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Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Dick and Sally


Or, maybe I should've entitled this: "Sally Ride... R.I.P."

(Yet another brief diversion today… maybe this will become a series… NOT)

When I posted the Richard Feynman piece last Sunday, an emailer wrote to say (scold?) that I hadn't mentioned a single female in my short list of admired people. So let me rectify that a little bit, with three who come to mind fairly quickly:

First is Jane Goodall, who I admire greatly, but more as a spokesperson and role model than as a scientist (nothing against her, I just don't hold high regard for anthropology!). In the political arena there is Elizabeth Warren who shows tremendous potential, but way too early to tell yet.
The only "scientist" though who really jumps to my mind is Sally Ride (of course there are plenty of female scientists I'm little-familiar with), who died two years ago this month. I largely lost track of her once she left NASA, though I knew she was involved in education (at different levels), and heard rumors of her gender preferences. When she died and the rumors of her personal life were confirmed, I was disappointed. NO, not because of the lesbianism, but because of her failure to publicly acknowledge it during her lifetime. I respect and fully understand that decision, but still her trepidations dropped her down a smidgen for me. It says something VERY sad about our society that someone with the courage to pursue the science/space career she had, nonetheless lacked the courage to simply be herself in public. Pretty clearly, what she feared was the judgment of others; the barbed, shrewish commentary and invasion of privacy that might ensue from culture police, made even worse in the day of the internet.  Sally escaped unscathed, but what anguish did it bring to her life hiding constantly behind such a cloak of privacy...

I can almost imagine Sally and Dick Feynman off in another world now, sitting around a table somewhere, playing poker (...maybe even strip poker at Richard's request!), talking physics and differential equations... and laughing at what a screwed-up world they left behind.




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