GENIUS AND DUMBNESS

Watching The Theory of Everything, the biographical film about Stephen Hawking, one wonders: why do geniuses behave like jerks?

There is the jerkiness portrayed in the movie. In 1990, after 25 years of marriage to the devoted Jane Wilde, Hawking informed her that he was flying to America with Elaine Mason, his therapist. He has long since left the therapist for whom he left his wife.

There is also jerkiness unmentioned in the film, but widely known. In May 2013, Hawking, after initially accepting an invitation to speak at the President’s Conference organized to mark the 90th birthday of Shimon Peres, changed his mind and declared that he would not participate in any academic or cultural exchanges with Israel. He announced his support for the BDS – boycott, divestment, and sanctions – movement.

Now there are many reasons why ordinary people should oppose BDS. First, Israel, whatever its faults, is the lone democracy committed to individual rights in the Middle East, and therefore deserves support, not isolation. Second, Israeli Arabs and Palestinians have  greater freedom to protest and greater access to independent courts than any other Muslims in the Middle East. It makes no sense to boycott Israel and give a pass to the oppressive regimes ruling Syria, Iran, or Turkey, to name a few. Third, those attending international cultural and academic events tend to be the very Israelis most opposed to their government’s policies. BDS, ironically, undermines the Israelis most committed to change and entrenches those most resistant.Genius

But these are reasons for ordinary people. Stephen Hawking is not an ordinary person. He has an added reason to oppose BDS. Hawking suffers from ALS, which has left him unable to utilize any muscles functions except for his cheeks, whose movement is monitored by a sensor attached to his spectacles. He sole means of communication is through a computer Intel Core  i7-based communication system, which runs on a chip designed in Israel.

If BDS were universally adopted, as Hawking wishes, the very technology he  relies upon to communicate would be unavailable to him. Hawking, a supposed champion of logic, thus takes the absurdly illogical position of opposing the same kind of exchange that allows him to communicate his opposition in the first place.

A first grader would blush at the internal inconsistency of such a position. Continue reading

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GOD EXISTS AND ROOTS FOR NEW ENGLAND

Benjamin Franklin supposedly observed that beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.  Super Bowl XLIX is proof that God exists and roots for the Patriots.

We can now close the book on “Deflate-gate,” the non-scandal about the supposed under-inflation of the footballs used by the New England Patriots in their January 18 victory over the Indianapolis Colts. For we now know the cause of the reduced air pressure.

It was not Tom Brady. It was not Bill Belichick. It was not the anonymous locker room guy. It was not even Ben Affleck or Matt Damon or the many others who bravely stepped forward to take responsibility.

God deflated the footballs. god-w.-football Continue reading

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STOP THE TORTURE … OF THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE

Torture is a complex subject. Senator John McCain, who knows a thing or two about it, says torture is beneath us. “We are always Americans, and different, stronger and better than those who would destroy us.” That sounds good, but is it realistic? If a terrorist kidnapped a newborn baby, and left it to die of exposure at an undisclosed location, what mother would balk at using torture to force the terrorist to reveal the baby’s whereabouts? I suspect most mothers would eagerly torture a terrorist personally if necessary to save their newborns.

So the morality of torture comes down to a question of when, not whether, it is justified.

Torturing the English language, on the other hand, is never justified. It is always unpardonable.

That’s what makes the Senate report so disturbing. What kind of government manacles our language, rips into its verbal womb, and extracts such lexical malformations as “enhanced interrogation techniques” or “rectal rehydration”?

Truthful language“The truth is sometimes a hard pill to swallow,” Senator McCain said last week, presumably meaning orally, not rectally.  “But the American people are entitled to it, nonetheless.”

So here’s the truth, America. Our government is a serial torturer of the English language. Continue reading

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GOOD NEWS!

Gvetch, gvetch, gvetch.

This blog — like so many other punditic ventilators — complains a lot. In the past year, it has grumbled about political correctness, Obama’s foreign policy, lawyers, and even college reunions. And those were just the lighter essays.Good news

Negativity may attract internet traffic, but it is not humanity’s entire story. There are many positive stories lurking in the recesses of the news. Now, the afterglow of Thanksgiving, and on the threshold of the Christmas and Chanukah season, may be an appropriate time to pause and take note of five unreported or under-reported good news stories.

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CELLOPHANE DIVERSITY

How small of all that human hearts endure,
That part that laws or kings can cause or cure.
Samuel Johnson

In case you missed it, Silicon Valley has a “diversity problem.” That, at least, is the view of the New York Times, which published an editorial earlier this month, lamenting the fact that most Silicon Valley employees are white and Asian men. “Among technical employees,” the Times noted, “few are women, and even fewer are Latino or African-American.” The editorial noted that there is “a lot the government needs to do” to address the issue, and it urged the technology industry to “start tackling its diversity problem right now,” implying that if the industry doesn’t fix problem, the government will.cogs

We probably won’t read about it in the Times, but there are even more egregious “diversity problems” throughout the economy. For once you assume, as the editorial does, that any divergence between the demographic profile of the population at large, and the demographic makeup of a particular industry, represents a “problem” – why then, in the words of a famous Broadway hustler, “we’ve surely got trouble, right here in River City.”

If anyone wants to “start tackling a diversity problem right now,” they should start with the Cambodians. This ethnic group comprises 0.09% of the national population, less than one tenth of one percent. Yet here in California, 90% of the doughnut shops are owned by Cambodians. In other words, Cambodians are one thousand times over-represented in the doughnut industry, at least by the logic of the Times. That means that whites, blacks, Latinos, and all of us who are not Cambodian are dramatically under-represented in the doughnut business.

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COMPANY LOVES MISERY

Last week, one of the nation’s premier institutions of higher learning held its 40th year reunion. Members of the Class of 1974 left their corner offices, boardrooms, television studios, summer estates, and – yes – even their comfortably ordinary jobs and homes, to reconnect with old friends and classmates.

The climactic event of the reunion was a series of presentations rather misleadingly dubbed “The Eureka Moment!”.  This was not the kind of Eureka moment experienced by Archimedes in the bathtub.  Instead, members of this distinguished company vied with one another to present the most distressing, depressing, and often intimate episode of their lives. The format was eerily reminiscent of the old “Queen For a Day” television show, where contestants competed to see whose life was the most pathetic, with the winner receiving a slew of valuable prizes.Queen for a Day 1.jpg

What led these successful people to participate in this strange event?  Quite possibly, the same compulsions that made them successful in the first place.Queen for a Day 1 Continue reading

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WHY THEY BEHEAD US

Daniel Pearl.  Nicholas Berg.  James Foley.  Steven Sotloff.

Four American noncombatants have been beheaded by Islamic fanatics, and the videos of their murders brazenly circulated over the internet for the world to witness.  Another Westerner — David Cawthorne Haines, a security expert hired by international aid organizations – faces the same gruesome fate.

Why do they behead us?Sotloff.Foley

The question goes to the method, not the motive, of the madness. Murderers’ motives don’t matter much in the Middle East.  In local eyes, there are so many causes to kill for, and so many victims deserving death.  But assuming one is inclined to butcher, why do so by the particularly peculiar method of beheading?  Why not butcher by shooting, or by hanging, or by detonation?

This is, to put it mildly, a grim inquiry.  But it is worth the trouble to explore.  For the answer may tell us something about the nature of the evil we face. Continue reading

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