Archive for May, 2010

Meat is Murder? (PART II)

May 26, 2010

Or is it? – Response to A comment

Thank you all for taking the time to read my piece on veganism and my feelings on the subject. Between Facebook and my blog there has been some excellent resource sharing and thought-provoking comments. I have learned a lot and admire the position and firm stand so many of you take even if I am not willing to go all the way with my diet – perhaps time will change my views further on this. My response to a comment from Heather is below. If you missed the original article you can read it here (Heather’s comment can be read at the bottom of the main article):

Thanks for taking the time – I appreciate the discussion and commentary – regardless of whether or not I will heed your suggestions.

I clearly see your point that we are capable of feeding the industrialized world without animal products. I have read this in a few places – it takes more energy to create the animal based foods than the food it creates – not very productive. Selfishness, convenience and taste/enjoyment drive a lot of people’s appetites and it certainly factors in my choices.

As for the horrors of the dairy, egg and wool industry – I would like to know the history and development of these industries. I assume in an agrarian society, and pre industrial revolution these practices were not as despicably operated. To me this demonstrates the potential of renewable resources and for humans and farm animals to coexist without killing. Is part of the vegan dogma that all animals should be free? Should all cows, chickens, pigs and other “farm” animals be living in the wild? I have no opinion on this – just wondering what the thought is – obviously there are large quantities of these animals on the planet due to the food industries need for profit. Is 100 % of the dairy industry run this way? Are there small, local, self-sustaining farms? We do not exclusively buy from these farms as it is impractical both financially and logistically. I know the vast majority of dairy farms – or at least dairy products come about in evil ways. I see more of an issue that dairy farm practices need to become more humane, the prices charged need to be fair and not subsidized. People will want milk from humanely run dairy farms, but what do they say when milk is $10/gallon? It is not done properly now – I argue that it should be – and I suppose the pressure from the vegan and general community could help drive these changes. As I told you I will not eat or buy veal – but some research I did shows there are free-range veal farms – of course this does not change the killing portion of the issue. Like milk and cheese – I would imagine the free-range portion of the industry is infinitesimal. Thanks for the link on wool. Exploring the web showed me there is a large ethical wool movement and the industry is now sustainable. I am sure it is a small percentage of the total industry but it is a step in the right direction.

You stated the obvious as you think I did regarding what animals eat. I was projecting the notion that as a species we at times and when it is convenient we strive to help others that are oppressed. World War II comes to mind, as does Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait – but it also extends into the animal world. There are large movements to protect endangered species, veal is regarded as a bad industry by more than the vegan community and baby seal slaughter is despised. So I was positing the idea “should humans be defending the animal world from slaughter from other animals?” I know it is esoteric – it was meant as a thought exercise. I know animals do not have the choice of going to the supermarket – but extinction is a natural part of life (of course, humans have a way of helping the process along) and we see fit to intervene – should we with animals eating animals? I am curious how vegans handle insects and rodents in their homes and on their property? Do you kill ants? If there was a mouse in your pantry would you set traps? Only non killing traps? Would you want animal control to kill a rabid animal that was in your neighborhood? What if a fox has been killing pets in your neighborhood? Not trying to be a wise guy – and I know that a rabid animal is going to die and is a health nuisance and is not a food situation, nor is a rodent a food situation – just curious on the general position held by vegans on these issues .

Environmentalist leaning means that I care about the environment and I operate my life in a less harmful way than many other do. It does not mean I am a fundamentalist in the area – and I question the notion of “all or nothing.” I think improvements are the key – and they are the key to getting more mainstream people into the fold. Think about it – when I was young there were no recycling programs – or at least not readily available and easy to use programs. What did that mean? My family used to throw out batteries, paper, plastic and glass into the trash. Televisions sets and appliances went to the land fill where they would take thousands of years to disintegrate. Before it was easy to get rid of motor oil I knew people who changed their cars oil over the sewer drain in the street – awful. Now it is common place for most people to recycle their paper, plastic and glass waste. People use more and more reusable water bottles and grocery bags – batteries are easy to get rid of easily so we do it.

The same theory holds for animal products. I did some figuring – my house probably goes through less than two pounds of meat and fowl combined per week for a family of four. I figure this as no more than two dinners and two leftover lunches per week out of a total of 21 meals – in other words about 19 % of our food intake is animal flesh based. Over 80 % of our meals are at least more vegetable and grain based – which no matter how you do the math my family is contributing 80 % less to the meat industry pollution than a family that centers all of its meals around meat. There is dairy consumed and there is some seafood. I understand the point that if we are eating so little why not go all the way – but I will not buy the argument that our use of less is not a positive contribution. I would like to think the vegan community would view it as a victory if the western world reduced its meat and dairy consumption by 80 % – my instinct (please tell me if I am incorrect) is that it is for many vegans it is “an all or nothing”, fundamental position that does not want small victories – it is your right to see it in that light. I see a comparison to how President Obama discussed the abortion issue when he was a candidate. He believes that women have a right to privacy and to abortion – but that it is a horrible thing for anyone to have to go through and it would be a huge victory if we could reduce the number of abortions. If religious fundamentalists and government concentrate their energies on preventing unwanted pregnancies the need for abortions would dramatically decrease – which is certainly a positive. When the world works the same way towards the meat and dairy issue we would see large scale reductions in usage which would save farm animal’s lives, over-breeding and pollution and provide a positive impact on people’s health and the environment.

Killing for food is a moral and ethical question – and its application to the animal kingdom is subjective. The vegan position is an admirable one –I understand how its adherents have an all or nothing philosophy and are not interested in reduction of world intake of these products, but on the elimination of them from the food chain. Yes – I am responsible for killing some animals and keeping the meat and dairy industry alive – but I have worked in a positive manner towards significantly lowering the amounts used by my family and will continue to do so. I do care about things besides myself – but I also am not capable of caring for every last person, animal or cause on the planet – it is exhausting and not how I will spend my limited time being alive. The absolutist and fundamentalist aspects that I perceive of veganism work against it as a mainstream lifestyle choice. Veganism would have to become the normal diet to eliminate animals as food from the world. I respect your position but it is not mine. I believe vegans are in a higher moral place than where I choose to reside.

Thank you all for reading – please feel free to comment or share. I am interested in hearing experiences from ex-meat eaters. Take care – Mike.


Meat is Murder?

May 24, 2010

…Or is it?

Note: (August 2, 2010): This has been one of my most popular posts – popular meaning people read it and had an opinion – today on NPR there is a very interesting story about how humans were able to develop a more sophisticated brain when they started to eat meat about 2.3 million years ago – our development would not have gone this far without it. Does this mean we could regress without meat? I do not know – because we know so much more about getting protein these days. The study showed that we had sophisticated digestive systems that took the energy away from brain development – interesting article – feel free to comment –

NPR Article

Note (May 26, 2010): I inquired with a few vegan friends to give me some perspective on writing this piece – my schedule got the article written faster than I anticipated and I hope that they and any of you readers will consider commenting and entering the discussion.

A follow up article to this post was published two days later and can be found here:

The dictionary defines murder as the killing of humans – not of animals. So let’s simplify my title – Meat is Killing. Or is it?

Last week I got into a challenging discussion with Facebook friend Heather Kolaya-Spealman on the very topic of veganism. Heather posted a quote that I “liked” by Schweitzer about showing compassion towards animals to which she challenged me by writing that although I may show compassion to animals I have some serious shortcomings. She pointed out that I like pets but do not think so much of animals that are killed for food. Like most people, I would agree – none of us think so much of that because the modern food industry has removed all of the nastiness from our view and we get a nice sanitized view of dinner in a shrink-wrapped Styrofoam tray at the supermarket. Even the supermarket butcher never sees a whole animal – things are nicely parceled for them and they make the final trims of the “meat” without any of the unpleasantness of the execution and gutting of the carcass. Heather did a great job of getting me to at least think about something by making a logical argument – this is what I attempt to do (sometimes more successfully than others) with this blog.

The history of mankind is full of hunting (as well as gathering) and the eating of meat. Meat provides an important part of the diet and is a great source of protein. As time evolved the population of Earth multiplied as did human need for adequate food sources and our understanding of farming and agriculture. It can also be argued that our moral and ethical needs have expanded, grown and become more enlightened. Enlightened society should grow towards a less harmful moral center – eliminating killing from our diets should and could be an attainable goal. Can we feed 300 million Americans without meat? How about 6.8 billion worldwide? I do not know the answer to those questions and I suppose the smart answer lies within – start locally.

So what do proteins do I eat? I eat seafood at least twice per week – lately I have been on a scallops kick and have been anxiously awaiting my first fried clams of the season later this week – and I eat anchovies at least twice a month. Other proteins that are common in our home are black beans, kidney beans and chicken (perhaps the most boring and bland of all meats). Less frequently we serve beef and pork and only rarely lamb. I also enjoy nuts, cheese, egg whites and have grown to like tofu, which to me is the vegetarian chicken – it is a bland, boring protein that takes on the flavor and character of whatever you cook it with. My attempts to be on the high road see me with my two decades plus “no veal” stance, my wish that I ate only high-grade cattle and free-range chickens and my hatred of fur. Of course, our family budget does not allow for the expensive meat and fowl options often. I abhor the fur industry yet I still own a fair amount of leather. Am I barely afloat in a sea of hypocrisy? Ah, the moral quandary that the modern citizen can find themselves in.

As for taste and enjoyment…I like meat – not daily, not every meal – but I do like it. I like cooking it – I love my grill and my smoker, even if I rarely use them and have also made many excellent vegetarian meals with my grill – there is still something about grilling meat and the backyard barbecue. I suppose the notion of the fun backyard barbecue should be more focused on the company you keep not the food that you eat. Interestingly, Heather also likes meat. She and many vegans do not eat meat out of a moral sense of it not being ethical to kill your supper (or to hire mercenary butchers to do your dirty work for you.) They do not care as much about the health benefits of eliminating meat from the diet but rather care about the moral benefits of not killing their food.

I am too educated to believe that animals do not feel any pain when they are killed. It was very obvious that the two lobsters I cooked recently did not care for the boiling water anymore that I would have like to have been steamed. I know no animal wants to be decapitated, disemboweled, ground, spiced and stuffed into a sausage casing for our dinner table. The rules that are employed by kosher butchers for the ethical slaughter of animals are not for the animals benefit but rather to make the pious feel good and to alleviate their guilt. Even your author, the occasional meat eater knows the notion that animal slaughter is done humanely is pathetic. It is like having a humane genocide – it is not possible.

Are humans “better’ than animals? Do we have a superior right to exist? What about animals that eat other animals? If there is a food chain – as animals eating animals seems to demonstrate? Where do humans fall on that chain? Are we supposed to eat animals? Do we have an obligation to interfere in the food chain to protect weaker animals from stronger animals? Somewhat tongue in cheek – but is it ethical to cut down a tree that could live on its own for over 100 years? Where do we draw the line? These are all questions for discussion – we need to figure out how we feel as individuals about these issues.

Modern society is far removed from the “killing” part of eating meat. The process has been industrialized and impersonalized that it is harder to realize you are eating a dead creature nowadays than in the past. In agrarian communities there is a more “hands on” feel to the food – people have to kill their own animals and cannot so readily escape the ugly side of the business. The local market only sees the neat little rows of cryovac’d dinner packages and avoids all of the blood, guts and killing.

I am capable of moving more towards vegetarianism as it is less extreme. I see the point that vegans do not want to “use” animals in any way, but using wool from sheep or eggs from hens seems logical to me. To me human beings are omnivores – our history has been that of a meat eating species but it is obvious that we learned our meat eating ways from our ancestors. We were not born with spears, bows and arrows or guns; and we needed to be able to create and maintain a fire to cook. Most of our primate ancestry eats primarily vegetable matter, but this is far from 100 percent as gorillas eat grubs and insects and orangutans eat small animals and birds with their vegetable diet.

So where does this leave us? The argument that humans are designed to be plant eaters is a poor one that does not hold up well to scrutiny. The excessiveness of veganism is in of itself a turn off to me, but I can see how it has appeal to many – it is a simple, kinder way to live. I can live with myself and the “kills” that I am both directly and indirectly responsible. With over six billion people in the world it is important that we utilize a variety of food sources. I see no reason not to eat dairy products or not to use wool – these products do not cause the death of an animal, and though they increase the need for the breeding and raising of these animals their use is not harmful in my eyes (I am sure vegans will have something to say about this.) I may love animals – but not to the degree that vegans do – I can buy Heather’s point “if you loved animals you would not kill any of them.” This ethical situation is not all or nothing with me. I may not be a vegan but I am also not a sociopath who beats and tortures animals, attempts to run them over with a vehicle or someone who hunts for “sport” only. I will continue to eat small amounts of meat in my diet, I may head towards more of a vegetarian lifestyle and I admire, even if I do not join those who choose to keep killing off of their plates.

Know your –isms

May 21, 2010

Wherever you may fall along the political spectrum you cannot help noticing how everyone loves to use a barrage of political/economic nomenclature in a derogatory manner at their opponents – we are all guilty of it. Some of the usage is ludicrous at best and flat out ignorant at worst. Here I will attempt to clarify the popular systems of political and economic ideology are so we can do a better job of cutting up our opposition.

All dictionary entries are from Merriam-Websters Online – citations are below.

capitalism – an economic system characterized by private or corporate ownership of capital goods, by investments that are determined by private decision, and by prices, production, and the distribution of goods that are determined mainly by competition in a free market [1]

socialism1 : any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods
2 a : a system of society or group living in which there is no private property b : a system or condition of society in which the means of production are owned and controlled by the state

3 : a stage of society in Marxist theory transitional between capitalism and communism and distinguished by unequal distribution of goods and pay according to work done [2]

Marxism – the political, economic, and social principles and policies advocated by Marx; especially a theory and practice of socialism including the labor theory of value, dialectical materialism, the class struggle, and dictatorship of the proletariat until the establishment of a classless society [3]

communism1 a : a theory advocating elimination of private property b : a system in which goods are owned in common and are available to all as needed

2 capitalized a : a doctrine based on revolutionary Marxian socialism and Marxism-Leninism that was the official ideology of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics b : a totalitarian system of government in which a single authoritarian party controls state-owned means of production c : a final stage of society in Marxist theory in which the state has withered away and economic goods are distributed equitably d : communist systems collectively [4]

Leninism – the political, economic, and social principles and policies advocated by Lenin; especially the theory and practice of communism developed by or associated with Lenin [5]

Stalinism – the political, economic, and social principles and policies associated with Stalin especially the theory and practice of communism developed by Stalin from Marxism-Leninism and marked especially by rigid authoritarianism, widespread use of terror, and often emphasis on Russian nationalism [6]

fascism1 often capitalized : a political philosophy, movement, or regime (as that of the Fascisti) that exalts nation and often race above the individual and that stands for a centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition 2 : a tendency toward or actual exercise of strong autocratic or dictatorial control [7]

Nazism – the body of political and economic doctrines held and put into effect by the Nazis in Germany from 1933 to 1945 including the totalitarian principle of government, predominance of especially Germanic groups assumed to be racially superior, and supremacy of the führer [8]

totalitarianism1 : centralized control by an autocratic authority

2 : the political concept that the citizen should be totally subject to an absolute state authority [9]

OK – got it? So no matter what you may think of President Obama and those who support him – he is far from being a socialist and even further from being a communist; claiming that he is a fascist is moronic. Like all Presidents he is an open target for criticism – the press does it – we all do it. But use your brain! There is no part of this country’s government that resembles fascism, communism or socialism. When you look at the size of the economy and how relatively few people get government aid – and how little the amount of aid is, it impossible to consider this to be a socialist society. Having welfare, unemployment, social security and a new health care plan are far cries from socialism. Government regulation to protect its citizens is not “government control of the means of production.” Regulating and monitoring is not remotely the same thing as government ownership – the vast majority of American companies are not owned in, or invested in by the government. Capitalism rules the day in the United States – and because of the money they control will always rule.

Fascism and Nazism that are the favorite derogatory terms of the Left and Right to use on their enemies – these words do not fit. The only thing in this country that approaches nationalistic fervor is the far right flag waving, “America – Love it or Leave It” types. How can you equate this to the nationalistic fervor of National Socialism? Have you ever seen Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will or footage of the Nuremberg Rallies? This is not the United States we live in. Glenn Beck loves to find one or two pieces of the United States government that have a common point with the Nazis and use that as proof that we are being led by a Hitler like megalomaniac – it does not add up and it does nothing for intelligent discussion, proving your point and our potential for growth.

So there you have it – your primer on political, economic and ideological philosophies. Read it, learn it, know it. Like and admire, criticize and hate – just do it without being a raving and ranting lunatic and people might actually listen, respect and learn.










The Specter of Defeat

May 20, 2010

AKA – Death of a Salesman, OR Arlen go Home

Perhaps best known for flip-flopping, thirty year Senator Arlen Specter (Dem, this time – PA) was forced out yesterday when he lost the Pennsylvania Democratic primary to Congressman Joe Sestak (Dem). Sestak is only 58 and a retired Rear Admiral in the US Navy. He is considered one of the most effective members of Congress and is popular in his suburban Philadelphia district. Sestak has firm, well-stated positions on a number of issues and is certainly liberal having supported the stimulus and health care bills as well as being pro-choice and pro gun control.

Specter started his career as a Democrat and switched to the Republican Party in 1965. He remained a Republican until 2009 when it became apparent he would lose the Republican primary. Most saw his switch as brash opportunism and being driven solely by the hopes of political game – and it is hard to argue that point. To his weak defense he stated what one would expect him to say when he switched parties – “[I am] at odds with the (current) Republican philosophy.” fn1 His lack of party and ideological conviction, his age and the backlash against incumbents of all stripes proved to be his ultimate demise.

Specter was often engaged in high profile bills and at least one odd populist situation that one would like to think is beyond the purview of the United States Senate. In 2008 he pressed the NFL on internal league operations regarding rules violations by the New England Patriots. This was at the same time the nations leaders were hard at work on stimulus bills and the Iraq war. Specter stated “I do believe that it is a matter of importance. It’s not going to displace the stimulus package or the Iraq war, but I think the integrity of football is very important, and I think the National Football League has a special duty to the American people – and further the Congress – because they have an antitrust exemption.”[1] While I am sure this played out nicely in his home state where his beloved Philadelphia Eagles had lost the Super Bowl in 2005 to the New England Patriots it really was irrelevant beyond Specter’s trying to win popularity at home.

It is always hard to see a person lose their job, age and feel expelled from their home. Specter’s run was a long one, but much like his attempts at attacking the NFL and the New England Patriot’s – he too has become irrelevant. People can see thru the nonsense and the clearly see thru the populism that made him change political parties in order to save his political life. The same tactic worked for Joe Lieberman in 2006 – but that was still ahead of the economic downturn and recession, and the anger voters have at their dysfunctional government. Joe survived that time – will he the next time?

As much as I would like to see a Democratic vote preserved in the Senate it is obvious that Specter was not a reliable vote. He is the embodiment of what is wrong with our government and the voters decided to enforce their own term limits by eliminating Arlen Specter from the polls well ahead of November.


Dio – A Tribute

May 17, 2010

Ronnie James Dio

Ronnie James Dio

The world is full of Kings and Queens who blind your eyes and steal your dreams – it’s Heaven and Hell[1] – Ronnie James Dio

And with that lyric, which was to be next to my picture in my Ipswich High School yearbook in 1983, my entrance to rock and roll and the royalty of heavy metal was born. The Black Sabbath rebirth albums Heaven and Hell and The Mob Rules were where I made the break from the rock and roll classics and mainstream rock and ran to the hills of the metal hinterlands. After wearing out the grooves of my Black Sabbath with Dio albums it became time to venture out into my first rock and roll concert on March 4, 1982 with my buddies Pat, Chris and Sean. Pat aced his road test (under great pressure) and we were able to score some Michelob’s[2] and the teen age dream of glory was screaming down Route One in an oversized Chevy towards the old Boston Garden. Long after this initiation Sean and Chris continued to admire Black Sabbath and branched out into many diverse tastes in music while what happened to Pat and I that evening bordered on a religious conversion.

Ronnie died this past weekend[3] at what seems to be the young age of 67 after a short battle with stomach cancer. His career stretched back to the early 1960s Doo Wop sound and moved into heavier music with Elf and found his first fame as the singer for ex-Deep Purple guitarist Richie Blackmore’s new project Rainbow. After leaving Rainbow Dio hooked up with Black Sabbath after Ozzy left/was fired from the band. Ronnie had a successful solo career with Dio between his three tenures with Black Sabbath, and their later name change to Heaven and Hell. His solo work was also huge and I was lucky to see him perform on the Last in Line tour. The band was skilled and played a more 1980s style of metal, but more true to their roots than most of the typical bands of the era.

The total band concept was important to us – and we had long admired the music of Black Sabbath – even in his 60s there is no better metal guitarist than Tony Iommi – his sound created countless imitators and it still has the best overall crunch and the most dynamics than any of those who followed him. The rhythm section of Geezer Butler (who incidentally penned a large portion of the Ozzy era lyrics) and either Bill Ward or Vinny Appice has always been a powerful two-man wrecking crew. But with this “new” Black Sabbath the lyrics and the vocals were truly special. Ronnie Dio’s voice and contribution to the band gave them a second, third and fourth life. The Ozzy era petered out slowly and painfully with a number of forgetful albums and only a couple of memorable songs[4] after the initial onslaught of the first three classics. Dio’s presence made the music of Black Sabbath vital again.

While I was aware of the Heaven and Hell album in 1980 having seen clips from the Black and Blue Tour with Blue Oyster Cult on Don Kirschner’s Rock Concert it was The Mob Rules album in 1981 that sealed the deal. Perhaps it was the age – we were now old enough to get to Boston to buy tickets and go to concerts – but it was also the music. Like most people I listened to a lot music in my youth, but this new metal sound coming from Dio and Black Sabbath made me a metal fan for the next 5-7 years before I turned to the anger and aggression of punk rock when I found metal getting to wimpy, to dressed up and using way too much hair spray.

Dio embodied the heart and soul of heavy metal. You could compare any vocalist in the genre and see how they measured up against Ronnie, and we all know there were many greats – but none of them ever surpassed Dio’s abilities as a singer, his classic metal lyrical style and his presence as a front man. Keep in mind this man had to follow the reputation of Ozzy Osbourne[5] who when he is on is no slouch. Ronnie’s lyrics fell into two main categories – the impossible to know philosophical debates about life, death, good and evil and medieval imagery.

The heavy sounds of the music always made the lyrical content seem to be secondary, but upon close listen, and especially live you can see just how perfectly Dio understood the role of singer and front man. He added so much to all of his bands and knew were to step out and shine and where to sit back and let the band played. He never forgot the fans that were the reason he had such a great job and although I never got to meet him I could not help notice how humbly he came across every time he was filmed around fans. The four times I was privileged to see him play live (including his penultimate performance last summer in Boston with Heaven and Hell) were musical tour de forces. I wish I could say this about every artist I have ever paid to see – you never felt like you were cheated out of your ticket money when you paid to see Dio[6] – he was one class act, a true pro and will be missed by millions forever. Thank you Ronnie James Dio for your music – you will be missed – there was no one like you.

Some of my favorite Dio lyrics:

From After All (The Dead) on 1992’s Dehumanizer[7]

What do you say to the dead?

Will you forgive me for living?

Oh there’s insufficient evidence

Of what just might come after

But sometimes out of nowhere

There’s demented sounds of laughter

From Computer God on 1992’s Dehumanizer[8]

Midnight confessions

Never heal the soul

What you believe is fantasy

From I on 1992’s Dehumanizer[9]

I am a virgin

I’m a whore

Giving nothing

The taker

The maker of war

I’ll smash your face in

But with a smile

All together

You’ll never

Be stronger than me

From DieYoung from 1980s Heaven and Hell[10]

Behind a smile

There’s a danger and a promise to be told

You’ll never get old

Life’s fantasy

To be locked away and still to think you’re free

Die young, die young

Can’t you see the writing on the wall?

From Falling Off the Edge of the World from 1981s Mob Rules[11]

I’ve got to be strong, oh, oh

I’m falling off the edge of the world

Think you’re safe, but you’re wrong

We’re falling off the edge of the world

From Last in Line from 1981s Last in Line[12]

We don’t come alone
We are fire we are stone
We’re the hand that writes
Then quickly moves away

We’ll know for the first time
If we’re evil or divine
We’re the last in line

From Atom & Evil from 2009s The Devil Cried[13]

One more promise we can tame the Sun
& then we’ll shine forever
Someday you can cry for everyone
Who burn when you were clever
Expand your mind we’ve got a place for you
Just make believe that 1 & 1 are always 2
When into the corner comes the Spider
Just say NO….
Atom & Evil

Thank you all for your continued readership – I am approaching a staggering 1500 individual reads in my first 6 weeks – the feedback and comments have been great. You can easily subscribe (hell – it’s free!) to Symptom of the Universe by submitting your e-mail in the box on the right of this page. Thanks again! Mike


[2] For those with an interest – me and my concert crew did not discover imported beer until our next concert about a month later – Ozzy Osbourne, Motely Crue and UFO – were we quenched our mighty thirst with Tuborg Gold – the Royal Beer of Danish Kings  – if you ever find yourself in Copenhagen be sure to look it up.

[3] May 16, 2010

[4] Symptom of the Universe, the namesake of this blog and Sabbath Bloody Sabbath come to mind.

[5] Osbourne had a huge resurgence in his post-Black Sabbath solo career as well as some memorable reunion shows with his original bandmates.

[6] This statement surely does not hold up for Ozzy Osbourne.








What if Immigration Enforcement Affected YOU?

May 16, 2010


Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Emma Lazarus – 1883[1]


There is fierce debate on immigration reform and enforcement in wake of Arizona’s passing of SB 1070[3] a few weeks ago. There are daily newspaper articles, weekly essays in periodicals and numerous blog posts on the subject (this is my third.) 

The “for” Arizona group is playing the strict enforcement angle – the federal government should enforce the laws that are on the books with no exceptions. I would like to ask this group what they would do in the situation where the child is legal and the parents are illegal (can happen when a child is born here to aliens)? Do you support breaking up the family? This seems hypocritical to the same family values that are supported by many who support SB 1070 enforcement. If you are a strict interpreter and enforcer of the law do you feel this way about every law? Would you pull over every speeder? Hire more police to enforce every rule on the book 100 %? While we are on the subject of  enforcement, states are not allowed to enact laws in areas that are under federal jurisdiction. States cannot override OSHA, eliminate abortion, sign treaties with other nations, impede interstate commerce or enact immigration and naturalization laws. If we are going to be strict interpreters of the law we will have to arrest Governor Brewer and the legislators who enacted this bill into law – a law that is clearly against the law. 

The “anti” group – whom I count myself a member of also believe in reform and favor a comprehensive plan so aliens can have a workable plan to become a citizen of the United States. We also believe that the marketplace that exists for workers to work in substandard conditions at less than a fair wage needs to be eliminated. Businesses that support politicians need, or at least want these workers in place to save money and keep the costs of goods sold down. As I heard last week – “no one wants to pay $10 for a tomato.” A major issue on the “anti” side is fairness and equal protection. How can a law that states it aims to remove illegal aliens be fair if it is only going to be used to eliminate illegal immigration from Mexico? Two million legal people of Latino descent reside in Arizona (about one-third of the population.) These are the only people (to some extent African-Americans and Native Americans are likely to be harassed as well) that will be considered to be “under reasonable suspicion” and that will be asked to present documentation when apprehended by law enforcement. Caucasians will never be asked to present any documentation. I can see how people support this law, but I do not understand how they can support it and not be concerned about how it will be enforced and which United States citizens will be harassed and discriminated against. There is a strong belief that the United States has a moral and civic duty to welcome non-criminal aliens into our nation.[4] 

And of course there is the race card. This subject has become taboo from either side – if you state that there may be racist thought in the support of SB 1070 you are chided for playing the race card. Obviously, on the other side of the coin is racism. In the modern United States no one will ever admit to being racist, and any reason why you dislike someone, want to discriminate against them or if you want to deport them this must be based on some other unexplainable, unknown reason – but of course it could never be racism. 

So I ask all of my readers to follow along with this little mind exercise – indulge me – and be honest. Picture this: 

  • Europe has been run over by something – could be a natural disaster, could be tyranny running rampant.
  • No matter what the cause tens of thousands of educated Europeans from everywhere from Spain to Ireland to Greece to Scandinavia suddenly find themselves in a place where they cannot stay – either due to natural disaster or to possible imprisonment and potential death if they do not escape.
  • These refugees end up on the shores of the United States.
  • These people speak multiple languages – most can speak more than a little English.
  • Most of these people are educated and have some skills – but many do not.
  • These people look like white America – they resemble parts of our great melting pot.
  • Many of these people could be from where your ancestors came from. 

Still following? Let’s review – we have a great many people falling on our shores, they are illegal immigrants but they differ from many of the Mexicans who cross over illegally now to work in that they have some education, speak English, possess some skills and look more like white Americans. Would you still support arresting these people with a law that says that law enforcement should question and pull over anyone who looks like they are likely an illegal immigrant? What would happen when they pull over and interrogate your significant other, parents, children and friends who for some reason cannot produce their papers that day? Do you still feel that the 14th Amendments Equal Protection clause is unimportant? Is discrimination OK with you now? It is easy to look the other way and not see the problems with Arizona SB 1070 if there is no chance that you or your family could be falsely charged or improperly apprehended and harassed. 

The United States has come a long way since the days of slavery, the failed Reconstruction Laws, and Dred Scott. We have been a haven to those who need a place to live and value the Constitution and Bill of the Rights that we value so much. We have grown since the 1954 Brown v. The Board of Education decision of the Supreme Court and the massive 1964 Civil Rights Act to attempt to leave our discriminatory past behind us. The nation must honor these decisions and the rights of all of our citizens and we also owe it to our ancestor’s memories and the ideals that our nation was founded upon to welcome new citizens to our way of life.

Let your heart feel for the afflictions and distress of everyone, and let your hand give in proportion to your purse. 

George Washington 


Thank you all for your continued readership – I am approaching a staggering 1500 individual reads in my first 6 weeks – the feedback and comments have been great. You can easily subscribe(hell – it’s free!) to Symptom of the Universe by submitting your e-mail in the box on the right of this page. Thanks again! Mike

[1] Inscription on the Statue of Liberty – “The New Colossus” by Emma Lazarus


[4] Ken Schoolland penned an excellent article, “Are Illegal Immigrants Criminals? Not!” can be found here: The Boston Globe letter to the editor shows another side of the morality issue:

Addendum to Right to Left: An Ideological Journey

May 14, 2010

My blog post earlier today elicited a lot of reaction – mostly good. I must say one reader in particular posited some excellent questions as she found it hard to understand how I came to evolve from Right to Left. Her questions make sense. Part of the ambiguity in my last post was borne of my desire to keep my entries “around 1000 words.” This makes it less of a chore for the reader to get through and in the day of 140 character Tweets is imperative if you are trying to build a following. So, with that in mind I am going to take my valued reader’s suggestion to heart and I am going to expand upon my original blog past by trying to answer her excellent questions the best I can. I hope this helps.


To try and keep this straight – my reader’s comments are italicized and my responses are bold.


This whole article troubles me somewhat and I can’t pinpoint why. Maybe it’s the description of your past beliefs and political affiliations as I find myself going through the psychological reasons you seem to be offering…

…feeling that war, violence, and the lack of compassion for other human beings made you feel manly. It troubles me that our society encourages these feelings and worries me that failing to free ourselves from traditional gender roles will only result in more war and unneeded suffering. You say you woke up a bit out of fear of going to war which rings of a kind of selfishness that almost defines hypocrisy (yeah war! *manly roar* wait. –  You want me to go? No way!).

Like so many young boys (not all) I grew up watching television programs that glorified war, lived in a neighborhood where we played war and cowboys and Indians and I have a dad, who is not a lover of war in the least, but has always had a huge interest in aviation – especially military. The typical rerun movies of war in my youth were not Platoon and Full Metal Jacket, which paint war as it is, horrific – but rather propaganda films of the 1940s which showed a macho nation and its warriors killing off stereotypes. I was a kid – I bought it. My war views began turning in the 1980s – but I still would not consider myself a pacifist in every situation. I do not think we should police the world, and this nation has a dubious history of intervening for one oppressed group but ignoring others – that is disgusting. The mess in Afghanistan and Pakistan is blamable on Britain’s cut and run post-WW II strategy and our alliance with the Taliban when Afghanistan was at war with the USSR. Couple this with a corrupt Kharzei regime and you have a war that is not winnable and not worthy of our support (beyond supporting the troops – not the leaders who put them there.) The not wanting to go fight was pure cowardice – and as you said – hypocrisy – plain and simple – afraid, scared, not going to die for Kuwait etc…I would not want my sons to fight in a war either – it would be one thing if we were really threatened, but the wars of the last 20 years are political fluff. I do not really think I ever had a lack of compassion, and if I did it certainly did not make me feel manly – the manly reference was mainly in reference to hearing headlines of air strikes etc – the idea of a nation pumped up on testosterone. I agree with you – we need to free ourselves from traditional gender roles – I think it is a losing battle, but I am sure giving it my all with my kids…

I suppose what troubles me is knowing how many people think and act just this way and, whether or not they eventually come to see reason, that way of thinking is currently destroying the country in terms of human rights, animal rights, and the economy. I suppose I don’t really understand how you really came to liberal ideals. You mention a few things- not wanting to go to war, the Bush tortures, and separation of church and state and then you go on to describe other liberal beliefs but these couldn’t have been new could they? What caused you to go from supporting Republicans to being against the racist based immigration laws?

I have never supported racism in any way – about the worst thing you could say about me years ago is I laughed at Archie Bunker on “All in the Family.” The majority of my Republican ideals were from the fiscal/pro business side of the argument. I have always been pro-choice, pro-separation of church and state, encouraging of immigration, etc. The bigger change I noticed, starting around 1990 (particularly the 1992 elections) was the real emergence of the religious right – they became in my mind to much of an important player. Reagan paid a bit of lip service to them, but did not change things – George the First lost in 1992 because of a failed economy and by not embracing the fanatics – who basically stayed home on Election Day and handed it to Clinton. Anti-war is a tough one…I cannot really feel that either party is the only culpable party…Democratic Presidents started WW I, II, Korea, and the escalation in Vietnam – of course Korea and Vietnam were escalated by Republicans…neither side can claim moral superiority in any of this, and the reasons for entering all of these conflicts are convoluted at best. A lot of my war thoughts come from books and movies – the worm started turning in all likelihood with a healthy dose of Vonnegut, Heller and Camus shortly after high school. I also work as a law librarian and a lot of reading I have done over the past decade has been about major issues and the US Supreme Court. I place a lot of value on the Bill of Rights (not saying I did not before, but I am more aware of it now) – I also believe that it is a living and breathing document – I am very against the strict constructionist mentality that some of our justices have now. I never would have supported a law that was racially motivated, but in the 1980s I may have looked the other way and supported what I thought was pro-business…and to address the “gradual” issue part of it may have been the difficulty in change, difficulty in thinking I had been wrong etc. There is also a problem that I just did not like Clinton – and you could argue he was a centrist Republican, but I would just say he was a shameless opportunist – not exactly the type of guy that would motivate me to change. I am Independent – but left of center/left leaning…I am truly undecided in our upcoming gubernatorial election in MA – I have only ruled out one of the top 4 – I do not like Cahill the Dem turned Independent…this state is very liberal on social issues so the vote really does come down more to economic issues than social – we also cannot declare war on anyone. The most important element of change is that I no longer will vote with fiscal conservatives and look the other way on social, religious, imperialistic, racist, etc ways…I understand how many people that I know do not look at it that way – but I do. I have friends who have told me that they care about all of those issues, but it does not determine how they vote; others want their taxes minimized and other fully support the theories of trickle down economics and that all government interference and regulation is wrong. Everyone can pick what is most salient for them come election time – I hope this clarified it all a bit…

How could you go from thinking poor people were just lazy to “Abandoning the poor will continue the cycle that has no hope of being broken”. Every liberal I know with these same beliefs were *always* compassionate and understanding- something that almost every Republican/Conservative/Libertarian seems to lack.. how do you gain such a trait?

By watching a grandfather who was lazy – he feigned injury to avoid work, worked as little as possible and far from being physically addicted to alcohol and gambling he just would rather drink and bet than work. And he went on and on about the Kennedy’s caring and the Republicans not caring for the little man. It made me mad to see someone make no effort, and to hear from my Mom (and keep in mind, we both loved this man) that he was the same way when he was young and healthy. He was content to take his pittance from disability etc and not make any effort. Of course, he had my grandmother work until she was well into her 60s. So the change for me came from evolving to realize that he was an exception and not the rule – in fact he was worse than that – he had opportunity to work through the post-war boon years and chose to do as little as possible. Just living life and coming across a variety of people in my various careers has made me change this view – it makes sense to me how it happened anyways…

Was it someone talking to you that opened your eyes?  Was it researching or hearing personal stories?

A lot of reading, a few people that I debated this stuff with for years did have some affect as did my own feelings of realizing I am not the person the GOP is representing. Maybe I was hoping I was going to evolve into the wealthy ruling elite, but it did not happen and the more I know now I am glad. I like my life, my work, my family and my friends. I felt this way all along on social issues, it just for years was not what motivated my vote – I figured it out economically in time – and I am not even sure I am right economically speaking – but my gut instinct tells me that my more recent ways is the better path to take and has more potential to help the country, world and individual.


Thank you all for your continued readership – I am approaching a staggering 1500 individual reads in my first 6 weeks – the feedback and comments have been great. You can easily subscribe(hell – it’s free!) to Symptom of the Universe by submitting your e-mail in the box on the right of this page. Thanks again! Mike

Right to Left: An Ideological Journey

May 14, 2010

We are all shaped by events in our life, as well as the books we read, the people we associate with and the people we align ourselves with. Few people stay ideologically the same through their entire life. My life began in 1965 – my earliest newsworthy memories include the moon landing, stories of POWs and Watergate. As I entered my teens I remember high gas prices and what seemed to be a ship of fools running the country for who appeared to be a decent man, President Jimmy Carter. The Iran hostage crisis was the major event I recall as the 1970s drew to a close. Early memories of national pride on the moon were followed by the disaster in Vietnam, a disgraced President, and nation and period of inflation and weakness in the eyes of the world for my country.

President Ronald Reaga

President Ronald Reagan

Only sixteen during the 1980 Presidential Election I felt that the country was weak and being played “The Fool” by the Ayatollah Khomeini and the Iranian students nightly on the network news. I was staunchly in Ronald Reagan’s camp. I remember being something of a strict literalist that never looked beyond the obvious – I supported the firing of the air traffic controllers (which even in hindsight I still support[1]), I shared my nation’s love affair with war in 1983 when we over ran Grenada, supported the United Kingdom in 1982 in the Falkland Islands War[2], and when we blew up targets in Libya in 1986. Like a pre-pubescent boy flexing in front of a mirror these incursions made me feel big and like a man, even though they were relatively safe and had guaranteed outcomes. The United States of America is not to be messed with. I was proud to vote for Reagan in my first Presidential vote in 1984 (what would Orwell say?)

I further entrenched myself while a student at liberal Salem State College. I am pretty sure I was the only person on campus in 1984 with a Reagan button and certainly the only Ray Shamie for Senate button.[3] Was I really that conservative? Part of me thinks yes; I loved being associated with books by William F. Buckley (I subscribed to The National Review) and George Will and the pipe dream of intelligence by association. At this age I adhered to the notion that anyone who did not work hard and go to work every day was a lazy sloth. Another part of me thinks I was a bona fide contrarian. This is Massachusetts – everyone is a democrat, everyone loves the Kennedys, hell, this is the only state that Nixon lost in 1972 – and if everyone is thinking that way, well then I am going to be the opposite. Like most things, the truth lies somewhere in the middle.

As the Reagan Presidency tired I tuned out the things I did not want to hear – namely the Iran-Contra affair. Moving from college to the labor force I continued to glide along as a Republican and gave less thought to the key issues of the day. I woke up a bit during Gulf War I – more out of a fear of having to join the armed forces and go and fight than any other reason. I continued my long history of “never voting for a Democrat” thru the 1990s, giving two votes to the campaigns of H. Ross Perot (don’t worry – the two votes were not in the same election.) A dislike of Al Gore and John Kerry led me to twice vote for a man I did not like, admire or trust, President George W. Bush as “the lesser of two evils.” I did gain a measure of respect for how he handled the nations situation immediately after the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States.

The salient issues that really got me to drop my “never a democrat” mantra were my tiredness of the extremity of the GOP’s positions on social issues and particularly the clamoring to the religious right. Granted, I am not in the market for an abortion, I never pray or believe, and no one is forcing me to go to a fundamentalist church of any religion or sect. The idea that the United States could be labeled as a “Christian (or any other theology) Nation” is repulsive to me. I find the Republican pandering to these groups disturbing, even if it is only done on a superficial level to get votes. I witnessed Bush/Cheney doing what they thought was in the countries best interest though many did not support the escalation of the Gulf War into Afghanistan. The use of torture and the increases in executive power[4] and decreases in personal rights through the Patriot Act are troubling. Terrorism is a terrible thing to have to deal with, but eviscerating the rights of citizens as a short cut to and elusive end game does not jibe with the Bill of Rights or the ideas that built this nation. We are Americans and we should to take the high road.

President Barack Obama

President Barack Obama

What caused me to vote for my first Democrat, Deval Patrick[5] and ultimately Barack Obama? Human compassion and a belief that as the economy improves our nation will improve. Government has a role to play in regulating corporate greed, stimulating growth and providing health care. Regrettably there is a role in providing bail outs – remember the post-9/11 airline bail outs too – they are not just for failed derivatives pushers. Abandoning the poor will continue the cycle that has no hope of being broken – people need a push start. This differs from a never-ending handout. Eliminating or reducing entitlements will cost our society more in the form homelessness, crimes, prisons and lost human resources that would be instrumental in sustaining a growing economy. Immigration reform and enforcement is needed, and was hopefully not campaign rhetoric – but not at the expense of the human and civil rights of people trying to make a better life (like mine, and maybe your ancestors); and certainly not at the cost of harassment of legal Latinos and Native Americans. Torture and the death penalty degrade and debase our society and should not be a part of our country. The United States cannot be at the forefront of human rights (if we even are) while existing with these hypocrisies. Torture does not to work reliably and the death penalty is not a deterrent, is not sentenced equitably and costs more than imprisonment – far too many mistakes are made –one is too many – have been made in executing the innocent. These liberal positions and ideas moved my allegiances away from the Republican Party. The abandonment of moderate republican views for the sake of the fundamental right, the derision of intellectualism and the tabloid tactics of the Fox News pundits and their ilk dissuaded me from associating with conservatism.

NOTE: An excellent comment on this thread led me to pen an addendum to this post – that post is HERE.


Thank you all for your continued readership – I am approaching a staggering 1500 individual reads in my first 6 weeks – the feedback and comments have been great. You can easily subscribe(hell – it’s free!) to Symptom of the Universe by submitting your e-mail in the box on the right of this page. Thanks again! Mike


[1] In an unusual position for a liberal I am not a big supporter of organized labor in most cases. A prior career painted a very up close and ugly picture of organized labor, fixed elections and collusion with the corporation.

[2] Interestingly, even at age 16 I knew enough to question how the Falkland Islands War and the tacit US support of the UK jibed with the Monroe Doctrine.

[3] Shamie ran two unsuccessful bids for the US Senate – 1982 against Edward M. Kennedy and in 1984 versus John Kerry.

[4] This is truly a non-partisan issue – every Chief Executive wants more power and less regulation upon himself – Obama is no different.

[5] A no win situation that had more to do with not liking Kerry Healey’s campaign than any great ideological platform.

Reagan image from –

Obama image from –

The Three I’s – Immigration, Illegals and Irony

May 10, 2010

Immigration reform is a hot topic in the United States, particularly if you live in a southwestern border state. The issue is growing and Arizona’s recent immigration law[1] ( read blog post ) which will allow law enforcement to demand papers of anyone that they pull over with reasonable suspicion of being illegally in the country. The law is not supposed to be used in any way that could be construed as racial profiling, but with the problem in Arizona being mainly with immigration from Mexico, and the population of the state containing over 2.3 million legal people who are of Latino, Native American or Pacific Islander/Hawaiian origin[2] I do not see how this will be able to avoid profiling and harassment of legal residents and citizens of Arizona.

There are a number of pages on Facebook that purport to be supportive of the Arizona law and at the same time claim there is no racial bias or bigotry. Yet it does not take long to find a page that spews so many non facts and does not back up anything they say with any documentation. One in particular is “Not Giving Welfare to Illegal Immigrants”[3] This page approaches 40,000 members and thinks that people come into the United States in gigantic waves from Mexico and immediately latch onto breast of the nation and start suckling the welfare and food stamp benefits. Not to take the steam out of their engines but it is not that easy.

Welfare is only available to US citizens or people that are allowed into the country legally. There are exceptions (such as children that are legal and their parents are not) where the system is not perfect. But even so – the Constitution states that if you are born here you are a citizen – I would hope no one is suggesting that we separate children from their parents over this issue as that would prove an even bigger entitlement burden upon the state. Features of the 1996 Welfare Reform Act include:

Benefits available to immigrants include school lunch and breakfast programs, immunizations, emergency medical services, disaster relief, and others programs that are necessary to protect life and safety as identified by the attorney general, regardless of immigration status. Illegal immigrants are barred from the following federal public benefits: grants, contracts, loans, licenses, retirement, welfare, health, disability, public or assisted housing, post secondary education, food assistance, and unemployment benefits. States are barred from providing state or locally funded benefits to illegal immigrants unless a state law is enacted granting such authority.[4]

To get far enough along to be considered for welfare a Social Security card is required. These cards cannot be picked up by any illegal immigrant the morning after they hop the fence near Ciudad Juarez. An illegal cannot get a Social Security card – only US citizens or those who are here legally with work visas can obtain this important card.[5]

We find our country moving towards a rampant form of nationalism and protectionism which is downright scary. Nationalism was a strong instigator in both World Wars and is something we see in violent conflicts throughout the world – from Africa to the Balkans to the Middle East. Of course, racism is a dirty word – either you are racist and cannot admit it – or you are not racist and you are reaching for a label to attach to the opposition. People that support the legislation passed in Arizona will swear they are not racist and that they do not support racism – but the Arizona bill is designed to be racist. If you are not racist but you favor a law that will harass over two million legal Latinos what are you? Over one third of the legal population must have their papers in order at all times or risk immediate arrest and surrender to federal authorities. A law could work (but would be impractical – but only be a bit more than the new law) if it required law enforcement to require papers from everyone that they pull over – the ambiguity of reasonable suspicion needs to be removed and cannot be tolerated in a free society.

Arizona may only be the start. This week Massachusetts gubernatorial candidate Charlie Baker unveiled his “Baker’s Dozen,” a plan to correct the ills of the Massachusetts government and economy. Item seven is a gem that wants to require anyone wanting to collect welfare to prove that they are legally here.[6] Also in the past week Senator Scott Brown (R-MA) and Joe Lieberman (I-CT) introduced the Terrorist Expatriation Act[7] which if passed would allow the State Department to strip the citizenship of any person who aides, allies or joins a terrorist organization without any formal charges or any trial. These laws seem innocent enough on the surface but they show a willingness of law makers to erode the protections of the Constitution and are reminiscent of the Nuremberg Laws in 1930s Germany that led to further persecution of the Jews and other “undesirables.”

We now arrive at the third “I” – irony. The United States is unique in the world as it was created by immigrants who arrived on our shores at first for religious freedom and later for economic freedom. Since that time the nation has grown by leaps and bounds because people wanted to come here for a better opportunity for themselves and their families. Most of us would be a part of a poor agrarian society in some backwater country if we were lucky, or the victims of war and other atrocities if it not for our good fortune to have had forbearers who came to America. In their time our families were not always welcome but they worked hard and in time were accepted – as most of us our now. We should embrace the immigrants of today to honor the memory of our immigrant ancestors. Yes, we may be Italian, Irish, German, from Asia or Africa or from any other country, continent or religious background – but we are first and foremost Americans. I welcome others who want to be here and better themselves and we should make it easier for those who want to be here to work and get a better life. Also ironic is that so many illegals are here to work in illegal jobs that no one wants to have and that are never prosecuted by the government for paying sub-minimum wages or evading payroll taxes. We could easily crackdown on the immigration problem by forcing businesses to pay fair wages and employment taxes and offer reasonable working conditions. Reform is needed – but not at the price of human rights, liberty and decency.




[4] The inset paragraph highlights some of the features and restrictions of the Welfare Reform Act of 1996, which was passed by a Republican Congress and signed by President Clinton – it sharply curtailed the prior welfare system and gave recipients a limited amount of time to collect relief. The full text of the bill can be found here:




Saving $ on Mother’s Day – It’s no Bargain

May 7, 2010

Mom and Aaron

Mom and Aaron

Yes – not wanting to disappoint my readers, that title is the blackest of humor. This is my second Mother’s Day where I no longer have to spend any money on a gift and I wish we could all still purchase her a gift. My Mom died* a little over a year and a half ago after a battle with cancer that reached back thirty years. Mom died on, of all days, my 43rd birthday. The death of a parent or very close friend or relative has to be experienced in order to understand how it affects you – it is truly a different experience for each griever. Even with the personal experience, it is still not possible to understand or completely come to terms with.

Saying that I am still sad over this 19 months later is both an understatement and inaccurate. I do not like that Mom is gone and life will never be the same – these constants do not change over time. I try my best to accept death as a stage of life – it is not a pleasant stage, but rather a necessary part of the cycle. Saying one’s sad over the loss of a parent is obvious and superfluous. But constant sadness thinking that the survivors got a bum deal is not how I choose to feel and move forward. We each get our life – Mom’s was a good 15 years too short, but I find it hard to be sad when she valiantly fought breast cancer three times, inevitably losing the final battle. The people that get a bum deal are children with diseases or whose parents die when they are very young, and people that know nothing but starvation, poverty and war.

For thirty years, outside of three instances, Mom lived a disease-free life and thrived in her marriage, family, and career. As hard as I try to forget the final months, and especially the final weeks, and to only remember the good times of my 43 years with Mom is difficult – but that is my ultimate goal. Opposed to being distraught, I often find myself at times forgetting that Mom is not longer among the living. A number of times I find myself thinking, “I should give Mom a call.” No longer can I call for the details of a recipe, or to find out how old a great uncle is, and other assorted family history. These questions can no longer be answered and Mom’s voice can no longer be heard. When people are alive there is something of a permanence that makes it hard to imagine they may one day no longer be with us.

I like to talk about my Mom – all of the good and not so good things that make us human. People are quick to apologize or offer condolences if they say something that requires me to answer “my mother is dead.” It is OK – really. The sympathy and concern is appreciated and understood. Everyone is going to die and it is far better to remember the lives of the dead than to forget. Keep the memory alive. We should talk about people in real terms and not sanitize memories that make it look like everyone who ever lived was perfect – that is not human, attainable, or desirable. Save the nonsense for movie stars and politicians to whom it is necessary to spin every angle to make them appear perfect.

How other family members cope is not always easy to read. I like that when my sister, father and I are reminiscing, Mom is not a taboo subject.  We share memories and remember things my Mom did with and for all of us. I have seen some families where the pain is so deep that it is easier to not mention the deceased. To me, that is when you truly lose the loved one; sure, Mom is gone, but she lives in the memories of her loving husband, her two children, five grandchildren and countless friends, coworkers and relatives. To forget or suppress is to further the anguish.

So who was my Mom? She was Terry – not Teresa! She came from a divorced home at a time when this was rare and embarrassing – she did not like to talk about that part of her life, and at times tried to erase it from her memory. She was raised by her aunts until her dad remarried when she was around 7 years old. There was alcoholism in her home – not the drunken, violent type that caused his first marriage to end, which forced Mom to be estranged from her birth mother and infant brother, but rather the type of drinking that could make a daughter not want to bring a friend home because she never knew what to expect. This home featured a father who rarely worked steadily and spent too much time at the racetrack in hopes of hitting it big. In case you could not guess – it never happened. Somewhere the seeds of “how a family should be” were implanted deep in my Mom’s being. As an adult she would not live in the type of family or home that she was raised in. Mom clearly knew where she was from and where she was headed.

Like all adult children, I am prone, at least to myself, to criticize my parents. Dad and I had, at times, a strained relationship in my teen years. This is nothing out of the ordinary; teenagers and their parents are supposed to be strained – part of the push and pull that spurs children into adulthood. I was a typical wise-ass, know-it-all punk who was looking to get a rise out of his parents and anyone else that was forced to listen. I often wondered why Mom did not intercede more on my behalf at that time (here is a guess: because she was smart.) Mom saw her role as the peacemaker, whose ultimate responsibility was to keep the family unit together. I may have not realized it at that time, but I now know just how much she cared for all of us. Her navigating us through troubled times has made me an adult who counts his father as one of his best friends and kept our family close and together through the ordeal of her sickness and death.

The love, warmth, feeling and emotions that we experience are meaningless if we all knew we would be alive forever. Death is what forces us to try and live in the moment and make the best of our lives. This is personal and communal. Be nice. Get along. Care about others. These are things that my parents and specifically my mother tried to instill in me, and that I try to pass on to my children and incorporate into my home life. I would like to think she did a great job.

To my Mom, my wife Gail, who is a terrific mother, and all of the mothers of the world – Happy Mother’s Day.

Thanks again for all of the support, comments, subscriptions and readership – it is truly humbling that so many are reading and getting something out of my writing. If there are any horrible errors or typos in this piece I take the blame – editor/wife-in-chief Gail has been given Mother’s Day weekend off.

* Yes – she died – she did not pass on and she is not late – death is difficult enough to come to terms and in my mind the situation is not helped and feelings do not grow with euphemisms or assumptions about the unknown.