Thursday June 4, 2015

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a song with no end

when Whitman wrote, “I sing the body electric”

I know what he
I know what he

to be completely alive every moment
in spite of the inevitable.

we can’t cheat death but we can make it
work so hard
that when it does take

it will have known a victory just as
perfect as

“a song with no end” by Charles Bukowski from The Night Torn Mad With Footsteps. © Black Sparrow Press, 2002. Reprinted with permission.  (buy now)

It was on this day in 1919 that the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, giving women the right to vote, was passed by the United States Congress. Women across America voted in their first national election in November of 1920.

And it’s the anniversary of two crucial battles in World War II. In 1940, the British forces completed their evacuation from Dunkirk, and on this day in 1942, the Battle of Midway took place.

Winston Churchill, who’d become prime minister that spring, had sent British forces to Belgium to try to stop the advance of the Nazi invasion, but the British soldiers were unprepared for the superior German army. They were completely overwhelmed. They were bottled up in the little coastal town of Dunkirk. They had abandoned equipment on the way, leaving the road to Dunkirk littered with empty vehicles and piles of gear.

The Nazi tanks had been in close pursuit, but when the British troops reached the coast, Hitler gave a personal order to stop the invasion. The Nazi commander was infuriated. He knew that he could probably wipe out the British in a single battle, and that the war for western Europe could be finished in a few days. One of Hitler’s associates at the time wrote in his diary: "The Führer is terribly nervous. Frightened by his own success, he’s afraid to take any chance and would rather pull the reins on us."

The British estimated that they had about two days to evacuate, but when the British ships showed up to carry the troops across the channel, they found the harbor too shallow for most of the ships to reach the shore. Almost 500,000 men were stranded on the beach, and Nazi bombers began to attack from the air. The British government sent out a request for all persons with seaworthy vessels to help in the evacuation, and a great flotilla of fishing boats, lifeboats, paddle steamers, and yachts came across the English Channel and saved the British army.

When the soldiers arrived in Britain, they were given a hero’s welcome, with parades and cheering crowds. One solider said, "We might have been the heroes of some great victory instead of a beaten army returning home, having lost most of its equipment."

The Battle of Midway took place in the Central Pacific Ocean — Midway Island, the last American outpost in the Pacific. The Japanese navy hoped to take control of it and use it to stage an invasion of Hawaii, but a squadron of American bombers, which had wandered off course, accidentally found the Japanese fleet while most of planes were refueling. Fuel lines on the Japanese carriers caught fire, munitions exploded, and hundreds of Japanese sailors died in an instant. The battle went on for three more days, but the Japanese never fully recovered from that first attack, and never won another decisive naval battle for the rest of the war.

It’s the birthday of sex expert “Dr. Ruth,” Ruth Westheimer (books by this author), born Karola Ruth Siegel in Frankfurt, Germany (1928) to Orthodox Jewish parents. As a girl she learned about sex early by sneaking into her father’s library to read his books. Then the Nazis came to power, and in 1939 her family decided to flee Germany. But her grandmother refused to go, so Ruth was sent to safety at a Swiss school. She never saw her family again.

After the war, she moved to Palestine, joined the underground movement fighting for a Jewish state, and trained as a sniper. Eventually she moved to New York, got her degree, and started broadcasting a radio show called Sexually Speaking that made her famous. At first, the show ran for 15 minutes on Sundays after midnight. Dr. Ruth was paid $25 per show. But it took off — when the station offered listeners a promotional "Sex on Sunday" T-shirt, they thought they’d get a few hundred requests. They got more than 3,500. One journalist for the New York Post wrote, "Once you’ve talked sex with Dr. Ruth, can it ever be as good with anyone else?"

She met her husband on a ski slope. She said, "Talking from morning to night about sex has helped my skiing, because I talk about movement, about looking good, about taking risks."

It’s the birthday of horror writer Joe Hill, born Joseph Hillstrom King in Hermon, Maine (1972). He’s the author of three novels — Heart-Shaped Box (2007), Horns (2010), and NOS4A2 (2013) — and a collection of short stories, 20th Century Ghosts (2005). Hill also writes comics, including the series Locke and Key (2008).

Hill was named after labor organizer Joe Hill. He’s also the son of novelist Stephen King. He used a pen name because he wanted to see if he could make it as a writer on his own merit. “I had a powerful weapon on my side, and that weapon was failure,” he said. “It was really easy to stay anonymous when I could barely get published.” But an article in Variety revealed his true parentage in 2007. His younger brother, Owen, is also a writer.

NOS4A2 (pronounced “Nosferatu”) (2013) is full of nods to his famous dad. “I thought, maybe I’d like to have fun with it,” says Hill. “Instead of shying away from it and avoiding it like a dangerous infection, maybe it would be fun to goof on Stephen King a bit.” He wrote a large portion of the book over the Christmas season, and had to listen to a lot of Christmas music while he wrote it, something that really annoyed him. He said, “I’m sure if you were going down to Hell in an elevator, the music playing would be the Alvin and the Chipmunks Christmas album and it would speed up the farther you plunged.” The novel features a vampire, but Hill says he’s confused by vampires’ recent popularity. “I don’t understand the romance of vampires. They’re bloated leeches that live in dirt. That doesn’t strike me as the height of eroticism.”

Hill’s fourth novel, The Firemen, is due out next year.

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®