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John Holbo

2 cents

by John Holbo on November 12, 2016

Here’s something I wrote on Facebook. It got a few likes.

It’s like I found out that, retroactively, there had been a lot fewer jokes in the world in 2016. They turned out not just to not be funny, but not to be jokes. When the history of Trump is written, there is going to be a generous chapter on all the jokes written about Trump before he became President, premised on the impossibility of him winning. It’s not that irony died. It’s that irony died a year ago, and no one sent flowers and now it seems too late.

So I must be one of the many in the Capital who was stuck in my bubble of epistemic closure, unaware of rumblings in the Districts? Well, yes and no. I totally believed Nate Silver when he said Trump had a 1/3 shot. I read Sean Trende, who I thought made sense; and reviews in praise of J.D. Vance’s book. But I was still making Trump jokes, laughing at Trump jokes, premised on the impossibility of him being President, right up to the day before. Then I slept very fitfully the night before. Irrational? I dunno. Cognitive dissonance. No point in denying it. I’ve never played Russian roulette – don’t intend to – but I think I know enough of tabletop games to know that sometimes a six-sided die comes up 6. Is it epistemic closure if you can’t wrap your head around exactly 1/6th of ‘you’re dead’? (If I ever play Russian roulette there’s a good chance I’ll crack a nervous joke before I pull the trigger, and then my last words will look dumb on my headstone. Failure of imagination. But it won’t be because I don’t know what 1/6th means, per se, or disbelieve in bullets.) [click to continue…]

No doubt Corey is too modest to toot his own horn, so here you go. You should read the book, too.

The New Yorker headline is too strong: The Book That Predicted Trump. That’s beefed up from what Matt Feeney actually says: “From Robin’s argument, we could predict that a conservative party would be unlikely to nominate the idealized conservative as its standard-bearer, but that it would absolutely yoke itself to a populist nut job like Donald Trump.” That’s better than the headline. Better still, however, not to defenestrate Karl Popper quite so dramatically as all that. Robin advances an empirical hypothesis about the nature of conservatism. If possible, we should model hypothesis testing as an exercise in disconfirmation. It is plain that Trump does not disconfirm Robin. Trump fits the Robin model to a T, but it goes too far to say the model predicts him. Obviously 2016 has been an unusual year for Republicans. It may yet prove to be the year in which the Republican Party cracks up, like the Whigs. There is nothing whatsoever in Robin’s model that predicts 2016, in particular, shall be a special year. You could have made money in the prediction markets, betting according to Robin’s model, because you would have snapped up Trump back when he was selling for fractions of pennies. Clearly he was an undervalued property, by Robin’s theoretical lights. But recognizing a long shot as not so long as people think is not the same as it being a lock. So, to repeat: Robin did not predict Trump. I belabor the point because I predict some folks – our Corey does have his detractors, strange to say – may dismiss this New Yorker squib on the grounds that it is puffing Robin up as a prophet to an irrational degree. That right. It is.

But the Robin point can be reformulated. It’s not that he predicted Trump and, therefore, his hypothesis is confirmed. Rather, nearly everyone else predicted Not-Trump and, therefore, their hypotheses are disconfirmed by Trump. ‘Since conservatism is X, Y and Z, conservatives won’t vote for a -X, – Y and -Z guy like Trump.’ Something like that. (OK, I’m fudging a bit. Point is: Trump tests everyone else, NOT Robin.)

The headline ought to read “The Book That Didn’t Predict Not-Trump”. There. Fixed it. [click to continue…]

I’m still reading Dieter Henrich, Between Kant and Hegel: Lectures on German Idealism. The more I read, the more I think I really need to read more Fichte. Also, there are moments like this: [click to continue…]

Who’s Up For Tabletop Games?

by John Holbo on October 26, 2016

You know what kids like? They like playing the Munchkin Adventure Time card game. I have verified this with girls and boys, ages 10-50. When the younger daughter’s friends come over, they want to play Munchkin Adventure Time. So you might as well buy the expansion set – and order pizza. It adds to the humor if you are an Adventure Time fan, which you should be. But everyone else can get the jokes easily. [click to continue…]


by John Holbo on October 23, 2016

In case my Kant-to-Hegel post is a bit heavy, for a Sunday, here’s a snappy, snazzy guy I spotted in the Library of Congress Flickr feed.

B. Zirato (LOC)

Note how this guy seems to be leading with his … thighs? Can he walk like that? Looks like a Zim cartoon/caricature. It’s a good look.

Chris Bertram is, of course, free to post his own Sunday photo later. I don’t mean to horn in on his territory!

Between Kant and Hegel: Hen Kai Pan

by John Holbo on October 23, 2016

I’m still teaching Kierkegaard this semester, now excavating the historical subterrain somewhat. I’m reading Dieter Henrich, Between Kant and Hegel: Lectures on German Idealism. It’s relatively light, given the heavy subject matter. Which I find agreeable. The original lectures were delivered in 1973 at Harvard, so it’s all perhaps out of date, although I understand that Henrich – who is still alive – made appropriate updates and edits before the book was published in 2008. Also, it is not my impression that a wave of subsequent historicist work has, indeed, swept this work away. I am open to correction on that point.

I find the book extremely interesting. I am thinking fresh thoughts about this period, but I can’t say I’m sure they are true. But that is mostly my fault. The lectures, true to their original form, have a sweeping, generalizing quality. If I want to verify, I should go back and read a lot of Jacobi and Fichte and Schelling. Which is, admittedly, unlikely. Let me just quote, and comment on, some passages I’m contemplating paraphrasing for class purposes. [click to continue…]

“What’s This Little Boy Doing Here?”

by John Holbo on October 12, 2016

My 15-page On Beyond Zarathustra series, over at Hilobrow, has now run its course. I managed – barely! – to usher the rope dancer onstage, as I collapsed from the graphical strain. But on my way down I penned a think-piece on Seuss and philosophy, with special reference to Nietzsche.

What else?

Did you know that Ted Geisel, as a young teen, was traumatized by a sudden, personal attack on him by Teddy Roosevelt? It’s true! Apparently. I quote from Dr. Seuss and Mr. Geisel: [click to continue…]

Shock and Aw, we knew it already

by John Holbo on October 8, 2016

So Trump said something truly horrible in 2005. And, it would seem, Hillary’s Wall Street speeches have leaked. Or bits. And internal emails concerning them. (I guess it could turn out that these have been doctored by the Russians, in collaboration with Wikileaks. But it looks like the real deal.) This is going to make that Town Hall debate hot. But, as bombshells go, it’s hard for me to imagine anything less surprising. Everyone already knew – how could it not be? – that Clinton said cosy-cosy stuff to Wall Street folks. And Trump? Is there a single person on the planet surprised that he talks this way? (And surely it isn’t just talk.) Dog bites man. Donald gropes woman. His defenders aren’t even feigning surprise. [click to continue…]

Zarathustra Is Back

by John Holbo on October 1, 2016

On Beyond Zarathustra is back! The exuberant lad has been on hiatus since the end of July. (August and September made alternate, non-negotiable demands.) But my friend Joshua Glenn (buy his book!) inquired kindly after Z’s health, wondering whether I would like to showcase my restoration work at his site, Hilobrow. I said yes and set to work on 15 fresh pages, which are being serialized daily. We are up to day 7, so I’m telling you so! [click to continue…]

A Double-dose of Thymos!

by John Holbo on September 16, 2016

Welp, I guess The Claremont Review is bidding fair to be the intellectual organ – gland, call it what you will – of Trumpism:

The Flight 93 guy is back, and scolding critics for their lack of appreciation of ancient Greek rhetoric techniques. How ungracious to have missed that!

And there’s this:

Trump is a very American character, a very New York character, the businessman who understands the world: the sophos who could bring efficiency, toughness (his favorite quality), and common sense to politics, if only he were listened to.

Yeah, now that you mention it, he does kind of look like one! “These philosoph shoes, are longing to stray! … If I can think it there, I’ll think it anywhere!” But there is a threat!

Every republic eventually faces what might be called the Weimar problem. Has the national culture, popular and elite, deteriorated so much that the virtues necessary to sustain republican government are no longer viable?

Yeah, come to think of it, I liked it better under the Kaiser. After they moved it to Weimar? I dunno … it was like everyone just forgot what had made the Republic great. All those ancient, civic virtues Tocqueville had praised in Democracy in Prussia were just swirling the drain. Bismarck must have been spinning in his grave to see such a sad remnant of once vibrant Republicanism. And today we are seeing something like that again. It’s like people just don’t study history anymore.

As a sophos might say: sad.

William F. Buckley, Totalitarian Bureaucracy Apologist?

by John Holbo on September 11, 2016

So I’m reading Right Wing Critics of American Conservatism, by George Hawley.

The most important issue of the day, it is time to admit it, is survival. Here there is apparently some confusion in the ranks of conservatives, and hard thinking is in order for them. The thus-far invincible aggressiveness of the Soviet Union does or does not constitute a threat to the security of the United States, and we have got to decide which. If it does, we shall have to arrange, sensibly, our battle plans; and this means that we have got to accept Big Government for the duration — for neither an offensive nor a defensive war can be waged, given our present government skills, except though the instrument of a totalitarian bureaucracy within our shores.

– William F. Buckley, “The Party and the Deep Blue Sea”, Commonweal, January, 1952, 391-2

Huh. You can read the original here. The subtitle was, “Ideally, the Republican platform should acknowledge an internal enemy, the State”. But – Nock on wood – that’s a non-starter, given the Soviet threat; so totalitarianism it is! Weird piece.

This “Flight 93 Election” essay is getting linked around. Apparently Rush Limbaugh performed it on air. Some conservatives are dismayed, others delighted.

It’s the first political tract I have ever read that singles out Chicken Little, by name, as a conspicuous squish on the pressing ‘sky is falling’ issue of the day.

Yet we may also reasonably ask: What explains the Pollyanna-ish declinism of so many others? That is, the stance that Things-Are-Really-Bad—But-Not-So-Bad-that-We-Have-to-Consider-Anything-Really-Different! The obvious answer is that they don’t really believe the first half of that formulation. If so, like Chicken Little, they should stick a sock in it.

If only Chicken Little had nominated Foghorn Leghorn, for President, that would have proved he was taking this ‘sky is falling’ issue seriously. Actions speak louder, I say, LOUDER than words! “Pay attention to me, boy! I’m not just talkin’ to hear my head roar!” [click to continue…]

Knee Deep In The Hoopla

by John Holbo on September 2, 2016

Earworms are having a moment. As if they needed one. “All Songs Considered” served up a rewind of an old episode on “Worst Songs”. (I really can’t imagine hating Meatloaf, “Paradise By The Dashboard Light”. It’s just a blues cheese track that doesn’t take itself seriously, in a Rocky Horror way. What’s to hate? It isn’t even an earworm. Also “We were barely 17 and we were barely dressed” is great lyrics.)

But mostly it’s this GQ article getting linked around on FB: an ‘oral history’ of Starship’s “Built This City”. Here’s my favorite bit: [click to continue…]

More Zorn

by John Holbo on August 25, 2016

There’s a class of Amazon negative reviews. Not vicious or trolling. These are honest, often terse reports. I will not foreshadow my Kierkegaardian theme by calling them ‘preambles from the heart’. They are fired off from the front, where the battle is forever being fought and lost against the relentless disappointment of erroneous expectation. I’m thinking of purchasing In Another Light: Danish Painting In the 19th Century. But what’s this I read? “Not what I expected.wanted more Zorn!” [click to continue…]

Scholars and critics may learnedly dispute when Schulz did his finest work with Peanuts. Let me say, I’m reading Volume 11 (1971-2) with the younger one, and we were dying over the whole Bunny-Wunnies business. I’ll quote from the wiki bibliography of Miss Helen Sweetstory’s collected works:

The Six Bunny Wunnies and Their Pony Cart
The Six Bunny Wunnies Go to Long Beach
The Six Bunny Wunnies Make Cookies
The Six Bunny Wunnies Join an Encounter Group
The Six Bunny Wunnies and Their XK-E
The Six Bunny Wunnies and Their Water Bed
The Six Bunny Wunnies and Their Layover in Anderson, Indiana
The Six Bunny Wunnies and the Female Veterinarian
The Six Bunny Wunnies Freak Out

Let’s not forget the time Snoopy became disillusioned with Miss Sweetstory’s collected works and gifted the set to a grateful Linus. [click to continue…]