Should evolution be taught in school? Should creationism?

Sam Stern

By Sam Stern: One of my earliest movie memories is being befuddled watching the 1960 screen adaptation of Inherit the Wind, a fictionalized telling of the 1925 Scopes “Monkey Trial.”

The movie, based on the trial which resulted in John T. Scopes’ conviction for teaching Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution to a high school science class, contrary to aTennessee state law, probably aired on television in 1964 when I was 12.

While I missed the parable about McCarthyism, which the country had recently survived, I was familiar with Darwin’s theory of evolution. I could not believe that someone could be criminally prosecuted in 20th century America for teaching science in a public school classroom. My young mind cheered when the character based on William Jennings Bryant became flustered by Clarence Darrow’s cross-examination, caught up by contradictions in “God’s Word.”

By 12, I was an avid reader. I had been attending Hebrew School five days a week and Junior Congregation at our synagogue on Saturday for several years. I understood the concept of faith and the power of Biblical (Five Books of Moses) lessons. Continue reading

Can our lives be works of art?

By Sam Stern: I am not much of a philosopher but days like this one demand some big picture reflection. It occurs to me that I’ve entered a sector in the Circle of Life that is going to involve acknowledging mortality and saying a lot of goodbyes.

Because being upright and in a position to face the emotional challenges of the end-of-life sector is better than the alternative, I need to find, and share, a coping mechanism to serve me and minimize the pain of loss.

Recently I attended the funeral of Joan Mondale, our former Second Lady. I did not know her well, other than from her public persona. But one meeting in particular amounted to more than exchanging pleasantries at mutually attended political functions and I wanted to demonstrate the depth of my appreciation by paying my respects through my attendance at the funeral. Continue reading

What advice would you give to your future grandson?

By Sam Stern:

Dearest Beloved Grandson,

Although you are still in utero, I thought it might be a good time to start sharing life lessons for you to use as guidance in the years to come.

Lesson 1. Read. Learn to read. Love to read. I’m going to be up past my bedtime writing this tonight. If you are going to ignore Lesson 1, there’s no point in my bothering. Your Papa (me) started reading voraciously at a very young age.

As a result, I was able to travel through time and space from the comfort of my home. My vocabulary developed without having to resort to flashcards. My imagination flourished and I developed a moral compass from the stories I devoured rather than from sustaining a lot of negative reinforcement after blindly straying.

As a side benefit, if we think you’re precocious, we’ll give you extra attention. I spent hours playing Scrabble with your great-grandmother Pearl from the age of 8 or so on. I’ll never forget the joy she expressed when I was able to beat her. I look forward to experiencing the same joy sitting across the table from you.

You may be thinking that these benefits are too deferred. After all, I had to pore through some World Books, the Wikipedia of my day, to develop that vocabulary. Here’s a more immediate benefit. We’ll leave you alone while you’re reading and exercising your mind. Continue reading

Is it time to reform the primary system?

C.E. Alexander

By C.E. Alexander: Visit your favorite internet search engine and begin typing “the U.S. presidential primary system is—.”  What adjectives does the auto-fill have to offer?   Broken?  Expensive?  Undemocratic?

However convoluted, the primary season is a necessary precursor to the general presidential contest.  It is held every four years starting in January of the election year, culminating in the national party conventions, during which delegates from each party narrow their fields of hopefuls to two: the party’s presidential and vice-presidential candidates.

The Republican and Democratic conventions get most of the media coverage, but for example the Libertarian, Green and Reform parties all held notable national conventions in 2012.

Even the term primary system is a slight misnomer, as voters elect candidate-specific delegates by means of open primary, closed primary, or caucus, depending on their state of residence.  Some states may be stripped of their delegates for various reasons, while other delegates may be unpledged, meaning they are not candidate-specific and may vote how they choose. Continue reading

What is winter for?

Amber D. Stoner

By Amber D. Stoner: 50 sub-zero days reads the headline.

I’m struggling this winter. No, not just this winter. Every winter, all winters. My productivity tanks, my iron levels plummet, my exercise routine nearly disappears.

The only thing increasing is my weight and the number of hours I sleep. My hands are dry; my lips crack and peel; my legs go unshaven because what’s the point when I’m wearing two layers every day. I’ve done a zillion crossword puzzles and read several books, but I have trouble putting together an email because my synapses have slowed as have my footsteps over the icy paths.

So what is winter for? Continue reading

What would you do with $100,000?

Janine Fugate

By Janine Fugate: I am a sucker for a sweepstakes.

As a marketing professional, I know that sweepstakes are a means to an end – the company gets increased traffic on their websites, they get more detailed information about their customers, they sell more product.

In other words, they learn more about me, and can market more directly to me. They may even sell information about me to other companies, and I don’t really like that idea very much.

But as a regular person, I am a sucker for the dream.

As a constant “nester,” I am particularly a sucker for home improvement sweepstakes. In November, I entered HGTV’s “Don’t Hate, Renovate” sweepstakes three times a day for three weeks.

Yes, you read that right. Once on each of three different websites owned by the same company.

What I couldn’t do with $100,000! Just think of the great kitchen and mudroom renos I could tackle, with maybe enough left over for the main floor bathroom or garage… This month, it’s their “Wishin’ for a Kitchen” sweepstakes (twice a day!) with the slightly lower promise of a $75,000 winner. This is certainly enough for the kitchen and possibly the mudroom, especially if I did some of the work myself.

Yes, the plans are basically drawn up in my head. I did that when my husband and I had a video interview for the DIY Network show, “I Hate My Kitchen” last summer.

Sadly, we haven’t been selected for the show… yet?

Do you enter sweepstakes? What would you do with $100,000? 

Are the mind and body separate?

C.E. Alexander

By C.E. Alexander: If ghosts can be photographed—however rarely—why haven’t they ever turned up in medical imaging?

It may seem like a pointless gambit, or unnecessarily combative, but it begins the conversation at the heart of the mind-body problem.  Is our essence nothing more than brain, a critical but nonetheless bodily organ, limited to the gray matter and to the neurochemistry coursing through it?

This idea is in general referred to as monism, and any one of us could offer plenty of evidence to support it: tissue damage affects cognition in the form of stroke and concussion.  When the mind is exhausted, the body is exhausted, and vice-versa.  When sickness seizes the body, it seizes the mind as well.

Nondrinkers?  Go ahead and accept this as a reliable and first-hand account: logic, memory and creativity are no match for Jose Cuervo. Continue reading

When is enough not just enough, it’s the best?

Janine Fugate

By Janine Fugate: Lately, I’ve been watching a lot of HGTV.

It’s an old addiction. For years I was hooked – I couldn’t miss an episode of Design on a Dime, loved me some Candice Olson, couldn’t get enough of the team that would go into a house and fix it up so the hapless sellers could actually sell their home… Funny that I can’t remember the name of the show now.

Weaning myself was hard, and actually took a new obsession (grad school) to accomplish. And although I finished relatively few home projects during those three and a half years, I might have been better off.

But grad school eventually ends (in a degree for me, thankfully!), home maintenance does rear its ugly head and colder weather inevitably drives me indoors to run on the treadmill. In front of the television.

Which, after experiencing what I can only describe as a near nervous breakdown during a first-season episode of Downton Abbey due to my already-elevated heart rate from running, I had no choice: I tuned to HGTV.

Good, old, safe HGTV. Continue reading

What is a Muslim’s view of Jesus?

Sarita Agerman

By Sarita Agerman: I recently observed a conversation among several individuals who were venting steam about all the things they loathed about Islam, muslims and extremists (with each term being used interchangeably) and explaining how Islam was a source of great evil in the world and that Jesus (pbuh) was the only way to Salvation. Not wishing to get involved, I read their comments from a distance and reflected on them afterwards. And, I’m sure you’ve all experienced this sensation, here are the words which I wish I’d said at the time: 

I have a great love and respect for Jesus (pbuh) which was nurtured when I was a Christian and continues to grow and develop now as a Muslim. When Jesus said that he was ‘The Way’ I believe that he was right. If you follow his teachings about being fair to others, loving your neighbour (always the hardest to love) and showing compassion, then I believe you’re on the right path. Just as Jesus showed compassion to the Samaritan woman (who was despised for her religion, race and misdemeanors) he demonstrated that we have a responsibility to each other as human beings which transcends arbitrary labels. Continue reading

Where do I stand? (A Newbie at the Mosque)

By Sarita Agerman: Although I’ve been a Muslim for two years now,  it might surprise you to hear that I still have no idea what to do in a mosque. In fact, when it comes to mosques I might as well be a complete newbie. I get myself all in a nervous muddle not knowing where to go, what to do or when to do it.

I hadn’t been going to any of the small repurposed buildings used as mosques in Bologna because they were either too far away, had no spaces for women or you got the feeling that a huge hoo-hah would be made (with a lot of be-grudging huffing and puffing) as the space was provided for you. I’d only been to a sports hall in the suburbs for Eid prayer and that was about it.

Then huzzah! and Alhamdulillah we discovered a mosque not too far away which is lovely, shiny and new. The main selling point was that the women’s section has a huge plasma screen TV so you could see the imam speaking (in Arabic and Italian) and the women wouldn’t miss out on anything. I was so excited when I heard the news that I contacted my new friend Nameera and organised to meet there. Continue reading