Viva la revolucion! Unidad para proyectistas! Photo by Richard Yuan of the Adler Planetarium’s now-controversial projector.

Attention, visualists! We’ve reached a historic landmark: we’re a political campaign issue! A projector controversy on a nationally-televised Presidential debate? Believe it.

Background For those not in the US, for some time candidate Senator McCain has been attacking “earmark” funding as “corrupt.” This is a system by which federal funds are included in Congressional spending bills. That spending has indeed grown recently, and in some cases has fairly been criticized for wasteful spending. Senator McCain has been a worthy opponent of such spending. But now that the election season is on, he keeps slamming scientific projects, like funding research into bear DNA. I’ve found that to be a puzzling example of special interests and corruption, unless there’s a bear conspiracy I don’t know about. And since the US spends hundreds of billions on wars and the military and bailouts of failed banks and insurance companies, a million or three on bears is a drop on the bucket. I imagine some bear biologist grant recipient wincing each time the subject comes up. (Neither party has defended the project, so this is effectively a bi-partisan mauling of bear researchers.)

Well, now the Presidential election has entered Create Digital Motion territory, by moving from bears to projectors. McCain has singled out Senator Obama’s support for an earmark to overhaul the Adler Planetarium’s projector:

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?

Well, Senator, the correct response from a Create Digital Motion reader would presumably be — $3 million projectors? Obama for President! (Suggestion to Obama: kickstart the economy with a new deal of a Projector-Based Economy! Oh, yeah … we’re trillions of dollars in debt. Maybe not.)

Amusingly enough, this has ignited a blog frenzy in which the specifics of what projector we’re talking about becomes political discussion. Fact-checkers had a field day with this one, because, needless to say, that was not $3 million for a 1200-lumen Dell to be tacked to the ceiling. The Adler Planetarium themselves respond, correcting Senator McCain on a number of points. To paraphrase:

  • Democrats and Republicans alike support the Adler Planetarium
  • Planetariums are awesome
  • Science is cool
  • This isn’t an overhead projector. It’s a kick-ass SPACE projector. Hell, yeah.
  • We didn’t ever get the money

I have a tip to Adler on that last one: first, you need to lose half a trillion to a trillion dollars and endanger the global economy, then you can have money.

More at the TimeOut Chicago blog:

Planet pork? Planterium responds to McCain slam

Here’s an excerpt from Adler’s statement:

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.

I can say in non-partisan terms I wholeheartedly agree with the Adler on this one. So, America, let’s get over partisan differences and agree that space and projection are bad-ass and essential. (Boy, at times like this I miss the Cold War, when we had an opposing force that motivated us to do awesome space and science stuff instead of rail against it for political points.) The Adler didn’t get that earmark, either, so I do hope they get their new projector.

The whole affair gets an amusing send-up by Flickr user Mike Smail:

A handy reference. I don’t think McCain meant that kind of overhead projector, but yes, still some confusion there.

Note: in strictly CDM terms, all of this gets more interesting if we find out McCain unwinds after a hard day of campaigning by breaking out his Theremin. In the meantime, Projectionists for Obama!

Before I get hate mail, no, I’m not turning this into a political blog. Note that the Adler funding had bi-partisan support, and what’s really at issue is fact-checking McCain on projectors. I expect this will be the last time we hear about anything this directly related to the subject matter of the blog in this election, so rest assured, we can now return to distracting you with visualism. I’m sure you’re getting as much election fatigue as I am, regardless of which side you’re on.

Oh, and when projectionists do become a major voting block, that will rock. Australia, maybe there?

  • jahlove

    hey pete!

    i wish i could take a break from politic when i visit your site…but i guess not.

    If you believe the Manchurian Candidate should give you a free projector because he's the ONE and because he is be it. in wich state are you gonna vote by the way? i'm in the it does not matter if i vote for mc cain or not. obama is a giant hypnotic disco ball..all mirrors.. he will always tell you what you want to hear..
    Dude you seem to be a cool guy so go and look at the full list of "porks" he voted for..almost a billion!!
    well anyway since the whole planet wants to see a black US president for real and not a fake one on TV and PLZ NOT ONE EVER in ANY european countries, maybe it will happend this time.

    At least the guy on "24" was a real actor…

    have a nice day!

  • Hey jahlove — I'm in Manhattan. Yeah, I think neither of us has districts that are really up for grabs, though you can bet both sides will be watching the popular vote on election day.

    I was joking about free projectors, of course; that's not the point. I find it amusing that projectors became a political issue at all. If there's a billion dollars in projects, why did McCain single out this one? For that matter, why did he single out research on bear populations, information that helps execute their protection under the (federal) Endangered Species Act? (Ironically, part of the reason that research was supported by Congress was because it helps facilitate the opening of federal lands to energy exploitation, so this isn't about tree-huggers or eggheads, exactly.)

    The Presidential election aside, I'd like to see science as something other than the butt of a joke all the time. Federal spending on local projects sometimes makes sense. It's not all "pork" just because people asked for it locally, unless you're opposed to all spending everywhere. That's not to say we shouldn't have this conversation and debate what spending makes sense. Some of it most certainly qualifies for pork. McCain is absolutely right to suggest that we need to reign in some of that spending. But before that conversation can start, we do need to know what we're talking about – and, to have any informed debate, what the projector at the Adler is.

    And in that one isolated case, it probably is a pertinent issue for the site.

  • The following message is politics-free:

    I think there's a huge opportunity here. If we as a community help the Adler Planetarium raise $3 Million dollars, they might let us VJ with their new system on their dome once in a while. Just look at the picture of the Starmaster ZMP-TD! There's got to be over 50 individual projectors on that thing and the whole can rotate 360 degrees in all three dimensions!!

    As a VJ who lives in Chicago, here's what we'll do: 1) I'll review the tech specs on the Starmaster to see if it takes s-video or RCA, 2) someone figure out if the projector's rotational programming can be controlled by Midi, and 3) everyone start saving up some plane money and think about what you would do with a 60,000 sq ft venue! You can all stay at my house.

    I can dream, can't I?! 🙂

  • Haven't the VidVox guys and Benton-C Bainbridge done planetarium shows? Did they get to play with the cool toys?

    I scored an awesome, top condition school-style overhead projector for 5 bux at a garage sale the other day. Looking forward to going all old school on Halloween with that and some Spiratone screens.

  • Yes, as it happens, here's the series here in NYC at Rose:

    Several events planned.

    I'm unclear on what happened, whether Adler ultimately got their funding elsewhere?

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  • trudeau

    Thanks for the laugh, Peter. I, too, have been taken aback by his demurs.

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  • graphicmind

    Sin-R8, the Zeiss projector won't help anyone VJ, but the system in the new definiti theater ( would. Check out this guy ( who does shows around the world using the same system in the Adler definiti theater. I'd love to see THAT in Chicago!