Northern Virginia Ethical Society (NoVES)

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  • Friday, January 25, 2019 9:03 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    My original proposal was to give a normal platform address on Bob Dylan—what Dylan means to me, why he is a “classic” in his own time and why he will be remembered long after we’re gone.  I was going to talk about his hesitancy in accepting the Nobel Prize for Literature and his eventual reluctant acceptance of the award.  His protean genius resists canonization and he has continually reinvented himself by reinterpreting his old songs and adding many new ones along the way.  When he did give his acceptance speech it was given not in person in Sweden but was rather via a recorded video (also now published in book form).  I will discuss the most important parts of his speech, his explicit link to the bardic Homeric tradition of rhapsodes, and his love of Melville’s Moby Dick and All Quiet on the Western Front.  This platform address was to have been accompanied by listening to some of his recordings with as many of our musically inclined members taking part in rousing versions of "Forever Young", "Masters of War" and "This Land is Your Land".

    More recently, and having met some talented musicians here in Fauquier County I realized that it is impossible to do Dylan justice in one hour. Thus I proposed that the normal closing time of noon be expanded to 1PM. My plan metamorphosed into a short “Homage to Dylan” platform address by me — about 15 minutes, and then breaking into a practice workshop along the lines of our recent poetry workshop, but in this case there will be an “expert” in each group, i.e. a talented musician who will teach the song to the other folks in the group.  I will bring in all of my Bob Dylan books, records, cd’s, songbooks, musical instruments including a guitar, 10 harmonicas, 2 rainmakers, 10 bells and various other assorted noisemakers. So far I have had preliminary assurances from several friends and neighbors.  In conjunction with our musically talented members we shouldn’t have any problems putting on an excellent performance after 20 minutes or so of workshop time.  The music will start with a Woody Guthrie song (To be determined by popular acclaim) to be followed by listening to one of the songs from Dylan’s first recorded concert at a hotel in Connecticut in 1962 in which he sings 4 Woody Guthrie songs (just placed online on You Tube a few days ago).  We will then break into our study sessions into groups of 3 or 4 people each.

    Each of our experts will pick their favorite song (or songs if time permits) to teach and lead.  So far I’ve heard interest in “Don’t Think Twice", "A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall", "Farewell, Angelina", "Mama You’ve Been On My Mind", "One More Cup of Coffee", "Oh Sister", "Girl From the North Country", "If Not for You", "All Along the Watchtower", "Ring Them Bells", "90 Miles an Hour (down a dead end street)", and "Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door".  We'll begin with unison renditions of "Forever Young" and close with "This Land is Your Land", with the two suppressed verses reinstated.

  • Thursday, March 01, 2018 10:16 AM | Deleted user

    [August Tarrier is co-presenter at our upcoming Sunday 3/11/18 platform]

    Ameen hadn't picked up his trumpet in over 5 years. After chatting with some of his new friends in workshop he decided to play again. In June he volunteered to give the opening invocation for our first concert inside the prison, and we recorded his piece to use as the opening for our big concert at the Painted Bride in Philadelphia in 2016.

    Songs in the Key of Free is a nonprofit that brings workshops in musicianship and songwriting into prisons. For the past year, we’ve been offering programming at SCI-Graterford, a maximum-security prison in Montgomery County, PA, where the residents live behind a 40-foot-high wall. That’s where we met Ameen and 25 other musicians and songwriters.

    The program has transformed many of the participants, and us too. Another participant, Bomani, told us one day, “I felt like I was buried alive in here, and when you people came along, it’s like I rediscovered my humanity.” He and others in the program tell us that they had lived on the same block for years with guys, but had never spoken. And now, because of friendships forged in the program, they’re regularly meeting and playing music with people who had been strangers only weeks or months ago.

    Today, after more than a year, we’re recording an album and a podcast, and we’re bonded to one another. Our community is one of trust and reciprocity. The foundation of Songs is built on the radical notion that while a person may have been convicted of a crime and sentenced to prison, even sentenced to life without parole, he still has the right to love and be loved. He still has a right to claim the dignity of being human and right to claim the inherent goodness that is our human birthright. Creating and performing music together allows those who have been dehumanized , silenced and marginalized to step into a position of power so that they can transform us, the audience, to shine so brightly that we ourselves are lifted and changed.

    Songs exists to make an intervention in the ways in which people on the outside view those on the inside (e.g., as less than human, or as deserving of punishment or privation). As another participant, Paul, says, “There’s a lot of good lives being wasted in here. If we can stop looking at prisoners as a liability and instead see them as assets, then we can make a positive impact on the communities we come from.”

    Paul has spent 40 years locked behind bars. As he says, “it’s still my priority to go home, but my real priority is that I’d love to leave a better legacy than when I came to prison.  Even if I die in prison . . . I mean, I have a lot of things to make up for, but I spent the last 25-30 years of my life trying to serve. It keeps my sanity. Serving others gave my life meaning and purpose  . . .  prison’s not a place where you’re happy but it’s a place where you can find meaning and purpose.”

    Songs in the Key of Free has brought meaning and purpose to our lives, and we consider ourselves fortunate to know such wise and generous men.

  • Sunday, February 25, 2018 10:43 PM | Deleted user

    After delivering our Sunday 2/25 platform on the role of social networks, I discovered a New York Times article from this week  discussing the NRA’s prodigious networking capacity to disseminate just-in-time pro-gun messaging just when sentiments resurface to re-open the gun control debate.

    I immediately thought of the excellent discussion we had at our Sunday platform on how significant have been the efforts this week of so many high schoolers to force businesses to cut ties with the NRA. Their powerful use of social networks to create this pressure has been nothing short of stunning.

    As we prepare to join families and kids on Saturday March 24 for the March for Our Lives at the National Mall, it is more important than ever that we join high schoolers around the nation to harness  powerful new ways to socially message why commonsense gun control is imperative .

    Reading student testimonials this week has been heartbreaking. We cannot let our despair with the failed politicians of our generation to let down our next generation who are now fighting with renewed vigor for a basic right to feel safe in school and public places. Please join us. We need to seize this chance to join and strengthen our networks for commonsense gun control. More details will be available soon.

  • Thursday, February 22, 2018 12:03 AM | Deleted user


    -- Govind Nair,  NoVES Member

    Here’s an addendum to our 2/18/18 multi-member panel Sunday platform on immigration and American identity. It completes our closing statement with clarifications which were not possible in our time limits.

    In closing this platform, I touched very quickly on our need as humanists to apply reason and evidence to counter the growing scourge of nativism across the world, well beyond just America. I also promised to offer references to a few quick evidentiary claims I made to counter widely propagated myths founded upon the notion of nativism valued by those opposed to immigration, immigrants, and multi-cultural society.

    Opportunistic and cynical politicians appealing to nativists love to tout a claim that immigration leads to greater crime, which well over 50 scholarly criminology and other studies have debunked. Another favorite claim is that immigration causes job loss at home. Despite some methodological difficulties in the relevant research, none of which disqualify the conclusions, evidence from both Britain and USA do not indicate any impact of immigration on unemployment. The evidence on wages is a bit more varied, but still negates a favorite nativist trope that “immigrants push down wages.” Some data on sectors employing immigrants may show declines in low-wage occupations, but may be picking up more than just the effect of immigration, whereas data on high-wage occupations show continued wage increases. The overall positive impact of immigration is however the overwhelming conclusion in the vast majority of research studies.

    If evidence counters the nativist false claims on immigrants’ adverse impact on crime, jobs, and wages, why do such nativist falsehoods still find favor? Whatever the cause, it is clearly not the result of applying reason and evidence to back nativist claims. Ultimately, we can reduce the basis of such claims to tribal instincts and the fear of the “other.” Such irrational tribalist claims too must be challenged by reason and evidence. Advances in global genetics research now place us on firm ground that race is a biological fallacy and only a misleading social construct and also that we share overwhelming similarity in our common origins as a species which migrated worldwide out of Africa.

    If we can accept that reason and evidence overwhelmingly refute the claims of nativism, we also need to ask what are the costs of nativist myths and the potential benefits of policy built on non-nativist foundations. Recent research concludes that migrants constitute just 3.4 per cent of the world’s population, but contribute 10 percent of the world’s economic output. Moreover, some of the most recent research estimates persuasively suggest that removing all global barriers to migration would actually double global output and dramatically lift living standards worldwide.

    Clearly, reason and evidence alone may not be sufficient to extinguish the appeals of populist politicians to those seduced by the myth of nativism. As humanists however, we today face an even greater imperative to bring the light of reason and evidence upon the dark and delusional visions of nativism, and to further unleash the greater human potential that remains unrealized in our midst as we erect barriers to further free movement of people.

  • Wednesday, February 21, 2018 8:16 AM | Deleted user

    At our Sunday 2/18 platform, five NoVES members, myself included, wove a biographically based tapestry of the diverse American immigration story. We traced our multi-generational family migration stories to America back to Ethiopia, Belgium, India, Colombia, Malaysia, Hungary, Australia, and indeed well beyond our shores to every continent on this planet.

    Our varied stories spoke of flight. From concentration camps, military dictatorship, communist government, and other settings. We also spoke of the quest for and fulfilment of opportunity in America. At medical and dentistry school, in entrepreneurial ventures, and more. Our stories also variously spoke of confronting and defying stereotypes, of feeling “different” in America, but also of feeling American and “different” abroad. We heard echoes of the generosity and warmth we feel from fellow Americans, and also of the sense of being a stranger at home from having a different accent or aspect. And several of us mentioned that ironic sense of feeling American especially when we are abroad, even if we may feel less so when we are home in America.

    Despite many common threads, each of our five stories were unique. Adding to our five biographies we presented are the many more diverse immigration stories from our NoVES membership which were not told at that Sunday morning platform. What nonetheless emerges from this sense of commonality and diversity is the reality that America has always and continues to accommodate the rich streams of history, language, and traditions that the rest of the world brings us and that we imperfectly meld into a sense of common American identity.

    America for all of us is an ideal which somewhat eludes us, yet also can inspire us and the rest of the world in ways no other country can. We have held the torch of e pluribus unum to attract the energies of hard working and creative talents worldwide and, as a result, have achieved a record of social, cultural, scientific, and technological innovation still unmatched elsewhere in the world. Yet, we have historically fallen short of fulfilling our ideal, whether through enslavement of involuntary migrants, exclusion of others who sought to voluntarily migrate, or unlawful detention of citizens who happen to look “different” at the “wrong” time.

    At present, our ideal has once again been placed on trial as a seriously misplaced sense of nativism has threatened to overshadow our real, albeit imperfect, achievements of striving to overcome the limitations of bigotry, persecution, and discrimination elsewhere in the world that brought many of us and our ancestors here. For us who seek to build a society on enlightened principles of reason, the evidence of our benefits from diversity and immigration is overwhelming. We need to continually strive to shed the illusions of fundamental differences into which our tribal instincts mislead us. We need to instead harness that marvelous gift of reason which has shown us the genome of a human species demonstrating race as a biological fallacy and also as a dangerously misleading social construct. America remains uniquely poised to show humanity the potential of harnessing that sliver of our genome we call human diversity. Our claims to humanist ideals make this challenge an imperative.

  • Sunday, February 11, 2018 9:37 AM | Deleted user

    I was pleased the NoVES newsletter acknowledged the passing of one of the Society's original members, Richard (Dick) Risk. I would like to add my appreciation.

    Dick was an erudite gentleman who retained a charming Midwest politeness. When Dick presided over a Society Platform meeting, I appreciated his sonorous, refined voice accompanied by a wide and welcoming smile. I felt secure in his presence.

    “Marv, I’m delighted to see you,” was how he typically greeted me. I suspect others were similarly addressed because Dick liked people.

    On the other hand, Dick had a no-nonsense streak. I recall a time I was addressing members at Platform by asking us to consider completing our pledges. After suggesting that we only had a brief time to conclude the campaign, the budget, the need to know our numbers . . . Dick stood from the audience.

    “Just fill out the damned pledge on any old piece of paper. Marv is way too circumspect, but we are all volunteers here. Let’s make our lives a bit easier.”

     I did not say another word that day.

    When I last visited Dick at a nursing home, he was confined to bed. Yet, he wanted to talk about poetry and musicals. He insisted on singing bits from shows he enjoyed. He recalled his early years in Illinois and Missouri. “I was so naïve in those days,” he admonished himself. But he said that one of the best things he did was to join the Ethical Society, first in St. Louis and then here in Virginia. He told me the Society opened him to ideas that challenged his parochial beliefs. So, what NoVES does is important . . . at least to a lovely man whose memory I value.

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