Election Section

Humor: Nanotechnology Experiment Surpasses UC Expectations By STILLYN SHAWKE Daily Planet Science Reporter

Tuesday July 05, 2005

It is no secret that the University of California at Berkeley plans to play a major role in nanotechnology research. But what the university has kept under covers is that its research in nanotechnology is much more advanced than most people think. For the past few months, the university has conducted an “off the books” nanotechnology experiment on the Berkeley City Council, and the results are in: Attempts to shrink the brains and cajones of the City Council were overwhelmingly effective! 

“The proof is in the pudding,” glowed one UC spokesperson. “Six councilmembers voted for our settlement agreement for the Long-Range Development Plan (LRDP) lawsuit. Since the settlement was designed by our researchers to be a complete giveaway to the university, evidently our experiment produced the hoped-for ‘nanobrains’ and ‘nanoballs’ in those councilmembers. Our results are subject to peer review, but nobody has yet proposed a credible alternate explanation. We think [signing this settlement agreement] and presenting it as ‘cooperation’ is stupid enough to be definitive.” 

The entire experiment was conducted in “closed session,” so the methodology is confidential. However, the “nanocatalyst” was reportedly concealed in some Kool Aid graciously delivered to the closed session by the university. Two councilmembers, Dona Spring and Kriss Worthington, did not undergo the experimental procedure. Suspicious of anything offered by the university, they refused to drink the Kool Aid. 

Given the confidentiality, the experimental status of the third no-vote, Councilmember Betty Olds, may never be known. Everyone agrees that she uttered the phrase, “I can’t believe what a bunch of namby-pambies you all are!” but people disagree about when she said it. 

Some believe Ms. Olds uttered the phrase while refusing to drink the Kool Aid being guzzled by others on the council. Others believe she also drank the Kool Aid, but that her brain was too stubborn to shrink very much. An unidentified source stated that when everyone bent over to read the settlement, the nanobrains fell out the noses of six council members. But apparently Ms. Olds’ brain was too big to fall out, so that when she felt an unexpected prod from the rear, she popped back up with enough brain left to utter her now-famous phrase and vote no. 

Scientists did not anticipate that the nanobrains would actually fall out when the council bent over. “That was an unexpected boon, to physically see the nanobrains. We thought they would remain attached to the spinal column like little tumors--not realizing [the council] might not have spinal columns. And the council bent over so much farther than anyone expected,” mused one. 

The six nanobrains rolled to the floor and have since disappeared from the closed chambers. Reportedly they are in the hands of the university, which denies having them, but says that if they did have them, they would be “proprietary” as research results. 

“The public has a right to see the brains that signed this agreement,” said one outraged resident, “even if we need a microscope.” Another opined, “It’s scary to think of nanobrain technology in the hands of a ruthless institution like the university. I’ll never drink Kool Aid again, even if a very nice university flak-catcher like Irene Hegarty offers it to me during another pointless meeting.” 

The status of the council’s nanoballs is unknown. They may still be attached, or they might have been voluntarily turned over to the university in the new spirit of cooperation. Citizens are checking to see whether the Public Records and Freedom of Information acts permit the inspection of official anatomy as well as official documents. 

“They are shielded as work product,” countered Assistant City Attorney Zachary Cowan, adding bitterly, “Our office has been working on shrinking those balls for years, and now the university sweeps in and takes all the credit. I don’t call that ‘cooperation.’” 

When the six councilmembers were asked whether they wanted their original brains and balls back, two said they didn’t think they were missing. The other four said, “No, we like it this way. The staff is getting paid the big bucks to run this city, and the university has so much more expertise than we do. The less we think or act on our own, the happier we are. The citizens should try it.” 

Councilmembers deny knowing the Kool Aid contained nanocatalyst when they drank it, which raises the issue of informed consent. “I don’t think that’s a problem,” said City Attorney Manuela Albuquerque. “Nobody has the right to be informed about anything, least of all the decision makers. After all, we live in a democracy.” 

“I’d like to hear her explain that,” said Councilmember Worthington. 

Ms. Albuquerque clarified: “The words ‘secrecy’ and ‘democracy’ share the same root, ‘crecy’ or ‘cracy,’ which means ‘don’t ask, don’t tell.’ ‘Demo’ means ‘people,’ so ‘democracy’ means ‘don’t ask the people and don’t tell the people.’ Never, ever. Until afterward, anyway.” 

“Most of the council has learned this,” she added with an impatient gesture. 

Finally free to speak, Councilmember Spring lambasted the settlement. “It gives away the downtown—which is in my council district—to the university. Under this agreement, people in my district have to petition the Regents for permission to go to the bathroom!” 

Mayor Bates said that, as usual, Spring’s priorities are misplaced. “Our sewer system is there to help the university,” he said. “If downtown residents have to wait their turn, so be it. That’s what cooperation is all about.” 

Gordon Wozniak, a nuclear chemist, explained the settlement at a recent neighborhood meeting. “Just as particles become tinier but extremely heavy when they approach the speed of light, university impacts can be massive when experienced by neighbors and itemized by staff, lawyers, and independent accountants, but tiny in the context of a rapid settlement. And like the polarity of magnets, impacts can suddenly change from negative to positive. And if you know anything about imaginary numbers, you know that the less we get, the better it is for us. By getting no environmental mitigations and very little money, and by giving away municipal sovereignty and our right to recover future expenses or mitigations from the university, the city benefits enormously. We’re lucky they didn’t offer us anything substantial, because we might have accepted and then we’d be in a real pickle.” 

“Generally, the common people shouldn’t try to understand these things; it just gives them the idea they can micromanage policy,” Wozniak added. 

Under the settlement agreement, the city will receive $1.2 million per year from the university, which costs the city $12 million per year. When City Manager Phil Kamlarz was asked about this discrepancy, he looked a little surprised, then shrugged. “Well, when you get to be my age, it gets hard to see those tiny little decimal points,” he said. “My mistake. But what’s done is done. Let’s get on with balancing our budget. We have a lot of people who are pretty mad at having their services cut. We need to browbeat them, not the university.”