Failing the Empathy Exams

The wounded woman gets called a stereotype and sometimes she is. But sometimes she’s just true.
–Leslie Jamison, “Grand Unified Theory of Female Pain,” The Empathy Exams*

On the day before New Year’s back in 2021, I found myself riding the train to work when, one stop after mine, a vaguely familiar woman got on. Or maybe I should say, struggled on. She was, I guess, in her sixties, heavy-set, apparently in pain, though not from any obvious cause, and was struggling with a shopping cart full of possessions. At first, in a reflexive reaction to the shopping cart, I took her to be a homeless person, but that turned out not to be the case. She clearly had trouble moving, and had trouble getting the cart onto the train. I half got up to help her, but not knowing how my gallantry would be received, sat back down and watched her struggle. It was rush hour, just before 8 am. Continue reading

Reason Papers 43:1, JARS 23: Bromance, Romance, Scholarship

I’m very happy to announce the publication of Reason Papers 43:1 (Spring 2023), and the final, double issue of the Journal of Ayn Rand Studies (JARS) 23:1-2. There are a bunch of interconnections between these two journals, and connections back to PoT. Being the gossip hag that I am, I’m going to give you the juicy back story (romance, bromance, and all), so hold on to your hat.

The main piece of backstory here is that both journals bear a connection to Ayn Rand and the (American) Objectivist movement. (The preceding links go to Wikipedia, which was founded by Jimmy Wales, who was also a member of the Objectivist movement. You can’t make this shit up.) Reason Papers was founded in 1974 by Tibor Machan, a fervent Randian; JARS was founded in 1999 by Chris Sciabarra, a fervent Rand scholar. Many of the people associated with Policy of Truth were once Randians, associated in some way with one or both journals and/or the Objectivist movement. Whatever our proximity to or distance from Rand and Objectivism at this point, many of us still a bear a close relation to one another, and so, still find ourselves arguing about Rand and related topics (Aristotelianism, libertarianism, aesthetic Romanticism, etc.), whether as impartial scholars, as Rand-sympathizers, or as critics or even antagonists of Objectivism. Continue reading

Highway to Hellenism

From a Passover service at my synagogue: the rabbi, expounding on Exodus 33, is sent on a long digression, via a question from the congregation, to the story of Solomon’s “shamir.” The question was about “rule worship” in the Hebrew Bible. The shamir was the mythical worm or caterpillar whose mucus was used by King Solomon to build the first Temple at Jerusalem, in adherence to the divine rule that the rocks used to build the temple not be cut with iron implements. (Obviously, the shamir’s mucus is what did the cutting.)

Rabbi (sighing slightly, after a long digression from the Torah portion in front of us): So anyway, that is the story of Solomon’s shamir.

Congregant: Wow, what a story! It’s even better than Homer’s Odyssey!

Rabbi: Not really.

Chatting with Joyce Carol Oates

I guess I’m in name-dropping mode: I just had an impromptu conversation on the train platform with Joyce Carol Oates. The conversation was about the evils of New Jersey Transit. She asked why the train station’s waiting room was closed. I launched immediately into my denunciatory lecture on the immorality of NJT’s policy of closing their waiting rooms when homeless people begin to use them. This wasn’t virtue signaling. I came across like a lunatic.

She asked me if I was a professor. A whole story welled up inside me, threatening to break free. I was tempted to tell her that I used to be one, but that shit had happened, and that as a result, I no longer was, and that we now tragically had something in common.

“No,” I said. “I collect medical bills.”

Me and Bobby Anzilotti

About six years ago, in the fall of 2017, someone at Felician University called the local police to report that a member of the faculty, one Irfan Khawaja, had threatened to bring firearms to a faculty meeting later that day, with the intention of shooting it up and killing everyone there.

Soon after teaching my first class that morning, I was detained on campus by the police and taken to the police station, where I was questioned by Vincent “Vinnie” Quattrone, then the Chief of Police. Having gotten nowhere with me–I doggedly remained silent under questioning–Quattrone brought in the “big guns,” detectives from the Bergen County Prosecutors Office (BCPO) in nearby Hackensack, New Jersey. Continue reading

Driving with Thrasymachus

Woke up late this morning, so had to take an Uber to the train station. After congratulating me on my foresight for ordering a car before the rain (I had no idea it was going to rain), and complaining about the cut Uber was going to take out of the fare (almost 70%?), my driver intoned, in a Pakistani accent, “Because Irfan, let’s be clear: justice is the advantage of the stronger.” Followed by the most cogent-cynical lecture I’ve ever heard on monopolies, tax policy, and the “game changer” of coming developments in data analytics.

The book I brought to read on the train—Locke’s The Reasonableness of Christanity—now seems anemically irrelevant to the world we actually inhabit.