Thursday, October 09, 2008

"Overhead Projectors" and McCain's Misology


In the October 7th Presidential debate John McCain complained that Obama had voted for (among other things) $3 million in pork barrel funding for "an overhead projector at a planetarium in Chicago, Illinois. My friends, do we need to spend that kind of money?"

I try to avoid overt party politics on this blog, largely because these days you can never be sure if some frothing-at-the-mouth political hack will try to punish you for it, but sometimes you have to stand up for the truth.

As has lately become typical of McCain, his attack on Obama was not exactly true.

The Adler Planetarium has issued a press release to clarify the situation. It is (a) not an overhead projector, it the device [see image] that projects the stars on the planetarium dome as part of an educational presentation to the public, (b) their existing Zeiss projector is over 40 years old and Zeiss doesn't makes parts for it anymore, (c) the requested federal assistance was supported by a bipartisan selection of Illinois congressional people and Senators, (d) it never received the money in any case.

I don't have to mention that McCain, supposed opposer of Pork Barrel spending, has a campaign staff chock full of lobbyists for foreign governments and the financial institutions whose greed and incompetence caused the ongoing financial meltdown. Or that he chose a running mate known for truly excessive pork barrel spending ($300 million for bridges to nowhere that she supported before the outcry, money she still hasn't all given back).

But apart from the rank hypocrisy there is a deeper point, as explained by University of Chicago astronomer Andrey Kravtsov in a post at TPM ("$3 Million Overhead Projector? McCain Lie Shows No Understanding of Science or Technology"):

I find it appalling that Sen. McCain would call a science education tool for public (largely children) for a historic planetarium with millions of visitors a year a wasteful earmark. The planetarium's focus, as stated on their website (http://adlerplanetarium.org) is "on inspiring young people, particularly women and minorities, to pursue careers in science." Is an investment in such public facility at the time when US competitiveness in math and sciences is a constant source of alarm a waste?

"American's ability to compete in a 21st Century economy rests on our continued investments in math and science education," said Rep. Brian Baird, Chairman of the Research and Science Education Subcommittee in Congress, after the passage of The 21st Century Competitiveness Act of 2007.

Considering such investments "wasteful earmarks" today, even in the face of the financial crisis, will severely cripple US economic competitiveness in the increasingly high-tech world down the road.
I saw a planetarium show at the Adler Planetarium in 1999, and even speaking as an astronomer I found it spectacular and awe-inspiring (familiarity breeds contempt: I normally find TV shows on astronomy to be dull).

$3 million dollars is not a lot of money for the federal government to invest for a long-term effective educational tool that reaches out to large numbers of the public.

Put it in perspective. An new interstate highway interchange costs about $150 million. The unnecessary and disastrous war in Iraq that McCain was a cheer leader for before he was briefly against it (but then he was for it again) has a current cost of $600 billion, and will cost vastly more when the long terms costs become apparent.

Yet Mr "Bomb Bomb Bomb Iran" has the nerve to attack Obama over an educational tool. I can't help but agree with Kravtsov that McCain has a serious case of misology. Worse than that, what happened to honor, John McCain?

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