Ireland’s First Ever Humanism Lesson Plans Launched in Eighty-One Primary Schools…


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.

How thoughtful of God…



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.

TODD WALTON: Weekly Offerings


signed & numbered

Twelve by Todd

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.

In Their Lives: Great Writers on Great Beatles Songs


“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 my essay, as it appears in the book.

by Maria Popova

My parents fell in love on a train. It was the middle of the Cold War and they were both traveling from their native Bulgaria to Saint Petersburg in Russia, where they were to attend different universities — my father, an introvert of formidable intelligence, was studying computer science; my mother, a poetry-writing (bordering-on-bossy) extrovert , library science.

An otherwise rational man, my father describes the train encounter as love at first sight. Upon arrival, he began courting my mother with such subtlety that it took her two years to realize she was being courted.

One spring morning, having finally begun to feel like a couple, they were walking across the lawn between the two dorms and decided it was time for them to have a whistle-call. At the time, Bulgarian couples customarily had whistle-calls — distinctive tunes they came up with, usually borrowed from the melody of a favorite song, by which they could find each other in a crowd or summon one another from across the street.

Partway between the primitive and the poetic, between the mating calls of mammals and the sonnets by which Romeo and Juliet beckoned one another, these signals were part of a couple’s shared language, a private code to be performed in public. Both sets of my grandparents had one. My mother’s parents, elementary schoolteachers in rural Bulgaria who tended to an orchard and the occasional farm animal, used a melody of unclear origin but aurally evocative of a Bulgarian folk song; my father’s parents, both civil engineers and city intellectuals, used a fragment from a Schumann waltz.

That spring morning, knowing that my mother was a Beatles fan, my father suggested “Yellow Submarine.” There was no deliberation, no getting mired in the paradox of choice — just an instinctive offering fetched from some mysterious mental library.

Eventually, my parents got pregnant, got married, had this child. They continued to summon each other, and eventually me, by whistling “Yellow Submarine.” Although I didn’t know at the time that it was originally written as a children’s song, it came to color my childhood. I had always wondered why, of all possible songs saturating their youth, my parents had chosen “Yellow Submarine” — a song released long before they met. My father wasn’t much of a Beatles fan himself, and yet that spring morning, he was able to open the cabinet of his semi-conscious memory, fetch a melody he had heard almost twenty years earlier, and effortlessly whistle it to his beloved. The familial whistle-call became a given in my childhood, like math homework and Beef Stroganoff Sundays, so it wasn’t until I was in my early thirties that it occurred to me to inquire about how “Yellow Submarine” wove itself into the family fabric. The story of how that seemingly random song had implanted itself in my father’s mind is the archetypal story of how popular music, and perhaps all popular art, is metabolized in the body of culture. Once it has entered the crucible of consciousness, a song becomes subject to a peculiar alchemy — the particularities of the listener’s life at that particular moment transmute its objective meaning, if there ever was one at all, into a subjective impression. That impression is what we encode into memory, what we retrieve to whistle twenty years later. The artist’s original intent is melded with the listener’s personal context into an amorphous mass of inexpressible yet unforgettable unity — a dormant seed whose blossoming depends on the myriad factors fertilizing the surrounding soil. That the seed was planted at all may remain unheralded until the moment of its blossoming.

My great-grandfather — my father’s maternal grandfather — was an astronomer and mathematician born at the dawn of the twentieth century, into Bulgaria’s nascent monarchy that followed five hundred years of Ottoman slavery. He lived through two World Wars, then watched his homeland, battered by centuries of oppression and brutalized by decades of war, crumble into communism when the monarchy was overthrown in the 1940s. The pernicious anti-intellectualism of the communist regime took great pains to silence any cultural signal from the other side of the Iron Curtain. On the radio — then the dominant form of mass media — Western broadcasts in translation were banned and their frequencies muffled. But because so few Bulgarians spoke non-Slavic languages, the government didn’t bother to muffle foreign broadcasts in the original — those were just buried on hard-to-find frequencies.

Witnessing the timorous promise of freedom succumb to dictatorship must have been unbearable for my great-grandfather. Somehow, he hacked his transistor radio into the frequency of the BBC World Service and, well into his fifties by that point, set about teaching himself English. He acquired an English dictionary and a few literary classics through some underground channel — from Jane Austen to first-edition Hemingways, which survive to this day in my grandmother’s library — and began underlining words, filling the margins with translations, and code-cracking English grammar. It was a small act of rebellion, but a monumental one. By the 1960s, he had become fluent in English, with the BBC as his sole conduit to the other side — a lifeline of intellectual liberty.

When his nine grandchildren were entrusted in his daytime care, he decided to weave this surreptitious insurgency into his legacy by teaching them English. He would take them to the park and when the time came for their afternoon snack, he wouldn’t feed them until they were able to ask for their sandwiches in proper Queen’s English.

The BBC World Service was always on in the kitchen and in the late summer of 1966, just before my father’s sixth birthday, “Yellow Submarine” was on heavy rotation — it had been released on August 5. One morning, my great-grandfather decided to use the song as an opportunity for another English lesson with the kids. Perhaps because this was in Varna — Bulgaria’s naval capital, where the city’s celebrated Naval Museum is still housed in a giant decommissioned submarine — and perhaps simply because he was a little boy and little boys have such obsessions, my father was enamored of submarines and instantly took the bait. He fell in love with the song, learned its melody, and memorized the lyrics.

He grew up, fluent in English and German (my great-grandfather had also hacked his way into the Deutsche Welle), and although his obsession with the engineering of military vehicles and vessels never left him, the yellow submarine became a distant childhood memory. But it left a vestige, invisible and dormant until it was fertilized by the unlikeliest — or is it the likeliest? — of catalysts: love. The garden of life is strewn with such dormant seeds and so much of art blossoms from their unwilled and unwillable awakenings. In a marvelous yet hardly surprising parallel, the very origin of “Yellow Submarine” intimates such boyhood vestiges.

Paul McCartney wrote the song as a nonsense children’s rhyme to which the Beatles added an irreverent edge.

In the town where I was born
Lived a man who sailed to sea

McCartney’s grandfather, Joseph, grew up near the Liverpool docks and played the E-flat bass, a giant tuba-like brass instrument. Lennon’s grandfather, George, was a lifelong mariner who was aboard one of the first three-masted ships to sail around the world. After he met his wife at the bustling old Roman seaport of Chester, he retired into domesticity by taking a shoreside job recovering wreckage from sunk submarines. McCartney later recounted that he wrote “Yellow Submarine” by making up a melody in his head and letting it carry the story of “an ancient mariner, telling the young kids where he’d lived.” Could this “man who sailed the sea” be an amalgam of these two boyhood vestiges?

It is, of course, a perennial mystery how the innumerable fragments of experience we amass in the course of living come into contact with one another, how they are fused together in the combinatorial process of creativity and transformed into something new. Impatient with mystery, we tend to seek to fill the unknown with easy explanations. When “Yellow Submarine” was released — on the other side of “Eleanor Rigby,” on the same day as Revolver – people rushed to presumptions about the obvious agent of transmutation: This, after all, was the middle of the 1960s and the Beatles had just begun experimenting with psychedelics. But while John and George were busting open the doors of perception with acid, Paul was largely uninterested in such synthetic aids — bursting with creative energy, his spiritual electricity was self-synthesized. Although he insisted over and over on the innocuous origin of the song, throngs of critics both professional and self-appointed continued to interpret the song as an ode to psychedelics.

If psychedelics played a role at all, it was indirect — at most as a cross-pollinating agent of adjacent imaginations. Since the Beatles shared so much of their lives, Paul was inevitably immersed in his bandmates’ newfound wonderland of psychedelia and absorbed its rousing visual language. According to a Beatles intimate quoted in Bob Spitz’s excellent biography of the Fab Four, one of those early acid experiences produced “marvelous visions” of “rainbow-colored submarines” — an image so wild and whimsical that John and George, in their wide-eyed exhilaration, likely enthused about it to the rest. Paul might have folded that image into his mental catalogue of fragments — in fact, his first draft of the lyrics included multiple submarines of various colors before they were distilled into the sole yellow submarine. (Donovan added the line “Sky of blue and sea of green” — a welcome reinjection of color into the final yellow monochrome.)

McCartney had written the song for Ringo Starr, who was “very good with kids,” deliberately keeping it “not too rangey in the vocal range” for Ringo to perform. It was a perfect fit — the song became by far the most successful Beatles track with Ringo as a vocalist. But there was something else, something singularly magical, that lent it timeless luster and increasingly timely allure today. Its recording was a jubilant celebration of phenomena that have since gone just about extinct — the communal element of making art and the messy, hands-on craftsmanship of sound.

On May 26, 1966, the Beatles packed into Studio Two along with a motley cast of Abbey Road regulars and irregulars, spearheaded by legendary producer George Martin.

And our friends are all on board

The gang proceeded to fetch an arsenal of noisemaking tools from the utility closet — chains, whistles, buckets, glasses, wind-makers, thunderstorm machines, wartime hand bells, hooters, ship’s bells — which quickly cluttered the studio’s spacious wooden floor as the cacophonous crew set out to create the song’s weird and wonderful aural atmosphere. The cash register that would later ring up Pink Floyd’s “Money” appeared from somewhere. An old-fashioned metal bath was dragged in and filled; the Beatles’ chauffeur, Alf Bicknell, was assigned a chain to whirl through the water.

And the band begins to play

At the end, the band’s road manager, Mal Evans, grabbed a bass drum and led a conga line around this makeshift wonderland of music-making to the collective incantation:

We all live in a yellow submarine
Yellow submarine, yellow submarine

There’s a wonderful symmetry here, between the childlike playfulness that filled the studio and the sensibility of the song itself. More than that, the recording session stands as a testament to the song’s true intent — an ode to pure fun, nothing more and nothing less. But while fun — the exultant joy of creation — has always been a major animating force of art, it has never been a sufficient raison d’être for art criticism. In one of his beautiful 1930s essays on music, Aldous Huxley — perhaps the patron saint of psychedelics and a prominent paste-up presence in the iconic Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album cover — remarked on the “absurd multiplicity of attributed ‘meanings’” that music can invoke. “Yellow Submarine,” due to its nonsensical lyrics and its particular placement in the chronology of the Beatles as odd bedfellow to “Eleanor Rigby” and creative counterpoint to Revolver, lent itself to particularly extravagant interpretations, from the sociocultural to the political. One folk magazine took it to be an anti-Vietnam War anthem. The great African American poet, dramatist, and essayist Amiri Baraka saw it as a pathetic paean to white privilege. The English music critic Peter Doggett remarked, “Culturally empty, ‘Yellow Submarine’ became a kind of Rorschach test for radical minds.” (We can put aside for a moment the notion that childlike wonder and sensorial delight amount to cultural emptiness — a lamentable bias that warrants a separate essay.)

This question of the song’s meaning reached a crescendo when it was adapted into an animated feature film two years later. What began as a throwaway licensing deal and a mere afterthought for the Beatles became a messy parable of the rift between culture as creative communion and culture as commodity. Before “Yellow Submarine” conquered the airwaves as the highest-grossing single in the UK the year of its release, the Beatles had agreed — or, rather, their manager Brian Epstein had procured their impetuous agreement — to contribute an original soundtrack and lend their endorsement to a cartoon adaptation by King Features, which had already adapted the life and music of the Beatles into five dozen cartoons. Young painters were recruited from local art schools and an impressive crew of animators, inkers, background artists, and sound engineers was hired from all over the world — Germany, the Netherlands, Australia, Scotland, Spain, the U.S. and all over the U.K. As the animation crew worked day and night for eleven months, the Beatles, not quite realizing what they had agreed to, began actively resenting the very idea of the project and treated it like a tedious chore they just had to get out of the way. The film was ultimately finished with very little and very begrudging input from the band.

Its premiere at London Pavilion in July of 1968 sparked a heightened state of Beatlemania. Fans loved it, most commentators loved it, and even the Fab Four had to admit its charm. But amid the flurry of enthusiasm, the few shrieks of criticism became emblematic of the cultural unease which “Yellow Submarine” sparked — a discomfort with an uninterpretable open-endedness that resists the categorization by which we navigate and process cultural material. The irritation of this unease was best captured by Daily Mailentertainment columnist Trudi Pacter, who complained that “the Beatles stubbornly continue to experiment” instead of sticking to the formula that had already proven their music wildly successful. It’s a grievance both utterly ridiculous and utterly human: We yearn for art to surprise us, but we also yearn for the control, for certitude, for knowing what to expect from those we’ve come to trust. But what made the Beatles a cultural force was precisely the stubbornness with which they continued to experiment forward into greatness. “Yellow Submarine” was a particularly successful experiment.
Full speed ahead, Ms. Pacter, full speed ahead!

It is precisely this uncomfortable open-endedness of meaning that drove generations of critics to fill the abyss with manufactured meanings. Interpretation, of course, always reveals far more about the interpreter than it does about the interpreted. Just two years before the release of “Yellow Submarine,” in her terrific treatise “Against Interpretation,” Susan Sontag bemoaned the reactionary “arrogance of interpretation” and called it “the revenge of the intellect upon art.”

And yet the interpretation of art is inescapable, and this might not be such a bad thing after all. “Yellow Submarine,” more so than the average song due to its nonsensical nature, has meant different things to every person who has ever heard it and filled it with subjective sense. It meant different things to my great-grandfather, to my father, and to myself. For the old mathematician, it signified a vitalizing act of intellectual insurgency; for the little boy, a playful and infectious wink at a childhood obsession; for the young man in love, a thread stretching backward and forward in time, connecting him to his childhood self and to the future wife who would beget his own child. And although I, that future child, never got to meet my intellectual insurrectionist great-grandfather, I am linked to him by DNA and by a song from long ago, embedded in my father’s synapses and worn note-bare by my mother’s lips.

“Once a poem is made available to the public,” teenage Sylvia Plath once wrote to her mother, “the right of interpretation belongs to the reader.” It is by this right of interpretation that popular music, popular culture, and perhaps all culture belongs to us at all. It is by this right that art is always appropriated by life, that a catchy song with no particular meaning, eavesdropped on by a little boy with his ear pressed to the Iron Curtain, can be woven into a family myth across time and space. This is what popular art does at its best — it provides a screen onto which vastly different people in vastly different circumstances can project the singular meaning of their lives.

In Their Lives features twenty-seven more essays on beloved Beatles songs, cross-pollinating personal histories with cultural history in a poetic intersection of memoir, music, and the collective legend-making of great storytelling.


One Year Into Recovery – A Reflection


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.

Freethinker: Ron Reagan




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, interview, April 13, 2009


Gorsuch Staunchly Opposes ‘Aid in Dying.’ Does It Matter?


From NYT

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.

Updating Stoicism for the 21st Century…




TODD WALTON: Bill and Ted Arrive



129 Things photo diptych by Max Greenstreet

Under The Table Books

“Four score and…seven minutes ago, we, your forefathers, were brought forth upon a most excellent adventure, conceived by our new friends: Bill and Ted. These two great gentlemen are dedicated to a proposition, which was true in my time, just as it’s true today. Be excellent to each other and Party On, Dudes!” Abraham Lincoln in Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure

We recently watched the movie Arrival directed by Denis Villeneuve. Arrival is a well-meaning and humorless look at the arrival on earth of beings from another solar system, and how contemporary humans might react to such an arrival. Denis Villeneuve is also the director of the soon-to-be-released Blade Runner sequel, and he has recently been signed to direct yet another movie-version of Dune. Based on how Denis did with Arrival, I’m not optimistic his Dune will be much better than the previous Dune disasters.

Richard Dawkins: Religion is the Root of All Evil?



New Zealand: A trial is to be held for Susan Austen, charged with aiding a suicide


Susan Austen in the dock at the Wellington District Court.

MAARTEN HOLL/FAIRFAX NZ Susan Austen in the dock at the Wellington District Court.

From New Zealand

A Lower Hutt woman and pro-euthanasia campaigner has pleaded not guilty to aiding a suicide and importing a drug that can be used for euthanasia.

Susan Dale Austen, 65, has been charged with aiding Annemarie Niesje Treadwell to commit suicide between December 2015 and June 2016.

She also faces two charges of importing the narcotic sedative pentobarbitone.

Treadwell​ was a Wellington woman who supported Voluntary Euthanasia Society president Maryan Street’s petition in support of assisted dying.

WILLIAM EDELEN: Mother’s Day and the Bible


From Our Archives
WILLIAM EDELEN (1922 – 2015)
The Contrary Minister

Mother’s Day once again is here with the Sunday sermons filled with clichés, platitudes and banalities. So perhaps it is time to take a good, hard look at what the bible and the church have actually done to degrade women. The treatment of women in the bible is characterized by such indecency and utter contempt that it is total travesty to call this book the “word” of God.

Dr. Gerald Larue, Distinguished professor emeritus of biblical history and archaeology at the University of Southern California, wrote these words: “The Bible has been one of the most powerful social weapons in the arsenal of those who restrict and curtail the freedom of women. No matter what Bible you use, the message is the same: WOMEN ARE INFERIOR. Their inferiority is, moreover, ordained by God. How long are we going to let people who lived and died thousands of years ago dictate the way we live and think today?”

The bible is man-made, written BY men FOR men and promoting the ludicrous party line that they are taking orders from a male God.




From Freedom From Religion Foundation

On this date in 1771, reformer and philanthropist Robert Owen was born in Wales. He became known as “a capitalist who became the first Socialist.”

Owen started work as a clerk at age nine. With help from a sympathetic cloth merchant to whom he was apprenticed, Owen educated himself. Owen was an unbeliever by 14, influenced by Seneca, and his acquaintance with chemist John Dalton and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. By 18, Owen established a small spinning mill in Manchester. He married the daughter of a Glasgow cotton manufacturer, purchasing his father-in-law’s New Lanark mills in Scotland.

Owen set out to put his humanitarian creed into practice, and turned New Lanark into a model community attracting the attention of reformers around the world.

Oklahoma Republican Declares That Rape Is The ‘Will Of God’


From Church and State

Women should get as far away from Oklahoma as soon as possible because Christian Sharia law is about to make their lives a living hell.

If Oklahoma state GOP Rep. George Faught has his way, rape will be on the path to being legal in the state. At least that’s what rapists are hoping for after Faught made a frightening statement on the subject during a debate on House Bill 1549, which restricts abortion.

Democratic Rep. Cory Williams masterfully cornered Faught during the hearing by asking him if he believes rape and incest are the “will of God” since the legislation has no exceptions for either, meaning women would be forced to give birth to their rapist’s baby.

Faught’s reply is absolutely appalling and demonstrates once again why women should never vote for Republicans, especially Republicans who want to base our laws on the Bible.

Trump presidency is over. Buh bye! Hatch now getting security briefings…


“Trump’s Presidency Ended May 9th” – Hatch Getting Security Briefings




Facebook Has Been Regularly Shutting Down Atheist and Ex-Muslim Groups…


From HeatStreet

Yesterday, Facebook restricted and then shut down the public pages of Ex-Muslims of North America (24k followers) and Atheist Republic (1,6 million followers) –groups that advocate secularism and provide support to “apostates” (people who leave Islam and who often face persecution).

In fact, the ex-Muslim group claims that for the last several years, Facebook has been continuously blocking groups like it. The ex-Muslims have written an open letter to the social media giant, calling on it to “to stop exercising intellectual persecution” against atheist and ex-Muslim organizations and to “whitelist” such vulnerable groups from organized false flagging attacks.

On Monday, Muhammad Syed, the president of the Ex-Muslims of North Americatook to Twitter to report that the Facebook pages of Ex-Muslims and Atheist Republic were restricted (and the next morning shut down) “in violation of Facebook’s community standards”. No details were given as to what standards were violated. On Tuesday, after appealing the case, both groups were able to regain full access to their pages.

Syed believes the pages had been targeted in coordinated attacks by Muslim fundamentalists using “simple and effective” Facebook flagging tools to report that pages falsely for standards violations. Facebook, Syed said, isn’t doing enough to protect “groups vulnerable to malicious attacks”.

In the open letter to Facebook, which was revealed to Heat Street, Syed pressures the social media company to take measures to improve its reporting mechanisms and to protect ex-Muslim groups.

The Trump Team: They are all going to jail including many in GOP…


TODD WALTON: Bumble Buzzing


Spider Web photo by Todd

Under The Table Books

“That buzzing-noise means something. You don’t get a buzzing-noise like that, just buzzing and buzzing, without it’s meaning something. If there’s a buzzing-noise, somebody’s making a buzzing-noise, and the only reason for making a buzzing-noise that I know of is because you’re a bee.” A.A. Milne

Yesterday I went out to the woodshed to get firewood. The shed is fourteen-feet-wide and sixteen-feet-long with a high ceiling and a plywood floor. When I picked up a few pieces from the Small Log section, I heard the sound of small waves crashing on a distant shore. Then the sound stopped. So I picked up another couple little logs and the sound came again, only this time it sounded more like a choir of Tibetan monks singing far in the distance.

I carried the wood into the house and wondered what could be making those strangely beautiful sounds. So I returned to the woodshed and removed a few more small logs, and the sound came again, but only for a moment; and for the first time I thought the makers of the sounds might be bees. I then retrieved wood from another part of the shed, and this removal did not cause the bees to sound. Thus I was able to say with some assurance that the hive, if that’s what I had disturbed, was located in the southeast corner of the shed behind firewood created from a few small redwood trees we had felled last year.

Thinking Marcia might enjoy hearing the strangely beautiful sounds, I fetched her from her studio and we went to the shed where my removal of a log caused the loudest humming sounds yet. Marcia backed out of the shed and said, “I’m scared.”

The Destructive Party…


From George Monbiot

Conservatism takes three main forms. Inclusive conservatism seeks to protect objects of value for the benefit of everyone. These might include great urban vistas, or national parks, or wildlife, or works of art, or great institutions, such as the NHS and the BBC. This is the conservatism governments invoke when a nation goes to war.

Exclusive conservatism, by contrast, resists change that would assist the great majority, on behalf of a privileged elite. This is the form – fighting the universal franchise, workers’ rights, progressive taxation and the welfare state – that has prevailed in the United Kingdom for most of its history.

Then there is a third form, that calls itself conservatism but is nothing of the kind: tearing down everything to clear a path for capital. This is the form that prevails today in Britain, in the United States and across much of the world. Its mission is the destruction of the norms, the values, the institutions, the public properties and public protections that impede the scope for profit-taking.

Capital knows only the future, never the past. It rushes towards the prospect of future gains. All that lies in its path must be swept away, regardless of the value people might attach to it. Modern conservative governments see their mission as facilitating this process. If Theresa May’s government is re-elected, its opportunities for doing so will exceed those that Donald Trump is discovering in America.

Thom Hartmann: How Republicans Quietly Sabotaged Obamacare Long Before Trump Came into Office



From Thom Hartmann

Billions that should go to Obamacare are missing, thanks to senators like Marco Rubio.

Donald Trump suggested that the Affordable Care Act was a clever ruse by our first black president and his Democratic friends to have a successful health-care system in place for his own presidency, but was set up to fail in the first year of the next president’s term.

Trump said (on 3/10/2017) that this year “would be a disaster for Obamacare. That’s the year it was meant to explode, because Obama won’t be here. That’s when it was supposed to be, get even worse. As bad as it is now, it’ll get even worse.”

While most people are rolling their eyes (why would President Obama do that, particularly when everybody expected the next president to be Hillary?), there’s actually a substantial grain of truth to Trump’s assertion. However, he has identified the wrong culprit as the person who poison-pilled Obamacare for 2017. That distinction would go to Marco Rubio (and his Republican helpers in the Senate).

Let’s step back to 2015 for the entire story, which is bizarre and fascinating.

Joan Baez: Nasty Man



Stephen Fry being investigated for blasphemy is just the beginning. Around the world blasphemy laws are getting more and more severe…


From The Independent, UK

Islamic states often justify their blasphemy laws by pointing to the existence of those in Europe, calling Europeans hypocrites for advocating for abolition whilst still having their own

He’s one of Britain’s wittiest men but the fact that humanist Stephen Fry is under investigation by police in the Republic of Ireland for blasphemy is beyond a joke.

Fry’s alleged offence two years ago was to give an eloquent restatement of the classic theological argument known as “the problem of evil”: how can an all-loving God be responsible for a world that includes so much suffering, such as “bone cancer in children”, in his words? As one head of RE at a secondary school here in England tweeted, “I use this clip at GCSE & A Level for prob of evil. If RE teachers in Ireland have are they also ‘guilty’ of blasphemy?”

Debate and discussion over powerful and emotive topics like religion and belief are, by their nature, endlessly provocative. They are also vital, and when so many countries still try to use the force of law to shut down these discussions, we all risk intellectual impoverishment.

In England and Wales the blasphemy law was repealed in 2008. In Scotland and Northern Ireland blasphemy laws remain in place, although they have not been used in recent years. Perhaps we might not expect them to be – but then did we expect them to be in Ireland? And, similarly, Denmark this year decided to bring a prosecution under its blasphemy laws for the first time in 46 years.

Other European countries such as Italy, Austria, Poland and Turkey still have laws that are actively in use. In Greece, in 2014, Philippos Loizos was handed a ten-month suspended prison sentence for mocking up a picture of a Greek Orthodox patriarch, Elder Paisios, as a pasta dish. While in Russia, blasphemy laws were notoriously used to sentence the band Pussy Riot to hard labour after they performed in a Russian Orthodox Cathedral. This year they are also being used to prosecute a humanist blogger who filmed himself playing Pokémon Go in a church.

The most serious uses of blasphemy laws around the world are not in Europe, but in Islamic states, 13 of which punish blasphemy by death. These include Mohamed Cheikh Ould M’kheitir in Mauritania, charged with “insulting the prophet” for an article challenging slavery; humanist Ahmadreza Djalali, who worked as a Professor in Brussels but is now sentenced to death in his native Iran; and Saudi Arabia, which just last week sentenced Ahmad Al Shamri to death for “atheism”, while others such as Raif Badawi also sit on death row.

Fabricating Jesus — An Interview with Former Minister David Chumney


How the gospel stories in the New Testament came to be.

David Chumney spent almost three decades as an ordained Presbyterian minister before quietly exiting the ministry and Christianity itself. He now describes himself as agnostic, but his exodus from the Church didn’t end his fascination with New Testament studies or his quest to separate history from mythology in the biblical record. He tackles the fraught topic in his new book, Jesus Eclipsed.

Recently I interviewed David Fitzgerald, author of the three-volume series, Jesus: Mything in Action. Fitzgerald takes a position held by very few biblical scholars—that the Bible’s stories about Jesus lack any historical kernel, however small. Chumney disagrees, but acknowledges that Fitzgerald may be closer to the truth than most Christians would like to think:

If someone were to ask me, “Is there credible historical evidence that Jesus of Nazareth actually existed?” I would say, “Yes, but precious little.” If someone were to ask me, “Is some of what the gospels preserve about Jesus a product of pious imagination and religious devotion?” I would say, “Yes, nearly all of it.” In other words, I am convinced that Jesus of Nazareth really did exist, but I am equally convinced that the Gospels comprise, as Randel Helms has said, “largely fictional accounts concerning an historical figure.”

The “precious little” that Chumney finds historically persuasive includes a handful of passing references to James, the brother of Jesus, and a crucifixion under Pontius Pilate. Other references provide ample evidence about emerging Christian beliefs, he says, but no direct evidence of the man shrouded in the mists of historiography and mythology.

What about the rest of what people think they know about Jesus? What about his lineage and birth in Bethlehem, the incident when he clears money changers from the temple, his reputation as a healer, or his baptism? What about that final week when he rides into Jerusalem on a donkey, is arrested, put on trial, and led to his execution? Elements of the passion story have decorated church walls for over a millennium as the Stations of the Cross. If these gospel stories about Jesus aren’t gospel truth, what are they? Why do they exist, and where do they come from?

Chumney makes a persuasive argument that many of the stories in the Gospels are adapted from earlier biblical texts (i.e., what Christians call the Old Testament). Early Christians, having concluded that Jesus was the prophesied Christ, sought to construct what must be the details of his birth, life, and death from the content—and even words—of the Jewish Scriptures.

Sam Harris…



Freethinker: George Will



On this date in 1941, one of America’s top conservatives, columnist, journalist and author George Frederick Will was born in Champaign, Ill. Will has a Bachelor’s degree from Trinity College in Hartford, Conn. (1962), a Master’s in politics from Oxford University (1964) and a Ph.D. in politics from Princeton University (1968). Will taught political philosophy at Michigan State University and the University of Toronto. He taught at Harvard in 1995 and in 1998. He served on the staff of U.S. Senator Gordon L. Allott (R-Colo.) from 1970-1972.

He edited National Review from 1972 to 1978. Beginning in 1974, Will wrote a twice-weekly column for the Washington Post and by 1976, he was a contributing editor and columnist for Newsweek. He still writes both columns for those publications. He has been a news analyst for ABC since the early 1980s, and a regular panelist of ABC’s “This Week” since 1981.

Will won a Pulitzer Prize for Commentary in 1977. His Newsweek and newspaper columns have been published in five books, and he has authored books on other subjects such as political philosophy and baseball. His book Men at Work: The Craft of Baseball (1989) was the top national bestseller for over two months. Will has three children from his first marriage with Madeline Marion (divorced 1991). He has been married to Mari Maseng Will since 1991. They have one son together.

George Will: I’m a heathen.
Stephen Colbert: Are you an atheist?
Will: I’m not decisive enough to be an atheist.
Colbert: You’re agnostic?
Will: Yes.

—George Will, interviewed on “The Colbert Report,” June 3, 2008


TODD WALTON: Self-Archaeology



rolling wheels

Rolling Wheels and Hills of Gold by Katharine Grey

Under The Table Books

“Well-ordered self-love is right and natural.” Thomas Aquinas

Recent excavations on the shelves of my office have turned up some long-forgotten artifacts, including books and plays I wrote in my youth and loved enough to carry with me through several major moves over the course of forty years.

Indeed, one of my finds, a play I wrote when I was in my early twenties, has traveled with me since the 1970’s when I could carry all my earthly possessions onto a train or bus with me. In my pre-car days, the sum total of my stuff was: a guitar in a flimsy case, a large backpack full of clothes and basic survival gear, and one big cardboard box full of books and manuscripts and pens and paper and sketchpads, the box tied up with a length of sturdy rope.

Among the books I always carried with me, and still have today, were the two-volume The Greek Myths by Robert Graves, On Bear’s Head poems by Philip Whalen, Selected Poems of Robert Duncan, Collected Poems of Robert Graves, Zorba the Greek and The Last Temptation of Christ by Nikos Kazantzakis, Seven Gothic Tales by Isak Dinesen, and Suzuki Roshi’s Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind.

This ancient play I unearthed is entitled The Last Temptation, and I read the faded pages with the curiosity of an archaeologist stumbling upon an opus writ on papyrus two thousand years ago. On the title page, a note from the young author explains: The title of the play and the setting of Act One were inspired by the novel The Last Temptation of Christ by Nikos Kazantzakis. Pilate’s dog in Act Two was inspired by Mikhail Bulgakov’s book The Master and Margarita.

Man’s Search For Meaning, by Viktor Frankl — Animated Book Summary



The National Blues



From James Kunstler

While the news waves groan with stories about “America’s Opioid Epidemic” you may discern that there is little effort to actually understand what’s behind it, namely, the fact that life in the United States has become unspeakably depressing, empty, and purposeless for a large class of citizens. I mean unspeakably literally. If you want evidence of our inability to construct a coherent story about what’s happening in this country, there it is.

I live in a corner of Flyover Red America where you can easily read these conditions on the landscape — the vacant Main Streets, especially after dark, the houses uncared for and decrepitating year by year, the derelict farms with barns falling down, harvesters rusting in the rain, and pastures overgrown with sumacs, the parasitical national chain stores like tumors at the edge of every town.

You can read it in the bodies of the people in the new town square, i.e. the supermarket: people prematurely old, fattened and sickened by bad food made to look and taste irresistible to con those sunk in despair, a deadly consolation for lives otherwise filled by empty hours, trash television, addictive computer games, and their own family melodramas concocted to give some narrative meaning to lives otherwise bereft of event or effort.

Why should you read War and Peace?



The Materialism Trap



Humanist Global: Humanism in Uganda can alleviate many of the region’s life-threatening problems…


From Humanist Global

Humanism 1) promotes rational thinking / debunks superstition 2) provides an option to the conflict between Christianity and Islam 3) supports women’s education 4) supports condom use 4) supports family planning 5) supports tolerance of other tribes 6) supports gay rights 6) promotes education for both genders 7) supports environmental concerns

HG’s humanism is outlined in The Code for Global Ethics: Ten Humanist Principles by Rodrigue Tremblay. We deliver the poster below to our African humanist communities, plus we send our own humanist lectures.


Africa Needs Humanism – by Leo Igwe

Millions of Africans suffer under the tyranny of fear and ignorance

Africa needs humanism to realize its potential!

  • Humanists can provide a place where Africans can think freely without the fear of god.
  • Humanists can help African children by campaigning for improvement of education.
  • Humanists can help women and girls achieve equality in their societies.
  • Humanists can help the elderly and disabled, ensuring they are not abused, branded as witches, and killed.
  • Humanists can speak up for gay people, for their dignity, humanity and equal rights.
  • Humanists can combat exploitation by prophets, pastors and imams.
  • Humanists can free people from the bondage of superstition, fanaticism and dogma.
  • Humanists can campaign for secular society and government based on the will of the people.

Dark Age forces – religious extremism, dogma, superstition – hijack African politics, corrupt democracy, hamper social progress and human rights.

Priests, pastors, prophets, imams, and witch doctors confuse, manipulate and exploit ignorant folks.

Witch hunters, jihadists and ‘crusaders’ – in Mali, Nigeria, Uganda, Sudan, Egypt, Kenya, Somalia, Algeria – incite people to kill, maim and abuse, in the name of their god.

Humanism can be a force for peace, freedom and emancipation.

Many Africans are at war due to religious bigotry; many live in slavish situations due to irrational superstition. Religious violence ravages communities leaving death and destruction.

African Humanists can promote Peace, Emancipation and Enlightenment…

…to further the African Renaissance.

Religious Horrors – A Grim Pattern


Excerpt from Holy Horrors: An Illustrated History of Religious Murder and Madness, by James A. Haught (Prometheus Books, 2002). 

From Church & State, UK


— In 1766 at Abbeville, France, a teen-age boy was accused of singing irreligious songs, mocking the Virgin Mary, marring a crucifix, and wearing his hat while a religious procession passed. Criticizing the church was punishable by death. The youth, Chevalier de La Barre, was sentenced to have his tongue cut out, his right hand cut off, and to be burned at the stake. The great writer Voltaire attempted to save him. The case was appealed to Parliament in Paris. The clergy demanded death, warning of the dire spread of doubt. Parliament showed mercy by allowing the youth to be decapitated instead of mutilated and burned alive. He was first tortured to extract a fuller confession, then executed on July 1, 1766. His corpse was burned, along with a copy of Voltaire’s Philosophical Dictionary.

— In 1980 at Moradabad, India, a pig caused hundreds of people to kill each other. The animal walked through a Muslim holy ground. Muslims, who think pigs are an embodiment of Satan, accused Hindus of driving the pig into the sacred spot. Members of both faiths went on a rampage, stabbing and clubbing. The pig riot spread to a dozen cities and left 200 dead.

— In the 1500s in Mexico, the Aztec theocracy sacrificed thousands of people to many gods. Aztecs believed that the sun would disappear without the daily “nourishment” of human hearts ripped from victims on stone altars. To appease the rain god, priests killed shrieking children so that their tears might induce rain. In a rite to the maize goddess, a virgin danced 24 hours, then was killed and skinned; her skin was then worn by a priest in further dancing.

— In the 1980s, Iran’s Shiite theocracy—“the government of God on earth”—decreed that Baha’i believers who wouldn’t convert to Islam must be killed. About 200 Baha’is, including women and teenagers, were hanged or shot by firing squads. Some 40,000 others fled Iran.

I Grew Up In A Fundamentalist Cult — ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ Was My Reality


From The Establishment

It was a cold morning on the campus of the little Christian college I attended in Western Pennsylvania. Along with about 20 other students, I’d trundled in and unwrapped my coat and scarf. Now we all sat there sipping our coffees, waiting for the hardest class of the year to get rolling.

Our literary criticism professor paused as he announced the optional reading titles on our list for the next week, a funny look on his face.

“This one,” he said, “you may not like. It was written in 1984, published in ’85 or ’86, and was a reaction against the rise of the religious right — against the values that places like our school stand for. It’s pro-feminist, and anti-complementarian — against traditional gender roles. It sort of parodies what we believe in, in an interesting way. I’m curious what you’ll make of it.”

The shade thrown by my usually soft-spoken professor caught my attention. I had to read this book.

And so I did, unwittingly cracking open the beginning of the end for meek, conservative Christian me.

Carl Sagan Predicts the Decline of America: Unable to Know “What’s True,” We Will Slide, “Without Noticing, Back into Superstition & Darkness” (1995)…


From Open Culture

There have been many theories of how human history works. Some, like German thinker G.W.F. Hegel, have thought of progress as inevitable. Others have embraced a more static view, full of “Great Men” and an immutable natural order. Then we have the counter-Enlightenment thinker Giambattista Vico. The 18th century Neapolitan philosopher took human irrationalism seriously, and wrote about our tendency to rely on myth and metaphor rather than reason or nature. Vico’s most “revolutionary move,” wrote Isaiah Berlin, “is to have denied the doctrine of a timeless natural law” that could be “known in principle to any man, at any time, anywhere.”

Vico’s theory of history included inevitable periods of decline (and heavily influenced the historical thinking of James Joyce and Friedrich Nietzsche). He describes his concept “most colorfully,” writes Alexander Bertland at the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, “when he gives this axiom”:

Men first felt necessity then look for utility, next attend to comfort, still later amuse themselves with pleasure, thence grow dissolute in luxury, and finally go mad and waste their substance.

The description may remind us of Shakespeare’s “Seven Ages of Man.” But for Vico, Bertland notes, every decline heralds a new beginning. History is “presented clearly as a circular motion in which nations rise and fall… over and over again.”

Neil Tyson tired of God…



Neil de Grasse Tyson on the afterlife



Talking Heads: Take Me To The River…



TODD WALTON: My Grandmothers


Goody, Red, and William

Goody with Bill and Red 

Under The Table Books

Love is the offspring of spiritual affinity.” Kahlil Gibran

Whilst thoroughly cleaning my office, something I do every five years whether the office needs cleaning or not, I came upon a small cache of letters from my maternal and paternal grandmothers. Neither of my grandfathers ever wrote to me. Why I saved these letters—the most recent dated 1981—I do not know, having thrown out hundreds of other family letters over the years, but I’m glad I saved these because I had a fascinating time reading them and appreciating the influence of these two very different women on their progeny and grand progeny.

My father’s parents were white Anglo Saxon Protestants, intelligent, humorless, and proud members of the John Birch Society. They disowned my father when he was twenty-one because he married my Jewish mother. However, some years later when they needed financial help and eventually became economically dependent on my father, they re-owned him, and by association us, their half-breed grandchildren.

My mother’s parents were born in Michigan to Jewish parents who came to America from Poland in the late 1800’s. Goody and Casey (Gertrude and Myron) changed their last name from Weinstein to Winton during the Great Depression so they could get housing and jobs in that time of extreme anti-Semitism. Goody was brilliant and multi-talented and largely self-educated; and she loved to mix Yiddish with her English when she told jokes and stories.

Here is a birthday letter my paternal grandmother Helen wrote to me shortly before I dropped out of college in 1969.