March Voice Of Sanity

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Editor: Joyce Bates
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Greenville, SC 29602
March, 2013

The Voice of Sanity

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Second Saturday Brunch, March 9th, 10:00AM to 12:00 noon, at Denny’s restaurant, 2521 Wade Hampton Blvd.

The Sunday meeting and discussion from 11:00AM to 1:00PM is on March 3rd, 10th, 17th, 24th, and 31st; location: the Earth Fare 3620 Pelham Road, Greenville

The Free-Thought group meets every other Thursday (March 7th, 21st and April 4th) 7:000PM at Bailey’s; 2409 Laurens Road; Greenville.

For additional local activities see calendars at:


Never Say Die

Book Review by Tom Bentley

From the Washington Post: “The U.S. mortality rate is the highest of the 17 nations until Americans hit 50 and the second-highest until they hit 70. Then our mortality ranking precipitously shifts: By the time American seniors hit 80, they have some of the longest life expectancies in the world. At age 65, Americans enter a health-care system that ceases to be exceptional when compared with the systems in the other 16 nations studied.” [ref.]

I guess I’m in luck; I’m past the 70 mark, so my life expectancy is shooting up even now.  And yet, I know I’m getting old.  This morning I made the mistake of looking in the mirror after stepping out of the shower.  Gravity has not been kind.  Last year, I lost 25 pounds in three months; I’ve now gained half of that back.  But so what?  Going from a skinny old guy with a bowling ball in my stomach, to a not-so skinny old guy with a bowling ball pot.  Things are probably going to get worse.

I hadn’t know just how much worse, until I read Never Say Die by Susan Jacoby.  If you want to know the horrors in store for you in your old age, that’s the place to find out.

And you should find out, you should know the truth about your future, if you plan on living past 65.  Or even if you don’t want to think that far ahead, you should know what life is like, now, for the millions of Americans who are over 65, over 70, especially for those who are over 85, the “old old” as Jacoby calls them.  There’s real tragedy there.

Susan Jacoby is an atheist, secularist and humanist, and author, among other books, of Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism (2004).  Never Say Die is an impassioned plea for understanding and care for the aging, for whom life only gets harder and harder, as well as to think about our own future.

Fifty per cent of  Americans aged 85 or more, are victims of Alzheimer’s disease.  Jacoby’s own husband died of it, at a younger age (Never Say Die was written finished after his death, in 2011, when she was 65 years old), so she has a close knowledge of the ravages of Alzheimer’s.  In the chapter “A Mind is a Terrible Thing to Lose,” she sets it all forth.  “There is also a great deal of social shame and stigma surrounding Alzheimer’s, as there once was surrounding cancer,” she writes.  5.4 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s today, according to the Alzheimer’s Association (AA). There’s no cure, and medicines can only delay the worst effects for a few months.  Treatment consists mostly of tender loving care, and that care is provided usually by the closest relative: a wife.

Reading Never Say Die caused me to take a closer look around my neighborhood.  I’m president of our Home Owners Association, but had never quite put it together: almost half the residents in my neighborhood are widows.  And this is not a retirement community.  Sadly, men die younger than women.  And, men are much more likely to get Alzheimer’s than are women.  As Jacoby points out, those men are taken care of by women. “More than 15 million Americans provide unpaid care valued at $210 billion for persons with Alzheimer’s and other dementias” according the AA. Most  of these Americans providing unpaid care are themselves poor women.  Their husbands unable to work and needing full-time care, these women cannot themselves work, so are left with whatever Social Security has to offer, since most pensions are a thing of the past, equity in their home has disappeared, and 401(k) plans have been decimated by the crash of 2007.

“Given their financial situation, it is hard for most boomers over fifty-five not to shudder when liberal Democrats, a well as far-right Republicans, begin talking about the need to cut elder entitlement programs in the same tone as one might say the sun rises in the east and sets in the west.”

“When politicians talk about cutting old-age entitlements, they are really talking about denying health care and social security benefits to poor old women,” she quotes a doctor as saying.  Jacoby says, “There is no scenario, however pessimistic or optimistic, that would counteract the tendency of the struggling middle class to become poorer in old age and still poorer in old old age.”

[Let’s point out here that the Fiscal Cliff negotiations very nearly ended in cutting the amount Medicare and Medicaid will pay for home health care.]

Investigating the myth of the “wisdom of old age,” Jacoby quotes a scientist who says, “those of us whose mental lives have been both vigorous and rigorous approach their advanced years with a mighty coat of mental armor.”  She goes on to point out, “Except when the light of the mind is extinguished, as it was for Isaac Newton, Jonathan Swift, Immanuel Kant, Frederick Law Olmsted, Sargent Shriver, and Brooke Astor.”

Jacoby traces the rise of the “youth culture” and the denial of aging in American culture, encouraged by so-called ‘miracles of modern science,’ which she calls “half-truths” for their promises of longevity.  And what sort of ‘longevity’ could they possibly provide that we would want to participate in?  We may, in the long run, prefer to take the path of assisted suicide–if our lawmakers would consider their own demise (or we all move to Oregon).

[But then, as John Maynard Keyes famously said, “In the long run, we’re all dead.”]

But I don’t want to leave you entirely with the impression that Never Say Die is just a downer. She does have some encouragement; it’s just that her humaneness necessitates her showing the bad with the good, the tragedies that may await us, along with the encouraging thought that we just may be able to enjoy our lives now, while we are able.



It is common knowledge that fish is good for us. It’s high in protein and low in fat. It’s loaded with omega3 fatty acids that lower cholesterol, triglycerides (animal and vegetable fat) levels and it checks developing heart disease. The acids also improve the body’s immunity system, enhance brain development, and keep our eyes healthy. Our only dietary worry with fish is that it can contain mercury and other toxins. Nevertheless, people, especially pregnant women, nursing mothers, and young children are encouraged to eat up to two servings of fish a week. This is not good news for fish, especially since fishing became industrialized during the last half of the twentieth century.

It isn’t good news for us, either, because industrialized fishing has created serious problems with stocks of wild fish throughout the world’s oceans.

In 1950 the global fish catch was 20 million tons; in 1960 it was 40 million tons, in 1980 it was 80 million tons. Up until 1990 most fisheries in the world except Iceland caught quotas that were far beyond allowable limits for fish populations to rebuild. The cod fishing industry of Northeastern US and Canada is a real life example of this tragedy of the commons. Fisheries from all over the world came to areas such as the Grand Bank and Georges Bank to reap the harvest of cod each year. When the cod populations started diminishing the retail price for cod went up making it all the more profitable to catch. By the time some of the forward-looking fisheries suggested quotas it was already too late. The cod industry collapsed in the 1990s. As of 2006 the Georges Bank cod number less than 1% of original populations. Some scientists doubt they will ever recover. It is no wonder that Groton’s frozen fish which has a plant located in Gloucester, gets its fish from Alaska and Russia and its shrimp from Asia and South America.

Most of us might think farmed fish would be the solution to keeping wild fish populations up. Presently, this is not so. Most farmed fish (and wild fish) such as salmon, trout, and turbot are carnivorous and sustain themselves by eating other fish. Commercial farms have to feed their stock with pellets made from by-catch and fish oil, with wheat used as a binder. By-catch is composed of all fish and other ocean creatures not fit for the human market but nevertheless are caught in the nets of the wild fisheries. Unfortunately, these catches often contains immature fish that would eventually be marketable, or fish that are not the species the fishery is contracted to catch.

It takes about one and three-quarter pound of by-catch to produce a half-pound of farm fish. There is hope for the farming industry, though. Some pellet manufacturers have introduced vegetable protein into their product. At the moment the farming industry still depends on the by-catch for feed. Shrinking wild fish populations will limit by-catch.

The other factors that endanger wild fish populations are trawling, careless treatment of wastewater from manufacture and farming industries, and destruction of wetlands that serve as nurseries for young fish and shellfish.  Trawlers are especially damaging when fishing for bottom feeders such as halibut, flounder and sole. The trawls and chains used in the operation disturb the ocean floor and effective destroy the habitat down to about eight inches. This is comparable to clear cutting a forest.

We sometimes hear about local fish kills and harmful algal blooms in the Piedmont. Algal blooms become harmful when they overgrow a volume of water because of excess amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus. The problem arises when the algae die and decay. The bacterial action of decay depletes the dissolved oxygen in the water and nothing else can live. The Chesapeake Bay watershed is 64,000 square miles. The Bay and its estuaries are a huge nursery and habitat for spawning and young fish and shellfish. Its water has to contain enough dissolved oxygen for these animals to breathe. In 1972 its water quality and fish population crashed because of heavy pollution. Steps were taken to improve domestic and industrial wastewater treatment so that silting and algal blooms would not reoccur but the Chesapeake has had fish killing “red tides” as late as 1997 and 1999. There are still “dead zones” in the bay today.

What has this to do with secular humanism? Probably nothing. We don’t believe that man has dominion over all living things like it says in the Christian bible, but we need to be aware of the need for their sustainability.                                 J


“Mockingbird Song”, Jack Temple Kirby, 2006, Univ. of No. Carolina Press

“The Sixth Extinction”, Terry Glavin, 2006, Saint Martin’s Press

“The End of the Line”, Clarence Clover, 2006, New Press


Here is an interesting reflection from the book Ideas and Opinions edited by Carl Seelig (1982). This particular essay written nearly eighty years ago provides a look into the philosophy of that scientist at that time.


Written in Amsterdam; 1934

You will hardly find one among the profounder sort of scientific minds without a religious feeling of his own. But it is different from the religiosity of the naïve man. For the latter, God is a being from whose care one hopes to benefit and whose punishment one fears; a sublimation of a feeling similar to that of a child for its father, a being to whom one stands, so to speak, in a personal relation, however deeply it may be tinged with awe.

But the scientist is possessed by the sense of universal causation. The future, to him is every whit as necessary and determined as the past. There is nothing divine about morality; it is a purely human affair. His religious feeling takes the form of a rapturous amazement at the harmony of natural law, which reveals an intelligence of such superiority that, compared with it, all the systematic thinking and acting of human beings is an utterly insignificant reflection. This feeling is the guiding principle of his life and work, in so far as he succeeds in keeping himself from the shackles of selfish desire. It is beyond question closely akin to that which has possessed the religious geniuses of all ages.

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