Category Archives: Academics & Academia

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.

https://action.trump2016.com/trump-mms-survey/

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.)

Immigration

Economics

Pro-life values

Religion

Individual liberty

Conservatism

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

Breitbart

National Review

Weekly Standard

Free Beacon

Daily Caller

American Spectator

Red Alert Politics

Other

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?

Yes

No

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.

Yes

No

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.

Yes

No

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.

Yes

No

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.

Yes

No

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

Profs Who Don’t Read

92821459I’ve often been shocked by how utterly boring and anti-intellectual a lot of academics are. They’ll happily gossip about their colleagues for hours, but if you start talking about ideas at the dinner party they invariably give you this exasperated look and say something akin to “Do we really have to talk shop tonight?”

Most of the academics I know can’t remember the last time they read a serious book cover to cover. Sure, they keep up with reviews of serious books (thanks New York Review of Books!); but there’s nothing particularly intellectual about their leisurely pursuits. How thoroughly disturbing this is! Writer’s block is excusable. Sometimes you just don’t have anything to say. Or you can’t find the words. But a prof who doesn’t read is like a preacher who doesn’t pray.

I wonder if the increasing popularity of cheap moralism and formulaic ideologies amongst academics is really just a sneaky way of hiding the fact that they’re not reading like they used to. After all, who needs to read when you already know everything? Who needs to read when your pre-fab grad-school ideology has a ready-made pigeonhole for everything new under the sun? Why be curious when you can be outraged? Why be right when you can be righteous? Food of an inferior quality is often drowned in spices. Perhaps there’s something of a similar stamp going on here.

Why anyone who finds playing with ideas so tedious would choose the academic life is a mystery to me. After all, it’s not like we’re curing cancer or saving starving children. Nor are we making the big bucks. So what are we doing this for? Well, to my mind, the only good reason to pursue this life is because you find it inherently rewarding.

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

Don’t Trust Any Idea Over 30?

Humanities Heuristic: If every book on the syllabus is younger than your mom, drop the class.

Don Draper

When student activist Jack Weinberg declared “Don’t trust anyone over 30”—at the height of the Free Speech Movement at UC Berkeley in the mid-1960s—he was, to some extent, speaking for an entire generation, a generation that had lost faith in the wisdom of their elders, a generation that had concluded that the present had little or nothing to learn from the past. But he was also giving voice to an intuition that flows quite naturally out of cultural currents that predate the babyboomers, such as the theory of the avant-garde, the Whiggish faith in progress, the modernist obsession with all things new—which the philosopher Nassim Nicholas Taleb has aptly dubbed neomania—and the sense, so well articulated by Henry Adams in The Education of Henry Adams (1907), that the modern world constitutes a radical break with history: “in essentials like religion, ethics, philosophy; in history, literature, art; in the concepts of all science, except perhaps mathematics, the American boy of 1854 stood nearer the year 1 than to the year 1900. The education he had received bore little relation to the education he needed. Speaking as an American of 1900, he had as yet no education at all. He knew not even where or how to begin.”

Is this modernist mistrust of the past justified? I used to think so. But lately, not so much. Inventions like the microscope and the telescope have made it possible for scientists in fields like molecular cell biology and particle physics to see things—faraway stars, subatomic particles, and microscopic viruses—which simply couldn’t be seen in the ancient world. As such, the rapidly changing received wisdom in fields which benefit from these amazing technological innovations is easy enough to explain and justify. The rapidly changing received wisdom in the humanities and the social sciences is far less easy to explain and justify. Is there any technological advance which has made it possible for us to “see” things about human nature which would have been “invisible” to thoughtful people in the ancient world? I can’t, for the life of me, seem to think of one. Has modern life, and everything it entails, so fundamentally rewired our brains that human nature is, in the twenty-first century, dramatically different from the human nature which prevailed in, say, the Egypt of the Pharaohs? I doubt it. And this doubt leads me to two troubling questions: If our capacity to “see” human nature hasn’t changed much, and human nature hasn’t changed much, how can we justify and explain the rapidly changing received wisdom in the humanities and the social sciences? What’s more, if little has changed, how can we justify the claim that the present has little or nothing to learn from the past?

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

Prosecuting Professor Prick

4m39dravm9g5ehgrtv9i9hlwljt8rxjq65axuypiskh1py3fwmc1e7wvs6g5bgma_large_2A hard-core feminist friend of mine was once faced with a moral dilemma: her mom, a hard-core traditionalist, insisted that her wedding invitation be addressed to Mr. & Mrs. Dad’s Full Name. Needless to say, this offended her feminist sensibilities: “It’s like she wants to erase her own identity!” Of course she caved. Because she’s a decent person who realizes that you’ve gotta call people what they want to be called (even if you think it’s silly). This is a simple truth of social life that’s lost on Jordan Peterson, the University of Toronto professor who has, rather ridiculously, decided that he’s going to heroically stand up for the right to be a prick to trans students. That being said, prosecuting Peterson for being a prick is equally ridiculously. Indeed, probably more so. As my friend Matt Talley puts it: “just because it’s decent, doesn’t mean it should be legally mandated behavior.” Being a prick’s bad, but outlawing pricks is worse.

17553957_10154564066002683_6941119405797140254_nMany of the criticisms of The Open Society that I hear from the far left and the far right come down to the same thing: The Open Society is, like a big city, far too loud, rude, uncouth, hectic, smelly, stinky, disgusting, profane, disorderly, gross. They say that if The Open Society is going to survive and thrive, if it’s to have a future, it must become The Respectful Society. I know it sounds like a good idea, maybe even a noble idea, but The Respectful Society people on the far left and the far right long for is little more than a mirage, a misleading myth.

17499049_10154564125622683_1696717189446780712_nThere have always been but two choices available to us: We can live in The Open Society, which is a messy, chaotic place where nobody gets their way all the time, a place where everybody has to put up with shit they don’t like. Or we can live in The Closed Society, which is, in practice, usually just one big fat “safe space” for the ruling majority. Every time we allow a piece of public space to be seized and transformed into someone’s private little safe space, every time we allow touchiness to trump tolerance, we become a little less free. Our thin-skinned age needs to remember that The Open Society isn’t a safe space; it’s a tolerant space. And tolerance isn’t tolerance unless it hurts. The Respectful Society isn’t a new and improved version of The Open Society; it’s a new and improved version of The Closed Society.

Although I find some of his ideas maddening, I’m glad that we live, for now, in the kind of Open Society that makes it possible for Jordan Peterson to voice his opposition. He’s not my enemy. But if you’re one of those people who wants to silence him, or get him fired, you are.

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

On Political Philosophies and “What Works”

This is mostly in response to John’s fine piece titled “Why Libertarians Are Like Judgy Know-It-Alls Who Don’t Have Kids”, which can be found here

The problem with arguments against normative theories that appeal to “what works” is that in them is already built a normative theory. As a result, they beg the question.

This took me a long time to realize, though Aaron Haspel clearly knew about this for awhile now. When I first met Aaron at John’s place and this topic came up, Aaron nonchalantly rattled off the above observation as though it were a matter of course. It was humbling and, to be honest, mildly embarrassing.

At any rate, in this fine piece, John writes that “Much in America works. And works very well.” But to libertarians (and Marxists, etc.), violating people’s rights doesn’t count as “working”, even if the overall arrangement is generally desirable or pleasant. This point is brought out especially well by Ursula Le Guin’s award-winning short story, “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas.” In this story, Le Guin writes of a utopian city known as Omelas.

Omelas is shimmering, bright and beautiful. Everyone is happy, has food to eat and there is no social strife. Everything works wonderfully. However, Omelas has a dark secret. It turns out that the city’s splendor depends on the infliction of suffering and misery on a single child who is locked away in a basement.

When they come of age, each Omelian citizen is taken to see the child. The story is about the ones who, after seeing the child, decide in the dead of night when everyone’s asleep to walk away from Omelas.

The point is this: To those who walk away from Omelas, the city doesn’t “work.” For before we can do or judge what “works”, we need to know what counts as working. As normative theories, Marxism, libertarianism and (insert political philosophy here) try to provide the criteria for what counts as working.

Now, this does not take anything away from John’s insight that libertarians are very wrong—and indeed, childish—when they complain that the government does nothing well. The government undoubtedly provides many valuable services, and sometimes does so well and efficiently. To categorically say otherwise is false and, worse, dogmatic.

But on political philosophy more generally, I agree with Marxist philosopher G.A. Cohen that our principles of justice (which are delivered by our particular political philosophies) ought to be fact-insensitive. That is, I don’t think facts about a principle’s feasibility (in terms of people’s willingness to comply with it) should count as evidence for or against the principle. More concretely, “But, in the real world, people will always rape!” is not a valid objection to “Rape is wrong.”

As the saying goes, Marxism may not work “in practice” because we are too selfish and greedy to be good Marxists, but most people agree that it’s morally the right way. That is enough to concede that Marxism is true. (Libertarians, of course, disagree.) Indeed, Marxism is just a normative thesis, and normative claims do not entail anything about what descriptively is or will be the case. Their truth stands independently of it.

Appeals to “what works”, then, either don’t count as any evidence against Marxism or libertarianism, or beg the question against them.

—Chris Nguyen

When Social Psychologists Cry Wolf

“The boy leaped to his feet and sang out as loudly as he could, ‘Wolf! Wolf!’ But the villagers thought he was trying to fool them again, and so they didn’t come.”—Aesop, “The Boy Who Cried Wolf”

11q101-005Sure, she was young and cute. But that’s not why I gave her the money for the payphone. Regardless, she put up her hand like a crossing guard when I tried to hand her the quarters. Said she didn’t need the money. Said she was just doing a study: a study of people’s willingness to give money to strangers. Her thesis—soon to be published, no doubt, in The Journal of Incredibly Obvious Results—is that the race, class, and gender of the person being asked (and the person doing the asking) are important. “For instance,” she said—with all of the sanctimonious seriousness of an annoying nine-year-old boy who’s memorized the names of the dinosaurs—“men like you are far more likely to give money to an attractive well-dressed young women than to a guy with a mohawk who looks like a junkie and smells bad.” “Um, yeah,” I replied—visibly pissed off at this point—“because I figure he wants the money for heroin. I thought you actually needed the money for the phone. Regardless, does it occur to you that I might be less likely to give money to anyone in the future?” She looked perplexed. Vaguely hurt. “Um, no, why?” “Because I’m gonna think it’s just another stupid study.”

Okay, Social Psychology: that was Strike One. But what happened today on the Mountain constitutes Strike Two and Strike Three! So I’m walking on the Mountain this morning when I hear a person crying for help. It takes me about ten minutes to locate the source of the voice in the woods. When I do, I discover that it’s three nerdy looking graduate students in khakis with a laptop and a speaker. Yes, you guessed it: they were doing another study: a social psychological study on who responds to the calls of a stranger in distress in the woods. Once again, homage was to be paid to the Holy Trinity of 21st-century academic life: race, class, and gender. Once again, their results were, no doubt, soon to be published in The Journal of Incredibly Obvious Results. And once again, I said: “Does it occur to you that I might be less likely to respond to the calls of a stranger in distress in the future?” They looked perplexed. Vaguely hurt. “Um, no, why?”—said the dweeb holding the laptop. I wonder if social psychologists realize what damage they do to the social fabric with these kinds of studies. What makes civil society possible is—in large part—social trust. And social trust is eroded by studies such as this.

Questioning the findings of social psychology was, for a long time, sort of like trying to find out why Homeland Security put grandma’s name on the No-Fly List. Since many of their landmark studies were done during the Wild West days of social psychology, before standards of research ethics were established and enforced, the studies couldn’t be replicated. We had to accept what they said more or less on faith. But since they were saying things that many left-leaning academics wanted to believe anyway (e.g., that human behavior is all, more or less, a function of environment and social roles), most of us were willing to do this. It now seems that our faith was misplaced. Many of social psychology’s greatest hits have been discredited. Many of its rock stars have fallen from grace. Some have even suggested that the entire discipline is fraudulent. Regardless, maybe it’s time to revisit the much-maligned dispositional approach. Maybe it’s time to start talking about virtue and character again.

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

Education and Entertainment

“The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it.”—Karl Marx, Theses on Feuerbach (1888)

IMG_6282
Dina Goldstein, “Gods of Suburbia” (2014)

Marshall McLuhan once quipped: “Anyone who tries to draw a distinction between education and entertainment doesn’t know the first thing about either.” I’ve had this quotation displayed prominently on my office wall ever since I started teaching at John Abbott College. I know this idea pisses off a lot of my colleagues, but I must confess that it seems perfectly obvious to me. After all, when you’re entertaining a person, you’ve got their attention; when you’re boring them, you don’t. And how can you possibly teach someone anything if you don’t have their attention? If J. K. Rowling proved anything with the Harry Potter series, it’s that the average kid’s attention span is much longer than most teachers would have you believe. Perhaps our students’ supposedly short attention spans aren’t a function of some underlying problem—requiring drugs and therapy or sanctimonious finger-wagging—but rather a function of terrible teachers and ridiculously boring classes.

Art’s power to change hearts and minds stems precisely from the fact that it’s entertaining. We often forget that the shocking proposals concerning censorship in Plato’s Republic (376d-392c) are predicated upon on a deep respect for art’s power to shape souls. Harriett Beecher Stowe’s antislavery novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852) got through to many people who had more or less ignored the preachy pleas of angry activists. The same is probably true of television shows like Modern Family. When the Christian Right protests against the sympathetic portrayal of a gay character on a television show, they’re silently acknowledging the ability of entertainment to educate. Truth be told, I suspect that they respect art’s power far more than those who mock McLuhan.

If we were playing Trivial Pursuit and the question on the card was Which American university has the most extensive foreign languages program? you’d probably guess (as did I) that it’s Harvard (or another Ivy League school)—perhaps UCLA, NYU, Penn State, or the University of Chicago. But if you guessed one of these schools (or any of the other usual suspects), you’d be wrong. The correct answer is quite surprising: Brigham Young University—the über-conservative Mormon university in Utah, known for being fiercely Republican and openly hostile to feminists, homosexuals, and intellectuals. BYU is owned and operated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. It’s the largest religious university in the U.S.; it’s also the third-largest private university in the country.

“BYU states in no uncertain terms the religious goal of its education,” writes the philosopher Martha Nussbaum, in Cultivating Humanity (1997): “students are to be taught ‘the truths of the gospel of Jesus Christ.’” Personal piety is expected of students as well as professors, and the academic freedom of both is severely circumscribed: “Phi Beta Kappa, the national student scholarly honour society, has repeatedly refused BYU’s request for a campus chapter, on grounds of its restrictions on academic freedom.” What’s more, BYU is one of the whitest universities in America (“total minority enrollment stands at 4 percent”). Alas, BYU is not devoted to diversity and liberal, cosmopolitan values. Even so, BYU’s commitment to foreign language instruction is second to none: “No university in this country,” notes Nussbaum, “offers more foreign languages—including rarely taught languages of Australasia and the South Pacific, Persian Farsi, Haitian Creole, some Native American and some African languages.”

The reason for BYU’s commitment to the teaching of foreign languages should be obvious: the LDS Church takes the Great Commission at the end of Mark’s Gospel very seriously: “And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15). Though the narrowly goal-oriented nature of this enterprise is somewhat sketchy, I must confess that I can’t help but admire the straightforwardly pragmatic wisdom of the Mormon approach. Mormon missionaries want to spread their ideas, their worldview, their values—not their language; as such, they speak in the common tongue of the people they wish to convert. Mormon missionaries don’t arrogantly expect their would-be converts to work hard to learn how to speak their language and understand them; they don’t expect their would-be converts to employ their idiosyncratic specialist’s jargon, their rarefied dialect. Alas, the same cannot be said of most academics, especially progressive academics writing in the Humanities and the Social Sciences. They seem to revel in being thoroughly incomprehensible.

To some extent, as Max Weber rightly observed nearly a century ago, this is inevitable. In Science as a Vocation (1918), he maintains that the academic life is fundamentally incompatible with the political life. Both are deeply noble callings, but you’ve got to choose between them. Those who refuse to choose, those who try to be both, invariably do neither well. Their wishy-washy commitment to the truth undermines the integrity of their scholarship, whilst their inability to communicate in plain speech undermines the effectiveness of their activism. The political success of Eugene Debs is a case in point.

No leftist has ever connected with American voters more than Debs. He got a million votes for the Socialist Party whilst he was in prison and the country was at war: a stunning political achievement. Yet I find it telling that the doctrinaire urban Marxists of his day—the cool kids, the intellectuals, the hipsters, the academic leftists—treated Debs with contempt. He got no respect. The intellectuals in the big northern cities thought Debs’s usage of farming metaphors and religious imagery was repulsive, and they thought his knowledge of the intricacies of Marxist theory woefully inadequate. Yet Debs could communicate their core concepts like no other. Why could he do this? Because he wasn’t another one of those philosophers who wants to sit on the sidelines and interpret the world in some new and novel way. He was, like the author of Theses on Feuerbach (1888), an activist who believed that “the point is to change it.”

The words we choose betray us: our primary loyalties and preferences are revealed by them. For instance, when you’re speaking, when you’re writing: do you go with le mot juste, the word or phrase that exactly captures your intended meaning, in all of its complexity, in all of its subtlety? Or do you go with the word or phrase that’s second best, or even third or fourth best, because you know that your intended audience will actually understand what you’re saying? If you’re an academic at heart, or an ideologue who loves preaching to the choir, you’ll go with le mot juste every time. But if you’re a teacher like me, or an activist or an organizer, you’ll do whatever you have to do to get through to your people—because, as Saul Alinsky puts it in Rules for Radicals (1971): “It does not matter what you know about anything if you cannot communicate to your people. In that event you are not even a failure. You’re just not there.”

—John Faithful Hamer, From Here (2016)

The Four Semester Solution

“The most effective way to learn is by devoting oneself to a single subject for months at a time. Its opposite is school.”—Aaron Haspel, Everything (2015)

IMG_3390For years now, my students have been complaining about the number of subjects they’re required to take at the same time. While most university students take four courses a semester, most CÉGEP students take eight classes a semester! One young women—a very strong student who made the Dean’s List last semester—likened our present system to a big buffet, wherein everything looks and smells delicious, but you’re forced to eat so much, at such great speed, that you don’t really enjoy any of it whilst it’s happening, and you feel sick to your stomach when it’s done.

I propose that we split our existing semesters in two—creating four semesters; finish a week later in December; and add two weeks to the academic year: one at the beginning, in August, and one at the end, in May. We’ll need these three extra weeks to make space for the two new exam periods (one in mid-October and another in mid-March), and the new week-long break we’re going to add to the academic year (mid-October).

The first semester of the academic year would begin in mid-August and end in mid-October. It would be followed by a week-long exam period and a week-long break (Fall Break). The second semester would begin in mid-October and end in mid-December. It would be followed by a week-long exam period and a break from late December to mid-January (Winter Break). The third semester would begin in mid-January and end in mid-March. It would be followed by a week-long exam period and a week-long break (Spring Break). The fourth and final semester of the academic year would begin in early April and end in late May. It would be followed by a week-long exam period and the Summer Break.

Our students could, under this new system, take half as many classes per semester and go into far greater depth with them.

—John Faithful Hamer, Twilight of the Idlers (2017)

Irony and Sarcasm

zn29jMy generation is noted for its fondness for irony and sarcasm. This makes us delightful dinner guests and witty travel companions. But it also makes kids and students hate us. The problem is this: kids don’t pick up on irony, for the most part—same is true of those who are new to the English language. Both frequently conclude that the literal meaning of your witty little remark—the obvious meaning, the meaning on the surface—is the intended meaning (i.e., what you really meant to say). Thus, liberal parents who mouth racist remarks—within earshot of their kids—in a mocking tone of voice (a Southern accent, perhaps) frequently communicate to their children (inadvertently) that they hold these racist views in earnest.

Same thing happened to a Jewish professor at Concordia University. He made a few anti-Semitic remarks during a lecture on Depression-Era America. He did so to make fun of the stupidity (and asinine reasoning) so often found in antisemitic thought. I was thus shocked to discover, after class, that a francophone student (a friend of mine, studying in English for the first time) thought the professor (the Jewish professor!) was a flaming Nazi. Indeed, he went so far as to suggest that we file a complaint against the professor with B’nai Brith Canada. Naturally, I dissuaded him and clarified the professor’s meaning.

This experience (and countless others) have convinced me that irony and teaching don’t mix, unless you’re teaching privileged kids with a strong grasp of the English language. What’s true of irony is, I suspect, doubly true of sarcasm. Children and new English speakers invariably miss the subtleties of the sardonic style. Hate to be the one to break it to you: but all they hear is senseless meanness. They don’t think you’re cute. They just think you’re an asshole. Alas, though the charms of irony and sarcasm are undeniable, confining them to the company of peers is prudent, and forgoing them altogether in the presence of children is wise.

—John Faithful Hamer, The Goldfish (2016)

Why We Strike

We strike because we want a government that invests in people not planes, bodies not Bombardier, sharing not shareholders. We strike because we want a government that invests in healthy people not healthy profits, well-educated minds not well-lined pockets, the common good not the corporate good. In short, we strike because we believe that in these troubled times our government should be helping out the needy not the greedy.