Below is the latest The Pain -- When Will It End?
The Kid had a hard time of it with the cartoon this week. I began by drawing what’s become panel #2 of this cartoon, intending to contrast several recent scientific discoveries with the notable lack of important new breakthroughs by Creationism, only to remember in the middle of the night that I had already drawn this cartoon two years ago. This after I’d already finished an excellent drawing of the Large Hadron Collider in tricky curved perspective. I was like: well, fuuuck me.
So okay: I started in on another cartoon about the Presidential campaign, called “Which Issue Matters Most to Voters?” which was to focus on the trivial non-issues that have already begun to dominate “the discourse.” (To quote the ever-clear-eyed Matt Taibbi once again: “Here we are, the world's lone superpower, holding elections at a time when we're engaged in a catastrophic war in Iraq, facing a burgeoning nuclear crisis in Pakistan, dealing with all sorts of horrible stuff. And at the crucial moment, the presidential race turns into something from the cutting-room floor of Truly Tasteless Jokes #50: "Three change-promisers walk into a bar...”) I was going to draw panels illustrating dumb identity-politics crap like “Femininity,” “Degree of Blackness,” and “Lachrymosity.” (The fact that Hilary’s calculated tearing-up gambit actually paid off seems to me like a convincing argument for the repeal of not only the nineteenth amendment but of universal suffrage. Maybe it’s as good a time as any to admit, after two thousand years, that democracy just didn’t work, it turns out people are fucking morons after all.) I was all set to draw John McCain sobbing and Rudy Giuliani in drag when I did a google image search and learned that in fact Rudy Giuliani has dressed up in elaborate (if not exactly convincing) drag on a number of well-publicized occasions. Again, the problem of attempting to parody a reality that’s become increasingly incredible and absurd. Plus it occurred to me that The fucking Onion had already scooped me on this whole premise with “Bullshit Most Important Issue for 2008 Voters.”
So in the end I decided to reverse-engineer a cartoon premise from the cool space panel I’d already drawn. I am, as longtime readers may know, more than just another space geek. Space is to me what God is to religious people (with the drawback that it doesn’t care about me but the advantage that it actually exists). I was a front-line soldier in the heroic but doomed defense of Pluto back in aught-six. Ten years ago I addressed the Forum on Outer Planetary Exploration 2000-2020 at the Lunar and Planetary Institute. An ex-girlfriend of mine who’s now a science reporter at NPR once got me to apply for a job (!) as a writer at the Hubble Institute. I remember I drove down to Baltimore the night before in a rainstorm without working windshield wipers and got up so early the morning of the interview I accidentally brushed my teeth with Deep Heat. It did not augur well for me. At the interview I successfully name-dropped the Drake equation and Charon off the top of my head but blew the whole deal when they asked if I had any web experience and I mistakenly mentioned the early version of this site. As fate would have it, the first cartoon they clicked on was one called “Another Day, Another Dollar,” which shows a miserable wretch at his office job, which apparently consists of dutifully hammering nails through his own hand. “No no, don’t worry, honesty is the best policy,” they told me, and didn’t hire me. It’s too bad. It’s one of the only jobs I can imagine enjoying. Anyway, I still take an active interest in space news, and Webmaster Dave, whose day job is with NASA, keeps me up to date on the cooler breaking developments. Those interested can read the original stories below. The first article, on skinny galaxies with supermassive black holes, seems to have been written by a rather waggish and naughty science writer, in prose so lewdly suggestive that my cartoon pretty much drew itself.
Panel 1: Thin Galaxies with Fat Black Holes
Panel 2: The [fuckin’] Death Star Galaxy
Panel 3: Pools of Dark Matter
Panel 4: UFOs in Texas
Thanks again to colleague Tom Hart, who with increasing frequency is stepping into the invaluable role of model and plagiaree recently vacated by my old friends back in Baltimore. Last week at Burp Castle he was wishing aloud that the aliens would finally come, just to change the news for once. He’s right; the news is getting old. The war in Iraq isn’t ever going to end and the economy’s not getting better and the goddamn Presidential campaign, which is now in its 374th week and feels like having your faith in democracy pulled out through your nose with a long skinny hook, is only halfway through. But hey did anyone else hear about this mass U.F.O. sighting in Texas? A cigar-shaped object 400 yards long covered with lights that changed color, zigzagging through the sky? Of course this is Texas we’re talking about, and, as one witness says, “this is the Bible Belt, and everyone is afraid it's the end of times,” and let’s not forget that there are people in this country who claim to have seen the face of Christ in a tortilla, so we should not regard all this without skepticism, but still, there were an awful lot of witnesses. It seems safe to say they all saw something.
It was Big Jim who told me about this last story, and he confessed that he was relieved that prominent figures in the media (by which he means the hosts of the Today show) are coming clean about their own U.F.O. sightings since it makes him finally feel comfortable discussing our own sighting some years ago. I myself would still prefer not to speak of this incident, since the circumstances (drinking mason jars of Yuengling porter all night at a Frog Hollar concert in central Pennsylvania) do not exactly make us sound like unimpeachable witnesses. Still, beer is hardly a hallucinogen (Dumbo notwithstanding), and Jim and I and the other dude in the parking lot all agreed on what we’d seen.
Like Tom, I do get sick of the petty and transitory noise that makes up the bulk of our diet of information—meaningless speeches, unintelligible violence, so much sound and fury. What do you think the big headlines were in 1666, the year Newton posited gravitation as a universal force, discovered that white light was composed of the colors of the spectrum, and invented differential calculus, or in 1905, the “annus mirabilis” when Einstein confirmed quantum theory by analyzing the photoelectric effect, introduced special relativity, and proposed the formulation that matter and energy are equivalent? The Great Fire of London and the Anglo-Dutch War; The Russian Revolution and the Russo-Japanese War. The posturing and squabbling of politicians and the exchange of gunfire over issues that would be of little interest or significance to anyone alive now. In other words, ephemeral bullshit. These insights and discoveries are the real history of our species, the slow painstaking climb from ignorance to understanding. It’s the work of those few cloistered dweebs in every generation who take a frivolous interest in understanding the universe instead of dedicating themselves to the productive business of Getting More Things, or just killin’ folks. Sometime this year the Large Hadron Collider will commence operation in Europe, which might confirm certain extradimensional theories of gravitation. (Our own congress cancelled funding for a similar supercollider in the nineties because we had more important things to spend the Peace Dividend on, like more war). It would be a profound new insight into the structure of the universe we live in. Do you think we’ll hear about it on CNN? Maybe—unless Hillary commits a “gaffe” that day, or the Israelis launch a rocket attack on Hamas, or another dirtbag blows himself up in Fallujah.