Thursday

Aug. 28, 2014

Be Kind

by Michael Blumenthal

Not merely because Henry James said
there were but four rules of life—
be kind be kind be kind be kind— but
because it's good for the soul, and,
what's more, for others; it may be
that kindness is our best audition
for a worthier world, and, despite
the vagueness and uncertainty of
its recompense, a bird may yet wander
into a bush before our very houses,
gratitude may not manifest itself in deeds
entirely equal to our own, still there's
weather arriving from every direction,
the feasts of famine and feasts of plenty
may yet prove to be one, so why not
allow the little sacrificial squinches and
squigulas to prevail? Why not inundate
the particular world with minute particulars?
Dust's certainly all our fate, so why not
make it the happiest possible dust,
a detritus of blessedness? Surely
the hedgehog, furling and unfurling
into its spiked little ball, knows something
that, with gentle touch and unthreatening
tone, can inure to our benefit, surely the wicked
witches of our childhood have died and,
from where they are buried, a great kindness
has eclipsed their misdeeds. Yes, of course,
in the end so much comes down to privilege
and its various penumbras, but too much
of our unruly animus has already been
wasted on reprisals, too much of the
unblessed air is filled with smoke from
undignified fires. Oh friends, take
whatever kindness you can find
and be profligate in its expenditure:
It will not drain your limited resources,
I assure you, it will not leave you vulnerable
and unfurled, with only your sweet little claws
to defend yourselves, and your wet little noses,
and your eyes to the ground, and your little feet.

"Be Kind" by Michael Blumenthal, from No Hurry. © Etruscan Press, 2012. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

The first paid radio commercial was broadcast on this date in 1922. Radio was big business, only no one could figure out how to make any money from it. Selling the equipment generated revenue, but eventually everyone would own a radio and sales would drop off. Amateur stations across the United States had dabbled in paid advertising, but the business of selling airtime originated from AT&T, who owned WEAF in New York City. They called it "toll broadcasting," and it followed their practice of charging by the minute for long-distance telephone calls. So anyone who happened to be tuned in to WEAF at around five p.m. heard an ad for the Hawthorne Court Apartments in Jackson Heights, Queens. The announcer appealed to weary Manhattanites: "Friend," he said, "you owe it to yourself and your family to leave the congested city and enjoy what nature intended you to enjoy." Queensboro Corporation, the real estate developer who owned the apartments, paid $50 for a total of 10 minutes of airtime over five days. With that transaction, radio solved its revenue problem. Over the next few months, the station sold more ad time to the Queensboro Corporation, and it wasn't long before an oil company and American Express jumped on the bandwagon. Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover did not approve of this business model: "It is inconceivable that we should allow so great a possibility for service to be drowned in advertising chatter," he said.

The first of two powerful solar storms hit the Earth on this date in 1859. It became known as the "Carrington Event," after amateur astronomer Richard Carrington, who witnessed the solar flares through his telescope outside London. When the geomagnetic disturbance reached Earth, telegraph wires began shorting out, shooting streams of fire and igniting telegraph paper in North America and Europe. Compasses were useless because the Earth's magnetic field had gone haywire. The northern lights were seen as far south as Cuba and Jamaica, and the southern lights — aurora australis — were seen in Santiago, Chile. In some places, the aurora was so bright that birds began chirping in the middle of the night because they thought the sun was rising. The Carrington Event was by far the strongest geomagnetic storm ever recorded: ice core samples reveal that it was twice as powerful as any other storm in the past 500 years. If a similar storm happened today, with our dependence on satellites and electronics, it's estimated that it would cause up to 2 trillion dollars' worth of damage.

It's the birthday of poet John Betjeman (books by this author), born in London (1906), the only child of a furniture maker.

He published his first book of verse, Mount Zion, in 1931. In his career as a poet, he often wrote with a sense of nostalgia for the Britain of the recent past, capturing it as it was disappearing; he also satirized progress for its own sake. His work was very popular among the unsettled post-World War II Britons who longed for a simpler time. He also published several guidebooks on British counties and a collection of essays called First and Last Loves (1952) about places and buildings. He was instrumental in saving the Victorian façade of the St. Pancras railway station from demolition, and a statue of the poet — depicted as gazing up in admiration of the architecture — now stands in the station at platform level.

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

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