Category: Board Commentary

Reframing: You’re Never Too Old and It’s Not Too Late

By Harlan Garbell

As a retiree, people often ask what I do with my time. (“They mean well,” as my mother would say.) Occasionally, I fantasize about impressing my interlocutors by telling them that I’m translating the King James Bible into Mandarin, or some other ambitious project. Something that would amaze them while inflating my ego, albeit momentarily. But because I’m always paranoid about being exposed by my fibs, I wind up telling the truth, crushingly boring though it may be.

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As Americans Become Less Religious, a Plan to Help HMN Grow

By Harlan Garbell This month marks the end of the two-year term of the current HumanistsMN (HMN) Board of Directors. We will elect new officers and four at-large members at our annual meeting on May 15. We are fortunate that all of the current directors whose terms are up have agreed to stay on. If …

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Harry, Meghan, and the Limits of Empathy

By Harlan Garbell

In my column last month I mentioned that I often watch cable news in the evening. I most often tune in to MSNBC, which generally reflects the interests (biases?) of liberals like myself.  Not surprisingly, considering the profile of the typical viewer, it airs a plethora of commercials asking you to support one worthy organization or another.  For example, the St. Jude Hospital for Children.

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The Long Twilight Struggle with the Christian Right

By Harlan Garbell

For those of you who are fortunate to not have a cable news habit, the veteran newscaster Brian Williams has a nightly program on MSNBC. During the Trump Administration he started out every program announcing how many days had passed since Trump became president, as in “This is day 763 of the Trump Administration.” Much like when Walter Cronkite, starting on November 4, 1979, announced every evening how many days United States Embassy personnel were being held hostage in Iran.

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Oy Vey: How Jewish Mothers Could Have Changed History

For those of you who are unfamiliar with them, Nichols and May were an improvisational comedy team back in the 1950s and 60s. In their early years they played clubs in Chicago, where they met, and became famous for their incisive sketches regarding miscommunication between people. Some of their most famous sketches involved family members communicating (or trying to) with each other.

By Harlan Garbell

For me, the funniest, and yet most discomforting, of these sketches was the mother who is calling her son, the first Jewish president of the United States.

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HumanistsMN: Moving Forward into 2021

The year 2020 was one of those years that will forever be associated with an indelible historical event. Similar to 1945 as the end of World War II and 2001 as the year of the terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C. At some point, historians will tabulate the dreadful toll in deaths, illnesses, lost jobs, and bankrupt businesses that 2020 left in its wake due to Covid-19.

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When Myth Becomes Mass Delusion

By Harlan Garbell

In retrospect, growing up in post World War II America was like winning the historical lottery. The United States emerged from the war as the single most dominant nation in the world. Rival countries in Europe and Asia were left shattered and it would take many years for them to recover. The mainland United States, bounded by two large oceans, was never seriously threatened during this most destructive war in world history. Our industrial base remained intact and our wartime economy was running on all cylinders.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.  

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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