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John Holbo

It’s a gas

by John Holbo on February 8, 2016

I think it unlikely that Kasich will get elected and reunite Pink Floyd, to play “Money”. But it would be a scene rich in irony.


Liberal, Conservative, Pangloss, Plotinus, Galton

by John Holbo on February 1, 2016

(This isn’t part of our Walton seminar, though it’s got Plotinus in it.)

What is liberalism? What is conservatism? If you are interested in getting answers to these questions, you (probably) want the answers to do two things for you: [click to continue…]

Walton’s Republic

by John Holbo on January 28, 2016

“It was the most real thing that had ever happened.” – Jo Walton, The Just City

Thanks to Jo Walton for writing an SF novel in which people, including a pair of gods, try to realize Plato’s Republic. (I’ve only read the first Thessaly novel, The Just City. So if what follows is premature? That sort of thing happens.)

This is an experimental novel. Succeed or fail, you learn from an experiment. But even well-constructed experiments can be failures. That’s the risk.

Logically such a thing should exist. A novelization of Plato’s Republic, I mean. How can no one have written this already? But can such a damn thing be written ? Surely it will fail as a novel, somewhat, at some point. But how? Only one way to find out. [click to continue…]

The Bitter Butter Battle Book

by John Holbo on January 25, 2016

Rod Dreher has a great quote today from Edwin W. Edwards:

“With me, the people know the butter might be rancid, but it’s going to be spread on their side of the bread.”

Dreher’s point: “That’s Trump for you, ain’t it? I bet he’ll win the GOP primary in Louisiana going away.” [click to continue…]

As promised!

I finally managed to publish the silly fine thing! Reason and Persuasion, the 4th edition. It is currently available on Amazon. And I made a nice iBooks edition. (Fixed layout. Crisp look. Can read it even on an iPhone 6. I’m still working on the reflowable Kindle version.)

And never forget that cheap good people can get all the PDF’s for free at the book site.

Tell me what you think! Praise and criticize. Tell all your friends. Hunt typos. (I’ve found three. Minor ones.) [click to continue…]

You Keep Using That Word

by John Holbo on January 21, 2016

Eric tells us one thing we’re sure of. Which is interesting. And relates to something I’ve long thought would be an interesting scholarly exercise. A survey of the history of Presidential impossibilities-turned-realities. In this season of Trump, we shall see what we shall see. In the meantime, go back and collect all the ‘Dewey Defeats Truman’ events, from every Presidential season. Who is certain to be a contender, then immediately eliminated? (Looking at you, Scott Walker.) How many candidates who cannot possibly win have won?

Now, there is an ambiguity in the question, insofar as the other side always has a vested interest in kicking up dust. Every possible candidate is ‘impossible’ to someone. So let’s focus on the consensus cases. Like Trump. No one – I mean: no one – thought he would make it this far. Impossible. Now things get tricky, count-wise, because, from an impossibility, an infinite number of impossible consequences flow. (Looking at you, Ted Cruz, last, best hope of the Establishment.)

But seriously. Barack Obama was impossible. Clinton was impossible. Reagan was impossible. Carter? A long-shot, for sure. Watergate was impossible, ergo Ford. Nixon was impossible, insofar as he was a has-been.

Back of the envelope, I think more than 50% of the most important things that happen in Presidential elections are strictly impossible, at least according to conventional wisdom, six months earlier. What do you think is a good number?

UPDATE: The impossibility unit, per season, could be the Trump. Every election can have a T-rating, for the number of impossible things that actually happen.

“Poor David Bowie. Barely 72 hours dead and he’s already being misremembered.”

I like the URL. “david-bowie-transgender-1970s-misappropriated?” I think probably the piece was written on a bet, and the URL reflects that.

No, seriously. The piece follows the standard template for conservative kulturkampf tu quoque. It’s by-the-numbers. But there is a purity to it.

Plato Can Make You A Man!

by John Holbo on January 9, 2016

The reason I haven’t been blogging is I’m in the depths and throes of book-making. We’re finally – finally! – bringing out a new edition of good old Reason and Persuasion (that’s Belle’s and my old Plato book. I’ve swept clean the old site to celebrate the new book. All we need to complete the celebration is: the new book.) The problem is that it’s literally impossible to proof a book. Typos. They go all the way down. No matter how many times you comb through, there are more. And then more, underneath that. I’m convinced every book manuscript contains an infinite number of – admittedly increasingly small – typographical errors. It’s Zenoesque. [click to continue…]

Happy Roy Batty Incept Date!

by John Holbo on January 8, 2016

Life has been keeping me too busy. I’ll be back soon. But don’t forget! Tonight is the night Roy comes, to give toys to good girls and boys. Happy Incept Date!

Merry Christmas!

by John Holbo on December 25, 2015


I taught Science Fiction and Philosophy this semester. One thing I realized I didn’t know – but I wished I did – was the history of semi-popular trends in the philosophy of mind (for lack of a better term.) A lot of science fiction is tied up with speculations about the nature of mind, of course. It would be surprising if all that didn’t reflect trends in aspirationally non-fictional speculations (again, for lack of a better term.) Crudely, I’ll bet there is more ESP in sf in eras when lots of people think that might be a thing. [click to continue…]

The Singing Bones

by John Holbo on November 28, 2015

I’m not going to feed all that Black Friday madness, but X-Mas is a time for giving nice illustrated books. One that just came out, which I’m looking forward to getting my hands on, is Shaun Tan’s The Singing Bones. It consists of photographs of sculptures, and some text, originally just illustrating Grimm’s Fairy Tales, but I gather he branches out from there. Like this. At this point I think you can only get it from the publisher. Anyway, looks great. And if you didn’t catch his award-winning animated short, few years back, here it is. Or watch a lo-quality version on YouTube. Of course, The Arrival is his best book. I assume you’ve read it already.

Happy Thanksgiving

by John Holbo on November 26, 2015

The older daughter has a Holiday TV Special thought: “Isn’t it ironic that Bill Watterson wouldn’t commercialize his stuff, but Calvin would have loved to have his face plastered on everything. Charles Schulz licensed everything about “Peanuts” to go on everything, and Charlie Brown would have hated that.”

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

The Stuff Nietzsche Said

by John Holbo on November 18, 2015

My last Nietzsche post got some folks hot and bothered. [click to continue…]

Frazetta Auction – and French Academic Art

by John Holbo on November 16, 2015

Doc Dave Winiewicz is auctioning off his famous Frazetta collection. Here’s his blog. Please note that you can download a high quality 200+ page PDF of the catalog from the auction house, so click that link. You won’t see some of that stuff elsewhere. (Well, I say it’s great. So make fun of me if you like.) Looking through, I noticed something rather odd.
[click to continue…]