Prose: A Social Network That Could Rouse the Publishing World

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Welcome to Prose: A social network that could just revitalize the literary spectrum as we know it and create a more rewarding experience for both readers and writers alike!

I am a writer by profession — have been for 30 years. Yet, I often get frustrated with the timing or conditions under which electrifying ideas come to me that should be put “on paper.”

I could wake up in the middle of the night or be walking down the street and an inspiring thought to write the next prize winner could be within my grasp. It could be a casual observation; words to a poem; a phrase or item that caught my attention and stimulated my creative juices — but I wanted to write it down quickly, cleanly and get it out to the world at large.

In March 2014, another professional writer — frustrated with similar limitations — decided it was time to try and resolve this dilemma.

What if there was a social network that provided creative and enthusiastic readers and writers — professional or amateur — the opportunity to write more in less time; get feedback; share ideas; discover writers with matching literary tastes; and connect and mutually inspire?

In October, Prose was born.

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“Prose is needed because writing is needed and yet the media through which people around the world create and consume writing aren’t satisfactorily fast, social, and entertaining,” said Henry B. Augustine, one of Prose’s founders. “Prose satisfies this lack. Additionally, Prose is needed because the world of publishing today is too hierarchical, lopsided, and aristocratic.”

Prose levels the playing field for all writers.

“Prose launched as both an iTunes and web application serving to accomplish three main things: make the experience of reading and writing more efficient; make the experience of reading and writing more social; and make the experience of reading and writing more entertaining,” Augustine said. “Prose accomplishes these things through its minimalist design, through its social integration, and through its challenges feature.”

Prose already has attracted thousands of users on its mobile and web application, has a tremendous following on social media, and has peaked widespread interest among writers — both professional and “amateur.”

One of the unique and stimulating aspects of Prose is a new form of creative competition: Where readers come up with a topic, write about it and then compete with others for the best way to publish their thoughts.

You rise in rank among the readers/writers of Prose and the competitions give you more visibility.

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“Prose, unlike any other reading/writing platform, incorporates subtle game mechanics through both ‘challenges’ and ‘levels.’ Anyone can create a writing challenge that prompts any kind of writing, then invite anyone to participate,” Augustine said. “Whichever response gets the most likes after that challenge expires is crowned winner. This writer then acquires a number of ‘points’ equivalent to the total number of likes on all responses to the challenge.

“Writers on Prose ‘level-up’ when they exceed certain thresholds of total likes/points received from both challenge posts and regular posts,” he said. “These levels — ranging from ‘Scribbler’ to ‘Legend’ — signify writing prestige.”

Prose then takes on the form of a personal blog, social medium, all in one convenient click.

Following Prose can add to a writer’s creativity and ability to prove that writing and reading is a passion that remains vibrant in a mostly digital world.

And, it is beginning to click.

When is Torture not Torture

It is not quite clear to me why so much shock is being displayed at the recent report on CIA torture. Because to me it returns to something I learned as a child: There is no such thing as a fair fight.

We don’t fight wars according to Marquess of Queensberry boxing rules nor does everyone in most countries adhere to the Geneva Conventions and its added protocols during times of conflict.

So let’s stop either fooling ourselves or feigning shock when we hear of the torture tactics employed by some members of the CIA, or others.

Forget whether torture achieves its goals and all the reasons and arguments given as to why it is counter-productive. Let’s not even concern ourselves as to whether it should be a national or international policy.

The bottom line is you are going to have people in all countries put in the position of either deciding whether torture is appropriate or not — and even in those nations where the decision is not to torture — in the classic sense — you will have the rogues.

Yes, rogues who either for ideological, religious, or just plain sadistic reasons think that torture is what a terrorist, enemy combatant, or anyone who is a danger to U.S. national security deserves.

And, yes, I said sadist: Because unless ice runs in your veins or you are a psychopath, torture by definition involves an element of sadism.

I am not advocating nor condemning what the CIA has been accused of doing — just like I am not taking a position on whether the Geneva Conventions should always be followed.

What I am saying is that just like my dad — who was a professional boxer and wrestler in pre WW-II Poland — used to say to me: Someone attacks, use whatever is at your disposal: Sticks, stones, broken bottles… “and make sure to kick them where it hurts.”

I believe torture in its true sense is a plague on mankind and has been used for so many nefarious and unfathomable reasons throughout the centuries that if you believe it is needed you better have a dang good reason.

But who are we — the average citizen removed from the specifics — to decide what that reason might be and under what circumstances.

We are not in the shoes of those who after 9/11 made certain decisions that resulted in what internationally is “considered” torture and verboten.

What we did do, however you spin it, is achieve results.

And this argument will continue and intensify — because you can be sure with the proliferation of ISIS — or the “Islamic State” — the issue of First World torture will again rear its ugly head.

Marion Barry’s Mixed Legacy

Last night, former “Mayor-for-Life” Marion Barry passed on.

If you live or lived for any extended period of time in the District of Columbia, you might have seen him as a civic and civil rights hero; a champion of the disenchanted and disenfranchised; the first true leader of the city — or a scofflaw, a letch, a drug user and a tax evader.

But the one thing you could not do was ignore him.

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When I first arrived in D.C. at the end of 1976, there was a definitive distinction between “tourist” Washington and the city itself. The only comparison that immediately comes to mind is the “Green Zone” in Iraq and the rest of the country.

There will be plenty written in the next few days about this incredible – yes I said incredible – man.

He started the revitalization of a city where people – both black and white – were afraid to tread at night. He brought the concept of civil rights – of which he had considerable experience before he arrived in 1965 – to a broken city.

And most importantly, to me, he made me proud to live in D.C.

One of my first jobs in D.C. was covering the District government and Barry.

I watched as the four-time mayor pushed the city of Washington and its citizens as dynamic forces.

There were always questions in the background about his infidelities and other “liberties” taken both with the law and with the City Council.

As a matter of fact, at the end of one news conference he made an overt pass at my then girlfriend and I unabashedly said if I ever saw that again, I wouldn’t care that he was mayor.

We also both worked out at the same YMCA, so I am pretty glad I never had to carry through on any threats.

I was also on the scene of the now-forgotten hotel where video was taken of the mayor smoking crack and – when busted in what was obviously a frame-up – uttered the now infamous: “The bitch set me up.”

He went to jail for that, but came back and was re-elected to the City Council – several times – while continuing to be accused of various violations of traffic laws and other white-collar crimes.

Why?

Because D.C. loved Marion Barry.

I watched as Barry went into dilapidated areas of the city and offered long-boarded up houses in questionable areas of the city for $1, if the buyer agreed to have them renovated. The townhouses now sell for millions.

I watched as Barry pushed to renovate some of the city’s black landmarks – many of which were destroyed during the riots after the 1968 murder of Dr. Martin Luther King – who Barry once worked with.

(Barry as head of Pride, Inc., working on D.C. impoverished housing in 1970 before he entered public office. Photo courtesy Henry David Rosso.)

Barry was a longtime warrior for civil rights long before he came to D.C., a fact acknowledged by President Obama upon news of his death.

“Marion was born a sharecropper’s son, came of age during the Civil Rights movement and became a fixture in D.C. politics for decades,” Obama said. “As a leader with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, Marion helped advanced the cause of civil rights for all. During his decades in elected office in D.C., he put in place historic programs to lift working people out of poverty, expand opportunity and begin to make real the promise of home rule.”

I watched as Barry fought to bring the city the respect it deserved.

In his recently published autobiography “Mayor for Life: The Incredible Story of Marion Barry, Jr.” he flaunts – in his flamboyant style – his accomplishments, but also acknowledges his foibles.

There was no doubt that the “Mayor for Life” was a controversial character.

But, the District of Columbia is a better city for having had him in its midst.

There was no doubt that the “Mayor for Life” was a controversial character.

But, the District of Columbia is a better city for having had him in its midst.

The Powerhouse and His One-Eyed Dog

I have the honor of knowing an 89-year-old gentleman whose physical, mental and emotional capabilities would put most men a quarter of his age to shame.

Like many other men of his age, he has watched as his wife, friends and relatives slipped away and as result was granted a service dog for “emotional” support: A one-eyed, shelter, service dog — though it was not known at the time that this amazing animal was half blind.

This gentleman: A veteran of the wars of the Brooklyn streets when the Mafia ruled; the son of a woman who made bathtub gin to keep the family afloat; and who worked on some of the most sensitive defensive weapons this nation has ever created — sometimes alongside Nazis brought to this country for their scientific knowledge — loves his service dog.

But, it is what he does with the dog that is truly astounding. He uses the one-eyed miracle to help others.

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This gentleman is not content to sit at home; he takes the dog named Shayna — Yiddish for beauty — to homes for the elderly, hospices, hospitals, children’s wards and to those who have little happiness and hope in their lives.

This is his passion — as he often opines: “Everyone has a right to a little company.”

Shayna brings smiles to faces of those who talk of death, despair, pain and loss of hope. Shayna Gives them joy.

dad and shayna

One particular story is both an example of what can be done and a tragedy of what cannot be changed.

The man often visits a 52-year-old former journalist who is suffering from advanced multiple sclerosis. The ill young man speaks only of his desire to die; the life he could have had; and the lack of those who care that he still suffers on the face of this Earth he no longer considers his own.

But when the upright smiling gentleman enters with Shayna, this all changes. She jumps straight into his lap and snuggles next to his face. Yes, he still talks of the tragedy that is his life.

But for a few hours each week, the three: The 89-year-old man, the one-eyed dog and the man whose life is wasting away sit together in peace. And the former successful journalist finds a tad of joy in what he knows will eventually be a horrible end.

This is a story of strength — the strength to look hell straight in the eye (sometimes with only one) and come out ahead because people care.

I cannot name this man because it would embarrass him — and he probably could kick my butt, even though I am considerably more than 30 years his junior.

But he is an inspiration: To me, to his family and to everyone who has the luck to cross his path — to anyone to whom he brings a moment of relief.

And Shayna?

This one-eyed super dog is a gift — a gift we would all be lucky to have. shayna

The ‘Art’ of Plagiarism in the Digital Age

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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 Dictionary.com., 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.

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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.