Wednesday, December 21, 2011


Anyone under ninety is too young to remember, but old-timers may recall a publication called Newsweek that was briefly interesting a long, long time ago.   Not interesting in itself, mind you;  but for a while it sort of mattered, mildly,  to the surrounding middle-class American culture, if only to mark the simultaneous decline in self-confidence  of its mirror-image sister publication  Time.  Nowadays it is the journalistic equivalent of toenail fungus:  not especially harmful (its influence not extending beyond the confines of a pair of stinky socks), but impossible to get rid of.  To the best of my wife’s knowledge (though she flushes and lowers her face when she gives testimony), she has never actually ordered a subscription to the thing;  and to my own certain knowledge, I have never sent them a dime:  never renewed, nor expressed any potential interest in renewing, nor mused about renewing were the magazine  (in some alternate universe obeying quite different physical laws) ever to become any good, at all.  Indeed I have, not once but on several occasions, at the comparatively rare intervals when they actually deliver a renewal-notice (usually they just renew without asking), unambiguously and indeed forcefully, perhaps at times actually scatologically, given them to understand that they are to cease, desist, and shut the hell up;  that they are no longer to burden our bent-back mailperson as heshe hastens on rag-bound feet through depths of snow and sheets of sleet, with the weight of so much as one issue of their lightweight publication.  Yet still it comes, year after year, like the Asian flu, with my wife’s name on the mailing-label..

And this week, I noticed -- in mid-arc as the thing was sailing towards the trash -- a supertitle,


which naturally caught my eye, if only by its intricate stupidity.  (What is the meaning of Mars, after all?  What is the meaning of a carrot ?)  And what should it prove to be but -- a piece from our favorite Newsweek-level physicist, none other than Lisa Randall ! --  titled

In Search of the God Particle

Now, note:  We have here a sighting, not of any actual Higgs particle, but simply of yet another Higgs-particle article, in the pages of a publication with columns to fill, well after the latest Higgs mini-boomlet has died down.
She breathlessly begins:

THE EXCITEMENT FROM Europe  earlier this month  was palpable.

 In fairness  we should not twit her for this;  in all probability, she did not write that, but simply signed it.    The phrase

has been kept in a slug of cold type dating way back to the days when American media didn’t bother to retain their own foreign correspondents, and is coming back into fashion now that they have mostly reverted to cribbing from the New York Times.

(For the journalistic cognoscenti:  The reference to Europe here  is an oblique acknowledgement of the fact Americans themselves, this autumn,  have had far too much quantum weirdness to entertain them, to give a hoot about what might be happening or rather failing to happen  at the somewhere-in-Switzerland-is-it  LHC.  To wit:  the Cain Bozo-on; the Strange or “Newt” quark;  the Romneyon, electrically neutral, gravitationally neutral, massless, odorless -- but with plenty of "spin"; and the Perry Particle, which spectacularly self-destructs.)

She goes on:

Even nonscientists -- those for whom  terms like “Higgs field”, “gigaelectronvolt”, and “hadron” are almost a foreign language -- were thrilled.

Just how thrilled is apparent from this actual transcript, clandestinely recorded by a named foreign intelligence service in the modest kitchen of a specified London suburb, between [selectors of apron-resp.-sweater-wearing second-party-partners redacted] :

-- I see where they’re on about that boson again.
-- Ooze boson ?
-- ‘Iggs !
-- ‘Iggs ‘Oo ?
-- ‘Iggs the boson boffin.
-- Ow, ‘at ‘Iggs.  Well wot about it.
-- Seems they can’t find it.
-- Mislaid it, ‘ave they?  Typical.
-- No -- no more like -- bleeder seems like it may be it might not even bleedin’ exist !
-- Well that would explain the bit about not findin’ it, wun’it ? -- Look, love, enough about ‘ese ‘ere bleedin’ bosons, is my bacon butty ready?
-- ‘Arf a jiff.  Just frying up these hadrons -- know you like it smothered in hadrons, my duck.
-- Ah, Mum !  That’s why I married you.

1 comment:

  1. Delightful. You have been found on the side, not of this electron or subparticle, but of the angels.