Category: Board Commentary

Reflections on Fate, Hubris, Betrayal, and Falling Off Camels

By Harlan Garbell

Recently I read an article that mentioned a scene from the great 1962 historical epic “Lawrence of Arabia,” the film based on the life of T. E. Lawrence. In this scene a man has fallen off his camel during the night in the desert and is inadvertently left behind by his comrades, presumably to die. Lawrence (played by Peter O’Toole) wants to go back and look for him. Sherif Ali, the Bedouin leader (played by Omar Sharif) objects. Another Bedouin agrees: “Gasim’s time has come, Lawrence. It is written.” Lawrence angrily replies: “Nothing is written.”

Continue reading

Obsessed by Current Events, I Revisit the Past

By Harlan Garbell

I am writing this article in September 2020. The country is in the midst of a horrific seven-month long pandemic where the death toll has just reached 200,000. All of these folks died a horrible death leaving loved ones and friends to grieve. The economy is in tatters, with record numbers of people queuing up in their cars for hours to get a bag of groceries for their families. And of course, most of this could have been avoided if our incompetent, corrupt, and malevolent president would have just thought of others instead of his own political needs.

Continue reading

Reimagining the ‘Dark Ages’ for the 21st Century

By Harlan Garbell

You remember the “Dark Ages,” don’t you? Not personally, of course, but from that World History course you took in high school, or perhaps college. In case you slept through that class, the Dark Ages was that period in European history between the fall of the Roman Empire and the Renaissance, generally between the 5th and 14th centuries.

Continue reading

The Summer of Our Discontent

By Harlan Garbell

The American people are not very happy right now. This year the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) asked people about their personal happiness. Only 14 percent of the respondents indicated that they were “very happy,” the lowest on record. Moreover, 23 percent expressed unhappiness, the highest percentage recorded by NORC since 1972. I don’t think those of you reading this would find these findings particularly surprising considering the events of the past few months.  

Continue reading

Little Wheels, Big Wheels: The Death of George Floyd

By Harlan Garbell

The death of George Floyd while in the police custody, and the ensuing protests, have shocked our community as no other event since I arrived in Minneapolis in 1994. When my wife and I moved from Chicago into our house near Cedar Lake, we really had no clue as to the historical racial or religious divisions in the “City of Lakes.” We just loved this beautiful city. (Of course, we first came to Minneapolis in May.) As a newcomer to the Twin Cities, one of the first things I did was watch the local evening news. I figured this was the quickest way to learn about our new environs.

Continue reading

Little Man, What Now?

By Harlan Garbell

The title of this column is from the famous novel of the last years of the Weimar Republic in Germany, Kleiner Mann, Was Nun? (Little Man, What Now?). Written by Hans Fallada in 1932, it is the story of a struggling family as they try to navigate the years after the stock market crash of 1929, including the early years of the Great Depression. Rest assured I didn’t read this book because I wanted to. It was assigned reading in my second-year college German language class.

Continue reading

The Coronavirus: Experiencing History in Real Time

By Harlan Garbell

Like many of you I have a fascination with history. Even as a child, I was always curious about historical events and how the future, for better or worse, was shaped by them. For example, one of my favorite television shows in the 50s was “You Are There,” where each week there was a dramatization of an actual historic event, like the assassination of Julius Caesar. Somehow I intuitively understood early on that history was important to understanding the present. Conversely, as I have aged I have come to realize ironically that you can also better understand the past from living through events in the present.

Continue reading

Onward Christian Soldiers: Christian Nationalists Are on the March

By Harlan Garbell

Many years ago when I started out as a young lawyer in Chicago, working for the state of Illinois, I had a supervisor who was always concerned that his political bosses in Springfield were seeking to replace him. He had an ironically witty saying about his predicament:  “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you.”  I remembered that saying recently after reading about Attorney General William Barr’s speech at the University of Notre Dame Law School last October. Barr’s address was noteworthy in that it was ostensibly a paean to religious liberty but, in reality, was a frontal attack on secularism.

Continue reading

Getting ‘Educated’: Escaping a Harsh Religious Upbringing

By Harlan Garbell

I recently got hold of the bestselling book Educated by Tara Westover. It had been in my queue of books that I keep at the Hennepin County Library website, but something compelled me to read it at this time. Some of you no doubt have read this work or are familiar with its storyline.

Continue reading

Are We Humanists ‘Virtue Signaling’?

By Harlan Garbell

A few years ago, the term “virtue signaling” was coined by a writer in an article in the English publication The Spectator. Essentially, it has come to mean how people communicate through language, or otherwise, to “signal” that they are virtuous. Or perhaps at the very least, more virtuous than you are. This term has caught on and has since been used in articles or discussions about social, cultural, or political issues—usually in a pejorative manner. 

Continue reading

Fox News: Conspiracies R Us

By Harlan Garbell

Recently I googled the term “conspiracy theory” and the first thing that popped up was a definition that states “a belief that some covert but influential organization is responsible for a circumstance or event.”
I have to believe that conspiracy theories have always been part of the fabric of human society.

Continue reading

Trump May Be One of the Most Consequential Presidents in U.S. History

By Harlan Garbell

As young students, Americans learn that the most consequential presidents in our history were, generally speaking, George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. I believe there is a good chance that Donald Trump will also become one of the most consequential presidents in our history — albeit for dramatically different reasons.

Continue reading

Anti-Semitism: A Personal Story

By Harlan Garbell

As some of my friends and colleagues in HumanistsMN know, I was born and raised in a Jewish household. When I was a child, my father, the son of recent Russian-Jewish immigrants, would often tell me stories of his own childhood in the mean streets of  Chicago’s West Side during the 1920s and 30s. Many of these stories seemed like they came from a different world. The recurring themes were things I fortunately never experienced: poverty, violence, and pervasive racial and religious discrimination. 

Continue reading

HumanistsMN: The Way Forward

By Harlan Garbell

In our May newsletter, I set out my vision for the next two years should I be elected president of HumanistsMN. It was, simply, for HMN to become the leading secular organization in the metro area for “nones” — the growing number of people without religious affiliation — who are seeking a welcoming, ethically based community. This vision can only become a reality if the members of our community pull together to make it happen.

Continue reading

To Audrey, With Gratitude

By Harlan Garbell

I first met Audrey Kingstrom at a bar in Uptown. (No, it’s not what you may be thinking.) Audrey was hosting a happy hour Meetup for Humanists of Minnesota and I overcame my inertia to go. The Humanists seemed like an interesting group and the venue wasn’t far from where I live.

Continue reading