Date: Thu, 20 Nov 2008
From: Andrea Thomer
Subject: What Happens at the Tar Pits

Dear McSweeney’s,

As a longtime fan of your esteemed publication and an excavator at the La Brea Tar Pits, you can imagine my joy upon reading that you were selling a T-shirt seemingly made just for me! But lo! My glee was cut short by your T-shirt’s glaring (albeit amusing! I will give you that!) anachronism: A caveman. In the tar pits. Oh, no, no, no. As a member of Research and Collections, I feel it is my duty to share some interesting and 100 percent true facts with you:

1) As a rule, we do not find people in the tar pits. And definitely not cave people with humorously large clubs. Completely wrong continent for that sort of thing. We have found the remains of one human woman, dated at approximately 9,000 years old, but we do not believe she was the victim of an asphalt-entrapment event; she was found with burial artifacts and the skeleton of a domestic dog, implying that she was buried at the non-tar-related end of her life, and that her grave was subsequently pulled into the asphalt deposit after the fact.

Now, to be fair—yes, there have been several instances of overconfident paleontologists and overzealous park visitors becoming momentarily stuck in asphalt seeps, but none of them “stayed in tar pits,” so to speak—all were rescued in a timely manner. As far as we know, anyway.

Things we do find in the tar pits:

  • dire wolves
  • saber-toothed cats (not tigers)
  • giant ground sloths
  • short-faced bears
  • bison
  • horses
  • dwarf pronghorns
  • coyotes
  • camels
  • golden eagles
  • teratorns (huge birds of prey)
  • many other kinds of birds
  • rabbits and rodents
  • turtles
  • ostrocods
  • gastropods
  • trees and plant material
  • and much, much more!

Thus, a more accurate T-shirt would feature something like a stuck and saddened giant ground sloth (possibly surrounded by a pack of hungry dire wolves if the illustrator was feeling a bit macabre).

2) What happens in La Brea Tar Pits is eventually extracted from the tar pits. Excavation is active, ongoing, and (as of June 2008) year-round at Rancho La Brea! In fact, we have just begun a brand-new project, code-named “Project 23.” Our neighbors to the west built an underground parking garage; they discovered 16 large fossil deposits, including the semiarticulated skeleton of a mammoth (with complete tusks!); the deposits were boxed up and moved to our side of the park; and now you can come by and see us excavating seven days a week! Please, stop by and say hello.

3) If you are interested in learning more about what is currently happening at the tar pits, please visit our vastly entertaining and updated-at-least-once-weekly blog, The Excavatrix.

Thank you for your time in reading this tar tutorial. And please remember: tar pits + cave people = fiction. Tar pits + saber-toothed cats = fact!

Here’s hoping you make a shirt I can wear to work in a non-ironic fashion,

Andrea Thomer
Page Museum at the La Brea Tar Pits

- - -

Date: Fri, 6 Jun 2008
From: Julie Thompson
Subject: Panic! at the Disco

Dear McSweeney’s,

Apologies for such nitpickery, but the name of the group is, in fact, Panic! at the Disco, not Panic at the Disco, as printed in a recent “McSweeney’s Recommends” note. With such rabid competition for originality in indie-rock-band-naming going on these days, it seems only fair to lend aid to those who contribute to the mix through the whimsical, if slightly unnecessary, use of punctuation marks. You must agree that the practice has certainly evolved since its earlier incarnations, in which the band moe. introduced one measly period and thought they had something over on us. Tsk tsk.

Julie Thompson

Editors’ Note: We hate to be the ones to break it to you, Julie, but the band has jettisoned the exclamation point. Here’s how Rolling Stone magazine opened their review of Pretty. Odd.:

A moment of silence, please, for the lost exclamation point. Panic! at the Disco have become Panic at the Disco, the biggest rock & roll punctuation controversy since .38 Special dumped their decimal point. So what does this change mean? Have Panic renounced teen silliness and become mature, sober-minded rock veterans? Ah, no. These Vegas boys have just picked up a new wardrobe of hugely entertaining pretensions, attempting to make their very own Sgt. Pepper.

- - -

Date: Wed, 23 Apr 2008
From: Adam Jensen
Subject: The Sun Orbits the Moon, but Mike Hicks Is Wrong

Dear McSweeney’s,

Recently, you published a letter from Mike Hicks in response to “Selections From the Forthcoming Quantum Aesthetics: The Best of The American Journal of Physics’ Music-Review Section” by Kevin Evers. Mr. Hicks refers to himself as a “fifth-year undergraduate physics student at a third-tier liberal-arts college” and an “increasingly self-righteous undereducated pseudointellectual” and then proceeds to claim that “according to special relativity, the Sun does orbit the Moon” because “the reference frame of the Sun is not preferred over the reference frame of the Moon, so it is just as true to say that the Sun orbits the Moon as it is to say that the Moon orbits the Sun.”

I sincerely hope that Mr. Hicks has misunderstood his textbook—the alternative, that a third-tier liberal-arts college is using a worthless textbook, is simply too horrific to contemplate. In either case, Mr. Hicks misunderstands special relativity. The “special” in special relativity refers to inertial reference frames—i.e., nonaccelerated motion. Given that any “orbit” involves acceleration, the “no preferred reference frame” clause that Mr. Hicks invokes specifically does not apply in this case. (For the record, special relativity also has nothing to say about the absolute/relative nature of morality or the perception of the passage of time being related to one’s enjoyment of the event being experienced. But I digress.)

However, Mr. Hicks’s criticism of Mr. Evers is in one sense correct even if his details are wrong. In any two-body orbit, it is not technically one object that orbits the other; rather, both objects orbit the center of mass of the system—in looser terms, it can be said that the two objects orbit each other. This is a consequence of Newton’s third law, which is not contradicted by special or general relativity. The additional bodies in our solar system complicate matters a bit, but the same idea basically holds—all the planets, moons, etc., orbit the Sun, but the Sun also orbits them, albeit a comparatively tiny orbit that is mostly dominated by Jupiter, the most massive planet.

By the way, my qualifications in this matter start (and presumably end) with a Ph.D. in astrophysics (seriously). So, while I, too, might fall under the description of an “increasingly self-righteous … pseudointellectual,” I happen to be an educated, professional pseudointellectual.

To summarize:

(1) The Sun does orbit the Moon.

(2) The above has nothing to do with special relativity.

(3) I just spent way too much time offering criticism of a criticism of a criticism of a song sung by the ex-Mrs. Rick Fox.

Adam Jensen

- - -

Date: Thurs, 10 April 2008
From: Mike Hicks
Subject: The Moon Orbits Kevin Evers

Dear McSweeney’s,

As a fifth-year undergraduate physics student at a third-tier liberal-arts college, I couldn’t help but be excited by Kevin Evers’s recent article, “Selections From the Forthcoming Quantum Aesthetics: The Best of The American Journal of Physics’ Music-Review Section.” For the most part, I was not disappointed. It was witty, properly maligned many deserving songs, and reaffirmed my belief in Jimi Hendrix’s true transcendental nature.

However, as an increasingly self-righteous undereducated pseudointellectual, I did find one minor inaccuracy: in the review for Vanessa Williams’s “Save the Best for Last,” Evers calls the idea that “sometimes the Sun goes round the Moon” a “farcical assertion.” A careful reading of my modern-physics textbook’s short section on special relativity confirms the opposite: according to special relativity, the Sun does orbit the Moon.

Special relativity asserts that there is no preferred frame of reference for motion. From the reference frame of the Moon, the Sun orbits the Moon, and, from the reference frame of the Sun, the Moon orbits the Sun. The reference frame of the Sun is not preferred over the reference frame of the Moon, so it is just as true to say that the Sun orbits the Moon as it is to say that the Moon orbits the Sun. Both are correct. So (though little does she know it) Vanessa Williams is not wrong.

Of course, the song still sucks.

Mike Hicks

- - -

Date: Tue, 15 January 2008
From: Brad Millar
Subject: Lost Mitchell Report

I believe another example has missed the auspicious gaze of Mr. Andrew Bridgman: That of one Pedro Cerrano. Possibly one of the most powerful power hitters in Cleveland Indians history, Cerrano couldn’t hit a curveball to save democracy. Instead of getting his eyes checked for depth-perception problems—an option he was clearly aware of, as his teammate and friend Rick “Wild Thing” Vaughn’s natural skill was also hampered by vision problems—Cerrano instead opted for the help of Jobu, a voodoo deity. The combination of prayer and cigars indeed helped the big Cuban cure his bat of sickness. Although the 1989 World Series win was clearly a team effort, without the help of Jobu, the storied Cleveland Indians franchise quite clearly would have ended up in Miami, Florida.

Brad Millar

- - -

Date: Tue, 8 January 2008
From: David Weidenfeld
Subject: Lost Mitchell Report

I must reluctantly tell you that [Andrew Bridgman’s “Excerpts From the Lost Mitchell Report”] is seriously deficient in that it missed the most obvious case of unacceptable interference with baseball. I refer, of course, to the now largely forgotten Joe Hardy. Mr. Hardy received phenomenally improved performance, not from some temporary source such as chemical injections (for which he could be deemed to be lacking proper moral balance), nor even from divine intervention (which would seem to indicate religious discrimination), but from entering into an actual contract with the forces of Darkness (which should be considered worse than the infractions of all the other offenders combined). This allowed him, in an incredibly brief period of time, to lead the totally inept Washington Senators (“First in war, first in peace, and last in the American League”), whose record for futility was surpassed only by the Chicago Cubs, to defeat the invincible New York Yankees of the 1950s for the American League pennant. Hardy’s contract not only provided him with unbelievable baseball prowess but it also made the Devil himself available to provide legal services in a disciplinary hearing brought by Major League Baseball. No one can top that. So, Mr. Hardy received not only unrivaled baseball skills but also the services of the greatest lawyer in history. To top all of this off, Mr. Hardy’s lawyer, a Mr. Applegate, was even able to replace Hardy with a different person in the World Series and no one was the wiser. This by far surpasses any of the instances set out in the report.

David Weidenfeld