Saturday, March 18, 2017

Just a Walk in the Park

To follow is an article from our current newsletter, The Humanist Advocate (Issue 1, 2017)

September 24


The “Unholy Strollers,” the unofficial walking (and parading) group of the also unofficial NOSHA Social Aid and Pleasure Club turned out a good participation for The 27th Chevron No/AIDS Walk—a yearly fall fundraising event organized by the No/AIDS Task Force. Not only did 11 walkers make the two-lap trip around Audubon Park, but the NOSHA group pledged at least $650, both of which are probably records since NOSHA has been active in this community project for about the last five years.

Marshall Harris, also one of our own, was chosen as the Grand Marshall (not a pun) and Master of Ceremonies of this year’s rendition of the fundraiser. He turned in a strong performance singing the national anthem at the Newman Bandstand; and then led the way in his trademark plumed tophat and baton in hand, to begin the 3-mile trek around the park’s walking and biking path.

Friday, March 3, 2017

A Cornucopia, Through Research

To follow is an article from our current newsletter, The Humanist Advocate (Issue 1, 2017)

October 15

A research director with the U. S. Department of Agriculture brought a large, open-mouth shopping bag with him for his presentation to our October meeting. In the bag were many of the products the Agricultural Research Service (ARS), a branch of the USDA is credited with developing.

The director, K. Thomas Klasson, Ph.D, has been known to the regulars and some occasional guests of NOSHA meetings as the husband of NOSHA President Charlotte Klasson. He broke the speaker-audience ice by quipping that although many knew him as such, he corrected it to “Dr. Charlotte’s Husband”. His educational background is deep with a Masters Degree from the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm and a doctorate from the University of Arkansas.

***

He worked for both UA and the Oak Ridge National Laboratory before joining USDA in 2004. His contributions to research papers are extensive.. His subtle and wry sense of humor emerged frequently throughout the presentation, and complimented the reserved and soft-spoken polite manner common in those with a Swedish heritage. He solved the problem of a cumbersome microphone by tying it to what looked like a piece of thick yarn and looped it around his neck. Before he began pulling examples from the shopping bag, he presented his shirt sleeve to a lady in the audience.
“Check out the shirt. See that nice crease right here? Pretty nice? It’s wrinkle-free cotton. This was invented right here in New Orleans!” The fabric, also know as permanent press, was created by the ARS which added a chemical to cotton that binds the molecules of the fiber so that once ironed,
they stayed in place.

Back to the bag: one by one, Klasson gave a short background narrative on each of the familiar and ubiquitous products he pulled from the bag (after the obligatory disclaimer of endorsement for the commercially branded articles), including: a vial of penicillin, a spray can of insect repellent, a can of tomato sauce, baby formula, a box of butter, a loaf of sourdough bread, a bunch of red, seedless grapes, a potato, blueberries, a can of frozen orange juice, a box of instantmashed potatoes. All these, and more, are pictured and explained in a colorful booklet published by the USDA entitled Science in
Your Shopping Cart; and all courtesy of your hard-working tax dollars at the ARS; and some, like the perma-press fabric, coming from right here at the Southern Regional Research Center campus of the USDA located on federal land in City Park.

The New Orleans location is one of four regional centers in the U. S. and is home to 50 scientists (Ph.D.s and post-docs) and 100 employees, and has an annual budget of 21 million dollars. The complex also houses the local offices FEMA and the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry. The USDA currently has about 750 ongoing projects; the ones that our local ARS is involved with fall into one of six major categories: Cotton Structure and Quality; Cotton Fiber Bioscience; Cotton Chemistry and Utilization; Commodity Utilization (which Klasson heads up); Food and Feed Safety; and Food Processing and Sensory Quality. The ARS is considered the “in house” research branch of the USDA because some of its research is done by “external” entities such as universities through grants and contracts.

Those research headings may sound like wordy bureaucratese, but from those or similar projects they have developed a process for freezing orange juice for worldwide distribution; bred the Roma tomato, which seems to be the only tomato that remains tasty throughout the year and is used exclusively in tomato paste; and invented a healthier cooking oil by a crystallization of cotton seed oil (hence the acronym “Crisco”). That single-serve cup of fresh fruit great for brown bag lunches or anytime snacks? Kept fresh longer by adding a calcium salt and vitamin C. In 1935, Dupont Corporation came up with an advertising slogan that ran, with modifications, for almost 50 years. We have all heard it: “Better Things for Better Living...Through Chemistry”.

It could well have been adopted by the USDA and its Agricultural Research Service.


~Marty Bankson

Monday, February 27, 2017

Times-Picayune Columnist Has Guides for Understanding Politics

To follow will be a series of articles from what would have been our current newsletter, The Humanist Advocate (Issue 1, 2017). Unfortunately, our production manager, John Simon, was unable to continue volunteering his time with us into the new year due to changes to his professional work load. Many thanks to John for his help this past year! However, that doesn't mean you have to miss the excellent reviews of our fall events by Board Member and reporter, Marty Bankson. Please enjoy!




September 17 (NOSHA's Humanist Advocate Newsletter)

Robert “Bob” Mann, Jr. — college instructor, author, and political columnist, has been living and writing politics for most of his career , but told me his talk on the subject at the September NOSHA meeting was a kind of test for him. It would be the first of several presentations he would be making to groups other than his classes of twenty-ish students--and he wasn’t sure how he might be received by older assemblies, being the liberal Democrat he is in red state Louisiana, which was at the time much like the rest of the country, engulfed in a polarized political atmosphere that was nearing the breaking point prior to the November Presidential elections.

***

As might be expected, he was received favorably by the group of mostly liberal-leaning humanists. His presentation was centered around the upcoming election, how political prognosticators come to their predictions about winners, and observations on the phenomenon of Trump’s ascendancy in national politics.

Trump’s nomination as the Republican candidate for President was unforeseen by just about every political pundit across the country, and challenged some of the foundations upon which they make predictions and handicap elections. “Common sense” is usually considered the overarching judge to which all other metrics stand before; and even it was betrayed by the outcome.

But a handful of conditions have nonetheless been shown historically to be reliably good indicators of predicting winners and losers in presidential races and remain principles in spite of this outlier. Mann included these, each with explanations and examples: Which party is in the White House, and for how long has it occupied it? Is the country on the right or wrong track? What is the current President’s approval rating? What are numbers on the economy? Which party? (the Democratic “Blue Wall” reliably delivers states totaling 242 electoral votes). Who has been in the news more? (More exposure doesn’t bode well--he used the analogy of the prison yard spotlight). Who’s going to turn out to vote? Of these, he and political scientists agree that the first may be the most important; and using that measure, would point to a statistical tie come election.

Mr. Mann allowed enough time with his talk to have an extended Q and A period of about 30 minutes in the meeting. A sampling: Do debates really have any effect on voters? He thinks most people watching debates have already decided and watch only to reinforce their choice. Another, more anxious questioner expressed concern that a Trump win may have negative repercussions on our basic democratic ways of governing, to which he responded that it was not likely, thanks to the system of checks and balances. However an important decision that could have regressive consequences would be the appointment of at least one Supreme Court justice, and possibly two or three. What about hacked voting machines, or just an overall rigging of the election, asked a pair of questioners. The fact that voting machines are not connected to the internet would make altering voting records impossible by that method. And the idea of a corrupt, systemic rigged election process, through voter fraud or other manipulation? Trump used this early on in his campaign, but abandoned it as his nomination was cinched and his poll numbers were climbing. (As fate would have it, with 3 weeks left before the election and the bottom falling out of his campaign, he revived that conspiracy with a vengeance, and went so far as refuse to commit to accepting as legitimate (in the event that he lost) the results of the election during questioning in the final debate.)

To some people, it may be “just politics”, but for analysts like Mann, sorting out the implications of that short, four-letter word has been a life’s work. Mann might even put it this way: “It depends on what your definition of ‘just’ is.”

~Marty Bankson

Friday, February 10, 2017

The Duty, the Irony: We're All in the Same Boat in More Ways than One


On November 7, 2016, most of us involved in the humanist end of secular, or non- or atheist activism, or to those with  just enough interest or curiosity about human rights issues, from race relations to sexual identity and much more,  probably started the day with a sense of a coming renewal of the confidence that went with recent legislation and court decisions, for the most part favorable, and a sense that the last bulwarks against an equal appreciation and respect for all groups were crumbling; and that our day had come, or least was within sight. The socially liberal Barack Obama was the aloof, “Just chill” enabler-in-chief. The President-in-the-wings, Hillary Clinton, was the heavy favorite to succeed him and continue steering the secular liberal Republic on the same course.


Then November 8th happened. A campaign of demagoguery played electoral vote of the many small rural states and population against the “blue wall” of the large coastal states and big city voters— and prevailed. The campaign that appealed to desperation, fear, false national pride, misogyny, hyper-masculinity, and racial and religious bigotry—parlayed with a widespread distrust of the opposition and her machine—was set to reverse the progress of the past few years—more likely decades, as it may well turn out. In the three weeks since the succession to power, the administration has been operating a manic machine of petty lies, vindictive personal insults, shameless attacks on the judicial branch, and daily degradations of the media—all the while signing executive orders as if they were the Make America Great Again ball caps at campaign rallies. Executive orders beginning with de-structuring AFA, cutting funding to organization providing abortions overseas, placing a hiring freeze the federal government, requiring two regulations struck for every new one added, approving the go-ahead of the Keystone pipeline, orders to review and recommend changes to Dodd-Frank financial regulations, ordering a report on military preparedness and threats from ISIS, and a ban on entry into the U. S. of travelers from seven predominately Muslim countries. The last has been the most contentious, though maybe not any more insidious than the rest, when all taken into account of one big, reactionary turn in policy ideology.

*** And the last one is perhaps the one secularists need most to concern themselves: are they themselves partially responsible for planting the seeds and tending the crop of  intolerance of Muslims? Do we share a responsibility as much as any Christo-fascist, or any rural church lady terrified by someone she has never even seen? It is true that radical Islamic factions have wreaked havoc across the world for the past 2 decades and has expressed a nihilistic evil in ways not seen before. These horrors have also served as easy-picking, low fruit for everyday atheists and  learned advocates of the supremacy the overriding jurisdiction of secular law alike; radicalized Muslims, almost single-handedly were a key to the rapid growth of the non-theist movement beginning in the mid-2000s. Also fueling what could easily be classified as “reaction” against religion during this growth period were fundamentalist and evangelical (American) Christians and Roman Catholic doctrine, though neither of the two (at the time) were involved in wholesale slaughter of non-combatant civilians. Theirs was (is) a more subtle meddling in public welfare (contraception bans by the Vatican), and ongoing attempts to hurdle the metaphorical wall of separation between church and state (opposing equal rights for non-traditional sexual relationships and identity) by fundamentalist Protestants. Perhaps ironically, the hew and cry by Christian fundamentalists against Islam in general after 9/11, with a cheerleading President Bush, together with the Islamic terror campaign, was a tipping point in deciding to get actively involved for yours truly. My conversion to non-belief had hibernated 30-odd years since college, but now I was d-o-n-e with these holy warriors—all of them. It was game on!

---------------------------------------------------

One of the original “Four Horsemen” of New Atheism, Sam Harris, and celebrity iconoclast and atheist Bill Maher are also known for anti-Muslim polemics and rhetoric over the past years. David Silverman, President of American Atheists, looks a little like a fundamentalist atheist (if there is such a thing). From his latest book Fighting God: An Atheist Manifesto for a Religious World, which he brought with him to a recent NOSHA talk, says
I’m sometimes called Islamophobic. And while I do admit to fearing some major factions of Islam, I don’t like the connotation or the politically correct assertion that such fear is irrational. Concerns about Islam are very different from, for example, concerns about Judaism because Islam is unique among religions today in posing a real threat to the human condition. I would go so far as to say an educated fear is a completely rational position.

NOSHA has no official statement or adopted policy on the subject, but its most used and viewed media, Facebook, has been a continuously charged magnet for Muhammed memes, links to bad behavior by ISIS, and the shame of burkas and girl brides. It’s easy, it’s uncontroversial, it's the echol chamber; and the material is easily found. We have all taken part. But I think now we have  seen where this could lead. A bigoted, racist, misogynistic, egomaniacal charlatan is the President. Harris and Maher, together in a very recent discussion realize we should rethink the wholesale condemnation of a religious group that restrict previously approved visas with even tougher regulations as the President called for. The latest issue of The Humanist (published by the American Humanist Association) has a topical essay subtitled “Humanism’s Role in Defending Human Rights and Civil Liberties.” And it seems from conversations and participation in the Women’s March and social media posts that most of those in our group are rightfully shocked that authoritarian attempts to restrict travel for religious reasons was proposed. If, for no other reason, all members of the non-theistic community would do well to practice an exercise in self-preservation and join in opposition to the bigotry against Muslims, as misdirected as we might find the religion of Islam itself. Those this should go without saying, we all have allowed our emotions to focus on the group and the individual rather than the ideal. But the current administration’s agenda is underwritten and becoming staffed with ideas and officials that could qualify as Christian fascists, and if there is a non-religious group about religion more reviled than religious Muslims and Jews, it is freethinkers, humanists, and atheists.

“From even the greatest of horrors irony is seldom absent.” H. P. Lovecraft

~Marty Bankson 

Sunday, February 5, 2017

A Dispatch from Kenner: Meeting Muslims for the First Time

Twenty four hours ago I attended a "Meet-A-Muslim" gathering in Kenner, Louisiana at the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community Center.

Every Wednesday from 6-7pm people of  "all faiths, or no faith" are invited for a short talk about the origin of that particular brand of Islam, listen to a short incantation from the Qoran view a short video and have the opportunity to ask any question that one might have concerning Islam.

Then you mingle while enjoying the most delicious cake and coffee.

Having been a refugee as a child, as well as an immigrant in my early adulthood, I very much feel the pain of those Muslims now denied entry into our country,

I am 81 years old, yet had never met a Muslim and I had been looking for an opportunity to do so. This is a really positive way to have contact with the hosts as well as other non-Muslim members of the community who want to make it clear that not all Americans are full of hatred of this particular religion.

I would encourage everybody to go and Meet-A-Muslim. It it will be worth your while.

~Chris Struppeck

Friday, January 6, 2017

NOSHA in 2017 - Hail and Farewell

As we move into a new year, we would like to remember and give many thanks to those who are stepping down and welcome those who have stepped up to help NOSHA with our organization going into 2017.

Both Grant Smith and Ricky Adams are leaving our board of directors after many terms of service. Smith has been a tireless volunteer at our monthly meetings handling our directional signs and Adams initiated the design and ongoing maintenance of our fun and functional website as well as being an enthusiastic "regular" at many of our social activities. Rita Premo finished her service in August as our board secretary and made herself indispensable by volunteering to take our out-of-town speakers on a tour of the city before our afternoon meetings.

Each one performed a vital role in the ongoing success of our operations and we couldn't have done it without them! We all wish them well in their new endeavors.

Our new members are Anne McKinley and Glenn Pearl who joined us in December and September respectively. McKinley brings a lot of organizational experience to the table and has already become instrumental in our Last Supper Dinner Club and our Book Discussion Group. Pearl will take over the general maintenance of our website and also has been a key organizer of our volunteer activity with Second Harvest Foodbank over the past couple of years.

We are very lucky to have them both!

Friday, December 23, 2016

Holiday Spirit by Audrey Coulter







This is a poem by NOSHA member, Audrey Coulter. She read it to attendees at our annual Winter Solstice party earlier this month and we thought it was so good that we should highlight it for everyone who couldn't be there!





I no longer believe in Christmas
Nativity scenes make me cringe
Halleluiah choruses assault my ears
Santa and elves bring me to tears

I once believed in the myth
Believed in peace, hope and love
Decked the largest evergreen tree
For all to see and complement me

I baked the puddings, pies and cakes
Wrapped and tied a mountain of presents
Tipped the postman and the teacher
Prayed in church with the eloquent preacher

But in my subconscious year after year
I began to understand my deepest fear
That all of this was a grand delusion
Resulting in profound confusion

While I am celebrating the season
The chaotic world fights wars without reason
Religions fight over which one is right
There’s no peace on earth this Christmas night

No more will I drink from the cup of mirth
Toasting the season and expanding my girth
Maxing my credit to give more and more
I’m turning it off and shutting the door

I’ll light a warm fire and reflect in the glow
Dream of a world tranquil and free
Where nations agree that war should cease
Where all are free and live in peace

Than like the old man that flies through the sky
I’ll open my wallet and give my best try
To assist those who need me and have much to fear
Now that’s the true Christmas year after year.