Happy Birthday, James Kirk

Happy Birthday, James Kirk

A few weeks ago, I saw the item “Happy Birthday, James Kirk” in our quarterly marketing calendar. Curiosity piqued, I made inquiries and learned that this was the work of our intrepid marketing manager and devoted Trekkie, Shields Grant. Not only is March 22 the birthday of the fictional James Tiberius Kirk, but also of real-life actor (and Priceline.com huckster) William Shatner.

Riverside, Iowa (otherwise known as the future birthplace of one Captain James T. Kirk from Star Trek fame). Photo courtesy of the City of Riverside, Iowa.

But wait … there’s more. This date has also seen the birth of several famous1 mathematicians and musicians, a fact celebrated in this video where the noted satirist and songwriter, Tom Lehrer, pays tribute to the mathematician Irving Kaplansky (himself an amateur songwriter). As Lehrer says in his introduction “… Kap’s actual birthday is March 22, and that’s the same day as the birthday of Stephen Sondheim, Andrew Lloyd-Webber, and Richard Wagner. I hope you astrologers will have fun with that one.”

There really isn’t a whole lot more to say about this coincidence (or is it?), but it’s worth pointing out that for the mathematically inclined, there are some terrific songs in the video. In particular, the first two -- “The Derivative Song” (teach your kids the basics about
and “There’ll Be Some Changes Made” (a progressive cry against rank discrimination, why don’t ε’s exist for negative Δ’s?). If you don’t like these two, you will almost certainly not like Lehrer’s other math-y songs, including “Lobachevsky” (about the noted plagiarist and non-Euclidean geometer, Nikolai Ivanovich Lobachevsky), “New Math”, and others.

Lehrer2 is a fascinating character – studied math at Harvard, taught math and music at Harvard, MIT, and UC Santa Cruz, invented orange Jello shots, and wrote songs that were primarily political and social commentaries. In this vein, his collection “That Was the Year that Was” has topics ranging from race relations (National Brotherhood Week) to the Second Vatican Council (The Vatican Rag). To this day, almost all my knowledge of 1950s to 1960s US history comes from this album. His other songs range from the macabre (“I Hold Your Hand in Mine”) and bizarre (“The Masochism Tango”) to the scientific (“Elements”) and classical (“Oedipus Rex”). The music compositions and performances are superb, and the lyrics are cleverly rhymed and erudite. YouTube has a comprehensive set of Tom Lehrer’s songs.

And now, back to enjoying reruns of Star Trek.

1 And, on the less-famous end of the scale, yours truly.
2 As you may have noticed, this post is a thinly veiled paean to Tom Lehrer.