Monthly Archives: February 2017

Summer Rain in Winter

Rain enchants me. Always has. Our firstborn son’s middle name attests to this: Rain. He isn’t named after just any rain, I hasten to add. He’s named after a particular kind of rain, the kind of rain that arrives for the first time in the merry month of May, the kind of rain that power-washes the filthy streets of Montreal in late spring: namely, summer rain.

We pay attention to the things we love. Careful attention. And I love rain. So when it rained today in Montreal, I couldn’t help but notice that something wasn’t right. This wasn’t the winter rain made famous by Guns N’ Roses; it was a summer rain.

I’ve never seen anything like it: a summer rain in February. It was extremely weird. But I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t beautiful. Because it was beautiful: the sound of it sublime, the smell of it intoxicating. And yet I’m left with a deep sense of foreboding.

—John Faithful Hamer, Blue Notes (2017)

Lake of Two Mountains

As the sun sets on the Lake of Two Mountains,
a kingfisher named Prometheus
swoops down to steal fire from the sunfish.
Hard to believe that we walked on this water,
like gods, just a few months ago, Tristan,
when all of this was nothing
but a blinding white wasteland,
and we could scarcely remember what planet we were on.
What a magical, terrifying place this is: a land,
that can’t seem to decide whether it wants to be
the Garden of Eden or the Surface of the Moon.

—John Faithful Hamer, Blue Notes (2017)

The Dirt Drawer

017FBI director J. Edgar Hoover was afraid of Martin Luther King—“the most dangerous Negro in America”—and it’s fairly well known that he had a small army of agents watching him 24/7, reading his mail, wiretapping his phones, and listening in on his conversations—just as it’s fairly well known that King cheated on his wife with some regularity. What’s far less known is that the FBI often used this information in decidedly diabolical ways. For instance, at one point, Hoover sent a threatening letter to King which said, in essence: we’ve got proof of your infidelities, we’ve got sex tapes, and, unless you commit suicide, we’re going to release them to the public in 34 days: “You are finished. . . . King you are done. . . . The American public, the church organizations that have been helping—Protestant, Catholic and Jews will know you for what you are—an evil and abnormal beast. So will others who have backed you. You are done. King, there is only one thing left for you to do. You know what it is.” Kill yourself. Or we’ll kill your reputation. Of course King didn’t kill himself. Nor did he bow out of public life. But King was an exceptionally courageous dude. Made of tough stuff. I can’t help but wonder how many politicians, activists, and journalists have shied away from serious political issues after they received a letter like this.

Texting, email, digital photography, social media, and the proliferation of high-quality video equipment have radically transformed 21st-century communication. There’s a record of pretty much everything now. In practice, this means that there’s a great deal of dirt, or stuff that can be construed as dirt, on pretty much everyone under the age of 30, and many of those above it. What does that mean for the future of The Open Society? Do we want to live in a culture were public figures can be disgraced and taken down at a moment’s notice whenever they challenge the powers that be? If, like me, your answer to that question is NO, then we need to become far more critical of exposés. If something embarrassing becomes public, when they’ve got dirt in The Dirt Drawer on everybody, the first question to ask is “Who benefits?” not “Is this true?”

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

The Ring of Populist Power

As Lincoln well knew, politicians can appeal to the better angels of our nature or they can appeal to what is ugly in us. It’s a temptation every political movement faces: to what extent are we willing to flirt with the dark side—tap into its power—for the greater good of our cause? Sooner or later, every politician, and almost every activist, comes to the conclusion that they can get away with this Faustian bargain, that they will succeed where most have failed. Some do. Most do not. Because, as Tolkien makes clear, when you slip on that ring of power, it soon owns you far more than you own it. Trump put on the ring of populist power awhile ago. Will it end up owning him? Only time will tell.

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

The Great Wall of India

10626817_10152382893102683_6818992889370798341_nIn my dream, the pretty South Asian reporter with a British accent was talking about something called the The Great Wall of India. They had built it, she said, along the north end of the Bay of Bengal, on the southern limit of the continental shelf, about 200km from the vulnerable shoreline shared by India, Bangladesh, and Burma. Composed entirely of materials manufactured out of captured carbon, the seawall continues along the edge of the continental shelf for a staggering 500km.

Part of the Global Marshall Plan Initiative, the original purpose of The Great Wall of India was to protect the most densely populated place on Earth from the worst ravages of climate change; however, quite unexpectedly, it has become an excellent source of habitat for marine life (especially baby fish). As a direct result of The Great Wall of India, fish stocks in the Bay of Bengal (as well as the Indian Ocean) have been bouncing back at an astounding rate. Local fishermen are reporting catches the likes of which have not been seen since the early twentieth century.

Though they had originally hoped to be done by 2032, unforeseen engineering problems delayed completion of The Great Wall of India by a little over seven years. As such, though it was supposed to take 15 years to build it, it ended up taking closer to 22 years. Even so, when construction came to a close six months ago, in the fall of 2039, the citizens of the world beheld it with a kind of divine awe. Paid for completely with worldwide carbon taxes, The Great Wall of India is now (in 2040) the largest human-made structure on Planet Earth. It can be seen clearly from space.

—John Faithful Hamer, The Goldfish (2017)

p.s. It occurs to me now, and only in retrospect, that the reporter in my dream looked a whole lot like my friend Sara Nuzhat Amin (minus the British accent, of course).

Survey Time!

103990447-img_7216-600x400Quiz Time!

Hi kids! It’s quiz time again. As you know, at this time of year I like to do a pop quiz to see if you’ve been paying attention to ol’ Doc King as he’s banged on in Psychology Research Methods Class throughout the year.

As you all know, this year the topic was “Surveys”. Surveys are a great way to gather data, often anonymously and in large amounts. Some people think that everyone always lies on them—but actually when we compare the information gained there with other methods (called “validating”) we get useful results: But only if we construct our surveys intelligently!

So, as in previous years we decided to test your knowledge by putting together a purposely (and, if I say so myself, laughably!) bad survey. And this year’s one was a treat because we had help from a celebrity. He asked not to be named, so let’s just call him “Professor Drumpf”…

Anyhow—this was his survey. As normal it was riddled with ridiculous errors. Your task was to list all the errors—the things that would make this survey utterly useless to anyone with even a passing respect for science, or the fair collection of data. And, I’m glad to say—you all did really well. As a reminder: Here’s the complete quiz.

Of course—as you all spotted, pretty much every single question was so badly constructed as to render the survey totally without value except as an item of comedy, or to test one’s questionnaire making skills. Well done students! However, some of the questions posed special issues and rather than deal with the question papers individually, I’ve put them together here.

Those Howlers

We led you in gently with the first three…even putting a “No opinion” on the questions to make the questions appear legit. Having got your guard down we then hit you with question 4!

4) On which issues does the mainstream media do the worst job of representing Republicans? (Select as many that apply.)



Pro-life values


Individual liberty


Foreign policy

Second Amendment rights

(The question asks for “the worst” and then allows you to tick multiple boxes. As most of you realized—this would confuse anyone remotely familiar with normal human logic.)

Bonus points if you spotted that question (4) also led the respondents to particular conclusions by mentioning only “Republicans” and no other parties.

6)  Which online sources do you use? (Select as many that apply.)

Drudge Report


National Review

Weekly Standard

Free Beacon

Daily Caller

American Spectator

Red Alert Politics


Question 6 was a doozy, wasn’t it? It caught a couple of you out…By only mentioning Far-Right news outlets and not allowing any write-ins for “other”, the survey maker would have stacked the deck in their favor (assuming they were a real survey maker and not a gag one like this one!)

7)  Do you trust the mainstream media to tell the truth about the Republican Party’s positions and actions?



No opinion

Question 7 was, as most of you spotted what we call in the trade a “complex question”: E.g. it asks for more than one thing at a time.

Someone might agree with the first part (“Tells the truth about Republican positions” while not the second “Tells the truth about Republican actions”). Indeed—given that the Republican party might itself say one thing and do another—this is a very possible position for a rational person to hold. This question would smear those things together. And you all spotted it—well done you!

8) Hillary Clinton still gets a free pass from the media as she continues to lie about sending classified information on her secret server.



No opinion

Question 8 (“Hilary Clinton gets a free pass”) was, as you all spotted—a leading question. Technically it’s “question-begging”—assuming the conclusion in the question, like asking “do you still grab pussies?”

9)  The mainstream media takes Donald Trump’s statements out of context, but bends over backwards to defend Hillary’s statements.



No opinion

Question 9 was both the errors of (7) and (8) rolled into one. It was a complex question and a leading question! Well done to those who potted the double-error.

11) The mainstream media needs to do more to expose the shady donations to the Clinton Foundation.



No opinion

Question 11 (“Shady donations”) was another leading question. We thought we could slip that by you by putting that word later in the sentence—but you all spotted it. It also manages to sneak in an undefined but vaguely perjorative term “mainstream media” without defining it.

25) More time is spent covering fake “scandals” involving Trump than real scandals involving Hillary and our national security.



No opinion

As you all spotted, this one contained begging the question, leading questions, complex questions and managed to push the “social desirability” element to the fullest. Who doesn’t want to care about “national security” after all…

And, last but not least…

Every piece of data collection should start off with an ethical declaration and a reminder that your data will be kept confidential. Especially important in this day and age where some officials will take your phone, demand your password, and download every text, FB post, and drunken sext to your ex (that you now regret) at the border of certain countries.

This survey asked for personal details at the end without saying these data were only to be collected to prevent repeated surveying of the same individual. Naughty naughty! And well-spotted, students.

Now, some of you thought you could get extra credit by speculating on the possible state of mind or political motives of someone who could construct such a survey. Might I remind you that terms like “narcissistic”, “delusional” or “possible psychedelic drug abuse” are only appropriate in the context of properly conducted clinical interviews? In a similar vein, speculations about “testing the ground for a dictatorship” or similar have no place in psychology.

We are scientists, not politicians. That said, we didn’t remove any marks for these speculations and found them most entertaining. I’m sure our guest professor will agree.

—Robert King

Dear Justin: All is Forgiven


When Trudeau announced that he was reneging on his electoral reform promises, I was pissed. Big time. But I’ve had a change of heart. What Trudeau said the other day in his much maligned mea culpa is actually, when you really think about it, true. Our present system forces political parties to at least try to appeal to the whole country. And that’s good for the country because it forces parties to moderate their message and choose more reasonable leaders.

My friends and I were all psyched about electoral reform when we thought it would necessarily mean more votes for the NDP and the Greens. But clearly we didn’t think this shit through. Because that’s not at all what it necessarily means. In fact, it’s far more likely that it’ll mean more votes for a far-right party that gets its news from Breitbart News and Rebel Media.

If the electoral reforms I once supported were put into place tomorrow, I fear that, by 2020, we’d have a far-right political party in Parliament led (directly or indirectly) by the likes of Ezra Levant. This openly racist party wouldn’t get more than 15% of the vote, but the legitimacy representation in Parliament would give to their toxic ideas, and the long-term damage to our political culture, would far outweigh the size of their electoral success.

“This was my choice to make,” the PM said the other day, to a booing crowd, “and I chose to make it with full consequence of the cost that is possibly going to come (from) it, but I will not compromise on what is in the best interests of Canada. That’s what Canadians elected me for.”

Justin just took a bullet for his country.

—John Faithful Hamer, Blue Notes (2017)

Why Kevin O’Leary is an Existential Threat to Canada

kevinThe Conservative Party of Canada is shopping around for a new leader. Kevin O’Leary, the front-runner, doesn’t speak French. To my mind, this ought to disqualify him from serious consideration.

For a system of government such as ours to work, a Canadian Prime Minister must try to govern in the interests of the whole country (or, at the very least, as much of it as possible). The great conservative Edmund Burke makes this clear in his “Speech to the Electors of Bristol” (November 3, 1774): “parliament is a deliberative assembly of one nation, with one interest, that of the whole; where, not local purposes, not local prejudices, ought to guide, but the general good, resulting from the general reason of the whole. You choose a member indeed; but when you have chosen him, he is not member of Bristol, but he is a member of parliament.”

Trudeau has shown his commitment to doing precisely this by supporting things (like pipelines) which will benefit regions of the country that didn’t vote for him (indeed, would never vote for him). To some extent, Harper made manifest the very same commitment by vastly improving his French in the full knowledge that Quebecers weren’t going to vote for him. In a federal system, gestures like this are incredibly important. Harper got that. Trudeau gets that. O’Leary does not.

The Republican Party didn’t even bother to run candidates in the South in 1860, much less campaign there. And yet Lincoln won. The message to the South was loud and clear: We can win federal elections whilst completely ignoring you, pretending you don’t even exist. As you might expect, the South was like, screw this, we’re out of here! Soon after that, a civil war broke out. It claimed the lives of 620,000 Americans.

Choose wisely, Conservatives, choose wisely. Order is fragile.

—John Faithful Hamer, Blue Notes (2017)

Better the Devil You Know

lead_960Trashing journalists and the media has been a mainstay of Western intellectual life at least as far back as Nietzsche, who implored his readers to “live in ignorance of what seems most important to your age!” Nassim Nicholas Taleb and Aaron Haspel, thinkers I’ve profited from immensely, are similarly hard on the media. Taleb’s contempt for journalists is legendary. In the revised 2016 edition of The Bed of Procrustes he says that he takes “a ritual bath after any contact, or correspondence (even emails), with . . . journalists, and those in similarly depraved pursuits”—whilst Haspel quips in Everything (2015): “News is noise.” I was once quite partial to this view. But far less so lately.

If the citizenry buys into the idea that journalism is little more than propaganda, and journalists are little more than paid trolls, who benefits from this, if not paid trolls and bullshit artists like Sean Hannity, who can now afford to hide in plain sight, with get-out-of-jail-free cards in their wallets which read: “Everybody’s Doing It Why Can’t We?” Same is true of those who denigrate science: they’re usually doing so because serious science is a threat to their particular brand of bullshit.

hannity3-edit“Media isn’t about truth, it is about power.” Seriously, Brent? Is that actually what you believe? Is media often about power? Absolutely. Too often? Probably. But are you really ready to say, with a straight face, that there’s no difference between The New York Times and the propaganda machines that masquerade as media outlets in totalitarian states like North Korea and the former Soviet Union? Are you really ready to say that there’s no difference between Peter Jennings and Alex Jones? Because claims of this stamp are patently and demonstrably false. Regardless, I read Adbusters religiously in my early twenties, and I was a bible-thumping Pentecostal in my teens, so I know full well why folks on the far left and the far right are in love with this false equivalency. They love it because it levels the playing field. After all, if news is nothing but propaganda, and it’s all just about power, then we can spew out our own bullshit with impunity, and we can do it with a clean conscience.

Removing a well established institution from your society is like getting a seemingly superfluous part of your body—like your appendix or your tonsils—surgically removed. We too often discover the usefulness of things like the tonsils after they’ve been irretrievably removed. So, before you entrust the body politic to the radical’s knife, it’s good to ask: Is this institution performing an important function? And, if it is, who’s going to perform it after it’s gone?

Trashing the mainstream media without a viable alternative in mind is like invading Iraq without an exit strategy and toppling Saddam Hussein. The monsters that slither out of the chaos to fill the power vacuum are sure to be much, much worse. Be careful what you wish for, friends, be careful what you wish for. Order is fragile.

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

Welcome to Likeville

iknowwhereimgoingtolive_32818b_4859529The promise of Social Media Land was always, to some extent, an imperialistic dream. The geeks who created this online world were all, to a man, urban liberals who hoped the Internet would bring the light of civilization to Sameville, a mythological small town where everybody’s white and wrong. The enlightened minds of the multicultural metropolis were going to bring the true gospel of diversity and tolerance to the benighted citizens of Sameville. If these guys had a theme song, it would be a cover of Walter Donaldson’s Jazz Era classic—“How Ya Gonna Keep ’em Down on the Farm (After They’ve Seen Paree)?” (1919)—entitled “How Ya Gonna Keep ’em Down in Stupidlandia (After They’ve Seen Portlandia)?”

how_ya_gonna_keep_em_down_on_the_farm_after_theyve_seen_paree_sm-2-073The dream came true. Well, sorta. When I was a kid, there were still people in my working-class neighborhood who believed that if you scared a pregnant woman, her baby would be born with a tail. Ignorance like this of shockingly medieval proportions was everywhere to be found. Few of my friends had a working 20th-century knowledge of human anatomy, much less the natural world. But I’m happy to report that the Internet, and especially Wikipedia, has cleared up much of this ignorance.

My children have access to far more accurate knowledge about things like how a woman gets pregnant than most of my friends did at their age. What’s more, to the best of my knowledge, none of their friends believe in babies with tails. To some extent, then, the Internet has indeed been a force of enlightenment in our world. But its enlightenment has been limited in scope, in part, because the geeks who dreamed of conquering small-town ignorance failed to anticipate the emergence of Sameville’s online doppelgänger: Likeville.

16These days, any simpleminded partisan with a political ax to grind can find a Likeville, an online community of like-minded whack-jobs who’ll happily Facebook-like every stupid thing he says. Likeville isn’t just a safe space for stupid, it’s boot camp for bullshit. Likeville arms its citizens with plenty of ideological ammunition (e.g., bogus stats, pre-fab arguments, etc.). Before long, what was once a more-or-less harmless, single-issue troll has morphed into something far more monstrous and formidable: a veritable Swiss-army knife of bullshit, a perfect storm of bad ideas, a walking Wikipedia of stupid.

Alexandre Bissonnette is a product of Likeville. And what he did in Quebec City ought to be a wake-up call. If the Mosque Massacre proves anything, it’s that these Frankenstein creations of the Internet, these Likevilles, aren’t just a major obstacle to 21st-century Enlightenment; they’re a serious threat to peace, order, and good government.

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