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John Holbo

First things first: thanks to everyone who dug deep (or shallow) to purchase (or just freely download) a copy of Reason and Persuasion, allowing us to enjoy evanescent ecstasies of semi-upward-mobility into the 5-digit sales range on Amazon for a period of some days now. Now please keep that Amazon aspidistra flying for the next several years running and we’ll have ourselves a standard textbook! (Sigh. I know. No hope. If I want sales like that, I have to update Facebook more than once every 4 years. And be on Twitter. Shudder.)

As I was saying: it is also fun to watch the (no doubt CT-fueled) evolution of the ‘customers who viewed this item also viewed’ Amazon scrollbar, associating our Plato book with all manner of comics and science fiction. I hope the present post shall further enrich that eclectic mix.

Back in December I posted about how I would like a history of semi-popular philosophy of mind, to complement the history of science fiction. Many people left genuinely useful, interesting comments, for which I am sincerely grateful. Today I would like to strike out along a semi-parallel line. Science fiction film, with its special effects, has a strong phenotypic and genotypic relation to stage magic. Georges Méliès was a stage magician. But sf is older than film; stage magic, too. We might enhance our sense of the modern origins of the former by coordinating with the modern history of the latter. I just read a good little book, Conjuring Science: A History of Scientific Entertainment and Stage Magic in Modern France, by Sofia Lachappelle, that doesn’t make the sf connection, but makes it easy to make. (It’s an overpriced good little book, I’m sorry to say. Oh, academic publishing. But perhaps you, like me, enjoy library privileges somewhere.)

It contains some nice sentences, certainly. For example: “While Robertson was presenting his phantasmagoria in an abandoned convent and professors of amusing physics were performing their wonders, scientific and technological innovations were impacting the world of the theater at large.” (118)

As I was saying: history of modern stage magic. I’ll quote passages, and comment, and supplement with relevant images. [click to continue…]

Monster Manual

by John Holbo on March 2, 2016

I enjoyed Maria’s D&D thread. So here’s a trivia question for you. Before there was the AD&D Monster Manual, what single popular work of imaginative fantasy contained all the following fabulous creatures: hydras, furies, nighthawks, giants, goblins, ghouls, titans, magi, monks, grand turks, dragons, wizards, cyclops – not to mention kludds and kligrapps, all lurking in Dens, found spread through a number of fantastic Realms and Provinces within a single Empire that is, as it were, a reimagined, multi-leveled parallel version of our own world? Answer under the fold. [click to continue…]

A little over a month ago Belle and I published the new edition of Reason and Persuasion, our Plato book. (She did the translations of three dialogues; I provided the commentary, illustrations and bookmaking.) Ta-DA! Well, actually it was more what one calls a soft launch. Since then I’ve got all the publication outlets squared away for the time being. You can get it on Amazon, in paper or in Kindle format. Making a workable Kindle version was an education in itself. Reflowable text and approximately 500 spot illustrations is a tough combo. It’s like practicing the fine art of flower arrangement in a sloshing bucket. It’s like trying to arrange all the little marshmallows inside the jell-o. But enough about my lifestyle choices. I set up Kindle matchbook so this thing that almost overwhelmed me is free if you buy the modestly-priced paper version. Good deal! I think the nicest-looking edition may actually be the fixed layout iBooks version (same as the GooglePlay and Kobo versions, if that’s how you like to play it.) Graphics are all very crisp.

As I was saying: we launched, and, since our lawyers told us we couldn’t use Harry Potter in the title, sales have been … modest. (Hey, it’s the fourth edition of a Plato book that is also available as free PDF’s. Did I mention: free PDFs?) We’ve been bobbing along in the low 6-digits, sales-wise, on Amazon. Checking Amazon rankings more than once a month is a thoroughly unhealthy form of fetish worship. Yet I confess to a moment of depression when we slipped below the 1,000,000-mark, albeit only briefly. Would it be too much to ask for the world to acknowledge that there are maybe not a million books better than mine? But then I checked Amazon UK and, like Spinal Tap in that scene in the film, was cheered to see we were charting! (Presumably 2 people bought the book in a matter of hours, producing this anomaly.) I screencapped, in case glory never came again: [click to continue…]

Pen and Ink Week: The Collector

by John Holbo on February 24, 2016

Following up my Franklin Booth post, how about I do a series of comics and art posts this week?

I made a fine recent purchase on Comixology: Sergio Toppi’s The Collector. If you don’t know Toppi, a Google image search will give the flavor. The comic is pretty ok. The Collector is a cool-looking, mysterious dude who collects precious antiquities. He always gets what he wants. He’s like an amoral Indiana Jones. There are supernatural elements. Mostly you read it for the art: [click to continue…]

Mistake it ’til you make it

by John Holbo on February 24, 2016

Whew! My Dreher post comments are running kind of long. Clearly, Crooked Timber needs fresh content. OK, I just realized that two things I’ve been thinking about this week – Rod Dreher’s Ben-Op plans, and Franklin Booth’s pen-and-ink style – are kind of the same. Franklin Booth? Via Lines and Colors, I found this nice page of fairly high-quality scans. This sort of stuff (click for larger):


That’s pen-and-ink, because Booth was trying … well, I’ll just let Wikipedia explain:

His unusual technique was the result of a misunderstanding: Booth scrupulously copied magazine illustrations which he thought were pen-and-ink drawings. In fact, they were wood engravings. As a result, this led him to develop a style of drawing composed of thousands of lines, whose careful positioning next to one another produced variations in density and shade. The characteristics of his art were his scale extremes with large buildings and forests looming over tiny figures, decorative scrolls and borders, classic hand lettering and gnarled trees.
[click to continue…]

A Disquieting Suggestion

by John Holbo on February 22, 2016

As CT-regulars know, I am a compulsive reader of Rod Dreher’s blog. The occasion for today’s post is this Dreher post. He quotes a reader:

Obergefell was clearly a crisis point for social conservatives. We lost the public debate on gay marriage; but more important was how we lost. Gay marriage showed that there was a great gap between what social conservatives want to say, and what the rest of the public is willing or able to hear. In short, what the process revealed was the inability of social conservatives to articulate, in a publicly convincing way, the basis of their own beliefs. The most striking fact about the whole process was this inarticulacy. When the crucial time came, SCs could not find the words to explain what they believed. For me, that was the crucial “revelation.”

I think you’ve decided that the problem is a retreat from Christian foundations of moral understanding. But whatever the cause is, we have a continuing responsibility to try to articulate these values in a way that is comprehensible in a secular debate — to correct our own inarticulacy. We have a responsibility to articulate our values, whatever their religious grounding may be, in a way that makes sense to people who do not necessarily share that grounding.

Dreher sort of agrees and then goes on for a while. And, I have to say: I still honestly don’t know what Dreher’s argument is. I’m not even totally sure he thinks Obergefell was wrongly decided. (I know he thinks it will lead to excesses but that’s a separate question. You could be opposed to affirmative action, and think Brown v. Board of Education led to affirmative action, without thinking Brown was wrongly decided. You could also think Brown was wrongly decided, in a technical sense, yet admirable in its effects.) I was going to write a long post dismantling all the problems I think I see in this post. But, you know what? – been there, done that.

Let me try a fresh approach. [click to continue…]

A Few US Election-Related Thoughts

by John Holbo on February 17, 2016

Not that I want CT to go all-US-elections, all the time. But one more post.

I think Dems are resting a bit too easy on ‘the Republicans really screwed it up for themselves this time.’ (A lot of Dems are not resting easy at all, but some are being a bit smug and complacent about Republican problems and disarray.) In the modern era, every Presidential contest should be a 51-49 nailbiter – even a hanging-chad-biter – by rights. I would say this one is shaping up more 65-35, to the Dem’s advantage. (I’m talking about odds of winning, overall, not predicting vote percentages.) But that still gives the Reps a 1/3 chance of shooting the moon: controlling Congress, the White House and the Supreme Court. So ‘Republicans screwed the pooch’ and ‘Dems staring down barrel of defeat and devastation’ are both true, and should be held true together. Which is why the President should do what he can to confirm anyone – even a moderate conservative – to the Scalia seat in the next year, as insurance against dire, downside risk. In this thread someone suggested Obama should nominate Richard Posner and I realized, to my own mild surprise, that I would be quite happy with that result, all things weighed and balanced and considered. I’ll take a Posner in the hand over the threat of another Scalia on the bench. I’m a moderate squish. [click to continue…]

Just a thought about the Post-Scalia Situation

by John Holbo on February 14, 2016

Obama needs to decide how best to respond to Republican threats of total scorched earth obstruction of all nominees, no matter who and what, because Obama is a radical madman.

What if he called their bluff about him being a radical madman? How might he do so? [click to continue…]

V-Day is coming and so I figure I should get Belle a copy of Weird Love: You Know You Want It! (Volume 1). I’m pretty sure she wants it. Anyway, it was for sale on Comixology. (Psst. Don’t tell her. I want it to be a surprise!) [click to continue…]

It’s a gas

by John Holbo on February 8, 2016

I think it unlikely that Kasich will get elected and reunite Pink Floyd, to play “Money”. But it would be a scene rich in irony.

Liberal, Conservative, Pangloss, Plotinus, Galton

by John Holbo on February 1, 2016

(This isn’t part of our Walton seminar, though it’s got Plotinus in it.)

What is liberalism? What is conservatism? If you are interested in getting answers to these questions, you (probably) want the answers to do two things for you: [click to continue…]

Walton’s Republic

by John Holbo on January 28, 2016

“It was the most real thing that had ever happened.” – Jo Walton, The Just City

Thanks to Jo Walton for writing an SF novel in which people, including a pair of gods, try to realize Plato’s Republic. (I’ve only read the first Thessaly novel, The Just City. So if what follows is premature? That sort of thing happens.)

This is an experimental novel. Succeed or fail, you learn from an experiment. But even well-constructed experiments can be failures. That’s the risk.

Logically such a thing should exist. A novelization of Plato’s Republic, I mean. How can no one have written this already? But can such a damn thing be written ? Surely it will fail as a novel, somewhat, at some point. But how? Only one way to find out. [click to continue…]

The Bitter Butter Battle Book

by John Holbo on January 25, 2016

Rod Dreher has a great quote today from Edwin W. Edwards:

“With me, the people know the butter might be rancid, but it’s going to be spread on their side of the bread.”

Dreher’s point: “That’s Trump for you, ain’t it? I bet he’ll win the GOP primary in Louisiana going away.” [click to continue…]

As promised!

I finally managed to publish the silly fine thing! Reason and Persuasion, the 4th edition. It is currently available on Amazon. And I made a nice iBooks edition. (Fixed layout. Crisp look. Can read it even on an iPhone 6. I’m still working on the reflowable Kindle version.)

And never forget that cheap good people can get all the PDF’s for free at the book site.

Tell me what you think! Praise and criticize. Tell all your friends. Hunt typos. (I’ve found three. Minor ones.) [click to continue…]

You Keep Using That Word

by John Holbo on January 21, 2016

Eric tells us one thing we’re sure of. Which is interesting. And relates to something I’ve long thought would be an interesting scholarly exercise. A survey of the history of Presidential impossibilities-turned-realities. In this season of Trump, we shall see what we shall see. In the meantime, go back and collect all the ‘Dewey Defeats Truman’ events, from every Presidential season. Who is certain to be a contender, then immediately eliminated? (Looking at you, Scott Walker.) How many candidates who cannot possibly win have won?

Now, there is an ambiguity in the question, insofar as the other side always has a vested interest in kicking up dust. Every possible candidate is ‘impossible’ to someone. So let’s focus on the consensus cases. Like Trump. No one – I mean: no one – thought he would make it this far. Impossible. Now things get tricky, count-wise, because, from an impossibility, an infinite number of impossible consequences flow. (Looking at you, Ted Cruz, last, best hope of the Establishment.)

But seriously. Barack Obama was impossible. Clinton was impossible. Reagan was impossible. Carter? A long-shot, for sure. Watergate was impossible, ergo Ford. Nixon was impossible, insofar as he was a has-been.

Back of the envelope, I think more than 50% of the most important things that happen in Presidential elections are strictly impossible, at least according to conventional wisdom, six months earlier. What do you think is a good number?

UPDATE: The impossibility unit, per season, could be the Trump. Every election can have a T-rating, for the number of impossible things that actually happen.