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John Holbo

Duly Noted

by John Holbo on October 8, 2015

‘Politically correct’ is so unamenable to non-absurd definition that it seldom receives even the lightest semantic gloss. So this is noteworthy, from Lowry and Ponnuru:

Among the most consequential forms of political correctness — in the sense of the use of social pressure to suppress the expression of widespread and legitimate viewpoints

It is, I suppose, possible that by ‘legitimate’ they just mean conservative. But that would be rather question-begging. The alternative is that they are begging the question against conservatism, which reduces to political correctness, due to it being a not utterly un-Burkean affair. A third possibility is that our authors haven’t given the matter much thought.


To Glorify His Majesty, King Squirrel I

by John Holbo on October 5, 2015

So I’m reading As If: Modern Enchantment and the Literary Prehistory of Virtual Reality, by Michael Saler. When up pops a quote from the Julian Young biography of Nietzsche, referencing a passage by Nietzsche’s sister, which reads: [click to continue…]

I know the unknown, and the unknown knows me

by John Holbo on October 4, 2015

I just realized Arthur Brown, and his Crazy World, is/are still around after all these years.

That new video is good! Very Tom Waits.

I am also interested to learn that in the 80’s, Brown moved to Austin, Texas, got a Masters degree in counseling and started a house-painting business with a former Zappa drummer.

Imagine going in for counseling and having it be Brown there some office, setting off the smoke alarms for sure.


by John Holbo on September 29, 2015


RUSH LIMBAUGH: There’s so much fraud. Snerdly came in today ‘what’s this NASA news, this NASA news is all exciting.’ I said yeah they found flowing water up there. ‘No kidding! Wow! Wow!’ Snerdly said ‘flowing water!?’ I said ‘why does that excited you? What, are you going there next week? What’s the big deal about flowing water on Mars?’ ‘I don’t know man but it’s just it’s just wow!’ I said ‘you know what, when they start selling iPhones on Mars, that’s when it’ll matter to me.’ I said ‘what do you think they’re gonna do with this news?’ I said ‘look at the temperature data, that has been reported by NASA, has been made up, it’s fraudulent for however many years, there isn’t any warming, there hasn’t been for 18.5 years. And yet, they’re lying about it. They’re just making up the amount of ice in the North and South Poles, they’re making up the temperatures, they’re lying and making up false charts and so forth. So what’s to stop them from making up something that happened on Mars that will help advance their left-wing agenda on this planet?’ And Snerdly paused ‘oh oh yeah you’re right.’ You know, when I play golf with excellent golfers, I ask them ‘does it ever get boring playing well? Does it ever get boring hitting shot after shot where you want to hit it?’ And they all look at me and smile and say ‘never.’ Well folks, it never gets boring being right either. Like I am. But it doesn’t mean it is any less frustrating. Being right and being alone is a challenging existence. OK so there’s flowing water on Mars. Yip yip yip yahoo. You know me, I’m science 101, big time guy, tech advance it, you know it, I’m all in. But, NASA has been corrupted by the current regime. I want to find out what they’re going to tell us. OK, flowing water on Mars. If we’re even to believe that, what are they going to tell us that means? That’s what I’m going to wait for. Because I guarantee, let’s just wait and see, this is September 28, let’s just wait and see. Don’t know how long it’s going to take, but this news that there is flowing water on Mars is somehow going to find its way into a technique to advance the leftist agenda. I don’t know what it is, I would assume it would be something to do with global warming and you can—maybe there was once an advanced civilization. If they say they found flowing water, next they’re going to find a graveyard.

I dunno. I’m going to wait for the movie. I figure in 20 years, they’ll do a remake of The Martian, with Chris Farley’s re-animated corpse as Rush Limbaugh, in Matt Damon’s role. Only this time, NASA will be trying to keep him on Mars so he can’t talk radio back about how the lack of flowing water on Mars proves there’s no global warming on Earth. But then Deja Thoris falls in love with him, because the lighter atmosphere makes him a tremendous golfer. And he teams up with Tars Tarkas – who has four arms, ergo can hit two golf balls at once.

One-Star Yelp Reviews By Five-Star Generals

by John Holbo on September 12, 2015

I am too busy these days. No time to post on CT, so sad. So I’m just going to let you write the jokes, then I’ll take credit for the thread. The idea is this: bad Yelp-style reviews of countries the US has invaded, written from the perspective of high-ranking military commanders and political leaders. Take it away, CT-commenters! If you can, make Mallory Ortberg proud. If you can’t, at least don’t make Belle Waring ashamed.

UPDATE: The category can include any sort of aggressive foreign policy stance, suitably frustrated.

What Means That Trump?

by John Holbo on September 8, 2015

No, I’m not just asking the question everyone else is asking. I’m quoting Shakespeare’s Timon of Athens. It’s, like, erudite.

I’m with Kevin Drum. Watching Jonah Goldberg splutter about it is pretty rich. [click to continue…]


by John Holbo on August 31, 2015

The Barbarian, that is.

My friend Josh Glenn commissioned a bunch of folks to contribute very short appreciations under the heading, “Crom Your Enthusiasm”. R.E. Howard stuff, then. But also C.L. Moore, Lovecraft, Fritz Leiber, Ashton Clark Smith, others. You get the idea. (Some ringers in there.) So check it out, especially if you like all that old Margaret Brundage art! Who doesn’t?

So I tried to enthuse about Crom in 300 words! I wanted to bring out how Howard’s Conan, that thick-thewed template for much ‘sword and sorcery’ that follows, is very much in Lovecraft’s ‘weird’ line. Here is Lovecraft’s well-known semi-definition: [click to continue…]

Nietzsche, Swiss Thinker

by John Holbo on August 10, 2015

In teaching Nietzsche I joke he was a Swiss philosopher – like Rousseau and Calvin. (Like them, he believed autonomy is paramount and impossible. “Girls, girls, you’re both pretty!”) The biographical basis is not just that he taught at the University of Basel and got a small medical disability pension from that institution. A Swiss institution funded his major work, so credit is due. The basis is also that he renounced his Prussian citizenship when he took up his professorship in 1869. This is a fun fact about our Fred. He was stateless for the last 30 years of his life. Citizen of no modern European nation. I’m sure that was just how he wanted it. But this morning I was thinking: it fits oddly with one fact. In 1870 he was a volunteer medical orderly in the Prussian army. He was at the Battle of Metz. So he first renounced his citizenship, then participated (didn’t fight) in the Franco-Prussian War. I had transposed that order in my mind, because it made more sense the other way. Now, checking the timeline not just on Wikipedia but in Safranski’s biography … yep, renounced citizenship first. Curious. Oh, well, it’s traditional for the Swiss to help put folks back together after the battle. I’m curious now whether Nietzsche was officially attached to the Prussian army, as medical orderly, even though he had renounced his citizenship. I haven’t actually read any biographies of him for a while; details slip.

As I keep mentioning, I’m teaching Nietzsche. Regarding which, I have a request of sorts to place before our knowledgeable commentariat (and I can’t stop the ignorant ones from chiming in as well, but that’s modern life.) I’m going to include a unit, near the start, in which I offer a sampling of diverse responses to/interpretations of the guy. I think most students come to Nietzsche with … notions. I am not concerned to dislodge all that, certainly not at the start, but I think it might be efficient to encourage explicitness about it, if possible. To that end, I’m going to offer a menu of options. Maybe the students will say: yeah, that’s kind of my impression of the guy, from what I’ve heard and read.

This morning I went quote hunting in Mencken, Russell and G.K. Chesterton (not because I seriously think my students are going to show up on day 1 a bunch of junior Chestertonian-Menckenite-Russell-heads, in need of de-programming. I just like this stuff.)

H.L. Mencken, The Philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche:

“Broadly speaking, they [Nietzsche’s ideas] stand in direct opposition to every dream that soothes the slumber of mankind in the mass, and therefore mankind in the mass must needs to suspicious of them, at least for years to come. They are pre-eminently for the man who is not of the mass, for the man whose head is lifted, however little, above the common level. They justify the success of that man, as Christianity justifies the failure of the man below.”

I could quote more Mencken, but let me proceed to Chesterton and Russell, who are hilariously arch and contemptuous. (I’m not planning to share all this with students, but some.) [click to continue…]

Hey, Kids – Colors!

by John Holbo on July 29, 2015

Do you like colors? Do you like art? If you answered ‘yes’ to both questions, you might find this site interesting.

Nietzsche Wins The Internet in 1886

by John Holbo on July 28, 2015

Couple weeks back I pointed out Nietzsche was an internet theorist avant la net. He is a nice observer of the psychology of it.

Stand tall, you philosophers and friends of knowledge, and beware of martyrdom! Of suffering “for the sake of truth”! Even of defending yourselves! You will ruin the innocence and fine objectivity of your conscience, you will be stubborn towards objections and red rags, you will become stupid, brutish, bullish if, while fighting against danger, viciousness, suspicion, ostracism, and even nastier consequences of animosity, you also have to pose as the worldwide defenders of truth. As if “the Truth” were such a harmless and bungling little thing that she needed defenders! And you of all people, her Knights of the Most Sorrowful Countenance, my Lord Slacker and Lord Webweaver of the Spirit! In the end, you know very well that it does not matter whether you, of all people, are proved right, and furthermore, that no philosopher so far has ever been proved right. (Beyond Good and Evil, Part 2, 25, The Free Spirit, trans. Judith Norman)
Lord Slacker and Lord Webweaver are perfect, not to mention the Knight – ahem – Troll. (“Ihr Ritter von der traurigsten Gestalt, meine Herren Eckensteher und Spinneweber des Geistes!” Not sure about the German connotations of ‘Eckensteher’ – corner stander. Does it mean: flaneur? Guy who hangs out on the stoop, just watching the passing show? Rubbernecker, wallflower, guy who has been sent to the corner by teacher? Probably not that last.) Some of you will want to continue reading the post. Others will already be running to stick bits of the above passage into a Meme Generator. O joy! (For a circa 2012 value of ‘joy’.) [click to continue…]

I got a new iMac. Awesome! Until last week I was using my old iMac, from 2009. I buy a good one so it will last. It’s amazing how one day in front of the retina display makes me think ‘yuck!’ looking at my tired old, burnt out 2009 display. But onward, to the future! [click to continue…]

Hurdy-Gurdy Facts and Fictions?

by John Holbo on July 20, 2015

I’m still preparing to teach Nietzsche. Today I was rereading “The Convalescent”, in Zarathustra – the key chapter in which the animals clue Z. in that his job shall be to teach Eternal Recurrence. A minor linguistic detail auf Deutsch: he is moping in the depths of his most abysmal thought and they – the animals – sing to him about how everything that goes around, comes around, and he calls them ‘barrel organs’ [Drehorgeln] and accuses them of bothering him with a mere Leier-Lied. Which seems like it should just be translated ‘lyre-song’, which it has been. But the Del Caro translation is ‘hurdy-gurdy song’. Which seems a bit unnecessarily far from the original. Curious, I put ‘Leier-Lied’ in Google translate and got ‘lyre-lay’. But then I tried ‘Leierlied’ – no hyphen – and got ‘gurdy song’. Is that a thing? (Obviously I have too much time on my hands.) ‘Hurdy-gurdy’ in German is Drehleier. Leierkasten, by contrast, is a synonym for barrel-organ, so it makes sense that the translator would make a connection. Both barrel-organs and hurdy-gurdys operate by means of cranked cylinders, which makes sense: Zarathustra is complaining that the animals’ philosophy is just cylindrical crankiness. Round and round and round. Very lowbrow stuff. The animals set Zarathustra straight and tell him he needs to make himself a new Leier, so he can sing this song himself, because this is totally his jam. At this point there is no question of translating it as ‘hurdy-gurdy’. Dude is in the middle of nowhere and those things are very complicated engineering feats. He’ll be lucky to string a few strings on a frame, to sing to the sheep, thank you very much. [click to continue…]

Where is this going, someone tell me?

by John Holbo on July 18, 2015

The neocons have been wailing and gnashing teeth over the abysmal awfulness of the Iran deal. Meanwhile, everyone else says it’s good or, at worst, better than the alternatives. I am a creature of irony so it is hard for me to discuss the situation rationally. I would like to mock the neocons but what is the irony? Dog chases car. Dog catches car. What’s a dog to do? Bite it! So this is dog-bites-car. That’s just neocon nature.

But here’s something a bit ironic, so I’ll pass it on. The most eloquent, pithy assessment I have read on the subject is from Pat Buchanan, gaming out GOP rejection: [click to continue…]


by John Holbo on July 14, 2015

Everyone who’s anyone knows Isaiah Berlin’s essay, “The Fox and the Hedgehog”, written around the postulate that “the fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.” It’s a good essay, although too famous for its own good. I would not presume to dispute the divine wisdom of Archilochus. But I’ve always thought that, applied to academic philosophy, the following would be more apt: the fox knows a variety of medium-sized things, the hedgehog knows an extremely large number of small things. Generalists, specialists. And having Big Ideas is yet a third thing. Having One Big Idea isn’t like slipping through the dappled forest, lightly, alertly. But it also isn’t waddle, hunker, clench. Waddle, hunker, clench. Write a tight little article, in which you anticipate 14 objections to your point and answer them, one by one. Defending yourself by preemptively making it too much bother for a potential predator to attack you from any conceivable angle is a classic academic tactic, but not a Big Idea thing. [click to continue…]