Friday

Nov. 27, 2009

The Surgeon

by Alicia Suskin Ostriker

I was still a kid
interning at State
he reminisces late in the meal—
It was a young red-headed woman
looked like my sister
when the lines went flat
I fell apart
shook
like a car with a broken axle
Went to the head surgeon
a fatherly man
Boy, he said, you got to fill a graveyard
before you know this business
and you just did row one, plot one.

"The Surgeon" by Alicia Suskin Ostriker, from The Book of Seventy. © University of Pittsburgh Press, 2009. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of Bill Nye the Science Guy, (books by this author) born William Sanford Nye in Washington, D.C. (1955). He majored in mechanical engineering at Cornell, where one of his professors was Carl Sagan, and was working as an actor at a Seattle sketch comedy show when the host mispronounced the word "gigawatt"; he'd incorrectly said "jigowatt." William Sanford Nye politely corrected the host of the television comedy show, and the host said, "Who are you?" and Nye said, off the top of his head, "Bill Nye the Science Guy?"

Between 1993 and 1997, he wrote, produced, and hosted 100 episodes of Bill Nye the Science Guy, his educational program on PBS geared toward grade-schoolers. The 26-minute program, each featuring a distinct topic, was shown in classrooms across the country, and it still is broadcast on some public television stations. He's written a number of children's books, including Bill Nye the Science Guy's Big Blast of Science (1993).

It's the birthday of science writer John Maddox, (books by this author) who edited Nature magazine for 22 years, born near Swansea, Wales (1925). He taught theoretical physics at the University of Manchester, then went to work for The Manchester Guardian as science correspondent. He became the editor of Nature magazine (for the first of two separate editorships) in 1966; it was just 13 years after that magazine published Watson and Crick's findings about the structure of DNA. John Maddox died earlier this year, in April 2009.

It was on this day in 1978 that San Francisco mayor George Moscone and City Supervisor Harvey Milk were assassinated by Dan White, a former supervisor who'd resigned but then wanted his job back. White snuck into the San Francisco City Hall through a window in order to bypass metal detectors, then he walked to the mayor's office and shot him. Then he found Milk in a hallway and shot him, too. Fellow Board of Supervisors member Dianne Feinstein (now California's senior U.S. Senator) heard the shots and discovered the body of Milk.

Dan White's lawyer argued that he showed diminished capacity due to his anguished mental state, and that a symptom of this was that the normally fit and health-food conscious White had begun eating a lot of junk food and had binged on junk food the night before shooting his co-workers. It became known as the "Twinkie defense," even though Twinkies were never actually mentioned in court, and the Twinkie Defense is not a genuine legal defense according to the rules of jurisprudence.

Harvey Milk was the first openly gay person to be elected to California public office. This year, Harvey Milk was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Obama for civil rights work, and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed off on legislation (after being petitioned by 40,000 voters) that designates May 22 as Harvey Milk Day in California.

It was on this day in 1095 that Pope Urban II, while on a speaking tour in France, called for the first Crusade to recapture Jerusalem from the Turks. There was no imminent threat. Muslims had occupied Jerusalem for hundreds of years. But Urban II had noticed that Europe was becoming an increasingly violent place, with low-level knights killing each other over their land rights, and he thought that he could bring peace to the Christian world by directing all that violence against an outside enemy. So he made up stories of how Turks in Jerusalem were torturing and killing Christians, and anyone who was willing to join the fight against them would go to heaven.

About 100,000 men from France, Germany, and Italy answered the call, formed into several large groups, and marched across Asia Minor to the Middle East. Nearly half of them died from exhaustion and sickness before they ever reached their destination. They began sacking cities along the way, and they fought among each other for the spoils of each battle. When they reached the trading city of Antioch, they killed almost everyone, including the Christians who lived there. By the time they got to Jerusalem, it had recently fallen into the hands of Egyptians, who were friendly with the Vatican. But the crusaders attacked anyway, killing every Muslim they could find. The Jews in the city gathered in the temple, and the crusaders set it on fire.

Pope Urban II died two weeks later, never hearing the news.

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