Archive for the ‘abstinence’ category

Reality Bites

May 29, 2013

Credit where credit is due:  an  an elected Oklahoma Republican is making sense:

All of the new Oklahoma laws aimed at limiting abortion and contraception are great for the Republican family that lives in a gingerbread house with a two-car garage, two planned kids and a dog. In the real world, they are less than perfect.

I see your problem here, but do go on:

As a practicing physician (who never has or will perform an abortion), I deal with the real world. In the real world, 15- and 16-year-olds get pregnant (sadly, 12-, 13- and 14-year-olds do also). In the real world, 62 percent of women ages 20 to 24 who give birth are unmarried. And in the world I work and live in, an unplanned pregnancy can throw up a real roadblock on a woman’s path to escaping the shackles of poverty.

Gustav_Klimt_Schwangere_mit_Mann

But what about those who don’t live where you do?

Yet I cannot convince my Republican colleagues that one of the best ways to eliminate abortions is to ensure access to contraception.  [via]

Kudos to OK Rep. Doug Cox.  He is — as his op-ed makes clear — no fan of abortion.  But he’s pretty damn blunt on both the what actually happens in the world and he’s on the right side of the argument on the basic right of individuals to make their own damn decisions.  So good on him; he’s the kind of opposition we need if a two party system is ever to function again, and he’s absolutely right on the practical and moral value that comes from treating women and girls as actual autonomous…you know…people.

One more thing — I was going to call Cox a bit of a naif for this:

What happened to the Republican Party that I joined? The party where conservative presidential candidate Barry Goldwater felt women should have the right to control their own destiny? The party where President Ronald Reagan said a poor person showing up in the emergency room deserved needed treatment regardless of ability to pay? What happened to the Republican Party that felt government should not overregulate people until (as we say in Oklahoma) “you have walked a mile in their moccasins”?

But, follow the jump, and you’ll see that Cox has no problem handling the concept of a rhetorical question:

Is my thinking too clouded by my experiences in the real world? Experiences like having a preacher, in the privacy of an exam room say, “Doc, you have heard me preach against abortion but now my 15-year-old daughter is pregnant, where can I send her?” Or maybe it was that 17-year-old foreign exchange student who said, “I really made a mistake last night. Can you prescribe a morning-after pill for me? If I return to my home country pregnant, life as I know it will be over.”

Yup, Representative Cox.  You got it right.

Too much reality doth not a good Republican make.

Image:  Gustav Klimt, Sketch outline pregnant woman with man1903/4

Correlation Ain’t Cause, but Mississippi’s Fear of Sex Has To Make You Go Hmmm.

July 16, 2010

I learn via the Maddowblog, (h/t Balloon Juice) that Mississipi Public Broadcasting got its knickers in a twist because one (count ’em — one) listener got the vapors over some mildly sexualized content on an episode of Terri Gross’s program, Fresh Air.  (Miss PB claims that a review of Gross’s show revealed a pattern of naughty bits. (h/t Gawker).

Balloon Juice’s Mr. Mix points out that Mississippi PB’s effective “zero tolerance” policy for mentions of sex on the radio adds up to  an essential omerta on matters lubricious, bouncy-bouncy, reproductive and all the rest.

That made me wonder.  What occurs in the context of such fear and trembling at the thought that humans have bodies and do things with them?

Well, I can’t say I was terribly surprised.  As of the latest statistics I could get my hands on quickly (Friday-afternoon-heading-for-a-BBQ blogging, you know), in 2007 Mississippi had the highest out-of-wedlock birthrate of all states, with such births accounting for 54% of the total.  As of 2006, Mississippi teens out-reproduced all their peers, boasting the top birthrate in the country for the 15-19 age group.  And as for the nasty problem referenced in this Sublime song…

…Mississippi maintains its leading position, coming in first in its incidence of chlamydia and gonorrhea, and eighth on the league tables for primary and secondary syphilis.

Now, as the title of this post ought to make clear, I’m not saying that a statewide choice to hold one’s hands over one’s ears and shout “I’m not listening!” — whenever discussion begins of sexual behavior, reproduction and contraception and all the rest sully the Magnolia State’s sensitive souls is — has any connection to the fact that so many more of its citizens than those of other states suffer the real human costs that come with unprotected and unconsidered sex.

But it sure is a coincidence, ain’t it?

Image: Anthony Van Dyck, “Cupid and Psyche,” 1639-40

Andrew Sullivan Gets Him Some Data: Contraception and Abortion edition.

October 20, 2009

Readers of this blog know that I usually slag off on Sullivan’s reluctance to engage data on issues in which he has strong views.I don’t believe, by and large, that he has a very solid grasp of either quantitative methods or scientific practice. (See, e.g., this post or this one.)

But when he’s onto something he does care about where the data and its manipulation matter, he can be like a dog to a bone, and today’s he’s done good.

The issue?  Whether contraception reduces the incidence of abortion.  His dissection of the dishonest manipulation of the research record (e.g. admixing a study of US women with a 197 country study) can be found here.

His conclusion:

Theocons cannot have it every which way. Practically speaking, if you really believe that all abortion is murder, a huge program of contraception education and access is the most practical life-saver out there. And yet the Catholic pro-lifers refuse to embrace it and go to these kinds of lengths to deny reality. By their own logic, they are the ones enabling the massacre of millions.

Exactly so.

The“every sperm is sacred” crowd has led to enormous suffering.  It’s good to see Andrew call them out on this one.*

I’m about to wrap up a three part post on Sullivan’s theodicy issues (part one and part two, for your delectation) and I’ve had some harsh things to say, with worse to come in the last section.  But when he is able to achieve some remove from his own internal conflicts on the vexing tensions in his faith, he is no dummy, not at all.  Credit where credit is due….

*Note:  I haven’t linked all the way through to the deeply disturbed person who calls herself the Anchoress…but if you want to see that with which Sullivan’s arguing, go ahead.  And surf through the second link; Elizabeth Pisani is as good as it gets on deflating the murderous hypocrisy and self-delusion of the better-to-die than-than-have-safe-sex crowd.

Image:  Postcard published in 1909; photograph by Irvin M. Kline, 1907.

Poverty and Aids: Who Does What To Whom/Elizabeth Pisani edition.

December 4, 2008

So, to get back to business, a little follow up on the MIT talk by Elizabeth Pisani touted below.

Elizabeth, whose book, The Wisdom of Whores I admire both as a ripping read and as a powerfully argued polemic – with – the -facts, is a passionate advocate for clarity in our description of and response to HIV and AIDS.  A journalist, and then an epidemiologist, as well as a self-admitted member of the AIDS mafia, Pisani emphasizes that HIV is a virus that is transmitted by a few well known pathways: basically unprotected sex, unprotected anal sex, and needle sharing among IV drug users.

In her book and in her talk at MIT on Monday, Elizabeth admitted her own complicity in what she sees as the original sin (my phrase, not hers) of the public health community’s response to the epidemic.  In order to secure funds to fight the disease, public health folks and epidemiologists de-emphasized in public the central roles of commercial sex, homosexual sex and drug use in the dissemination of the virus, choosing instead to highlight more broadly sympathetic and politically acceptable potential victims:  children, “innocent” women, and the ultimately, the public at large.

That spin worked, Elizabeth said, attracting a torrent of money. But there was a catch:  a ton of that new cash was restricted to taking care of the politically attractive categories, leaving the problems at the core of the epidemic — sex and drugs — still drastically under-addressed.

That’s the broad stroke argument, very broad — so don’t blame Elizabeth for my shorthand and no doubt inaccurate attempt at a gloss on her talk. Among her caveats:  much of what she had to say applied not to the two thirds of the epidemic taking place in southern and eastern Africa, but to the one third spread out over the rest of the world.  But the discussion that followed raised two crucial points of contention that are worth thinking about.

One was a reaction to Elizabeth’s complaint of what she did not call, but I will, AIDS whoring.  By this I mean the habit that Elizabeth pointed out of all kinds of (presumptively) well-intentioned organizations trying to claim some connection to the fight against HIV/AIDS, no matter what they actually do, just to take a sip or two from that river of money flowing towards the disease.

In particular, the trope that HIV is a disease of poverty got Elizabeth’s goat.  No, she argued. HIV is a virus, and to the extent that it is a disease of anything….wait for it…it’s one of sex and drugs.

Money spent on projects to alleviate poverty, or to increase women’s economic power, or any of the other entirely important and necessary development goals someone might have will not, in this view, do much of anything to deal with the problem of HIV and AIDS.  If you really want to deal with the disease, she argued, attack the problem directly. Needle exchanges work.  Proper prison HIV projects work.  Condoms work…that’s where the emphasis should lie.

Not so, argued one member of the audience in a conversation after the talk.  Too reticent to push the point during the q. and a., this person argued that Elizabeth was too much the epidemiologist.  From where she sat — a physician with experience in the Middle East, now studying the interface between technology, culture and history in the context of health and medicine — poverty was indeed a significant part of the equation.

That is hard won knowledge, and I’ve heard the same from other people up to their elbows in responding to the epidemic.

And yet, stripping down the question to its core — what will save lives most directly, right now — it’s hard to ignore Elizabeth’s central point:  the argument that addressing HIV/AIDS head on is not the same thing as saying that one should not attack poverty, the evils done to women and or children and so on.  It is just that improved sanitation installed over the next months or years; a new micro-loan program, even one laptop per child is not going to affect the infection being transmitted right now on a thin mattress in a brothel, in the passage from one arm to the next of droplets of blood mixed with heroin, in the late night, alcohol and dance fever-fueled “decision” to forget the damn condom after all.

In this view diseases are not — or at least not only — social phenomena.  From the point of view of someone actually about to be infected, they involve specific pathogens moving through known pathways to inflict harm on identifiable individual people.  And there are methods available, were political and moral will strong enough, to find both those people already suffering, and to reach those near them at risk. Given that capacity, what should the course of action be?

Look at another example:  Paul Farmer has achieved a justifiable fame (some would say apotheosis) through an approach that says you do what you have to do to make sure the miserably poor, no-hoper ten miles away across three mountain ranges takes his or her damn TB meds.

All the medical interventions that Farmer’s approach has generated have not transformed the fundamental conditions of poverty and oppression in Haiti or in other communities where his efforts have been directed.  But they do, of course, save lives — and I’m comfortable with the claim that basic health is a necessary pre-conditions to any such change. Even if you argue that there is an intimate connection between social pathologies and the medical ones associated with AIDS, there is the brute fact of a feedback loop:  poor and oppressed communities, marginalized and reviled groups (think junkies and whores) do not improve their ability to press a claim on the society or polity as a whole when they are mired in the struggle with a spreading infection.

All this, of course, is open to dispute on points of principle.  It is certainly true that absent structural change, the poor and the marginalized have more or less unlimited paths to suffering and death.  Hence, any given amelioration of suffering can be seen as the rearranging of the deck chairs on the Titanic. There is every reason to argue that what is needed is transformative change that addresses blighted lives and communities across the range of problems confronting them.

Fair enough — but in practice, as Elizabeth has described with potent fury in her book, the dilution of AIDS efforts into generalized anti- this or that has does not prevent infections, nor does it, so far at least, seem to have transformed the world of the poor.  There are the usual problems of aid:  those who live well off doing good are always with us, for example.

But more deeply, this seems to me to be a case of the best being the enemy of the good:   There is the blunt fact that structural change is slow and uncertain, and HIV infection and its consequences often are neither.  It is my hope that come January 20th, the worst diversions of effort and emphasis in US global HIV/AIDS policy will be reversed.  Just dumping the abstinence-only set-aside would be a major step forward.  Here’s hoping.

Of course — this begs the question of whether any policy involving culture, society and behavior can work, given the freight that comes with anything involving sex, drugs, conceptions of sin and purity and all the rest…and that came up too in Elizabeth’s talk.

But this post has gone on long enough.  I’ll write up the debate on this point that came out of Elizabeth’s talk in another one.

Jean Agélou, “French nude smoking opium” c. 1910.

Sarah Palin Substance, Take Two

September 3, 2008

Most of the press and blog coverage today has focused on (a) the water torture nature of the story of what happens when you don’t vet the first significant “Presidential” appointment  you make — thus aiming the coverage appropriately at the real culprit in Palin story:  John McCain. If this election is in fact a “judgment” vs. “experience” choice, then for now, judgment is winning, as indeed it should.

At the same some folks are pointing out that the kinds of trouble Palin herself is in — and hence the sort of problem she is becoming for John McCain — may be the kind of briar patch in which the GOP ticket is perfectly happy to find themselves, the argument being that in a change year, a gut-level populist appeal may be just enough to turn the key states their way.

So, against that possibility, I want to take another whack at what a Vice President — or a President — Palin looks like from a point of view embedded in science.  As before, my argument is in essence that what Palin thinks about a specific issue for which there is a clear body of research — using scientific methods, producing reproducibly results — tells us not only about the rationality of her position on that particular issue, but also about the quality of her mind, her judgment, her ability to make decisions of the sort a President faces.

The obvious place to start here is, I’m afraid, with sex — in particular, with Palin’s judgment about the most effective way to education adolescents about sex.  As we now know, both through the usual political research process and because of news about her family I will not discuss, Sarah Palin believes that the correct way to instruct children about sex is to avoid what she calls “explicit sex education” and teach only that abstinence is the appropriate behavior before marriage.

OK — that’s a view a fair number of people hold.  But Palin, of course, is not just anybody — she’s been mayor and she is governor, and you would think that she has some responsibility to back ideas not only because they are comfortable, but because they are valid.

Not so here.  There is ample evidence that abstinence education does not work. See here for one recent take on this, and see this for my earlier whack at Mike Huckabee on this same issue.  Cruise the blogosphere to find as much more as you would like.  Bottom line:  abstinence education shows no improvement in the key parameters of sexual behavior or outcomes over control groups in repeated studies, one of the best of which can be found in summary here.

But  you knew that already, didn’t you?

Now it is something of a dog bites man story to suggest that an evangelical Christian would favor abstinence teaching for her own family, or even her own community; but the point here isn’t about personal choice or belief, it’s about the ability to perform evidence-based reasoning.

Put this another way:  there is a street definition of neurosis as repeatedly doing the same thing expecting a different outcome.  A scientifically informed policy would look at the grim statistics:  the US is the world leader among developed countries in teen pregnancies (h/t Dem from CT over at Daily Kos).  The good news had been that despite that dismal result, teen birth rates had been falling since the peak rate of 61.8 birth rates per thousand in 1991. That is to say, the decline began at exactly the time a Democratic adminstration took office — one whose record on evidence based policy is, by and large, exemplary.

So what happened over the last seven years, during which an administration whose full throated support of world wide abstinence education has had its chance to work its wonders on American women and girls?  What’d you’d naively expect:  the latest report from the Centers For Disease Control, analyzing the data from 2006, shows the US teen birth rate after a fourteen year decline, started to climb again in 2005, a rise that continued in 2006.  From 40.5 births per thousand, the 2006 data show an increase to 41.9.

So it goes, as the late KV would have said.  Idiocy, a lesser evil than the deaths to which Vonnegut referred, is also always with us.

But to the deeper argument:  we know some things.  We know that abstinence education does not work, that funding it is a kind of welfare scam to benefit the religious right, that the real world consequences of the totality of US policy in this area has produced a dismal record of preventing teen pregnancy (80 percent of them unwanted, according to CDC figures, btw).  We know that teen pregnancies have all kinds of deleterious social effects, as the CDC noted in this passage in one of their reports:

“The National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy recently estimated that $9.1bn in public funding was expended on teenage childbearing in 2004. These costs include public assistance, healthcare, child welfare and other expenses.”

And let me repeat — we know that abstinence education does not work.

So what would a rational leader do here, one who understood the processes of scientific investigation and could interpret its results?

Try something else perhaps?

Or not.  Both Sarah Palin and John McCain have voiced their continued support for abstinence education as we know.  There are only two explanations that adequately account for such a choice.  One is that they know better — they know that this policy does not help and correlates with a development in the wrong direction, but they feel that they need to take this position to satisfy their base.  Or they simply do not allow facts to penetrate ideology.  (If anyone has any other possible explanations, I’d love to hear them.)

The first option suggests that McCain and or Palin are cynical and so hungry for power that the unwanted pregnancies of deliberately poorly informed teenagers are an acceptable price to pay for success in November.  The second suggests that either or both lack the capacity for judgment, the ability to analyze data, assimilate and interpret information, and come to conclusions for the greater good of the people they seek to represent.

That is — when you choose to reject the bits of science you dislike, you lose the abiltiy to distinguish between scientifically defensible conclusions and stuff you just would rather believe.  While such an approach to the world is comfortable — inconvenient facts cannot overturn settled assumptions, the real world has a way of biting such poor judgment in tender places.

I honestly don’t have a clue whether in either case cynicism or willed ignorance is the explanation for the two GOP candidates on the national ticket deciding to go all in for abstinence.  On their history — McCain has much less of a public commitment to the culture wars side of his party, so maybe pure hunger for power has an edge there.  Palin’s commitment to extreme religious views is also well documented, so perhaps hers is a sincerely chosen blindness.

But I will say that in either case, taken as a case study of a larger test of the way our candidates think and would govern, either explanation leads to the conclusion that this ticket does not think about the world in the ways Presidents need to do.

As for the question of simple humanity, it is worth noting that Governor Palin used her line item veto this spring to cut funding from the Alaska state budget that reduced support for Passage House, a transitional home for teenage mothers.  I have some direct knowledge of institutions in other states that perform a similar service, and let me tell you, the damage a loss of this kind of support can do to both young mothers and their children is immense.  While I fully agree that families are off limits, it does seem to me to be within bounds to say that it seems to me both socially sound policy and a moral good to extend as much of the support a loving family can give to an unplanned pregancy to all those who need it.

Image:  Ary Scheffer, “Greek Women Imploring the Virgin of Assistance,” 1826. National Museum of  Western Art, Tokyo.  Source: Wikimedia Commons.

More on the GOP, Abstinence…and Iraq.

January 13, 2008

Good to see that the canary-in-a-coal-mine significance of the GOP support for abstinence education is getting a bit more attention these days.Tim F. over at the well-trafficked Balloon-Juice blog adds another level (and a lot more audience) to the argument I was trying to make in this post. (Whatever else may be said about the two posts — mine has much sexier illustration.)

I said that Huckabee’s embrace of abstinence was both evidence of the triumph of unexamined assumptions (faith — in this case in the obvious utility of telling kids not to have sex, no matter what the data say) and of a nasty kind of corruption, in that abstinence programs may not help teenagers, but they sure enrich a certain crowd of GOP religion hucksters.

Tim F. takes this further by pointing out that where the religiously based authoritarian wing of the GOP and the Take-Care-Of-Our-Own faction come together is over precisely this kind of corruption, and he uses the disastrous history of the construction of the US Embassy-fortress in Baghdad to illustrate the point. Short form: why didn’t anyone in the GOP who had a chance to oversee this project and the entire Iraq reconstruction effort do anything remotely like a good job? Because too many well connected folk were getting rich on the deal. Read the whole thing; it’s a good piece.

And now take the issue one step further:There is one Republican US Senator left with a real chance of winning the nomination and the Presidency: John McCain.Traditionally, the US Senate has been a backstop for oversight when the Federal departments themselves cannot police themselves, (and as Josh Marshall and his crew over at TPM have documented with the fate of Bush Administration Inspectors General, we are surely in such a time now). In the early 1940s, a fairly obscure and previously undistinguished Senator from Missouri made his reputation by running just such an oversight operation to ensure that the US government was getting what it paid for in World War II contracting. That good, and bi-partisan work prompted Roosevelt to choose Senator Harry S. Truman as his third and last VP…and we know how that worked out.

This time round, obviously, no Trumans showed up. The GOP controlled both houses of Congress from 2003-2006. That was exactly the time when we need an independent check on US rebuilding efforts, But nothing happened. McCain himself was AWOL on anything that might imply criticism of Bush and of the Iraqi adventure. Billions of our money, and who knows how many lives, have been wasted as a result.

Is that all McCain’s fault?

Of course not. It was the Bush administration’s direct responsbility to get things done right. McCain and his colleagues in the GOP caucus were at one remove: they failed their duty to the country by refusing to perform even the most minimal oversight on the administration’s management of Iraq. But that’s still a crucial duty, and it is one that the GOP-led Congress clearly failed to perform. I single out McCain for his roles as both a candidate and the leading senatorial supporter of the Iraq fiasco.

(It’s true that the Democrats in the last year haven’t made a huge amount of headway — but even here, their attempts have been blocked by White House refusal to accept the Congress’s oversight authority, a stonewall built with the almost unanimous aid of the GOP minority — again, including John McCain.)So: when weighing his fitness for the presidency, do not forget McCain’s indirect complicity in the corruption of the vital US effort to rebuild Iraq.

And now, to bring this back to the significance of science in public life: Science matters not just for its particular results, but for the habits of mind it trains. There are lots of differences in the detailed methods of the various scientific disciplines — but one common thread is what is often called materialism, but is really as much empiricism as anything else. That is: the ultimate value of an idea is determined by the outcome of its test against observable reality. Facts matter, in other words, and a claim of principle, even a beautiful and long-held one, cannot survive material contradiction.

That deliberate failure to face facts makes the connection that I, and apparently Balloon-Juice’s Tim both see between the willed blindness displayed in people like Mike Huckabee’s embrace of anti-science, from abstinence education to the evolution follies and all the rest — and the equally willed blindness of people like John McCain, who refused to see any wrongdoing in what they believed was a noble and necessary crusade in Iraq.

Image: Pieter Breugel the Elder, “The Parable of the Blind,” 1568.  The reproduction is part of a collection of reproductions compiled by The Yorck Project. The compilation copyright is held by Zenodot Verlagsgesellschaft mbH and licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License.  Source:  Wikipedia Commons.

Huckabee, Sex Ed., and High Energy Particle Physics

January 4, 2008

What’s the connection? Huckabee is for real. He probably won’t win the nomination (here I agree with David Brooks otherwise risible defense of Huckabee as the candidate with the right values for a revived conservatism), but he’s in witha chance.

He is also a scientifically illiterate defender of stupid ideas known to be false. Lots of them, but for now, let’s look at one that has profound consequences for people who buy his brand of snake oil. Abstinence “education” instead of real information about sex, human biology, and contraception. He’s for it: quoted in a usually reliable source of revealed “wisdom,” the CBN’s Brody File, he said:

“Abstinence education provides a valuable counterweight to peer pressure and the message young people get from the popular culture encouraging casual relationships and separating sex from love, commitment and marriage. I do not believe in teaching about sex or contraception in public schools. That is the responsibility of parents.

(Empahsis in the original).

I’ll not mention that most of us would think that lessons about sexual choices — i.e. abstinence is in fact the responsibility of the parents, and not a nanny state. (Funny how “conservatives” are all in favor of an intrusive state in defense of bad causes, isn’t it? Surveillance, unchecked detention, invasion of your bedroom, but not any where else. I know – an old point.) Instead, just consider the basic point.

Huckabee says abstinence “education” is valuable — and he’s right. It’s valuable to the modern Marjoe hucksters who make a good living off telling teenagers not to screw. It’s valuable to the Christianist welfare kings and queens who have learned that there is good money to be made fleecing the government and misleading kids. According the Washington Post, the federal government spends 176 million a year on abstinence “education,” including but not limited to the Title V grants reauthorized in the last minute budget deal passed just before the new year.

What’s the problem with all this? Most of you will have guessed this already: abstinence “education” is a fraud. It doesn’t work. Kids still have sex. (This comes as a great surprise, of course to everyone who was ever a teenager, or the parent of one.) From the fact sheet on the HHS report released last spring:

Findings indicate that youth who were assigned to the Title V abstinence education “program group” were no more likely than youth who were assigned to the “services as usual” control group to have abstained from sex. Those who reported having sex had similar numbers of sexual partners and had initiated sex at the same mean age. (Link to the complete study here.)

Reported unprotected sex was the same for both groups, for which we may be grateful. See the San Francisco Chronicle’s marvelous Violet Blue’s Open Source Sex column (from whom the inspiration for this rant derived) for more gory details. Worst of all: official US government agencies spread lies about condom use and its public health significance.

Each of these assertions turns up in federally funded abstinence-only sex education programs: Condoms fail to prevent HIV infection 31 percent of the time during heterosexual sex. The chances of getting pregnant while using a condom are 1 in 6. And condoms break or slip off nearly 15 percent of the time.

And each of them is wrong, says John S. Santelli, a pediatrician and a professor at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health.

Bottom line: GOP “values” politicians, as a group seemingly more sexually incontinent than bunnies in a hutch, use the terror of children having sex to funnel cash to favored folks, who then achieve nothing of any public purpose.

But we all knew that, right? So what’s the connection to high energy physics.

Well, the same budget deals that saved tens of millions for GOP buddy welfare, essentially killed research funding for new high energy physics research in this country, just as the most important HEP experiment in years is about to turn on at the Large Hadron Collider. Here’s hoping we see something like this:

The federal budget as passed in the last grim days of 2007 cut 90 million dollars from high energy physics, including 52 million dollars from Fermilab. 200 layoffs, unpaid furloughs and all the usual pain will follow. Two new American experiments are scrubbed, at least for now, and the ability to take advantage of whatever the LHC comes up with will be degraded for years to come, if not permanently.

So: there you have it: the current victor on the Republican side of the fence supports spending millions on a “feel-good” (for some) program that serves the interests only of Christianist fat cats, while no money is available to advance American research in a field we used to — but no longer dominate.

There is a separate argument to be had about the best way to spend research dollars, choices between, for example, particle physics and cosmology; physical chemistry or neurobiology and so on. We could, and should, point out that the budget shenanigans above required the acquiesence, at least, of Democrats in Congress who should know better.

But the point is that a frighteningly prominent segment of the right side of the political spectrum is absolutely committed to spending millions of dollars in defense of stupid, failed ideas, and not one cent for good science.

Back in the day, Cato used to end each speech with the tag line “Carthago delanda est” — Carthage must be destroyed. Let me update: this kind of nonesense must be destroyed. Huckabee is presented in coverage today as a kind of outlier in the Republican party. He’s not. He stands for what a large segment of that party believes to be true. If we want a smart, safe, secure society, 2008 becomes ever more important. These guys cannot have another run in power.

Images: William-Adolphe Bouguereau, “A Young Girl Defending Herself Against Eros,” 1880. Source: Wikipedia Commons

A diagram of one possible way in which the LHC may observe a Higgs Boson. Used under a GNU Free Documentation licence.