Archive for the ‘Commentary’ Category

Elizabeth Warren is really for US – and is the right choice for US Senate

October 14, 2012

Scott Brown wants you to believe he is for the regular guy and familes. OK – fine – a lovely position to hold – but is it really how he has worked in Washingon? Scott has voted against tougher regulations on the pharmaceutical industry, against labeling GMOs, against restraints on farm-raised fish (which are known carcinogens) and against US citizen’s rights to buy similar prescription medicines from Canada. On top of this he took a $2500 campaign donation from Gerry Conigliaro, the owner of New England Compounding Center, Framingham – the same firm that is responsible for the deaths of 12 people and life threatening illnesses of 126 others. The embarrassment from this donation has led Brown to disassociate himself from it by donating it to the Meningitis Foundation of America after the fact. But none of this should matter – right? Because Scott Brown is for us – not for gigantic corporate interests and all any of us should be concerned about is what percentage of Native American blood Elizabeth Warren has.

People around here think Brown is OK – just because he is not as scummy as Boehner and Kantor. Well to that I say what difference does that make if he votes how they tell him to vote and not in the interests of those he is supposed to be serving.

Less than one and done for Scott – let’s send someone to Washington who works for people – not corporate interests – please vote for Elizabeth Warren for US Senate on Election Day.


Rocco Saporito …

January 16, 2012

Rocco Saporito – My Grandfather

Monday, January 16, 2012 marks the centennial of my paternal grandfather’s birth. Rocco Saporito was born on this date in 1912 in Riesi, Sicily to Concetta (Sanfillipo) and yet another Rocco Saporito. My grandfather was my only grandparent who was born in the “olde country.” His father immigrated to the United States to find work soon after Rocco’s birth and his mom and he came about a year later. They all came through Ellis Island and settled in the North End of Boston for a few years before settling inEast Boston. My grandfather became the eldest of six siblings.

For all of the questions I hounded him with when he could still answer them my knowledge of the family’s early years in Boston is cloudy at best. I know his father was a “laborer” – nothing ever more specific than that. Rocco remembered the Great Molasses Flood in the North End (it happened a day before his 7th birthday in 1919). At some point the entire family picked up and moved across the harbor to East Boston – I assume this happened sometime in the early 1920s.

Rocco had a very good head on his shoulders – I was always, and still am amazed at how many things he could do and do well. The economy of the 1920s and later the Great Depression era ended my grandfather’s formal education around grade 8. Like millions of that era he had to work to help support the family. He served in theCalvaryand there are some pictures of him with his horse. He worked for a time at Daggets – a huge candy company that was located inKendall Squareand is now part of MIT. From what I heard the work conditions were horrid and my grandfather was not treated well. His life improved dramatically when he got out of there and got a job that he would hold until retirement in the mid 1970s at Gillette. Rocco also worked hard to get his GED – he always made a point of telling us all to pursue any education that we could get. He also always told me not to study liberal arts – I guess I blew it on that account! Rocco worked as a machinist at Gillette and helped to design and improve many machines that were used to manufacture and package razor blades. The man liked to build things!

Grandpa married Grandma Fannie Bognanno in on November 28, 1935 – which happened to be the first day that Thanksgiving was a national holiday. Back in the 1930s leisure time was at a premium and weddings happened every day. Rocco and Fanny were not about to go off on a three week cruise for a honeymoon. My grandparents were way ahead of the times as they were always a two-income family. Grandma worked as a seamstress in big clothing factories – often making clothing for the military.

Rocco always wanted more education. When I think of what a natural born engineer he was it is amazing to think of what types of work and careers he could have had if college had been an option for him. He could build anything – out of wood, metal or concrete and masonry. And when I say build – I mean build it right and of the highest quality. There are cabinets, patios, tables, chairs, brick walls, carports, laundry chutes, wiring jobs, plumbing work and more that are all still standing and in good condition many decades after Rocco built them. He had an eagle eye for measurements (another gene that escaped me) – he used calipers and micrometers and talked about things in “hundreths of inches.” A long standing joke between me and my Dad is that every time we see a picture on a wall we say it is crooked – because Grandpa always did that – and he was always correct! Rocco did not take shortcuts like me when he built things – he was also comfortable with more than just a hammer, crowbar and roll of duct tape!

Rocco and Fannie had two children – my Aunt Connie and my father Ron. They were both born inEast Bostonbut for the most part were raised in post World War II Winthrop, MA. I have always romanticized and attached a “Leave it to Beaver” like charm to 1950sWinthrop. I am sure it was not all rosy all of the time. I would imagine that my grandparents were immensely proud to their children – Connie works as a nurse and my father as a hospital pharmacist. They managed to get both of their children educated and into a professional field – a big jump for one generation.

I have so many great memories with my grandfather. He was forced to indulge my wish to ride to every corner of the Boston subway system, or to go fishing off the Saratoga Street bridge, let me run the massive cheese grater (these people were serious about freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese – they were not Kraft users.) The man split beers with me (never asked for an ID) and truly wanted nothing but the best for his five grandchildren. Although he was soon to be diagnosed with terminal cancer he met my girlfriend, and soon to be fiancé Gail in 1993 and welcomed her into the family as if she had always been there.

One of the ways that I have felt the luckiest in my life is that my grandparents lived long enough for me to appreciate them. The “devil may care” attitude about family many of us go through as teens gave way to a period in my 20s where I found myself living within a few miles of Rocco and Fanny and was able to spend a lot of time with them – and it was not all just showing them how to reprogram their VCR! We did some great things: going through old photos, talking about family history and our annual “let’s make 600 raviolis” for the holidays ritual – my back still hurts from all of that work – and more importantly – I can still taste the raviolis!

Time moves forward – loved ones die – people lose touch – life happens. I will always appreciate my grandfather Rocco and all he did for us. As long as these great people are alive in our memories they are still with us.

Kenny Chambers – Under the Tracks

September 3, 2010

CD Review

Recording artist Kenny Chambers recently released his latest CD Under the Tracks which is his first release in fifteen years.

The CD is available at CD Baby

Kenny Chambers - Under the Tracks

Kenny Chambers - Under the Tracks

This collection of songs is dedicated to his two bandmates from the original Moving Targets lineup Pat Leonard and Pat Brady who both passed away far too soon within the past two years. Kenny has a storied history in the post-punk scene of the 1980s and beyond with his bands Moving Targets and American Pulverizer (has there ever been a better name for a hard rock band?) and stints with Bullet Lavolta and Dredd Foole and the Din. Those as old as me and from our shared hometown of Ipswich will remember the earlier version of Moving Targets known as Iron Cross too! Ah – the vague memories of underage keg parties…

Kenny Chambers live at the Rat - Boston, MA 1987

Kenny Chambers live at the Rat - Boston, MA 1987

Kenny has long been a man who listened to all music – genre is not important to him – style and having something to say is. Under the Tracks shows us Kenny’s diversified influences from his hard rock and punk rock roots to his knowledge of folk, pop and country music too. Earlier in his career Chambers had aptly covered songs by artists as diverse as Simon and Garfunkel and Led Zeppelin.

Kenny credits many influences in his music – which all at the same time are easy to hear and hard to pinpoint. The Beatles and the Rolling Stones for their ability to craft songs; Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen’s brilliant songwriting and storytelling; the raw punk and ability of Joe Strummer and Mick Jones of the Clash;  the authentic country sounds of Merle Haggard; the post-punk efforts of Bob Mould (ex-Husker Du) and Paul Westerberg (ex-Replacements); Steve Earle and Neil Young to name a few.

Kenny Chambers - acoustic

Kenny Chambers - acoustic

Picking favorite tracks on this collection of songs from Kenny’s songbook is difficult – they are all good. I like the sound of the opening track Crawl, Medicine has a nice pace and feel, and Secret and Waiting for You are very tasteful and will be well received.

Kenny recorded all of this by himself – all instruments and voices. My type of one man band! Short term plans include touring Europe either with a band or with willing European bands (which there are no shortage of) backing him up with a smattering of solo acoustic shows thrown it too. Kenny is hoping to put this tour together for spring 2011. Me and many in the Boston area are hoping we get a glimpse as well.

Kenny Chamber’s Under the Tracks is a top-notch effort by a talented songwriter and musician – the two missed friends that this CD are dedicated too would be very proud of the effort.

Buy it here:

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Coexist – Really?

September 2, 2010

Symptom of the Universe has been enjoying an extended summer vacation – here is a quick piece that I have been brooding about for a few weeks – feel free to comment and discuss. 

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The world is a vampire, sent to drain
Secret destroyers, hold you up to the flames

 Billy Corgan/Smashing Pumpkins 

Any drive through a modern, well-bred community will see a confluence of Volvos and Priuses adorned with bumper stickers pleading with all of us to coexist. The main argument of this movement, or better still – sentiment – is that all religious groups should get along with each other and play nice. Just be tolerant of one and another and accept each other for who they are and everything will be alright – one gigantic bohemian love fest for the world community. Is this where we are heading? Not likely. Is this realistic? Not at all. 



Religious groups and groups in general are not in the inclusion business. By definition, a group excludes just as it includes. Sure, some more liberated groups are “open to all,” but many groups are designed to discriminate and exclude. A great many groups, both religious and secular, have no interest in coexisting with one another. For example – 

Do fundamentalist Christians want to coexist with Pro Choicers?

Do Zionists want to coexist with Palestinians?

Does Focus on the Family want to accept gays and lesbians? Do Mormons or fundamentalists?

Do Orthodox Jews accept the un-Orthodox?

Does the Taliban want to coexist with moderate Muslims (or anyone?)

Do the religious want to coexist with atheists (and vice versa?)

Did Nazis want to coexist with Jews?

Bosnians with Serbs?

Japanese with Chinese?

New worlders with indigenous groups?

North and South Korea?

Confederate and Union? 

A resounding no is the answer to all of these. 

We need to be educated about groups we are included in as well as groups we are excluded from. If I could answer to my readers and the world how to make all of these disparate groups love, tolerate and coexist I would be in Sweden accepting my Nobel Prize. We do need to be tolerant – it looks more and more like the only ones who are tolerant are the socially liberal folks. So many others are willing to start wars, discriminate, exclude and marginalize a great many people from the world’s communities. 



Extremely large portions of our world are uneducated and will remain that way. Critical thinking is not part of the picture for a great many people and there is no denying mankind’s historical tribal roots and passions. People like to be part of a group – safety in numbers – he/she is one of us – some people just don’t belong. The fears are that these tendencies can prove to be discriminatory and hateful at best and fatal at worst. 

So as a liberally minded person I do not want to squash anyone’s beliefs – but I also do not want other’s beliefs and discriminations thrust upon me. I do have strong feelings against religion and higher powers but I also do not engage on the topic by assaulting others’ beliefs unless I am engaged to do so – I suppose at times my writing can provoke.

Where do we go from here? Is there hope? 

Coexist is not an answer but rather a utopian ideal that is unattainable. There may be no solution at all except for us to strive for knowledge of others who are not like us.

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.”

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

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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:

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.


Atheism Is Not A Religion

July 31, 2010

A Response to a Reader of Symptom of the Universe

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A Mr. Richard Fetter of Fort Lee, New Jersey writes in and says… – No, props to Gilda Radner, but truth be told “Matt W” wrote in to comment regarding an earlier Symptom of the Universe article Atheism – Savior of the World. A second article, Atheism is Not a Choice may also be of interest to anyone who has not yet read it.

Matt’s first critiques are common ones fielded by atheists daily – the idea that atheism is just another religion and that WE are as bad as fundamentalists in purporting our position to others. Allow me to retort – first, let’s define:

Agnostic – 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.[1]


Atheist – One who disbelieves or denies the existence of God or gods.[2]

We are all agnostic – anyone who denies this is not worth debating with. No one can prove the existence or non-existence of a god or Supreme Being. It is commonly understood that you can never prove a negative and that the burden of proof is required of those who are trying to prove it exists. Atheists state there is no god – there is nothing to find or prove there – believers say there is a god – show us some proof. The essential difference between atheists and deists and theist is that the latter two operate on faith and the former do not.

The theists are willing to live their life denying rational thought regarding Supreme Being(s) – the atheist will not and cannot operate this way. I am of course referring mainly to theists who believe fundamentally and make the total commitment to their belief. There are many churchgoers who use their heads as well and do not deny science – but have not followed the path to its obvious conclusions that religion and god are man made constructs. The religious will deny proven knowledge such as carbon dating, which proves the universe is nearly 14 billion years old, not 6000 years old which is believed by many because an uneducated writer penned it into the bible a few thousand years ago. Evolution is another scientific truth that has been proven over and over again. Recently life was started from scratch in a laboratory. Man is constantly learning about the natural world and each day that goes by the world becomes less mysterious. If atheists are coming across all high and mighty to you Matt it is because we have difficulty with people who can stare at scientific proof and say it is not true. This is both childish and foolish.

Matt also asked me if I have a good understanding of the Christian worldview – I will answer yes to that question. To reply to Matt’s asking “why is it unreasonable to believe in god if god was created in the minds of men who are rational creatures?” I say that god was created and accepted by man to explain the unexplainable. What was unexplainable 4000 years ago is largely understood today. Epileptics are not possessed by demons; the world is not flat; we do not live in a geocentric universe; man was not created and much of what is in the bible cannot be confirmed or proven by standard historical methods. Did Moses exist? If so how come there is no record of him and all of the trouble he created in Egypt? Egyptians were excellent historians and recorded everything. There is no evidence of the Exodus in Sinai either. This area has been the subject of many large-scale archaeological digs and nothing has been found of a large wandering tribe that spent forty years in the desert.

I researched the “noetic effect of sin” that you mentioned and I will honestly say that I am familiar with the concept, but have not heard the term used to define it. (It is the notion that sin undermines the intellect of man – it is big in Calvinism.) Note to Matt – you should not be shocked when an atheist does not know something – the fact that Christopher Hitchens had not heard of this concept is meaningless as he is willing and capable of learning its meaning – and most assuredly he was aware of the concept. As for the worldview of Christians – I was one for 12 years willingly and a few years after that unwillingly. I am also experienced in Judaism (I am an secular/atheist converted Jew if anyone cares.) I am familiar with the virgin conception, holy trinity and resurrection nonsense. I know what Christ preached and it makes no difference. Prophets were a dime a dozen in that era and this particular prophet was no more divine than you or me. He was a man who became a cult of personality that was eventually followed by millions via the dealings of the Church of Rome.

Your commentary on the noetic effect of religion is ludicrous to anyone who knows the Earth is over 6000 years old, has evolved and was not created in six days. In other words, Genesis is total bunk as is the concept of original sin, which is one of the most offensive Christian/biblical concepts. The idea that all babies are born with a stain on their record because of the activities of a mythical figure form 6000 years ago offends anyone who has had a child or has taken responsibility for their own actions. It is also incredulous and insulting to propose that your worldview/religion is the one correct religion and that it is superior to all others. You Matt, are also an atheist – the difference between us is that I also do not believe in “your” god – you do not believe in Allah, Zeus or the Hindu gods either. The Golden Rule that is so precious to all Christians is not even original – it pre-dates Christ by over five centuries and is attributed to Confucius (as well as the Jews, Buddhists, Babylonians, Egyptians etc. – it is a human attribute – not a god given law.)

You are building a silly argument for belief that is somewhere between Pascal’s Wager and some of the weak arguments put forth by famous Christian apologists like G.K. Chesterton, T.S. Eliot and C.S. Lewis (it is merely a coincidence that they all utilize the same naming format!) We should all submit to the one true religion (this is very absurd) and it is true because our minds are just trying to tell us not to submit to the god that we know is real and true. Tell me Matt – which sect of Christianity is the one true one? May I hazard a guess? It is the one you belong to and follow – right? You almost make me feel bad for the Pope, Benny Hinn, Pat Robertson, Mel Gibson, the Mormons and the Westboro Baptist Church. Damn – they all thought they were the right one. The above mentioned apologists would have us all believe just because “it would be better if there was a god,” “there must be a god,” “I could not live my life without knowing there is a savior who is watching out for me,” etc. Man may want a god, but certainly does not need a god or religion to be kept inline. Remember – US prisons are largely populated by people who state they are practicing Christians – in far larger proportions than there are atheists in jail.

Religions, cults, god and cults of personality are all synonymous with each other – they have brought us such landmark moments as the Dark Ages, the Crusades, the Inquisition, genital mutilation practices, World War II, Vietnam, Hitler, Pol Pot, Mao’s Cultural Revolution, Kim il Jong in North Korea, Stalin and the Holocaust. Mankind will not be saved by mythical saviors and promises of an afterlife. It is all rubbish. Mankind needs to be educated and enlightened – learn from each others differences that we are all basically the same and we can take a big step in that direction by stepping away from religion and the worshiping of idols (by this I mean any religious figure) or real life maniacs that have caused so much pain, death and destruction. It is high time for mankind to open their eyes and wake up to the inherent dangers of group-think and we need to think for ourselves.



When Is It Alright to Kill?

July 26, 2010

Thoughts on ending suffering and moral dilemmas 

Killing is wrong. Is killing always wrong?

Compassion is good.What is compassion? Is ending suffering compassionate?

Is prolonging life compassionate?

Suffering is bad. Are we compelled to end suffering? 

Dry River - White Mountain National Forest - New Hampshire

This past week while hiking in the Dry River Wilderness in the White Mountain National Forest I came upon an unusual site – a bird that was hiding head first under a rock near bridge. I figured it was injured or less likely seeking shelter from the recent downpours. I tossed a small stone near it to see it I would move – the bird only ruffled a couple of tail feathers. I left it alone and continued to hike across the bridge. 

The downpours continued and I abandoned my hike about thirty minutes later and began heading back over the same route. I was very curious to see if the bird was still there. It was and it had moved about two feet away from the rock it had been hiding under and I could now clearly tell that it was a yellow shafted flicker and that it was severely injured. I am not a veterinarian, nor do I play one on TV – but if I had to hazard a guess I would say the bird had a broken wing. It pained me to see it struggling to move as it arched its neck back to try and flip over as it could barely walk and certainly could not fly. 

Dry River Trail

This bird was obviously not going to make it. The cycle of life and death is rapid and constant in the deep forest – it would only be a matter of time before this injured avian would be found and become easy prey for a fox or some other predator. 

It should be noted by my readers that I am writing from an atheist perspective – I have no thoughts of “playing god” or of being superior. As an often empathetic person I struggled with the desire to end the bird’s suffering immediately with a large rock or to let the bird await its likely violent fate at the hands/paws/teeth of a predator. I waited around for about ten minutes watching the bird and thinking about my two distinct choices. When it was time to move on I had done nothing – which was the choice to let nature take its course. 

Would it have been unethical for me to end this wild bird’s suffering? As painful as it was I did euthanize my dog (and sadly I probably should have 3-5 days earlier) a few years back when it became obvious that she was suffering and would not improve. My immediate family wanted to end my mother’s terminal illness “quicker” in her closing days after she had slipped into a coma – but we were legally prevented from taking such action. There is a distinct human desire to want to control things that cannot be controlled. 

Injured bird

In the end I did nothing beyond think. I did not execute/euthanize the bird much like we only medicated my dying mother as we let her cancer run its course. Of course, potential prison sentences played into that decision – not so with the injured bird. I continued to think about this as I ambled back to the trailhead – a good thought exercise with no easy answers and no guarantee of how I would handle a similar situation in the future – kind of hope it never presents itself to me again. 

As with most pieces at Symptom of the Universe I am seeking discussion from all types. What are your thoughts? What do vegans and vegetarians think? What do the religious think? What do other freethinking atheists think about the ethics of ending misery and suffering?

 If you liked this post you may like some others I have penned on atheism and veganism. By “like” I mean you may want to engage in discussion – agreement does not enter into why I do this!

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Random Thoughts during a Rainy Saturday Afternoon in the White Mountains

July 10, 2010


Before we had a camp in New Hampshire I would drive up at 3 AM and I would hike come hell or high water – those who hike with me can attest it was usually high water. Now that I am up here a lot I have become more selective about all weather hiking – today, while eating breakfast Larry and I put our two brains together (which almost equals one brain) and decided to call off the days adventure – this is what you are stuck with – my over active imagination and thoughts…

 Bethlehem, NH is a sight on Friday/Saturday/Shabbat in the summer. This quiet little mountain town has long been the summer holiday destination of thousands of orthodox Jews. In amongst the earthy crunchy farmer’s market set and the northern New England chic antique shops you will find dozens of black and white clad men, women and children walking throughout the town.

 WARNING – ATHEIST AT THE KEYBOARD ALERT. Although I never want to be a part of orthodoxy and think that fundamentalist approaches to religion (and religion) are the root of much of the world’s evil – no matter which religion it springs forth from – Bethlehem is a nice reminder and vision of what America is supposed to be – I think Jefferson, Paine, Madison, Franklin et al would be proud.

 CAREFUL – THE ATHEIST IS STILL TYPING. If you cannot get enough fantasy, fairy tale, fiction and make believe at the Disney resorts – and the Santa’s North Pole theme is not enough while visiting Santa’s Village be sure to go to the back of the park and check out the life sized nativity scene. The camel’s and wise men are huge. In a strange layout – a gigantic cross is across the lawn from the infant – creepy foreshadowing I suppose. My personal issues aside – Santa’s Village (Satan’s Village?) in Jefferson, NH is a great park for little kids of any or no faiths. I have an affinity for places that let you bring your own food in.

 I have not liked the world as much since Jack Lemmon died – a true talent.

 Sarah Palin’s twenty minutes of fame have been up for about eighteen months now. You can go back to Twin Peaks and get your Canadian health care anytime now.

 Sharron Angle is attempting the impossible – she is making Harry Reid look like an outstanding candidate. You go girl. With colonial powers Holland and Spain in the World Cup final it is apparently all the rage to “go all 16th century.” Angle has done a better job sabotaging her own campaign by talking than the Left media could have ever done. Thanks Sharron!

 Glenn Beck is irrelevant – we should stop bitching about him like he matters.

 Ditto for Mel Gibson – has he been in an even mediocre movie since Gallipoli? Give him credit though – his racism and anti-Semitism are first rate.

 I don’t mind guns as much as mind the NRA lobby.

 Each time Larry King grabs a new barely legal bride do they actually have to have sex with him? Do they just have to do the photos and then wait a few months for the alimony checks? Isn’t this a type of prostitution? “Earth to Mr. King – what is wrong with cougars?” The generosity of women never ceases to amaze me. (Axle Foley gave me that line.) 

 Very sad and very funny all at the same time – people watching at the Littleton, NH Walmart. The “recovery” has not found its way up here yet.

 No matter what the sign says on the end display sugar cookies are not and cannot be patriotic. 

While on the empire of Sam Walton theme…Walmart’s store brand of cheaply manufactured by child/slave labor, Faded Glory line is an insanely ironic brand name. Seeing the American flag on such cheap cut-rate crap, and at a store where the middle and lower classes are practically forced to shop at is truly symbolic of the United States fade from glory on the world scene – except when a regime needs to be toppled of course. When that happens it’s “north, south, east or west we have the cluster bombs that are the best.” 

Last but not least (my friend Larry got this idea started) – is there anything more offensive than LeBron James and his handlers taking/getting an hour of airtime on ESPN so all of the world can find out (who cares?) which franchise gets the honor of paying this guy $30 million/year? It makes little difference to me that the proceeds go to charity. I guess the economy is looking up in Miami.

 Thanks for listening…it stopped raining and I am going out!

Arizona Immigration Reform 60 Days Later

June 30, 2010

Where are we headed and what has it done?

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The Arizona Immigration Reform Law (SB 1070[1]) was signed into law just over sixty days ago by Governor Jan Brewer. The passage of this controversial law has become a line of demarcation for where any politician or group stands on immigration reform. The debate on this issue has been brewing since before passage, and still more than a month away from enactment (July 29, 2010) and enforcement. Republican legislators and executives find themselves pitted between anti-immigration Tea Partiers and Hispanic voters who have helped get them in office.

Campaigns in Texas, Colorado and California have seen Republican candidates who have held leads lose them due to their loss of support in the Latino community.[2] Remember in 2000 George W. Bush received 49 % of the Hispanic vote in Florida – a demographic that traditionally voted heavily Democratic. Controversial Democratic strategist and author Robert Creamer sees a politician’s stance on Arizona SB 1070 as a litmus test for where a candidate stands on immigration – and this directly impacts the Latino voter who feels marginalized by this law. “…Republicans – especially in the West – have awakened a sleeping giant.”[3] The voters who have been disenfranchised are legal Latinos who will vote.

Two exceptionally wealthy leaders of major international conglomerates Rupert Murdoch (CEO of News Corporation, which owns FOX and many media outlets) and Michael Bloomberg (founder of Bloomberg L.P. and mayor of New York City) recently lobbied the government to create a path for legal status for immigrants. The two men brought together corporate leaders from Disney, McDonalds and Hewlett Packard and mayors of major US cities to create a partnership that will lobby on behalf of creating a legal route for immigrants to get legal status in the United States. These people believe that this is needed to sustain growth and to continue our nation’s history of welcoming people to fulfill their own American Dream. Bloomberg expanded by noting that mass deportations are likely impossible and that would greatly harm the economy.[4]

The local economy is already reeling in Arizona and not just from liberal tourists who are staying away and protesters of the Arizona Diamondbacks baseball club. An article this week in the Arizona Republic discussed the impact of fear on local Latinos, both legal and illegal has had on business. Many families have fled the state out of fear of harassment and ultimately deportation. Landlord Rollie Rankin has lost seven tenants recently – “They have had enough of the crackdown. Back in the old days, it was a wink and a nod; there was tacit approval that they were here. Now, it’s an open attack.”[5] The costs go beyond lost tenants – school districts are losing enrollment (and therefore funding) and the state stands to lose $31 billion in spending from large Latino population.[6] Arizona has a 5.6 % sales tax rate.

Bill sponsor, Arizona Representative John Kavanah (R) believes that ridding the state of illegal immigrants will save the state money in services, incarceration, education and medical costs. He acknowledges that some businesses will fail, but he states “If there are a few pockets of economic activity that will suffer, that is unfortunate, but I am sure that if their business is worth having because there is a demand for it, then they will survive,” Kavanah said. “If their business isn’t worth having because there is no demand for their services, then their business will go away. But that is the way it is supposed to be in an efficient economy.”[7] That sounds rather cold and impractical. University of Arizona’s immigration policy expert Judith Gans believes that the gains the state may make in shipping off illegal immigrants are false. “If we fill all of those jobs with legal, low-skilled, native-born workers, the fiscal burdens don’t change. It’s inherent in the job itself, not in somebody’s immigration status,” she said. “It’s sort of a myth that if these illegal immigrants weren’t here these fiscal burdens would somehow magically change.”[8]

Immigration reform is needed, and I have written this before – but it needs to be sensible and comprehensive and legal. Immigration laws and enforcement are in the purview of the federal government and not the states. The country cannot afford to have 50 states have 50 laws on immigration, trade agreements or international treaties. I fear the Arizona law will lead to racial profiling and though I have been assured by a law enforcement officer that the “bad” cop that would be reckless in enforcing SB 1070 is a rarity I cannot say I am encouraged by what I have read about Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio. The list of charges that have been levied against him is staggering. Amongst the “highlights” is a litany of charges from the Arizona ACLU including use of excessive force, denying medical care to a paraplegic and improper use of stun guns.[9] Recently one of Arpaio’s men was held in contempt of court for going though a defense attorneys files in court.[10] There is a legitimate fear in the citizenry that this type of “Old West” law enforcement is above the law. The law is written to guarantee no racial profiling or abuse but is that a realistic situation when renegade law enforcement is involved in some jurisdictions?

I sympathize to a point with a state that is in effect being held hostage by the federal government’s inaction to provide comprehensive immigration reform. There is too much politics being played by each side to get any real work done. Whether you fall to the right or the left we are all being shortchanged by our elected leaders. This inaction does not give Arizona or any other state the right to enact laws that are outside of their jurisdiction. Many believe that this law will not survive challenges in federal court, or even in the Roberts Supreme Court. Time will tell. As a nation we can hope for the type of comprehensive reform that Bloomberg and Murdoch are calling for – reform that will allow immigrants the chance to give their families their own American Dream – just like many of our forebears were able to do for us. There is no room in the United States for discrimination and the rejection of basic human rights and dignity.

Other articles on this subject you may want to read:



[3] Ibid.



[6] Ibid.


[8] Ibid.