February 18, 2013


Book Recommendations


I’m probably a bit of an oddball in that I enjoy reading philosophy. I especially appreciate those current philosophers with the ability to write with us non-philosophy majors in mind. The best of them craft concise, lucid, and interesting sentences, while knowing that most people are interested only in those ideas that can be immediately applied to the lives they actually lead. For this reason, I generally limit my reading to areas like moral or political philosophy.


In these two realms I have found no more satisfying author than Michael J. Sandel. He is a Harvard professor whose class, Justice, has been an on-campus and YouTube sensation for years. If you want to witness the practice of a great teacher – someone who knows that philosophy IS important to everyone and knows how to make it accessible, Google “Justice” and watch the PBS tapes. Afterwards, read the book version (also called Justice) as well as ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­Public Philosophy, an equally readable and important book.


But today, I’m here to tell you about my current reading. Whereas you might seek out Sandel to learn how to live ethically, you would seek out Aaron James to understand the nature and practices of perhaps the gravest threat to human happiness today – assholes. James is a Harvard Ph.D,, a professor of philosophy at UC Irvine, and an expert in this field. In his book, Assholes:A Theory, James provides a comprehensive analysis of the causes of this dreaded affliction (hint: being born male provides a major leg-up for all aspiring assholes) as well necessary instruction in asshole management.


James’s theory has three main parts. He writes:


                In interpersonal and cooperative relations, the asshole:

               1) allows himself to enjoy special advantages and does so systematically;

`             2) does this out of an entrenched sense of entitlement; and

              3) is immunized by his sense of entitlement against the complaints of other people.


James in careful throughout his treatise. For instance, he is quick to point out any that any one of us is capable of acting like an asshole from time to time, perhaps even for days at a time, but that does not assure a person of actually being an asshole. He focuses on “the sort of person for whom asshole acts are quite in character, and indeed routine, because they do generally reflect the type of person he stably is.”


So as not to disappoint the reader, James classifies the various types of assholes and prominent exemplars: the boorish asshole (H.L. Mencken), the smug asshole (Larry Summers), the royal asshole (Henry VIII), the presidential asshole (Mahmoud Ahmadinejad), and the corporate asshole (Steve Jobs). The clear winner in James’s way of thinking, howver, swept two distinct categories: Donald Rumsfeld is both a reckless and self-aggrandizing asshole.


I recommend this book to all truth seekers. If you are reluctant, however, to learn more about James’s conclusions because of enormous self-doubts (as I was), rest easy with this quote: “So as not to cast the first stone, we had better start by asking about ourselves: Am I an asshole? Here is one test: if you would be willing to call yourself an asshole, this indicates that you are not in fact one.”






January 28, 2013 

                            (This letter appeared in The Boston Globe on January 28, 2013)


          Congratulations to The Boston Globe for using front page space to report the tragic plight of former Celtic star and Hall of Famer, Robert Parish. (“Robert Parish yearns for NBA coaching job”, January 26) Who among us can’t relate to the struggle of being unemployed since 1997 and looking a job in the NBA as a head coach or assistant, one which meets his request for high 6 figures or low 7? After all, as he tells us, he knows how to call a timeout.

And that job he was offered with the Celtics as a community representative? Why would anyone with Robert’s credentials accept $80,000 a year for such a time-consuming and pressure-filled post?

Oh sure, there might be some soreheads out there who hold it against him for that pot bust or that misunderstanding when he had to throw his wife across the hotel hallway into a door after she found him in his room with a guest. I hear you, Robert. Who wants to be interrupted when you’re entertaining a guest anyway?

 Come on, Celtics, how about getting off your high horse and helping out a guy who can’t find the $24,000,000 you gave him during his career?