Stand Up with Aristotle

When I first read Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics maybe thirty years ago, I was both puzzled and disappointed by his discussion of the moral virtues in Book IV–generosity, magnificence, friendliness, wit, and so on. It seemed a waste of space. A whole book on this? What were such banalities doing in a classic work of moral philosophy?

Aristotle’s (very brief) discussion of the place of humor in social life seemed a case in point. On Aristotle’s account, wit turned out to be a moral virtue, buffoonery and humorlessness, vices. 

Those who go to excess in raising laughs seem to be vulgar buffoons. They stop at nothing to raise a laugh, and care more about that than about saying what is seemly and avoiding pain to the victims of the joke. …

Those who joke in appropriate ways are called witty, or in other words, agile-witted. For these sorts of jokes seem to be movements of someone’s character, and characters are judged, as bodies are, by their movements (NE IV.8, 1128a5-12).

Really? That’s what morality requires? Telling the right jokes at the right time, in the right way, for the right reasons, etc. etc.? Continue reading

Dr. No at the Voting Booth: An Election Day Parable

Today is Election Day in New Jersey–our primary election. For months I’ve been blathering on and on like a fan-boy about the virtues and wonders of the Democratic front runner for Congress in New Jersey’s 11th district, Mikie Sherrill. I was a fan way before the Times was. I went to her meetings. I contributed dutifully to her campaign via Blue Wave. At the last meeting, I grabbed a “Mikie Sherrill for Congress” lawn sign–not that I have a lawn. Today was going to be the proud day when, at last, I voted for her. Indeed, I Facebooked my intentions the night before:

My votes for the primary election: a “yes” to Mikie Sherrill for 11th district congressional representative, a “no” to Robert Menendez for US Senate.

I’d cross out the entire Republican slate if I could. But I’ll save that for November.

And I would, if I could. But I’ll get to that. Continue reading

The Truth is Hard, But Kinda Funny

Two views of William F. Buckley from the Op-Ed page of today’s New York Times, visible at exactly the same level on the same page of the print edition:

 But most of the world — including most of the Jewish diaspora — will have a hard time coming up with a decent justification for opposing a Palestinian campaign for equal rights. Israel’s apologists will be left mimicking the argument that William F. Buckley once made about the Jim Crow South. In 1957, he asked rhetorically whether the white South was entitled to prevail “politically and culturally, in areas in which it does not predominate numerically.” The “sobering answer,” he concluded, was yes, given the white community’s superior civilization.

–Michelle Goldberg, “Is Liberal Zionism Dead?”

Same page, five inches away:

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Grand Theft Rear View Mirror

Somebody tried to steal my car the other night in New York City. He (or she, but more likely a he) didn’t manage to pull it off, but having put that much time and energy into the job, I guess he decided to steal my driver’s side rear-view mirror while he was at it.

This gives me a lifetime 0-3 (or maybe 3-0) record on car thefts: 3 attempts to steal cars of mine, all failures. (Well, one of them was my Mom’s car, but I used it to deliver newspapers, so I thought of it as partly mine.)

Actually to be perfectly candid, I once drove by a car-jacking-in-progress, also in New York City, but I don’t know how it turned out: I was looking for parking en route to a Joe Satriani concert, and didn’t pause to see the outcome. (I didn’t call the cops, either; we were already late to the show. So much for the Parable of the Good Samaritan!) Continue reading

Letter from a Chevalier to a Lady of No Quality

Dear Lady Who Was Sitting in the Middle of Row E at the Polish Baltic Philharmonic Orchestra’s All-Beethoven Concert, Enlow Recital Hall, Kean University, Hillside, New Jersey, February 6, 2016, between 7:30 and 9:30 pm:

I think it’s really cool that you brought your three young children to an orchestral performance, I really do. Audiences for classical music are starting to dwindle nowadays, and if classical music is to survive, it needs the support of the younger generation–like your three delightful little children.

But still, I would like to point out to you that

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Snowmageddon 2016

Apropos of Snowmageddon 2016 on the East Coast, I can’t resist reproducing this email exchange I had with my friend Rick Minto the day before Hurricane Sandy hit in October 2012:

Rick: Hope this note finds you well, and in a position to safely avoid the wrath of Sandy.

Irfan: Carrie-Ann and I have been having this bantering argument about whether Sandy is really dangerous (her) or just media blather and hype (me). Just went to the deli across the street where we managed to split the regulars down the middle on that question. One guy on my side said, “I can’t believe they interrupted the Jets game to talk about this stupid thing.”

Am I ready? No. Am I worried? No. Have I learned from past mistakes? Not really.

Mood music for the occasion….

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