The ‘Art’ of Plagiarism in the Digital Age


For my first full disclosure of this post: I did not write the above quote. It was written by a much greater writer than I: Ralph Ellison. But that’s for later.

Yes, my fellow readers plagiarism is an art. It has to be if the plagiarist can be artistic enough to get away with one of the most egregious acts of theft: To me there is nothing lower than stealing someone’s words or intellectual property and calling it your own.

In a way, with the Internet, blogs and hundreds of publishing platforms it becomes tempting, almost inevitable and very easy — unless you have a sense of ethics. And, I am not here to make specific accusations — though I could, because I am seeing a growing number of instances.

So what exactly is plagiarism when it comes to writing? We all know what it was called in college when you either lifted a paper written by someone who took the course before you, or found a paper or dissertation in a long-forgotten source.

We have all heard of instances where newspaper or magazine ombudsmen — or “social editors” as some are now called — have either caught the guilty or been alerted to the practice by astute readers.

But in the digital age, the act has become more refined — and subtle. According to, plagiarism is:

“An act or instance of using or closely imitating the language and thoughts of another author without authorization and the representation of that author’s work as one’s own, as by not crediting the original author.”

The bolding is my own. It is the “closely imitating” that seems to have overtaken a lot of posters and bloggers.

It has happened to me, several times in recent months and it makes me very angry. But more than that, there is a certain sense of pathos when you encounter a writer who steals — yes steals — your thoughts because they are too shallow to have any of their own,

For the sake of full disclosure: I am not the first to notice this problem. Search the Internet and you will find numerous programs, for multiple categories, which give the publisher the opportunity to see if the item written — or parts of it — have been used before.

I can say I have never engaged in this evil art myself. I would rather clean hotel bathrooms first.

Then again — and not to belittle those who have to clean bathrooms — there is a distinct similarity.

As a matter of fact, there is more honor in honestly doing a day’s work.

So, if you have nothing new to say or write, have the dignity and self-respect to admire the writer’s words. Quote them, attribute them, but don’t use them as your own.

You eventually will get caught — and after that you might as well go clean toilets.

By the way, the quote in the lead image is from brilliant writer Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man” — a book which I have read several times and quoted from, always with attribution.

‘We’ll Get Back to You Next Week’

How many times have you left a job interview and either due to your enthusiasm for the job; the positive vibe you received from the interviewer(s); or the need for work, actually waited patiently for the phone call or email with a decision?

If I could count the number of times, this has happened to me over the years, I wouldn’t be writing this post. And, more significantly, I know the usual answers when two weeks later you try to get some feedback: Either “We’ve been extremely busy” or “We have decided to broaden the search.”

Even worse: You continue to wait and look at job postings and see the same job you interviewed a month before posted again.

I realize this will not endear me to any potential employers, nor will it enhance my chances of getting my dream job.

But here is what I have learned after years of on-and-off job search, when stability became an issue:

  • When you hear: “We’ll get back to you in a week,” don’t believe it.
  • Don’t take it personally; it seems to be in the handbook handed out to hiring managers and subsequent interviewers.
  • Do not get discouraged; accept it as a part of the process.

back to normal

I feel inclined to share one story; names withheld to protect the guilty:

I interviewed with three people at the same shop — not a group interview, but three separate individuals — and was told how impressed they were with my credentials. But before I could be put on the dreaded “short list” there was one more thing they would like me to do.

It was not exactly a writing test, they said, but would give them an indication of how I dealt with raw material — and I could do it at home and it was short.

Fair enough, or so I thought at the time, as all the other buttons clicked. And as one of the required questions we are told to ask at the end of every interview, I asked once the “non-test” was completed, when would I hear from them again.

You can guess the answer.

Well, this is what I received in an email: a 20-page, single-spaced document to edit in track changes; a request to write a 500- to 800-word blog; and an application that asked everything except my original hair color — when I had some.

Though slightly perplexed, I did all I was told. I waited two weeks to see what the status was and was told it would take a few more days. Then I saw the job posted again.

My reaction — aside from this post — was a smile. Why?

Because this is a buyers’ market; the job seeker becomes secondary to filling the post; and more often than not I probably knew more about the position than the contacts at the company.

Yes, I have read all the suggestions made for crafting a resume, writing a cover letter, how to find contacts and what to do as follow ups.

But one thing I have not seen is advice to the employer on how to treat a prospective employee, who truly wants the job or probably would not have shown up.

This is not a plea for sympathy; this is an example of what is done in civil society.

One last thing: I could do a whole other post on: “You were one of two final candidates.”

I’ll save your reading time.

How US ‘Democracy’ is Partially Responsible for the Proliferation of the ‘Islamic State’


The United States has been trying for years to impose its vision of democracy on nations in the Middle East, on countries that neither want anything to do with it or are so mired in ancient conflict, that U.S. democracy is a suspicious and unwanted concept.

The Sunnis and Shiites in Muslim countries have totally different views of Islam, which have led to centuries of turmoil and conflict. As ironic and pathetic as it is true, it was only the vicious murderer Saddam Hussein and his cronies that kept the two Muslim divisions from constant bloody conflict in Iraq.

The same was true in Libya and Egypt. Only in Tunisia is there arguably some sense of democracy as an outgrowth of the so-called “Arab Spring.”

Many blame the deteriorating situation in Iraq and Syria and the rise of ISIS on President Obama — and to a certain extent this is true. You don’t unilaterally withdraw from a nation mired in centuries of  conflict without assuring the proper safeguards are in place — and claim democracy as the savior.

Those of us who have some familiarity with the geographic area, where somewhat surprised when Obama made a speech in Cairo near the start of his presidency. To some, it was a sign of things to come; to others it was at the very least a sign of extreme naiveté.

“I have come here to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world; one based upon mutual interest and mutual respect; and one based upon the truth that America and Islam are not exclusive, and need not be in competition. Instead, they overlap, and share common principles – principles of justice and progress; tolerance and the dignity of all human beings.”

Later in his speech he addressed Iraq directly. It needs to be noted that the speech was made on June 4, 2009 :

“Today, America has a dual responsibility: to help Iraq forge a better future – and to leave Iraq to Iraqis. I have made it clear to the Iraqi people that we pursue no bases, and no claim on their territory or resources. Iraq’s sovereignty is its own. That is why I ordered the removal of our combat brigades by next August. That is why we will honor our agreement with Iraq’s democratically elected government to remove combat troops from Iraqi cities by July, and to remove all our troops from Iraq by 2012. We will help Iraq train its Security Forces and develop its economy. But we will support a secure and united Iraq as a partner, and never as a patron.”

Democracy — like its polar opposite Communism — are Utopian concepts. A recent article in Foreign Policy magazine addressed how do we think we can try to impose democracy on others when we no longer truly practice it ourselves.

“What Americans probably don’t realize, though, is that we aren’t the only ones to feel disillusioned. The rest of the world’s countries tend to pay far more attention to us than we do to them, and they’ve noticed what a mess our society is in. I’m not just talking here about the usual agonizing over American ‘declinism,’ the general perception of diminished U.S. influence around the globe. I have a more specific problem in mind: America’s dwindling attractiveness as a model of democracy.”

So, what does this have to do with the original premise of  U.S. democracy being partially responsible for the Islamic State? It is because we tried to impose democracy on an area where democracy is impossible and in turn left the rival sects to their own devices.

Let me say that this is not just an indictment of Obama, but of our desire to prove our way is the right way.

President Bush supported the right for Gaza to have free elections — and we all know what happened there.

The Fear of Writing

I have spent my entire career “writing,” mostly as a serious journalist. Whether as a reporter, editor or manager, it all involved the skill of writing.

For years I have wanted to write a novel — as the old saying goes, every journalist has two chapters of a novel languishing in his bottom drawer. But there has been an invisible wall that always prevented me from going forward.

I have watched colleagues break through the wall and publish successful, well-received, quality literature. I even have seen several become quite wealthy from their endeavors.

So, why is it that I have been unable to get to Chapter 3? The answer is simple — resolving the dilemma was exceedingly more complicated. But the problem can be summed up in one sentence:

I didn’t have the courage to write.

Ideas were plentiful, drawn both from my personal experiences (“write what you know”) and from those around me. I would verbally discuss some of the ideas and experiences with colleagues and friends and more often than not what I heard was: “You should write a book.”

In his thoughtful, dynamic book The Courage to Write, prolific author Ralph Keyes explains why talented writers fear putting their thoughts on paper:

“Its psychic demands make writing an exercise in courage little different from climbing a sheer granite cliff or skiing down a steep slope. The real shock [for a writer] is discovering how demanding writing is not just of their skill, talent and work ethic — but of their valor.”

Keyes presents the fear of writing as a positive impetus to push yourself beyond what you consider your personal limits — a challenge to overcome a phobia, just like any other.

“Writing is both frightening and exhilarating. It couldn’t be one without the other” he writes. “The best writers exploit fear’s energy to billow the sails of their imaginations. They convert anxiety into enthusiasm and an unparalleled source of energy.”

So, why is it so personally difficult for many writers to get up the courage to write — and more than that to attempt to get their words published?

The lack of courage to share one’s words even has several names: The most common is Scriptophobia — the fear of writing in public. It used to mean literally the anxiety experienced when writing on a blackboard or even filling out a job application, but it has evolved to include making your writing public.

This fear does not just apply to writers of novels. It extends to non-fiction, poetry — even blogs.

As noted, the fear is easily explained; overcoming it is much more complex.

Procrastination; when will I find the time as the act of writing itself (for most) does not pay; what if I fail: What if no one cares what I have to say.

I had become an expert at using all these excuses. But I finally feel that the fear is gone and I now have both the intestinal fortitude and discipline to proceed.

Encouragement from colleagues has been a major factor. So has a subtle realization that if not now, then when.

But here is why I no longer lack the valor of a mountain climber and why I am tackling the project.

Simply put: Because it’s there.

Less trite, I have learned that the fear is shared by many — from the most successful to the ultimate novice.

There are several therapists driving around in Lotuses and even Maseratis, who have helped, but the most compelling reason I am writing my book is this:

If I don’t — who will?

As a final note: When it does come out, please buy my book?

What I Learned From a True ‘Lone Wolf’

The term “lone wolf” has become associated with a terrorist who acts on his own. I personally find this extremely offensive and quite inaccurate.
Not only because most wolves hunt in packs, but also because they are usually just looking for food — not to terrorize or create fear for an incomprehensible cause. Wolf hunting also has increasingly become a sport in several states — something I truly abhor.
I am not against the Second Amendment, nor am I against killing animals for food. But the idea of  killing a wolf, or any other animal, for sport, makes no sense to me.
And if you do insist on such activity, give the animal a chance — don’t go after him with an automatic weapon with a sight — because to me there is no sport in that.
But I somewhat digress. Here is my story concerning wolves:
lone wolf
I have always been an insomniac, ever since I was a child. Mom used to say “close your eyes, it’s the same thing.” Pops: “Don’t worry, you’ll sleep enough when you’re dead.”
When I was about eight, we rented a small cabin in Upstate New York, where my grandmother and I would spend the week and my Mom would come on weekends. (Pops had split years before.)
Unable to sleep, I would sit on the steps of the cabin before dawn and just watch and wait for the sun to rise. One morning, I noticed a fairly large dog in the distance watching me. This happened several mornings in a row.
Slowly, I began to coax the dog to approach me (I love all animals, but dogs rank way up there). The dog was extremely cautious, but slowly inched closer to me as the days passed.
But the dog would always disappear when the small street became active — as active as the small road in the sleepy town would become.
I figured that if I offered the dog some food, it might come closer — and it worked. It reached the point where the dog allowed me to pet him and even put his head in my lap.
I was ecstatic — my grandmother less so, because she couldn’t understand why last night’s leftovers were disappearing on a fairly consistent basis.
She didn’t buy my excuse that I got hungry in the morning. I figured I had to give my new buddy a name — so I named him Wolf.
I wasn’t sure what Wolf’s gender was, but I figured the name was generic enough to work. Wolf became more relaxed and friendly as we spent our dark mornings together; I even taught him how to play with a ball!
One morning, I was petting Wolf when I heard a click from across the road. A man was standing there with a shotgun and told me to slowly move away. I asked him why he wanted to shoot “my” dog. He replied: “That is not a dog.”
What happened next totally amazed me. Wolf got up and stood between me and the man with the gun and bared his teeth. The man again told me to move out of the way. I refused.
At this point my grandmother came out, wondering what the commotion was about, told the man to put his gun down and me to go inside.
Wolf bolted.
Several days past and my friend did not return; I was crushed. But then one morning, to my amazement he came back and brought me a bird — a dead bird, mind you — but still a gift.
So what did I learn from my wolf, Wolf? Resilience, loyalty and the need to know who your friends really are. And, yes, after a scolding from my grandmother (you didn’t mess with Mama!) the hunter left us alone.
So the next time you hear the term “lone wolf” referred to aterrorist — or hear of wolf hunters who can’t keep their own herds in check, or hunt for a trophy — remember the true Lone Wolf.
And I miss him — daily.

The Climate-Change Debate’s Sustainability


There is nothing new under the sun.

This is a minor history lesson, on how while some things change, others remain the same.

And it has more to do with how the climate-change debate began for me, than current scientific and political debate on whether man is a significant contributor to the phenomenon.

I was first introduced to the concept of what was mostly referred to as “global warming” when then-Sen. Al Gore (D-Tenn.) held a sparsely attended news conference in early 1992 to introduce a short film about his new book — “Earth in the Balance” — which spoke not only of the “warming” phenomenon, greenhouse gases and the depletion of the ozone layer, but helped place the environment on the national agenda.

Taking a broader approach, the book focuses on the threats that everyday choices pose to our water, soil, and diversity of plant and animal life.

But, clearly, it was climate change that had caught Gore’s attention

There were maybe five of us there and my main reason for attendance was I was editor of a now-defunct publication known as The Greenhouse Effect Report. I am not sure who the other four in attendance were — or why they were there.

Needless to say the senator was surprised that so few made their presence known and graciously took the time to sit with me personally and explain the dangers that the man who would be vice president thought were ruining the earth.

The naysayers had already begun to raise their heads and the argument on whether man was responsible for changing his surroundings had begun with earnest.


My next direct encounter with the issues surrounding the environment, development and climate control, was later that year when I was sent to Rio de Janeiro to attend the first United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED).

Aside from being amazed at the attendance of dignitaries (I walked passed Fidel Castro and his entourage in awe), I was granted special access to many of the speakers as I had connections to then-EPA chief William K. Reilly, who represented the United States in what was also called the Earth Summit.

At that time, Third World countries complained that developed countries had no right to push emissions controls on their growing industries and even the United States was not willing to commit to a timetable for reducing greenhouse gas emissions as part of the Global Climate Convention.

UNCED Secretary General Maurice Strong said at a news conference at the time that one of his largest disappointments in the Global Climate Convention was the absence of timetables and specific targets for control of carbon dioxide and other gases.

Alden Meyer, of the Union of Concerned scientists, told me “It is a question of the glass being half full — but that also makes it half empty.”

So what has changed?

Studies continue; naysayers remain naysayers; some timetables have been set; and President Obama has called for emissions reductions, which also has fomented both financial and political discourse.

I am not here to make a judgment call. I leave that to greater experts than myself. I assume there will be comments, as I have left a significant amount of the debate to others.

However, when I see polar bears on slivers of ice with no where else to go, it is one of several phenomena that make me wonder.