Deborah was an excellent writer. She recently had taken some of her graduate advisor's data and wrote the studies up for submission to scientific journals. More than once,her letters to the LA times editorial page appeared, articulately and succinctly explaining her viewpoint or opinion. She occasionally contributed an article for the LAGLS News, our bimonthly newsletter. A couple of those articles appear below.
In Sinclair Lewis' Main Street, Carol Kennicott stands with her husband in the nursery, watching their sleeping newborn baby girl. It is August, 1920: "Think what that baby will see and meddle with before she dies in the year 2000! She may see..aeroplanes going to Mars."
Fast forward to July 1997. I'm scanning through the TV guide and there it is: July 4, 10:00am, "The Price is Right," "Little House on the Prairie," "Live from Mars"...No caps, no boldface, no exclamation point, one of the more magnificent milestones in human history reduced to the significance of rerun sitcoms. And yet at the same time, what an optimistic time to be living when pictures beamed live from Mars can be considered commonplace! I was glued to my set all day (sometimes being unemployed has its advantages). As I watched the images and the control room scenes of professionals so competently going about their tasks, I idly wondered who in those rooms might be gay. I had to smile at myself for this proclivity, but I really wanted some of us to be there, part of and responsible for this exciting day.
A scant couple of weeks later, reality provided a sharp contrast to these benign musings and underscored the value of organizations like LAGLS. The hunt for and eventual discovery of Andrew Cunanan kept real gay faces on TV for many days. Although a variety of gay lives could be detected, given the nature of the crimes, the media naturally focused on Cunanan's milieu of vain social climbers, sugar daddies and kept boys, sex, drugs, and now, murder. The brouhaha has died down and the Mars mission continues to exceed its sky-high expectation. I'm confident that most people will regard Cunanan as an aberration. However, it's still true that people are likelier to consider gay men as superficial party boys (or, indeed, as fashion designers) than as scientists and engineers in the vanguard of planetary exploration.
LAGLS will of course continue to put our best faces forward and provide
this little haven until gay scientists are considered as commonplace as
pictures "Live from Mars."
First geology took a beating at the movies with gems like Volcano. This year it's astronomy's turn along with engineering and common sense. It's been a while so I no longer remember Deep Impact very well. I know I didn't care for it, thought it was weak. I guess you could say it made little impact. But now in retrospect, it was an art film compared to Armageddon. Moments into Armageddon, I began making notes of the "What?!" instances ranging from the merely ridiculous to the flat out impossible. I had eleven before I gave up. I'm sure there were many more but I was actually dozing off toward the end of the movie. Armageddon was so jaw-droppingly stupid that I couldn't find the action compelling enough to stay awake.
Folks will say, "Who cares? It's just a movie." Film buffs will add something about suspending disbelief and of course, action movies aren't expected to have plots anyway. Why should they get their science straight (so to speak)? But in fact, the movie-going public already does have certain scientific standards. No one would expect us to suspend disbelief during an ocean-based action film that sincerely presented, as the peril, ships sailing off the edge of the flat earth. The idea that no bacteria would survive an asteroid impact is just as goofy, yet that notion was blurted out as a fact. The scary part is that all these movies have science and technical advisors, many with impressive credentials. Either a lot of their advising gets ignored or the original scripts were absolute horrors and this was as good as they could get them. An interesting article about all of this in June' s "Sky and Telescope" magazine suggests it's some of both.
Why not raise the bar just a little? Imagine a thrill-packed movie that actually gets it right. Armageddon could have corrected more than half of my eleven tidbits with no slowing effect at all. Unfortunately, the action was propelled by the other stupid elements, without which a different film would have emerged. Maybe a good one? By the way, what does the idea of the Earth at war with an object from the sky have to do with the biblical Armageddon? My quick re-reading of that story confirmed my suspicion: nothing. In the Bible story, the forces of evil are gathered on the Earth at Armageddon and, a chapter or so later, the "sky-object," God and his army, defeats them! Oh well, I guess they didn't have any budget left for a religious advisor!
Enough kvetching, on with the festivities. We'll be capping our summer
of LAGLS fun with the traditional pool party and barbecue at Darrell's
in September. Then we will resume our normal (?) Wednesday night meetings
in October. See you there!
What fun! Four days of Science from morning to night! The AAAS came to Southern California this year for the first time in ages and I couldn't pass it up. I'm a symposium hound anyway- seminars, lectures, meetings… I love 'em- and this is the Big One. Advance registration, very easy over the 'Net, brought the price down to less than $60 a day and these were 14- hour days. If you've attended many symposia, you know you can spend a lot more and get a lot less! Because the meetings were held in two hotels, and many things overlapped, I sat down with the schedule about two weeks ahead and planned my days; I didn't want to be standing on the fourth floor of the Hilton at 3:55 saying, "Oh no! I'm supposed to be on the second floor of the Marriott at 4!" The choices were dizzying, but from the outset, I had resolved to attend nothing job-related, nothing to do with the environmental consulting business in any way. This was to be pure fun. So I made my selections: the evolution of language, science in the media, women in math exobiology (life beyond Earth), paleoclimatology and on and on. It was as grand as I had hoped.
There were Big Names everywhere. In addition to the six hours a day of special- interest meeting, there were large, general-interest lectures. I heard Michael Crichton , Bill Nye the Science Guy, and Dr. Jill Tarter, the woman from SETI (the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) on whom the character of Ellie Arroway in the movie "Contact" was modeled. I packed so many factoids into my brain, I'm sure some fell out as new ones were going in. Vice President Al Gore decided to speak to us distinguished scientists, throwing the Sunday afternoon schedule into disarray, but even that was fun; the line to get in to hear him was like a line at Disneyland and I got to read a lot of famous names on name tags as the line snaked around the second floor of the Hilton. Oh yes, and there was a brief intermission for something called the NOGLSTP reception, but then there was another good 14 hours of science after that! And if all that wasn't enough, there was an Exposition with way-cool displays, bargains on books from all the major scientific publishers and fun freebies.
The only dispiriting element was that I wasn't seeing anyone I knew. I caught a glimpse of a professor from Cal State Fullerton whom I recognized but didn't really know. I was feeling just a bit blue when our own Dave Snead recognized me and came over to chat. After that, we often ran into each other despite the fact that our schedules had almost nothing in common. It's amazing how just one familiar face can lift your spirits!
The closest AAAS will get to us in the next 5 years is Salt Lake City
and who knows when it will even be within 500 miles again. But if you have
any chance to go, I highly recommend it. You can go for one day or the
entire five. There is something of interest for absolutely everyone.