You Can’t Separate Science and Politics

Praise The Lard. . . .

Citizens Against Government Waste gets headlines every year at this time with its indictment of pork-barrel spending. According to this group the 2003 Omnibus Appropriations act has about $22.5 billion in pork. And of this, $311 million goes to New Mexico.

The state ranks fourth, below Alaska, Hawaii and the District of Columbia, in pork per capita. The $168 compares with the national average of $34. Surrounding states — Texas, Arizona, Utah, Colorado — get less than $40.

So how did we get so lucky? In a word: Domenici. Sen. Pete Domenici is a senior Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee. Next question: should we feel guilty?

Naww. Except when we call Domenici a conservative. And besides, Domenici gave the world Ari Fleischer.

The biggest New Mexico item is $54 million to accelerate cleanup at Los Alamos. Who could be against clean bombs?

The problem any way is defining pork. It’s none too clear. Citizens Against Government Waste has a loose definition. Namely, porkers are pet projects that aren’t approved on their merits by the full Congress.

Two items that drew the group’s New Mexico scorn are: $6 million for Sandia National Laboratory’s Z Machine, and $21 million for the Magdalena Ridge Observatory. What were these guys thinking? The “Z” has got to be the last word in machines, and in these troubled times Magdalena Ridge needs always observing.
No wonder they have been called “a bunch of psychopaths” by Senate Appropriations Chairman Ted Stevens of Alaska — the No. 1 pork state in their list.

I did some basic Internet scientific research on the Z Machine. According to a Sandia Labs news release, the thing is an accelerator aimed at simulating thermonuclear conditions. So far, Sandia scientists have been able to produce about 290 trillion watts — or 80 times the world output of electricity — for a few billionths of a second.

Why? Well, this experiement stands in for full nuclear testing. But also, it’s science. And science is good, right? They might find quarks — or is that porks?

The Magdalena Ridge Observatory is a joint project of some universities led by New Mexico Tech, plus the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory. According to a Web site, it will produce, by the year 2008, a giant interferometer by linking 10 telescopes.

An interferometer measures light through the phenomenon of wave intereference. This too is science — astrophysics, starship enterprise, captain Kirk, Mr. Spock — or is that Mr. Pork?