Lunchtime Photo

It’s lunchtime on Christmas Eve, but I have no Christmas-themed photos to share with you. However, I’m sure we all agree that Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity is a timeless holiday classic, and it turns out that I do have a relativity-themed picture for you. I snapped it a couple of days ago, so I got it just in the nick of time.

Eagle-eyed readers with good memories will recall that explaining relativity is one of my pastimes, but I’ve long had a pet peeve about it: namely that general relativity is routinely explained using a timeworn picture of a trampoline to describe how gravity works. I’ll spare you the long-winded reason why this annoys me (it’s here, if you’re interested), but the nutshell version is that (a) it provides a completely incorrect impression of what’s actually going on, and (b) the real explanation of what causes gravity is both easier to understand and far more interesting. However, I have come up with a timely compromise. Behold the general relativity spider web:

December 22.41376, 2018 — Irvine, California

Check it out! It’s a trampoline-shaped spider web! The reason it’s trampoline-shaped is that the spider has erected some extra web filaments that pull the center outward, thus providing the equivalent of a non-Euclidean spacetime in which the geodesic bends toward the center.

Don’t worry about what that means. It’s bafflegab. The point is this: If you want to write about general relativity and you insist on using the trampoline metaphor, you have my permission to use this photograph anytime you like. In fact, I insist on it. I further insist that you explain the warpage of spacetime using the metaphor of a gigantic, invisible, relativistic spider. Deal?

And what the hell. Here’s another photo of the spider web. It’s taken from a slightly different angle and at a slightly different time, and for some reason this tiny change converts it from a timeless black-and-white image to a surprisingly moving color rendition that evokes the inexorable motion of the spider’s prey toward the center of the web. Fascinating, no?

December 22.41403, 2018 — Irvine, California

DOES IT FEEL LIKE POLITICS IS AT A BREAKING POINT?

Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

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