New Orleans Secular Humanist Association

NOSHA Blogspot - Contemporary resources for atheists and freethinkers in Louisiana

News... More or Less. Non-Fake

04/24/2017Since 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

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03/31/2017 (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’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

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Just a Walk in the Park

03/18/2017To 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.

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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

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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

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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 

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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

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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!

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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.

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The Joy of Politics: An Opinion from a Humanist

The recent Presidential campaign and election has revived a question about the role of NOSHA  when political issues steal quietly into our discussions, or when they smack us smartly across the face, as this grotesque campaign and its regrettable cast of candidates have. Are we a political group? Should our group be involved in politics? If no, why not, or why should it be; and if so, how much involvement is appropriate?

This much we do know without looking back at our history in this area or doing any soul searching about the “should” question: there are some limitations on what we can do. As a chartered 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, loosely categorized as a “charitable” organization, the IRS does not permit direct campaigning for or against candidates in an election, or endorsing or contributing to candidates. If found in violation, we could lose our tax exempt status. That is the worse case scenario and is usually applied only to flagrant or repeat offenders; but an excise tax could be levied and an infraction could still end up being costly. This only applies to the organization and officially sponsored activities—individuals within the group are free to do as they please as long as the group is not directly endorsing such participation. Legislative “action”, or lobbying, is not permitted if it is a “substantial part of its activity”. Read here about the restrictions and follow the links for definitions of “political and lobbying activities”.Beyond those specific regulations about campaigning for candidates and frequent lobbying, the field seems almost wide open about political activism. There are no restrictions on legislative and issue advocacy, which, together would cover just about any political activity imaginable— from demonstrating in front of a Planned Parenthood clinic, to holding placards on a busy boulevard alongside a shopping center, to offering opinions as a witness in a legislative education committee about the problems of laws allowing for religious interpretations of the origins of life on earth being given equal time in public schools. It could mean delivering a secular invocation at a city council meeting, or setting up a table in the rotunda of the state capital and speaking with legislators and civilians alike about some of our concerns about keeping religion out of the business of government officiating and laws. It could be participating in or observing a reading of Sinclair Lewis’ prophetic play on right wing populism based on his novel It Can’t Happen Here.

Except for the first, we have, as an organization, had representatives at each of these; and did not participate in the first only because it was cancelled by the officials of Planned Parenthood as being possibly provocative and counterproductive. So we do have a history.

History also shows that “education” might be a more apt description than “charity” when categorizing our programs; and the charity operation is more accurately a volunteer labor pool. The speakers we schedule and the educational programs we produce or take part in generally center around the common core of a worldview, or ideology, for living well while respecting our fellow humans and other lifeforms in our biodiverse and common home, Planet Earth. Humanism we call it, specifically secular humanism. The foundation for this worldview was established beginning with new approaches to scientific study and a philosophical optimism: the possibility that there were some absolute truths, and that new advances in sciences and the letters could make these truths knowable. Mankind would necessarily improve his lot accordingly with this knowledge . This movement began in the 16th Century and continued to the 18th  came to be called The Enlightenment. Secular humanism holds that the knowledge that leads to truth is discoverable in the natural world and documentable with the aid of the rational human mind; but warned that a pursuit of knowledge based on revelation from supernatural beings or the tutelage of ancient mythological tales will lead nowhere but backward.

A humanist ideology may, in a nutshell, be characterized as a union of two concepts of liberty philosopher Isaiah Berlin wrote of in 1958. The human citizen of the world would be the embodiment and balance of 1) having certain protections from other individuals or state taking away choices or placing constraints on her; and, at the same time 2) having the freedom to be her own autonomous agent, living and flourishing as the director of her own pursuits. This ideal arrangement may be a contrivance in the evolution of human thought in an expanding population whose stability was becoming more dependent on a variety of social constructions, but it does not mean it is not natural or that it and cannot succeed. This is the intersection of a progressive secular humanism and politics, because politics is the vehicle for dispensing or withholding rights, freedoms, and justice among divergent interests.

It would follow from this that humanism, and especially secular humanism, would come a-courting the power of politics. Without the vehicle to propose and construct such a complicated rights-based framework for improving the quality of life, humanism would remain as only another idea floating around in a nebulous land of broken dreams, unlived afterlives, and visions of fantasy from religious and mythological deities. Secular humanism needs a particularly cozy relationship to stay planted in terra firma and its polis, because from that aforementioned  ephemeral land emerge very natural-looking and convincing prophets of mysterious gods, well equipped to slick talk the virtues of theocracy. A more politicized version of our local chapter of secular humanists may be necessary not simply to keep alive the promise and actuality of a humanist world, but to work against the new administration’s troubling visions and venomous threats of compromised rights and opportunities expressed during the campaign. Federal court appointments and cabinet heads that share their leader’s nationalist notions of returning to the greater country that America was in days past is not a conservative idea, but a reactionary one. We need to aid and assist in coalitions with groups that are potential targets of scorn and  repression, including Muslims. (There, I’ve said it.) Mexicans. Pakistanis, Jews and Black Americans. Homeless Syrians and Hondurans. Women’s and LGBTQ rights have always been works in progress but now become even more tenuous. For that matter, the atheist and secular community could be subject to more scrutiny and derision, particularly if they get too vocal, if the executive and legislative branches cave to much more influence from the religious right.  We need to defend the premise of dignity communicated through standards of common decency known pejoratively as political correctness. We need to resist the temptation to normalize the rogues’ gallery of white supremacists set to run this country.

Political activism is not for everyone, conservative or liberal, maybe including many in this group. But in this unknown and unprecedented environment, it looks to be a necessity for assisting in the conservation of the pinnacle of American law: The Bill of Rights. The amount or depth of political involvement should be the only real question here: how much can you do?

—Marty Bankson

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On Reading, Drama, and Advisories

10/30/2016When is a theatrical production not a play? When it is a reading, with  script readers  taking the place of actors and reading—while either seated or standing—the dialogue of a play written for actors by the playwright, and without a designed set or choreographed movement and action across a stage. It is still a theatrical production, but one stripped to the bare bones of voice. 

Five of the 13 players sitting in a closely packed row of chairs in front of the conference room-turned-theater at Jefferson Parish Regional Library in Metairie were members and directors of NOSHA in what was a special invitation to participate in a reading of Sinclair Lewis’ play It Can’t Happen Here on. The occasion was the 80th anniversary of its release; the play was adapted and distributed by the Berkeley Repertory Theater. Berkeley Rep, a non-profit community theater established in 1968 is currently running the complete theatrical version of the play at its home base in California through November 6.  It was a special invitation for JPL and our own secular humanist group to participate, as it was one of the fewer that 50 venues in the country that hosted and produced the event on the evening of October 24th.  

The story was a preview into what America could look like if democracy succumbed to a political solution lead by a nationalist demagogue. Getting his gloomy inspiration from the election of Hitler in Germany and the rising influence of Louisiana’s populist Governor and Senator Huey P. Long, Lewis followed the career of small town Vermont journalist Doremus Jessup, who, though deeply motivated by the ideals of truth and justice, delayed getting involved in the growing movement that elevated a folksy charmer, a fictionalized authoritarian Long named Buzz Windrip. Windrip ends up winning the nomination of the Democratic Party, and is set to run for (and win) the Presidency against the Republican Trowbridge and Franklin Roosevelt (who ended up running on a third party ticket after losing the Democratic nomination).

Library program director Chris Smith introduced the program and narrated the settings between acts and scenes of the play. Curiously the readers were never introduced to the audience individually; time constraints may have been the reason: the reading took a full two hours, pushing the ending right up against library closing time. The readers seemed well-rehearsed—they spoke with just the right amount of dramatic inflection and were on cue most of the program, though the vocal projection of several waxed and waned at times. There were more characters in the script that performers, so some were required to do multiple parts. It could be a bit confusing if the observer wasn’t familiar with the storyline, especially with no action on a stage or costume changes to help visually associate the different characters.

Probably a more significant motivation than the 80th anniversary for Berkeley Rep’s staff to re-release the program was the current Presidential election campaign and to confirm that, yes, it could happen here. The rise of presidential candidate Donald Trump has uncovered an undertow of a new and septic populism—a populism founded on nationalism and some degrees of xenophobia and racism—and has found in Trump, warts and all, a bona fide advocate. Lewis’ story includes Windrip’s paramilitary Minute Men to deal with dissidents; Trump’s deportation force will be assigned to sort out the rapists and drug dealing illegals and place them on the right side of his Mexican-funded, beautiful wall. A probable adaptation by the Berkeley writers has Windrip reveling at a rally about how protesters were handled in the good old days. The historical Father Coughlin’s and his incendiary anti-semitic radio rhetoric becoming an ally of Long-Windrip parallels the evangelical Grahams’, Falwells', and Robertsons’ current romance with strongman Trump. The boorish everyday Donald we see is merely a simulacrum of the master wheeler-dealer of foreign trade, the ultimate job creator, and Isis-slayer Generalissimo Trump that he has cultivated and grown "bigly" with assistance from a ratings/profit-driven media. The power of the media in shaping pseudo-leaders and charlatans was a major factor in the rise of yokel Lonesome Rhodes, portrayed by Andy Griffith in the 1958 film A Face in the Crowd, who also had a bad mouth/hot microphone problem, which cost him dearly.

The program of It Can’t Happen Here on the Berkeley Repertory Theater website has the following advisory:

It Can’t Happen Here includes the use of herbal cigarettes, haze, and gunshot sound effects. Berkeley Rep offers an advisory about any stage effect of potential concern to patrons’ health. We don’t offer advisories about subject matter, as sensitivities vary from person to person. If you have any concerns about content, please contact the box office.

For those having seen enough of the similarities already, a trigger warning might indeed have been welcomed. Or at least, please, a caution about a possible circuit overload.  But to those who are just about done at this point, and are happy to just plug their ears and hum along with with this 50 year-old ditty from The Mothers of Invention, this advisory: Don't do it.


 Now, please, introducing our troupe, with kudos and congratulations to: Beth Deitch, Jim Dugan, William Gautreaux, Anne McKinley, and Charlotte Klasson.

~Marty Bankson

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I'm a Humanist Because...

I'm a Humanist Because...
 I am a humanist because we need to embrace the natural world.
25 December 2013 | 3:37 am