2015

August:

Alliance for a Better Utah

At our July meeting, Josh Kantor, who co-founded Alliance for a Better Utah, told us why he wanted to organize around making life better in Utah. He came to Salt Lake from Chicago then realized that in Utah, “you can do stuff here” and influence actions even without a lot of money.

So, Josh launched his not-for-profit Alliance in Jan. 2011, planning to bring transparency, accountability and intellectual honesty to Utah issues. He wanted a broad-based progressive voice, independent of politics, party, business, religion, etc.

Josh heard Tally Sherrod give a TED talk on optimism bias. Turns out most people think they are in the top or best 25% in any kind of situation such as driving or friendliness. For instance, two out of five newlyweds will get divorced. But when questioned, none of them think they will divorce. They are optimistic, like most people. Studies also show that the more optimistic people are, the happier they are. Josh is optimistic about Utah politics. He continues to believe that we can make anything happen in Utah. He wants to use our common optimism bias generating more and more support to offer a transparent, balanced view of issues here in Utah. He believes working together like this could lead to more optimism and thus, happier people.

Josh Kantor’s first issue came out of working on the Peter Corroon campaign for governor. An ongoing $13 million UDOT scandal was not publically pursued during the campaign. When Mr. Corroon brought it up, he was accused of trying to score political points to win an election. Josh Kantor wanted to have a third party organization bring up issues like this so that balanced information would be made transparent to the public at large and it wouldn’t get lost because revelation seemed to benefit one side or another.

Another part of the early work of the Alliance for a Better Utah (ABU) was on immigration. They put up a billboard on I-215, which said “God doesn’t discriminate, why should you?”

Next, the Alliance for a Better Utah asked Mike Waddoups, Senate President, why Utah turned down $100 million from the Federal Government for a jobs program. Mr. Waddoups said that Utahns need to wean themselves off the Federal government and maybe “those people will get jobs”. ABU demanded an apology and appealed to the Tribune to write an editorial demanding Mr. Waddoups be fired; which they did. Mike Waddoups did not run again. Josh self-deprecatingly said he did not know if that decision to leave politics was related to the publicity Mr. Waddoups received from the Alliance for a Better Utah.

More recently, ABU became involved in the John Swallow and Mark Shurtleff issues. Years went by with little or no investigation initiated. Using the Al Capone model of investigation, ABU looked at Swallow’s campaign filing reports, found discrepancies, publicized them and started the investigations we have now.

Concerning healthcare reform, ABU wants to partner with organizations that have the expertise and depth to form policy. They want to press the accountability issue. The legislators Christensen and Dunnigan have been holding up voting on the Healthy Utah bill in the Utah legislature. ABU has sent a mailer into their districts saying those guys were stopping progress. Time will tell how that issue turns out. In the meantime, ABU had a press conference on July 15 at the Capitol. Supporters wore T-shirts with “#Still Waiting” on them. It has been about 1100 days since Utah could have had Medicaid Expansion. ABU is asking that the legislature act now on healthcare reform.

At the web site betterutah.org is more information about the Alliance for a Better Utah and a way to sign up to receive notices concerning further actions and other ways to participate as well as make tax deductible donations to help them help us be happier.

—Lauren Florence, MD

President’s Report

I’m looking forward to our BBQ this month and I hope many of you will come and join us for the evening. I also want to let those of you who signed up for our free subscription at the Pride Festival an additional invite to come and bring a friend. I always have a great time in John Young’s backyard visiting with everyone and stuffing my face with good food. So, again, please join us

Now, I think I’ll ramble a little about a couple items in the news recently. Some of you might say that’s what I always do.

But lately I have been thinking a fair amount about how religious conservatives have reacted to the Supreme Court’s decision making gay marriage legal everywhere in the U.S. It’s amazing how apoplectic they become and how they strike out with all sorts of stupid, nasty, mean and disgusting statements.

But one of the blog entries I came across has kind of stayed with me. The blogger was, it seemed, quite sure this horrible decision by the court was a sign of the end times or the “real beginning of the end.” He was, making himself, “ready,” with provisions as he put it. Which was a little puzzling and humorous at the same time, as I wondered why he needed provisions if it was going to be the “END.”

Of course this is nothing new as we have witnessed through the years with their opposition to so many changes in this country that have moved us ahead. Giving women the right to vote was a good thing. Getting rid of the laws prohibiting interracial marriage was a good thing. Instituting the civil rights legislation was a good thing and the Supreme Court’s decision to legalize gay marriage was the right thing to do. None of these changes have caused the end of civilization. They have in fact improved it. But it is nearly always the case that it is religious conservatives who opposed these changes. And it never occurs to these folks, as it does to us, that they are always wrong about the effects of these progressive changes.

Finally, I have to comment on an op-ed in the Salt Lake Tribune. On August 5th, by Thomas J. Pyle, president of the American Energy Alliance, titled “Utah should refuse to submit a clean power plan.” The column is mostly about problems with regulations concerning mercury emissions and eventual carbon rules that have been overturned by the Supreme Court. But for me what is most apparent to me is how this op-ed is really all about the cost. This is nothing new coming form an “energy alliance.”

I am not naïve, I know costs are a legitimate consideration, but what is strikingly absent is any mention of the environmental issues or health issues and their costs. I’m sure we can cite statistics showing the billions pollutions cost us medically and environmentally. But how do you put a price on quality of life issues. If pollutants cause say asthma problems for you or your children, what is that change in quality of life worth in dollars. What if a person’s lung cancer is caused or other ailments made worse by pollutants. How do you quantify those changes in terms of dollars. For the energy interests profits are all that matters.

—Robert Lane
President, HoU

Born to Learn, Martha Ross Steward Soon Chose Her Very Own Path

Martha Stewart was a founding member of Hmanists of Utah. Eileen Hallet Stone, author of theLiving History column in the Salt Lake Tribune addressed our group in November 2103.

 

In July 1915, Martha Ross Stewart was born in Salt Lake City with a built-in penchant for learning that would influence her life and those of others for more than 90 years.

The middle child of Utah calligrapher Milton Ross and his wife Harriet, she questioned everything without pause. During the dog days of summer in 1918, her mother hadn’t the energy to keep up with her. Pregnant and exhausted by the dry summer heat, Ross handed the 3-year-old “The Book of Knowledge,” and the precocious child was soon reading.

“The book was a source of entertainment and cultural shaping,” her daughter Heather Stewart Dorrell said. “It was probably her first gleaning of a much larger world outside her immediate value system.”When Martha was 14 and attending LDS High School, a private school run by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, she took theology classes and decided — to the lifelong consternation of her father — she was not of the faith.

That summer, while vacationing at the family’s cabin in Lamb’s Canyon, she also met Justin Stewart.

In the 1890s, the brothers Scott and John Stewart surveyed land in Provo Canyon for the U.S. government to issue homestead claims, and decided to make “the exquisite wilderness” a home of their own. In 1969, more than 5,000 acres of land called Stewart Flat were sold to Robert Redford and dedicated to environmental conservation and the Sundance Resort.

“John’s son, my father, was a young employee of the Forest Service who rode fence lines for the county,” Dorrell said. “Yodeling up and down the canyon, mother saw him on his horse and was a goner. Dad became the lodestar of everyday people and the love of her life.”

Graduating from high school, 15-year-old Martha enrolled at the University of Utah, studied literature and the arts and left with high honors at age 19. During the depths of the Depression in 1935 she taught at a local high school and then traveled east to marry her beloved on New Year’s Eve in New York City.

The couple maintained a long distance relationship until he completed graduate school at Columbia University. Returning to Salt Lake City, they lived in the Avenues, raised three children and, as humanists, joined the Unitarian Church.

“Father worked with the Office of Price Administration during WWII,” Dorrell said. “He set up farm cooperatives throughout Utah, and then became a lawyer.”

Augmenting the family’s income, Martha became a librarian. She worked at the Salt Lake City Library and Utah State Library for the Blind. When she became an expert researcher for the Utah State Historical Society, reporters from The Salt Lake Tribune in need of information were known to call the historical society and shout, “Get me Martha!”

Martha Ross Stewart was a fine artist in oils and watercolors. She illustrated children’s books, made linoleum block prints, clipped paper cutouts, and designed exquisite stained glass windows.

From age 17, she wrote poetry cached in a binder. Some of the verses are wry, light, sharp with puns; others are autobiographical and discerning.

“We search each other’s shining eyes in amorous inspections

“And you don’t know and I don’t know we’re finding small reflections.”

Said her son, Peter: “Mother adopted a [way] to appear like a round peg fitting in to attain her goals of husband, family, home, and community of friends while providing an outlet for her restless intellect.”

For 25 years Stewart hosted bi-monthly brunches at home to explore the veracity of life and ethics. A humanist salon comprised of free thinkers, it included a Who’s Who of Utah intellectuals, politicians, religious liberals, activists, newsmakers, historians, journalists, professors, psychologists and librarians.

Until her death at 93, Stewart wrote and discovered herself with no-holds-barred candor.

—Eileen Hallet Stone
Published in the
Salt Lake Tribune
August 7, 2015

 

President’s Message

January 2015

Happy New Year everyone! I hope your all well and enjoying the holidays. It gets kind of busy for me, because as many of you know, I bake a lot of cookies this time of year; but I do enjoy sharing them with others during the holiday season. Even if it means rolling out a couple thousand! I’ll be bringing some to our January meeting also.

Last night, New Year’s Eve, I called Flo Wineriter, to wish him a happy 90th Birthday. He sounded good and said he was feeling a bit better. He will be spending much of his time in St. George but will visit back here in the Salt Lake area monthly.

Humanists of Utah owe much to Flo. He was one of the co-founders of Humanist of Utah and served as President for many years. We greatly appreciate his wisdom and leadership, his knowledge of humanism, and that through the years and that he is always friendly to all. So again, Happy Birthday and Happy New Year Flo. As we were saying good bye, he told me to go out and make Humanists of Utah successful again this coming year. I told him we would do our best.

We have a good start this year as our January 8th general meeting will feature Dr. Jay Jacobsen as our speaker and of course some of those cookies I’m always bragging about and good conversation to go with them.

Then in February we will host our 8th annual Darwin Day with Humanists of Utah. This year we will be hosting the event at Eliot Hall. We are hoping to have astronomy as the theme, and I am currently working on finalizing our speaker. This year Darwin’s birthday, February 12th, actually falls on our usual second Thursday meeting day. It is an event I always look forward to because of my love for science. I always enjoy celebrating and advocating for science on Darwin’s birthday.

Our chapter will also have several opportunities to participate in events throughout the year, such the Utah Pride festival, street fairs, and perhaps the state fair as well. But participation in some events will only be possible if we get a few more members to volunteer to help. Please give it some consideration.

It would also please me to just hear from some of the membership. Wayne would love to include a letter or book recommendation or tell us about an interesting web site.

One possibility to get something going with members might be to start a new recommended book list. In the past we have had a printed list, but it hasn’t been updated in a few years, so maybe we can start a new one. Which reminds me that our web site is being upgraded, and a recommended book page can surly be one of the features. Anyway, Think about your favorite books and let us know.

Bye for now and see you next week for our January meeting, and bring a friend.

–Robert Lane
President, HoU

 

President’s Message

January 2015

Happy New Year everyone! I hope your all well and enjoying the holidays. It gets kind of busy for me, because as many of you know, I bake a lot of cookies this time of year; but I do enjoy sharing them with others during the holiday season. Even if it means rolling out a couple thousand! I’ll be bringing some to our January meeting also.

Last night, New Year’s Eve, I called Flo Wineriter, to wish him a happy 90th Birthday. He sounded good and said he was feeling a bit better. He will be spending much of his time in St. George but will visit back here in the Salt Lake area monthly.

Humanists of Utah owe much to Flo. He was one of the co-founders of Humanist of Utah and served as President for many years. We greatly appreciate his wisdom and leadership, his knowledge of humanism, and that through the years and that he is always friendly to all. So again, Happy Birthday and Happy New Year Flo. As we were saying good bye, he told me to go out and make Humanists of Utah successful again this coming year. I told him we would do our best.

We have a good start this year as our January 8th general meeting will feature Dr. Jay Jacobsen as our speaker and of course some of those cookies I’m always bragging about and good conversation to go with them.

Then in February we will host our 8th annual Darwin Day with Humanists of Utah. This year we will be hosting the event at Eliot Hall. We are hoping to have astronomy as the theme, and I am currently working on finalizing our speaker. This year Darwin’s birthday, February 12th, actually falls on our usual second Thursday meeting day. It is an event I always look forward to because of my love for science. I always enjoy celebrating and advocating for science on Darwin’s birthday.

Our chapter will also have several opportunities to participate in events throughout the year, such the Utah Pride festival, street fairs, and perhaps the state fair as well. But participation in some events will only be possible if we get a few more members to volunteer to help. Please give it some consideration.

It would also please me to just hear from some of the membership. Wayne would love to include a letter or book recommendation or tell us about an interesting web site.

One possibility to get something going with members might be to start a new recommended book list. In the past we have had a printed list, but it hasn’t been updated in a few years, so maybe we can start a new one. Which reminds me that our web site is being upgraded, and a recommended book page can surly be one of the features. Anyway, Think about your favorite books and let us know.

Bye for now and see you next week for our January meeting, and bring a friend.

–Robert Lane
President, HoU

 

President’s Message

February 2015

On February 12th our chapter will host its eighth annual “Darwin Day with Humanists of Utah.” As I ALWAYS say, “I’m looking forward to an enjoyable evening celebrating Science with friends and other likeminded people.” I’m also proud of the fact that we have maintained this event for eight years now. Plus, I have always come away from these events having learned something new. But science is more than just cold hard facts. Science imbues the mind with understanding (if you put it to use). It touches our senses and fills us with awe as we humans explore amid the beauty, complexity and vastness of the universe. But the awe we feel is different from that of the religious sort whose awe is toward a deity and all that that entails. For me, at least, my awe is the, “Wow, That’s really cool!” sort. Like the first time I saw the Hubble deep Field images of nearly countless galaxies in this small little piece of the sky that is in the neighborhood of 13 billion light years away. Now that’s awesome. Those images also helped us realize that an understanding of deep time is not unfathomable but an essential part of understanding the “workings” of the Universe. Now that’s awesome.

When I was thinking about this year’s theme for Darwin Day some months back, I enjoyed revisiting what we did at previous D. Days. So just for fun, here’s a quick rundown. In 2008 our first celebration had afternoon speakers Professors Kristen Hawkes and Henry Harpinton on biology and Darwin’s insight. Then in the evening Professor Scot Sampson talked about the need to educate about deep time and evolution. Our second D. Day featured Professor Frank Brown, Dean of Earth Sciences at the U of U who talked of the Hominid discoveries in the Turkana Basin in Africa he has worked on throughout his career. Our third featured Bruce Dain from the U of U who gave a historical presentation of Charles Darwin. Our forth had Professor David Goldsmith speaking paleontologically. Our fifth was at Westminster with Dr. Alan Rogers talking anthropologically. Our sixth Darwin Day was with Jon Seger on evolutionary biology. And last year our seventh, we cohosted with Utah Friends of Paleontology and featured Utah State Paleontologist James Kirkland speaking about Utah’s vast dinosaur quarry and collection.

After looking at the past years speakers I thought it would nice pick a subject other than the same ones from previous events, so I suggest Astronomy. The Board agreed so we decided to make Astronomy the theme for Darwin Day this year. To that end we have invited Paul Ricketts from the University of Utah to give us a presentation. He accepted and will give a presentation on “The Lives of Stars.” (See full details elsewhere.) As we usually do, we will have a reception with finger foods before the presentation, then the presentation followed by birthday cake. Again, as I always say, “Please join us for good food, enlightenment and good conversation.”

One more thing before I go. In the next few months I plan to write a series in the newsletter about guns and gun violence. It is a subject that needs more than one 500 word column, and it is a subject which I am squarely on both sides of the fence, which can be uncomfortable at times. I invite your comments and feelings about this subject and would love to consider them and even present them as part of the discussion. So call me or email me with your thoughts.

–Robert Lane
President, HoU

 

In Defiance of Mob Rule

February 2015

The slaughter in Paris a few weeks ago at the offices of Charlie Hebdo magazine and a kosher grocery market highlights both the necessity and the dangers of speaking out when faced with political idiocy, senseless violence, and irrational dogma. People were killed over some cartoons in a low-circulation satirical rag, for Pete’s sake! A German tabloid that ran some of the same cartoons in tribute to those killed was firebombed.

This brings up the obvious point that religion fears a sense of the ridiculous. Since religion is always a matter of unquestioning faith in a creed with little or no basis in logic or fact, calling attention to its silliness or fictitious nature is explicitly verboten. A sense of ridiculous in the congregation cannot be tolerated and must be suppressed lest the clergy be laughed out of the pulpit. As H.L. Mencken said “One horse-laugh is worth ten thousand syllogisms. It is not only more effective; it is also vastly more intelligent.” The cartoons in question were intended to invoke laughter, and we can’t have that, can we?

In these relatively tolerant United States it is considered merely bad taste and impolite to lampoon or even question someone’s religious beliefs. This was not always the case and old blasphemy laws are still on the books in some states. And even now the writer Sam Harris must travel with bodyguards, having been the subject of numerous death threats from Christians offended by his books The End of Faith and Letter to a Christian Nation. Speaking out against the unreasonable takes courage, for people cling quite desperately to their beliefs, often willing to defend them with violence.

But in most countries where Islam is the predominant religion, such blasphemy is a capital offense. To publicly question even the most absurd poppycock can get you killed if that poppycock has anything to do with the Q’uran, the Prophet, or religious tradition. A blogger in Saudi Arabia was recently sentenced to 1,000 lashes, years in prison, and a huge fine for promoting tolerance. And in Pakistan, blasphemy accusations against Christians seem to be common, with false charges being used for revenge after simple street disputes. The accused are then subject to mob violence as well as the civil violence of the courts. One girl was sentenced to hang even though the accusations against her have all the hallmarks of hearsay and slander.

What is particularly galling is that the Islamists are demanding that we submit to their own mob rule, respecting their blasphemy decrees across international borders. A cleric in Yemen can inflame a crowd over some alleged insult to Islam, and the alleged offender will be assaulted or worse. The members of the mob will held blameless. The Islamists are threatening us with this same mob rule across international borders, demanding that our own private citizens curb their tongues or risk violent death by a sleeper cell of jihadi with no regard for our local laws, customs, or constitution. This type of criminal coercion is intolerable.

The cartoonists at Charlie Hedbo were publicly defying this absurd demand, loudly, vociferously, and rightly. They were courageous and correct in their defiance, the bad taste of the cartoons notwithstanding.

–Stephen Hanka

 

Hope For Humanity

February 2015

I am holding a hope in my heart…
a hope for this human race, in which we all take part.

My heart is hurting with…
that Eric Garner, age 43, was not murdered for naught;
that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., age 39, was not assassinated in vain;
that Darrin Hunt, age 22, was not shot dead for nothing;
that Michael Brown, age 18, was not attacked and killed for no reason.

My mind is mourning each of these merciless murders…and many more,
while my heart, heedless to these repeated horrors, adheres to a faint
but palpable hope that there will not be yet another senseless, cruel death
next week, tomorrow, or this very next hour, minute, or second.

I am raising my reasoning and respect for all Americans–and all human being–
who refrain from answering pleas of “I Can’t Breathe!” with chokeholds!

I am pleading with the peace-keepers to please, please pardon
the pejorative insults persistent youth are hurling at systems of injustice.

I am begging every brother, sister, father, mother, daughter, son, boy, and girl alive
to treasure life–all life–so fiercely…to respect and guard and honor
every human being as they would their very own girl or boy, daughter or son,
father or mother, sister, or brother.

As we listen to every excruciating cry of these, our fellow humans who are dying,
May we hold this hope in our hearts, that their harrowing, heartrending cries
will never fall on apathetic hearts, numbed to injustice, or blighted by dispassion.

May our hearts hold up hope, as a beacon to obliterate apathy, injustice, and dispassion.

May our minds maintain the momentum needed to turn this hope into action.

May our human race collectively humanize the de-humanized.

May our journeys collide, and may all our hopes ignite the fires of compassion,
to heal all the hopeless hearts.

–Elaine Stehel