What is it about French novelists making a career out of one novel that never ends? I don’t know. But on this day back in 1799, the great Honore de Balzac was born. Collectively called The Human Comedy, in consists of 91 essays, novels, and short stories. But he wasn’t done. It also included 46 unfinished works. People had a lot more time on their hands in those days. I am talking about the readers, of course. Balzac’s output was impressive for his 51 years, but not unheard of. He also wrote plays. At the age of 32, he started an 18 year courtship of Ewelina Hanska. It is one of the most romantic stories of all time. They finally married shortly before his 51st birthday. And then he got sick and died. Just like in one of his novels!
Inventor of the Gramophone record, Emile Berliner was born in 1851. Chess grandmaster Max Euwe was born in 1901. One of my least favorite actors, James Stewart was born in 1908. And co-founded of Hewlett-Packard, William Reddington Hewlett was born in 1913.
My last regular job was at a high tech start-up. Things were going well, but we ran out of money. The founder of the company was desperate. So he made a deal with a group of real estate investors. Soon, the founder was squeezed out and we all watched in awe as these glorified real estate agents took over and began dismantling the product we had spent years creating. This, understandably, led to low morale. I remember the top real estate agent once complained that everyone had gone home for the day. He commented to the beta agent, “No one went home before Hewlett and Packard when that company was starting out!” He was missing a few key points. First, they were both engineers. Second, in the beginning it was only them. Third, they didn’t go around destroying their employees’ work out of ignorance. The arrogance of those guys lives in my mind. From the moment they took over, they showed interest in nothing but asserting authority. And in the end, they got a company that was nothing more than a repackager for other products that doesn’t make money to this day. So much for their dreams of Hewlett-Packard.
The day, however, belongs to John Stuart Mill who was born on this day in 1806. What I especially like about Mill is that he combined a passion for liberty and individualism with a practical nature. My problems with libertarianism is not so much the notion but how those who follow it take it to extreme without realizing their hidden assumptions. The truth is that any discussion of individual rights is very messy. There is no such thing as a pure political system, and that is perhaps more true of libertarianism than most other systems. I wish more libertarians would read him and give up the superman-worshiping sub-Nietzschean Ayn Rand.
Happy birthday John Stuart Mill!