Respectful Insolence

So there I was last night, in the Twilight Zone between wakefulness and sleep, Late Night With David Letterman on the television, blaring in the background. I was vaguely aware that John McCain was Letterman’s guest for the evening and that they were chatting back and forth, Letterman asking the usual rather inane questions that entertainment-oriented talk show hosts often ask politicians and Presidential candidates when they have them on their shows and McCain was winding up to hit the softball questions out of the park.

Then I heard it, in the middle of a commentary about how the Republicans lost the 2006 election because they let spending get out of control during their time as the majority party in Congress, thrown out as an example of supposedly wasteful spending. I jerked to full wakefulness as I heard a statement that sounded something like this:

“We’re spending three million dollars to study bear DNA. I don’t know if it was a paternity issue or criminal, but it was a waste of money.”

Ack! First McCain credulously buys into the pseudoscience that vaccines somehow cause autism, and now this! Shades of William Proxmire’s infamous Golden Fleece Awards from the 1970s and 1980s. In a truly irritating bit of antiscience demagogery, Proxmire not infrequently peppered his lists of truly wasteful spending with Golden Fleece Awards to federally funded science projects that, because of the odd or unusual nature of the subject matter, were easily portrayed to the ignorant as wastes of taxpayer money. Never mind that many of them had been subjected to NSF or NIH peer review, just like any other grant proposal, and been found scientifically meritorious enough to fund. If they sounded “funny” they must be wasteful.

I guess that’s just the pointy-headed “elitist” scientist in me talking.

Now Senator McCain appears to be going down the same pathway of antiscience demagoguery. Oddly enough, I hadn’t heard about his contemptuous jokes about bear DNA and paternity testing before I saw him on Letterman’s show last night, but apparently they’ve been a staple of his stump speech for quite some time now and irritating biologists over their inaccuracies at least as long, given the success of the project.

Once again, I don’t know what I’m going to do this year when I enter the voting booth. Although McCain used to be appealing to me back in 2000, his support of the Iraq war and his increasingly anti-science bent, coupled with his pandering to the religious right, have become profound negatives. Meanwhile, I fail to see what is so compelling about Barack Obama as a potential President, given his glaring lack of experience, and I never liked Hillary Clinton, who’s always struck me as a cynical opportunist who seems to think she’s entitled somehow to the Presidency.

It’s looking more and more like yet another election where I have to hold my nose and pick the lesser of two evils. Sadly, the lesser of two evils is still evil.

Comments

  1. #1 J-Dog
    April 2, 2008

    Okay, I’ll play. You said: “Meanwhile, I fail to see what is so compelling about Barack Obama as a potential President, given his glaring lack of experience,”

    I believe the real thrust of your argument is will he do the right thing? (Given that in a perfect world, “experience” helps to give us the ability to do the right thing.)

    I live in IL, and emailed Obama about ID a couple of years ago, before he announced as a candidate. It was back in the Rick Santorem Era – moment of silence – and Obama said back then that he was 100% for separation of church and state.
    Hillary is part of a right-wing crazy-cult, and McCain is a right-wing toady, that will probably name a YEC Born Again Bible Literalist as a VP, and given McCain’s age… well you get the picture.

    BHO also had the judgment to speak out against the Iraq war from “day 1″, and I want HIM answering the phone when it rings at 3:00 am.

    Go Obama. Vote for a good change.

  2. #2 Rev. BigDumbChimp
    April 2, 2008

    Well it may not the thing that compels you to vote Obama, but it’s at least reassuring.

    “I’m a Christian, and I believe in parents being able to provide children with religious instruction without interference from the state.

    But I also believe our schools are there to teach worldly knowledge and science. I believe in evolution, and I believe there’s a difference between science and faith. That doesn’t make faith any less important than science.It just means they’re two different things. And I think it’s a mistake to try to cloud the teaching of science with theories that frankly don’t hold up to scientific inquiry.”

  3. #3 factician
    April 2, 2008

    Both Obama and Clinton want to increase science funding (both want to double NIH budgets over ten years). McCain thinks science shouldn’t study weird stuff (bears) and doesn’t mention anything anywhere about science budgets (other than when he calls them pork).

    From the strictly science side, it seems pretty clear who to vote for.

  4. #4 bc
    April 2, 2008

    There was a very good article about the bear study in the Washington Post a few weeks ago.

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/03/09/AR2008030902152.html?hpid=topnews

    John McCain is certainly anti-intellectual.

  5. #5 Cain
    April 2, 2008

    I have to agree with factician. Even if you just vote from a science standpoint, either Obama or Clinton will do much good for science while McCain will do real harm. It’s not even close.

  6. #6 Siamang
    April 2, 2008

    Meanwhile we spend three hundred million every fucking day in Iraq.

    Fuck the bears. It’s the Elephants which are so damn costly.

  7. #7 AnnaZ
    April 2, 2008

    The sad thing is, McCain’s tactic WORKS. The rethugs have succeeded before with appeals to anti-intellectualism and will use it increasingly. It plays so well with their constituency. Personally, I’d vote for a bear before I’d vote for McCain.

  8. #8 Ben
    April 2, 2008

    This is my opinion of course, but I sincerely believe that it is amoral to vote for the lesser of two evils because it is still a vote for evil (that is if, of course, you find both options evil). I recommend third party candidates or just not voting for the presidency. I feel that voter turnout would be much higher in this country if there were people worth voting for. I once heard an interesting conversation on Penn Jillette’s old radio show. It went something like “How long would you stand in line to vote for Nelson Mandella”. I guess people stand in line for hours to reelect him or something. “Now, how long would you stand in line to vote for John Kerry or George Bush? 10 minutes?”

    Maybe it’s cynical, but I don’t feel compelled to vote for these people. I think you can mark that you showed up but declined to vote. I think that sends a stronger message.

  9. #9 trrll
    April 2, 2008

    Is it true that this is an earmark-funded project? Even within the scientific community, there is a certain amount of hostility toward those who received funds that did not go through the normal peer-review process. Of course, my university’s earmark-funded projects are richly deserved, but somebody needs to do something about those other guys!

  10. #10 BB
    April 2, 2008

    I may have to run. Just to give everyone a choice.
    Triple the NIH budget!

  11. #11 Alex the Canuck
    April 2, 2008

    The guy tries to tell us he knows what good science is and isn’t and he can’t even tell if condoms are a good way to reduce the spread of HIV…

  12. #13 SteveM
    April 2, 2008

    “This is my opinion of course, but I sincerely believe that it is amoral to vote for the lesser of two evils because it is still a vote for evil”

    But it is still an attempt to keep out the greater of the 2 evils. An abstention does not, therefore voting the lesser of two evils is the moral thing to do.

    It is sad that one must vote against rather than for someone, but it is better than doing nothing.

  13. #14 daedalus2u
    April 2, 2008

    Didn’t you hear Cheney’s response to the “message” from the voters saying they didn’t like what the Bush administration was doing?

    “So”?

  14. #15 akibare
    April 2, 2008

    I also very much hate the anti-intellectual “look at these crazy elitist scientists studying all this crazy worthless stuff!” criticism.

    That said, I have to admit I laughed at the “I don’t know if it was a paternity issue or criminal” part, divorced from the rest of it (I’m only reading it here). It’s just such a silly image.

  15. #16 Despard
    April 2, 2008

    On the experience question, http://www.electoral-vote.com recently did an analysis on how much experience you need to be a good President:

    http://www.electoral-vote.com/evp2008/Info/experience.html

    There does not appear to be any correlation between greatness and experience.

  16. #17 The Ridger
    April 2, 2008

    Thanks, Despard. I was gearing up to find that very thing. Experience in no way correlates with effectiveness, let alone greatness.

  17. #18 Regan
    April 2, 2008

    From the Washington Post,
    “…but for rhetorical purposes he’s shown a fondness for mocking money spent on dubious-sounding projects involving plants and animals…”

    What’s next? Trees cause air pollution? No, wait. That one was already taken.

    Senator McCain increasingly concerns me because he doesn’t seem to have more than a superficial grip on these matters relating to science and research. I don’t expect a President to have a research Ph.D., but I do expect one to have enough wherewithall to hire good advisors to explain to him the possible complexities of the issues so that he at least sounds like he knows what he is talking about.

  18. #19 Jon H
    April 2, 2008

    Orac wrote: “I fail to see what is so compelling about Barack Obama as a potential President, given his glaring lack of experience”

    Orac, the Bush administration was chock-full of ‘experience’. Cheney! Rummy! Powell! Condi! Look at where it got them (and us).

    What’s needed is good judgement, which Obama has, combined with smarts and ability.

  19. #20 inkadu
    April 2, 2008

    When Kennedy approached McNamara to be Secretary of Defense, McNamara said, “I don’t have any experience.” Kennedy replied, “That’s ok, I don’t have any experience being president.”

    I mean, think about it: what could conceivably give you enough experience to be president?

    I think if you’ve shown yourself to be an effective politician, you can be an effective president. In other words, if you manage to become a nominee or a front runner, you likely have what it takes.

    So experience is really a non-issue, as far as I’m concerned, and it really yanks my chain that people bring it up all the time. I feel like people have no idea how to choose a president, so they fall back on concepts that are familiar, but they have no real way to evaluate them. I mean, I can see someone saying they wouldn’t vote for someone because, “well, he’s not a real go-getter, is he?” as if they were selecting a player for their little-league softball team.

    And that’s the joy of democracy.

  20. #21 Orac
    April 2, 2008

    Orac, the Bush administration was chock-full of ‘experience’. Cheney! Rummy! Powell! Condi! Look at where it got them (and us).

    But not where it counted: At the top.

    Actually, the Bush Administration is a very bad example to use for an arugment that experience doesn’t matter much in a President, because Bush himself was woefully inexperienced and unequipped for the job–and, as you say, look where it got him and us as a nation.

    In fact, the Bush Administration is a key reason why I am reluctant to vote for a really inexperienced candidate.

  21. #22 Orac
    April 2, 2008

    So experience is really a non-issue, as far as I’m concerned, and it really yanks my chain that people bring it up all the time.

    Then I’ll keep yanking your chain, because I plan on continuing to bring it up.;-)

    Obama just doesn’t impress me enough in other ways for me to put aside his lack of experience. I guess I just don’t “get” what the big deal is about him. I’m completely underwhelmed.

  22. #23 Joe Shelby
    April 2, 2008

    McCain’s economic plans for the future and the current crisis now amount to “more of the same” that the current administration has done or tried: more tax cuts, more corporate tax cuts, prolong the current cuts into infinity, don’t add Iraq to the budget, yada yada…

    http://www.citypaper.com/columns/story.asp?id=15529

  23. #24 inkadu
    April 2, 2008

    Of course you’ll keep yanking my chain, because you’re Orac, and that why we love you. :)

    Bush is example of ideology trumping reality, not a failure of inexperience. If Bush had to do it all over again, he would do it all over again, exactly the same way. Their idea of government is completely wrong about them, and it’s an experiencedphilosophy that’s been in development at least since Nixon. Bush signed on as a figurehead to that movement. Implying that his inexperience got the better of him assumes that Bush somehow disagrees with what happened, how things happened, or even that he particularly cares.

    I like Obama. I think he’d be a better president than Bush. I think he’s got more experience and more chops than Bush. Therefore, yes, I find it aggravating that “inexperience” could conceivably keep him out of the White House, while beer-buddy Bush gets elected twice. IOW, my chain would be much less yanked if I saw that “experience” was a criteria that was at all evenly applied.

    And I think we’re getting past the point where any mainstream politician can truly impress us, the educated skeptical bastards that we are. They have to appeal to the ‘heartland,’ which seemingly makes their judgement on the president by what kind of cheese a candidate prefers with his steak sandwich. Candidates can’t go too far in pissing off corporate or military interest, which is what would really impress me. But the more any candidate truly impresses me, the less electable they become. It’s a sadly inverse relationship.

    But what I do know is that Obama was against the war from day one. And I know from listening to his speech on race that he is serious about the problems America faces. None of the shining city on a hill crap. And that implies a lot, for me, and implication is all I’m likely to get.

    What does impress me about Obama is that he seems to be able to get people together. He started life as a community organizer, after all. Whatever Obama has in mind, he’s going to marshall public opinion behind him before going into a hard-core legislative battles. And he might pull it off w/o dvisive rancor on the part of the public. He’s sort of a not-senile liberal version of Reagan. Reagan certainly wasn’t impressive on any level, but he was likeable, and he was able to get his crappy policies through while maintaining the Republican brand. If Obama can do the same for Democrats (except with, better progressive policies), I’d be fairly content.

  24. #25 wolfwalker
    April 2, 2008

    On the matter of “lack of knowledge of reality,” experience tells me it’s impossible to compete with Bush-bashers like the above, so I won’t try.

    Orac, I sympathize with your feelings about the upcoming election, although perhaps for somewhat different reasons. I consider Obama to be a standard Democrat politician, which is to say a fiery-speaking, idealistic, energetic, naive, foolish, shallow, anti-American socialist. My private name for his primary opponent is the Queen Bitch — need I say any more about that? As for McCain, I consider him a Republican in name only, and after his antivax and antiscience statements I’m rapidly coming to consider him a pseudo-intelligent buffoon as well. I also believe his election will effectively be a Democrat victory anyway, because his position on immigration will lead rapidly to a permanent Democrat majority. This fall may be the first time since I turned eighteen that I don’t vote for president at all.

  25. #26 Paul
    April 2, 2008

    Actually it was $5 million for the bears. Which showed there were more bears then we knew about?

    Meanwhile people in this country DIE because of inadequate healthcare. Because bigbidness OWNS the government.

    I really don’t care much about bears over people. McCain is right on that one. A lot of $$$ is wasted on “scientific” research that will eventually amount to nothing important, just because the Senator from whatever state has power.

    OTOH, a vote for Mccain is a vote for “100 years more in Iraq – whatever it takes.”

  26. #27 wolfwalker
    April 2, 2008

    On the matter of “lack of knowledge of reality,” experience tells me it’s impossible to compete with Bush-bashers like the above, so I won’t try.

    Whaddya mean? It should be a cake walk.

  27. #28 Jon H
    April 2, 2008

    Orac wrote: “But not where it counted: At the top.”

    True, but Bush had neither experience, nor judgement, nor talent, nor ability, nor a record of achievement, nor, well, anything. The man pretty much muddled through life riding on his family connections to get him through, still failed in business, and never did anything with the advantages he was granted. If he weren’t related to a former Senator from Connecticut and a rich WASP family, I think he would have been flunked out of his Connecticut ivy league school (the way Cheney, of ‘undistinguished’ Wyoming birth, did. (Bush certainly shows no evidence of his alleged major in history.)

    Bush really has no redeeming qualities as a president. Obama has at least accomplished things, and without having family coattails to ride on.

    Anyway, Bush pretty much ceded his Presidency to Cheney, who had plenty of experience, but is also a man of very poor judgement. If Bush was VP and Cheney was President, you’d have pretty much all the same policies that we got, so it can’t all be pinned on Bush’s inexperience. I think the only policy which was truly, wholly Bush’s was his program of having t-ball games on the white house lawn.

  28. #29 Jon H
    April 2, 2008

    I’ll add that one thing I like about Obama is that, in opposing the war, he did so for sensible reasons. It wasn’t just a knee-jerk ‘Code Pink’ hippie pacifism, or some George Galloway-style Saddam empathy.

    In a nutshell, he pegged the war in his 2002 rally speech.

    “What I am opposed to is a dumb war. What I am opposed to is a rash war. What I am opposed to is the cynical attempt by Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz and other armchair, weekend warriors in this administration to shove their own ideological agendas down our throats, irrespective of the costs in lives lost and in hardships borne.”

    That’s good enough for me. We could use a man who thinks like that at the top.

  29. #30 Deech56
    April 2, 2008

    OT, but right now Larry King has a woo crew pushing vaccine-induced autism. Arrrggghhh. Could only watch a minute of it before feeling ill. Back to Idol.

  30. #31 Orac
    April 2, 2008

    OT, but right now Larry King has a woo crew pushing vaccine-induced autism. Arrrggghhh. Could only watch a minute of it before feeling ill. Back to Idol.

    I’m aware of it. Personally, I’m burnt out on stupid right now, and watching Jenny McCarthy and David Kirby on Larry King’s show would be enough to send me out looking for a firearm with which to go postal right now.

    No one wants that, least of all me.

  31. #32 daenku32
    April 2, 2008

    They had Obama speaking today on MSNBC in front of a college crowd. The pieces of the things he said, that I heard, I would he does have relatively good take on things. As much as I abhor listening to any politician, I might actually have to watch next Clinton appearance. You can tell on TV better than on paper when the person is sincere.

    The thing of course is that we still have a primary coming and I do intend to be well informed by that time.

  32. #33 Jim RL
    April 3, 2008

    From Paul:

    Actually it was $5 million for the bears. Which showed there were more bears then we knew about?

    Meanwhile people in this country DIE because of inadequate healthcare. Because bigbidness OWNS the government.

    I really don’t care much about bears over people. McCain is right on that one.

    You’ve set up a false dichotomy here. Don’t think Republicans would be pick to put national healthcare in place if it wasn’t for our federal spending on bear research. Republicans don’t want national healthcare because it doesn’t affect them and it would hurt the insurance industry. It has nothing to do with other spending. Also, why on earth would you complain about $5 million for bear research when you are clearly smart enough to realize the travesty that is the Iraq War and the fact we spend that in an hour there.

    John McCain is certainly not right since he complains about lost pennies while happily throwing $100 bills into a toilet.

  33. #34 Jim RL
    April 3, 2008

    From Paul:

    Actually it was $5 million for the bears. Which showed there were more bears then we knew about?
    Meanwhile people in this country DIE because of inadequate healthcare. Because bigbidness OWNS the government.
    I really don’t care much about bears over people. McCain is right on that one.

    You’ve set up a false dichotomy here. Don’t think Republicans would be pick to put national healthcare in place if it wasn’t for our federal spending on bear research. Republicans don’t want national healthcare because it doesn’t affect them and it would hurt the insurance industry. It has nothing to do with other spending. Also, we spend a significant amount of money to protect endangered species, so it would be nice to know how we are doing and how we can do better in the future.

    Finally, why on earth would you complain about $5 million for bear research when you are clearly smart enough to realize the travesty that is the Iraq War and the fact we spend that in an hour there.

    John McCain is certainly not right since he complains about lost pennies while happily throwing $100 bills into a toilet.

  34. #35 Bridget
    April 3, 2008

    I have to confess – I have no idea what people mean when they say “Barack Obama underwhelms me”. Well, in what particular way? Which policy positions don’t you like? Too liberal? Not liberal enough?

    Or is it just that he fails to live up to the unbelievable hype the media has been concocting in order to get better ratings?

    Don’t get me wrong – he’s a politician like any other. You shouldn’t expect any different of anyone who actually wants to be the President of this crazy country. But I’ve heard a lot of people say “well, he’s no Jesus or anything, so I might as well vote for McCain/Clinton”. Which is fine if it’s because you agree with McCain/Clinton more, but if you’re dismissinjg Obama just because there are some loud, obnoxious people swept up in the phenomenon and you want to feel “above the hype”, you’re basing your vote on some very specious reasoning. If it’s experience, well, I see that argument was already debunked above. I have yet to hear a substantive reason out of people who say they are simply “underwhelmed”.

    I seriously challenge the doubters to read his book, read his policy positions, watch his war speech from 2002. What’s great about Obama (as evidenced in his recent speech about race) is that when he communicates with you – whether you agree with his position or not – he almost always tries to give you the reasoning behind his beliefs, an intellectual appeal. I really believe that fact alone qualifies him for the presidency in an era desperately in need of a stiff dose of reason.

  35. #36 Harry Eagar
    April 3, 2008

    I hadn’t heard McCain’s joke and I don’t like it, but if that’s the worst you can say against him, so what?

    Isn’t Obama’s palling around with a guy who believes the gummint invented AIDS antiscience?

    Yes it is, and I know which kind bothers me more.

    (For the record, the worst thing you can say about McCain is that he dropped bombs on people without aiming. That’s pretty bad.)

  36. #37 blf
    April 3, 2008

    Aren’t there not one, but two, elephants in the room here? In no particular order: Billions are being spent slaughtering people in Afghanistan and Iraq; and very little is being done about AGW.

  37. #38 Chris
    April 3, 2008

    Harry Eagar: Are you sure it’s a joke? Given the extent of McCain’s knowledge of Islam (which is obviously a matter of great concern to anyone running for President), I’m not so sure he doesn’t really think those are the only two things DNA is used for.

  38. #39 Dave
    April 3, 2008

    The single biggest issue facing the US today is foreign policy. It is fundamental to virtually every major issue in your country today.

    Through a series of horrificaly inept foreign policy decisions, the rest of the world sees the US as a hypocritical, capitalist warmonger.

    Talking point issues such as healthcare and the environment are, at root, the result of the government defferring to corporate interests. The international power of the corporations involved affects the image of the US abroad. The human rights violations that the US tacitly approves of are, once again, a stain on the international reputation of the country. Frankly, the US is seen as utterly incapable of performing any progressive action either at home or on the world stage. When the US criticises China for its human rights abuses, the rest of the world rolls its eyes in disbelief, and pictures pots and kettles. It is *only* by acknowledging and righting the wrongs that have been done abroad, that the US can ever begin to repair its damaged reputation. It is not “freedom” that the enemies of the US hate – it is the *actions*, the hypocrisy, the evils, the abuse, the corruption. Sort them out, and start the painful process of healing the divisions with the enemy.

    Both John McCain and Hillary Clinton represent, to a greater or lesser extent, the status quo. Obama, whether you realise it or not, represents idealism – something that has been sorely lacking within the cynical administration currently running the show. It is necessarily tempered by the normal language of politics, but he actually comes across like the king of president who could say something and actually mean it.

    Obama represents a chance for the US to be taken seriously by the rest of the world. Given the choice, the rest of the world would have voted Gore. Given the choice, the rest of the world would vote for Obama.

  39. #40 Dave
    April 3, 2008

    Typo:

    I meant to say “kind of president”. Although, “king of president” has a nice ring to it ;)

  40. #41 BB
    April 3, 2008

    Wasn’t McNamara the guy who got us involved in Vietnam?
    Maybe experience should count.

  41. #42 Marcus Ranum
    April 3, 2008

    I really don’t care much about bears over people.

    I do. The human population is in no danger that is not self-inflicted.

  42. #43 Jon H
    April 3, 2008

    Harry wrote: “Isn’t Obama’s palling around with a guy who believes the gummint invented AIDS antiscience?”

    That’s not really anti-science, it’s anti-government, and considering the history (Tuskeegee, etc) it’s not actually all *that* crazy.

    What’s craziest about it is that most of the black deaths from AIDS have been in Africa, and I doubt the US gummint would bother.

    On the bright side, the conspiracy theory admits the capabilities of science and potential for human endeavor, and doesn’t just say it’s “God’s Plague On Teh Gheys”.

  43. #44 MartinM
    April 3, 2008

    A lot of $$$ is wasted on “scientific” research that will eventually amount to nothing important, just because the Senator from whatever state has power.

    If only we knew beforehand which research would amount to something.

  44. #45 Dianne
    April 3, 2008

    Of the three candidates, I must admit that I prefer Clinton. I have the advantage of being from NY and therefore knowing that she has been a competent, if not particularly inspired, sentator for NY and therefore expect her to be a competent, but not particularly inspired, president. Also both she and Obama are in favor of increasing the NIH’s budget and (I think) of funding stem cell research. In short, not complete idiots on science, though I’d trust neither in a lab. And both have expressed interest in improving health care access to people without insurance, which is clearly needed and not something McCain is likely to do. Clinton’s plan seems a bit better, plus she has experience. Ok, her last plan was a disaster but if she’s not a complete idiot (and I don’t think she is) she will have learned from that and come back with a better plan this time. Remember, it was under Bill that we got S-CHIP, a highly successful program that the Repubs, including McCain, now want to dismantle.

  45. #46 TTT
    April 3, 2008

    Speaking of McCain’s anti-intellectual, anti-science attitudes, I am not in the least bit reassured by his “focus-groupish” talk about global warming. Even if he himself does understand that global warming is a real problem, his cabinet and government would be stacked with GOP ideologues who think it’s a socialist hoax / waste of time since the Rapture’s a-comin’. As long as we have a Republican staffing federal agencies, there will be no progress on global warming solutions.

  46. #47 tripp
    April 3, 2008

    To get back on the actual main subject of the post…as someone else said, the main problem with the study is that is wasn’t funded by the same peer-reviewed system most of the rest of us use to get the majority of our research funding. As the glowing Washington Post article says, 4.8 million of the 5+ million came from earmarks…pork. Is this because the study couldn’t pass scientific review? Was there even an attempt to fund this project from other sources? We just don’t know, because no one mentions it in the article or cares enough to ask the participants. However good the research is, and however important the results, going to your local representative to get funding isn’t really the right way to go about accomplishing your research.

  47. #48 Jon H
    April 3, 2008

    “As the glowing Washington Post article says, 4.8 million of the 5+ million came from earmarks…pork”

    Earmarks are not necessarily pork. Earmarks direct spending locally by people more likely to know where it’s needed.

    Whether or not there’s an earmark, the money’s going to be spent. The earmarks just break the massive lump sum of funding in a bill down to useful smaller quantities.

    The alternative is having a few unelected political appointees in Washington directing where to spend the whole whopping allocation, which means the whole pot of money might well go to an administration crony in a corrupt boondoggle, or to chase an ideological magic pony, rather than where it will be spent on actual needs.

    That doesn’t strike me as being preferable to having the money broken out into small chunks by legislators to serve constituent needs and requests.

    Whether an earmark is pork depends on the merit of the expenditure, not on the fact that the spending was directed in an earmark.

  48. #49 Shygetz
    April 3, 2008

    I’d like to point out that, in 2004, Bush had plenty of experience at being President. Did he get any better compared with when he first started?

  49. #50 Yojimbo
    April 3, 2008

    Just one small comment – the most common criticism about Obama is his lack of experience, but I’m not sure how meaningful that is. The only way to have presidential experience is to be president, and there is no reliable way of knowing how experience in anything else will apply. Lincoln didn’t have a whole lot of experience going into the presidency, and he did pretty okay. Talent and having one’s head screwed on straight is more important than what you did before.

  50. #51 DanioPhD
    April 3, 2008

    Orac said:

    In fact, the Bush Administration is a key reason why I am reluctant to vote for a really inexperienced candidate.

    This is precisely the same issue I’m having with respect to Obama. I really want to like him more, especially given the alternatives, but we have just experienced seven years of essentially a puppet government–a president with very limited experience as a statesman a diplomat, or a decision maker (all contentions of his being a ‘decider’ notwithstanding) who fairly openly and unapologetically allowed his advisors to make 100% of ‘his’ policy. Even if Obama chooses better advisors, I’m still uncomfortable with the degree to which he will need to rely on them, and fear that his presidency, while ideologically very different from Bush’s, will be similar in this respect–that he won’t be able to rise much higher than the ghastly figurehead in office now.

  51. #52 jre
    April 3, 2008

    Would Obama be better with more experience?
    Sure — but intelligence, honesty, good judgment and a decent set of priorities count for a lot.

    And, for Best Post Evah on the subject of tough-mindedness and Republicans’ lack thereof, let me nominate John Rogers’ classic I Miss Republicans. It’s aged well.

  52. #53 sailor
    April 3, 2008

    “Obama just doesn’t impress me enough in other ways for me to put aside his lack of experience. I guess I just don’t “get” what the big deal is about him. I’m completely underwhelmed.”

    Have you tried reading his books? It helps give a measure of what he is.

  53. #54 Earthceuticals
    April 3, 2008

    Well going on Washington experience alone… if that is the benchmark come ballot time then McCain has the most of it. I don’t necessarily see Washington experience as a total plus in the here and now. What we really desperately need is somebody to who can unite and can build coalitions bring unity and hope. What we don’t need anymore of is somebody who tries to win by being divisive and negative… i.e darkening photos, and spreading uncertainty that a leading candidate can be electable in the general election. It is clear I am referring to HRC here. On the experience side of it, I don’t see that being married to a past President will serve her any better than having a father as a former President has served GWB. When her camp flaunts the experience factor, it doesn’t fly for me… HRC and BHO have similar senate experience and to me BHO has enough of this to have needed experience without being jaded by the system of things in Washington. So, it appears yes, JMc is a vote for what we basically have now. HRC is a kind of payback vote for the past eight years, really twelve years of payback if you count the impeachment hearings in the last Clinton term. A vote for BHO is the only alternative, if that brings hope and change… so much the better.

  54. #55 Scotty B
    April 4, 2008

    You could do like I plan to and vote for Nader! Also, if you haven’t yet seen “An Unreasonable Man” please check it out!

  55. #56 Turkeyfish
    April 4, 2008

    McCain has had a lot of experience. Unfortunately, as one of the “Keating Five”, who aided and abetted banking fraud during the savings and loan crisis by selling his office for campaign donations, this is NOT the kind of experience we need right now.

    We are just begining to enter the economic hangover that will be the legacy of the Bush presidency. Having someone at the helm who has proven himself as experienced in creating an economic catastrophe that cost the taxpayers billions and who has experience as a cheerleader for a war that is costing Americans hundreds of billions is hardly the kind of experience we can afford.

    It is ironic that among the candidates people seem to so easily forget that McCain is the only one who has been found to have had excercised “poor judgement” by an official act of the United States Congress. As any one knows, you really have to screw up big time before your political peers go on record as reprimanding you, lest their own behavior draw attention. Its amazing how vacuuous and forgetful people are in their knowledge of even recent political history (or perhaps how easily the greedy in the media are eager to be paid to forget). I guess if nonsense is repeated often enough of Fox News (or at least as long as oneone pays Rupert Murdoch enough money), some people will buy into it no matter what. I guess this is what happens when you swallow one too many republican taling points. Why am I not surprised McCains recent tour down memory lane didn’t take him to the home of Charles Keeting, where he learned his political skills. It must be amnesia. No wonder he refuses to release his medical records.

    As for which candidate is better for science, this is a rather silly argument, when once considers how little money the US government is going to have to conduct much science at all, if it contines to spend about 400-600 billion dollars a year on a war that has no strategic purpose and no clear end (ignoring a failing health-care system and the collapse of federal welfare and retirement programs). A candidate who seems prepared, even eager, to see this conflict continue for another few decades, if not for a hundred years as he has stated publically, will see to that. No wonder his advisors already have him mocking science spending right now, under the rubrick of reigning in “pork” and “earmarks” as a way to offset the costs of prolonging the war. That way people won’t stop to think what they might be missing and won’t feel its any loss. The PR machines are cranking up already. After all, the scientific community is too small and fragmented a demographic to really matter.

    With the individual share of the national debt for the average American already standing at about $450,000, with the as yet unseen effects of a Fed printing worthless dollars (when its not giving them away to Wall Street investment banks), which we can then use to buy ever more expensive gasoline still ahead of us, and McCain’s determination not to raise taxes (only your prices) by extending (and adding) tax breaks for the wealthy and well-connected, can anyone seriously argue that there is going to be money left over for world leadership in science?

    You can tell a politican by the friends he keeps. McCain is no friend of science. I have no intention of voting for McSame Old given his long record of saying one thing and doing another.

    Obama has shown he can come out of nowhere to be where he is today, without rich friends. He has done so quickly, while doing it in a decent sort of way. Has he made a few mistakes along the way? I’m sure he has, but it seems he learned from them. He stood up and said the war was a bad idea BEFORE it started. He said before many others that we need to refocus our attention of Osama bin Laden not a civil war in Iraq that was precipited by the bad judgement of Bush/Chenney. This tells me he understands foreign policy far better than McCain, who to this day can’t tell a Sunni from a Shia and remains clueless as far as the various strains of muslim political theology or their consequence to the conflict. As a result, McCain has no hope of pitting our various adversaries against one another, which will be necessary to extricate ourselves from his horrible mess. At least Obama shows he understands the subtle differences that inflame passions, how to bring people together to acheive common purpose, and to actually begin to solve problems rather than to create them. He shows he can think on his feet, not simply regurgitate talking points. Its easy to make enemies, but this strategy fails when you run out of friends. To make friends of enemies requires skill. Obama may be the kine of president who may possess such skills.

    Obama displays all the evidence of experience and good judgement that I need to tell me that Obama is a better bet than an atherosclerotic, dithering old fart who is simply set in his ways of pandering to public opinion and currying favor with defense and telecomunications tycoons. McCain is more likely to have a stroke than change his own behavior, much less that of politics in Washington or the Middle East. I’m sure the bookies in Vegas are already preparing to wager whether he will leave us with yet another “right-wing nut job” as a VP, as if we need such a nightmare (every defence contractors dream?) to continue.

    The scientific community needs leadership and support and it simply isn’t going to find it from 2-4 years of McSame Old. Its time to give hope, change for the better, and a restoration of democracy a chance to work this election cycle.

  56. #57 Jim Thomerson
    April 4, 2008

    As near as I could figure, the $3 million figure pays for less than 15 minutes in Iraq. I would say if you don’t go for the lesser of the two evils, when there is no other alternative, you are being an amoral idealist. We do not live in a perfect world, but it is as good as it gets at the moment. Deal with it! Replacing a greater evil with a lesser evil makes for a better world.

  57. #58 Tyler DiPietro
    April 4, 2008

    “I consider Obama to be a standard Democrat politician, which is to say a fiery-speaking, idealistic, energetic, naive, foolish, shallow, anti-American socialist.”

    Wolfwalker is such a one trick pony.

  58. #59 Jon H
    April 4, 2008

    “You could do like I plan to and vote for Nader!”

    You might as well write in your morning bowel movement.

    Here’s a clue: if the man were seriously trying to accomplish anything other than being a spoiler for the Dems, he wouldn’t sit on his ass for the four years between elections. He’d try to build a party. He doesn’t. He just pops up every four years, collects campaign money from Republicans, and then goes away.

  59. #60 Paholaisen Asianajaja
    April 4, 2008

    Such platant liberal, pro-bear agenda from you people. Need I remind you that animal was the symbol of Soviet Union? Sure, you’re all DNA-huggers now, but what happens when Osama bin Obama’s – oops, my bad, I always confuse Binladen with that Hussein-dude – suicide bombers kill all bears? That three million dollars would be wasted, that’s what would happen. It is therefore more sensible to use that annual investent to support our war… I mean, freedomization of Iraq for… *counts* little over ten minutes.

  60. #61 rewinn
    April 6, 2008

    As for executive experience

    * Voters had plenty of candidates with executive experience, e.g. Richardson & Romney, and decided we wanted something else this time. I don’t think that was wise, but here we are.

    * Hillary’s only significant executive experience is as a law firm partner. McCain’s only significant executive experience was heading a rest-and-refit squadron for a while. Obama’s experience heading Harvard Law Review and community organizing required putting subordinates to work and meeting deadlines. None of them have been top-of-government executives but at least we’ve had glimpses of their leadership ability.

    * We have a direct comparison of the three as executives: their respective presidential campaigns.
    Obama lead a campaign that started from zip to overtake a well-entrenched and very determined opponent. Hillary’s leadership hasn’t been as good, and McCain keeps making misstep after misstep. Can you imagine a president who admits he knows nothing about economics (after DECADES in the legislature?) and can’t remember basic facts about our allies in Iraq?

    I would have preferred Richardson or another governor, but Obama’s ability to lead clearly outshines the other two.

  61. #62 Josh in California
    April 7, 2008

    I think the “experience” thing is a red herring. It doesn’t matter how much experience a candidate has–you can never have enough experience to be president. It’s too big of a job involving too many complex issues.

    These are the questions you should really be asking about each candidate:

    1) Are they intelligent enough to make good decisions, given the advice of qualified experts?
    2) Do they seek advice from qualified experts?
    3) Do they ever go beyond seeking advice and try to expand their own knowledge of a subject? How often?

    Really, nobody’s going to be able to learn enough to make optimal decisions about science, technology, economics, foreign policy, etc. Unless someone spends a decade or two studying all of that stuff before running, they’re going to be relying on advisors. So what matters most is that they pick good advisors and give enough of a damn to think about the issues themselves before making a decision.

    We don’t need more mavericks and Deciders who think that they’re an authority on whatever issue they happen to be dealing with at the moment. We need people who are grounded in reality, are aware of their limitations, and reach out to other people when they need help making an educated decision.

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