Is this our "Sputnik moment"? Well, it should be, no doubt, but we've had a lot of those moments, haven't we? Heck, the first Arab oil embargo in the 1970s was certainly a Sputnik moment - maybe even the most important one - but we failed that. Our greed, our focus on the short-term, our complete lack of vision led us to Ronald Reagan and "don't worry, be happy."
We failed to research and invest in alternative energy, so today we're sending billions of dollars to the worst nations in the world and destroying our environment planet-wide. Our focus on tax cuts has led to crumbling infrastructure and a declining system of education, along with - ironically enough - massive debt, both personal and governmental.
And unlike the original "Sputnik moment," we've got an opposition party which refuses to do anything that might be seen as a success for the President. With the GOP these days, it's all politics all of the time.
I really don't mean to slander them. I'm sure they've convinced themselves that nothing is more important for the good of America than their own political ambition. But, well, I'm sure they find it even easier to fool themselves than to fool their supporters.
China is spending billions on research into 21st Century technologies and 21st Century infrastructure. But to Republicans, that's just "big government." According to them, our government's only concern should be the military - and corporate welfare, and your love life, and your religion, and... everything else they believe is important.
Scientific research? No. The problem with science is that it tells us things we don't want to hear. Global warming. Evolution. The Big Bang. We don't want to believe them. We want to believe that America was designed by God himself, and that we're the greatest nation on Earth and always will be, at least until we're raptured up into Heaven to live forever and ever. (And so we end up with only one-fifth of our high school seniors knowledgeable about science.)
21st Century infrastructure? No. The problem with that is that it will compete with existing industries - 20th Century industries - that are big campaign donors (and also big buyers of advertising, including on Fox "News"). Buggy whip manufacturers, figuratively-speaking, have all too much influence in America.
Of course, private investment is critically important, too. But private investment is generally short-term in orientation. The goal is to make a profit, and relatively soon. Long-term research, especially into areas that don't seem to have an immediate economic payoff, is also critical. Remember, it was the government that gave us the internet, initially.
And investment in education is something the government pretty well has to do, especially if you want all of our children to have a chance to learn. Despite right-wing rhetoric, there are some things the government really does need to do. That includes public education at least as much as it does public libraries, police and fire departments, and roads.
And as we've just seen in this economic collapse - on the Republican watch and as a direct result of Republican policies - private industry can screw up royally if not watched and regulated. True, too much regulation is bad. But too little regulation is at least as bad. Surely we've seen the clear evidence of that these days!
Unfortunately, when you're a faith-based, rather than evidence-based, thinker, none of that matters. Those people go on believing what they just know is true, no matter what the evidence shows.
That's part of the problem, but only part. It's equally unfortunate that we're starting in a huge hole, after nearly bankrupting our nation during the Bush years. Not everything the right-wing did in those years was deliberately intended to destroy our nation, of course (though accidental damage is still damage).
But many Republicans actually wanted to dig us into this hole, so we would be just too broke to do anything and be forced to cut the size of government (until it was small enough to "drown it in the bathtub.")
They succeeded. After their mismanagement - two wars without increasing taxes to pay for them, tax cuts for the wealthy, the interest payments on the accelerating debt, and finally this economic collapse, brought on by the deregulation of financial instruments and their other bubble-creating policies - we're so deep in debt that it's hard to do anything at all.
After all this, it is indeed hard to find any money to invest. But can we afford not to invest in our children? Can we afford not to invest in our nation? It's one thing to borrow money for a fancy vacation or a big-screen TV. It's another to borrow money for a college education. The latter is an investment, which we should expect to pay off despite the increased debt. Even if you're already in debt, a college education usually makes sense.
But another part of the problem is our media. Yes, we've got Fox "News" which is, quite simply, the propaganda arm of the Republican Party. They don't inform as much as they mislead. (And we've got The Wall Street Journal doing that for readers, too, especially now that Rupert Murdoch owns it.)
And yes, they're a terrible example for others, especially since they're making money hand over fist. But even mainstream media who try to report the news in a fair and balanced fashion end up focusing on gimmicks like who's sitting with whom at the State of the Union address. Really? That's what's important?
But maybe that's just what we want to hear. Maybe that's all we're smart enough to understand. Maybe the fundamental problem in America is us. Unfortunately, that's a big problem - the biggest, no doubt. In a democracy, we the people make the decisions (even when our decision is to completely ignore politics). Can America endure, and hopefully thrive, under our direction?
Whatever happens, it is our responsibility. And if we fail, it will be our fault. It's a collective responsibility - you may be doing everything you can, yourself - but we're in this together. E pluribus unum, whether we like it or not.
I'm a skeptic. I think it makes sense to have reasons for what I believe, so I apportion my belief to the evidence. You're welcome to disagree. Please, tell me I'm wrong. I probably don't agree with anyone about everything. Why should disagreement be a problem? Check the Pages section below for series posts and links to book reviews and game posts, as well as contact info. Unfortunately, I rarely blog at all, anymore. So don't expect new posts. - Bill
We've all heard that a million monkeys banging on a million typewriters will eventually reproduce the entire works of Shakespeare. Now, thanks to the Internet, we know this is not true. - Robert Wilensky
It doesn't matter how beautiful your theory is, it doesn't matter how smart you are. If it doesn't agree with experiment, it's wrong - Richard Feynman
The general root of superstition is that men observe when things hit, and not when they miss, and commit to memory the one, and pass over the other. - Sir Francis Bacon
When a whole nation is roaring Patriotism at the top of its voice, I am fain to explore the cleanness of its hands and purity of its heart. - Ralph Waldo Emerson
Speculation is perfectly all right, but if you stay there you've only founded a superstition. If you test it, you've started a science. - Hal Clement
No matter how many times a theory meets its tests successfully, there can be no certainty that it will not be overthrown by the next observation. This, then, is a cornerstone of modern natural philosophy. It makes no claim of attaining ultimate truth. In fact, the phrase "ultimate truth" becomes meaningless, because there is no way in which enough observations can be made to make truth certain and, therefore, "ultimate". - Isaac Asimov
The government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion. - Treaty of Tripoli, passed unanimously by the U.S. Senate and signed by President John Adams (1797)
I don't doubt the sincerity of dowsers, but even after we've demonstrated that they can't produce results that are any better than chance they'll still go away believing in their abilities... It is like the mother whose son is caught shoplifting on tape. She wonders why someone would want to frame her child by producing a fake video. - James Randi
During many ages there were witches. The Bible said so. The Bible commanded that they should not be allowed to live. Therefore the Church ... imprisoned, tortured, hanged, and burned whole hordes and armies of witches, and washed the Christian world clean with their foul blood. Then it was discovered that there was no such thing as witches, and never had been. One does not know whether to laugh or to cry. - Mark Twain
Aristotle maintained that women have fewer teeth than men; although he was twice married, it never occurred to him to verify this statement by examining his wives' mouths. - Bertrand Russell
A casual stroll through the lunatic asylum shows that faith does not prove anything. - Friedrich Nietzsche
I have been thinking that I would make a proposition to my Republican friends... that if they will stop telling lies about the Democrats, we will stop telling the truth about them. - Adlai E. Stevenson, Jr.
This is not about proof. Science does not use proof. We favor evidence, and the work consists largely of the slow accumulation of evidence in support of ideas, not magically potent proofs that establish an idea as unassailable. - PZ Myers
No, people don't expect government to solve all their problems. But they sense, deep in their bones, that with just a slight change in priorities, we can make sure that every child in America has a decent shot at life, and that the doors of opportunity remain open to all. - President Barack Obama
The formula was very simple: build this really flexible, really open economy, tolerate creative destruction so dead capital is quickly redeployed to better ideas and companies, pour into it the most diverse, smart and energetic immigrants from every corner of the world and then stir and repeat, stir and repeat, stir and repeat, stir and repeat. - Shekhar Gupta
We are prodding, challenging, seeking contradictions or small, persistent residual errors, proposing alternative explanations, encouraging heresy. We give our highest rewards to those who convincingly disprove established beliefs. - Carl Sagan
We are all atheists about most of the gods that societies have ever believed in. Some of us just go one god further. - Richard Dawkins
120 million of us place the big bang 2,500 years after the Babylonians and Sumerians learned to brew beer. - Sam Harris
To kill a man is not to defend a doctrine, but to kill a man. - Michael Servetus, burned at the stake in 1553
Democracy is not about majority rule; it is about minority rights. If there is no culture of not simply tolerating minorities, but actually treating them with equal rights, real democracy can't take root. - Thomas L. Friedman
We cannot absolutely prove that those are in error who tell us that society has reached a turning point, that we have seen our best days. But so said all who came before us and with just as much apparent reason. - Thomas Macauley, 1830
It may be true that the law cannot make a man love me, but it can stop him from lynching me, and I think that's pretty important. - Martin Luther King, Jr.
We will not walk in fear, one of another. We will not be driven into an age of unreason if we dig deep into our history and remember we are not descended from fearful men. - Edward R. Murrow
The deepest sin against the human mind is to believe things without evidence. Science is simply common sense at its best - that is, rigidly accurate in observation, and merciless to fallacy in logic. - Thomas Huxley
There is no absurdity so obvious that it cannot be firmly planted in the human head if you only begin to impose it before the age of five, by constantly repeating it with an air of great solemnity. - Arthur Schopenhauer
Because religious belief, or non-belief, is such an important part of every person's life, freedom of religion affects every individual. ... Erecting the "wall of separation between church and state," therefore, is absolutely essential in a free society. - President Thomas Jefferson
To be elected in America, no matter from what party, the candidates have no choice but to year after year pledge to lower taxes further and further. We have become the nation of Ken and Barbie, looking good but very poor at the math. - Rack Jite
Invisible Pink Unicorns are beings of great spiritual power. We know this because they are capable of being invisible and pink at the same time. Like all religions, the Faith of the Invisible Pink Unicorns is based upon both logic and faith. We have faith that they are pink; we logically know that they are invisible because we can't see them. - Steve Eley
We have always known that heedless self-interest was bad morals; we know now that it is bad economics. - President Franklin D. Roosevelt
I have been attacked by Rush Limbaugh on the air, an experience somewhat akin to being gummed by a newt. It doesn't actually hurt, but it leaves you with slimy stuff on your ankle. - Molly Ivins
In this world of sin and sorrow there is always something to be thankful for; as for me, I rejoice that I am not a Republican. - H. L. Mencken
Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts. - Winston Churchill