberspace pay for links. More info here.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Baha'i Individual Initiative and Varqa Magazine

Back in the days when I was an enrolled Baha'i, there would nearly always be, circulated at Feast, various pamplets advertising from companies whose market consists largely of Baha'is: Kalimat Press, Oneworld, Special Ideas, etc. that sell Baha'i books, jewelry, prayer beads, promotional materials like t-shirts and bumper stickers. When I was Secretary, I used to get that stuff in the mail all the time. Selling Baha'i items means that a company is trying to reach a niche market, to say the least, and these companies do this with the permission of the institutions. Kalimat, for example, was once described in a UHJ letter as having "privileged access" to the Baha'i community. But without that "privilege", it would be nearly impossible to reach Baha'is at all, except for repeat customers. Membership lists are not given out, except to Secretaries who are asked to keep them confidential.

Well, a few years ago, a Baha'i gentleman, as a labor of love, revived the children's magazine Varqa. It is not so much a "Baha'i magazine" like Brilliant Star, but a magazine based on Baha'i principles. Here's the description:

Varqa International Children's Magazine is a full-colour literary magazine for children ages 7 to 14 and is entirely advertisement-free. Varqa, whose name means “dove,” the symbol of peace and bearer of good news, is dedicated to the spiritual and intellectual development of children. It strives to generate hope and constructive energy for the future of humankind inspired by the principles of the Bahá'í Faith, namely:
unity of mankind
unity of religions
the equality of women and men
the independent investigation of truth
celebration of social justice, diversity, cultures, creativity, and art
universal education
appreciation of nature
protection of the environment

Like many projects taken on for idealistic reasons, it is barely staying afloat. However, this man, who knows some of the UHJ members was told that the House will not allow him to promote his magazine through the LSAs. This was done informally and orally, so there is no paper trail. One House member told him this, claiming that the others were on his side. Without access to local Baha'i communities, the magazine is cut off from promoting to its primary audience.

The administration says that it encourages individual initiative, but I hear stories like this all the time, where individual initiative is simply squashed. My feeling is that you have to be the "right" individual. As I understand it, no reason was given for this prohibition. Somebody up there doesn't like this guy personally? They don't want competition to "official" Baha'i magazines? They don't like a magazine based on "principles" rather than directly teaching the religion? Who knows?

Anyway, those of you out there, Baha'i or not, who have young children should check this magazine out at their website, and consider subscribing or otherwise offering your support.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Running on Fumes

Siskiyou County, the subject of this article, is quite a ways north of me, but still close enough that this story could be considered "local", even though it appears in The Nation. When I'm driving north I have a clear view of Mount Shasta, even though I'm still in what the article describes as "the flat farmlands of California's Central Valley". I'm familiar enough with the area that I know what this article is talking about -- Siskiyou County is large, mountainous, and the small towns in it are widely separated. It's a tough commute from town to town, on curvy mountain roads even in the summer -- worse in the winter. Years ago, we had to cancel a planned trip to Ashland in April, because the roads were snowed over. It isn't like driving 70 m.p.h. on straight freeway, like we do in the valley.

Anyway, this is a good report on the impact of soaring gas prices in an area that has little public transportation and is already economically depressed. Just click on the title for the article.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Friday Night at the Fight

People pretend that they are seeking enlightenment and thoughtful analysis of the issues, but what they really like is a good fight. So, I got a copy of the Galloway/Hitchens debate, and now I'm afraid I can't find the link to where I got it. Part of it is available at

Christopher Hitchens has style; can't deny that. I completely disagree with him, and a good deal of the time he sounds exactly like what his opponent accuses him of being: an apologist for the Bush administration. However, he parries Galloway's heated and creative ad hominems, not to mention the heckling of the crowd, in such a cool and almost lazy fashion that one can't help but enjoy it. So, I find a kind of guilty pleasure in listening to him. He's better to listen to than anybody actually *in* the Bush administration.

But Hitchens told a great big fib -- well, it's entirely possible he told more than one fib, but this one I know something about: Galloway brought up Juan's article knocking down his points in support of the Iraq War, and Hitchens responded by saying the "egegrious figure of Professor Cole" "had never set foot in the region" and "claims to know Farsi and all these other languages". Now, I would expect that those of us that have known Juan for a long time in Baha'i cyberspace would know rather more about his background than those who got to know him as the author of Informed Comment. However, it would not take extraordinary research skills to discover that he has an M.A. in Arabic from the American University in Cairo -- which, the last time I checked, was in the Middle East. This little bit of resume information is all over cyberspace. However, so is the claim that Juan doesn't know Arabic. Well, I've heard that one before; Baha'i fundamentalists were saying several years ago that Juan didn't know Persian very well, and therefore his translations of Baha'i scripture should be mistrusted. (For those who don't know: Juan is a very gifted translator, and this was the first work of his I ever encountered. Not know Arabic! Sheesh!)

Since Juan responds to Hitchens' charges in detail, outlining both his Middle East and language experience, I suppose I don't need to go into it further. But it's so foolish to try to get away with a slander that is so easily disproven that I can't help but wonder why Hitchens and those that do this think they can get away with it. It basically counts on an audience that is either too lazy or too anxious to believe a discrediting falsehood to check it out for themselves.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Trapped in New Orleans

This is the story of people who started out in the French Quarter, and ended up being pushed hither and yon all over the place, before finally being rescued. Here are some passages:

What you will not see, but what we witnessed, were the real heroes and sheroes of the hurricane relief effort: the working class of New Orleans.

The maintenance workers who used a forklift to carry the sick and disabled. The engineers who rigged, nurtured and kept the generators running. The electricians who improvised thick extension cords stretching over blocks to share the little electricity we had in order to free cars stuck on rooftop parking lots. Nurses who took over for mechanical ventilators and spent many hours on end manually forcing air into the lungs of unconscious patients to keep them alive. Doormen who rescued folks stuck in elevators. Refinery workers who broke into boat yards, "stealing" boats to rescue their neighbors clinging to their roofs in flood waters. Mechanics who helped hotwire any car that could be found to ferry people out of the city. And the food service workers who scoured the commercial kitchens, improvising communal meals for hundreds of those stranded. . .

We waited for 48 hours for the buses, spending the last 12 hours standing outside, sharing the limited water, food and clothes we had. We created a priority boarding area for the sick, elderly and newborn babies. We waited late into the night for the "imminent" arrival of the buses. The buses never arrived. We later learned that the minute they arrived at the city limits, they were commandeered by the military. . .

Quite naturally, we asked, "If we can't go to the only two shelters in the city, what was our alternative?" The guards told us that this was our problem--and no, they didn't have extra water to give to us. This would be the start of our numerous encounters with callous and hostile "law enforcement." . .

As we approached the bridge, armed sheriffs formed a line across the foot of the bridge. Before we were close enough to speak, they began firing their weapons over our heads. This sent the crowd fleeing in various directions.. .

Just as dusk set in, a sheriff showed up, jumped out of his patrol vehicle, aimed his gun at our faces and screamed, "Get off the fucking freeway." A helicopter arrived and used the wind from its blades to blow away our flimsy structures. As we retreated, the sheriff loaded up his truck with our food and water. . .

We were dropped off near the airport and managed to catch a ride with the National Guard. The two young guardsmen apologized for the limited response of the Louisiana guards. They explained that a large section of their unit was in Iraq and that meant they were shorthanded and were unable to complete all the tasks they were assigned. . . .

This official treatment was in sharp contrast to the warm, heartfelt reception given to us by ordinary Texans. We saw one airline worker give her shoes to someone who was barefoot. Strangers on the street offered us money and toiletries with words of welcome. . . .

Click on the title to see the whole article.

Gore Airlifts Victims from New Orleans

Man, did we pick the wrong guy, or what?

On September 1, three days after Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast, Simon learned that Dr. David Kline, a neurosurgeon who operated on Gore's son, Albert, after a life-threatening auto accident in 1989, was trying to get in touch with Gore. Kline was stranded with patients at Charity Hospital in New Orleans.

"The situation was dire and becoming worse by the minute -- food and water running out, no power, 4 feet of water surrounding the hospital and ... corpses outside," Simon wrote.

Gore responded immediately, telephoning Kline and agreeing to underwrite the $50,000 each for the two flights, although Larry Flax, founder of California Pizza Kitchens, later pledged to pay for one of them.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

The Red Cross Blocked

The Fox News Channel's Major Garrett was just on my show extending the story he had just reported on Brit Hume's show: The Red Cross is confirming to Garrett that it had prepositioned water, food, blankets and hygiene products for delivery to the Superdome and the Convention Center in the immediate aftermath of the hurricane, but were blocked from delivering those supplies by orders of the Louisiana state government, which did not want to attract people to the Superdome and/or Convention Center. Garrett has no paper trail yet, but will follow up on his verbal confirmation from sources at the highest levels of the Red Cross.

What it's beginning to look like to me is that one of the things that went wrong in New Orleans is that concerns about crowd control outweighed concerns about the "crowd's" well-being. Same kind of thing with blocking off access to the highway thereby trapping thousands of people at the Convention Center -- they were worried about this crowd of potential "looters" flooding into the next town. And the way they just shoved supplies off the trucks, without stopping -- sometimes damaging the supplies in the process.

They were too scared to help. Now, there were some real reasons for concern; there were gangs with guns in the streets. There were snipers shooting at helicopters. But, to me, the whole point of establishing security was so the aid could get through, not so people could be helplessly trapped -- essentially left to fend for themselves without even the freedom that would allow them to do that. No doubt, if word had gotten out that food and water were being passed out at the Convention Center more people would have gone there. Folks started going there once word came that the Center was being evacuated. So, you're going to deprive people of food because they might show up to get some?

It's hard not to have the feeling that the agencies involved were fearful of the uncivilized hordes of the inner city -- the people that live in the bad part of town that even the cops avoid. It's like after the storm the Superdome and Convention Center became "the bad part of town". The first thought was control and containment, rather than getting help to them.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

More On New Orleans

The link above to Wikipedia has a pretty good round-up of "what went wrong" in its article on the political impact of Hurricane Katrina. Last night I ran into the stunning fact that the National Guard prevented people holed up at the Convention Center from walking across the bridge to escape New Orleans. I imagine they were concerned about a flood of people going into the next town, or whatever. It's bad enough that there were these ridiculous delays in getting help, but to even prevent people from seeking food and water on their own is just unimaginable cruelty. It's like locking someone in a prison cell without food and water.

During the disaster, I've been watching CNN, but I found some dramatic footage from Fox with Geraldo Rivera and Shepard Smith getting very emotional and pleading for these people to be let out of the Convention Center, to walk across that bridge to where food and water was. This was Friday, when the trucks and buses started rolling -- but the people at the Convention Center were still without food and water when this was shot, and there was no information about when it would arrive. Take a look; you won't soon forget it.

You know what's really amazing? That there wasn't a riot. If I'd been without food or water for six days, with old people and babies dying around me, and soldiers told me I couldn't go to where food and water could be found, I'd just say "Shoot me now. Better to die fast than slow." By not letting people through, they were killing them just as sure as putting a bullet in them anyhow. Why didn't the guys who set up this checkpoint have supplies to give these people? It just boggles the mind.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Baha'is of Plano, Texas helping Katrina Victims

Folks are asking about what the Baha'is are doing for the Katrina victims, and a friedn brought this to my attention. Besides the article above, there is also more information here -- Plano, is, apparently, one of the many places in Texas which has been taking in refugees.

A certain amount of cynicism has set in about Baha'is tending to be inwardly-focused and not doing very much charity. It has always been my contention that there is a tremendous charitable impulse among Baha'is, who really *do* care about humanity -- it's just that the impulse gets stifled by a feeling that Baha'is are working for the long term and shouldn't put a lot of energy for the short term. Another factor is that many Baha'i communities are small, and badly organized -- it's tough to get a charitable effort together when you can't even meet regularly.

However, I would like to commend the Baha'is of Plano for their efforts, and hope that every local Baha'i community that has the capacity to do so follow their example.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Figuring Out What Went Wrong in New Orleans

I suspect that talk about how the richest and most developed country in the world could be so unprepared for this crisis and handle it so badly is going to be around for quite some time. But I thought this was a pretty good article on it.

You're Kidding Me, Right?

The National Guard commander, Lieutenant General Steven Blum, said the reservist force was slow to move troops into New Orleans because it did not anticipate the collapse of the city's police force. . . .

"The real issue, particularly in New Orleans, is that no one anticipated the disintegration or the erosion of the civilian police force in New Orleans," Blum told reporters in Washington.

"Once that assessment was made ... then the requirement became obvious," he said. "And that's when we started flowing military police into the theatre."

Now, let me get this straight -- The commander of our forces thought the New Orleans police would be able to handle the situation when:

1. Policemen are just as vulnerable to being killed or injured by storms and floods as anyone else.

2. You have 1700 police to take care of 100,000 people who were stuck in the city.

3. Communications were down, which should have been expected in the aftermath of the storm.

4. Even if they arrested anyone, they had no way of getting them into jail. The only thing they could have done was shoot people in the streets, and since gun stores were among the first places looted, they were quickly outgunned.

5. The police didn't have any more access to food and water than anybody else trying to survive in that city.

6. Police are human beings who have their own families to worry about.

And they thought the New Orleans police force *wouldn't* disintegrate?

Saturday, September 03, 2005

What's Looting and What's Not

There are stories coming out now about how most of the "looting" was survivors simply looking for food and other basic necessities. I wouldn't consider that looting; I'd consider that good common sense in a survival situation. Any fresh food in the grocery stores is going to go bad anyway -- it might as well be feeding someone's children. You can't politely sit around and die of dehydration, something that can happen in as little as three days of water deprivation, while waiting for help to arrive, if water bottles are available at the stores. Especially when it became clear that it was going to take a while before supplies arrived. Some of those people watched trucks roll right past them, without stopping to give them anything -- they can hardly be faulted for deciding they'd better find their own food and water, or they could die waiting for help.

On CNN,I heard a story of a woman who had been trapped at the Ritz-Carlton hotel with about 300 other people, and they were forced to wade through the toxic water in order to get to the rescue buses. Before they left, she said, doctors who had been among the crowd with them "commandeered" some antibiotics, to protect them from infection. That's the polite term -- it's obvious that what they did was break into the nearest pharmacy. And you can bet your fanny that nobody is going to arrest those doctors for looting. Having antibiotics on hand in such an unsanitary environment is nearly as much a necessity for survival as having food and water.

Looters are the guys stealing guns, t.v. sets, jewelry and drugs. (T.V. sets? The power isn't even working. Who are you going to sell them to?) When I said I wanted good guys with guns down there, it was because aid workers were afraid of getting shot while trying to help because of the violent gangs prowling around, so that rescue efforts were disrupted -- and that wasted time was costing lives.

In spite of all the noise Bush is making about zero tolerance for looters, there isn't going to be any more than a few symbolic prosecutions. How are you going to be able to separate out those who were stealing necessities and those who were stealing luxuries, except where it's very blatant?

I have heard that Bush is not making a distinction between the two, but haven't found anything other than this , which looks more like a condemnation of the violent offenders. It would be very bad politically to go dragging off to jail some poor desperate soul for stealing bread and milk, and they just aren't going to do that. And if the troops should, even accidentally, shoot somebody who is taking necessities, howls of protest will ring far and wide.

If you don't want folks stealing food, water, medicine, and sanitary supplies, then you'd better make sure they have some -- and damned quickly too.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Chaos in New Orleans

What's happening in New Orleans really goes to show just how thin the veneer of civilization really is -- and, of course in some of those poor neighborhoods where these trapped people come from, it's even thinner. Living in small towns all my life, it's tough for me to fathom. When we have floods, guys walk or boat around, checking on the elderly, and exchanging news. It sometimes has the feel of a neighborhood party. But big cities are so dependant upon the infrastructure that even a big power outage, all by itself, is an emergency.

It seems pretty clear to me that top priority has to be restoring enough order that aid can get through. We're seeing scenes like this:

Although obviously he has no exact count, he estimates more than 10,000 people are packed into and around and outside the convention center still waiting for the buses. They had no food, no water, and no medicine for the last three days, until today, when the National Guard drove over the bridge above them, and tossed out supplies over the side crashing down to the ground below. Much of the supplies were destroyed from the drop. Many people tried to catch the supplies to protect them before they hit the ground. Some offered to walk all the way around up the bridge and bring the supplies down, but any attempt to approach the police or national guard resulted in weapons being aimed at them.

They're afraid to stop and pass out supplies in an orderly fashion, so the troops just chuck the boxes over the side of the truck. I found this really sad:

The people are so desperate that they're doing anything they can think of to impress the authorities enough to bring some buses. These things include standing in single file lines with the eldery in front, women and children next; sweeping up the area and cleaning the windows and anything else that would show the people are not barbarians.

The buses never stop.

And, of course, there's been story after story of rescue workers being shot at, or vehicles being hijacked. Bush is making noises about lawlessness not being tolerated, but unless you get good guys with rifles down there, nothing is going to stop it. And as long as lawlessness reigns, people are going to die, first from lack of medical care, then from lack of food and water, and disease. So, what I'm asking is where are the troops? Where are the good guys with rifles?

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Hurricane Katrina

Like everybody else, I've been watching the terrible news on the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. However, I'll confess to some impatience with people who refused to leave when a mandatory evacuation was declared. I live in an area that floods so regularly that all the houses are built up high so we can get through it without damage, and even though we usually just sit it out, when the call for "mandatory evacuation" came down because the levee threatened to break, I got myself and my kids out of there. As long as evacuation is voluntary, I'm quite content to sit it out -- the pattern of floods is very predictable, and outside of the inconvenience of being stuck in the house while the river rages around us, we do just fine.

Of course, I realize that, in a large city like that, getting out may not be so easy, and that some people don't own cars, etc. But, for the rest, what tends to happen in areas that are threatened by a recurring danger like this (after all, there are hurricanes every year in the gulf), people get complacent. They've lived through them before, and figure they can do it again. And who wouldn't prefer sit it out at home rather than huddle in a shelter? Nevertheless, sitting it out is a very bad idea when things are dangerous enough that a mandatory evacuation is declared.

Another thing that happens whenever we have a flood is that people go sightseeing, and they drive straight through flood water -- many times getting themselves stuck requiring some brave cop or national guardsman to rescue them. (Safety Rule: Never drive your car through flood water, it could be swifter and deeper than it looks. Especially never drive around flood barriers.) People indulge in the same kind of stupidity during hurricanes -- the news reported people taking their kids out to see the waves, taking pictures, etc., as the storm moved closer.

Speaking of the National Guard, those guys have my deepest respect. Even when we choose to sit out a flood, it gives me a great sense of security seeing those big trucks chugging through the flood water, knowing help is close by if it should become necessary. Right now, they are out there risking their own lives to save others; they are heros and deserve our thoughts, prayers, and support.

In fact, some prayers in general would be appropriate now. Whatever my impatience at folks who didn't heed the warnings, *nobody* deserves to be suffering what tens of thousands are now suffering down there.

Additional thought: As I watch this massive effort to evacuate the entire city of New Orleans, I can't help but wonder why there wasn't a more organized effort to get people out beforehand. They knew that many of the city's poor didn't have the means to leave -- and it certainly is easier to evacuate people ahead of time than it is when there is water all over the place!

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

PIssing Away the Conservative Moment

Since most of the folks I know in cyberspace are liberal, I like to stick something up on my blog once in a while as a reminder that the words "intelligent conservative" are not necessarily an oxymoron.

There have been rumblings for some time from the religious right, some of whom are catching on to the fact, that for all their loud and boistrous political activity for the last 25-30 years, they actually have had very little success in achieving their ends. My own guess is that after Bush, who is, after all, one of their own, even more frustration is going to set in and people are going to either drop out of political activity or become even more radicalized -- like the guy who wants Christians to move to South Carolina so it can secede and become a Christian theocracy.

However, old-style conservatives aren't real happy about Bush either. Paleocons are isolationists at heart; economic conservatives want smaller government not the government expansion that goes along with war -- I have an aunt who voted Libertarian because she's outraged about the Patriot Act. Bainbridge, in the article I've linked to above says:

It's time for us conservatives to face facts. George W. Bush has pissed away the conservative moment by pursuing a war of choice via policies that border on the criminally incompetent. We control the White House, the Senate, the House of Representatives, and (more-or-less) the judiciary for one of the few times in my nearly 5 decades, but what have we really accomplished? Is government smaller? Have we hacked away at the nanny state? Are the unborn any more protected? Have we really set the stage for a durable conservative majority?

Then, after voicing a number of complaints about the Iraq War he ends by saying:

What really annoys me, however, are the domestic implications of all this. The conservative agenda has advanced hardly at all since the Iraq War began. Worse yet, the growing unpopularity of the war threatens to undo all the electoral gains we conservatives have achieved in this decade. Stalwarts like me are not going to vote for Birkenstock wearers no matter how bad things get in Iraq, but what about the proverbial soccer moms? Gerrymandering probably will save the House for us at least through the 2010 redistricting, but what about the Senate and the White House?

You bet the soccer moms are going to vote Democrat next time -- this war could end up being a huge set-back for the Republicans, and the longer it lasts, the worse it's going to be. The high oil prices and attendant economic woes aren't going to help, either -- Americans vote their pocketbook when all is said and done. If we can't get out of Iraq while leaving a stable situation behind us, then our economy is going to be in real peril. As Juan was mentioning lately, nobody likes to think we went to war for oil(if we did, we *really* screwed up), but the fact is that gas prices have a real impact on all of our lives -- and the working class and poor that the left is supposed be supporting will feel especially pinched if the Iraq situation spirals out of control.
Politically, if the left is going to get anywhere, it's got to remember its roots are in being the champions of the working class instead of being the Party of People Not Like Us. It may never have a better opportunity than right now to get Bubba on its side.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Easing back in

Well, it's been a long, hot stressful summer but I'm moving into what has become the mellowest time of the year: the early weeks of school. Unlike full-time teachers, who are very busy, substitute teachers generally aren't called until school is well under way; I've never yet been called in August.

On the Baha'i front, there's another liberal Baha'i in trouble. A young man in Canada, who posted some essays mildly critical of the status quo, has been called to a meeting by an ABM for Protection. What's really weird is that he had barely started posting; he's just a raw newbie. This meeting is being framed as informal and friendly, which appears to be standard procedure. It may even appear so when the meeting takes place-- although some ABMs get nasty and yell and that kind of thing -- but it's the report that is made on the meeting that ends up being the worst part. The victim then gets a letter telling him that he'd better shape up or else. That's pretty much what happened to Larry Rowe, and others. Baquia has more detail on this story. He's back from his summer blogging break, too. :-)

The only general news story that has caught my attention recently has been that of Cindy Sheehan. More power to her, I say. As I've made it clear on other posts here, if it were my son that were killed, my rage would be beyond measure. However, I'm finding it interesting that as soon as a grieving parent begins to be perceived as "political", sympathy wanes. Well, of course she's political. So were Terri Shaivo's parents. So was the lady who started Mothers Against Drunk Driving. I'd be willing to bet that the majority of people who get involved in one particular political cause or another do so because of some kind of personal experience with the issue.

And for this war, in particular, where the reasons for going into it turned out to be false and where the
goals have turned out to be impossible to achieve
, it is inevitable that more anger and resentment about it are going to build up. Americans are not particularly patient people when it comes to war -- we want to get in, kick butt, and bring the boys home. Most are willing to support the president when he decides to send troops somewhere, but are not willing to support a lost cause to the last gasp. The longer this goes on, the more people are going to turn against it.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Stress, Heat, and Harry Potter

[Note: For the "Harry Potter" portion of this entry, there will be spoilers below, although I would suggest that anybody who seriously wants to avoid Harry Potter spoilers shouldn't be online anyway!]

I don't know if I've spent a period online in the last five years that I felt more unengaged with what's happening online -- partly because even before I was torn away by real life commitments, I hadn't been doing much. I haven't been paying much attention to the real-world news either. Grandma saw an interview with Juan, where he gave what-for to a real Neanderthal, apparently -- and I'm like, "O.K., I'll catch it online sometime". I'm not doing anything right now, other than behind-the-scenes moderation where I have a commitment to do that.

Part of it has been stress; things with the job haven't gone as well as I'd hoped -- although, I knew from the outset I was dealing with a tough group of kids. It's been damn hard work, and if I'd tried something like this before having a few years subbing experience under my belt, I would have completely fallen apart. However, I've written some minor things that have gone over well; I left a contributor to a newsletter who was extremely sensitive about editing, positively beaming over what I'd done with his article.

The weather has been unbearably hot, with day after day of temps over 100 degrees for the last two weeks, and no end in sight. It was 113 today. This is not especially unusual, although the last few summers have been milder. The record summer high is 122. I'm in a broad valley flanked by mountain ranges; it's like living in a reflector oven. We are far away from ocean breezes. For those of you who live in different climates, when things get this hot, people get short on energy, and short of temper. It's tough to sleep at night. Trevor is living upside down -- awake all night, and sleeping during the heat of the day; Tory spends as much time as she can at the public pool. I really feel sorry for people who have to do physical labor in heat like this. My only comfort is thinking of the soldiers in Iraq, who face even hotter temperatures -- and don't have the luxury of complaining under swamp coolers and fans.

With life being stressful, I've been veering towards mindless entertainment when I do have spare time. There are times when one just needs to veg out. Most of the time, Jim rules the television, with the kids being second-in-command, but I've been watching "The Closer", and "Into the West".

Then, of course, there's *Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince*-- which, just in case you've been living under a rock, was released Saturday admist unprecedented hoopla. The fun part, for me, has been that it's something I've been able to share with my son. He's at an age when kids seem to be beings from another planet, and it's nice to have something to enjoy together. I'm also of the opinion that one must be an adult to truly appreciate children's literature. One of the perks of being a teacher is "read-alouds" of some of the best stories around.

Trevor and I aren't hung up on spoilers. To me, there are very few books or movies that are "spoiled" by knowing what happens. Something like *The Sixth Sense* where one's whole perceptions of the film would be altered would be spoiled by knowing the end, but very few other things would bother me. The part that matters is the experience. So, Trevor and I eagerly watched the chapter synopses appear on wikipedia that night, not knowing whether we'd have a key to a locker (meaning we'd get the book Saturday as ordered), or whether I'd find a card (meaning we'd have to wait until Monday for the post office to be open).

My comments:

-My favorite of the books is still *Prisoner of Azkaban*, and this new book has not altered my opinion.
-It's nice to see Harry behaving a bit more maturely; the adolescent angst was laid on so thick in *Order of the Phoenix* that he was almost unbearably irritating. That it was so realistic, though, is probably a tribute to Rowling's writing rather than a criticism.
-Favorite scenes: When Harry tells the Ministry to take a flying leap, showing the hand scarred by Umbridge's pen; McGonogall telling Neville that his grandmother should be "proud of the grandson she has instead of the one she thinks she ought to have"; the glasses knocking against the Dursley's heads, asking to be drunk; Kreacher and Dobby fighting; Harry supporting the weakened Dumbledore in the cave.
- Unlike some fans, I'm not an ardent "shipper", but I was glad to see Harry hook up with Ginny, and the friendly break-up at the end only makes sense, considering the dangers yet ahead.
-Although it was great to see all the backstory about Voldemort, I was disappointed that so many other questions about other characters have not yet been answered. I guess that Rowling's promise that "there will be all the backstory necessary" will be fulfilled in the last book. In fact, there is a hint of that, as Harry prepares to return to Godric's Hollow.
-Somehow Snape declaring himself "the Half-Blood Prince" just didn't ring right; he doesn't seem the type to make grand declarations about himself. Oh, he's got an ego, but he tends to tear others down while demonstrating his own capabilities, rather than bragging about them.. The fans that are still trying to make Snape out to be a secret good guy are crazy; there was clear foreshadowing in Dumbledore's statement that he makes big mistakes sometimes -- and he made one about Snape, end of story.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

A Real Job

Well, folks, it looks like I'm going to be teaching summer school for the next five weeks. This literally dropped out of the clear, blue sky. This morning I woke up with the whole summer ahead of me, at 1:30 I was at a school district office signing the papers. Apparently, the person they had hired originally was a no-show at the orientation meeting, so the principal went desperately through the sub list, looking for someone with the proper credential (as opposed to just a sub credential). So, I managed to get a job without all the rigamarole -- application, interview, etc. (I'm a good teacher, but not a good job hunter.) It was really just sheer luck.

And, this is a real teaching job -- I have my own classroom; I'm getting paid teacher's wages, not the pittance subs get. I start Monday, so I've just got this weekend to figure out the curriculum. I'm teaching a 7/8 combo for reading and math. Remediation, I've done quite a bit of -- except it's going to be a pain doing two separate levels.

So this may, but not necessarily, mean that my pearls of wisdom here will be scarcer. My experience is, though, that the frequence of my posting really depends more on what I've got to say than the time I've got. If I have a lot to say, then I *make* time. If I don't, I end up telling myself "Maybe tomorrow".

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Hitting Close to Home

I'm begging my reader's indulgence for going through rather a slow phase right now. It's weird that some days I've got all the feverish thoughts that have to be written down, and I'll put four or five stories here on my blog, or post on forums -- then there are other times when I just don't feel like saying much or talking to anybody.

But this story deserves my attention: Basically, an al-Qaeda cell has been found in the relatively small town of Lodi, California. (Yes, that's the Lodi that CCR sang about getting "stuck in, again".)

Now, those of you that know me, know that I'm a small town girl, making no bones about my rural roots and lack of sophistication. And, while I am horrified by violent events and the rise of the terrorist threat, they have always been rather distant. It's like crime; I live in a place where I don't bother to lock my front door, or my car. Oh, it's not paradise; we have our criminals -- but if there really is any safe place in the world, I feel like I live in it. Even Shasta Dam, although I heard that they stepped up security there, were it hit by a place like the trade center was, would escape major damage, leaving those of us downstream quite safe. And what other possible target could there be way up here in the upper reaches of California?

Lodi -- San Joaquin county. I was born in Stockton, and still have family there. Some of my cousins used to live in Lodi, which is just a few miles north. I grew up in little towns around that area -- except for the years I spent up here, where my mom's family comes from, about 2-3 hours northward.

Grandma used to always say that if terrorists really wanted to scare Americans, they'd dispense with hitting big symbolic targets and make the hits random -- big cities, little towns, government buildings, and private -- so that nobody could feel like they were safe.

Well, at least these guys were arrested. While affiliated with al-Qaida, there doesn't seem to be any evidence that any specific attack was being planned. But, it's a little too close for comfort.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Baha'is Arrested in Iran

I still rather feel like I'm not firing on all cylinders as far as my Internet activity is concerned, but this is important news -- and even though most of my Baha'i readers have probably heard this by now, I felt I should post it here, just on the principle that information is the greatest weapon in opposing human rights abuses. The story does not appear to be getting much press outside the Baha'i community -- I checked out the "Human Rights Watch", "Amesty International" and "Iran Focus" websites and saw no mention of it. Strange, since *Iran Focus* picked up on the storyseveral months ago, apparently from the Iranian press, about Baha'i missionaries being arrested and deported-- a story that was denied by the Baha'i administration. I find it very strange that a false story about two non-Iranian missionaries would get press, and a true story about eleven arrests would not.

I first heard about the recent arrests on one of the lists I'm subscribed to, a couple of weeks ago, but didn't see any official confirmation until yesterday. The scuttlebutt is that most of the Baha'is arrested were organizing Ruhi study circles.

6 June 2005

State Bahá'í Councils
State Bahá'í Administrative Committees
Selected Local Spiritual Assemblies

Dear Bahá'í Friends,

We are informed by the Universal House of Justice that it "has received
alarming news of a number of arrests in Iran in the span of the last two
weeks, thus worsening the already perilous situation of the Bahá'ís in that

On 16 May 2005, in the city of Simnán, eight Bahá'ís were summoned to appear
before the office of the Public Prosecutor. The very next day, another
Bahá'í in that city received a similar summons. They are Ms. Mahnáz
'Askarínasab, Mr. 'Ádil Faná'íyán, Mr. Afshín Íqání, Mr. 'Abbás Núrání, Ms.
Shádí Núrání, Ms. Zhínús Núrání, Mrs. Shu'lih Tá'if, Ms. Súsan Tibíyáníyán,
and Mr. Bihshád Vujdání.

These Bahá'ís were charged with "creating anxiety in the minds of the public
and those of the Iranian officials" and "propaganda against the government
of the Islamic Republic of Iran". The charges were associated with
distributing to various Iranian officials copies of the letter of appeal
dated 15 November 2004 addressed to President Khatami on behalf of the
Iranian Bahá'í community. When they arrived at the Prosecutor's office on 18
May 2005, they were asked to post bail ranging from 30 to 60 million Iranian
rials (approximately US$3,360-US$6,720) each. As they were concerned that
producing this sum could lead to further arrests and bail demands on other
Bahá'ís, they declined to do so. They were detained overnight and
subsequently freed on their own recognizance on 20 May 2005, with the
understanding that they would appear for a hearing at a later date. Mrs.
Shu'lih Tá'if's husband also provided personal guarantees that they would
return to court.

Soon after this incident, on 25 May 2005, the Iranian authorities entered
the homes of six other Bahá'ís in Tehran and six Bahá'ís in Shiraz, where
they conducted searches and confiscated Bahá'í documents, computers, CDs,
cheques, financial records, and other belongings. All six in Shiraz and four
of the six in Tehran were taken to an unknown location. The other two
Bahá'ís from Tehran, Mr. Násir Mansúr and Mr. Jamál Thábit, were not home at
the time. However, Mr. Thábit was later arrested as he was returning from a
trip. Those arrested in Tehran are Mrs. Zhínús Jiddí Farnúsh, who is the
wife of Mr. Háshim Farnúsh who had previously been killed for being a
Bahá'í and the sister of Mr. Shahrám Jiddí who was arrested on 16 March 2005
and is still in custody; Mrs. Faríbá Kamálábádí Tá'ifí; Mr. Táhir Safájú;
Mrs. Mahvash Shahríyárí Thábit; and Mr. Jamál Thábit. Those from Shiraz are
Mr. Vahdat Dáná, Mr. Adíb Haqpazhú, Mr. Fúád Ithádu'l-haq, Mr. Shahrám
Mansúr, Mr. Sa'íd Ridá'í, and
Mr. Farhád Sarafráz. All of the Bahá'ís arrested were playing key roles in
the educational programmes of the community.

On 30 May 2005, the nine Bahá'ís from the village of Katá in the province of
Buyír-Ahmad and Chármahál-Bakhtíyárí, whose arrest was communicated in our
letters dated 28 April 2005 and 8 May 2005, were released from prison after
a business license was used as collateral. They will be required to attend a
hearing at a later date.

These arrests and confiscations of property signal a new phase in the
government's implementation of its strategy to eradicate the Bahá'í
community in Iran, which was, as you know, set out in the Supreme
Revolutionary Cultural Council's confidential memorandum dated 25 February

Since the beginning of the Iranian Revolution in 1979, Bahá'ís have been
subject to a series of egregious acts of persecution, such as having had
their religious institutions banned; been executed for their beliefs;
deprived of rights enjoyed by other Iranians, including their right to
employment and to receive their pensions following long and faithful service
in their jobs; suffered destruction and desecration of properties held as
sacred by Bahá'ís throughout the world in a concerted effort that has been
described as cultural cleansing; been assaulted and had their businesses and
means of livelihood destroyed or confiscated; denied fair trials; and been
prevented from admission to universities despite empty promises to rectify
this gross violation of their right to higher education. There was, however,
a period in which it appeared to many that the situation had been improving,
but which was no more than a chimera. Students who had been barred from
admission to universities had been led to believe that the prohibition had
been removed; they remain unable to enrol in institutions of higher
education. Almost all prisoners had been released; there are now sixteen
Bahá'ís in prison and an additional eighteen out on bail awaiting trial.

The last few months have witnessed the destruction of Bahá'í holy places,
the desecration of Bahá'í cemeteries, beatings of members of the community,
destruction and confiscation of businesses, arrests, and searches and
seizures of private property, which apparently have led the authorities to
identify and now arrest those who have leadership roles in educating the
community. The Iranian Bahá'ís are once again being exposed to
ever-escalating intimidation, harassment, arrests, imprisonment, and
arbitrary detention. The Bahá'ís in prison and those released on bail are
now awaiting trial on preposterous charges."

Whilst the National Spiritual Assembly, through its Office of Diplomatic
Affairs is taking the necessary actions to appraise our Government and
requesting for their assistance on behalf of the Bahá'ís in Iran, we urge
friends in every community to pray for the safety and well-being of all our
beloved spiritual brothers and sisters in the Cradle of the Faith.

With loving Bahá'í greetings,

Dr. A.K. Merchant

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Putting the Shoe on the Other Foot

Still trying to catch up with what's going on in the world. Lots of talk about Amnesty International's harsh report on the way the U.S. in treating its prisoners in Guantanamo and elsewhere. I don't suppose I can add all that much intelligent commentary to what's out there, but it did cause a rare domestic disagreement. I normally don't take on Jim about politics, usually because disagreement on my part will ends up with my being on the receiving end of an hour-long lecture on why I'm wrong, naive, etc. (It's a family joke; my kids have noted the same trait in their dad. I don't lecture on such things; I just blog. :-)) However, after watching O'Reilly, the topic naturally came up, and I said that the Third World dictators that Anmesty takes on over their human rights abuses probably aren't real fond of that organization, either, and say it's unfair, absurd, etc. But Americans are just fine with having those guys roasted; we just don't want the same standard applied to us.

Just like one of Amnesty's representatives said:

Amnesty has fired right back, pointing out that the administration often cites its reports when that suits its purposes. "If our reports are so 'absurd,' why did the administration repeatedly cite our findings about Saddam Hussein before the Iraq war?" wrote William F. Schultz, executive director of the group's United States branch, in a letter to the editor being published Saturday in The New York Times. "Why does it welcome our criticisms of Cuba, China and North Korea? And why does it cite our research in its own annual human rights reports?"

Depends on whose ox is being gored. The rest of the article is here.

Jim launched into a big lecture about how Anmesty International is a lot like the ACLU -- an organization that started out doing good things, but came under the influence of far-left radicals and went off the deep end, yada, yada, yada. Instead of my normal tack of ignoring that stuff, I interrupted him and said "You know, that's bullshit. I don't give a damn about their politics. The question is 'Is our military torturing and mistreating people or is it not?' And if they are, it's wrong, and that's all there is to it." Jim still thinks it's all just a matter of a handful of people going too far, and not a systemic thing. I think that's bullshit, too, but was disinclined to cry "Bullshit!" twice in the same conversation.

O'Reilly also took on a mom who is opposed to military recruitment in schools, and definitely doesn't want her son serving. Actually, he wasn't as nasty as I've seen him be to some people, but it still was the old "How can you not support the military when you've got young guys fighting for your freedom out there?" This mom responded, like I would have, that the soldiers in Iraq aren't doing a whole lot for our freedom, then O'Reilly just dodged towards talking about the War on Terror in general. Maybe, if they're short on soldiers, and really interested in getting the thugs who attacked us, maybe they should have more soldiers doing that, rather than messing around in Iraq? Why should we trust a government that lied to us, and isn't making us any safer?

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Since I've Been Gone Awhile, I Might As Well Start With a Goofy Quiz

You Are a Pundit Blogger!

Your blog is smart, insightful, and always a quality read.
Truly appreciated by many, surpassed by only a few

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Raising Moral Kids

The previous entry got me thinking, naturally about my own kids, who are both teenagers now, and how you raise kids with good family values. And, I don't know how I did it, but both of my kids have pretty good values. My son rejects religion, but is as straight-laced morally as the strictest religious conservative could desire. This is a kid who would only go to lunch with Grandma on the condition that she not take him to the restaurant at the casino -- because he disapproves of gambling. His main concern about sex is that he doesn't want to give way to temptation. My daughter is a bit more of a rebel, and certainly more curious about sex, but she's in no big hurry either. Once she was watching one of those godawful daytime shows where families air their dirty laundry for fifteen minutes of fame. I was just about to insist she turn the channel when she says "Mom, that girl is really mean to her mother -- and her mother loves her!" She was in tears about it. (The girl on t.v. was openly and deliberately trying to get pregnant.) Tory also has a very solid sense of self, and isn't likely to be pushed around by some guy. She told me once that she wanted to marry a nerd, so she could push him around!

Now, I know that some folks will think "Ah, but you don't really know what your kids are doing behind your back". Oh, yes I do -- 'cause I'm around and I pay attention. All that's been happening so far are giggling talk about some 7th grade cutie in Tory's case, and unrequited longing in Trevor's case. I'm not even getting phone calls from boyfriends or girlfriends, much less ever met one.

Now, this didn't happen because I've given my kids stern lectures about the value of chastity, and I absolutely disapprove of the scare tactics popular among the Christian right. I answer questions, and tell it like it is as best I can. The closest I came to giving a lecture to my daughter was I used an example of one of her friends, who was in a bad family mess, and I said "Your dad and I have given you a home with two parents who love each other, and who love you. If you have a child before getting married, that baby won't grow up with that."

I think example, and that atmosphere a child is raised in has more to do with their moral viewpoint than any kind of lecture.

Virginity or Death!

There have been successful trials of a vaccine that will immunize young women against the human pampilloma virus -- a sexually transmitted virus that is responsible for about 70% of all cervical cancer. Good news, right? Not according to the Christian right who seem to think that reducing the risk of getting cancer in middle age is going to figure into the sexual choices of teenagers. This article calls it "honor killing on the installment plan". O.K., a bit dramatic, but it's quite appalling that such a simple thing -- a single shot! -- that could prevent women from dying of cancer is a matter of controversy. These people *want* sex to mean death.

These conservative Christians can't even keep their own kids from having sex before marriage, although I suspect they start sexual activity at later ages, and marry a bit earlier. Nearly 90% of teenagers that sign those "virginity pledges" default. If the intense pressure put on these kids doesn't work, then nothing will, short of locking the girls up in convents and rushing them from there to their wedding, strictly chaperoned.

It's not that I'm against chastity, especially for vulnerable young girls, but if they can't quite live up to the ideal, I don't think they ought to die for it.

One Common Faith, paragraph 36

Besides, the diversity of practices, the paper goes on to condemn the clergy of earlier religions, for their theological views:

More detrimental still to religious understanding has been theological presumption. A persistent feature of religion's sectarian past has been the dominant role played by clergy. In the absence of scriptural texts that established unarguable institutional authority, clerical elites succeeded in arrogating to themselves exclusive control over interpretation of the Divine intent. However diverse the motives, the tragic effects have been to impede the current of inspiration, discourage independent intellectual activity, focus attention on the minutiae of rituals and too often engender hatred and prejudice towards those following a different sectarian path from that of self-appointed spiritual leaders. While nothing could prevent the creative power of Divine intervention from continuing its work of progressively raising consciousness, the scope of what could be achieved, in any age, became increasingly limited by such artificially contrived obstacles

I think this is a little harsh -- after all, for centuries, the vast majority of people were not literate, and could not pursue "independent intellectual activity" even if they wanted to. I was just reading a while back that women in Saudi Arabia have gone from mostly illiterate to mostly literate only within the last generation. You can only begin to dispense with clergy when most adherents are educated -- and even then clerical training has some value, certainly in terms of study in the scriptural languages, and in having a perspective on the history of the tradition. In fact, technically, Judaism and Islam doesn't have "clergy", like Christianity; what they have are "scholars" which these communities depended upon to give rulings on religious law, because they are knowledgeable.

Besides, I don't find that Baha'i administrators are free from the faults it attributes to clergymen -- it has done its own share of "impeding the current of inspiration and discouraging independent intellectual activity". For all the claims that no one has individual authority within the Baha'i Faith, upper-level Baha'i administrators are enormously powerful, and their ideas very influential, even at times becoming doctrine with very little basis in the Writings. The idea that the Baha'i Faith is opposed to individualism is one outstanding example. And just like the religious leaders of old, Baha'i administrators are extremely concerned with holding on to their authority, reacting vehemently to the least challenge. The conflict I mentioned in my previous entry within the Anglican church over the acceptance of homosexuality would be inconcievable in the Baha'i Faith -- a person like Maggie Ross could easily be booted out of the Faith for writing an article like that, and that would happen long before any sort of cohesive movement for reform got off the ground. But, as she pointed out, it isn't about homosexuality (or women's rights, or freedom of expression or whatever issue you want to name); the response of religious leadership is really about power and control. And one feature of modern life that is going to cripple any chance the Baha'i Faith has to be more than just an exotic alternative to mainstream religion is that people can choose not to be ordered around by their religious leaders -- and they will. Even conservative Christian preachers complain that their congregations won't hang around on Sunday if they are lectured about their sins, creating an ethical dilmemma over whether or not folks in the pews should be told what they want to hear, rather than what they need to hear. And the Baha'i administration does more than lecture; Baha'is live under the threat of sanction to a much greater extent than any of the well-established religions, and that's one reason so many leave.

Praying With Our Feet

I came across this article by Maggie Ross, author of one of my favorite books on mysticism *The Fountain and the Furnace: The Way of Tears and Fire*. She's a Christian solitary, bound by all the vows of a nun, but not living in a bounded community. One might expect that she would have a rather old-fashioned outlook on the rest of the world -- and in fact, the texts she studies and talks about are much older-fashioned than anything that comes from conservative Christians who think they have "that old-time religion". But that expectation would be wrong.

This article is a fiery denunciation of those that are refusing to accept gay priests in the Anglican church. But what she says would be true for any issue, or any religious community. Some quotes:

Faith is not about suspending critique, but about exercising it.

The sayings attributed to Jesus in the gospels apply to discernment in this life. He wishes to teach us a wisdom into which we grow progressively that enables us to shake off the shackles imposed in the name of the closed and unthinking strictures imposed by family, culture and even religion. We might say especially religion, since our Christian religious institutions seem to have recreated the very sort of religious climate that Jesus spent his entire ministry criticizing.

But faith is precisely about challenging complacency. It is about finding security in insecurity, the realization that unless we work hard to maintain a hole in the heavens (Lathrop, 2003) by which the closed universe of human self-consciousness is breached, human engagement will be tragically determined by the fear of "death," which is not mortality but our fantasies about mortality, which are in fact fantasies about power and control, in whose name real death is inflicted on others.

By contrast, so-called values imposed on others by frightened people can only be abusive, and values inflicted under the name of religion by the bigoted, the arrogant and the greedy are no values at all. A culture based on greed and fear wants its members to be team players, sycophants, ciphers. It does not want to produce people who can exercise a critique.

It also means that in our learning and teaching we have reverence for a kind of holy self-doubt. Our thoughts are not God's thoughts, and when we start pretending they are, we create havoc.

There is always risk involved in such a stance. Such people may be regarded as mere crackpots. As non-members of the establishment, particularly the religious establishment, they are considered presumptuous even for raising their voices to be heard, much less insisting on keeping on being heard. And if by some miracle they escape censure, or persecution, or being silenced if only by being ignored or isolated, they will continue to speak out until their last breath.

With so many fake Christians around, it's really nice to meet a real one. And a real Christian has a lot to teach those of us who follow other spiritual paths.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

One Common Faith, paragraphs 28-35

In short, through the ongoing process of revelation, the One Who is the Source of the system of knowledge we call religion demonstrates that system's integrity and its freedom from the contradictions imposed by sectarian ambitions.. . .

This is something of a Baha'i myth i.e. that schism and creation of sects is inevitably the result of "ambition". That just doesn't hold up in the light of history. There is such a thing as sincere disagreement over what a religion means. Since the next few paragraphs largely concern the idea of progressive revelation -- a belief common to all Baha'is -- I really have little to say about them.

The objection most commonly raised against the foregoing conception of religion is the assertion that the differences among the revealed faiths are so fundamental that to present them as stages or aspects of one unified system of truth does violence to the facts. Given the confusion surrounding the nature of religion, the reaction is understandable.. . .

I have certainly seen Christian objections to the Baha'i Faith of exactly this type. What it comes down to is what one thinks is important about religion. Christianity, historically, has made theology a major issue, so naturally the idea of the unity of religion looks like utter nonsense to them. If you don't equate conceptions of God with God Himself, then theology ceases to matter so much. For Baha'is, God is unknowable, therefore arguments concerning what we think we know are rather pointless. However, the Baha'i community is not, unfortunately, completely free of rigidity concerning the nature of God -- more than one liberal intellectual got into trouble, at least partly, because he held a "low theology" of Baha'u'llah.

The next few paragraphs focus on the difference is religious practices, giving the basic Baha'i view that the former religious laws were revealed as appropriate to past ages.

The concept of progressive revelation places the ultimate emphasis on recognition of the revelation of God at its appearance. The failure of the generality of humankind in this respect has, time and again, condemned entire populations to a ritualistic repetition of ordinances and practices long after these latter have fulfilled their purpose and now merely stultify moral advance. Sadly, in the present day, a related consequence of such failure has been to trivialize religion. At precisely the point in its collective development where humanity began to struggle with the challenges of modernity, the spiritual resource on which it had principally depended for moral courage and enlightenment was fast becoming a subject of mockery, first at those levels where decisions were being made about the direction society should take, and eventually in ever-widening circles of the general population. There is little cause for surprise, then, that this most devastating of the many betrayals of trust from which human confidence has suffered should, in the course of time, undermine the foundations of belief itself.

Again, it remains to be seen how the Baha'i Faith will do better on this score. Already there are issues, some of which were mentioned in this paper, where the prevailing interpretations of Baha'i teaching seem to be pushing mankind backwards towards a more authoritarian era. There is no point whatsoever, for example, to excluding women from the UHJ -- even that body itself admits that it doesn't know the reason for it. When I was researching this issue, I found the arguments made in support of this exclusion to be virtually identical to those made by the Catholic Church for its exclusion of women from the priesthood. Very well, religious communities decide to hold on to their traditions and the authority they deem so essential for the preservation of the Founder's teachings. However, they then give up any viable claim to be compatible with modernity, or to be on the cutting edge of human progress.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Worldview Quiz

O.K. I'll admit it; I like doing goofy little quizzes. Credit for pointing me to this one goes to Umm Yasmin, who once upon a time was known as Maryam Rachel Woodlock in Baha'i circles, but who has apparently chosen an honorific in celebration of her baby girl -- which sounds like a terrific idea to me remembering those precious days when my kids were babies. Actually, there was a phase in my kids' lives where all the children in the neighborhood called me "Trevor's Mom", which isn't so different, I suppose. :-)

Anyway, my quiz results:

You scored as Cultural Creative. Cultural Creatives are probably the newest group to enter this realm. You are a modern thinker who tends to shy away from organized religion but still feels as if there is something greater than ourselves. You are very spiritual, even if you are not religious. Life has a meaning outside of the rational.

Cultural Creative
















What is Your World View?
created with

One Common Faith, paragraphs 24-27

As I mentioned in the previous entry, the next paragraphs continue with a restatement of some pretty basic Baha'i teachings:

The teachings of Bahá'u'lláh cut through this tangle of inconsistent views and, in doing so, reformulate many truths which, whether explicitly or implicitly, have lain at the heart of all Divine revelation. . . .

The only problem I have with this is the rather arrogant dismissal of previous traditions; it is, of course, Baha'i teaching that Baha'u'llah has reconfirmed many of the basic and eternal truths these traditions contain.

To presume to judge among the Messengers of God, exalting one above the other, would be to give in to the delusion that the Eternal and All-Embracing is subject to the vagaries of human preference . . .To imagine, further, that the nature of these unique Figures can be-or needs to be-encompassed within theories borrowed from physical experience is equally presumptuous.

These kinds of statements always worry me, because this was the basis for harrassing Baha'i scholars i.e. that they used academic methods, regarded by the House as "materialist" to examine the Faith -- and in particular, the treatment of Baha'u'llah as a human being and historical figure.

What is meant by "knowledge of God", Bahá'u'lláh explains, is knowledge of the Manifestations Who reveal His will and attributes, and it is here that the soul comes into intimate association with a Creator Who is otherwise beyond both language and apprehension: . . . 26
Religion, thus conceived, awakens the soul to potentialities that are otherwise unimaginable. To the extent that an individual learns to benefit from the influence of the revelation of God for his age, his nature becomes progressively imbued with the attributes of the Divine world:

However, it might be pointed out that the soul can be awakened to such potentialities by following the teachings of any of the Manifestations.

Belief is thus a necessary and inextinguishable urge of the species that has been described by an influential modern thinker as "evolution become conscious of itself".16 If, as the events of the twentieth century provide sad and compelling evidence, the natural expression of faith is artificially blocked, it will invent objects of worship however unworthy-or even debased-that may in some measure appease the yearning for certitude. It is an impulse that will not be denied.

I really don't know what is meant by "artificially blocked" here. Something similar is mentioned in the introduction to this paper: accelerating breakdown in social order calls out desperately for the religious spirit to be freed from the shackles that have so far prevented it from bringing to bear the healing influence of which it is capable.

I do not know what they think is preventing religion from doing its healing work; we have religious freedom -- indeed, religious choice has never in history been more free than it is right now. This is not universal, of course, there are still countries that limit, or even actively persecute religious minorities, but it is precisely in the Western "materialist" countries so condemned by this paper that religion is most free -- and material techological advances that have made information about different religions more free than anyone could ever have dreamed possible. However, it may be that freedom of religious choice is not what they are talking about here.