Word Processed Plagiarism

By | BLG Leadership Insights, Creativity, Features, Ideas | One Comment


I used to doze off at night chanting obscure citation formatting rules from all the major players in town: MLA, APA, Chicago, even Turabian on some particularly insomnia-stained evenings. For a brief period before I fabricated some semblance of a social life, my homepage was EasyBib.com. As a law-abiding citizen who only jaywalked when a red light obstructed a closing kitty-corner Chipotle, plagiarism seemed like a surefire way to win a date with the 5-o. I figured citations would avoid (police) citations and I cited to within an inch of my life. I even fantasized of winning a Pulitzer someday for one of my immaculate bibliographies.

Why then do I feel like a corrupted, plagiarizing criminal? Maybe it is because even as I compose this confession, I wage a literary crime spree. I plead the Fifth as I reveal that everything from that last paragraph to this clause is riddled with lifted language. If someone handcuffed me now I would start typing with my nose because you should know of the unprosecuted plagiarism saturating our word-processed existence.

The culprit: Almost everyone

The mechanism: A Thesaurus

Aliases: Review: Proofing: Thesaurus; Shift-F7; Thesaurus.com;

I’d pause for dramatic effect but my thesaurus suggests that I might alternately adjourn for theatrical suspense. So go to the bathroom/lavatory, call your lawyer/attorney, and we’ll resume/commence in the next section/paragraph.

Ok welcome back…We’re all guilty of the occasional thesaurus indulgence. Personally, when my creative juices run dry, I’ve leaned on the thesaurus like it’s a Segway that will effortlessly transport me to my conclusion. My thesaurus probably deserves a Cornell degree for its brilliant text on subjects ranging from “Scientology and American Dissent” to “Andorra’s Crisis in Democracy”. You can argue that the thesaurus is as innocuous as an internet translator but when you’re translating from shoddy slang to polished prose is it really a pardonable offense?

Well you tell me. I think similar to sourcing Wikipedia and leaning on a Smartphone during a trivia competition, thesaurus plagiarism falls into a certain ethical purgatory. Is it dishonest, corrupt, amoral, immoral, devious, deceitful, wrong, unethical, and dishonorable? Possibly. But maybe it’s also practical, proactive, pragmatic, realistic, and sensible.

Fundamentally, does a leader use a thesaurus? Is leadership synonymous with plagiarism?

Pic Credit: autumn_bliss

Mourning Commute

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As a freshly minted college graduate waiting for the paint to dry on my diploma (there was a spill…), I’m still developing my capacity to complete the daily commute. I have heard horror stories of road weary professionals commuting by plane, train, Segway, or blimp to locations ranging from Andorra to Mordor. This stands in distressing contrast to my understanding of a commute, which during academia years meant the journey from my bed to the bathroom. During that voyage, the only traffic I encountered was other roommates and debris from last night’s party. Now, as I ricochet from school into real world, it’s time for my real education in the morning commute.

I live on the border of two Chicago neighborhoods: Wicker Park and Ukrainian Village. Occasionally I straddle this abstract border and loiter in Wicker Village or Ukrainian Park. One phantasmagorical afternoon I think I even discovered a Wicker Ukrainian.

I work on the 16th floor of the James R. Thompson Center in Chicago’s downtown Loop. Google Maps tells me it is 2.6 miles away but as someone who struggles with punctuality I think they should factor in the vertical commute at the receiving end. So with a 331 ft elevation change let’s call my commute an even 2.6627 miles.

Until Chicago finally completes a zeppelin and zip line system—sustainable, but a safety hazard—my commuting options include the paradoxical underground elevated train, bus, taxi, foot, bike, hitchhiking, Zamboni, or infant stroller. While I’ve considered each individually and in combination, I’ve settled on bicycling because I have a snazzy helmet that reminds me of the Commander Keen video game.

So after the howls from my “Agitated Lemur” alarm clock rouse me from slumber town I sprint through my bathroom commute, toss on a neck noose, and jump on my wheels. The first person I interact with in the morning is the drowsy Dodge driver I cut off as I cross Ashland Ave. Then like butter on a chalkboard, I glide over to Milwaukee and sew myself into the string of bicycles commuting to work.

Every morning has ups, downs, potholes, snowdrifts and loopty-loops when I enter the Loop. At the corner of Kinzie and Milwaukee, I bike past the Blommer Chocolate Company where I enjoy approximately 13 seconds of sublime olfactory bliss. Soon fudge melts into urban haze and I arrive at the Thompson Center.

It would take an intricate novella or nimble interpretative dance to explain how I deposit my bike in my building’s basement and trek up 331 ft but let me just say Blommer Chocolate is not the only Willy Wonka-esque moment of my commute.

So I suppose I’m now an adult with an adult commute. Yet is this really something to mourn when my mornings are full of cocoa loops in addition to Cocoa Pebbles? Maybe I should celebrate the quacking lemurs as a sign of a new morning adventure. That or I should just lobby the governor to finish the zip line…

Pic Credit: Art Rock (Hennie)

Recycling Plant & Recycling a Plant (Part 2)

By | Creativity, Features, Ideas, Political Competence, Proactive Stories, Social Media | 2 Comments

Part 2: Recycling a Plant

Ok here we go. A “Part 2”. This is a very adventurous and presumptuous endeavor on my part to attempt a Part 2 of anything. Part 2 suggests that I have some loyal audience that meticulously follows my work and was left trembling in anticipation at the end of my Part 1. I think George Lucas had it right in his Star Wars chronology. Next time I’ll start a blog post at Part 4 and leave readers scrambling to find the previous contributions. When they discover these do not exist, perhaps they will appreciate the creativity and eagerly await the missing posts. Ok, enough of this meta blog analysis. On to Part 2:

In Part 1 of this series, I praised the efforts of a for-profit recycling plant in Chicago, IL. Now with the insertion of “an” indefinite article, I have the opportunity to share a story of Chicago creativity and innovation that elevates modern recycling into the stratosphere (or onto the 5th floor of a Chinatown loft to be more precise). Consider this story of “Recycling a Plant”.

In an earlier post on this blog, I introduced the site CouchSurfing.com, “a social networking site designed to connect travelers around the universe,” to generous hosts. The site also offers a local events page that sustains and enhances community involvement. On that page, I discovered this event for “Funky Chinatown – A Funk, Soul, and Disco Loft Party.” The page included this notice about the event:

For exact directions, please RSVP to CHINATOWNFUNK@GMAIL.COM
– include Name + # of Guests so I can get a good headcount.”

My mom once mentioned something in passing about avoiding secret, funky, CouchSurfing, Chinatown parties staged in abandoned lofts with “a ton of beer and cocktails for free.” On the other hand, my mom often offers advice so sometimes I have to pick and choose when to comply…

I’m glad I followed my gut (even if my liver is slightly peeved) because the evening illustrated how a group of creative individuals can convert an abandoned loft into a productive community music and art space. In between funky dancing that put my Bar Mitzvah to shame, I connected with travelers from around the world and exchanged gripping stories of Couch Surfing exploits. Instead of wasting my evening consuming money, time, and space at a neighborhood haunt, I recycled stories and a stunning loft space and converted them into an unforgettable evening.

I started this series with the question: what is the difference between a recycling plant and recycling a plant? The answer is that they offer distinct and innovative ways to enhance sustainability and create community. The recycling plant promoted environmentalism through pragmatic corporate action while the loft party enhanced community while using an abandoned industrial space.

I guess the essential difference is then that the recycling plant did not play funky tunes. Maybe that would increase efficiency?

To read (or re-read) Part 1: Recycling Plant, click here.

Recycling Plant & Recycling a Plant (Part 1)

By | BLG Leadership Insights, Creativity, Features, Ideas | One Comment

Part 1: Recycling Plant

What’s the difference between a recycling plant and recycling a plant? Just to clarify, I am not speaking about agriculture here; in my urban Chicagoland jungle, plant means industry. As is my nature, after moving to a new location, I frenetically bushwhack through metropolitan mulch. I dodge chain restaurants like weeds (aside from Chipotle) and sniff out those hidden flowers that flash the true colors of the city.

My recent harried wanderings have delivered me to this recycling riddle comparing a recycling plant and recycling an (industrial) plant. This first post introduces the recycling plant with my commentary progressing soon on the interwebs.

During my first month blustering around the windy city, I have happened upon various hidden gems of the visual, theatrical, and edible persuasions. All were stunning or enlightening with the exception of an unfortunate goat tostada from La Basura Bodega that seemed to enlighten nothing but my septic system.

A rapid run bike through of my few weeks here would reveal adventures including but not limited to:

1)  Watching the sunrise over Lake Michigan

2)  Doing headstands in my office where I work for the Governor of Illinois

3)  Driving an entirely electric car from Nissan at sunset along the lake

4)  Going out for pizza with the Governor

5)  Assembling a bicycle (with help) and then biking 20 miles roundtrip to Chicago’s Desi corridor for delicious delicacies from Pakistan and India

6)  Hula hooping with 500+ people and professional fire dancers/drummers during a Chicago Full Moon Fire Jam. Click here and here for stunning pictures.

7)  Attending and participating in various art and performance installations around the city

8)  Blasting Kanye/Jay-Z while driving a government car around Illinois to report on hearings

9)  Mingling with glitterati at a wine and hors d’oeuvre reception at the Chicago Yacht Club

10) Exploding over bike handlebars and onto pavement after losing a battle with a curb

Yet this week may take the cake (or flan depending on where you are).  Last Thursday in a nostalgic reminder of the pleasures of elementary school, I took a field trip during work. No need to forge any parental permission slips, though. It was a sanctioned tour of Recycling Services, a private company that exists as the largest recycling service in Chicago.

My tour was a refreshing reminder that matter does not simply disappear after you flush the toilet or drag a trash bag to the curb. My enthusiasm waxed as I watched in graphic, gory detail the process of collecting, sorting, sanitizing, and monetizing our recycling goods. I saw employees meticulously extract waste materials from accelerating conveyor belts and shred materials before compressing and packaging the scraps. The tour culminated with a delicious feast of wine, cheese, shrimp, and gourmet hamburgers after which I was sure to recycle and compost my utensils and food.

It was an impressive display in a city that proactively sustains recycling infrastructure. It even allays conservative or libertarian environmental skepticism because it succeeds through capitalistic, free market participation. This for-profit recycling plant wants to make money. It makes money by increasing recycling. It’s a win-win.

In a recessionary world of big industry that wants to Thank You for Smoking, it’s exciting to see this type of plant thriving. As the owner explained, “Paper is booming in the capital markets”. It’s almost enough to make me print this blog out and recycle the paper. But not quite. Yet how does one go further and actually recycle an industrial plant. Stay tuned…

The adventure continues in Part 2: Recycling a Plant, available by clicking here.

Icy (Unpaid) Internships

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Back in my youth, I was a precocious and ambitious achiever who parsed the NY Times and political blogs with the enthusiasm of a child scrutinizing the back of a Fruit Loops cereal box. Maybe it was genetics, maybe it was circumstance but probably it was my poor athletic skills and the futility of a career in ping-pong that motivated my interest in politics.

Fortunately, I fell into Cornell’s School of Industrial & Labor Relations (ILR) like an icicle falls into an Ithaca gorge after it outgrows its elevated perch. I was absorbed by a Career Services department that trumpeted “Resumaniacs Resume Critiques” and “Mock Interview Madness” before it even knew my name. They say ILR is a fiercely pre-professional labor school and while I didn’t sleep with my CV under my pillow while waiting for a Recruiter Fairy to deliver me a job, I was indoctrinated into this occupation-obsessed bubble.

So during summer 2009 I did what any spoiled, ambitious achiever would; I capitalized on the generous support of my family and plunged into the icy waters of unpaid internships. Armed with an inflated resume and naïveté, I pounced on job postings and began selling myself to political organizations in Washington D.C.

With the lascivious constituent outreach that has come to define dodgy politicos, I won’t make too many explicit metaphors linking my internships to prostitution. The metaphor doesn’t hold anyway because I was selling my services for free, far below escort market value.

Ultimately, I settled into the swanky offices of the Student Association for Voter Empowerment (SAVE) housed in an abandoned nook of the World Wildlife Fund headquarters. For purposes of brevity and loyalty to the (now defunct) SAVE organization, let me explain just one section of my internship.

SAVE, a non-profit advocacy group, frequently lobbied legislators to support Gen Y economic health. By the end of the summer, I was leading hill action meetings where I would present gloomy data about youth employment and fiscal security. One of my main talking points was an impassioned critique of one of our country’s greatest acts of economic exploitation: the unpaid internship.

The irony dripped down my shoulders alongside the sweat from a swampy D.C. summer and anxiety-inducing Capitol Hill meetings.  I was an ambitious icicle swimming in a pre-professional gorge but suddenly I was melting. The system demanded proactive prostitution complete with cover letter and ironed collar but it reeked of inequity and exploitation. I reeked of privilege as I padded my resume with internships and my stomach with Pinkberry all on my parents’ dime. It was not good.

Now I sit in a job that is partly facilitated by my unpaid internships. I somehow prevented myself from melting long enough to send a polished resume and cover letter to the Governor of Illinois. I ironed the shirt and I spit out my mock interview honed answers. My brother’s an actor but it runs in our blood; I got the job.

So now I’m in a position of (slight) power and it’s time to sound the alarm from within. Unpaid internships and the terrifying thrills of “Mock Interview Madness” are not available to everyone. The new data shows the rich and poor sprinting in opposite directions. New icicles keep forming and falling into pre-professional waters. Meanwhile the unlucky icicles shatter onto neglected ground. It’s a self-propagating system that needs to be put to bed and the antidote must come from inside.

Oh and to finish my D.C. summer 2010 story, I figured if I was already sweating profusely in Capital City I might as well make a buck. I applied to be the McGruff the Crime Dog® mascot for the National Museum of Crime and Punishment. It was great and at least they gave me ice packs.

Editor’s note: While the Institute for Workplace Studies & Smithers Institute has interns, these interns are compensated with credit through ILR’s Credit Internship Program

Ego Champ

By | BLG Leadership Insights, Political Competence | No Comments

In “Champion”, Kanye West poses the self-referential question, “Did you realize that you are a champion in their eyes?”

By the final verse, West decisively answers the query: “Yes I did”.

West, often derided for his blinding hubris, certainly suffers (or benefits) from a case of acute bravado. However, West has cunningly co-opted this haughty bombast into his brand. With five platinum albums, fourteen Grammys, and a massive hip hop empire, West often flaunts his success in almost satirically extreme fashion (see tweet: “Just looking at my closet, wool suits, fedoras, trenches and furs…I’m bout to put fall in the hospital…Ima hurt the season”) (Kanye West Twitter).

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With this strategic bombast, why is West so often critiqued as someone who consistently slips into a winning for the sake of winning ego trap? West descends into this Charlie Sheen-esque “Winning” ego trap when he shifts his attention to petty fights.

First, famously, at the VMAs, West leapt onto stage during Taylor Swift’s acceptance of the Best Female Video award. Bleeding credibility and career momentum, West seized the microphone and announced that Beyoncé deserved the prize instead. Soon after, West apologized in characteristic, bombastic West fashion:

“I’m in the wrong for going on stage…[but] Beyoncé’s video was the best of this decade!!!!” (Entertainment Weekly, 9/13/09).

Similarly, West was arrested twice in 2008 for clashing with paparazzi. In the first incident, West smashed a photographer’s camera in Los Angeles International Airport. Later in November, he was again arrested for scraping a paparazzo’s nose in a scuffle. He responded to these arrests with a blog post asking: “Who’s winning, me or the media” (Guardian, 11/17/08).

These incidents join similar situations where West has initiated fights with President Bush, Matt Lauer, and 50 Cent. While these fights may sustain West’s brand in some fashion, they ultimately detract from his sales and sink his hip-hop agenda. Therefore, while West can embrace a bombastic ego, he must avoid winning for the sake of winning if he wants to preserve his empire.

Easy Ratatouille

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Two months ago, I received a rude awakening when I discovered my Cornell meal plan card no longer delivers an all-I-care-to-eat playground of delicious delicacies. In cafés, restaurants, bodegas, bistros, and nosheries across the world, the Cornell card nourishes me with nothing but spoiled stares. Outside of the culinary orb of campus, the card is then rendered useless and inedible (even marinated, spiced, and flambéed, the plastic card provides a poor meal replacement).

Cut off from my meal ticket, I stumble around the grocery store collecting rice cakes, cereal, peanut butter, and canned hominy. Occasionally I read the NY Times while munching on my hominy and today I stumbled upon a link to “The Minimalist: Easy Ratatouille”.

In the post, Mark Bittman explains that the intricate name translates to a simple, “tossed vegetable dish”. Unfortunately, easy ratatouille requires more than a spoon and frozen vegetables and involves a delicately choreographed sauté ballet of vegetables. Eggplant, “must be cooked until it’s very soft”; zucchini, “takes less time to cook”; tomatoes, “break apart so quickly that you have to be careful” (Bittman, 2011).

Call me old-fashioned (or malnourished), but my frozen vegetables, without stirring, occupy a stable place in my food pyramid (or Food Yin-Yang). In the 30-60 minute prep time required for the Easy Ratatouille, I could probably stage a compressed adaptation of War and Peace starring raw vegetables. Clearly, Bittman and I disagree on the culinary definition of “easy”.

While the recipe failed to produce its promised yield of 4 to 6 servings of ratatouille, it did in fact yield about 4 to 6 servings of philosophical food for thought. We toss around words like “easy” without considering their essential relativity. In conversations ranging from disability accommodations to environmental conservation, “easy” does not yield a universal translation. This challenge is acutely apparent as I work in public administration and attempt to create standardized language that can communicate to all constituencies.

Here, Bittman deserves a pass. For the culinary connoisseurs perusing his post, this recipe probably reads like a Ratatouille-for-Dummies guide. Yet for the average Cocoa Pebbles connoisseur like me, it looks like a federal grant proposal accidentally translated to Esperanto. Let’s at least agree this is an easy, or convenient, opportunity to reevaluate our approach to language and audience. And if someone wants to cook me ratatouille that would be nice too.

Chat & Cut

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Last month on Curb Your Enthusiasm, Larry David dissected the sly social exercise, the Chat & Cut. Clearly a Machiavellian maneuver in line dynamics, David describes the Chat & Cut as, “feigning familiarity with someone [you] vaguely know for the sole purpose of cutting in line” (Curb, 8/7/11). Whether you are seeking entrance into an Indian Buffet or a Leonard Cohen concert, the Chat & Cut means you can end up in the front of the line while potentially forging a new friendship.

In full disclosure, I come from a frantic family with an allergy to gluten and waiting. From my 5-week premature birth to my parents’ entrance onto various domestic  and international flights, we find innovative ways to bypass lines. As this queue queasiness springs from my short statured maternal lineage, we usually opt for the low road to the front rather than the more perilous Chat & Cut. Even when we fail in our pursuit, it always delivers fodder for sociological and therapeutic analysis.

On Sunday, I had the privilege of witnessing an amateur Chat & Cut performed in broad daylight during Chicago’s What’s Happening!! Outdoor Dance Party & Pig Roast featuring The Windy City Soul Club. The C&C unfolded after my own line-cutting efforts were stymied by the critical gaze of my companions and the soulful sounds emanating from the DJ booth.

A woman wobbled up to me as I was about to receive my smorgasbord and gaped inquisitively at the display.

“I don’t understand–is this where you order your food and drink?”

I replied in the affirmative.

“So you order food here but you also can get drinks? That’s very interesting.”

As I started moving forward and the woman casually tucked into the line behind me, I realized what was happening. Like Larry David, I accused her of a C&C but then encouraged her to stay in line.

I think it is important to recognize these micro social maneuvers. We are quick to discuss those macro manipulations when a president spars with a speaker over speech timing or a company uses a beta label to boost interest and “appeal to digerati”. Yet these high profile maneuvers are often slight adaptations of schoolyard counterparts. A playground quarrel can lead to classroom snub just as a cafeteria may offer Turbo vegetables to appeal to finicky children.

So who knows? Maybe Larry David provides the tools we need to analyze meaty global politics; at minimum, he helps expose a Chat & Cut at a pig roast.

Labor Day

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Through a sea of glistening blue (jeans), you spot a current of croissants and crullers rippling through the break room. Confetti streams the walls in tribute to Ralph from HR’s birthday and hints of nutmeg and cinnamon perfume the room. The mailboxes, disguised as Christmas stockings, contain beckoning paychecks and invitations to a weekend cocktail party celebrating the impressive numbers released from finance earlier in the week. A rare laughter swells out of Ethan Marcus’s office where a group is gathered watching viral YouTube gems. It must be Friday.

This phantasmagorical scene may be deep-fried in hyperbole but it still conveys an essential point of organizational culture: Fridays are different. Office norms loosen and a euphoric air envelops a once stale workplace. As a proactive, engaged leader, the challenge then becomes how to accommodate and engage in this culture shock, while simultaneously advancing an agenda that can’t break for Falafel Friday.

So how do you remain chill without exhausting air conditioning resources and freezing your agenda? A politically savvy leader knows how to infuse some productivity into the celebratory croissants. With your coalition partners congregated and their guards down, you have a unique opportunity to solidify the relationships that will ultimately mobilize your agenda. While your colleagues may burrow into their silos on Monday through Thursday, Friday pops these bubbles and allows information to waft around with the nutmeg already saturating the air.

Today is the shooting star of organizational phenomena; it’s a casual Friday preceding a long Labor Day weekend. My office is a ghost town and I think I saw a lonely hay bale blow by my desk 15 minutes ago. I have a creeping suspicion that my calendar is off and I’ve accidentally come into work on a Saturday or, more troubling, that I missed the meteorologists warnings to evacuate the area.

Nevertheless, I’m not squandering a perfectly fertile labor day. While I munch on abandoned pastries, I chat with coworkers and gain casual background on this office and my current campaigns. Without the pressured angst that pervades other labor days, I gain privileged insight into my organization. Meanwhile, I break to blog about this to the anonymous masses quietly celebrating their Labor Day Fridays in other office nooks and crannies. I hope this message reaches you in time before your day dissolves into a haze of lazy celebrations. If not, no worries. There’s always Monday.

Pic Credit: amirjina