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Middlebrow megachurch infotainment
December 30, 2013 4:48 AM   Subscribe

Let me tell you a story. I was at a presentation that a friend, an Astrophysicist, gave to a potential donor ... After the talk the sponsor said to him, “you know what, I’m gonna pass because I just don’t feel inspired… you should be more like Malcolm Gladwell” ... So I ask the question: does TED epitomize a situation where ... a scientist... is told that their work is not worthy of support, because the public doesn't feel good listening to them? I submit that Astrophysics run on the model of American Idol is a recipe for civilizational disaster.
Benjamin H. Bratton (Dept. of Visual Arts, UC San Diego) uses a TEDx talk to critique the medium of the TED talk itself. Does TED—"weird, inadequate and symptomatic"—encapsulate the twenty-first century's inability to face the challenges of the future in any honest way?
posted by Sonny Jim (58 comments total) 50 users marked this as a favorite

 
That the government has decayed so much that the sciences have had to retreat to a Renaissance model of patronages and courtly entertainments seems to me a much bigger problem than the issue of capricious oligarchs hungry for a continuing stream of ego-stoking from certified smart people.
posted by ardgedee at 5:08 AM on December 30, 2013 [71 favorites]


A better 'E' in TED would stand for economics

To get anywhere in capitalism you will be required to help maintain the idea that capitalism is not even a thing.
posted by colie at 5:11 AM on December 30, 2013 [5 favorites]


The American Idol model is a stop gap approach to dealing with a butchered tax code. Bump up taxes on the higher income brackets, and there is your money for science. Added benefits include money for America's crumbling infrastructure, and a reduction of the society-eroding inequality ongoing for the past 30 years.
posted by Dodecadermaldenticles at 6:02 AM on December 30, 2013 [24 favorites]


what are you, Dodecadermaldenticles, some sort of socialist? The free market will take care of all our needs, surely.
posted by marienbad at 6:04 AM on December 30, 2013 [5 favorites]


I was going to read the linked article, but it didn't inspire me.
;)
posted by EnterTheStory at 6:11 AM on December 30, 2013 [5 favorites]


Bump up taxes on the higher income brackets, and there is your money for science.
Not necessarily: you could bump up taxes on higher income brackets and spend the money on, I don't know, sports stadiums or invading Middle Eastern countries. Science is only going to get funding if citizens and legislators are convinced of the value of science. And that is always going to involve some dumbing down and popularizing, although I'd like to think there are better ways to do that then TED Talks.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 6:14 AM on December 30, 2013 [25 favorites]


We don't just need more money, the scientific community also needs more independence with funding decisions. Independence both from the awful 'must be marketable' mandates and from the requirement to have already made headway into whatever it is one wants to research. On top of that, the entry level work in science needs to be a little less shitty (PhD work, MSc work) and the mid level staff (post docs and tenure track profs) need to be able to spend more time on their research work as opposed to paper work and panhandling for grant money from public or private donors.

Its like everyone on the outside of a lab thinks they know exactly how the results should come out, how the results should be obtained, and how relevant the results should be to market X. They all need to sod off and let us work and sift through the pieces of our own work instead of frantically threading it together for the next round of grant applications. That's how we progress to the Next Big Thing, not by looking for it but by stumbling into it while looking deeper into S. cerevisiae tRNA recruitment mechanisms.
posted by Slackermagee at 6:17 AM on December 30, 2013 [16 favorites]


i was going to try to come up with some witty sleight at TED, but man, "middlebrow megachurch infotainment" is pretty hard to beat.
posted by young_son at 6:19 AM on December 30, 2013 [32 favorites]


I have a new deckchair-shuffling app that empowers you!
posted by lalochezia at 6:36 AM on December 30, 2013 [5 favorites]


So wouldn't a friend getting turned down for science funding for not being inspiring be anecdotal evidence?
posted by cjorgensen at 6:42 AM on December 30, 2013


So wouldn't a friend getting turned down for science funding for not being inspiring be anecdotal evidence?
Well, yeah. But that's the point though, isn't it? He's starting with a personal anecdote because he's parodying the structural formula of a stereotypical TED(x) talk.
posted by Sonny Jim at 6:51 AM on December 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


That the government has decayed so much

Ah, the good old days, when we spent heavily on services, scientific research, the arts, and provided a strong safety net. Yep, those good old days that definitely existed and aren't just a rhetorical device.
posted by jpe at 6:52 AM on December 30, 2013 [4 favorites]


Ah, the good old days, when we spent heavily on services, scientific research, the arts, and provided a strong safety net. Yep, those good old days that definitely existed and aren't just a rhetorical device.

I can't tell if you are kidding or serious, but in terms of science funding (as well as public funding for the arts and a better, though not really adequate, safety net), you only have to go back a few decades. It's not a coincidence that robust funding for both basic and applied science went along with less income inequality, progressive taxation, wage growth, and highly subsidized public university systems -- all of which went along with strong economic growth and a level of economic regulation that is unthinkable today.

There are many things to not like about the 1950s and 1960s, but they got a lot of things right as well.

i was going to try to come up with some witty sleight at TED, but man, "middlebrow megachurch infotainment" is pretty hard to beat.

I dislike the TED talks as much as anyone, but ouch, that one has to sting.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:59 AM on December 30, 2013 [19 favorites]


It's not a coincidence that robust funding for both basic and applied science went along with less income inequality, progressive taxation, wage growth, and highly subsidized public university systems

Oh, and not to mention, an all-encompassing, society-wide effort to prepare for what was seen as inevitable war with the Soviet Union.

Science progressed rapidly in the earlier and middle parts of last century for two reasons: lots of low-hanging fruit, and vast unmonitored funds devoted to science in the name of defeating communism. Without some sort of existential capitalist-friendly threat, you don't get any of the alleged "golden age" in scientific research in the West.
posted by downing street memo at 7:13 AM on December 30, 2013 [5 favorites]


There are many things to not like about the 1950s and 1960s, but they got a lot of things right as well.

Unfortunately the strong interest shown in science and technology and education in those days was largely due to the dramatic way WWII ended and the impetus of the Cold War. The US government's concern with advancing technology collapsed along with the Berlin Wall.
posted by localroger at 7:14 AM on December 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


It sounds like you fellas are advocating for a war with the Martians!
posted by Mister_A at 7:18 AM on December 30, 2013 [5 favorites]


Science progressed rapidly in the earlier and middle parts of last century for two reasons: lots of low-hanging fruit, and vast unmonitored funds devoted to science in the name of defeating communism. Without some sort of existential capitalist-friendly threat, you don't get any of the alleged "golden age" in scientific research in the West.

It's interesting (and by "interesting" of course I mean "immensely frustrating") that the "war on terror" followed the post-Reagan path of privitization, security state, and oligarchic enrichment. It's not simply having an "existential capitalist-friendly threat," you still have to choose how to respond and sometimes we make gloriously shitty choices.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:27 AM on December 30, 2013 [4 favorites]


It sounds like you fellas are advocating for a war with the Martians!

If it weren't for the fact that I find deception on that scale incompatible with democracy, ethically indefensible, and repugnant: Yes.

Frankly I think that "The war on global warming" ought to be able to serve the same function but admittedly there's fewer opportunities for really cool phallic exploding things and I'm given to understand those are a prerequisite for any kind of large-scale works program.
posted by Tomorrowful at 7:27 AM on December 30, 2013 [4 favorites]


Reminds me of a short thing my sibling wrote about how we could use more conservative-style war rhetoric and thinking to aid environmentalist causes.
posted by tychotesla at 7:30 AM on December 30, 2013


It's not simply having an "existential capitalist-friendly threat," you still have to choose how to respond and sometimes we make gloriously shitty choices.

But, now we have flying killer robots! That has to count for something.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:30 AM on December 30, 2013


I wonder if part of the problem with TED talks and similar content right now is a Goodhart's Law problem ("measure that becomes a target ceases to be a good measure").

If a TED talk is reporting back about something real that the speaker already did that was useful/interesting that's one thing. Jaime Lerner did a talk about his efforts at improving public transit and urban planning in Curitiba, Brazil. He presented about what he had already done, talked about how it worked in its specific context, and while certainly suggesting that it held general lessons for urban planning didn't make grand claims about the human condition.

Where I think TED gets in trouble is when it shifts from "here's an innovative solution we tried that worked well" to "if only everyone could see how well xyz proposed solution could solve all our problems." The patronage seeking model, as mentioned above, seems to be a lot less useful and more superficial.
posted by Wretch729 at 7:35 AM on December 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


THEY HAVE FLYING KILLER ROBOTS NOW.

There is no need for panic. They squabble with each other too fiercely to allow them time to search.

THEY ARE TALKING ABOUT SCIENCE.

They are talking amongst themselves about shadows on the wall. We have nothing to fear.

THEY CAN REACH SPACE! THEY HAVE MAPPED THEIR MOON! IT IS BUT ONE SMALL JOURNEY....

They will never reach us. We will walk on their irradiated bones under a parched sky on their own world long before they land on our red, rich soil.
posted by Lipstick Thespian at 7:36 AM on December 30, 2013 [15 favorites]


My issue with TED is that it gives the microphone to people who proclaim outlandish big change ideas that never seem to come to pass. We should be in flying cars, living to be 200 years old and in bliss if any of the stuff had any traction.

The real harm of TED is when we enjoy the narrative of great progress so much that we care not for the small march of progress that actually happens. Don't even get me started on how hard it is for scientists to publish negative results even if they advance the field in important ways. Breakthroughs are exciting but they don't happen without a lot of sustained and unglamorous progress.
posted by dgran at 7:39 AM on December 30, 2013 [9 favorites]


> He's starting with a personal anecdote because he's parodying the structural formula of a stereotypical TED(x) talk.

Or maybe it's just an effective rhetorical device commonly used in informal presentations for non-expert audiences.

> "middlebrow megachurch infotainment"

Yes. Precisely. What I'm wondering though is why anyone ever thought it was supposed to be anything different?

Is there something wrong if I find myself, a middlebrow middle manager at the phone company, enjoying a TED talk now and then about a glorious techno-future?

I mean, I don't really understand his complaint. Does he think TED talks are actually supposed to accomplish something beyond the promotion of a specific brand of scientific utopianism? Is he just confused because he wrongly believes TED talks are legitimate scientific forum? Are other people really confusing TED for a legitimate scientific forum?

To me this is the equivalent of complaining that McDonalds hamburgers are too bland or that "The Big Bang Theory" on CBS is too mainstream. "Real(tm) Science is hard, messy and depressing so these inspirational, aspirational TED talks are unrepresentative of the challenges we face." Duh?

Dude, feel free to start your own video presentation series on important and complex issues featuring brilliant but tepid and uninspiring speakers, dry scientific data and unresolved challenges. I'm sure everyone will love it.
posted by j03 at 7:40 AM on December 30, 2013 [4 favorites]


It blows my mind that the elephant in the room is military spending. The 99% shout "raise taxes on the rich!" while the 1%ers shout "cut public benefits!". Meanwhile there is enough money to fund every single socialist welfare state idea AND still maintain the largest military in the world without a single change to the tax system. But no one seems to be seriously willing to even address that idea.
posted by blue_beetle at 7:48 AM on December 30, 2013 [24 favorites]


TED brilliantly meets its purpose: to spread ideas around.

It's nice that it has also got this angel investor thing going on but that's a side show.

Also, people who believe there was a time when scientists weren't scrambling for grants and climbing over the bodies of their less charming peers to get them are perhaps misremembering. There may have been more (inflation adjusted) money, but there has never been close to enough money.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 7:54 AM on December 30, 2013


I mean, I don't really understand his complaint. Does he think TED talks are actually supposed to accomplish something beyond the promotion of a specific brand of scientific utopianism? Is he just confused because he wrongly believes TED talks are legitimate scientific forum? Are other people really confusing TED for a legitimate scientific forum?

If all you want out of TED are "big ideas" presented to you like a form of feel-good popular culture, then fine. But TED's stated goal is to use big ideas to change the world. It's explicitly not intended solely as entertainment (though that's a part of their pitch). In that sense, the author's criticism is correct: TED works well as entertainment but is an awful way to actually improve the future through innovation.
posted by chrominance at 7:54 AM on December 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


It sounds like you fellas are advocating for a war with the Martians!

If Alan Moore were writing Watchmen now, Adrian Veidt would have set off his alien-invasion hoax right before delivering his TED talk.

"Do you seriously think I'd explain my master-stroke if there remained the slightest chance of you affecting its outcome? I did it thirty-five minutes ago."
posted by Strange Interlude at 8:03 AM on December 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


TED;dr
posted by hal9k at 8:13 AM on December 30, 2013 [4 favorites]


It is probably worth remembering that the TED talks never were originally intended for us. Putting them on the web was almost an afterthought. Originally they were meant for a select audience of rich and powerful people, mostly from the tech industry, who might actually have the means to act on some of the presented ideas.
posted by localroger at 8:14 AM on December 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


Oh come on now. TED is a gateway drug to interesting ideas for non-experts. It's Bill Nye the Science Guy for adults. It gives normal people a small window into some very complex subjects where interesting things are underway. And that's a valuable thing.

Do you think it's better to keep it all hidden away in impenetrable academic conferences?
posted by the jam at 8:31 AM on December 30, 2013 [4 favorites]


I think the complaint is that some of those non-experts hold the purse strings, and because they like TED they insist that all worthwhile research can be condensed into a TED talk, and if someone doesn't have the charisma or time to do that they must be a bad scientist.
posted by vogon_poet at 8:42 AM on December 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


It's interesting (and by "interesting" of course I mean "immensely frustrating") that the "war on terror" followed the post-Reagan path of privitization, security state, and oligarchic enrichment. It's not simply having an "existential capitalist-friendly threat," you still have to choose how to respond and sometimes we make gloriously shitty choices.

Well, Al Qaeda and the Taliban are more improvised suicide bombs than Sputnik; they're not a peer-enemy. If they had threatened to leapfrog America's technological dominance they might have elicited a more productive response.
posted by cosmic.osmo at 8:50 AM on December 30, 2013


Oh, and not to mention, an all-encompassing, society-wide effort to prepare for what was seen as inevitable war with the Soviet Union.

Science progressed rapidly in the earlier and middle parts of last century for two reasons: lots of low-hanging fruit, and vast unmonitored funds devoted to science in the name of defeating communism. Without some sort of existential capitalist-friendly threat, you don't get any of the alleged "golden age" in scientific research in the West.


The USSR/Communism bit is far too pat an explanation, and it fails to explain the mid-70s through the early 90s. I mean, you could point out that perceived and actual threats in general were the impetus for scientific advances in the 20th century US, but thus has it always been and shall forever be worldwide. Starting at the beginning of the century, you could just as easily substitute Spain, Germany (both post-imperial and Nazi), and Japan for antagonist in existential crises. But big areas like rocketry, nuclear power (both military and civilian), and high-speed transportation were already well underway before Soviet Russia was an antagonist. Plus, the declines in income equality, progressive taxation and wage increases, etc. is a malaise that started during the Cold War, not after it.
posted by zombieflanders at 9:00 AM on December 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


But TED's stated goal is to use big ideas to change the world. Wow, I'm shocked. A series of informal 20 minutes video presentations on youtube has failed to change the world.

McDonald's brand mission is to be their customers' favorite place and way to eat and drink.

Marketing bluster is blustery.

I think the complaint is that some of those non-experts hold the purse strings, and because they like TED they insist that all worthwhile research can be condensed into a TED talk

What would be better? Another Bugatti for the garage? I seriously doubt that this is a real problem. The type of person that would make that sort of inane demand probably wouldn't otherwise be donating anything to science anyway. Besides this guy's anecdotal evidence, show me the data.
posted by j03 at 9:04 AM on December 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


Thomas Frank has a thing to say about TED talks and what "Creativity" really means.

tl;di;dr:
the real subject of [TED talk] literature was the professional-managerial audience itself, whose members hear clear, sweet reason when they listen to NPR and think they’re in the presence of something profound when they watch some billionaire give a TED talk. And what this complacent literature purrs into their ears is that creativity is their property, their competitive advantage, their class virtue. Creativity is what they bring to the national economic effort, these books reassure them — and it’s also the benevolent doctrine under which they rightly rule the world.
posted by anthill at 9:14 AM on December 30, 2013 [15 favorites]


The TED talk where the French neurosurgeon discussed the paralyzed rat he got to walk again was fascinating and brilliant. To a layperson it was astounding. The underlying motivation of his speech seemed to be to get more funding so he could continue his research. This was a case of legit science in a legit scientific forum seeking legit funding in a legitimately entertaining presentation. That's what TED is about.
posted by GrapeApiary at 9:21 AM on December 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


t blows my mind that the elephant in the room is military spending. The 99% shout "raise taxes on the rich!" while the 1%ers shout "cut public benefits!". Meanwhile there is enough money to fund every single socialist welfare state idea AND still maintain the largest military in the world without a single change to the tax system. But no one seems to be seriously willing to even address that idea.
posted by blue_beetle at 10:48 AM on December 30


Having been a military contractor, and been funded by the 99%, likewise having been a civilian contractor and been funded by various industries and utilities - that military budget line item is a lot of science, applied science, research, prototyping, testing and QC. While I'll agree that there is a large line item under 'military', that 'military' line item IS funding exactly what TED fails to fund.

Scalable computer systems? Controls system theory? Distributed systems? Robotics? Self-healing networks? The military funds multiple projects on all these fronts. Much of the research funded is actually funded in such a way that private firms retain a lot of the intellectual property and can turn it into civilian work. Once more, the military has actually started to function like a socialist network - distributing a lot of that knowledge and project work between the branches... Now lets ignore that defunding the military is also the liberal equivalent of a conservative saying to defund education. It's just liberals hurt soldiers while conservatives hurt teachers.

In my idealist days, I wanted to see the military funded less. Now, I'd just rather things purposed better. If that is really your thought, I'd agree with you...
posted by Nanukthedog at 9:52 AM on December 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


Paul Krugman: Declare war against the Martians before they attack us.
posted by RedOrGreen at 9:57 AM on December 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


A hundred years ago, before meaningful federal investment in science, researchers who asked practical questions were funded by various industries and researchers who asked basic questions were funded by either lecture series or their inheritances. This resulted in a comparatively pathetic amount of research being performed compared to what the economy was capable of sustainably supporting by modern standards, but it did have interesting effects. Men like Tesla, Edison, Darwin, Henry Luke Bolley, Heinrich Schliemann, and Robert Koch became popular heroes who inspired public imagination while traveling to give talks to huge audiences who would pay dearly to hear about their discoveries. TED talks could have been a modern revival of this in a way that wouldn't interfere with the actual production of science like lecture series did then but have never gotten close, their lectures were hours long while TED talks are lucky to get to 15 minutes, no where near enough time to explain anything actually interesting.
posted by Blasdelb at 10:04 AM on December 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Scalable computer systems? Controls system theory? Distributed systems? Robotics? Self-healing networks? The military funds multiple projects on all these fronts...

In my idealist days, I wanted to see the military funded less. Now, I'd just rather things purposed better.


Many of those things don't have to be funded by the military and the military does a less effective job than NSF or NIH in research. Mainly I would like to see expensive, redundant weapons and targeting systems reduced and the saved money redirected to basic research, public and medical health research, and social programs.
posted by Mental Wimp at 10:07 AM on December 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


Apropos Nanukthedog: Chomsky on military spending (This has shown up here before, not sure who to credit).
posted by wotsac at 12:07 PM on December 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


If all you want out of TED are "big ideas" presented to you like a form of feel-good popular culture, then fine. But TED's stated goal is to use big ideas to change the world


What was Popular | Mechanics' stated goal?
 
posted by Herodios at 12:33 PM on December 30, 2013


It's just liberals hurt soldiers while conservatives hurt teachers.

I see your point, but the main difference there is that teachers teach people, while soldiers kill people. I've always had great respect for the military, and growing up I think I could have benefitted from some of the structure that the military provides, if only it wasn't so focused on killing people....
posted by nushustu at 1:21 PM on December 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


> In my idealist days, I wanted to see the military funded less. Now, I'd just rather things purposed better.

While I'd rather not have my money go towards Finding Better Ways To Kill People™, I'm not sure that's even where the objection is directed.

Right now, NASA is being forced to make choices between preserving the Cassini probe and the Mars Science Laboratory, due to a cutback of $50 million in its yearly budget. That's less than half what the DOD spends in maintaining its 234 golf courses around the world. The F-35 program is expected to cost one and a half trillion dollars over its lifetime, for planes that can't currently fly when it rains. You could build and maintain a dozen space elevators for the same amount of money.

Military funding has contributed a great deal towards research and development. But it comes with some severe side effects, including the fact that a stronger and more effective standing military force has to be used for something, usually the occupation of other countries. "Defense" has become the Sacred Ox of American politics. There is no evidence that taking the money and spending it elsewhere in R & D would not provide similar or greater benefits, with fewer disadvantages.
posted by Bora Horza Gobuchul at 1:54 PM on December 30, 2013 [8 favorites]


"Now lets ignore that defunding the military is also the liberal equivalent of a conservative saying to defund education. It's just liberals hurt soldiers while conservatives hurt teachers."

What direct value that US military spending provides aside, Defense spending does not benefit soldiers in anywhere near the same way that Education spending benefits teachers. Only 23% of Defense spending went to military personnel and their housing benefits in the fiscal year of 2010 including additional spending on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Conservatives and their politicians also talk a big game about supporting our troops but its Republicans and Tea Partiers who consistently de-fund and fuck with the VA, are currently trying to loot military pensions, and start wars of choice that require not only calling up the Guard - that was not built to actually be called except in dire need and was supposed to be more about disaster response - but also extraordinary "stop loss" bullshit. On the other hand liberals and Democrats have always consistently supported the VA, built the GI bill, have always been there to stand behind retirees and the pensions they deserve, are the only party even vaguely willing to stand up to generals on behalf of soldiers, and actually stand behind our troops where it actually fucking counts.

There is no equivalence, soldiers mean as much to our conservative politicians as each of the disposable flag pins they keep in a bowl by their front door.
posted by Blasdelb at 2:14 PM on December 30, 2013 [8 favorites]


In my idealist days, I wanted to see the military funded less. Now, I'd just rather things purposed better.

According to the proposed 2014 budget request, the Defense Dept. is looking to spend about $12 billion dollars on "science and technology." The total defense appropriation will end up being somewhere north of $600 billion dollars in order to wage war on... who exactly?

The defense department is eating the federal budget. You are basically saying: we might as well just have a military government i.e. it doesn't matter who funds science as long as it's funded. You don't have to be an idealist to see huge problems with that. DARPA already basically directs robotics and artificial intelligence research in the US: do you really think that's value neutral?
posted by ennui.bz at 3:48 PM on December 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


( you you should note that of that $12 billion dollar R&D budget, $3 billion is for "Project power anti-access/area-denial challenges" + " star wars," another $1 billion to "Operate effectively in cyberspace and space" and a cool $100 million on rail guns.)

The only way the US is going to have real hope for the future is if someone other than the dirty hippies and Ron Paul realizes that the defense budget is killing our society.
posted by ennui.bz at 3:55 PM on December 30, 2013


More like MALCOLM GLADWELL???!

"I'm necessarily parasitic in a way. I have done well as a parasite. But I'm still a parasite."

Malcolm Gladwell



http://shameproject.com/profile/malcolm-gladwell-2/

http://shameproject.com/report/malcolm-gladwell-unmasked-life-work-of-americas-most-successful-propagandist/

http://shameproject.com/report/malcolm-gladwell-unmasked-life-work-of-americas-most-successful-propagandist/
posted by bert2368 at 4:52 PM on December 30, 2013


Today's Ottawa Citizen is not much more cheerful:

"Need to chase funding distracts scientists from research -
Some spend more time writing grant proposals that working in the lab"
posted by sebastienbailard at 5:32 PM on December 30, 2013


The price tag on attendees seems to be part of the problem too - you're going to get the same upper-class tons-of-money people who already probably see each other anyway elsewhere getting access. And while TED talks are shared to the public, there isn't much of an opportunity for the kind of in-person networking you are more likely to get at a TED conference. Even the non-profit rate is still pricey.

Even the TEDx talks are not necessarily super accessible. I know with the Brisbane ones you had to apply to get a pass (I'm not sure how they chose people; I managed to get a ticket to the first one but I don't know if they use the same system).

Then there's the Conference High effect. I used to be quite the conference junkie, and did see a couple of projects that sprung up as a result of a conference; one was a youth development project that was originally hashed out on a boat ferrying back to Brisbane from a field trip and is still going strong. But mostly there's all this hubbub about WE'LL DO THIS and THIS IS A GREAT IDEA and grand promises etc - and then nothing.
posted by divabat at 6:34 PM on December 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Ain't just the defense department "eating the federal budget", ennui.bz. Law enforcement is the only area of discretionary spending increasing relative tot GDP, since like the 70s.

As a rule, federal level law enforcement and federal contributions to state law enforcement contribute almost nothing positive to our society. Almost all the important regulatory functions of monopolies, financial institutions, etc. were better way back in the 60s. All the useful federal work against organized crime was more effecting back in the 60s than today. etc. And the war on drugs has obviously created enormous social problems, especially in Mexico.

We're moving towards a society in which DARPA, etc. does even less useful research and produces more tools of oppression aimed more squarely at average people.
posted by jeffburdges at 3:22 AM on December 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


The thing that really bugs me is that disease is the biggest killer of Americans, by a huge, huge margin, yet the the NIH/NSF/CDC budgets (all PDFs) for research to prevent and cure disease (about $43B) is miniscule compared to the defense budget (about $672B). Sure, 10% of the latter is devoted to research and a fraction of that to health-related research, but we could cut the defense department budget in half, still be the most powerful military presence in the world by a large margin, and redirect those resources to more rapidly advancing our abilities to prevent and cure disease. Full disclosure, I am a health researcher, but our lobbying efforts are pathetic compared to the defense industries K-Street presence.
posted by Mental Wimp at 10:40 AM on December 31, 2013


jeffburdges: Ain't just the defense department "eating the federal budget", ennui.bz. Law enforcement is the only area of discretionary spending increasing relative tot GDP, since like the 70s.

These days I fear it makes sense to lump them together into a single 'terror-industrial complex.'

Overall I think the 'industrial' and 'complex' parts of the equation have come to drive the car. Military, anti-terrorism, growth of prisons, militarization of law-enforcement -- is there a way to tease those out from one another? the beneficiaries overlap too much; there are too many interconnections.
posted by lodurr at 12:43 PM on December 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


we could cut the defense department budget in half, still be the most powerful military presence in the world by a large margin

I share your sentiment, but there is one key thing to point out: The fact that we outspend our nearest competitor by something like 5:1 doesn't mean our military is 5 times as great, or increased its capabilities or what have you five-fold beyond what that competitor did. A lot of the budget money goes to politically popular programs of questionable value, a lot goes to upkeep of legacy equipment (of questionable value as well), a lot goes to salaries (we seem to fetishize a relatively large standing force), and most of all - a lot of it goes to overpricing and corruption, like the F-35, a piece of junk with an ill-defined mission that the Russians or Chinese could match for a fraction of the price. Honestly, if you want bang for the buck, get rid of manned fighters altogether and use missiles and drones.

Anyway, that's the big thing - it's not that we're making SO MUCH MILITARY, although we are, to be sure, and much of it terrifyingly effective. It's that the defense contractors and their kin are making SO MUCH MONEY. So I would love to see a big slash in spending, hand-in-hand with complete overhaul of military procurement practice, which is right now a game rigged in favor of the institutionalized contractors.
posted by Mister_A at 7:53 AM on January 2


So I would love to see a big slash in spending, hand-in-hand with complete overhaul of military procurement practice, which is right now a game rigged in favor of the institutionalized contractors.

Ever since Reagan, the military has been given more money than it wanted. As pointed out by the auditing folks back then, this leads to defanging the auditors because, heck, if there's more money than we need why pay attention to the spending police? Cutting the budget would almost immediately lead to tighter procurement processes and less acquisition of "nice to have" but unnecessary weapons systems.
posted by Mental Wimp at 8:22 AM on January 2


I know the military (or the sherrif's office or the police department or the FBI) wants more money, but I think it behooves us to give some really serious consideration to why they want more money -- and why they want it for what they want.
posted by lodurr at 10:34 AM on January 3




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