Archive for August, 2010

Gambling Governor Patrick

August 3, 2010

You might as well go all in at this point

 For the past few years Massachusetts legislators have quibbled over the desire, or better yet the need to bring casino gambling to the Commonwealth. The idea has always been lurking in the background as here as it is common knowledge that the majority of the cars in the parking lots at the Connecticut casinos have Massachusetts license plates. The bill died a few years back but now it is back and the legislature and Governor are quibbling over details, and Governor Patrick’s threatened veto.Yo 11!

 The Speaker of the House, Robert DeLeo has said he will not support a bill that does not contain provisions for slot parlors at race tracks. Give DeLeo credit for be more forthcoming than his predecessors – DeLeo’s district lost many jobs when greyhound racing was outlawed – and Suffolk Downs horse racing is not what it once was – he sees slots parlors as a way to bring a few hundred jobs back into East Boston and Revere. DeLeo has been able to forge a compromise with President of the Senate Therese Murray that would allow three casinos along with the slot parlors. Governor Patrick is adamantly opposed to slot parlors and sees them as problematic and has said he will veto any bill with this provision attached. Apparently the legislature does not have the votes to over ride a veto.

My first issue with this is that gambling is not a great way to balance the state economy and get jobs. Most jobs are service jobs and are low paying – and many of the gains of gambling fall on the backs of the poorest members of society. That being said, I am not a puritan – if the state legalizes gambling I see little difference in what format it takes. The slippery slope was always there in Massachusetts – from mob run numbers rackets in the urban areas, Suffolk Downs brought pari-mutuel wagering to the state in 1935 (I have to wonder if this was seen as a panacea for the Great Depression’s economic woes?) and a very active state lottery that passed legislature in 1971. Gambling is part of the culture of Massachusetts.

Horse racingSecondly I truly believe it makes no difference what format the gambling takes – Patrick has studies that see slot parlors as more insidious than other forms of casino gambling. I would like to know if the Governor has ever been in a liquor store or bar that has Keno? People play constantly – hanging around for hours playing against pathetic odds. Has he ever worked at a retail establishment that sells scratch tickets? I have and I have seen the same people come in daily and scratch over $100 a day in tickets – and when they win a couple of hundred dollars they immediately buy more – there are no winners beyond the state coffers and the state jobs that the lottery creates. The media and lottery only publicize the occasional big winner – you do not see or hear about the problem gamblers.

My maternal grandfather was below middle class all his life but always played the number, the lottery, football and most of all the ponies. He loved to brag to me when I was a child when he won $100 – he even took me to the track and let me sip his beer when I was four! Looking back of course, I realized that my grandparents never had anything – moved from apartment to apartment and job to job for no more of a reason than my grandfather’s vices.

I know of a once happy marriage that ended when the wife could not stop her problem gambling. The couple enjoyed trips to Vegas and the husband was able to keep it in perspective and have fun with it – not everyone can do that. After the wife got treatment and everything seemed fine the husband started to wonder where all their money had gone. It turned out his wife was getting every credit card she could get her hands on and then getting the cash advances on each card to supply her lottery ticket habit – which kept her satisfied between trips to casinos.

Another ruined family I knew had a dad with a good job – in the neighborhood of $60,000 per year who could not even make it paycheck to paycheck. The family was devastated; parents divorced and dad lived in a squalid apartment and drove a $500 car you would associate with a poor teenager’s first vehicle. Gambling does affect families – and it is not by improving their lot. I have seen so many bad scenes – people lose their job, be on the run from bookies and loan sharks and the ever present multiple addictions – problem gamblers are likely to have drinking and/or drug problems as well.

I am not saying that we should outlaw gambling – many, including myself on rare occasion can enjoy it – although I never do it anymore (I understand financial priorities.) The state has legal gambling with pari-mutuel wagering, charity bingo, Las Vegas Nights and the various lottery games. Adding casino gambling is only another variety to the mix. Governor Patrick is delusional if he believes slot machines will increase problem gambling – problem gambling is all around us and the real problem gambler will gamble no matter what is available. If only one or a few choices are available it will make no difference to the addict which format they use. Heroin addict will take Percocet or Oxycontin; an alcoholic will drink Listerine if no Scotch, wine or beer; and the problem gambler will play blackjack if there are no slot machines. The slippery slope begins with having any legalized gambling – not with adding another ingredient to the recipe. If this is the best our leaders can come up with for fixing the economic woes of our state I say the might as well “go all in.”

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A Response to A Response to “Atheism is Not a Religion”

August 2, 2010

A Second Response to a Reader of Symptom of the Universe

 Follow Symptom of the Universe on Twitter: http://twitter.com/sapblatt 

Two articles that may be of interest to anyone reading this new piece can be found here:

Atheism – Savior of the World

 Atheism is Not a Choice

The follow up article that Matt W is referencing can be read here: https://sapblatt.wordpress.com/2010/07/31/atheism-is-not-a-religion/

To make this easier to follow – Matt’s comments are in BOLD comments and responses are in ITALICS. If nothing else this proves it is possible to debate and be civil – I can only speak for myself in knowing that I am sound in my atheism and very comfortable in all areas of my life – I have been through very dark periods and it works for me. I would imagine Matt feels the same way towards his religion. 

I must say I am a bit overwhelmed by your response. You know…whence I get going… My main concern is that you bring up a number of issues that you have absolutely no idea as to what I think about since I never brought them up. And I assume you assume that I hold these positions since I am a religious person feel free to clarify – and all religious persons think alike, right? (group-think, as you put it).

The joys of conversing via type – and not orally with the ability to quickly reply and interpret – Matt – I have no idea what your positions are – the things I enumerate about Christianity are common tenets that are put forth by Christians.

Now these things may indeed be true or they may not – please start by telling us if they are true or not, but in no way do you know this. For instance, never once do I bring up any comments on the age of the earth or my thoughts on science and scientific proof or evolution or my thoughts on Moses. It’s as if you have a bag full of ready-made responses labeled “Theist” and have dumped them on the table for me to now deal with and have assumed that I hold the same positions that any other theist does.

Just because a response appears ready made does not mean it is – of course, some are. Also, if a response is ready made it does not mean the response is not valid. Christian theology teaches that from the bible – the bible pins the age of the Earth at around 6000 years. Many consider this to be mythology or allegory – even the Catholic Church does not out and out deny evolution. Most fundamentalists do – as you have not said what you “are” beyond Christian I do not know what you think, nor did I try to imply what you think – it would be helpful if you told us what you do think. I am merely pointing out a lot of what is a part of the Christian faith. If you do not follow some of the basic tenets of Christianity why would you call yourself a Christian? When one claims to be a Christian a certain amount of assumption on the reader is valid. We should be safe in believing at the very least that you subscribe to the divinity of Christ, original sin, eternal salvation, etc.

This does reveal a lot about your views of Christians (or at least the religious in general): you attribute positions to us that are either wholly untrue or incomplete {please enumerate on this Matt – what is wholly untrue?} (and sometimes true). I will provide examples below. So, even though I stated in my initial response that I was happy that you didn’t simply dismiss my comments, after re-reading your post, I can’t help but think that you are being rather dismissive. But that may be due to the fact that you have dealt with theists in the past and are often faced with the same criticisms for which you have a ready-answer. And, to be fair, that is also the case with me: I often have a canned response at the ready usually because I have already dealt with many of these common arguments myself. So I am not completely unsympathetic to your ready-made response dump. But, as I am trying to point out, in doing this, you have indirectly attributed to me positions on issue I have taken no position on. Take a position Matt – I have…

I am dismissive in the sense that I regard religion and god to be bunk – 100 % man made nonsense. Useful for awhile to explain the natural world – useful for a longer time in controlling men and nations. I was not concerned with what your exact positions were – I was showing how I view religion – if you care to share your exact positions – please do. If they are not of the basic Christian precepts I mentioned above it would remind me of one of my favorite lines from Epicurius:

“Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?
Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing?
Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing?
Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing?
Then why call him God?”
 

But, I will indulge you a bit and respond to some of the things you bring up.

First, a clarifying question for you: are you an atheist or an agnostic? Maybe I am unclear on this. You define an atheist as “one who disbelieves or denies the existence of God or gods”. You then state that “we are all agnostic”, seeming to indicate that no one can really know if god exists or doesn’t exist and then state it is not worth debating anyone who does not at least affirm this. Right I do not see one iota of evidence of a supreme being – especially in the Judeo/Christian/Islamic sense. I should elaborate on my “agnostic” definition. The dictionary lists two definitions – in the interest of space I only included one in the original piece – here are both:

a. One who believes that it is impossible to know whether there is a God.

b. One who is skeptical about the existence of God but does not profess true atheism. 

So, with that in mind I agree with statement (a) and disagree with statement (b). Not sure if that clarifies it for you – many who have read this piece get it, but I do agree it can be confusing. I, as much as any human can or cannot know if a supreme being exists or does not exist wholly feel that there is absolutely no evidence of any higher power. Most of all, I am 100 % sure that the Judeo/Christian/Islamic sense is completely manmade and has no divinity of any sort attached to it. As a reasonable person, and an honest person I can state that there is no way any of us can be sure they are right. I think Pascal’s Wager is ignorant (and would be abhorrent to the Christian god) – I do not take his bet. I can see a bit of the pantheist notion of god – god is nature/nature is god, or even understand how someone could “believe” in the god of Spinoza – that god only exists in the philosophical sense (but is in no way real outside of the human mind that thinks of it.)

 But you then proceed to say that god is a creation of man, indicating that you do not believe he exists (atheist), but is a figment of our uneducated did I actually say “uneducated”? imaginations. Yet, if you are an atheist, you are not worth arguing with because you are denying something that cannot be proven or disproven. So please clarify if you are an atheist, someone who denies the existence of God even though this cannot be proven; or you are an agnostic. The titles of your previous blog posts seem to indicate the former. I just want to be sure I understand where you stand.

To further clarify – agnostic refers to the idea that you are 100 % certain – atheist refers to the lack of belief; theist to the idea of belief. I would hope you do not claim to be 100 % sure, but rather operate on faith. There has to be skepticism in any rational mind to anything that cannot be empirically proven or disproven – this is no more a reason to believe or not believe. We both do not know – you are inclined to have faith – I am not.

Second: You claim deists and theists “operate on faith and [atheists] do not”. What do they then operate under? Certainly not proof, since you admitted yourself that God’s existence cannot be proven or disproven. Wouldn’t you say that you are operating under a certain level of faith as well? You may not like the term faith as it is loaded with religious baggage. Faith and sin are two words I do not use. So I will use the term “presupposition”. I can deal with presupposition. You hold to the presupposition that God does not exist, and this proposition is *not* based on direct, empirical, scientific proof, is it—since a negative cannot be proven? An honest look at any meta-narrative or attempt to explain the world will always result in the reality that people begin with certain improvable suppositions. That God exists cannot be proven; that God does not exist cannot be proven (my summary of your words). So maybe you are just agnostic with heavy atheistic leanings. …and you are the opposite – right? In other words you are, for whatever reason, predisposed to deny god’s existence although you acknowledge that one cannot empirically prove his non-existence. Is that a fair characterization? Yes – and why any of this matters is beyond me – I will respond with another quote “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof” – Christopher Hitchens – and this would sum up what you call my heavy atheistic leanings – until something extraordinary can be proven count me out on belief. You have to concede that you can’t prove atheisms either. Yes. And that is what prompted me to respond initially: yours is just another voice in a chorus of ideas about the world. I never said otherwise – I am urging people to use their heads and think for themselves – which to me means accepting that god and religion are man made and not needed. I do not deny the idea of spirituality – but it is self contained in one’s mind.

Third: Science. This is an overstretched term. I am a huge proponent and advocate of the empirical sciences: those sciences that employ the proven scientific method and are always open to peer review (group-think) {peer review and group think are two entirely different concepts, and I am quite sure you know it – so I will spare us an elaboration} and reassessment: the “this science gave us the automobile, airplanes, and medicine” argument. It is when the term science is used in looser ways yet still assumed to be empirical science that I begin to get a bit skeptical. The fact that science continues to uncover and explain mysteries only shows that we are learning more about how this world operates and says nothing of how it came into existence. Anything that lays claim to explaining how the world came into existence in the first place is empirically improvable and therefore only theory and speculation. But these distinctions between the different sciences are often blurred. There is empirical science and theoretical science. And too often theoretical science is touted as empirical science. Not by me – not in my writings. There is a big difference in purporting a theory on the start of the cosmos and saying a mythical hand in the sky created it over the course of a week – give or take a day. Science is putting forth an idea and welcomes reviews to the theory and hypothesis – it welcomes new and different research – it is willing to learn. Of course, you know this it – it is the difference between science and religion/faith. Whether or not science ever emphatically proves how the cosmos started and when it started does nothing to the argument that it was started by the “prime mover.” Like I wrote earlier – “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof” (Hitchens) Without that proof that I will never be persuaded.

Do you realize that science will never attribute the supernatural to anything science observes? Yes – absolutely unless it can be tested by independent testers that can recreate the phenomena. That may not shock you. But the reason this is so is because science has assumed the supernatural away. That would be because it has invariably in all cases been proven to be bunk. Virgins do not have babies, dead people do not rise from the dead, seas do not part, epileptics are not demon possessed, there is no such thing as witches (in the sense that they are an abomination to a Christian god), there are no virgins waiting to be raped in the heaven of Allah, Jim Jones’ Kool-Aid did not bring anyone to heaven ad infinitum (going on endlessly). That is, science has an a priori (before the evidence) {note – I know what a priori means, but I appreciate that you defined it – not everyone does – Latin is a bit out of style these days ;)}commitment to explaining everything in “natural” terms and therefore will never concede the supernatural. This is why science is rational and makes sense to the rational, reasoning mind. This is a statement of fact. Yes it is – and you are correct – there is nothing wrong with the statement. I see nothing wrong with this as long as the scientific community is open about this reality. And I think in some ways it is healthy because it does motivate a scientist to keep pushing the envelope of research. Yes. But, in the interest of truth, one must acknowledge that science will never concede the supernatural, by definition. This reality is so often lost on people. They have set the boundaries of their discipline. Yes – the boundary is called “reality.” So when science begins to reach beyond its self-created boundaries, people like myself only want to point this out. “You are going beyond your own established boundaries”. But, we are dismissed because we are not peers and therefore irrelevant. It’s easy to win the game when you set the rules and move the goal posts at your convenience. You are so true in this last statement – that is what religious apologists have been doing for centuries – setting the rules and moving the goal posts. Why is it OK for them and not for scientists? You also have to admit, the rules scientists set are based on testing a hypothesis – not hocus-pocus.

Fourth and finally (for now): Evolution. May I just say his: You said “recently life was started from scratch in a laboratory” You initially wrote “created” instead of “started”, didn’t you? No I did not – really. Come on, admit it! : ) . OK. What does this prove: that life sprang forth on its own? I am assuming that this is the reason you brought this up. So, life was started in a laboratory by intelligent scientists who used their knowledge of nature to bring together pre-existing materials (i.e. from ‘scratch’) in order to “start” life. Sounds like intelligent design to me. How does this prove evolution (or move toward proving evolution). All it shows is that intelligent beings (scientists) can apply knowledge to “create” life. You are missing the point – it is showing that with further knowledge no supreme being is needed to create life – the simple amino acids that existed millions of years ago on Earth were enough over time to evolve into single cell organisms, which continued to evolve over the Millennia and continue this very day. Link to article. Sadly the term “theory” has been used for too long with evolution – it is well beyond a theory at this point – it is proven. I highly recommend Dr. Jerry Coyne’s “Why Evolution is True.”

Mike, I am happy to engage in these discussions even when they are loaded with assumptions and false presumptions. I still have no idea what false presumptions I have made – you have not come out and said “this is wrong.” But I take you back to my original point that you never really responded to: what do you think about the fact that what really motivates atheists is not a pursuit of truth but a denial of that which they know to be true about God in order to serve their own desires, without accountability to God. God has made himself evident to man, but man is neither grateful to God or honors Him as God. God has not made himself evident to man at all – I defy you to show me how this has occurred. So man attempts to suppress that truth with “foolish speculations” among other things, devising all sorts of theories and religions to explain the true God away. The foolishness is god and religion – not the proven and tested theories, and the hypothesis’ that are being formulated and tested. For openers the idea of “one true god” is nauseating and demeaning to all other cultures – who put your version on a high horse? Atheism is just one of those theories. To answer your question, well you actually answered it. The negation you point out is not what motivates us – it is the opposite – we seek the truth, and god and religion have no interest in the truth, or in seeking it. I do not “deny which I know to be true about god in order to serve my own desires” – there is no god for me to do this to. The ironic thing is that I live a highly moral, simple loving life. I call on the sick, I spend time with my children, I read, write, have a meaningful career that does not stomp on the world, I love my wife and family, spend lots of time alone and with others in nature etc. You did not say this, but I really find the innuendo that atheists are out serving their own desires – I realize that can simply mean to you “the denying of god” – but it reads like an accusation of leading some sort of unlawful, deviant life – which is very well what you may think – if so – you could not be more wrong.

If I am going to continue with this it is going to be one on one with you – and I want to know more about you – citizenry; education; religion; what you think of evolution; etc. I lay it all on the line in my writing and the “About Me” page of my blog…lastly – thanks for reading and commenting. Atheism is one of many topics I discuss at Symptom of the Universe – and I have other things to cover – thanks again.

That was my main point that I desired for you to comment on.

Thanks again for engaging me in this discussion. You are welcome.