Monday, December 29, 2008

Sarah Palin's mis-adventures in cyberspace

I am thinking a lot about the Internet lately--the fact that it brings so many good things into our lives as well as many problems that we may not have anticipated, may of which we have no way of opting out of, no matter what our behavior or personal choices.

My Mojo Mom Pocast co-host Sheryl Grant studies technology for a living now, and she's convinced me that as parents, it is really important that we use new technologies in our own lives, to personally experience phenomena like social networking. That way we understand what our kids are going through, everything from safety issues, to dealing with that old "high school" pit-in-the-stomach feeling of realizing that your friends took a trip together and didn't invite you, once you see their photos uploaded to Facebook. That's a totally legit use of Facebook, with normal human consequences. I'll be honest and admit that Facebook does occasionally evoke feelings that I haven't felt since high school! Imagine how a real high-schooler might feel now that one's popularity is so visible.

I am giving a brief talk on these issues later today and Sarah Palin came to mind as an example of one person's misadventures in cyberspace. Of course when she was catapulted into the spotlight this August, a virtual unknown in the media's eyes, her digital dossier began to show up very quickly. Many of her professional gaffes came to light as a result of a combination of traditional media and viral videos. However, I was really struck by the extent that she was actually cyberbullied in ways that were beyond her control, that had nothing to do with her actual behaviors or qualifications. Not surprisingly (but very depressingly), this is where a ton of sexism crept in to the picture, in some shocking forms that were not even called out by media feminists.

Here is my brief list of Sarah Palin internet phenomena from Fall 2008. I am writing this as a quick draft, so if you can think of other incidents, please leave a comment. Whether or not you like Sarah Palin, I think these examples are instructive for all of us.

Sarah Palin's misadventures in cyberspace

Palin announces that her daughter Bristol was pregnant, and boyfriend Levi Johnson's knuckleheaded MySpace page is immediately reported and widely publicized. Bristol's pregnancy is announced in part to debunk another blogosphere rumor that Trig Palin is actually Bristol's baby, and that Sarah faked a pregnancy to claim him as her child.

A Photoshopped image of Sarah Palin's head on an American-flag-bikini-wearing, gun-toting woman's body is circulated.

Sarah Palin's Yahoo email account is hacked and taken over when someone guesses the password based on statements she made in the media about where she met her husband Todd. The hacker changes the password, takes over the account, and Palin's personal emails and photos are released.

A viral email is sent out with a list of books that Palin allegedly wanted banned from the Wasilla public library. This email is later debunked.

Palin's poor performance during interviews with Katie Couric and Charles Gibson are broadcast on TV, and then take on a life of their own the video clips are distributed online.

Saturday Night Live actors Tina Fey and Amy Poehler create instant-classic parodies of these interviews ("I can see Russia from my house!") which are also popular viral videos and reach people who don't watch SNL's live broadcast.

Most disturbingly, in my judgment, is that Hustler's Larry Flynt shoots a Palin-lookalike porn video called "Who's Nailin' Palin." The porn video is distributed online, and so-called "safe for work" clips are published as a "spoof" and joked about uncritically on mainstream blogs including's Broadsheet blog and The Huffington Post.

While the video may be legally protected free speech, it's despicable. I was very disappointed to see excerpts posted online by some of the sites I usually respect. It was normalizing the video, which is inflicting virtual sexual violence on a female political candidate. I was so disappointed that feminists did not come to Palin's defense on this one. What message does it send to any woman who is thinking about stepping into the public eye to run for office, to know that those who step onto the highest stage are fair fame for sexual humiliation of this kind? (In addition to the Hillary Clinton "Nutcracker" line of thinking.)

So the online dimension has added a lot to the media, to public debate. Again, so much is out of our control. A teenager can be cyberbullied whether she or he is even actually online. Someone can instigate a cybersmear campagign of many varieties even if we are 100% responsible in our individual behavior. Still, life on the 'net can be a wonderful way to maintain frienships, start or cement new ones, speak up, and participate in democracy. We parents need to get right in there alongside our kids, as safely as we can. But it's clear from some of the bullying that Palin experienced that we need to look at the big picture of how people are behaving toward one another online. As the Megan Meier/Lori Drew MySpace suicide/harrassment case has shown us, the online world is evolving much faster than our public policies and laws.

As Internet Safety expert Linda Criddle has taught me, these issues aren't just about "irresponsible teens" and "uncaring parents." In fact the largest leaker of private information is the government, which exposes each of us to identity theft just through the basic information it posts about us every day. The Freedom of Information Act and privacy concerns have not been reconciled. That's a subject for a fuller post on another day, but in the meantime I highly recommend Linda's website,

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Friday, December 26, 2008

What were your favorite holiday gifts?

It's the day after Christmas...boy we had a good time yesterday, and it was about family as much as it was about gifts. My Mom and Dad both came for Christmas dinner, the first time since they split up in 1984. They've been to other events together, but now that they both live in the Triangle it's more logical to share the holidays. It was like the opposite of the movie Four Christmases, thank goodness. With all the health challenges everyone has faced lately, I have a new true appreciation for the opportunity to be together.

That being said, I am curious to hear what holiday gifts were a hit this season. Not just the obvious ones, like the Wii (which I wish we could get, though I know we would have no self-restraint around it, so we should not).

What were your family's three favorite gifts to unwrap this week? Ours were:

Jishaku. This is an unpredictable, tactile game that you really have to hold in your own hands to appreciate. The pieces are shiny hematite magnets, and you try to place your piece in a foam cushion so that it doesn't attract others. You have to keep any magnets that stick together. If everyone in your household is old enough to play safely with these magnets (i. e. won't eat them), this is a fun age-leveling game that kids and adults can play together.

Microfly Hovering UFO.

Shoot, it's out of stock at my favorite fun gadget website,, but this little radio-controlled toy really does fly. At $19.95, you won't cry your eyes out if it gets lost on the roof. It flies longer and better than last year's ubiquitous RC Dragonfly worked for us.

Kung Fu Panda on DVD. I really felt like I'd gotten out of something earlier this year when my husband offered to take my daughter to see this in the theater. Even after they said it was good, I still didn't believe them. (I've sat through enough cyncial/crummy Dreamworks movies--for example, Over the Hedge, Bee Movie, Magadascar--to turn me off to the brand.) But Santa brought Kung Fu Panda on DVD and we watched it yesterday. It was actually quite good--stunning animation, and a good story with a valuable message. In fact, one of the main themes of the film echoed something Nancy Pelsoi said in her recent book Know Your Power: A Message to America's Daughters. How's that for an unexpected connection?

Now that I am spending lots of time with nine- and ten-year-olds, I really appreciate things that are truly aimed at them. Not too babyish, but not just wholesale appropriation of teen culture, either (as in, "Mom, when can I have a cell phone?" Answer: not yet!). Kung Fu Panda hit that sweet spot for me. It would be too intense for little ones but I thought it was great for older elementary on up.

How about you? What are you still having fun playing with today? Any lumps of coal we should all stay away from in the future?

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Friday, December 19, 2008

Mojo Mom Podcast with The Milk Memos authors

This has been an incredible week--so many details to attend to as I work with my publisher to finish up the new Mojo Mom manuscript. It's sort of like putting a fidgety three-year old to bed--many unpredictable final requests pop up at the last minute.

But I think I've finished everything I need to do this week, including making a new Mojo Mom Podcast. Sheryl and I are back, and committed to bringing you new shows weekly in 2009 right up to my book launch in April.

This week my podcast guests are Cate Colburn-Smith and Andrea Serrette, authors of The Milk Memos. This is a fantastic book, especially for new Moms going back to work. This truly unique book got its start when IBM manager Cate sat down in the company’s employee lactation room, shed a few silent tears, and wrote this on a paper towel: I’m a new mom and today is my first day back at work. Is anyone else using this room?

I hope you'll listen to the podcast.

I am taking next week off, perhaps blogging a bit but that's it, a well-earned break if I do say so myself. In fact, I am going to be "wrapping up" like a present for two weeks, starting on Christmas Day, and unveiling our new 2009 website design to reflect the arrival of the new book. I know you can't possibly be as excited about that as I am, but I hope you'll check back on January 7th to see what I am doing to count down to the new book's release.

My wish for all of you is that you will have a wonderful, restful, sane, family-and-mojo-filled holiday!

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Thursday, December 18, 2008

Please become a fan on Facebook!

2008 has been an incredible year and I am really looking forward to 2009. I am really excited to gear up for the April release of the new Mojo Mom from Gotham Books. I have put a lot of thought and heart into the new edition and I feel so lucky to have the chance to update my work. So much has happened since I first published Mojo Mom in 2005. The whole conversation about motherhood has really opened up, and I've been able to be part of that through my blog, and now the book will reflect those developments, too.

I am cooking up surprises online, and thinking about ways to thank my readers and podcast listeners. I am going to be doing several reader giveaways, from copies of the new book, to my absolutely favorite gadget, the iPod Nano.

How can you enter my drawings? Join me on Facebook. On February 1, I'll be giving an iPod Nano to one of the fans of my new Mojo Mom Facebook page. The new Facebook Page features will allow me to easily share news, events, and videos throughout the winter and spring. I have some fun things planned, including new online resources and free bonuses to share with you as the new Mojo Mom comes to life!

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Thursday, December 11, 2008

Batgirl fights for Fair Pay (check out the video)

It's a hectic day. I just got through reading through the penultimate round of Mojo Mom copyedits for the new edition. So I just have enough brainpower left to share this must-see video, courtesy of Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner on She is wondering if you know how Batgirl, fair pay, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce mix.

I just have to point out that the Batman TV series ran from 1966-1968...before most of us were born. And Batgirl's problem is still our problem 40+ years later. Find out more about a simple step you can take to support fair pay. It could be worth $434,000 for you to get involved.

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Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Be a good neighbor to your local merchants this holiday

I am as tempted as anyone by an online discount, but I am also trying to remember to shop locally when possible this holiday. More money stays in your community when you spend at locally-owned independent stores. Civic Economics says 68 cents of every dollar spent at a locally owned business stays in the community, while only 43 cents stays when spent at a chain. And zero dollars from online shopping goes to your local community.

This is a positive side of capitalism, which has taken such serious blows lately. Aren't these local stores and merchants part of what makes each town special? I worry about reaching the day when you could be dropped into any town in America and have a heck of a hard time actually determining where you are. Don't all Big Box shopping centers look alike?

TriangleMom2Mom blogger Diane Neer shared this story "Bookseller to the rescue" about our local bookstore owner in today's Raleigh News & Observer:

Last year I ended up in the hospital at UNC-Chapel Hill for 13 days, including Christmas and New Year's Day. It was my depression, coming to haunt me at the time of year when anything less than jolly frivolity is seen as suspect. With the help of too many doctors to mention and the surprisingly intense companionship of my fellow patients, I got better and I got perspective.

A couple of days before Christmas, I finished the books my husband had brought me and found myself bookless, a state that causes me great anxiety. I asked some of the nurses whether there was a good bookstore in the area and they recommended Market Street Books. From the community phone in the hall, I called and spoke to the owner, Kathryn, and explained my plight. I figured that if I told her what books I wanted and gave her my (memorized, of course) credit card number, maybe she could have the books sent to me at the hospital overnight.

Instead, Kathryn gathered my books and personally delivered them to the hospital where they filled the remainder of my stay with one of my most reliable medications: something good to read. Kathryn may be personally responsible for the demise of my “bah, humbug” attitude and the rise of the importance of family, which for me includes blood relatives, an amazing abundance of friends and, thanks to Kathryn, the community of people who care about people they don't even know and give without judgment to those who might not be having such a great holiday.

Only a local merchant can even think of giving such personal, above-and-beyond service. Kathryn is a great asset to the community, a friend and a mentor who encouraged me as an emerging writer and hosted the very first book event for Mojo Mom. She is near and dear to my heart and many people in Chapel Hill.

So don't just think about the merchants in your town who make a difference, be sure to devote some of your holiday budget to supporting their work through your gift purchases.

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Monday, December 08, 2008

A luxury gift that can save you big bucks

This year who wouldn't love to give a luxury item that actually saves money in the long run?

If you are an espresso drinker, maybe it's time to buy your own home espresso maker. Financial planners love to tell us how much money we can save if we give up our Starbucks purchases all together, but by itself, that's no fun. The good news is that you really can have your latte and save money, too. I finally bought a machine last year, and given that Michael and I each drink at least one cappuccino and latte a day, it ended up saving us over $1000 in six months, above and beyond the cost of the machine and beans. I still get an occasional drink out as a treat, but it's not a habitual $5 a day habit any more.

(And to paraphrase linguist Geoff Nunberg, I am a Latte-Drinking, Sushi-Eating, Prius-Driving, New York Times-reading, True-Blue Democrat, and proud of it!)

Right now the excellent specialty site Whole Latte Love is offering 10% off sitewide (coupon code SEASON08), plus free shipping and no sales tax. They also say they'll match competitors' prices, but I couldn't find the details of the policy. It would be worth calling to ask about it, because I had a good experience buying my machine from them.

Last year Michael saw an ad for a super-automatic machine on sale, one recommended by a friend. So we thought, great, just get that. Well, that offer had sold out, but the idea had taken root in my mind by then. So guess who spent hours doing the research to choose among the vast selection of machines? Me, of course. That's why I like Whole Latte Love so much--they make the research much easier.

I recommend looking at the super-automatic espresso makers. I am the laziest person in the morning and I don't need to show off my prowess as a barista (because I have none). I just want a delicious, hot shot of espresso with a nice latte foam on top. With a super-automatic machine, you put in fresh beans, push a button, and out comes the espresso. Then you foam the milk and you're done.

My bottom line was that I didn't want to spend too much money. These machines are not inexpensive in any case, but I could not see a significant difference between the middle of the line (around $750) and the top of the line ($1500+) super-automatic models. We ended up getting the DeLonghi Magnifica 3300, which as been great--here's my review.

The machine has worked well for a year with no problems. To be completely honest, up close this machine is a little bit cheap looking if you are picky about that sort of thing, but it looks nicer than our old plastic Mr. Coffee maker. The good news is that the internal mechanism is the same direct "beans to brew" system that the more expensive DeLonghi machines use. That means beans are ground fresh for each shot (as opposed to grinding a lot of beans at once and storing it that way, like some brands do).

You can order this particular machine online at Whole Latte Love,, and sometimes it's even in-store at Bed, Bath & Beyond, which often sends out 20% off coupons. Shop around for the best price, and enjoy!

P. S. Finance Whiz David Bach does have a great point with "The Latte Factor," and he can show you how to turn $5 a day into almost a million dollars in your golden years, if you start saving now. Check out his Latte Factor calculator.

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Saturday, December 06, 2008

Conversational Capital and conversation

I am working really hard to finish the new edition of Mojo Mom--more on that very soon! Understandably (I hope), that project has temporarily diverted energy away from my blogging activities. I have ideas for some long and profound blog posts but I can't devote time to actually writing them right now. Hopefully they'll still be fresh ideas in a couple of weeks after we put Mojo Mom in motion.

So I do want to keep blogging, and for now I will share a couple of short pieces I wrote elsewhere on the web.

First is my review of Conversational Capital, a kinetic, inspiring branding book that I am exploring as I plan to launch the new Mojo Mom. The book also has a collaborative Conversational Capital website, because their project operates on an Open Source philosophy, which I admire!

Second is a letter I wrote on in response to Cary Tennis' Since You Asked advice column. I am a fan of Cary's column both for his answers and the Salon reader/letter-writing community that chimes in.

I really felt for the letter writer who found her life stuck in neutral, but I could also see that her excuses and self-pity weren't getting her anywhere. I hope she gets her mojo back!

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Wednesday, December 03, 2008

The Doghouse and the gap between expectation and reality

This new video, The Doghouse, is sexist and consumeristic but funny as hell, so I had to post it anyway.

It would be a perfect viral video, but they don't provide tools to embed it on blogs or share on Facebook, etc.! Oh well, typical corporate America, at least they got it half right.

I don't want to totally spoil the video but it's a sly example of one of my favorite concepts, the gap between expectation and reality. As I write in Mojo Mom, often our reality is truly okay, but when life does not measure up to our expectations, we can feel miserable, out of control, or disappointed. This is a particularly potent dynamic in marriage and motherhood, especially when the whole world works to raise our expectations to ridiculously unattainable levels of perfection. If we judge ourselves by unrealistic standards, or take in too many marketing/media messages (such as wedding, celebrity, and pregnancy magazines), the gap between fantasy and reality sets us up for a hard fall back to Earth.

The Dog House video both sends up this process and reinforces it, which is why it's somewhat diabolical and extremely effective. It got to me, even as I was critically analyzing it!

My husband is very hard to buy Christmas presents for, mainly because he pretty much already has what he wants and needs. The other day he asked me to buy a Macintosh power adapter for him when I was placing an Apple order online, and at first I thought, "I can add this to his pile of Christmas gifts." But then I realized, then I'd deserve to be put in "The Doghouse!"

The search goes on....

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