Friday, September 23, 2016

Is a Hot Dog a Sandwich?

Hey, Karl, here's a deep philosophical question for you: is a hot dog a sandwich?

"What? What the hell kind of question is that?" Karl turned and faced me. "That may be one of the dumbest things you've ever asked me."

Oh yeah? Then answer the question.

We were sitting in Victory Field on a Thursday evening, watching a minor league baseball game. The Indianapolis Indians were taking on the Louisville Bats, and I had just returned to our seats with our obligatory hot dogs and ballpark beer.

"Of course it's not," he said, taking his hot dog. "I mean, look at it. Does this even look like a sandwich?"

What is it then?

"It's. . . well, it's just a hot dog! It's a thing unto itself."

Like a hamburger, I said.

"Exactly. Like a hamburger."

A hamburger's a sandwich though.

"A hamburger's a hamburger. It's not a hamburger sandwich."

The hamburger was created either by a guy in Connecticut or a guy in Wisconsin who stuck a Hamburg steak between two pieces of bread. And they called it a Hamburger sandwich.

"So how is it a sandwich?"

A sandwich is any combination of meat, cheese, and vegetables — or peanut butter and jelly, if you prefer — between two pieces of bread, right? And a hamburger is meat and veggies between two pieces of bread in bun form.

"So, it's not a sandwich, because it's eaten on a bun. And a bun isn't regular bread."

It is bread though. It's made from flour, water, and yeast. So it's bread.

"Well, it's a bread product. But it's not sliced sandwich bread."

I had to slice the bun to open it.

"That's true, I guess."

If I slice a hot dog lengthwise and put it between two slices of bread, is it a sandwich?

"I guess you could call that a hot dog sandwich."

And what if I don't slice it, and just fold it between a single slice of bread?

"That's not a sandwich. The sandwich needs two pieces of bread."

So just cut the one slice in half.

"Okay, whatever. I don't like this discussion, Kid. It's kind of weird."

Look, you were the one who lectured me — lectured me! — for two hours on the Back to the Future timeline and how Marty McFly was actually part of his parents' original lives in the 1950s the first time around.

"So? It's an important philosophical point, and one that I think Robert Zemeckis missed."

I missed the game that night!

"And so you're punishing me with this stupid question?"

Pretty much.

"Fine. Where were we?"

If a hot dog can be a sandwich when it's inside a piece of bread, why can't a bun be a piece of bread?

"A hot dog bun is a long roll with a split in the middle," said Karl, showing me his hot dog bun. "It's not meant to be sliced, so that makes it different."

But what if you cut the hot dog bun all the way through? Does that make it a sandwich?
"Not necessarily," he said, mouth full of hot dog. "It depends how you hold it. See? The split and the hot dog are pointed up, like a taco."

Would you agree that a sub sandwich is actually a sandwich?

"You mean a hoagie? Yes, that's a sandwich."

Even though the hoagie roll isn't cut all the way through?

Karl thought for a minute, while we watched the Indians turn a double play to end the inning.

"Sure, that's the exception."

But what if I rotate the hoagie 90 degrees so the slice is facing up. Is it still a sandwich?


So if I rotate the hot dog 90 degrees so the slice is horizontal, does it become a sandwich? Is a sandwich only a sandwich because of the way I hold it?

Karl coughed. "Uhh. . . yes?"

What, are you choking?

"No, I'm fine."

No, I meant on my logic.

"Oh, bite me, Kid! You haven't won anything."

Let's recap. A sandwich is a sandwich because it's meat inside some bread, whether it's two slices or one folded one. The bread can be in any form, whether it's sliced, a bun, or a roll. And it doesn't matter which direction you turn the sandwich, because it doesn't matter whether the slice runs horizontally or vertically.


So a hot dog fits that description. It's meat and toppings. I put them inside some bread, regardless of the kind I use. And I can hold it so the slice is horizontal or vertical. Ergo, no matter which way you slice it, turn it, or hold it, a hot dog is a sandwich.

"Fine, dammit! Fine! A hot dog is a sandwich! You win. Are you happy now?"

Deliriously. Hey, it's your turn for a food run. Get me a burger.

"Are you going to put mayonnaise on it?"

Of course.

"Gross, Kid! I don't even want to know you!"

Photo credit: Arnold Inuyaki (Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons 2.0)

You can find my books Branding Yourself (affiliate link), No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Sloganeering Needs to be Left to Professionals

Sometimes marketing just needs to be left to the cool kids.

Too many advertising campaigns and marketing slogans sound like they were dreamed up by a committee of people who only rhyme words by accident, and then say "Hey, I was a poet and didn't know it!" The kind of committee a mayor would appoint from a bunch of people standing around the office.

A committee that spent their first three weeks creating a mission statement that included the phrases "dynamic synergy" and "core values."

I recently spotted a billboard that said "Better left unread than dead," which lacked the power punch of "Don't tempt fate. That text can wait." But I've seen it around a lot, so I figured it must be effective.

Turns out "Better left unread than dead" was made by an Anaheim, Calif. student who entered a contest to help curb texting and driving, and it's been placed on 1,000 billboards around the country. Still, it was approved by a committee, so my initial observation stands.

It's also very different from the writer's creed, "Better dead than unread," which would make an awesome tattoo.

What is it about catchy rhymes that make them widely used? We've all heard military rhymes, like "Kick the tires, light the fires," or sports slogans like "Teamwork makes the dream work."

They actually serve a function. Rhymes help us remember things more easily. For decades, researchers have studied how students learn better if they can turn their lessons into a song, rather than just rote memorization. There's something about the rhythm and poetry of the rhymes that makes them easier to remember.
This is why the anti drinking-and-driving slogan, "Stay alive. Don't drink and drive," was effective. And why the slogan, "Click it or ticket" sticks in our mind. With four simple words, we know what will happen if the police catch us without our seat belts fastened.

Of course, the rhyme makes the phrase powerful, but if the words are poorly chosen, the slogan will fail. Hard.

"Textin' and drivin' equals cryin' and dyin'" said one rather egregious slogan I found. Either that, or it was a terribly awkward country song.

Also, the power of the slogan doesn't always carry over into other languages.

In German, "Click it or ticket" becomes "Klicken der Sicherheitsgurt, oder bekommen einer Strafzettel," and it loses something.

Clearly, rhyming and word choice are both important to message retention. That's why we get slogans like "Let the message wait. Control your fate" and "Stop the texts, stop the wrecks."

It's not Emily Dickinson, but it's not complete crap either.

I especially like how the authors also completely eliminated pre-determination and given us back free will. This is something philosophers have struggled with for centuries, and a couple committees of middle-aged bureaucrats solved it in just twelve meetings and two mission statements. Who says bureaucracy is ineffective?

But I also think these committees try way too hard. Oftentimes, they're trying to jam a square peg into a round hole. How else do you explain "Ain't no survivin' textin' and drivin'" or the drunk driving slogan, "Get hammered, get slammered"?

I can picture it: it was late at night, the committee was tired, they wanted to go home. Pizza boxes sat empty on the conference room credenza, and tempers were running short. They were just about to shut down for the night and try again in the morning, when the assistant director of HR slapped her hand on the table and shouted, "Eureka! I've got it! 'Ain't no survivin' textin' and drivin'," she shouted. "It rhymes, it uses the catch phrase, and it drops the G's from the end of the words, like young people do!"

The committee applauded and "Ain't no survivin' textin' and drivin'" was slapped up on billboards around the county. Where it was promptly mocked and ignored.

But death isn't always the underlying message of these slogans. While researching this column, I happened to find "Texting isn't so cool if the crash makes you drool." I'm guessing this one was aimed at scaring people about the possibilities of life as a vegetable.

I can only imagine the self-congratulations at those particular committee meetings. I'll bet more than one person punched themselves on the arm, like Anthony Michael Hall at the end of "Breakfast Club."

But you don't always have to rhyme if you want to get people's attention. My favorite slogan is "Honk if you love Jesus. Text and drive if you want to meet him."

Because there's nothing like gallows humor to make someone think twice about texting.

So I'm going to try a few slogans of my own, and see if I can get my own billboards made.

Does anyone know a good rhyme for "debilitating spinal injury."

Photo credit: WhisperToMe (Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain)

You can find my books Branding Yourself (affiliate link), No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.

Friday, September 09, 2016

Southern IN Schools May Drop Valedictorians, Hand Out Participation Trophies

Imagine a competition where a winner is never crowned. Instead, the top 10 percent of all finishers are given a hearty pat on the back and warm congratulations.

Imagine an Olympics, where no one received a gold, silver, or bronze medal, but instead, all three were melted down and the top three finishers, no matter who "won," received one of the molten lumps.

Now, imagine a high school graduating class without a Valedictorian, the person who had the very best grades throughout all four years of high school.

That could happen down in southern Indiana, in the Greater Clark School district. They've proposed doing away with the titles of "highest achieving student" and "second highest achieving student" (Salutatorian), and instead giving special recognition to the top 10 percent of all students.

In other words, participation trophies for smart kids.

I'll admit, I was not academically minded when I was in high school. I graduated 93rd out of 272 students in my graduating class. I was in the top 34.19 percent of my class, not even the top third. I was the second highest in the second third of my class.

Even so, I understand what it's like for the honors students who are competing for that number one spot. They want to be The Val. They'll settle for the Sal, with moist eyes and a forced smile, but dear God in Heaven, they want to Be. The. Val.

Even former athletes know the burning desire to win. You'll do anything to beat everyone else. You'll train harder, run faster, and practice more just to be the best.

The brainy kids have that same competitive fire. They'll study harder, read faster, and learn more just so they can give the Valedictorian's speech on graduation day.

It's not easy either. These kids neglect their friends and social activities, skipping the Friday night football game to study instead. They don't go out on dates or have friends spend the night.

They take advanced placement (AP) classes for more credits because an A in an AP class is worth more than an A in gym. They're not cheating the system. The easy classes carry less value and don't help them reach the finish line.

And the pressure they put themelves under can turn coal to diamond. Imagine starting your taxes at 11:00 P.M. on April 14th, and worrying you don't have the right form. Now imagine feeling that way for four years.

Greater Clark Superintendent Andrew Melin told WHAS11 News in Louisville, "When students are competing for the Val and the Sal, they're trying to find ways to maneuver through the system to try and get the best grades they can possibly get, as opposed to taking the course work that's truly in their own best interest."

What classes could they be take that are in their own best interest? These kids are so driven, we should be more concerned that they're learning good stress management skills. These are not kids who will be happy being a regional manager of an office supply store, or owning a mobile dog grooming service.

They're going to become lawyers, doctors, and investment bankers. Why does it matter if they take an AP Shakespearean English class instead of biology or calculus? These are the smart kids, remember? They'll take calculus in college if they want to become an investment banker. They'll take biology if they want to become a doctor. It will cover the same exact material they covered or didn't cover in high school. And because they're so damn smart, they'll surpass everyone else before attendance is even called.

Most importantly, the Valedictory competitors are learning mad study skills. They're learning how to cram a 10 pound textbook into a five pound brain. They're learning how to deal with pressure, and to keep from pulling out their hair at two in the morning and screaming "I CAN'T DO THIS!"

And most importantly, they're learning that you, Greater Clark School district, don't really value achievement, success, or hard work. They're learning you focus on the effort, not the results. The journey, not the destination. They're learning that a pat on the head and "well, at least you did your best" is an acceptable level of achievement.

The Valedictorian competitors are learning skills that will get them through high pressure lives and successful careers. We want them to have these skills, not take an ancient history class a small-town superinendent thinks is in "their best interest."

Because 25 years later, when you're laying on the operating table, getting ready for open heart surgery, the last thing you want to see before you go under is your surgeon flashing you the thumbs up, and saying, "Hey, remember me? I graduated 93rd in my class. Thanks for the participation trophy. It really gave me the confidence to go to medical school in Barbados."

Photo credit: Prayitno (Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons 2.0)

You can find my books Branding Yourself (affiliate link), No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.

Friday, September 02, 2016

Chinese Artist Captures British Ghost, Puts It On Display

Why is it ghosts can walk through walls, but they don't fall through the floor?

I grew up on stories of ghosts walking through walls, disappearing and reappearing at will. They make footsteps walking up a flight of stairs, or make boards creak as they walk down a hallway.

But they're apparently unable to fly through the floor. Why else would they need to walk up stairs, I guess?

Worse yet, they apparently don't have the ability to pass through anything other than walls of a house. They couldn't pass through, say, the sides of a metal canister. Unless that metal canister were made entirely from floorboards.

Chinese artist Lu Pingyuan claims to have captured a British ghost in just such a canister. He has it on display at the Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art in Manchester, England. And maybe I trapped an invisible fairy in a pickle jar.

At least we think he's in there. It could just be an empty cookie tin with "GHOST" written in magic marker.

"I wish him to exist and be treated as a real artwork and to present him around the globe, getting respect and tribute from people everywhere" Lu told the Bolton News.

According to the News, the ghost of James Stanley, Seventh Earl of Derby, has haunted Ye Olde Man and Scythe inn and pub in Bolton, England since his death in 1651. At least until Lu followed him into the pub toilet and bottled him up.

James Stanley lived in Derby, right up until the exact moment he was executed for treason.

It took place near the pub, which had already been around for 400 years. There's even a plaque commemorating his beheading for treason, and the inn has a chair inscribed "15th October 1651 In this chair James 7th Earl of Derby sat at the Olde Man and Scythe Inn, Churchgate, Bolton immediately prior to his execution."

Lu told the Bolton News he was so fascinated by Stanley's ghost that he traveled all the way from Shanghai to Manchester to steal it.

Once he cornered the ghost in the pub toilet, he performed an incantation to trap it into the sealed metal canister.

Of course, pub owner Richard Greenwood isn't happy about this. He wrote a letter to Lu.

"I would have liked to have been privy to your actions and indeed to the exhibition before the ghost of James Stanley was taken out of Bolton, his ties to the town and to Ye Olde Man and Scythe run very deeply. I feel very strongly that James Stanley's ghost should remain in Bolton and at Ye Olde Man and Scythe to preserve the natural order of things," wrote Greenwood.

This raises the question, how did Lu convince Stanley to climb into the canister? Wouldn't it be a little small? Is he comfortable? Is he bored? And does he think it's demeaning to be put on display for people to gawk at?

Not at all, says Lu. "I told his ghost about my proposal the second time I visited this place," Lu told the News, "and James Stanley agreed that I can put him into a jar in order to exhibit him in galleries and museums alike."

That's what my invisible fairy said too. She's very happy in her pickle jar, as long as she can see the TV.

But this isn't the end of Stanley's art career. Lu says he wants to exhibit the sealed metal canister in museums and galleries around the world. He is already planning the next one in 2017, although he hasn't said where that will be, or how long Stanley has to stay in there.

"(A)fter the world tour of exhibitions, I will discuss with him and ask him whether he would prefer to stay like this, as a piece of art, or go back to the Ye Olde Man and Scythe," said Lu.

Of course, we have no way of actually knowing whether he's in there. Who's to say Lu's not making it all up, and that Stanley isn't still safe at home? Will a Chinese incantation even work on an English ghost if he doesn't speak Mandarin?

But most importantly, everything I know about ghost trapping I learned from Ghostbusters. Which makes me wonder, is this just one more example of ancient Chinese methods achieving the same goals as Western science?

After all, why spend thousands of dollars on an electronic containment unit, when we only needed a quick rhyme and Grandma's flour canister?

Egon Spengler is not going to be happy about this.


Special only for my blog readers: This is a CCTV video inside Ye Olde Man and Scythe that supposedly shows the ghost of James Stanley. Before he was captured, of course.

Photo credit: Michael Ely and (Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons 2.0)

You can find my books Branding Yourself (affiliate link), No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Nyet, My Column Was Not Hacked by Russian Spies

Hello, my fellow Americans! It is I, Erik Deckers, your favorite humorous columnist from the Middle West.

I have been reading in your — I mean, our — liberal American media about how Russian hackers have tried to hack into the New York Times and other media newspapers. This chases on the heels of the news that same Russians may have hacked the Democrats Nationalist Committee email server.

This is typical American media lie!

Also, in case you worry, my own comedy column has not been hacked by Russian spies working for a secret government agency seeking to undermine you Americans' — I mean, our — democracy.

To accuse us — I mean, them — of hacking into newspapers is serious insult to Russians everywhere, and especially to their eminent leader, President Vladimir Putin, who is in no way trying to recreate the USSR through military force.

(And who also looks very manly without a shirt.)

While we are on subject, President Putin is not invading Ukraine. He is only trying to keep Ukraine safe, and teach it how to be strong. It is like tough love, like Russian mama bear shows to her children, to help them grow up to be strong Russian bears who fight rebels and dissidents.

Wait, I mean like American bears. Yes, that's it. American mama bears who love their bear children.

To change the subject, many congratulations to American Olympic team and their many gold medals. Of course, these were not real victories, since nearly all athletes from Russia were banned from competing because they were heavily doping.

Accused of doping, I mean. Wrongly accused of doping. Da, that's it.

Widespread, government-funded doping, my Aunt Olga's fanny! Russian athletes train harder and better than American athletes, and for this, IOC seeks to punish Russian athletes and para-athletes. It's not our — I mean, their — fault they have cutting-edge nutritional supplements. And nutritional creams and gels. And nutritional injections.

I remember back in 1984, when Olympics were held in Los Angeles Hollywood, and the Russians stood on their principles and chose to boycott Olympics. This happened after we, and 64 other countries, mistakenly boycotted 1980 Olympics after Soviet army paid a friendly visit to — I mean, invaded — Afghanistan.

(Between you and me, my fellow Americans, the Soviets did not invade. They were helping Chairman Andropov find his dog. He lost it while he was there on a fact finding mission. I heard it from my cousin, Alexei — I mean, Kevin — who worked for the Kremlin — I mean, American government.)

Speaking of politics, I am surprised that more of my fellow Americans do not support Donald Trump in his campaign to become Supreme President. Many, many Americans seem to like Hillary Clinton and the Democrats Nationalist Committee, who has done many terrible things to her opponent, Bernie Sanders. I remember being surprised when I read all those emails.

In the newspapers! I read all the emails in the newspapers. So many newspapers I have read.

And then I forwarded all the emails to Wikileaks — I mean, my mother! I forwarded them to my mother. Ha ha, not an international repository of stolen government secrets.

"Look, Mama," I said. "Look at what Hillary Clinton and her comrades have done to poor Bernie Sanders. They have organized a coup against Bernie Sanders." And Mama said she wished Mr. Sanders would have seized power back from the usurpers, like the time Boris Yeltsin rode into the Kremlin on a tank and smashed a coup attempt.

But I have read many great things about Donald Trump. He is a good friend to President Putin. He is a fan of Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un of North Korea. And I know Kim Jong Un is a very big fan of his. I have seen some of their back-and-forth emails.

Uh, also in newspapers! Yes, they were in newspapers, and not at all from hacking.

But Mr. Trump would make an excellent friend to Russia. He already has strong relationships with President Putin. And his former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, is well known to many Russians, having received many millions of rubles — I mean, dollars — from Ukrainian politicians.

I have heard Mr. Trump has also had many financial dealings with Russia, and is said to be millions of dollars in debt to Russian oligarchs and friends of President Putin. This makes Mr. Trump ideal president to help Russia and America work together to make the world great again.

So, my fellow Americans, spasibo — I mean, thank you! — for your time. Dasvidaniya.

Photo credit: Russian Presidential Press and Information Office (No, I'm not kidding!) (Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons 4.0)

You can find my books Branding Yourself (affiliate link), No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Karl the Curmudgeon Is Tired of Facebook Politics

"I don't know if I can take it anymore, Kid," said Karl, staring at his reflection in the bar mirror. He rubbed his face hard with his hands. "I mean, this constant bickering and nattering and droning on and on and on about how neither person can do anything right."

Your daughter and son-in-law fighting again? I asked.

"I wish. At least I can tell them to shut up." He drained the last of his beer and signaled Kurt the bartender for two more. "No, I'm talking about the presidential campaign."

I thought you didn't pay attention to campaign.

"I don't. I've purposely avoided all the commercials and media stories about who said what or who committed yet another grievous sin against the American people. I already know who I'm voting for, so there's no reason to pay attention to that cluster truck."

Karl plonked his empty mug on the bar just as Kurt set down a couple fresh ones. We were at First Editions, our favorite literary-themed bar for open mic night. Some slam poet from Florida was riffing on Benny Goodman, and the crowd was snapping its fingers in appreciation. Karl and I rolled our eyes.

I said, so you missed the story this week where Dr. Drew Pinsky diagnosed Hillary Clinton's health care by looking at some of her medical records?

Karl snorted into his beer. "I wouldn't trust that guy to diagnose the color of orange juice." I laughed so hard, a couple people nearby shushed me.

Then what's the problem? I said, ignoring them.


But you don't like Facebook. You hate all forms of social media.

"I do. Well, I did. I started using Facebook to keep up with my nieces and nephews, and now I get sucked into all these political discussions with people I went to school with."

What? When did this start?

Karl counted on his fingers. "Three months ago, I guess."

I've bugged you for years to get on Facebook, and when you finally do, you still don't friend me? What a jerk!

"Don't you think our little get-togethers are enough? I don't think we could stand that much of each other."

I thought about that. Yeah, you're right, I said. I don't want that much of a look into your private life. I already know too much. I took a drink of my own beer. So what's happening on Facebook that has your panties in a twist?

Karl shot me the side eye and took another drink. "It's just the general nastiness of the campaign," he said. "People are getting angrier and nastier with each other. Even friends are forgetting they're friends and are starting flame wars to roast each other into silence."

How is this different from the early days of the Internet? I asked. We've had flame wars and arguments online since the mid-90s. I mean, epic, scorched-earth flame wars.

"Yeah, but those idiots had the good sense to hide behind an an anonymous screen name, like a proper coward. They made sure no one knew who they were before they insulted other people or accused each other of being worse than Hitler. But the problem really started when they started getting on news media websites and leaving horrible comments to news stories."

I remember all that. Then the media got smart and started tying comments to a person's Facebook account. That way, their friends and family could see what they were spewing. That helped put a stop to it, didn't it?

"No, that's when the real problem started. Now, the a-holes have found they can survive a little public exposure. They're posting anti-religious statements on their Facebook page. Or homophobic slurs. Or racist jokes. Now, I see people openly embracing their racism and sexism. They're not hiding it, they're flaunting it."

I've seen that. There are usually plenty of people calling them out on it, though, so they're starting to slink back under their rocks.

"True. But this year's campaign has made them think they can come out from there in the first place. It's making people to behave badly toward each other more than ever. I'm just tired of it."

The Florida poet finished his Benny Goodman poem, and the audience clapped like normal people. We joined in.

True, I said. But you could just block anyone who disagrees with you. Then your Facebook feed will be peaceful and friendly.

"Yeah, but Thomas Jefferson said, 'I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend,'" said Karl.

So why haven't you friended me yet, you jerk?

You can find my books Branding Yourself (affiliate link), No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.

Friday, August 12, 2016

That's Not a Bat, This is a Bat

Erik is out of the office this week, so we are reprinting a column from 2004. Since the Olympics are going on, it's a sports-related column. Sort of.

Teaching is a noble profession, one that should attract the best and brightest to a rewarding career of shaping young minds and encouraging lifelong learning.

Unfortunately, some of these teachers become administrators, which grinds out any lofty ideals they had when they first entered the profession (that, and the fact that after 32 weeks of school, most of them can't stand the little monsters anymore).

But occasionally we find news stories about these same administrators, and the phrase "couldn't find it with both hands and a flashlight" springs to mind.

In 2004 in Fort Worth, TX, administrators at Diamond Hill-Jarvis High School were peering into students' cars in the school parking lot, when one of them spotted an eight inch wooden bat inside a car. They tracked down the driver, sophomore Cory Henson, and pulled him out of class, disrupting his educational process. They ordered him to unlock the car and searched it thoroughly, as more students disrupted their educational processes and watched from the windows.

When they discovered the bat had fallen off a baseball trophy — Cory is a junior varsity baseball player — they dropped their flashlights, declared the mini-bat to be a weapon, and immediately suspended him. He was suspended for four days, under Texas' Zero Tolerance scheme, which was hatched in 1995.

Zero Tolerance is the mantra of school administrators who ensure their schools are safe from plastic butter knives, anti-PMS medicine, and students who say "hell" or "gay," as I have mentioned in previous columns.

And the administrators had focused on this mini-bat so intently that they completely ignored the regulation-sized aluminum bat Cory carried in his trunk.

That's why Ignacio Torres, the school's assistant principal, said the mini-bat, and NOT the full-sized bat, was considered a weapon.

I can only imagine the scene, as young Cory Henson was yanked out of class, and told to unlock his car — a machine that generally weighs over a ton and kills thousands of people each year. They then confiscated the little wooden bat, and ignored the big aluminum bat, forgetting that bats are a favorite weapon of seedy bar owners and guys who "wanna know what you said about my sister."

The administrators then escorted Cory into school, which is filled with pens and pencils, which are great for stabbing. Cory may have heard the band practice as he walked, listening to the drummers beat their drums with sticks the same size as the one clutched in an administrator's sweaty hand.

Cory's head may have hung as he walked past the cafeteria, filled with metal forks and knives, and into the assistant principal's office, which contained more pens, pencils, and several pairs of scissors. I imagine he then had to call his mother, who drove her own one-ton vehicle to the school.

But apparently none of this concerned LoEster Posey, the director of student affairs for Fort Worth schools. He told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram that if an item is only "prohibited," such as a pocketknife, pepper spray, or firecrackers, the student will be given a warning. But if the item is "illegal," like an eight-inch mini-bat, then the student is suspended.

In other words, if you can stab them, blind them, or blow their fingers off, you're just given a slap on the wrist. If you can whack someone with it, you'll be suspended. But if you can actually kill someone with an item like, say, a full-size aluminum baseball bat, you're allowed to keep it.

I realize that a small wooden bat can be used as a club, but so can nearly ever other item in a school. A large reference book, a cafeteria tray, and even a well-thrown baseball can all become weapons in the right hands.

Suspending a student for having a small bat while ignoring a full-size bat borders on gross ineptitude. But labeling knives, pepper spray, and fire crackers as only prohibited, while a small stick is illegal only reinforces my thoughts about school administrators.

A little knowledge is a dangerous thing, but when you combine it with a little power and very little common sense, you've got something deadlier than any miniature baseball bat.

Maybe we should ban administrators instead.

Photo credit: Peter Miller (Flickr, Creative Commons)

You can find my books Branding Yourself (affiliate link), No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.

Friday, August 05, 2016

Big Brother Isn't the Government, It's Corporate America

The Internet is spying on me.

Not the Edward Snowden kind of spying, where the NSA hides a listening device in my toaster. (Which my daughter accidentally ate in her cinnamon raisin bagel.)

I mean, the Internet keeps close track of the things I do. For one thing, if I go shoe shopping online, all my friends will make fun of me.

Also, an ad for the shoes will follow me to every other website I visit. If there's a space for an ad, those stupid shoes will be in it.

That's because the original shoe website puts a small piece of code called a "beacon" onto my browser. This beacon follows me (and everyone else) around and shows the same shoes over and over until you punch your laptop and wear old Kleenex boxes on your feet in protest.

But this is not a major problem. It's been going on for years, so don't hurt yourself jamming on your tinfoil hat.

It's just the software algorithms that make the Internet work.

For example, Google uses algorithms so its search engine can better predict what we might be searching for. The more you search for things, the better they get at finding what you want.

If you Google Nazareth, the 1970s band that sang "Love Hurts," you'll get a mixed bag of results about the band, the city in Pennsylvania, and Jesus' hometown. But if you only click on the band's search results, play their videos on YouTube, participate in Nazareth fan forum discussions, and visit as many websites as possible about the band, your family will think you've lost your mind.

Also, Google will figure out that you're not interested in the cities, so future results will be more band-specific.

You can even affect what Google fills in the search box as you start typing. Let's say you start typing the phrase "How do I." Right now, Google will show you several frequently-typed phrases like, "how do I get a home," "how do I get a passport," and "how do I love thee."

But if you and several of your friends frequently search for, "how do I hide a dead body" over a long period of time, that phrase will eventually begin to show up more and more, displacing one of the other phrases.

So, if a few hundred people were to repeatedly ask Google whether a certain presidential candidate is a Cheeto-faced bankruptcy factory, the search engine would auto-fill that phrase anytime someone typed in his name.

Who benefits by knowing all this stuff about us? Who's keeping track of all this?

It's not the government. I'm not that worried about what the government will do with my search interests.

No, I'm worried about marketers. And I say that as a professional marketer. If you want to be afraid of Big Brother and a dystopian Orwellian future, be afraid of the people who sell you stuff. Disney's Wall-E should give you a pretty good idea of where we're headed.

Google's search algorithms are written so we'll have a positive experience, and come back to them over and over. And they'll encourage us to use their other products, like YouTube and Google Drive. The more we use them, the more they learn about us. And they'll begin to show ads geared specifically toward the things we want, like, and need.

Imagine if your TV only showed commercials of the things you need right now, as if they peeked inside your refrigerator and cupboards. You would see ads for your favorite mayonnaise, your favorite beer, and those little cheese balls you swore you would stretch over a week, but finished in one sitting.

That's who's driving the Internet. It's not the government. According to most of the people I went to high school with, the government can't even secure a single private email server, so what makes you think they can successfully monitor all of us?

That's because marketers can't touch anything without ruining it. We're the black mold of the Internet. Once someone creates something new and clean and pure, marketers are your perpetually dirty cousin who's always working on cars or massaging pigs.

"Hey, let me see that," they say, grabbing it out of your hands. "That looks pretty cool." They pass it back and forth between their grimy hands, hold it up to their ear and shake it. They even bite down on it to see how solid it is. When you get it back, you don't even want it anymore.

But don't think quitting Facebook or never using Google again will stop them, you're too late. They already know a lot about you, so you might as well face it, embrace it, and benefit from it.

Besides, Amazon is offering free shipping if you spend over $25 and buy my books.

You can find my books Branding Yourself (affiliate link), No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.

Friday, July 29, 2016

The Baxter® Family Newsletter

Hello fellow Glastonbury Neighborhood families!

As we finish with summer, I wanted to update you on the Baxter® family fortunes through our monthly newsletter. Since we'll be spending the next two weeks getting ready for back to school, we've been so thankful that the Baxter® Beacon™ has let us keep everyone up to date with our goings-on.

Before we get into the meat of the newsletter — or tofu protein patties, for my vegan pals — I'd like to ask a little favor. I notice several people driving rather fast through the neighborhood. I know the posted speed limit says 20, but "dears" live here, so it would be great if you could keep it well below 15. It's hard to see all the kids as they dart out from between the cars parked on the street as they play on the driveways. Remember, slow equals safe for this protective momma bear!

There have been several local crime stories in the news lately. I know we're safe up here in our little suburban enclave, and that most crime actually happens in the big city. But I still get worried any time our sleepy little town is mentioned during the crime segment on the news.

(On a side note, when did the news get so scary? You would think nothing good ever happened in the world these days. I would love to see a whole newscast devoted to nothing but good news for a change. I bet people would watch that.)

So Blake® and I are urging everyone to keep an eye out for suspicious vehicles in the neighborhood. Last week, I saw a teenage boy driving slowly past our house with an older man in the passenger seat. I figured they were looking out for houses to rob, so I speed dialed the police. They rushed out and questioned the driver.

I later learned he was just a neighborhood teenager learning how to drive with his father. Still, they were driving slowly, which made me nervous. Remember, slow equals suspicious to this eagle-eyed momma!

On a much cheerier note, Blake® and I registered the kids' names as registered trademarks, as well as our own, over the summer. Blake®'s brother, Stephen™, is an intellectual property attorney in Chicago, and he helped us do it.

We figured the kids are doing so well on their sports travel teams that when they become college and professional athletes, we'll be able to keep the licensing fees the NCAA and pro leagues would have used to line their own pockets. There's no point in enriching those people. Plus, it puts us on stronger footing when EA Sports comes a-knocking. Fingers crossed we see Farron® or Dashiell® on the cover of FIFA 27 or Madden NFL 34. Sports equal satisfaction for this athletic-supporting momma!

That's assuming Käetlin® doesn't become a professional ballerina first. She loves her Tuesday morning dance class!

And while her brothers and sister are staying active, we're also proud of Auden®. She's finishing her fourth week of summer camp, and is ready to come home. It's been an amazing transformation. When we first sent her off, she was homesick, calling every day, begging to come home. But now, she barely writes and won't spend more than a few minutes on the phone with me, so we know she's having such a wonderful time that she doesn't want us interrupting her.

We're now researching college scholarships and looking at SAT prep academies for her. It's hard to believe our little valedictorian will be going to college in just six short years. But if anyone is going to win a Nobel prize, it will be our little Auden®. Science equals splendid to this education-eager momma!

I'm looking forward to seeing everyone at the neighborhood picnic next week. Remember, Dashiell® is sensitive to peanuts, while Kaëtlin® shouldn't eat wheat. Plus Blake® and I prefer the children don't have processed meat, so no hot dogs. Also, I'm sure I speak for the other, more caring neighborhood moms when I ask you to please avoid processed sugar in your delicious desserts. As for the men, Blake® is super proud of the home brew non-alcoholic beer he's made, so I hope you're all thirsty! And I'll be serving up mom-friendly mimosas!

In the meantime, I've only received RSVPs from three of you. Please remember to get those in as soon as possible.

Hugs and kisses to you all!

Sheila® Baxter®

You can find my books Branding Yourself (affiliate link), No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Motivational Quotes: Inspiration for the Uninspired

I'm not an easy person to motivate.

That doesn't mean I lack motivation. It means you won't inspire me to do my best by bombarding me with clever slogans and aphorisms. I find my own inspiration and motivate myself without any clever quotes to guide me.

"Just do it" never did it for me. It was just a catchy t-shirt slogan that people bought for $30 so they could shill for Nike.

"No pain, no gain?" No thanks. I don't have to "eat lightning and crap thunder," as Mickey so delicately put it in Rocky II.

I get credo after credo in my Twitter feed, exhorting me to do my best, to never give up, to ignore failure, to never sleep, to get hungry, to ignore the hunger, to seize the day, sweat blood, ignore the pain, seize the tiger's tail, grab the bull by its horns, and take no bullshit.

And they keep coming. Life coaches and people who are annoyingly upbeat in the morning share so many gym poster philosophies, I wonder if they actually have time to do client work.

It's not that I don't want to do better, I just don't want to do it because a poster told me to. These buffed-up bon mots don't make me want to run a marathon or flip over a tractor tire. I didn't feel like hanging in there for Friday, and I never hated Mondays.

"Suck it up now so you don't have to suck it in later," said one quote. I'm afraid you're a bit late.

"Better sore than sorry," said another, which I read in a Canadian accent. When Canadians apologize, it sounds like "sore-y." At least being sorry doesn't keep me from raising my arms over my head.

"Unless you puke, faint, or die, keep going," said an Under Armour t-shirt. Yeah, that'll get me to the gym: I could fall over, puke on myself, and then choke to death. Good times, good times.

"Making excuses burns zero calories per hour" said another poster. Wrong!

A 2004 Harvard article said that a 185 pound person will burn 33 calories watching TV, 50 by reading, and 67 doing light office work. You can even burn 72 calories an hour by sitting in a meeting. I've been in plenty of terrible meetings; I probably burned a whole lot more just trying not to stab anyone.

Basically, if you can burn 50 calories by reading this column, plus several more, for an hour, you can burn many more by writing down all the reasons not to go to the gym.

Business quotes are even worse, because they're shared by people who don't seem to understand how business works.

"Great things never came from comfort zones!" declares one business quote. Really? So whoever invented mashed potatoes and feety pajamas was locked in a life-or-death struggle with their fax machine? Because those things are mighty comforting.

Author Kobi Yamada said, "Follow your dreams. They know the way." And then he floated away on a magical balloon to a land made of candy and the laughter of children.

We entrepreneurs like to say we follow our passion or live our dreams, or some nonsense. But the stark reality is, following your dreams can be a 14-hour-a-day grind, and you would give your competition's right eye for some sleep.

People who think business success is achieved only by believing in themselves are in for a big surprise when their bank won't let them pay their mortgage with a pocket full of dreams.

Speaking of beliefs, Wayne Dyer oversimplified success when he said, "Believe. It's as simple as that."

I want to lick the back of my own neck, but simply believing ain't gonna make it so.

I understand the need for exercising and eating healthy, and I appreciate the people who wholly throw themselves into that lifestyle, forsaking all art, literature, and music. But Michael Jordan quotes won't make me go out for a jog any more than Ernest Hemingway quotes will make them pick up a book.

The only thing that's going to make me go out for a run is if a zombie is behind me, and even then, I'm only running as far as my truck.

I realize motivational quotes have to be positive, because they remind us to dream big. Still, I'd like to see something more realistic than Les Brown's quote, "Shoot for the moon, and even if you miss, you'll land among the stars."

Although I have to admit, it sounds a lot better than "Shoot for the moon, and even if you miss, you'll die."

Photo credit: U.S. Food & Drug Administration (Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain)

You can find my books Branding Yourself (affiliate link), No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.

Friday, July 15, 2016

The Growing Trend of Living Tiny

Move over, giant sprawling houses. Tiny house living is the Next Big Thing. After the Great Recession, people realized they didn't need — and shouldn't have gotten — 4,000 square foot McMansions anymore.

They started dumping all their useless crap, and began to simplify their lives. They started buying smaller and smaller homes, until it blossomed into a new trend: tricked-out garden sheds on small trailers, and every home and garden network airing tiny house programs six times a day.

Some shows focus on the building techniques and technology of the garden shed. Others are more of the hunting type, where — surprise, surprise! — two spoiled and picky people try to buy a tiny home that will suit their crunchy-organic-hug-Mother-Earth lifestyle, but are still surprised at how small the homes are. They want something they can entertain friends in, but still leave them all behind in an instant when they move across country on a whim.

Yet, for all their talk of being mobile, we all know the couple is going to live in her parents' back yard until they bitterly divorce four years later.

Several years ago, I thought tiny living looked interesting. The spartan lifestyle appealed to me, as I was in the midst of moving my family's crap for the fourth time in four years, and I had never prayed so fervently for a flaming meteor strike in my life. I fell in love with the idea of changing my home and surroundings with nothing more than a pickup and a trailer hitch.

For one thing, tiny living is inexpensive. Forget these "wealth managers" who say you need to save $500,000 or even $1 million just to retire. Move into a $40,000 tiny house, and you can pay your mortgage out of a coffee shop tip jar, and your wealth manager won't even acknowledge you in public anymore.

But before cramming ourselves into a shoebox on wheels, let's practice first to see if you're ready.

First, pile everything you own into your front yard. Now set fire to it. Tiny houses don't have storage space, so you have to downsize. You may have thought about putting a few tchotchkes on a shelf above your TV, but don't. The combined weight on that wall will tip your trailer over.

Next, empty out one of your kids' bedrooms, put in your couch, TV, stove, sink, and bed, and live in it for four weeks. Tell your significant other that this is a great chance to grow closer in your relationship. If you need privacy, sit on the other end of the couch and don't make eye contact.

Stick a toilet lid on a bucket and hang a curtain around it. That's your bathroom. It's called a "composting toilet," which is environmental talk for "indoor poop storage." If you want to get fancy during your experiment, nail some plywood together into a makeshift room. Install a loose-fitting, air-permeable door too. Slam it on your knees whenever you're taking care of business, since you can't close it all the way while you're in there.

Once you finish, hurry and shut the door, though it's already too late. Go back to your "side of the house" and make awkward conversation for several minutes, while neither of you address the stinky elephant in the room.

Time for bed. Climb up into the tiny loft you built two feet from the ceiling. Since tiny houses are not made for real mattresses, your bed is made of three yoga mats stacked on top of each other. You lay on your back, your nose just six inches from the ceiling, which also means that clearly anything. . . else is out of the question.

Bottom line, if you want to reduce your life footprint, save money, and eliminate clutter, forget tiny houses. Try a small house instead, around 500 to 800 square feet, two bedrooms and one bathroom. At least you'll have room to live normally.

I believe tiny houses are just a temporary trend, and not a long-term solution for people. It may be fine for the single person who likes to be alone and doesn't want people to visit her. But for those of us who are married and want to stay that way, a tiny house is not for you.

But if you insist on buying one, just do what I was planning to do: build a large storage building for all your stuff, and put the tiny house inside it. Then just live inside that, protected from the elements.

Photo credit: Guillaume Dutih (Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons 4.0)

You can find my books Branding Yourself (affiliate link), No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.

Friday, July 08, 2016

Sharks and Piranhas and Bears, Oh My

Growing up in Indiana, the one thing we didn't have were bears. I was always fascinated by bears. I admired them for their strength and single-mindedness in searching for pic-a-nic baskets. Bears were also far away animals, and I never worried about one of them eating me.

Not like sharks. I saw "Jaws" on HBO in 1976, and that has kept me out of the ocean for the last 40 years. I tried swimming in the ocean once, three feet deep, just to see if I could. All I could think of was a great white shark swimming beneath me, waiting for me to open my eyes, before it attacked. That was the first and last time I tried ocean swimming.

Then I saw "Piranha" a few years later, and that has kept me out of the Amazon River, plus all of South America.

Horror movies have taught me important survival skills. I know not to work as a winter caretaker in an isolated hotel in the mountains. I know not to visit small farm towns populated only by children. And I know better than to own a 1958 Plymouth Fury whose radio won't shut off.

In fact, most of my survival skills seem to come from Stephen King, so I know not to hang out with him at all.

Avoidance plays a big part in my survival. If I don't want to get eaten by sharks, don't go in the ocean. If I don't want to get electrocuted, don't grab downed power lines. And if I don't want to get eaten by bears, don't go where bears are.

Which meant I was completely safe in Indiana. As far as I was concerned, bears were in far away places like Canada, or Montana, where I was born. We moved to Indiana when I was two, and the bears weren't able to track me over the 1800 miles, so I was safe.

In fact, it wasn't until April that Indiana got its first black bear in 140 years. It had migrated south from Michigan's Upper Peninsula, and wandered between the two states for months. It was finally euthanized after it tried to break into a man's house in Michigan City.

Now that I live in Florida, we actually have a lot of black bears in the state, including my county. They're not actually in my part of the county, since it's more developed. But 20 miles west, bears are a nuisance, tipping over garbage cans and raiding bird feeders.

It's not very likely, but I have a better chance of encountering a bear here than I ever did in Indiana. It could happen when I'm taking the dog out at night or hiking one of the trails, which is also unlikely, since this is how I avoid snakes.

But given the number of bears here in Florida, the Associated Press' article, "Outdoor survival tips for Bear Country" came at just the right time.

According to the AP, there's a common mantra hikers use in the Alaskan wilderness: "If it's brown, you lie down. If it's black, you fight back." However, the lie down advice is only good once a brown bear has struck, or is about to.

"The right thing to do is not drop until that bear is practically on top of you," said Pat Owen, a wildlife biologist. Otherwise it might get curious and bite and scratch you to see what happens.

The bear, that is, not Pat Owen.

If the bear does get curious, you will no doubt scream and try to run away, and then you will be killed. That's what will happen.

One thing you can do to fend off bears is to make yourself appear larger. I've been trying this for years, but apparently pizza and donuts won't work quickly enough to frighten off a bear. That may be what brings him to you in the first place.

The article also says to make a lot of noise when traveling through bear country so as not surprise them. Some hikers will shout, "Hey, bear!" while others clap, or wear bells. I carried a boombox around Idaho once, when it started playing Peter Gabriel's "In Your Eyes," and I accidentally started dating a grizzly bear named Diane.

And we all know better than to get between a mother bear and her young, as they can be especially vicious. It's like getting between Sarah Palin and a microphone, but without the glasses or distorted sense of reality.

If you ever need to stop a possible bear attack, just do what I do. Carry a shark with you at all times, and throw it if a bear gets too close.

Photo credit: Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain)

You can find my books Branding Yourself (affiliate link), No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.