Before we get to birthdays, I’d like to talk about war. On this day in 1915, the final push by the British at Gallipoli, the Battle of Sari Bair started. Gallipoli has an earned reputation for being a pointless battle within a pointless war. There were roughly a half million casualties at Gallipoli and over 30,000 during the two week battle at Sari Bair alone. And then exactly 30 years later, the United States dropped a nuclear bomb on the civilian population of Hiroshima. As many as 166,000 people were killed. We waited all of three weeks between the first successful atomic blast and dropping a bomb on Japan. Without getting into my feelings about culpability, this is all just a total fucking shame. In the most important ways, we have not evolved at all past ants. The intelligence that allowed us to land the Curiosity rover on the surface of Mars one year ago today seems powerless to stop us for killing each other.
The great early Baroque composer Barbara Strozzi was born on this day in 1619. Here is a beautiful performance of Che Si Puo Fare:
French religious philosopher Nicolas Malebranche was born in 1638. He thought God made everything happen. I pretty much agree, but my concept of “God” is so broad as to make me an atheist. Given Malebranche’s theodicy, I think he may not have been that different from me. The discoverer of palladium and rhodium, William Hyde Wollaston was born in 1766. The great English poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson was born in 1809. Cuban composer Ernesto Lecuona was born in 1895. Here is an impressive performance of Malaguena by Roy Clark (one of his signature pieces, apparently):
Actor Lucille Ball was born in 1911. I was never that fond of I Love Lucy, but I’m rather fond of her as the “Queen of the Bs.” Face it: she was kind of annoying with that whinny voice on the show. But she was always a honey! The historian Richard Hofstadter was born in 1916. He is famous for books like Social Darwinism in American Thought, 1860–1915 and Anti-intellectualism in American Life. He was a great man. Actor Robert Mitchum was born in 1917.
White supremacist, cofounder of the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, and murderer Samuel Bowers was born in 1924. According to Wikipedia:
That means for all of that crime, he ended up spending only 14 years in jail. And he lived to a ripe old age. People who believe there is a loving God are kidding themselves. Good people live short, brutish lives. And people like Bowers live long happy lives. I suspect that in prison he was a hero to all of the white supremacists, so even that was a fairly pleasant experience.
Screenwriter Norman Wexler was born in 1926. Artist Andy Warhol was born in 1928. Political scientist Chalmers Johnson was born in 1931. Another great man, he is notable for his understanding that the United States had created a new kind of empire. He said, “A nation can be one or the other, a democracy or an imperialist, but it can’t be both. If it sticks to imperialism, it will, like the old Roman Republic, on which so much of our system was modeled, like the old Roman Republic, it will lose its democracy to a domestic dictatorship.” We’re more than half way there. I’ve been arguing for years that eventually (possibly in my lifetime) the countries of Europe will have to go to war with the United States. As our economic power decreases, we will use our military in ever more overt ways to prop up our failed (increasingly fascistic) economic policies. Go team!
And the truly independent director Paul Bartel was born in 1938.
Actor Frank Finlay is 87 today. He is best known for playing Porthos in those great Richard Lester Three Musketeers films. Cocaine smuggler George Jung is 71. He was played by Johnny Depp in the film Blow. That movie, like most drug films depressed me greatly. But there is good news. He is slated for release in November 2014. So hopefully he will at least not die in prison. And M. Night Shyamalan is 43. Look, I know people like to dump on him. But the truth is that as far as major Hollywood films go, he is really good. Few people make films as good and thoughtful as he does. I know when I see one of his films that it will at least be a worthy effort.
The day, however, belongs to biologist Alexander Fleming who was born on this day back in 1881. You see, I had to give the day to him because if it weren’t for him, I would likely be dead. He is the man who discovered penicillin. He actually did quite a lot more during his long career. But that was quite enough for any man. Here is the story:
Happy birthday Alexander Fleming!