Before we get to the birthdays, it is the 50th anniversary of the Great Train Robbery. In 1963 on this day, a 15-man gang stole what is equivalent to about $100 million off the Royal Mail train. Although most of the men involved where captured, most of the money never was. The most famous of those men is Ronald Biggs. He was put in jail, but escaped in 1965 and managed to avoid capture. In 2001, he turned himself in and went to jail. In 2009, he was released because of failing health, but he is still kicking today on his 84th birthday.
One of the early British liberal philosophers Francis Hutcheson was born on this day in 1694. French Romantic period composer Cecile Chaminade was born in 1857. She is best known today for the Flute Concertino in D Major. When I was a kid, I loved it. And it is popular with flutists today because it is an extremely showy piece. But with maturity, I have come to see that it really is just crap. But here is James Galway performing it and he really does make it work. It shows off what can be done with a flute when someone really knows what they are doing. It isn’t just the speed; listen for Galway’s exquisite articulation of some of the fast passages:
And to make up for that, here is Jean-Pierre Rampal playing Francis Poulenc’s Sonata for Flute and Piano which I believe was written for the flutist. Interestingly, both Rampal and Poulenc had the same birthday, January 7. That has nothing to do with today, of course. We’re just trying to detox from Chaminade:
Alcoholics Anonymous co-founder Bob Smith was born in 1879. I understand the people who founded AA. They were looking for serious behavior modification. At that time, heavy drinkers commonly died in their 40s from the liver damage. So for those guys, it was a matter of life and death. But as alcohol abuse has become a smaller and smaller problem (I’m not concerning myself with drunk drivers here), Alcoholics Anonymous has become bigger and bigger. Now it is applied to high school students, the very idea of which would have made Bob Smith laugh. Of course, the reason it has become so big is partly because of Hollywood (if someone in a movie has a drinking problem, you can be sure they will end up at an AA meeting to demonstrate the growth of the character). But the bigger reason is the American justice system that forces people who get into trouble to go 12-step meets that may be many other things but that are fundamentally religious indoctrination. Doubtless AA has done much good over the years, but at this point it does far more harm.
Mexican general Emiliano Zapata was born the same year as Smith. French composer Andre Jolivet was born in 1905. Many people find his music difficult, and I hear that. His earlier work is more tonal. But even later, I find him quite enjoyable. Here is (Because I’m feeling a bit mean?) his Concerto for Percussion, which I find captivating:
Hollywood producer Dino De Laurentiis was born in 1919. The great actor and swimmer Esther Williams was born in 1921. She only died a couple of months ago at the age of 91. Here is a montage of scenes from her films:
And physician and reproductive rights activist George Tiller was born in 1941. He was murdered by an anti-reproductive-choice fanatic who has become a hero in a certain part of the death cult (that is, Christian) anti-choice movement.
Singer Mel Tillis is 81 today. Actor Dustin Hoffman is 76. Singer Connie Stevens is 75. Actor Paul Hogan is 74. Actor Don Most is 60. And David Howell Evans, AKA The Edge, is 52. I don’t think much of him as a guitarist. He is more of a sound artist, like Brian Eno. And in that regard, he is brilliant.
The day, however, belongs to the great theoretical physicist Paul Dirac who was born on this day in 1902. It is kind of hard to explain why he is important. His work, although recent, is already important enough to be taught in lower division physics. He made fundamental contributions to both quantum mechanics and quantum electrodynamics (relativistic quantum mechanics). He predicted the existence of antimatter (anti-electrons, actually) in 1928. He was also known for being socially awkward—even by the standards of physicists. Some have even suggested that he was marginally autistic. But I doubt that. He was just a little odd.
Happy birthday Paul Dirac!