…monday, government offices were closed in Washington DC, to mark columbus day. except that most of them had been closed anyway, because of the US government shutdown. as everyone knows, christopher columbus was an Italian navigator who, in the service of the Spanish crown, supposedly “discovered” America and reported its potential to a wondering world. i have spent the summer in the United States watching, with growing alarm, a country engaged in a degree of self-harming which, if observed in a teenager, would lead any friend to cry “call the doctor at once”. as I set course back to Europe, my conclusion is this: America should do a reverse Columbus. the world no longer needs to discover America; but America urgently needs to discover the world’s view of America.
higgs, a self-effacing theoretical physicist who values his privacy, had quite deliberately disappeared last Tuesday morning and headed for a secluded lunch in the old port of Leith, just as the nobel prize committee in Stockholm had prepared to announce he was this year’s joint winner of its prize for physics.
the honour had been nearly 50 years in the making, after billions of pounds were spent on the most advanced science experiment ever devised, at Cern, near Geneva, to finally prove his theory that an infinitesimally small particle is the binding glue of the physical universe.
there is something disarmingly and insistently humble about chris ware – even though he was the first graphic novelist to win a major literary prize (the guardian’s own first book award in 2001 for jimmy corrigan: the smartest kid on earth), even though his most recent work, building stories, has been acclaimed as the equivalent of james joyce’s ulysses in form, and he has nine eisner awards and nine harvey awards. when i interviewed him on stage, in front of a sell-out crowd, for the Edinburgh international book festival, his first words were: “i’m not a very interesting person as you can probably already tell.” we met the next day for a cup of tea, and whenever i called him a “graphic novelist”, or his work “graphic novels”, he replied referring to himself as a ”cartoonist” and his work as “cartoons”. i only learned later that “chris ware” is his pen name, a more unassuming version of his birth-name, franklin christenson ware.
this modesty goes to the core of ware’s work, and his decision to work in cartoons. on stage he described the cartoon as a “working-class art form” and an “art of the people”. he expanded on this afterwards; beginning with a short-hand history of early comics from rodolphe töpffer to richard felton outcault, he warmed to his theme. “in America, it really exploded in the 1920s, in Chicago specifically, with the artists on the Chicago tribune doing what were essentially serial stories that predated what would happen with radio and tv. and they were all about regular people. take gasoline alley – that strip suddenly became about real life, it had a continuing narrative and a warmth. they knew the readers of the newspaper were regular people who didn’t want to be talked down to. that’s appealing to me: it seems like the best possible America, the point at which the ideals coalesce into a popular art form that could actually be great.”
astronomers have found a planet, a mere 80 light years from Earth, that is wandering the heavens alone. the free-floating planet, named PSO J318.5-22, is a gas giant with six times the mass of Jupiter and is a relative newborn as far as planets go, having formed only 12 million years ago.
"we have never before seen an object free-floating in space that that looks like this. It has all the characteristics of young planets found around other stars, but it is drifting out there all alone,” said michael liu of the Institute for astronomy at the university of Hawaii at Manoa, who helped to find the planet. “i had often wondered if such solitary objects exist, and now we know they do.”
somewhere in the night: joseph mankiewicz,1946.
…ted cruz’s filibuster to prevent the implementation of obamacare with the threat of shutting down the government has all the hallmarks of the “noble defeat” of southern democrats from the mid-sixties onward. he is not so much opposing healthcare reform as protesting its inevitability.
lest there be any confusion, i am not arguing cruz is in any way a supporter of segregation or admirer of the late wallace in his darker days. the comparison relates to his strategy, not his specific intent. it is in cruz’s buffoonery, showmanship and tactical disingenuousness that he poses now as wallace in drag.
it would be hard enough these days to find a human capable of playing a 12-inch lp, let alone an alien. so perhaps it is time for nasa to update its welcome pack for extraterrestrials.
it contains greetings in dozens of languages, sounds such as morse code, a tractor, a kiss, music – from bach to chuck berry – and pictures of life on Earth, including a sperm fertilising an egg, athletes, and the Sydney opera house.
now, jon lomberg, the original golden record design director, has launched a project aiming to persuade nasa to upload a current snapshot of Earth to one of its future interstellar craft as a sort of space-age message in a bottle.
the new horizons spacecraft will reach Pluto in 2015, then is expected to leave the solar system in about three decades. the new horizons message initiative wants to create a crowd-sourced “human fingerprint” for extra-terrestrial consumption that can be digitally uploaded to the probe as its journey continues. the message could be modified to reflect changes on Earth as years go by.
in the past year, mps, peers and staff in the houses of parliament tried to view sex 309,316 times. but they don’t have sex in the houses of parliament. not any more. even i know that. they should’ve looked online instead. there’s loads of sex on the internet. or they could’ve just popped out to the newsagents and got some there. or looked at some advertising. but the internet is best. in fact there is so much sex on the internet and on our high streets that diane abbott MP is worried about how all this fake sex is affecting our children and our own sex lives. if abbott knew the impact the smouldering, highly charged sexual chemistry she shared with michael portillo on this week had on my own sex life and the sex lives of millions of ordinary, innocent people (not to mention its effect on andrew neil’s hair), she might not be so outspoken on the subject.
luckily, channel 4 have also noticed how much sex there is everywhere and so, to counteract this “explosion of online pornography”, they’ve commissioned a new show. that’s got sex in it. how to boost your ratings while pretending to help society? fight sex with sex! it’s almost genius.
anyway, in the show, called sex box, which sounds like an x-rated games console fronted by tom jones, three couples will have sex, in a box, in front of a studio audience, and then talk to mariella frostrup about it immediately afterwards. there won’t be time for a cup of tea or a wash or to cry or lie about anything.
hyperspeed restorative therapy: a multi-purpose cure for aches, pains, illness and general ageing, is a good, refreshing run. we all know that a good, vigorous run can make you feel better, but what doctors don’t tell you is that the faster you run, the healthier you become! this is because as you run faster and faster, you approach the speed of light. once you reach this limit and pass it, you violate space time and travel into the past, and thus reverse your bodies clock, undoing all the damage and decay the modern world causes. superman used this very technique to bring lois lane back to life in his first film, and who are you going to trust more; some uncaring gp, or the last son of Krypton?
you may experience some heaviness and aches while doing this, but this is just parts of your body regenerating. the speeds necessary are sometimes known as “relativistic" because if you go too fast there’s a chance you’ll go too far back in time and become one of your own relatives.
the arbitrary nature of the death penalty as practiced in the US is laid bare in a new study that shows that just 2% of counties across the nation have generated most of the executions in the past 40 years.
a new report from the death penalty information center in Washington shows that of the 1,348 executions that have taken place in the US since the death penalty restarted in 1976, more than half originated in only 2% of counties. under the US judicial system, the decision to launch a capital case lies with district attorneys at the county level.
put another way, 15% of the counties of America have given rise to all the state executions to be carried out in the modern era. the argument that has been played out at the highest levels of US jurisprudence, that the death penalty is administered in a fair and equitable fashion within the federal system, is belied by the vastly divergent facts on the ground.