I feel that I should clarify something about my birthday posts. I don’t just name everyone I’ve heard of or everyone who I think is famous enough. For example, it is Utah Jazz superstar John Stockton’s birthday, but I won’t even mention how old he is because he doesn’t make the cut. And that is what it’s all about: who makes the cut. The cut is defined as (1) someone who I happened to notice had a birthday and (2) someone I care about enough to mention. Some of these are real judgement calls. Like Sarah Jessica Parker on yesterday’s list. On the one hand, I don’t think much of her as an actor. On the other hand, I don’t think much of her as a person. So I don’t know why I even put her on the list. But somehow, she made it.
Today I have a real problem. There are plenty of people on the list. There are even plenty of people who I really admire. But there is no one who I think I ought to have “win” the day. And even as I write this, I do not know what I’m going to do about it. (Exciting, isn’t it!) First, though: let’s get to the birthday’s of dead people.
Robert Frost was born on this day in 1874. He is not one of my favorite poets, but his work is really beautiful. The religion writer Joseph Campbell was born in 1904. The great playwright Tennessee Williams was born in 1911. Finally, we have two actors: Sterling Hayden in 1916 and Strother “Failure to Communicate” Martin in 1919.
John Stockton wasn’t the only birthday I skipped today; there were lots. Of those who did make the cut, let me start with the entertainers. Bob Elliott is 90 today. He was one-half of the great comedy team Bob and Ray. I just found out that he is also the father of Chris Elliot. (Can you say, “America is not a meritocracy“? How about “nepotism”?) Leonard “Mr. Spock” Nimoy is 82. Alan Arkin is 79. James Caan is 70. The wonderful Diana Ross is 69. And spazedian Martin Short is 63.
We have a few birthdays in the world of politics. Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor is 83 today. President of the Palestinian National Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, is 78. Former Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, is 73. And annoying political reporter Bob Woodward is 70.
I’m very fond of a number of these people: Tennessee Williams and Bob Elliott and Diana Ross especially. But there is one birthday who doesn’t fit into the two categories above and who is not only a very important person, but also very important to me. It is the 69th birthday of the brilliant evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins. Sometimes his very comfortable English middle class values bother me—they are, after all, very close to my own very comfortable American middle class values. And I don’t think his work on atheism is all that good, even if I do largely agree with him on the subject. But his popular work on biology has had a profound effect on me. So I have no problem giving the day to him, even if I wasn’t even thinking of doing it when I started writing this article.
Happy birthday Richard Dawkins! And this song goes out to you, good doctor: