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Watching John McCain stagger and stumble through last night's debate was hard to do.  I found it curious that he seemed stuck on stupid with an "earmarks" rant about Senator Obama having approved money for a "$3 million dollar projector".

When I hear the word "projector" it brings to mind the AV projectors that aides wheel into my classroom weekly.  I had no idea what McCain was talking about, and promptly forgot about it as the debate moved on towards the conclusion.

This morning, while reading through the roundups of articles on the debate, and other commentary on the campaign, I headed over to the NYT to read their editorial Politics of Attack and afterwards,
I decided to read and recommend comments, and post one of my own.

Much to my surprise I found this comment, which I recommended as did many other readers.  I hope the Editorial Board will make it one of their featured selections.

I am an Associate Professor of Astronomy at the University of Chicago (the University that today has added yet another Nobel Prize winner in the sciences for the US). I would like to comment on Sen. McCain's statement during the today's debate that Sen. Obama has earmarked "$3 million for an overhead projector at a planetarium in Chicago, Ill. My friends, do we need to spend that kind of money?"

The way Sen. McCain has phrased it suggests that Sen. Obama approved spending $3 million on an old-fashioned piece of office equipment (overhead projector).
The 3 million is actually for an upgrade of the SkyTheater - a full dome projection system, which is probably the main attraction of the Adler Planetarium and is quite sophisticated and impressive piece of equipment.

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 ( 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.
— Andrey Kravtsov, Chicago, IL
UPDATE ssteuer contacted Professor Kravtsov - here is his response:

   I just found out that Adler planetarium has released a statement about Sen. McCain's charge. You can find it here:
   Their statement addresses the details of this request and the fact that the money was never actually allocated in the end, probably due to the budgetary constraints.

   The statement also briefly addresses the importance of investment in science and math education of young people for the future success and continuing leadership of the US in high-tech industry, science, and engineering.

   One can of course ask why Federal government has to fund local projects. However, in this case the answer is simple. The Adler planetarium, along with the Hayden planetarium in New York City, is a national jewel among such facilities and is visited by millions of people from all across the United States.

   I do think that regardless of the technicalities and details of this particular proposal, Sen. McCain's charge is just one example an alarming trend in his campaign of treating spending on science and science education as non-essential and wasteful. Such views are completely counter to the wide consensus that investment in science and math education is critical for the future competitiveness of the US economy, formalized in the "The 21st Century Competitiveness Act" passed by Congress in 2007 with a broad bi-partisan support.

   Andrey Kravtsov


The statement from the Adler:

Last night, during the presidential debate in Nashville, Tennessee, Senator John McCain made the following statement:
McCain: "While we were working to eliminate these pork barrel earmarks he (Senator Obama) voted for nearly $1 billion in pork barrel earmark projects. Including $3 million for an overhead projector at a planetarium in Chicago, Illinois. My friends, do we need to spend that kind of money?"
To clarify, the Adler Planetarium requested federal support – which was not funded – to replace the projector in its historic Sky Theater, the first planetarium theater in the Western Hemisphere. The Adler’s Zeiss Mark VI projector – not an overhead projector – is the instrument that re-creates the night sky in a dome theater, the quintessential
planetarium experience. The Adler’s projector is nearly 40 years old and is no longer supported with parts or service by the manufacturer. It is only the second planetarium projector in the Adler’s 78 years of operation. Science literacy is an urgent issue in the United States. To remain competitive and ensure national security, it is vital that we educate and inspire the next generation of explorers to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math.

Senator McCain’s statements about the Adler Planetarium’s request for federal support do not accurately reflect the museum's legislative history or relationship with Senator Obama. The Adler has approached the Illinois Congressional delegation the last few years for federal assistance with various initiatives. These have included museum exhibitions, equipment and
educational programs we offer to area schools, including the Chicago Public Schools. We have made requests to Senators Durbin and Obama, as well as to 6 area Congressmen from both political parties. We are grateful that all of the Members we have approached,including Senator Obama, have deemed our activities worthy of their support, and have made appropriations requests on our behalf, as they have for many worthy Illinois nonprofit organizations.

As a result of the hard work of our bipartisan congressional delegation, the Adler has been fortunate to receive a few federal appropriations the past couple of years. However, the Adler has never received an earmark as a result of Senator Obama's efforts. This is clearly evidenced by recent transparency laws implemented by the Congress, which have resulted in the names of all requesting Members being listed next to every earmark in
the reports that accompany appropriations bills.
October 8, 2008

Shame on McCain - again, for misrepresentation and distortion (read "lying").  

(Thanks to Gangster Octopus for the following McCain quote):

McCain speech Sep 15, 2008:

   "That's nearly a million every day, every working day he's been in Congress," McCain said. "And when you look at some of the planetariums and other foolishness that he asked for, he shouldn't be saying anything about Governor Palin."

Curious I went to visit the Adler Planetarium website, and thoroughly enjoyed exploring their exhibits.

Searched youtube to see if I could get a better look at the facility and found a piece on children learning at the museum:

and an interesting short piece produced by the Adler:

Adler Planetarium TimeSpace Trailer for IPS 2006

TimeSpace transports audiences across the Universe over 14 billion years to see and experience the Big Bang, the Doom of the Dinosaurs, the sudden appearance of Halley's Comet in the Yucatán Sky, Apollo 11's moonlanding and man's first steps on the moon, and a leap into the future to 3001. Narrated by Laurie Anderson, Produced & Directed by Matthew Mascheri & Mark Paternostro. Copywrite 2007 Adler Planetarium Chicago, IL USA.

Perhaps, that fact that the Adler shows dinosaurs pre homo-sapiens-sapiens predisposes McCain's running mate to be averse to this type of science (wink)

HuffPo now has the story:
The Adler Planetarium and McCain's Fake War on Earmarks

Jules Siegal takes on the earmarks issue, which many of you have addressed in remarks to this diary:

Earmarks can be a fairly democratic way responding to local needs. McCain fails to appreciate the fact that so many of these budget requests are for worthy projects that are welcomed by constituents. It's not all pork, maybe not even mostly pork. I challenge you to find as single dubious item when you look at Obama's requests.

The Planetarium item dramatizes the know-nothing, anti-science, anti-education attitudes of the McCain voter base, as well as his cynicism. I think this is an opportunity to highlight that. The United States should be financing the world's most effective and entertaining museums, science exhibits and educational facilities. The Defense Department was once a leader in promoting education in many different ways. It was a strong factor in the country's cultural and economic development before the Reagan revolution began pushing non-military science out the window.

Sometimes a small point can be effectively leveraged into dramatizing a major theme that exposes the real differences between candidates that are not revealed by the usual rhetoric. I think this is one of them. People love planetariums and museums. They attract immense audiences. I remember when admission was free or negligible. It pains me and embarrasses me to think of the Museum of Modern Art in New York charging adults $20 and students $12.

I am proud that our candidate supports the efforts of our institutions of science and learning, particularly those that do outreach to young people to encourage them to engage in the careers of the future.

I thank Professor Kravtsov for his informed comment.

Together we will move towards the future.

Yes. We. Can.
Yes. We. Will.


Originally posted to Denise Oliver Velez on Wed Oct 08, 2008 at 08:45 AM PDT.

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