It’s kind of shocking, really. Today is, in a concrete way, Martin Luther King day, yet there is almost no mention of it. I’ll come back to it, but it seems very strange to me. And offensive.
On this day in 1622, Moliere was born. He was such a great French playwright that I actually know who he was and have read about him. I have to admit, I know him mostly as a counter-example to people who claim that Shakespeare was the greatest playwright ever because he was both a playwright and an actor. Well, first: who cares? Second, Shakespeare was a minor actor—certainly no star. But Moliere was a star and perhaps the the greatest comedic playwright in western literature. And remember: Shakespeare wrote terrible comedies. (Of course, it doesn’t matter to the Shakespeare apologists; they will just argue that tragedies are what really matter; you see: I don’t hate Shakespeare at all—as anyone who reads me knows, I’m actually very fond of him; it’s a Shakespeare apologists that I just can’t take.)
But there are a couple of other great playwrights who were born today that I have never heard of. For example, there is the great German playwright Franz Grillparzer who was born in 1791. He was exactly the kind of sullen and bitter man you would think romanticism would produce in a German. Also, the Russian playwright Aleksander Griboyedov who was born in 1795 and died just 34 years later.
The great Russian mathematician Sofia Kovalevskaya was born in 1850. She is known for her work in differential equations and mechanics. It was only when I read that, that it occurred to me that the reason that I’ve always loved classical mechanics more than any other kind of physics: it is basically pure math. And it doesn’t matter how much you add “realism” to it. For example, the simplest mechanics assumes no resisting forces. But you can add resisting forces. For example, you could add a constant resistance or one dependent upon velocity. That, as I recall, is solvable with pure mathematics. It is indicative of an object moving slowly in a viscous fluid. An object moving through air is generally dependent upon the square of the velocity. That, in general, is not solvable. Anyway, if I totally confused you, you should have some idea of how much more brilliant Kovalevskaya is than you are. (Or I am; I make no claims for myself!) As always for women even today: they have to be better than a man does to reach the same level in the profession. It’s sad, but it doesn’t help to pretend it isn’t true.
The great zydeco musician Queen Ida is 85 today. Here she is doing “Jambalya.” It is music that makes continuing to live seem like a rational decision:
Other birthdays: probable celebrity murderer Marie Lafarge (1816); Freud’s teacher Josef Breuer (1842); writer Mazo de la Roche (1879); the father of the hydrogen bomb, Edward Teller (1908); actor Lloyd Bridges (1913); musician Captain Beefheart (1941); the man Hillary Rodham Clinton murdered, Vince Foster (1945) [Note: it is an outrage that this man’s tragic suicide was used by conservatives for years to make political points. If you really think that the Republican Party is worse now than it was 20 years ago, all you have to do is look at what the conservative movement said about his death. None of those people should be allowed in polite society without a profound apology. But of course, nothing has happened them. They are evil people. They are destroying my culture. And they are thriving.]; comedian Andrea Martin (67); actor who I only bring up because I missed his father’s birthday, Mario Van Peebles (57); and actor Regina King (43).
The day, however, belongs to the great civil rights leader Martin Luther King who was born on this day in 1929. Now, there are two MLKs: the man and the symbol. Mostly, we cherish the symbol. Even conservatives who are absolutely against the continuing civil rights struggle say nice things about King the symbol. According to them, he would even be in favor of their “free” market, kill the poor economic policies, even though he died during a trip to support a labor strike. But none of that especially matters right now. A man was born on this day—a man who transcended this mortal coil. And on this day, at the very least, we celebrate that man who would be 85 today.
Happy birthday Martin Luther King!