Happy Newton’s Day!

Isaac NewtonI’ll tell you a secret: it’s not Christmas. It’s Christmas Eve, and I am really pushing to get everything done for tomorrow (today) and maybe the day after (tomorrow). I love going out of town. But it is really hard to keep this blog going. At this point, it would probably help to have some alcohol. Instead, I’m ingesting caffeine. But there may be serious alcohol consumption in my future. Oh God, I don’t even want to writ these words…

On this day in 1728, the German classical composer Johann Adam Hiller was born. He was the inventor of the singspiel, which is basically an early form of the musical comedy. The following video is a very nice bit from his one act opera (or maybe singspiel) Die Muse. It was apparently written for soprano, oboe, and basso continuo (what we today would call a bass line and lead sheet). Here, the bass is played by a bassoon, and the harmony is played by a harpsichord. And that’s probably pretty much how it was originally performed. This version is done by what looks like three students and a teacher at the Calgary University Department of Music. It is lovely:

The great classical composer Joseph Boulogne was born on this day, most likely in 1745. He is known as the “black Mozart.” He was in the French army, where he was known for his fencing. But otherwise, he was more or less a court musician. The French Revolution, really screwed things up for him. First, it landed him in jail for a year and a half. And after that, he had a difficult time making ends meet. Regardless, he left us a huge amount of work and it is wonderful. Here is “Ballet No 1” from his opera, L’Amant Anonyme performed by the Tafelmusik Orchestra:

The actor Humphrey Bogart was born on this day in 1899. I hesitate to call him a “great actor” even though I know he is. He always reminds me of that line from the movie My Favorite Year, “I’m not an actor, I’m a movie star!” But there is no doubt that he’s one of the most authentic actors on screen ever. And he plays crazy great. I don’t think he’s ever been better than he is in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre and (in a different kind of crazy) The Caine Mutiny. Of course, what I most love watching is Casablanca and The Maltese Falcon. I never get tired of those films and a big part of it is him.

Here he is in a heartbreaking scene in The Caine Mutiny, where Captain Queeg is asking his men for help. But they refuse it. I don’t actually think you will see better acting anywhere on screen:

The great jazz singer and bandleader Cab Calloway was born in 1907. I don’t have a lot to say about him except that I always enjoy him. Here he is doing one of his many on screen versions of “Minnie the Moocher,” which shows off his acting:

Other birthdays: engineer Claude Chappe (1763); Irish novelist Sydney, Lady Morgan (1776); physicist Ernst Ruska (1906); sculptor Louise Bourgeois (1911); Anwar Sadat (1918); the great Rod Serling (1924); film producer Ismail Merchant (1936); television producer Rick Berman (68); singer-songwriter Barbara Mandrell (65); actor Sissy Spacek (64); Antichrist Karl Rove (63); singer-songwriter Annie Lennox (59); and singer-songwriter Dido (42).

The day, however, belongs to Isaac Newton who was born on this day in 1642. I’ll assume that you don’t need to be told about him. He was one of the greatest scientists of all time. Of course, there is that thing about him inventing calculus at the same time as Leibniz. What I think is better to say is that, like Einstein and Maxwell, Newton was the right man for that time and place.

But let me say something about that apple. The story is surprisingly true. But the way people understand the story is all wrong. Newton’s insight was that the force that caused an apple to fall from a tree was the same as the force that caused the moon to orbit the earth. Even today, I find that a startling insight. If it were the same force, why doesn’t the moon careen into the earth? Well, it does. Kind of. The moon constantly has a motion that is parallel to the surface of the earth, and the gravitational force keeps pulling it into its elliptical orbit. Otherwise the moon would head in more or less a straight line away from the earth. Confused yet? Well, I’m doing my best! The truth is, it is more complicated than even that. But let’s leave it. If you really want to know, take a semester of calculus-based physics and then we’ll talk.

I really think the atheist community ought to start calling Christmas “Newton’s Day.” I don’t say this because Newton was that great, although he was. But the atheist community itself likes to drape itself in science. It’s actually one of the most annoying aspects of it. I mean, I love science. But I always get the feeling that atheists try to substitute science for religion. I think that’s a mistake. But then, I’m with Stephen Jay Gould: I believe in non-overlapping magisteria.

Here is Neil deGrasse Tyson on Newton, although his story is a bit fanciful:

Happy birthday Isaac Newton!

Pigeons and Politics

Arguing With Pigeons

I offer this image to help you on this holiday that I hope you are spending with disparate family and friends. My point is not what is says in this image. As far as I can tell, this was originally a poster from a libertarian perspective aimed as “statists.” Liberals think this applies to conservatives and conservatives think this applies to liberals. And do you know what? They’re both right. Sort of.

Here’s how it goes: most people are not that into politics. It’s a tribal thing. And so they don’t know what they’re talking about. Most of them never talk about politics, so it doesn’t matter. But I know when I talk to liberals, they often think the silliest of things. If I were a conservative, I would be all over them. (As a liberal, I am too—but very gently.) So if I were Josh Barro, I would think that most liberals were idiots who were immune to facts.

Most liberals just watch regular news, though. Thus, what most liberals believe is roughly correct, even if it is neither broad nor deep. The problem comes in with the conservative media echo chamber. It takes regular conservatives and turns them into extremely ill-informed conservatives. These ill-informed conservatives often get the impression that liberals are ignorant because they are hearing totally different news. As I noted before, in the conservative media echo chamber, Solyndra is still a big issue. So the problem is these conservatives think they know a lot and the misinformation they “know” makes them think that other people who don’t “know” the same stuff are ignorant.

If you are at a party with a thoughtful conservative, you should have no trouble having a good conversation where you might even learn and rethink some things. I don’t think anyone needs any help in such situations. If you are at a party with a Fox News fan, however, you need to stay off difficult topics. I have found that I can make progress with such conservatives by staying off issues that Fox News is pushing. So no talk of Duck Dynasty. No talk of Obamacare. No talk of the ethnicity of Santa Claus. But you might find some common ground on corporate welfare. Or the fact that public schools get different levels of funding based upon how rich the kids are. (Property taxes!) Or why we pay double what other countries do for healthcare—but be careful with that one.

I think politics is important. And I especially think it is important to talk to the other side. So try to find some common ground. And if that’s not possible—if they are just angry conservatives who hate just about everyone and everything—change the subject to sports. That Atlanta-San Francisco game Monday night was amazing!