Second debate:Live-blogging the town hall debate, I heard McCain mention Obama's support for some kind of "overhead projector" twice. But I had missed the word "planetarium."
McCAIN: 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?
McCAIN: I believe that we have to eliminate the earmarks. And sometimes those projects, not — not the overhead projector that Sen. Obama asked for, but some of them that are really good projects, will have — will have to be eliminated, as well. . .
(The next two quotes I have added to the post since writing it up after the second debate)
Jacksonville, Florida (Sept 15)
"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." (AP)
McCAIN: (Obama) 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?
At the time, I expressed my opinion that however bad funding some "projector" might be, nit-picking one's opponent for this or that earmark is not behavior worthy of a presidential candidate. Certainly not a time when the US government is quite arbitrarily about to distribute well over $1 trillion to failing banks. Yet McCain sought fit to mention a paltry $3 million federal expenditure twice. After the debate, I said that I did see any point in discussing "the projector" earmark.
However, Jotman reader Reginald set me straight, commenting:
What McCain called (twice) an "overhead projector" is a star projection system for Adler Planetarium. Yes, I care that McCain is derisively ridiculing science education.Now that I understand the nature of the "overhead projector," I care about it too. AP reports:
In fact, the money was for an overhaul of the theater system that projects images of stars and planets for educational shows at Chicago's Adler Planetarium. When he announced the $3 million earmark last year, Obama said the planetarium's 40-year-old projection system "has begun to fail, leaving the theater dark and groups of school students and other interested museum-goers without this very valuable and exciting learning experience."The above photo is from the prestigious science journal Nature. It shows the forty year-old Adler planetarium projector which served a generations of Americans. They went to the moon and shot spacecraft to the planets and stars. How does McCain plan to encourage a new generation of Americans to reach for the stars, when he ridicules spending that would enable today's children to see them?
UPDATE I: Zin Zhu, director of the Beijing Planetarium, reports that Beijing completed major upgrades to its 50-year-old planetarium four years ago. And, yes, Beijing is installing a new projector. And what a projector! Zin Zhu writes:
The 18 m Universe digital theater with 200 seats in the new building of Beijing Planetarium was the first planetarium dome in the world with digital laser projectors. In the nearby original 23-m dome, the newly renovated theatre with about 500 seats is being equipped with a Zeiss Mark IX optical projector and a Sky-Skan definiti system. Using 6 Sony SXRD Xenon-powered projectors, the definiti system is the most advanced in the world with nearly 40 MB in pixel resolution and brightness of 30k lumens. It uses 10 bit color, expanding the gamma range far beyond any other contemporary system, and realizes razor-sharp resolution in real time and dome masters of 7.8k x 7.8k at 30 frames per second. The new Beijing Planetarium definiti system is due for completion in early 2008.Zin Zhu observes that "the year 2009 has been declared as the International Year of Astronomy by the United Nations." I suspect John McCain may not have heard that 2009 is the "Year of Astronomy." Nevertheless, for the Chinese the occasion is a call to action:
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.In China and across Asia hundreds of new planetariums may get built in the next several years. But it remains to be seen whether the United States of America will celebrate the "International Year of Astronomy" by inaugurating a president too stingy to buy the country's third largest city a $3 million star projector -- a replacement for one that is forty years old.
UPDATE II: The Adler Planetarium has responded in "A statement about McCain's comments at the presidential debate." The Planetarium says the projector was never funded:
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.Unbelievable. The Adler Planetarium was apparently requesting funding for the same astronomy projector* that the Beijing Planetarium was to have had installed in early 2008.
UPDATE III: Unbelievable. McCain mentions Obama's so-called "projector earmark" a third time during the final presidential debate on Oct. 15 (which I live blogged).
* The above photo shows the new Zeiss Universarium model IX projector in Planetarium Hamburg. The latest model is good enough for Chinese and Germans, but a big waste of US taxpayer dollars according to John McCain. Jotman urges readers who care about the future of American science to donate to the Adler Planetarium or the Obama campaign.