Graydon Carter's Jewel-Box

Vanity Fair’s Presidential Profiles, edited by Graydon Carter, is a jewel. Or, a jewel-box: a tiny, elegantly conceived, and ruthlessly crafted jewel-box of a book. It will make you wish you’d had Carter as your American History teacher. It might even make you wish Carter could train his editorial instincts, and those of his star contributing editors, onto topics this relevant to every American schoolchild’s education.

 Presidential Profiles takes as its inspiration a series of “profiles,” portraits by artist Mark Summers. Each President is depicted, and viewed in exactly the same position, facing to the right of the page. Summers claims to have aimed at neutrality when portraying them, and indeed very few of them show any sign of emotion. Summers’ only stated goal was realism—and impact. He has achieved this, and leaves us with a flipbook of American power-- a topic Vanity Fair knows well, a topic with requisite depth. 

The written profiles accompanying the drawings are a bonus. Here is Todd S. Purdham on Jefferson:

[Jefferson] is the great conundrum of the American story: the Author of Liberty, who owned slaved. As she and awkward in person as he was forceful with his pen, Thomas Jefferson two centuries ago retired the title of Presidential Polymath. Architect, horticulturist, inventor, natural scientist, viticulturist, political philosopher, he even published his own version of the New Testament, focusing on the words of Jesus and removing all references to miracles and divinity . . . in the most intimate way, Thomas Jefferson embodied America’s ambivalence about its original sin.

And, later, Purdham on Obama:

Obama’s critics have attacked his bona fides, his tendency to take on too much, and his belief in big government, but he brushes them off. He has always worn his ambition lightly; he is driven, without seeming to be so. His stylish wife and two little girls have brought a grace and a glamour to the White House not seen since the days of J.F.K. His story is unfinished, but his nation is already changed.

Amen. In a time when we are no longer certain what we want in an American president—hero, reformer, revolutionary, lackey, movie star—it is instructive to review the breadth of what has come before what we have now. Not unlike the restless wife cataloguing past beaus and finding them, increasingly, less interesting than she’d remembered, reviewing our presidents might be a way to recall some of history's sins, and subsequently to be grateful for the (relative) virtues of what we have today. Read this book.

How to make a black hole

Here's the science of black holes, from supermassive monsters to ones the size of ping-pong balls.

  • There's more than one way to make a black hole, says NASA's Michelle Thaller. They're not always formed from dead stars. For example, there are teeny tiny black holes all around us, the result of high-energy cosmic rays slamming into our atmosphere with enough force to cram matter together so densely that no light can escape.
  • CERN is trying to create artificial black holes right now, but don't worry, it's not dangerous. Scientists there are attempting to smash two particles together with such intensity that it creates a black hole that would live for just a millionth of a second.
  • Thaller uses a brilliant analogy involving a rubber sheet, a marble, and an elephant to explain why different black holes have varying densities. Watch and learn!
  • Bonus fact: If the Earth became a black hole, it would be crushed to the size of a ping-pong ball.

Russian reporters discover 101 'tortured' whales jammed in offshore pens

Protected animals are feared to be headed for the black market.

Politics & Current Affairs
  • Russian news network discovers 101 black-market whales.
  • Orcas and belugas are seen crammed into tiny pens.
  • Marine parks continue to create a high-price demand for illegal captures.
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China’s artificial sun reaches fusion temperature: 100 million degrees

In a breakthrough for nuclear fusion research, scientists at China's Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak (EAST) reactor have produced temperatures necessary for nuclear fusion on Earth.

Credit: EAST Team
Surprising Science
  • The EAST reactor was able to heat hydrogen to temperatures exceeding 100 million degrees Celsius.
  • Nuclear fusion could someday provide the planet with a virtually limitless supply of clean energy.
  • Still, scientists have many other obstacles to pass before fusion technology becomes a viable energy source.
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