Tuesday, May 23, 2017


NOSHA Meets in Remote Livingston Location to Learn About LIGO  

Dimples in Spacetime
Many, if not most of the advances in the discipline of science and its utilitarian child technology have come from man’s ability to devise new ways to observe, measure and record the physical world around him—and the worlds beyond his own.

At last count, there are five space observatories in Louisiana, all but one resemble the image most visualize when hearing the term, of an igloo- or dome-shaped building with a the barrel of a telescope jutting out at an angle. It works on the very old math of focal lengths and the craft of lens making. Thanks to this measuring stick (and Galileo, of course) we know that we are not at the center of our solar system, much less the universe.

The fifth space observatory is an example of a new way to observe nature. It was conceived, designed, and constructed for the purpose of observing, unlike telescopes, phenomena that are invisible. And not only invisible, but, at the time, were only known to exist as a necessary consequence of Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity. The phenomena are gravitational waves, the ripples in spacetime proposed by the theory that undulate outward from a large celestial events.

In April, about fifty NOSHA members went on a field trip to the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory (LIGO) ten miles or so north of Livingston, La., for their monthly educational meeting, and got a first hand experience and tour of how it works. The LIGO operation is funded by the National Science Foundation and operated by Caltech and MIT universities, with assistance from students and staff from LSU. An identical facility is located in Hanford, Washington; the idea being that with two observatories, any errors in measurements at either location—false positives—caused by local conditions or glitches would be cancelled by the other.

In the Control Room
LIGO began taking its first measurements in 2005, and made upgrades to the facility in 2015, which included the Science Education Center, a building designed for the general public with an auditorium, classroom, pre-control room area, and exhibit hall with about 50 interactive exhibits. The NOSHA group spent time with the hands-on giant, suspended slinky, bobbing and wagging their heads following the  pendulum apparatus, trying to determine the heat source from a large concave mirror, and other exhibits while waiting for the guided part of the tour.
DIY Physics
The guide walked about half of us (our group was split up due the the numbers and others outside of the group mixed in) to the main building where a short film was presented, followed by a visit to the central control room of the complex. Banks of monitors, almost floor to ceiling on three walls looked down on the three or four operators staffing the control. The operators seemed unfazed by the crunch of tourists that squeezed in the the tight space down the center aisle and around their desks and were prompted by the guide to take questions from the guide. (There always seems to be a smart ass in these open question sessions, who purposefully ask a very technical question that would possibly leave a technician without an answer, thereby showing off his own expertise on the subject. Our group had one.) One of our members commented later that this part of the tour might better be served with a more dramatized presentation of goings-on with the maze of data displayed in the monitors and work being done by the operators rather than allowing questioners wander down rabbit holes with their abstruse musings.

So how do we observe something we cannot see (or is not detectable by any of our other four basic senses)? This is possible by observing the effects the phenomenon. In the case of the LIGO observatory, two 4-kilometer arms resembling inverted concrete half-pipes radiate at a 90° angle from a common point from within which a laser beam is sent traversing through a vacuum tube and reflected back to the center by suspended ultra fine mirror.
The passage of a gravitational wave alters the length of the tubes, causing a difference in the time it takes for the beam to travel, and shows up as a slightly out of phase wave length.

Heading toward the Vanishing Point
On September 14, 2015, such a disturbance was noted with the observatory in Livingston, and then, milliseconds later, at the Washington installation. By triangulation, the origin of the wave is determined, and the result agreed with a  previous observation of the merging of two black holes over a billion years ago. “Slightly” is a vague and greatly understated term to describe the actual measurement: the variation amount to a mere 1/1000th of the diameter of a proton was all there was on the wavelengths. The precision involved in locating the mirrors to this degree of measurement is almost incomprehensible, as well as the technology to assure that the foundations in the ground were perfectly level; the concrete base poured to offset the curvature of the Earth, which would be a significant factor for error, even over the relatively short 2.5 mile length. Another wave was observed on December 26 of the same year at both locations. One gets a feel for the sensitivity of the equipment upon entering the facility. The two-lane road is lined on both sides and down the middle with traffic cones and the posted speed limit of 10 mph about a quarter mile before arriving at the main entry and guard shack. Some restrictions on tours are in effect to minimize traffic vibrations.

NOSHA brought a few scientists and engineers of  our own!
Some philosophers of science have pointed out that in the course of building new devices for observing natural phenomena-—even though the original conception may be sound and the intentions admirable-—may have biases built into them, causing them to yield results that they were specifically designed to observe or validate. Understandably, an area where the actual phenomenon remains invisible to the human sensory apparatus, doubt about the validity of positive results can persist, even among those involved in the project. Einstein himself waffled on his own idea, at least once publicly doubting the existence of the gravitational waves. But to Rainer Weiss, who by 1972 had drawn up a design for these long-armed “antennae” as a way to catch lightning in a bottle, a Nobel Prize may soon be on its way, and the burden of disproof remains on the skeptics.

Thanks to Charlotte for putting this together and everyone who helped with the carpooling!

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Together we lost our great friend and mentor, Harry Greenberger ( June 22, 1927 - May 3, 2017 )

Marshall Harris addressed the audience at the monthly May 20 program of NOSHA and we felt this was a wonderful statement to share with everyone who knew and loved Harry.

Harry was the most unique of friends in his way of giving, his honesty and sincerity.

I don't think I'll ever come across a friend quite like him ever again in my lifetime.

He lived his life his way.

He pretty much took charge of every aspect, even his exit.

Harry had accomplish many things in his 90 years, but ultimately it was NOSHA, The New Orleans Secular Humanist Association that gave him great joy in his life.

He told me many times how he had always wanted to create an organization where people who felt alone in their thinking could come together to feel a part of something that would keep them from that loneliness.  He wanted nonbelievers to have a place where they could be around like-minded people, and could share, discuss their thoughts and views freely, without judgment or ridicule.  

He knew it would be tough because there was nothing like that available back during the time he began NOSHA. Not to mention there being such a stigma out there about Atheists, Humanists, nonbelievers under any name, your choice.

Harry said to me one morning while I drove him to his very first New Orleans City Council Secular Invocation…

"I don't want to rid the world of religion, I just want my seat at the table, when all others are asked to gather."

He said… "There are lots of people,Marshall, really good people, that simply need religion to function in their life."

"I don't want to take that comfort from anyone. I just want to be respected for my not wanting or needing religion in my life."

Watching Harry I've learned... If you really want people to accept you for who you are, you need to approach them as a gentleman.  If you come across as a screaming radical, you just don't get the same result. You'd be surprised how the gentleman's approach will open doors, and even sometimes have your chair waiting for you to arrive at that gathering table.

The simple proof his way worked was how at first he had to push and really wedge his way in, to even have a secular invocation considered at the City Council of New Orleans, but later after hearing his eloquent words that very first time, Harry was then invited to do so several times thereafter.
These small victories made him so proud.  He was making a difference in some way.

With his television program "The Humanist Perspective".  His regular appearances giving secular invocations to open the daily business of the City Council of New Orleans', and with you, NOSHA, Harry has accomplished something very unique. He made a difference.

If we look around here now, we see a room full of people here today that would not be gathered here, or even know each other at all, if it were not for one man's vision.  Harry Greenberger's hopes have come true.  We are not alone here today... now are we.

I'd like to take this time to thank Charlotte Klasson, who was there next to me when I needed a friend the most.  I appreciate and love her so much for loving Harry and continuing to carry on his life's work so wonderfully as President of NOSHA.

I thank you NOSHA, for being Harry's incredible extended family. He loved you all very much and was so proud to speak of this organization wherever he went.

He wanted me to give you this special gift of $10,000.00, in hopes you guys will continue to work together, keeping his dream alive by reaching out and letting more and more people know NOSHA is here for them.  Letting non-believers know... "they are not alone."

All My Love & Gratitude,

Saturday, May 6, 2017

New Orleans Has a (Plastic) Trash Problem

Max Ciolino with
No Waste NOLA
The ubiquitous plastic grocery bag, with high tensile strength disguised in its tissue paper sheer, along with water bottles and coated aluminum cans, is deservedly near the bullseye of environmentalists’ target for elimination. New Orleanians go through 225 such bags PER DAY, which comes to nearly 2.5 billion in a typical year. No Waste NOLA was a part of the larger coalition Louisiana Reusable Bag Alliance supporting a city ordinance which would have placed a ten-cent fee on non-recyclable plastic bags. The ordinance was withdrawn in September 2016 by councilwomen Guidry and Cantrell, who introduced it, as it appeared to have little support. There is a well-funded lobby opposing placing fees or reducing consumption of non-recyclables. The reasoning is that such restrictions would be “job killers,” but the underlying agenda is corporate profit. State legislator Paul Hollis attempted to introduce a bill in the state house earlier that year which would have prohibited New Orleans from imposing fees on their use, which probably also was a clue to the opposition in conservative, pro-business Louisiana and the councilwomen’s decision to withdraw it. From the Texas-size Great Pacific Garbage Patch (formally know as the North Pacific subtropical gyre) where water bottles, styrofoam cups, and wrappers float, trapped in an spinning cesspool of “single use” packages, to the invisible chemical reaction to human hormonal systems from bisphenol-a (BPA) and pthalates on newborns, to the image of the dead albatross in the Midway atoll, its partially decomposed body revealing plastic bottle caps and disposable lighters it had ingested, we have a constant reminder that “jobs” will be irrelevant on a dead planet.
The month of March brought NOSHA  members and supporters back to their meeting home base, the East Bank Regional Jefferson Parish Library, for the first time since November of last year. The annual Winter Solstice party during the holiday season and the unsettling changes in the national political  outlook in January, along with renovations to our meeting space and the usual Mardi Gras break,  all contributed to our three month absence from the venue.

For our first full meeting of the year, Max Ciolino, a local attorney and president of the advocacy group No Waste NOLA introduced the screening of the 2010 documentary film Bag It! Is Your Life Too Plastic? and followed the hour-long film with an open discussion about the scope of the local plastic pollution problem and his group’s efforts to reduce it by working through city and local  governments.

Usually arguments against “job-killing regulations" favoring a cleaner environment are never balanced (in their makers’ minds) against cases of animal and human life preservation without them. The accumulating disaster of the petrochemical products that we throw away is in plain sight—maybe not in your backyard, but somewhere else on the planet—because there is no “away”, toward which shit can be thrown, other than another part of the planet. Degraded organics may fall apart and end up being ground into topsoils or sinking to ocean floors, but there they enter fresh water supplies and food chains. In Bag It!, film director Susan Beraza balanced the apparent apocalyptic consequences of a throw-away consumer culture left unchanged with a light-hearted—at times, almost comedic—role of the documentary’s protagonist Jeb Berrier, who is on a mission to do his part by eliminating these plastics from his life (and others, as well) showing the process of his awakening and education about the problem. Jeb and partner were expecting the birth of their first child in the narrative, which made for a clever allegory of the life-death-rebirth cyclical mythos of the ancients. His easy going portrayal did not, however, marginalize the enormity of the problem.

Monday, April 24, 2017

News... More or Less. Non-Fake

Since the recent retirement of the production manager at the Humanist Advocate, (NOSHA's quarterly newsletter) the editors will use this blog to report on the recent goings-on with our group—official events or impromptu get-togethers, or co-participation with other groups' events. Many thanks to John Simon for putting up with Charlotte and me for nearly two years, and good luck to him and his career. If anyone has the experience and software tools to design and publish to the web a four-page newsletter letter every three months, please contact either of us about a chance to sharpen your skills and burnish your image as a dedicated freethinking volunteer!


Jennifer Porter
For the past several years, February has been set aside for a celebration of Charles Darwin's birthday, February 12. Since February is usually the month Mardi Gras falls, the celebration, in the form of an educational forum of several speakers covering evolution and other related science topics, has been a good fit for the end of the holiday season and getting the new year jumpstarted.

Except this year. This year, every humanist, every social liberal, and every science advocate and human rights champion came face-to-face with a sense of dread not many had experienced before, caused the election of a United States President with one of the most unworthy agendas of nationalist hubris, racial and religious exclusion, and climate and environmental disregard not seen since the days when the world was going nuts with fascism The board of directors for NOSHA decided to take the month of the inauguration as an appropriate time for mourning and reflection, scheduling only an informal group discussion, since several others in management had chosen to join forces with nation-(world-)wide Women's March scheduled Saturday, January 21, the day following the official Inauguration Day in Washington, D.C. Beth Deitch led the discussion theme "Secular Humanism 2017: Where Do We Go from Here?". Over thirty made their way to Loyola University to sit in and participate on the topic. Meanwhile, on the other side of town—

...and the other suffragettes
From Washington Square in the Marigny, NOSHA members Jennifer and Ricky Porter, Michelle Abeyta and I hung together for the march all the way across the French Quarter, through the CBD, and ending up at Duncan Plaza, where Charlotte Klasson was holding down the info table for NOW (National Organization for Women) alongside the pavilion. Joyce and Dave Thomas and Jim Dugan were also among the other verified Unholy Strollers, as well as Adam and Ariel Kay, who were met along the way; but NOSHA's group remained mainly separated in the unanticipated large crowd of 10-15 thousand.


Charles Darwin's traditional role as subject and centerpiece for our January event may have been postponed, but it was not forgotten. His memory was a fine excuse to enjoy a a pint or glass of wine, even though excuses for toasting are hardly required in New Orleans—much less at the run-up to Mardi Gras. After a few suggestions at an earlier planning meeting, a "social" at Monkey Hill Bar in Uptown, complete with a cake was set for Sunday, February 12.

Photographer arrives one slice
 too late!
As watering holes go in the Crescent City, Monkey Hill was quite civilized—unusually comfortable, in fact, with over half of the area furnished with sofas and cocktail tables and overstuffed armchairs, and warm, ambient lighting accenting the hunter green walls—although the early Sunday afternoon time may have contributed some to the relaxed atmosphere.

A dozen or two members and supporters turned out, several from out of town, including Douglas and Yvette Parfait of Slidell, Jon Kennedy from down-da-bayou Cut Off, La., friend Chris from JPL, and a follower who made it all the way from Baton Rouge.

Ms. Beth!
Ms. Rose!

Tall tales and bad romance find a welcome home in public drinkeries. A story was overheard about Darwin's misadventure into the Gulf of Mexico. Navigational errors, ill winds and ocean currents steered the helm and blew the sails of H.M.S. Beagle into the Gulf of Mexico and up the mouth of the Mississippi River, eventually to dock at the port of New Orleans. After several days of observing the native population, a sizable a percentage of which was considered the "property" of the rest, it was rumored that C.D. was on the verge of reformulating his theory after plugging in the data sets he gathered there.

Will, Thomas, Charlotte, Jim

Smiths, Schultze

But all jokes aside, NOSHAns know he had it right from the beginning; but we still need to work around that Mardi Gras thing to get his birthday tribute on a more regular schedule.

See ya in a few...Marty Bankson

Friday, March 31, 2017


 (Another newsletter submission from our November 19 meeting)

Sally Jackson was, at different times, a band director, trumpet player, and professional photographer before she moved to New Orleans from Houston and subsequently began to express herself through writing novels and poetry. That was also the time she transitioned at the mature age of of 57, though she had known she was different at the age of four. Caroline L’huillier was born into a military family two months premature on All Saint’s Day, and thus had a special remembrance of Halloween, when she liked costuming as woman. She married and had a child, but could no longer keep her identity from her wife, and the marriage was ended. She spent 18 years enlisted in the military herself, but was ignobly discharged because of her sexuality. Maxx Sizeler knew at three he wanted to marry a girl; he knew he was different, but decided on taking the process slowly, spending half of his life in the gay community. He finally had chest surgery, and has spent the other half in the trans community.

NOSHA members got an introduction to one of the newest human rights issues that has been gaining ground in the quest for resolution in media and cultural discussions and political legislation—transgender sexuality. It has typically been bunched together with gay, lesbian, and other non-traditional sexual orientations, but was the topic of a panel discussion “Transgender 101” at the November meeting in Metairie. The three panelists backgrounds were as varied as their experiences; but there was a common thread of the rational, intellectual decision-making on initiating the transition process to the gender identity each knew was the only correct one. But the transgender cause remains one with no national spokesperson; and the legal support groups are in their infancy.

Religious or just conservative lawmakers and enforcers seem to have their heels dug in against what is the last barrier for hetero- and cis-gender bigotry have to defend. Jackson said that even though the name changes, employment opportunities, and public accommodations are difficult, the emotional changes are the hardest of all, even with the best reasoned plans. When asked about Caitlyn Jenner, the Olympic gold medalist decathlete and current co-matriarch of the celebrity (famous for being famous) family, the Kardashians, Jackson said she was really not typical because of the money and celebrity, but that she should be given a chance.

L’huiller became emotional as she said it would have been so much easier for herself to have remained the sex her body agreed with, but…She then continued with an introductory overview of the terminology everyone needs to know: cis- and transgender; gender identity vs. gender expression, sexuality, and the “gray area” that most people could be placed in—one’s identity and expression are never black and white. And sexuality (who your really loved loving) adds another element to the complexity. Caroline updated the definition of the procedures that had previously be termed “sex change ” to “gender confirmation”— which makes much more sense. She herself had agonized on going through with it, but realized immediately after waking up in the hospital room she had done the right thing.

Sizeler addressed a question about the same topic from another perspective: “When I hear the word transsexual, I think of changing one’s genitalia. Is that always to be expected?” asked one from the audience. “No,” said Sizeler, “...that change is no longer that important...it’s not about what’s between your legs but what’s up here,” he said pointing to his head.

A young lady in the audience from a more rural suburb asked what the panel would recommend for support for a young person who would be dealing with parents, friends, and schoolmates. Jackson and L’huillier recommended Louisiana Trans Advocates, which has been around for about 6 years and has 1250 members. Support groups like this one will be essential, along with other non-specific human rights and humanist groups to overcome the societal stigma and all its dehumanizing consequences placed on these brave souls who were born with bodies unrepresentative of their true sexuality.

~Marty Bankson

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