Friday, March 25, 2011

Falling vs. Gravity

When you launch something into orbit … you have launched it, via rocket thrust, so powerfully fast and high and far that when gravity’s pull finally slows the object’s forward progress enough that it starts to fall back down, it misses the Earth. It keeps on falling around the Earth rather than to it. As it falls, the Earth’s gravity keeps up its tug, so it’s both constantly falling and constantly being pulled earthward. The resulting path is a repeating loop around the planet.

I don’t get it.

I mean, “falling” in this instance is something different from gravity’s “tug”? If I jump out of an airplane I will fall to Earth, right? I thought I was falling because of gravity’s tug, because I was being drawn toward the center of greatest mass. The orbiting body is falling away from the Earth (“around the Earth”?) yet being constantly tugged back toward it? “It starts to fall back down,” Mary Roach says. What prevents the object from finishing what it started?

If gravity is strong enough to slow the launched object’s forward progress, why isn’t it strong enough to pull that object back home?

How can an object “miss” the Earth? That’s a pretty big target, especially right up close. Has a barn door beat by orders of magnitude.

Mary Roach is attempting an explanation in layman’s language, avoiding math, which, admittedly, I wouldn’t understand either, but what does “falling” mean here? Although a gravity-free experience is often termed “free fall,” what does falling mean if there is no destination for the fall? If there were no atmosphere (with all its buffeting) would your fall toward and ultimately onto Earth be a different experience from gravity-free falling? If you weren’t looking toward it would you know you were falling toward anything?

source: Packing for Mars: the curious science of life in the void by Mary Roach

Friday, March 11, 2011

The right of traditional hate is great

”What tipped me over into sobbing,” [E.J.] Graff later wrote in the Boston Globe, “was when the Unitarian Universalist President Rev. William Sinkford said, ‘By the authority vested in me by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts . . .’ At long last, the government was recognizing officially, openly, proudly what was already true between those two, and so may others.”

Ms Graff was weeping at one of the first weddings after same sex marriage became legal in Massachusetts.

I don’t know if anybody teared up at my wedding. Nobody ‘fessed to it. If anyone did, I doubt it was over our Unitarian minister invoking the authority vested in him by the state of California.

But that was something I needed from him. Kent and I were getting married. Legally. The state was explicitly involved – and approving. I wanted the state to say to me, to us: YES

“Yes,” is not what the state has had to say to gay people. “No,” is the usual word. “No,” and “Go away,” and “You are not wanted.” Hets marrying take it for granted that marriage is not just what their parents want for them, not just what their friends or older relations think they ought to do, but marriage is something the state wants. The state wants it for them. The state approves, likes what they are doing.

It was bitter when the voters turned around and slapped us with their NO, their Proposition 8. “No,” the voters said. “You are not human enough. You are not what we want. Go away. Fuck you. Drop dead.”

Well. We are still married. Still married legally. In California, at least. The California Supreme Court decided that those of us who’d trusted them to read our equality into the California Consitution , those of us who got married in those few months it was legal back in 2008, we would not be betrayed. It is, on the other hand, bitter the right of the voters to attack, to hurt, to encode fear & lies into the law was, according to the California Supreme Court, deserving of greater deference than those flimsy new-fangled notions of justice and equal treatment the Constitution windily espouses. Those same sex couples who did not marry in 2008 get the old familiar NO. The right of traditional hate is great.

source: Travels in a Gay Nation: portraits of LGBTQ Americans by Philip Gambone

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Barney Frank outs Sam Rayburn

In Philip Gambone’s interview with Massachusetts Congressional Representative Barney Frank, Frank recalls that, shortly after he came out publicly, House Speaker Tip O’Neill said to him, “ ‘Oh, Barney, I’m so sorry. I thought you were going to be the first Jewish Speaker,’ meaning that as an out gay man I couldn’t become Speaker. I could have told him that there had already been two gay Speakers: Joe Martin and Sam Rayburn.”

The office building for Congressional Reps is named after Sam Rayburn. Rayburn, according to Wikipedia, “was a Democratic lawmaker from Bonham, Texas, who served as the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives for seventeen years, the longest tenure in U.S. history.”

Joseph Martin was a Massachusetts Republican and served as Speaker in a couple two year periods in the 40s and 50s.

I don’t know where Barney Frank got his information on the personal lives of these two men. But, you know, on this I’ll trust Barney.

source: Travels in a Gay Nation: portraits of LGBTQ Americans by Philip Gambone

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

The Hotsy Totsy Club

I know Lillian Faderman for her histories of lesbians in the U.S., Surpassing the Love of Men: Romantic Friendship and Love Between Women from the Renaissance to the Present and Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers : A History of Lesbian Life in Twentieth-Century America. (Someday I will read them!) I didn’t know Lillian Faderman put herself through school working as a stripper.

When I read that she’d stripped at the Hotsy Totsy Club I said to myself, “The Hotsy Totsy Club is a strip club. That explains the name. I’d always wondered about its cute/racy, quaint/titilating name.” I’ve passed the Hotsy Totsy Club lots of times going up San Pablo Ave to Target or Abby Pet Hospital. From the outside it’s a dark little box. No windows. One neon sign, not too garish, the name and nothing else.

Having looked up their website I wonder if perhaps the Hotsy Totsy Club is a strip club no longer. (Faderman’s stint there was all the way back in 1958.) Nothing about stripping on the Hotsy Totsy Club website. Alongside the logos for Best Neighborhood Bar 2010 (awarded by the San Francisco Chronicle) and Best Dive Bar Renovation 2009 (awarded by The East Bay Express), the homepage does offer, “Transgressive cinema, adults only, always free,” so there seems to be something Hotsy-Totsy-ish still afoot.

source: Travels in a Gay Nation: portraits of LGBTQ Americans by Philip Gambone

Monday, March 07, 2011

“a conversation across boundaries of identity”

[O]ver time and with exposure, people learn to live amicably with gay and lesbian people. Indeed, he says, because of the presence of openly gay people in the world, a ‘perspectival shift’ occurs, one that breaks down old prejudices and barriers.

That’s Philip Gambone’s paraphrase of Kwame Anthony Appiah. Gambone interviewed Appiah for his Travels in a Gay Nation: portraits of LGBTQ Americans.

While I agree with the idea (mostly), I am troubled to recall Daniel Jonah Goldhagen’s accounts of neighbors butchering neighbors, even celebrating the execution of blood relatives, that occurred in Rwanda and in Bosnia. These monstrous acts took place despite the future victims living cheek-by-jowl with their future killers. I remember Goldhagen describing an ethnically Tutsi woman being murdered with her half-Hutu babies by the relatives of her Hutu husband. I remember elsewhere reading accounts of Bosnian Muslims being driven from their homes by Bosnian Serbs beside whom they’d lived their entire lives, some of whom they’d fed at their dinner table, had considered friends.

Appiah does advocate a little bit more than mere proximity, it seems. Gambone says in his book, Cosmopolitanism: ethics in a world of strangers, “Appiah emphasizes what he calls ‘conversations across boundaries of identity’ – the imaginative engagement with the experience and ideas of others – as a way to help people get used to one another and thus develop more harmonious relationships and happier lives.”

In Rwanda and Bosnia, Goldhagen says, an intragroup conversation existed among the future killers that persisted over time and which derogated the ‘others’/their future victims, and regularly fixed on these ‘others’ the blame for Hutu or Serb misfortunes. Perhaps a “conversation across boundaries of identity” would have helped?