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« Quoting Michael Shaara | Main | Skeptic Shermer "flips" »

Sunday, June 18, 2006

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Pam

It's horrific. NASA's unmanned missions have exceded our expectations - and given us remarkable insight.

As a scientist, I receive day-to-day reminders that our government does not support science. It will be an email stating budget cuts in various granting agencies, sometimes they cut programs all together. A huge problem is that these funds guide what we conduct research on - it's how we survive - but it's not necessarily what we should be studying. It's distorting science. These are big challenges - Universities suffer and that trickles down to the bench level - we receive a small amount of kickback from the indirect costs that our grants generate, and now that small amount is even smaller. More and more is expected with less and less. Honestly, we can't keep up - it's a stressful time. China and India are running with technology - engineering, computers - we aren't going to be able to compete. We become so restricted with bio - whether it's stem cells or microorganisms - that we can't compete with more progressive countries. This is at the research level - what really scares me is science education - and the next generation of US scientists. Do we have a next generation? How well are they learning the basics? Can they compete in a future global science market? I don't feel optimistic.

agricola

Yes, the war will cost $101 Billion this year, and yes that is a huge amount of money. But it is wishful thinking to the extreme to think that unilaterally ending our involvement in Iraq and bringing the boys and girls home will result in increased funding for scientific research of all shapes and sizes. From an editorial in the National Review:

"Through the first eight months of this budget year, the deficit is $227 billion—16.7 percent lower than this time last year. That’s largely because government revenues in these eight months have reached $1.545 trillion, up 12.9 percent from last year.

This huge revenue boost means that the deficit is going down even as an out-of-control Congress continues its spending profligacy. Federal spending has already swelled by $130 billion so far this fiscal year—a 7.9 percent increase compared with the same period last year. Such increases can’t be blamed entirely on the demands of the War on Terror, either, as Defense and Homeland Security together account for only 30 percent of Congress’s total spending increases since 2001."

Yes, we need to protect our investment in education, research, and worthwhile social projects, but not at the expense of our freedom. We have our elected officials in Washington to thank for this dilemma, who cannot apparently make a distinction between critical spending, for whatever purpose, and earmarks for non-essential spending whose only function is to buy votes at home. I would venture a guess that the $130 Billion increase in federal spending this year would probably pay for the war and most of the research that you are writing about.

Daniel

I honestly don't know what the best course is to take on the war today, which is why the best I could offer was to say that there's no end in sight. I don't know the best solution. But I don't believe that staying the course is the solution either, and I no longer believe that our current leadership is capable of avoiding disaster.

And when the National Review writer says "Yes, we need to protect our investment in education, research, and worthwhile social projects, but not at the expense of our freedom," I fully agree. Only I don't think that terrorism is the primary threat to our freedoms today.

Agricola

I enjoyed your post, Pam's additional thoughts, and could not resist an opportunity to present an alternative view. Only one thing: I wrote the last paragraph, not the NR folks. So you agree with me, at least on that part. It seems to me that the whole contentious issue boils down to whether or not people agree that we are in a serious, long term war that is pitting Western Civilization against Islam, a religion, a non-statist entity trans-national in nature, firmly in the grasp of a radical wing that wants nothing more than world domination. To a secular, post-modern citizen of the world it can be hard to accept that a group of Muslims, primarily based in a part of the world that has no recent history of any success whatsoever, can do our "universe" harm. Believe it.

Daniel

I believe it. The question to me isn't whether Islamists pose a threat, but what the appropriate response to that threat should be. I wrote about this last year in the Xarker Manifesto, in which I suggested the following:

6. Killing enemies who attack us is a good thing. Making more of them isn't.
7. Fighting terrorism is necessary, but it will never end terrorism. The only solution to terrorism is justice.
8. A permanent war against an enemy we never see is a familiar concept to anyone who ever read George Orwell's 1984.

The Iraq War, which I supported in 2002-03 based on the cited evidence of WMD possession, was an epic blunder. It has produced more enemies. For Muslims, it has cast the United States in the role of occupying power, not champion of justice. And at home, it has divided a country that was amazingly unified after the terrorist attacks.

As i said before, i don't have the answers to what we should be doing now in Iraq. As the Stratfor analysis I posted three weeks ago suggested, I hope that this government holds, and that the Sunnis come to the table.

But here's my point from this post: even if we resolve this thing in relatively short order, the cost has already been too high. Only when we balance the costs of the war against the opportunities it rendered moot do we begin to confront the depths of our leadership failures. We just lost a bunch of science missions that I know you and I both value.

So I'm concerned about terrorism, but I put it in a different context. Fewer than 3,000 Americans died on an awful day five years ago. My government tells me that this stuggle, this threat, is so dire that I am helping the terrorists if I don't meekly agree to surrender the 4th amendment to the secret plans of the executive branch.

Since that time, roughly 50,000 Americans have been killed by guns. I don't hear the government telling me that this threat is so severe, so dire that I must surrender my rights under the 2nd Amendment. I figure about 200,000 Americans have died in car accidents during that period. But we're not fighting a war on cars.

Terrorism is with us, and will always be with us. My question to you is, in fighting those who oppose us, will we become what we hate? In our zeal for security, will we damage the open society that has always been the engine of our innovative tradition and our economic health?

I think history suggests caution.

Agricola

You write that "terrorism will always be with us", and I completely agree. The issue with Islamic terrorism is the scope of the conflict. This is not the ETA blowing up Spanish resort hotels, nor is it the IRA killing Englishmen in Ireland and England, and it certainly isn't the Medellin cartel waging war against the Colombian judiciary. The common theme to the referenced terrorist acts is the length of the conflicts; many, many years of conflict. This war is no different. The technique is terrorism, but the goal is much larger than the reversal of a localized set of grievances. The Islamo-Fascists are waging war, via terrorism, on a global scale; Bali, the Phillipines, Indonesia, India, Africa, Europe, the US, Canada, and so on. Al-Qaeda is, by some reports, in its 4th generation of development, evolving as it faces its enemy. My fear is that we do not see, or understand the implications of their evolution. There is no political settlement offered by Islam other than complete subjugation by non-believers. There is no set of grievances that can be corrected. No other terrorist organization has stated its desire to obtain nuclear or biological weapons for use against its enemy.

As for the Orwellian reference, if your fear is a totalitarian, or dystopian society, all that is needed for that to be realized is victory by Islam.

Daniel

"There is no political settlement offered by Islam other than complete subjugation by non-believers."

Forgive me, because I know you know this, but let me state it for the purpose of establishing a foundation: Islam is no more a monolith than is Christiaity, and beyond that it lacks centralized structure. So to understand what I'm saying, please bear in mind that I draw a line between Muslims and Islamists.

It's an important distinction, because it informs how we respond. If we mistakenly view all of Islam as a unified enemy of the west, then we will mistakenly engage in a "war of civilizations." If we identify Islamists as a dangerous subset, then we have far better options for dealing with the problem.

We can isolate that subset. We can attack it, harry it, delegitimize it, game it. We can engage with the secular interests in host countries to deny our terrorist enemies aid and comfort.

But when we equate "Arab" with "Muslim" with "Islamo-fascist," we limit our options and compound our problems. We turn people with whom we may have disagreements into enemies, and there's an enormous difference.

And this is where I think I part ways with a lot of people today (although I think I'll be proven right): I don't believe "Islam" could defeat us, even if "it" wanted to. They can't beat us militarily. They can't beat us economically or culturally. They can't occupy us. They could threaten us with oil embargoes, but that won't defeat us -- it will only piss us off and ensure their demise.

Could "they" nuke us? Sure. But they haven't, and "Islam" has had the bomb for years ... in Pakistan. Pakistan: where the strong-man president is so weak he can't control his eastern border, where Osama bin Laden (if he's still alive) has been living since he left Tora Bora.

But even if a western city was nuked or poisoned, would that defeat us? I think it would just piss us off.

Ben

I am not at all afraid that Islam will take away my freedom as an American because, as Dan says, they're not gonna occupy us. I am slightly worried that there is a small chance they will get me in an attack, and of course they should be opposed.

The far, far bigger threat to my freedom is a government that feels it is OK to tap phones w/o going through proper channels, hold US citizens w/o charge or trial (back to Mr. Padilla), and do things to suppress voter turnout in Ohio and elsewhere.

Let me put it bluntly: I have no loyalty to America if America is not synonymous with freedom and democracy. We are not a "nation" in the old sense of a people with a common ethnicity and very long-term collective history. That's Europe, Japan, China, etc - everywhere, really, but here. Our only bond is in ideals and in beliefs about how govenment should work. If we abandon that, our country is not worth saving.

If we lose our freedom, it will be to our own government and the moneyed interests that greatly influence it. We will still be able to work hard and get rich, but we won't be able to really dissent, really fight for changes.

I still can't believe that all these anti-big-government conservatives are OK with all that the Bush administration has done.

Agricola

First, to Xark. Of course, I completely agree with the sentiment that Islamo-Fascists do not represent the entire face of Islam, nor is it comprised of an ethnic component. The common thread of our enemy is that all are Muslims that call all parts of the world home, and mostly embrace the Wahabbi sect. The threat to our civilization is not directly a military one; rather it comes from intimidation, political correctness, and demographics. A nuclear bomb detonated in Times Square or the SPA container terminal in Charleston isn't going to destroy our will (a la Spain).

As to Ben, with all due respect, I won't discuss this subject with someone of a different perspective when one of your main posits is that Bush stole Ohio. By making that point, you lose all credibility with me. Other than that, I agree with much of what you say.

Pam

I need a beer.

Islamists and Muslims, Pakistan and Ohio -- but what, WHAT, will be the future of science in this country? Is science, is biotechnology - the new dirty word?

I'm frustrated.

Agricola

Pam, science is the future. I'm just trying to make sure there is a future. But, enough of that.

I have just started "digging" my way through "The Singularity is Near", by Kurzweil. Have you read it, and do you have any thoughts about his thesis? This maybe should be done somewhere else, with apologies to Xark.

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