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For All Nails #110b: Yes, Minister

by David Mix Barrington

(with apologies to Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn)



NCCC Studios, Oldfields, Georgia, S.C., CNA
26 August 1974

William Knight took a breath and prepared to read the script.

"So here comes the colight, FN1 from the beamer here to the half-silvered mirror. Part of it goes straight through and on to bounce off the spinning mirror and make this spot on the wall. The other part goes off the half-silvered mirror, out the window, all the way over to a little mirror in that church tower way over there, back here and off the spinning mirror. And it makes this other spot on the wall. See, I block this beam, and the second spot goes away. Now why are there two spots? Because in the time it takes for the beam to go to the church and back, the spinning mirror has turned a little bit. And because we know how fast the mirror is spinning and what angle it's turned through, we can tell how long the beam took to get to the church and back -- about one one-hundred thousandth of a second. And since the church is a mile away, that means the beam is going at about two hundred thousand miles per second! FN2

The director's voice came over the outspeaker. "That's great, Will. We can take it from here. Let's take five, though, you've got a phone call?"

"In the middle of taping? Can't they call back?"

"I think you want to take this one, Will."

Knight shrugged and went across the room to the studio's phone.

"Will Knight here."

"Will! Ah'm sorry to interrupt your work -- this is Lennart Skinner callin'."

"Governor? I mean Governor-General, why--"

"Ah want you to pop up to Burgoyne tonight and meet with me tomorrow mornin' about a job. My secretary Betty's made all the arrangements, you can talk to her soon's we're done."

"But, Governor-General, I don't understand, I'm not a politician--"

"Ah don't need a politician, Will, Ah need a man who can explain science. Ah don't think Ah'd never have gotten the Clean Water bill through without your help, Will. You were the one who showed me what was goin' on with the pigshit in the ponds, the yoo-tro-whatever."

"Eutrophication."

"That's it. But you didn't call it yoo-tro-fy-cation, you called it fertilizer. You said that the pigshit in the ponds was fertilizer, and it made the plants grow too much, and took all the air away from the fish and killed the pond. And that was simple enough for a country boy like me to understand, and simple enough for my legislators and my voters. You've got a gift, son, for explainin' this stuff. And Ah need that gift up heah in Burgoyne."

"Well, Governor-General, I'm flattered, I don't know what to say--"

"Say you'll be up heah tomorrow, and say you'll take the job."

"Well of course I want to help out however I can--"

"Good, it's settled then, here's Betty."

"But Governor-General, I don't even know what job we're talking about... Governor-General?"



T. A. Edison Science Ministry Building
Burgoyne, Pennsylvania, N.C., CNA
27 August 1974

Joshua Abramowitz was normally a supremely confident man, but he awaited his new superior with some trepidation. The choice of an entertainer as Science Minister was certainly unusual for the Confederation, though such things were par for the course in Mexico, he supposed. And the new man's background was certainly broad, even if its depth consisted only of a master's degree in mechanical engineering and several years working for Confav Aviation. Here he was now, an energetic, youthful-looking man, if not quite as youthful in person as on the vita.

"Dr. Abramowitz, a pleasure to meet you at last, I'm looking forward to working with you."

"Thank you, Minister, and congratulations on your appointment. I've seen your program, and I think it's very well done, a real social benefit. It must be quite a complicated thing to produce."

"Well, it's not rocket science, or building an atomic bomb." A slight graceful nod seemed to be the right response to that last reference, Josh thought. Building an atomic bomb had been easier than running a ministry, he reflected -- at least in Fort McKenzie everyone had been working toward the same goal and he could draw on any reasonable amount of funding he needed.

"Still, all those special effects and jumping around between different pictures. Far more interesting than old Dr. Science FN3 for the kids. And you know, we gave a grant two years ago for a study that showed that your program worked as a complement to regular classroom instruction. You do good work, Minister."

"Well, thank you, but it's a different kind of work that we've got to start doing together now. And you're a lot more familiar with that work than I am."

"Yes, Minister, I've been handling the administrative side of the department since 1968, under three different ministers from the People's Coalition. I should think that now that another party is in power, there will be some changes of direction, but much of the work of the ministry will go on as it has. I hope that's why I was retained as Deputy Minister."

"Well, you're right. Part of my charge from the Governor-General is to keep up the good work. Part is to begin some new initiatives, particularly to do with the environment. And the third part, you'll be glad to know, is to avoid being 'hornswoggled by any high-falutin' scientific gobblydegook from that fellow Abramowitz'."

"Oh, dear, my reputation as a hornswoggler has preceded me, I fear." The new Governor-General's odd vocabulary was quickly infecting all manner of discussions between the rivers, Josh thought. "Well, let me at least make my loyalties clear from the beginning. I started work with the People's Coalition because ten years ago they were willing to build an atomic bomb and the Liberals weren't. I stayed with them because they wanted to use this Ministry to strengthen the scientific and technological base of the Confederation. My understanding is that the new government also wants to do that. I work for the nation first, but for you and your boss second. If those loyalties come into conflict, I'll tell you about it, and if we can't work out the conflict I'll resign. But you'll get the truth about what I want and why I want it."

"Fair enough. And I can promise you the truth about what the government wants, at least in so far as they tell me. The Governor-General keeps his cards pretty close to the vest, I understand."

"Yes, Minister. There's bound to be a certain amount of infighting in the Cabinet, I'm afraid. Of course, you realize that Defence is going to be trying to take the Space Agency back from us right away?"

"Even though they have their own space program, and work so closely with Science?"

"Yes, Minister. The demilitarization of the Space Service was a political decision right after the 1973 election -- Monaghan's people wanted to dissociate the Sweet Six from the military after Moca. In administrative terms, though, that meant the transfer of billions of pounds from Defence's ledger to ours. They'll want that money back, and they might get it -- the pilots and all the people around them are military people with military loyalties."

"But if we're going to get any science done in space, we have to expand the kind of personnel we have up there, beyond just pilots. That's going to be a lot easier with the agency under us, isn't it?"

"Yes, Minister." In fact, Abramowitz thought, it would be sort of a wash. If the Space Service was military, then the space scientists would just come out of a different organization even if the pilots were from the Air Force. It was a turf battle, the sort of problem to occupy a political appointee. Which was, he admitted to himself, why he had brought it up.

"Well, that's a topic for the first Cabinet meeting."

"Indeed, Minister. Apropos of that meeting, as well, I've done some preliminary work on the new initiatives you mentioned earlier."

"But I didn't tell you what they are yet."

"I think it was clear through the campaign where the Liberal party wants more science spending, wasn't it? Here's a summary of three new grant programs we can start right away, on industrial chemicals, on the relations between various living things in the same habitat, and on cleaner technologies in manufacturing. And here's the preliminary proposal for a new national laboratory facility, which I'm sure would go nicely in some marginal riding in Indiana. FN4 Take them home, I'm sure you'll have some more ideas."

"Sounds good for a start. But these programs won't bring any results for months or years, will they?"

"True, but we've not exactly been idle in these areas even under a PC administration. For example, I've had two of my best men in the Antarctic FN5 for the last few months, firing off sounding rockets to get samples of the upper atmosphere there. It seems the amount of triox FN6 above the Antarctic is highly variable, and may be affected by industrial chemicals released in the lower atmosphere."

"But the triox provides radiative shielding for the whole planet!"

"Yes, Minister. If this effect in the Antarctic is more general, it could pose a risk of more ionizing radiation from the sun reaching the surface. We don't know yet, of course."

"Isn't there too much triox down here, from locomobile exhaust?"

"That's my understanding, Minister, but it seems that moving it up to where we want it is just not on, no feasible way to do it. The best hope would probably be some sort of international treaty to limit production of the chemicals in question."

"But to get that, we need to have more solid results on what's going on. Yes, I think the Cabinet will want to hear about this."

"If they're excited about it, Minister, it may be a good time to bring up this proposal." He unrolled a set of plans.

"The Earthwatch Global Environmental Monitoring Platform. What, you want to put eight or ten scientists up there at one time, eh?"

"Yes, Minister, along with the support staff. The Space Agency thinks it can be built, assuming the Geminae missions FN7 successfully demonstrate the docking and spacewalking technologies we'll need. To stay on track, we'll need most of a billion in next year's budget."

"Hmm... you know, Doctor, these plans look a lot like the International Orbital Platform that the Cabinet shot down last year. You wouldn't be planning any hornswoggling here now, would you?"

"You might think that, Minister, I couldn't possibly comment."


Forward to #111A: The Osterman Weekday.

Forward to 6 September 1974: The Language of Love.

Forward to CNA Politics: Sunday Morning Tea.

Return to For All Nails.

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