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Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Christmas Giveaway -- Scentsicles

Christmas is coming. I know, I know, not even Thanksgiving yet, and not everyone is like me, listening to Christmas Pandora on repeat. But, but but! You don't have to be baking cookies, or buying presents, or decorating trees yet to prepare. And next week, it IS Thanksgiving, and we'll be putting up our tree!

We have a fake tree, here. It started because my kids used to be little, and I didn't want them eating it or poking themselves with it, or getting sticky or any of the other issues with a real tree. Now we keep it around because it's easy. I don't have the wherewithal to take care of a living thing, even for a month right now. And environmentally, I feel like my fake tree that's lasted several years is doing a great job being its fake self.

But that doesn't mean I don't want my house to smell like I have a real Christmas tree in here. For me, that means spruce. I know others like fir trees, pine trees and the like, and they're all fantastic, but for me, it's spruce.

And what my house has lacked in these years is the scent of Christmas. Last year I bought a candle. And that worked for a spell, when I remembered to light it. Then I had to remember to put it out again. But this year, I managed to grab some Scentsicles from Tree Classics.

My tree isn't up yet, but I had to try them out. They come six to a canister, and opening it up felt just like Christmas at home (even though I'm in Florida now).

I took just one out to test it for the past few days.

Just about the size of my hand, they come with hangers so you can hide them in your tree, but if you lose yours (like I will), you can use regular bulb hangers, too.

So, I just hung this little guy up on my wall, where my kids' stockings usually go. I wanted to see if I could smell it, just all by itself.

It's been three days now, and you know what, sitting here on my couch, 10 feet away, I can smell it, and it is giving me the perfect whiff of Christmas.

So when I put six of them around my tree, I'm going to breathe in Christmas all season long, I just know it.

And I'm lucky enough to be able to give some away to readers, too. Want some of these amazing little smelly sticks? Of course you do. It is Tree Classics' 40th anniversary, so they're giving some of their products away in celebration.

If you'd like to sign up for some of these amazing things, go ahead and put your name in. I'll do the drawing the weekend after Thanksgiving.


a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Starbucks and the Internet's Bogeyman

So, Starbucks. I know, I know, but this isn't one of those posts, okay? I want to actually attempt to explain at least some of this bullshit.

As everyone in the United States has seen on repeat for the past news cycle, Starbucks replaced their red cups with snowflakes and doves on them with red cups.

The first I saw of the news was the sudden arrival of 80 billion posts on my friends' list complaining about people complaining about this change.

I saw not one actual complaint about the change.

My guess is, hardly any of my friends posting backlash against the backlash actually saw any original backlash either.

So, our knowledge of this "Starbucks controversy" comes in the form of replies to a complaint that, so far as I can tell, never really took off online. Sure, a few people were raising their hands to clouds and shouting Merry Christmas in their living rooms like every year, but, you know, most years we just tell grandpa to stop yelling at the TV and go back to our lives.

This year, for some reason, we decided to make up a bad guy and skewer him. And this news cycle, it happened to be right-wing Christians attacking Starbucks (whether or not they actually did). Because it is plausible enough that somewhere, someone who believes in the Savior was ticked off about the removal of a few white pictures on a red cup. Or, like, wouldn't it be funny and eye-roll inducing if there were someone mad about something like that? It WOULD. Okay, let's go with that. And then as people continue to open their computers, this happens:

Because it's an easy joke. It's an easy topic. It's an easy debate. It's easy. People like easy. And people love to tell other people that there are more important things going on than what they are worried about. Makes the first lot seem very important and worldly while they also get to contribute to the very topic they deem so unimportant.

And in this--very rare--case, Sbux cups actually ARE unimportant. (Usually, people telling other people their worries are meaningless because people are starving, or houses are burning and etc., are just falling back on a logical fallacy to inflate their own sense of importance). But not this time.

So, Starbucks cups.

Meanwhile, there is Mizzou, there are protests in the Philippines, Russia has a nuclear torpedo, we're close to finding life outside our solar system, Israelis are killing Palestinians in hospitals, Yale students are being Yale students, the ozone hole is as big as it was at record bigness, and the like.

All below the fold to Starbucks and its new cup.


Let me tell you.

In communications academia we have this theory called agenda setting. It basically states that the media set the agenda for the public and its opinion. To break that down: the media tell the people what is important to them and how they should think about the issue. And the public then responds. This is a self-propelling phenomenon, as whether or not the public agrees with the salience of the issue the media tell it is important, they still contribute to that salience by responding. Ergo, what the media decide to promote is the issue that goes to the front lines. And all the people railing against that power simply make that power stronger.

So, why would media focus on a Starbucks marketing decision, amid all the actual important news out there? As mentioned before, it is easy.

You see, even though media set the agenda for the public, media are beholden to what the public will actually talk about and they pay people like me big money to tell them what those issues are going to be. In the online age particularly, picking a topic that the public will respond to and argue over quickly and virally is of utmost importance to continue the relevance of any given publications, and guys, the media knows you a little bit. It's been serving you for a while now.

The media knows that liberals want to laugh about how stupid conservative people are, and that conservative people want to be like, bro, I don't even care about a cup, wtf, and that religious people want to chime in about a very important piece of their lives no matter where they fall in the argument.

The argument, remember, that isn't even happening because who of any importance actually said, OMG STARBUCKS HATES CHRISTIANS.

Not one person. At least in the early days.

In fact, the media TOLD Donald Trump (and a few other "important / newsworthy" people, that this was an issue, and basically invited them to be that guy. Because you can't fight a ghost forever.

So when Trump did his Trumply duty and spoke on it, we all wiped our brows in relief. It worked. The plan worked. We got our bad guy.

And when Dunkin' Donuts saw a chance to get its name in the news because holy crap, what a TON of advertising for Sbux right now, and that is totally unfair to the other coffee chains, it, too, made its own followup. Then Ellen and other people with credibility stepped in.

And now we've got a story with legs. And we get to sit back and say, "See, public? We told you this was a big deal and you heard it here first. We told you this was a big story. We broke this story. You know, the story we completely fabricated."

Another win for publications filling pages looking for clicks.

And the public began to play along. After a million posts starting with those memes above, then going into the actual news stories linked just after those, people started to voice their opinions on the issue and we got ourselves a nice (if tiny), eff-the-pc-police camp. So, thanks, internet commenters. You've done your job. In my public search, I found two. TWO.

"So I went to Starbucks to test the no Merry Christmas bull that Donald Trump has been talking about, and sure enough, they are not allowed to say it or write it on your cup! So not only do they support killing babies by employee matching planned parenthood, but they really have banned the use of Christmas this season! Thinking it's about time for a total boycott!"

"Christmas is the best holiday of the year. It has nothing to do with religion - it's about family time, snuggling, warm cider, christmas trees, gift-giving, reindeer and santa claus ...
The disappointment with Starbucks is about the PC-neutralization of American culture, and not about religion.
Once again Trump has the right idea. Dump Starbucks. Peet's has better coffee anyways, and they have holiday cheer!"

Okay great.

But we still haven't answered why the media choose to inflate the importance of stories like this. And I can't speak for them, I can only speak for me, but I can tell you, as a member of the media, it is hard to report on news. News is sad. And bad. And angry. And unfair. And people are fucking dying out there every day. And it's our job to tell you about it. And you don't want to hear about it, and we don't want to write about it, not because we don't care, but because we care so much, and we are helpless. We are the mouthpiece of the atrocities of the world, and we soon learn that just telling people about these atrocities does not end those atrocities. Only action and behavioral change on a systemic level does. And news articles are like bb guns in the fight to create that change. We have entire models on this, again, in academia. Changing behavior in just ONE individual takes the perfect recipe of facts, timing and interest on the part of that person that must be applied for months if not years. Changing the behavior in a society? That takes decades, and millions of voices, and the change is slow and painful and we're tired.

So, the public wants a break to complain about a cup?

Sometimes we just give up and agree. Yes, let's do that instead. For today. Tomorrow, back on the social justice boat.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Financial literacy should be added to school syllabuses -- S post

The need to accelerate financial literacy, as expounded and championed in South Africa by (perhaps most appropriately) an online loan vender, who have published their "Do you understand debt" initiative on their website, is rapidly gaining support all over the world. Even places like the United States, which are often seen as already being financially literate, are grasping the nettle too.

Alabama, USA pushing for financial literacy to benefit future generations

The based in Florence, Alabama, has recently published an article entitled “The push for financial literacy can benefit future generations;” an article which centres on the failure in the US to educate citizens and children about handling money. The article opens up by saying that only a paltry 4.2% of the population have any savings.

The article, published in the newspaper, refers to how uncomfortable many people are when it comes down to talking about their financial situations. The same is true even of family members all living in the same household and this reluctance to talk freely about money has created something of a stumbling block, meaning that many children grow up knowing little or nothing about managing their money, their debt, and spending within their budgets. The article refers to the fact that as a result, many do not know how to balance their cheque books or even reconcile their monthly bank statements.

This is a situation that is reflected around the world, and in many countries (like Saudi Arabia for example), many young adults having had little or no exposure to official institutions like banks and finance companies. Instead, they turn to friends and family for advice;but given the low levels of financial literacy, they often do not get appropriate help.

Sweet Home state of Alabama adds personal financial instruction to school syllabus

In Alabama, also known in the US as the “Sweet Home” state, they had the foresight to launch a financial awareness initiative back in 2003, when the state made it a legal requirement that personal finance instruction should become a mandatory part of the 9th grade prospectus; an initiative that should soon start to reap benefits as school leavers go out into the world with a little more financial savvy than some of their predecessors had.

Adding personal financial awareness and instruction to school syllabuses is perhaps something that should be adopted more widely. Having good numeracy skills is one thing, but knowing what you need to know in order to compare the terms of the various offers that the various lending establishments make, is something else.

Wonga helps potential lenders to work out if they can afford a loan or not

That why the guide to debt seems like such a good idea. Putting it on the website means that it is available to those people who may benefit from it most – those actively seeking a loan product. The same basic knowledge principles apply, whether it’s a long term loan that is being considered or a short term loan like a payday loan.

The informative article that Wonga SA has compiled tells readers what the difference is between good debt and bad debt, and together with illustrations, helps readers to work out for themselves whether they can afford the debt they are considering. It’s an important tool that potential lenders could and should use to their best advantage.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Halloween 2016

Another Halloween come and gone. So many people had such amazing costumes this year!

We simply went trick or treating around our neighborhood, then out for dinner, and it was really great.

My husband dressed up for the first time ever (not at the restaurant, though, boo).

Happy Halloween to everyone else!

I went as "Hillary's Listening to Men Face"

My husband and kids were a clown, a vampire, and a pirate. I have the best family.

That little vampire does smile, I promise! She's just in character!

My kids at the first trick or treating event.

Dulce as a clown.

Natalina as a vampire.

Friday, October 23, 2015

How to be a successful writer in the online age

There are three very simple steps to becoming a successful writer online. (It helps to have a well-shared platform, but it can be done even with a small publication or a blog. You never know what's going to take off.)

If you would like to be a successful writer on the internet, follow these instructions on repeat for the rest of your life:

1) Write things people hate.

2) Don't care that people hate them.

3) Write more things people hate.

So, as simple as these steps are, they need a bit of explanation, a bit of context, a bit of background.

When I started out writing, I wanted to write things people loved. That's how it used to be done. That's how you used to define "successful." Winning prizes for beloved, well-thought-out, important pieces that spread messages and information the public really needed or wanted to hear. Expanding horizons. Educating those who did not have the time or resources to do the research themselves, but wanted to go about their day informed and aware of certain issues.

It's a lofty and great goal.

It fails on the internet.

Of all my pieces, the ones I put the most hours in on--the investigative, the scientific, the health stories that I spent my sweat and tears on--they remain the pieces I am personally most proud of. But they languished in relative obscurity. I'd get a few thousand shares, and maybe 20 supportive comments. End scene.

The only reason I still write them at all is because they remain my personal reason for writing. And don't make the mistake of thinking success on the internet is why many writers write. Not true. It's just a necessary evil to keep yourself relevant as the wheels of internet debate continue to spin.

The pieces that propel an internet writer's career (and help it get into print) are the pieces everyone hates. They're provocative. They spin facts and figures to support an opinion that's controversial. They often exist just to attack something a set group loves illogically. (That group, for me, changes with each piece. Usually I'm pissing off conservatives, but I've made exceptions for Bernie Sanders supporters and liberals in general on occasion. I've pissed off people who like a certain show, people who like a certain brand, people who like boys to be boys and girls to be girls, transphobes, homophobes, classists, racists, and more. The point is, I'm always pissing someone off.)

Those pieces are usually shorter. They don't delve into the particulars of the situation as they should to be legitimate journalism. They ignore certain arguments to concentrate on one probably off-to-the-side point. They make strong assertions that would be seen by supporters as well-conceived, but lack the evidence to back those assertions up (usually not because there is no evidence but because that evidence is not needed to further the end-goal, which is clicks and shares so editors and publications continue to acknowledge you as a force on the internet). They're fun to write, and not difficult to write. They're fairly quick. A dash of oil on a fire already burning.

I wrote a piece about the Gilmore Girls two days ago, for instance, enraging fans everywhere. 11,000 shares so far. I wrote a piece on the Ferguson Riots, enraging conservatives everywhere, 40,000 shares. Meanwhile, my piece on groundbreaking stem cell research garnered 387 shares. My piece on human trafficking within door-to-door magazine sales groups got maybe 1,500 shares.

Write things people hate.

Okay, on to the second step. Rejection, either by editors or readers has never bothered me at all. In order to really excel at this business, you have to not care what people think about you. Remember, you're the one who keeps getting published. There's got to be something to that.

I've been asked how I manage to brush off the hatred, anger and malice tossed my way every single time I'm published, and here's what I've come up with. It can be a combination of any or all of these things for each piece that goes up.

Here is my fool-proof way to not give any fucks about what people think about your writing:

1) Don't care about the topic about which you are writing.
2) Care about what you are writing so much that you automatically assume haters lack reading comprehension or common sense.
3) Think that nothing you do is important, therefore comments from strangers on things you do must be absolutely miniscule.
4) Firmly believe that no one looks at bylines but you, and that a commenter who tells you to kill yourself over a piece about network television is probably the same commenter high-fiving you over a piece you wrote about Target.
5) Be used to people thinking you are worthless, and take pleasure in proving them wrong by being more successful, ambitious, tenacious or awesome than them.

Using these five methods, you should have the mental strength to pump out a piece that's been hate-shared 50,000 times along with comments like FIRE THIS WRITER, or GO PLAY IN TRAFFIC YOU DUMB CUNT, brush it off, and pump out a piece the next day that will anger an entire other population of people.

Do I wish this wasn't the case? Absolutely. I want to write enlightening, well-researched, bullet-proof tomes on important social issues of our times.

But that's not going to cut it. Not on the internet.

Good luck, soldier. We're in this together.


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