With the killing of George Floyd in the USA the Civil Rights Movement is back in focus. It seems unbelievable that the act for voting rights for African Americans was passed only in 1965, and that even in the 1950s they were strictly segregated in schools, buses and elsewhere. In buses, they had to sit at the back. Many who have a basic knowledge of the movement have heard about Rosa Parks, the young woman who refused to give up her seat to a white person in a bus in Montgomery, Alabama, on 1 December 1955, and who sparked a movement to end segregation. Rosa Parks became a symbol of the movement, but there were many others who remained unknown. Claudette Colvin was perhaps the first of these to be arrested and imprisoned and this happened in the same city, nine months before the Rosa Parks incident when Claudette was only 15. On her refusal to give her seat to a white person, she was arrested in the bus, her schoolbooks went flying, she was handcuffed and imprisoned. She was locked in a cell in an adult jail, and not allowed to make a phone call. Fellow students in the bus told her mother, who reached the jail along with her pastor, Reverend H. H. Johnson. Johnson managed to get her released on bail. But Rosa Parks, middle-class and in her forties, seemed a more acceptable symbol of the movement, and she remains famous in history. The bus boycott, and the move to end segregation, started because of her. To know more about Claudette, the true founder of the movement, read Claudette Colvin: Twice Towards Justice by Phil Hoose.
This week I have read a number of books on North Korea. For those who are interested, here is a brief summary.
- Pachinko by Min Jin Lee. This is a work of fiction, with a historical background. The story covers about eight decades, set in both Korea and Japan, and its aim is really to depict the complexities of the lives of ordinary Koreans, first under Japanese occupation, and then after the division into North and South Korea. The negative Japanese attitude to Koreans is clearly brought out.
- Dear Leader by Jang Jin-Sung. An incredible book by someone high up in the hierarchy of North Korea, who then escaped to the South. The predictive reality of Orwell’s 1984 is clear in this book, as while working for the government the author had to take on a fake South Korean name, and write in praise of the North as if he was writing from the South.
- A River in Darkness by Masaji Ishikawa. An apt title for a really dark book about the poor conditions in North Korea, a life of deprivation and starvation. The author finally escapes, but it is not exactly a happy ending. Being half-Japanese, he was accepted neither in Korean nor in Japanese society.
- The Girl with Seven Names by Hyeonseo Lee. Another harrowing escape story from North Korea. However, life in North Korea was much better for a Korean, rather than a half-Japanese. She writes of a close knit society, good neighbours, and prosperity during the 1960s and 1970s when the North was well-funded by China and the USSR.
- In Order to Live by Yeonmi Park. Another escape story, and a description of life in North Korea.
All these books also provide descriptions of the typical way of life in North Korea.
Le métis de Dieu (The Jewish Cardinal)
I saw this film yesterday on the French channel. It introduced me to Aaron Jean-Marie Lustager [17 September 1926 – 5 August 2007], born a Jew, who insisted on converting to Christianity at the age of 13, and became a bishop, archbishop, and later cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church. His mother died in Auschwitz-Birkenau, his father was never reconciled to his conversion, and Lustiger himself could not forget his Jewish origin.
This historical film also looks at aspects of the history of France, Poland under the communist regime, the attitude of the pope, and the conflicts over the Auschwitz cross, and the occupation of a part of Auschwitz by nuns.
Here is the epitaph that he wrote for himself, enshrined in the crypt of the Notre-Dame cathedral.
‘I was born Jewish.
I received the name
Of my paternal grandfather, Aaron.
Having become Christian
By faith and by Baptism,
I have remained Jewish
As did the Apostles.
I have as my patron saints
Aaron the High Priest,
Saint John the Apostle,
Holy Mary full of grace.
Named 139th archbishop of Paris
by His Holiness Pope John Paul II,
I was enthroned in this Cathedral
on 27 February 1981,
And here I exercised my entire ministry.
Passers-by, pray for me.’
† Aaron Jean-Marie Cardinal Lustiger
Archbishop of Paris
For someone like myself, interested in both history and religion, the film was fascinating. There is a lot on Lustiger available on the internet for those who would like to read more about him.
One hundred million years ago, Antarctica was covered in thick forests, inhabited by dinosaurs. It was a time of warmth, when the polar ice-caps had practically melted. Robert Scott in 1912, was the first to notice fossilised plants. Later Jane Francis of the University of Leeds, as well as others, discovered more. Francis found stunted beech bushes, which were only 3 to 5 million years ago. These plants and trees survived despite unusual polar conditions of night or darkness throughout the winter, and sun and light throughout the summer.
Polar dinosaurs may have lived there throughout the year. A complete dinosaur skeleton was found of Leaellynasura, which looked somewhat like a small kangaroo, lived on plants, and had enlarged optic lobes, indicating it could see in the dark.
Another dinosaur known from its fossils was a meat-eating creature, more than 2 metres tall, living in the James Ross region of Antarctica. It was probably a Titanosaur.
There is also evidence of tetrapods living in Antarctica 245 million years ago.
A meteorite from Mars is believed to have fossilised microbial life.
Recently, there are claims of tiny humanoid fossils being found, which existed 600 million years ago!
Given what we know about human evolution, this is a near impossibility, and I am yet to see something about this in a scientific journal.
But obviously, Antarctica has many mysteries that are still to be discovered.