Category: Science

A Thousand Stars


This poem was inspired by doing what we should all do on a regular basis: looking up and around.




This was the night

Of a thousand stars

So rich and full

The earth itself seemed

To pause

In admiration


These thousand stars

All in their place

So near to be

So impossibly

Far apart

Making belts

Crabs, cups and crowns


 My thousand stars

All waiting outside

Knocking silently

At my door

Allowing me

To discover them



© Gayle Force Press 2003


February 12 Benjamin Banneker


This Black History Month I’m Grateful for Benjamin Banneker



“The color of the skin is in no way connected with strength of
the mind or intellectual powers.”


-Benjamin Banneker



America’s first widely acknowledged Black genius, Benjamin
Banneker was a gifted inventor, author and astronomer. In modern parlance,
Banneker would likely be described as an engineer.  In fact, as a young man, he built an hourly
striking clock that worked for more than fifty years.



Today, Banneker is probably best remembered for helping
create the in
itial boundaries for Washington, DC. Banneker’s astronomical
observations were key to that project. Those observations also helped him
develop his highly regarded almanacs.



One of Banneker’s long term legacies is the critical role he
played in convincing Thomas Jefferson that Blacks could be the intellectual
equal of Whites. Banneker began a correspondence with Jefferson by providing
him with a copy of his almanac. Jefferson was so impressed that he forwarded
the almanac to friends. Banneker used his interactions with Jefferson to
convince the future President that American notions of equality were inauthentic
if they did not include Blacks. The most generous statements Jefferson ever
made about the potential of Black equality stemmed from his interactions with


Benjamin Banneker continues to serve as an example of the
range of Black thinkers. He maximized his possibilities in ways few thought
possible during his time.


Today I am grateful for Benjamin Banneker. You should be






Changing the Lenses


Much has been made about the super large moon we've seen lately. While Megamoon is beautiful to look at, I am also struck that our perception changes so much, so quickly. Spending a night watching the Moon race across the sky feels wonderful in part because we can see some of the fundamental processes of our universe at work in just a few hours. Really, at moonrise or moonset, we can notice those processes in a matter of minutes.


In astronomical terms, it's stunning that an object so close in size as our Moon is to Earth is also so close to us. The Moon is a quarter of the size of the Earth. However, the Moon and Earth are incredibly far from each other in our terms. The distance between the two objects is something like 250 000 miles. Going a quarter million miles in a car means you talk to your friends about how great your car is and how many years it took you to go that far. In the late 60s it took 3 days for Apollo 8 to travel that distance. 3 day! Is that incredibly fast or incredibly slow?


I recently had a conversation prompted by something I read on Wikipedia about Sedna, the most distant sizable member of our solar system. I acknowledged that I was overwhelmed by how far away Sedna is from the Sun. Sedna is now about 3 times as far from the Sun as Neptune, but at times, it is 32 times as far! At that distance, how could the Earth and Moon be viewed as anything but a singularity?


Close. Near. Fast. Slow. These two celestial relationships (Moon-Earth, Sedna-Sun) make me think concretely about how much our view depends upon the lens we choose to use at any given moment. My guess is that changing lenses impacts our view of our own universes in similar ways. That's maybe even harder to understand.






HIV and Gay Marriage Rights

Last week someone showed me the first poll to indicate a narrow majority of Americans support gay marriage.  For the past few months, I have been talking and thinking a lot about our perceptions of HIV/AIDS. I teach US History and cover the 1980s including HIV, gay liberation efforts and the Reagan administration's reluctance to discuss AIDS or fund research efforts. In class, I read an excerpt from ‘And the Band Played On’ and the kids consistently flip out because they (incorrectly) assume their government would have been highly interested in, y'know, trying to stop a dread, communicable disease. It is always heartening to me that these young people almost uniformly reject anti-gay policies and prejudices, even retroactively. They are the ones who will consistently support laws, initiatives and politicians who advocate marriage rights for everyone.


In discerning the base level meaning of marriage, I think it is clear that for many people, the institution of marriage provides license for two people to have sex. This poll reveals significant change in attitudes concerning gay marriage and I am wondering if part of the reason more straight people are willing to support the public sanction of gay sex via marriage has occurred because our collective fear of gay sex has diminished tremendously since the gay people profiled in ‘And the Band…’ were just about the only people who knew anything at all about AIDS.


When Magic Johnson announced he was HIV+, I thought there was a good chance that my generation (I was 17, in college and LOTS of us were sexually active) had a new JFK moment. I was totally wrong though (it's still Challenger). Instead, Magic is so healthy, active, rich and visible that I know some people have (temporarily?) forgotten he has HIV. That's a little scary actually. AIDS is now the leading killer of Black women between 25 and 34. The most horrifying elements of that statistic, for me, is that these women have still not been educated enough to know that they are a) susceptible to HIV, b) perfectly capable of preventing their infection in almost every case and c) consistently late to receiving diagnosis and attendant care.


Our increasingly cavalier attitude towards HIV is another reminder that we have an amazing level of privilege in the U.S. In so many countries, HIV almost always becomes AIDS and almost always equals a death sentence. Now, early detecting Americans are likely to stay healthy for a very long time. Some of them, like Magic, will always carry HIV but never develop AIDS. The transition in our country from a) AIDS=Death to b) HIV= chronic, massive health concern gives me increased hope that some of the fears our society has long harbored about gay sexuality will continue to fade. The likely repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell is another step in that direction. (Baby steps to full equality, baby steps to full equality.)


While judicial decisions are critical stepping stones, it is ultimately the support of the American people that generates the permanent force of change. That change is occurring. Most people I suggest this to think I’m crazy but I believe that gay marriage will be legal in half the states by 2020. That's my hope and my prediction. We're on the way, people. Slowly but surely. We're on the way.