Republican Labels Star Wars Day as Wasteful Spending

Photo by Rob F. Some rights reserved.

Generally, the 501st Legion steers clear of politics. We’re not supposed to appear with political candidates or generally deviate from a charitable + costume-styled mission, but there’s points where we simply can’t avoid it.

The New England Garrison made an appearance in Senator Tom Coburn‘s annual Waste Book, a publication that points out what he considers wasteful spending. The document can be found here, and on page 84, at #52, there’s an entry titled ‘Return of the Jedi – (MA) $365, you’ll see members of the New England Garrison and Alderaan Base, from when we trooped at the Abington Public Library’s Star Wars Day. Our folks had a good time, and apparently the library’s patrons did as well.

The document goes on to say the following:

The Star Wars Day event, held at the Abington Public Library in Massachusetts, was paid for with $365 in federal funds, part of an $11,700 grant provided by the federal Institute of Museum and Library Services.

The Star Wars franchise has grossed over $4.5 billion over the past 35 years, so taxpayers may wonder why the government is subsidizing fan events for one of the most popular and successful movie series in the universe.

It’s enough to make my blood boil.

What immediately strikes me is just how misleading this entry is, or at the very least, the second paragraph. While it’s true that the films have grossed more than 4.5 billion listed, there’s no direct connection between Lucasfilm Limited and the library, or us, for that matter. We’re an organization that LFL works with, but we’re not employees. Moreover, this works to imply that the $365 (which compared to the national budget / debt is a microscopic part) that was paid went to LFL or us to pad the bottom line. You want to know what the money was probably used for?

The librarian on staff who’s position is funded through grants. At $15 an hour, that’s 24 hours, less than a full work week, and far less time than what was probably required to put together the event.

I didn’t work with this particular event, but I did work with another library event here in Vermont, where we worked to support the Star Wars club at the Brownell Library in Essex Junction. The grant that supplied a librarian to run the club had actually been cut, and we were there to help support that club. In all, we raised $290, which helped keep the librarian there for the rest of the year.

What bothers me the most is how absolutely clueless this entry appears, given the problems that the nation face, and it’s not this enormous debt, and it’s not that it’s completely off mark, but that whoever placed the entry had absolutely no idea what something like this does. It’s not a miniature Celebration, where fanboys can bask in the glory of Lucas’s franchise: it’s designed to get kids into the public library, where they can see, touch, and interact with all of the resources that are at hand for free to the general public. Libraries are the civilized world’s most crucial institutions, not just for the books that they hold, but for their center in the community, for the expertise that their staffs provide, and for the multiplier effect that they can have on one’s education. This sort of investment from the federal government is something that can do what is most important: assist in the education and self-betterment of our peers. Now, as the country is slowly inching along in its recovery, this is the type of institution that is evermore valuable, and evermore threatened. The Library Foundation of Hennepin County reported that in the 2002 recession, library circulation jumped 11.3%.

Looking long-term, we consistently hear arguments that the American child is falling behind relatively to their peers around the world, with the public school system often coming under fire for a poor education that public school children seem to be receiving. Those arguments aside for the moment, it’s a tiny snapshot of the resources that schools and libraries are pushed to go to. Without additional funding that host communities can’t provide, these important institutions simply cannot exist, and with them, any hope for sustained, meaningful economic recovery.

The Star Wars day that’s come under fire here is inconsequential, but it’s an important insight into how divided we are from the situation on the ground. This congressional member has likely never visited the library, or seen just how federal dollars are used, and what the direct impact on their constituents are. At the same time, the word ‘Military’ shows up three times. ‘Army’, 14 times, but most of those are in the footnotes. ‘Navy’? 23 times, with a couple of good points about military readiness, but also attacking a kid’s program about space and Mars. ‘Marines’ doesn’t show up at all, all institutions that eat enormous quantities of money. I will note, I’m not against military spending, but somewhere in the $1.030–$1.415 trillion, $11,000 was lost in someone’s couch cushions. I would argue, as Fermilab physicist Robert Wilson did in 1969, when questioned about the practical security value of a collider: “If only has to do with the respect with which we regard one another, the dignity of men, our love of culture… it has to do with , as we good painters, sculptors, great poets? I mean all the things we really venerate in our country and are patriotic about … it has nothing to do directly with defending our country, except to make it worth defending. ” (Rocket Men: The epic story of the first men on the moon, Craig Nelson, p.x) I don’t mean to imply that there’s an argument being made here that the same money should be put strictly to defense, but I don’t believe that this country should be on a path of bare bones financing, at the expense of the American public.

The elimination of this single event at this single library would be inconsequential in the greater scheme of things. But when you eliminate (or suggest to eliminate one), here, and another there, soon, there’s nothing left.

Again, I didn’t attend this event, but at the one that I did attend, I was greeted behind my helmet by over a hundred patrons: kids, parents and fans, all excited and all of them in the library. I saw a lot of children with books. Reading is an incredibly important skill for the modern world, and everywhere I look, I see evidence that this is something that’s far less valued as a whole, when it should be the most important thing that a child learns to love. Reading opens the doors to worlds previously closed to us, and allows for the creation of an innovative, creative generation that will spur this country to great heights, or down to dangerous depths from which we have little hope of escaping in the same amount of time.

It bothers me that the reality on the ground differs so much from the story that’s been concocted by a disinterested party, hellbent on their mission (which certainly has its merits) to the expense of all other concerns that come up along the way. It’s the programs like this, that build the country, little by little, into what makes it a great nation.

I for one am proud of what the 501st has done to support such events. This summer, we were inundated with over a hundred requests from libraries across New England for similar events, and I fervently hope that we will have twice as many next year.

EDIT, 10/23 3:20PM: NPR has a great post up on the reading habits of younger generations, and surprisingly, it’s not just ebooks and internet things, it’s regular, dead tree books and libraries. Read it here.

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30 thoughts on “Republican Labels Star Wars Day as Wasteful Spending

  1. Why don’t you leave the DNC and Daily Kos talking wars to others. Say that “a Republican” labels Star Wars Day as Wasteful spending, and why should federal taxpayers support Vermont librarians? Isn’t that a local matter?

    • I’m saying that it’s a republican label simply because it’s a republican who issued the report. I outlined exactly why I think there should be federal spending in Vermont (and other libraries): I don’t think that it’s simply a local matter.

      • I don’t see any federal virtue in funding a local librarian. If a state and community wants to support its own libraries, by all means let it do so, but that is not a subject of national interest at all. That’s what the tenth amendment was made for :).

      • In a climate where we haven’t seen less than 1 trillion dollars of deficits in a year since George W. Bush was in office, the federal government needs to make some serious decisions, and getting out of supporting local business is an obvious way to start. To believe in such a climate that the federal government has a vested interest in any clearly local business is idiotic.

      • A public library is a local institution, supported by a town or county. Surely such a region ought to be able to handle its own business. Most local libraries prohibit people who are not residents of their small region from borrowing books or getting a library card. It is idiotic for taxpayers from around the nation to pay money to an institution that would refuse to provide them service. If they want money, let them get it from their own area.

  2. Andrew, you make many fantastic points in this post. Most people – even if they *do* use the public library – do not fully understand the full purpose of public libraries. If you want to encourage wise, cost-effective use of public resources, you look to how public libraries save money and encourage re-use of community resources. If you want the educated populace essential to the functioning of a democracy, you look to the resources provided by public libraries. If you want advocates for freedom of expression, privacy, personal liberty, and the importance of free thought, you look to librarians.

    As an FYI, not all public libraries receive funding from their State. In Vermont, public libraries are funded by local tax dollars (no State funds). If the library wants to provide literacy programming (such as that encouraged by the 501st event), it usually needs additional funding to do so. Federal money is essential to ensure that public libraries fulfill their mission.

    As an additional FYI – the Federal Government has recognized the importance of libraries in Federal legislation, most notably in copyright law. There are specific limits on the rights of copyright holders to protect the work of libraries and librarians.

    • This is something that’s been frustrating me for a while now: so few people take the time to try and figure out just what the value of something is: they simply point fingers without realizing the true cost.

  3. The Abington public library has been closed on Saturdays and had very limited hours for the last two years while our town, like many others, has struggled. This year, with the help of federal money, they are again open on Saturdays. This Star Wars day was intended to attract kids, get them in the library, and encourage them to learn more by reading. It was successful. That is money well spent in my book.

  4. Sen. Coburn is an example of a politician whose commitment to a political theory is greater than their desire for a better nation. It’s easier to make decisions according to political gain instead of considering costs & benefits in the real world.

  5. This is just ridiculous and misleading. Lets just get one thing clear. The 501st costuming group, which I am a member, does these event’s for FREE. We do not charge a few to show up for events for charities. We do these because of one reason, the kids. We help out anyway we can and do it strictly on a volunteer basis.

    • I don’t think that he was pointing the finger at the NEG directly (I’m not even clear if he knows that we as a group exist) – this in and of itself is a problem, when people don’t take a moment to figure out just what the money is being spent on and what the gain on the other side is.

      • No problem. We did this here on Chattanooga, I’m the tall shadow trooper, and the kids went crazy! They loved every minute and some actually said that Star Wars was the first books the read. Makes me proud to know that we do this every year. Even if it wasn’t a funded event we still will continue to show up and get kids into reading!

      • I want to say that the most memorable troops of this past year have been ones that are heavily involved with reading: a library event and a bookstore event, both of which brought in a lot of really eager readers! Star Wars novels really kept me reading in my teens, and helped to develop my love for Science Fiction and Fantasy literature. Without it, I wouldn’t be where I am today, quite literally.

  6. Thank you for this article Andrew. I am a fervent lover and supporter of libraries, and my political views pretty much mirror yours.

    leave it to the politicians on both sides to twist words and events. how do some of these people sleep at night?

    • I haven’t a clue: I think that the worldview is idiotic and shortsighted. The same people claim that the US is falling back in the world, but fail to realize just what tools are needed to actually accomplish this.

  7. Pingback: Senator Coburn: Star Wars Event ‘Wasteful Spending’ | Geek Mountain State

  8. I owned a non-profit business for many years, helping the poor and abused children who would usually end up in fostercare. My heart is with these children…but if the government does NOT have the money…the federal government can not afford it…plain and simple. The $365. is a part of a much bigger grant, so anything included in that grant would be cut. I love Star Wars and raised my children loving it…and I am a grant writer, so I empathize with the ones loosing this grant. I would have loved to do a lot for my children and others, more than I did…but if I could not afford it, we didn’t go. We need to expect our government, whether it is controlled by a republican or democratic party, to live by the same standards that we live by in our own lives…if you do not have the funds to support something, then you need to find other options. Also, I have family and friends who are members of the 501st…I love and support what they do and what they stand for. Hopefully our country can begin to grow economically…so that this grant and many more wonderful programs…can continue to help others in need. :-)

    • Two thoughts related to that:

      1) Yes, the government CAN afford it, because it’s been given out already, and they’ve made boosting spending for other things a higher priority anyway – that’s sort of what I was alluding to with military spending. When your candidate for President runs on a lowering the deficit platform, while advocating raising military spending to its highest levels ever, there’s a disconnect there.

      2) I’d much rather see education, reading, and so forth given a higher priority when it comes to federal spending. It’s priorities such as this that would allow for the need or perceived need for higher military, et al, spending to be reduced.

      The idea that the deficit has seemingly become this towering thing that must be surmounted is a bit ironic, considering that there’s been a single day – one. single. day. – that the United States has been out of debt completely. What we need is far better management of how the federal funds are spent, which brings be back around to my first point: better investments in education, literacy and sciences will help the country far more than austerity will.

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  10. Thanks for the post. I’ll definitely share it. The idea that any civilized society would not support libraries or confuse them with “businesses” or think they can only be allowed to survive at the whims of private foundations is frightening. Some of the first books I ever read were science fiction, including the first Star Wars novel.

  11. Total cost of the Starwars Defense Initiative: $30,000,000,000.
    Total cost of Starwars Day: $365.
    Cost/Benefit to the American public… don’t get me started!

  12. Thought it seems patently obvious, I guess it needs to be said: libraries aren’t businesses. They aren’t out to make a profit. They exist to provide resources to the community, like computers, Internet access, and materials that help people get jobs. The idea that libraries need to be locally funded is ludicrous. If the economy is particularly bad in one region then their libraries would likely close. If people are struggling for money, it’s probably when they need the services of the library–book lending, Internet access, newspapers and magazines–the MOST.

    The problem for people like the first poster here is that he sees little value in what the library provides so his solution is to deprive that resource to the people who value it and use it. This is probably because he buys the books and magazines he wants and can pay for his Internet, so why pay for something he doesn’t use? This of course assumes no one else really needs it either, which is a false assumption.

    I don’t disagree that the government needs to cut spending. Focusing on education and other things that benefit society at large seems to be among the dumbest, most short-sighted options.

    • Completely agreed on this end. Considering that money on the Federal level already exists, someone along the way has determined that it is well within the powers of the government to fund such a thing.

      Even in good times, a good library is an expensive proposition that likely would have a difficult time getting completely funded by a small town or village. It’s doable, but the money spent there goes a considerable way, and these sorts of grants can be enormously beneficial to a town that has a lot of competing demands for the existing tax base. The will and interest might be there, and simply not the resources.

      I don’t think that Nathan is ignoring the use and value of a library: he just has a different interpretation on the role in which that’s supported. I don’t think that the reasoning stands up all that well, but everyone’s entitled to their own opinion.

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