Twitter for dummies: a guide to the social network that still confuses us

Twitter has launched a new ad campaign after discovering that many people still dont understand it. Thankfully, the Guardians guide explains it all

Although Twitter has been part of the cultural and political discourse for years, a vast percentage of the population still doesnt understand it. To this blissfully ignorant percentage, tweets are simply the thing that journalists embed on to websites whenever they dont feel like coming up with their own ideas.

However, today Twitter unveiled a brand new advertising campaign aimed exclusively at those who dont know what Twitter is. Unfortunately, the commercials are so bland and empty that theyre almost certainly doomed to failure. Instead, newcomers are advised to reference a much better resource: this clear, accurate and comprehensive Twitter glossary.

Twitter (@twitter) July 25, 2016

See what’s happening:


A publicly identifiable name that helps differentiate you from everyone else on Twitter. Choose carefully. My username is @StuHeritage, for example, but in my heart I always wish Id picked the more poetic @MonkeyFart69.


A hashtag is a clickable identifier that helps users find a public discussion about a subject. Want a Justin Bieber fan to read your tweet? End it with the hashtag #Bieber. Want to show that you either like or dislike Donald Trump? Use #Trump. Want everyone on Earth to hate you? #Blessed.


These are the short, 140-character messages with which you further your personal brand. Its important to give off a consistent tone in your tweets, otherwise people wont know if youre a whining hand-wringing liberal or a furious, impotent mens right activist. Those are the only two types of people on Twitter.


This is what Simply Red singer Mick Hucknall did to @StuHeritage in June 2016, even though Stuart did nothing wrong and just wants to be friends.

Stuart Heritage (@stuheritage) June 17, 2016

TIL Mick Hucknall blocked me on Twitter before I even knew he had a Twitter account

Direct messages

Direct messages (or DMs) are private messages that can only be seen by yourself and the recipient. They were invented purely for the transfer of uninvited penis pictures.


These are the people who follow you, because theyre just as invested in your personal brand as you are. As a rule, the higher your follower count, the better a person you are.


This is how you respond to tweets. If a famous person tweets something, reply with Ha ha. Then, when they dont respond within 30 seconds, you can write Ha ha again. Then when they dont respond to that, you can write Why no reply :(?. And then, when they dont respond to that, write DIE IN HELL, TALENTLESS HACK. Then complain about being blocked.


A heart-shaped icon that you only press when someone sends you a tweet and you dont like them enough to reply.


Click the bell icon and youll see a list of tweets that other users want you to read. If youre a man, you might find one or two messages from an old friend who wants to say hi. If youre a woman, youll have several hundred messages telling you that youre stupid and ugly.


This is what people claim happened to them whenever they accidentally tweet a picture of their penis in public instead of DMing it.


A parody account in no way affiliated with the actor Bill Murray. This is a terrible collection of weak observations and stolen homilies, designed to single out anyone who retweets them as someone who deserves to spend an eternity being punched in the nose in hell.

Bill Murray (@BillMurray) July 7, 2016

If we didn’t start wars, would we have wars?

Verified account

A blue tick that tells you the user is either an A-list celebrity, a respected authority on an important subject or a BuzzFeed employee.


The thing on Twitter that nobody in the entire history of Twitter has ever intentionally looked at or thought about.


A retweet is when you publish someone elses tweet on your own feed. It is the only way that @StuHeritage can ever feel a scrap of self-worth any more.


This is a list of the terms and hashtags most used on Twitter at any moment of time. Most useful in the punishing aftermath of an unthinkable terrorist attack, because it reminds you that, no matter how frightening the world gets, a huge percentage of people still just want to talk about Harry Styless hair.

Code of conduct

A thing that Twitter says it has, but probably doesnt.

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The Voyeur’s Motel by Gay Talese digested read

John Crace spies an opportunity to condense this account of how a motel owner snooped on his guests into a sensational 800 words

I know a married man with two children who bought a 21-room motel near Denver many years ago in order to become its resident voyeur. I first became aware of this individual in 1980 when my valet handed me a letter that had been sent to my $5m home in New York.

Dear Mr Talese, as the author of Thy Neighbors Wife, the brilliantly written exploration of American sexual mores that has now been in the bestseller lists for over six months, I thought you might like to know about my adventures as a Peeping Tom. Yours, Anonymous.

For several days, I left this letter to one side as I had more important matters to attend to, namely designing the monogram for my blazer. Since my correspondent refused to be named, I felt there was little to be gained from meeting him as my deservedly award-winning non-fiction had always been predicated on full disclosure. And yet I had to concede that his letter was not without merit as it did acknowledge me as the finest living writer of my generation. So I replied, using my Montblanc fountain pen, that I would meet him at baggage reclaim 4 at Phoenix airport, at some point in the future when I had finished my nationwide tour promoting yet another of my brilliant books.

He was sat on a pale tangerine banquette near baggage reclaim 5 when I arrived in Phoenix shortly after four in the afternoon of 23rd January. After I rebuked him for his impertinence in waiting in the wrong place, thereby delaying me for at least 12 seconds, he lead me out to his highly polished black Cadillac sedan. Good day, he said, as the sun beat down from what I recall was a deep-azure sky. My name is Gerald Foos.

Gerald, as he preferred to be called, introduced me to his wife Donna, whom he assured me was highly approving of his voyeurism, which he insisted was an important social history of the sexual activities of his motel guests. Gerald and Donna took me up to the secret attic from which they could spy on their guests though the vents. Look down there, he said. I leant forward to observe a white male of about 195lb having intercourse with a slight woman of Spanish descent with thick black pubic hair. As I leant further forward, my silk Ralph Lauren tie slipped through the vent: Gerald pulled me back, lest our voyeurism became public, before continuing to masturbate. I made a note that Gerald had ejaculated at precisely 7.51pm.

On my return to my New York home that had appreciated in value by $145 in my absence, Gerald began to send me weekly instalments from his meticulously observed notes.

A short fat man urinates in the sink while his wife is out. On her return, she performs fellatio on his below-average-size penis. He then mounts her in the male superior position and thrusts forcefully for about five minutes before climaxing. The woman does not appear to climax. Conclusion: this couple have a serviceable, if not particularly joyful, union. The rather small amount of semen the man ejaculates suggests he is a frequent masturbator.


To my surprise, I sense there is some nobility in Geralds enterprise and I recall a book written by a professor who is not quite so brilliant as me, in which Victorian sexual activity was explored through the prism of voyeurism. I ask Gerald to send further extracts of his diary.

There is no moral problem with voyeurism because the people being watched dont know they are being watched so they cant be hurt. I find this immensely reassuring when some of my own semen slips through the vent on to the face of a well-built brunette woman who has just swallowed the semen of a slight Caucasian man of about 157lb. I also observe a man strangling a woman and feel a bit guilty about not reporting it, though am aware that doing so would compromise my objectivity.

At some point, it becomes clear to me that Geralds diary actually begins three years before he bought the motel, but I am inclined to treat this as an administrational error on Geralds part. In 2013, Gerald, who is now in his 80s, rings up to say that the motel has been knocked down and he is now happy for me to publish a book about him using his real name.

I agree, though the extract about the killing still bothers me. I ring up the Denver police department, who inform me they have no record of any homicide at the motel. The incompetence of the Denver police, in not responding to a crime that definitely took place, is breathtaking. At some point I might write an award-winning book about them. For now, though, satisfied that my own extensive research is complete, I decide to publish the most important work of non-fictional fictional bollocks ever in the history of non-fictional fictional bollocks.

Digested read, digested: Foos gold.

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Man sought in assault of Stone Mountain, Georgia, 5-year-old

(CNN)Police in Georgia were searching Saturday for a man suspected of kidnapping and sexually assaulting a 5-year-old girl before leaving her in a parking lot on a busy road.

Friday afternoon, police responded to a report of a child wandering alone near a strip mall in Stone Mountain, said DeKalb County police spokesman Maj. Stephen Fore.
    The girl told police a stranger had taken her from her home at a nearby apartment complex and then left her in parking lot of the mall. Officers brought the child to a hospital for an evaluation, where health officials discovered she had been sexually assaulted, Fore said.
    While the child was in the officers’ custody, DeKalb County police received a call from the girl’s mother, reporting her daughter was missing from the apartment complex, according to Fore.
    It was the victim’s 8-year-old brother who reported his sister had been kidnapped, police said.
    Police said they are looking for a light-skinned black male in his early 20s, with long hair tied into a ponytail and a long beard. He is believed to be driving an early 2000s gray Hyundai.

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    Police seek to unlock murder victim’s phone using 3D replica of fingertips

    Lab printed prosthetic digit to help police try and unlock a murder victims smartphone, protected by a fingerprint scanner instead of a password

    Computer science professor Anil Jain spends most of his time researching and improving biometric systems, like fingerprint scanners and facial recognition software. Last month, however, law enforcement agents approached the Michigan State University academic with an unusual request: to create a 3D-printed replica of a dead mans finger.

    Police needed the prosthetic digit to try and unlock a murder victims smartphone, protected by a fingerprint scanner instead of a password.

    The authorities think that unlocking the phone could give them the identity of the murderer, Jain said. We are doing our social duty to assist in a criminal investigation.

    Law enforcement agents had seen a YouTube demonstration of a technique developed by Jains lab which could transform fingerprint scans into fake fingertips that could fool the sensors on smartphones.

    The police supplied the team with a scan of the victims fingerprints taken while he was alive following a previous arrest. Jain then worked with his PhD student Sunpreet Arora to reverse engineer the fingers.

    We are not in the attack business. The 3D printing technique we developed is meant for calibrating fingerprint sensors, not nefariously unlocking someones phone without their knowledge, Jain was eager to emphasize.

    First, the two-dimensional fingerprint scans are converted into three dimensional fingerprints and these are then sent to a high resolution 3D printer, to make a physical replica in a soft plastic that retains the subtle ridges of the fingerprint while also distorting under pressure like skin.

    Once printed, a micron-thick coating of metal gold, copper or silver is applied to the surface. This recreates the electrical conductivity found in human skin that is required to make modern capacitive fingerprint readers work. Plastic fingers arent conductive enough on their own.

    Jain wouldnt reveal the model of the smartphone they are dealing with, but most major manufacturers now use fingerprint authentication in their flagship devices, including Apple, Samsung, HTC and Microsoft.

    How easy they are to penetrate depends on the model and manufacturer, he said. Some have a stronger ability to detect spoofs.

    3D printed fingerprint biometric. Photograph: Anil Jain/Michigan State University

    The team tested the accuracy of the technique by building models of their own fingers to unlock a similar make of phone. Prints of all 10 fingers of the murder victim will be passed on to police so they can apply them to the phone.

    The approach is appealing to police as it allows them to potentially unlock devices without the help of the smartphone manufacturers. Had the San Bernardino gunman, Syed Farook, used an iPhone that had the Touch ID fingerprint scanner (he had an iPhone 5, which lacks this feature), the FBI could have tried this technique instead of engaging in such a high-profile battle with Apple. When Apple refused to grant access to the iPhone, the FBI went on to spend $1.3m hacking into it.

    Although the idea of police creating prosthetic fingers seems creepy, theres little in the way of regulation to protect citizens from doing this.

    Here we have a long history of taking fingerprints off glasses, taking pictures of people and doing facial recognition, taking hair samples. If were not extracting something from the individual themselves, its going to be tough to argue its improper, said Albert Gidari, director of privacy at Stanford Law Schools Center for Internet & Society.

    That said, law enforcement would still need to follow procedure and seek a warrant to search the device.

    For Gidari, this case raises questions about the widespread collection of biometric data.

    These collections and databases need to be the subject of better oversight, he said. The government collects a huge amount of biometric data and we dont have any rules around it. Thats the scarier part. For every one example like this there are 10 things you and I havent thought about that they could use [our biometric data] for.

    There are serious privacy concerns but are there constitutional ones? Under existing law, like it or not, probably not.

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    Oliver Stone on Snowden: ‘Self-censorship is huge in this industry’

    Film-maker discusses forthcoming drama about the Snowden case at Comic-Con, where one audience member asked if Pokmon Go could lead to totalitarianism

    For his first appearance at San Diego Comic-Con, Oliver Stone told an audience at the conventions biggest venue that he almost hadnt been able to make his upcoming movie Snowden, based in part on Guardian journalist Luke Hardings book about NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, The Snowden Files.

    Frankly, it was turned down by every major studio, Stone told the audience. It was definitely self-censorship. I dont believe there was an enemy such as the NSA lurking in the background but self-censorship is a huge issue in this industry. Every film studio, the boards, rather than the executives, said no. The film is being distributed by five-year-old independent production company Open Road, which swept the Academy Awards with its film Spotlight earlier this year.

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    Meet Mike Pence’s chief adviser: Karen Pence

    Cleveland (CNN)On his first day in the governor’s office, in January 2013, Mike Pence showed off the new red phone he had installed on his desk. It was, he touted, a direct line from Karen Pence to him, and remains probably the best symbol of her power and influence in his life.

    Not long after that state workers finished decorating the very first first lady’s office inside the Indiana Statehouse — just a short walk from Mike Pence’s own office.
      Despite the high-profile trappings, Karen Pence’s role as his most senior adviser, his most trusted aide and equal, is rarely seen. More often, people notice her advocacy for art and even her — now suspended — small side business selling towel charms.
      The Pence campaign did not make Karen Pence available for an interview this week as it stormed into town ahead of his Wednesday speech to accept the Republican Party’s nomination for vice president. But Mike Pence hinted at her integral role in his Tuesday speech to the American Conservative Union.
      “I’m joined today by the highest ranking official in the state of Indiana, the future second lady of the United States, Karen Pence,” he said to applause.
      It’s been a long ride for Indiana’s first couple — from 1983, when Mike Pence met his future wife at a mass in Indianapolis’ St. Thomas Aquinas church, just across the street from the governor’s mansion where they now live.
      Karen Pence, who grew up just down the street from the church where they met, retold their first date in a campaign ad five years ago during Pence’s run for governor.
      “When I first met Mike Pence, it was love at first sight. On our first date, we went ice skating at the Pepsi Coliseum at the state fairgrounds. We skated around for a little while, then he reached over and took my hand,” Karen Pence said in the spot.
      The ad airs a photo of the young couple, including Mike Pence with dark brown hair. Now Mike Pence’s hair is shock white, and he is taking the national stage in a way few expected even just a few months ago.



        Will Trump’s VP pick help him win the women vote?


      Karen Pence has played an integral part in the rise of Mike Pence to that stage. In Indiana Republican circles it is taken as gospel that no one else has the governor’s ear like she does (which is not always a given for every first couple.)
      But her public image belies her incredible influence. Karen Pence is a former art teacher, and art therapist — as first lady she began an art therapy program at Indianapolis’ largest children’s hospital.
      Karen Pence’s art was often auctioned off at local Republican fundraiser during Mike Pence’s run for governor and throughout his tenure.
      Donald Trump hinted, in an interview with CBS’ “60 Minutes” how influential Karen Pence is, saying that she was on the phone with him when he called Trump to say he was interested in joining the ticket.
      Those who know the Pences best say that Karen Pence was seamlessly involved in the management of the state.
      The four years of the Pence administration in Indiana — a package of tax cuts, expansion of Medicaid, conservative education reforms and more — have all had Karen Pence’s influence at varying levels.
      “It was pretty customary for Mike to get kind of down to the end and say, ‘I’m gonna sleep on it, pray about it and speak to Karen,’ ” said one ally, who described her integral role in shaping policy. The Pence ally spoke on condition of anonymity because few people talk openly about her role.
      Mike Pence’s sister-in-law, Denise Pence, said she’s known Karen Pence for about four decades and described her as both smart and strong.
      “Karen Pence is a pillar of strength,” Denise Pence said Monday. “She is wonderful, wonderful asset to Michael and they complement each other. They make decisions as a family.”
      Mike McDaniel a veteran Indiana Republican and former state party chairman, called Karen Pence the base upon which Mike Pence has built his life.
      “I think their marriage is the whole strength upon everything he does,” McDaniel said. “I think she’s very important to him. I think he uses her for a sounding board for just about everything.”

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      Stanford sexual assault victim faced personal questions at trial, records show

      New transcripts shed light on a court process the victim calls traumatizing and shows she was asked about her drinking, her partying and her body

      The Stanford sexual assault victim faced personal questions about her drinking habits, her behavior at parties and her body, according to newly released trial records that shed light on the traumatizing court process the woman described in her viral impact statement.

      The transcripts in the case of Brock Turner, the 20-year-old swimmer convicted of sexually assaulting an unconscious woman, offer fresh insight into how the former students lawyers interrogated the woman he assaulted and provide a window into a criminal process that advocates say can be unfair and painful for victims.

      Turners attorney, Mike Armstrong, questioned the woman, who was not a Stanford student and was 22 years old at the time of the assault, about her drinking and partying in college, the records show.

      Turner was convicted of assault with intent to rape an intoxicated woman and sexually penetrating an intoxicated and unconscious person with a foreign object. Two bystanders caught him thrusting on top of the motionless woman outside a fraternity house by a dumpster on 18 January 2015.

      The case sparked international outrage in June when Turner was sentenced to six months in county jail, which is significantly lighter than the minimum punishment of two years in state prison prescribed by law.

      The victims emotional impact statement outlined the horrific details of the assault and the ensuing trauma of a prolonged trial, and the judge who gave the sentence is now facing a high-profile recall campaign.

      The documents released on Tuesday are from a 21 March hearing, when the victim, identified as Jane Doe, faced questions from the prosecutors and the defense attorney.

      At the beginning of your testimony on Friday, you gave us your height and weight. Were those numbers that you gave us what your height and weight was on January 17th of 2015? Armstrong said at the start of his cross-examination, referring to her earlier testimony about her figure.

      Estimating, yes, Jane Doe responded.

      Armstrong asked her again if nothing is radically different with her weight and height.

      No, she replied.

      In one part of the statement she later released, the woman wrote about the way this line of questioning was hurtful.

      The sexual assault had been so clear, but instead, here I was at the trial, answering question like: How old are you? How much do you weigh? What did you eat that day? Well what did you have for dinner? Who made dinner?

      Armstrong proceeded to ask the woman about her behavior at a fraternity party that she attended with her sister. Referencing earlier testimony, he asked her if it was an intentional choice when you drank the quantity of vodka in the red cup. You drank it all down at once, right?

      Yes, she said.

      Like, chugged it, he replied. And that was a decision you made, right?

      Armstrong reminded her that these events occurred after she had already graduated from college, asking: And you did a lot of partying in college, right?

      Jane Doe said she would not consider herself a party animal, before the lawyer said: Well, you did tell the police when you were interviewed that you did a lot of partying there too, right?

      Im a social person, she said.

      He later asked her if she has suffered blackouts from drinking in the past. She said she had.

      The attorney further asked her in a lengthy series of questions why her phone might have been on silent that night. He later asked to confirm specifics of her dinner that night before she went out, which consisted of broccoli and rice.

      The records also list some of the evidence reviewed in court, which highlight specifics of the assault and the impact on the woman.

      Photographs revealed that the woman had vegetation throughout her hair and multiple abrasions in her buttocks, the report said. She also had abrasions at the base of her neck and upper back, according to the photo evidence.

      Despite that evidence and his eventual conviction, Turner has continued to argue that the assault was consensual, casting blame on Stanfords party culture. His father faced widespread scorn for testifying that his son didnt deserve punishment for 20 minutes of action.

      Court officials on Tuesday also released records of an 18 March hearing in which the victim answered questions by the prosecutor Alaleh Kianerci.

      During that court session, the victim provided a detailed account of the events leading up to the assault and the aftermath at a hospital.

      The woman appeared to get emotional when she recounted the moment she woke up at the hospital and regained consciousness.

      I woke up, and I saw, like, dry blood on my hands and my elbows and bandages, she said, later adding, I was really extremely tired and confused.

      Jane Doe went on to recount the moment she realized she may have been assaulted, which she has also written about extensively in her impact statement.

      My underwear was gone, she said. That is when it hit me that what the deputy had been talking about was real. And I was suddenly very scared.

      Doctors then gave her shots for STDs, tested her for HIV and told her that she should get tested again in six months because results dont always show up immediately, the woman testified.

      The woman also said that when she went to Stanford that night, she had had no intention of hooking up with anybody and had no interest in Turner.

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      Baton Rouge gunman ambushed officers with ‘chilling, sheer brutality’

      Official have drawn a detailed picture of the Sunday morning attack, and confirmed the gunman was a black separatist who urged fighting back

      The man who killed three police officers in Baton Rouge was tactical in his movements and shots and avoided civilians while targeting officers with chilling, sheer brutality, authorities said Monday afternoon.

      He was in shape, Louisiana state police Ccolonel Mike Edmonson said at a press briefing, Edmonson crouching and extending his arms as though holding an assault rifle. He was concentrated, he was articulate in all manners of engagement. Ill just leave it at that.

      The three police officers shot dead in Louisiana were deliberately ambushed, the authorities said, by the gunman who carried two semi-automatic rifles and a pistol.

      One of the officers was first wounded, then killed as he lay on the ground. A sheriffs deputy was killed after leaving cover to help that officer.

      Three officers were injured on Monday one, corporal Nicholas Tullier, remained in critical condition after being shot in the head and torso. Another officer, deputy Bruce Simmons, faced the second of many reconstructive surgeries after being shot in the arm.

      Officials drew a detailed picture of what happened Sunday morning, with aerial photos, pictures of the weapons, and security video at an afternoon press briefing. Colonel Mike Edmonson of the Louisiana state police confirmed the gunman was Gavin Long, a black separatist identified by media on Sunday who in online postings had urged African Americans to fight back against oppression by law enforcement.

      Edmonson said Long was from Missouri and had come to Baton Rouge, where an African American man, Alton Sterling, was killed by police officers earlier this month. He could not confirm reports that Long had also been in Dallas, the location of a recent shooting in which five police officers were killed.

      We have him in several locations, he said.

      Two Baton Rouge officers, Montrell Jackson, 32, and 41-year-old Matthew Gerald, were shot and killed. Sheriffs deputy Brad Garafola, 45, was killed after leaving cover behind a dumpster and going to their aid.

      Long then moved around the neighboring convenience store where sheriffs deputy Nicholas Tullier had pulled up in his patrol car. Long approached and shot him through the window, officials said, shooting him in the head and torso. Sheriff SidGautreaux said 41-year-old Tullier remained in very, very critical condition Monday afternoon.

      Another officer, Bruce Simmons, could be heard on his radio telling the dispatcher calmly: Im hit. Left arm. Gautreaux said the injuries were extensive, shattering the bone from his elbow to his shoulder.

      Edmonson presented to the press still images from surveillance video of the shooting, which he said showed the chilling, sheer brutality of a planned and methodical attack by Long, a former US marine who carried two AR-15-style rifles and a 9.9mm pistol. Police were investigating the provenance of the guns.

      The gunman was killed by a long-distance shot from a member of the Baton Rouge police Swat team, officers said. Police chief Carl Dabadie saluted the shot, which he said was an example of militarized tactics which have been criticized by protesters against perceived police brutality.

      It was a hell of a shot, Dabadie said.

      Were up against a force that is not playing by the rules, he said. Our militarized tactics, as they are being called, saved lives.

      Gautreaux reinforced Dabadies conviction. You cant understand the shot they took, he said. They had to shoot through a structure and take the subject down.

      Edmonson said Long had been in Baton Rouge for several days, but that questions still remain as to his exact motives. Why did he come to Baton Rouge? Why did he come to this location? Edmonson said. Was it because police officers frequent this location in the morning, getting their coffee, washing their cars?

      Long, who had served in Iraq, carried out his attack on the morning of his 29th birthday. He left behind a trail of incoherent online postings railing at perceived injustices against black Americans.

      Long described himself in paperwork filed to local authorities as a member of a fringe group called the Washitaw Nation of Muurs, a radical Moorish splinter group of the so-called sovereign citizens movement. Online he used the pseudonym Cosmo Setepenra, an apparent reference to Pharaoh Ramses II, whose royal names included Setep-en-Ra.

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      Sir Mix-A-Lot Opens Up About The ‘Empowering’ Message Of ‘Baby Got Back’

      Some artists write songs hoping they’ll be hits. Others, like Sir Mix-a-Lot, write songs hoping they’ll become much more.

      In the early ‘90s, Sir Mix-a-Lot became a household name thanks to his now-iconic rap, “Baby Got Back.” As he tells “Oprah: Where Are They Now Extra” in the above clip, his motivation for writing the song actually came from an epiphany he had after seeing a beer commercial. 

      “You had the Budweiser girls cute, but basically all hair. They were basically [shaped] like stop signs,” Sir Mix-a-Lot says. “That’s where I realized … ‘There’s another beautiful that, for some reason, is not being talked about much.’ I wanted to talk about it.”

      Sir Mix-a-Lot wrote the rap, with lines like, “I like big butts and I cannot lie” and “So, Cosmo says you’re fat. // Well, I ain’t down with that.” Each line, he says, was written to serve one calculated purpose.

      “I said, ‘How do I write this track and kind of diss the norm in a funny way?’” he says. “I didn’t want women to look at Cosmo as the goal … Don’t look at Cosmo and say, ‘I’ve got to get that physique so they’ll put me in pictures.’ Don’t worry about them! Baby, you are beautiful, you are gorgeous, you can do what you want to do. The hell with them.” 

      I realized ‘There’s another beautiful that, for some reason, is not being talked about much.’ I wanted to talk about it.

      Though its array of sexual lyrics made “Baby Got Back” a controversial track at the time, it still climbed to the top of the charts and struck a chord with female fans.

      “It’s kind of an empowering song by accident,” Sir Mix-a-Lot says. “Every line in that song was written with that in mind: Pick at the establishment not too much, not too over the top and lift the sisters up. Constantly elevate them, even at the risk of dissing yourself.” 

      This was particularly important, he points out, given the way a majority of black women were portrayed on television in those days.

      “They were maids, servants, they played hookers or they would assimilate to another culture,” he says. “I didn’t like that. It bothered me a lot.”

      Sir Mix-a-Lot wanted to celebrate real women’s lives and shapes, but he says he also wanted to be careful not to preach. “When I wrote ‘Baby Got Back,’ I wanted to make sure that I said those things without offending anybody,” he says.

      The song was a definitive success, winning a Grammy and solidifying its place in pop culture history. Sir Mix-a-Lot certainly succeeded in getting his message out there through song.

      “The people that needed to hear it got it immediately,” he says. “It worked well enough.”

      Another inside look at making music:

      Brian McKnight breaks down the “politics” behind a hit song

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      A different kind of tea party: how US farmers are brewing up a new industry

      Unchon Ramos has kickstarted an American tea farming revolution right from her farm in Virginia but growers say the industry is still in the wild west stage of development

      As a girl growing up in South Korea, Unchon Ramos recalls her mother would always give her green tea to drink at bedtime when she didnt feel well.

      And when she washed my hair, she always put a couple green tea leaves in the water, Ramos said.

      Slowly, she learned about green teas many benefits: that its loaded with antioxidants, which prevent cells in the body from deteriorating, and that it can improve brain function and boost immune system functionality. Green tea is also high in flavonoids, associated with reducing cardiovascular disease and preventing cancer. A study in 2007 by the US Department of Agriculture found that a single cup of brewed green tea has seven times more flavonoids than brewed black tea, nine times more than a single apple, and nearly five times more than a glass of wine.

      So when Ramos and her husband, Louis, decided to buy a rundown old farm in Virginia in 2012, it didnt take her long to decide what to grow. But local farmers told her Virginia is not the kind of place to grow tea. My hometown is the same weather as Virginia, and theyre growing tea, so I thought: Im going to try anyway.

      Ramos now runs Virginia First Tea Farm, which sells soap, shampoo, dish soap and laundry detergent, all infused with green tea grown on an 80-acre farm in Spotsylania, Virginia. This year, building on a thriving mail-order business, the familys products became available at eight Whole Foods Markets in Virginia and Washington, DC. Next, Ramos wants to process green tea for drinking.

      Unchon Ramos with a display of Virginia First Tea Farm products at a Whole Foods store in Newport News, Virginia. Photograph: Joanna Ramos

      Brewing a local industry

      Although tea growing has a millennia-long history in Asia, it has virtually none in the US. There are only about 30 established farms in the US growing Camellia sinensis, the shrub from which all tea varieties are produced, according to the US League of Tea Growers. Although that number is small, it has tripled since 2011. Approximately an equal number of farms grow tea in Hawaii, where the climate is more accommodating. (Camellia sinensis is sensitive to harsh weather and soil conditions.)

      Rie Tulali, spokeswoman for the US League of Tea Growers, attributed the growth to people who simply like tea. More than half of all Americans drink tea daily, according to a report by the Tea Association of the USA. That consumption is growing about 5% annually, and the US is the only Western country experiencing growth. Also, that increase is coming entirely in the arena of specialty loose-leaf teas, while familiar bagged tea sales remain flat.

      Tea parlors and cafes have an increased presence in major cities throughout the US, as do commercial tea shops like T2 and Les Palais des Thes, which sells loose leaf teas in dozens of varieties from around the world. Even Starbucks is entering the game. In 2012, it purchased Teavana, a US chain of 300 specialty tea retailers, for $670 million, its largest acquisition ever.

      People really are concerned about their food sources and what their carbon footprint is, said Judson LeCompte, a research associate in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences at Mississippi State University, home to one of the nations largest tea research programs. So if they can get a locally produced product, thats much more appealing and theyre willing to pay for it. That gives our products a niche market they can fit into.

      But, while the opportunity for American farmers who want to experiment with tea is growing, there are significant hurdles.

      Its still kind of in this wild west stage of development, where no one has really figured out the model for growing tea yet, Tulali says. Even if someone figures it out in Mississippi, its a completely different story in the Pacific Northwest, or California, or Maine because the environments are so different.

      For example, a single region of China may have 300 tea varieties, or genetic cultivars, that have been bred over centuries to tolerate particular soil conditions and local weather extremes. In all of the US, Tulali says, there are still only three or four cultivars.

      One lure for American farmers is that tea growing presents few barriers to entry. Although learning to grow and process tea can be challenging, a lucrative crop can be raised on very small plots of land. A grower can plant 6,000 tea bushes on a single acre of land for about $20,000, LeCompte said. That might be 20 times the cost to plant an acre of corn, but the corn must be replanted annually. Tea bushes will produce for hundreds of years, and ultimately yield specialty loose-leaf teas that might sell for $30 an ounce or more 10 times the price of a familiar box of Lipton tea bags found in every grocery store.

      Even so, LeCompte said US tea growers are not likely to ever threaten the dominance of their counterparts in Asia.

      Out of the billions of servings that we import a year, we would be fortunate to produce 1% of that, he says. But I do think China and other countries have something to learn from us. And I think we have so much to learn from them.

      The Virginia First Tea Farm property near Spotsylvania, Va. Photograph: Joanna Ramos

      Learning from the masters

      Both green tea and black tea come from Camellia sinensis. The difference between the teas comes in the processing. Black tea is allowed to oxidize after harvest before being dried. This produces a stronger flavor and transforms the leaves with a dark brown color. Green tea is heated through steaming or pan firing, which prevents oxidation. As a result, the leaves remain green and have a more delicate, fresh flavor.

      At first we were, like, This sounds really difficult, says Joanna Ramos, Unchons daughter and a co-owner of the business. Its very experimental, its still in its infancy, but its going good so far. We are able to get enough green tea to use for our soaps.

      Virginia First grows the tea plants using organic methods, although the company is still working to obtain official organic certification. Weeds are pulled by hand, and no chemical pesticides or fertilizers are used.

      Tulali says most US tea growers are not yet using organic methods, because they are focused on producing a viable crop from the finicky plant and finding a viable market for teas that are relatively new and expensive in the US market. US growers are still experimenting with their plant material and honing their craft, Tulali says. But what they do have as a benefit is their farms are typically very small, so they have better quality control over the lots they do have.

      When Ramos launched her business, she made more than 10 trips to her home region of Kumsan, South Korea, to study tea growing. She brought back tea seeds and a Korean recipe for green tea soap. Her husband, Louis, oversees farm operations after retiring from a career in the US Air Force.

      While many soaps use animal products like milk and glycerin (often made from animal fat), and fillers such as gluten, the Ramos family sticks to basic ingredients that are sourced locally whenever possible. For example, some of their products include cucumber and dried berries, which are obtained form local organic farms.

      A batch of tea leaves and other ingredients being brewed to make Virginia First Tea Farm shampoo and conditioner. Photograph: Joanna Ramos

      The family began selling soaps by word-of-mouth and at local farmers markets in the Williamsburg, Virginia, region. Slowly, local natural food markets agreed to carry their products. This year, seven Whole Foods Markets became distributors.

      They are extremely popular, says Morgan Franklin, assistant manager of Rebeccas Natural Foods in Charlottesville, Virginia, and one of the first stores to offer Virginia First Tea Farm products.

      Unchon says the soaps are made by mixing in a powder from crushed tea leaves. The farm also sells matcha (a powdered green tea beverage) made from tea imported from Korea.

      Green tea soaps are relatively common in groceries that focus on selling healthy products, but most are imported. Joanna says as far as she knows, her familys company is the only one in the US that sells green tea soaps made from tea leaves also grown in the US.

      Next, Unchon wants to start selling tea for drinking. But first, the family must acquire facilities for drying and roasting the leaves. Unchon hopes the first tea products for drinking will be produced early next year.

      Were not trying to be in every supermarket, because that would just be a ridiculous standard to keep up our quality, Joanna says. The goal is to be able to keep our quality up and not worry about quantity.

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