doberman pizza 2.0

shrine of the bábwelcome to the brand spanking new “world citizen” version of doberman pizza. the site’s new, long awaited design is partly an homage to my recent pilgrimage. if you were wondering why there were so few signs of life during the past week, this is why. I’ve been working on putting together the new design, now running on wordpress. it’s my little way of saying happy ayyam-i-há 2007! here’s hoping all of you have an excellent week and a great lead-up to the Fast—don’t forget that we change our clocks during the Fast this year.

by the way, you may find that certain links are no longer working or that they get displayed using the old design and interface. there are so many links in my blog that it’s going to take me a little while to do sanity checks on them all, so please bear with me—and feel free to report any such broken/crazy links as comments to this post. and above all, do keep checking back in the weeks to come; I’ll be adding new parts of the site as I get the hang of wordpress plugins and get them working right.

those nutty neighbours

so down the street over there’s this little house where some of our neighbours live. oh yeah and they’re Baha’is. James Howden is one of them and he’s a prolific and passionate writer—so much so that he was hired on by Adrienne Clarkson as her speechwriter during her tenure as Governor General of Canada. He and his eco-friendly wife, Diana Cartwright, recently returned with their young son Sam from a trip to the beautiful Caribbean island of Guadeloupe and wanted to share their adventures with the world. Check them out on flickr!

BTW you may know the Howden/Cartwright couple from previous posts in my blog: they had a long string of fireside discussions on Saturday evenings that would draw large numbers of people to muse about everything spiritual and philosophical of great import; Diana attended the World Summit on Sustainable Development as a Baha’i representative back in 2002; their son Sam also attends the children’s class I blog about.

how we can save the world

cabs crew times twoLife is not easy for the young people of this generation. They enter life with a heart full of hope, but find before themselves nothing but failures, and see in the future nothing but darkness. What they need is the light manifested by Bahá’u’lláh, for that brightens their soul and stimulates their vigour in facing difficulties. (on behalf of Shoghi Effendi)

I was recently given the inordinate bounty to have a one-centimetre kidney stone removed from my body. Wait a minute, I hear you protesting. Of all the possible things that could be described as bounties, having a kidney stone that big is definitely not one of them. Well, that’s true—the stone itself hurt like a thousand hells squished together into a little gel cap. I wouldn’t wish one on my very worst enemy.

In all my life, with only one exception when I was very young, I’ve never actually spent more than a few hours at a time in hospitals. Most of my impressions of hospitals has been decidedly negative—sick people lying on cots in lonely corridors waiting to be pushed to an operating room somewhere, thickly packed emergency rooms resounding with groans and cries of pain. So when I checked in to have a stone removed, I was steeling myself for bleakness and despair. While there was at first a sense of loneliness and confusion, I soon came to realize that there were people around me doing their best to help me, care for me and keep me comfortable. It may sound cheesy or naive, but through the darkness of despair, there shone the light of compassion. It’s not something I’m used to noticing—perhaps because I’m not used to needing help.

le voici qui s'en vientO Son of Man! If adversity befall thee not in My path, how canst thou walk in the ways of them that are content with My pleasure? If trials afflict thee not in thy longing to meet Me, how wilt thou attain the light in thy love for My beauty? (Bahá’u’lláh)

Over the night and the next day, I stayed in a ward room at the Ottawa General Hospital, with three older men in varying condition as wardmates. We chatted a fair bit, and each one had their stories to tell. We talked a lot about the conditions in the hospital, about having to wait for operations, wait for answers, wait for so many other things. I suddenly understood why they called us “patients”. One of the men had been in the hospital for a week and still had no idea what was wrong with him; one of the others had had an ankle operation postponed at least three times before he finally made it through. For most of them, what made the experience livable were the nurses and orderlies who took care of them in their moments of waiting. The orderlies helped them with their basic tasks and kept them comfortable; the nurses fought to find answers to their questions and helped keep them in good spirits. We spent a few minutes uplifting the conversation, too: what makes the difference between a good nurse and a not-so-good nurse, or a good doctor and a not-so-good doctor? Apart from the obvious qualities of being technically, mentally and emotionally competent, we observed (though perhaps not in so many words) that spiritual qualities of service, compassion and kindness made a tremendous difference.

That one indeed is a man who, today, dedicateth himself to the service of the entire human race. (Bahá’u’lláh)

Obviously, this made me think of all my friends who work in the health care field in a new light. Yeah, that’s right, I’m talking about you guys. How difficult it must be for these brave souls to deal with the trials and tribulations unique to health care—especially in this day, when nursing and medical shortages are endemic and policymakers can’t seem to make up their mind on how to fix things. Their willingness to selflessly put their skills, talents and knowledge to the service of humankind is a pillar to which an ailing humanity will cling as its institutions slowly fall apart.

ch'est un bon pitou cha mademoichelleWith regards to the importance of spiritual underpinnings to any person’s trade or profession, the Baha’i International Community writes in its statement The Prosperity of Humankind that “the training that can make it possible for the earth’s inhabitants to participate in the production of wealth will advance the aims of development only to the extent that such an impulse is illumined by the spiritual insight that service to humankind is the purpose of both individual life and social organization.”

One of the titles of Bahá’u’lláh is the “Divine Physician” who prescribes the remedy for the ills of mankind in this Day—and that remedy is His Revelation. “The All-Knowing Physician hath His finger on the pulse of mankind,” He says; “He perceiveth the disease, and prescribeth, in His unerring wisdom, the remedy.” Among the remedies prescribed by Bahá’u’lláh are: the realization of the oneness of humanity, the oneness of God, and the oneness of His prophets; the elevation of work performed in a spirit of service to the rank of worship; and the abolition of all forms of prejudice, gossip and backbiting. And how should these mighty means for the betterment of the world be accomplished, one may ask? To that, Bahá’u’lláh says: “The betterment of the world can be accomplished through pure and goodly deeds, through commendable and seemly conduct.”

So, in short—kudos and my deep aprreciation to those of you who work in the health care field. I was treated to a palpable dose of compassion while I was in the hospital this week, and to hear it told and retold on the evening news, that’s hard to do nowadays. Perhaps those of you out there who treat it as a matter of worship can leave a few comments about how they keep the pure and goodly deeds coming in the face of so many obstacles. Goodness knows, we (and by that I also mean I) could learn from you!

baha’i video games: but do they pwn?

Back in the day (let’s say, oh, 1997) I was much more strongly into video games than today. For me, that included a plethora of various simple Macintosh-based shareware games (the Mac SE/30 was my first introduction to desktop computing), as well as first-person shooters such as Quake 2, Quake 3 Arena and Half-Life (as well as the now-legendary oldschool games such as Doom and Wolfenstein 3D). I did my share of fragging, rocket-jumping, camping, and sniping; I even distinctly remember pwning a n00b or two.

Now, the subject of video games is a touchy one with some people; much of this is due to the violence displayed in many of them, particularly the first-person shooter genre. Games such as Wolfenstein, Doom, and Quake were shocking for their time due to their inclusion of animated blood, gore and guts (colloquially known as “gibs” or “giblets”). Perhaps as a reaction to this, many denounced video games and refused to have anything to do with them. Others, seeking to prove that the medium could be used in constructive rather than destructive ways, sought to innovate (or, as in the case of the biblically-themed Super Noah’s Ark 3D, to tone down the original versions).

I remember the idea of a Baha’i video game being tossed around a long time ago among enterprising youth seeking to become shining lights in the gaming industry. I even specifically remember discussing with someone an RPG game (e.g. Warcraft) based on Bahá’u’lláh’s Seven Valleys. At the time, there was a lot of skepticism—how could one relate the mystical grandeur and depth of the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh in the form of a game? Wouldn’t the message be hopelessly cheapened? How would one represent the abstract, sublime concepts found in the Seven Valleys in a pictorial form?

Well, guess what? Chris Nelson, a Masters student at Australia’s University of Ballarat, has produced a concept piece using the Unreal Tournament (UT) game engine to do just that: illustrate the unillustratable, and “subvert” the image of violent video games in the process. Yup, a UT mod about the Baha’i Writings. You can take a moment to let your paradigm finish shifting. A glance at the Seven Valleys website yields a set of beautiful screenshots and videos that show the kind of work he’s been putting into the design of the piece. There’s no shooting or killing—just experiencing the environment, making this sort of a mix between virtual reality and machinima. The mod itself isn’t downloadable (unfortunately), although he has been exhibiting it at conferences and the like. The website is definitely worth a look; go check it out and expand your mind (thanks to George at Baha’i Views for the link). Leave comments, too—what do you think about it? Is this where the wave of the future is taking us?

canadian media tune in to the plight of egypt’s baha’is

Bilo, the author of the blog Baha’i Faith in Egypt, posted the following news from the Canadian Baha’i News Service—which I hadn’t even noticed until now. I guess I was too busy posting other stories that it never grabbed my attention. Thankfully, that’s not the case for everyone. Briefly put, the case of the Egyptian Supreme Court’s ruling against the right of Baha’is to obtain valid identification cards has caught the attention of the Canadian media. For example, Gerald Filson, the Canadian Baha’i community’s Director of External Affairs, was featured in an interview on Radio-Canada International, giving a summary of the plight of Egypt’s Baha’is. See below for more details.

Egyptian court ruling against Bahá’ís attracts Canadian media attention

TORONTO, ON, 24 January 2007 (CBNS) — The outcry in the Middle East over an Egyptian court ruling against a Bahá’í couple has drawn the attention of several media outlets in Canada, including two Arab-language newspapers.

In a decision delivered this past December, the Egyptian Supreme Administrative Court upheld a government policy that prohibits citizens from identifying themselves as members of any religion other than the three officially recognized ones (Islam, Judaism, and Christianity) on government-issued identity cards. The policy makes it impossible for Bahá’ís and other religious minorities in Egypt to obtain identity cards without falsifying their religion. The identity cards are required for access to most essential services, including education, financial services, and medical care.

Two Canadian Arab-language newspapers included coverage of the case in its pages. The Montreal-based weeklies El-Masri and El Ressala printed articles highlighting the denial of citizenship rights to the Bahá’ís in their 19 and 21 December 2006 editions, respectively. Another Montreal-based newspaper, the Persian-language Payvand, ran its own article about the case.

English-language media outlets have taken an interest in the story as well. Shortly after the verdict was delivered, CBC Radio Canada International interviewed Gerald Filson, Director of External Affairs for the Bahá’í Community of Canada, about what the decision means for the Bahá’ís in Egypt and about the deteriorating state of human rights in the region.

“Persecution of the Bahá’ís in Iran continues, unfortunately,” says Filson. “And now the Bahá’í community in Egypt, whose rights have also been suppressed for many years, is facing even more severe problems.”

Listen to the interview on CBC radio. (Select “Listen to the second part of the program,” and then cue the audio feed to 27:40.)

Read the entire press release.

update on the baha’is of iran

A Faith Denied: The Persecution of the Baha'is of IranA new baha’i blog focusing on the plight of Iran’s Bahá’ís has recently seen the light—perhaps following in the footsteps of the successful blog Baha’i Faith in Egypt—and it seems poised to be a promising source of information on the situation of the Bahá’ís of Iran.

The most recent post features a Bahá’í World News Service press release that announces the release of a recent report from the Connecticut-based Iran Human Rights Documentation Center (IHRDC) on the situation of Iran’s Bahá’ís. The 60-page report expresses concern that Iranian Bahá’ís “may soon face another cycle of repression and violence”. You can read the original press release.

Also of interest may be a photo that appeared on iranian.com and was blogged on the portuguese Baha’i blog Povo de Bahá a few days ago. The photo shows an anti-Baha’i display set up outside a mosque in Iran. My Persian’s getting better, but it’s still too rusty to understand what’s written on the signs.
Anti-Baha'i display outside a mosque in Iran

From the website: The book stand in front of the mosque has a green banner reading: offering books for Recognition of the “Devious Baha’i sect”. I’m assuming this means they’re offering books that misrepresent the Baha’i Faith and passing them off as Baha’i scripture.