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Politicians _ a few _ see beyond the hysteria

About 75 years ago, the state of Tennessee debated a law to change the value of pi from its true value of 3.14 to a more "perfect" 3.0, to represent the Trinity.

Teachers of math and geometry protested, at the risk of being labeled anti-religious. They noted that pi is 3.14 because, well, because it is.

Come on, you remember the famous formulas. Pi are squared. Two pi are.

But pi lost out. The Trinity prevailed, at least for a little while. History does not reflect whether licensed architects and engineers in the state had to adjust their calculations.

Face it. Governing bodies, both secular and religious, have never done such a hot job adjusting to the march of science. Remember that Galileo was forced by the church to confess that the sun revolved around the earth.

So it is no surprise to hear all the bleating this past month from politicians over the subject of cloning _ a subject which, presumably, they have studied in depth and become instantly expert.

Just a week or so after the British announced they had cloned a sheep, a bill was filed in our own Florida Legislature to outlaw anything having to do with the cloning of humans.

"It's the ultimate act of playing God," asserted an outraged Rep. Alex Villalobos, R-Miami.

His bill would make it a first-degree felony _ that's up to 30 years in prison _ to try to clone a human being.

Now, let's put this in perspective.

The very same state government that Alex Villalobos oversees is, as we speak, releasing hundreds of murderers, rapists and violent felons after just a few years behind bars in some cases.

But he thinks any scientist who crosses over into the part of the map that he has labeled, "Here Be Dragons," deserves up to 30 years. He thinks this should be more serious than all but a handful of crimes on the books.

"Frankenstein was not a romantic movie," Villalobos said. "It was a horror movie. I think that's what we're talking about."

Well.

Villalobos is not alone. Congress already has held hearings. The greatest headline-grabber of them all, President Clinton, has announced a ban on all federal research into the area of human cloning.

When pressed, Clinton had to admit that there was NO federal research in the area of human cloning in the first place. But he banned it just to make sure.

It is getting to be too much. It sounds just like all those old black and white monster movies, where in the final scene the last two survivors stand there and watch the mad scientist's castle burn down.

One of them turns to the other and says: "See? Some things, man was never meant to understand."

After a month of this puffery, however, a backlash is emerging in favor of research.

Our state's own junior U.S. senator, Connie Mack, spoke in favor of cloning research last week. So did Tom Harkin, a Democrat from Iowa.

They weren't coming out in favor of Frankenstein. They weren't hoping to clone themselves so they could stay in office forever.

All they were saying was: What if cloning research helps us discover something good?

Mack told a Senate committee he was worried about "just immediately stepping forward and saying, "Let's ban something' without thinking it through . . .' ."

Mack, a conservative Republican, went on:

"My fear, as I sit here and listen to this discussion, is someone in their haste to respond to a fairly easy political issue to demagogue, will deny my family _ potentially millions of families in the United States and around the world _ research that in fact cures diseases and changes people's lives."

Man bites dog; senators eschew bandwagon. It is news either way.

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