On this day in 1571, the great Johannes Kepler was born. He is perhaps the greatest theoretical astronomer of all time. He’s the guy who made Copernicus’ idea work. It was fine to put the sun in the center of the solar system. But the truth was that it still didn’t work to predict the orbits of the planets. That’s because the planets don’t orbit in circles. Working with Tycho Brahe’s data, Kepler was able to show that the planets orbited in ellipses. And that made all the difference. Later, Newton figured out why that was and today we are able to send spacecraft to all the planets!
What a day for scientists! The great biologist Louis Pasteur was born in 1822. I’m sure you know about pasteurization: the process of heating and then cooling food to greatly limit the number of pathogens that are in it. You may well be alive today because of it. But Pasteur did much more than that. He discovered the principles of vaccination and microbial fermentation. He was a brilliant man, or as Michele Bachmann refers to him, “The Antichrist!”
The great actor and singer Marlene Dietrich was born in 1901. You could tell she was something special even in her early silent films. And that continued all through her career. I still mostly associate her with Touch of Evil. But there’s also this song:
Let me say something about not being grateful. This applies to a lot of actors who I actually like, but today, we’re going to talk about Gerard Depardieu. So he didn’t like paying taxes to the country that made him a star. Boo hoo! I hope he ends up in jail in Russia. I might be inclined to apologize for him if I thought he actually had any talent, but I’ve never seen the appeal of the man. He’s 65 today, so hopefully we will see him in no more films and will just die quietly in Russia.
Other birthdays: one of the most important aeronautical engineers ever, George Cayley (1773); actor Sydney Greenstreet (1879); one of my very favorite poets Charles Olson (1910); creepy sex researcher William Masters (1915); and useless journalist Cokie Roberts (70).
The day, however, belongs to the writer Sarah Vowell who is 44 today. She always has an interesting take on whatever she writes about. Basically, she writes history that is so personal that it reads more like personal essay. It is always fun to read. You should really listen to her live performance essay about “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” If you don’t know her work, it will give you a good idea of why she is on my long and ever lengthening list of crushes.
Happy birthday Sarah Vowell!