First academic chair in the US for study of atheism set for Miami university


Louis AppignaniMax Reed/NYTimes

With an increasing number of Americans leaving religion behind, the University of Miami has received a donation in late April from a wealthy atheist to endow what it says is the nation’s first academic chair “for the study of atheism, humanism and secular ethics.”

The chair has been established after years of discussion with a $2.2 million donation from Louis J. Appignani, a retired businessman and former president and chairman of the modeling school Barbizon International, who has given grants to many humanist and secular causes — though this is his largest so far. The university, which has not yet publicly announced the new chair, will appoint a committee of faculty members to conduct a search for a scholar to fill the position.

❝ “I’m trying to eliminate discrimination against atheists,” said Appignani, who is 83 and lives in Florida. “So this is a step in that direction, to make atheism legitimate.”

Legitimate, that is, in the GOUSA. The modern, educated world has little problem with questions about discussion and study of atheism, philosophical materialism.

❝ “I think it’s a very bold step of the University of Miami, and I hope there will be others,” said Richard Dawkins, an evolutionary biologist and atheist luminary who is the author of “The God Delusion.”

“It’s enormously important to shake off the shackles of religion from the study of morality,” Dawkins said in a telephone interview from his home in Britain.

The percentage of Americans who claim no religious affiliation has risen rapidly in a short time, to 23 percent of the population in 2014, up from 16 percent in 2007, according to a report by the Pew Research Center. Younger people are even less religious, with 35 percent of millennials saying they identify as atheist, agnostic or with no religion in particular.

No doubt our flock of opportunist politicians will climb aboard the nearest fundamentalist bus chartered to intercede on behalf of superstition. Even our liberal president realized early on he had to end most of his public statement by chanting, “God bless us, God bless the United States of America”.

I expect Trump will come up with his own variation on the theme before election day. As will Hillary.

Want to save your marriage? Don’t have kids — (a fun opinion piece)

Lots of women look forward to motherhood – getting to know a tiny baby, raising a growing child, developing a relationship with a maturing son or daughter. All over the world, people believe that parenting is the most rewarding part of life. And it’s good that so many mothers treasure that bond with their child, because the transition to parenthood causes profound changes in a woman’s marriage and her overall happiness … and not for the better…

Families usually welcome a baby to the mix with great expectations. But as a mother’s bond with a child grows, it’s likely that her other relationships are deteriorating. I surveyed decades of studies on the psychological effects of having a child to write my book Great Myths of Intimate Relationships: Dating, Sex, and Marriage, and here’s what the research literature shows…

For around 30 years, researchers have studied how having children affects a marriage, and the results are conclusive: the relationship between spouses suffers once kids come along. Comparing couples with and without children, researchers found that the rate of the decline in relationship satisfaction is nearly twice as steep for couples who have children than for childless couples. In the event that a pregnancy is unplanned, the parents experience even greater negative impacts on their relationship.

The irony is that even as the marital satisfaction of new parents declines, the likelihood of them divorcing also declines. So, having children may make you miserable, but you’ll be miserable together.

Worse still, this decrease in marital satisfaction likely leads to a change in general happiness, because the biggest predictor of overall life satisfaction is one’s satisfaction with one’s spouse.

RTFA for the complete analysis. Professor Johnson offers a clear conclusion which doesn’t diminish the prospects for meaningful marriage – for a couple. I figured this out on my own over a half-century ago. There were variables in how I intended to spend much of my adult life – but, I came to the same conclusion.

Living in a “Good Catholic state” the urologist who performed my vasectomy asked me to swear that I went to Rhode Island. Such procedures – like the purchase of condoms – were illegal. Performing vasectomies was akin to abortions BITD.

Never looked back. Never regretted the decision. Were all of my marriages heaven on Earth? The plural answers that question, doesn’t it. But, it could have, would have been a lot worse if children were part of the equation as well. And I finally did meet the right person for me – decades ago.

It gets better every day, every year. We celebrate our Lunaversary every month. And we both agree dog-children are OK.

United States has a 70,000-ton nuclear waste problem – and growing

The federal government stepped up efforts to deal with the nation’s growing, heavily guarded stockpiles of nuclear waste…convening westerners in Denver to search for a path to a locally accepted site somewhere for deep burial.

That radioactive waste — 70,000 tons, increasing by 2,000 tons a year — comes from nuclear power plants that provide one-fifth of the electricity Americans use, twice the share the wind power industry expects to provide by 2020. More nuclear waste comes from nuclear weapons. Decades of failure to find a central disposal site has backed up spent fuel at 99 commercial plants and 14 shut-down plants…forced the government to pay utilities $4 billion as court-ordered compensation.

❝ “It makes sense to deal with this now instead of kicking the can down the road,” acting Assistant Energy Secretary for Nuclear Energy John Kotek said in an interview before Tuesday’s session…“At a minimum, it is about responsibly dealing with waste that was generated for our benefit. We’ve benefited from the electricity. We benefited from the nuclear deterrence.”

[All American politicians nod their heads at that bit of sage analysis.]

U.S. officials are acting as China and other nations construct nuclear plants as a cleaner source of energy to meet obligations under the International Climate Change Treaty. Nuclear plants don’t emit carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases that scientists blame for global warming. A new U.S. plant is nearly complete in Tennessee. Four more are planned in Georgia and South Carolina.

For 22 years, federal officials worked toward central disposal at Yucca Mountain in Nevada. Nevada politicians opposed the project. President Obama in 2009 declared Yucca Mountain an unworkable solution.

There was also a problem with falsified information about the project.

Local resistance to nuclear waste remains fierce. The recent plans to drill an exploratory bore hole three miles deep under North Dakota were scuttled this year as residents objected. Federal energy officials say they’re now looking at bore hole sites in South Dakota to test geological conditions.

Guarding the spent fuel at 113 locations is expensive. Energy officials said waste is stored in different ways at each site and eventually would have to be re-packaged for safety. Federal regulators have said the waste in Colorado can stay until at least 2030, or until a permanent disposal facility is built.

Cold War decisions continue irrevocable, cast in political alloys as fixed as decisions made a half-century ago. There will be no discussion of recycling nuclear material – in the United States.

Every now and then, Areva, the French firm handling most European nuclear recycling drops a note to whoever has their butt planked in the Oval office offering to quote a price for recycling our leftover nuclear crap. The power rods are 94% recyclable. France – which gets the majority of their power from nuclear plants – gets 17% of all their electricity from recycled radioactive material.