Saturday

Feb. 15, 2003

Guest of Honor

by Philip Dacey

SATURDAY, 15 FEBRUARY 2003
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Poem: "Guest of Honor," by Philip Dacey.

Guest of Honor

Every day, I drive by the grave
of my fiancee's father.
She lost him when she was one.
He's our intimate stranger,
our guardian angel,
floating a la Chagall
just above our heads.
I go to him for love-lessons.
He touches my hand
with that tenderness
the dead have for the living.
When I touch her hand so,
she knows where I've been.
At the wedding,
he'll give her away to me.
And the glass he'll raise to toast us
will be a chalice brimful of sun,
his words heard all the more clearly
for their absence, as stone
is cut away to form dates.


It's the birthday of prolific English mystery writer, the man who invented the master criminal Dr. Fu Manchu, Sax Rohmer, born Arthur Henry Ward in Birmingham, England to Irish parents in 1886.

It's the birthday of Hungarian writer and humorist George Mikes, born in the country village Siklos in 1912. He said, "When in doubt, I take everything for a compliment and this rule does a great deal of good to my self-esteem." His most famous book is How to Be an Alien (1946).

It's the birthday of publisher Ian Ballantine, born in 1916. He was the founder of Ballantine Books and Bantam Books and we can thank him for the "paperback revolution" that made classic books available to the masses at affordable prices.

It's the birthday of songwriter Harold Arlen, born Hyman Arluck in Buffalo, New York in 1905. He wrote over 400 songs, including It's Only a Paper Moon, Stormy Weather, I've Got the World on a String, and Somewhere Over the Rainbow, which came to him on a rainy day as he was driving down Sunset Boulevard in his convertible.

It's the birthday of Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei, born in Pisa in 1564. While still a student at the University of Pisa, he developed the idea for the pendulum clock, realizing that the period of a pendulum (the time it takes for the pendulum to swing back and forth) does not depend on the length of its arc. Around the same time, he challenged 2000 years worth of wisdom by discovering that all objects, regardless of their density, fall at the same rate through a vacuum. Though many doubted this discovery, he proved it by dropping objects of different densities from the same height. By the time he graduated from the university, Galileo had already made his mark on the European scientific community -- but he was just getting started. By the time he moved to Florence in 1609 he had invented the pump and the hydrostatic balance, which weighed precious metals in both air and water. But his greatest invention was the refracting telescope. Though the telescope had already been invented, Galileo's was more than 20 times more powerful than the strongest to date. With his new invention, he studied the earth's moon, verified the existence of the four moons of Jupiter, observed a supernova, and discovered sun spots--all within two months, December 1609 and January 1610. Most importantly though, he provided evidence for Copernicus' theory that the earth revolves around the sun, which had been declared heresy by the Inquisition. Pope Urban VII told him that he could write about it as long as he treated it as merely a mathematical theory. But Galileo continued to openly support the theory and in 1634, his book Dialogue Concerning the two Chief World Systems was banned and burned by the Church, and he was forced to renounce his beliefs. As he signed his prepared declaration that the earth was stationary, he whispered, "And yet it moves." From 1633 until his death, he lived under house arrest in his home in Florence. He said, "In questions of science, the authority of a thousand is not worth the humble reasoning of a single individual."


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