First. I'm not making this up.
On the "Friday Fun" section of their web site, The National Rifle Association has featured its own version of two classic fairy tales.
In their take on Little Red Riding Hood, Grandma is packing serious heat. When the wolf shows up, Granny (undoubtedly to be played by Clint Eastwood in a wig in the film) swings into action:
"The wolf leaned in, jaws open wide, then stopped suddenly. Those big ears heard the unmistakable sound of a shotgun's safety being clicked off. Those big eyes looked down and saw that grandma had a scattergun aimed right at him...
" 'I don't think I'll be eaten today,' said Grandma, 'and you won't be eating anyone again.' Grandma kept her gun trained on the wolf, who was too scared to move. Before long, he heard a familiar voice call 'Grandmother, I'm here!' Red peeked her head in the door. The wolf couldn't believe his luck—he had come across two capable ladies in the same day, and they were related! Oh, how he hated when families learned how to protect themselves."
I can imagine another version, in which Grandma is the nervous type and when Red knocks on the door the old lady thinks it's the wolf and lets Red have it with both barrels.
The NRA also came up with a version of Hansel and Gretel in which the siblings rescue two boys being held captive by the witch. Gretel covers the sleeping witch with a hunting rifle ("for she was a better shot than her brother") while Hansel unlocks the cage . The witch doesn't wake up and the local cops arrive to cart her away.
See, no violence in either story! They live happily ever after. Then again, maybe after doing a few years of time, the wolf gets out of jail and picks up an AK47 at a gun fair and stalks the now grown-up Red. Grandma (I see Meryl Streep) has hung up her guns due to deteriorating vision, but has to pick up that shotgun one last time...
This is one of those, "Is it just me?" quandaries, where you wonder whether what you're experiencing is universal, or personal and probably you'll just embarrass yourself by mentioning it. I'm talking about how disappointing my Future Self often turns out to be when he turns into my Present Self.
Here's an example. I belong to a lot of MeetUp groups. If you haven't heard of those, check out MeetUp.com, and you'll find hundreds, probably thousands, of groups of people interested in specific topics and activities, like photography, art, cooking and just about every other subject you can imagine.
I'll see something interesting scheduled for a week from now, like an interesting talk or a visit to a gallery or a mini-workshop.
I imagine my Future Self going to the event, meeting people, enjoying the activity.
My Future Self is a gregarious, fine fellow, a man of the world who pursues many interests. I sign him up for the event and we are both happy.
When it's time to go to the event, my Future Self has turned into my Present Self, and something has definitely gone wrong in the interim.
My future self is unconcerned with trivial details like the weather. My Present Self looks out the window and sees that it's drizzling and thinks, 'Do I really want to go out? '
Whereas my Future Self was certain he would meet interesting new people, my Present Self remembers that time I went to an event and got buttonholed for thirty minutes by The World's Most Boring Man Who Also Had Bad Breath.
My Future Self didn't bother with the details of how he would get to the venue. My Present Self looks at the Underground map and sees he'd have to change twice and walk twenty minutes.
My Present Self decides to stay home and Get Things Done. He can envision the short-term Future Self catching up on paperwork, clearing up the home office, getting a start on organizing those documents for the tax return. Yes, we have made the right decision and the Future Self will get to work right after dinner!
After dinner, the former Future Self notices that one of our favorite movies is starting on BBC2. When the movie ends he decides it's too late to get started on any work, it'll be best to leave it for tomorrow.
My Future Self was going to finish this post with a brilliant solution to this problem, but once again he's let us down.
I'm pretty sure he'll come up with it tomorrow.
On a podcast today, I heard about a clever woman who some years ago created a book called "Everything Men Know About Women."
She self-published and got women's clothing chains to stock it as a gift item. She didn't take returns, and wouldn't take an order for less than 100 at a time.
She said whenever the buyers were women (which was most of the time), they ordered the book.
She ended up selling hundreds of thousands, then a publisher gave her a lucrative deal and she retired.
Writing in The Stage, Mark Shenton gave this example of audience behavior in the theater:
"An audience member at Sunny Afternoon last week told the London Evening Standard how he was "left fuming" when an usher asked him to stop humming along to the show. He genuinely couldn't believe why he was creating a disturbance: "I just find it so bizarre to explain why I was singing at a musical. You pay a lot of money... All I remember is my foot tapping along to the music and humming along. Suddenly I was told, ‘Can you quieten down?’ If it was a drama then yes but if it’s a musical you expect to be allowed to sing along to some of the songs that you remember from your youth.”
I share this man's outrage--when I was at the ballet some of the people sitting near me had the temerity to take exception when I did an interpretive dance in my seat.
Shenton also relates stories of people in the audience texting, taking photos, and even taking calls during performances.
That's in addition to the older custom of people chatting away during performances, as though they were sitting on their sofa at home. One time when I turned around and asked the people behind me to quiet down, one of them gasped, "How rude!"
Still, that was a mild response compared to one time when a friend and I politely asked a group of people at a movie in Los Angeles to be quiet. They said they'd see us in the parking lot after the movie. It was only when one of the more brightly-lit scenes illuminated the audience that we realized they were gang members. We left early.
I think we need to wire theater seats and give talkers and texters and hummers a few thousand volts. There could be some fatalities, but it would be worth it.
"Meaningless quotes are nature's way of telling you to think for yourself." - Anonymous (all right, it was me)
Spring.org.uk cited a study of quotes, featuring these from Deepak Chopra:
"Imagination is inside exponential space time events."
"Nature is a self-regulating ecosystem of awareness."
Chopra has 2.5 million followers on Twitter. A late friend of mine was approached to teach at Chopra's institute and met with him, but came away with the impression that Chopra's main goal was generating revenue. Of course that was only his opinion, I don't have any personal experience with Chopra. He's written more than 20 New York Times best-sellers, so obviously he's impressing a lot of people.
As the Spring article says, vagueness often disguises a lack of meaning. It seems to work even better if it's accompanied by a photo of someone climbing a mountain or crossing a finish line.
Do It Yourself Meaningless Quotes
You can come up with meaningless quotes yourself. Mix one from column A, one from Column B, and one from column C:
can be defined as
what you do every day
what nature reveals
what the angels whisper
what you already know
Add a picture of the earth in space or a child looking at a flower and you're all set!
Please feel free to share this post with people who email you meaningless quotes.
A report on Cnet news says that an artificial intelligence program called Sheherazade is able to create interactive choose-your-own adventure fiction.
It's not quite ready to kick us out of our chairs yet. According to a paper published by the program's creators, "At this point, human-authored narrative still remains the most cost-effective means of generating an interactive narrative experience."
Sure, because cost-effectiveness is how to judge fiction. Actually, given how little most writers earn, it's hard to imagine anything being more cost-effective.
Still, we can't be complacent. Here's how the paper sees the future:
"Open interactive narrative shows promise in reducing authorial burden in the near future."
Authorial burden? I didn't even realize that writing was a burden...
It goes on, "Sheherazade-IF and the lessons we learned in creating and evaluating it serve as a first step in creating human-quality interactive narrative with almost no human authoring required."
What will we writers do with all that free time once AI has freed us from the heavy lifting involved in making up stories? Perhaps join a conspiracy to destroy the robots?
Here's a word I hope doesn't catch on, as used in Entrepreneur magazine:
"When new hires are onboarded at iCracked..."
When they're fired, are they made to walk the plank?
Written by Joan Acocela in The New Yorker in a review of Lord of the Dance: Dangerous Games
"There is a certain kind of theatrical spectacle at loose today--think Cirque du Soleil or the Olympics opening ceremony--that unites such things as videos of white stallions, great belches of flame, and what look to be projections of H-bomb tests with squads of women who appear to hail from cosmetics ads. To judge from the song lyrics, all the people involved have a 'dream,' and it eventually comes true, for optimism is as central as hyperbole to this genre."
ONLINE SECURITY TIP
A lot of sites use "What was the name of your first pet?" as a security question. The problem is that we tend to be pretty unimaginative in naming our first pets, so it's not hard for hackers to get a match if they run a list of typical pet names. I've forgotten where I've read this tip, but the suggestion was to make your answer the name of your favorite author instead. The odds are small that hackers will have Mark Twain or Kurt Vonnegut or Margaret Atwood on their list of pet names.
LEAST COMPELLING CONTEST PRIZE OF THE MONTH
"Win a fact-finding forest trip to a European paper mill" ...(but if this does excite you, go to www.twosides.info/competition).
OPRAH IN THE SLAMMER!?
Click bait: Links that say something like, "Ten celebrities who have criminal records!" and show a picture of (for instance) Oprah Winfrey. Really? Oprah has a criminal record? Well, no (at least as far as I know). When you click, you'll see ten celebrities who have criminal records, but the person pictured won't be one of them.
BE POPULAR, PAINT YOUR HEAD BLUE!
In the crazy statistics department: "According to one study, 85% of shoppers say color is the primary reason they buy a product." I'm sure there are some contexts in which that's true (maybe socks?) but as a generic statement it's ridiculous. By the way, apparently blue is the most popular color.
FAREWELL, BIG AND PUMPED SYLVESTER?
And in the totally false category, I spotted a link that said, "Good-bye Sylvester Stallone." He died? Nope, the article says the producers of the "Expendables" series have asked him not to appear in future installments because obviously he is using too many illegal steroids. That's not true, either (at least the part about him being asked to exit the series--he started it and he is one of the producers). The site is shilling some kind of supplement that supposedly legally increases your natural human growth hormone.
I've just spotted another link that says "Judi Dench is gone," with the subhead "We bid farewell to Dame Judi." I refuse to open it but am happy to report that Dame Judi is still with us.
It's not just "buyer beware" but "reader beware"...and also advertiser beware and reviewer beware...
HEY, THAT ROBOT IS DRIVING A CHRYSLER!
Advertisers who think they are buying eyeballs often actually are getting robots. A Bloomberg Business report gave the example of a Chrysler ad on a site for a food and travel lifestyle magazine. Only two percent of their ads were seen by humans. Bloomberg writes: "Fake traffic has become a commodity. There's malware for generating it and brokers who sell it."
POST A BAD REVIEW? YOU'LL PAY!
Meanwhile, some companies are trying to force customers not to post negative reviews about their products. Techdirt.com reports that The US Federal Trade Commission is suing Roca Labs, makers of weight-loss products, for violating federal law by warning buyers that by purchasing their products they agreed not to write negative reviews --and to pay hefty fines if they do so.
Yep, Roca Labs said if you posted a negative review--even one that's honest and non-defamatory--you'd have to pay $100,000 in damages! Hmm, what were they so worried about?
Roca Labs apparently did go ahead and sue some people who complained, but dropped the lawsuits.
The FTC also alleges that Roca Labs didn't reveal that it paid users to post positive reviews.
What do they make, anyway? A "non-surgical gastric bypass"--red gunk (industrial food thickeners mainly, apparently) that "dramatically limits your stomach capacity" (because it's full of red gunk). They also have "Anti-Cravings" that, according to their site, "empowers you to easily overcome cravings for snacks" and a reinforcement red pill which the site says is "magic." Well, that last part sounds pretty honest. When somebody tries to sell you magic, you kind of know what to expect.
The FTC stated, "Unfortunately for consumers, Defendants are simply selling common, dietary fibers with exaggerated claims at a grossly inflated cost. Their weight-loss claims lack any scientific basis, and are often flat-out false."
Interestingly, when I checked the website it said "Roca Labs' site is undergoing improvements for the next few days and new customers cannot be accepted." I wonder whether deleting the requirement not to post negative reviews is part of the improvement.
PS: By reading this post, you agree not to leave any negative comments, or else you have to buy me one of those big new iPads.
It's always interesting to me how much writers and artists have in common. In the video below, animator Gil Keane ("The Little Mermaid," "Tarzan," Beauty and the Beast") draws characters in space using a virtual reality headset and talks about what art represents: freedom. Here are a few quotes:
'When you draw, you're expressing something that's real, visceral."
"By making a line, it's sort of a seismograph of your soul."
"When I animate, there's a frustration I have, wishing that the flatness of the paper would go away and I could actually dive in."
"I would draw not to do a drawing but so I could step in and live in that world."
I wonder what new options virtual reality will open up not only for artists, but also for writers.
(if the video is not visible below, please use this link: https://vimeo.com/138790270