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John Holbo

Hazards of Evolutionary Psychology, Royalty Edition

by John Holbo on November 26, 2016

I promised a follow-up post on Baboon Metaphysics, but I haven’t had time. I’ll stop-gap with stray passages that struck me as deserving juxtaposition. (They have nothing to do, really, with my questions about questions.)

A few years ago, a member of the British royal family visited us in the field and spent a morning following the baboons. On being told the details of the baboons’ inherited, rank-based society she became both excited and relieved, as if a longstanding dilemma had at last been resolved and an onerous weight lifted from her shoulders. “I always knew,” she declared, “that when people who aren’t like us claim that hereditary rank is not part of human nature, they must be wrong. Now you’ve given me evolutionary proof!” Shortly thereafter she returned to her entourage, spirits uplifted, leaving us to ponder the wider implications of our work.

Another passage:

The brains of queen ants are significantly smaller than those of virgin females during their nuptial flight. Queen ants are also much less socially active and much less reliant on vision.

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Happy Thanksgiving – Moana edition

by John Holbo on November 25, 2016

Went to see Moana. Mild plotspoilers under the fold: [click to continue…]

Long post. Input welcome on any aspect of what I am discussing but I end the post with a very specific question, to which I would really like an answer: do our esteemed primate cousins ask questions? Yet more specifically: have language-trained non-human primates demonstrated the ability to ask questions? (Communicatively elicit desired information from their fellows or humans?)

But let me first back up and give you my situation and needs. [click to continue…]

The Claypool Lennon Delirium

by John Holbo on November 19, 2016

Speaking of Nick Mason on drums, that’s how Les Claypool describes Sean Lennon’s sticks on the new Claypool Lennon Delirium album, Monolith of Phobos [amazon]. Well, half his sticks.

I’ve been waiting for, like, 25 years for Les Claypool to do something I really like. He was put on this earth to amuse Les Claypool. I understand it was never a case of him setting out to please me, and failing. He’s a fabulous bass player, but somehow all that Primus nonsense never did it for me. (Those cowboy suits – and I do mean cowboy suits – are the apotheosis of mid 90’s MTV. But I only want to listen for, like, 30 seconds.)

And now he’s done it, by Jove! This collaboration with Sean Lennon is genius. The lemony lightness of Lennon’s vocals are just what was needed to cut through the straight Claypool mud. The Claypool Lennon Delirium is to Primus as The Dukes of Stratosphear was to XTC. Clear? And if you’ve ever said to yourself: I want to hear something like Ween’s “Transdermal Celebration”, but make it 7/4 time … well, now you’ve got “Boomerang Baby”. I think the best tracks are “The Cricket and the Genie” and “Mr Wright”, which is a slap-bass “Arnold Layne”. “Bubbles Burst” is about Lennon’s own experience hanging out with Michael Jackson as a kid. Weird.

R.I.P. SEK – You Will Be Missed

by John Holbo on November 19, 2016

UPDATE: Our friend, Scott Eric Kaufman, has passed. He was a good one, he was. He will be missed.

Scott Eric Kaufman needs no introduction. Well, not if you know him and admire him, like I do, and have been a friend to him for a long time, like me. He’s dying. [UPDATE: it looks like I confused some of Scott’s own notes for expert medical prognosis. He’s in very very bad shape. But his family is hoping for the best.] It’s bad. His family needs help with medical bills. If that’s the sort of thing you feel you might donate to help out with, I encourage you to do so. I did. But they have a ways to go to meet their goal.

If you don’t know who Scott K is, well he used to blog here – may he again! And at the Valve, back in the day; and at LGM. And he wrote for Salon, most recently.

Pink Floyd – The Early Years

by John Holbo on November 16, 2016

When I was in high school I had a friend who was ga-ga for early Floyd, who infected me with that bug. Piper At The Gates of Dawn and Saucer Full of Secrets. Syd Barrett solo – not a lot of that, but we got what we could get. I laughed in Doctor Strange when “Interstellar Overdrive” came on. Nice homage to the Strange homage on the album cover. So if money is no object, you would naturally buy the insane, ludicrous, absurd box set that just came out. But money is an object. So just re-listen to those old albums again any old way, and listen to the really interesting NPR interview/DJ session with Nick Mason (the drummer). Bob Boilen: where did your unique drum style come from? Nick Mason: I was trying to sound like everyone else. And the equally interesting interview with Joe Boyd, co-manager of the UFO club where the Floyd were a kind of house band for a brief time. (I only now learned it’s pronounced ‘eupho’ – oh, I get it. A pun.)

Then listen to some Leonard Cohen. Then return to our previously scheduled post-election despair. Under the fold, Bowie’s cover of “See Emily Play”: [click to continue…]

2 cents

by John Holbo on November 12, 2016

Here’s something I wrote on Facebook. It got a few likes.

It’s like I found out that, retroactively, there had been a lot fewer jokes in the world in 2016. They turned out not just to not be funny, but not to be jokes. When the history of Trump is written, there is going to be a generous chapter on all the jokes written about Trump before he became President, premised on the impossibility of him winning. It’s not that irony died. It’s that irony died a year ago, and no one sent flowers and now it seems too late.

So I must be one of the many in the Capital who was stuck in my bubble of epistemic closure, unaware of rumblings in the Districts? Well, yes and no. I totally believed Nate Silver when he said Trump had a 1/3 shot. I read Sean Trende, who I thought made sense; and reviews in praise of J.D. Vance’s book. But I was still making Trump jokes, laughing at Trump jokes, premised on the impossibility of him being President, right up to the day before. Then I slept very fitfully the night before. Irrational? I dunno. Cognitive dissonance. No point in denying it. I’ve never played Russian roulette – don’t intend to – but I think I know enough of tabletop games to know that sometimes a six-sided die comes up 6. Is it epistemic closure if you can’t wrap your head around exactly 1/6th of ‘you’re dead’? (If I ever play Russian roulette there’s a good chance I’ll crack a nervous joke before I pull the trigger, and then my last words will look dumb on my headstone. Failure of imagination. But it won’t be because I don’t know what 1/6th means, per se, or disbelieve in bullets.) [click to continue…]

No doubt Corey is too modest to toot his own horn, so here you go. You should read the book, too.

The New Yorker headline is too strong: The Book That Predicted Trump. That’s beefed up from what Matt Feeney actually says: “From Robin’s argument, we could predict that a conservative party would be unlikely to nominate the idealized conservative as its standard-bearer, but that it would absolutely yoke itself to a populist nut job like Donald Trump.” That’s better than the headline. Better still, however, not to defenestrate Karl Popper quite so dramatically as all that. Robin advances an empirical hypothesis about the nature of conservatism. If possible, we should model hypothesis testing as an exercise in disconfirmation. It is plain that Trump does not disconfirm Robin. Trump fits the Robin model to a T, but it goes too far to say the model predicts him. Obviously 2016 has been an unusual year for Republicans. It may yet prove to be the year in which the Republican Party cracks up, like the Whigs. There is nothing whatsoever in Robin’s model that predicts 2016, in particular, shall be a special year. You could have made money in the prediction markets, betting according to Robin’s model, because you would have snapped up Trump back when he was selling for fractions of pennies. Clearly he was an undervalued property, by Robin’s theoretical lights. But recognizing a long shot as not so long as people think is not the same as it being a lock. So, to repeat: Robin did not predict Trump. I belabor the point because I predict some folks – our Corey does have his detractors, strange to say – may dismiss this New Yorker squib on the grounds that it is puffing Robin up as a prophet to an irrational degree. That right. It is.

But the Robin point can be reformulated. It’s not that he predicted Trump and, therefore, his hypothesis is confirmed. Rather, nearly everyone else predicted Not-Trump and, therefore, their hypotheses are disconfirmed by Trump. ‘Since conservatism is X, Y and Z, conservatives won’t vote for a -X, – Y and -Z guy like Trump.’ Something like that. (OK, I’m fudging a bit. Point is: Trump tests everyone else, NOT Robin.)

The headline ought to read “The Book That Didn’t Predict Not-Trump”. There. Fixed it. [click to continue…]

I’m still reading Dieter Henrich, Between Kant and Hegel: Lectures on German Idealism. The more I read, the more I think I really need to read more Fichte. Also, there are moments like this: [click to continue…]

Who’s Up For Tabletop Games?

by John Holbo on October 26, 2016

You know what kids like? They like playing the Munchkin Adventure Time card game. I have verified this with girls and boys, ages 10-50. When the younger daughter’s friends come over, they want to play Munchkin Adventure Time. So you might as well buy the expansion set – and order pizza. It adds to the humor if you are an Adventure Time fan, which you should be. But everyone else can get the jokes easily. [click to continue…]

Snappy!

by John Holbo on October 23, 2016

In case my Kant-to-Hegel post is a bit heavy, for a Sunday, here’s a snappy, snazzy guy I spotted in the Library of Congress Flickr feed.

B. Zirato (LOC)

Note how this guy seems to be leading with his … thighs? Can he walk like that? Looks like a Zim cartoon/caricature. It’s a good look.

Chris Bertram is, of course, free to post his own Sunday photo later. I don’t mean to horn in on his territory!

Between Kant and Hegel: Hen Kai Pan

by John Holbo on October 23, 2016

I’m still teaching Kierkegaard this semester, now excavating the historical subterrain somewhat. I’m reading Dieter Henrich, Between Kant and Hegel: Lectures on German Idealism. It’s relatively light, given the heavy subject matter. Which I find agreeable. The original lectures were delivered in 1973 at Harvard, so it’s all perhaps out of date, although I understand that Henrich – who is still alive – made appropriate updates and edits before the book was published in 2008. Also, it is not my impression that a wave of subsequent historicist work has, indeed, swept this work away. I am open to correction on that point.

I find the book extremely interesting. I am thinking fresh thoughts about this period, but I can’t say I’m sure they are true. But that is mostly my fault. The lectures, true to their original form, have a sweeping, generalizing quality. If I want to verify, I should go back and read a lot of Jacobi and Fichte and Schelling. Which is, admittedly, unlikely. Let me just quote, and comment on, some passages I’m contemplating paraphrasing for class purposes. [click to continue…]

“What’s This Little Boy Doing Here?”

by John Holbo on October 12, 2016

My 15-page On Beyond Zarathustra series, over at Hilobrow, has now run its course. I managed – barely! – to usher the rope dancer onstage, as I collapsed from the graphical strain. But on my way down I penned a think-piece on Seuss and philosophy, with special reference to Nietzsche.

What else?

Did you know that Ted Geisel, as a young teen, was traumatized by a sudden, personal attack on him by Teddy Roosevelt? It’s true! Apparently. I quote from Dr. Seuss and Mr. Geisel: [click to continue…]

Shock and Aw, we knew it already

by John Holbo on October 8, 2016

So Trump said something truly horrible in 2005. And, it would seem, Hillary’s Wall Street speeches have leaked. Or bits. And internal emails concerning them. (I guess it could turn out that these have been doctored by the Russians, in collaboration with Wikileaks. But it looks like the real deal.) This is going to make that Town Hall debate hot. But, as bombshells go, it’s hard for me to imagine anything less surprising. Everyone already knew – how could it not be? – that Clinton said cosy-cosy stuff to Wall Street folks. And Trump? Is there a single person on the planet surprised that he talks this way? (And surely it isn’t just talk.) Dog bites man. Donald gropes woman. His defenders aren’t even feigning surprise. [click to continue…]

Zarathustra Is Back

by John Holbo on October 1, 2016

On Beyond Zarathustra is back! The exuberant lad has been on hiatus since the end of July. (August and September made alternate, non-negotiable demands.) But my friend Joshua Glenn (buy his book!) inquired kindly after Z’s health, wondering whether I would like to showcase my restoration work at his site, Hilobrow. I said yes and set to work on 15 fresh pages, which are being serialized daily. We are up to day 7, so I’m telling you so! [click to continue…]