Democratic Underground

John Ashcroft: Periodic Table of Elements Now Classified Information

August 26, 2004
Satire by David Albrecht

WASHINGTON (AP) Attorney General John Ashcroft today announced sweeping changes in how the federal government will secure scientific information.

Effective immediately, the periodic table of the elements will be classified as "Secret" under a new plan Ashcroft predicted would "strangle" the ability of terrorist groups to plan and build weapons of mass destruction.

Almost anyone who has taken a chemistry class, whether in junior high or at the university level, has at least a nodding acquaintance with the table. This systematic grouping of the (redacted)-odd elements into groups based upon their chemical and physical properties was first devised by the famed Russian physicist Dimitri Mendeleev in the late 19th Century.

From (redacted), the lightest element with an atomic weight of (redacted), to (redacted), a far more massive artificial element present only briefly in the aftermath of atomic experiments or nuclear explosions, the familiar checkerboard pattern of the periodic table has for over a century been a presence in classrooms and chemistry texts everywhere in America.

Until today, that is. Acting under the Attorney General's direct orders, local, state and federal police officers fanned out early this morning in cities and towns in all 50 states. Although classification is effective immediately, the removal process will take weeks.

The first targets of the Justice Department crackdown were public elementary and secondary schools.

"We wanted to hit publicly-funded sites which offered particularly rich pickings for anyone interested in anti-American activities," noted Special Agent Thomas Higgins.

"We just can't run the risk of students learning about (redacted), which can be used to manufacture dynamite, or (redacted), which has been used by the military as a poison gas in the past."

Higgins noted that private and religious schools will not be as stringently policed; the former, as non-taxpayer funded organizations are exempt from some provisions of the new rules while the latter contain relatively little scientific information.

Colleges and universities may be permitted to use the now secret table, provided students submit to background checks, mental health screenings and mandatory anti-depressant drugs

Gwen Burns, a high school science teacher in Winnetka, Illinois, stood by, stunned and silent as FBI and ATF officers ripped down posters and charts, tore pages of newly sensitive information from textbooks and blacked out paragraphs and pages with black permanent markers.

"I'm still in shock," Burns said. "I can't believe that they're doing this."

Upon reflection, however, Burns was somewhat philosophical with the new security moves.

"On the other hand, I suppose if it will help keep us safe from terrorists, it's worth it."

She noted that she had voted for Bush in 2000, and though she is not entirely happy with this decision, would probably support him in November.

"He's never flip-flopped on terrorism, and I admire that," she added.

Some scientific leaders, however, rejected the Bush administration's stance.

Dr. Arnold Mitkin, a leading research chemist and member of the National Academy of Sciences, pointed out that removing the periodic table from American schools "will do nothing nothing to prevent the use of knowledge which has already been disseminated around the planet for over 100 years. This is an appalling step backward for science education."

Mitkin appeared unimpressed by an alternative chemistry text presented by Ashcroft and Education Secretary Rod Paige.

"This is ridiculous," Mitkin scoffed, reading from the pages of Atoms Big And Small Chemistry For Everyone. "'All atoms are small, but some are really, really small, and some are much bigger than the typical really small ones.' 'Some atoms stick together, and others don't.' This is possibly the worst attempt to deal with (redacted) and explain the theory of (redacted) that I've ever seen. The entire concept is (redacted)", Mitkin stated.

The Attorney General, however, remained confident in his plan.

"When we passed the Patriot Act and strengthened anti-terror laws, they didn't apply in all countries, either. Despite what Dr. Mitkin may say, we must start somewhere, and this is the starting point for opening this new front in the fight against these faceless killers," he stated.

Added Secretary Paige, with a laugh, "I don't need to tell you what this is going to do for the results of troubled schools on their standardized tests!"

Ashcroft did not comment on rumors of Bush administration plans to classify tables of weights and measures, confiscate all compasses and ban both maps and road atlases, though he did concede that such initiatives would make terrorist activities "difficult".

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