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John Holbo

I’m reading Russell Muirhead, The Promise of Party In A Polarized Age: [click to continue…]

Writing is a sweet, wonderful reward.

by John Holbo on April 17, 2016

We acquired this fridge magnet at some point.


Nice use of Papyrus. Nice combination of Papyrus with whatever that faux-handwriting script font is.

Fits with Henry’s link to an incongruous appropriation of Beckett.

Suppose we wanted to make a collection of cheerful thoughts from depressed writers. You can’t spell ‘unhappiness’ without the happiness! What else might be included?

Envelope please! And the winner isTroilus and Cressida, by William Shakespeare (probably written in 1603 or 1609 or maybe as early as 1599). Let’s review the victory conditions. [click to continue…]

For where desire, celestial, pure desire,
Hath taken root, and grows, and doth not tire,
There God a commerce states, and sheds
His secret on their heads.

Henry Vaughan, “The Star”

“And how does your commerce go, you strange guardian of the past?”

G.K. Chesterton, The Napoleon of Notting Hill

My partisanship post has blossomed into an extensive discussion of original intent, interpretation and the commerce clause. Maybe we could use a little more scholarship to go with that. (Who knows?)

Randy Barnett and Jack Balkin are big in this area, and their major papers are freely available on the web. (Here’s Balkin’s major statement, outside of his book. Here’s an old one by Barnett that makes his general framework clear. And here’s a recent response by him to Balkin on commerce.) But let me start with “Rethinking the Commerce Clause”, by Nelson and Pushaw. It’s not free online, but I want just to quote the opening: [click to continue…]

Pure Partisanship, The New Nonpartisanship

by John Holbo on April 8, 2016

Process hypocrisy isn’t exactly newsworthy, I know, but a few notes. [click to continue…]

Caricatures – Russell and Wittgenstein

by John Holbo on March 28, 2016

I’ve been trying to do caricatures in a new style. I did a few for the book but I’ve decided to continue the set. What do you think? Who should I do next?


Substantial Burden Test?

by John Holbo on March 24, 2016

“Doug Laycock retracts in Little Sisters”. That would have surprised me. Turns out: Ed Whelan thinks that Laycock ought to retract, because Whelan disagrees with Laycock. Less noteworthy. (Made me look!)

But I have a simple legal question. [click to continue…]

This Matt Labash profile of Mike “Murphestopheles” Murphy, lately of Right To Rise fame – is fascinating. (People said ‘Right To Rise’ sounded like a late-nite viagra infomercial. I thought it sounded like a zombie flick, and I think this post-mortem of Murphy confirms me in that intuition. Although I see the other point of view.) [click to continue…]

I forgot St. Patrick’s day. But I remembered all-Trump, all-the-time is dull. And some people like my pen-and-ink posts. So let’s celebrate a pair of illustrators named ‘Neill’, or nearly. [click to continue…]

Trolling Alone?

by John Holbo on March 18, 2016

A couple months ago I was listening to bloggingheads (or something) and I heard conservative columnist and author Matt Lewis trying to explain Trump in terms of Maslow’s Pyramid (hierarchy of needs). He wasn’t being seriously serious about it, but I got what he was getting at … until I realized I had Lewis’ intended point precisely upside down and backwards. [click to continue…]

So! How ‘Bout Those Primaries?

by John Holbo on March 16, 2016

On December 23 I bet my older daughter 5 cents Rubio would be ahead in the delegate count by March 15. She (and Belle) bet on Trump (unless someone got killed at one of his rallies before March 15.) My youngest daughter remains uninterested in politics.

UPDATE: since the 5 cents comes from the change dish by the door, which would equally have been the source of the daughter’s payment to me, had she lost, this is one of those ‘can my left hand give my right hand money’ puzzles.

I look at the world, there are so many issues, so many issues. Don’t just take regulation and energy and fracking. It’s all in Atlas Shrugged,” all of it. State of Colorado, Rearden Metal, how he made it with some magic kinetic energy.


P1: Colorado exists.
P2: Rearden Metal exists.
P3: Rearden Metal is magic.
C: Libertarianism?

Since the dawn of time, man has wondered: what are p-values? [click to continue…]

Cory Doctorow links to a nifty graphic design project: crowdsourced covers for public domain classics. If you know anyone teaching a relevant art class at the high school level, or above, I think this might make a fine class project. Everyone pick a title and go for it!

Cory: “I can’t figure out what license the new covers are under and whether anyone can use them as covers in their own collections of public domain books, or whether permission must be sought for each design.” I wondered about that as well. The info page doesn’t cover rights. I signed up to see what one would have to agree to. Answer: a CC license. (Cory will be gratified to hear it!) [click to continue…]

Oral Majority

by John Holbo on March 5, 2016

This Dahlia Lithwick piece on the Supreme Court abortion case, Whole Woman’s Health v Hellerstedt, is interesting in itself, and suggestive for the near future. We have an even 4-4 conservative-liberal split on the court but Thomas doesn’t talk, and Roberts, the Chief, regards it as his duty to be Chief. Roberts seems to care about being remembered as an effective Chief Justice more than he cares about being remembered as a reliable ideological partisan (like Scalia); this significantly constrains his self-presentation in oral argument. Anthony Kennedy is – Anthony Kennedy. Libertarian, hence mostly conservative, in that idiosyncratically reliable way of his. That leaves Alito, the rock-ribbed Republican voice on the court, if you will. On the other hand, we have Breyer-Kagan-Sotomayor-Ginsburg. Their collective partisan profile is moderate-left Democrat. They are much more judicially restrained than, say, Scalia. But the very fact that they do not espouse philosophically extremist positions – they are not judicial philosophical activists, to coin a phrase – means there are fewer cross-currents and counter-currents within their overall, moderate-left flow. They aren’t going to make bold, contrarian leaps; they’ll keep right on saying moderately liberal things, more or less in unison.

So we may see more cases in which the oral optics (pardon a synaesthetically mixed metaphor!) are: Republican Party (Alito) double, triple or even quadruple-teamed by the Democratic Party. Oral argument isn’t voting. It’s still 4-4 for voting, most days. I doubt Clarence Thomas is going to start voting with the liberals, even if he sees liberals dominating oral argument. I also don’t suppose Roberts will stand for seeing his partisan side being out-talked in some dramatic way. But his position constrains him. Possibly we will be hearing more from Thomas. That would be interesting, to say the least.

Scalia always had enough oral argument in him for any three Justices. Now it occurs to me that might have been literally the case.

I don’t really have a good sense about how the dynamics of oral argument feed into the obviously much more extensive, behind closed doors activities that result in decisions. But I’m sure it means something, if the character of oral argument shifts dramatically. What do you think?