Wonderful News, Vexing Questions

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Payson residents caught a lucky break when the federal government agreed to provide enough money to hire six firefighters for the next two years. The $784,600 SAFER grant will restore three-man paramedic crews to fire trucks — including at the newest third fire station.

Studies show that firefighters on two-man crews suffer more injuries and perform critical tasks more slowly. When it comes to fires and heart attacks, every minute matters.

Hoping for a SAFER grant last year, the council built a third fire station. When the grant fell through, the town had to rely on smaller crews and volunteers.

The good news comes on the heels of an earlier announcement that a $607,000 SAFER grant will rescue the Hellsgate Fire Department from debilitating layoffs.

The federal government has provided some $4 billion in SAFER grants in the past decade. Originally, the program focused on increasing fire department staffing. As a result, towns had to provide substantial matching funds and couldn’t use the money to avert layoffs.

The federal government expanded the SAFER program during the recession, helping towns avert thousands of firefighter layoffs. So voters might well consider the impact of programs like SAFER when contemplating the admittedly dismaying federal budget. Certainly, we cannot live on borrowed money — but neither can we afford to take a meat ax to vital programs like SAFER.

In the meantime, we can only hope Payson and other towns will tackle their budgets with a renewed sense of urgency. Long-ignored issues like public employee pensions and benefits now threaten financial disaster. Once upon a time, it seemed we could afford pension systems that allowed people to retire after 20 years, collect benefits and then seek another job. That’s no longer true.

Moreover, winning the SAFER grant today merely postpones the urgent problem of paying those six new firefighters’ salaries in the future. In two years, Payson taxpayers must come up with that extra $785,000 each year.

Hopefully, by then the new fire station will serve a thriving university campus and various spin-off businesses, which Payson hopes to build right down the street.

So we can celebrate this good news — but that doesn’t mean we can afford to go back to business as usual.

Have you seen Higgs?

Oh my Lord. Finally, after all the confusion, complexity, false hopes, bewildering setbacks and huge expense — it’s finally happened. No, not signing a contract with Arizona State University, silly: They found the Higgs Boson.

You look confused: Like when we tried to explain the financial structure of the Separate Legal Entity (SLE) and Gov. Jan Brewer’s veto. But now we’re talking about the Higgs Boson — the “God Particle” — which gives things like quarks their mass.

Oh my. That didn’t help, did it? You looked just like that when we explained why you should drop change in jars at the supermarket to help finance a $500 million project.

Let us try again. In one of the great intellectual achievements in human history, physicists developed a beautiful set of formulas that explains almost everything, including three of the four forces that run the universe. You know, electro-magnetism, the strong nuclear force and the weak nuclear force. (Just set aside gravity, for the moment, that’s a whole different metaphor.)

But the Standard Model of Particle Physics had one little problem. It couldn’t account for why all those little whirling particles had mass. So back in 1964, physicist Peter Biggs (and others) conjured up an undiscovered particle that created a field that effectively gave everything else mass — even though it can only exist for some impossible fragment of an instant before it evaporates into something else.

Physicists have been searching for the little beast ever since, like negotiators trying to come up with language to divvy up rent from student dorms.

So after building the most complex scientific instrument in human history, a huge team of physicists in Europe finally found the little beastie — or at least its footprints. Victory! The Standard Model triumphs — along with magical mathematics that has repeatedly predicted the existence of things we can barely imagine.

This seemed momentous — like the impact a university campus would have on a struggling little town. We wanted so badly to write about it, even though we don’t actually understand it — like how negotiations could go on for, like, four years without a conclusion.

But here’s the problem. We’re a community newspaper. How could we connect something so important and baffling to some significant local topic — something everyone yearns for and no one understands?

Frankly, we’re stumped. Guess we’ll have to have faith in the seekers and just move on along.

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