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John Holbo

What Really Matters

by John Holbo on August 8, 2017

I tend to post about relatively frivolous stuff. But today is shaping up pretty serious. Global warming report. North Korea and Trump rattling sabers. I’m a pessimist at heart, which makes these headlines so alarming I have trouble thinking clearly. What do I think the really important, consequential issues are for humanity for the next hundred years?  Climate change and environmental destruction generally; the threat of some catastrophic, global war and/or the use, somewhere, of weapons of mass destruction. I guess number three would be: inequality and the threat it poses for the stability of societies and political orders, long-term. Everything else bad looks a lot smaller – more super-structural – than these three. I don’t have a lot of bright thoughts about any of the three. My poor brain likes to think about smaller, nicer things.

So what do you think? Am I right those are the big three? Are we screwed, long-term, because of them? Are you a pessimist or an optimist about the survival of humanity, the continuation of civilization in something like the form we know, past the next 100 years?

Dark Matter

by John Holbo on August 5, 2017

I’m home after a hectic summer. Regular blogging can resume.

Two nice, long-view, effectively retrospective new music reviews: Douglas Wolk on Brian Eno re-releases from the 70’s; Carl Wilson on Randy Newman’s newest.

(Full disclosure: I know Douglas and Carl – a bit – so I could be praising their review work because of that personal acquaintance. It’s possible I think their reviews are terrible and foolish, but I want them to remain as nodes in my social network.)

As I believe I mentioned, I spent a lot of driving time this summer listening and re-listening to Newman’s back catalogue, all the major studio albums. I got into Bad Love for the first time. “Shame” is a great track. It got me impatient for the new album – Dark Matter – to drop. It’s now out. It’s great. This guy has got this singer-songwriter thing down. He could go far. The satire-with-sentiment, gravel-goes-down-better-with-syrup recipe. Why does the title track have only 3,300 YouTube hits after 3 days? Doesn’t YouTube get what funny is? (Why hasn’t anyone done a thing where they make unofficial videos for Newman’s really outrageous songs out of bits of Pixar and Disney films? Seems logical.)

Randy Newman wrote the greatest song about ELO ever. It’s a better joke about “Mr. Blue Sky” than the Baby Groot dance. (The new ELO album is actually good, too. Great power pop track: “Dirty To The Bone”.)

I am deeply appreciative of how Newman once made Paul Simon croon the lines, “A Year Ago, I met a girl/I thought we’d hit a massive groove/But she dumped me”.

Also, one of the best songs about New Wave music: “Mikey’s”. “Didn’t used to be this ugly music playing all the time/ Where are we, on the moon?”

Now, Brian Eno. (Belle loves Brian Eno every bit as much as I love Randy Newman, but we both appreciate both, I think.) Similar figures in a way. Almost too smart for their own good – eclectic, influential, but mostly through others. Did a lot of stuff in the 70’s. I’ll just sign off with Brian Eno yodeling in 1974. That’s amazing.

What Sharks Are Left To Jump?

by John Holbo on July 17, 2017

On the one hand, we on the left are relieved that so much of the Trump administration so far has been reality TV-worthy bluster rather than something even worse. (This is not to deny that the Trump administration has accomplished some bad things, besides trolling us.) On the other hand, the bluster itself is sure to get worse and worse because that’s the nature of the media game. To keep everyone’s attention Trump needs to keep outraging expectations, so there’s a ratchet. Where does he have left to go? He can’t keep tweeting ’fake news!’ for four years (assuming he does stick around that long.) That wouldn’t be real news. Then what?

Morality Tale

by John Holbo on July 17, 2017

Hey, look! I published a short sf story.

Heterodoxy Contra Holbo

by John Holbo on July 12, 2017

Some months back I wrote a series of three posts critiquing Jonathan Haidt and, by extension, some stuff at Heterodox Academy (part 1, part 2, part 3). After that I traded a few emails with one Preston Stovall, who has just posted a brief critical response to my stuff at Heterodox Academy. So I’m linking to it. [click to continue…]

Games

by John Holbo on July 10, 2017

Why do people say Putin is playing chess and Trump is playing checkers when it is obvious Putin is playing poker and Trump is playing Calvinball?

Congressional Republicans, meanwhile, are playing Jenga plus Hungry Hungry Hippos. (The object is to eliminate critical structures and foundations without having them collapse on your turn. And you have to feed the hippos.) What game would you say Democrats are playing? Animal Crossing? Clue? Fix-It Felix Jr.?

Happy 4th of July!

by John Holbo on July 4, 2017

I got up at 5 AM to take a hike in the Arizona desert with older daughter. Nothing around me but cactus, rocks, and the sun getting it together to glare over the mountains. (Older daughter was a couple hundred meters away, around the bend. I was alone!) A few bird noises. Ah, nature! How … natural it all seemed. Suddenly - voices! Two hikers, their words carried across an ancient, solemn landscape, although they are invisibly off in the distance. They are arguing, loudly, about Trump and how stupid his tweets are. And yet all I see is primordial desert. Trump has, to all appearances, managed to troll the desert itself - patient floor of a primordial, long-dead sea. That guy is a pro, as trolls go.

But don’t let it get you down! On the way out I remembered to photograph a teensy bit of desert, dawn fireworks. Didn’t come out so well, but you get the idea. [click to continue…]

Overton Thoughts

by John Holbo on June 28, 2017

Sorry to be off the grid for a few weeks, loyal readers. Family stuff. Not fun family stuff, mind you, the hard stuff. But we’re ok. Good healthcare is important, kids. Make sure your country offers it!

Belle told you what music she’s listening to. I’m listening to nothing but Randy Newman (by choice) and Pokemon-themed stuff (because my 6-year old nephew really likes it while I’m driving him to school and camp and swimming. He seems so happy.)

So, naturally, I’m thinking thoughts about the state of the Republic. [click to continue…]

An Hypothesis About 2018: Collapse And Replace

by John Holbo on June 4, 2017

What’s going to sink Republicans is not some scandal, let alone errant Trump tweet, but healthcare. It’s us-vs-them fun and games, but if you don’t have your health, and you can’t afford a doctor, how fun is that? The Republicans are not going to repeal-and-replace. The Trump administration is doing its bit to undermine Obamacare. “Collapse and replace” is it. Minus ‘replace’. Democrats should run on that. If Republicans collapse health care, you should replace them. Democrats should start using ‘collapse’ in a transitive sense. The Republican plan is to ‘collapse the system’ and they have no replace plan. Let Republicans talk their way out of that one. They for sure aren’t going to legislate themselves out of that being the way of it. [click to continue…]

A couple months ago I made fun of an ‘inspired by Steely Dan’ Apple Music playlist that seemed to be basically a random assortment of tracks by bands, all of which had covered one Steely Dan song at some point. As I put it at the time: “Also, the Mountain Goats?”

How wrong I was! Their new album, Goths, is out. It’s a glorious, slick, lounge jazz-tinged demonstration that Danliness is next to godliness, albeit not gothliness. It also sounds like Prefab Sprout circa Steve McQueen, yet another good thing. YouTube has not hoovered up the tracks yet, but here’s a nice acoustic cover of “Andrew Eldritch Is Moving Back To Leeds” (an early release from the album that didn’t quite do it for me; but the acoustic version sounds great. John Darnielle does the deceptively-simple-counter-rhythm strumming thing, which keeps life interesting, and his voice is sweet and clear. No guitar on the album itself.) From the album, I recommend “The Grey King and the Silver Flame Attunement”; also, “Wear Black”; also, get all your Gene Loves Jezebel nostalgia out with “Abandoned Flesh”.

Every Picture Tells A Story

by John Holbo on May 19, 2017

Col. A. Miller, Maj. C. Spatz, Mrs. C.B. Spatz, Anna Spatz, Sgt. Tanner (LOC)

Wonder what this one is. Please offer your best attempt at Maj. and Mrs. Spatz fanfic in comments. (I love the Flickr Library of Congress photo feed.)

Huh, so that happened.

by John Holbo on May 19, 2017

It’s been a couple days since we had fresh Trump thread – mayfly life cycle of the news cycle, pegged to POTUS attention span! (Trump: the shallow state vs. the Deep State!) [click to continue…]

Kenneth Clark on Velazquez

by John Holbo on May 15, 2017

No one is willing to wait in moderation for God-knows-how-long on a Sunday to see their comments to my Samurai Jack post finally show. Evidently, it’s just not worth the trouble! Well, here’s some more elevated art criticism. I’m reading a Kenneth Clark essay on Velazquez, and he’s remarking on how we prefer the buffoons and dwarfs. “Take away the carapace of their great position, and how pink and featureless the King and Queen become, like prawns without their shells.” That’s true! He looks like a prawn. Her, too. How did I miss it before? [click to continue…]

Samurai Jack, Season 5

by John Holbo on May 14, 2017

12 years after Season 4 left us hanging, we get Season 5! I’m up to episode 8. It’s a bit harsher than the original – not really so appropriate for little kids. Normally I disapprove of that grim-dark development arc. But in this case it works out great. The story is great. The characters are great. Jack is back, and the animation is drop-dead gorgeous. Samurai Jack has always been one of my stylistic favorites. It hits a UPA flat-style cartoon modern sweet spot between a bunch of other influences: Kurosawa, Frank Miller, Bruce Timm, with a Mary Blair color palette and Eyvind Earle backgrounds. Season 5 is the most beautiful yet. They’ve taken it to next level.

 

Comey and Hypocrisy

by John Holbo on May 10, 2017

It is not hypocritical in the least for Democrats to be outraged about Comey over the Clinton business and also to be outraged over Trump’s firing of Comey, apparently to hinder FBI investigations of Trump and his associates. (One presumes Trump has a motive for the firing and the official reason is obviously not the real one.)

If Republicans try to troll Democrats – and I see that they already are – here’s the short, sharp response: we all agree that someone may deserve to be punished, but also that proper procedures for punishing them need to be observed. This is not hypocrisy. It’s the rule of law. If I say Smith should be arrested for capital crimes, and then I am outraged when Smith dies in custody in a suspicious manner, suggesting the police might be covering their own crimes, I am not a hypocrite. The firing is like that. If you care about the rule of law, you are outraged that Comey was fired today. If you care about the integrity of US elections, you are outraged he wasn’t fired before. There is no tension in the view that the rule of law is good, yet the integrity of elections is also good. If Republicans want to make the case that one or both of these are bad, or that it’s wrong to want both, let them make their case openly and honestly.