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John Holbo

David Brooks really does seem to be getting weirder. Or is it just me?

What sort of individuals and behaviors do our governments want to encourage? I’d say that in healthy societies government wants to subtly tip the scale to favor temperate, prudent, self-governing citizenship. In those societies, government subtly encourages the highest pleasures, like enjoying the arts or being in nature, and discourages lesser pleasures, like being stoned.

Suppose the government started applying this Brooksian litmus test to products it pre-clears for sale on the market. ‘Yes, it’s a new sort of iPhone, I see. But does it encourage enjoyment of nature? Will it subtly make its users more temperate and prudent? If so, how so?’

Suppose you couldn’t legally sell something without making a showing, in a government office, that it fosters appreciation of the higher things in life.

Would it be legal to build suburbs? Would consumerism be permissible? What about capitalism? [click to continue…]

Holy Off-Model Batmans, Batman!

by John Holbo on January 3, 2014

I took the girls to Mint, the Singapore Museum of Toys. This place is just amazing! The girls got to be photographed in front of a 6-foot tall Tetsujin 28! ‘Nuff said. Plus:

[click to continue…]

Happy New Year!

by John Holbo on December 31, 2013

My older daughter and I stayed up until midnight doing still life drawing on the kitchen table. A horse and a weird little ceramic thing. My horse turned out pretty good but I Liefelded two of the hooves off the page. How embarrassing! Pretty crazy party scene, in short! Belle and the younger one went to bed early.

I think Bryan Lee O’Malley, the author of all those great Scott Pilgrim comics, is a pretty good musician. So remember, kids, in the new year “Don’t Let the Archons Get You Down”. Hope his next book, Seconds, turns out to be really good.

What is Self-Control?

by John Holbo on December 30, 2013

I think this looks like a rather loose translation of the original.


Duck … Duck … Goose?

by John Holbo on December 28, 2013

I wish I’d posted this before Pater Duck got reinstated by A&E. I was, you see, going to predict A&E would reinstate him after a week or so. What, they were going to cancel the show? Limp along without their lead? Leave a ton of money on the table? Hardly seemed the most likely option.

The whole thing seems like it could have been, from the start, a deliberate marketing gimmick. Free publicity for the new season. Goose ratings! Get the show’s fan base lathered up and loyal. Why should A&E mind being subject to a two-minute hate, so long as it gets to sell ads?

Were I truly devious, I might hypothesize that the whole episode was engineered as part of a vast liberal media conspiracy to keep the GOP boxed as a regional ethnic party.

Seriously: even NRO went for a HuffPo-style ‘stand with Phil’ slideshow. (You can click it after reading Steyn’s column on “The Age of Intolerance”.) Man, there’s no way GOP outreach proceeds by convincing lots of undecideds this sort of ‘the only intolerance is intolerance of intolerance!’ double-talk is the bright future of freedom.

Small Worlds

by John Holbo on December 26, 2013

I just finished watching Season 1 of The Returned. French zombies! Fun!

Plotspoilers Under the Fold: [click to continue…]

Have An Uncanny Christmas!

by John Holbo on December 24, 2013

Might as well give away some copies of my silly old Haeckel spoof (PDF 19 megs or so.)


Thought Leading

by John Holbo on December 18, 2013

“Little boys and girls in ancient Athens grew up wanting to be philosophers.”

That’s not a good first sentence.

Affluenza As Liar’s Paradox

by John Holbo on December 16, 2013

I suppose you’ve heard that a kid got off by pleading ‘affluenza’. It just occurred to me it’s a Liar’s Paradox (and a travesty, of course.) The kid, through no fault of his own, falsely believed rich people can do stuff like this without suffering serious consequences. It turns out this false belief is true (hey, this is still America.) But obviously having a true belief is not going to keep you out of prison. (There’s no such thing as the sanity defense.) So he has to go to prison. So his belief is false, and he doesn’t have to go to prison. So his belief is true, etc., etc.

It’s kind of like the Paradox of the Court.

You can check out any time you want, but …

by John Holbo on December 16, 2013

The ads Google serves up when you are searching for philosophy terms are often a bit odd.


The service is iffy, the staff are surly, but 80% off is pretty good! What’s the alternative, when you get right down to it?

The Trouble With Obamacare

by John Holbo on December 8, 2013

Picture this:

The emperor has hipster garb, but underneath he’s just another Commissar Squaresville.

This is such, such a great idea. (So long as you don’t ruin it by casting Obama as Hipster/Squaresville. Sheesh. I’m thinking – I dunno – Travolta for the film.)

Our team of moderate, sensible heroes thinks they’re in yet another scrap with The Hipster Emperor. They know how to handle him! He’s a B-list villain, if there ever was one. But then, the big reveal! It’s actually Commissar Squaresville in disguise (last seen in iss. #57. – ed.)! Much more dangerous! And you can’t fight Commissar Squaresville with the kinds of techniques you would use to fight The Hipster Emperor! They are so very opposite in terms of strengths and weaknesses! Will our heroes recover before the Commissar banishes them, forever, to the Nowheresville Zone, an alternate dimension to which stylistic dissidents are consigned?

And then the final, final reveal: it isn’t the original Commissar Squaresville (who really did die in issue #57.) It’s a new one. In fact, there are thousands! Can our heroes turn the tables in time, banishing the villains themselves to the Nowheresville Zone, thereby keeping the world safe for people who don’t want to be either too hip or too square, but sort of in the middle?

As Steyn wisely observe at the end of this column – which is about the dignity of work – “it’s hard to be visionary if you’re pointing in the wrong direction.”

How To Dance To Radiohead

by John Holbo on December 7, 2013

Many thanks to commenter speranza for so kindly constructing the instructional dance video I lazily requested. Really it works out wonderfully. (See earlier thread for minor musicological analysis.)

15 Step bleg

by John Holbo on December 6, 2013

You know what’s a great album? Radiohead, In Rainbows, that’s what. I was just relistening, and then relistening again, and then again. What a great rhythm section, perfectly setting off the ethereal-cerebral Yorke vocals!

Take just the first track. The 5/4 “15 step”. Such a funky, danceable track. It’s like, I dunno, the Purdie tsakonikos shuffle or something. Played by a robot. It would be fun to make a music video for it using a loop of the 5/4 Fred Astaire dance from this video. Just speed up the video a little bit to match the beat.

So that’s someone’s homework assignment. Kindly upload the results to Youtube when you’ve got it properly synched. And give us the link.

Update: Thanks!

Not now, but soon, soon.

by John Holbo on December 4, 2013

Folks are linking to it. The Farhad Manjoo profile of Neetzan Zimmerman, the Gawker writer who picks the linkbait stories like no one else, apparently. I do like the idea that after AI’s are better than us at everything else, it might still take a human to figure out whether sloths are in this month.

Donald Barthelme wrote a story about this back in … – turns out it was 1980! “Pepperoni”!

Basically, he envisions a kind of Gawkerization of media. (But without the social media aspect, admittedly.)

A newspaper has found financial success by diversifying its operations. It owns timberlands, mines, pulp and paper operations, and a number of different media, and over-all return on invested capital increases at about 9% a year. But top management is saddened and discouraged, and middle management is drinking too much. Automation has lowered morale in the newsroom. Recently the paper ran the same stock tables every day for a week. No one noticed, no one complained. Some elements of the staff are not depressed. The real estate, food, clothing, and games columns of the paper are thriving. Nevertheless, the Editors’ Caucus has applied to middle management which has implored top management to alter its course. The paper’s editorials have been subcontracted to Texas Instruments and the obituaries to Nabisco. There was an especially lively front page on Tuesday. The No. 1 story was pepperoni – a useful and exhaustive guide. Top management has vowed to stop what it is doing – not now, but soon, soon. A chamber orchestra has been formed among the people in the newsroom, and we play Haydn until the sun comes up.

You can get it in Forty Stories [amazon]. Funny stuff! But the funny thing about the New Yorker summary is that you probably think you are getting a teaser. The first paragraph or something. But it’s actually a condensed version of the whole story. Only, of course, nothing really happens in a Donald Barthelme story. Executive summaries of postmodern literature are weird. I never really noticed that until just now.

UPDATE: Oooh, oooh. Now I’m rereading Forty Stories. From “Conversations With Goethe”:

Critics, Goethe said, are the cracked mirror in the grand ballroom of the creative spirit. No, I said, they were, rather, the extra baggage on the great cabriolet of conceptual progress. “Eckermann,” said Goethe, “shut up.

I forgot how funny this stuff is.

Another follow-up on the philosophy styles and aggression issue, raised initially by Chris. I meant my first post to be a response, narrowly, not to Chris’ post but to the suggestion that sort of ate the comment thread: trolley problems are symptomatic of philosophers’ taste for intellectual bloodsport. (Not that tying people to tracks and running them over is sporting, mind you.) I didn’t mean to offer up the whimsical innocence of trolley tragedy as proof that philosophers don’t, otherwise, suffer from the sorts of problems that Jonathan Wolff alleges. But I actually do disagree, substantially, with the Wolff piece. Let me try to say how. [click to continue…]