Category: Board Commentary

My Pal, the Gremlin

By Harlan Garbell

When I was in my 20s I used to pay for everything I needed by cash or check.  Every month my bank would send me a thick letter containing not only all of my cancelled checks, but also a computerized statement listing every transaction made during that period, including any deposits. It then calculated my final monthly balance which appeared at the bottom of the statement. Even though the statement included all of my monthly transactions, I had an obsessive habit of reconciling the bank statement with the handwritten entries in my checkbook register to make sure the final figures matched.

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Sea Turtles and Straws: Easy Questions, Wrong Answers

By John Walker In late 2015, a video was circulated of a sea turtle with a plastic straw stuck in its nose. Conscientious fast-food consumers and iced-coffee drinkers all over the Western world were emotionally moved and began demanding new straw “technologies” to replace this single-use plastic product — compostable paper straws, cleanable metal straws, …

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The Real Plague of the 21st Century Is Fear

By Harlan Garbell

Do you remember where you were on December 31, 1999? I do. Glenna and I were invited to a New Year’s Eve party hosted by friends of ours. Our host, a middle-aged physician who was born in Japan, made a sumptuous feast for his invited guests. The Japanese delicacies he made were outstanding. Life was indeed good. Looking back, the 90s were relatively free of anxiety and fear. After all, the Cold War was history.

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When Your Political Tribe and the Facts Collide

By Harlan Garbell

Unfortunately, one of the scariest developments in American politics over the past several years has been the ascendance of the far right in the Republican Party. I don’t need to go into too much detail here. This has been well documented and we have all recently witnessed how a major American political party has now degenerated into a fantasy world where climate change is a hoax, Covid vaccines are dangerous, and Donald Trump won the 2020 presidential election.

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‘Big Lies’: Humanity’s Enduring Legacy

By Harlan Garbell

For those of you who do not follow politics, or current events, the term the “Big Lie” is now being reserved for the fact-free narrative espoused by our former president, and his minions, that the 2020 presidential election was “stolen” by the Democratic Party in critical states that he lost. The Democrats are alleged to have accomplished this through massive voter fraud. This false narrative has now morphed into a full-blown conspiracy theory where additional fabricated information (e.g., Arizona used ballots originating from Communist China) can be added at will to invigorate and sustain the narrative via the vector of social media.

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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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