Tuesday

Nov. 20, 2012

Shackleton's Decision

by Faith Shearin

At a certain point he decided they could not afford
the dogs. It was someone's job to take them one by one
behind a pile of ice and shoot them. I try to imagine
the arctic night which descended and would not lift,

a darkness that clung to their clothes. Some men objected
because the dogs were warmth and love, reminders
of their previous life where they slept in soft beds,
their bellies warm with supper. Dog tails were made

of joy, their bodies were wrapped in a fur of hope.
I had to put the book down when I read about the dogs
walking willingly into death, following orders,
one clutching an old toy between his teeth. They trusted

the men who led them into this white danger,
this barren cold. My God, they pulled the sleds
full of provisions and barked away the Sea Leopards.
Someone was told to kill the dogs because supplies

were running low and the dogs, gathered around
the fire, their tongues wet with kindness, knew
nothing of betrayal; they knew how to sit and come,
how to please, how to bow their heads, how to stay.

"Shackleton's Decision" by Faith Shearin, from Moving the Piano. © Stephen F. Austin State University Press, 2011. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Microsoft Windows version 1.0 was released on this date in 1985. Bill Gates and Paul Allen had developed an operating system that they called "MS-DOS," which stood for Microsoft Disk Operating System. It shipped in IBM computers beginning in 1981. But it wasn't intuitive; users had to memorize a string of commands and get comfortable with the "backslash" key, something most people had never taken any notice of. Microsoft designers began working on a more user-friendly operating system, code name Interface Manager, the following year, and by 1983, they announced that "Windows" was in development. People were skeptical, calling it "vaporware." Two years later, the first Windows-equipped computers shipped. The original press release promises that "Windows lets users integrate the tasks they perform with their computer by providing the ability to work with several programs at the same time and easily switch between them without having to quit and restart individual applications. In addition, it provides a rich foundation for a new generation of applications."

It's the birthday of astronomer Edwin Powell Hubble, born in Marshfield, Missouri(1889), for whom the Hubble Telescope is named.He went to Oxford as a Rhodes scholar and received a law degree. He passed the Kentucky bar exam in 1913, but gave up practicing law after one year to return to Chicago for a doctorate in astronomy. "I chucked the law for astronomy," he said, "and I knew that even if I were second- or third-rate, it was astronomy that mattered." Hubble went to work at Mount Wilson Observatory in Pasadena, where he discovered that there are other galaxies outside the Milky Way, opening up a whole new field of astronomy.

He later discovered that these distant galaxies were moving away from the Milky Way; in other words, he hit upon the concept of the expanding universe, which has been called "the most spectacular astronomical discovery of the 20th century."

It's the birthday of the novelist Nadine Gordimer (books by this author), born in Springs, South Africa (1923), who grew up in a middle-class white community near a gold mine where all the black workers were forced to live in a windowless barracks, guarded by police. She never thought about who those miners were or what their lives were like until the day she read Upton Sinclair's novel The Jungle, and she began to see the similarities between the meat packers in the book and the miners in her town.

Gordimer eventually moved to the racially mixed bohemian community in Johannesburg and began writing short stories, published in collections such as Face to Face (1949) and The Soft Voice of the Serpent (1952). She watched as many of her black friends were put under surveillance and arrested for treason. She was one of the few white novelists of her generation who did not go into exile. Instead, she began to write about the South African political resistance in a series of novels, including The Late Bourgeois World (1966), The Guest of Honor (1970), and The Conservationist (1974), which won the Booker Prize. She was attacked by South Africa's government, and her books were banned for years at a time.

For 60 years, she has contributed short stories to The New Yorker magazine. She's a big fan of the short-story form — where, she says, "contact is more like the flash of fireflies, in and out, now here, now there, in darkness. Short-story writers see by the light of the flash; theirs is the only thing one can be sure of — the present moment."

In 1991, a year after Nelson Mandela was released from his 28 years of imprisonment, Gordimer won the Nobel Prize in literature.

She said: "Truth isn't always beauty, but the hunger for it is."

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

 









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