Writing For The New York Times Isn’t Rocket Science

He made a mean lasagna
And was quite a dad indeed,
But what really made him stand apart
Was how he wrote a lede—

Now, there’s some that lede with puzzles,
And there’s me, that ledes with rhymes
But cheap clichés won’t work
At the respected New York Times

His devotion to his family
Was really quite exciting—
It certainly deserved a place
Ahead of, say, his writing.

He might have written brilliance
In agreement or defiance—
His cooking gets the lede, cos writing
Isn’t rocket science.


She changed the world; she truly lived
A pioneering life…
A rocket engineer, but first—
A mother and a wife.

This afternoon, my twitter feed blew up. The obituary of Yvonne Brill, pioneering rocket scientist, a woman who accomplished astonishing things while overcoming the prejudices of her time… led with this:

She made a mean beef stroganoff, followed her husband from job to job and took eight years off from work to raise three children. “The world’s best mom,” her son Matthew said.

Not with her engineering accomplishments, which won her the National Medal of Technology and Innovation (presented to her by president Obama). Not with the propulsion system she invented, which became the industry standard.

Mrs. Brill’s development of a more efficient rocket thruster to keep orbiting satellites in place allowed satellites to carry less fuel and more equipment and to stay in space longer. The thrusters have the delicate task of maneuvering a weightless satellite that can tip the scales at up to 5,000 pounds on Earth.

Mrs. Brill contributed to the propulsion systems of Tiros, the first weather satellite; Nova, a series of rocket designs that were used in American moon missions; the Atmosphere Explorer, the first upper-atmosphere satellite; and the Mars Observer, which in 1992 almost entered a Mars orbit before losing communication with Earth.

From 1981 to 1983, Mrs. Brill worked for NASA developing the rocket motor for the space shuttle. In a statement after Mrs. Brill’s death, Michael Griffin, president of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, praised her as “a pioneering spirit” who coupled “a clear vision of what the future of an entire area of systems should be with the ingenuity and genius necessary to make that vision a reality.”

Beef Stroganoff came first.

All the discrimination she overcame? Yeah, I’d have said she was just the exception to the rule… except that maybe she isn’t excepted after all.


Update! It seems even the New York Times cares about social media. The first paragraph has mysteriously changed… now, it reads:

She was a brilliant rocket scientist who followed her husband from job to job and took eight years off from work to raise three children. “The world’s best mom,” her son Matthew said.

So, when twitter explodes, the NYTimes listens.

Hey, It’s Only A Word

Foolishly, mulishly
Internet Solomons
Contemplate cutting the
Baby in half

Thinking the problem is
Offer solutions that
Just make me laugh

One thing about the same-sex marriage cases in the news–it sure makes online news comment threads a target-rich environment. In three different locations, by multiple commenters on each, one comment was quite common: “Ok, give gays the same rights, but just call it something else!”. Oddly enough (unless there is an organized campaign somewhere I am unaware of), in all three locations, the commenters thought themselves mighty clever to come up with “garriage” as their alternative.

So, yeah–if it’s only a word, it’s only a word. I suggest telling those commenters that it is an acceptable solution, and they can start calling opposite-sex marriages “garriages” any time they want.

What’s that? It’s unacceptable? I thought it was “only a word”.

If a word is important, it’s important to both parties, and separate but equal will be inherently unequal. If the word itself isn’t important, then there’s no problem there to be solved, and no reason to use two words.

Marriage Week: Sanctity

The date: January 1, 2008. The place: New Hampshire. The scene: Politicians everywhere, vying with one another to succeed George the Lesser. Staking out positions to appeal to their party’s faithful, demonizing their opponents, in their own and in the other party. Parties, I should say–NH gets all the fringe candidates as well. NH voters are extraordinarily privileged; some think it perfectly reasonable not to vote for a candidate purely because they have not yet met them in person, shaken their hand, had a photo taken (collect them all! In NH, you can!) with them. And the politicians oblige. So they are everywhere, and they are doing their best to stand apart from their peers.

And in the middle of this clamor, in the middle of the night, at the stroke of midnight, as the new year began, something changed…

I had insufficient warning
When I stumbled out this morning
Past a half a dozen candidates, each stumping for my vote;
When I looked, the morning paper
Had a headline of some caper
Or the record-breaking snowfall—really, nothing there of note.

So I grabbed my trusty shovel
To plow out my “home sweet hovel”
When I noticed something different—something didn’t quite feel right.
There was snow, and politicians,
But some change in the conditions
Made me wonder if my marriage had the sanctity it might.

So I checked the sanctitometer
And struggled not to vomit—her
“Conventional morality in danger” light was on!
Now a grim new dawn was breaking
And I couldn’t stop my shaking
‘Cos the morally upstanding world I trusted now was gone!

I considered seeking shelter
As I watched the helter-skelter
Of the politicians canvassing the noble Granite State;
I heard one of them disparage
Civil Unions, or Gay Marriage
As the reason for the panic—then I thought, more clearly, “wait!”

All this rattling of sabers
Is about my friends and neighbors;
These are people whom I know, and who have lived here all along
If these folks are who they’re blaming
It’s just pre-election gaming
And between the politicians and my friends, I know who’s wrong.

If our morals are declining
As the candidates keep whining
I propose a different theory to explain why this is so:
An invasive mass of liars
With their speeches, signs, and flyers,
Slinging mud and kissing babies in a dog-and-pony show.

Soon the voting will be over
And the state, from Keene to Dover,
And from Lancaster to Nashua, will heave a weary sigh;
With the moral issue buried
Now my neighbors can get married
And the Granite State will mean it when it says “Live Free or Die!”

As you well know, since that time NH no longer has civil unions. Now, NH has marriage. Well done.

Marriage Week: Bliss

As Marriage Week continues, I look back at June of 2011, watching the New York Senate vote. And butcher a Billy Joel song.

(I have the New York Senate live stream up on another window, and this song insinuated itself on my brain. I’m posting it before the vote–NY, you’d better do the right thing, or this post won’t make any sense!)

Some folks want the right to bake
Just a wedding cake for a wedding night
Groom and groom standing side by side
Or a bride and bride
As they wait for the notice
And their newly wedded kiss
I’m in a New York state of bliss

I’ve seen all of the politics
Of the little tricks and the grand debate
Been watching the senate in the Empire state
Had my own expectations
But I never hoped for this
I’m in a New York state of bliss

It was so different, living day by day
Out of luck, and the bigots bring the blues
But now I see a little give and take
In The New York Times, The Daily News

It comes down to reality
And it’s fine with me, ‘cause it’s simply right
Now the votes are in; it begins tonight
There’s a remnant of history
I am never going to miss
I’m in a New York state of bliss

It was so different, living day by day
Out of luck, and the bigots bring the blues
But now I see a little give and take
In The New York Times, The Daily News

It comes down to reality
And it’s fine with me, ‘cause it’s simply right
Now the votes are in; it begins tonight
There’s a remnant of history
I am never going to miss
I’m in a New York state of bliss

I’m just watching the live stream
And I’m waiting for the kiss
I’m in a New York state of bliss

(With apologies to Billy Joel.)

Flat Earth Thinking, At The Supreme Cart

The Supreme Cartographer, known perhaps
As the final word in the world of maps,
Was told that science had recently found
(To his great surprise) that the world was round.
That as accurate as his maps might appear
He’d improve them at once by assuming a sphere
The idea was new, but the data were strong
And in hindsight it should have been clear all along
It may be unsettling, different, or strange,
But the world is a sphere, and the graphics must change

The Cartographer, though, had (it seemed, since his birth)
Been consistently drawing a pancake-flat earth
These round-planet notions were modern and bold
And the data, while solid, were not very old
“Supposing I change” he surmised, with a cough,
“And a ship finds the edge of the world and falls off?”
His world had been flat now, for thousands of years,
Doing fine, till this radical notion appears.
“The data are strong, but tradition is stronger…
Let’s keep the world flat for a little bit longer.”

Inspired by Justice Alito:

The one thing that the parties in this case seem to agree on is that marriage is very important. It’s thought to be a fundamental building block of society and its preservation essential for the preservation of society. Traditional marriage has been around for thousands of years. Same-sex marriage is very new. I think it was first adopted in The Netherlands in 2000. So there isn’t a lot of data about its effect. And it may turn out to be a — a good thing; it may turn out not to be a good thing, as the supporters of Proposition 8 apparently believe.

But you want us to step in and render a decision based on an assessment of the effects of this institution which is newer than cell phones or the Internet? I mean we — we are not — we do not have the ability to see the future.

People I Know

Where to begin? In no particular order…

D. D is a conservative republican heterosexual woman. She’s been married twice; divorced, then widowed. She’s on the market. Actively. Has never wanted children (in part, this led to the end of marriage #1), but very much likes being married.

M & K. The brother of a friend of mine, and his (male) partner. Not married (their state does not allow it), just together for 27 years so far. They adopted 2 kids—AIDS babies nobody else wanted—and loved them their entire lives, and mourned their inevitable deaths. Among the best people I know.

V & P. I love these people. A heterosexual married couple, they never had their own biological kids—I don’t know if this was by choice or not, and it’s none of my business. They adopted 3 kids from halfway across the world, and received anonymous threats because their children had darker skin than they did. Their kids grew up to be wonderful adults; I just ran into their youngest a little bit ago (she was in my daycare when first in the US) and I was delighted to see what a wonderful adult she had become.

V & H. Different V, of course. These were my neighbors, quite possibly the best neighbors in the history of neighbors. Two women, one son. He’s now engaged (to a woman, not that it matters), and a wonderful man; for a time, he was my son’s best friend (despite being a year older and in a different class in school). V & H (I can say this, since I am not really identifying them) each wanted to marry the other, but had to move to another state (for job reasons) before either of them popped the question. As of today, they are not married, but they have raised a fine son who is about to be.

S & V. Another different V—it seems I know a lot of V’s. Two adopted kids (from Korea), one biological. A wonderful family.

V & H. completely different from the V & H above. V was divorced, with 3 kids; H proposed to him while she was pregnant with his 4th.

B & J. my uncle and aunt. He was a pastor. Three kids (my cousins), then he left her for his true love, a catholic priest.

H & M. Cuttlespouse’s uncle and aunt. Again, a pastor. Again, three kids. Stayed with the marriage; abused the kids. They don’t speak to him any more.

C & C. And K & Y. And D & D. and C & L. Heterosexuals, married, with kids. Three out of four of them are in favor of same-sex marriage. The other couple have religious reasons to oppose.

I could go on. Easily.

Relationships are more than a spectrum; they are a spectrum of spectra, along multiple orthogonal variables. Variability is the only constant; there are exceptions to every rule. Heterosexuals, and homosexuals, adopt. And have surrogates, or IVF. Or choose not to have kids at all. If you want to protect children through the institution of marriage, don’t look at who is getting married; look at what people do. There are bad parents of every stripe; there are good parents of every stripe.

In my opinion, there are two paths here. You can start with the constitution, and try to justify unequal treatment under the law… and fail. Or you can start with the evidence, trying to show systematically better parenting among heterosexuals than homosexuals… and fail.

Ok, there is a third path. You can recognize reality. But, really, who expects the courts to take that path?

Marriage Week: Equality Stops At The Border

I’ve been following, as best as an ignorant mollusk can, the analysis of the recent decisions by the Supreme Court to take on a couple of cases on same-sex marriage. What I can’t wrap my head around, though, is that there appears to be a very real chance that same-sex marriage will be the law of the land… only in part of the land.

I just can’t see it happening. It’s just too… “a house divided against itself” springs to mind. So an encore, today, just because of the last line. I wrote this when New York passed SSM (which made me happy, cos I was married in NY). [Read more…]

Marriage Week: Larry And Robert

Larry and Robert are married.
They live in a house on our street.
They’re wonderfully helpful as neighbors,
And as nice as you’re likely to meet.

Their son is a friend of our daughter’s
Their daughter, a friend of our son’s;
If you’re looking for light conversation,
Or for helpful advice, they’re the ones. (continues, after the jump:) [Read more…]

Marriage Week: No Disrespect…

In honor of the SCOTUS taking up the issue of same-sex marriage, I am posting some of my previous verses–some in celebration, others to highlight why change is needed. Oh, and it’s “Marriage Week”, not “Same-Sex Marriage Week”, because I looked at my Cuttlefish University benefits package, and throughout it, benefits are offered to “spouse or same-sex spouse”… and I thought, this is either redundant or separate-but-equal (thus, unequal). It’s just “marriage”. I’m sure the guests will figure out from context whether it’s same-sex or not, but the process is the same, and the vocabulary does not need an additional adjective.

First up, from 2011…

Our daughter’s getting married!
What a joyous, joyous day!
But we’re going to skip the wedding,
Cos you see, our daughter’s gay.

We love her more than life itself
And love her wife-to-be;
We’d never be judgmental, but
We simply can’t agree!

I mean no disrespect, of course,
I love her to the core—
It’s just that, when it comes to this,
I love religion more.

comments, after the jump:
[Read more…]

A Thousand Words: Beautiful Couple

A picture is worth a thousand words, or so I hear. This beautiful couple showed up in a local stream, in a pond just upstream of an old mill building.
Hooded Merganser pair

It’s early spring (duh), and these gorgeous Hooded Mergansers are on their way north. For the time being, they are showing up wherever there is open water. I have shots from four different nearby locations in three days, from a tidal bay to a roadside stream. (click to embiggen, of course)

Isn’t this a beautiful world?