Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam

Click ‘Spam’ to open tin. Contains pure classic comedy cuts

A couple of months ago fellow Scot  Alan Gillespie, an English teacher and one of my Twitter PLN, wrote a very interesting and amusing article for  The Guardian on the use of spam emails as an exercise in persuasive writing for students. It was such a compelling argument – and such an obvious context for learning and teaching an essential element of digital literacy – that the only wonder is no one had thought of it before. I urge you to read it (imperative mood, urgent tone) if you haven’t already done so.

Alan’s article caused me to reflect on the sheer volume of spam – or fake – emails and messages travelling across cyberspace, including those which appear as ‘comments’ in response to a blog post. Many of these are obvious fakes and are thankfully filtered out without the blogger having to read them. There are so many of them that I usually just press the ‘Empty Spam’ option and move on to read the genuine comments. Sometimes however, there are those which have been filtered out by WordPress’s filtering service Akismet  which may actually be genuine but simply expressed in poor English. How many of these comments which have appeared on my blog recently would you have been tempted to ‘approve’, simply on the grounds that they might inflate your ego even further?

  • I could not refrain from commenting. Very well written!
  • My brother suggested I might like this blog. He was entirely right. This post truly made my day. You cann’t imagine simply how a lot time I had spent for this information! Thanks!
  • Thank you, I have just been looking for info about this topic for a while and yours is the best I’ve discovered so far. However, what concerning the bottom line? Are you certain concerning the source?|What i don’t understood is if truth be told how you are no longer really a lot more smartly-favored than you might be now. You are so intelligent.
  • Excellent .. Amazing .. I will bookmark your website and take the feeds also…I’m happy to find so many useful information here in the post
  • Woah this weblog is excellent i like reading your posts. Stay up the great work! You realize, lots of individuals are searching round for this info, you can aid them greatly.

While you are making up your mind, I must go and reply to an urgent letter from my friend Dr Mills.

Greeting in the name of our lord and savior, my name is Dr. Cadman Atta Mills the younger brother of late Prof. John Evans Atta Millis whose untimely demise on the 24th July 2012 whilst  in office has distraught the heart of many Ghanaian both at home and in diaspora not excluding the international communities, taking into consideration the colossal condolence and glorious tributes we have thus far received from various  Head of states including the president of the United States of America Pres. Barack Obama, Prime Minster of Great Britain David Cameron, Pope Benedict,  Secretary of the United Nation Mr. Ban Ki-Moon the list goes on and on.

My brother as I affectionately call him was the third President of the fourth Republic of Ghana. He was inaugurated on the 7th of January 2009 having defeated the ruling party candidate in the 2008 election. He once served as the vice President of the Republic of Ghana from 1997 to 2001 under the presidency of Flight Lieutenant Jerry John Rawlings.  Based on my position as member of the Economic Advisory Council (EAC) chaired by Dr. Gobind Nankani I have very credible information of a contract in the total sum of US$ 6,500.000.00 (Six Million Five Hundred Thousand United States Dollars) I’m seeking for an experienced business person who can chivalrously work with me in receiving this contract sum into his designated Bank account for an appropriate investment.
It’s very vital I also bring to your notice that this transaction will be handled with absolute confidentiality, so we have to always do the needful to get it accomplished, it is very important also that you quickly provide me with the listed information as stated below to enable me commence with the official documentation of the contractual paper work with the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning and the Ministry of Energy.  Taking into consideration that we have from now till next month to finalize and officially submit all contractual paper work with the said Ministries.
Upon the receipt of your responds I will officially submit all your particulars including the contractual documents for verification and approval by the Finance Ministry. I intend to part 50% of this fund to you while 50% shall be for me. I do need to assure you that there are practically no risks involved in this.  It is going to be a bank-to bank transfer. All I need from you is to stand as the original beneficiary of this fund you are not to worry as I will provide all legal documents, Contract document, International Competitive Bidding certificates, Bank documentation and also refer you to the Ghana Procurement Board to prove that you are entitle to this fund. You do not need to worry, if you do according to instruction everything will work fast and effective without any problems at all.
I will immediately proceed with the contractual documentation and agreement with the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning and  furnish you with all documentation for your meticulous perusal.
I look forward to a very mutual and beneficial business relationship with you.
Yours Faithfully,
Dr. Cadman Atta Mills
Advertisements

The Power of Fiction and The Storytelling Animal

As a former English teacher, I have often argued on the blog and elsewhere that the English curriculum in schools offers a distorted syllabus, in which non-fiction is heavily outweighed by fiction texts – no doubt reflecting the fact that most practitioners have degrees in English Literature – and that there needs to be a re-balancing to reflect more accurately the texts with which we are surrounded in daily life. Time and again however, my attention is drawn to the importance of storytelling and the need to understand ourselves and the world through the medium of story.

The Storytelling Animal by Jonathan Gottschall

In The Storytelling Animal, Jonathan Gottschall of Washington and Jefferson College in the USA, explains how stories shape and define us as human beings, arguing that stories help us navigate life’s complex social problems, just as flight simulators prepare pilots for difficult situations. The theory is that storytelling has evolved, like other behaviours, to ensure our survival.

“The constant firing of our neurons in response to fictional stimuli strengthens and refines the neural pathways that lead to skilful negotiation of life’s problems. From this point of view, we are attracted to fiction, not because of an evolutionary glitch, but because fiction is, on the whole, good for us. This is because human life, especially social life, is intensely complicated and the stakes are high. Fiction allows our brains to practice (sic) reacting to the kinds of challenges that are, and always were, most crucial to our success as a species.”

But isn’t fiction our ‘escapism’, you might argue. Surely it’s in fiction, whether it be in a good novel or the latest Dr Who series, that we find our escape from the problems of everyday life? Well yes, and no. According to Gottschall the nature of the stories we tell betrays their true purpose.

“There is a paradox in fiction that was first noticed by Aristotle in The Poetics. We are drawn to fiction because fiction gives us pleasure. But most of what is in fiction is deeply unpleasant: threat, death, despair, anxiety, Sturm and Drang. Take a look at the carnage on the fiction bestseller lists – the massacres, murders, and rapes. Look at classic literature: Oedipus stabbing out his eyes in disgust; Medea slaughtering her children; Shakespeare’s stage strewn with runny corpses. Heavy stuff. But even the lighter stuff is organised around problems, and readers are riveted by their concern over how it will all turn out.”

On the morality of stories, or whether stories have a moral purpose, Gottschall is adamant. When addressing the dire warnings of social commentators from Plato onwards that fiction corrodes

The good guy usually wins

morality, especially in the young, his conviction is that they were entirely wrong, and he prefers to accept that, with some exceptions, the most popular story forms are still structured around ‘poetic justice’: the good guy usually does win out in the end.

“As with sacred myths, ordinary stories – from TV shows to fairy tales – steep us all in the same powerful norms and values. They relentlessly stigmatise antisocial behaviour and just as relentlessly celebrate prosocial behaviour. We learn by association that if we are more like protagonists, we will be more apt to reap the typical rewards of protagonists (for instance, love, social advancement, and other happy endings) and less likely to reap the rewards of antagonists (for instance, death and disastrous loss of social standing). Humans live great chunks of their lives inside fictional stories – in worlds where goodness is generally endorsed and rewarded and badness is condemned and punished. These patterns don’t just reflect a moralistic bias in human psychology, they seem to reinforce it.”

Developing this theme, Gottschall cites the Dutch scholar Jemeljan Hakemulder, who in his book The Moral Laboratory, reviewed dozens of scientific studies which indicated that fiction has positive effects on the reader’s moral development and sense of empathy. Other studies show that fiction reinforces our belief that life rewards the virtuous and punishes the vicious. Even though this is patently not the case, for a society to function at all it is necessary for people to believe in justice.

The notion of empathy, a core feature of works of fiction, is taken up in this TED talk by Jessica Wise, who argues that the importance of fiction is that it has the power ‘to change a person’s point of view’. I think the short film would make a perfect starter for discussion in any English classroom.