When science goes up against ideology, ideology usually wins!

I’ve worked for more than a decade in the field of HIV prevention. That means working with sex and drugs — two areas where there is no shortage of good science, and an abundance of ideology.

The science tells us, for example, that making clean needles universally available to drug injectors can more or less wipe out HIV transmission in this group. The ideology tells us that providing such services for injectors is tantamount to condoning an illegal behavior that wrecks lives and families and increases crime. If you were running for election, faced with the choice of paying for clean needles and health services for injectors or with putting more cops on the streets and cells in the jails, which do you think would play best with the voters..?

The fact is that many of the most effective public health policies have been put in place by governments that Americans think of as ideological, even undemocratic.

Iran has one of the world’s better prevention programs inside its jails, and sterile needles are available to injectors from dispensing machines around Tehran. The Kyrgyz Republic gives clean needles to prisoners. China makes needles available to injectors through pharmacies at subsidized prices…

At the local level, though, things often look different. Many cities, realizing that they would have to pick up the pieces of the nation’s failed war on drugs, have scraped out their pockets and provided services to injectors. The result has been a huge decline in new HIV infections among drug users and their sex partners; the burden on the health system has of course fallen, too…

This disconnect between national and local policies is instructive about the way democracy works. At a national level, politicians seem to respond to what they think the electorate wants to hear. Ideology and rhetoric rule. At the local level, however, they are more likely to respond to what the electorate really needs — workable solutions to real problems. The only workable solutions are the ones that are based on good, solid, scientific evidence.

In my little corner of public health, the Obama administration is following through on its promise to put the science back into policy. Since the ban on federal funding for safe injecting programs was dropped in December, the sky has not fallen, and if the government falls, it certainly won’t be because of this small piece of pragmatism.

Yes – when science goes up against ideology, Ideology usually wins!

At least, when you’re in a nation where religion trumps reason, superstition cranks up more votes than knowledge, sophistry overrules scientific research.

Republican governor orders support for the Confederacy

Next year marks the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, a brutal struggle that pitted American against American and sometimes brother against brother. And while major military conflict ceased with the surrender of Robert E. Lee at Appomattox Courthouse in 1865, the underlying conflict has continued to simmer from Reconstruction and Jim Crow through the civil rights struggles of the 1960s.

Astonishingly, it continues still.

The most recent skirmish has broken out in Virginia, where Gov. Robert McDonnell issued a proclamation decreeing April as Confederate History Month. According to the proclamation, it is important for the people of Virginia “to understand the sacrifices of the Confederate leaders, soldiers and citizens during the period of the Civil War,” which the decree refers to as “a four-year war between the states for independence.”

As many have pointed out, the proclamation makes no mention whatsoever of slavery, no mention of its central role in causing the war, no mention of the fact that the Civil War ended with the liberation of millions of African Americans from generations of bondage. McDonnell’s preferred version of history is, plain and simple, white man’s history…

To pretend otherwise is to distort history for political purposes that are themselves suspect.

Playing to his racist gallery – whether it be Southern Strategy Republicans or teabaggers or just your friendly neighborhood bigot – the governor of Virginia clarifies the direction of today’s Republican Party. Their response to defeat by a Black American in the 2008 general election – is to become more of a racist party than they have been – publicly – since the days of Richard Nixon.

No surprise in this neck of the prairie.

UPDATE: Too little, too late.

Is our universe at home within a larger universe?

Einstein-Rosen bridge

Could our universe be located within the interior of a wormhole which itself is part of a black hole that lies within a much larger universe..?

Such a scenario in which the universe is born from inside a wormhole (also called an Einstein-Rosen Bridge) is suggested in a paper from Indiana University theoretical physicist Nikodem Poplawski in Physics Letters B…

Poplawski takes advantage of the Euclidean-based coordinate system called isotropic coordinates to describe the gravitational field of a black hole and to model the radial geodesic motion of a massive particle into a black hole.

In studying the radial motion through the event horizon (a black hole’s boundary) of two different types of black holes — Schwarzschild and Einstein-Rosen, both of which are mathematically legitimate solutions of general relativity — Poplawski admits that only experiment or observation can reveal the motion of a particle falling into an actual black hole. But he also notes that since observers can only see the outside of the black hole, the interior cannot be observed unless an observer enters or resides within.

“This condition would be satisfied if our universe were the interior of a black hole existing in a bigger universe,” he said. “Because Einstein’s general theory of relativity does not choose a time orientation, if a black hole can form from the gravitational collapse of matter through an event horizon in the future then the reverse process is also possible. Such a process would describe an exploding white hole: matter emerging from an event horizon in the past, like the expanding universe…”

“From that it follows that our universe could have itself formed from inside a black hole existing inside another universe,” he said.

In philosophical terms, this is all logical to a materialist. And reasonably incomprehensible to any idealist or religionist.

The infinite reduction of material reality makes perfect sense to any observer of all physical science. Something always comes from something. As it is true for the observable universe it is logical to expect the same from any extensions beyond our current ability to observe and measure.

Is Hamid Karzai a junkie?

“I always keep a spare taste in my hat”
Daylife/Reuters Pictures used by permission

A former U.N envoy to Afghanistan on has questioned the “mental stability” of Hamid Karzai and suggested the Afghan president may be using drugs.

In an interview on MSNBC’s “The Daily Rundown,” Peter Galbraith described Karzai as “off-balance” and “emotional.” Galbraith also called for President Barack Obama to vastly limit Karzai’s power to appoint officials within the war-torn country until he proves himself a reliable partner to the U.S.

“He’s prone to tirades. He can be very emotional, act impulsively. In fact, some of the palace insiders say that he has a certain fondness for some of Afghanistan’s most profitable exports,” said Galbraith, in an apparent reference to opium or heroin.

When asked whether he meant Karzai has a substance abuse problem, Galbraith responded: “There are reports to that effect. But whatever the cause is, the reality is that he is — he can be very emotional…”

Galbraith was fired by the United Nations in September as the U.N.’s No. 2 official in Afghanistan after he openly accused his boss, Kai Eide, of concealing election fraud that benefited the campaign of the incumbent president. Eide angrily denied the accusation.

Karzai raised eyebrows most recently when he reportedly said at a closed meeting with selected Afghan lawmakers Saturday that he might quit the political process and join the Taliban if he continued to come under outside pressure to reform.

Karzai made the statement just days after he suggested foreigners were behind fraud in last year’s disputed elections. He even accused Galbraith, the deputy chief of the U.N. mission to Afghanistan before he was fired by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, and Philippe Morrillon, a retired French military officer who headed an EU vote-monitoring mission, of rigging the election.

Maybe we’re just witnessing a few very political individuals coming apart under the stress of war.

Maybe we’re watching the truth within an unstable and corrupt relationship come to the surface. We haven’t been provided much more than grim platitudes from “official” sources over the course of U.S. nation-building in Afghanistan.

If Obama said this to you, would you eat the breakfast?

Obama, holding a beverage of unknown origin

President Obama hosted an Easter breakfast at the White House on Tuesday morning, gathering Christian leaders from churches across the country to celebrate the holiday with him….

Obama noted the last words spoken by Christ on the cross: “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”

He said those words could just as easily be spoken by the group at the breakfast.

Uh oh ….

FCC irrelevant to Web under Powell and Bush. Court agrees.

A federal appeals court all but told the FCC Tuesday that it has no power to regulate the internet, putting large chunks of the much-lauded national broadband plan at risk. And the FCC has only itself to blame.

Telecoms and many internet activists have long argued that the internet is a developing technology that was innovating so quickly that strict regulations would hamper it. In 2005, that argument drove the FCC under the Bush Administration to win a fight in the Supreme Court for the right to deregulate broadband providers, classifying them as an “information service,” largely outside the FCC’s power, rather than a “telecommunications service” that could be regulated like the phone system.

Following that win, the FCC simply issued a set of four principles of net freedom that it said it expected broadband companies to follow. They promised that broadband users could plug in whatever devices they wanted to their connection and then use whatever software or online application that they liked — without interference from their provider. Those principles never went through a rule-making period, and when the FCC went after Comcast for blocking peer-to-peer file sharing services, the company sued the commission in court.

And, on Tuesday, won.

Continue reading

Brown v. Cameron inspires nausea, disgust

Tomorrow Gordon Brown will ask for a dissolution of parliament, and on Sunday week I shall fly away. An engagement to lecture at the University of Texas means that I shall be out of the country for most of the election campaign.

And I don’t care. My absence is of no concern at all to anyone else, but I mention it since I’ve realised that for the first time in my life I can’t summon up any real interest in a general election. Even as someone who has to write about politics as a trade, I feel barely a flicker of election fever coming on. What’s more, this ennui is clearly shared by my compatriots. We are bored, jaded, and fed up with politics and politicians, and with good reason.

Even if you didn’t wear a red or blue rosette, election campaigns used to be absorbing, and election nights exciting…

You could dislike Wilson or Thatcher, but still regard them as real leaders. The mood now is quite different. We’re disgusted by Blair, more so than ever as we learn about his awe-inspiring avarice, and we’re depressed by Brown, but we haven’t taken to Cameron either…

As the election approaches, the mood is thus rather like the old Viennese phrase: the situation was serious but not hopeless, now it’s hopeless but not serious…

The historian Tony Judt says…”I was born in 1948 so I am more or less the same age as George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, Gerhard Schröder, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown – a pretty crappy generation, when you come to think of it, and many names could be added. It is a generation that grew up in the 1960s in western Europe or in America, in a world of no hard choices, neither economic nor political.”

But in truth there are hard choices ahead, from the economy to Afghanistan, and while “hopeless but not serious” may capture the public mood, it’s a form of denial. No wonder the coming orgy of dishonesty and evasion from all our would-be rulers inspires such revulsion. No, deep in the heart of Texas is a good enough place to be: I really shan’t mind watching this unseemly contest from afar.

I can’t help adding – take a good look around while you’re in Texas. You can actually photograph the stink of corporate power; Tea Party populism; traditional racism and bigotry [you will be hated for your accent] – you will be lecturing in a state which as much as any in this imperfect union rejects science and knowledge, education and justice.