Opinion: For those in favor of saving the Republic, here are some ideas

In my Social Engineering class we have been studying Russian and other foreign cyber attacks on the USA, Germany, France, Great Britain, Ukraine, and elsewhere. One of our recent assignments was to read the following reports:

The IRA, Social Media and Political Polarization in the United States, 2012-2018

The Tactics & Tropes of the Internet Research Agency

Report of the Select Committee on Intelligence United States Senate on Russian Active Measures Campaigns and Interference in the 2016 U.S. Election: Volume 2: Russia’s Use of Social Media, with Additional Views

After reading these reports, we were to consider the tactics in “On War” by Carl von Clausewitz and then answer the following question:

“So, what should the United States do about it? Think about the political, economic, and military weapons of war (Clausewitz) and share your thoughts about how to combat the Russian SE attacks.”

“I considered Clausewitz’s lessons of war (summarized by Pietersen) to see how they could help me create a strategy that makes sense.

Just the first step, Identify, I see as a huge challenge. I’m under the impression that most people who are angry about attempted Russian interference in recent elections are angry because their preferred candidate didn’t win, not because our Constitution and the Republic are under attack and hanging by a thread. A lot of people accept the premise that unethical and illegal acts are permissible if it helps your side. They may not be informed about the seriousness of the threat, or are informed and are rooting for the Constitution and the Republic to fall. This would be a good way for intelligence to precede operations. Do enough people even want the Republic saved to make it worth the effort to fight for it? The goal will have to be changed if there aren’t enough people on board. I’m going to write the rest of this assuming that there is enough support.

The decisive point: “Save the Constitution” would be my mission statement, at least internally. I’m not sure how to frame the campaign to get the support of enough of the public for success. It used to be considered self-evident in our culture that life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness were good things, but there are a lot of people who have been conditioned and trained to deny those rights to others that they think are beneath them and sometimes even to themselves – they don’t think they deserve it.

Concentrate: This includes physical resources as well as hearts and minds. I understand that the reports we read were based on a subset of all the existing information. The tech companies didn’t give everything they had to the Senate, and we don’t know if the Senate gave all of what they had to the analysts who wrote the reports. Nevertheless, the reports do contain enough information to have some idea of what might help on the technology side.

I would like consumers to have more choices of viable communications platforms so that they freely choose the ones they feel protect their rights and reflect their values the best. That probably means breaking up monopolies and holding corporations accountable for tortious business practices or unfair competition practices such as collusion or violations of the immunity clause in Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. As others have pointed out in our discussion, communications companies sometimes have an incentive to allow content that harms their users but helps them financially. They’d be able to get away with this less if there were more choices.

I advocate re-instating the media based consumer protections that have been removed from our body of law such as the Fairness Doctrine, the personal attack rule and the political editorial rule, and I’d like to see them extended to online publishing and social media companies as well as broadcast and print. As I’ve stated before, I think it’s a human rights abuse to restrict information from people in order to control them. Can a “Right to Information” be added to our Constitution? I don’t know but that’s how important I think it is.

I would like to see all media companies compelled to run media literacy education content as a consumer protection measure.

I advocate media literacy training as a vital life skill in all levels of education.

Devote as least as many resources to the promotion of the Constitution and Democratic self-rule as the enemies do to undermining it.

US Consumers should have the choice to purchase physical products, software, and have access to technology platforms that are manufactured in the US and accountable to US consumers.

Resources that are vital to the security of the United States, such as medical supplies and media companies, should not be owned or controlled by foreigners.

Hold all levels of government to high standards of transparency and accountability to their constituents.

Remove: I would not want to see a repeat of excesses from the past such as McCarthy-style witch hunts or loyalty tests. I believe the most rational ideas will prevail if people are allowed to hear them and exercise their constitutional rights to assembly, free speech, freedom of the press and others. I also think internment camps for re-education or any other purpose should be off the table.

Ignore: I believe it’s important not to over-react to all the distractions that will be tried.”

I don’t consider my above suggestions as complete or comprehensive, but I think they’d be a good start. I welcome comments on this blog, pro and con, I think this is a discussion we need to have, openly and rationally, because, after all, this is war.

Works Cited

DiResta, Renee, Kris Shaffer, Becky Ruppel, David Sullivan, Robert Matney, Ryan Fox, Jonathan Albright, Ben Johnson. “The Tactics & Tropes of the Internet Research Agency”, New Knowledge, 2019, digitalcommons.unl.edu/senatedocs/2/. Accessed 11 April 2021.

Howard, Phillip N., Bharath Ganesh, Dimitria Liotsiou, John Kelly, Camille François. “The IRA, Social Media and Political Polarization in the United States, 2012-2018”, Computational Propaganda Research Project, University of Oxford, 2019, digitalcommons.unl.edu/senatedocs/1/. Accessed 11 April 2021.

Pietersen, Willie. “Von Clausewitz on War: Six Lessons for the Modern Strategist.” Columbia University, www8.gsb.columbia.edu/articles/ideas-work/von-clausewitz-war-six-lessons-modern-strategist. Accessed 12 April 2021.

Select Committee on Intelligence, United States Senate. “Report of the Select Committee on Intelligence United States Senate on Russian Active Measures Campaigns and Interference in the 2016 U.S. Election: Volume 2: Russia’s Use of Social Media, with Additional Views”, 2019, digitalcommons.unl.edu/senatedocs/4/. Accessed 11 April 2021.

Low tech transitional collage from the ’90s

Collage made from computer printouts and clip art.
Collage homage to the Beatles Anthology, from Lime Green News #16.

My current class in graduate school and other projects are pretty demanding right now, so I don’t have a lot of time to make new art. I do still enjoy looking at some of my old art from time to time. Here is a collage I made for my old ‘zine the Lime Green News #16, circa 1996-1997. It’s a tribute to the Beatles Anthology album covers, designed by Klaus Voorman. I was inspired by the use of torn images and how they can strategically reveal what’s underneath. On the Anthology 1 album cover, Voorman ripped out the head of Pete Best to reveal Ringo’s face underneath to “replace” him. This was a mean but clever technique so I did the same thing in my collage in approximately the same spot to enhance my “homage”, only I replaced John with John. If you want to see the Anthology 1 cover and the clever use of the torn out part on a Pete Best album cover, here is a link to an analysis – “The Beatles Anthology 1 Album Cover Cropped Out Original Drummer Pete Best”.

I made the above collage in the year between getting a computer with a black and white laser printer that would print up to 300 ppi, and taking my first class in Adobe Photoshop. At the time I was enjoying the novelty of being able to print out pictures to use in collages instead of just finding images. I printed out pictures of the Beatles that I found online, and printed out a bunch of clip art that I liked, and used those printouts to build the collage. A lot of the clip art came from my Corel Draw clip art library. How I used to love to pore over the printed book that came with it to get ideas!

The covers of Lime Green News 16, 17 and 18. I think those are the last three I published. The middle cover is an altered piece of art by Bill Whorrall. I don’t remember if I asked permission from him or not to do that. I might have, even though it’s very common in Mail Art and ‘zine culture to “remix” other people’s art work. I tried to get something lime green on each cover, so I used to carve a rubber stamp and hand-print it in lime green in a designated spot.

The black and white laser printer was a major step forward in the production quality of my ‘zine, even though by today’s standards it was still very primitive. It wasn’t until much later than I learned software like Publisher and InDesign to help me produce professional quality booklets. At the time of this image I was still following my old practice of printing out text on a printer and cutting and pasting the text among collaged elements. With the text coming from a laser printer instead of a Commodore 64 with a dot-matrix printer, it looked better and was a lot easier to read.

With access to what seemed like unlimited clip art and display fonts, I had tons of fun transitioning from low to high tech. For my ‘zine and collages, I printed elements for headers and body text along with images. Then in 1997, I learned Photoshop and how to make web pages, and that changed everything! But I still enjoy the old methods too and I like to make collages out of whatever is there, whenever I get a chance.

Excerpts from a Beatles Fanzine

(There was some kind of web hosting problem and this post got erased the day after I posted it so I’m recreating it here. Lesson, which I have learned to heed from past experience – always write your article in a text file on a hard drive first so you can quickly re-create it!)

There is a possibility that during my current Social Engineering class I might want to cite in a paper or project some of the old content that I produced for a Beatles fanzine in the late 1990s and early 2000s. I was a member of the St. Louis Beatles Fan Club and we published a fanzine called “What Goes On”. I’ve been meaning for a long time to re-publish some of these old articles on my blog, but to make them fully indexable I would need to find a way to access some of the floppy and zip discs I have to get typed-out copies of these articles. For now it’s a lot quicker to scan the pages I might want to use and put them in a PDF file. In order for the PDF to be somewhat searchable, I’m leaving the introductory text and index as text and not rasterizing it. I will also include a list of keywords for each excerpt so that researchers online can at least get a hint of where to access some of this information if they want it for study. I’m going to reproduce the searchable text in the PDF in the remainder of this blog post also. Believe it or not, there is scholarly interest in not only the Beatles, but also Beatles fandom, fandom in general, and ‘zine culture.

I kind of made up my own format, very loosely based on MLA, so I don’t claim that this document adheres to a standard way of cataloging this type of material. I might revise the format later. Enjoy!

Excerpts from “What Goes On”: A Beatles Fanzine
Originally published by the St. Louis Beatles Fan Club, 1999-2003
Copyright 1999-2003 the original authors

Excerpts included:

Winkelmann, Carolyn Hasenfratz. “‘Across the Internet’ #1”. What Goes On, Vol. VI, No 3, October 1999, pp. 11-13.
Keywords: fandom and VCRs, home video recordings, history of media formats, Across the Internet, internet use by fandom in 1999, early days of the World Wide Web.

— “Revolution #9: The Art of Play and the Joys of Noise.” What Goes On, vol. VII, no. 1, January 2000, pp. 6-9.
Keywords: sound collages, music concrete, experimental music, sound experiments, conceptual art, performance art, home taping, cassette tape culture, Beatles 1968 Christmas message, Beatles fandom in the 1980s, history of media formats, noise tapes, White Album, playing records backwards, backwards sound experiments, St. Louis Steamers, Checkerdome, Revolution 9, soundtrack for art gallery, low-fi sound experiments, homemade sound recordings, prank calls, Commodore 64 computer, found sounds.

— “Across the Internet” #2. What Goes On, vol. VII, no. 1, January 2000, pp. 12-13.
Keywords: history of media formats, Across the Internet, internet use by fandom in 2000, early days of the World Wide Web, RealPlayer, Windows Media Player.

— “Joe Davis Takes Us Back To ‘Meet The Beatles’.” What Goes On, vol. VII, no. 2, April 2000, pp. 1, 9. Aricle by Rich Reese, Carolyn’s contribution is the collages of Valentine cards on page 9.
Keywords: Joe Davis, listening party, “Meet the Beatles…Again!” radio show, 97.7 KSD FM, Nick Baycott, Les Aaron, Bears Who Care, St. Louis Veteran’s Hospital, Brentwood Community Center, “The Beatles are more popular than Jesus” controversy, 101 the Fox, FM radio in St. Louis, Missouri.

— “Happiness is a Warm…Picnic.” What Goes On, vol. VII, no. 4, October 2000, pp. 4. Photos by Carolyn.
Keywords: PepperLand, Creve Couer Lake park, Beatle Bob, Rich Reese.

— “I Wanna Be Santa Claus.” What Goes On, vol. VII, no. 4, October 2000, pp. 5, 11.
Keywords: John Lennon tribute, Peace Tree, Christmas, Holiday party, Christmas ornaments, conceptual art, group art project, John Lennon, Yoko Ono, Bagism, performance art, peace activism, peace movement.

— “Pop! Goes The Beatles: the beatles and pop art.” What Goes On, vol. IX, no. 3, September 2001, pp. 13.
Keywords: Pop Art, St. Louis Art Museum, Pop Impressions Europe, art show review, Richard Hamilton, mass media criticism, consumer culture criticism, printmaking, Peter Blake, swinging London, Eduardo Paolozzi, album cover design, Dieter Roth, illustration, fan art, interpretation of song lyrics.

— “‘Across The Internet’ #3” What Goes On, vol. IX, no. 3, September 2001, pp. 13.
Keywords: Liverpool Sound Collage, Peter Blake, history of media formats, Across the Internet, internet use by fandom in 2001, early days of the World Wide Web.

Here are the Beatles Pop Art ornaments I made for a 9/11 benefit recovery raffle. I actually won back the Paul ornament and I still have it. Later I used the templates and prototypes to make a rubber stamping project that was published in RubberStampMadness magazine. Here is a link to an ornament that is similar to the ones in the article: Surreal Mixed Media Shadow Box Ornament

— “Fans and Friends Remember George.” What Goes On, Special Commemorative George Harrison Issue, February 2002, pp. 5. Carolyn’s contribution is the George Harrison themed Pop Art ornament.
Keywords: Pop Art, handmade ornament, Christmas ornament, fan tributes to George Harrison, Dave Grohl, Louise Harrison, Jools Holland, Eric Idle, Anthony Kiedis, Mark Klose, Jeff Lynne, Gerry Marsden, George Martin, fan art, celebrity tributes to George Harrison, Louise Harrison Caldwell.

— “McCartney Drives Into Chicago With Full Tank: The Sights.” What Goes On, vol. IX, no. 1, June 2002, pp. 1, 6.
Keywords: Paul McCartney concert review, Chicago, United Center, Driving USA Tour, concert lighting, concert video screens, special effects, performance art, live actors, Surrealist performance, Dadaist performance, rock concert production, arena rock, mulimedia, conceptual art, Pop art, Psychedelic art, art history.

— “‘Across The Internet’ #4.” What Goes On, vol. IX, no. 2, October 2002, pp. 5.
Keywords: history of media formats, Across the Internet, internet use by fandom in 2002, early days of the World Wide Web, Linda McCartney photography exhibit, Sheldon Art Galleries, Nine/One One + One art show, Art St. Louis, 9/11 art show.

Note: For the 9/11 art show referenced just above, I made two collages to submit for judging. There are some differences between them that I deliberately put in to test a theory about which one had a chance of getting in the show and which did not. My prediction was accurate, and is interesting to think about in light of the social engineering I’m currently studying. Here are the links to the two collages, if you want to guess which one got in and what didn’t.

“State of the Union #1”

“State of the Union #2”

This is another 9/11 themed project I made, and artist book that was in a show that was not juried. I made this about a month after the event.

“Liberty – A Successful Experiment”

— “New Paul Live CD = Permanent Grin.” What Goes On, vol. IX, no. 3, 2003, pp. 4.
Keywords: CD review, record review, Paul McCartney Back in the U.S., concert recording, concert CD, live album, live CD, rock concert.

— “Scrapbook Scraps.” What Goes On, vol. IX, no. 3, 2003, pp. 13.
Keywords: scrapbooking, digital scrapbooking, Seattle, Seattle Kingdome, record breaking rock concernts, legendary concert venues, rock concert history, Hollywood, Capitol Records building, Hollywood and Vine, Yellow Submarine, John Lennon, Hollywood Walk of Fame, gold records, travel photos, Beatles impact on culture.

Download the PDF file here:

Excerpts from “What Goes On”: A Beatles Fanzine

Facebook Ads and the 2016 U.S. Election

I just turned this in as an assignment for my Social Engineering class. It has not been graded yet. Enjoy!

For the last several years, it has been alleged and believed by some that President Trump would not have been elected in 2016 if the Russians had not bought ads on Facebook on behalf of fake clients. Understandably these allegations caused a lot of Facebook users to reconsider whether or not they should continue to support Facebook. In order to safely use Facebook or any social media platform, it is important to develop skills to help determine the credibility and reputation of any individual or organization.

As a Facebook user of many years duration, to help me decide the truth of the 2016 election influence claims, I sought answers to the following questions.

Are there examples of who made the allegations?

Here are a couple. Donald Trump’s opponent Hilary Clinton, named Facebook as one of the causes of her loss and declared that CEO Mark Zuckerberg should “pay a price” (Cadwalladr). It’s interesting that Mark Elias, counsel for Hilary Clinton’s campaign, helped Facebook to avoid putting disclaimers on ads back in 2011 (O’Sullivan).

In October 2020, Senator Mark Warner (D., Va.) wrote to Jack Dorsey, the CEO of Twitter, to urge Twitter to allow political ads after Twitter had banned them (Warner), even though in 2018 he had criticized Facebook for selling ads to what he identified only as “Russians” (Crookston). He also criticized YouTube for allowing radicalizing content by “Chinese, Iranian and others”. In Warner’s 2020 letter, he decries “Russians” use of ads even as he tries to persuade Twitter to accept ads. Referring to 2016, the 2020 letter states: “Russia took advantage of our openness and communications technologies, including exploiting American-bred social media platforms to spread disinformation, divide the public, and undermine our democracy.”

Has anyone attempted to refute the allegations against Facebook?

Here is the opinion of Facebook executive Andrew Bosworth. “So was Facebook responsible for Donald Trump getting elected? I think the answer is yes, but not for the reasons anyone thinks. He didn’t get elected because of Russia or misinformation or Cambridge Analytica. He got elected because he ran the single best digital ad campaign I’ve ever seen from any advertiser. Period.” (“Lord of the Rings…”). This opinion by Bosworth and subsequent opinions I attribute to him are taken from text purported to be from an internal memo that was published on the New York Times web site. I accessed what claims to be this memo on the web site TechyLawyer because the NYT article is behind a paywall and the Webster University online library doesn’t have the article. Since I’ve seen quotes from this memo on other web sites that match the TechyLawyer site, unless I come across information that the content been misrepresented, I’m accepting for now that this is what the memo actually did say.

It was reported by the Washington Free Beacon in the context of the 2018 midterm elections, that Senator Mark Warner was of the opinion that while Facebook is a concern, YouTube and Google hosted far more misinformation than Facebook and were less transparent and less cooperative than Facebook was in trying to fight the trend (Crookston). There was a video accompanying this article, formerly hosted by YouTube, which has since been taken down, I don’t know by whom. The senator’s remarks were quoted on many other web sites that I looked at so barring information to the contrary I find the reporting credible. 

Did Russians in fact buy ads?

Bosworth weighs in. “Russian Interference was real but it was mostly not done through advertising. Instead, the Russians worked to exploit existing divisions in the American public for example by hosting Black Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter protest events in the same city on the same day” (“Lord of the Rings…”). 

What is meant by “Russians”? Do they mean the Russian government, Russian citizens, Russian-Americans, who exactly?

NPR reported that 3,000 Facebook ads were purchased on behalf of a Russian agency (Folkenflik). NPR did not say what kind of agency. An ad agency? A spy agency? That was not made clear. CNN referred to the ad buyers in question as a “Russian troll farm” (O’Sullivan). I kept clicking links to see what the actual identity of the “Russian troll farm”/”agency” is and ultimately came up against the New York Times paywall.

The Baltimore Sun alleges that the ads were placed by a Kremlin-influenced agency but the article includes no citation or source for Kremlin involvement (Fritze). The Politico article names the agency in question as “Internet Research Agency” and says it is Kremlin-linked but attributes no source for this information other than unnamed members of the House Intelligence Panel and provides no quotes or links to help verify (Politico Staff). The Washington Post refers to them as “Russian Operatives” without clarifying what that means (Keating, et al).

What are some examples of the fake Facebook clients?

According to NPR, the Russian ads were turned over to Congress by Facebook (Folkenflik). Names of the alleged fake organizations that I was able to find include “Black Matters”, “Native Americans United”, “LGBT United”, “Being Patriotic”, “Army of Jesus”, “United Muslims of America”, “Secured Borders”, “BM (does this stand for Black Matters, Bowel Movement, or something else?)”, “Born Liberal”, “_american.made”, “Heart of Texas” and “american.veterans”.

What was the content of the fake ads?

I think it’s interesting that Bosworth claimed in his memo that this Russian agency bought ads pitting Black Lives Matter against Blue Lives matter, but NPR reported that Russia was trying to inflame divisions between Muslims and Black Lives Matter (Folkenflik). Is it the position of NPR that Blue Lives Matter and Muslims are allies? That is unclear. It was also disclosed in the article that there is a financial relationship between NPR and Facebook. 

In order to see which candidate the ads seem to favor, and to see whether the Russians desired Blue Lives Matter vs Black Lives Matter, or Muslims vs Black Lives Matter, I tried to find out what the ad content was. Despite hearing about the Russians and their ads for years, I could not recall seeing any images of the alleged ads so I did an image search and found alleged samples published by The Baltimore Sun, Politico and the Washington Post.

Here is a survey of the messages in the ads I could find:
    Pro Black Lives Matter
    Pro Native American rights
    Pro Bernie Sanders
    Anti Hillary Clinton
    Anti Islamaphobia
    Pro secure borders
    Pro Blue Lives Matter
    Anti Black Lives Matter
    Anti Donald Trump
    Pro 2nd Amendment
    Pro Texas secession
    Pro military veterans

How much was spent on fake ads?

Facebook vice president Andrew Bosworth stated that “$100,000 in ads on Facebook can be a powerful tool but it can’t buy you an American election, especially when the candidates themselves are putting up several orders of magnitude more money on the same platform (not to mention other platforms) (“Lord of the Rings…”). I’ve heard the $100,000 figure quoted on many other web sites so for now I find the amount credible.

How does the amount of money spent by the Russian fake clients compare to real clients?

As of December 31, 2016, Hilary Clinton had raised 1.4 Billion and spent 98% of it, and Donald Trump had raised 957.6 million and had spent 99% of it (“Election 2016…”).

With the above questions answered to the best of my ability, how credible do I find the claims that Russian ads by fake clients determined the results of the 2016 election?

I find myself agreeing with Bosworth that $100,000 isn’t going to buy an election when the opponent has spent nearly 1.4 billion. There would be no need to spend nearly 1.4 billion if that was the case, they would have just spent $100,000. That sounds like a better deal to me!

If you only have $100,000 to spend on ads to try to win the U.S. Presidency, I think it’s reasonable to assume your message has to be better targeted than these examples in order to be effective.

I do find accusations credible that an ad agency in Russia created fake organizations for the purpose of running fake ads to run marketing tests, and I agree that the ads are examples of trolling. Trolling has been used in ads and ad tests before. I’ve done it. I wrote about my experiment and the Elizabeth Warren campaign running such a test on Facebook in an assignment for Media and Culture class in 2019 (Winkelmann). 

The subject matter of the Russian ads is bizarre and inconsistent. Their overall effect seems more like it would be confusion rather than favoring any one party or issue. Actually, if I hadn’t researched these ads and just looked at them with no background, I would probably have assumed they were part of a Dadaist or Fluxus influenced performance art project. If these are indeed the same ads everyone has been talking about, I don’t think the controversy they generated is justified.


Works Cited

Cadwalladr, Carole. “Hillary Clinton: Zuckerberg should pay price for damage to democracy.”  Guardian News & Media Limited, 2019, www.theguardian.com/technology/2019/nov/04/hillary-clinton-mark-zuckerberg-pay-price-damage-democracy. Accessed 25 March 2021.

Crookston, Paul. “Warner Blasts Google for Allowing More Radicalization and Manipulation Than Facebook.” The Washington Free Beacon, 2018, freebeacon.com/politics/warner-blasts-google-for-allowing-more-radicalization-and-manipulation-than-facebook/. Accessed 25 March 2021.

“Election 2016: Money Raised as of Dec. 31.” The Washington Post, 2016, www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/politics/2016-election/campaign-finance/. Accessed 25 Month 2021.

Folkenflik, David. “Facebook Scrutinized Over Its Role In 2016’s Presidential Election.” npr, 2017, www.npr.org/2017/09/26/553661942/facebook-scrutinized-over-its-role-in-2016s-presidential-election. Accessed 25 March 2021.

Fritze, John. “Russian ads placed in Maryland might have been precursor to broader campaign.” Baltimore Sun, 2017, www.baltimoresun.com/politics/bs-md-russian-facebok-ad-20171101-story.html#nt=standard-embed. Accessed 25 March 2021.

Keating, Dan, Kevin Schaul and Leslie Shapiro. “The Facebook ads Russians targeted at different groups.” The Washington Post, 2017, www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2017/business/russian-ads-facebook-targeting/. Accessed 25 March 2021.

“Lord of the Rings, 2020 and Stuffed Oreos: Read the Andrew Bosworth Memo.” TechyLawyer, 2020, techylawyer.com/blog/lord-of-the-rings-2020-and-stuffed-oreos-read-the-andrew-bosworth-memo/. Accessed 25 March 2021.

O’Sullivan, Donie. “Facebook sought exception from political ad disclaimer rules in 2011.”  Cable News Network, 2017, money.cnn.com/2017/09/27/technology/business/facebook-political-ad-rules/index.html. Accessed 25 March 2021.

Politico Staff. “The social media ads Russia wanted Americans to see.” Politico, LLC, 2017, www.politico.com/story/2017/11/01/social-media-ads-russia-wanted-americans-to-see-244423. Accessed 25 March 2021.

Warner, Mark R. Letter to Jack Dorsey. United States Senate, 2020, www.warner.senate.gov/public/_cache/files/3/a/3afc73bd-d03f-43be-801d-85417c6c55e6/0589911AC5097909F38E0FA5B772FEB2.10.6.20-twitter-honest-ads-act-letter.docx.pdf. Accessed 25 March 2021.

Winkelmann, Carolyn Hasenfratz. “Media Literacy and Interpreting Political Messages”. Carolyn Hasenfratz Design. 2019. www.chasenfratz.com/wp/political-ads-about-political-ads-and-trolling/. Accessed 25 March 2021.

Added 03/26/21:

Here is a link to my Pinterest Board Media Analysis:

https://www.pinterest.com/chasenfratz/media-analysis/

I have this Pinterest board to help me keep track of sources. I started it when I started this degree. I’m in favor of transparency so I want people who read my articles and papers to see what sources I collected, and what I used and didn’t use. That tells you something about a piece, what was selected for use out of what was available. And if you are interested I hope you read the sources too!

Update 04/08/21:

In my social engineering class, I’m studying Russian social media advertising more and might write about the topic more on this blog. This week we have been assigned to read these three papers among other material:

The IRA, Social Media and Political Polarization in the United States, 2012-2018

The Tactics & Tropes of the Internet Research Agency

Report of the Select Committee on Intelligence United States Senate on Russian Active Measures Campaigns and Interference in the 2016 U.S. Election: Volume 2: Russia’s Use of Social Media, with Additional Views

As I read and work on my assignments, I may or may not find that some of what I wrote above is incomplete. This is a complex topic and if I run across anything I think I need to add or change, I’ll do that and make a note of it. In the meantime, I recommend that everyone read the same three papers I’m reading so you have more background on the issues. Media reporting on this topic is very poor and very confusing and seems mostly designed to obfuscate what happened instead of attempting to help people understand. Your understanding is likely to improve after reading and like me you might have a lot more questions as well. Enjoy!

Romance Scams

Here is a version of an assignment I did for my Social Engineering class at Webster University, CSSS 5280 that I modified for the blog. The version I submitted has not been graded yet.

A couple of years ago a co-worker excitedly told me about an interesting man she met on Facebook. As she continued to add details to her story, I recognized what she was dealing with – a common romance scam that I’ve seen many times. I felt sad having to explain to her that she was being groomed for some kind of exploitation, because she seemed so excited.

I’ve been a Facebook user for a long time, since 2008. I use my personal Facebook page for marketing as well as networking. It’s the nature of a lot of work that I do that it has been useful to allow people get to know aspects of the public-facing me – I’m not the most skilled at networking in person. I have most content on my Facebook account set to the security setting “Public” and I sometimes accept friend requests from people I don’t know unless they seem threatening. 

I don’t remember exactly when I started noticing this, but every once in awhile I’d get a Facebook friend request from a man who claimed to be either in the military or working overseas in a civilian field like engineering, or the oil industry, or something like that. The first few times I went ahead and accepted these types of friend requests, because I’m generally disposed to be friendly and supportive to people unless I have reason not to be. I soon started noticing some patterns. The men in the profiles were generally above average in attractiveness, but looked like real people, not models. They were often photographed in an “action” pose or setting. Often their first and last names were two of what we would usually consider first names, put together. They sounded like what a foreigner’s idea of a generic American name would sound like rather than genuine selection of random American names. They usually claimed to be originally from the US or Europe but currently doing some kind of work in the Middle East. Their Facebook profiles were generally not very well populated with friends or content, so seemed like they had a short-lived social media presence. I could tell they hadn’t looked at my profile to learn basic facts about me, but claimed to have a burning desire to be my “boyfriend”. At first I gently turned away “romantic” conversation by saying I don’t do long distance relationships and I don’t “sext”. True statements, but irrelevant when I noticed the patterns of personal disinterest in me and constant boundary pushing. I decided they were all scammers seeking money, passwords, green cards, nude photos or all of the above and stopped accepting those requests. You would think that the word would get out about these scams enough for people to avoid them but from 2015 to 2019 the amount of money lost in online romance scams rose six times, from $33 million to $201 million (“What You Need…”).

I was able to recognize that type of scam earlier than some unfortunate other victims, but that doesn’t mean I’ve never been played. I’ve known for decades to avoid online dating and long-distance “relationships”. Before I was married I only dated men that I met in real-life situations. I was looking for suitors to court me for marriage, not hookups. I knew I would need to meet their friends, family and work colleagues and observe how they dealt with a variety of life situations over a period of time to learn their character and intentions. As a result, I was not in much demand for dates and for my age I was not very experienced. Men mostly preferred easier targets. What I didn’t realize until I experienced it is that there are people who have trained themselves to groom people like me for the purpose of perpetrating a long con. I believe I was being set up by a former “boyfriend” to be financially exploited, but was able to get out before I actually handed over any money. I had some medical bills to pay from therapy that I needed to be functional again after the emotional abuse that was gradually applied to me without me noticing for awhile, and that was pretty humiliating.

Pick Up Artists, or PUAs, are people who feign romantic interest in order to get a quick sexual conquest (Kale). Pick Up Artist techniques have been around a long time, but the Internet and the popularity of books on the topic changed the culture of dating a lot, so that by the end of the first decade of the 2000s, there was a noticeable difference in dating culture (Kale). PUA techniques are emotionally abusive and are designed to break down the resistance and push the boundaries of the target for the gratification of the abuser (Kale).

Right after reading what our first assignment for this class was, I got a typical romance scam Facebook request so I accepted it for the purpose of getting a few screen shots to show an example in action.

An example of trolling on Facebook to instigate a Romance Scam.
An example of trolling on Facebook to try to instigate a Romance Scam.

This example is a little unusual because this scammer is not claiming to have an “American” sounding name, but otherwise it’s pretty representative. I kept the initial conversation going for a few minutes with some generic responses on my part so I could get screen shots to show how these grooming sessions usually start. If it seems predictable like it’s a formula, that’s because it is! Romance scammers and PUAs use actual playbooks and rehearse lines in increase their proficiency (Panikian). Some even pay money to attend classes and workshops (Panikian, Dixon).

Cialdini’s Six Principles of Influence are time-tested manipulation techniques (Changingminds.org) that we are studying in Social Engineering class. I’m going to compare Cialdini’s Six Principles of Influence with some Pick Up Artist tactics to find out how and why some of the PUA techniques work.

“Reciprocity: Obligation to repay.” Giving you a lot of compliments in the beginning is called “love bombing”. They can be generous in the beginning but stingy later (Bancroft 68).

“Consistency and Commitment: Need for personal alignment.” Victimizers use your integrity and need to make your actions match your beliefs as a weapon against you. PUAs take advantage of the tendency of women to have been socialized to be polite to men (Kale).

“Social Proof: The power of what others do.” PUAs play up their attractiveness to others by talking about exes, flirting with other people in front of you, etc. to make themselves seem in demand (Dixon).

“Liking: The obligations of friendship.” People are flattered when a very attractive person, who could be a fake persona, seems to like them (Paul). PUAs like to make you feel special by paying a lot of attention to you, but it could be love-bombing or distracting you from noticing what they are really like (Dixon).

“Authority: We obey those in charge.”
PUAs are instructed to exude a lot of confidence (Panikian, Dixon) and think and act as if they are the actual prize (Kale).

“Scarcity: We want what may not be available.”
One PUA technique is to pretend that they are getting ready to leave a social situation so you feel pressured to talk to them because they might be gone soon. Also to give you the impression that the PUA is leaving soon and you don’t think you’ll be stuck with them long so there isn’t much downside to allowing a little conversation (Dixon).

Please protect yourself out there, on or offline!

Works Cited

AlphaWolf & Co. “Pick Up Artist (PUA).” PUA Lingo, 2008-2021, www.pualingo.com/. Accessed 25 February 2021.
— “Neg Hit/Negging (Negs).” PUA Lingo, 2008-2021, www.pualingo.com/. Accessed 25 February 2021.

Bancroft, Lundy. Why Does He Do That? Inside The Minds of Angry and Controlling Men. Berkeley Books. 2002.

ChangingMinds.org. “Cialdini’s Six Principles of Influence”. Changing Works, 2002-2021, changingminds.org/. Accessed 16 March 2021.

Fellizar, Kristine. “7 Pickup Artist Techniques To Look Out For.” Bustle, 2019, https://www.bustle.com/p/7-pickup-artist-techniques-to-look-out-for-15897579. Accessed 18 March 2021.

Hadnagy, Christopher. Social Engineering: The Science of Human Hacking. John Wiley & Sons, Inc. 2018.

Kale, Sirin. “50 years of pickup artists: why is the toxic skill still so in demand?” Guardian News & Media Limited, 2019, www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2019/nov/05/pickup-artists-teaching-men-approach-women-industry-street-harassment. Accessed 18 March 2021.

Dixon, Christine-Marie Liwag. “How To Tell If You’re Being Hit On By A Pickup Artist” The List, 2020, www.thelist.com/183636/how-to-tell-if-youre-being-hit-on-by-a-pickup-artist/. Accessed 16 March 2021.

Panikian, Alice. “Stay Away From Becoming His Prey: 10 Signs You’re A Pick-Up Artist’s Prey.” elite daily, 2014, www.elitedaily.com/women/signs-youre-talking-to-pick-artist/854610. Accessed 16 March 2021.

Paul, Kari. “‘I was humiliated’ — online dating scammers hold nude photos for ransom in ‘sextortion’.” MarketWatch, Inc, 2019, www.marketwatch.com/story/i-was-humiliated-online-dating-scammers-hold-nude-photos-for-ransom-in-sextortion-attacks-2019-03-06. Accessed 16 March 2021.

“What You Need to Know About Romance Scams.” Federal Trade Commission, 2021, www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/what-you-need-know-about-romance-scams. Accessed 16 March 2021.

Community Gardens, Health, and Food Security

I work part-time at a hardware store. We have a lawn and garden department, and within it we sell vegetable, herb and flower seeds. Last spring and summer, the demand for seeds was higher than normal while at the same time supply chains for many retail products were disrupted. As a result we ran out of many seeds. As a St. Louis Master Gardener, it’s part of my personal mandate to help people garden. Sometimes I try to help with information, sometimes with my labor, sometimes I distribute my extra seeds and plants for people to try out.

Last summer’s growing season was an unfortunate time to experience a shortage of seeds, because the COVID-19 pandemic has put extra pressure on some sources of food. There is not only the economic effect of many people losing their normal sources of income, but the disruption in the labor pool and supply chain, as thankfully brief as much of it was, forced us to think about the security of our food supply more than many of us normally have to. At a time when there was less ability to buy food, the opportunity for volunteer efforts to help people get the food they need was also diminished. Some food pantries had to temporarily close or reduce their hours of operation. In-person St. Louis Master Gardener efforts were halted, so I could not go to help at a Community Garden site. Besides donating a modest amount of money to a food pantry, my husband and I tried to distribute extra seeds and plants to anyone we could get them to.

It’s beneficial for the security of the food supply, for everyone who has the means and the time, to learn how to grow plants and food. Although anyone can jump in and start at any time, growing serious amounts of food is not easy and takes a lot of time and effort to learn to do well. Growing serious amounts of food requires learning how to maintain healthy soil. Growing serious amounts of food requires learning how to maintain a sustainable amount of beneficial organisms such as invertebrates and fungi in the ecosystem. All of these activities are fascinating hobbies that can be pressed into service any time there is a food crisis. And the health benefits of gardening, both mental and physical, create a more resilient population for any challenge we might face in life. For those reasons and more, I think home or community gardening is one of the best pursuits anyone can undertake, regardless of current financial status. You never know when you’ll be extra thankful for the opportunity to go to your own backyard to get some fresh food, or when you’ll have the opportunity to pass on plants, seeds or knowledge on to someone in need.

Tom and I at Fresh Starts Community GardenTom and I were grateful to have the opportunity to start volunteering in person again. Recently we volunteered at the Fresh Starts Community Garden in St. Louis at a volunteer session sponsored by the U.S. Green Building Council. It was satisfying to share our labor and knowledge while learning about the needs of community gardeners as well.


Fresh Starts Community Garden in St. Louis – volunteer day

In our most recent church bulletin, there was an article about food security with a helpful graph that I’ll share here. Food security is defined in the article as “…the lack of access, at times, to enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members and limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate foods. Food-insecure households are not necessarily food insecure all the time. Food insecurity may reflect a household’s need to make trade-offs between important basic needs, such as housing or medicine, and purchasing nutritionally adequate foods”.

The graph helps show how much potential there is for gardens of all kinds to have positive impacts on human life and health. Even when people have the money to buy food, and healthy food available to buy, there are a lot of people who could use some encouragement and training in the life skills of choosing and preparing the food. The satisfaction of growing and harvesting for the table naturally leads to exploring ways to cook and store the delicious, life giving produce. If you are seeking health, a sense of community, solace, purpose, independence and agency in your life, I think growing plants is one of the very best things you can do for yourself and for humankind.

A little weekend quilting

Practicing on remnants of a baby quilt project.
Practicing on remnants of a baby quilt project.

I met my friend Kate in 2016 while we were both teaching craft and sewing classes at JoAnn Fabrics and Crafts in the Deer Creek Shopping Center in Maplewood. I was not a quilter when I started teaching there, nor was I an expert seamstress. I had quite a bit of experience with simple hand sewing so I was skilled enough to teach kids’ and adults’ beginner level classes in hand sewing and embroidery. I also taught jewelry, paper crafts, some flower arranging, and general crafts. The JoAnn classroom is on hiatus right now. If they ever start having classes again it might be awhile before I can do it again because of other projects – some of which I can write about on this blog and some that I can’t!

I was given some scraps and pieces of things left over from teaching to practice my skills on. The baby quilt section shown above was a remnant that some other teacher pieced as a demo. This section was cut off and discarded so I took it to practice on. I have three other quilts in progress right now – two experimental art quilts and a repair job on a vintage quilt. When I need to move up a skill level, Kate helps me out by showing me some tips and techniques. I’m working a bit on each quilt to improve my techniques as needed to finish the next steps on each. The baby quilt remnant I was given is long and narrow so I’ve decided that when I’m done quilting it, I’m going to turn it into a sleeping bag for dolls and stuffed toys.

The last steps of quilting my sleeping bag on the left, and one of Kate's finished quilts is on the right.
The last steps of quilting my sleeping bag on the left, and one of Kate’s beautiful finished quilts is on the right.

I thought I was finished quilting last week, and I hand washed my quilt to clean any dirt off from my hands and get the blue washable marking pen lines off. Unfortunately, I tend to save up a bucket full of hand washable items to wash all at one time to conserve water, and I carelessly washed the quilt with some old fabric items (more about that later) that were so old I didn’t think they would bleed. Apparently they had never been washed before and they bled a little dye on four panes of this quilt. Fortunately I found some fabric in my stash to applique and re-quilt over those squares, that not only goes well with the colors, but features a terrific motif for a toy sleeping bag because of the camping theme. That gives me some more ideas for how to accessorize the sleeping bag to make it “adventure ready”! Now I’m going to like this project even better – that’s one of the life skills art and crafts are good training for – turning problems into wins!

The Comfort of Old Fabrics

Arkansas snowflake quilt being repaired
My friend Kate, who is a quilt expert, found the name of this quilt pattern in an old quilt book of hers, and gave me some repair tips too.

There are personal, regional and world-wide reasons why the last few weeks of life have been especially difficult. I’m not the only one who seeks solace in art and craft activities, especially ones that bring back warm memories of cozy winter afternoons spent with my family making things. There is nothing better on a cold wintry day.

It’s been nice snuggling under the old family quilt my mother in law gave us recently. It was made in the 1930s by my husband’s grandmother and friends. I was given it in the hope I’d make something from it, since it has a few areas of damage and I’m well known for making new things out of old things – a lifelong pursuit. I decided to repair some of the spots before it gets worse, because most of it still looks good and for now I’d prefer to use it than upcycle it if possible.

Patching damaged star points with applique.
Patching damaged star points with applique.

I could have purchased fabric for repairing this quilt that matches more closely to the old fabric to disguise the repairs more, but I decided to approach this repair as adding a little of my own history to this quilt instead of trying to do a museum quality restoration. I looked in my extensive fabric stash to see how close I could approximate the colors and patterns with what I have, and decided it still looked good and I would enjoy the little differences and the memories from my fabric scraps. My Mom made me a tablecloth out of that multicolor floral print on the right in the early 1980s, and Kate gave me the blue floral scraps, for example. Every time I see the fabric I will remember them and others, that is one of the best things about quilts and quilting. This repair is very satisfying to work on because I’m adding memories and functionality as I go.

Old quilt my Dad gave me, being washed on the left and after washing on the right.
Old quilt my Dad gave me, being washed in the bathtub on the left and after washing on the right.

My Dad recently went through some things in his basement, and he had an extra quilt that someone gave him so he passed it on to me to clean and repair. It doesn’t have any holes that go all the way through and very few torn patches so we’re using this one until the other repair is finished, then I’ll swap them out and repair the second one. I really get a kick out of these colors and patterns. They look to me like they are from the late 1940s or early 1950s.

I’ve been putting my toe in the water of learning quilting over the last two or three years. I have two art quilts in progress and one baby quilt. Kate is giving me tips as I need them. Repairing quilts is a great way to increase my skills along the way.

old_softies

In the above photo are some stuffed animals and little pillows I made in the 1970s when I was around the ages of 8-12. The rooster on the right was made from a commercial pattern that my Mom had in her stash and I think I still have it. The others were made by me from my own patterns – I’m not sure about the frog though. That one seems a lot more advanced than the others. It even has wire in it to make it poseable. Well, it probably is mine – it’s not symmetrical and I cut a hole in the back of the head to insert the wire and sewed it back up again, so that was probably an afterthought. The items on the right were recently extricated from my Dad’s basement and I had completely forgotten about most of them. I pretty much liked a lot of the same animals then as I like now – sea life, fish, invertebrates, birds, frogs! I loved little pillows with pockets, then and now! I felt very satisfied when I made these, and I love looking at them now for the memories of where those fabrics came from and how much fun I had. Maybe I’ll make some of these into patterns for kids – that’s one way to make sure a kid can do it! I know there are people who will make kid’s drawings into things, including softies. That’s a fantastic idea I think! I think I’d enjoy teaching kids how to make patterns from their drawings. I’ve loved making patterns since I was young too, though I enjoy following someone else’s from time to time – it rests the brain a little bit!

monster_bunny_and_chicks

In 2019 I made the above softies for a niece and nephews. They were both modified from other designs I saw online. The chickens have a little pocket for hiding things under the wing, that’s one of the things I added because I love pockets so much. The monster bunny has a stomach pocket too though I ran out of time to embroider a stomach and intestines  on it. My original vision of the monster rabbit also had some other ideas that got put aside as I was running out of time to get it done, but if I make another one I could give them another try. I made a deliberate choice to use crazy mixes of scrap fabric in order to pass on some of my fabric memories to them – even though they don’t know what most of them are, it feels satisfying somehow! I can still enjoy the memories looking at these pictures!

Fabric snake
Found another one! Fabric snake I made when I was somewhere in the age range of 8-12.

Emergency Winter Help For Backyard Birds

Yesterday my husband was off work on a snow day, and one of the activities we did together was watch a webinar on winter birding. There were questions at the end about how to make sure our backyard birds are taken care of during the current harsh winter weather.

In my garden are a lot standing plants with seed heads that are still pretty full, so backyard birds that can eat those kinds of seeds can always get food. There is a pond heater that I bought from Schnarr’s Hardware, where I work part time, that keeps a melted hole open in the surface ice of our pond as long as I periodically remove the layer of drifting snow, so our birds have a steady supply of water too. What we were reminded of in the webinar is that all birds can’t eat all varieties of seed, and some birds who depend more on fruit and insects may be going hungry right now. As emergency help, I hastily prepared a couple of bowls of extra food – some sliced oranges, chopped apples, peanut butter, jelly, cat food and a little extra seed. As extra protection against the food getting covered up with snow, you can put such bowls under a shelter of some kind, or in a feeder that has a cover. At Schnarr’s we also sell dried mealworms and suet cakes and feeders, which most birds love and are especially beneficial for heavy insect-eating birds that need protein.

Eastern Bluebirds, the Missouri State Bird, are an example of a heavy insect-eating species that needs a lot of protein. In the suburbs where I live, it’s not easy to get this sought after but not very common bird into a backyard to view because they are highly impacted by habitat and food loss from human altered landscapes. However, I saw one in our neighborhood a few weeks ago so I’m happy to know there is some good habitat in the vicinity. There is a large cemetery nearby which probably helps a great deal.

Emergency food for outdoor birds
Emergency food for outdoor birds

Here are links to other articles I’ve written that might help you enjoy your backyard birds:

Make Suet Cakes for Outdoor Birds

How to Raise Mealworms For Your Backyard Birds

Are Starlings Taking Over Your Bird Feeders?

Gardening for the Birds

There are some recorded webinars on the University of Illinois Extension YouTube archive that have more information about backyard birding in the winter and many other great topics. Enjoy!

University of Illinois Extension videos

SWOT Analysis of #12daysoftomsbeard

A SWOT Analysis is a Strength, Weakness, Opportunity, and Threat Analysis. Here I am using an outline partly based on an unpublished paper I wrote for Marketing 5000 class last spring to create a SWOT analysis for the #12daysoftomsbeard project. My unpublished paper, titled “(Name of Fantasy Company) Marketing Plan” was based on an assignment and outline given to us by Webster University professor Dr. John Jinkner.

I’m going to publish a small portion at a time, because it will take some time to write. I hope you enjoy it!

12daysoftomsbeard
selections from #12daysoftomsbeard 2020/21 season

I. Executive Summary

#12daysoftomsbeard is a conceptual art project engaged in by Carolyn (Me) and Tom Winkelmann as part of our annual Christmas tradition. This is a young tradition for us, having been recently practiced for only the second year in a row.

The activity was inspired by several things. I have a long history of engaging in conceptual art through Mail Art, the ‘zine scene, and various art experiments involving photography, handmade books, ephemeral art installations, Pop Art, Dadaism, and more. There are two definitions of conceptual art in an interesting article I found, “If You Don’t Understand Conceptual Art, It’s Not Your Fault”. One definition, the one I gave to my husband off the top of my head while I explained why I wanted to take pictures of him with things in his beard, is that conceptual art is a form of art where the idea is the art and the tangible object created is not considered important. The other definition in the article is that conceptual art is a set of plans or strategies (Kaplan).

Tom has been letting his beard grow more often and is frequently teased about his beard by his family. Last year I decided it would be fun to turn the teasing into humor and art so I showed up at Christmas Day celebrations with colorful paper circles and squares with a few collage elements on them and writing implements for family members to color and draw on to put in Tom’s beard to take pictures of. The idea for hanging paper or art items from a beard is not original with me, there are people who use their beards as mini art galleries and vehicles for Christmas decorations.

I invited family members, many who I know like to paint and color, to use pens and markers to add to the paper pieces, which I then clipped to Tom’s beard with mini clothespins. Then I took photos for Instagram and posted one each day for 12 days, with the hashtag #12daysoftomsbeard. The idea for hanging paper or art items from a beard is not original with me, there are people who use their beards as mini art galleries and vehicles for Christmas decorations.

Examples of beard art at #12daysofbeardmas and Italian artist Fulgor Silvi's beard gallery.
Examples of beard art at #12daysofbeardmas by Doug Torpey  and Coleton Williams, and on the right Italian artist Fulgor Silvi’s beard gallery.

Since I like to art journal as a creative development and self-care activity, when I was done taking pictures of the paper pieces in Tom’s beard, I mounted them on art journal pages, some of which I planned to exhibit in the then upcoming art show, Back To Our Roots which opened in February 2020 at the historic Arcade building in downtown St. Louis.

Beard art and art journal samples
On the left is one of the #12daysoftomsbeard pictures from the 2019/2020 holiday season. In the middle is shown a tray of the paper pieces I was using last year, and a couple of the art journal pages that made use of paper beard pieces after the photos were taken. The green page at the center right was used in the Webster University art and literary magazine. The right photo shows my installation of collages on the wall at the Back To Our Roots art show opening night, and the shelf below holds three art journals that visitors were allowed to page through. The little green pieces of paper you see on the shelf were for visitors to take if they wanted to. The paper pieces featured a QR code that people could scan and view with their smartphones in case they wanted to read more about the journals in an artist statement I wrote. The artist statement grew a lot bigger than I was expecting and I’m actually still adding content from time to time, trying to finish it.

II. Environmental Analysis

There were several parts to the #12daysoftomsbeard project as executed in the 2020-21 holiday season. Since I was anticipating only distance Christmas activities due to the pandemic, I decided to send out tags and invite people to alter them and send them back to take picture of in Tom’s beard.

Greeting cards with materials inviting participation in #12daysoftomsbeard
Greeting card with materials inviting participation in #12daysoftomsbeard

1. I made a black and white version of collages that Tom and I made together to use in our Christmas cards, then had copies printed out on white cardstock. I traced shapes from Christmas cookie cutters onto the back of the cardstock and cut out shaped tags. I made stickers for the backs of the tags that explained the project and featured a QR code so that people could easily check the results of the #12daysoftomsbeard Instagram feed with smartphones if they wanted to.

2. I put tags in most of the Christmas cards we sent out. I also included in many of cards some scrap paper pieces and examples of faux postage that Tom and I made to use in Christmas artwork, for people who might want to join in but don’t have a ready supply of art materials around. Some of the paper scraps were examples of Christmas faux postage that I’ve made on my own and with my husband so if people didn’t end up using them in the project they might want them for some other craft or just something to look at as part of a Christmas greeting.  For a few of the people that we hand-delivered cards and gifts to, we punched a hole at the top of a tag, attached a loop of cord for hanging, and put one on their doorknob.

Social media header promoting #12daysoftomsbeard
Social media header promoting #12daysoftomsbeard

3. I made a graphic to use as a social media header that included the QR code and images from last year’s beard series to raise anticipation and awareness. I also wanted to cheer people up with some bright colors since I knew a lot of people who were feeling sadness over separation from loved ones and the loss of loved ones during the holidays. I know from personal experience that the holidays and winter are often difficult for many people even in more typical years depending on their current situation in life.

4. To help people get started sooner if they were eager, since we weren’t as early as I would have liked getting our cards mailed, I made graphic that people could download and print out that had tag templates on it, instructions and the QR code.

#12daysoftomsbeard
#12daysoftomsbeard

I posted the template graphic in social media for download, and mailed and emailed a few copies to people I thought might be particularly interested.

Colorful paper pieces made for #12daysoftomsbeard.
Colorful paper pieces made for #12daysoftomsbeard.

5. In keeping with the theme of bright rainbow colors I had started, I prepared 12 little collages made from colorful upcycled hardware store paint sample cards so that I would have something to put in Tom’s beard if no one sent me any art pieces to use. On some days I made extra items to fit the color theme of the day and also incorporated found objects if I was inspired. For example, those two guys in the right picture above were cut out from a piece of junk mail. Some of the paper pieces there were parts from older Christmas card designs.

Purple day - I rummaged through a box of stuff I had for making crazy ornaments, and got some purple floral pieces and some plastic jewels. My Dad made the tag on the right and I made the paint sample collage. Tom and I made the stars for the glasses together. Yes we both like Bootsy Collins! Here you can see how much fun and color the filters add to the photos.
Purple day – I rummaged through a box of stuff I had for making crazy ornaments, and got some purple floral pieces and some plastic jewels. My Dad made the tag on the right and I made the paint sample collage. Tom and I made the stars for the glasses together. Yes we both like Bootsy Collins! Here you can see how much fun and color the filters add to the photos.

6. When taking the pictures, I had a lot of fun experimenting with different eyeglasses on Tom and taping things to the lenses of my clear protective goggles to make crazy compositions. I installed some new photo filters on my smartphone to make the pictures even more fun and colorful before I posted them to Instagram.

Here are a few of the sequential header graphics I made to show each day being filled in. I had to make two "pink" days to compensate for an issue that came up that I'll write about later in this paper.
Here are a few of the sequential header graphics I made to show each day being filled in. I had to make two “pink” days to compensate for an issue that came up that I’ll write about later in this paper, that’s why the last graphic is wider.

7. Tom and I were feeling lonely over the holidays and thought that since we were staying home, it might be fun to have a New Year’s Eve themed #virtualartparty, an ongoing series of online meetings I started when the pandemic began, with the purpose of cheering people up who were missing out on their usual social activities.

Griffin still doesn't look too happy in this picture. It was taken a few days after she was sick to show my Dad she was doing a lot better. She looks a lot happier now!
Griffin still doesn’t look too happy in this picture, it was taken a few days after she was sick to show my Dad she was doing a lot better. We were so sure she was going to go on Dec. 31 that we invited Tom’s former roommate over to say goodbye. We were grateful at the time of this picture that she was holding her head up. These days she is acting pretty normal and doing a lot more than that.

We ended up cancelling the New Year’s Eve edition of #virtualartpary because our cat Griffin was terribly ill that day and we were sure we were going to lose her. Griffin has been with my husband for 21 years and Tom needed my support and attention so he could be with Griffin, and I thought we were going to be dealing with grief on New Year’s Eve and not in the mood for a party. But to our grateful surprise, Griffin recovered and is doing very well now. At her age we know she won’t be around that much longer, but we aren’t eager to lose her any earlier than we have to.

I had been planning to talk about #12daysoftomsbeard on December 31 as part of the #virtualartparty, the timing made sense since I was taking a daily photo from December 25 through January 6. I made some sequential social media header graphics with colorful beard pictures and the hash tag #virtualartparty to help build interest. I didn’t have time to make a header graphic for each of the 12 days, but maybe next year I should.

A. The Marketing Environment
Even though #12daysoftomsbeard is not a commercial activity, we do need to market the project in order to persuade people to participate.

1. Competitive forces. Other sources of entertainment, amusement or hobby activities are the main competition for the attention and time that potential participants might allow for just understanding what our #12daysoftomsbeard project is, much less time to participate. With the amount of time that people spend in front of a screen or with a smart device in their hand, it is difficult to get anyone’s attention away from anything that isn’t corporate in origin. As Dr. Jim Taylor lamented in an article for Psychology Today, the nations of the former Soviet Union, Italy, Spain, Germany and nations conquered by the NAZIs, Cuba and North Korea have experienced decades of suffering because aspects of their authentic culture were abusively removed and replaced with a synthesized totalitarian culture (Taylor, “Popular Culture: We…”). I would add China and the United States to that list also. Dr. Taylor’s article reminds us why there are so many organizations throughout the world dedicated to cultural heritage and cultural preservation. I quote Dr. Taylor in this excerpt:

“As individuals, a genuine popular culture instills a sense of ownership and empowerment in our society because each of us knows that we contribute to that culture. We are more likely to act in our society’s best interests because we know that those best interests are also our own. An authentic popular culture also gives us a sense of shared identity, meaning, and purpose that transcends differences in geography, race, ethnicity, religion, or politics. All of these then encourage us to lead a life in accordance with our culture’s values and norms because they are our own (Taylor, ‘Popular Culture: We…’)”

In other words, if we throw away our authentic culture for synthesized corporate culture we should not have to wonder why so many of our citizens have been programmed to serve the interests of large corporations so thoroughly that they are literally waging war on their behalf with people that they formerly were able to co-exist with. Many people trust screens far more than they trust friends, neighbors and even family members that they have known for decades. The manner in which many people experience the world is corporate-based with life beyond a screen regarded as if it is fiction. They allow corporations to tell them what the world outside is like instead of going out and finding out for themselves. People are told that their own judgement is not to be trusted and they need corporate “fact-checkers” to tell them what is ok to read or hear about. I overheard art teachers as far back as the 1980s trying to urge some of my fellow art students to use their own authentic experiences and senses of self to create art instead of just drawing corporate cartoon characters and corporate based entertainment characters and content. I know so many people, who if you removed corporate consumer culture from the topics they could talk or think about, there would be almost nothing there. Teaching art or trying to market an art activity without corporate branding attached to it is inherently very difficult. We know that children can’t distinguish advertising from entertainment, that is widely acknowledged, but I don’t know many people who admit that a lot of adults can’t either. Most people I know aren’t aware that when they are entertained they are actually being marketed to and they are not the customer for the entertainment – the advertisers are the actual customer.

The #12daysoftomsbeard project is not completely devoid of corporate content because it includes found objects and some clothing with logos. However, by basing it on the universal human experience of personal grooming and running it from December 25 to the Feast of the Epiphany (the day we Catholics observe it, my understanding is it varies depending on tradition), I intended to bring attention to authentic human and authentic Christian culture and away from the corporate way of celebrating Christmas for just a little while, just to give Tom and I and others a break and a reason to look at each other while really seeing and interacting each other. What would my slightly weird Christmas cards look like next to other cards designed by corporations? What do people think when they see the resulting pictures? What did they think about while making an art piece to send back?

Works Cited

Kaplan, Isaac. “f You Don’t Understand Conceptual Art, It’s Not Your Fault.” Artsy, 2016, www.artsy.net/article/artsy-editorial-if-you-don-t-understand-conceptual-art-it-s-not-your-fault. Accessed 22 January 2021.

Mitchell, Grant. “Strength, Weakness, Opportunity, and Threat (SWOT) Analysis.” Dotdash, 2020, https://www.investopedia.com/terms/s/swot.asp. Accessed 15 January 2020.

Taylor, Dr. Jim. “Popular Culture: Too Much Time On Our Hands.” Psychology Today, 2009, www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-power-prime/200909/popular-culture-too-much-time-our-hands. Accessed 15 December 2020.

—. “Popular Culture: We Are What We Consume.” Psychology Today, 2009, www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-power-prime/200912/popular-culture-we-are-what-we-consume. Accessed 15 December 2020.