ONTD Political

"Did Jesus Die For Klingons, Too?" and Other Pentagon Projects

5:20 pm - 11/20/2012
Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn (R) is the rare Republican these days who is willing to argue that cutting defense spending is not only feasible, but important. To that end, he recently published a report identifying nearly $70 billion in wasteful spending from the defense budget. Many of the items make his GOP colleagues who believe the defense budget is sacrosanct and untouchable look incredibly foolish. A quick run-down:


  • The 100-Year Starship Project: The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has spent more than $1 million to "foster a rebirth of wonder" and to make space travel to other solar systems feasible in the next century. To that end, the agency paid $100,000 to sponsor a strategy workshop in September featuring a session called "Did Jesus die for Klingons, too?" on the theological threat to Christianity that the discovery of life on other planets might pose. A related conference devoted to the future of space travel included a workshop on "what intersteller explorers might wear." (Hint: Not polos and khakis.) The event featured an "intergalatic gala" for which attendees were asked to come in "starship cocktail attire."

  • Caffeine Zone 2: The Office of Naval Research supplied funds to Penn State University researchers who developed a smart phone ap designed to "help people manage their caffeine consumption to suit their lifestyles." Coburn notes that two such phone aps already exist without the help of military financing.

  • Beef Jerky Roll-ups: The Defense Department invested $1.5 million to develop a new twist on beef jerky. The savory snack is designed to be more like a "fruit roll-up" than a Slim Jim, and to double as a sandwich filling if necessary. Coburn notes that the private beef jerky market has no shortage of products that the department might use, and that the jerky industry is thriving without the help of taxpayer dollars.

  • "Does this caulk gun make me look taller?": The US Air Force paid $680,000 to fund research on whether men were perceived as taller when they were holding a pistol than if they were simply wielding a caulk gun, paint brush or a power drill. Answer: Yes.

  • The Search for Extraterrestrial Life Institute: Remember those old screen savers from SETI that supposedly tracked the search for life in outer space? Based in Berkeley (of course), SETI amassed a huge array of telescopes that scanned the skies for "electromagnetic signals that could hint at the presence of an intelligent alien civilization." In 2011, SETI went dark for lack of, well, finding anything interesting and lack of funding. Thank heavens the Air Force stepped in! According to Coburn, the Air Force saved SETI from extinction with a $2 million infusion of funds to see if the SETI telescopes might supplement the country's existing search for aliens.


Coburn's report, called "Department of Everything," is useful in poking holes in Republican arguments that the Defense Department should be spared a single dollar of cuts lest national security collapse entirely. But it's also sort of a sad testament to the way the nation's budgeting process has gone wildly awry. All sorts of domestic needs that are starved for funding—everything from medical research (Coburn finds DoD funding breast and prostate cancer research) to alternative energy development to paleoentology—have found their way into the defense budget because that's the only place Congress is willing to spend money these days.
source: Mother Jones
As loltastic as the Klingon one is, I'd actually call it semi legit since that would likely cause some serious political shifts that could destabalize things. Probably would have made more sense to just tack it on to an existing academic conference.
ms_maree 21st-Nov-2012 03:21 am (UTC)
To that end, the agency paid $100,000 to sponsor a strategy workshop in September featuring a session called "Did Jesus die for Klingons, too?"

I'm sure I've been to science-fiction cons where this type of topic was on the panel. Good times...

But $100,000..
belleweather 21st-Nov-2012 03:51 am (UTC)
Yeah, this is one time when I'm totally comfortable admitting that the private sector can do it better and cheaper than the government!
fenris_lorsrai 21st-Nov-2012 04:01 am (UTC)
I read the description as being they hosted a whole CONFERENCE at which this was keynote. but yeah, simply sending people to an existing sci-fi conference or an academic conference seems like it would have been a more effective use of funds. If they were hosting a panel, they'd probably have had loads of people turn up to discuss stuff they hadn't considered!
(and the inevitable loons, but sometimes the loons come up with relevant points)
layweed 21st-Nov-2012 04:23 am (UTC)
shit forget the private sector, you could probably get the same results at a nerd convention or a trekkie forum, lol.
teacoat 21st-Nov-2012 05:39 am (UTC)
That quote is really misleading, and I think it's actually wrong. DARPA seeded $1 million to 100 Year Starship (100YSS), which is basically (as I understand it) a grant fund for researchers working on technology related to interstellar travel, with a goal of reaching that point within 100 years. I haven't quite been able to figure out where the $100,000 figure came from. All I've found mentioning that number at all so far are saying that NASA seeded $100,000 to the 100YSS. The Symposium (where the "Did Jesus die for Klingons, too?" panel was held) was performed as a direct function of the 100YSS, and included "scientific presentations on the propulsion and other technologies that might be needed to send a probe to another star, as well as discussions of the social ramifications of becoming an interstellar civilization, and the biological consequences for humans traveling on multi-generation starships."

And on top of it all, it seems like the "Did Jesus die for Klingons, too?" panel was actually held at last year's Symposium, rather than this year's like the article says. Which I found on the first page when I googled that quote. Seriously, is this really what journalism has become?
nesmith 22nd-Nov-2012 06:32 am (UTC)
The real question is do they believe he went to Sto-vo-kor?
rex_dart 21st-Nov-2012 03:38 am (UTC)
Senator Tom Coburn (R) is the rare Republican these days who is willing to argue that cutting defense spending is not only feasible, but important.

This is misleading, if not outright false. The press release on Coburn's own site describes the cuts as involving what he classifies as "non-defense" defense spending; he doesn't support actually cutting the "defense" budget at all. More like he wants to get rid of anything in the budget that isn't actively contributing to producing bombs and sending them overseas.

The "non-defense" cuts that he wants to make he claims will add up to 67.9 billion over ten years, which is an absurdly small number. That's 6.79 billion a year out of a DOD budget of about 707 billion for 2012, which means that all in all if we enacted every one of these cuts (including ones that I'm sure are included that aren't quite so silly), we'd be cutting the DOD budget by .96%.

So Coburn wants to cut about .25% of the federal budget without actually touching the real money that's spent on the bloated military industrial complex, siphoned off to contractors overseas, spent on furthering US imperialism, etc.
lanwut 21st-Nov-2012 05:13 am (UTC)
Thank you for saying this.
fenris_lorsrai 21st-Nov-2012 05:31 am (UTC)
I think the commentary that a lot of the "waste" here is stuff that's been shoehorned into defense budget is pretty well spot on. Nobody questions those numbers so its the best bet for funding for some of this stuff. It's just had focus twisted around to make it about "defense" to justify putting it in here. most of these do have SOME merit... but really would probably have been better done, and more cheaply done, by another department or by a research grant to a state university.

But the money is easy to get in the DOD budget because so much is spent on such BIG projects that these all seem like piddly stuff. But if they were over in the other departments, OMG, USELESS GOVERNMENT WASTE.

it's like they're covering up the vegetables with enough sauce that nobody notices they're vegetables. but put those vegetables on a plate... EW VEGETABLES!
rex_dart 21st-Nov-2012 05:42 am (UTC)
I think the commentary is spot-on about that. This stuff has been put in there for a reason, and frankly whether the expenditures themselves are worthwhile or not, I can't blame the people who want them for trying it. I just hate the idea of giving credit to Coburn for being ~different from other Republicans when he's actually engaging in the exact same thing and actually twisting it around to go after non-defense spending that he sees as particularly vulnerable (because it can be presented as a "waste" of funds that should go toward ~actual defense spending~).
mutive 21st-Nov-2012 01:29 pm (UTC)
Thanks for this comment.

I was kind of laughing at the tiny numbers. It's a bit like the, "Let's cut PBS. It costs us several million dollars a year!" Because we all know that if we saved a million dollars a year, we could eliminate all taxes on capital gains and still come out ahead. /eyeroll
pamuya 21st-Nov-2012 04:07 am (UTC)
To that end, the agency paid $100,000 to sponsor a strategy workshop in September featuring a session called "Did Jesus die for Klingons, too?"

What in Kahless's name....
nesmith 22nd-Nov-2012 06:34 am (UTC)
What kind of pItaQ did they dig up to think of that?
unclesamonmars 21st-Nov-2012 04:56 am (UTC)
"Does this caulk gun make me look taller?": The US Air Force paid $680,000 to fund research on whether men were perceived as taller when they were holding a pistol than if they were simply wielding a caulk gun, paint brush or a power drill. Answer: Yes.

okay, I literally cannot think of any reason why this is even a thing. It's like some guy wanted this answered for his personal curiosity.
fenris_lorsrai 21st-Nov-2012 05:02 am (UTC)
Probably was justified as tying into psy-ops and reliability of reports. eyewitness reports are often pretty unreliable, so I can see where there'd be interest in what types of distortions occur but it seems like it would make more sense for a grant for basic research in neuroscience or for Department of Justice.

Edited at 2012-11-21 05:03 am (UTC)
unclesamonmars 21st-Nov-2012 05:37 am (UTC)
I can see the difference between holding a gun vs not holding a gun, or even holding a gun vs different objects, but why a gun vs that specific of stuff? It reads more like, "which manly thing makes a man look more manly?"
teacoat 21st-Nov-2012 05:49 am (UTC)
Because they're acting as control groups. It's determining whether only guns have this effect, or if it also happens with things that just look like guns to varying degrees.
maladaptive 21st-Nov-2012 01:00 pm (UTC)
Because a caulk gun is sort of gun-shaped, so they're seeing if it's the pistol itself or holding gun-like objects, probably.
ohmiya_sg 21st-Nov-2012 12:34 pm (UTC)
I was thinking the same thing, but I don't see why it would have anything to do with the Air Force instead of law enforcement.
makemerun 21st-Nov-2012 05:35 am (UTC)
Sure, some of these might be wasteful but they're taken completely out of context, so we don't know what scientific progress or problem they're meant to solve. Typical anti-science bullshit.
thecityofdis 21st-Nov-2012 05:46 am (UTC)
yep, i don't take articles like this even remotely seriously for that reason.
teacoat 21st-Nov-2012 05:53 am (UTC)
Seriously. And most of these are obviously complete mischaracterizations. :/
makemerun 21st-Nov-2012 05:56 am (UTC)
My favorite part is how it constantly points to privatized versions-- WE DON'T NEED THIS, THE FREE MARKET HAS ALREADY MADE ALL THE BEEF JERKY!

That one stood out to me the most, because if it's in the defense budget, it's probably something being designed for, y'know, combat. As in, food. For soldiers. I don't think Slim Jim is like GEE WHAT CAN I MAKE THAT WILL WITHSTAND THE WINTERS OF AFGHANISTAN. It is really not that hard to think of the practicality of the things listed.
teacoat 21st-Nov-2012 06:03 am (UTC)
As much as I love the mental image of the Navy (in my mind, in the form of the entire submarine from Last Resort) going to Penn State and saying "We demand a caffeine app!," does it really take that much thought to realize that hey, that probably wasn't the case, and maybe what they were actually funding was the research that also went into the making of that app? (Not to mention that, chances are, those other two apps weren't based on peer-reviewed sources and compiled by the researchers themselves. (And since when are we supposed to stop making things just because someone else has already made them? Whatever happened to innovation?))
ohmiya_sg 21st-Nov-2012 12:35 pm (UTC)
Yep.
sfrlz 21st-Nov-2012 03:48 pm (UTC)
Yeah exactly.
homasse 21st-Nov-2012 05:49 am (UTC)
I'll be honest.

I could not get past the headline.

My brain just shut down at it and refused to process anything else. I'm still blinking and shaking my head trying to clear it because...dude, do I even NEED to say why?
ragnor144 21st-Nov-2012 01:56 pm (UTC)
While some of these things seems ludicrous this seems more like "let's just get rid of science and keep buying tanks that no one wants". It all seems pretty rinky-dink in terms of money, especially compared to the cost of some of the high-tech planes that we build.
celtic_thistle 22nd-Nov-2012 12:16 am (UTC)
the theological threat to Christianity that the discovery of life on other planets might pose.

Creeeeepy, my novel for NaNoWriMo is about this. :O
mentalguru 22nd-Nov-2012 04:35 pm (UTC)
Mmmm, your NanoWriMo novel is something that interests me then. Is it possible to read it or any of it? (I have no idea how NanoWriMo works beyond the aim being 50k words in one month.)
celtic_thistle 22nd-Nov-2012 08:16 pm (UTC)
Cool! :D It isn't 100% about that, but it's a big part of the plot. I'm about 9000 words from being finished--it'll probably be longer than 50k though--and here's the profile for the thing: http://www.nanowrimo.org/en/participants/celtic_thistle/novels :D When it's done, I will convert it to pdf and send it to whoever wants it.
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