Love Ferns: what’s the easiest plant to keep alive?

BLUF: Pothos plants (or pothos ivy) do well in any environment. It can grow in a spectrum of light, is not sensitive to temperature extremes or changes, and can survive weeks of water neglect (not recommended). Bonus: the plant is known to purify the air in your home.

We’ve all been there. You’re scrolling through the gram and see apartments and homes perfectly adorned with a lush jungle of greenery. It looks so easy and so chic.

So, you head over to the nearest overpriced botanical boutique or hardware store (a great hidden gem for plants, btw.). And you select a cart (or arm) full of green beauties. After carefully picking out some discount pots and a bag of soil, you are on your way home to recreate that epic jungle.

A few weeks go by and your plants are thriving. YOU GOT THIS. Who knew you had such a green thumb!

But a month goes by and one of the leaves starts to brown on the edges. You change up its water and move its location.

Another week goes by and now you see some yellowing elsewhere, again, you move it and change the water.

Before you know it, all your plants have become Karen and nothing you do can please them. Is it too hot? Too cold? Are they drowning or thirsty? What is that tiny thing crawling on it – a good bug or a death eater? Do they want music or massages?! YOU JUST DON’T KNOW!

Well before you give up entirely, #thebabesbluf is here to help.

A common mistake in picking plants, is not knowing which greenery is best for your home and lifestyle. Because remember, at THE BABES BLUF: we get it, you’re busy.

So after much research on several plant blogs, we have found the perfect jungle pieces for beginners and babes with busy schedules.

The winner is: pothos ivy!

Benefits: Besides being quite pretty (think, overflowing vines that drape perfectly on your shelves), pothos ivy has an air-purifying quality that absorbs toxins from common home materials and products. Two birds, one stone. It is also extremely easy to train for trellis (or ruler/fork) climbing if you prefer that look to falling vines.

Care instructions: Water it ideally every few weeks but even if you forget for a month, this lil lady will probably still be fine. It prefers room temp and to be dry between baths.

Pothos propagation: Want more bang for your buck? Watch this quick video on cutting your pothos ivy for propagation (it’s way easier than you think) to grow more plant babies that will never grow up to be a Karen. Plop your trimmings in water (I love propagation stations like this or this to give you a little home decor while they grow), give them about a month, and replant those babes in soil to turn your drab house into the jungle home of your dreams.

Bonus: They are cheap and the propos are FREE.

True story: I rescued a pothos plan from the trash three years ago. She is thriving today and has produced multiple plant children all over my apartment.

Runner-ups?

  • Aloe: Everyone loves aloe in the summer when you’ve inevitably burnt yourself to a crisp accidentally by wading in the kiddie pool with a glass (read: bottle) of wine. But, we also love this plant because unlike other succulents (which I swear are literally the hardest things to keep alive despite the world telling us otherwise), this bad boy really does do well in most indoor spaces. Just give it lots of sun and let it grow with minimal watering. Bonus: you can cut it off and open it up for your summer burns.
  • Snake plants: This bugger is so easy and is great floor decor (think next to your bed or shelf, on either side of a fireplace, etc.) It does well in basically any lighting, room temperature, with minimal watering.
  • Spider plants: These little guys prefer sunny homes but do okay in low to medium light, if needed. It likes a regular watering schedule (can be every few weeks) and you will need to trim off dead leaves, which are inevitable from time to time so remain calm and snip snip.
  • English Ivy: Like pothos ivy, this plant is absolutely beautiful (some might even say elegant), and is pretty easy to both grow and propagate. What drops it from the number one spot? While it only needs water every few weeks, it’s a little more sensitive to temp and prefers a mid-50’s to 70’s.
  • ZZ plants: These little ladies are so cool aesthetically, and a favorite for offices and homes because they are extremely drought tolerant and need almost no light to survive. On the smaller side, they are slow to grow but can reach two to three feet over time. Cons? They are poisonous so if you have pets or kids – maybe keep this one in your office and wash your hands after handling.
  • Rubber trees (not plastic trees): These trees can grow up to 8 feet tall and do well in most room temp homes. Make sure the surface of the rubber tree’s soil is dry before watering again.
  • Chinese evergreen: These plant thrive in medium to low light conditions or indirect sunlight and do best in warm temps with some humidity. That said, it is flexible enough to tolerate less than ideal conditions. Avoid drafts from window sills and A/C to keep it from browning.
  • Parlor Palms: Another great plant for filtering air, parlor palms made NASA’s top-50 list for plants that clean the air. It does fine in any light and even in homes where your parents refuse to turn on the heater to save on that energy bill. Plus, the thing barely needs any water.
  • Peace Lily: I can tell you from personal experience, this gorgeous plant is pretty hard to kill – even when you think you definitely murdered it, vwa-la, she comes right back to life. This houseplant favors low humidity and also low light, making it great for rooms with few windows. This plant tolerates most room temps up to 85 degrees and regular watering. Bonus: it blooms unexpectedly from time to time – a nice surprise in tough times.
  • Ficus Plant: This plant, which is actually an indoor tree, likes full and bright sun and can go several days without a good water. Bonus: Missing slumber parties with your girls in quarantine? The stems of this babe can be braided!

Life hack: go ahead and buy some of those fake succulents and bigger plastic pots. Be thoughtful about how they look but mix them in with your real plants and it’s actually harder to tell what’s real and what’s not (like disinformation).

So before you decide you don’t have a green thumb and give up on that in-home jungle (the one besides your wild children), pick plants that make your life better not harder.

And that’s all for this one, babes.

No pressure. No bullshit. Just, THE BABES BLUF.

Werewolves: disinformation and how to spot it

BLUF: Disinformation is false information deliberately being shared, or true information being distorted, with the intent to mislead and influence public opinion. The tactic can be traced as far back as 1923 to the Soviet Union and has been called the top threat to U.S. national security.

When I was in the 1st grade, this kid named Jonathan Elliot (and no I will not protect your name because this clearly left a lasting impression on me) told everyone in my class, and on the playground, that I was a werewolf.

Because I do, unfortunately, have pretty hairy (although, luckily blonde) arms.

Now that might not seem like a huge deal but when you’re in the 1st grade and someone starts a rumor like that: two things happen.

  1. A few kids start picking on you for having hairy arms (I did)
  2. A few kids start being afraid of you because they now think there is a small possibility that you are, in fact, a werewolf (I wasn’t)

This is smallest, purest form of disinformation.

But let’s break it down.

Disinformation, as a concept, is actually quite simple. It is the deliberate sharing of false or misleading information in an effort to bias, sway, or change public opinion.

What Jonathan did was share false information about me in an effort to turn our classmates against me because I did not like him (and because he was in the 1st grade and that’s how boys handle rejection – super well). While luckily this didn’t end up ruining my reputation for life, it was a simple, deliberate attempt to spread false information in an effort to bias the kids in our class to not like me, maybe even fear me.

K, but you’re fine now so why does any of this matter? Let’s try tweaking the scenario:

Instead of being 6, I am now 29 and running for office in a predominately conservative town. And Jonathan is my running mate. During one of our debates before the election, he comments that my arms are hairy. People laugh it off. But then, his campaign team finds that 78 percent of voters in our district, oppose abortion. So they hire a firm, who puts out a false story about the possibility of my recently having an abortion. How do they know? Because an unidentified source said she performed that abortion and another unverified pharmacist asserts that a common, noticeable side effect of medication taken after the type of procedure source one purportedly performed on me is (you guessed it): long, flowing arm hair. This unverified, story with two questionable sources, starts to make its way through our social media universe until my opponent retweets that story – adding in a clip of him at the debate pointing out my arm hair – demanding answers. And what started as unfortunate hairy arms has lost me 6 points in the polls because the citizens of our town (falsely) believe it is possible that I not only had an abortion, but am now lying about it.

This is how disinformation works. One tiny well thought out seed of doubt, exploited to make you start questioning: what is real and what is fake?

Add a multi-billion dollar industry, advanced technology, a society with 24-news cycles, a population enamored with social media, sprinkle in political motivation and America has the werewolf scenario on steroids.

Let’s rewind a bit. Where did disinformation come from? Well, as I pointed out earlier, it comes from the pretty basic idea that human nature can be exploited through deception. And no one has done it better than the Russians.

In 1923, a special disinformation unit was setup at the behest of Soviet Union leadership to conduct active intelligence operations. The office, under the order of Joseph Stalin – the former ruler of the USSR – was designed to cause diversions by creating and distributing misleading information through the media of open societies (aka democracies, like America). And they have been mastering this ever since.

It is important to note that Russia approaches war much differently than open, democratic countries. To Russian doctrine, nonmilitary instruments (like disinformation) can rival the effectiveness of conventional weaponry. Valery Vasilyevich Gerasimov, Russian Army General and currently Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Russia (what a mouthful), said once, “The information space opens wide asymmetrical possibilities for reducing the enemy’s fighting potential.” To make it simple – what someone lacks in beauty (advanced military technology), they can make up for in book smarts (disinformation).

The United States’ first major brush with disinformation was called Operation INFEKTION (or FORWARD II or DENVER), a 1980s campaign by the KGB to plant the idea that the United States had created and spread HIV/AIDS as part of a biological weapons research project (similar to a disinfo campaign now about COVID). OPERATION INFEKTION involved “an extraordinary amount of effort — funding radio programs, courting journalists, distributing would-be scientific studies,” according to journalist Joshua Yaffa.

The goal of this campaign by the Soviet Union, according to the U.S. State Department, was to undermine the United States’ credibility, isolate Americans at home and abroad, and cause problems for us in countries who hosted our military bases. Some analysts believe the intent was also to distract from the Soviet’s own offensive biological warfare program, or retaliate against accusations the United States had made for what was later called the yellow rain incident. Because, like Jonathan, even grown men don’t always handle things maturely.

Okay, so Russia started it but what does it mean for America now?

Well as many of you know, there have been multiple reports of ongoing disinformation campaigns to influence more than just the U.S. election, and not just by Russia anymore but also by China and Iran (although less so). The goal of disinformation by those countries right now being threefold, to 1) influence votes, 2) cause internal divisions and chaos in the United States, and 3) shake the confidence of the American electorate in their political leadership and government. Now, some experts are saying the threat is moving closer to home – with disinformation being formulated and pushed domestically. Several different reports and U.S. officials have called disinformation one of, if not the top, threat to U.S. national security.

“Putin, sadly, has got all of our political class, every single one of us, including the media, exactly where he wants us. He’s got us feeling vulnerable…on edge, and he’s got us questioning the legitimacy of our own systems.”

Fiona Hill author of Mr. Putin: Operative in the Kremlin, and famous for her time in Trump’s Administration and testimony in his impeachment hearings, said in a CBS 60 Minutes interview.

According to the State Department,

On average, a false story reaches 1,500 people six times more quickly than a factual story. This is true of false stories about any topic, but stories about politics are the most likely.

U.S. Department of State Report, WEAPONS OF MASS DISTRACTION: Foreign State-Sponsored Disinformation in the Digital Age

And it matters. Because the American people are finding it harder and harder to spot disinformation when they see it. For example, you can read articles about real disinformation here, here, here, here, and here,. Perhaps you remember the controversy of Kendall Jenner holding up a “Black Lives Matter” sign – a picture that went viral and was later proven to be photoshopped.

To show you how advanced disinformation technology is already, take a peek at this website which shows you, every time you refresh the page, a person who very much looks real but is not! How? The site uses a complicated algorithm to produce computer-generated faces that we recognize as human when none of those people are real.

Are you looking to test how well do you would do when confronted with disinformation? This guide to election security and disinformation gives you plenty of tools/skills/info to help you spot the nasty junk, then gives you a chance to check your skills in their VERIFY game.

Maybe instead you need some quick, easy tools to fact check information? Try:

  1. Snopes – a quick way to search an issue and see if it’s real
  2. MediaBiasFactCheck.com – a website that shows you the media bias of the outlet you are reading
  3. Bot check – if seeing something on social media, double check that the original poster of that information is not a bot by seeing how often they are posting information (is it all day even in the middle of the night – probably a bot); do they have a real picture of themselves (if not – might be a bot); does their profile username make sense or does it have a bunch of random letters or numbers (if the latter – bot).
  4. Verify – try to find another tier 1 source (of a different political view) reporting on a controversial issue; if you can only find one outlet talking about it then it’s likely unverified and doesn’t fit most editors’ source requirements

Disinformation might be fake news, but it is a very real weapon being used to target all of us everyday in big and small ways. It’s extra important to remember, that none of us are immune to weapons of mass distraction and all of us are likely already victims (insert girl raising hand emoji – it happens to me too!). As technology advances and the outcomes of disinformation grow is efficacy, it will only become increasingly more pervasive and difficult to spot. The best thing we can all do is practice objectivity and verify before we trust.

And that’s all for this one, babes.

No pressure. No bullshit. Just, THE BABES BLUF.

Voting: does it even matter?

BLUF: In presidential elections, some votes matter more than others (i.e. in swing or “purple” states); in midterm elections, every single vote matters with countless examples in history of outcomes decided by slim margins – sometimes just one vote.

It’s that time of the month election cycle again. You know the one. Where we are all irritable, stressed out, and frustrated that something so necessary to our well-being can cause this much pain and agony.

I am not talking about your period ladies. I am talking about your civic duty to V O T E!

I hear it all the time, “My vote doesn’t even count in my state.” And those folks aren’t necessarily wrong but they definitely aren’t right.

Let’s start at the very beginning (because that’s a very good place to start), the year is 1779 and only property owning or tax paying males white males can vote (we are talking 6 percent of the population!).

Then basically from 1870 to 1984, a series of constitutional amendments and Acts are passed to make voting more equal and inclusive. Some of these include:

1868: The 14th Amendment gives full citizenship and voting rights to all men born or naturalized in the U S of A.

1870: The 15th Amendment eliminates racial barriers to voting but several states use poll taxes, literacy tests, intimidation etc. to prevent many from voting. Note: Native Americans still can’t vote.

1920: The 19th Amendment gives babes the right to vote nationwide (took em long enough!)

1924: The Indian Citizenship Act gives Native Americans citizenship and the right to cast their votes!

It wasn’t until 1964, when the Civil Rights Act was passed, that all men and women ages 21 and up were allowed to vote regardless of race, religion, or education. The same year, the 14th Amendment was ratified to eliminate poll taxes across the country. In 1971, the voting age was lowered to 18 and in 1975 the Voting Rights Act banned literacy tests. And last but not least, in 1984, polling places were required to be accessible to folks with disabilities.

You gotta read all of that to realize in America, voting was not always a granted or guaranteed right to all of us. We have come a long way. But like all good things, there will always be room for improvement to ensure access and equality in America’s voting. Okay, so we are clear that we should not take for granted how hard people have fought, and continue to fight, for the right to vote.

Now to the nitty gritty. DOES YOUR VOTE MATTER?

First and foremost, because of the giant elephant in the room this year, if you cast a ballot, your vote is 96 percent ish likely to be counted. According to this MIT research paper, depending on the state in which you vote, risk of losing your vote is around 4 percent (which isn’t great but isn’t terrible considering over 100 million people have voted in the past two presidential elections. So, if we are being literal, your vote counts about 96 percent of the time.

Now when it comes to figuratively “counting” aka “does my vote really sway the election,” the answer sort of depends on the kind of election.

Midterm elections in America are “direct elections,” meaning that you cast your vote for your local and state representatives and those candidates are elected by whoever has the most votes. Period. No other fuss. Whether a candidate wins by 1 vote or 100,001 votes doesn’t matter. Most votes = winner. And historically, that’s happened more often than you might think. According to a 2003 research article, “The Empirical Frequency of a Pivotal Vote” by Casey B. Mulligan and Charles G. Hunter:

One of every 89,000 votes cast in U.S. Congressional elections, and one of 15,000 in state legislator elections, “mattered” in the sense that they were cast for a candidate that tied or won by one vote.

Mulligan, C.B., Hunter, C.G. The Empirical Frequency of a Pivotal Vote. Public Choice 116, 31–54 (2003). https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1024244329828

In the 2018 midterm elections, seven state house or senate elections were decided by 45 votes or less with the Kentucky and Alaska House of Representatives elections both being decided by a SINGLE VOTE.

CLOSE CALL ELECTIONS FROM 2018 UNITED STATES MIDTERMS (adapted from this chart: sort by year 2018/country US)

Turns out that’s not how all elections in America work and where the confusion/frustration of “counting” enters the chatroom.

Presidential elections in America are “indirect elections,” meaning you vote for your choice either by mail or in person, and then the electors of your state casts their votes (determined by your state’s popular vote) and those votes determine who becomes President. This is where “won the popular vote but lost the election” and discussions of “abolish the electoral college” enter the chatroom. (Future blog: the electoral college)

SIDE BAR: Not every U.S. state has the same number of electoral votes design. For example, Florida has 29 electoral votes. If President Donald Trump were to win sFlorida’s popular vote on Nov. 3, the 29 electors nominated by the Republican Party in Florida will be selected. These 29 people will gather on Dec. 14 to cast their votes for president of the United States.

So, does your vote matter in a presidential election? Right now, if you live in a state where the largest population center is predominantly Republican or Democratic leaning – your electoral college votes are likely not swayed by your single vote. This is where “purple states” become extra important during a presidential election. (Future blog: purple states)

But, to prove my point that even in a presidential election your vote still matters, here is a scenario:

Say every election for the last 20 years, your state’s electoral college votes were “blue” aka for the Democratic nominee. However, you historically vote “red.” But when voting starts for the 2024 election, no one shows up. No one casts their ballot by mail. No one lines up at the polls. No one votes by mail. Maybe some kind of “Leftovers” plot kicks into effect and you’re the only person left in your state, or maybe everyone just decided they didn’t need to vote because their vote “didn’t matter” – IDK. But you are the only person who casts your vote.

Guess what! All of your states’ electoral college votes? Go RED for the first time in 20 years.

This, albeit hypothetical, scenario is to show you that just because “historically” your vote has been outnumbered, does not mean that will always be the case. Every election is a blank slate.

So, as complicated as U.S. elections are, your vote definitely matters in direct elections and matters a little less (but are still definitely important) in indirect elections.

You can check to be sure you are registered to vote at: www.vote.org

Also check out my favorite voting resource to take a quiz and see which candidate(s) you actually align most with (spoiler alert: the answer might surprise you!): https://www.isidewith.com/

And that’s all for this one, babes.

No pressure. No bullshit. Just, THE BABES BLUF.

Introducing: THE BABES BLUF

BLUF: an acronym for “Bottom Line Up Front”

According to the U.S. Department of Army’s Information Management: Records Management on Preparing and Managing Correspondence, section IV, subsection 1-36, alphabetical subsection b:

“Army writing will be concise, organized, and to the point. Two essential requirements include putting the main point at the beginning of the correspondence (bottom line up front) and using the active voice (for example, “You are entitled to jump pay for the time you spent in training last year”). “

Army Regulation 25–50, “Preparing and Managing Correspondence,” Chapter 1-IV, Effective Writing and Correspondence: The Army Writing Style, 1–36b, Standards for Army writing, page 6 (17 May 2013)

Oh, I’m sorry. Did I already lose ya there?

Well come on back!

The BLUF isn’t anything fancy. Quite the opposite. It’s just an acronym that (to the best of my knowledge) originated in the Army but made its way into internal/informal corporate e-mails. Why? To get to the point before reading the whole, lengthy email; sitting through a 3 hour presentation; or reading a 416 page report. Because ain’t nobody got time for that!

You’re a busy human. We get it. You’ve got families to feed, meetings to attend (which we all know could’ve been emails), homes to organize, trips to plan, and friends to see.

Enter: THE BABES BLUF.

We are taking the things you need to know and serving it to you straight by providing you the bottom line up front (the BLUF) so you can stay informed on everything from news stories to travel to science to food, without wasting too much of your already very precious time. Should you want to know more? We’ll give ya that, too!

No pressure, no bullshit, no partisan bias.

Just, THE BABES BLUF.