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John Holbo

This is Monstrous

by John Holbo on October 11, 2018

New Yorker link.

According to a long-standing legal precedent known as the Flores settlement, which established guidelines for keeping children in immigration detention, Helen had a right to a bond hearing before a judge; that hearing would have likely hastened her release from government custody and her return to her family. At the time of her apprehension, in fact, Helen checked a box on a line that read, “I do request an immigration judge,” asserting her legal right to have her custody reviewed. But, in early August, an unknown official handed Helen a legal document, a “Request for a Flores Bond Hearing,” which described a set of legal proceedings and rights that would have been difficult for Helen to comprehend. (“In a Flores bond hearing, an immigration judge reviews your case to determine whether you pose a danger to the community,” the document began.) On Helen’s form, which was filled out with assistance from officials, there is a checked box next to a line that says, “I withdraw my previous request for a Flores bond hearing.” Beneath that line, the five-year-old signed her name in wobbly letters.

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Normativity Erosion – #Make Norms Normative Again

by John Holbo on October 11, 2018

That time a ‘Constitution in Exile’ borderline anarchist libertarian and a Catholic integralist wandered into a Twitter thread to discuss political legitimacy, and it crossed neither of their minds it might be a normative notion (rather than a descriptive synonym for power, give or take.) [click to continue…]

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Proportion Conservation Notice

by John Holbo on October 2, 2018

I opened my latest magnum opus (no link necessary I’m sure!) with a requisite attention conservation notice. But sometimes in life it’s good to maintain a sense of proportion. (I’m not the best at that.)

It’s atrocious that Republicans pretty openly don’t give a damn whether BK did or not or is lying or not or whatever. He’s a good guy, bad guy, either way he’s our guy.

But, for the record, when the planet has boiled, BK will be forgotten. And the official position of the Trump administration is not that it’s not true but – eh, screw it.

“The amazing thing they’re saying is human activities are going to lead to this rise of carbon dioxide that is disastrous for the environment and society. And then they’re saying they’re not going to do anything about it,” said Michael MacCracken, who served as a senior scientist at the U.S. Global Change Research Program from 1993 to 2002.

Just kind of giving up on life on the planet as we know it, without even trying anything. If the only chance of survival would mean doing something the donors wouldn’t like, better to go out feeling smug about coal country.

Attention conservation notice: TOO LONG. But I wanted to rewrite my last post to my own satisfaction. So I did it different, but same.

People of the internet, I have long been openly opposed to loose dispensing of the blue pill.

“You take the blue pill — the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe.”

No, the story doesn’t end there. That’s tomorrow-never-comes thinking. Read the warning label! You wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want? What a way to run the railroad. Morpheus is giving this stuff out like candy to any slacker bro who looks the least bit likely. Is he out of his mind?

Because, seriously: what is it you are sure to want to believe? You will want to believe you took the red pill – and we are off to the races! You will believe, falsely, you’re Neo. Past which point you will be no good to yourself or others. At best.

Most folks will be too tempted by the lazy beguilements of blue pill lifestyle, so we are soon up to our collective armpits in mass fantasies of red pill-popping pop-paranoid philosophy of politics. Gets so you can’t throw a rock without hitting ‘the One’ in some Spartacus line-up of ‘Ones’. (#METOO, but for Ones.)

Virgil poetized of the gates of horn and ivory. Even he never conceived of a gate of pizza. And now Kavanaugh (although he isn’t a gate yet, though I can’t imagine why not.) It is never going to end until someone figures out a way to stop Morpheus, a.k.a. Dr. Feelgood.

So I thought to myself: what will be the sign that BK has busted us through the basement, driving the right crazier? I designated a canary: if Dreher takes the blue pill, in a Kavanaugh-related manner, that will mean the right has found a way to delve deeper into crazy. That is, if Rod Dreher says he takes the red pill, that will be a sign he’s taken the blue pill. That will mean things are worse. And sure enough.

Why Rod Dreher, as my dead canary designate down a conservative coal mine? [click to continue…]

Zizek Says Something Smart

by John Holbo on September 27, 2018

Once in a while it’s good for the soul to acknowledge that someone you regard as stupid said something smart. Here’s Slavoj Žižek on the wisdom – that is, stupidity – of proverbs: [click to continue…]

What Are The Odds?

by John Holbo on September 26, 2018

Kavanaugh. Suppose – just suppose – we wanted to estimate the likelihood that BK was guilty of sexual assault in his bad old “what happens at Georgetown Prep stays at Georgetown Prep” days. Given that Ford (and Ramirez) have accused him, what is the likelihood he is guilty? [click to continue…]

Geoffrey Kabaservice:

One of the more influential studies of conservatism, Corey Robin’s The Reactionary Mind, insists that such seemingly disparate figures as Edmund Burke, Joseph de Maistre, Milton Friedman and Sarah Palin are all more or less the same, sharing the overarching goal of preserving the ruling order’s power and privilege against liberationist movements from below. In his view, the ideals conservatives tout (greater freedom, robust public morality, economic growth and deference to the Constitution) are nothing but fig-leaf cover for oppression, and anyone outside the elite who thinks otherwise is a victim of false consciousness.

Our Corey emitted a sigh over this, over on Facebook. This line of criticism of his book [amazon] was done to death years ago, no? Back when Mark Lilla was advancing the same criticisms – no better, but no worse? I will, as in days of yore, reply on Corey’s behalf. Since I think I can add a bit I haven’t said before.

The form of the objection is weird. “But, Socrates, how can you say that all triangles have three sides? That implies that all triangles are the same. But we all know that there are blue ones and red ones, big ones and little ones …”

How could you fail to see the fallacy in this pattern of reasoning?

There is nothing inherently illegitimate (‘reductionistic’) about looking and seeing whether all the things we call ‘X’ have something in common, plausibly explaining why they are grouped together.

Yet (as Corey himself says, over on Facebook) Kabaservice is smart. His book [amazon] is good. So why does he go wrong in this way – like Meno, to whom it simply does not occur to seek what all virtue cases have in common, rather than what makes them different?

Because politics ain’t triangles!

Very true. So let me put it another way. (And I’ll start calling Corey ‘Robin’. Because it sounds more official to refer to him that way!) Robin objects to what we might call the standard view. Let me quote a representative formulation by Peter Berkowitz. He’s introducing Varieties of Conservatism in America: [click to continue…]

Absurdism

by John Holbo on September 8, 2018

As Sparknotes writes,

Endgame’s opening lines repeat the word “finished,” and the rest of the play hammers away at the idea that beginnings and endings are intertwined, that existence is cyclical. Whether it is the story about the tailor, which juxtaposes its conceit of creation with never-ending delays, Hamm and Clov’s killing the flea from which humanity may be reborn, or the numerous references to Christ, whose death gave birth to a new religion, death-related endings in the play are one and the same with beginnings.

I cannot help but think of this passage as I read Jonah Goldberg’s erudite musings in the pages of National Review.

In the classic absurdist dramas of the 1950s and 1960s, Brittanica.com explains, European playwrights “did away with most of the logical structures of traditional theatre. There is little dramatic action as conventionally understood; however frantically the characters perform, their busyness serves to underscore the fact that nothing happens to change their existence.”

That’s a pretty good description of the sound and fury signifying nothing on display this week from Democrats and protesters alike.

In this blog post I would like to argue that, as in the classic absurdist dramas of the 1950’s and 1960’s, in Goldberg’s essay, “Theater of the Absurd Has Taken Over The Senate,” what we see is a conservative intellectual tradition that is ‘finished’, and yet at the same time intertwined with its own beginnings. The life of the conservative mind is cyclical, juxtaposing attempts to kill the stubborn flea of liberalism with lofty dreams of the rebirth – ever-promised, never fulfilled – of the conservative mind.

To put it another way, as Shmoop writes:

Waiting for Godot is hailed as a classic example of “Theater of the Absurd,” dramatic works that promote the philosophy of its name. This particular play presents a world in which daily actions are without meaning, language fails to effectively communicate, and the characters at times reflect a sense of artifice, even wondering aloud whether perhaps they are on a stage.

In conclusion I would like to argue that, just as the ‘theater of the absurd’ is about dramatic works that promote the philosophy of its name, so ‘conservatism’ is about works that promote the philosophy of its name: namely, conservatism. And, just as this particular play presents a world in which language fails to effectively communicate, so Goldberg’s essay fails, effectively, to communicate. It seems like “a walking shadow, a poor player/That struts and frets [its] hour upon the” front page of National Review, then is heard of no more.

Oh I feel old

by John Holbo on August 30, 2018

But I was charming and non-arbitrary in my lovely youth. Buy me a drink, will you, lad?

Gone are the happy days when we dialed up to submit a comment to Salon.com, only to be abused by Glenn Greenwald or destroyed — respectfully — by the academics at Crooked Timber. Back then, we could not have imagined feeling nostalgic for the blogosphere, a term we mocked for years until we found it charming and utopian. Blogs felt like gatherings of the like-minded, or at least the not completely random. Even those who stridently disagreed shared some basic premises and context — why else would they be spending time in the comments section of a blog that looked like 1996? Today’s internet, by contrast, is arbitrary and charmless.

Link.

One-Star Reviews of Chartres Cathedral

by John Holbo on August 25, 2018

Of course you can write online Google reviews of Chartres Cathedral, so sometimes it gets one star.

“wrong location information, wrong in a game to find the place because of it”

(Reminds me of a story.)

“Nothing to do with that of Quasimodo’s film”

(Oh, THAT Notre Dame!)

Moving on to two-star territory:

“The mosaics are impressive, although too bluish for my taste, for the rest despite its size I was disappointed.”

“well, look like so many others”

(If you’ve seen one Cathedral at Chartres, you’ve seen them all.)

Three-Stars

“It’s A huge Building …”

“… Found this Cathedral while walking around …”

(Wouldn’t it be amazing to have been the first person to discover the Cathedral at Chartres?)

“Big, fresh, relaxing, silent, meditating, beauty …”

(Considerable consensus on bigness. But not unanimous!)

So then I checked one-star reviews of the Grand Canyon. It seemed like more reviewers were in on the gag by now. There are also reviews for the Pacific Ocean (3.5 stars average). I think being a professional ocean critic would be an ok gig. Then I checked Northern Hemisphere. Google doesn’t let you rate hemispheres. Or elements on the periodic table. Who decides? Then I walked right into it. ‘Why can’t I rate the sun?’ I asked the youngest daughter. ‘Dad, it would only get one star.’ Oh, snap. You see what I did to myself there?

So How Serious Is This?

by John Holbo on August 22, 2018

Manafort and, especially, Cohen.

I honestly can’t tell. Ever since Lester Holt and ‘nothing matters anymore’ I really can’t tell what matters anymore. I mean: obviously any other President would be toast. But Trump? I’m reading Lawfare. But it seems to me the question is: can Congress ignore it? Signs point to: yes. At least until January. Obviously if Congress can ignore, they will.

In the meantime, I would just like to remind you that Jesus colluded with the sinners.

Do The Nordic Codetermination Moonwalk

by John Holbo on August 18, 2018

I am amused.



Thus, Kevin D. Williamson:

Senator Warren’s proposal entails the wholesale expropriation of private enterprise in the United States, and nothing less. It is unconstitutional, unethical, immoral, irresponsible, and — not to put too fine a point on it — utterly bonkers.

Yglesias points out that this is obviously false.

Williamson responds to Yglesias (while being careful not to link to Yglesias): “property rights would be diminished by the adoption of Warren’s plan.” That is, there would be wealth redistribution.

How could Yglesias not see that saying the first thing was just saying the second thing?

“It isn’t a difficult thing to understand, unless you have an investment in failing to understand it.”

How did The Atlantic fail to snap this prize up when they had the chance?

Arthur Machen – A Fragment of Life

by John Holbo on August 9, 2018

Quiet around here of late. I just enjoyed an audiobook, The Great God Pan and Other Weird Tales, by Arthur Machen, narrated by Peter Wickham. (I got from Audible.) I recently read The Hill of Dreams and found it fairly astounding, so I wanted to revisit “The Great God Pan” and “The White People” (real classics, those two.) Some folks might object that the audiobook cuts out some of the episodic bits from The Three Imposters – “White Powder” and “Black Seal” – but that’s ok. They are stand-alone. But the one in the set that I really loved, that I never knew before, is “A Fragment of Life”. A novella. It’s one of those sad English clerk and wife experience strange mystic growth in the dreary London suburbs-type possibly-fairies affairs. “Darnell had received what is called a sound commercial education, and would therefore have found very great difficulty in putting into articulate speech any thought that was worth thinking; but he grew certain on these mornings that the ‘common sense’ which he had always heard exalted as man’s supremest faculty was, in all probability, the smallest and least-considered item in the equipment of an ant of average intelligence.” That’s sounds like a first line but really it’s from the middle and – how can I put it: it handles its own heavy-handed re-enchantment theme with such a wonderfully light touch. I enjoyed the gentle ride so vastly and enormously. How can I describe without telling it? It’s like Chesterton, but instead of bouncing around or standing on its head, or executing a fake-military about-face and marching into the sea, it just keeps sliding dreamily sideways, out of its own frame, scene by scene, small episode by episode. It builds in the slowest, strangest way. It doesn’t really build but, in the end, how could I possibly mind the odd spot where it leaves me? And having it read to me nicely, while I was doing some calm drawing? My brain feels so much better.

Arthur Machen fans in the audience tonight? Never read him? Probably you should start with “The Great God Pan”.

Politics, Partisanship and Personality Types

by John Holbo on August 3, 2018

What are the best writings about politics, partisanship and personality types? To what degree can large-scale political formations – ideologies, partisan outlooks, temperaments – be credibly treated as a partial function of variation in personality at the individual level; variation we have reason to believe is measurable, moderately stable, independent and prior? (The Big Five and all that, I expect.) I can see why it’s going to be hard to tease it apart empirically. You are going to be chasing your tail, cause and effect-wise. If you find that members of Party X score relatively high for trait Y, which causes which? I have read a bit in this area but not a lot, and nothing that really seemed terribly convincing. (I am aware that Adorno and co. wrote a book called The Authoritarian Personality, for example.) If you don’t like the way I just framed the issue – fine, fine. It isn’t that I’m necessarily evil, as you were perhaps about to type, angrily. It might be that I’m just unsure how best to frame the issue. I’m interested in general discussions – popular explainers, such as there may be – and recent more technical research papers. I can well believe that a lot of bad, or highly speculative stuff has probably been written about this area of political psychology. I have a preference for good over bad, if available.

I Knew Henry Would Post That And Was Prepared

by John Holbo on July 27, 2018