Well, I imagine you taxpayers out there are just as thrilled as I am about the federal government's plans to build the Superconducting Super Collider.
Wait a minute: I see some puzzled looks out there. I had forgotten that many of you, as members of the general public, have roughly the same level of scientific comprehension as plankton. So let me briefly explain, in layperson's terms, what the Superconducting Super Collider is: It is a humongous scientific object. The federal government is going to construct this object for $4.4 billion, give or take $16.7 billion, in some lucky science-conscious state, which will be selected based on how well the governor cleaned the shoes of key federal officials with his tongue.
The Super Collider will make tiny particles that nobody can see go whizzing at nearly the speed of light around an underground 52-mile oval tunnel until they smash into tiny particles that nobody can see coming the other way, the idea being that this collision will produce -- hold onto your hats, taxpayers -- even tinier particles that nobody can see. The purpose of this, of course, is to discover Important Clues regarding the Nature of the Universe, which is now widely believed to consist of very tiny particles, but you can never be too sure.
Needless to say, the Superconducting Super Collider concept was conceived by research scientists, who are driven, as always, by a burning desire to push back the frontiers of obtaining federal funds. I just wish I had been in the room when they thought this particular concept up. Probably they were relaxing one afternoon, sticking needles into laboratory rabbits and kicking around ideas for new science projects:
"How about," one of them said, "if we build a 400-foot-long nuclear-powered undersea saxophone?"
"Nah," scoffed the others. "Too practical." They also ruled out proposals to build the world's largest hearing aid and to implant eight tiny transistorized Jacuzzis into the brain of an otter. Then one of them leaped to his feet and shouted: "I've got it! We'll build a giant underground racetrack for invisible particles!"
Of course the other scientists loved it. They laughed and danced and inhaled Bunsen-burner fumes far into the night.
The Super Collider proposal then went to President Ronald (Star Wars) Reagan, whose aides gave him a detailed technical briefing utilizing a tambourine and two separate colors of M&Ms. After asking a few questions ("Which one is Nicaragua again?"), the president approved the idea.
Another major scientific thing we are thinking of doing is sending a manned spacecraft to Mars. One of the scientists pushing this idea is Carl Sagan, the same person responsible for making sure that the first man-made object to leave the solar system had engravings of naked people on it.
The reason we need to go to Mars is that we would gain Important Clues regarding the Nature of the Uni ... No! Wait! We already used that one. What I mean is, the reason we need to go to Mars is that otherwise the Russians might get there first and establish a base from which they could easily spread communism to Jupiter. But there would also be practical benefits to you, the taxpayer. Because if we can solve the incredibly complex technological problems involved in getting a manned craft to Mars, we might gain valuable insights into solving the mystery of how to get a regularly scheduled commercial airline flight from New York to Boston in less time than it can be done on crutches. This could very well happen in your lifetime, Mr. and Ms. Taxpayer! Although I doubt it.
1987, Knight-Ridder Newspapers