Jun. 4, 2008

Baseball as Etiquette

by Josephine Jacobsen

Baseball is etiquette made beautiful.
A quality pitch is fact, not rumor;
style is high. Do they say to the dangerous batter
who has walked, "Joe, take first?" Never, never.
The catcher, tall as fate, looms over,
his mammoth hand held high,
and the ball thunks his glove in perfect logic,
before the batter tosses his bat.
And when a batter trots back to triumphant home,
does he get his high-fives only from those
with whom he has a beer?
His worst enemy, if he has one,
is perfect in ritual; even in home glory
the pattern holds until the park
is emptied of the ball.
The famous three-movement, velocity, location—
are sacred and do not bow.
When the dark takes the diamond
and the unforgiving brown circle of loneliness,
a covenant has been confirmed.

" Baseball as Etiquette" by Josephine Jacobsen, from Contents of a Minute. © Sarabande Books, 2008. Reprinted with permission. (buy now

It's the birthday of writer Robert Fulghum, (books by this author) born in Waco, Texas (1937), author of All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten (1988). When he was a Unitarian minister in Washington state in the 1960s, Fulghum began jotting down personal insights to use in sermons and his weekly church newsletter. He worked them up into a statement of personal belief: "Share everything. Play fair. Don't hit people. Put things back where you found them. Clean up your own mess..." — which eventually found its way to a Connecticut literary agent when her daughter came home with it tucked in her school bookbag, photocopied by her teacher. The agent asked Fulghum to write more, and the book, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, and its follow-up, It Was on Fire When I Lay Down on It (1989), ran for a time in first and second positions on bestseller lists.

The first Pulitzer Prizes were awarded on this day in 1917. Laura Richards and Maude Elliott won the prize for biography, with their book about the 19th-century writer and suffragist Julia Ward Howe. Jean Jules Jusserand (zhawn zhool zhoo-say-RAWN), the French ambassador to the United States from 1902 to 1925, won the prize for history: With Americans of Past and Present Days. Herbert B. Swope of the New York World won the prize for journalism, and when he picked up his award, said: "I cannot give you the formula for success, but I can give you the formula of failure — which is try to please everybody."

It was one this day in 1919 that the 19th Amendment to the constitution, giving women the right to vote, was passed by the United States Congress. The movement for the women's vote had gained momentum under Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, two women who had been born at a time in the 19th century when women had been barred from college and all professions, including the clergy. They couldn't serve on juries or testify in court, sign contracts, keep or invest money, own or inherit property. Above all, they could not vote representatives into office who might have changed these laws.

The national women's movement came out of the movement to abolish slavery.

After the Congress passed the amendment on this day in 1919, it had to be ratified by a majority of state legislatures. The state that tipped the balance was Tennessee and the man who cast the deciding vote was the twenty-four year old representative Harry Burn, the youngest man in the state legislature that year. Before the vote, he happened to read his mail, and one of the letters he received was from his mother. It said, "I have been watching to see how you stood but have noticed nothing yet…Don't forget to be a good boy and…vote for suffrage." He did.

It was on this day in 1989 that the Chinese troops stormed Beijing's Tiananmen Square to crack down on students conducting pro-democracy demonstrations. The demonstrations had begun months earlier, after the government accused them of planning a coup d'etat. They drew thousands of supporters from three dozen universities and staged hunger strikes and sit-ins. The Chinese government declared martial law, and troops approached the square with tanks in the late evening of June 3.

Ordinary workers had gathered along the nearby roads. They had been demonstrating in support of the students for weeks, and they crowded into the streets to block the advance of the tanks toward the square. Though the event would come to be called the Tianamen Square massacre, almost all the people killed were the ordinary people in the streets outside the square. Violence broke out around midnight on this day in 1989, with some people throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails at the troops, and the troops responding with gunfire.

The violence continued in and around the square for the rest of the day. The famous photograph of a student staring down a tank was taken by an American Associated Press photographer named Jeff Widener. He went to the top of a hotel near the square and began to take pictures of the tanks clearing the last remnants of people from the streets. Then he saw one man walk up to a tank and stand in its path, refusing to move. He took several photographs and then the man was grabbed by bystanders and pulled out of the tank's path. Widener asked another journalist to hide the film in his underwear to smuggle it out of the country.

The identity of the protester in the photograph is not known with any certainty, but he's been called one of the most influential revolutionaries of the twentieth century.

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