Liquid Ink

The official website of Gint Aras, Finalist 2016 CWA Book Award


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My new book, available Autumn 2019

Some people have been wondering why Liquid Ink has been so silent. Instead of writing here, I’ve spent the last year working on a variety of projects, including a manuscript currently under contract with Homebound Publications.

It’s titled Relief by Execution: A Visit to Mauthausen.  As you might imagine, the book is about a trip I took to Mauthausen and what sort of consciousness I discovered there. It’s also an intimate look at fixed ideas I inherited while growing up in a xenophobic and bigoted environment. Those ideas influenced my perceptions, but they finally shattered completely during my visit to a concentration camp.

Expect more news as the publication date approaches, and follow me here on Liquid Ink for updates.  You can also follow my author page on Facebook and hear my banter on Twitter.

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An open letter to Mark Zuckerberg

Dear Mark Zuckerberg:

I just sold what Facebook stock I had purchased back in 2012.

I’m in that group of Americans fortunate enough to have money to invest, even if it’s not very much. Still, the money grew, so I owe you thanks. Most of it was in my kids’ Coverdell accounts; I’m now going to reinvest those funds some other way to save towards their education.

I didn’t sell because the stock had fallen. Instead, I began thinking I was benefiting from your company in a way I could no longer justify. Long before your recent comments appeared in various media outlets, I was already thinking of selling my FB holdings, weighing the ethics of profiting off your company. My opinion of you and your company was, at one time, very high.

Asked if you thought Facebook influenced the election, you responded:

“Personally I think the idea that fake news on Facebook, which is a very small amount of the content, influenced the election in any way—I think is a pretty crazy idea…Voters make decisions based on their lived experience.”

You also played a transparent empathy card:

“I do think there is a certain profound lack of empathy in asserting that the only reason someone could have voted the way they did is they saw some fake news…If you believe that, then I don’t think you have internalized the message the Trump supporters are trying to send in this election.”

Oh…we’ve internalized it all right. There’s no confusion: the people who voted for Trump are furious at the government, enough to spread global chaos. Of course, they’re being conned by a trickster, and they will suffer from the attack on liberties and environmental policy right along with the rest of us. If they deserve empathy, it’s because their points of view, experiences, fears and feelings toward oppressed groups—these feelings float on a spectrum between passionate hatred and blind indifference—were harvested for political (and probably for financial) advantage.

***

You’re smart enough to know no one is saying the only reason Trump’s supporters voted was because of the fake news distributed via Facebook. You’re also smart enough to know that Facebook did, in fact, influence this election in some way, an idea far from crazy. Do you think your employees are crazy? They are wondering what influence Facebook has had, and have engaged in necessary soul searching.

Facebook is many things. It helps me connect with friends abroad, sell books and keep track of information during emergencies. Alongside all that, of course, you must admit that Facebook is human history’s most efficient and far reaching propaganda and counterknowledge distribution system. Those of us who use the website to distribute news have to own that. As its creator, so do you, just as you have to own the role your company played in the election of a bigot whose threat to the world is very real. Facebook would have influenced the election either way, no matter who had won, but the fact remains that we’ve elected a psychopath currently empowering every variety of repugnance.

Facebook needs to change. Dramatically. It cannot sit idly by knowing how it is contributing to mass misinformation and propaganda. The consequences extend to every layer of our society.

As an educator, I’ve been fighting the “filter bubble” social media effect, highlighted so brilliantly here by Eli Pariser back in 2011, since the beginning of this decade. Ignorance and misinformation are so high among my students, especially on topics like climate change, politics, economics, international affairs and—to my shock—human sexuality and the process of learning, that I routinely assume they’ll need to unlearn a laundry list of things, and I’m usually right. Because most don’t read books or newspapers, most of them lack any information outside of their sphere of gratification. What’s inside their sphere is often misplaced, misunderstood and flat out wrong.

This semester one student “heard on Facebook” that video games help their attention span more than other activities. Another one thought that a local grocery store was giving away hundreds of dollars’ worth of food to random people. A third thought we should close all bank accounts because Obamacare was going to drain them of money if Clinton won. A fourth believed that Facebook was close to charging people cash to maintain their profiles. I should note this one is pretty old, but you jumped to correct it.

***

Obviously, we all are to blame for this on some level. Facebook does not generate information any more than does the mail carrier. But you are not a mail carrier and you know it. As a corporation, you don’t have to weigh the balance between your desire for profit and what social impact you have. However, you claim to imagine yourself as a place meant to connect people. It begs an obvious question: what sort of connection do you want us to share? Do you want to make it easier for us to hoodwink each other with nonsense, or to spread legitimate information and concerns? In the end, what do you think of us, your users and investors?

Frankly, I’m shocked by your Trumpist denial. Just as it’s Trumpist to say one thing but then to turn around and claim you never said it…to say you care about people whose rights you want to attack…it is also equally Trumpist to say that something is false when you know it’s true. It’s also Trumpist to say things so outrageous and extreme that they force people to respond to a distraction from the conversation. That’s exactly what you’re doing with your claim that Facebook had no impact whatsoever and that your critics lack empathy.

You know your policies and business model influenced the election, just as they influence any host of other things. You either don’t care or you like the results. Out one side of your mouth, you’re accusing your critics of lacking empathy. Out the other, you claim your critics—a group that includes your employees and investors—perceive a false reality.

What’s real? Obviously, it’s what Mark Zuckerberg claims to be true, no matter how extreme and absolute. That’s not an example of empathy. It’s much closer to the Facebook post of a stubborn and crazy uncle.

Cordially,

Gint Aras
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Image of Narcissus by Carvaggio from Wikipedia.


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Thoughts on switching publishers

My publisher, Jerry Brennan of Tortoise Books, recently wrote a blog post to share his thoughts about taking over publishing and production duties for The Fugue. Writers aspiring to publish novels should read it. Today I want to expand a bit on Jerry’s thoughts.

It turns out that, unbeknownst to either of us, Jerry and I were students at Columbia University at exactly the same time. He was at the J-school while I attended classes one building to the north at the School of the Arts.

I often used to peer at the J-school and feel pangs of jealousy. Journalism students, I was sure, didn’t struggle with feelings of illegitimacy the way I did as a mere writing student. They were all sure of themselves and would one day offer society valuable skill. How could I know one of them would be publishing my book?

It’s possible that Jerry and I ate in the cafeteria at the same time or stood queued up in the bookstore at the very same hour. I would pass the J-school every single day, no matter if I was going to class or to the library. Al Gore was teaching there, and I once tried to pry in to a lecture only to get paranoid at the last minute and hide away. Jerry attended those classes.

I’ve known Jerry on Facebook and Twitter ever since the publication of Finding the Moon in Sugar in 2009. He and I caught wind of one another through Chicago’s indie writing community. Of course, I had no idea we had been classmates, trading places in rather classic ships-in-the-night fashion. I was quite literally working on the earliest version of The Fugue while Jerry was studying under Al Gore.

I experienced a roller coaster of a day this past February when CCLaP and I parted ways. In less than twelve hours, I went from being suddenly unpublished to published again, with a new marketing plan and a ton of support.

As with virtually anything in life, luck and diligence conspired to see me find a second deal. And I see no small bit of weirdness in the story, that a book I had essentially put under my bed, hung up as a failure, ended up published not once but twice, and in the span of less than a day, the second time by a guy from essentially the same graduating class.

I got good advice from wise people when I published Finding the Moon in Sugar. Here it is: reach out to everyone you can and take an active interest in other people’s businesses and stories; look at others in the publishing world as collaborators, not competitors, and understand that a team effort is necessary for a book to do well. Of course, many things are just beyond your control. You go to graduate school, at least partially, to “develop a network”. How fitting that a guy in my network was someone who shared my college experience when neither of us had any idea until the ink had dried on the contract.

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Help to fight Facebook’s secret plan!

Dear Liquid Inkers, particularly those who use Facebook:

Facebook will cuckold or whore you, or both, in the next 24 hours if you do not copy and paste this blog entry in its entirety as *your* status update, message it privately to 100% of your friends, and then share your friends’ shares of this share. Know, being cuckolded and whored is not without consequence, not in this or any other civilized society; so if you do not in the next 24 hours (at print it was just around 9:30 AM, GMT -6) copy and paste this text as *your* status update, message it privately to 100% of your friends, and then share your friends’ shares of this share, you will find yourself or your committed lover taken by Facebook to adulterous sheets, to engage acts performed only in hell, swept in the process to diabolical joy.

This is true. I have proof. To quote from Troilus and Cressida (a play by Shakespeare, who is a famous English playwright and poet): “Here is such patchery, such juggling, and such knavery! all the argument is a whore and a cuckold; a good quarrel to draw emulous factions and bleed to upon death.”

There. Now, please help to spread the word.

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Image: An Allegory of Folly, by Quentin Masys, taken from Wikipedia.


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Cecil has me thinking…

I can think of few moments I have observed on Facebook that compare to the response I’ve seen from people regarding the killing of Cecil, the lion. The uproar in my timeline is pretty dramatic, and rightfully so. While I have posted nothing on the matter myself, I’ve been following the story. I’m among those who find it hard to get into the head of someone who’d not only take interest in killing a lion but would also be willing to pay a good chunk of money to have the opportunity set up.

I have to admit, however, that the response had me thinking. Why isn’t the uproar greater over the killing of our fellow citizens by police?

Cecil deserved to live, as does any creature. But Cecil was killed, not by a security force charged with protection, but by a wealthy hunter gone to a foreign country with the intention of killing an animal. Many of the people upset about Cecil’s death eat meat, and their demand results in the deaths of more creatures than a lion. The faceless and nameless pigs and cows and chickens usually live lives in conditions much worse than Cecil’s.

Most of us have killed an animal directly, if even just by swatting flies or mosquitoes, or spraying a spider with Raid. This summer, I killed an entire colony of ants. Yes, Cecil is a rare animal, more regal, far more intelligent than common ants, and he was not harming anyone; killing an animal in order to eat or defend your home from damage is completely different from killing to feel an ego rush. Even so, his killing should leave us wondering why we value certain creatures more than others, and if we’re so upset about his death, could we perhaps think about how our desires and actions impact all life?

We should also be asking another set of questions. Are we more upset, moved to greater emotions, by the killing of a lion than we are by the killing of our citizens? (It’s not August, but police have killed 605 people in America this year.) Someone will say, “These people getting killed by cops are less-than-noble.” Who deserves to die, for what reason, and who gets to decide? Perhaps we truly are more upset by the killing of our fellow citizens as compared to a lion, but we feel more comfortable expressing our outrage over the death of an animal, outrage pointed at a wealthy, privileged man who’s killing for sport. If that’s true, what do we actually fear? That someone might get annoyed with our outrage over the deaths of our fellow citizens?

I don’t know if social media outrage is an indicator of actual outrage, or a measuring stick of any value. My timeline is only an indicator of whom I choose to follow. I just found it rather striking that my timeline endeared itself so easily to a lion most had hitherto never heard of, while the posts and comments regarding police killings were, at least by comparison, a trickle. I guess I’ve written this post to see if I’m the only one who observed this.

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Photo from Wikipedia.


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Essay prompts for contemporary college students

Final exam
Instructions: Pick one (1) of the following prompts. This means you should not pick more than one or less than zero. You *may* pick a prompt other than number 1. “Pick one (1) prompt” means you pick less than two prompts from among the possible ten. If this is confusing, please ask for clarification.

Compose an essay of at least fifty (50) words. Good luck.

1.)

Consider this ethical dilemma: The person you love more than anyone in the world has been kidnapped by a madman with a biological weapon at his disposal. He will either shoot his single hostage in the head or deploy the weapon in a major metro area, killing millions and possibly starting a pandemic. But he is leaving the choice up to you. You decide if he kills millions or his hostage.

Explain how will you face society after you refuse to sacrifice yourself. Will you mostly text or will you also be available on Facebook? At which time and on which days? Also, explain in detail why the deployed biological agent will have no effect on you.

2.)

Imagine a nightmare scenario: the internet, television and mobile phones have been deactivated for 48 hours by a Texan whose superpowers allow him to control all electronic communication. Explain who must step forward immediately—either a government leader, a representative of private business or an educator—to ensure your self-esteem feedback loop is properly maintained. What punishment will be appropriate in the event that s/he fails?

3.)

What would give you greater pleasure: fucking a vampire or killing a zombie? Explain in detail and be sure to use relevant sources.

4.)

Imagine that you found some money to buy a car. You ended up driving this car through a bus shelter, killing a pregnant woman, her unborn son, a veteran of Iraq and a rabbi. The police arrived to discover that you have no insurance, that your license is suspended and your car unregistered.

Using what you have learned this semester regarding civics and ethics, explain if the person who misplaced his money, your parents, educators, the salesmen of the automobile or the urban planner who left a shelter in your path are most responsible for this atrocity. What would be an appropriate punishment for the guilty party?

5.)

Once you graduate from college and secure your dream job, where will you go for your first summer vacation? Describe in detail.

6.)

Imagine the online service that has been writing all your essays suddenly went bankrupt. Although it would be legal for an opportunistic competitor to charge you double or triple for a last-minute service, would this price increase be ethical? Be sure to apply at least one principle of business ethics to your argument.

7.)

Invent at least three facts that would help support an essay arguing for the creation of a grade higher than an A and meant for the most special students. Be sure these facts do not contradict any of the facts you have invented on earlier essays this semester. (They are recorded in the class database.)

8.)

Cut and paste a text written at a level that is four to six times higher than your current reading capacity. Do not document where you found this text. (Failure to follow this instruction will automatically lower your grade to B+. Do not test this!)

9.)

Consider this theoretical situation: In an effort to keep tuition costs from skyrocketing, the college devises a plan that allows instructors to supplement their income by charging students fees to write their assigned essays for them. This equals an automatic “raise” for faculty to the tune of 35-40%, but costs the college nothing. Students, instead of paying online essay writers, divert those funds to their instructors. Given that the instructors already know what they will write, AND that they are the only one who will “read” these essays anyway, should they be written at all? If these essays never exist, would your degree be more or less marketable?

10.) If any of the above prompts offends or confuses you, make up your own prompt. Be sure to take the offensive material to the dean and demand a full refund for the semester. (Note: in most circumstances, students who receive refunds do not get credit for having taken the class.)

Extra points:

+50 for writing at least three complete sentences
+100 for writing at least one coherent paragraph
+500 for demonstrating vague knowledge of at least some of the assigned reading material
+1000 for completing the assignment without your asinine hip hop ring tone erupting