Rose In Morning Light photo by Todd
From TODD WALTON
Under The Table Books
The following is a revamped version of Falling Behind, an article I first published in 2011. I was moved to revisit this article while listening to a piano tune of mine on YouTube called What Comes Around.
In 1983, as the trajectory of my writing success was turning steeply downward, my humorless Hollywood agent gave me an ultimatum. “Get an answering machine or find another agent.” Thus I became one of the last people in America to discover the joys of screening my calls.
In the early days of owning an answering machine, I especially enjoyed making long rambling outgoing messages. Most of the people who called me seemed to enjoy hearing those messages a few times, after which they would urge me to change them lest they go mad. Thus I got in the habit of making new outgoing messages every couple days, which habit caused my regular callers to complain I was erasing good messages before their friends got to hear them.
Then one day I made an outgoing message that went viral before the phenomenon of something going viral existed. I’m speaking about a time before the ascendancy of the interweb, which was not very long ago, but now seems prehistoric. And I tell you, if by some miracle I could remember that message and put it on YouTube today accompanied by a movie of a woman walking on the beach with her dog, or a movie of three cute kids making cookies from scratch, or a movie of a man reading a book with a cat on his lap (with my piano music as soundtrack)—I have no doubt the message would go viral again and I would become famous and wealthy from hundreds of millions of hits and links and apps and downloads and streams and billions of pennies such prodigious sharing and streaming would bring me.
Sadly or ironically or luckily, I only remember the feeling of that once-in-a-lifetime message, not the words. The feeling was one of deep contentment—of thoroughly enjoying the moment. I recall the day was sunny and warm, my office flooded with light, and I remember being massaged from head to toe by the feeling—the knowing—that simply being alive was a profoundly fulfilling adventure.
Within a few days of recording my message, the phone was ringing off the hook. Many of my friends called multiple times so their friends could have a listen, and then I started getting calls from people I did not know, people who had heard about the message from friends of my friends. And over the next few weeks I got hundreds of calls from all over America and around the world—people calling to hear my outgoing message and leave responses.
Legendary Cosmologist Martin Rees on Science, Religion, and the Future of Post-Human Intelligence . “Fundamental physics shows how hard it is for us to grasp even the simplest things in the world. That makes you quite skeptical whenever someone declares he has the key to some deeper reality.”
“We have a hunger of the mind which asks for knowledge of all around us, and the more we gain, the more is our desire,”trailblazing astronomer Maria Mitchell observed in contemplating science, religion, and our conquest of truth at the end of the nineteenth century. “If we ever reach the point where we think we thoroughly understand who we are and where we came from, we will have failed,”Carl Sagan wrote a century later in his exquisite meditation on science and spirituality. And yet the longing for stable answers and thorough understanding — or, as Hannah Arendt memorably framed it, the propensity for asking unanswerable questions — might be one of the hallmarks of our species. After all, for as long as modern science has existed, scientists have attempted to answer such unanswerable questions by trying to either reconcile science and religion, like Galileo did in defending his theories against the Inquisition and Ada Lovelace did in considering the interconnectedness of the universe, or at least to relegate them to different realms of inquiry.
Adding to the canon of these meditations is the celebrated English cosmologist and astrophysicist Sir Martin Rees — the last European court astronomer in his position as Astronomer Royal to the House of Windsor and science adviser to the Queen of England.
In We Are All Stardust: Leading Scientists Talk About Their Work, Their Lives, and the Mysteries of Our Existence (public library) — Austrian physicist, essayist, and science journalist Stefan Klein’s fantastic compendium of interviews, which also gave us Nobel-winning physicist Steven Weinberg on simplicity, complexity, and the unity of the universe — Rees reflects on his rather unusual entry point into the question of science and spirituality:
From Church and State
For millennia, female inferiority was presumed, and mandated, in virtually every human culture. Through most of history, the brawn of heavier males gave them dominance, leaving women in lesser status – often mere possessions of men, confined to the home, rarely educated, with few rights.
Many were forced to wear veils or shrouds when outdoors, and they couldn’t go outside without a male relative escort. Fathers kept their daughters restricted, then chose husbands who became their new masters.
Sometimes the husbands also had several other wives. In a few cultures, unwanted baby girls were left on trash dumps to die.
In Ancient Greece, women were kept indoors, rarely seen, while men performed all public functions. Women couldn’t attend schools or own property. A wife couldn’t attend male social events, even when her husband staged one at home. Aristotle believed in “natural slaves” and wrote that females are lesser creatures who must be cared for, as a farmer tends his livestock.
Up through medieval times, daughters were secondary, and inheritances went to firstborn sons. Male rule prevailed. Anthropologists have searched for exceptions, with little success – except possibly some Iroquois tribes in Canada, where women reportedly had some rights.
In the 1930s, the famed Margaret Mead thought she found a female-led group in New Guinea, but she later reversed her conclusion and wrote: “All the claims so glibly made about societies ruled by women are nonsense. We have no reason to believe that they ever existed…. Men everywhere have been in charge of running the show.”
From Friendly Atheist
People in the United States might be more politically divided than any other time in recent memory, but what’s causing it? According to a new study, religious groups could be a part of the problem.
Researchers found that religious leaders are even more politically divided than the majority of Americans — including people in their own congregations — with certain denominations (such as Unitarians and Reform Jews) leaning extremely Democratic and others (such as evangelical Christians and Baptists) considered “overwhelmingly republican.”
The authors of the survey, called Partisan Pastor: The Politics of 130,000 American Religious Leaders, also noted that congregational religious leaders are “elite influencers” that affect the attitudes and behaviors of ordinary Americans.
From The Book of Life
‘Stoicism’ was a philosophy that flourished for some 400 years in Ancient Greece and Rome, gaining widespread support among all classes of society. It had one overwhelming and highly practical ambition: to teach people how to be calm and brave in the face of overwhelming anxiety and pain.
We still honour this school whenever we call someone ‘stoic’ or plain ‘philosophical’ when fate turns against them: when they lose their keys, are humiliated at work, rejected in love or disgraced in society. Of all philosophies, Stoicism remains perhaps the most immediately relevant and useful for our uncertain and panicky times.
Many hundreds of philosophers practiced Stoicism but two figures stand out as our best guides to it: the Roman politician, writer and tutor to Nero, Seneca (AD 4-65); and the kind and magnanimous Roman Emperor (who philosophised in his spare time while fighting the Germanic hordes on the edges of the Empire), Marcus Aurelius (AD 121 to 180). Their works remain highly readable and deeply consoling, ideal for sleepless nights, those breeding grounds for runaway terrors and paranoia.
Stoicism can help us with four problems in particular:
At all times, so many terrible things might happen. The standard way for people to cheer us up when we’re mired in anxiety is to tell us that we will, after all, be OK: the embarrassing email might not be discovered, sales could yet take off, there might be no scandal…
But the Stoics bitterly opposed such a strategy, because they believed that anxiety flourishes in the gap between what we fear might, and what we hope could, happen. The larger the gap, the greater will be the oscillations and disturbances of mood.
From TODD WALTON
Under The Table Books
“Of all the lessons I have learned from the natural world, the most compelling is this: thousands of different kinds of us are here, doing what we must to meet our basic needs. Our methods are different, but our object is the same.” Elizabeth Marshall Thomas
There has been much news lately, locally and around the state, about mountain lions eating cats and dogs. How local? This morning we got word from a neighbor (a hundred yards away) that a trio of big pumas had just emerged from the forest and strolled across her driveway.
A new report by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife reveals the stomach contents of 83 mountain lions were composed largely of cats, dogs, and other domesticated animals. And of the lions examined, only 5 per cent had eaten deer.
When my sister lived in Los Angeles in the 1980s, she had two big beautiful cats. When those cats were three-years-old, my sister witnessed a huge hawk snatch one them off her patio; and a few days later she watched the other cat killed by a coyote twenty feet from her house.
Which is to say, not only mountain lions eat cats and dogs.
From JEFF COX
Organic Food Guy
The conventional food companies still claim that there’s no difference between organic and conventional food regarding nutritional content. The way they put it is: organic food is no better for you than conventional and in fact, could make you sick. They claim that there are absolutely no scientific studies that show organic food to be nutritionally superior.
All of this is, of course, lies. (Yes, lies. It’s one thing to get your facts wrong by mistake, and it’s quite another to get them wrong on purpose. The latter is called lying, and Big Ag has been doing it for decades.) The evidence for organic superiority has been shown over and over again for many years. But now new studies are making it more and more obvious that the old canards against organic food are baseless. To wit:
A multi-disciplinary research team from Washington State University conducted a two-year study that made side-by-side comparisons of 13 conventional and 13 organic strawberry farms in California. The study analyzed 31 chemical and biological soil properties and the taste, nutrition, and quality of berries from each farm. Researchers in the fields of agroecology, soil science, microbial ecology, genetics, pomology, food science, sensory science, and statistics comprised the study team. The findings included:
From Valerie Tarico
The world has watched in horror while members of ISIS justify the next mass murder or icy execution with words from the Quran, followed by shouts of Allahu Akbar—God is the greatest! If beliefs have any power whatsoever to drive behavior—and as a psychologist I think they do—there can be little doubt that the Quran’s many endorsements of violence play a role in how exactly ISIS has chosen to pursue religious and political dominion.
At the same time, it should be equally clear a sacred text filled with violence is insufficient to trigger mass brutality unless other conditions are present as well. Culture, empathy, education and empowerment—and other factors that scholars understand only in part—appear to have a protective influence, safeguarding even most fundamentalists against the worst teachings of their own tradition. We know this in part because the Bible contains commandments and stories that are as horrific as those being used to justify butchery in Iraq and Syria.
The following 30 violent exhortations are a mix, drawn from Jewish, Christian, and Muslim scriptures. The generic word God is used for all deity names, and names of places or people have been replaced with generic terms. How well do you know your Torah, Bible, or Quran and Hadith? Can you tell which is which? Give it a try and then check the key at the bottom.
This is a list of people associated with the Salem witch trials, a series of hearings and prosecutions of people accused of witchcraft in colonial Massachusetts between February 1692 and May 1693. The trials resulted in the executions of twenty people, most of them women.
Surnames in parentheses preceded by “née” indicate birth family maiden names (if known) of married women, who upon marriage generally took their husbands’ surnames. Due to the low population of the Massachusetts North Shore at the time of the trials, a significant percentage of local residents were related to other local residents through descent or by marriage. Many of the witchcraft accusations were driven at least in part by acrimonious relations between the families of the plaintiffs and defendants. Unless otherwise specified, dates provided in this list use Julian-dated month and day but New Style-enumerated year (i.e., years begin on January 1 and end on December 31, in the modern style).
- Elizabeth Booth
- Elizabeth Hubbard – servant of Dr William Griggs, local physician
- Mercy Lewis – servant of Thomas Putnam; former servant of George Burroughs
- Elizabeth “Betty” Parris – daughter of the Rev. Samuel Parris
- Ann Putnam, Jr. – daughter of Thomas Putnam and Ann Putnam, Sr.
- Mary Warren
- Abigail Williams – cousin of Betty Parris
- John Earls (son of Parker Earls)
On this date in 1959, James Hugh Calum Laurie was born in Oxford, England. Laurie attended Eton College, where he competed in rowing, and later attended Cambridge University, where he studied anthropology. At Cambridge, Laurie joined the Footlights, Cambridge’s student comedy society, where he met future collaborators Emma Thompson and Stephen Fry. He graduated in 1981 from Selwyn College, with a degree in anthropology and archaeology.
After graduation, he worked on a variety of comic television projects in Britain. He had a recurring role in the third and fourth seasons of the popular UK sitcom “Blackadder” (1983-1989), and with Stephen Fry wrote and starred in the sketch comedy series “A Bit of Fry and Laurie” (1987-1995). During that time, Laurie also starred opposite Fry in the series “Jeeves and Wooster” (1990-1993), adapted from P.G. Wodehouse‘s novels. (Laurie played the bumbling Bertie Wooster and Fry played the butler, Jeeves.)
Notable screen roles have included “Sense and Sensibility,” screenplay by Emma Thompson (who also starred in it), paired opposite Imogen Stubbs, a frequent co-star (1995). Laurie, whose father was a medical doctor, is perhaps best known for his starring role on the U.S. drama series “House, M.D.” (2004-2012). On “House,” Laurie plays an infectious disease specialist and brilliant diagnostician. In a significant departure from the upper-class British characters Laurie has played throughout most of his career, Dr. House has an American accent.
Laurie and his wife, theater administrator Jo Green, have been married since 1989. They have three children. Laurie lived in Los Angeles for much of the year filming “House,” but his family has remained in London. In 2011, Laurie released an album of Blues music recorded in New Orleans, entitled “Let Them Talk.” Laurie does vocals and piano for the album, collaborating with many famous Blues musicians. Laurie was raised Scottish Presbyterian, and continues to express an affinity for this background, despite now identifying as an atheist. He once told The Times [U.K.], “I admire the music, buildings and ethics of religion, but I come unstuck on the God thing” (March 29, 2008).
James Lipton: Do you share House’s skepticism?
Hugh Laurie: [laughing] I do. Big chunks of it, yes. I’m not a religious man. Again, I think this is connected to my father. My father was religious oddly enough, but I nonetheless I suppose was impressed by [and] enamored of his devotion to medical science. I find I am a fan of science. I believe in science. A humility before the facts. I find that a moving and beautiful thing. And belief in the unknown I find less interesting. I find the known and the knowable interesting enough.
—Hugh Laurie in an interview on “Inside the Actors Studio,” July 31, 2006
GROWTH: India’s population is expected to exceed 1.27bn this year and is growing at more than 6.5m a year.
From Irish Independent
Despite all the warnings of global warming and imminent disaster, it is unlikely that we will change our ways until a real catastrophe actually occurs.
We have all read about the storms, droughts, melting ice caps and rising sea levels occurring worldwide, while here in Ireland, during last winter’s floods and gales, we experienced a small foretaste of what might well become the norm.
But are we prepared to do anything meaningful about it?
Probably not, is the simple answer.
A lot of hot air will be generated during debates, but if changing the way we behave requires a reduction in our living standards, then nothing will happen.
If the worst occurs and the prophets of doom are proved correct, by then it will probably be too late. Our children will be faced with wars, famine and destitution as strong nations attempt to take over the scarce resources available in other countries and in the poorer areas of the globe, people will simply starve.
My latest 2 Minute Ditty:
On this date in 1916, Francis Crick was born in Northampton, England. He studied physics at University College, London, earned a B.Sc. in 1937, and began research for a Ph.D., which was interrupted by the outbreak of World War II. He served as a scientist for the British Admiralty, which he left in 1947 to study biology. He joined the Medical Research Council Unit in Cavendish Laboratory Cambridge, and obtained a Ph.D. in 1954.
He met James Watson in 1951 and together they proposed the double-helix structure for DNA by 1953. In 1962, he, Watson and Maurice Wilkins won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their long-awaited breakthrough in determining the structure and replication scheme of DNA. Crick taught at various universities, including Harvard, Cambridge and University College, London, and became a non-resident Fellow of Salk Institute for Biological Studies in San Diego. In a book recapping his career, What a Mad Pursuit, Crick writes candidly of his rejection of religion. As a school boy, “I was a skeptic, an agnostic, with a strong inclination toward atheism.” D. 2004.
“I realized early on that it is detailed scientific knowledge which makes certain religious beliefs untenable. A knowledge of the true age of the earth and of the fossil record makes it impossible for any balanced intellect to believe in the literal truth of every part of the Bible in the way that fundamentalists do. And if some of the Bible is manifestly wrong, why should any of the rest of it be accepted automatically? . . . What could be more foolish than to base one’s entire view of life on ideas that, however plausible at the time, now appear to be quite erroneous? And what would be more important than to find our true place in the universe by removing one by one these unfortunate vestiges of earlier beliefs?”
—-Francis Crick, What Mad Pursuit: A Personal View of Scientific Discovery, 1988
Thinking of You by Todd
From TODD WALTON
Under The Table Books
“Around 50 to 65 million years ago, the apple ancestor separated from its Rosaceae cousins on the evolutionary pathway.” Dr. Roger Hellens
Long before there were humans, there were apples. More recently, as in right now, for the first time since I moved to Mendocino twelve years ago, the local apple crop is minimalist, and some orchards hereabouts have set no apples at all. Last year was an epic apple year, and this year the blackberries and huckleberries are promising massive fruit deliveries; but the wonky weather, the cold persisting after blossoming—something—blocked the fruiting of many of our local apple trees.
Last year our own seven not-very-big apple trees produced more fruit than Marcia and I could greedily consume. We canned several big batches of spicy applesauce, gave bags of apples to friends and horses, made gallons of apple juice, kept big boxes full of apples that lasted until January, and refrigerated several dozen apples, too, with some lasting until May. But today I counted but a couple dozen apples on the trees in our orchard, so we will have to go begging or buying apples this year. Darn.
“I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, ‘If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.’” Kurt Vonnegut
I was trying to remember the name of a certain apple and resorted to a favorite book I got at a yard sale in Berkeley twenty years ago: Fruit, Berry and Nut Inventory, subtitle: an inventory of Nursery Catalogs Listing All Fruit, Berry and Nut Varieties available By Mail Order in the Unites States. My paperback edition came out circa 1989, and a quick search of the interweb shows there have been subsequent editions with web sites added to the information. The Inventory, however, seems to be out-of-print, with used copies going for hundreds of dollars. My copy, albeit out-of-date and falling apart, cost me a dime and has provided me with many hours of delightful reading.
Trusting the editors of the Inventory won’t mind, here are a few tasty tidbits from their goodly tome.
From Friendly Atheist
Mariah Walton, a 20-year-old woman awaiting a heart and lung transplant, said she thinks her parents and other faith healers should face criminal charges for “treating” her with prayer instead of medicine.
It’s a tale as old as time: girl is born with a small hole in her heart, her parents refuse to get it fixed and instead ask God to oversee her well-being, girl is now permanently disabled due to years of being refused care. The twist, however, is that Walton — unlike many faith healing victims — lived on to call for her parents’ prosecution and to condemn the practice in general.
“It would have been solved. If I had a surgery when I was one year old, I would have been just fine,” Walton said in an interview with KTVB News. She said she can’t run, misses a lot of school, and gets sick easily because of her weakened immune system.
From JEFF COX
Organic Food Guy
Kenwood, Sonoma County
Botanically chard is a subspecies of ordinary garden beets, bred for its leaves rather than its root, and packs the same kind of nutritional punch. The name “chard” comes from the French chardon, or thistle, although chard is not a thistle (the name came about cecause chard has a wide midrib similar to the cardoon, which is a thistle, and because of this physical resemblance the French word for thistle came to be applied to chard as well).
For some reason, chard also goes by the name of Swiss chard. While the vegetable is commonly grown in Switzerland, among other northern European countries, it’s the French and Italians, not the Swiss, who have done the most with chard, with the Spanish and Greeks running a close second. In southern Spain and out on the Balearic Islands, it’s cooked much as the Arabs of North Africa use it, with spices and hot chiles, or cooked with sweetmeats. In fact, chard’s history is long, going back before Rome (its subspecies name, cicla, refers to sicula, the ancient name of Sicily), before Greece, back to ancient Babylon. Various theories have been proposed for why the country of Switzerland has been associated with chard, but none of them seem worth repeating. I just call the vegetable chard and leave it at that.
The Organic Factor
Make sure your chard is organic. The high-nitrogen chemical fertilizers used in conventional agriculture can cause the plants to take up too much nitrate, which can change within the human digestive system to cancer-causing nitrites. Organic soils feed chard their nitrogen from natural sources, at just the rate the plants need it.
From JEFF COX
Organic Food Guy
Kenwood, Sonoma County
The Freedom Caucus is a rowdy band of GOP US House members most famous for triggering government shutdowns, pushing to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and driving former GOP Speaker John Boehner from his post on the theory he wasn’t conservative enough. And now they’re coming for your certified organic food, according to Mother Jones magazine, from which the following is excerpted.
Back in December, the Freedom Caucus released a “recommended list of regulations to remove.” Among its 228 targets—ranging from eliminating energy efficiency standards for washing machines to kiboshing rules on private drones—the group named the National Organic Program.
Operated by the US Department of Agriculture, the NOP was established by the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 to set uniform national standards for foods and agricultural products labeled “USDA Organic,” replacing the patchwork of state-level standards that had held sway for decades previously. The NOP ensures that food labeled organic really is raised without synthetic pesticides and fertilizers—it also oversees USDA-accredited organic certifying agents and takes “appropriate enforcement actions if there are violations of the organic standards,” according to the USDA.
As of 2015, annual organic food sales stood at $39.7 billion, representing nearly 5 percent of total food sales. And sales for organics are growing at an 11 percent annual clip—nearly four times the rate of overall US food sales.
On this date in 1937, Morgan Freeman was born in Memphis, Tenn. The now-famous actor got his start in drama at age 12, when, as a punishment for teasing a girl in class, he was forced to participate in a drama competition. He was a natural and continued to be involved in theater throughout middle school and high school. Although he loved acting and was very talented, he initially chose to enter the Air Force after school. But after a few years, he realized it wasn’t a good fit and began to pursue acting professionally, first in Los Angeles and then in New York City.
Queen and Jack drawing by Todd
Under The Table Books
Objects have names (what our dreams
come to). “It’s what I want.”
We recently watched Jim Jarmusch’s new movie Paterson and I loved it from first frame to last. Marcia loved Paterson, too, and we have been talking about the film for days—a sure sign of a movie beyond the ordinary.
Adam Driver portrays the main character in Paterson, a man named Paterson, an introspective and emotionally subdued fellow; and Paterson is also the city in New Jersey where the character Paterson is a bus driver circa 2016 and lives with his sweetly zany artist wife portrayed by an angelic Golshifteh Farahani.
Paterson is also the name of an epic poem by William Carlos Williams about this same Paterson, New Jersey, founded in 1792 to harness the power of the great falls of the Passaic River. The movie is, among many things, a tribute to William Carlos Williams and his enduring influence on poetry and literature and art in America and around the world; and more specifically, his influence on Jim Jarmusch.
Three months before his death from pancreatic cancer in 1994, the British playwright Dennis Potter was interviewed for the BBC by broadcaster Melvyn Bragg. In obvious pain and taking regular swigs from a bottle of liquid morphine, Potter explored a wide range of questions about his work, politics, family and feelings—given that he was already in the terminal stage of his illness.
I was spellbound by the raw honesty and energy of his answers, but there was one section that catapulted me into a different state entirely. It came when Potter described the plum tree blossom outside his study window:
“Looking at it, instead of saying ‘Oh that’s nice blossom’…I see it is the whitest, frothiest, blossomest blossom that there ever could be, and I can see it. Things are both more trivial than they ever were, and more important than they ever were, and the difference between the trivial and the important doesn’t seem to matter. But the nowness of everything is absolutely wondrous, and if people could see that, you know, there’s no way of telling you; you have to experience it, but the glory of it, if you like, the comfort of it, the reassurance…the fact is, if you see the present tense, boy do you see it! And boy can you celebrate it.”
I knew immediately what he meant. Potter had a complicated relationship to religion, and he didn’t use overtly spiritual language to describe his experience that day, but that’s how I felt it. He went on to say that this new state of consciousness had given him more clarity and serenity, along with the ability to stay fully focused in every moment. “Almost in a perverse sort of way”, he told Bragg, “I can celebrate life” so close to death.
These feelings of joy, compassion, clarity and connection are characteristic of mystical experience, but Potter’s story raises an intriguing question: why wait so long to enjoy the fruits of a fully awakened life? Shouldn’t we be living this way for as long as is possible, despite the constraints imposed by mortgages and college fees and all the drudgery of convention that surrounds us?
“The gods can either take away evil from the world and will not, or, being willing to do so cannot; or they neither can nor will, or lastly, they are able and willing.
“If they have the will to remove evil and cannot, then they are not omnipotent. If they can but will not, then they are not benevolent. If they are neither able nor willing, they are neither omnipotent nor benevolent.
“Lastly, if they are both able and willing to annihilate evil, why does it exist?” —Greek philosopher Epicurus (341-270 B.C.E.), Aphorisms
From The Humanist
I think it’s safe to say that the majority of humanists don’tsupport the teaching of religion in public schools. While one may argue that it’s important to have structured classes dedicated to learning about world religions, the problem is that teachers, both theists and nontheists, are human and therefore naturally approach the class with their own biases. Sometimes the teaching turns into preaching, which creates an uncomfortable and exclusionary environment for students. It’s also the curriculum that tends to be exclusionary and often omits atheism, agnosticism, and humanism from the conversation.
And so while the American Humanist Association would rather public schools not teach religion courses at all, the organization realizes that’s highly unlikely in this current political climate and therefore supports school curriculums that give equal time to all world religions and philosophies. This is just the approach taken last week by an independent nonprofit in Ireland called Educate Together when it introduced humanism lessons plans into the “Ethical Education” curriculum taught in eighty-one Irish public primary schools. This revolutionary and progressive decision marks the first time that humanism has been included as part of the curriculum in public schools there.
All Irish primary schools are required to provide thirty minutes a day of “religious education.” Despite this requirement, there is no national curriculum for religious education and instead “the subject’s provision has been left entirely up to the patron bodies.” Being a nondenominational patron body, Educate Together decided to go a unique route and offer ethical education courses in place of the traditional religious education courses. Although it’s a comprehensive curriculum focused on moral and spiritual development, equality and justice, belief systems, ethics, and the environment, Educate Together teachers noticed a lack of teaching resources and lessons dedicated specifically to humanism, atheism, and agnosticism—a clear gap considering the steady increase of nonbelievers in Ireland. To close this gap, Educate Together turned to the Humanist Association of Ireland to create Irish-produced lesson plans specifically dedicated to humanism and other philosophical outlooks that don’t recognize a deity.
“These lesson plans address humanism in a matter-of-fact way and were developed in order to enhance children’s confidence in engaging with differing world views and religious beliefs,” says Philip Byers, head of education at the Humanist Association of Ireland. Almost all of the coverage in the Irish media about the humanist lesson plans has been supportive and positive. Fionnuala Ward, Primary Education Officer at Educate Together, said there has been “no negative feedback from any of the teachers and students.” Looking to the future, Educate Together is hopeful that other Irish primary schools follow suit and begin to incorporate differing world views into their curriculums.
Kurt Vonnegut Ponders Why “Poor Americans Are Taught to Hate Themselves” in a Timely Passage from Slaughterhouse-Five…
From Open Culture
Amidst what is now an ordinary day’s chaos and turmoil in the news, you may have noticed some outrage circulating over comments made by erstwhile brain surgeon, former presidential candidate, and current Secretary of HUD Ben Carson. Poverty, he said, is a “state of mind.” The idea fits squarely in the wheelhouse of Carson’s brand of magical thinking, as well as what has always been a self-help tradition in the U.S. since Poor Richard’s Almanac.
Consider, for example, the immense popularity of a book written during the Great Depression, Napoleon Hill’s 1937 Think and Grow Rich, which has increased in popularity every year since its publication, selling around 100 million copies worldwide by 2015. Hill’s prolific self-help cottage industry occupies a prominent place in a distinctly American genre, and an economy unto itself. Books, videos, seminars, and megachurches promise the faithful that they need only to change themselves to change their economic outcomes, in order not only thrive but to “grow rich.”
The notion has had purchase among wealthy opponents of a welfare state, who find it a convenient way to blame the poor for circumstances outside their control. But it also, as robust sales indicate, has wide appeal among the not-so-wealthy. Why? One reason—the presciently, acerbically insightful observer of American culture, Kurt Vonnegut might argue—has to do with the fact that Americans think of poverty as a personal failing rather than a social condition, and conflate wealth with intelligence and capability.
Twelve by Todd
From TODD WALTON
Under The Table Books
“The grand essentials of happiness are: something to do, something to love, and something to hope for.” Allan K. Chalmers
I was nearly forty when it first occurred to me to write anything other than fiction and poetry and plays. At thirty-nine, I still thought of myself as a moderately successful novelist and short story writer. Furthermore, I rarely read non-fiction; and so in 1989, when Melinda Welsh, the editor of the brand new Sacramento News & Review invited me to write essays for her paper, I accepted her invitation with little understanding of what such reportage entails. Now, thirty years later, writing essays is my most persistent writing habit.
When my fiction and screenwriting ceased to bring home the bacon, so to speak, writing essays became a source of much-needed income, and I have no doubt that without such financial incentive, I would never have become habituated to writing non-fiction. Which is not to say I ever earned vast sums writing essays. Melinda paid me one hundred and fifty dollars per essay for the SacramentoNews & Review; and for the entirety of my eight-year tenure writing a weekly piece for the Anderson Valley Advertiser, I was paid twenty-five dollars per. Nowadays I am paid by the knowledge that at least a handful of people look forward to my weekly offerings.
“The garden of life is strewn with such dormant seeds and so much of art blossoms from their unwilled and unwillable awakenings.”
And now for something a bit out of the ordinary: When editor Andrew Blauner invited me to contribute to an anthology of essays by some of his favorite writers about their favorite Beatles songs, I did something I rarely do — I accepted, because a particular Beatles song happens to be a significant animating force in my family story.
The anthology is now out as In Their Lives: Great Writers on Great Beatles Songs (public library), featuring contributions from wonderful writers like Pico Iyer (“Yesterday”), Rosanne Cash (“No Reply”), Rick Moody (“The End”), Rebecca Mead (“Eleanor Rigby”), Roz Chast (“She Loves You”), Jane Smiley (“I Want to Hold Your Hand”), and Adam Gopnik (“Strawberry Fields Forever” / “Penny Field”).
Here is my essay, as it appears in the book.
From Ex-Christian Net
It’s hard to believe – we are coming up now on one year of me departing from the born-again Christian community. And while I am not the best at maintaining an active online blogger lifestyle (apologies for not posting more regularly on here), I thought it would be appropriate to share some thoughts as to where I am now.
I came to this community here at Ex-C as a new agnostic, struggling with losing the foundation that once had the name “Jesus Christ” appended to it. Over the last few months, however, and after lengthy conversations with others with whom I have crossed paths, I will declare today that I now consider myself an atheist rather than an agnostic. Am I definite on that? No, but quite honestly with all of the knowledge I have gained over this last year on humanity and life as we know it, I cannot help but truly doubt there will be anything once my brain decides it has lived its life and needs a more permanent rest. Not relying upon some one-in-a-million afterlife can be a good way to live, I am slowly learning. It amplifies the appreciation I have for each breath that I take, for each day that I arrive home from work and can embrace my boyfriend, for each memory he and I can create and each plan we can take.
On this day in 1958, Ronald Prescott Reagan (Secret Service code name “Reliant”) was born in Los Angeles to Ronald Wilson Reagan and Nancy Reagan, the future U.S. president and first lady. As liberal as his famous father was conservative, Reagan stopped going to church when he was 12 and has publicly stated he’s an atheist numerous times.
In 2004, he accepted the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s Emperor Has No Clothes Award and spoke at the Foundation’s 2009 convention in Seattle. Reagan grew up in Los Angeles and Sacramento, went to Yale University for a semester and then joined the Joffrey Ballet Company as a corps de ballet dancer. He married Dori Palmieri, a clinical psychologist, in 1980. He left Joffrey in 1983 and has since worked as a broadcast and print journalist and television and radio host.
He co-hosted “Connected: Coast to Coast with Ron Reagan and Monica Crowley” on MSNBC, was a special correspondent for ABC’s “20/20” and “Good Morning America” and FOX News’ “Front Page,” as well as hosting the syndicated “Ron Reagan Show” starting in 1991. He’s also done work for E! Entertainment Television, Animal Planet and American Movie Classics and has contributed to Newsweek, The New Yorker, Playboy, Los Angeles Times, Esquire and Interview. “The Ron Reagan Show,” syndicated by Air America Media, went on the air in 2008.
Reagan serves on the Advisory Board of the Creative Coalition, a nonpartisan group founded in 1989 to mobilize entertainers and artists for causes such as First Amendment rights, arts advocacy and public education. Reagan, along with his mother, has been a strong supporter of embryonic stem cell research. “When you’re depriving people, potentially, of lifesaving or life-improving cures or treatments purely for political reasons, I find that to be really shameful.”
In a 2008 interview with The Hill newspaper, he was asked when he started questioning his father’s political beliefs: “Oh, puberty. Probably by age 12. That was when I told [my parents] I would no longer go to church with them because I was an atheist. One thing leads to another. It wasn’t a great leap to then disagree on politics.” Was he upset? “Yeah, but he wasn’t angry. He was a Christian and took it fairly seriously. He was worried that my life would be diminished if I didn’t accept Christ as my savior. We’d argue at the dinner table all the time, but I don’t think he was losing sleep over it.”
During a speech about stem cell research at the Democratic National Convention on July 27, 2004, Reagan voiced his opinion on church/state separation: “. . . It does not follow that the theology of a few should be allowed to forestall the health and well-being of the many.” The New York Times asked him in 2004, in an interview that ran three weeks after his father died, if he’d like to be president. “I would be unelectable,” Reagan said. “I’m an atheist. As we all know, that is something people won’t accept.”
“I’m sure there are all sorts of higher powers like electromagnetism and gravity, and things like that. But I don’t believe in a deity, no. I see no evidence for that in my life or anywhere else in the universe. Personally, people can believe what they will and they will believe what they want. I find that most deism, and certainly most theisms take a fairly narrow view of the universe, and most people’s views of God or gods seem to be rather impoverished. The universe itself, the physical world that we can perceive with our senses and grasp with our minds, seems to be far more wondrous than most people’s conceptions of a deity.”
—— Ron Reagan, PR.com interview, April 13, 2009
Ever since President Trump nominated Judge Neil M. Gorsuch to fill the empty seat on the Supreme Court, interested parties have been combing through his writings and appellate court rulings looking for signs and portents.
If he’s confirmed, how might Judge Gorsuch vote on affirmative action questions? Or challenges to Roe v. Wade?
But nobody has to do much head-scratching over his position on medical aid in dying. In 2006, the year he was appointed to the federal Court of Appeals in Denver, Princeton University Press published Judge Gorsuch’s book, “The Future of Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia.”
It leaves little room for doubt. Over 226 pages (in paperback), Judge Gorsuch pursues a legal and philosophical argument that “assisted suicide and euthanasia” should be outlawed because “all human life is fundamentally and inherently valuable” and “the intentional taking of human life by private persons is always wrong.”
In Oregon, the first state to legalize aid in dying, the handful of patients using the law had been white and well educated, the author noted in an epilogue, leading him to wonder “whether assisted suicide is a matter of necessity or more of a lifestyle choice by people who have always tended to control their lives and now wish to control their death.” (Even the terminology is perilous. The phrase “assisted suicide,” now used mostly by opponents, tends to signal disapproval. For a while, supporters preferred “death with dignity.” At least “aid in dying” doesn’t imply that those who die without lethal prescriptions lack dignity.)
Judge Gorsuch’s position is creating anxiety in a movement that recently celebrated victories in several states and expressed optimism about winning more. “He has revealed tremendous personal hostility,” said Kathryn Tucker, executive director of the End of Life Liberty Project.