This week, Commercial Appeal editor Chris Peck got good and geeky with newspaper readers in a weird science column titled "A String Theory for Memphis." In it, Peck described string theory as "one of these big ideas bouncing around inside the big brains of science." He defined this "big idea" as "strings of tiny movements" inside atoms that "give shape and form" to every particle and "eventually link together everything that happens in the world." Which is kinda, sorta wrong.
"The news media aren't good at string theory," he editorialized before proving how true that statement was by using classic Newtonian physics to explain why summer reading programs probably won't work, why it might be problematic for city job applications to ask if applicants have a criminal record, and how these seemingly disparate topics are related through the miracle of "string theory" and how they relate to candidate Willie Herenton's ongoing claims that he can't get a fair shake.
"Putting a book in a household where Mom and Dad don't value reading ... won't do much," Peck proposed. "Seems obvious," he wrote, that you can't start fresh if you can't conceal a criminal past. Peck also postulated that Herenton's antics play well with voters who have "felt the deck is stacked against them," presumably because they don't read much and can't conceal their criminal records when applying for city jobs. It's all connected. Like a string.
But string theory isn't about linking things together predictably and sequentially. It's based on the idea that subatomic particles, once imagined as points or spheres, behave instead like loops of string that exist in 10 or more dimensions of space and time in an infinite number of universes where any prediction, no matter how reasonable or wrongheaded, has some chance of being right. Even the idea that the media is unfair to Willie Herenton.