Before starting, we have to do a death of note. Jean Stapleton died yesterday at the age of 90. She was very big in musical theater from the late 1950s. She was something there has traditionally been too few of: a female character actor. Most of the time, she played rather different kinds of characters. In You’ve Got Mail, she played kind of a ball buster—a straight talking and strong woman. But we will all remember her as Edith Bunker for nine years on All in the Family.
I was pretty young when the show was on—just seven when it started. But our family never missed it, at least for the first several years. At some point we transferred our love to The Jeffersons, probably because my father associated with George Jefferson in a way that was not healthy. But to me, All in the Family was a simulacrum of the life that was going on in and around the house that I was growing up in.
The heart of the show was Edith Bunker and Stapleton’s layered and surprisingly subtle performances. As a sensitive young person, I doubt I could have dealt with the show if it weren’t for Edith’s character. She is an archetype: the conciliator who keeps everyone grounded in what matters most, as the rest of us fly at each other over what are, at any given moment, academic matters. There is great strength in those who don’t need to be the smartest or the the loudest in the room. She really did make the show, even if Archie and Michael got all the attention.
Here is the opening song, which has some very clever lyrics. You can see what Norman Lear was going after with lines like, “Mister, we could use a man like Herbert Hoover again!”
On this day in 1801, Mormon leader Brigham Young was born. Russian classical composer Mikhail Glinka was born in 1804. I’m all for spiritual leaders, but really, their legacies are never as thrilling as this:
And speaking of music, the great arranger Nelson Riddle was born in 1921. In 1926 on this day, both Andy Griffith and Marilyn Monroe were born. I’ve never cared that much for Griffith, but he was quite good in A Face in the Crowd. Monroe, on the other hand, was a great comedic actor. Here she is in Some Like it Hot. “See what I mean? Not very bright!” She was brilliant:
And actor Cleavon Little was born in 1939.
The day, however, belongs to the father of thermodynamics Nicolas Leonard Sadi Carnot who was born in 1796. He is primarily known for two things. The first is the Carnot Cycle of an idealized heat engine. Using this, he was able to show that the maximum efficiency of an engine was only dependent upon the the two temperature reservoirs of the engine. That’s a remarkable conclusion that I don’t think most people realize today, even as they use many different heat engines.
The other thing he did was discover the second law of thermodynamics. When I was an undergraduate, my professor for statistical mechanics, Joe Tenn, used to say that the first law of thermodynamics said that the best you could do was get as much work out of a process as you put in. The second law said you couldn’t even do that. This is the law of entropy, although no one is really clear on exactly what entropy is. It is to some extent a measure of disorder in a system. The second law says that this disorder always increases. In other words: Humpty Dumpty does not get put back together.
Tragically, Carnot died of cholera at 36. His work was hardly noticed during his lifetime. But it was critically important to later scientists such as Rudolf Clausius and William Thomson (Lord Kelvin).
Happy birthday Sadi Carnot!