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John Holbo

Two Great Parties

by John Holbo on October 21, 2014

I’m reading up on the history of party politics. It’s a nice question why Henry Bolingbroke doesn’t get more credit for theorizing the benefits of Two Great Parties. But, now that I’m tucking into his “Dissertation Upon Parties”, I’m starting to get a notion.

Dude did not appreciate that regarding Whigs and Tories as closely related independent causes, yet great, does not make it great to write in closely related, independent clauses. Ahem: [click to continue…]

Matthew Franck advances a number of arguments for thinking the Supreme Court taking a pass on gay marriage is similar to the Dred Scott decision. I think he missed one that is at least as good as several of the ones he offers. [click to continue…]

Kirby Copyright Case

by John Holbo on October 5, 2014

A couple weeks back the estate of Jack Kirby reached a settlement with Marvel, the day before the Supremes were set to take the case. This was a surprise, as the Kirbys were 0-2 in the courts, to that point. I hadn’t paid attention but I figured their case was weak, although they had my sympathy. I had read stuff like this from early NY Times articles:

WHEN the Walt Disney Company agreed in August to pay $4 billion to acquire Marvel Entertainment, the comic book publisher and movie studio, it snared a company with a library that includes some of the world’s best-known superheroes, including Spider-Man, the X-Men, the Incredible Hulk and the Fantastic Four.

The heirs of Jack Kirby, the legendary artist who co-created numerous Marvel mainstays, were also intrigued by the deal. Mr. Kirby’s children had long harbored resentments about Marvel, believing they had been denied a share of the lush profits rolling out of the company’s superheroes franchises.

Marvel made out like bandits, treating Kirby badly. But that’s not a legal argument.

What made Marvel blink at the last minute? The terms of the settlement can’t be revealed, so it’s hard to say.

omac [click to continue…]

The Personhood Dodge

by John Holbo on October 1, 2014

Crooked Timber seems to be suffering from a deficit of posts. I blame excess of virtue on my part. I was going to post about that Kevin Williamson piece that has set everyone off. I noticed it before it was a thing! And now it’s gone viral. And he’s followed up with a Twitter thing about hanging women who get abortions. Lovely.

Here’s the thing. 1) He’s trolling. 2) On or about Monday afternoon I realized this specific style of trolling bothers me a bit less than it did a couple years back.

Possible explanations: [click to continue…]

… an Alinskyite!

Unless I’m missing something, Kurtz’ actual argument that Hillary has consistently remained an Alinskyite radical is that, for decades, she has consistently done absolutely nothing whatsoever to suggest this is true – as one would expect! She is, to all appearances, moderate, incrementalist and pragmatic. Just like Barack Obama, who is such a model Alinskyite radical that he is on track to govern for eight years and retire to private life without once doing anything to suggest he’s got a radical bone in his body.

How much more sinister would The Manchurian Candidate have been if the trigger word were never spoken. The sleeper never wakes! (A lone hero tries to warn the world but, because there is literally nothing to warn people about, he is ignored.)

Back to Kurtz. [click to continue…]

Jonah Goldberg thinks it through. Bonus: “and Ludwig Wittgenstein had much to say on the subject as well.” I sort of hope Goldberg actually is writing a book about Confucius and Wittgenstein.

Musical Purity and Odd Histories

by John Holbo on September 10, 2014

I have two ideas for rock books I’m never going to write: first, a book about band members of famous bands who apparently don’t really love their own band. You’re the drummer for a heavy metal outfit (it pays the bills!) … but you prefer big band.

Second idea: members of cult bands with surprising musical biographies. Two examples I recently stumbled across. [click to continue…]

Twisting your mind and smashing your dreams

by John Holbo on September 9, 2014

I’m teaching an aesthetics seminar. We’re reading some stuff on music and Roger Scruton’s views were referenced. I’ve never read Scruton on music but I had heard about the Pet Shop Boys’ libel suit , of course. So, naturally, I had long since filed him away in the Allan Bloom remainder bin. Dude hates rock and pop. Thinks it all sounds the same. But googling, to get more of a sense for his views, I found this interview, containing this bit:

I have actually been listening to quite a bit of heavy metal lately, and Metallica, I think, is genuinely talented. ‘Master of Puppets’ I think has got something genuinely both poetic – violently poetic – and musical. Every now and then something like that stands out and you can see that people have got no other repertoire and have a very narrow range of expression, but they’ve hit on something where they are saying something which is not just about themselves. Pop music is so concentrated on the self and the performer that it’s very rare that that happens, I think. It never happens with Oasis or The Verve. It did happen much more of course with the Beatles, and in the old American songbook, Hoagy Carmichael and Cole Porter and all that. That was a popular music which was about communication of often quite gentle feelings. So I’m not as prejudiced as I seem. I would like to be more prejudiced because it would prevent me from listening to this stuff.

I now have a more fabulous picture of Roger Scruton in my mind, foxhunting to a Hoagy Charmichael/Metallica playlist.

American Exceptionalism – A Double-Edged Word

by John Holbo on August 30, 2014

I’m not surprised some conservatives are upset about the AP American History test. But I am bemused by the strength of the axiom Stanley Kurtz would oblige us to adopt, to keep things from getting politicized: “America is freer and more democratic than any other nation.” (Although, grant the axiom, and postulates about military strength, and theorem 1 – “[the US is] a model, vindicator, and at times the chief defender of ordered liberty and self-government in the world” – enjoys high probability.)

This is a comparative thesis about the international order, so it is noteworthy that Kurtz simultaneously forbids the ‘internationalization’ of US history. Comparative ‘transnational narratives’, the only sort of thing that could empirically support the validity of Kurtz’ exceptionalist axiom, are out! But I suppose Kurtz is just trying to avoid confusion. (It is wrong to allow that there could be empirical disconfirmation of any aspect of a result that has been transcendentally deduced from an impulse to amour-propre.) [click to continue…]

The Laffer Event Horizon?

by John Holbo on August 21, 2014

Reading Jon Chait this morning:

With predictable fury, supply-siders have denounced this heresy [that Reagan-era supply-side policies might not be optimal today, even granting that they were in 1980]. You can get a flavor of the intra-party debate in columns appearing in places like Forbes or The Wall Street Journal, the later of which retorts, “Good economic policy doesn’t have a sell-by date. (Adam Smith? Ugh. He is just so 1776.)”

The quote is a few months old, but – wow! – what an evergreen formula for zombie economics!

Good economic policy need not be formulated with reference to the economy.

I think maybe we need something a bit more science-fiction-y. Instead of the Laffer Curve, we have the Laffer Event Horizon, which is located in 1974, when Laffer sketched his famous curve on a napkin. After 1974, the economy fell into a black hole, for tax purposes. Specific facts about it could no longer cross the boundary of the Laffer Event Horizon, for policy purposes. A bit more precisely: within the black hole, all tax-like-paths – must be warped down and down, eventually to zero. Especially taxes on the rich.

Just a thought.

New Spoon – Good!

by John Holbo on August 12, 2014

The world is an awful mess but the new Spoon album, They Want My Soul, is amazing! Best Spoon album since … well, at least since Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga. (Better than Transference, then.) They did a live, 9-song performance for KEXP, Seattle, including many of the new songs. You can watch that here. But I think the studio versions sound better.

So here’s the thing: they’ve always had a Beatle-y thing going on, Spoon, but “I Just Don’t Understand” is – after the first few seconds – such a Lennon/McCartney Please Please Me kind of 1963 tune. Right? Pleasant! [UPDATE: Aaaand it turns out actually to be a cover of a song the Beatles covered, which I never heard before, because I don’t own Live at the BBC.] But “Knock Knock Knock” – correct me if I’m wrong – sounds a bit like, I dunno, Pink Floyd mid-70’s. (After the first few seconds.) Kinda David Gilmour guitar, then swoopy anthem stuff. Sort of a different sound for Spoon. I like it.

Now everyone tell me it doesn’t sound like Pink Floyd at all.

The Unsung Romance of Incompetence

by John Holbo on August 5, 2014

So I’m reading this post on The Guardians of the Galaxy (which I shouldn’t be doing, since I haven’t seen it, but I’ll bet the raccoon lives.)

And I misread this sentence:

In fact, these space misfits offer something rarely seen in superhero films: the Guardians show emotional, neurological, developmental and communication deficits that 1) are not expected to be resolved or cured at the end of the film and 2) do not make them ineffective as heroes.

Because surely we need to lose that last ‘not’. DO make then ineffective as heroes. That better be it, otherwise obviously this film is just like all the other stories about heroes who are kind of damaged but awesomely effective.

Obviously (I can tell this without seeing it), Guardians IS like all the rest, not different as this author so wrongly suggests. (But I’m sure it’s going to be awesome.) [click to continue…]

Give It Your All – Then Give Some More

by John Holbo on July 31, 2014

Everyone’s complaining about the dumbness of the use-100%-of-your-brain premise for Lucy. (Which I expect is a bad movie.) I have an idea for a superhero that I think fixes this problem. Coaches are always yelling at players that they need to ‘give 110 percent!’ out on the field. So: what if someone actually figured out a way for you to do that? (Makes you think, eh!) You could have these amazing scenes where, after the super-sciencey treatment, the hero is being tested. Running on the treadmill, solving math problems, stacking raisins. In each case the guys in labcoats, gathered around the readouts are smiling, amazed. ‘Sir, we’ve done it! He’s using 110% of capacity!’

The point being: this guy (or gal!) is going to be able to beat Lucy, whoever she is. End of story. Mischief managed.

So What Gives? (About Tolerance)

by John Holbo on July 27, 2014

Philosophically, recent protestations by conservatives that ‘liberals are the intolerant ones now!’ are flim-flam. I say so. Brendan Eich. Hobby Lobby. Same-sex marriage. I get why they have to play it that way, trying to turn the tables. It’s such an obligatory rhetorical gambit it almost doesn’t bother me – well, most days. In each such case the most generous possible response is: no, you are obviously confused about what liberal tolerance is, or religious freedom, or you are confused about the facts of the case, or all three.

So I’m sincerely baffled that Damon Linker – smart guy! – is apparently taken in by this poor stuff. Indeed, he’s been banging on like this for a while now, at The Week [just follow the links in the one I linked]. He dissented from our Henry’s sensible line on bigotry some months ago, in a manner that made absolutely no sense to me.

That post got almost 10,000 comments. (Wow!) So it doesn’t seem likely that Damon (I met him once, so I’m going to call him that) suffers from a lack of people telling him that what he says makes no damn sense.

What to say, what to say, when I’m already 10,000th in line to read him the riot act? [click to continue…]

Le Père Goriot

by John Holbo on July 16, 2014

My recent caricature researchs got me in the mood for more of Daumier’s Paris. I listened to an audiobook version of Honoré de Balzac’s most famous novel. Good, but I’m not exactly rushing out to read the rest of the series. I understand that “la comédie humaine” is not a promise of lots of laughs, but I was expecting more laughs. I had been expecting a prose Daumier. Instead Balzac is a mix of cynical realism and gothic or sentimental melodrama. (I am sure I am not the first to notice this!) [click to continue…]