If any two issues illustrate how difficult it could be for the part of the Republican Party represented by the social and national security conservatives to bridge their differences with libertarians, same-sex marriage and National Security Agency intelligence are good candidates
Discussions at the 2014 Conservative Political Action Conference got testy Friday, when libertarians defended positions out of synch with the more traditional stances that have defined the Republican Party for decades.
At a panel on privacy, for instance, centering on Edward Snowden's revelations about the NSA's data gathering, former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore dramatically held aloft a New York Post front page with photos of Snowden and Russian president Vladimir Putin under the headline "Comrades."
"Edward Snowden is a traitor and a coward," Gilmore said. "The fact is, Edward Snowden betrayed his trust."
Gilmore, who once served as a military intel officer, said Snowden seriously damaged U.S. intelligence efforts. He also accused political leaders who've used Snowden's disclosures to suggest that there's widespread surveillance of average citizens by the federal government of "demagoguery."
Responding to Gilmore, Bruce Fein, a libertarian lawyer who's been involved in a lawsuit against the federal government, said that he ignores the more rampant lawlessness which is "government violating the rule of law."
"All these examples of government lawlessness, total silence on Gov. Gilmore's side," Fein said. "And when the government becomes a lawbreaker, it invites every man and woman to become a law unto themselves."
If there was common ground, it wasn't much on display during this session. That debate also displayed the tricky territory Republicans are going to have to navigate if they are to find a compromise on this issue.
Gilmore represents a Republican establishment long defined by its hawkish stance on national-security matters. But the party's libertarian wing, represented by Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, breaks from that tradition. It questions many of the national-security tenets establishment Republicans long have taken for granted.
Pulling these two sides together won't be easy as the edgy debate between Gilmore and Fein attested to.
No less difficult to smooth over is the social conservative-libertarian split over same-sex marriage.
At a panel discussion titled "Can Libertarians and Social Conservatives Ever Get Along?" same-sex marriage dominated the conversation. But the answer seemed to be: not on this issue.
Both the pro and con sides on the same-sex marriage issue used religious liberty to defend their argument.
Using a more traditional argument, Matt Spalding, an official at Hillsdale College, a conservative Christian school in Michigan, said it's a violation of religious freedom for a state or the federal government to force anyone to recognize same-sex marriage.
"Even if we disagree, and we clearly do, we must have an agreement on religious liberty," Spalding said. "There's a profound, deep and moral and religious objection to redefining marriage. Giving that power to that state is a destruction of the very liberty we cherish."
Alexander McCobin, president of Students for Liberty, a libertarian group, didn't agree. He used a less common version of the religious liberty argument to state his case.
"The kind of religious liberty that has been infringed upon for decades has been the liberty of those whose religious practices support same-sex marriage," McCobin said. "The government has prohibited them from engaging in the religious practices that they want. This is the civil rights of the 21st century."
That was a sign of the generational split in the party. Many younger Republicans of the type who support libertarian ideology of individual freedom and are more tolerant of same-sex marriage were in the hall waiting for Paul to speak.
A federal judge has dismissed a Federal Aviation Administration fine against a man who flew a drone near the University of Virginia to film a commercial video in 2011.
The Associated Press reports that the FAA fined the man $10,000 because commercial operators of "Unmanned Aircraft Systems" are required to obtain a permit from the agency before taking flight.
The AP adds that Patrick Geraghty, a National Transportation Safety Board administrative law judge, said FAA regulations don't classify model aircraft as an unmanned aircraft, so they have no authority to fine Raphael Pirker.
"Thursday's ruling is believed to be the first to address the issue, but it was not immediately clear whether the FAA would appeal, or what impact it would have on others hoping to use drones for profit.
"As recently as last week, the FAA had publicized its restrictions on commercial use of drones. In a press release headlined 'Busting Myths about the FAA and Unmanned Aircraft,' it stressed that UAS enthusiasts could not use drones for commercial purposes.
"'A commercial flight requires a certified aircraft, a licensed pilot and operating approval. To date, only one operation has met these criteria, using Insitu's ScanEagle, and authorization was limited to the Arctic,' the FAA's Busting Myths release said."
Today, the FAA said it would appeal the judge's decision to the full National Transportation Safety Board.
"The agency is concerned that this decision could impact the safe operation of the national airspace system and the safety of people and property on the ground," the FAA said in a statement.
CNN reports Pirker was piloting a $130 RiteWing Zephyr II.
A tense standoff Friday between pro-Russian troops and Ukrainian forces at a missile-defense base in Crimea is reportedly over without a shot being fired.
Russia's Interfax news agency reported that a Russian military truck had smashed through the gate of the Ukrainian base in Sevastopol, the port city that is home to Russia's Black Sea fleet.
Interfax, quoted by The Associated Press, says about 100 Ukrainian troops are stationed at the base and about 20 "attackers" entered, some throwing stun grenades, the report said.
The Ukrainians barricaded themselves inside one of their barracks, Interfax said.
The BBC says "the assailants and lorries reportedly left after negotiations."
"Crimea's pro-Russia premier, Sergei Aksyonov, was asked about the incident during a political chat show shown live on Ukrainian television and said all was calm at the military post."
"Referring to the [armed attackers] as 'self-defence units,' he indicated the standoff was over, adding: 'Now the self-defence units are surrounded by journalists. There are no attempts to attack.'"
"A Ukrainian military official told Reuters at the post that the armed group inside had not seized any [of the base's] weapons."
"Russian forces have taken over some military installations and other buildings on the peninsula, where Russia's Black Sea Fleet has a base, but both sides have held their fire."
According to the BBC:
"Troops wearing Russian uniform without insignia have blockaded bases since taking control of Crimea last week."
"Some military installations and other buildings in the peninsula have been taken over, but both sides have so far held their fire."
All you really need to know about Particle Fever is that it includes footage of physicists rapping. About physics. Wearing giant Einstein masks.
It's that blend of earnestness and abandon that informs Mark Levinson's utterly absorbing documentary, a chronicle of the launch of the Large Hadron Collider and the search for the fabled Higgs boson, a subatomic particle long theorized but never located. The film takes a skinny 99 minutes to cover a five-year span and a territory as huge as the universe — bigger, actually, once you learn that some theorists think ours might be just one of many. It's jaw-droppingly cool stuff, explained with admirable clarity by an affable physicist tour-guide, David E. Kaplan, and wedded to the tale of a massive technological undertaking like nothing in history. ("The biggest machine ever built by human beings," as one scientist puts it.) And it's flat-out thrilling.
The Higgs boson, if you don't remember the headlines, is the one some people (not physicists) call "the God particle," and it's the key to a sprawling construct called the Standard Model, which particle physics uses to explain ... well, everything. Everything we know about how the universe works. Find the Higgs, confirm the Standard Model.
Well, sort of. Much — including the notion that there might be multiple universes, with many different flavors of physics — depends on the mass of the Higgs. That's why thousands of people teamed up to find it, spending two decades building this massive supercollider to smash beams of protons together, essentially recreating the Big Bang so they can measure the Higgs. Talk about a quest with some stakes.
Levinson's storytelling frames that quest so aptly that it's just minutes before you're rooting for the film's handful of protagonists: Kaplan, one of the theorists who frame the ideas about how the universe is structured; the wonderfully enthusiastic Monica Dunford, a postdoctoral student who's among the experimentalists trying to prove or disprove those theories; the magnificent Fabiola Gianotti, a classical pianist turned physicist who's in charge of the huge experiment Dunford is working on; the intense Nima Arkani-Hamed, Kaplan's friend and rival theorist; elegant Martin Aleksa, an Austrian experimentalist and father of two.
They're ridiculously geeked out when Google celebrates their work with a doodle on the day their phenomenal machine goes online. They party like the world's nerdiest rock stars that night. (It's where that hysterical rap act comes in.) Then, perhaps inevitably, there's a setback — what's got to be the most heartbreaking helium leak in cinematic history. Everything's suddenly at a standstill, and no one knows when it'll start up again.
Playing out amid stunning landscapes near Geneva, Switzerland, with side trips to visit the theorists at Johns Hopkins and Stanford and such, Particle Fever is an unexpectedly dramatic look into an area of inquiry so esoteric that most of us will never quite get our heads around it. But Robert Miller's playful music punctuates the narrative and helps underscore the stakes; witty graphics and animations help elucidate complicated theories.
And no, that setback won't be the end of the story. Particle Fever sticks with its endearing heroes until the Large Hadron Collider is patched up and humming along again, and thousands gather from all over to watch as the data begins to flood in. And we're there with them, inside the room, on the cusp of a monumentally significant scientific breakthrough.
The climax of the film is a pair of PowerPoint presentations — PowerPoint presentations! — in which these people we've come to root for interpret that data for an auditorium full of luminaries including Peter Higgs, the physicist who first posited the existence of the particle named for him. He inspires the crowd to cheers, which is wonderful. The presentations inspire lumps in the throat — which is an out-and-out triumph, for the physicists onscreen and the filmmakers who put them there. (Recommended.)
Benmont Tench, who plays those perfect piano lines and organ fills as a member of Tom Petty's Heartbreakers, has just released a solo album. It's called You Should Be So Lucky and contains 10 originals that Tench has been saving up, sometimes for years and sometimes just for a few weeks, before finally recording them with Don Was.
On this installment of World Cafe, Tench discusses how he started playing with Petty — he quit college to play in Mudcrutch, the original Petty band — and describes his desire to grow, which has led him to sit in with younger L.A. musicians like Jonathan Wilson and Sean and Sara Watkins of Nickel Creek. And, of course, he performs new songs live in the studio.