Paul Dirac Is Waving Relatively from Heaven

Paul DiracBefore 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!

Seniors Trending Liberal

Poor RetireeAccording to an article in in The Carville-Greenberg Memo yesterday, older citizens are turning against the Republican Party. Part of this is not surprising. As Digby noted this morning, older more conservative voters die off to be replaced by younger less conservative voters. But the results of recent polling go way beyond that.

Consider, for example, that Republicans had a 21 percentage point advantage among senior voters in 2010. Now, among those likely to vote in 2014, the advantage is only 5 percentage points. That’s huge. In 2010, seniors made up 23% of those who voted. If these numbers hold, that would mean that the 2014 election will go 3.7 percentage points in the Democrats’ direction compared to 2010. That’s over half the deficit of the 2010 election. And that’s just based upon the senior vote.

There are other bits of data. I was interested to see that they drilled down a bit into the favorability ratings. For example, 55% of seniors say that the Republican Party is too extreme. That’s a very bad number for them. Most people don’t pay attention to politics. They don’t know, for example, that the Republican House has now voted 40 times to defund Obamacare. And even if they did, they would respond with a Rodney King, “Why can’t we all just get along?” But it looks now that all the work of the Democrats over the past two years is paying off. The Republican brand used to be “fiscal rectitude” and “strong national security.” Now it looks like “extremist.”

As I’ve argued again and again, the Republicans really have painted themselves into a corner. You can only push ideology so far before it becomes unmoored from reality. And it isn’t like this is something we’ve only seen on the right. The extreme left in this country (which never had any power) back a few decades were constantly at war with each other over minor disagreements about ideology. That’s what happens when a movement gets crammed together in a small ideological galaxy on the edge of the universe. They can’t move any further out so they squabble about who the real socialist is. Or as we see in the Republican Party: who the “Constitutional conservative” (or whatever) is. This is, after all, a group that now claims they lost their way because George Bush Jr was not a real conservative. Jeez!

So is David Atkins right when he asks, Could Republicans Really Lose in 2014? As I noted above, it won’t happen with the senior vote alone. And I stand by my prediction that the Democrats will not take back the House in 2014. But this movement amongst our oldest citizens is good news and it makes 2014 look a lot better.

American Hypocrisy on Extradition

Edward SnowdenGlenn Greenwald wrote a very insightful article yesterday on the hypocrisy of the United States government and and media. It circled around this business of Obama calling off the summit with Vladimir Putin. The White House gave a number of reasons for this including the fact that Russia is persecuting homosexuals. But everyone accepts the fact that it is just that Russia was given Edward Snowden temporary asylum. Since when did the United States government give a flying fuck about the treatment of the powerless anywhere, even in the United States? After all, it was only last year that Obama “evolved” on the issue of gay marriage. As it is, Obama is perfectly fine with locking up cannabis and cocaine users for decades at a time—even though he has quite publicly admitting to doing the same thing himself. So it’s all about Snowden, because if there is one thing that the administration does care about, it is punishing whistleblowers, or as Obama calls them, “people involved in espionage.”

Greenwald noted that the United States and Russian do not have an extradition treaty. So Putin isn’t doing anything unusual, much less illegal. But guess who the United States does have an extradition treaty with? Italy. And yet, our great nation of laws broke its treaty when the Italian government asked for the extradition of Robert Lady and other CIA operatives who were convicted in absentia of kidnapping for the purpose of torture. And last year, the United States refused to extradite Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada to face genocide charges in Bolivia. And a couple of years before that, we wouldn’t extradite terrorist Luis Posada Carriles to Venezuela.

But we need to have our priorities. These three examples are only kidnapping for the purpose of torture, genocide, and terrorism. Snowden is accused to leaking potentially embarrassing documents. And let us not forget, these three men only harmed poor and weak people. Snowden annoyed some very powerful people. That’s the kind of crime that must be punished!

Meanwhile, the press is right there to stoke anger at Russia without providing any context. Even last night’s The Daily Show was on it. But more generally, the media have gone out of their way to attack Snowden and put what he’s done in the worst possible light. Check out this great argument between Greenwald and James Risen against the entirely typical mainstream apologetics of Jeffrey Toobin. Note how Toobin’s arguments devolve into, “You gotta be kidding me!” Because all right-thinking journalists know that the government is always right. And notice also that Piers Morgan is only one tiny step more reasonable than Toobin:

So we continue on with the United States government acting like the corrupt super power that it is. Meanwhile the media spew out their usual happy talk about how we are all good and the evil Russian government just won’t follow the law. I grew up during the Cold War. One of the things that we celebrated was that we had a free press whereas the Soviet Union had the government run Pravda. But even then, our press provided one-sided news that rarely came close to the truth. It is the same now—at least if you get your “news” from the television.


Jeffrey Toobin’s claim is that it is great that we are talking about all of this stuff. Additionally, he admits that we are only discussing this stuff because of Edward Snowden. But he thinks that Snowden is a criminal who shouldn’t have leaked the documents. James Risen counted him (and most in the mainstream press), “That’s the thing I don’t understand about the climate in Washington these days. People want to have debates on television and elsewhere. But then you want to throw the people who start the debates in jail.” Morgan bails out Toobin by immediately pushing a straw man, “Is there no limit?!”