Monthly Archives: April 2016

Loyalty

“Admonish your friends in private; praise them in public. And distrust anyone who does the reverse.”—Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Why’s Taleb right? Two reasons: (1) People who praise their friends publicly aren’t just praising a friend; they’re declaring a loyalty, which gives them skin in the game (i.e., a small stake in that person’s reputation; if you go down, I go down). By contrast, those who do all of their praising in secret are invariably flatterers who want something from you. (2) People who habitually trash their friends in public can’t be trusted. Witness the younger generation of university-aged activists: they turn on each other with shocking regularity, often going so far as to post private correspondence publicly in the midst of a “call-out” (i.e., witch-hunt) campaign against someone who was supposedly their friend last week. With friends like this, who needs enemies? Indeed, with friends like this, who needs the NSA?

It’s interesting to see how much people value social justice on Facebook (via various forms of virtue signalling). But justice isn’t the only virtue in the moral universe, and, as such, it’s also good to note how much they value friendship and loyalty. Because “no man is an island” and you can’t right the wrongs of the world alone. The realization of any project of social justice requires widespread cooperation: indeed, it requires a social movement. And social movements are now, as they have always been, held together by bonds of friendship and loyalty. As such, how can advocates of social justice who make manifest on a regular basis that they don’t value friendship and loyalty ever hope to change the world? Even the shadiest criminals know that there can be no successful thieves without honour among thieves. Why, then, do activists think there can be successful activists without honour among activists?

The wisdom of Martin Niemöller famous lament (“First they came for the Socialists . . .”) applies to private life just as much as it applies to public life. That loose cannon you hang out with, who turns on his own friends from time to time with a ferocity that astounds you: mark my words, he’ll turn on you one day too. And that activist friend of yours, who seeks to publicly humiliate her former friends and allies by posting their personal correspondence on Facebook: mark my words, she’ll turn on you one day too. Movements, groups, and institutions that prize loyalty above all else are destined for moral disaster; but those that act like loyalty doesn’t matter have no future.

Loyalty’s having your buddy’s back in a barfight he started. Loyalty’s my country right or wrong. By itself, like any virtue, it’s a fucking disaster (law enforcement’s toxic “blue wall of silence” is a case in point). There are plenty of virtues in the moral universe, and we need them all; but let’s be sure about what each one is and is not. Being a loyal friend means having your friend’s back. End of sentence. No amount of casuistry will ever convince me that publicly shaming your “friend” is a manifestation of loyalty.

—John Faithful Hamer, The Goldfish (2016)

The “Twitter Revolution”: A Revolution for Twits

Apparently the term “Twitter Revolution” is a thing.  If you haven’t heard this term before, consider yourself fortunate.  I hadn’t until someone used it in an attempt to make Twitter seem relevant instead of what it really is: the most obvious sign of vapidity in the most self-obsessed generation in history this side of the Baby Boomers.  (Are the Baby Boomers actually even worse?  That’s a tough call!)

The general thesis of the concept is that Twitter was somehow uniquely suited to communicating and organizing mass protests around the world since 2009.  Its adherents cite Moldova (2009), Toronto (2009), Iran (2009-10), Venezuela (2010), Tunisia (2010-11), Egypt (2011), the so-called Occupy Movement, etc. etc. etc. ad nauseum.  The reasons given for Twitter being somehow uniquely suited to the role include its ubiquitous nature and its oft-derided 140-character message length being somehow technically suited to the ancient SMS format of GSM systems.

There’s a problem with these claims, however.  They’re utter bullshit.

  • Twitter isn’t ubiquitous.  It isn’t even the most popular social media platform (by far!).
  • There is literally ZERO relationship, aside from a silly social fixation on  it, between the 140 character limitation and SMS.
  • Most of what is cited as Twitter’s influence is fiction spun by the press.

I’ll address these one by one.

Ubiquitous Twits

Let’s deal with the big gorilla in the lounge first.  Twitter is an also-ran of social media.  Consider these numbers:

Facebook has 1.6 billion active users as of 2016.  WhatsApp has about a billion. QQ (which includes QZone), a REGIONAL social media site, has about 900 million.  WeChat, similarly regional (albeit with an eye toward world expansion) has about 700 million.  Tumblr and Instagram claim 550 and 400 million respectively.  Finally we get to mighty, worldwide, influence-shaping Twitter.  At a paltry 320 million users.  WORLDWIDE.  The highly-regional QZone is twice the size.  Just Facebook’s messenger component is almost three times the size.  Another highly regional service, Sina Weibo, largely considered to be a failure here in China, weighs in at a similar 220 million.  Note that: a site considered to be a failure in a single region is within spitting distance of a worldwide site that is bizarrely considered to be such a resounding success that it’s grist for revolutionary mills!  How bizarre is that?

(Note also that I’ve been too polite to bring up the numbers for sites like Reddit or even cesspools like 4chan and 8chan…)

Twitter is, in short far from ubiquitous.  You can smell the panic coming from  Twitter’s HQ these days as they run from one random new feature to another in a  desperate bid to curtail the big stall they’ve encountered in their growth.

Twitter’s ubiquity is total fiction.  There is nothing in Twitters supposed broad availability that makes it uniquely suited to organizing and aiding in revolution.

Technology

“Ah!” the argument continues, however, as fans of the Twitter Revolution try to justify their delusion, “But Twitter’s message length is exactly the same as the message length of SMS messages, so it’s particularly suited to places that don’t have a lot of smartphones that can deal with the other social media sites!”

Again, I’m afraid, this argument is bullshit on several levels.  I’ll deal with two of them here; the two easiest ones to dismantle.  I’ll leave the rest of this as an exercise for the reader.

Old Phones

The wonderfully ditzy view here is that while yes, long before Twitter existed there were phones that had no problem breaking up too-long messages into parts, sending those parts as individual messages, then assembling them at the receiving end back into a single message (you know, like every packet-based protocol in history!), the poor people of Tunisia or Iran or Egypt (or … Toronto?  What?! …) couldn’t actually AFFORD modern phones and thus Twitter’s natural fit to SMS messaging was a godsend.  In this worldview (usually expressed by Americans who have a childishly naive view that the rest of the world subsists primarily off of American cast-offs) sure all mobile phones made since well before 2005 (Twitter started in 2006) could do the reassembly thing, but that’s not the phones people in struggling developing parts of the world use.  They have to deal with older technology, so Twitter is the natural choice; most people in these countries send SMS “tweets” (somehow) and don’t use Twitter directly.

There is a problem with this viewpoint, however.  It is ignorant to the point of stupidity.  Take China as an example.  A huge percentage of the population still exists as, basically, barely-above-subsistence rice farmers, yet these same (shockingly poverty-stricken) farmers all have new phones.  About half of them have new smartphones (obviously not overpriced crud like Apple’s but still actual smartphones).  The rest have brand-new “feature phones” (read: older-style phones with small screens and real keyboards).  NOBODY USES PHONES FROM PRE-2006!  (Hell, almost nobody uses phones pre-2012.)

There’s a good reason for this: new phones aren’t just technologically superior to the old kit, they’re CHEAPER.  Yes, it’s far cheaper, really, to buy a new low-end phone than it is to buy a second-hand pre-2005 phone.  (This doesn’t even get into the costs of ownership, just purchasing.)  This is one of those fascinating things about electronics.  It just gets cheaper and cheaper and cheaper to the point that keeping old kit around is silly.

(So, no, my naive American friends, when you toss out your current iPhone for the model that’s 3mm longer and 0.5mm thinner and that now comes in a slightly different shade of silver and black, the phone is not being handed down to the poorer people of the world.  It’s getting tossed into a huge pile of industrial waste and contributing to one hell of an environmental catastrophe that’s moving in slow motion in southern China among other places.  Thanks, guys.  It’s appreciated.)

Twitter, it seems then, isn’t really a natural fit to poor people using old-style phones that can only deal with SMS messages individually because those people simply don’t exist in any meaningful numbers.

Oh, and talking of Twitter’s natural fit to SMS…

SMS Format

Even if the insulting argument that Twitter is useful because third-world people only have western castoffs wasn’t obviously untrue, there’s still a problem: The SMS message format limit is not 140 characters.  It was 128 bytes originally.  Then with encoding tricks and a few more bits squeezed out here and there that 128-byte limitation (that was there for sound technical reasons I won’t get into) was made so that it could support 160×7-bit ASCII characters, 140×8-bit characters in the various venerable Europe-centric encodings, or 70×16-bit characters in the venerable UCS-2 encoding format.

Note that.  SMS’s limitation is not Twitter’s 140 characters, it’s 160 or 140 or 70 (depending on which encoding you choose) characters of specific language groups and types.  Twitter’s 140 character limit is a twee call out to a misunderstanding of SMS technology.  Twitter is limited to 140 characters of any kind in any language no matter what the actual transmission length.

This means that if I’m typing just plain English text I’m losing 20 characters off of the real SMS standard.  If I’m typing any kind of extended characters from the 8-bit encoding sets (like LATIN-1, say) then I can type exactly the same amount that I can throw into an SMS.  If I’m typing Arabic, however, at 140 characters that’s two SMS messages.  If I’m typing Chinese that can be … well it can be a real problem since not all Chinese characters can be encoded in UCS-2.

(Note, also, this other problem with Twitter’s approach.  140 characters in Chinese is a good chunk of an essay.  140 characters in English is barely a coherent thought.  This shows in the results.)

No, there is no technological relationship whatsoever that ties Twitter to SMS messaging at any meaningful level.  The number 140 was pulled out of Twitter’s founders’ ass based on a misunderstanding of what SMS’ real standards were (or, perhaps, as a cynical attempt to tie the two together given how SMS-crazy people were c.2005 instead).  Given this, any pretext that it is somehow easier to bridge SMS to Twitter falls apart at even a nominal level of inspection.  If social media really was being used to export and organize revolution around the world, there would be no particular reason for selecting Twitter over any other format.  All the supposed technical problems that you’d have to deal with using, say, Facebook would apply to Twitter as well.

Real-world Impact

I have a friend in Iran.  Tehran, to be specific.  Ground zero for the various bits of unwanted excitement surrounding the Iranian elections in 2009-2010.  He has a word for the people who think that Twitter was somehow instrumental in organizing the opposition and protests: “idiots”.

It seems, strangely, that Twitter was simply unavailable to most participants of that mass debacle/horror.  Almost nobody had access to it (seeing as how it was heavily blocked) and almost nobody used it as a result.  The claim that Twitter was used by people with secret bridges to the outside world who would then spread Twitter messages via SMS was also risible on the face of it.  The state controlled the  supplier of SMS services, see, and would have been trivially able to follow along on the SMS messages to find out who was going to be where when had Twitter/SMS (a specious pairing anyway, c.f. above) been used.

No, for him and his friends organization was the old-fashioned way: word of mouth, telephone trees, etc.  Twitter had literally zero impact on anything he got involved in.  Lest you try to object that perhaps it was the more  technically-minded revolutionary-wannabes that did the Twitting, keep in mind that the friend in question is a communications engineer who even now, with blocks in place that are FAR stronger than those used in 2009, routinely  penetrates to the outside world (like I do from within China) to converse with people using various blocked communications media: Facebook, IRC, Skype, etc.  Had Twitter been in active use during those troubles he would have known and, indeed, participated (likely even facilitating; among the many services he does provide you can number a business that provides people with ways to penetrate Iran’s blocks from the outside).

You will find similar stories in pretty much every other “Twitter-influenced revolution” out there.  Was Twitter used?  Yes.  By a small number of people. Mostly to tell their side of events to the outside world.  Or to demonize the other side.  Or to be the other side pretending to be the first side demonizing the other side in a bout of tomfoolery that rivals Spy vs. Spy.  But these people also used Facebook, Google+, Orkut, and several social media sites you’ve never heard of.  Twitter was by no means unique in this regard.

So Why?  Why “Twitter Revolution”?

In brief: lazy journalists.  It’s no secret that journalists are incredibly lazy these days when it comes to fact checking.  The dominant approach to journalism these days seems to be “let’s just report whatever we think our audience or our owners want to hear, and we’ll retract and apologize on page 1700 if we get caught spreading lies again.”

Now to be fair Twitter was actually used quite a lot in the time frames mentioned.  It did have a lot of press coverage as a result.  But that’s the whole point: Twitter was reported on because it was the hip, new, attention-gathering thing.  It was a “different twist” on Yet Another Story of horrible governments getting their comeuppance (for a few weeks) from the downtrodden masses.  Twitter got free press and publicity as a result and got paired with revolutions.

Had the first of these chains of revolutions started a couple of years earlier we’d be here talking about the Orkut Revolution or something.  Or had it happened a bit later maybe the Pinterest Revolution or the WhatsApp Revolution or some other Flavour-Of-The-Day Manufactured “Revolution”.  We just happened to be unlucky and got the most asinine of social media sites being praised for its purported impact on revolutions worldwide.

It doesn’t hurt, of course, that Twitter is constructed almost specifically to support slacktivism.  Hashtag activists, social justice dogpiles, and a whole host of other no-work trivialities have replaced previous do-nothing “activism” like ribbon-based “awareness” campaigns.  People want Twitter to be great for revolution because it takes literally no actual effort to do “activism” on it.  In this regard journalists, in their abiding laziness, are merely channelling the zeitgeist.  People want something simple and trivial to become the root cause of revolution; people want to #notalltwits their way into change.  Media, of course, to keep the interest of their waning consumer base, report that yes, indeed, Twitter’s lazy-assed hashtivism is making Real Change™ Worldwide!

And this is why assholes are still in charge in Egypt, in Iran, in Tunisia, in all the places that the “Twitter Revolution” took place.

Thanks guys.  Your hard work is appreciated.

—Michael Richter

Game of Thrones Character I Miss Most

Game of Thrones
Games of Thrones Season 4 Episode 6 “Of Gods and Men”

I was sad to see noble Prince Oberyn Martell die. Still am. Still haven’t gotten over it. He was, without a doubt, one of the most compelling characters on HBO’s television adaptation of George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire. Though Pedro Pascal, the 39-year-old Chilean who plays Oberyn, is undeniably hot, the Dornish Prince’s irresistible charm isn’t a function of Pascal’s washboard abs, chiseled chin, or piercing brown eyes. It’s a function of the character’s noble virtues.

In Martin’s fictional universe, as well as our own, the love of pleasure and the love of honour are too often presented as contradictory drives that couldn’t possibly coexist (coherently, and more or less peacefully) within the same soul. You can have one or the other, or neither, but never both. The lusty earthbound virtues of a fun-loving Falstaff are—we’re so often told—fundamentally antithetical to the stoic virtues of the honour-loving warrior. Eddard Stark’s character is a case in point. He’s brave and courageous, and he’s just, but he’s also kind of boring. Ned’s a deeply honourable man—no doubt about that—but he’s also a bit of a cheerless puritan. We know he’s overcome his fear of death, but we wonder if he’ll ever overcome his fear of smiling. We know he’s ready to die, but we wonder if he’s ever really lived.

These questions just don’t occur to us when we’re contemplating Prince Oberyn, a man whose lust for life and love of beauty are in evidence in every smiling scene. Sure, he’s a decidedly dangerous dude, a fiery man with a very bad temper—the kind of guy who can fly into a white-hot rage at a moment’s notice. But he’s also the kind of guy who reaches out for pleasure—without guilt or shame—whenever it crosses his path. In short, Prince Oberyn is a lover and a fighter. And he’s also a hedonist. But it would be a mistake to assume that all of this hedonism has made him soft. Because, well, um, nothing could be further from the truth.

—John Faithful Hamer, The Myth of the Fuckbuddy (2016)

The Much Misunderstood Alpha Male

“The ‘alpha male’ exists most loudly in the fantasy of omega losers, Last Men who dream they are the Overman.”—Joseph Gresham Miller

12o6dn (1)Pretty much everything you think you know about the alpha male is wrong. Our understanding of who they are, what they do, and their function has been seriously revised by the last two decades of ethological research. Two things strike me as especially fascinating:

(1) Alpha males are just as good at following as leading. They’re exceptionally good at working with others and deferring respectfully to the skills and superiority of others. If they’ve got a problem, it’s with horizontal (as opposed to vertical) relationships. In short, real alpha males have outstanding social skills.

(2) Alpha males are basically cops. They keep the peace within the group. And the biggest ongoing threat to social peace in most primate communities isn’t angry young men, by the way; it’s mothers. Yep, mom’s Public Enemy #1. A typical scenario runs something like this: two young primates are playing; one of them gets too rough and hurts the other; hurt playmate starts crying; hurt playmate’s mom freaks out, runs over, and smacks the one who hurt her kid; now that kid starts crying; and his mom freaks out, runs over, and smacks the mom who hurt her kid. Now you’ve got two adult females in a full-blown brawl. Within seconds the grandmothers and all of the aunts jump into the fray.

Fights like this can quickly escalate, splitting a group in two, which is bad for everyone because smaller groups are less able to defend themselves against predators and other groups. Anyhow, that’s where the alpha male comes in. The job of an alpha male is to step in and break up the fight before it escalates. And he never plays favorites, even if one of the moms happens to be his sister.

The alpha male fantasy one finds amongst pick-up artists, and on websites like A Voice for Men, is largely a product of the adolescent male imagination. Real alpha males aren’t self-centered pricks who get to do whatever they want, whenever they want. All to the contrary, real alpha males are often the greatest and most selfless servants of the common good.

—John Faithful Hamer, Blue Notes (2016)

Scandalous Thought Experiment

imagesIf a Shonda Rhimes show jumps the shark after the heroine’s fallen for every fine fella in the forest, does is it make a sound?

But seriously, what’s up with Scandal? The last two seasons have looked a whole lot like those soft-core foreign flicks from France teenagers watched late at night in Montreal, in the 1980s, on Bleu Nuit (with the sound off, of course).

Everyone on this show seems to find an excuse to have sex on a desk. Which is fine, I guess. But the excuses are often weird and random. She’ll be like, do you have a stapler, and he’ll be like, do I ever, and then she’ll be like, wanna show it to me, and he’ll be like, you bet, and then—bow chicka wow wow—they’re gettin’ it on again, on a perfectly clean desk.

—John Faithful Hamer, The Goldfish (2016)

Blue Spring

Eastern_Bluebird-27527-2Blue hated school. But he hated lunchtime detentions more. He’d gotten the word “sham” wrong on the vocabulary test three weeks in a row—and Miss Grey was mad, really mad. Didn’t think he’d ever seen his Grade Five English teacher so mad: “Enough with your stupid drawing and daydreaming, Blue! Can’t you see that it’s time! Time to APPLY yourself! Such wasted potential. Wasted. Utterly wasted, because you refuse, totally refuse, to focus, to focus, Blue, focus, focus, focus, FOCUS! Are you even listening to me now, Blue?”

sham, n. A thing that is not what it is purported to be.
sham, v. Falsely present something as the truth.

Though he’d never admit this to Miss Grey, Blue actually liked doing his copies. There was something calming about it, something meditative. And besides, he liked his own handwriting, strange as that may sound. Blue’s school was on University Street, across the street from McGill, in downtown Montreal. And he lived on Laval Avenue, in Plateau-Mont-Royal. So it really wasn’t much of a walk. About twenty minutes. Thirty minutes tops. But Blue never did anything the easy way. He preferred the long version of stories, and, much to his mom’s chagrin, walks. Rain or shine, Blue’s after-school walk took at least an hour. Sometimes two. The police had been called twice. And he’d been grounded on numerous occasions. But Blue wouldn’t budge. This was HIS time, and he was ready and willing to fight for it, come hell or high water.

His route was far less random than the adults thought: First, he walked up University Street, past that McGill building with the brainy quote on it, past the towers filled with giggling college students, and into the dark forest that blanketed the south side of Mount Royal Park. Sometime after that, he could be seen on the east side of the Mountain, popping out of the forest like a fawn, a stone’s throw from the Monument to George-Étienne Cartier. From there it was but a ten-minute walk to his humble home.

Blue’s time in the forest was time outside of time. Magical time. Holy time. And today was no different: He climbed some trees, threw some rocks, and had an epic stick-sword fight with a host of imaginary enemies: enemies with tree-bark faces. Then he found a patch of Wild Black Raspberries, and ate them till his fingers and lips were suitably stained.

Then he turned over some mossy rocks, in search of magical fairy creatures, commonly known as Red-Backed Salamanders. He watched two Grove Snails greet each other and make some rather queer decisions of long-term consequence. He let a Northern Walkingstick walk up and down his arm till he was so ticklish he couldn’t take it anymore. He watched an Assassin Bug waiting patiently for prey in the snowy depths of a Trillium Flower. He let a Black-Capped Chickadee land on the fingertips of his outstretched arm. He followed a Raccoon for so long that it stopped caring he was there; sure, it would glance back at Blue from time to time, but it did so lazily, and without conviction. He watched a Comma Butterfly shape-shift before his very eyes: dead leaf, dead leaf, dead leaf—explosion of sunset colors—dead leaf, dead leaf, dead leaf—forest fireworks—dead leaf.

It was that delightful time of year: you know, just after the melting of the last of the winter snows—those hidden deep in the forest, on the shady side of the Mountain. The forest floor comes alive at that time with Yellow Dogtooth Violet, Stinking Benjamin, and, when Mother Nature’s good and ready, Great White Trillium. The first really hot summer days in Montreal cause a sweet woodsy smell to rise, like Jesus, from the leaf litter and the soggy logs. It mingles with the smell of the spring flowers to produce an intoxicating forest perfume, which has always signaled, for Blue, the much anticipated end of the stupid school year. It’s really no exaggeration to say, gentle reader, that the smell you’re smelling in your head RIGHT NOW is, for Blue, quite literally, the springtime smell of summertime freedom.

—John Faithful Hamer, The Goldfish (2016)

Freedom and Dependence

It is hard to discuss anything but rent with an absentee landlord. Every problem is a matter of paying rent sufficient to induce some third party to fix problems that you can never directly address, because fixing things is not a tenant’s place.

In his Politics, Aristotle says that some people are naturally slaves. This is certainly wrong when people read his natural slavery as early modern plantation slavery (no one is naturally bound to be kidnapped and tortured as part of an incorrigibly brutal regime for growing cotton or sugarcane), but he is right that there are inevitably in every civilized society a significant body of people without freedom, and that some of us are more content with this arrangement than others.

As a member of the American dependent class myself, I see this clearly. Aristotle would say that we call slaves ’employees’ today, and we have devised much better ways (more ethical, less punitive, offering dependents more latitude in choosing masters and the manner of their dependence) of being masters than were used on many plantations in the recent past. But the fundamental truth is that America is largely unfree, more so as it negotiates with its landlords over the conditions of its dependence, which cannot help but increase as said landlords respond to negotiations by extending their power. At some point, the employees must simply walk away, to freedom that will not always be pleasant (or for some of us possible: maybe Aristotle is right that we cannot all be free, at least not the same way). The economy might shrink. We might buy less (afford less, have less hygienic housing, use fewer expensive medical technologies, rely less on infrastructure which we risk nothing to use). This is a very difficult problem: people don’t want the same freedom, and freedom is never safe. Neither is dependence, of course. Both courses exist in ‘bad’ forms, historically (outlaw freedom or piracy; plantation slavery); both also exist in ‘good’ forms (the medieval artisan, the independent farmer or rancher; the happy employee at a decent company). People don’t want the same thing (freedom, dependence), and they don’t want it in the same form (the same freedom, the same dependence). We are different, with different needs and different tastes (for freedom and dependence).

Letter to an Undercover Brother

Dear Undercover Brother,

The CIA  Memorial Wall inside the entrance of the Central Intelligence Agency Headquarters which currently has 102  stars engraved for each member of the agency that gave of his/her life in the line of duty.  Names of those are listed in the book below, w
The CIA Memorial Wall inside the entrance of the Central Intelligence Agency Headquarters which currently has 102 stars engraved for each member of the agency that gave of his/her life in the line of duty. Names of those are listed in the book below, with a 37 not being listed and will remain Secret for the nature of the work they were doing. Photo: Greg E. Mathieson Sr. / MAI

I’ve often wondered if you were actually an undercover Social Justice Warrior (SJW) masquerading as a champion of men’s rights activism, libertarianism, atheism, and Ayn Rand. I say this because you seem to be hellbent on disgracing and discrediting every single cause you publicly espouse. You’re not particularly good at hiding your blight under a bushel, Plebb. Regardless, I’m done with your idiocy, which is kind of amazing because I have a ridiculously high tolerance for idiocy. I’m not sure if you realize this, but you’re every quote-hunting SJW’s wet dream. A kind of retarded gift that keeps on giving. A veritable slot-machine of stupid that pays out every time. With friends like you, a movement really doesn’t need enemies.

I’ll leave you with this piece of unsolicited advice: If you really love the repulsive causes you espouse day after day in Social Media Land, find a shovel, a big shovel, and go outside right now. Dig a hole, a really deep hole. Then crawl down into it. And stay there. Forever.

But if you’re actually deep in enemy territory, doing the Lord’s work—incognibro, as it were—then please accept my heartfelt apology and carry on, soldier. Seriously, dude, you’re doing a bang up job! And if you should ever fall in the service of our fair country, please know that we’ll be sure to put a star up on the Memorial Wall at Langley for you.

—John Faithful Hamer, Being a Philosopher in Social Media Land (2017)

Fuck Bullies

black yeeYou always remember your first. Mine was a brawny six-year-old named Stuart.

The scourge of all the first-graders at Herbert Symonds Elementary, he’d had it in for me since the day our teacher, Mrs. Sehon, praised my reading ability in front of the entire class. Several weeks into the school year, I’d rarely made it through a day without being grabbed and slammed up against the lunchroom wall, or wrestled into a headlock and forced to confess that yes, I was indeed a stinky poo-face. In our most recent encounter, he’d forced me to my knees and dragged my face along the chain-link fence that bordered the schoolyard while several of my classmates cheered him on.

To avoid being beaten and humiliated I’d developed a strategy that involved staying out of Stuart’s way as much as possible in the hope that he’d find someone else to pick on, and on those occasions when our paths did happen to cross, running as fast as possible in the other direction.

My mother, still the best male role model I’ve ever had, was fed up of me coming home with my school clothes ripped to shit. She knew that complaining to the principal would only make me look like a sissy, so she asked her boyfriend Jimmy to give me a few pointers.

I went over all the stuff he’d told me as I walked to school the following Monday. Forget all that John Wayne bullshit. Those wild, looping haymakers might look good in the movies, but they were useless in a real fight. You had to punch straight from your shoulder and get your weight behind it, goddamit.

Stuart spotted me the minute I stepped onto the schoolyard. I could see the sneer curling at his lip as he headed toward me. My legs were trembling but I was determined to stand my ground. I swallowed hard and dug the toe of my sneaker into the asphalt.

The kids around us stepped out of the way as Stuart approached, grateful not to be targeted, but more than willing to stick around for the show. I turned my body sideways, shifted my weight to my back foot, and curled my hand into a tight little fist. When my nemesis reached for the collar of my jacket, I stepped up and smashed my knuckles into his face.

I’d never punched anyone before. I didn’t know what to expect but I had a sneaking suspicion that despite Jimmy’s little pep-talk, my fist was going to bounce off Stuart’s face like when bad guys tried to fight Superman, and he would then proceed to actually kill me.

Everything that followed seemed to happen in slow-motion. Stuart’s eyes opened wide as my punch landed. A look of fear and confusion—not unlike that on a bull when the matador drives the estoque between its shoulder blades—spread across his features. He raised a hand to his face and actually whimpered as blood began to spout from his nose. I waded through the pack of kids who’d gathered around us, their mouths hanging open in stunned little O’s, headed up the school steps and never looked back.

The moral of the story? Give a man a fish and someone will beat him up and take it. Teach your kids to fight, and they’ll never have to eat anybody’s shit.

—Robbie Dillon

p.s. For more on bullying, see “Do Bullies Lack Self-Esteem and a Capacity for Empathy?”

p.p.s. See, too, Dr. Kwame Brown’s response to Hamer’s piece on bullying.

Flowers at My Feet

t-20There are iconic images that remain burned into your memory; this, for me, is one of them: the Buddha is sitting calmly in lotus position, a beatific smile stretches across his angelic face. We see that he’s beset on all sides by menacing enemies: monsters, demons, deformed animals. They’re all—at one and the same time—hurling weapons and abuse at The Enlightened One. Darts dipped in poison sail through the air. Flaming arrows fly towards his heart. A mighty javelin inches its way to his forehead. But he remains thoroughly unscathed! As the deadly weapons near the Buddha, they’re all magically transformed into flowers, beautiful wild flowers, which fall gently to the ground around him as he sings, sings to his enemies: “Let fly your fiery darts, sweet enemy, sweet friend! Say what you will, do your worst; it matters not. So many flowers: flowers at my feet. And my, how they fly, in the afternoon sky! You’re not even done, but I’ve already won. Just turned your poison words, into sweet singing birds.”

—John Faithful Hamer, The Myth of the Fuckbuddy (2016)