honour the sacrifice, not the war

A friend shared the following as a status update on Facebook recently. I was going to repost it there myself, but it’s long enough to warrant its own blog post. Out of all the comments people had posted about Remembrance Day, this is the one that stood out for me the most.

As we remember those who have lost their lives in conflict, we should honour the bravery and the sacrifice of these individuals, and always think of them with great respect and gratitude. But we must be cautious that we never honour or romanticize war itself. War will never be the solution.

“Peace is light, whereas war is darkness. Peace is life; war is death. Peace is guidance; war is error. Peace is the foundation of God; war is a satanic institution. Peace is the illumination of the world of humanity; war is the destroyer of human foundations. When we consider outcomes in the world of existence, we find that peace and fellowship are factors of upbuilding and betterment, whereas war and strife are the causes of destruction and disintegration. All created things are expressions of the affinity and cohesion of elementary substances, and nonexistence is the absence of their attraction and agreement. Various elements unite harmoniously in composition, but when these elements become discordant, repelling each other, decomposition and nonexistence result. Everything partakes of this nature and is subject to this principle, for the creative foundation in all its degrees and kingdoms is an expression or outcome of love. Consider the restlessness and agitation of the human world today because of war. Peace is health and construction; war is disease and dissolution. When the banner of truth is raised, peace becomes the cause of the welfare and advancement of the human world. In all cycles and ages war has been a factor of derangement and discomfort, whereas peace and brotherhood have brought security and consideration of human interests. This distinction is especially pronounced in the present world conditions, for warfare in former centuries had not attained the degree of savagery and destructiveness which now characterizes it. If two nations were at war in olden times, ten or twenty thousand would be sacrificed, but in this century the destruction of one hundred thousand lives in a day is quite possible. So perfected has the science of killing become and so efficient the means and instruments of its accomplishment that a whole nation can be obliterated in a short time. Therefore, comparison with the methods and results of ancient warfare is out of the question.

According to an intrinsic law all phenomena of being attain to a summit and degree of consummation, after which a new order and condition is established. As the instruments and science of war have reached the degree of thoroughness and proficiency, it is hoped that the transformation of the human world is at hand and that in the coming centuries all the energies and inventions of man will be utilized in promoting the interests of peace and brotherhood. Therefore, may this esteemed and worthy society for the establishment of international peace be confirmed in its sincere intentions and empowered by God. Then will it hasten the time when the banner of universal agreement will be raised and international welfare will be proclaimed and consummated so that the darkness which now encompasses the world shall pass away.”

‘Abdu’l-Bahá

goggling google goggles

I don’t often get excited about mobile apps (heck, I haven’t even downloaded Angry Birds yet) but as far as I’m concerned, this one is the best thing since sliced bread: Google Goggles, part of the official Google app. It’s a piece of image recognition software that uses pictures you take with your mobile camera to search the web. In a nutshell: search with images instead of words. It’s not perfect yet, but it does seem to be good at recognizing things like logos, landmarks, and so on. To give you an example, I was able to take a picture of Dogs Playing Poker and it knew what it was. On the other hand, I took a picture of a logo off a bottle of Brio Chinotto and it couldn’t tell it from a no-smoking sign.

But by far the most exciting feature of Google Goggles is that it will recognize text—block letters, not necessarily handwritten—and translate it. I tried it with some bilingual signs on an OC Transpo bus here in Ottawa and the translation turned out to be more or less correct. Here’s how it works:

google goggles

Take a picture of some sort of text. It should be fairly legible; I figure block letters are best. OCR isn’t the best at picking up messy letters. Goggles will find the text in your picture and tell you what it sees. In this case, it’s pretty close.

google goggles translation

Click through to the translation screen, and you’ll see Google Translate giving you roughly what the words say. It’ll automatically tell what language is displayed and translate it into English (or whatever else).

Now, at the moment, Goggles seems to only be able to recognize a small subset of languages, among them English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, and Spanish. It definitely seems to work best at recognizing languages written in Latin characters. It was even able to recognize some Vietnamese text I found, although the sentence it spat back at me was mostly garbage. I tried it on a number of other alphabets that use non-latin scripts—Chinese characters, Russian, Lao, and Thai—and didn’t have any luck; it didn’t even recognize them as language. That would probably be my main request to the Goggles team—recognizing non-latin scripts, especially things like Chinese, Thai, Korean and Japanese. Definitely a promising app, though, with sweeping potentialities: imagine if you could understand any shop sign you came by on your trip to China, or Japan, or wherever, just by snapping a picture of it with your smartphone?

baha’i centre in vanier newspaper

Via @DASLucas on twitter, here’s the text of a nice little article about the Ottawa Baha’i Centre written by Ruby Pratka in a local newspaper, Perspectives Vanier (see the original front-page article in the PDF version of the paper). It begins by mentioning the Centre, which is located at the edge of Ottawa’s east-central Vanier borough, and quickly goes on to give an overview of the Baha’i Faith through the voices of two representatives of the Ottawa community. It even ends off with a mention about junior youth groups and other core activities organized by the Ottawa Baha’i community. Not an in-depth article, but a great front-page teaser that will undoubtedly help to answer a few questions—and raise even more—for curious locals who may have wondered about that building on MacArthur Avenue.

Baha’i Centre of Ottawa in Vanier since 2007
by Ruby Pratka

Heather Harvey and Ayafor Ayafor want to build a better world. And they believe that a better world starts in the front room of a former Mexican restaurant on McArthur Avenue.

Ayafor and Harvey are members of the Baha’i faith, a religious community that they say has about 1000 adherents in Ottawa and about 5 million scattered across the world. The Baha’i presence in Ottawa dates from 1948, says Harvey.

“We’ve gone from nine in 1948 to over 1000 now,” she says. The Baha’i Centre of Ottawa has been in Vanier since 2007.

The Baha’i faith was founded about 150 years ago in Iran, by a spiritual leader who believed he was the next in a series of prophets serving the same God. Baha’is consider Abraham, Moses, Buddha, Jesus and Muhammad to be prophets as well. There is no clergy, only a democratically elected ‘spiritual assembly’ in each area with a Baha’i presence. The faith has since spread worldwide; according to the Centre for Faith in the Media it is the second most geographically widespread faith after Christianity. Baha’is, Harvey explains, respect the texts of all major religions and believe in the “unity of God” across world religions.

“At its basis there is a commonality to what our relationship is with God…and to life after death,” says Harvey.

“One of our fundamental principles is the idea of the oneness of mankind,” says Ayafor, who was born in Cameroon and raised a Christian. “Fundamentally we are like cells of a body; we’re evolving. The writings are there to bring unity in the world, but Baha’is don’t know how that is going to happen.”

Harvey and Ayafor say they believe that it is impossible to separate science and religion, and that world peace is inevitable. They also believe in the importance of community service.

“To work in the service of humanity is highly looked upon,” says Harvey.

To that end, she says, the centre holds youth study groups for teenagers to figure out how to best serve their community. “It’s all about ‘what can I do tomorrow?’,” Harvey says. “The reality of what you can do varies from neighbourhood to neighbourhood. In those study circles things emerge, like a literacy campaign or a health campaign. . Our junior youth groups clean the parks; simple things can be done and something leads into something else. It’s very important for youth–and everyone–to believe they have a purpose.”

In addition to the youth groups, the centre holds devotional meetings where attendees study the texts of all major religions, children’s classes, and summer day camps. And anyone is welcome to come to the centre and have a look around. These programs are open “to all people, whether Baha’is or not,” says Harvey. “We are not an inward-looking community.”

economic crisis: it’s about ethics

“The economy is in crisis”, the televisions at the gym blared. “you may no longer be able to afford that SUV.” “Due to the economic crisis,” read the printed signs at the fast food restaurant, “our sub sandwich supreme has doubled in price. We regret any inconvenience this may cause.” “Because of the economic crisis,” burbled the talking heads wearing corporate-looking suits, “we have had to reduce our workforce by half.” We all remember, right? Whose idea was it to have an economic crisis, anyway? It may be a better question than you think. Who plans ahead for misery? We all do, it turns out—when our actions are driven by a “concept of self-centered materialism”, as recently stated by members of the European Baha’i Business Forum.

Any response to the world economic crisis must address ethics, given that the crisis is “fundamentally one of trust and integrity,” the European Baha’i Business Forum said in a statement published last week. Furthermore, the situation requires an ethical response “at all levels” – from individuals, from corporations, and from governments and regulatory entities, said the statement, released as some 400 representatives from dozens of countries and organizations gathered in Geneva for a two-day Global Ethics Forum.

“We need to replace the concept of self-centered materialism with that of service to humanity,” the EBBF said. Cooperation must replace competition, the statement continued; ethical behavior must replace corruption, gender balance must replace sexism, world unity must replace protectionism, justice must replace injustice.

I remember having a talk with my boss at the Conference Board—one of Canada’s powerhouses in the business of economic research—during the time the fearful words “economic crisis” first hit the news screens, as we walked into work in the morning. The conversation revolved around what makes, or causes, an economic crisis. The conclusion was pretty similar to the one reached above by the EBBF in their statement: it’s about ethics. When people get into the habit of doing business unethically—by selling products (like mortgages, loans, etc) with exploitive terms, or otherwise cheating their clients—the system they put together will end up failing. When this situation arises in a business that relies so strongly on trust as the financial industry, the impact of that failure will naturally be much bigger. People do more business with people they think they can trust; if that trust is then broken, the chaos created as those people pull back out will naturally seem like a “crisis”. In contrast with most of the Western world, Canada’s economic system emerged into the first quarter of 2009 relatively unscathed—because Canadian banks, unlike their American counterparts, had long observed a policy of conservative lending that precluded the sort of unethical lending rampant in the American banks. Honesty is like a magnet: observe it and you will create a strong and stable network around you; disregard it and everything you build will crumble.

Read the Baha’i World News story.

intercultural marriage

how on earth did I miss this? upon doing random google searches this afternoon, I found an awesome CBC interview with Elham and Ayafor on the CBC Radio site (you may remember reading about their wedding on this blog), two good Baha’i friends of mine from Ottawa, on the subject of intercultural and interreligious marriage, specifically weddings between members of different cultures. They’re obviously qualified—Ayafor is Cameroonian, Elham is Persian, and both of them have lived in many different places across the world. Listen to the interview!

michael jackson

michael jackson record player

Funny how people get so worked up about the passing of entertainers and yet fail to get similarly worked up about people who actually make a palpable difference in the lives of individuals and society. OK, no, I can’t really say that can I. People do remember those who make a difference in our lives—like ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, for example, whose funeral clogged the streets of the city of Haifa with “no less than ten thousand mourners“.

And don’t get me wrong—Thriller was a great album, of course. Just not great enough to change my life. Regardless, “MJ” will be missed and mourned. Good night, sweet prince.