From the category archives:

Intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic

I’m reading Russell Muirhead, The Promise of Party In A Polarized Age: [click to continue…]

This Matt Labash profile of Mike “Murphestopheles” Murphy, lately of Right To Rise fame – is fascinating. (People said ‘Right To Rise’ sounded like a late-nite viagra infomercial. I thought it sounded like a zombie flick, and I think this post-mortem of Murphy confirms me in that intuition. Although I see the other point of view.) [click to continue…]

“Poor David Bowie. Barely 72 hours dead and he’s already being misremembered.”

I like the URL. “david-bowie-transgender-1970s-misappropriated?” I think probably the piece was written on a bet, and the URL reflects that.

No, seriously. The piece follows the standard template for conservative kulturkampf tu quoque. It’s by-the-numbers. But there is a purity to it.

I taught Science Fiction and Philosophy this semester. One thing I realized I didn’t know – but I wished I did – was the history of semi-popular trends in the philosophy of mind (for lack of a better term.) A lot of science fiction is tied up with speculations about the nature of mind, of course. It would be surprising if all that didn’t reflect trends in aspirationally non-fictional speculations (again, for lack of a better term.) Crudely, I’ll bet there is more ESP in sf in eras when lots of people think that might be a thing. [click to continue…]

NPCs: What Are They, Even?

by Belle Waring on August 28, 2015

If this is going to be a useful analogy for sexist behavior at all people need to know what NPCs (that is, non-player-characters in videogames) are! A number of people in the thread below noted that they did not. It’s pretty simple. Let’s say you play a FPS (first person shooter) or even a third-person shooter (you see the character you control as if he were the star of a movie). You generally roam around the game shooting alien monsters or zombies or Nazis or zombie Nazis or whatever. But there will be people on your side, or fellow members of the space marines, or bystander city-dwellers—people with whom you can interact but don’t need to/can’t shoot. These characters may have only one thing to say, or they can say one thing when first approached (or when you say a certain thing) and one or more other things later (or when you say that other thing). Alternately and more generally in all sorts of games an NPC can be someone you share endless experiences with, or are trained by, or you start a romantic relationship with, or you lose your shit over when they die (not tryna spoil the end of Final Fantasy VII here, just saying. Oh dag! Look, they’re making a new FFVII, and they may botch the ending to please a minority of fans (and in order kick up endless promotional rage-dust IMO), so forget I said that, and buy the latest game from “the franchise that doesn’t know the meaning of the word final”). Basically, in a single-player game, you’re the player, and the non-player characters—even if they look just like you—are merely generated by the game, just like the rendered terrain itself or the monsters or the weapons/spoils of war/scrolls, etc.

Our household is a Nintendo one, and in Zelda Windwaker HD you have crucial but limited interactions with others. It is a beautiful game that I have spent over 40 hours watching someone play while being a crucial assistant, looking through the ign.wiki walkthrough to see how the HELL Link can jump while holding a bomb [pro tip: he can’t, but he can step onto a platform]. You are prompted to press A to talk to NPCs and you are given at most two things to choose from to say either in greeting or reply. This is in line with the generally friendly tenor of Nintendo games, something that led them, after much thought, to
totally disable chat during online battles in their new FPS multi-player game Splatoon. FPS stands for FriendlyPersonSquidgun in this case—it has been succinctly described as “squidpeople play paintball” by “Matpat” on the YouTube channel Game Theory (which is very entertaining; I recommend it highly). Game designers could not think of any other way to prevent trash talk that would ruin the Nintendo experience, so you can only say one of two things to your squad-mates: “let’s go!” or “booyah!” This is despite the fact that it would be very helpful to talk for even 20 seconds before any given battle with your new squad-mates, who are chosen at random from available, physically-nearby players. Then you could set up a simple strategy for winning, which in this case means covering the most terrain possible with ink. “I’ll camp on their re-spawn point and snipe and you run around with that giant paint-roller, painting everything teal. Excelsior!”
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As I keep mentioning, I’m teaching Nietzsche. Regarding which, I have a request of sorts to place before our knowledgeable commentariat (and I can’t stop the ignorant ones from chiming in as well, but that’s modern life.) I’m going to include a unit, near the start, in which I offer a sampling of diverse responses to/interpretations of the guy. I think most students come to Nietzsche with … notions. I am not concerned to dislodge all that, certainly not at the start, but I think it might be efficient to encourage explicitness about it, if possible. To that end, I’m going to offer a menu of options. Maybe the students will say: yeah, that’s kind of my impression of the guy, from what I’ve heard and read.

This morning I went quote hunting in Mencken, Russell and G.K. Chesterton (not because I seriously think my students are going to show up on day 1 a bunch of junior Chestertonian-Menckenite-Russell-heads, in need of de-programming. I just like this stuff.)

H.L. Mencken, The Philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche:

“Broadly speaking, they [Nietzsche’s ideas] stand in direct opposition to every dream that soothes the slumber of mankind in the mass, and therefore mankind in the mass must needs to suspicious of them, at least for years to come. They are pre-eminently for the man who is not of the mass, for the man whose head is lifted, however little, above the common level. They justify the success of that man, as Christianity justifies the failure of the man below.”

I could quote more Mencken, but let me proceed to Chesterton and Russell, who are hilariously arch and contemptuous. (I’m not planning to share all this with students, but some.) [click to continue…]

Where is this going, someone tell me?

by John Holbo on July 18, 2015

The neocons have been wailing and gnashing teeth over the abysmal awfulness of the Iran deal. Meanwhile, everyone else says it’s good or, at worst, better than the alternatives. I am a creature of irony so it is hard for me to discuss the situation rationally. I would like to mock the neocons but what is the irony? Dog chases car. Dog catches car. What’s a dog to do? Bite it! So this is dog-bites-car. That’s just neocon nature.

But here’s something a bit ironic, so I’ll pass it on. The most eloquent, pithy assessment I have read on the subject is from Pat Buchanan, gaming out GOP rejection: [click to continue…]

LIBOR for the universities?

by Daniel on May 26, 2015

This is a post I’ve been planning to write for a while, with various other CT members alternately encouraging me to do so, and sternly reminding me that the consequences will be entirely on my own head ;-). It’s based on a point I’ve been making over the last few years to all sorts of friends when they’ve been trying to bait me on the subject of LIBOR, forex and the various scandals of the financial profession.

The point is quite simple. Bankers have had their day under scrutiny. But so have Members of Parliament (expenses scandal). So have journalists (phone hacking). So has the Church (paedophilia cover-ups). So has the BBC (ditto). This isn’t a specific issue about financial sector corruption. It’s a general trend, one of gradual social re-assessment of whether the fiddles and skeletons of the past are going to be tolerated in the future. It’s not that these sectors are especially dirty and the rest are especially clean – it’s just that politics, finance, religion, journalism and broadcasting have, so far, had their day under the microscope. One day, it’s going to point somewhere else. Particularly (because a lot of my friends are academics), one day it’s going to point at the universities. How confident are we that when it does, that they’ll be found pure?

At this point I tend to get either nervous laughter or outrage. Comments boxes don’t do nervous laughter very well, so readers of a ragey disposition might as well skip the details…
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In What Sense Were The Nazis Socialists?

by John Holbo on May 4, 2015

Socialism! That is really an unfortunate word.

– Adolf Hitler (quoted in Dietrich Orlow, The Nazi Party 1919-1945: A Complete History, p. 88

When one thinks of all the people who support or have supported Fascism, one stands amazed at their diversity. What a crew! Think of a programme which at any rate for a while could bring Hitler, Petain, Montagu Norman, Pavelitch, William Randolph Hearst, Streicher, Buchman, Ezra Pound, Juan March, Cocteau, Thyssen, Father Coughlin, the Mufti of Jerusalem, Arnold Lunn, Antonescu, Spengler, Beverley Nichols, Lady Houston, and Marinetti all into the same boat! But the clue is really very simple. They are all people with something to lose, or people who long for a hierarchical society and dread the prospect of a world of free and equal human beings.

George Orwell

I was going to try to get good old Montagu to contribute a personal note about his own fascist flirtations, after his long and unaccountable absence from the blog. No dice.

So I’ve solicited some commentary from Oswald Spengler, at least. [click to continue…]

It’s Nazi week at Crooked Timber! Do you love thrilling stories about Nazis? Great! [click to continue…]

I shall abhor you

by John Holbo on March 26, 2015

Do you ever wonder what a Wes Anderson horror film would be like? I have a good idea for one. It’s set in 1963, in a junior high school in Auburn, California, birthplace of “the bard of Auburn”, Clark Ashton Smith. An over-ambitious junior high drama director (Jason Schwartzman), in a misguided attempt to make the English teacher (Gwyneth Paltrow), fall in love with him, is staging an 8th grade production of Smith’s The Dead Will Cuckold You.

This is a truly unique play, in the Zothique cycle. I’m saving this Zothique zinger for some special occasion in comments, so be on your toes: [click to continue…]

Daumier Does Socrates, Robo Hates Dr. D.

by John Holbo on January 22, 2015

I’m glad to have spread the gorey news regarding Daumier. Some commenters were evidently unfamiliar. Here’s a nice Flickr set if you just want to browse. But, for CT’s especially philosophically-minded and discerning readership, one from Daumier’s “Histoire Ancienne” series. (It also belongs in my collection of philosophers looking silly. This one is also good.)

I present: Socrates doing a soft cancan, to Aspasia’s discomfort. [click to continue…]

Do philosophers dream of saving electric cats?

by John Holbo on November 6, 2014

I have a horrible cold. Getting better, but as of Monday fever was pretty bad, thanks for your concern. I was trying to get some work done – any work. What I proved capable of was: reading Save the Cat, which I’m planning to discuss in my science fiction and philosophy class (yes, I’m lucky like that. I get paid to teach such stuff.)

Why Save The Cat? [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.

Makessense Stop!

by John Holbo on May 13, 2014

When I wasn’t MOOC’ing my heart out this semester, I was trying to help my students improve their writing. In my classes that means: writing fairly short essays that are supposed to contain arguments. The real challenge is getting through to the students who are very bad at this, despite really trying. Good, hardworking students are easy to teach. You point out what’s wrong and they don’t do it anymore, most days. But the hardworking student who persists in submitting terrible stuff can be a real puzzle. You pin and label individual errors. But they just do it again. Teaching ‘informal reasoning’ doesn’t help, mostly. Students who have trouble seeing that there are major problems with their arguments – up to and including: you have no argument – are not assisted by lists of fallacies.

Teaching fallacies is mostly helpful for good students, even though it seems very basic. You are giving names to things they already get, thereby sharpening existing perception. The bad students, by contrast, have more of an ‘if it were a bear, it would have bitten you’ problem. Providing labels – brown, black, grizzly – is not going to help with ‘why did you completely miss it?’ [click to continue…]