Archive for the ‘Huckabee’ category

Squids Rule (The Power of PZ Myers)

January 15, 2008

I read Pharyngula and think Percy Bysshe Shelly: “Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair.

In this post the King of Kings, PZ Mandias, reviews (I’m putting that in the most neutral way possible) the offerings of a Christian radio station in his area.

At the end of the post, he tells of an online presidential poll at the station’s website, and notes, sourly, that Mike Huckabee dominates — with Hillary Clinton dead last. In what seems almost like an aside he then suggests that his readers go to the site to vote for the Senator from New York, just to mess with some heads.

I check it out, and as of my last look it was Hilllary 42%, Obama 25%, Edwards 12% — and Huckabee in fifth place with 4%.

Who else beat him out?

With 5%: Nobody.

Now that’s impressive.

Image: Gustave Guillaumet: Le Sahara (The Sahara), also known as Le Désert (The Desert), 1867. Musée d’Orsay, Paris. Photo by Bertil Videt, licensed under the terms of a GNU Free Documentation Licence.

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.

The dog that didn’t bark (what Huckabee, McCain, Romney and Thompson are really telling us about the war on science)

January 11, 2008

In any war, you can wage a campaign of direct assault, feint and manouver. In bureaucratic wars, like the one waged by the Bush adminstration and their supporters in the Republican Party, that means you could pack commissions with those inimical to their missions — see this one, as analyzed in this depressing article. Or you could simply lie. Administration critics have pointed to what they say is false information about all kinds of health and science related issues, like the deception about condoms discussed in this post below. For a proper treatment of all the different ways that science has been the punching bag of Bush-led Washington, Chris Mooney’s book, or Seth Schulman’s both offer useful, dispiriting entry points to this sorry history.

However, there are some signs that tactics, at least, are changing. Maybe the frontal assault is giving way to a war of attrition. For example, the budget deal of last December (in which the nominally Democrat-controlled Congress is complicit) starved at least certain areas of science of all but bare life-support funding.

And more, from the GOP presidential hopeful debate in South Carolina two nights ago. I took a look at the transcript, and what was striking was what was not said — the silence of the curs. (Unfair, uncivil, but, as Doonesbury’s Duke once said, “The pension fund was just sitting there.”)

Tracking through the entire record of that debate I tried to find a mention of the word “science.” I found it once, when Romney called for investment in science and technology R & D to help create American energy independence.

How about “research?” Once again — and this time from the mouth of Chris Wallace, complaining that ideas like education, research and development are long term approaches to problems, and asking McCain what he would do right now about the possibility of a recession. (Yup — your press corps in action).

And, grasping at straws now, how about that magic bullet for all that ails us, “technology?”

Six times! Maybe there’s hope, if not for basic science, at least for a little support for engineering and applied science. Maybe we won’t have to wait for all those folks lending us money to buy their stuff to invent the cool gadgets they’re going to keep on selling us long after we have any hope of paying for them.

Or not. Romney used the word twice, McCain three times, and Thompson, with a spin all his own, once. In addition to his plug for energy independence, he thought science and technology were probably good for the country. (I paraphrase, but that’s the basic idea.)

McCain acknowledged the existence of an info-tech revolution, and then shouted out twice in a paragraph to the “tremendous technology in the state of Michigan,” that could pull us up into energy independence.

(The complete vapidity of the Republican approach to the energy issue is the story for another day. I took a long swipe at Huckabee’s “thinking” on this in an earlier post. Both McCain and Romney offer slightly more slickly packaged versions of the same pabulum. We don’t actually need to do anything at the federal level, because Michigan’s tremendous tech will somehow miraculously sweep the internal combustion engine, our electrical grid, our industrial power needs and all the rest into some blissful state of oil-and-gas free heat, light, warmth and motion. Forgive me. I don’t think so. But that’s all for a different post(s)).

Meanwhile – I got distracted. There was one more mention of technology in Thursday’s debate. Fred Thompson offered this nugget:

“I believe with all my heart that if we enforce the border, if we crack down on employers who knowingly hired illegal immigrants, and required them to use the modern technology that we have now so that they can, in effect, push a button on the front end and find out whether or not someone is legal….if we did those things, we would have enforcement by attrition.”

Yup, that’s it. We don’t need more tech. We don’t need to research anything. We don’t need to train scientists or engineers, or even pay attention to teaching science and math better in the schools. All that we need to ensure a strong, prosperous America prepared for the 21st century is computers set up to make sure no undocumented bus boy clears your table.

It doesn’t take a frontal assault to destroy something. Attrition — each child that never gets taught, each grad student that gives up, gets out, does something else — can do the job just as well.

It’s true that science can be inconvenient, as much for the habits of thought it breeds as for any specific result. So better, perhaps, just to ignore it, except when it becomes necessary to wave the magic wand of “science and technology” as the solution for problems that are, in fact, political at their root. That’s what the GOP seems to have decided: that the best approach to science in 2008 is to pretend it isn’t really there, and to hope that maybe it will go away.

As it could, to the ruin of us all.

Image:  Francisco de Goya, “Boys with Mastiff,” 1786-1787.  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, Ignorance, Dupes (Energy division)

January 6, 2008

I didn’t catch much of the GOP debate last night — I was too busy washing my brain. But I did manage to hear the painfully idiotic interchange on energy independence. One of the most notable bits of pure rube ignorance came, stood as I would have predicted, from Mike Huckabee. His bright idea: offer a billion dollars to the bright lightbulb who first comes up with a hundred mpg car – a kind of government sponsored X Prize on steroids.

Astonishingly, some alledgely attentive observers seemed to think this made some kind of sense. I was provoked to write this whole long screed because of a little bit of fluff from Michael D., over at Balloon Juice titled “Something Good From Huckabee.”

Errr, no.

Michael’s already been taken over the coals by commentators but the gist is that he didn’t spend the 45 seconds or so with Google needed to show that Huckabee was just pulling something out of his ass so he could appear to have thought about US energy policy.

For example: X prizes already exist, and there is even a draft automotive X prize that will reward the winner(s) in a competition “to inspire a new generation of viable, super-efficient vehicles that help break our addiction to oil and stem the effects of climate change.”

So Huckabee’s suggestion that the US Government should spend a billion — a billion — bucks of your money and mine to duplicate something private folks are already doing for much less seems … how shall we say this … bone stupid.

Then there’s the fact that Huckabee’s goal of a 100 mpg car is old news.

You want high tech: there are already several cars that can meet that goal. Take the Pac II, invented by a team at the ETH in Zurich.

That fuel cell car achieves an efficiency of — wait for it — 12,670 miles per (US) gallon. To spell it out, that’s twelve thousand six hundred and seventy miles per gallon. Admittedly, the car is a three wheeled one-off that weighs 75 kilograms, but still — 12K miles per gallon is nothing to sneeze at.

You want a real vehicle? How about the Tesla Roadster.

It’s an expensive, high performance two-seater ride, setting you back about $100,000 — if you could find one; 2008 is sold out. But it exists, and it achieves what the company terms a “well-to-wheel” efficiency double that of the hybrid Toyota Prius, rated at 55 mpg. So there you have a production automobile already kicking in at better than 100 mpg.

More important, of course, is that Huckabee’s “idea” is pointless, virtually no help in dealing with the underlying question of US energy consumption and independence. 100 mpg cars would slow the consequences but not alter the basic reality of oil dependence in an age of increased demand for a resource that is peaking — or has peaked. (Scroll down to the “results” section if you are interested — and note that there are more pessimistic projections out there.)

So the whole idea is pretty dumb, putting it kindly, with a numbskull quotient that seems about par for any Huckabee policy suggestion. In fact, I’ll make a claim here: the amount of a real, sincere support for Governor Huckabee’s is a pretty damn good proxy metric for just how bad our education system is doing about now.

But as Michael D.’s tossed off entry (pun intended) shows, that’s being unfair to Huckabee supporters.

He’s smart, and recovered nicely from a truly rocky opening act at Balloon Juice. But this kind of credulous, “oh cool,” response to a known policy buffoon is exactly what lots of us, including Balloon Juice’s bloggers complain about in the media coverage of this campaign: mindless parroting of whatever the media (or blogger)-favored folks blather.

Bad Blogger! Don’t do that again. We can’t hold the MSM to standards higher than our own.

Update:  minor edits to ameliorate the effects of late night blogging while nursing a cold.

Images: “The Great Republican Reform Party Calling on their Candidate”, Currier and Ives. 1856, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division. Digital ID: (b&w film copy neg.) cph 3a12793, Card # 2003656588

Pac II car: credit ETH Zurich.

Tesla Roadster: Creative Commons Share Alike Licence

All Huckabee All the Time

January 4, 2008

Am I making a mistake writing as much as I have about the danger Huckabee represents to science and American intelligence in general?

Tristero over at Hullabaloo makes the point that Huckabee is dangerous whether or not he gets the nomination because of the public airing of hateful, stupid views that results — and the increased support that such prominence may give those corrosive “thoughts.” Atrios disagrees, saying the vicious cellar dwellers cannot survive in the sun.

I’m with Atrios. But the bottom line is Tristero’s: the appropriate response to Huckabee, and to the whole authoritarian, frightened, corrupt gargoyle that is what remains of Lincoln’s party, is ridicule and repeated, public humiliation:

Certainly, Huckabee’s ideas and behavior deserve to be mocked, ridiculed, laughed at, parodied, and skewered, He should be ignored when he’s not being sneered at. And the more creative we all are, the more in your face, the better.

Aye aye, Captain.

Image: J Maze Burbank, “Religious Camp Meeting,” 1839. 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.

Dog bites man: More Huckabee Hates Science

December 31, 2007

It is kind of pointless to keep on harping on how much Huckabee is clueless about the all the important stuff, but this man really cannot be allowed to be President. Along with everything else, decades of American leadership in science and its wealth-creating applications will be held hostage.That’s hardly news: Biblical literalism and scientific inquiry are incompatible, full stop. But from Daily Kos’s excellent science diarist DarkSyde comes the latest completely predictable folly:

Where would an avowed Creationist get to spout unchallenged about scientific accuracy, let alone biology, with any credibility? If you’re Mike Huckabee in America 2007, that would be on Meet the Press this weekend:

In that interview, Huckabee states that it is a settled matter scientifically that life begins at conception — a claim so muddled, as DarkSyde documents in detail, that in the famous contemptuous line, it’s not even wrong. (It’s meaningless.) Dog bites man; what else would one expect in this context?Huckabee, I think, is rapidly becoming a sideshow. The longer he lasts in the primary campaign, the better, I believe for the Democrats. But he points to a deeper problem: the US, its media elites at least, are complacent in their ignorance of science. Huckabee and his less overtly outrageous fellow travellers in the rest of the GOP field deepen that well of false “knowledge” every time they speak with authority and deliberate error on science. The more people believe that science is just what they say it is, the more rapid and irreversible will be the inevitable American decline.Apocalypse, eh? What can I say. It’s been a very bad year.Here’s hoping for better to come. Happy New Year everyone.