Saturday Jun. 4, 2016

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As Kingfishers Catch Fire

As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame;
       As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
       Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
       Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
       Selves—goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
Crying What I do is me: for that I came.

I say more: the just man justices;
       Keeps grace: that keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is—
       Christ. For Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
       To the Father through the features of men’s faces.

“As Kingfishers Catch Fire” by Gerard Manley Hopkins. Public Domain.  (buy now)

It’s the birthday of sex expert “Dr. Ruth”: Ruth Westheimer (books by this author), born Karola Ruth Siegel in Frankfurt, Germany (1928). Her family, who were Orthodox Jews, sent her to a Swiss boarding school when the Nazis came to power. She never saw them again, and believes they died in the extermination camp at Auschwitz. She was a bright and curious child, and had read a lot about the human reproductive system from books in her father’s library, but the school didn’t like her sharing that information freely with the other girls, and she was often in trouble. She moved to Palestine after the war and became a Zionist sniper. “As a four-foot-seven woman, I would have been turned away by any self-respecting army anywhere else in the world,” she later wrote, “but I had other qualities that made me a valuable guerrilla” — including “a knack for putting bullets exactly where I want them to go.”

In 1950, she fell in love with an Israeli soldier who lived in her kibbutz. They married and moved to Paris, where Ruth studied psychology at the Sorbonne. The marriage ended after five years. She moved to New York with her French boyfriend, had a daughter, and earned her master’s degree in sociology. It was on a ski trip to the Catskills that she met Manfred Westheimer. They fell in love and were married less than a year later. Ruth Westheimer took a job at Planned Parenthood in Harlem and soon grew accustomed to spending her days educating people about sex. She earned her doctorate in sex counseling from Columbia, and when she gave a talk to broadcasters on the importance of sex education, she caught the attention of a New York radio programmer, who offered her a weekly radio show. Even though her show, Sexually Speaking, aired after midnight, it took off. In 1984, it went national.

She’s also written several books on topics related to sex. Her most recent — The Doctor is In: Dr. Ruth on Love, Life, and Joie de Vivre — is part memoir, part advice. It came out last year (2015). There is also a play based on her life story: Becoming Dr. Ruth. She’s seen it several times.

The United States Congress passed the 19th Amendment to the Constitution on this date in 1919. The amendment, which gave women the right to vote, had been a long time in coming. The women’s suffrage movement had arisen along with the abolitionist movement in the mid-1800s. Many women were active in both causes, and Frederick Douglass often spoke at women’s rights rallies. In 1848, Elizabeth Cady Stanton drafted her “Declaration of Sentiments,” which adopted the language of the Declaration of Independence in calling for voting rights for women: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that to secure these rights governments are instituted, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. [...] Now, in view of this entire disfranchisement of one-half the people of this country [...] we insist that they have immediate admission to all the rights and privileges which belong to them as citizens of the United States.”

Stanton also drafted the original Constitutional Amendment, with help from Susan B. Anthony. It was first introduced in 1878 and languished in committee for nine years before it came up for a vote. It was defeated and, although individual states passed laws allowing women the right to vote, a national amendment wasn’t considered again until 1914. President Woodrow Wilson backed it in 1918, saying: “We have made partners of the women in this war. Shall we admit them only to a partnership of suffering and sacrifice and toil and not to a partnership of right?” The 19th Amendment was ratified by the states and took effect in August 1920. It states: “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.”

The first Pulitzer Prizes were awarded on this day in 1917. Laura Richards and Maude Elliott won the prize for biography, with their book about the 19th-century writer and suffragist Julia Ward Howe. Jean Jules Jusserand, the French ambassador to the United States from 1902 to 1925, won the prize for history: With Americans of Past and Present Days. Herbert B. Swope of the New York World won the prize for journalism, and when he picked up his award, said: “I cannot give you the formula for success, but I can give you the formula of failure — which is try to please everybody.”

On this day in 1962, William Faulkner’s The Reivers was published (books by this author). It was the last novel he published before his death. The provisional title was “The Stealers,” but Faulkner changed it to “The Reavers,” using an old word for thieves. Then he wrote his publisher to say that he wanted to spell Reavers the old, Scottish way, E-I, instead of E-A.

On this day in 1940, Carson McCullers’ novel The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter first appeared (books by this author). She was 23 and the only thing she had published before was a short story. The novel, about a group of outcasts all drawn to the same deaf man, was a magnificent success. She wrote later: “For a whole year I worked on The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter without understanding it at all. Each character was talking to a central character, but why, I didn’t know. I’d almost decided that the book was no novel, that I should chop it up into short stories. But I could feel the mutilation in my body when I had that idea, and I was in despair. Suddenly it occurred me that Harry Minowitz, the character all the other characters were talking to, was a different man, a deaf mute, and immediately the name was changed to John Singer. The whole focus of the novel was fixed and I was for the first time committed with my whole soul to The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter.”

It was on this day in 1989 that Chinese troops stormed Beijing’s Tiananmen Square to crack down on students conducting pro-democracy demonstrations. The demonstrations had begun months earlier, after the government accused them of planning a coup d’état. They drew thousands of supporters from three dozen universities and staged hunger strikes and sit-ins. The Chinese government declared martial law, and troops approached the square with tanks in the late evening of June 3.

Ordinary workers had gathered along the nearby roads. They had been demonstrating in support of the students for weeks, and they crowded into the streets to block the advance of the tanks toward the square. Though the event would come to be called the Tiananmen Square massacre, almost all the people killed were the ordinary people in the streets outside the square. Violence broke out around midnight on this day in 1989, with some people throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails at the troops, and the troops responding with gunfire.

Students inside the square could hear gunfire in the distance, and they assumed that they were about to be massacred. Many of them began to write out their wills. Troops entered Tiananmen Square around 1:00 a.m. A loudspeaker announced that a serious counterrevolutionary rebellion had broken out and everyone was ordered to leave the square immediately. The darkness was filled with the sound of breaking glass and gunfire, and the light of red flares rising and falling in the air.

Soldiers had surrounded the perimeter of the square, and the students expected that they would kill everyone at the center. Around 4:00 a.m., all the lights went out, and it got quiet. The students debated whether or not they should surrender. They heard the engines of the tanks start up, and finally they made the decision to evacuate. At that time, there were only a few journalists left in the square, and erroneous stories were later reported that the students had all been killed. In fact, almost all the students survived.

One of the few journalists who witnessed the evacuation said: “Many [of the students] had tears rolling down their cheeks. All looked shaken; many were trembling or unsteady on their feet. But all looked proud and unbeaten. One group shouted, ‘Down with the Communist Party!’ [It was] the first time I had ever heard this openly said in China.” The students left a message written on the wall behind them that said, “On June 4, 1989, the Chinese people shed their blood and died for democracy.”

The violence continued in and around the square for the rest of the day. The famous photograph of a student staring down a tank was taken by an American Associated Press photographer named Jeff Widener. He went to the top of a hotel near the square and began to take pictures of the tanks clearing the last remnants of people from the streets. Then he saw one man walk up to a tank and stand in its path, refusing to move. He took several photographs and then the man was grabbed by bystanders and pulled out of the tank’s path. Widener asked another journalist to hide the film in his underwear to smuggle it out of the country.

The identity of the protester in the photograph is not known with any certainty. We don’t know if he’s alive or dead, in prison or free, but he’s been called one of the most influential revolutionaries of the 20th century

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