The Golden Rule

Listened to a video about a potential candidate for National Science Advisor where Dr. David Lewis mentioned his belief in the Golden Rule will help him in the job. Thankfully, he stated it immediately after just as I was thinking, “Wait, which one?”

  • Whoever has the gold, makes the rules. Wizard of Id
  • Do to others as you would have them do to you. – Luke 6:31 (New Testament)
  • Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful. Udana-Varga 5:18
  • Blessed is he who preferreth his brother before himself. Baha’u’llah

I know, I live in a majority Christian country, so I should just assume the Christian one. But, the Wizard of Id one best matches Trump’s personal belief system, so it deserves weight too.

TED Talk: Equal Parts Science and Magic

The unity of science and religion is an important concept in the Baha’i Faith. They are two sides of the same coin. One side looks ahead with faith. One side looks backwards without faith. One is impatient while the other is deliberately slow. Where the two agree is the sweet spot of true knowledge. There is a stage in the scientific method full of looking forward with faith: Ask a question.

Asking a question is the. most. important step. Everything depends upon it. Not asking the right question ensures nothing will be tried. And humanity suffers. Unless someone else gathers up the faith to do so.

Also, I am apparently a fan of spoken word artists. There is something about the cadence and flow that I like.

If the above video does not work, then try Equal Parts Science and Magic.

The Bahá’í Fast

From Shoghi Effendi in Directives of the Guardian:

The fasting period, which lasts nineteen days starting as a rule from the second of March every year and ending on the twentieth of the same month, involves complete abstention from food and drink from sunrise till sunset. It is essentially a period of meditation and prayer, of spiritual recuperation, during which the believer must strive to make the necessary readjustments in his inner life, and to refresh and reinvigorate the spiritual forces latent in his soul. Its significance and purpose are, therefore, fundamentally spiritual in character. Fasting is symbolic, and a reminder of abstinence from selfish and carnal desires.

Let’s hope I can attain some much needed spiritual recuperation. I am hoping to be more diligent about using the extra time to use for more meditation and prayer.

Some friends participate in a photo project called Nineteen Days in honor of the Fast.

Baha’i Science Quote

In the furor over a bacterium using arsenic where normally it would use phosphorus, I looked up this quote. This has no direct bearing on the discovery other than why science is important.

If we look with a perceiving eye upon the world of creation, we find that all existing things may be classified as follows: first, mineral — that is to say, matter or substance appearing in various forms of composition; second, vegetable — possessing the virtues of the mineral plus the power of augmentation or growth, indicating a degree higher and more specialized than the mineral; third, animal — possessing the attributes of the mineral and vegetable plus the power of sense perception; fourth, human — the highest specialized organism of visible creation, embodying the qualities of the mineral, vegetable and animal plus an ideal endowment absolutely absent in the lower kingdoms — the power of intellectual investigation into the mysteries of outer phenomena. The outcome of this intellectual endowment is science, which is especially characteristic of man. This scientific power investigates and apprehends created objects and the laws surrounding them. It is the discoverer of the hidden and mysterious secrets of the material universe and is peculiar to man alone. The most noble and praiseworthy accomplishment of man, therefore, is scientific knowledge and attainment.

Science may be likened to a mirror wherein the images of the mysteries of outer phenomena are reflected. It brings forth and exhibits to us in the arena of knowledge all the product of the past. It links together past and present. The philosophical conclusions of bygone centuries, the teachings of the Prophets and wisdom of former sages are crystallized and reproduced in the scientific advancement of today. Science is the discoverer of the past. From its premises of past and present we deduce conclusions as to the future. Science is the governor of nature and its mysteries, the one agency by which man explores the institutions of material creation. All created things are captive of nature and subject to its laws. They cannot transgress the control of these laws in one detail or particular. The infinite starry worlds and heavenly bodies are nature’s obedient subjects. The earth and its myriad organisms, all minerals, plants and animals are thralls of its dominion. But man through the exercise of his scientific, intellectual power can rise out of this condition, can modify, change and control nature according to his own wishes and uses. Science, so to speak, is the breaker of the laws of nature.

Consider, for example, that man according to natural law should dwell upon the surface of the earth. By overcoming this law and restriction, however, he sails in ships over the ocean, mounts to the zenith in airplanes and sinks to the depths of the sea in submarines. This is against the fiat of nature and a violation of her sovereignty and dominion. Nature’s laws and methods, the hidden secrets and mysteries of the universe, human inventions and discoveries, all our scientific acquisitions should naturally remain concealed and unknown, but man through his intellectual acumen searches them out of the plane of the invisible, draws them into the plane of the visible, exposes and explains them. For instance, one of the mysteries of nature is electricity. According to nature this force, this energy, should remain latent and hidden, but man scientifically breaks through the very laws of nature, arrests it and even imprisons it for his use.

In brief, man through the possession of this ideal endowment of scientific investigation is the most noble product of creation, the governor of nature. He takes the sword from nature’s hand and uses it upon nature’s head. According to natural law night is a period of darkness and obscurity, but man by utilizing the power of electricity, by wielding this electric sword overcomes the darkness and dispels the gloom. Man is superior to nature and makes nature do his bidding. Man is a sensitive being; nature is without sensation. Man has memory and reason; nature lacks them. Man is nobler than nature. There are powers within him of which nature is devoid. It may be claimed that these powers are from nature itself and that man is a part of nature. In answer to this statement we will say that if nature is the whole and man is a part of that whole, how could it be possible for a part to possess qualities and virtues which are absent in the whole? Undoubtedly the part must be endowed with the same qualities and properties as the whole. For example, the hair is a part of the human anatomy. It cannot contain elements which are not found in other parts of the body, for in all cases the component elements of the body are the same. Therefore, it is manifest and evident that man, although in body a part of nature, nevertheless in spirit possesses a power transcending nature; for if he were simply a part of nature and limited to material laws, he could possess only the things which nature embodies. God has conferred upon and added to man a distinctive power — the faculty of intellectual investigation into the secrets of creation, the acquisition of higher knowledge — the greatest virtue of which is scientific enlightenment.

This endowment is the most praiseworthy power of man, for through its employment and exercise the betterment of the human race is accomplished, the development of the virtues of mankind is made possible and the spirit and mysteries of God become manifest…. (“The Promulgation of Universal Peace: Talks Delivered by ‘Abdu’l Baha during His Visit to the United States and Canada in 1912” (Wilmette: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1982), pp. 2931.)

Pilgrimage

Project 365: Day 033Two weeks ago I met my mother at the airport to fly to Israel and make our way to Haifa, Israel to participate in the greatest bounty: Bahá’í pilgrimage.

Before making the trip, my life had settled into a funk. Back in 2005, Lacey invited me to her wedding in Chicago at the Bahá’í House of Worship. At the time, my life was mired in a similar funk and experiencing a whole morning praying there gave me both a warm calm and bubbling turmoil. It was the calm before the storm as during the next several months my grandmother lost two brothers sending me on driving trips to Arkansas twice, my gall bladder failed, and I landed a job prompting a move to Athens.

Returning from Chicago, I held no answers… just bouts of turmoil and using thoughts of my time in Chicago to produce serenity. Returning from Haifa, I feel more turmoil and serenity! Instead of a warm calm, I’m feeling like a stranger in my own home, driving my own car, chatting with my own friends. It’s like for a couple weeks I got to experience a different life and feel disappointment returning to my own.

Miscellaneous observations:

  • Pictures of the places I visited in no way prepared me for the experiencing the Bahá’í holy sites.
  • Clementine juice in particular is genius. Citrus products in general are fantastic.
  • Israelis know the name Ezra particularly well, so they expect the bearer to know Hebrew. Security  officials often wanted to know why I have the name.
  • As much as I read, I ought to read more Bahá’í works.
  • I expected to suffer greatly climbing anything more than a couple floors equivalent as the most exercise I get is just a single floor of stairs a few times a day. So we did quite a bit of walking down which was enough to make my calves burn. The trips up were shorter.
  • It is a teeny tiny Bahá’í world. I knew Mojan, Eric, and their son were in Haifa. Another 3 Bahá’ís from Georgia happened to be serving there. A couple others, Delara and Marla, happened to be in the my pilgrimage group as well.
  • Kat recognized me from somewhere upon sight of me in orientation. We didn’t figure it out in our 9 days together. Previously life? Or a connection to people serving or previously served in Haifa?
  • Shawarma… who knew?
  • I was told I am not fulfilling my potential. Instead of working with computers, I ought to be an educator.
  • Mom thought Ezra Jack Keats, my namesake, was black because he used a black child as the protagonist. Guess the web site didn’t exist back when I was born. I’ve known he was originally a Katz for almost a decade.

For a good description of the pilgrimage experience, see Myk’s pilgrimage blog postings.

If the aftermath of this pilgrimage is anything like my visit to Chicago in 2005, then I’ll experience some change. I don’t intend mistake attraction for Haifa as destiny to live there. My attraction to Chicago has never culminated in my living there, so I’m not holding on to imaginations I’ll miraculously move to Haifa. Something like serving at the Bahá’í World Center would be the kind of change I foresee. We’ll see. I’m not keen to completely disrupt my life at the moment. Hopefully events will not conspire against me to force my hand.

December Dilemma

From a CNN article, For Many, December’s a Dilemma by Joe Sterling (mentioned by Phillipe Copeland):

Navigating the Christmas season can be a challenge for the millions of people who don’t celebrate the holiday. Many acknowledge and sometime embrace the season’s customs, such as gift-giving and sending out greeting cards, while at the same time they are conscious of maintaining their own religious identities.

I will admit, when I was Catholic, Christmas was significantly easier. There was no conflict as I was wholly within the mainstream of others I knew. Choosing to become a member of the Bahá’í Faith didn’t significantly reduce the importance of Christmas for me. Bahá’í don’t celebrate Christmas with each other. Nor would we alienate those around us who choose to celebrate. Similarly, I would hope people don’t feel alienated when I fast in the

We still eat with family on Christmas Day. True, I no longer to to midnight or Christmas Day mass. My mother, who is also a Bahá’í stopped giving Christmas presents and only gave Ayyám-i-Há presents, a Bahá’í celebration in February just prior to our Fast and New Year. She does give presents to my brother and his wife who give and receive presents with their other family. I no longer expect Christmas presents or put up a tree, but that is okay.

Keep in mind Christmas as we celebrate it now, merges several holidays, making it convoluted. The primary one, the birth of Jesus, resonates with the Baha’i Faith. We recognize the station of Jesus and all his accomplishments. The Wiccan / Druidic winter solstice, Germanic Yuletide, the Roman Saturnia all are comingled into Christmas. As other faiths like Hinduism, Buddhism, Shinto, Islam, Judaism, and even Kwanzaa deal with the surrounding peoples celebrating Christmas, their traditions could trade in and out with Christmas. In the end, the sentiment of giving gifts is a good one, assuming one doesn’t go to excess.

The real dilemma ought to be what is the impact of gift giving. Joel Waldfogel, an economist, thinks receivers value gifts less than the giver, causing a loss in value to the economy, so he recommends gift cards. Several Bahá’ís and Christians I know donate to charities instead of gifts.

TED Talk: Taryn Simon

My favorite quote from Taryn is, “Photography threatens fantasy.” Disney uses intricate interior design, photography, and video to construct fantasy. Advertisements, magazines, weddings, and portraits are about showing others the ideal instead of the reality. Have you seen the Dove Evolution video? (This one has music and singing by a Baha’i musician Devon Gundry.) What about the Ralph Lauren photo?

Reality bites. Hard.

(See Taryn Simon photographs secret sites on the TED site)

TED About this talk: Taryn Simon exhibits her startling take on photography — to reveal worlds and people we would never see otherwise. She shares two projects: one documents otherworldly locations typically kept secret from the public, the other involves haunting portraits of men convicted for crimes they did not commit.

Also: Taryn on Charlie Rose, Discomfort Zone (Telegraph)

Healthcare

Lorenia posted a funny video about the United States health care system being ranked #37. I briefly looked at The world health report 2000 – Health systems: improving performance. It is a 1.73MB PDF.

I’d like to better understand both the claims that the United States has the best or 37th best health care system in the world. Unfortunately the WHO report is 200 pages and has more about car crash deaths in the United States than what they mean by responsiveness level (25% of the overall level of health). Responsiveness appears to be dependent upon expectation, so we could all just stop complaining about wait times, autonomy, and not want our own hospital rooms to improve our ranking.

Except the WHO might not produce any more reports after this first one because it was too complex compiling the first one. Charts compare  1990 through 1999, so really the United States was ranked 37th in the 90s. The age of this number bothers me. How have reforms in the United States and worldwide changed the number? Let’s assume no change, do proponents of United States health care reform really expect their favorite bills to get us a better ranking than 33rd in 2015 once this is fully implemented?

There is also the Commonwealth Fund 2006 report placing the United States dead last among 5 industrial nations regarding health care. Their donor page shows millions invested in the CF to improve health care in the United States and New York. Seems a little myopic for an organization funded to improve health care to say health care needs improving.

Does the United States have health care issues? Sure. In my opinion the real problems is all this talking without something like Baha’i consultation (everyone participates, objectivity, detachment, unity). Similar to research indicating workers without the ability to make decisions experience more stress, patients and doctors without autonomy get stressed. Instead we have explicit policies creating a incomprehensible environment where people are hurt inadvertently because systems are cold and uncaring.

Americans Are Hindus?

Perhaps I don’t understand a Newsweek article advocating Americans have more in common with Hinduism than Christianity?

First, the numbers of Americans who agree with the sentiments are 65%, 30%, and 24% respectively for each argument. We’d use numbers as strong as 30% and 24% to illustrate people are opposed to something. Of course, we’d use “only” to precede the terribly small number.

Second, the one decent argument, that Americans are accepting there are many paths to God can be found in many of the world’s religions. The Baha’i Faith takes it a step further. God started each of the major religions to bring all of humanity together in moral maturity. Yes, there are differences. However, distilling the teachings down to what they teach about morality, there is far more in common than distinct.

Hinduism is more than respect for people choosing their own path to God, being spiritual, or cremation. Americans are much more complex than these ideas as well.

The Bahá’í Seven

In only hours the government of Iran plans to put on trial seven Bahá’í leaders for “spying for Israel, spreading propaganda against the Islamic Republic and religious offenses”. Yesterday the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom called for the release of these Bahá’ís. Similarly the German parlimentary groups have produced similar condemnations.

For over 160 years Persia/Iran has not had a good relationship either Badis or Bahá’ís. Thousands have been executed for following the wrong religion.

I was hopeful for more government pressure on Iran from many countries. Instead, we’ll rely on prayers for the well being of these poor souls.