My Long Dead Friend Robert Burton

Robert BurtonThe great mathematician and physicist Daniel Bernoulli was born in 1700. There are a lot of Bernoullis in the history of science. But Daniel is the guy you’ve actually heard of. He’s the guy who developed Bernoulli’s Principle. This is an application of conservation of energy for fluid flow. Basically: as a fluid flows faster, its pressure goes down. This is brilliantly explained in the image of Venturi Flow on Wikipedia. Bernoulli also made important contributions to statistics.

The great classical composer Joseph Leopold Eybler was born in 1765. He is probably best known today as a friend of Mozart. And it is perhaps fitting that the end of his career came when he had a stroke while conducting Mozart’s Requiem Mass. As a composer, he mostly wrote sacred music. But I’m not in the mood. So here is his Clarinet Concerto in B-Flat Major. It was written in 1798, when Eybler was still very much under the influence of Mozart:

The great novelist Jules Verne was born in 1828. I haven’t ever read him, even in translation. I think. Maybe I did when I was a kid. But I was shocked to read that in the he was probably the most translated author in the world in the 1960s and 1970s. Since then, he’s been second after Agatha Christie. So I should pick up one of his books. Around the World in Eighty Days sounds like fun, and it’s free on the Kindle!

Other birthdays: last of the Classical philosophers Proclus (412); satirist and poet Samuel Butler (1612); film director King Vidor (1894); actor Jack Lemmon (1925); musical composer Joe Raposo (1937); actor Nick Nolte (73); singer-songwriter Tom Rush (73); comedian Robert Klein (72); actor Mary Steenburgen (61); and actor Seth Green (40).

The day, however, belongs to the English scholar Robert Burton who was born on this day in 1577. He is best know for being a witty depressive. It was said that when he wasn’t depressed, he was “very merry, facete, and juvenile.” That sounds pretty much like all my closest friends. It also sounds rather like me. And being a depressive, he wanted to know about it and maybe even cure it. So he wrote one of those wonderfully idiosyncratic books that one occasionally delights to find, The Anatomy of Melancholy. Wikipedia describes it as, “Burton’s book consists mostly of a collection of opinions of a multitude of writers, grouped under quaint and old-fashioned divisions; in a solemn tone Burton endeavored to prove indisputable facts by weighty quotations.” It uses all of the “sciences” of the time including “psychology and physiology, but also astronomy, meteorology, and theology, and even astrology and demonology.” And it discussed various topics including “digestion, goblins, the geography of America.” Its digressive style is said to verge on “stream of consciousness.” And it is long. The first edition was 900 pages long, but later editions got longer as he added to it. Burton seems to have been the Jacobean Walt Whitman. He sounds like a complete delight. Reading about him made me feel so much less lonely in the universe.

Happy birthday Robert Burton!

Immigration Reform Won’t Save GOP

Dream ActDan Balz wrote an interesting article at the Washington Post this morning, The GOP’s Immigration Conundrum. But that doesn’t mean that I agree with his thesis. Like most Washington reporters, he thinks that it is very important that the Republicans do something on immigration.

In his defense, he doesn’t think that it is a silver bullet. He said, “Passage of immigration reform won’t necessarily win the next presidential nominee significantly more Hispanic votes. But its absence as a divisive issue in the nomination contest would give Republican candidates an opportunity to talk to Hispanic voters about new ideas or issues.” That’s fine, but the broader point is that if only the Republicans would engage with Latino voters, they could win them over. There is a much more fundamental problem than policy proposals.

I am more or less a classic liberal in terms of philosophical orientation. But there is also a cultural side to it. When I think of conservatives, I imagine big chested men with guns who are desperately afraid that someone will think they are secretly gay. When I think of liberals, I imagine a diverse coalition in which I am very much welcome. So culturally, I identify with the liberals. And I think this is a big part of the problem with Republicans appealing to Latinos. It doesn’t matter what policies the Republicans might come up with, Latinos know that Republicans do not welcome them.

In addition to this, there is the issue of authenticity. During the vice-presidential debate in 2012, Biden said something that I still think is brilliant. After Ryan claimed that it was Obama who had cut Medicare, Joe Biden said, “Folks: use your common sense. Who do you trust on this?” It’s the same thing with Latinos and blacks and most other minority groups. The Republicans have long used them as scapegoats and ways to get whites to vote Republican. They are still doing it. So they use their common sense and they vote overwhelmingly for the Democrats.

Now I understand that for people like Balz, the issue is that the Republican Party needs to change. So comprehensive immigration reform is the first step in that direction. But that’s not how Republicans look at it. To them it is, “Okay, I’ll do this one thing. But that’s it!” And look at what that one thing is! The pathway to citizenship in the old proposal was almost twenty years long. But even that was too generous. So they proposed legal status without any pathway to citizenship. But even that was too generous. Latinos are not fooled by this. They can tell that any legislation the Republicans pass will be only done for the sake of politics and will only be done with the greatest of resentment about the whole thing.

It’s great if people want to hope that the Republican Party will move back from the crazy cliff and become an old fashioned conservative party. But that won’t happen any time soon. The modern Republican Party has always reminded me of the line, “I know you are an all or nothing kind of guy. And since you can’t have it all, I am giving you nothing.” The Republican Party is little more than a list of rules of what they cannot do. That in itself is okay. We all have our lines in the sand. But the Republicans have so many lines that it is unable to do anything. The only thing that will make the Republican Party change is electoral defeat. And I believe that is coming.

Baby Elephant Transcends Zoo Concerns

Duncan Baby Elephant

Elephants are amazing animals. I was just reading about them on Wikipedia. They are, for example, one of the few animals to recognize themselves in the mirror. They also fashion objects into tools. For example, “An Asian elephant has been observed modifying branches and using them as flyswatters.” And they seem to feel emotion. Of course, whenever such a claim is made, some scientists start ranting about how we are anthropomorphizing them. This strikes me as very small minded and completely at odds with Darwin. After all, we didn’t get our emotions in a vacuum.

Given all of this, I do wonder about how much we interact with elephants. I’m definitely not keen on circuses and other performing elephants. And at this point, I really don’t know what I think about zoos. On the one hand, elephants don’t seem to live quite as long in captivity as they do in the wild. What’s more, living in a zoo has got to be pretty boring. I’m really not sure that is a life worth living. On the other hand, I’m still scarred from watching an elephant killed by a pride of lions in Planet Earth.

Regardless, it is hard not to be totally enchanted by the news from Texas, Houston Zoo Welcomes 400-Pound Baby Boy Elephant. He is named Duncan and is the son of Shanti, who was in labor only three minutes.[1] This is Shanti’s fourth child in captivity. According to zoo director Rick Barongi, “She’s just a great, perfect mom. Very attentive.”

The wonderful picture above is of Duncan as he learns how to make his 385-pound body walk. It is very hard to be cynical about this birth. Happy birthday Duncan!

[1] Note to God: you must really hate female humans to put them through the terrible birthing process you do. This is why I don’t believe that (If you exist at all!) you are a loving God. You are a total jerk.

H/T: Digby

Misogyny and Theft in the NFL

On Good Reasons for SuicideKathleen Geier wrote an excellent article over at Political Animal this morning, On the Raiders’ Cheerleaders Wage Theft Suit: No Pay for Practices, Unreimbursed Expenses, and $125 per 10-Hour Game. It provides a good overview of Josh Eidelson’s interview with two Raiders cheerleaders about the situation. And it is totally unacceptable.

For those of you who haven’t heard, cheerleaders are barely paid. Now this in itself shouldn’t have come as a shock to anyone. I remember this issue coming up decades ago when when the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders were all the rage. The take home: cheerleaders are paid only for the games and they are paid really poorly. For the ten hour game day, they are paid $125. By using a bit of algebra and assuming that they ought to be paid overtime for two of those ten hours, we get an an hourly wage of $11.36. Of course, they are only paid for the games; they are not paid for practices and they are not paid for charity events. And they are not reimbursed for their expenses. And they are not paid weekly or monthly; they are paid at the end of the year.

This part of the story is all very clear. It’s a workers’ rights issue. It reminds me of what happened last year at JPMorgan Chase. The company was slapped with the biggest fine in history. And what was the result? It fired 7,500 line workers and gave its CEO Jami Dimon a 74% raise. Football teams are quite profitable and that is saying something given that most people own them for prestige and not profit. Regardless, paying the cheerleaders a living wage during their brief careers would mean nothing to the bottom line of the teams.

I am well aware that people don’t go to football games to see the cheerleaders. But they are very much part of the spectacle that is the NFL. One of the reasons I find football so incredibly boring is that it is a very long game during which very little actual play takes place. It is very much like a war: hours of boredom with brief moments of violence. So part of making the event not seem so tedious is to liven it up with eye candy like the jumbotron and the cheerleaders. And the mascot.

That was the most amazing and upsetting revelation in the interview. On college teams, the mascot is part of the cheerleading squad. But in the NFL, this is not the case. Whereas the entirely female cheerleaders get $125 per game, the mostly male mascots get “between $30,000 and $65,000 a year.” This is the fact that takes the situation beyond simply workers’ rights. A lot of people have argued that the NFL is misogynistic. I don’t think there can be any clearer example than the way the sport teams treat their cheerleaders.

The whole thing reminds me of the rise of unions in Major League Baseball. The players only got a collective bargaining contract in 1968. Before that, the team owners claimed that they just couldn’t afford to pay the players more. And they said the same things that the owners will say about the cheerleaders today, “They don’t have to work for us!” And that’s true. But there is no doubt that the cheerleaders do add as much value to the game as the mascots and they should be paid as such. The owners have gotten a great deal up until now. That shouldn’t be used as an excuse to continue to mistreat the only female part of the NFL.