Lately I have been thinking about religion. Or perhaps I've somehow managed to bundle up religion with faith? Yeah. I think that's it. In truth, I've been thinking about faith. From what I understand, which admittedly isn't much, religion is more about the study and scripture. Faith is something a little extra, I guess, something a little more like inspiration... and not largely dictated by scripture. No. The heart is what guides one's faith. I think. It feels right and more correct, more precise to say that, anyway.

Most of my life I haven't been much of an active participant in my religion, the Baha'i Faith. I was raised as a Baha'i, learned some Baha'i prayers, learned some of its history, familiarized myself with the central figures of the Faith... but it all ended up seeming too much like homework and studying, the faith bit just sorta evaporated in the mix over the years. The name Baha'i, which literally means "follower of God's glory", somehow came to overshadow what it means to really follow God's glory.

There are horror stories, news reports and documented evidence of Baha'is being tortured and terribly mistreated in Iran and other parts of the Middle East since the religion's beginnings. Hangings, firing squads, exiles, foreclosure of homes and businesses, denial of education to the Baha'i youth, murder and general antagonism. As an American Baha'i, I suffered none of these things. The measure of my faith was not put up against such tests. For the most part I've endured relative isolation from the rest of the religious community, neglect, confusion and disinterest having taken the place of hatred, fear or scorn. Most of the time, I end up having to explain what the Baha'i Faith is to people that I meet, when they ask what religion I subscribe to. The funny thing, I think, is that Abdu'l Baha, the grandson of the Faith's founder and Master, told the American Baha'is to expect precisely those things- the overall neglect.

And that's what has inspired this recent spate of religious introspection, I guess. I was on a date-kinda-thing the other night and the young woman I was sharing my time with asked me to describe the Baha'i Faith, once she heard that I am a Baha'i. Yes, she'd heard of it, but only in the remotest sense, and her source, she felt, was suspect: her fundamentalist Baptist uncle who shared scorn for anything that wasn't Baptist. He called it a cult.

Of course I had no problem telling her the facts about the Faith, some of its history, the hard-to-swallow-pill that Baha'is believe Christ's return has already come and gone- just as He said it would, "like a thief in the night"- I parroted all the truth about the Baha'i Faith to her, the Cliff Notes version, if you will.

But all the information I can share with a person about the Faith doesn't really tell them anything, does it? It doesn't explain why I choose to remain a Baha'i, even though I'm not an active participant in the Baha'i community. It doesn't convey the truth of what I've seen with my own two eyes, through years of experience and self-knowledge. It doesn't really even scratch the surface of what it means to me to be a Baha'i. All the words in the world mean diddley squat.

For me, being a Baha'i is to be generally peaceful to other human beings, to respect the thoughts, beliefs, dreams and stations of others, to serve Humanity in whatever small or great ways that I am able, to appreciate and make use of the gifts in life that are available to me, to turn my heart to God, to stand brave and courageous in the face of doubt or questions (and to ask questions, and not be afraid to ask them!), to be responsible for my own spiritual growth... and to explain, over and over and over again, what the Baha'i Faith is to people who've either never heard of it or have heard of it but don't know much more than anyone else does. With the exception of that last item, I could be talking about almost any religion, couldn't I?

Since my childhood I have watched the Baha'i Faith flourish, slowly oh-so-slowly, in the United States. I have seen a large number of very passionate and motivated people embrace the Faith. I've seen other children, like me, who were born into the Faith, do some very incredible things, inspiring things. And, by the same token, I have watched people who were raised with piss-poor spiritual habits take a shining to the Faith, learn a thimble-full of it, and then go out into the world to prosteletise it (which is counter to Baha'i doctrine/law) under the guise of evangelicism.

I am finding it more and more difficult to willingly teach the Faith, or even to admit that I'm a Baha'i at all. Not because I don't believe in it- I most assuredly do!- but simply because it seems so pointless to try, so... empty and impotent. I'd rather just continue being who I am and just let my actions, my behavior, speak for my Faith. The good Lord knows only too well that I'm certainly no cleric- which is as it should be, for the Baha'i Faith doesn't allow for clergy. Funny, that.

Is that faith?

I drove to Camp Red Cloud today to pick up MREs. The sign by the gate indicated there was a civil disturbance in Yongsan. Basically, that means there were riots.

Why? Why, the mistreatment of detainees at the hands of American soldiers, of course!

I wonder if anyone protested the beheading of an American prisoner. I doubt it. I wonder if anyone protests the targeted killing of civilians in Iraq, or terrorist action on civilians worldwide. I doubt it. But they will protest when America accidentaly kills a civilian.

Have you ever felt like someone jumps on you for every tiny thing you do, when everyone else around you gets away with everything?

Is anyone protesting against China for demanding the "sovereign nation" of Taiwan to cede control and unite with communist China? I doubt it. But they will protest when China declares war on China and America steps in the name of freedom. America sacrifices the lives of soldiers for the interest of other peoples, peoples that will, most likely, end up hating us in the end anyway.

Is it my destiny to die in combat, fighting for a phantom freedom for ingrateful human beings that will forget the sacrifice in time? For every little thing America does, it is crucified. I don't see anyone else being protested against. As if some politician condemning the actions of so and so made a difference in the world.

I admit, there are things going on that shouldn't be done. Abu Ghraib was a disgrace to the honor of ground troops that are simply trying to survive and go home to their families. But why is it always America's fault? I shouldn't have to fight the people I swore I would defend.

jasstrong brought up the incredibly relevant fact that there have been protests on behalf of Taiwan. Thank you jasstrong, for being so kind and helpful.

Sales Order Processing; dance of the puppets

Rupert Murdoch once said that, "as the world modernises, it Americanises". Love him or hate him, perhaps you even work for him, but he was right there. As the world modernises - it Americanises. Whether this is because America is dragging us with it, or whether America is simply further along the same path, I do not know. As I grow old I find myself becoming American. My parents are now thoroughly American. 'Last of the Summer Wine', the long-running British sitcom, is now an American sitcom. Stonehenge, the ancient stone tourist attraction, is American. My generation grew up believing that the Vietnam War involved Britain, and that the soldiers in 'Platoon' and 'Full Metal Jacket' were British, although American-British. What does America become as it modernises? Will America one day cease to be modern? Will there one day be no more 'modern'? Kevin Wu, my opposite number in the Chinese furniture manufacturer to whom I send purchase orders, he lives in a hostel provided by his work, and he earns £0.36p per hour. Is this modern? From what I remember of school, mineworkers in Wales in the late Victorian era had a similar arrangement, even to the extent of being paid in 'company tokens', tokens which were only redeemable in company stores. Could the future described in Alan Dean Foster's novelisation of 'Alien' be The Future? Alan Dean Foster has been right before. It is not wise to ignore his words.

There has been much in the newspapers of late, much of Margaret Thatcher. She was not a thatcher; she was a minister, latterly the Prime Minister, the Optimus Prime Minister, although her opponents would be more likely to dub her Megatron Thatcher, for she was made of metal. Her husband was not a thatcher either, he was instead a businessman, a jovial man. It was noticeable, three years ago, that there was nothing in the newspapers of James Callaghan, Thatcher's predecessor as Prime Minister, although he was Prime Minister of another party, a party which no longer exists. I was three years old when Margaret Thatcher became ruler of our nation, four years old when Ronald Reagan became ruler of the nation across the sea, nine years old when Mikhail Gorbachev became leader of the nation behind the Berlin Wall which Johnny Rotten sang about in 'Holidays in the Sun'. For me, these people are the world's leaders, if not rulers then figureheads. They remain so in my mind, albeit that they remain in my mind in the form of the latex puppets from 'Spitting Image'.

Perhaps uniquely amongst the mid-80s alternative comedy movement, 'Spitting Image' did not portray Thatcher in a negative light. Her puppet was shown as a demonic bully presiding over a cabinet which consisted of a mixture of equally demonic bullies and craven weaklings. That this did not seem a negative portrayal of Thatcher is testament to her appeal. She was hard. Nobody loved her. Very few people liked her. But people voted for her, because her government looked as if it might skin kittens or beat up pensioners on our behalf. People respect strength, even if it is directed against them. People respect the force that kills them. I am loathe to generalise decades or political administrations. Mark Lawson and the people who write for The Guardian tell me that the 1980s was a bastard decade of money-hungry capitalists with filofaxes and mobile telephones, although they seem to base this belief on their own writings, or the writings of their predecessors, or of Martin Amis. And of course I am performing an act of generalisation myself, as I lump Mark Lawson in with the people who write for The Guardian, as if they were all left-leaning. What was so bad about money, in the 1980s? We are told that it was socially divisive, as if a united society was somehow desireable or possible without constant, rigorous enforcement of this unity. As a child of the 1980s I take it for granted that, if I want something, I have to pay for it. If I can pay more, I will get better. Any attempt to tamper with the primal forces of commerce on either my or the government's part is bound to fail, the scorpion will sting itself.

The poor of the world are exploited. They always have been and they always will, until there are no more poor. And when there are no more poor, we will create a new poor so that they can be poor. There is nothing positive in being poor, no reason to glorify poverty. The poor should be ashamed of themselves. I am poor, and I am ashamed of myself. I want everyone to suffer as I suffer, and this is why I view Margaret Thatcher in a positive light, for she made everyone suffer. The rich suffered the guilt and alienation of being rich, the poor suffered because they were not allowed to be poor any more.

Perhaps my inability to understand pre-Thatcher Britain is itself a reason for lamentation. Thatcher so transformed Britain as to make the period before her reign an alien decade, beyond the understanding of my generation. It is the goal of all political movements to erase the opposition. New Labour not only erased the opposition, it erased its previous self. With the exception of Edward Heath's union-crippled, pro-European Conservative administration of 1970-1974, Labour had been in power since 1964. That was enough time to bury the Tories once and for all, surely? New Labour were slick as toast in 1997. After seven years it has taken a failing foreign war - an unusual experience for the people of Britain - and multiple scandals to dent Tony Blair's poll ratings, despite which Labour are going to be in power until the 2010s at least. What was stopping Harold Wilson and James Callaghan from killing the beast?

I deride the anti-Thatcher arguments as sentimental nostalgia for a golden age which never was. Thatcher's government had the bad luck of attaining power at a time of global and local recession, a recession caused by the Iranian revolution, global instability, the failure of state intervention to save Britain's manufacturing industry and competition from the Far East. Britain no longer makes things, but this transformation occurred in the 1970s. During that decade we lost our aerospace industry, our car industry, our ship-building industry, our nuclear missile industry, all swallowed up by each other and dead. Were the Tories expected to use public funds to support these things? It seems to me that, if the money was simply circulated from our pockets to the government to our employers to our pockets again, it would eventually become worn and tarnished. I do not want to live in a country which has dirty money. Instead I want to live in a country which has Dirty Harry, and indeed for that matter Debbie Harry. And as Britain Americanises, my wish will one day be granted.

Been reading Danny Peary's Cult Movie Guides (volumes 2 and 3) again, and I won't sleep tonight. Wonderful books-- plot synopsis of films from the classically cultish (A Clockwork Orange) to the utterly obscure (Basket Case). Out of print, and the last volume came out in the 80's... but great. Each entry has a complete synopsis (with "spoilers") down one side and an intelligent essay that critques/appreciates/ discusses the film and/or its audience, making it easy to understand even if, like me, you haven't seen most of them.

Which means you get the incidents of The Wicker Man (i hope i don't click on the link i just made) and a few stills of children in frightening masks, and that and the reputation fills in the rest of the details. And you read the synopsis, everything boiled down to its essense, the accumlation of details leading to some twistd climax so that even Some Like It Hot is fraught with peril and the head from Zardoz is frightening, not funny.

There is a window across from your bed, with a curtain over it. Outside your room the kitchen is dark. Your computer could not connnect to the Internet. This scares you; you need connection; you try not to think how a filmmaker would use the white iMac screen, this dark room, your parents sleeping a few feet away. You try not to think about how scared you used to get as a kid, shivering in the dark.

You wish your bedside reading was more then Ulysses or And the Ass Saw Angel, and you hope you fall asleep before 3, and you hope you do not and wake up with nightmares. You have class at 9:00 tommorow, you must be up at 7, and you are always late. It is creating art, the class, so you usually spend it in a strange daze. Tonight will probably not be an exception.

I don’t consider myself to be a violent person. Although, there probably was a time though, way back when the combination of being in the Marine Corps and youth might’ve blended together to cause me to react in ways I would think unthinkable today. I hope, that over the many ensuing years, that the reaction of violence would have been washed out of me like dishes being cleaned or laundry being done. Lately though, I seem to be confused. Maybe I’m confusing violence with justice. Maybe I’m having a hard time trying to draw a line between the two.

I wake up to the news and, as sure as shit, there’ s more gore and more controversy than ever before.. An American civilian by the name of Nicholas Berg was beheaded by some thugs claiming to be members of Al-Queda. Supposedly, this was in response to the events that occurred in the Abu Ghraid prison abuse scandal. Any comparison between the two, is, in my mind, lame at best. Those "people" that did the beheading are fucking animals. (/me apologizes to the entire animal kingdom)

Just as those few Americans who took it upon themselves to abuse people under their charge do not represent the entire body of soldiers, so don’t five members of a terrorist cell represent the feelings of the Arab people. I’m sure many of them are just as shocked and horrified about the beheading as we in States are. Those people who are responsible bring shame to the Muslim religion.

I listen to some of the more conservative types such as Rush Limbaugh screaming along the lines of “Why aren’t Americans outraged at this?”. Those types also tried to make the same point when those four Americans were captured, their bodies mutilated and dragged through the streets. Their final resting place was being hung from a bridge like some kind of trophy or warning.

For the record, I am outraged at this conduct. I’m outraged at anybody who would do such a thing to anybody else. When it comes to my mind, it doesn’t take an American to be outraged, all it takes is to be human.

Our people involved in the prison abuse scandal will be brought to court and carry the scars of their conduct for the rest of their lives. I don’t know what will happen to those who beheaded Mr. Berg and yes, this causes me outrage.

I’m outraged that no weapons of mass destruction have been found. After all, that’s why we went there in the first place. I’m outraged that we targeted Saddam Hussein (yeah, bad guy, everybody knows that) instead of Osama Bin Laden, the real mastermind behind the events of September 11, 2001. I’m outraged by the supposed need of such things as the Patriot Act and the Department of Homeland Security. I’m outraged that people are dying more and more violent deaths every day. I’m outraged that I can’t explain these things to my child. I’m outraged that American contractors are even Iraq in the first place. I’m outraged because I think that most of them are there in search of profits instead of humanitarian efforts. I’m outraged that America seems to have lost some of its standing amongst the other countries in the word because, believe it or not, we have done so much good.

The world, or at least America, seemed to me to be a lot simpler a mere four years ago and I wasn’t so outraged. I know we can’t turn back the hands of time, that would be asking too much. I fear that the worst isn’t over though. I fear that the wheels have been set in motion by a horrific combination of events both here at home and abroad. I fear that those wheels will be spinning for many years to come. I fear that both yours and my children will be called upon to pay the price not only for our actions but also our inactions.

In the meantime. I’m gonna’ keep John Prines’ song Spanish Pipedream running through my head, all the while hoping all of our children, no matter their origin, find it within themselves to forgive us all..


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