Also sometimes referred to as secular, modern, or humanistic. This is an umbrella term for Protestant denominations, or churches within denominations, that view the Bible as the witness of God rather than the word of God, to be interpreted in its historical context through critical analysis. Examples include some churches within Anglican/Episcopalian, Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian, and United Church of Christ. There are more than 2,000 Protestant denominations offering a wide range of beliefs from extremely liberal to mainline to ultra-conservative and those that include characteristics on both ends.
|•||Belief in Deity |
Trinity of the Father (God), the Son (Christ), and the Holy Spirit that comprises one God Almighty. Many believe God is incorporeal.
Beliefs vary from the literal to the symbolic belief in Jesus Christ as God's incarnation. Some believe we are all sons and daughters of God and that Christ was exemplary, but not God.
|•||Origin of Universe and Life |
The Bible's account is symbolic. God created and controls the processes that account for the universe and life (e.g. evolution), as continually revealed by modern science.
|•||After Death |
Goodness will somehow be rewarded and evil punished after death, but what is most important is how you show your faith and conduct your life on earth.
|•||Why Evil? |
Most do not believe that humanity inherited original sin from Adam and Eve or that Satan actually exists. Most believe that God is good and made people inherently good, but also with free will and imperfect nature, which leads some to immoral behavior.
Various beliefs: Some believe all will go to heaven, as God is loving and forgiving. Others believe salvation lies in doing good works and no harm to others, regardless of faith. Some believe baptism is important. Some believe the concept of salvation after death is symbolic or nonexistent.
|•||Undeserved Suffering |
Most Liberal Christians do not believe that Satan causes suffering. Some believe suffering is part of God's plan, will, or design, even if we don't immediately understand it. Some don't believe in any spiritual reasons for suffering, and most take a humanistic approach to helping those in need.
|•||Contemporary Issues |
Most churches teach that abortion is morally wrong, but many ultimately support a woman's right to choose, usually accompanied by policies to provide counseling on alternatives. Many are accepting of homosexuality and gay rights.
Saturday, September 04, 2004
* John Stewart skewers Zell Miller (RealMedia file - 1.0 megs)
Robert B. Reich
| Bush's top 7 agenda items for a second term: || Liberals' top 7 things to do to make sure Bush doesn't have a second term: |
Gay Rights or Children’s Needs?
by Joe Kort, MSW
When people think about children, rarely is their focus on how homophobia can hurt them. Usually it is raised when talking about a gay parent and how they may “impact” their offspring, or how the behavior of gay and lesbian adults will influence them. But even more rarely do people concentrate on how homophobia impacts children, gay and straight alike—which is far worse than anything a child might be exposed to in a gay pride parade or in observing gay relationships.
Studies show, in fact, that gay and lesbian adolescents can handle their developing romantic and sexual orientation. What they can’t cope with is the homophobic acts and verbal statements they encounter in the media or in their schools, homes or communities. A heterosexual adolescent can no more handle acts of homophobia upon him or her as well.
In this article, I’ll first define homophobia and talk about words related to it, then address how we all, straight and gay alike, pay a price for it.
In his 1972 book, Society and the Healthy Homosexual, George Weinberg coined the term homophobia and wrote about how it related to gays and lesbians. Since then, the word has been examined with a discriminating eye. People claim that it does not apply to them, inasmuch as they aren’t afraid, or “phobic,” of gays.
Reparative therapists and ex-gays often say they do not “hate homosexuals” they simply believe it is behavioral only and that it is a choice and with proper psychological treatment and religious input they can “change” back to their “original innate heterosexual selves”. This is heterosexist at best given the belief that heterosexuality is superior and all other sexual and romantic orientations are inferior. It also implies that the sexual behavior is all that is what homosexuality is about. It neglects the spiritual, romantic, affectional, emotional aspects of being gay or lesbian.
If a heterosexual person never engages in heterosexual sex for the rest of their lives they would still be considered heterosexual and not be challenged. The same holds true for gays and lesbians. Just because someone with a homosexual orientation stops being sexual does not speak to their homo-emotional state inside. Thus, homosexuality is much more than a sexual behavior as is heterosexuality. To believe otherwise is simply homo-ignorant if not homophobia. Let’s explore these terms.
Phobia is a persistent, abnormal or irrational fear of a specific thing or situation that compels one to avoid the feared stimulus.
Homophobia is the feeling(s) of fear, hatred, disgust about attraction or love for members of one’s own sex. It is prejudice, based on the belief that lesbians, and gays are immoral, sick, sinful or somehow inferior to heterosexuals. It results in fear of associating with lesbians and gays in close proximity—physically, mentally and/or emotionally—lest one be perceived as lesbian or gay, and fear of venturing beyond “accepted” gender role behavior. (This can be true of gay men as well, though straight men are typically more homophobic.)
When a heterosexual asks if I’m married, I tell him that I am. When he asks my wife’s name, I educate him that I am gay and that my male partner’s name is Mike. Usually he takes a step back and says in a manly voice, “Dude, I am not gay.” I respond, “Dude, I didn’t think you were. I was just responding to your thinking I was straight.”
A young heterosexual man of high-school age once asked me if gay men are attracted to straight men too. I told him, “Yes, just as straight men are attracted to all women, lesbian or straight.” He gave me a frightened look and said, “No more questions!”
I tried to educate him that this attraction wouldn’t always be acted on, but he rapidly walked away from me with the parting line, “You and your kind are sick!” This is a prime example of homophobia!
Dr. Gregory Herek, a gay psychologist, published a paper entitled, Beyond “Homophobia”: Thinking about Sexual Preference and Stigma in the Twenty-First Century, which discussed the need to further expand on the term homophobia as he believes it is too limited term today in its scope. Herek states that the term homophobia is too closely linked to fear and psychopathology and suggests other terms.
Homonegative is the term for those who hold negative beliefs and feelings, but aren’t afraid about being perceived as gay to the point that they’ll avoid gays and lesbians. These people say things like, “I have gays and lesbians as friends. I just don’t agree with their lifestyle.” These people are friendly toward gays and lesbians. They can be co-workers, family members and even be gay or lesbian themselves—but still hold negative views about gays and lesbians!
A client recently told me that his mother is “against my being gay, but loves me anyway.” This is a good example of homonegativity.
The word homoprejudice means discrimination against gays and lesbians. At a recent talk I gave, a woman told me that she thought I was “promoting the homosexual lifestyle” and telling her to “accept” gays and lesbians. I smiled back nicely and said, “No ma’am, I am asking you not to accept discrimination toward gays and lesbians.”
That people would pass laws to prevent gays and lesbians from marrying, making them lose their jobs and/or their housing, are examples of homoprejudice. Most people don’t even know that no federal laws prohibit discrimination against gays and lesbians in the workplace—and that you can be fired for simply being gay!
Another example is when Governor Mitt Romney dusted off an old 1913 law making any marriage in Massachusetts void, if that marriage would not be legal in the couple’s home state and encouraged his attorney general to enforce it. This prejudicial statute was the same one used to prevent inter-racial marriages. Think of using this same law against other minorities, and it’s hard not to see the homoprejudice on Governor Romney’s part.
Most people fall into the homo-ignorant category. If you’re never exposed to gays and lesbians and have no interaction in the gay community or with gay and lesbian traditions and customs, then you’re just not familiar with the culture.
I recall going to college as a freshman and discovering how many people were not familiar with Jews personally, much less Jewish customs. I had to teach my friends what being Jewish was all about—which seemed odd, since I came from the predominately Jewish city of Oak Park, Michigan.
Most gays and lesbians, of course, are not hetero-ignorant. We are forced to interact with both the gay and the straight world. As children, we are forced into playing the heterosexual role and conforming to what’s expected of our gender. Later in life we come out and then, as adults, learn to create a seamless flow back and forth, between gay life and straight life.
Warren J. Blumenfeld edited an excellent book called, Homophobia: How We All Pay The Price, in which he writes about how not only gays and lesbians, but heterosexuals suffer from acts of homophobia. Specifically:
1. First, homophobic conditioning compromises people’s integrity by pressuring them to treat others badly—actions contrary to their basic humanity.
This is where bullying begins, particularly against young boys who might be gay or effeminate ones who don’t conform to male stereotypes. Calling other boys “faggot” and “queer” takes the focus off of the bullies.
2. It inhibits the ability to form close, intimate relationships with members of one's own sex, generally restricts communication with a significant portion of the population and, more specifically, limits family relationships.
Limited communication contributes to the alarmingly high 30% suicide rate among adolescents who are either gay or lesbian and/or worry they might be. Some minimize this number by saying it’s inflated or applies only to gay and lesbian teens, but they should consider numerous teenagers who are sexually abused or do not conform to socially accepted gender roles. These teens worry that they might be gay and in their confusion, also make suicide attempts—and are often successful.
3. Homophobia is used to stigmatize, silence and, on occasion, target people whom OTHERS perceive or define as gay, lesbian, or bisexual, but who are actually heterosexual. It locks all people into rigid gender-based roles, which inhibit creativity and self expression.
Many parents are preoccupied with ensuring that their children play with gender-appropriate toys, denying them the right to develop their own interests.
I think the best example of this is our expectation and desire for men to be good fathers. Yet we don’t allow little boys to play with dolls, so they do not get practice in nurturing. Later, when they become fathers, we scorn them for not knowing what to do. Meanwhile, girls get permission for lots of practice in handling their doll “babies”—a mixed message that is very hurtful to men.
4. Homophobia is one cause of premature sexual involvement, increasing the chances of teen pregnancy and the spread of sexually transmitted diseases (or STDs). Young people of ALL sexual identities are often pressured to become HETEROSEXUALLY active to prove—to themselves and others—that they are "normal."
5. Societal homophobia keeps some LGBT people from developing an authentic self-identity, adding to the pressure to marry. This in turn places undue stress and often trauma on them, as well as on their children and heterosexual spouses.
This reminds me of the joke, quoted in my book, by gay comedian Jason Stuart: “I wish you straight people would stop trying to prevent us from marrying each other. If you let us marry each other, then we’ll stop marrying you!”
People never stop to think of the children who suffer as a result of mixed marriages between a heterosexual and a gay man or lesbian. Society tells us not to live an out and openly gay and then, when we finally can no longer live in the closet, questions them and asks, “Well, why did you get married in the first place?” This is crazy making!
6. Homophobia, combined with fear and revulsion of sex, eliminates discussions about the lives and sexuality of LGBT people as part of school-based sex education, keeping vital information from all students. Such a lack of information can kill people in the age of AIDS. And homophobia (along with racism, sexism, classism, sexphobia) inhibits a unified and effective governmental and societal response to the AIDS pandemic.
As Blumenfeld goes on to say, “The meaning is quite clear. When any group of people is scapegoated, it is ultimately everyone's concern. For today, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people are targeted. Tomorrow, they may come for you. Everyone, therefore, has a self interest in actively working to dismantle all the many forms of bigotry, including homophobia.”
Blumenfeld believes “that all of us are born into an environment polluted by homophobia (one among many forms of oppression), which falls upon us like acid rain. Some people’s spirits are tarnished to the core, others are marred on the surface, but no one is completely protected. Therefore, we all have an opportunity—indeed, the responsibility—to join together to construct protective shelters from bigotry’s corrosive effects, while working as allies to clean up the homophobic environment we live in.
Once enough steps are taken to reduce this pollution, we can all breathe a lot easier.”
Opposing Bush becomes unpatriotic.
By William Saletan
Updated Thursday, Sept. 2, 2004, at 1:16 AM PT
The 2004 election is becoming a referendum on your right to hold the president accountable.
That's the upshot of tonight's speeches by Vice President Dick Cheney and Zell Miller, the Republican National Convention's keynote speaker.
The case against President Bush is simple. He sold us his tax cuts as a boon for the economy, but more than three years later, he has driven the economy into the ground. He sold us a war in Iraq as a necessity to protect the United States against weapons of mass destruction, but after spending $200 billion and nearly 1,000 American lives, and after searching the country for more than a year, we've found no such weapons.
Tonight the Republicans had a chance to explain why they shouldn't be fired for these apparent screw-ups. Here's what Cheney said about the economic situation: "People are returning to work. Mortgage rates are low, and home ownership in this country is at an all-time high. The Bush tax cuts are working." But mortgage rates were low before Bush took office. Home ownership was already at an all-time high. And more than a million more people had jobs than have them today.
"In Iraq, we dealt with a gathering threat," Cheney said. What about the urgent, nukes-any-day threat to the United States that supposedly warranted our expense of so much blood and treasure? Cheney was silent.
"A senator can be wrong for 20 years without consequence to the nation," said Cheney. "But a president always casts the deciding vote." What America needs in this time of peril, he argued, is "a president we can count on to get it right."
You can't make the case against Bush more plainly than that.
If the convention speeches are any guide, Republicans have run out of excuses for blowing the economy, blowing the surplus, and blowing our military resources and moral capital in the wrong country. So they're going after the patriotism of their opponents. Here's what the convention keynoter, Miller, said tonight about Democrats and those who criticize the way President Bush has launched and conducted the Iraq war:
While young Americans are dying in the sands of Iraq and the mountains of Afghanistan, our nation is being torn apart and made weaker because of the Democrats' manic obsession to bring down our commander in chief.
Motivated more by partisan politics than by national security, today's Democratic leaders see America as an occupier, not a liberator.
In [Democratic leaders'] warped way of thinking, America is the problem, not the solution. They don't believe there is any real danger in the world except that which America brings upon itself.
Kerry would let Paris decide when America needs defending. I want Bush to decide.
Every one of these charges is demonstrably false. When Bush addressed Congress after 9/11, Democrats embraced and applauded him. In the Afghan war, they gave him everything he asked for. Most Democratic senators, including John Kerry and John Edwards, voted to give him the authority to use force in Iraq. During and after the war, they praised Iraq's liberation. Kerry has never said that any other country should decide when the United States is entitled to defend itself.
But the important thing isn't the falsity of the charges, which Republicans continue to repeat despite press reports debunking them. The important thing is that the GOP is trying to quash criticism of the president simply because it's criticism of the president. The election is becoming a referendum on democracy.
In a democracy, the commander in chief works for you. You hire him when you elect him. You watch him do the job. If he makes good decisions and serves your interests, you rehire him. If he doesn't, you fire him by voting for his opponent in the next election.
Not every country works this way. In some countries, the commander in chief builds a propaganda apparatus that equates him with the military and the nation. If you object that he's making bad decisions and disserving the national interest, you're accused of weakening the nation, undermining its security, sabotaging the commander in chief, and serving a foreign power—the very charges Miller leveled tonight against Bush's critics.
Are you prepared to become one of those countries?
When patriotism is impugned, the facts go out the window. You're not allowed to point out that Bush shifted the rationale for the Iraq war further and further from U.S. national security—from complicity in 9/11 to weapons of mass destruction to building democracy to relieving Iraqis of their dictator—without explaining why American troops and taxpayers should bear the burden. You're not allowed to point out that the longer a liberator stays, the more he looks like an occupier. You're not allowed to propose that the enormous postwar expenses Bush failed to budget for be covered by repealing his tax cuts for the wealthy instead of further indebting every American child.
If you dare to say these things, you're accused—as Kerry now stands accused by Cheney and Miller—of defaming America and refusing "to support American troops in combat." You're contrasted to a president who "is unashamed of his belief that God is not indifferent to America." You're derided, in Cheney's words, for trying to show al-Qaida "our softer side." Your Silver Star, Bronze Star, and three Purple Hearts are no match for the vice president's five draft deferments.
In his remarks, Miller praised Wendell Wilkie, the 1940 Republican presidential nominee who "made it clear that he would rather lose the election than make national security a partisan campaign issue." But there are three ways to make national security a campaign issue. One is to argue the facts of a particular question, as Kerry has done on Iraq. The second is to sweep aside all factual questions, as Cheney and Miller did tonight, with a categorical charge that the other party is indifferent or hostile to the country's safety. The third is to create a handy political fight, as Republicans did two years ago on the question of labor rights in the Department of Homeland Security, and frame it falsely as a national security issue in order to win an election.
So now you have two reasons to show up at the polls in November. One is to stop Bush from screwing up economic and foreign policy more than he already has. The other is to remind him and his propagandists that even after 9/11, you still have that right.William Saletan is Slate's chief political correspondent and author of Bearing Right: How Conservatives Won the Abortion War.
Cheerleaders for Truth
|"Did George Bush actually win a Varsity letter in Cheerleading at Yale? Or was this another "no show" like the National Guard?" current and alumni Yale cheerleaders are asking. "Why haven't any member of Bush's Cheerleading Squad come forward and verified that he actually attended practice and the games?" |
Note that the available pictures of Bush cheerleading, such as the ones at the right, have an "A" on his sweatshirt. These were taken when he was a cheerleader at his prep school -
More importantly, did George Bush actually earn a Varsity Letter in Cheerleading, or was this, too, awarded to him (like his place in the freshman class) because of his wealthy family's longstanding relationship with Yale? Were the injuries he supposedly sustained on the field athletic injuries, or did he hurt himself simply because he was intoxicated at the time?
We, the Yale Cheerleaders for Truth, call upon Yale University President Richard C. Levin, to release the Yale Cheerleading Squad archives so that the American people can learn whether Bush's Varsity letter was justly awarded.
|If any Yale Alumni served on the Cheerleading Squad with George Bush, or have pictures of President Bush actually leading the Cheerleading Squad at Yale, we urge you to come forward and present them to the public - and we will post them here.|
Contact Cheerleaders for Truth at email@example.com
John Kerry isn't the only candidate with a Band of Brothers! Below are the storyboards for the latest Bush-Cheney commercial, featuring the Swift Yacht Vets for Bush.
"I remember one time we got stranded out in Goosefair Bay and ran out of gin. We were up to our eyeballs in limes and tonic. Wouldn't ya know, here comes George W. Bush on the Laura II with a relief shipment of Tanqueray. By God, he saved a few lives that day!"
"George W. Bush and I were with some of our frat boys cruising along the coast near Kennebunkport, when some Harvard dandies cruised right up to our yacht and started ribbing us about the color of the placemats at my sister's coming out party. Well, before I knew what happend, George grabbed a bottle of champange and popped the cork, hitting Chatsworth right in the gut. Both boats grabbed every champagne bottle we could find and began firing the corks at each other. When the battle was over, George lifted up his sleeve to show me where he had been hit. 'You're gonna get a Purple Heart for that one, Georgie,' I told him. He just smirked and said, 'It hit my arm, dumbshit, that's nowhere near my heart!' I tellya, I had to swim back to shore after that one, but it taught me a life lesson."
"Leadership. I'll tell you about the leadership of George W. Bush. Summer of '71, a group of us were out on the yacht having a few cocktails when things got a little heated. My cousin and one of Georgie's Yale buddies, Lumpy Thornton, started fighting and Lumpy fell overboard. Lumpy was splashing in the water, gasping for air. Georgie didn't have to think twice: he got behind the wheel and we made our way back to shore. He got right out of the boat, even before it was tied up, and walked straight over to his mother Barbara and told her to call Lumpy's parents and tell them Lumpy was dead."
"George W. Bush has never stood down from a challenge, especially where his comrades are concerned. My twin brother Cornell, George, and I were tearing up the bay when a patrol boat started chasing us. Cornell wanted to try to out-run them with the new engine we had just put in, but Georgie said, 'No, we gotta face the music, boys.' Cornell stopped the boat and one of the officers boarded the Tricky Wendell. Georgie calmly welcomed the officer aboard, and stated he was Congressman Bush's son. The officer tipped his cap and wished us a good day. When faced with running away or staying and fighting, Georgie never flinched. He taught me the true meaning of character on that day."
The following article is from Free Inquiry magazine, Volume 24, Number 5.
As a Darwinian, the aspect of religion that catches my attention is its profligate wastefulness, its extravagant display of baroque uselessness. Nature is a miserly accountant, grudging the pennies, watching the clock, punishing the smallest waste. If a wild animal habitually performs some useless activity, natural selection will favor rival individuals who instead devote time to surviving and reproducing. Nature cannot afford frivolous jeux desprits. Ruthless utilitarianism trumps, even if it doesn’t always seem that way.
“Anting” is the odd habit of birds such as jays of “bathing” in an ants’ nest and apparently inciting the ants to invade their feathers. Nobody knows for sure what the benefit of anting is: perhaps some kind of hygiene, cleansing the feathers of parasites. My point is that uncertainty as to the purpose doesn’t—nor should it—stop Darwinians from believing, with great confidence, that anting must be good for something.
Religious behavior in bipedal apes occupies large quantities of time. It devours huge resources. A medieval cathedral consumed hundreds of man-centuries in its building. Sacred music and devotional paintings largely monopolized medieval and Renaissance talent. Thousands, perhaps millions, of people have died, often accepting torture first, for loyalty to one religion against a scarcely distinguishable alternative. Devout people have died for their gods, killed for them, fasted for them, endured whipping, undertaken a lifetime of celibacy, and sworn themselves to asocial silence for the sake of religion.
Though the details differ across cultures, no known culture lacks some version of the time-consuming, wealth-consuming, hostility-provoking, fecundity-forfeiting rituals of religion. All this presents a major puzzle to anyone who thinks in a Darwinian way. We guessed why jays ant. Isn’t religion a similar challenge, an a priori affront to Darwinism, demanding analogous explanation? Why do we pray and indulge in costly practices that, in many individual cases, more or less totally consume lives?
Of course, the caveats must now come tumbling in. Religious behavior is Darwinian business only if it is widespread, not some weird anomaly. Apparently, it is universal, and the problem won’t go away just because the details differ across cultures. As with language, the underlying phenomenon is universal, though it plays out differently in different regions. Not all individuals are religious, as most readers of this journal can testify. But religion is a human universal: every culture, everywhere in the world, has a style of religion that even nonpractitioners recognize as the norm for that society, just as it has a style of clothing, a style of courting, and a style of meal serving. What is religion good for?
There is a little evidence that religious belief protects people from stress-related diseases. The evidence is not good, but it would not be at all surprising. A non-negligible part of what a doctor can provide for a patient is consolation and reassurance. My doctor doesn’t literally practice the laying on of hands. But many’s the time I have been instantly cured of some minor ailment by a reassuringly calm voice from an intelligent face surmounting a stethoscope. The placebo effect is well-documented. Dummy pills, with no pharmacological activity at all, demonstrably improve health. That is why drug trials have to use placebos as controls. It’s why homeopathic remedies appear to work, even though they’re so diluted that they contain the same amount of the active ingredient as the placebo control—zero molecules.
Is religion a medical placebo, which prolongs life by reducing stress? Perhaps, although the theory is going to have to run the gauntlet of skeptics who point out the many circumstances in which religion increases stress rather than decreases it. In any case, I find the placebo theory too meager to account for the massive and all-pervasive phenomenon of religion. I do not think we have religion because our religious ancestors reduced their stress levels and hence survived longer. I don’t think that’s a big enough theory for the job.
Other theories miss the point of Darwinian explanations altogether. I refer to suggestions like, “Religion satisfies our curiosity about the universe and our place in it.” Or “Religion is consoling. People fear death and are drawn to religions which promise we’ll survive it.” There may be some psychological truth here, but it’s not in itself a Darwinian explanation. As Steven Pinker has said in How the Mind Works (Penguin, 1997):
A Darwinian version of the fear-of-death theory would have to be of the form, “Belief in survival after death tends to postpone the moment when it is put to the test.” This could be true or it could be false—maybe it’s another version of the stress and placebo theory—but I shall not pursue the matter. My only point is that this is the kind of way in which a Darwinian must rewrite the question.
Psychological statements to the effect that people find some belief agreeable or disagreeable are proximate, not ultimate explanations. As a Darwinian I am concerned with ultimate questions.
Darwinians make much of this distinction between proximate and ultimate. Proximate questions lead us into physiology and neuroanatomy. There is nothing wrong with proximate explanations. They are important, and they are scientific. But my pre-occupation is with Darwinian ultimate explanations. If neuroscientists find a “god center” in the brain, Darwinian scientists like me want to know why the god center evolved. Why did those of our ancestors who had a genetic tendency to grow a god center survive better than rivals who did not? The ultimate Darwinian question is not a better question, not a more profound question, not a more scientific question than the proximate neurological question. But it is the one I happen to be talking about here.
Some alleged ultimate explanations turn out to be—or even avowedly are—group-selection theories. Group selection is the controversial idea that Darwinian selection chooses among groups of individuals, in the same kind of way as, in accordance with normal Darwinian theory, it chooses among individuals within groups. The Cambridge anthropologist Colin Renfrew, for example, suggests that Christianity survived by a form of group-selection because it fostered the idea of in-group loyalty and brotherly love. The American evolutionist David Sloan Wilson has made a similar suggestion in Darwin’s Cathedral.
Here’s a made-up example, to show another way in which a group-selection theory of religion might work. A tribe with a stirringly belligerent “god of battles” wins wars against a tribe whose god urges peace and harmony or a tribe with no god at all. Warriors who believe a martyr’s death will send them straight to paradise fight bravely, and willingly give up their lives. So their tribe is more likely to survive in intertribal selection, steal the conquered tribe’s cattle, and seize their women as concubines. Such successful tribes spawn daughter tribes that go off and propagate more daughter tribes, all worshipping the same tribal god. Notice that this is different from saying that the idea of the warlike religion survives. Of course it will, but in this case the point is that the group of people who hold the idea survive.
There are formidable objections to group-selection theories. A known opponent, I must beware of riding off on a hobby horse far from this column’s subject. Mathematical models arguably come up with very special conditions under which group selection might work. Arguably, religions in human tribes set up just such special conditions. This is an interesting line of theory to pursue, but I shall not do so here.
Could religion be a recent phenomenon, sprung up since our genes underwent most of their natural selection? Its ubiquity argues against any simple version of this idea. Nevertheless, there is a version of it that I want to advocate. The propensity that was naturally selected in our ancestors was not religion per se. It had some other benefit, and it only incidentally manifests itself today as religious behavior. We’ll understand religious behavior only after we have renamed it. It is natural for me as a zoologist to use an analogy from nonhuman animals.
The “dominance hierarchy” was first discovered as the “pecking order” in hens. Each hen learns which individuals she can beat in a fight and which will beat her. In a well-established dominance hierarchy, little overt fighting is seen. Stable groupings of hens, who have had time to sort themselves into a pecking order, lay more eggs than coops whose membership is continually changed. This might suggest an “advantage” to the phenomenon of the dominance hierarchy. But that’s not good Darwinism, because the dominance hierarchy is a group-level phenomenon. Farmers may care about group productivity, but, except under very peculiar conditions that don’t apply here, natural selection doesn’t.
For a Darwinian, the question “What is the survival value of the dominance hierarchy?” is illegitimate. The proper question is, “What is the individual survival value of deferring to stronger hens? And of punishing lack of deference from weaker ones.” Darwinian questions have to direct attention toward the level at which genetic variations might exist. Aggressive or deferring tendencies in individual hens are a proper target because they either do, or easily might, vary genetically. Group phenomena like dominance hierarchies don’t in themselves vary genetically, because groups don’t have genes. Or at least, you’ll have your work cut out arguing some peculiar sense in which a group phenomenon could be subject to genetic variation.
My point, of course, is that religion may be like the dominance hierarchy. “What is the survival value of religion?” may be the wrong question. The right question may have the form, “What is the survival value of some as yet unspecified individual behavior, or psychological characteristic, that manifests itself, under appropriate circumstances, as religion?” We have to rewrite the question before we can sensibly answer it.
Darwinians who seek the survival value of religion are asking the wrong question. Instead, we should focus on something in our evolving ancestors that we would not then have recognized as religion, but which is primed to become recognizable as religion in the changed context of civilized society.
I cited the pecking order in hens, and the point is so central to my thesis that I hope you will forgive another animal example to ram it home. Moths fly into the candle flame, and it doesn’t look like an accident. They go out of their way to make a burnt offering of themselves. We could label it “self-immolation behavior” and wonder how Darwinian natural selection could possibly favor it. My point, again, is that we need to rewrite the question before we can even attempt an intelligent answer. It isn’t suicide. Apparent suicide emerges as an inadvertent side-effect.
Artificial light is a recent arrival on the night scene. Until recently, the only night lights were the moon and the stars. Being at optical infinity, their rays are parallel, which makes them ideal compasses. Insects are known to use celestial objects to steer accurately in a straight line. The insect nervous system is adept at setting up a temporary rule of thumb such as, “Steer a course such that the light rays hit your eye at an angle of 30°.” Since insects have compound eyes, this will amount to favoring a particular ommatidium (individual optical tube radiating out from the center of the compound eye).
But the light compass relies critically on the celestial object being at optical infinity. If it isn’t, the rays are not parallel but diverge like the spokes of a wheel. A nervous system using a 30° rule of thumb to a candle, as though it were the moon, will steer its moth, in a neat logarithmic spiral, into the flame.
It is still, on average, a good rule of thumb. We don’t notice the hundreds of moths who are silently and effectively steering by the moon or a bright star or even the lights of a distant city. We see only moths hurling themselves at our lights, and we ask the wrong question. Why are all these moths committing suicide? Instead, we should ask why they have nervous systems that steer by maintaining an automatic fixed angle to light rays, a tactic that we only notice on the occasions when it goes wrong. When the question is rephrased, the mystery evaporates. It never was right to call it suicide.
Once again, apply the lesson to religious behavior in humans. We observe large numbers of people—in many local areas it amounts to 100 percent—who hold beliefs that flatly contradict demonstrable scientific facts, as well as rival religions. They not only hold these beliefs but devote time and resources to costly activities that flow from holding them. They die for them, or kill for them. We marvel at all this, just as we marvelled at the self-immolation behavior of the moths. Baffled, we ask “Why?” Yet again, the point I am making is that we may be asking the wrong question. The religious behavior may be a misfiring, an unfortunate manifestation of an underlying psychological propensity that in other circumstances was once useful.
What might that psychological propensity have been? What is the equivalent of using the parallel rays from the moon as a useful compass? I shall offer a suggestion, but I must stress that it is only an example of the kind of thing I am talking about. I am much more wedded to the general idea that the question should be properly rephrased than I am to any particular answer.
My specific hypothesis is about children. More than any other species, we survive by the accumulated experience of previous generations. Theoretically, children might learn from experience not to swim in crocodile-infested waters. But, to say the least, there will be a selective advantage to child brains with the rule of thumb: Believe whatever your grown-ups tell you. Obey your parents, obey the tribal elders, especially when they adopt a solemn, minatory tone. Obey without question.
I have never forgotten a horrifying sermon, preached in my school chapel when I was little. It was horrifying in retrospect: at the time, my child brain accepted it as intended by the preacher. He told the story of a squad of soldiers, drilling beside a railway line. At a critical moment, the drill sergeant’s attention was distracted, and he failed to give the order to halt. The soldiers were so well schooled to obey orders without question that they carried on marching, right into the path of an oncoming train. Now, of course, I don’t believe the story now, but I did when I was nine. The point is that the preacher wished us children to regard as a virtue the soldiers’ slavish and unquestioning obedience to an order, however preposterous. And, speaking for myself, I think we did regard it as a virtue. I wondered whether I would have had the courage to do my duty by marching into the train.
Like ideally drilled soldiers, computers do what they are told. They slavishly obey whatever instructions are properly delivered in their own programming language. This is how they do useful things like word processing and spreadsheet calculations. But, as an inevitable by-product, they are equally automatic in obeying bad instructions. They have no way of telling whether an instruction will have a good effect or a bad. They simply obey, as soldiers are supposed to.
It is their unquestioning obedience that makes computers vulnerable to infection by viruses and worms. A maliciously designed program that says “Copy me to every name in any address list that you find on this hard disk” will simply be obeyed and then obeyed again by the other computers to which it is sent, in exponential expansion. It is impossible to design a computer that is usefully obedient and at the same time immune to infection.
If I have done my softening up work well, you will already have completed the argument about child brains and religion. Natural selection builds child brains with a tendency to believe whatever their parents and tribal elders tell them. And this very quality automatically makes them vulnerable to infection by mind viruses. For excellent survival reasons, child brains need to trust parents and trust elders whom their parents tell them to trust. An automatic consequence is that the “truster” has no way of distinguishing good advice from bad. The child cannot tell that “If you swim in the river you’ll be eaten by crocodiles” is good advice but “If you don’t sacrifice a goat at the time of the full moon, the crops will fail” is bad advice. They both sound the same. Both are advice from a trusted source, and both are delivered with a solemn earnestness that commands respect and demands obedience.
The same goes for propositions about the world, the cosmos, morality, and human nature. And, of course, when the child grows up and has children of his or her own, she will naturally pass the whole lot on to her own children, using the same impressive gravitas of manner.
On this model, we should expect that, in different geographical regions, different arbitrary beliefs having no factual basis will be handed down, to be believed with the same conviction as useful pieces of traditional wisdom such as the belief that manure is good for the crops. We should also expect that these nonfactual beliefs will evolve over generations, either by random drift or following some sort of analogue of Darwinian selection, eventually showing a pattern of significant divergence from common ancestry. Languages drift apart from a common parent given sufficient time in geographical separation. The same is true of traditional beliefs and injunctions, handed down the generations, initially because of the programmability of the child brain.
Darwinian selection sets up childhood brains with a tendency to believe their elders. It sets up brains with a tendency to imitate, hence indirectly to spread rumors, spread urban legends, and believe religions. But given that genetic selection has set up brains of this kind, they then provide the equivalent of a new kind of nongenetic heredity, which might form the basis for a new kind of epidemiology, and perhaps even a new kind of nongenetic Darwinian selection. I believe that religion is one of a group of phenomena explained by this kind of nongenetic epidemiology, with the possible admixture of nongenetic Darwinian selection. If I am right, religion has no survival value for individual human beings, nor for the benefit of their genes. The benefit, if there is any, is to religion itself.
Richard Dawkins’s most recent book is A Devil’s Chaplain: Reflections on Hope, Lies, Science, and Love. He is the Charles Simonyi Professor of Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University.
Thursday, September 02, 2004
Pope fears Bush is antichrist, journalist contends - Church - journalist Wayne Madsden - Brief Article
Pope fears Bush is antichrist, journalist contends - Church - journalist Wayne Madsden - Brief Article
WASHINGTON DC -- According to freelance journalist Wayne Madsden, "George W Bush's blood lust, his repeated commitment to Christian beliefs and his constant references to 'evil doers,' in the eyes of many devout Catholic leaders, bear all the hallmarks of the one warned about in the Book of Revelation--the anti-Christ."
Madsen, a Washington-based writer and columnist, who often writes for Counterpunch, says that people close to the pope claim that amid these concerns, the pontiff wishes he was younger and in better health to confront the possibility that Bush may represent the person prophesized in Revelations. John Paul II has always believed the world was on the precipice of the final confrontation between Good and Evil as foretold in the New Testament.
Before he became pope, Karol Cardinal Wojtyla said, "We are now standing in the face of the greatest historical confrontation humanity has gone through. I do not think that wide circles of the American society or wide circles of the Christian community realize this fully. We are now facing the final confrontation between the church and the anti-Church, of the Gospel versus the anti-Gospel."
The pope worked tirelessly to convince leaders of nations on the UN Security Council to oppose Bush's war resolution on Iraq. Vatican sources claim they had not seen the pope more animated and determined since he fell ill to Parkinson's Disease. In the end, the pope did convince the leaders of Mexico, Chile, Cameroon and Guinea to oppose the U.S. resolution.
Madsen contends that "Bush is a dangerous right-wing ideologue who couples his political fanaticism with a neo-Christian blood cult."
COPYRIGHT 2003 Catholic New Times, Inc.
COPYRIGHT 2003 Gale Group
By John Patterson and Eric Krol Daily Herald Staff Writers
Posted Thursday, September 02, 2004
While Republican leaders stopped short of calling on Keyes to drop out of the race against Democratic state Sen. Barack Obama, state GOP Chairman Judy Baar Topinka did say Keyes owed the Cheney family an apology.
Keyes wasn't offering any Wednesday, instead stoking the flames.
"The view that I have just stated about gay marriage is the (Republican) platform view," Keyes said. "Now I realize that there may be some on the other side, maybe even some in the press who will blame me because I will make an objective and persuasive argument in support of the Republican platform. But that's my job, and I intend to do that job well."
Vice President Cheney's other daughter, Liz Cheney, said on CNN that she refused to dignify Keyes' remark with a response.
A Cheney aide called Keyes' remarks inappropriate.
Keyes made his initial comments about Mary Cheney on Monday night to gay activists with a talk show on the little-heard Sirius satellite radio service station OutQ, which targets a gay audience. Keyes argued that homosexuality is "selfish hedonism," then was asked if that makes Mary Cheney "a selfish hedonist."
"Of course she is," Keyes said. "That goes by definition."
The radio show hosts then leaked Keyes' comments to a Chicago newspaper, touching off the latest controversy in Marylander Keyes' month-old Senate bid.
Keyes blamed the media for personalizing what he intended as a logical argument supporting his position against gay marriage.
"I think that the great error here would be to try to turn this into a question of personalities," he said. "But as I said to someone the other day, if my own daughter were a homosexual or a lesbian, I would love my daughter, but I would tell my daughter that she was in sin, OK? And I would love her and pray for her and try to open her heart to the truth of God's intention for her life."
Keyes' remarks set off a firestorm among the Illinois convention delegation, which has been plagued by the conservative-moderate divide all week.
Former Gov. Jim Edgar called Keyes' comments "extremely inappropriate."
"As someone who's been involved in campaigns and has a family, campaigns are not fair to families and they are not fair game," Edgar said.
Added Topinka, a gay rights supporter: "I mean, I can't stand behind that kind of an idiotic comment and that's exactly what it is."
Keyes responded that it's about time Illinois had a GOP leader who stood up for Republican principles.
Congresswoman Judy Biggert of Hinsdale called Keyes' remark "shameful."
"I think it's an embarrassment for us in Illinois to have something come up like that, particularly on the vice president's day," said Biggert, referring to Dick Cheney's Wednesday night speech.
The Log Cabin Republicans, a national gay political group, ripped Keyes as an "extremist." Rick Garcia, executive director of the gay lobbying group Equality Illinois, also lit into Keyes.
"This remark highlights his extremism and this remark highlights his hatefulness," Garcia said.
Even the GOP leader who pushed the draft-Keyes notion, Rockford state Sen. Dave Syverson, suggested "maybe he (Keyes) shouldn't be as honest and just keep his comments to himself and just stay focused on issues that are important to the state of Illinois."
Not all Republicans were lambasting Keyes, however. Former Senate candidate Jim Oberweis of Aurora said Keyes could have thought through his remark, then suggested homosexuality can be changed like obesity, citing his own vast weight loss in the past year.
Back in the suburbs, Family Taxpayers Network founder Jack Roeser of Carpentersville said Keyes was "somewhat undiplomatic" but added that "technically, logically and morally, he was correct."
"Nobody looks at their newborn son and says, 'I hope he grows up to be a homosexual,'æ" Roeser said.
But former Gov. James R. Thompson predicted the remarks will cost Keyes on Nov. 2. "The people of Illinois will turn off this kind of rhetoric, but they'll certainly remember it when they get into the voting booth."
Robert Gibbs, a spokesman for Obama, said: "We agree with John McCain that this type of remark is not appropriate. At a minimum, Mr. Keyes owes the vice president and his family an apology."
Keyes won't have many chances to cause too much more controversy in New York - he plans to leave this afternoon to attend a downtown Chicago party where his campaign has invited Republicans to watch President Bush's re-nomination speech.
How a Pebble-bed Reactor Works
1. Hot Rocks: Thousands of billiard ball-sized fuel pebbles power the reactor. The balls are coated with impermeable silicon carbide and packed with 15,000 tiny uranium dioxide flecks, each of which is encased in its own silicon carbide shell.
2. Recycling Center: The fuel pebbles cycle through the reactor vessel from top to bottom, heating helium. Pebbles that are still potent return to the top; spent and damaged ones collect at the bottom.
3. Spin Zone: The hot gas flows into the water-cooled conversion unit and pushes the turbine, generating electricity. It then cycles back to the reactor vessel to be reheated.
Let a Thousand Reactors Bloom
China is staring at the dark side of double-digit growth. Blackouts roll and factory lights flicker, the grid sucked dry by a decade of breakneck industrialization. Oil and natural gas are running low, and belching power plants are burning through coal faster than creaky old railroads can deliver it. Global warming? The most populous nation on earth ranks number two in the world - at least the Kyoto treaty isn't binding in developing countries. Air pollution? The World Bank says the People's Republic is home to 16 of the planet's 20 worst cities. Wind, solar, biomass - the country is grasping at every energy alternative within reach, even flooding a million people out of their ancestral homes with the world's biggest hydroelectric project. Meanwhile, the government's plan for holding onto power boils down to a car for every bicycle and air-conditioning for a billion-odd potential dissidents.
What's an energy-starved autocracy to do?
While the West frets about how to keep its sushi cool, hot tubs warm, and Hummers humming without poisoning the planet, the cold-eyed bureaucrats running the People's Republic of China have launched a nuclear binge right out of That '70s Show. Late last year, China announced plans to build 30 new reactors - enough to generate twice the capacity of the gargantuan Three Gorges Dam - by 2020. And even that won't be enough. The Future of Nuclear Power, a 2003 study by a blue-ribbon commission headed by former CIA director John Deutch, concludes that by 2050 the PRC could require the equivalent of 200 full-scale nuke plants. A team of Chinese scientists advising the Beijing leadership puts the figure even higher: 300 gigawatts of nuclear output, not much less than the 350 gigawatts produced worldwide today.
To meet that growing demand, China's leaders are pursuing two strategies. They're turning to established nuke plant makers like AECL, Framatome, Mitsubishi, and Westinghouse, which supplied key technology for China's nine existing atomic power facilities. But they're also pursuing a second, more audacious course. Physicists and engineers at Beijing's Tsinghua University have made the first great leap forward in a quarter century, building a new nuclear power facility that promises to be a better way to harness the atom: a pebble-bed reactor. A reactor small enough to be assembled from mass-produced parts and cheap enough for customers without billion-dollar bank accounts. A reactor whose safety is a matter of physics, not operator skill or reinforced concrete. And, for a bona fide fairy-tale ending, the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow is labeled hydrogen.
A soft-spoken scientist named Qian Jihui has no doubt about what the smaller, safer, hydrogen-friendly design means for the future of nuclear power, in China and elsewhere. Qian is a former deputy director general with the International Atomic Energy Agency and an honorary president of the Nuclear Power Institute of China. He's a 67-year-old survivor of more than one revolution, which means he doesn't take the notion of upheaval lightly.
"Nobody in the mainstream likes novel ideas," Qian says. "But in the international nuclear community, a lot of people believe this is the future. Eventually, these new reactors will compete strategically, and in the end they will win. When that happens, it will leave traditional nuclear power in ruins."
Now we're talking revolution, comrade.
Known as China's MIT, Tsinghua University sprawls across a Qing-dynasty imperial garden, just outside the rampart of mirrored Blade Runner towers that line Beijing's North Fourth Ring Road. Wang Dazhong came here in the mid-1950s as a member of China's first-ever class of homegrown nuclear engineers. Now he's director emeritus of Tsinghua's Institute of Nuclear and New Energy Technology, aka INET, and a key member of Beijing's energy policy team. On a bright morning dimmed by Beijing's ever-present photochemical haze, Wang sits in a spartan conference room lit by energy-efficient compact fluorescent bulbs.
"If you're going to have 300 gigawatts of nuclear power in China - 50 times what we have today - you can't afford a Three Mile Island or Chernobyl," Wang says. "You need a new kind of reactor."
That's exactly what you can see 40 minutes away, behind a glass-enclosed guardhouse flanked by military police. Nestled against a brown mountainside stands a five-story white cube whose spare design screams, "Here be engineers!" Beneath its cavernous main room are the 100 tons of steel, graphite, and hydraulic gear known as HTR-10 (i.e., high-temperature reactor, 10 megawatt). The plant's output is underwhelming; at full power - first achieved in January - it would barely fulfill the needs of a town of 4,000 people. But what's inside HTR-10, which until now has never been visited by a Western journalist, makes it the most interesting reactor in the world.
In the air-conditioned chill of the visitors' area, a grad student runs through the basics. Instead of the white-hot fuel rods that fire the heart of a conventional reactor, HTR-10 is powered by 27,000 billiards-sized graphite balls packed with tiny flecks of uranium. Instead of superhot water - intensely corrosive and highly radioactive - the core is bathed in inert helium. The gas can reach much higher temperatures without bursting pipes, which means a third more energy pushing the turbine. No water means no nasty steam, and no billion-dollar pressure dome to contain it in the event of a leak. And with the fuel sealed inside layers of graphite and impermeable silicon carbide - designed to last 1 million years - there's no steaming pool for spent fuel rods. Depleted balls can go straight into lead-lined steel bins in the basement.
Wearing disposable blue paper gowns and booties, the grad student leads the way to a windowless control room that houses three industry-standard PC workstations and the inevitable electronic schematic, all valves, pressure lines, and color-coded readouts. In a conventional reactor's control room, there would be far more to look at - control panels for emergency core cooling, containment-area sprinklers, pressurized water tanks. None of that is here. The usual layers of what the industry calls engineered safety are superfluous. Suppose a coolant pipe blows, a pressure valve sticks, terrorists knock the top off the reactor vessel, an operator goes postal and yanks the control rods that regulate the nuclear chain reaction - no radioactive nightmare. This reactor is meltdown-proof.
Zhang Zuoyi, the project's 42-year-old director, explains why. The key trick is a phenomenon known as Doppler broadening - the hotter atoms get, the more they spread apart, making it harder for an incoming neutron to strike a nucleus. In the dense core of a conventional reactor, the effect is marginal. But HTR-10's carefully designed geometry, low fuel density, and small size make for a very different story. In the event of a catastrophic cooling-system failure, instead of skyrocketing into a bad movie plot, the core temperature climbs to only about 1,600 degrees Celsius - comfortably below the balls' 2,000-plus-degree melting point - and then falls. This temperature ceiling makes HTR-10 what engineers privately call walk-away safe. As in, you can walk away from any situation and go have a pizza.
"In a conventional reactor emergency, you have only seconds to make the right decision," Zhang notes. "With HTR-10, it's days, even weeks - as much time as we could ever need to fix a problem."
This unusual margin of safety isn't merely theoretical. INET's engineers have already done what would be unthinkable in a conventional reactor: switched off HTR-10's helium coolant and let the reactor cool down all by itself. Indeed, Zhang plans a show-stopping repeat performance at an international conference of reactor physicists in Beijing in September. "We think our kind of test may be required in the market someday," he adds.
Today's nuclear power plants are the fruits of a decision tree rooted in the earliest days of the atomic age. In 1943, a Manhattan Project team led by Enrico Fermi sustained the first man-made nuclear chain reaction in a pile of uranium blocks at the University of Chicago's Metallurgical Lab. A chemist named Farrington Daniels joined the effort a short time later. But Daniels wasn't interested in bombs. His focus was on a notion that had been circulating among physicists since the late 1930s: harnessing atomic power for cheap, clean electricity. He proposed a reactor containing enriched uranium "pebbles" - a term borrowed from chemistry - and using gaseous helium to transfer energy to a generator.
The Daniels pile, as the concept was called, was taken seriously enough that Oak Ridge National Laboratory commissioned Monsanto to design a working version in 1945. Before it could be built, though, a bright Annapolis graduate named Hyman Rickover "sailed in with the Navy," as Daniels later put it, and the competing idea of building a rod-fueled, water-cooled reactor to power submarines. With US Navy money backing the new design, the pebble bed fell by the wayside, and Daniels returned to the University of Wisconsin. By the time of his death in 1972, he was known as a pioneer of - irony alert - solar power. Indeed, the International Solar Energy Society's biennial award bears his name.
By the mid-1950s, with President Eisenhower preaching "atoms for peace" before the United Nations, civilian nuclear power was squarely on the table. The newly created General Atomics division of General Dynamics assembled 40 top nuclear scientists to spend the summer of 1956 brainstorming reactor designs. The leading light was Edward Teller, godfather of the H-bomb, and his message to the group was prophetic. For people to accept nuclear power, he argued, reactors must be "inherently safe." He even proposed a practical test: If you couldn't pull out every control rod without causing a meltdown, the design was inadequate.
But Teller's advice was ignored in the rush to beat the Russians to meter-free electricity. Instead of pursuing inherent safety, the nascent civilian nuclear industry followed Rickover into fuel rods, water cooling, and ever more layers of protection against the hazards of radioactive steam emissions and runaway chain reaction. To try to amortize the cost of all that backup, plants ballooned, tripling in average size in less than a decade and contributing to a crippling financial crunch in the mid-'70s. Finally, partial meltdowns at Three Mile Island in 1979 and Chernobyl in 1986 pulled the plug on reactor construction in most of the world.
Even where the pebble-bed concept took root, the industry's woes conspired against it. In Germany, a charismatic physicist named Rudolf Schulten picked up the idea and by 1985 a full-scale prototype was online - too large, in fact, to meet Teller's inherent safety test. Barely a year later, with Chernobyl's fallout raining over Europe, a minor malfunction at the German reactor set off nightmare headlines. Before long, the plant was mothballed.
The twin disasters in Pennsylvania and Ukraine proved Teller's point and inverted his hopeful formulation: The Union of Concerned Scientists pronounced nuclear power "inherently dangerous." The industry, already staggered by overbuilding and runaway budgets, ground to a halt. The newest of the 104 reactors operating in the US today was greenlighted in 1979. And there our story might have ended, except
Even as the nuclear establishment was putting all its efforts into avoiding the klieg lights, scientists in two faraway places were carrying the torch for a better reactor. One was South Africa, where in the mid-1990s the national utility company quietly licensed Germany's cast-off pebble-bed design and set about trying to raise the necessary funds. The other was China, where the Tsinghua team pursued a Nike strategy: Just do it.
Frank Wu's glass-walled ninth-floor office at Innovation Plaza offers a commanding view of Tsinghua University's leafy campus. That's no accident: The university co-owns this complex of gleaming silver towers, designed as a magnet for high tech startups. Likewise Wu's company, Chinergy, is a 50-50 joint venture between Tsinghua's Institute for Nuclear and New Energy Technology and the state-owned China Nuclear Engineering Group.
"I just had a call from a mayor in one of the provinces," says Wu, who came on board as CEO after a decade spent running financial services companies in the US (where he adopted the English first name). "He asked me, 'How much do we have to pay to get one of those things here?'"
If Wu's pebble-bed "thing" is, well, hot, it's because Chinergy's product is tailor-made for the world's fastest-growing energy market: a modular design that snaps together like Legos. Despite some attempts at standardization, the latest generation of big nukes are still custom-built onsite. By contrast, production versions of INET's reactor will be barely a fifth their size and power, and built from standardized components that can be mass-produced, shipped by road or rail, and assembled quickly. Moreover, multiple reactors can be daisy-chained around one or more turbines, all monitored from a single control room. In other words, Tsinghua's power plants can do the two things that matter most amid China's explosive growth: get where they're needed and get big, fast.
Wu and his backers aim to have a full-scale 200-megawatt version of HTR-10 by the end of the decade. They've already persuaded Huaneng Power International - one of China's five big privatized utilities, listed on the NYSE and chaired by the son of former premier Li Peng - to pick up half of the estimated $300 million tab. Concrete is scheduled to be poured in spring 2007.
By the usual glacial standards, that timeline is nuts for a reactor still on the drawing board. South Africa's pebble-bed group has been working on plans for a demonstration unit near Cape Town since 1993. But with an estimated $1 billion budget and local environmentalists on the warpath, the project remains stuck where it's been for nearly a decade: five to 10 years from completion.
Five to 10 years ago, a lot of today's China was little more than blueprints. And Wu, who likes to tell visiting Americans how one of his previous companies beat Sun Microsystems for the contract to wire West Point, has distinct advantages. The INET team, some of whose members studied with Schulten in Germany, has been prototyping pebble-bed designs since the mid-1980s. Also courtesy of the Germans, they have the best equipment in the world for what is probably the stickiest technical problem: fabrication of fuel balls in quantities that could quickly grow to millions.
By the time Chinergy's pilot plant is up and running, it's likely that the 30 reactors the government has planned for 2020 will already be under way. By then, however, China's grid is expected to be market-driven, and companies like Huaneng will have a free hand to put plants where they're needed and charge whatever the market will bear. Chinergy's strategy is tailored for this new environment. Power companies operating in regions making the transition from rural to industrial to urban will need to start small, but may suddenly find themselves struggling to meet unexpected demand. That's where the modular concept comes into play: Wu plans to sell power modules - 200-megawatt reactors plus ancillary gear - one at a time, if necessary. Growing utilities will be able to add modules as needed, ultimately reaching the gigawatt range where conventional reactors now reign. Such installations will be affordable to start - and they'll become cheaper to operate as they grow, thanks to economies of scale in everything from security and technicians to fuel supply.
Too good to be true? Not according to Andrew Kadak, who teaches nuclear engineering at MIT (including a course titled "Colossal Failures in Engineering"). Kadak is a big-nuke guy by background. From 1989 to 1997, he was CEO of Yankee Atomic Electric, which ran - and ultimately closed - the '60s-vintage plant in Rowe, Massachusetts. Now he's helping INET refine its fuel ball technology and working with the US Department of Energy to build a high-temperature gas-cooled reactor at the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Research Lab.
"The industry has been focused on water-cooled reactors that require complicated safety systems," Kadak says. "The Chinese aren't constrained by that history. They're showing that there's another way that's simpler and safer. The big question is whether the economics will pay off."
In May, British eminence green James Lovelock, creator of the Gaia hypothesis that Earth is a single self-regulating organism, published an impassioned plea to phase out fossil fuels in London's The Independent. Nuclear power, he argued, is the last, best hope for averting climatic catastrophe:
"Opposition to nuclear energy is based on irrational fear fed by Hollywood-style fiction, the Green lobbies, and the media. … Even if they were right about its dangers - and they are not - its worldwide use as our main source of energy would pose an insignificant threat compared with the dangers of intolerable and lethal heat waves and sea levels rising to drown every coastal city of the world. We have no time to experiment with visionary energy sources; civilization is in imminent danger and has to use nuclear, the one safe, available energy source, now, or suffer the pain soon to be inflicted by our outraged planet."
Coming to terms with nuclear energy is only a first step. To power a billion cars, there's no practical alternative to hydrogen. But it will take huge quantities of energy to extract hydrogen from water and hydrocarbons, and the best ways scientists have found to do that require high temperatures, up to 1,000 degrees Celsius. In other words, there's another way of looking at INET's high-temperature reactor and its potential offspring: They're hydrogen machines.
For exactly that reason, the DOE, along with similar agencies in Japan and Europe, is looking intently at high-temperature reactor designs. Tsinghua's researchers are in contact with the major players, but they're also starting their own project, focused on what many believe is the most promising means of generating hydrogen: thermochemical water splitting. Researchers at Sandia National Laboratories believe efficiency could top 60 percent - twice that of low-temperature methods. INET plans to begin researching hydrogen production by 2006.
In that way, China's nuclear renaissance could feed the hydrogen revolution, enabling the country to leapfrog the fossil-fueled West into a new age of clean energy. Why worry about foreign fuel supplies when you can have safe nukes rolling off your own assembly lines? Why invoke costly international antipollution protocols when you can have motor vehicles that spout only water vapor from their tail pipes? Why debate least-bad alternatives when you have the political and economic muscle to engineer the dream?
The scale is vast, but so are China's ambitions. Gentlemen, start your reactors.
Chicago Trib calls Michael Reagan "homophobic"
by John in DC - 8:38 PM
Holy shit. This is the Chicago Tribune actual headline:
"Reagan's `homophobic' 1st son steps up to counter brother"Man, tell us what you REALLY think, Chicago Trib. Seriously, this article about Michael Reagan shows what a total bigoted freak this man is. He either thinks rape causes homosexuality, or all gays are a danger to children, or something. Either way, the man is fucked up, and needs a good session with a psychologist a lot more than a national audience.
For years, Michael Reagan, the older son of Ronald Reagan, felt unloved and unwanted. His parents divorced when he was 3. Two years later he was packed off to a boarding school where, he says, he was so lonely he cried himself to sleep. Sexually abused at age 7, he felt shame and self-loathing, compounded by Bible passages that convinced him he would never go to heaven....
Then, he says, he found salvation through the love of his family and his "adoption" by God. He embraced conservative values and became a syndicated talk radio host who today tells listeners: "I am homophobic."
Reagan has become a strong opponent of same-sex marriage, saying its validation of homosexuality will push young people into sex that will inflict the "guilt and pain that I have lived with all my life."....
Reagan was 7, hungry for fatherly attention, when an after-school camp counselor sexually molested him, he says. The man took nude photographs of him and showed them to him in a darkroom.
Reagan says he worried for years that the photos would someday embarrass his family. Thus began a life of secrets and shame, Reagan says in his new book, "Twice Adopted," which will go on sale this fall.
His book suggests that same-sex marriage could place young people at an increased risk of the kind of trauma he suffered.
"If same-sex marriage becomes accepted as having equal validity with traditional heterosexual marriage, what kinds of social pressure will our children and grandchildren have to face?" he writes.
"That's why today I can honestly say on my show, I admit it; I am homophobic,' " he writes. "If I wasn't homophobic before, I am today."
by John in DC - 9:09 PM
Oh, the story builds and builds and builds. I keep harping on this because a) it's a lot of fun, but more importantly, b) this is becoming THE breakaway story from the convention. The story that ahs finally broken through the Republican noise machine, and a story that's really really really off-message. :-)
From the Chicago Tribune:
U.S. Senate candidate Alan Keyes stridently defended his statements about the vice president's gay daughter today even as Illinois Republican leaders expressed reactions ranging from dismay to disgust.Funny, because the National Republican Senatorial Committee is run by an openly-gay man. Glad to see they have no problem with gay-bashing.
Keyes told a New York radio station Monday that homosexuality is "sexual hedonism." In response, the show's host asked if Mary Cheney, Vice President Dick Cheney's daughter, was a "sexual hedonist." Keyes replied: "Of course she is."
"I think those views are not only extreme but offensive," former Gov. James Thompson told reporters during a state delegation breakfast today.
"I think the people of Illinois will find those remarks offensive," Thompson said, "and I think it's an offense to the political process that we have to suffer a candidate on our ticket who says things like that."
None of the state Republican leaders at the breakfast went as far as to say Keyes should bow out of the race, but several expressed dissatisfaction with how the Maryland native has handled himself on the campaign trail.
They want Keyes to stay on message by talking more about job creation and health care and less about divisive social issues such as gay rights and abortion.
"I wish those comments weren't made," said state Sen. Dave Syverson, a Rockford Republican who pushed to get Keyes on the ballot. "Those were personal comments and better kept to himself. But now, having said that, hopefully here on out he will stick to the issues that are important to this campaign."
Keyes blamed the media for personalizing his comments about Mary Cheney.
"Do I know whether or not the daughter of the Cheneys is engaging in such acts? It is not for me to know," Keyes said. "I only know the argument I have made. It is for others to draw the conclusion."
Judy Baar Topinka, the state party chairwoman, today railed against Keyes, calling his remarks about Cheney "idiotic."
"I think it's nasty, and I don't like nasty politics," she said. "You don't pick on people's kids. Kids are off limits."
Topinka added the state central committee, which selected Keyes as its candidate, should have known what it was in for.
"This is not somebody that likes a bit in his mouth," she said. "He does things his own way. He has built a career on being controversial."
State Rep. Tom Cross, the House Republican leader, joked with reporters about the length of Keyes' lease on his apartment in Calumet City.
"My suspicion is we will see and hear from candidate Keyes for the next 60 days, and after that he'll probably be out of Illinois," Cross said.
Liz Cheney, Vice President Dick Cheney's other daughter, bristled today when a CNN interviewer asked for her reaction to Keyes' "selfish hedonist" remark.
"I'm surprised, frankly, that you would even repeat the quote, and I'm not going to dignify it with a comment," she said.
A spokesman for the vice president could not be reached for comment today, but Christine Iverson, a spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee, said, "We're not going to dignify these comments with a response."
Dan Allen, communications director for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said that sometimes the way candidates present an issue is not reflective of the party's message.
"Alan Keyes is going to have to run his own race, and we're not going to tell him how to do it," Allen said. "He feels very passionate about certain issues, and whether we agree or disagree is not for us to decide, it's going to be the voters of Illinois."
AUDIO: Hear Alan Keyes call Mary Cheney a selfish hedonist sinner, and about the proper use of "genitals" (not kidding)
by John in DC - 9:20 PM
Courtesy of Sirius OutQ satellite radio I have the audio from Mike Signorile's Sirius OutQ interview with Illinois Republican Senate candidate Alan Keyes. As you know, Keyes went off on Mary Cheney, in what is quickly becoming a pretty large scandal for the GOP, and a media firestorm. You can hear the entire Sirius interview here, and the "selfish hedonism" snippet too (I'll have that shortly). I'm also attaching, below, the entire transcript of the interview - there are other real gems in there. (If you link to the mp3, please link to this blog entry itself so I get the credit :-)
- MP3 audio of entire Signorile interview with Alan Keyes
And this is the entire transcript of the interview:
“I am speaking with Alan Keyes, and you’ve come to the Republican convention to support President Bush I presume”
“Oh certainly, I think that President Bush needs to be reelected for the sake of this countries security, he has provided that kind of leadership that we are going to have to have if we are going to confront and defeat the challenge of terrorism that has already claimed so many American lives”
“What did you think of Vice President Cheney last week coming out and saying he doesn’t agree with the President on the federal marriage amendment, seems to be a break with the party, do you think he is sending a mixed signal?”
“I don’t know, I think he is entitled to his personal convictions, but I think that the party’s position is the correct one. We have to stand in defense of the traditional marriage institution in order to preserve its basis in procreation and make sure that we retain an understanding of family life that is rooted in the tradition of procreation, of child bearing and child rearing now in the essence of family life.”
“Now, Vice President Cheney, of course, has a daughter. She is gay. He used the word gay. He says he has a gay daughter, he seems very proud of his gay daughter. It seems like real family values and certainly seems like preserving the American family. Is his family un-American?”
“No, the point of the matter is that marriage as an institution involves procreation. It is in principle impossible for homosexuals to procreate, therefore they cannot marry. It is a simple logical syllogism and one can wish all one might, but pigs don’t fly and we can’t change the course of nature.”
“One can wish that Bob and Liddy Dole would have a child but that’s just impossible.”
“Pigs can’t fly. That is incidental and point of fact Bob and Liddy Dole can have children. They incidentally face problems that prevent them from doing so. In principle…”
“Don’t homosexuals incidentally face problems too?”
“No, you don’t understand the difference between incident and essence. Homosexuals are essentially incapable of procreation. They cannot mate. They are not made to do so. Therefore the idea of marriage for two such individuals is an absurdity”
“But one or the other in the couple can procreate?”
“No the men can donate their sperm, the women can have babies. The definition of understanding of marriage is that two become one flesh. In the child, the two transcend their persons and unite together to become a new individual. That can only be done through procreation and conception.”
“But what about a heterosexual couple who cannot bear children and then adopt. They are not becoming one as flesh, they are taking someone else’s flesh.”
“They are adopting the paradigm of family life. But the essence of that family life remains procreation. If we embrace homosexuality as a proper basis for marriage, we are saying that it is possible to have a marriage state that in principle excludes procreation and is based simply on the premise of selfish hedonism. This is unacceptable.”
“So Mary Cheney is a selfish hedonist, is that it?”
“Of course she is. That goes by definition. Of course she is.”
“I don’t think Dick Cheney would like to hear that about his daughter.”
“He may or may not like to hear the truth, but it can be spoken.”
“Do you really believe that Mary Cheney…”
“By definition. A homosexual engages in the exchange of mutual pleasure. I actually object to the notion that we call it sexual relations because it is nothing of the kind.”
“What is it?”
“It is the mutual pursuit of pleasure through the stimulation of the organs intended for procreation, but it has nothing to do with sexuality because they are of the same sex. And with respect to them, the sexual difference does not exist there, and therefore are not having sexual relations.
“Mr. Keyes, then how can you support President Bush then, because if something were to happen to him the President would be Dick Cheney, who has a daughter who you say is a hedonist, and a selfish hedonist, and the President would be supporting that at that point?”
“It seems to me that we are supporting a ticket that is committed to the kinds of things that are necessary to defend this country and we are all united in that support in spite of what might be differences on issues here and there.”
“Thank you for speaking with us.”