Sep. 22, 2001

Siren Song

by Margaret Atwood

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Poem: "Siren Song," by Margaret Atwood from You Are Happy (Houghton Mifflin).

Siren Song

This is the one song everyone
would like to learn: the song
that is irresistible:

the song that forces men
to leap overboard in squadrons
even though they see the beached skulls

the song nobody knows
because anyone who has heard it
is dead, and the others can't remember.

Shall I tell you the secret
and if I do, will you get me
out of this bird suit?

I don't enjoy it here
squatting on this island
looking picturesque and mythical

with these two feathery maniacs,
I don't enjoy singing
this trio, fatal and valuable.

I will tell the secret to you,
to you, only to you.
Come closer. This song

is a cry for help: Help me!
Only you, only you can,
you are unique

at last. Alas
it is a boring song
but it works every time.

It's the birthday of novelist, playwright, and television and radio scriptwriter Fay Weldon, born in Worcestershire, England (1931), who has been labeled a feminist writer by some critics, and accused of perpetuating traditional female stereotypes by others. She is best known for her novels The Life and Loves of a She-Devil, Big Girls Don't Cry, and Rhode Island Blues. She has also written numerous newspaper and magazine articles, plays, and short stories. Fay Weldon, who said: "All the genres have a hard time in literary circles—science-fiction gets a bad press, crime thrillers ... are shrugged off—but special abuse is reserved for the romantic novel. I suspect we struggle against ourselves. It's the junk food of the literary appetite—fills you up but fails to nourish."

It's the birthday of sociologist and author David Riesman, born in Philadelphia (1909). In 1950, Riesman (along with Reuel Denney and Nathan Glazer) published The Lonely Crowd, whose title became a catch phrase for the alienation of the individual in modern urban society. In it, Riesman introduced three personality types: "tradition-directed" people, "inner-directed" people, and "other-directed" people. Although the publisher of The Lonely Crowd originally expected to sell a few thousand copies, it became a best seller, with more than one and a quarter million copies sold—more than any book of sociology before or since.

It's the birthday of surgeon and medical researcher Charles B. Huggins, born in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada (1901), whose research revolutionized the way scientists regard the behavior of cancer cells. His research heralded the era of chemotherapy for many types of cancer.

It's the birthday of physicist and chemist Michael Faraday, born in London (1791), who is known as the father of the electric motor. At the age of 14, Faraday was apprenticed to a bookbinder, a job that gave him a love of reading, which in turn fostered an avid love of science. He wrote to renowned scientist Humphry Davy at the Royal Institution in London and asked for a job, which he was granted in 1813. Davy gave Faraday a valuable scientific education, and when he retired in 1827, Faraday replaced him as professor of chemistry. Faraday's greatest contributions to science were in the field of electricity. In 1821 he demonstrated the conversion of electrical energy into motive force, thus inventing the electric motor. He also invented the first generator, developed theories on light and gravitational systems, and invented the voltammeter, a device for measuring electrical charges.

In 1776 on this day, Nathan Hale was hanged as a spy. In 1775, Hale was a schoolteacher in Connecticut. Although he was a member of the local militia, he decided not to join the new American Army (though he eventually did). On Sunday morning, September 22, at 11:00 a.m., Nathan Hale was marched to the Park of Artillery and hanged as a spy. A British engineer who was present at the hanging later reported that Hale's final words upon the gallows had been, "I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country."

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