Here is your open thread for February 18, 2020.
Regina Ilyinichna Spektor turns 40 today:
February 18 is the birthday of the late director John Hughes (1950) and of Hughes’ muse, Molly Ringwald (1968).
Mary Amdur was born on February 18, 1921. She was just 32 years old when she was fired from her job as a researcher at the Harvard School of Public Health for the crime of saying that breathing smog was bad for human health. Alice Hamilton, who was by then retired from Harvard, encouraged Amdur to continue her research, but warned: “The trouble with this branch of medical science is that it is always tied up more or less with somebody’s pocketbook — Maybe the companies, maybe the insurance people, maybe the doctor in charge. …”
Amdur’s interest in “this branch of medical science” arose, in part, from the fact that Donora, Pennsylvania, was her home town and she had a personal, as well as a scientific interest in the Donora Smog of 1948 that killed 20 people and sickened thousands of others there. Harvard’s research into the health effects of smog were funded by the American Smelting and Refining Company, who were hoping for absolution, not culpability. When their lawyers (and maybe their hired thugs) failed to intimidate Amdur into burying her findings, they pulled the plug on her research. Nevertheless, she persisted.
Here’s a nice appreciation of Dr. Amdur’s legacy in fighting against air pollution and what her scientific integrity cost her. (If nobody wants to do a biopic of Mary Amdur, can we at least get a Drunk History episode?)
Milos Forman was born on this day in 1932. Many of the films he directed are classics you shouldn’t miss — Cuckoo’s Nest, Amadeus, Man on the Moon — but also don’t miss his small role as Father Havel in Edward Norton’s Keeping the Faith.
February 18 is also the birthday of Louis Comfort Tiffany, Wallace Stegner, Jack Palance, Johnny Hart, Dennis DeYoung, Juice Newton, John Travolta, Matt Dillon, Dr. Dre, and Cybill Shepherd. (How is it that we’ve now got a half-dozen streaming services and none of them let’s us rewatch Moonlighting?)
Toni Morrison was born on February 18, 1931. Here’s my “Smart person saying smart things” post following her death last year.
Audre Lorde was exactly three years younger than Morrison. If you haven’t read her poetry, you should. “I am fourteen” Lorde writes in “Hanging Fire,” and the rest of that poem makes you believe and/or remember what that means. The poem is specific — it’s about what it meant to be 14 for her — but if it doesn’t make you feel or remember what it meant for you to have been a human 14-year-old then I’m not sure I believe you ever were 14.
That gut-level vulnerably honest humanity is why it’s wrong to pigeon-hole Lorde as just a social-justice warrior type, even, or especially, if you’re the sort of person who uses “social-justice warrior” as an unironic pejorative. Here’s a bit more of her poetry, from “Power” (do read the whole thing):
A policeman who shot down a ten year old in Queensstood over the boy with his cop shoes in childish bloodand a voice said “Die you little motherfucker” andthere are tapes to prove it. At his trialthis policeman said in his own defense“I didn’t notice the size nor nothing elseonly the color”. Andthere are tapes to prove that, too.Today that 37 year old white manwith 13 years of police forcingwas set freeby eleven white men who said they were satisfiedjustice had been doneand one Black Woman who said“They convinced me” meaningthey had dragged her 4’10” black Woman’s frameover the hot coalsof four centuries of white male approvaluntil she let gothe first real power she ever hadand lined her own womb with cementto make a graveyard for our children.
Talk amongst yourselves.