Sunday, March 28, 2010

Toxic Sludge is Good for You!

My favorite librarian recommended I read John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton's Toxic Sludge is Good For You: Lies, Damn Lies and the Public Relations Industry for my "Getting a Clue" project. The book exposes the deceptive practices PR representatives use while representing their clients i.e. corporations, the US Government and foreign regimes. After reading, I am convinced this book was the perfect introduction to manipulative schemes. While advertising messages are known to be propaganda, the messages received from public relation campaigns are often disguised as information and are much more dangerous.

Public relations specialists are hired to create a particular image for their clients. They do this by working behind the scenes employing tactics to ensure their clients agenda becomes popular opinion. They do this by:

Censoring information. They keep damaging books off of bookshelves and dissenters from being heard.

They use opinion polls and focus groups to gather information about us. They use this information to spin their message to resonate with our beliefs.

They infiltrate grass root citizen campaigns on behalf of their corporate clients.

They create media. The corporations and their front groups send the media hundreds of "press releases" every week promoting new products or defending firms from attacks by consumer organizations. Nearly 40% of these “press releases” are published with no changes whatsoever.

They front organizations. Prominent scientists can sometimes be induced and even bribed into endorsing or supporting research findings by the corporations' front organizations. Their names in a press release can often guarantee publication.

Even country’s that torture and murder their citizens, mount public relations campaigns to convince American legislators that there is nothing the United States government should worry about.

There are so many lies, deceptions and mixed messages out there how are we to know who or what to believe?

Stauber and Sheldon write:
Ultimately, the power of PR is limited. It can often redirect public anger and insulate individual corporations or politicians from the consequences of their actions, but as Abraham Lincoln observed, “You can’t fool all of the people all of the time.”

The solutions we do possess are partial: first, learn to recognize the influence in your life; second, seek our alternative sources of information; third, become personally involved in local efforts to directly address important issues at the community level.
Final thoughts:
Although some of the examples in the book are a bit dated, the book’s message remains relevant and the techniques used by the public relations industry continue to be valid. Anyone who is interested in becoming more informed about PR industry tactics should consider reading this book.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

My next big thing

My goal for 2009 was to focus on getting my ducks in a row. I was feeling stagnant at my job and wasn’t sure if I wanted to remain in my current field or to pursue an alternative career altogether. After a year of personality assessments and soul searching, I’m sorry to say nothing in my life has really changed. This is partly due to the soft job market, but also to my discovery that my strength and passion is to read and learn. My desire to pursue a new career is more about taking the classes required for a new career than actually working in it.

Lately, I’ve been uninspired:
I wrote last week about not being busy at work. That along with the lousy spring weather in Wisconsin has left me feeling lethargic and uninspired. I even contemplated taking a break from blogging. Does anyone really want to read another blog post on “Why the Roth IRA conversion may not be for everyone?” Good because I don’t want to write about it. Even my new series, "Getting a Clue" seemed dull. The only problem with taking a break from blogging is I don’t have anything relevant to do in its place.

Then I read Penelope Trunk’s post how to get unstuck in life. She writes:
I coach so many people who tell me they can’t move forward because they don’t know where they are going. And I tell them, make something up. I tell them to commit to a goal, any goal, and move toward it until you think of a better one. The act of moving toward something helps you crystallize where, exactly, you want to be moving.
So what is next?
For the time being, I have no choice but to continue working at my present job. I still feel stagnant, but I need to buy groceries and pay my mortgage. To appease myself, I’ve signed up for two conferences one was last week and the other in a couple of months. And I do have this blog.

I spent most of my twenties and early thirties either studying for my business and accounting degrees or working multiple jobs in attempt to pay the tuition for these degrees. In my free time I read mindless fiction or books from Oprah’s book club. Books of substance were few and far between.

My focus for 2010 is going to be reading to “Get a Clue.”

I will blog about the books I’ve read and what I learn. My first series is going to be, “Getting a clue about aggressive advertising and marketing campaigns.” My favorite reference librarian has compiled a list of books for me. Since I don’t enjoy writing book reviews, I am signing up for Trish's non-fiction book challenge to push me into actually writing about these books. Who knows where this new goal will take me; hopefully to the next big thing. If not, at least I will be doing what I enjoy ~ reading.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Alternatives to a “Mental Health Day”

For the first time in years, I have a lull in my work load. With the slow economy I’ve had the luxury of working ahead. I’m between deadlines plus, waiting for my boss to finish his portion of a project before I can proceed. I can’t help but think this would be the perfect time to take a sick day. In the past, I’ve had difficulty calling in sick when I was actually sick. My job revolves around deadlines many of which the company can be fined for if not met. I don’t have anyone who can easily cover for me, so If a tax return is due or commissions need to be calculated I go to work even if sick.

At a previous job, one of my co-workers accused me of making her look bad; I never called in sick while she repeatedly used all of her sick days. She called them “mental health days.” I once asked her what she did on these mental health days. Mostly she read and caught up with her family’s laundry being careful not to leave the house fearing she would be caught. She often reminded me sick days are a benefit you lose if you don’t use.

I don’t want to use a vacation day, but a day of reading and blogging sounds pretty attractive right now compared to sitting at my desk trying to make myself look busy. My friend Bob grew so tired of watching his employees trying to look busy he instituted a furlough policy. Friday would be my day; I will call in sick and have a three day weekend. Then the guilt and my farm girl work ethic came into play:

My boss and my bosses boss know I’m not busy even asking me what I was working on while I was unsuccessfully trying to cut and paste a picture out of a newsletter onto my blog (it was technically lunchtime). They are going to know I’m faking it if I call in. I will then be lumped in with all the other employees with poor attitudes. Then it came to me -- what if I used this slow period to become a better employee. I’ve always been reactive rather than proactive and there are all those interview questions about self-initiative accomplishments I stumble through. Now is the time to update my work skills and our department. I came up with the following list:

Resolve all those little bugs in our systems and procedures:
Debug spreadsheets. Set up query reports for spreadsheets we now prepare manually. Update procedure manuals. Clean and organize my desk. Organize and delete old emails.

Create in-house computer accessible expense report; saving money on forms.

Interview outside payroll companies in search of a cheaper, more service oriented, less cumbersome system than we use now (ADP).

Offer to assist my overworked boss with his portion of the project we are working on. Ask him for additional work.

Talk to my boss’s boss. What would he like me to do to take our department to the next level? What would he like to receive from our department that he is not currently receiving?

Thursday night's episode of "The Office" only confirmed my decision not to call in sick. Kathy Bate’s character Jo says the following to Michael who wants to leave for the day:

"If you can put your name on this day and are proud of the work you’ve done by all means go home."
Do you take “Mental Health Days” when you’re not busy? If not, what do you do to keep busy?

Sunday, March 07, 2010

"In the Name of Honor" is an important book that deserves to be read

Mukhtar Mai’s book In the Name of Honor: A Memoir is on my list of non-fiction books every woman should read and also counts towards the Women Unbound Challenge.

It is the story of Muktar Mai, a poor, uneducated peasant woman from the small village of Meerwala, Pakistan. Her life is turned upside down when she is gang-raped on the order of a council of elders as punishment for her brother’s alleged affair with a woman of a higher clan. Instead of committing suicide, as many Pakistani rape victims do, Mukhtar Mai decides to fight for justice and report the incident to the police. She experiences opposition (the police are controlled by the upper castes) and it was not until her story was picked up by the media that an investigation was conducted and her attackers were arrested. Ultimately, she was awarded the equivalent of 8,500 U.S. dollars which she used along with international donations to start the first school for girls in her village. Her goal is to ensure that future generations do not suffer, as she had, from illiteracy.

For me, this book was eye opening. Prior to reading, I had known Pakistani women were mostly uneducated and had few rights, but I had no idea barbaric practices such as “Honor Crimes” were still in existence. Mukhtar Mai informs us:

A woman is nothing more than an object of exchange, from birth to marriage. According to custom she has no rights.
Naseem says we’re less important than goats, or even worse, less important than the slippers a man throws away when he decides they are worn out.

I admire her extraordinary courage and strength:
When I begin this journey into the legal system, a path from which there is no turning back, I’m hampered by my illiteracy and my status as a woman. Aside from my family, I have only one strength to call upon: my outrage.”
She was fortunate to have been born into a family whose men supported her; without it she would never have been able to seek justice:
Her father and her imam and her uncles supported her through the worst of it. They encouraged her to seek legal redress and their encouragement wrought a miracle beyond their imagining. Their tribeswoman — daughter, niece, cousin — became an international heroine.
In the Name of Honor is a short book that can be a bit dry at times, but is an important book that deserves to be read. Not to mention the fact that Mukhtar’s case against her attackers remains pending.