Stephen Hawking: ALS wasn’t his only affliction

Stephen Hawking

On Tuesday, we looked briefly at the long and extraordinary career of the British physicist and cosmologist Stephen Hawking, who may have done more than any other individual since Einstein to expand human understanding of the nature of the universe – and to try to spread that understanding, through books, television programs, and lectures, to the ordinary citizen.

And he did all this, as we noted, while bravely enduring the daily destruction caused by amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), the cruel wasting disease that he contracted as a very young man and, against all odds, managed to live with for half a century.

Jacob Bekenstein

But ALS was not Hawking’s only affliction. As we pointed out on Tuesday, Hawking, who usually exhibited a high degree of respect for his fellowman, had one very large blind spot when it came to his fellowman. It had to do with Israel, and with Jews. He was, alas, hostile to Israel, and, many would argue, to the Jewish people generally. 

It was not a lifelong affliction. In early and mid career, Hawking visited Israel several times. On one occasion he was a guest of honor at a reception held by the Israel Academy of Sciences and the Humanities; on another, he traveled to the Jewish state to accept the Wolf Prize in Physics, which is awarded by an Israeli foundation. Most notably, he studied black-hole entropy and developed the theory of Bekenstein-Hawking radiation in collaboration with Jacob Bekenstein, a theoretical physicist at Hebrew University.

Noam Chomsky

More recently, however, Hawking fell under the baleful influence of Noam Chomsky, the world-class linguist turned massively influential far-left political commentator who is a notorious Israel-hater and fan of Palestine. According to Judy Siegel-Itzkovich, it was Chomsky who persuaded Hawking to turn down an invitation to a May 2013 conference in Jerusalem hosted by the then Israeli president, Shimon Peres. In a Guardian article that appeared shortly thereafter, however, Hilary and Steven Rose maintained that Hawking boycotted the conference at the behest of Palestinian academics.

With Pope Benedict XVI

This claim is supported by the letter Hawking wrote to the conference organizers, in which he warned that the “policy of the present Israeli government is likely to lead to disaster,” said that he had accepted their invitation so that he could “express my opinion on the prospects for a peace settlement” and “lecture on the West Bank,” and stated that he was withdrawing in accordance with the advice of “Palestinian academics,” who “are unanimous that I should respect the boycott.” This fracas did not mark the end of Hawking’s engagement with the Palestinians: last year, according to Al Jazeera, “he asked his millions of Facebook followers to contribute financially to the Palestinian Advanced Physics School – a physics lecture series for masters students in the occupied West Bank.”

Hawking at Intel with Lama Nachman, an Intel engineer

For all his scientific brilliance, Hawking’s palpable contempt for the only democracy in the Middle East cannot be described as anything other than sheer foolishness. Add to this foolishness a considerable dose of hypocrisy: as Jean Patrick Grumberg wrote after his death, Hawking professed to be observing the boycott of Israel promoted by the so-called BDS movement; in fact, however, the computer system that allowed him to communicate after the loss of his voice was a product of Israeli technology – specifically, of the Israeli branch of Intel. Hawking had been using the system since 1997, and by using it he was clearly violating the boycott. The moral inconsistency here, in short, is stark. To quote Grumberg’s summing-up: “It was through an Israeli communication system that Professor Hawking was able to announce a boycott of Israeli science and Jewish scientists.”

Stephen Hawking: a brilliant scientist, a flawed man

Stephen Hawking

It was impossible not to be in awe of the British theoretical physicist and cosmologist Stephen Hawking, who, after leading one of the most remarkable lives of the past century, died on March 14 at age 76. Over the course of his decades-long career, Hawking made a long series of earth-shaking discoveries about the nature of the universe; he developed complex and extraordinarily important theories about singularities, black holes, quantum mechanics, and a number of other perplexing aspects of modern science, and he won a long list of major prizes in his field, plus the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America’s highest civilian honor, which was presented to him in 2012 by Barack Obama. 

In addition to doing vital scientific work, Hawking was a first-rate and immensely successful popularizer of scientific ideas, writing books like A Brief History of Time (which stayed on the London Times bestseller list for five years after its publication in 1988 and was ultimately translated into more than 35 languages) and giving talks and lectures around the world in which he did his best to explain his complex insights to members of the general public.

The young Hawking

And he did all of this while suffering from one of the most cruelly debilitating disorders known to man, motor neuron disease (also known as amyotropic lateral sclerosis, ALS, and Lou Gehrig’s disease), which caused him to undergo a very public physical deterioration that ultimately resulted in nearly total paralysis. It is impossible to watch the 2014 feature film about his life, The Theory of Everything, in which the young Hawking was played by actor Eddie Redmayne, without feeling extraordinary empathy for Hawking’s suffering and admiration for his courage and tenacity. Expected to die only a few months – or, at most, a couple of years – after his diagnosis at age 21, he ended up defying all expectations, living longer with ALS than anyone ever had before.

With President Obama

Hawking was, in short, an extraordinarily remarkable man in many ways. To quote from President Obama’s comments at the 2012 medal ceremony: “From his wheelchair, he has led us on a journey to the farthest and strangest reaches of the cosmos. In so doing, he has stirred our imagination and showed us the power of the human spirit.” But there is at least one major blot on his memory. As Judy Siegel-Itzkovich wrote after his death in the Jerusalem Post, he “apparently had a love-hate relationship with Israel – the affection from the 1970s until about a decade ago, and the disaffection more recently.” We will look more closely at this lamentable failing on Thursday. 

In the “Republic of Samsung,” it’s (corrupt) business as usual

Lee Jae-young

For many people in South Korea, the arrest, trial, conviction, and imprisonment last year of Lee Jae-young – that country’s richest man and the de facto head of Samsung, the country’s largest business – signaled the start of a bright new era. After decades of corruption in the chaebols, the powerful family-run conglomerates that have dominated the postwar South Korean economy, the ouster last year of President Park Geun-hye and her replacement by Moon Jae-in, who promised that the traditionally well-connected leaders of these firms would no longer operate with impunity, seemed indeed to represent radical and long hoped-for change.

Park Geung-hye

Yet, as we discussed on Tuesday, all hopes for revolutionary reform were crushed last month when a High Court judge abruptly ordered Lee (known in the West as Jay Y. Lee) freed from prison.

Lee, according to Bloomberg News, “appeared stunned.” So, reported the Wall Street Journal, were “some South Korean lawmakers and legal experts.” The South Korean public was stunned, too. And angry. Street protests ensued. Moon had promised change, but this was business as usual. Over the decades, one chaebol honcho after another had been tried on corruption charges only to be found not guilty, or convicted and then pardoned, or – as happened with Lee’s father in 2008 – given a suspended sentence. Meanwhile, as the New York Times has noted, South Korean courts have “routinely sentenced lesser-known white-collar criminals to far longer terms for lesser offenses.”

Here it was all over again. “The ‘Republic of Samsung’ lives on,” griped Professor Kwon Young-june of Kyung Hee University. The judge’s decision, complained Park Yong-jin, a member of the National Assembly, only “confirmed once again that Samsung is above the law and the court.”

A view of the site of the Pyeongchang Olympics

Indeed. The High Court’s ruling – which came only days before the opening of the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea – is absurd on its face. Among the items of evidence that senior judge Cheong Hyung-sik chose to drop down the memory hole was a set of 39 handwritten notebooks in which an economic adviser to President Park recorded specifics about bribes paid to Park by Lee. Other exhibits in the trial included documentation of exchanges between Park to Lee that made clear the nature of the quid-pro-quo between them.

Samsung headquarters, Seoul

Many commentators had been arguing that South Korea is in the process of changing its stripes; nobody can seriously make that argument now. Lee is a criminal for whom prosecutors sought a sentence of 12 years in prison: that’s how serious they considered his transgressions to be. The prosecutors demonstrated that Lee had committed embezzlement, illegally hidden assets overseas, and lied to the parliament under oath. They proved definitively that he had paid bribes in return for government support for a merger that, as the Financial Times put it, “was crucial for Mr. Lee to cement his hold on the organisation, but was widely criticised for not benefiting shareholders.” As one politician observed, by way of underscoring the absurdity of the High Court’s ruling, Judge Cheong appeared to expect the world to believe that Lee had handed over a fortune to President Park in return for absolutely nothing whatsoever.

So it stands, then. For a brief shining moment there, it looked as though South Korea had experienced a new birth of justice and equal treatment under the law. Alas, Lee’s release shows that under Moon, the old rules remain in place.

Lee is free – and South Korean reform is dead

We’ve been writing about Samsung since September 2016, when we explained the distinctively South Korean type of family-run corporate conglomerate known as the chaebol. “The simple fact,” we noted, “is that pretty much everybody in the South Korean government is on the chaebols’ payrolls – or wants to be. And the growing popular resentment of this grand corruption is an extremely good sign.”

Park Geun-hye

A couple of months later we reported on charges that South Korea’s then President, Park Geun-hye, had helped a friend, Choi Soon-sil, extort huge sums of money from several of the chaebols. The largest chaebol, Samsung, which accounts for some 17% of South Korea’s economy, gave Choi over $15 million. By December 2016, the official probe into this corruption uncovered that the sum extracted from Samsung was closer to $20 million. In return, President Park allowed the merger of two Samsung entities.

Lee Jae-yong (aka Jay Y. Lee)

In January of last year came the news that prosecutors had barred Lee Jae-yong – the de facto head of Samsung, grandson of its founder, Lee Byung-chul, son of its official chairman, Lee Kun-Hee (who stepped down from day-to-day management, but did not relinquish his title, after a 2014 heart attack), and arguably the most powerful man in South Korea – from leaving the country. In February Lee (who in the West goes by the name Jay Y. Lee) was arrested; in March, Park was removed from office.

Her replacement, Moon Jae-in, promised to curb the power of the chaebols, whose domination of the nation’s economy has thwarted new business development, whose cozy ties to government leaders have caused widespread suspicion and resentment, and whose leaders’ ability to escape punishment for large-scale corruption has made them seem to be above the law.

Moon Jae-in

Lee’s trial began in March. Dubbed “the trial of the century” in South Korea, it involved five charges: bribery (maximum possible sentence: five years), embezzlement (eight years) perjury (ten years), concealing criminal proceeds (five years), and hiding assets abroad (life). Prosecutors asked for a sentence of twelve years. In August, after five months of testimony, Lee was found guilty of all five charges and sentenced to five years in prison. He was thereupon “sent to a prison for white collar criminals in Uijeongbu.”

Then, last month, came a startling development. Lee, who had appealed his sentence, was taken from his prison cell and transported to the Seoul High Court. There, presiding senior judge Cheong Hyung-sik informed him that he was to be released immediately and would be on probation for four years.

Lee in handcuffs

Cheong – who, technically speaking, had not reversed or commuted Lee’s sentence but cut it in half and then suspended it – maintained that Lee’s only real offense was to have succumbed understandably to inordinate pressure exerted on him by Park Geun-hye while she was serving as President. “Park threatened Samsung Electronics executives,” claimed the judge. “The defendant provided a bribe, knowing it was bribery…but was unable to refuse.” Not a small number of South Koreans regarded this as a thoroughly absurd argument. 

More on Thursday.

Cathy Areu is not a Freudian

Cathy Areu

Back to Cathy Areu – a Latina magazine editor who, as we saw on Tuesday, has become a familiar face on American cable news. Is she an expert in history or political science or anything like that? No. She’s a self-educated authority on the Zeitgeist, the Brave New World in which rules about things like sexual identity and bigotry have been rewritten overnight.

As we noted, Tucker Carlson has made frequent use of her services in recent months. On one episode of his show, for instance, Carlson covered the story of a white man who now identifies as a Filipino woman named Ja Du. What, he asked Areu, did she make of this? She found it “totally OK,” explaining that “it’s very American to be who you want to be.” Carlson asked facetiously if this meant that he, Carlson, could identify as “a successful hedge fund manager or an NBA star.” Areu answered without hesitation: “Absolutely!…It’s what’s on the inside that counts, not the outside.”

Sigmund Freud

Persevering in his deft use of reductio ad absurdum, Carlson asked if a human being could, on the same grounds, identify as a member of another species. But the eternally bright-eyed Areu didn’t back down: “I think it’s wonderful, I think it’s beautiful, I think it’s great!” When Carlson suggested that Sigmund Freud, for example, might consider it delusional for a person to think he was a duck or a goat, Areu retorted that it was now 2017, and society is more “accepting” now than it used to be in the dark old days of Freud.

Carlson wasn’t giving up. What, he asked Areu, if a friend of hers said he was Napoleon Bonaparte? That, too, she asserted with a cheery nod, was “okay.”

Areu with Tucker Carlson

Commenting on a news story about a male Harvard student who expressed regret for having talked to friends about attractive girls, Areu asserted that he did indeed have something to apologize for – namely, objectifying women. “That’s always been a crime, to objectify women,” she told Carlson. She further maintained that 30% of women who graduate from Harvard say they’ve been victims of sexual assault (a remarkable statistic that seems to have no basis in reality). Asked if women can objectify men in the same way that men objectify women – if, that is, one woman can say to another that she finds a certain guy cute – Areu replied, “Sure,” because “women aren’t harming anyone.” Areu added: “It’s very rare for men to be objectified,” a contention that, to anyone living in the real world, sounds rather curious.

Areu and unidentified companion outside the White House

On March 9 Areu was on Carlson’s show yet again. This time, the topic was a man who’d been fined in Belgium for the crime of sexist speech. Specifically, he had told a woman police officer that because of her sex she did not belong in that line of work. Asked if she approved of the idea of criminalizing such views, Areu said yes: sexist speech needs to be “nip[ped] in the bud,” and should be a felony in the U.S. Never mind the First Amendment: authorities need to “reintroduce profanity laws” and expand them to include sexist language. Offenders should be locked up: “when they come out,” she said, “they’ll be better people.” It was not clear whether or not Areu recognized that her proposal was right out of the playbook of the Chinese Communist Party’s Cultural Revolution. Asked if women should be susceptible to punishment too, she said no, because “women cannot be sexist.”

Cathy Areu, pinheaded pundit

Cathy Areu

Who is Cathy Areu? “From debating Bill O’Reilly about the ‘war on women’ to discussing border issues with Anderson Cooper,” her website trumpets, “Cathy has been analyzing the hottest topics of the day, on the best cable TV news shows in the U.S. and beyond, for over a decade.” In other words, she’s a cable-TV talking head, who for years now has appeared frequently on the Big Three: CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News. She’s also the editor of Catalina Magazine, founded in 2001 “to break the stereotypes of Hispanics in the US media and entertainment.”

Nancy Pelosi

She’s celebrated the misbegotten, indefensible Diversity Visa Program, which allows immigrants into the U.S. essentially at random. Opposition to the program, she has charged, is “anti-American.” She’s also argued that 77-year-old Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi should stay on as Democratic leader in the House for no other reason than that Pelosi is a woman.

In recent months Areu has been a staple on the Tucker Carlson Show. In one exchange with Carlson, she held forth on “toxic masculinity,” for which she blamed mass shootings. “Women are better,” she stated flatly. “We are not the murderers in our society…Men are not as good as women.” Women are “the better gender.” As for men, “maybe we’re just not raising them right.” Asked whether there is such a thing as toxic femininity, she said no: “Women can do no wrong….We’re just the smarter gender.” In other words, she feels the same way about her sex as Hitler felt about his ethnic group.

White supremacy in action

On another episode, Carlson took on a professor’s accusation in a magazine article that when Westerners practice yoga, they are being racists. Areu agreed that they were. In the West, she stated, yoga is practiced mainly by white women (“not Latinos, not immigrants”) who have appropriated an activity with a rich cultural history that they don’t know about or care to understand. It’s “white supremacy,” she explained. When Carlson asked whether, by the same token, it would be wrong for people outside the West to use the Internet, a product of Western civilization. No, she said, because the Internet lacks the long, rich history that yoga has.

What, Carlson asked, about another product of Western civilization – namely, democracy, which does have a long, rich history? Areu dismissed his argument, contending that “yoga was a way for the Indians to show their colonizers that they were intelligent.” Carlson laughed: “Where do you get your history? Yoga predates the British by quite a bit.”

Areu enjoys posing for pictures backstage at her media appearances

But the whole point of Areu’s ideology is that real history is irrelevant. As Carlson himself has explained to viewers, he is presenting Areu on his show as a guide to the Brave New World in which we now live. It’s a world in which all kinds of actions or statements that a few years ago would have been considered innocuous are now virulently condemned as racist or sexist; a world in which all men are potential rapists and women, by definition, “can do no wrong”; a world, in short, in which the rules of the road have changed entirely and in which history can be rewritten at will to conform to the new rules. Areu’s entire schtick is that she’s internalized those new rules to a remarkable extent, and can defend even the most ridiculous of them without the slightest sign of intellectual embarrassment. It’s quite an accomplishment.

More on Thursday.

Ideologically pure, historically ignorant: Oliver Willis

Oliver Willis

On Tuesday we met Oliver Willis, a commentator who started out working for lowlife Clinton agitprop merchant David Brock and who, since the turn of the century, has been a staggeringly prolific blogger and tweeter, not to mention an occasional contributor to one or another of the usual websites (Salon, HuffPo). Perhaps the most surprising thing about his work is that he is never, ever surprising. His opinions, if you can even call them that, are ready-made, pre-packaged. He actually appears to think that he’s thinking, but he’s just regurgitating. As we saw on Tuesday, he thinks that he’s whip-smart (and that everybody to his right is an idiot), but all that he seems to have between his ears is a library of left-wing platitudes and victim-group grievance rhetoric.

Not a “real president”

To be sure, today’s Internet commentariat being awash in similar mediocrities, Willis doesn’t usually stick out from the crowd. Now and then, however, he demonstrates convincingly that his learning is skin-deep. Recently, when Donald Trump waited three days before calling out the neo-Nazis who marched in Charlottesville, Virginia, Willis tweeted: “FDR didn’t take 72 hours to respond to Nazis. Then again, FDR was a real president.”

The “real president”

As several members of the Twittersphere were quick to point out, FDR didn’t take 72 hours to respond to the rise of Nazism; by the most charitable calculation, he took more than two years, if you start counting from September 2, 1939 (when Britain and France responded to the Nazi invasion of Poland by declaring war on Germany), and stop counting on December 11, 1941 (when the U.S. declared war on Germany a day after Germany had declared war on us). Willis also appears to have forgotten a couple of other minor facts about his “real president”: first, that when Jews who were trying to avoid the Nazi extermination camps sought refuge in America, FDR turned them away; and second, that while FDR was willing to put a German-American, Dwight D. Eisenhower, in charge of the Supreme Allied Command, he felt compelled to put Japanese-Americans in California internment camps.

An actual Willis tweet

This is only one of many examples we could cite of Willis’s historical and cultural illiteracy. But for leftist ideologues, ignorance on the scale of Willis’s hardly matters. Nor does his barely serviceable prose style or his chronic inability to actually form an argument. No, what counts is reflexive devotion to the cause, period. And as it happens, Willis, just like his old boss, David Brock, is the most reliable of ideological tools. Hence fellow inhabitants of the DNC echo chamber shower him with praise. (If Willis is to be believed, Rachel Maddow has twice called him “the great Oliver Willis.”)

Willis with four other bloggers at the White House

Just as Brock, moreover, is far less dedicated to any political idea than to the continued success of the Clinton clan, Willis is such a servile devotee of Barack Obama that he was one of only five bloggers who were invited to a White House meeting with the 44th president in October of 2010.

“I would be unfair if I said that David Brock represents everything wrong with politics,” wrote Post columnist David Von Drehle earlier this year. “So let me say that David Brock represents almost everything wrong with politics.” The same, alas, can be said of Brock’s equally unsavory protégé, Oliver Willis.