Eustachian Tube Stakes

There are a couple of great ideas rolling around in my head, just waiting to get written out and posted here. (Really, there are!) Unfortunately, there may also be alien larvae or something else equally horrifying in there.

Four weeks ago, when I was in Washington, I started to come down with a cold. As I usually do, I hit it hard with Cold Eeze (zinc lozenges), Dayquil, and Nyquil, and it cleared up in a day or two. Except for my eustachian tubes.

For those not familiar, those are the tubes connecting your ears to your sinuses. When you “pop” your ears with a change in pressure (like going up or down a mountain, or in a plane) it’s to equalize the pressure in those tubes. If you have them really well blocked and fly anyway, it can lead to excruciating pain.

I had them blocked and flew anyway.

Fine, had to get home. Figured that it would clear up along with the cold in a few days. Constantly trying to yawn or wiggle my jaw to clear them was a pain in the ass, but no big deal for a day or so.

Thirty days later…

Let’s skip all of the grisly details and just say that it’s non-fatal, but really, really annoying. And it’s such a stupid little thing! I’ve tried all of the suggested treatments from my hospital’s online site, the Mayo Clinic’s site, WebMD, and I’ve taken this, and that, and drunk this, and eaten that.


OK, even for such a “stupid little thing,” tomorrow I see the doctor. I want a prescription for a big, long piece of surgical-grade pipe cleaner to put in this ear, pull out the other, then run back and forth like Bugs Bunny or Daffy Duck would to clear it up.

Or better meds than I can get over the counter. Same thing.

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Memorial Day 2015

A visit to Washington DC offers many opportunities to think about what Memorial Day is truly about. Our thanks to all of our nation’s military personnel, past and present, who served their country and did what was necessary to keep the wolves at bay.

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National World War II Memorial.

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Vietnam Veterans Memorial

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Vietnam Women’s Memorial

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Boston (Part Six)

It’s finally time to wrap up this visit to Boston, one of my favorite cities. (I’m sure we’ll be back here sooner or later.) So far we have walked The Freedom Trailstarting at Boston Common, seen the Old State House and Faneuil Hall, gone through Paul Revere’s house and the Old North Church, went through the USS Cassin Young in the Charlestown Navy Yard, then showed off the USS Constitution.

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Leaving the USS Constitution and the Charlestown Navy Yard, one last thing that caught my eye. While it’s a routine item in Boston, it’s a funny looking oddity to someone who’s lived too long in Southern California. I had to stop and wonder, why does this fire hydrant have an antenna? Are the fire hydrants here all connected to the Internet or linked to the other fire hydrants? Are these really, really high tech fire hydrants in one of our country’s oldest cities?

Obviously not. (I’m goofy and silly, but not that goofy and silly.) It’s just there to warn the snowplow drivers about the hydrant’s presence so that they don’t sheer it off when clearing the the street while the snow’s three or four feet deep. Or, if this corner of the lot hasn’t been cleared at all, it lets the fire department find the hydrant underneath the snow in the event of an emergency. Although that might not have been much use this last winter when they had ten to fifteen to twenty feet or more of snow piled up.

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Heading back up the hill and inland from the Charlestown Navy Yard, you’ll remember that we found this statue on the Charlestown Training Ground. I want to know who cleans it – it’s surprisingly clear of “pigeon residue” for a big city statue.

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Three blocks up from the Training Ground you’ll find the Bunker Hill Monument. I knew it was there because the maps said it should be, and I had seen it sticking up from a distance when crossing the Charles River. But the townhouses and apartment buildings along those blocks are a couple stories high, the streets are tree-lined, so I remember being surprised to come out from between them and suddenly find a large, open area with the monument.

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Colonel William Prescott was one of the leaders of the revolutionary military movement in 1775 Boston. On June 17, 1775, the American revolutionary militia took on a much larger British force in the “Battle of Bunker Hill.” The battle is considered to be the first significant battle in the American Revolution. The British forces, while ultimately able to prevail in three assaults on the militia positions, had over 800 injured and 200 killed from their force of 2,200. The Americans forces suffered 100 killed and more than 300 injured before retreating.

However, the “Battle of Bunker Hill” was not fought on Bunker Hill. Bunker’s Hill is about 600 yards inland. The monument, statues, and the legend have the name, but the battle was actually fought on Breed’s Hill. Prescott had been ordered to put his fortifications on Bunker’s Hill, but had decided that Breed’s Hill was a better defensive position, despite being lower, less steep to climb, and much closer to the British positions. The monument is at the site of the battle, but despite the name, it’s Breed’s Hill, not Bunker’s Hill.

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The Bunker Hill Monument is 221 feet tall and was completed in 1843. There’s an obvious comparison to the Washington Monument in Washington, completed in 1884, which at 555 feet is two and a half times taller.

Legend has it that, due to the severe shortage of gunpowder and musket balls that the American troops had, Prescott gave his troops the famous order, “Don’t shoot until you see the whites of their eyes!” While it’s true that the Americans held their fire until the British were quite close (and then shot at the officers first in order to cause chaos), the “whites of their eyes” order was never given. It’s a fiction, created much later to dress up the story.

It’s an impressive monument for an American defeat, especially with all of the incorrect information regarding the battle itself. What is undeniably true about the battle is that it proved to the British that this minor uprising of a few malcontents was going to be much more widespread and difficult. It was going to be a much, much longer battle than they expected, and it was going to cost them far more than they would ever have believed.

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Unlike the Washington Monument, where you get up and down by elevator (there are stairs, but they’ve been off-limits for decades), you get to the top of the Bunker Hill Monument by climbing the stairs. Two hundred and ninety-four steps. The stairwell is steep and narrow. You are warned, repeatedly, by park rangers at the bottom, that you really need to make sure you want to make the climb and you’re physically in shape to make the climb. There was a charming young lady there, maybe in her mid to late 20’s, who asked me if I really knew what I was getting into, suggested that I not climb, and then gave me that smug, silent, “Reallllly?” look.

Of course I’m in good enough shape! Maybe I was over fifty and carrying a few pounds that I would like to lose, but had I not just walked the entire Freedom Trail? Am I not a macho, stud muffin of a manly man?

Though. I. Was. Going. To. DIE!

The worst part was the tweens and teens scampering by me like they were floating. Rotten little brats. (The climb really isn’t that bad if you’re in reasonably good shape, but your thighs will be feeling it if you’re not used to hill climbing or using the StairMaster.)

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Perseverance will give you some great views back toward Boston. There’s a somewhat cramped observation floor at the top, with windows looking out in all four directions. You can look down on Logan Airport to your east, inland toward Cambridge and Harvard, or north toward the Mystic River area and Malden. Here you can see the downtown area to the south, with the spire of the Old North Church visible on the far left side, just across the Charles River.

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Having survived the Bunker Hill Monument (it’s a lot easier climbing down than it is up, and my smug “told you so!” look at the park ranger there wasn’t quite as effective as I wanted since I was sweating like a pig), it was time to head back toward Boston. In theory I could have called a cab – but where’s the fun in that?! I had to get back to meet with The Long-Suffering Wife after she got out of her conference, so I took far fewer pictures on the way back and concentrated on making tracks.

Which, of course, is not to say that I took no pictures on the way back. Just before crossing back over the river into North Boston I found City Square Park, which is a new-ish, one-acre park created early in “The Big Dig.” The Big Dig was a highway project that took over 20+ years and over $22B in an attempt to expand the freeways cutting through the heart of the city by burying them under the existing skyscrapers and houses. (The word “boondoggle” is thrown about quite a bit, and many Bostonians will still start twitching a bit when you mention it.) Directly under City Square Park are some of the freeway tunnels and connecting ramps between US Highway 1 and Interstate 93.

The park is full of all sorts of sculptures, many of fish and other odd creatures. I found them to be extremely fun and whimsical. I also found some quiet and shade and a place to sit for ten minutes. (My thighs were still feeling the whole 294-steps thing.) This fountain and weather vane are in the center of the park.

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While there, I also talked to some of the local residents, one of whom was nice enough to take my picture. Of special note are the pasty-white legs, the Angels hat (just to provoke a response), my favorite white-water rafting T-shirt (“The orange vest doesn’t make you safer, just easier to find”), the sacred sunglasses, and the backpack that’s been ’round the world a couple of times carrying my cameras.

Compare this outfit to the slightly more hideous one I displayed while being a tourist in Shanghai. Same hat, glasses, shoes, pasty white, and backpack, but obviously when I want to look like a “classy” tourist I wear a Hawaiian shirt instead of a T-shirt!

Go see Boston, walk the Freedom Trail. Also go to a game at Fenway, see the Boston Pops outside, got to Harvard Square, go down to Quincy to see all of the John Adams sites, go out to Cape Cod. It’s a great city.


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Baseball Tense(ion)

Listening to the Angels game on the radio this afternoon, I heard something that sounded like incorrect grammar, but it took me a while to figure out why it sounded wrong. I’m still not 100% sure that it was wrong.

The phrase in question was something like, “Back in the third inning, Jones pinched hit for Smith.”

OK, “pinched” is the past tense for “pinch,” as in “Now I’m going to pinch you” as opposed to “Yesterday she pinched me.”

At the same time, “hit” is the same for both present and past tense, as in “Come on, hit it!” as opposed to “It was great the way she hit it.”

But in this case, “pinch” in “pinch hit” isn’t a verb, it’s a adverb, a modifier of the verb “hit.” So shouldn’t the past tense of “pinch hit” be “pinch hit”?

A Google search brings up no definitive answer, but does offer some interesting avenues for a wild goose chase off into a classic Web surfing session. A Bing search brings up no definitive answer, but does make you wonder why in hell you bothered to waste time using Bing.

Asking Siri is useless, but entertaining if you waste time trying to figure out if you can ask a question that will get her upset enough to stop talking to you. So far, no joy.

I’m going to go with my gut on this one. “Pinched hit” – nice try, but wrong. “Pinch hit” – gets my vote as correct.

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Filed under LA Angels, Paul, Sports

Thingamabobs – May 22nd

I’ve always found that there are odd little thingamabobs out there in the world. Things that are just a bit “off.” I suspect that most folks would just shrug and move on when encountering these thingamabobs, but I’ve always found them to be worth a second look and further examination.

I like to think my attitude is a result of my retention of a child-like sense of wonder and awe at the amazing universe around us. Others just think that I’m “easily amused.” (They very well might be correct.)

Today’s example is a soda can that spontaneously became an “outie” instead of an “innie.”






I know that it happened spontaneously because I was holding the carton it was in when it happened. It was one of those twelve-packs that’s intended to fit into your fridge and dispense one can at a time. I had just gotten home from the grocery store, set the case down on the floor, and felt the case shudder and thump, with a quite audible metallic sound.

I assumed that one of the cans had ruptured and I was going to need to clean up lemonade from all over the kitchen. I hadn’t set the sodas down very hard or on anything sharp, but something had triggered some sort of reaction.

Opening up the case, expecting to find sticky soda spraying everywhere, instead I found all twelve cans to be quite intact and clean. Eleven were perfectly normal, with both ends in the usual concave configuration. This one can had both ends pushed out to be convex.

From an engineering and science background, it made sense that this could have happened. The reason the ends are concave to begin with is because that  shape is very structurally sound to resist and contain the internal pressure from the soda’s gas. This is particularly true on this kind of can which is formed from a single piece of aluminum.

But having the ends concave (“innie”) is only one solution to the structural strength equation. An equally valid solution is to have the two ends convex (“outie”). Think about other large tanks used for containing volumes of liquid or gas under pressure. The Space Shuttle’s external tank. The tanks at the gas station or in your back yard that contain propane. The trucks that haul cold, liquid gases such as nitrogen or oxygen. They’re all shaped like long, narrow tubes with convex ends.

The fact that the huge, industrial strength containers use the convex ends makes me think that it might be because that configuration is stronger than the convex design. I might have to dig out and dust off some math textbooks to test that. (Ed. note: I won’t, don’t worry – I said might.) But the convex shape doesn’t lend itself to containers that can need to stand up on the ground or be stacked.

Think of fire extinguishers, or those big steel containers that contain helium for blowing up party balloons. They’re all flat on the bottom to make them easy stand up, but inside they’re rounded. (Convex or concave? Sounds like a question for “How It’s Made.”)

For soda cans, it’s a huge benefit if they can be stacked and stand up on their own. They also only have to withstand fairly low pressures. The solution there is to make both ends concave. Which is why they’re that way…

…until that rare moment when something snaps on one can and it flips from one stable configuration to one that might be slightly more stable from a pure standpoint, even if it does make it impossible to stand the can on its end.

It’s still amazing to me that it can do that without splitting open the aluminum – but there’s your proof.

(Kevin MacNamara, a high school friend, was the first to point out that I am “easily amused.” See, I still haven’t proven him wrong!)

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Filed under Curiosities, Paul

Flash Fiction: Carjacked

It’s been a while, since April 2nd to be precise. Things got a bit nuts through March, April, and May with the “Fifi” plus North Carolina plus Washington DC plus NASA thing. Something had to give, and unfortunately it was Chuck Wendig’s weekly Flash Fiction Challenge. This week, let’s dive back in, shall we? The Challenge is to write “2,000 words or so” featuring a car chase.

As always, comments and constructive criticisms are appreciated.


You know why they call it the “405” freeway? Because it takes “four o’ five” hours to get anywhere at all. I had been thinking that for at least the last half hour while I and about thirty thousand of my close, personal friends had crept along to cover almost two whole miles.

According to the traffic reports on the radio, some clown down around Wilshire had pulled out into the carpool lane right in front of a bus. He had been crawling along in traffic, while the carpool lane was tooling along at about sixty, and those double-double, yellow lines might have been there to prevent just this sort of thing.

The good news was that the folks on the bus would probably all live, as would the fine citizens in the twenty-plus cars that got collected by the flying wreckage. The clown? Not so lucky. Not that I and my thirty thousand close, personal friends were feeling sorry for him. We were already in the Sepulveda Pass with nowhere to exit and no alternate routes, so now we just sat and crawled along.

Which is why no one was more surprised than I was to hear there was a police chase coming up behind us.

Really? If there were cops behind someone in this mess, they had plenty of time to simply park and walk up to catch him. Which would have been true, except this new and improved moron was not playing with the same fifty-two as the rest of us.

There isn’t much of a center divider along that part of the freeway. Ever since they spent ten years doing a two-year improvement project to add the carpool lane I was stuck in, the center divider had been more of a suggestion than an actual place to park in case of an accident. With all of the K-rails there, it wasn’t like you could cheat much without a tank.

Nonetheless, they were reporting he was coming toward us, driving in the center divider lane past all of the stopped traffic. The car he had stolen was some kind of sub-subcompact and so far he was getting away with it. The CHP couldn’t possibly follow him with their patrol cars, so they had a couple of motorcycle cops following way back and multiple helicopters overhead.

Sure enough, looking in my mirrors, I could see the helicopters crossing over the 101 and heading up the hill. I started looking in my side mirror to see the guy coming past me, sort of wishing I had a handful of large ball bearings to toss in front of his windshield as he came by.

As he came around the curve and toward me he really wasn’t going that fast. As police chases went, this was somewhere between the one hundred miles per hour doozies we get and OJ’s low-speed chase in the white Bronco. He was moving pretty well, but only compared to all of the cars at a dead stop.

Imagine my surprise when the lady a couple cars behind me decided to be a superhero and pull out in front of him at the last second! The collision wasn’t anything from GTA or “Mad Max,” but there was an awful lot of noise. Not to mention all of the smoke and bits of metal flying about.

You’re never quite prepared for the amount of adrenaline that gets squeezed into your system in response to that noise. If any of us had been falling asleep in our special traffic nightmare before, we were all wide awake and alert now.

It probably only took about fifteen seconds for the smoke to clear, but it felt like much longer. Our heroine had managed to jam her front end in front of the getaway car so the bad guys had nowhere to go. Their car, her car, and the car in between her and me were all pretty well bent and combined into one interlocked mass that wouldn’t be going anywhere soon.

Amazingly, even though all the wreckage had been pushed into the car behind me, nothing seemed to have touched me or my car. I was just starting to have my, “Holy shit, I’ve got to be the luckiest guy in the city” moment when things went south.

One of the bad guys crawled out of the passenger side window and quickly took stock of the scene. His partner, the driver, was wedged in with the door up against the K-rail, so he wasn’t going anywhere fast. The motorcycle cops were making their move and coming up fast. He scrambled forward across the hood of the heroine’s car, back into the center divider, looking for options and not being too picky.

He grabbed at the handle on the driver’s side rear door, but it was of course locked. I hadn’t even seen the gun until I was staring down the barrel at close range.

“Open the car, NOW!”

Your brain does funny things in that situation. At least, mine does. I thought for a millisecond about trying to act like I didn’t speak English. I wondered if the glass was actually strong enough to stop the bullet. I wondered where in hell those motorcycle cops were. I wondered if this guy was high on something and if that would affect his aim.

“NOW!” he screamed.

The barrel of the gun was wavering a bit, but not enough to make him miss me at point blank range. A quick glance in the side mirror showed the cops way too far away. I hit the button to unlock the door. He jerked the door open and slid in, slamming the door behind him as he put the gun at the back of my neck.

“Drive! Move it, now! Go!”

But he hadn’t buckled his seat belt yet. And where was I supposed to go? Had he not noticed the massive traffic jam as he was cruising by it?

“Drive. Now. Or you die and I drive.” In an instant he had gotten really cold and calm. That scared me a lot more than when he was panicked and screaming.

It didn’t matter there wasn’t anywhere to go. Those rules didn’t apply to this situation. Logic and common sense had been suspended. I had no doubt that he would shoot me any second if I didn’t start driving.

So I drove.

There wasn’t quite enough room ahead for me to turn out into the center divider, but obviously that was going to be the least of the problems with this guy’s plan. A couple of quick taps on the bumper of the guy in front of me got him to creep forward the couple of inches I needed and we were out between the carpool lane and the center divider.

Not that we were in the clear. My mid-sized sedan was bigger than the subcompact he and his pal had been driving and it wasn’t at all obvious we had much of a route ahead of us. I started to accelerate as best I could, but in just seconds I had taken the mirrors off both sides of my car, as well as a couple of other cars’ in the carpool lane.

After we got over the top of the hill at Mulholland and started down the other side the center divider opened up a little and soon we were doing about forty-five past all of the stopped cars. I kept glancing in the rear-view mirror to see what my passenger was doing and hoping for the cavalry to show up in the form of those motorcycle cops.

They weren’t anywhere in sight, which had something of a calming effect on the guy with the gun. He kept looking for them, leaning forward on the edge of his seat, splitting his attention between the road ahead and possible pursuit behind. That kept him from noticing what I had noticed. Suddenly there were no cars coming northbound on the opposite side of the freeway.

Good or bad, something was happening.

We came around the last little left-hand curve near the Getty and I had a clear picture of what lay ahead. I hadn’t quite forgotten about the huge accident with the bus and the clown, but I now knew exactly where it was. A half mile ahead of me the center divider, carpool lane, and three lanes of traffic were all blocked by debris, fire trucks, ambulances. And police cars. Lots of police cars.

I could also see where the CHP had blocked all northbound lanes, which was now allowing several black & whites to come screaming up behind us, going southbound in the now empty northbound lanes. They were on the other side of the center divider, but it was as good as they could do.

My friendly neighborhood carjacker figured it all out at the same time I did, but he came to a different conclusion about what to do.

“Floor it! Faster! They’ll move. Go! Go! Go!”

Well, maybe, maybe not. If we hit that bus and debris at seventy or eighty miles an hour, I was going to die. If this lunatic shot me in the head, I was going to die. If the shooting started from the cops on the other side of the freeway, or the cops dead ahead of us, or for all I knew the cops above in the helicopters, I was going to die.

This seemed to be as good of a time as any to panic. Instead, I took what little shred of a plan I had and figured it was better than nothing.

I hit the gas, giving it everything my little Honda had. That was enough to rock my passenger back in his seat a bit, which in turn caused the gun to come off the back of my neck and point up toward the ceiling.

I immediately hit the brakes, hard, standing on the pedal with both feet. Simultaneously I dove to the right as best I could, trying to lay down across the front seats. That turned out to be a great move when the cops on the other side of the freeway pulled up next to us a half-second later. They cut loose with several quick shotgun blasts into the back seat of my car.

Needless to say, the car was a little bit out of control at this point. However, there wasn’t really anywhere for it to go except more or less straight ahead, caught in a slot between the center divider and the stranded cars in the carpool lane. We banged back and forth between them a few times and caused lots of damage to everyone’s side panels, but we didn’t flip or roll.

I just kept my feet on the brakes and hoped for the best. There was glass flying everywhere and the sounds were again really impressive. I didn’t know if the dude in the back seat was going to shoot me or if we would crash into the bus or if the cops were going to keep shooting or if the archangel Michael was going to appear to escort me away.

When the car shuddered to a stop I decided not to sit up quite yet. I had rolled the dice, let the next action come to me. It did, in the form of my door being yanked open and my beat up body being dragged away by two very large CHP cops. Meanwhile, all around were many others, all with their guns out, screaming at the back seat of my car.

They needn’t have bothered. The first shots across the center divider had worked quite well.

There were already lots of paramedics at the original crash scene so I didn’t have to wait long to see someone. In the end, I got away pretty lightly with just a broken wrist and an impressive collection of cuts and bruises.

I also found myself to be a local celebrity, getting more than my fifteen minutes of fame. I was on all of the local morning news shows, Jimmy Kimmel, and two weeks later I also got to throw out the first pitch at a Dodger’s game.

Los Angeles. You’ve gotta love this town!


Filed under Writing


Last Saturday there appeared an NPR interview with Shrinivas Kulkarni. Dr. Kulkarni is the McArthur Professor in Astronomy & Planetary Science at the California Institute of Technology. I’ve never met the man, but based just on what he’s written in his CalTech bio and the way he expresses himself in the NPR interview, he seems a reasonable person with a good sense of humor. Granted, it’s a very limited data set.

In that interview, Kulkarni has a somewhat whimsical quote when talking about being a professional astronomer.

“We astronomers are supposed to say, ‘We wonder about the stars and we really want to think about it,’ ” says Kulkarni — in other words, think deep thoughts. But he says that’s not really the way it is.

“Many scientists, I think, secretly are what I call ‘boys with toys,’ ” he says. “I really like playing around with telescopes. It’s just not fashionable to admit it.”

I probably would have never heard of this interview, or if I had, I probably wouldn’t have paid much attention based on the article that NPR put online. But in the audio version broadcast on NPR, it’s a little different than that article makes it. In the interview that went on the air, after Kulkarni says “boys with toys,” the NPR host, Joe Palca, interrupts him twice to question the use of the phrase. But nothing comes of it.

Others weren’t so forgiving. Others who are among the vast (yet far too small) number of women who work in engineering and science. Others, perhaps, who might have young daughters who want to be an engineer or a scientist but now might have to re-emphasize to them that it’s possible for a girl to dream of those things, even if that guy on the radio doesn’t include them in his joke.

There’s a good article over on Slate describing what happened next. Kate Clancy, an anthropologist at the University of Illinois, went to Twitter and posted some pictures of herself using scientific equipment. She used the hashtag #GirlsWithToys. Other women scientists and engineers saw it and joined in. Then more. Then a LOT more. #GirlsWithToys was a trending topic on Twitter all weekend, and I’m still seeing some posted today.

“Boys with toys.”

No one has called for Dr. Kulkarni’s head, his job, or even an apology. If he’s made any further comment, I’ve missed it. (Please put something in the comments if you’ve seen it, I would love to know about it.) The only response has been a large crowd of women (as well as men posting about their wives, daughters, mothers, and sisters) politely pointing out that a casual play on words is actually a sign of a much deeper problem. It’s a problem that runs so deep that for many people the first response was, “Really? They’re getting bent out of shape over that? It’s a joke, nothing more than a little rhyming phrase!”

Of course, there was a fair amount of pushback from the “men’s rights” advocates and rabid anti-feminist crowd. No surprise there, but the MRA crowd are the same pinheads and knuckledragging buffoons who were bent out of shape this weekend because they believe the new “Mad Max” film is a feminist propaganda film designed to emasculate the American male psyche. I don’t know about you, but that gives me a pretty accurate yardstick to show me how much credibility they have. Keep those clowns a long way away from me and we’ll be just fine.

But what about everyone else? If you’re a member of the first group, the “Really?” group, I would ask that you pause, avoid the instantaneous reaction, and give a closer look to the societal biases embedded so deep in a phrase like “boys with toys” that we don’t even see them any more. To make a quick quip, an alliterative play on words, 50% of the population got ignored, and when they point out the problem they get criticized for being thin skinned. Which is pretty meta if you think about it. Get casually dismissed with a turn of a phrase, protest, get told you’re wrong because you’re not being dismissed or silenced or ignored – and then get told to shut up and go away.

Yeah, maybe we might want to think about that just a bit.

Me? I’ve got two daughters who we’ve tried to raise to be as independent and strong-willed as possible. So I get it. I see why women were upset. I was upset.

Sunday, when the hashtag and tweets were still going strong, I started re-tweeting posts that I saw. Some were from women I know through Twitter, some were from colleagues of theirs, some were from total strangers. I limited myself to one example from each woman, and I stopped re-tweeting posts after the first sixty-six. I could have gone on all day, I could have posted six hundred and sixty-six. (More to follow after my tweets.)

I don’t want to live in a world where we can be punished for anything that comes out of our mouths. I don’t want us to turn into North Korea. I’m a huge fan of the First Amendment. I hate “political correctness.” I’m sure that I some times stick my foot in my mouth without realizing it.

None of that is what this is about. This is about realizing that there’s a problem in our society, and it’s a problem that needs to be addressed. It’s a problem that is embedded unconsciously into our society and our language, and we have to see it and recognize it before we can change it.

Look back over the last few articles about the NASA Armstrong event and what I’ve written recently about our space programs. Did anyone notice how I refer to “remotely-piloted” planes or “uncrewed spacecraft?” A year ago I would have said a “manned plane” or “manned mission” or “manned spacecraft.” It’s still a very common term.

It shouldn’t be. It’s not that hard to use language that’s inclusive.

I’ll defend to the death your right to not be forced to make the change – but I’ll think you’re a dinosaur who’s incapable of adapting and evolving while I’m fighting. You’ll be wrong in my book. I’m not saying we have to religiously refer to “manholes” as “personholes,” or ” or “firemen” as “firefighting personnel” – but that doesn’t mean that we can’t get into the habit of using a term like “maintenance hole” or “firefighter.”

There’s a whole list of words and phrases we don’t use any more (or at least we use much, much less) because those words and phrases hurt people. They make life hard for people. They subtly and subconsciously tell people that they’re less, that they’re not welcome, that they don’t deserve to think they’re the same as us.

Changing our language to consciously include everyone instead of subconsciously favoring a select group isn’t just a feminist intellectual exercise in outrage. It’s something that all of us should be putting an effort into to make the world a better place.

Especially if you’re being interviewed by NPR.

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Filed under Astronomy, Moral Outrage, Space