Palin can’t tell satellites from doughnuts

February 1, 2011

You can tell by the dates I’m not following this closely — it’s a Sarah Palin thing, after all, and we all hope it will go away.

Spudnut Shop, Richland Washington, Tri-City Herald photo by Kai-Huei Yau

Baking doughnuts before dawn at the Spudnut Shop, Richland Washington, Tri-City Herald photo by Kai-Huei Yau

Palin wasn’t content to just screw up the history of the phrase “Sputnik moment,” as noted earlier.  Oh, no, she had to go deeper in dumb, and talk about Spudnut shops.  If you’re not from Salt Lake City where the Spudnut HQ sign adorned Interstate 15 for many years, you may never have heard of Spudnuts, doughnuts made with potato dough.

If you’re wondering what in the world Spudnuts have to do with Sputnik, you’ve got more sense than Sarah Palin.

After screwing up the history, like a blind squirrel, Palin blundered on to talk about a vestige Spudnut shop in Richland, Washington.  She found something we all applaud, a good doughnut shop.   On one hand fans of the doughnut are happy to know of one of a tiny handful of such shops left.  Plus, it’s great to boost a small shop in a small Washington town.

On the other hand, doughnuts, even Spudnuts, don’t come close to the movement to improve American education inspired by the Soviet launch of Sputnik.  From just getting history horribly in error, Palin came close to ridiculing American business with her idea of meeting the challenges like space exploration, with doughnuts and coffee.  Doughnuts and coffee will not lift student test scores, nor are they the answer to lifting our economy today and keeping the U.S. competitive and on top, in the future.

Others covered the topic better than I.

Yes, that is what we need to get the economy back on track.

A bakery.

Not more expertise in math and science, engineering, technology, and developing enterprises that will allow us to compete with the rest of the world. A bakery, full of Real Americans.

Do you realize how this sounds? This is like if I were to say, “Hey, I think we need to take a course to familiarize ourselves with what actually caused the Soviet Union to collapse!” and you were to respond, “Anything can be solved with Hard Work, donuts, and the American Way!” It’s as if I were to say, “Let’s study geometry!” and you were to respond, “Let’s study Gia Spumanti, the red-blooded American protagonist of ‘A Shore Thing.’” “Those two sound similar, but are in no way comparable,” I would point out. And that’s what this is. It’s the kind of bizarre semi-sequitur that has always been a hallmark of your speaking style.

Stromberg got serious for a moment, and makes the case against Palin’s claims:

But in claiming that the Soviets incurred their consequential debts long before Reagan was president, Palin ends up arguing that the Gipper wasn’t nearly that responsible for the USSR spending itself to death. If a reverence for Reagan’s anti-Soviet spending inspired her narrative in the first place, then this is incoherent. If she’s just making this all up, then she’s really also claiming that the Reagan-brought-down-the-USSR narrative is overstated.

Palin appears to be lazily checking a lot of Fox News boxes. She wants to criticize Obama’s State of the Union address, so she grabs hold of the Sputnik line. She wants to make a point about debt, so she invents a history in which the USSR had a debt crisis decades before this inference could have made much sense. Even better — her argument sounds like an implicit vindication of Reagan, but that really just makes it either self-contradictory or hostile to Reagan’s legacy.

Even worse, it seems that Palin planned her rhetorical disaster, as she goes on to discuss the “Spudnut Shop,” a bakery in Washington State that’s succeeding without government support. Yet more evidence that her judgment in both what she says and who she has vetting it is pathetic. It’s not even cleverly manipulative. It’s just dreck.

Zeno provides the horrifying evidence that Palin’s stupid is leaking out, and may be contagious.  Zeno caught Brian Sussman at the formerly-august KSFO talking to a woman who would fail the Sputnik issue even by Texas standards.  In Texas, in 11th grade U.S. history, students need to know a half-dozen dates, turning points in U.S. history.  1957 is one of those dates, for the launch of Sputnik.  Oy, what does it say when a San Francisco radio station is dumber than Texas’s weak and skewed social studies standards?

More:

Tip of the old scrub brush to Oh, For Goodness Sake.


“WTF?” Palin completely misunderstands what “Sputnik Moment” means

January 28, 2011

“WTF?” Palin completely misunderstands what “S…, posted with vodpod

Some bloggers have sworn off comments on Sarah Palin. Good on them.

This fruit is too low-hanging.

Palin doesn’t appear to have a clue about what the phrase “Sputnik moment” refers to — and mistakes it with the much later financial difficulties of the Soviet Union.  You’d think, since she was so close to the U.S.S.R. in Alaska, she’d know something about Sputnik.

And what’s with the “WTF” on television?  Has she no composure, no decency?

Here, Sarah; a primer:

Sputnik was the first artificial satellite launched from Earth, in October 1957.  (Palin wasn’t born for another seven years . . . arguments about teaching history, anyone?)

Please note that the launch of the satellite scared the bejeebers out of Americans.  Most people thought — without knowing anything about how heavy a nuclear device might be, nor how hard it might be to target one — that if the Russians could orbit a satellite the size of a beach ball, they could certainly launch missiles with nuclear warheads to rain down on America.  Maybe, some thought, Russians had already orbited such nukes, which could just fall from space without warning.

That was the spooky, red scary part.  Then there was the kick-American-science-in-the-pants part.  A lot of policy makers asked how the Russians could surpass the U.S. in the race for space (wholly apart from the imported German rocket scientists used by both the U.S. and the U.S.S.R.).  Looking around, they found science and technology education in America sadly lacking.  Congress passed a law that called science education necessary for our defense, and appropriated money to help boost science education — the National Defense Education Act.

The Cold War stimulated the first example of comprehensive Federal education legislation, when in 1958 Congress passed the National Defense Education Act (NDEA) in response to the Soviet launch of Sputnik. To help ensure that highly trained individuals would be available to help America compete with the Soviet Union in scientific and technical fields, the NDEA included support for loans to college students, the improvement of science, mathematics, and foreign language instruction in elementary and secondary schools, graduate fellowships, foreign language and area studies, and vocational-technical training.

(See the Wikipedia entry on NDEA, too.)

The National Science Foundation (NSF) history points to the genuine advances in science the Soviets had made, and the need for the U.S. to quickly catch up:

Sputnik once again elevated the word “competition” in the language of government officials and the American public. Sputnik threatened the American national interest even more than the Soviet Union’s breaking of America’s atomic monopoly in 1949; indeed it rocked the very defense of the United States because Russia’s ability to place a satellite into orbit meant that it could build rockets powerful enough to propel hydrogen bomb warheads atop intercontinental ballistic missiles.  Perhaps more importantly, however, Sputnik forced a national self-appraisal that questioned American education, scientific, technical and industrial strength, and even the moral fiber of the nation. What had gone wrong, questioned the pundits as well as the man in the street. They saw the nation’s tradition of being “Number One” facing its toughest competition, particularly in the areas of science and technology and in science education.

With its ties to the nation’s research universities, the Foundation of course became a key player in the unfolding events during this trying time. An indication is shown by the large increase in Foundation monies for programs already in place and for new programs. In fiscal year 1958, the year before Sputnik, the Foundation’s appropriation had leveled at $40 million. In fiscal 1959, it more than tripled at $134 million, and by 1968 the Foundation budget stood at nearly $500 million. Highlights of this phase of the agency’s history cannot be told in a vacuum, however, but must be placed within the broad context of American political happenings.

The Congress reacted to Sputnik with important pieces of legislation and an internal reorganization of its own committees. Taken together, the action announced that America would meet the Soviet competition.  The National Aeronautics and Space Act, more than any other post-Sputnik law, had great impact on increasing federal funding of scientific research and development. Signed by the president in July 1958, the law created the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and gave it responsibility for the technological advancement of the space program. NASA became a major contracting agency and boosted tremendously the extra mural research support of the federal government. NASA not only symbolized America’s response to the Soviet challenge, but also dramatized the federal role in support of science and technology.

Among other things, the National Science Foundation looked at science textbooks used in elementary and secondary schools, and found them badly outdated.  NSF and other organizations spurred the development of new, up-to-date books, and tougher academic curricula in all sciences.

So, when President Obama refers to a “Sputnik moment,” he isn’t referring to a foolish expenditure of money for space junk that bankrupts the nation.  He’s referring to that time in 1957 when America woke up to the fact that education is important to defense, and to preparing for the future, and did a lot about improving education.  Between the G.I. Bill’s education benefits and the NDEA, the U.S. became the world’s leader in science and technology for the latter half of the 20th century.

But we’ve coasted on that 1958 law for too long.  Now we are being lapped by others — India, China, France, Japan, and others — and it’s time to spur progress in education again, to spur progress and great leaps in science.

One gets the impression Palin does not think much of science, nor education, nor especially science education.  She could use some lessons in history, too.  Sputnik didn’t bankrupt the Soviet Union.  Ignoring Sputnik might have bankrupted the U.S.

Santayana’s Ghost is shaking his head in sad disbelief.  And he has a question for Sarah Palin:  Santayana’s Ghost wants to know from Ms. Palin, can the U.S. compete with the Russians?

Tip of the old scrub brush to P. Z. Myers and Pharyngula, and another shake to DailyKos.

More, resources:


July 24: Touchdown Day!

July 24, 2010

From various “Today in History” features, AP, New York Times, and others:

July 24, 1969: Apollo 11 returned to the Earth, and splashed down in the Pacific Ocean, Michael Collins, Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong — Aldrin and Armstrong having landed on the Moon.

July 24, 1847: A larger contingent of Mormons, refugees from a literal religious war in Illinois and Missouri, entered into the Salt Lake Valley under the leadership of Brigham Young, who famously said from his wagon sick-bed, “This is the place; drive on!”

July 24, 1866: Tennessee became the first of the Confederate States, the former “state in rebellion,” to be readmitted fully to the Union, following the end of the American Civil War.

July 24, 2005: Lance Armstrong won his seventh consecutive Tour de France bicycle race.

July 24, 1959: Visiting Moscow, USSR, to support an exhibit of U.S. technology and know-how, Vice President Richard Nixon engaged Soviet Communist Party Secretary and Premier Nikita Khruschev in a volley of points about which nation was doing better, at a display of the “typical” American kitchen, featuring an electric stove, a refrigerator, and a dishwasher.  Khruschev said the Soviet Union produced similar products; Nixon barbed  back that even Communist Party leaders didn’t have such things in their homes, typically, but such appliances were within the reach of every American family.  It was the “Kitchen Debate.”

July 24, 1974: The U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously that President Richard Nixon had to turn over previously-secret recordings made of conversations in the White House between Nixon and his aides, to the special prosecutor appointed to investigate the Watergate affair and cover-up.  Nixon would resign the presidency within two weeks, the only president to leave office by resignation.

July 24, 1975: An Apollo spacecraft splashed down after a mission that included the first link-up of American and Soviet spacecraft.  (The Apollo mission was not officially numbered, but is sometimes called “Apollo 18″ — after Apollo 17, the last trip to the Moon.)


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