My Daily Rant – October 18

To Infinity and Beyond

The Adler Planetarium projector is sort of the Joe the Plumber of earmarks. It is a single example that has been used to make a point.

One of the McCain campaign positions is that there are far too many earmarks in the budget. In an attempt to paint Obama as the king of wasteful spending, during the Oct. 7, 2008, presidential debate, McCain said, “He voted for nearly a billion dollars in pork-barrel earmark projects, including, by the way, $3-million for an overhead projector at a planetarium in Chicago, Illinois. My friends, do we need to spend that kind of money?”

Senator McCain has scornfully mentioned the projector several times since.

Overhead projector. Really? One person’s pork may be another person’s investment in the future.

The equipment in question is hardly an overhead projector. It is a replacement for one that weighs in at 2½ tons, is 18 feet in diameter and elevates from 12 to 20 feet. “It’s used to display 7,000 stars and planets that are visible,” said Mark Webb, director of theaters at Adler Planetarium.

Should the Adler get Federal funding? The request seems consistent with the goal of better education for our children, making them more competitive in the 21st century. Obama has vowed to put education on a fast track to improvement, with science and math in the lead. The Adler serves the population (including the school children) of at least three states – Wisconsin, Illinois, and Indiana.

“The projection equipment in this theater is 40 years old, and is no longer supported with parts or service by the manufacturer,” a spokesperson from Obama’s office said in a June 21, 2007, announcement. The three million was requested by a bi-partisan group of six legislators from Illinois, but it isn’t the end of the story. The Adler will need about ten million dollars to finish refurbishing the facility. They plan to raise the additional seven million through private funding.

But why would those of us in other states want to use tax dollars to fund a planetarium in Chicago? The United Nations has declared 2009 as the International Year of Astronomy. We here in the United States need to take heed and give out children the tools to excel or at least be knowledgeable in this science. Consider the following.

“Beijing Planetarium is taking a very important part in the preparation of IYA2009 events for mainland China. We are investigating the possibility of including astronomy as a normal middle school course in some cities and emphasizing the importance of planetariums in astronomy education. We are recommending that every middle-size city in China could have a large- or middle-size planetarium and every middle school in China could have its own middle or small-size planetarium. It is expected that hundreds of new planetariums will be built in the next several years, and IPS 2010 in Beijing will greatly speed-up such a process in China, as well as in some other regions of Asia.”

So Chinese children will have the opportunity to reach for the stars. Our kids? Well, the funding for the “overhead projector” was cut.