Monthly Archives: October 2013

Some Interesting Music Quotes

“He’d be better off shoveling show.” --Richard Strauss on Arnold Schoenberg’s conducting. When told that a soloist would need six fingers to perform his concerto, Arnold Schoenberg replied, “I can wait.” “I would like to hear Elliot Carter’s Fourth String Quartet, if only to discover what a cranky prostate does to one’s polyphony.” --James Sellars “Exit in case of Brahms.” --Philip Hale’s proposed inscription over the doors of Boston Symphony Hall “Why is Read more [...]

Should Churches Be Tax Exempt?

"When a religion is good, I conceive it will support itself; and when it does not support itself, and God does not care to support it, so that its professors are obliged to call for the help of the civil power, 'tis a sign, I apprehend, of its being a bad one." Ben Franklin, (Poor Richard's Almanac, 1754) “The divorce between Church and State ought to be absolute.  It ought to be so absolute that no Church property anywhere, in any state or in the nation, should be exempt for equal taxation; Read more [...]

Setting the Record Straight on Unions

This was written shortly after Obama's election in 2008 when Republicans tried to mount a political campaign to block the bailout of the big auto companies because of their union labor. The recent economic meltdown has brought some slimy little creatures out from under the rocks.  Our political system, with its reliance on mass media, has spawned a new species of commentators and pundits…sometimes called “talking heads.”  These creatures take the events of the day and “spin” them to Read more [...]

Selective Literalism and Gay Bishops

The Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles recently elected the first openly gay bishop since the national church lifted a ban that kept gays out of its highest ordained ministry, a move that deepened divisions between liberals and conservatives in the faith.  Rev. Mary Glasspool of Baltimore was elected to the position of suffragan, or assistant, bishop. Response from the conservative side of the church was predictable. The Rev. Kendall Harmon, canon theologian for the South Carolina diocese, said Read more [...]

Secular Pro-Life

Have you ever met anyone who identified themselves as con-life? Didn’t think so.  Neither have I. Everybody is pro-life. But the term has taken on another meaning in our society. It is a euphemism for anti-abortion, or even anti-contraception. Usually it is espoused by religious folks who talk about the ‘sacredness’ of life. But a growing number of nonreligious people identify themselves as ‘pro-life.’ In fact, there is an organization called Secular Pro-Life (SPL), Read more [...]

Science vs. Politics

I wrote this piece back during the Bush administration, but with the huge forest fires we had this summer, and the logging industry's lust for all those dead trees, it is still relevant. Today’s LA Times had an article about a graduate student at Oregon State University who is learning what happens when a scientist publishes something that the “establishment” doesn’t like. Daniel Donato and his colleagues conducted a study on reforestation of areas burned by forest fires.  What they Read more [...]

War on Women = War on the World

This was written before the 2012 election, but much of it it is still true today. There is a lot of political talk these days about the Republican “War on Women,” but their angry rhetoric is about a lot of other wars too.  War against Iran to destroy its nukes, continuing the war in Afghanistan “until we win,” as Rick Santorum advocates, and the war against environmentalists and global warming scientists.  And, of course, the war against organized labor, minimum wage and workplace safety Read more [...]

Religious Freedom…even if it breaks laws?

A few years ago, the Supreme Court dealt a major blow to the separation of government and religion, ruling that members of a Christian sect could use a hallucinogenic tea as part of their religious ritual. The Santa Fe, New Mexico-based group has about 130 members, and imports a substance known as hoasca which is then combined with local plants and brewed into a tea used in the church's communion ritual. In 1999, U.S. Customs inspectors seized a shipment of the psychotropic chemical which is banned Read more [...]

Religion and Morality

This is the second of a series of fictional dialogues between my friend Al, who is a devout Christian, and me.  The first one is called “A Question of Faith.” We were starting our second beer, which is usually when the serious discussions begin. The first beer covers family news, how the Dodgers, Lakers, UCLA, USC  and other local teams are doing. Al fired the first shot as he sipped from the newly chilled glass. “If we didn’t have religion, how would we know right from wrong?”   Read more [...]

A Question of Faith

This is the first of a series of fictional articles.  The second, titled "Religion and Morality" and be found here. We were sitting in the back yard, my friend Al and I, drinking a beer.  It was a warm summer afternoon.  Al is a devout Christian, and I am a skeptic, unable to accept faith-based beliefs with no supporting evidence. On this particular day, the discussion came around to evolution.  Al is a very smart guy, with advanced degrees in engineering and computer science.  He’s Read more [...]


This is the third in a series of conversations on religious and moral topics with my fictitious friend Al.  The first two are: 1. A Question of Faith 2. Religion and Morality The second round of beers had been opened and poured.  It was time for our discussion to turn from family, weather and the fortunes of our favorite pro or college teams to weightier matters.  I fired the first shot this time. “Do you really think that a little bundle of cells the size of a pinhead can feel pain Read more [...]

Religious Belief is a Virus

We were starting our second beer, and I had been waiting for this moment.  Al is a very smart guy, a trained scientist with advanced degrees in engineering.  He is a kind and thoughtful person.  He is also a devout Christian.  I am a nonbeliever.  We have had many spirited discussions about religion, but they have always remained civil.  We have never let our differences of opinion on matters of faith threaten our friendship.  I was planning to spring a little trap on him. I mentioned a Read more [...]

Religious Belief and the Scientific Method

In his essay, “Non-Overlapping Magisteria,”  Steven Jay Gould introduced the “NOMA Principle,” which postulated that religion and science occupied mutually exclusive domains in human culture.  As Gould explains, magisteria are teaching authorities.  The word is derived from ‘magister,’ the Latin word for teacher and has nothing to do with majesty or awe. Richard Dawkins and others disagreed vehemently with Gould.  Dawkins says, “It is completely unrealistic to claim, as Gould Read more [...]

Rape, Abortion and Scapegoating

The anti-abortion movement in the United States is mostly motivated by religious belief.  But there has been an upsurge in “pro-life” sentiment by people with no religious belief.  Organizations like Secular Pro-Life have sprung up.  Half the people in the US now identify themselves as “pro-life,” a significant increase over the past ten years. “Pro-life” is a euphemism for anti-abortion, and a majority of pro-lifers favor an exception in the case of rape or incest.  There is some Read more [...]

Proof the Resurrection Happened?

The Resurrection of Jesus Christ is the cornerstone of Christian belief. Christian scholars have said that if it were ever proven to be untrue, the whole edifice of Christianity would come tumbling down. It is not surprising, then, that Bible scholars and apologists have spent a lot of time and effort to accumulate evidence of its occurrence. Most religions claim miraculous events. It’s a proven strategy for attracting believers. Nobody wants to belong to an “ordinary” religion that is based Read more [...]

Post-Holiday Ruminations

My birthday is December 21st and our wedding anniversary is New Years Eve.  This juxtaposition of major milestones in my life has always made the holiday season a bittersweet time for me…a time for retrospection and introspection:  What have I accomplished in my life, and what do I still want to accomplish?   The contact with distant friends and relatives via Christmas cards, and family newsletters always brings back a flood of memories...of lost loves and missed opportunities, along with those Read more [...]

Port Security, Immigrants, and Abuse of Power

The Wall Street Journal had a very provocative article titled “Port-Security Plan, A Bid to Foil Terror, May Slow Deliveries.”  The impetus for this article is the new port security program scheduled to start later this year.  The plan requires all port workers, including about 110,000 truck drivers who enter port facilities, to prove that they are legal US residents.  It is estimated that as many as half of the drivers entering the port of Los Angeles/Long Beach may be illegal immigrants.  Read more [...]

Pharmacists Right To Refuse

No one's health should be hostage to a caregiver's opinion of his or her morality.  In prisons, even hardened murderers are entitled to decent, prompt medical attention.  A woman walking into a pharmacy with a prescription deserves no less.  Yet in at least a dozen states, pharmacists have refused to fill clients' orders for birth control pills on personal moral grounds.  Often the prescriptions have been for emergency contraception…the "morning-after" pills marketed as Plan B that prevent Read more [...]

On Subsidies

I have often advocated the use of government subsidies to promote and encourage conservation.  I believe that one of the roles of government is to encourage citizens to take actions that are seen as beneficial to society as a whole.  These are often actions that people would not be inclined to take, through ignorance or perceived self-interest, without some incentive.  I believe that in these cases, it is a legitimate role of government, indeed an essential one, to encourage such actions. The Read more [...]

Objectors of Conscience

“A conscientious objector (CO) is an individual who, on religious, moral or ethical grounds, refuses to participate as a combatant in war or, in some cases, to take any role that would support a combatant organization…” - Wikipedia Conscientious objectors have a long history in this country and elsewhere in the world.  They have been tortured, imprisoned, treated with contempt…and occasionally tolerated, with barely concealed disgust for their apparent cowardice.  This, despite the Read more [...]