Category: Board Commentary

Yes, We Are ‘Star Stuff.’ But Remember the Spirit of Love.

From time to time, a powerful series of quotes by Carl Sagan pass through my mind:

“As long as there have been humans, we have searched for our place in the cosmos. Where are we? Who are we? We find that we live on an insignificant planet of a humdrum star lost in a galaxy tucked away in some forgotten corner of a universe in which there are far more galaxies than people.”

“All of the rocks we stand on, the iron in our blood, the calcium in our teeth, the carbon in our genes were produced billions of years ago in the interior of a red giant star. We are made of star stuff.”

“For small creatures such as we the vastness is bearable only through love.”

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Are Armchair Activists Really So Bad?

Marie sees that Roe v. Wade was overturned. She heads to Instagram and posts about her outrage. Her post gets dozens of “likes,” but within a day, it has become buried in people’s feeds and minds. Carl also finds out about Roe v. Wade and springs into action behind his phone screen. He finds a reputable organization to donate to and posts a link on Facebook. Friends and acquaintances see this post and are inspired. They donate a cumulative $500 via his link.

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My Goals as President: Increase Awareness of Humanism, Attract More Young People

I’m honored to be writing my first column as president of HumanistsMN. I first want to thank my predecessor, Harlan Garbell, for his steadfast leadership. It’s been an honor to serve as his vice president and observe his dedication to our organization, encouragement of new ideas, and commitment to the mission of growing the humanist community. I’m inspired by how he has empowered people to grow, get involved, and help us reach new heights. I aim to carry the momentum maintained by presidents past with enthusiasm, creativity, and a profound belief in the tenets of humanism.

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Winning the Lottery

There is a genre of fiction called “alternate history” (sometimes referred to as “alternative history”). You no doubt have either read a novel or watched a movie or television program based on an alternate history of events. Some of these books or programs are very good, some not. But they all challenge us to see the world as it might have been had someone made a different choice, or had chance intervened to change the trajectory of human events. As I have aged and looked back on my own life, I have often marveled at how things could have been so different had I made just one different choice.

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The Strongman Cometh

Like many of you, I have been closely following the horrific war between Russia and Ukraine these past few weeks. The world has indeed been outraged by the unjust and extreme level of violence targeted at a people who just want a country of their own. What kind of person could unleash such death and destruction to so many people without remorse? Perhaps the following vignettes will give you an insight on the character of the man who unleashed this carnage on Ukraine, Vladimir Putin.

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Contemplating Non-Existence

Many years ago I had an existential crisis — literally. It dawned on me that I would actually die. Maybe not the next day, or the next year, but I would certainly die. Of course, part of growing up is learning that every living being has to eventually die. But, strangely, on some level, I thought that death would not apply to me. (This is different from thanatophobia, which is fear of death.) Psychologists will tell you this is not an uncommon experience. After all, the only reality that I had ever known, or could comprehend, was my own existence through conscious awareness. I couldn’t really comprehend non-existence. Nor did I really want to.

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My Pal, the Gremlin

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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