Past Events at CDHS 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017
This page lists recent lectures and events. It includes a brief description plus a link to a complete summary.
Dr. Michael Brannigan holds the enviable titles of Dean of Spiritual Life and professor in Ethics and Moral Values at the College of Saint Rose. His April topic was “Ghost surgery.” This might seemingly fit with his “spiritual life” portfolio. However, Dr. Brannigan was not actually talking about surgery performed by ghosts (nor upon them). Instead, the focus was upon surgical involvement by members of a medical “team” other than the lead surgeon himself, which Brannigan analogized to ghost writing; and what this means for the issue of informed patient consent.
How The Public Is Being Ripped-Off By ESCO's
Richard Berkley is an attorney and Executive Director of the New York Public Utility Law Project. PULP advocates on behalf of utility consumers, especially low income consumers. It is approximately 80% funded with taxpayer money bestowed by the state legislature. His talk was about consumers being systematically overcharged by energy supply companies (ESCOs)
Peter Young Housing, Industries, and Treatment- Schuyler Inn
CDHS' January meeting featured a presentation by Peter Kelsey, who is the Executive Director of Peter Young Housing, Industries and Treatment (PYHIT). Mr. Kelsey has been with PYHIT for 34 years. He provided an overview of PYHIT and the volunteer opportunities at their Schuyler Inn facility in Menands, New York. PYHIT is a state-wide organization that receives funding from various Federal, State, and local sources to address the needs of the homeless and disenfranchised. Locally, PYHIT provides assistance and services via these three programs
"The Curious Case of Kiryas Joel”
John Caher is a legal reporter and author of six books, one of which, The Curious Case of Kiryas Joel, was co-written with Louis Grumet. His talk, based on it, concerned how a small religious sect got the state to establish its own school district. Kiryas Joel is a community in Rockland County, home to about 22,000 members of the Satmar sect of ultra-orthodox (Hasidic) Jews. They originated in Hungary but experienced some inconvenience during the Holocaust, prompting the survivors to relocate to Brooklyn. From there, their Rebbe, Joel Teitelbaum (1887-1979), led them on an exodus into Orange County in the 1970s. “Kiryas Joel” translates as “Joel’s Village,” and is inhabited almost exclusively by Satmars.
Disaster Recovery With A Focus On Japan’s 2011 Tsunami
Dr. Michael Brannigan is professor in Ethics and Moral Values at the College of St. Rose. His talk was about how people use what he calls “moral grit” cope with disasters, focusing upon Japan’s 2011 tsunami. Brannigan began with a quote from Friedrich Nietszche: “Of all that is written, I love only what a person has written with his own blood.”
Our September meeting featured a review of Robert Putnam's recent book Our Kids: The America Dream in Crisis.
Our September meeting featured a review of Robert Putnam's recent book Our Kids: The America Dream in Crisis by CHDS' own erudite member, Frank Robinson. If you were a regular attendee of CDHS Book Discussion group last year you were able to delve into this interesting book in much more detail and I hope that you will not take exception this abbreviated recap.
She described the nation’s leading nonprofit organization working to improve care and expand choices at the end of life.
She began by posing the question, how do you envision your own death? Some say they want to die while having sex. But most want to die at home among loved ones. It often doesn’t work out that way. Carey spoke of her father’s cancer death, which that ex-soldier fought hard against, and the efforts to ameliorate his pain toward the end. Hospice, she said, can be very helpful, but sometimes isn’t enough.
“The Connection Between Human Trafficking
Our August meeting featured another set of thoroughly delightful topics – human trafficking and animal cruelty. The panelists were Rachel Kretser, Albany City Court Judge, and Brad Shear*, Executive Director of the Hudson and Mohawk River Humane Society. (A third scheduled panelist was unable to make it.) Judge Kretser began, describing her court as being on “the front lines” of the justice system, and closest to the people.
“Current Issues Being Tackled By The NY Civil Liberties Union.”
Our July program featured Colin Donnaruma and Melanie Trimble, both officials of the New York Civil Liberties Union (the ACLU’s local incarnation). They discussed some current issues requiring civil liberties attention. Mr. Donnaruma began by noting the concern regarding racial disparities in police use of force; this was days after the killings in Baton Rouge, Minnesota, and Dallas.
“Wave Hello to Gravitational Waves.”
Matthew Szydagis is an Assistant Professor of Physics at SUNY. His talk was titled “Wave Hello to Gravitational Waves.” The story begins in 1687 with Isaac Newton’s law of gravity – not merely that stuff like apples falls down, but that the force is proportional to mass, and diminishes with the square of the distance. This was a fantastic advance of understanding. But Newton couldn’t say how the force of gravity is transmitted between objects.
“Countering Terrorists and Other Violent Actors in the USA.”
In May we heard from Rick Mathews, on “Countering Terrorists and Other Violent Actors in the USA.” [“Violent Actors” has nothing to do with Hollywood.] Mathews is Director of Simulations and Training at the State University’s College of Emergency Preparedness, Homeland Security, and Cybersecurity.
“Mitochondria, Y Chromosomes, You and Me.”
Keenya Oliver Bemis is a longtime active CDHSer, on the Executive Council, and teaches biology at various different schools.
Mitochondria are organelles – little gizmos inside living cells. (All life is made up of cells.) Mitochondria convert food into ATP, which is where we get our energy from. (That’s why they’re called “mighty mitochondria.”)
“Closing Ceremonies: How to honor and celebrate the lives of the non-religious.”
Our society doesn’t like to talk about death – a “death defying culture” according to our March speaker, Heidi Parker. But we humanists don’t fit that characterization – indeed, based upon speakers we’ve had, death seems to be one of our favorite topics. Heidi Parker is a humanist celebrant and chaplain, certified in thanatology (grief and death counseling).
“The Past We Choose to Remember – Children’s Historical Literature and the Christian Right.”
His interest in the subject was triggered when, as a bibliophile collecting past history texts, he bought on eBay what he thought was an 1884 book, but which turned out to be a 1998 re-issue by Mantle Ministries. That publisher produces books intended for use by Christian home schoolers. The volume in question was a monosyllabic text by Josephine Pollard.
Dr. Alan Lizotte:
Observations on Reducing Gun Violence
Alan Lizotte is a Professor at SUNY Albany, specializing in gun-related issues, which he said he’s been studying for 45 years. It is estimated that there are 310 million guns in the U.S. – something Professor Lizotte came back to repeatedly, as a key basic fact to be reckoned with. America has a culture of gun ownership, with guns having a cultural meaning for many people.
The Albany Museum of Political Corruption
Bruce Roter, our December speaker, is the impresario of the planned Albany Museum of Political Corruption. This is not a joke – but a real project, with the museum’s opening currently projected for 2019. Roter is a Music Professor at the College of St. Rose. Why is a music teacher heading up a political corruption museum? Well, somebody had to.
Climate Change on Earth: The Long Term View
Dr. Curt Stager spoke to us about climate change on earth. But he made certain to stress that his goal was not to look at short term climate change (over the next 90-100 years) but rather long term change covering the next 100 thousand years or so. He also explained that climate is very different from weather as climate describes a more generalized pattern of local weather.
Review of Matthew Stewart's book "Nature's God: The Heretical Origins of the American Republic."
Stewart started his working life as a management consultant, which he claims requires no great knowledge or study. After the success of his first career, he started writing. His studies took him into reading about the mental state and interests of the settlers in America just before, during, and after the time of the revolution. He became interested in why so many people today tout America as a “Christian Nation”, in spite of the fact that so many of the statesmen of the time wrote articles and letters that indicated a very different view of their mindset during the young years of this Nation.
“The worm at the core – the role of death in life.”
Dr. Sheldon Solomon, a psychology professor at Skidmore College, is an old friend of CDHS and spoke about one of our favorite topics: “The worm at the core – the role of death in life.”
Stephen G. Levy Esq-
Probate in New York
Our August speaker was Stephen G. Levy, an Albany “elderlaw” attorney specializing in estate planning and administration. He is also president of Ohav Shalom Apartments. Mr. Levy’s aim was to explain the probate process – the transfer of assets owned by a deceased person, when that transfer is under court supervision.
Dr. Julien Musolino-
Julien Musolino is with the Psychology Department at Rutgers University, and discussed his recent book, The Soul Fallacy. He began by showing us a commercial. In a car crash, the driver is dead, and we see his filmy soul leave his body and ascend presumably to Heaven. His passenger’s soul is thinking about doing likewise; but the guy wakes up, unbuckles his seat belt, and lives. Then the message: “Heaven can wait. Buckle up.” [FSR: Musolino did not note the absurdity: if one IS going to Heaven, why wait?]
Choosing a Long Term Care Facility
Edie Sennett-Jozwiak is Director of Social Services for the Albany County Nursing Home, and formerly was an Ombudsman Coordinator for the American Red Cross. Her presentation was titled “Choosing a Long Term Care Facility;” but she chose to label it a “conversation” rather than a “talk.” And indeed there was much back-and-forth.
The Search for "True Faith”
Carl Strock is a former journalist with much Far East experience. For many years he was a columnist for the Schenectady Gazette, and wrote a wonderful memoir about that, From D’Burg to Jerusalem. He currently blogs for the Times-Union. His slide show presentation was titled (somewhat facetiously) “Search for the True Faith – Around the World with Carl and Pearl” (his wife).
“Homelessness in the Capital Region.”
Elizabeth Hitt has been Executive Director of Albany’s Homeless and Travelers Aid Society (HATAS) since 2010. Hitt has personal acquaintanceship with the problem of homelessness: she spent eight months homeless herself, after serving six years in the U.S. Army. This is not atypical; in fact, she noted, a majority of homeless men are veterans -- who tend to be difficult to help because of their pride. When homeless herself, Hitt never spent a night in a shelter.
“The Danger of Oil Trains Through Albany.”
Our March speaker – a last minute replacement for the one originally scheduled – was Gregg Bell, of PAUSE – People of Albany United For Safe Energy. The concern is over oil trains going through Albany, a key transit point. Bell noted that such transportation by rail was happening only to a minor extent until about three years ago; the change is a consequence of the exploitation of the Bakken oil fields, traversing Canada and North Dakota, by means of newly advanced hydrofracking technology. The geographical remoteness of this production makes rail transport the only economic option.
Professor Mathias Vuille-
“The Science of Climate Change – Separating Fact From Fiction.”
On a snowy February day we heard from Associate Professor Mathias Vuille of the Department of Atmospheric and Environmental Sciences at the University of Albany, on “The Science of Climate Change – Separating Fact From Fiction.” He started by identifying what he deemed to be four fundamental questions: Why and how is the climate changing? What are the global impacts? More immediately, how might it affect the Northeastern U.S.? And what should we do about it?
Assembly member Patricia Fahy-
“Legislative Challenges in Albany”
Our January speaker was Albany’s state Assembly member Patricia Fahy, who talked about her background, election, and legislative challenges. She described the Assembly as a very partisan place, totally controlled by the Democratic majority.
“How serious is the danger of radioactivity in small doses?”
In December we were privileged to hear Dr. Joe Levinger, a CDHS member and physicist who, among his other accomplishments, worked on the Manhattan Project. (For those born on Mars, this was the WWII secret project that developed the atom bomb. Few participants in this historically momentous enterprise can still be among us.)
“Taking Liberties: Why Religious Freedom Doesn’t Give You the Right to Tell Other People What to Do”
Rob Boston is director of communications for Americans United for Separation of Church and State. His latest book is Taking Liberties: Why Religious Freedom Doesn’t Give You the Right to Tell Other People What to Do. Boston noted that he has often participated in debates and panel discussions with representatives of the religious right, and is frequently confronted with the question, “What is it you people want?” This is a question he has pondered, and tried to answer thoroughly, in his talk. Here is what he said we should want from religionists:
“Atheist Discrimination: The Strange (And Serious) Ways Nonbelievers are Mistreated.”
Maggie Ardiente is the American Humanist Association’s Director of Development and Communications . Her talk was titled “Atheist Discrimination: The Strange (And Serious) Ways Nonbelievers are Mistreated.” She started by casting America as behind other advanced nations when it comes to secularization, with atheists widely perceived as Devil worshippers, unpatriotic, un-American, and so forth. Eight states still have laws barring atheists from holding office; and opinion polls have revealed that as far as suitability for public office is concerned, atheists are rated on par with rapists
Moral Dilemmas in Confucian Perspective.
Dr. Anthony DeBlasi is Associate Professor of Chinese History at SUNY, specializing in intellectual history. His talk was about “Moral Dilemmas in Confucian Perspective.” Confucius lived from 551 to 479 BC [no, it’s not a Chinese name, but a Westernization of K’ung Fu-tzu (old style) or Kong Fuzi (Pinyin)] and was a thinker and teacher whose words were recorded by disciples (the “Analects”). His influence on Chinese thinking was great until the last century, but waned after the 1911 overthrow of the monarchy, being widely blamed by Chinese for the nation’s backwardness and weakness.
Final Exit Network
Continuing on our current series on the cheery subject of death, in August we heard from Dr. Jerry Metz. He retired from medical practice in 1996 and got involved with Final Exit Network. Its aim is to provide compassionate escape from the suffering caused by age and disease.
Albany Police Lieutenant Michael S. Barone, who is also a practicing attorney, spoke to us about Community Policing in the City of Albany. He noted that the Albany Police Department was started in 1851, but a “community policing” approach did not begin until the 1970s, with “neighborhood police units” being established in Arbor Hill and the South End. Though this early effort became constrained by budget limitations, in 2009 the department saw a need to change its entire philosophy of operation in fulfilling its mission of serving Albanians.
On a lovely June day we had a delightful talk about what is done with corpses. Amy Cunningham spent most of her life as a magazine journalist but, inspired by how rewarding her father’s memorial service was for the attendees, decided to go to school to become a funeral director.
Chris Stedman is the Assistant Humanist Chaplain at Harvard, and author of Faithiest: How an Atheist Found Common Ground with the Religious. His topic was interfaith cooperation – and why atheist and humanists should be interested in doing it.
Aesthetics, Beauty, and Art, in a Humanist Context
Shawn Trapp, a CDHS member, has been a radio station classical music director and now freelances as a classical music producer and lecturer. His presentation concerned aesthetics, beauty, and art, in a humanist context. It was dedicated to Leonard Bernstein, whom Trapp lauded for working to cultivate musical enjoyment by a wide audience.
Movie censorship? Whoever heard of such a thing? Actually, many of us are old enough to remember it in the dark days of yesteryear. Getting free of it, the speaker emphasized, was a long and difficult battle. The story begins with the advent of motion pictures during the Progressive era of the early 1900s.
Gretchen Moore Simmons-
“Interactive Workshop” on Alzheimer's Disease
Our February program was an “interactive workshop” on Alzheimer's Disease (“AD”) featuring Gretchen Moore Simmons, Professional Development Specialist with the Northeastern New York Alzheimer's Association (www.alz.org/northeasternny).
“Natural Gas, Hydraulic Fracturing and Hot Air”
The “hot air” referred not to the talk itself, but rather, to what this topic more typically generates. Reference was made to some recent anti-fracking movies, such as Promised Land, Gasland, and its innovatively titled sequel Gasland 2; while many New York local governments have banned fracking and allied procedures, mostly in areas where fracking would never occur anyway (presumably such symbolic enactments make some people feel good).
When I'm 64.....Health and Economic Security Challenges facing Older New Yorkers
Gail Myers is Deputy Director of the New York Statewide Senior Action Council, which she described as “left leaning but nonpartisan.” She has also been the Governor’s Special Assistant for Community Affairs. Her talk covered a range of concerns relating to health insurance and senior citizens. She began with the 1960s “War of Poverty” and creation of the Medicare program, followed decades later by the addition of Medicare Part D prescription drug coverage.
From D’burg to Jerusalem: The Unlikely Rise and Awful Fall of a Small-Town Newsman
Carl Strock is the former editor of Asian Golf News. But (thankfully) that’s not what his talk was about; rather, his book, From D’burg to Jerusalem: The Unlikely Rise and Awful Fall of a Small-Town Newsman. Carl did start his journalistic career in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War, working for the AP and also as editor of the South China Morning Post. When he returned stateside and needed an income, finding work as the Rotterdam area reporter for the Schenectady (later Daily) Gazette felt like a big come-down. This was aggravated when he had to cover a dismal Duanesburg town board meeting, whose main agenda item was painting the town garage’s roof.
John Delano is a Distinguished Teaching Professor and Associate Dean at SUNY-Albany. He spoke about NASA’s search for habitable planets orbiting other stars. “Astrobiology” is a multidisciplinary science aimed at understanding the origin and distribution of life in the Universe. Some of the key questions: What is life? Is the Solar System typical? Is complex life common? Is intelligence inevitable?
Southern Life, Northern City: The History of Albany’s Rapp Road Community
Our September speaker, Jennifer Lemak, is a Senior Historian at the New York State Museum. Her talk was titled, Southern Life, Northern City: The History of Albany’s Rapp Road Community. The community in question is a tract in the Pine Bush, off Washington Avenue Extension, populated by black families whose roots derive from the small Mississippi town of Shubuta and its environs. This was part of what’s called the “Great Migration,” prominently chronicled in a wonderful book by Isabel Wilkerson, The Warmth of Other Suns – the migration of blacks from south to north between about 1915 and 1970.
The Jesus Story as A Myth
For humanists, the word “heretic” comes up a lot, often employed loosely. But our August speaker was the genuine article – having been formally charged with heresy by the Presbyterian church, after 33 years as one of its pastors in the Western New York area. David Persons gave a talk that mostly recapitulated his life story, and his personal journey in matters spiritual and religious.
Sex, Beer, and Spirituality: Return of the Beer Witch, Ale-Wife, and Brewster
Dr. Janet Spitz is an economist at the College of Saint Rose. Her talk was titled Sex, Beer, and Spirituality: Return of the Beer Witch, Ale-Wife, and Brewster. And you thought economics was dull. Dr. Spitz began by displaying some herbs (including wormwood, which she said is a good substitute for mothballs). This led her to talking about a role of women in prehistoric times, that of the herb maven, wise woman, healer/adviser, and bootlegger. Beer was indeed one of our earliest “processed foods,” whose preparation required a knowledge base about the right ingredients, and a lot of fastidious care – i.e., not the forte of the male of the species.
New York’s Litigation Culture
Tom Stebbins is Executive Director of Lawsuit Reform Alliance of New York (LRANY). His talk was titled “New York’s Litigation Culture.” Another phrase for the issue is “Tort Reform.” A “tort” is an injury, for which compensation is sought (theoretically from a party responsible) in a civil lawsuit (as opposed to criminal proceedings). While many people (of leftward bent) consider this a “conservative” pursuit, Stebbins rejected the idea that it’s ideological. Indeed, he said, the money wasted on unnecessary litigation is money that could otherwise be devoted to pursuits beloved by liberals.
Review of a book by Joseph Stiglitz, "The Price of Inequality"
Michael Sattinger is a Professor of Economics at the State University at Albany. He presented a review of a book by Joseph Stiglitz, The Price of Inequality. Stiglitz is a Nobel-laureate economist and former World Bank official.
Our April 1880 speaker was Ulysses S. Grant. For those with short memories, General Grant, as he is usually known, commanded the Union forces in the recent unpleasantness with the southern states, and subsequently served two terms as president.
Rosemary Armao is a journalism professor at SUNY Albany, and also works as an investigative editor in Eastern Europe and other foreign locales. She is a regular panelist on WAMC’s Media Project. Her talk was titled “Media Ethics in Covering Controversial Issues.” It was an interactive presentation, with much back-and forth with audience members.
Alice Green has a doctorate in criminal justice, and in 1985 founded the Center for Law and Justice in Albany, which she still runs. She is also an adjunct professor at SUNY, and has long been a vocal advocate on the issue of African-American incarceration. To explain what she does, and why, Dr. Green cited three major influences.
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