The End of Greatness

William Powers and Martha Sherrill

The End of Greatness

William Powers and Martha Sherrill

The End of Greatness
An email conversation about the news of the day.
June 7 2000 11:53 AM

William Powers and Martha Sherrill

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Dear Time Traveler,

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I hope you haven't totally let go of your body or lost it in one of the New Age dimensions you visited on your Gateway magic carpet last night. The president and vice president of your fan club want you to get that body on a plane and bring it home right now. The vice president was up at 5:30 this morning with the forlorn announcement, "I forgot to kiss mama on the phone." As I write this, he's watching my absolute least favorite kids' show, the unctuous Dragon Tales, and tearing the cover off Make Way for Ducklings.  Meanwhile, the cats are doing that weird pursued-by-phantoms thing--sliding down hallways, running sideways with their backs up--all over the house.

We're spinning into chaos without you!

I missed that cockfighting story, but today's papers seem loaded with good stuff, most of which I've only skimmed. The Times business section reports that the FBI is investigating fraud on eBay, in response to that great story of the last few weeks (also in the Times) about the guy who sold a painting for $135,805 by passing himself off as a suburban rube who didn't realize he might be selling a Richard Diebenkorn. He called himself "golfpoorly" and said the painting bore the mysterious intials "R.D." He also secretly bid on the painting himself, and that's the basis of the FBI's fraud investigation, which is inquiring about other eBay sellers, too. Can't help looking with new eyes at those three little "California impressionist" paintings we bought on eBay last year. We got them for under $200 each, but now I'm wondering if the bidding was all phony and we got taken. If you stare at one for a while--the brownish desert scene--it does begin to look faintly paint-by-numbers, you know? 

The Times also has a front-page science story with the curious and unintentionally comic headline, "Robotic Telescope Affirms Assumption on Universe's Birth." So Timesian, somehow, the suggestion that we all share this assumption from our close weekly reading of the better scientific journals. As I started into the story, I scoured my brain for my own, personal assumptions about the universe. The only ones I could come up with (while Dragon Tales blared inanely in the background) were: 1) dark, 2) cold.

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The story says this robot "revealed galaxies glittering like bonfires in majestic arcs and filigree patterns hundreds of millions of light-years across, as well as vast dark regions called voids, and it confirmed a fundamental assumption about the birth of the universe: that cosmic structures have a maximum size, a limit called the 'end of greatness.'"

I must say, I was awfully pleased to see my first assumption confirmed by those dark voids. And you gotta love the majestic bonfires. But I hadn't heard anything about this "end of greatness" theory. Isn't that a fabulous phrase? I think maybe we're all speeding to the end of greatness right now, actually, with the help of eBay, egregious morning cartoons, and above all, Bush-Gore.

Sorry to begin the day on a down note. Come home.

BP 

P.S. The dog-on-the-plane story got picked up nationally. I saw footage of Dakota out for a walk on MSNBC late last night. When I was at the Post, they never told me about the Bradlee Dog Rule, thank God.

William Powers writes a weekly column on the media for National Journal magazine. Martha Sherrill is a former staff writer for the Washington Post, a contributing editor at Esquire, and the author of The Buddha from Brooklyn (click here to buy it).