April Fools Day
I’m making a brief visit to my blog on this major holiday, because there are lessons for fiction writers in the way successful April Fools Day ‘news’ is composed. I like to test my skills on this special day.
The not so secret to a successful prank is one the tricks for much successful fiction: apparent veracity. You have to write something believable that isn’t actually true. If it is too far-fetched, the reader’s sceptic alarm goes off. It also helps if you cater to people’s prejudices. It is easy to convince people of lies that take advantage of what psychologists call confirmation bias.
I am fortunate in having a ready audience to test my ability, for I can send a group email to the entire faculty at our university. One of the things taught at university is scepticism and checking your sources of information. So this is a tough test of my abilities.
The year we had a big new library built, many of the faculty were upset at the amount of space for actual books as opposed to spacious group study areas or other amenities intended to cater to students. The administration really had allocated shelving space barely sufficient to house the current collection. I outrageously exaggerated the situation in a fake news article that I then inserted in a simulated web page from our local paper. I put the page on my own private web server, wrote a group email about seeing the article, and attached a link to my fake page. Many of my colleagues took the bait—hook, line and sinker. And sent emails to everyone expressing their outrage.
At Nip U., faculty all complain about students' bad attitude toward the academic side of university life, so this morning I modified last month’s Faculty Newsletter by inserting an article about student research that confirmed our worst prejudices about how lazy students were. I attached it in an email wondering why no one had expressed outrage at this evidence of our students’ terrible attitudes.
I’ve been getting email expressing this belated outrage. Eventually, someone always smells a rat and lets the cat out of the bag, especially if they know me.
That just happened! And indeed it was someone who knew me too well. A real spoil sport!
April Fools Day Master
George Plimpton of Paris Review fame clearly was a writer who had the art of the hoax mastered.
Your Man Friday’s Ideas: The Big Three Of New Tech
Steve Jobs, Larry Page, and Mark Zuckerberg are three geeks that have changed the world. It is difficult to find an unbiased evaluation of them and their companies. Apple fans are not Android fans (although they use Google’s search engine), and Google is at war with Facebook. Facebook is hated by many, but has a billion users. Whatever your bias, it is undeniable that all three men responsible for the revolutionary innovations of their companies are interesting, creative individuals. Here are three videos by or about these guys. (Gates was one of the first and probably most influential modern tech revolutionary, but Microsoft is now ‘ancient’ history.)
Man Friday links here: http://kenstange.com/yourmanfriday/?p=1631
Your Man Friday’s Ideas: Sex Differences
Perhaps the biggest sex difference of all is between how men and women interpret research about sex differences. It would be foolish to venture an opinion as to whether that difference of interpretation is primarily because of nature or nurture. We all respond to any new, controversial research with either an approving nod or a sceptical eye, depending on our existing beliefs and biases. This is almost as true of the scientifically literate as of the average Joe—opps—or Jill. It is certainly true of scientific findings on allegedly innate genetic (and assumed hard-wired) differences between men and women. We are male or female, and this is important to our sense of who we are. This is why ‘confirmation bias’ so powerfully shapes our evaluation of such research.
Man Friday links here: http://kenstange.com/yourmanfriday/?p=1636
A More Modest Return
As General MacArthur said when he came back to defeat the Japanese in WWII, “I have returned.” My return here is less momentous, but I just needed to surface from days spent submerged in memories and writing about my misspent youth.
What I’ve been working on is Chicago Days: Growing Up Absurd On The South Side. Here is a new ‘offering’ from that book.
Almost Slipping Off The Edge On A Learning Curve
So I took a break from growing up in Chicago. (I long ago gave up hope of actually growing up.)
A change really is as good a rest. So I’ve turned to working on my visual art.
It’s been a long time since I’ve worked on creating digital art, so I needed to upgrade my skills with graphics tools. Climbing that learning curve wasn’t as easy as such ascents once were. (Although I haven’t matured, my brain seems to have aged a bit.)
Royal Matriarchy: Ice Queen
This is my first digital artwork series in five years! It is a diptych called “Construction 98: Royal Matriarchy”.
Here is the first image of the diptych: Ice Queen.
Royal Matriarchy: Princess
Here is the second piece in the new diptych.
(These two works were inspired by a visit to Malta for a conference a few years ago.)
New Art Gallery
I’ve built a new gallery for new artworks. The old one was getting over-crowded. (It seems that I’ve created a lot of art since I was first enabled by graphic software back in 1986.)
This new one has cleaner lines and is easier to navigate. I want a new place to install my new work, for I’ve decided to spend some time on my visual art again—after taking a five-year break! A change is as good rest. And one really needs a rest after spending too many hours each day working with words. Now I’ll be spending some time working with pixels instead.
Art Has Been Redefined
The conventional definition of visual art changed significantly at the beginning of the Twentieth Century. The invention of photography made painters reconsider their roles, and the subsequent art period that we still call ‘Modern’ Art is a dramatic expansion of the range and variety of visual art.
Other technological developments led to yet further expansion of the scope of visual art. Film and video are but two examples. And mixing media became common, and progressively easier with the advent of personal computers and the ease of the digitalization of artworks.
And most importantly, personal computers made the tools of creation readily accessible. I’m fortunate living at a time when I could take advantage of that. Many writers are envious of those creating a different kind of art. I love visual art and have always wished I had some aptitude or skill at creating it. Now I can.
I will always remain primarily a writer, but I enjoy being able to create visual art. I know I’ll never be in serious competition with those who have devoted their lives to it, but I have become good enough to receive some recognition in that creative field. I’m more than satisfied.
Your Man Friday’s Ideas: The Power Of Music
Music is certainly one of the oldest arts, probably even predating the earliest cave paintings. It certainly is the most ubiquitous in modern life and probably the most powerful of the arts, with a virtually universal effect on people of all ages.
Man Friday links here: http://kenstange.com/yourmanfriday/?p=1641
We all think things most of us don’t say. This makes cordial social intercourse possible and keeps relationships intact. We have many thoughts that it is prudent to keep to ourselves, except while in the company of like-minded people.
But we also enjoy hearing our unspeakable thoughts openly expressed—when someone else does it. There are two groups that often satisfy this desire: comics and writers. They can get away with it because they are not our friends, relatives or spouses. Its just part of their job description.
Nothing is nor should be taboo. Comics and writers are the guardians at the gate to freedom of expression. So it is no surprise they are the early targets of totalitarian regimes. One may not like or agree with what they say, but it doesn’t matter to them, and we should all applaud their right and willingness to say it—even if we find it offensive.
And most of us really love hearing the unspeakable spoken. It’s wonderful to hear what you would not dare to say. And there even is something inherently satisfying in effective or witty expression, even when we’re the butt of a comic’s joke or vehemently disagree with a writer’s opinion.
Voltaire allegedly said, "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." I would append “…and I derive pleasure in hearing it being said.”
In Praise Of The Contrarian
Writers, and really all artists, are concerned about freedom of expression, because one usually needs to break the rules and ignore taboos to create something new and interesting. And so they are often considered very ‘disagreeable’ or ‘contrary’.
Psychologists largely agree that there are five really fundamental personality traits, one of which is “disagreeableness”. Not surprisingly, creative people score very high on measures of this trait.
Contrarian Opinion: Hockey Vs. Baseball
Hockey is to baseball as checkers is to chess. Compare the speed of the game, the brains required to be good at it, and many other considerations.
It is true that a baseball game proceeds much more slowly than a hockey game, but that is why hockey has appeal to those who prefer quick thrills. But hockey fans probably like action flicks more than serious films, which they would describe as boring. It’s no wonder that they then call baseball boring.
Baseball is a much more strategic and intellectual game. Just compare the typical hockey fan to the typical baseball fan. The latter is knowledgeable about statistics, which is why baseball announcers are always announcing numerous stats including each batter’s ABs, BAs, and RBIs. The hockey fan doesn’t even know what these acronyms stand for. And what hockey announcer reports statistics on every player who hits the ice?
It’s embarrassing that hockey is Canada’s national sport, while baseball is the American’s. I’ve always believed that Canadians were much smarter and more sophisticated than Americans. Maybe it’s a generational thing. Maybe it’s because Canadian kids have their malleable young minds inculcated with that idea, just as very religious parents inculcate their children with the same crazy beliefs their own parents had.
I know my opinion of hockey is heresy. Before writing this I checked that my citizenship couldn’t be revoked.
Contrarian Opinion: The Beatles Vs. The Rolling Stones
People can be sorted into two groups: those that are Stones fans and those that are Beatles fans. Frankly, the Rolling Stones are a better rock ‘n roll band. They epitomize the genre.
Don’t get me wrong, the Beatles are great, and I love them. But they are bourgeois at heart, and rock ‘n roll is working class. It is just ironic that the Beatles come from a working class neighbourhood in Liverpool, while the Stones come from an upper middle class area in London. (Jagger even attended the prestigious London School Of Economics.)
The Beatles went through all the middle class phases typical of young people at the time. They started with such silly pop songs as “I Want To Hold You Hand” and then experimented with hippie and Gucci radicalism. It’s no wonder that more serious, newer bands with more working class roots sometimes mock them; for example, The Proclaimer’s “In recognition”. Or that my son’s friend, who grew up in a down and out neighbourhood in Liverpool, loathes the Beatles. And it’s no wonder that many of their songs are still popular with older folk and are repeatedly played on ‘easy listening’ radio stations.
By comparison, The Stones early hit was “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction”, and subsequent tunes included such songs as “Bitch” and “Sympathy For The Devil”, not to mention “Some Girls”, which gave apoplectic seizures to the politically correct. They’re far gutsier and have been from the start.
There is no question that the Beatles wrote some of the most memorable and lasting songs of our time, and I tip my hat to them. And they were great musical innovators. But in terms of the rock ‘n roll genre The Beatles are to The Rolling Stones as Johann Strauss is to Richard Strauss for the classical music genre. As the character Daniel says in “Freaks and Geeks”, “Rock ’n’ roll don’t come from your brain. It comes from your crotch.”
Contrarian Opinion: Cats Vs. Dogs
Cats are fundamentally useless. Ever see a guide cat?
You can argue that we don’t keep pets for their practical usefulness, but companionship is useful. It may be pathetic in some ways, but we crave having some creature that loves us unconditionally. Dogs love their owners. Cats own their owners. Cats just find us useful. We can open that can of tuna.
Cat owners call their cats “independent”, as if it were a virtue. Yes, they are independent, in that they have domesticated us, not the other way around.
This may be because cats are asocial by nature. On the other hand, dogs (which are really domesticated wolves) are by nature social animals. They really don’t like being left alone.
Dogs get excited and gleeful when their owners come home. Dogs obviously crave your affection and just petting them can be used as a reward for some behaviour. Cats occasionally come over and rub against you, but it’s not because they’re craving your affection. It’s because they’re marking their ownership of you with their scent.
I’ll admit cats are easier to care for. For example, you don’t have to walk them. (Although you do have to cater to their finicky needs, such as a particular type of food they’ll deign to eat.) But goldfish or houseplants are easier to care for too, but your goldfish or philodendrons don’t love you. Like cats, they don’t even know you from anyone else.
I had a friend who bragged about how much his cat behaved like dog. That’s sad. That’s like bragging chimps are as smart as humans, because they sometimes can behave like us. I’m happy for him, but he’d be happier if he a got a dog.
More on the misinterpretation (based on wishful thinking) of cat behaviour: http://www.cracked.com/article/226_6-adorable-cat-behaviors-with-shockingly-evil-explanations/
Contrarian Opinion: Voters Vs. Non-Voters
It’s an untrue truism that democracy only works if everyone votes. It would work better if fewer people voted. The ignorant shouldn’t have power over others.
Voting isn’t a right. It’s a privilege. Freedom of expression is a fundamental human right, but freedom to have the majority opinion, no matter how stupid, take away your fundamental human rights is not.
Just look at how well it has worked where majority religious or ideological opinion has imposed censorship. Look at some of the political leaders that have been put in office by majority opinion, an opinion that has often been ruthlessly manipulated by people with money and power. (The ignorant masses are easily manipulated by expensive propaganda.) This explains the immoral jerks that so often get elected in self-congratulatory, but dysfunctional, democracies like the U. S. of A.
Thomas Jefferson famously said, "The cornerstone of democracy rests on the foundation of an educated electorate." Without that cornerstone, you simply have a dictatorship of the masses.
The solution obviously isn’t a ‘literacy’ test, such as was used to prevent blacks from voting not that long ago. Any such tests are just another tool of the powerful to keep their hold on power, and any criteria for being allowed to vote are easily manipulated to that end. It’s happening in Canada now with the proposed, so-called “Fair Elections Act”, which should more aptly be named the “Unfair Elections Act”.
The solution is an educated electorate, but that’s not easily accomplished. Those in power have the power to keep the ignorant masses ignorant. This is why censorship is a top priority for them, and why freedom of expression is a most fundamental human right, not a privilege.
Your Man Friday’s Ideas: What We Wish
“Be careful what you wish for, lest it come true!” seems to be sound advice, and maybe even reason to believe that “May all your wishes come true!” is actually a curse.
Man Friday links here: http://kenstange.com/yourmanfriday/?p=1653
No Place To Hide
We have a fundamental right to privacy, just as we have a right to publicly express our opinions—when we choose to do so. The Internet and modern technology has made it difficult to suppress opinion, but unfortunately it has also made it easier to invade our privacy.
Did anyone suddenly think of the NSA or CSEC?
Off The Soapbox For Now
I’ve been spending too much writing energy up on my soapbox. It’s time for a break.