Sometimes its Not the ‘Hacks and Haters;’ It’s You

sunshine

It’s something that’d likely get you expelled from most major colleges and universities in America, few if any questions asked. It’s something that scuttled our current VEEP from running for President back in the 80s. Suffice to say, plagiarism is a serious offense.

Plagiarism is regarded in our culture as worse than a trivial breach of academic norms, and isn’t even legal in nature (although copyright infringement and intellectual property law can be thought of as, I guess, legal cousins).  Plagiarism as an action is a moral wrong, an ethical mis-step; something that cuts more deep to the core of who someone is as a person. And it is exactly that “crime” that has Kentucky Tea-Party/Libertarian/Republican Senator and would-be Presidential candidate so flummoxed and defensive this past week.

But more than the now completely documented acts of plagiarism by Paul and/or his staff, what has been more illustrative to outside observers has been how he has chosen to react to the controversy itself.  Nixon’s Watergate scandal popularized the phrase “It’s not the crime but the cover-up;” but this example demonstrates, perhaps, that the cover-up simply compounds the crime.

I was skeptical this story had longs for the first day or two.   A sad truth in today’s political discourse is that the messenger matters almost as much as the message itself. When the story broke on The Rachel Maddow Show, I instantly knew how folks in conservative, pro-Paul circles would react. Even with damning reporting, and incontrovertible facts, many (if not most) on the right immediately discounted the facts, with Maddow’s political leanings coloring the story (and Paul’s response).

But what gave this story legs includes two separate yet uniquely important elements that, taken together, explain why and how this problem exploded for Paul. What happened first included follow-up by other national (and less left-leaning) outfits and reporters, including Paul’s hometown newspapers, corroborating Maddow’s original reporting and giving it the all-important “partisan” seal of approval.

But how decided to approach the issue, and his continued response to the controversy, is the second important element that gave space for this current controversy to grow.  Known for plagiarizing can (and has) ended careers both in and outside the political realm, so one might be able to envision some fantasy world in which Paul:

  1. shows authentic remorse for the errs of either himself or his staff;
  2. identifies previous transgressions while taming ego-centric inclinations to hide the full and absolute truth; and
  3. maps out proactive steps that discourage this now-identified problem to ever happen again.

This is the path popularized by early-twentieth century lawyer Andrew Brandeis with his seminal and oft-repeated observation that “sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.” In this world Paul simply mans up, admits fault, and makes substantive changes so this kind of shit doesn’t happen again. Easy to understand, right?

He didn’t go that route. Instead, Paul lashes out at the media, claiming he’s the target of unfair attacks. He accuses Rachel Maddow of being the REAL plagiarist (deflection maybe?) before challenging her to a duel (really now?). He doubles down that he never lifted text in his speeches. He gets extremely defensive with the New York Times. And, my favorite, calls bullshit on the entire controversy, blaming the work of “hacks and haters.”

Maybe Paul will recover and maybe he won’t.  Will this end his career in the Senate? Probably not, though it certainly is sucking the wind out of his presidential sails. Sometimes you just need to come clean- spilling the whole, disgusting, unflattering, sad truth- and move on. Because if you don’t the problems aren’t the “hacks and the haters,” Senator Paul; it’s you!

 

Using Tactics from Sun Tzu’s Art of War to Loose Weight

sun-tzu-art-of-war-book

I’ve long been a fan of Sun Tzu’s centuries-old military treatise, The Art of War. Hell, I was a fan before it was cool, and the hip “new” advice given to aspiring titans of business, law, and politics.  I learned of the text while studying politics in college, and throughout my career anytime I had the opportunity to hire other managers, I’d be sure they also learned of and hopefully drew inspiration from the collection of lessons still relevant in today’s world.

There’s some really rockstar quotes peppered throughout the text ands its translations, and the concepts contained within it are as relevant today in almost any industry as they were in 6th century BC China.  I highly recommend checking out the entire read- you can find it for free on Community Books, but if just wanting an overview Elish Bul-Godley on Tweak Your Biz has an epic outline, and Business Insider offers a great overview of all the concepts Sun Tzu covers.

But for the purposes of this post, and my own war (see what I did there?) against fat, one particular quotation shines bright:

“Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.” ― Sun Tzu, The Art of War

It’s no coincidence that one of the first concepts outlined by Sun Tzu is the need to plan to have success in any venture- be it on the battlefield, in the halls of power, or to fulfill your own personal or professional goals in life.  It’s all well and good that you want to loose weight– that’s a worthwhile goal.  And you may even have a strategy.  Mine, for example, includes increasing my cardio/exercise to six days a week and completely re-structuring my diet into a low- (very low) carb intake. But wishing yourself to the gym that often likely isn’t enough.

Now according to Sun Tzu, just having a strategy isn’t enough; it’s the “noise before defeat,” remember.  Anyone who’s struggled with loosing weight before knows these words ring true.  Without singular tactics to be sure your strategy is actually realized, you won’t have much success.

When taking my own weight loss again as an example, eating a low-carb diet and exercising six days every week are strategies toward my goal of loosing weight.  But how am I going to make sure my carb intake is low? Or that I actually get my fat ass to the gym six freakin’ days week after week?  This is the step most folks forget to take, yet arguably is one of the most important- spelling out tactics to use.  Tactics can change depending on their relative value to you, their utility, and whether or not they are actually leading to a successful strategy.  Strategies and goals, on the other hand, don’t really change much.

My tactics includes daily tracking of every bite of food that I take, every minute that I walk, every pound that I lift, how I feel at the end of the day, how many hours I sleep- literally, everything.  I track my exercise using programs like RunKeeper and Gympact, and then the food I eat using the (incredibly useful) MyFitnessPal.  I’m a big fan and follower of the principles behind Quantified Self- basically a movement of people using technology and data to track anything and everything in their daily lives.  For me the success lies in not just TRACKING that information, but analyzing it to see how I can improve.  For example, let’s say after a week’s worth of data points I see that I’m not exercising enough on days that I sleep less than six hours; going forward I can be sure to get at least six hours of sleep.  Without this specific tactic, my strategy would have already been slowly drifting off-course, ultimately leading to me not reaching my goal.

I’m planning on using this space and corner of the vast, wild, wild web to share this information- how I track, what I track, and what I do with it.  Not just that, it provides a level of accountability, so if you’re seeing trends or backslides in places I’m not, please let me know!

The weight loss and self-help industry in America is a multi-billion dollar industry, basically re-packaging similar principles and values long discussed.  Even as far back as 6th century BC.  What tactics are you using toward realizing your own personal or professional goals?

Please Support me in this year’s AIDS Walk Philly- October 20

AIDS Walk Philly

If you are not planning on walking yourself, please support me by donating to the AIDS FUND.

I’m getting an extremely late start on fundraising for this year’s AIDS Walk Philly, but just like the past 6 years, I am planning on walking this coming Sunday among thousands of others from across the region to support those 30,000 or so living with HIV/AIDS in the Delaware Valley.

Yes, LIVING with HIV/AIDS. Not suffering under it, not slowly dying or managing it, but LIVING with it. Or even better, WALKING, like I am, this coming Sunday.

I repeat similar things each year but the words bear repeating- when my own health took a nose-dive in 2010, I experienced first-hand the value and import of groups like ActionAIDS, Ithe AIDS Law Project, and MANNA to my own survival. Not some faceless junkie who used dirty needles or slut having sex without protection, but me. Without the services these organizations provided in my own most vulnerable hour, I definitely would not have come out the other end in one piece.

So donate, and donate generously. Thousands of lives literally are in the balance.

The Power of Relationship

I titled this post The Power of Relationship, but I could just have easily titled it Why I’ve Neglected my Writing and This Blog.  For over the past month and during the Christmas Holiday, I’ve spent my time and energies focused on family and friends and growing relationships with those in my life I’ve come to know and love– something that relates to both our lives online and obviously off, whether you’re a small business hoping to use social media to engage your customer base, a non-profit looking to motivate your volunteers, or an activist seeking to inspire the masses to your cause.

When push comes to shove, relationship matters above all else.  This is why brands spend thousands to build their presence on facebook and twitter, and this is why readers come back time after time to the same blogs and authors for their news.  This is why during the Holidays your feed reader seems to slow a bit, and this is why I’ve neglected writing the past several weeks.

As I prepare for yet another round of surgeries, and 2011 kicks into high gear, I’m committing myself to a re-focus of sorts– understanding these health procedures will keep me from traditional work for a while– and truly dedicating time and thought to sharing worthwhile content on this site.

So with this mental push I begin writing anew– reminded again of why social media works and why it’s important: understanding and respecting the power of relationship.

Turning Online Awareness to Real-World Activism on World AIDS Day

Every December 1st the world recognizes World AIDS Day, a day to remember those we’ve lost to HIV/AIDS and those currently infected and affected by this terrible disease.  The HIV virus, while perhaps not as visible and in-your-face as it was just two decades ago, still affects millions across the United States alone, including me.  As a young gay male, I’ve grown up understanding the disease in myself and others, though incredible stigma and shame still exist to this day for those of us infected with the virus.  So as my little corner of the web embraces this day in remembrance and advocacy, does anyone offline really care, or even know, of today’s importance?

From my digital perch, people within my social reach obviously care about this issue.  My facebook news feed has been overwhelmed with a sea of red ribbons. Much like when the gay and lesbian community came together last month to celebrate “Spirit Day” by wearing purple and changing their avatars to show-case their purple-goodness in solidarity with bullied LGBT teens, today that same concept has taken hold with cascading shades of red.

This awareness has also spread to twitter, with Global AIDS remaining a trending topic throughout the day.  Remarkably, my own sphere of the twitterverse has reacted positively to my tweets on the topic, with just one of my updates receiving 62 retweets as of this writing!  To put that into context, I’m normally off-the-wall excited when just one of my tweets is retweeted 3-4 times, let ALONE 62, and counting.

So people do care, but the question becomes whether after the ribbons disappear, and the retweets slowly end, will these netizens take their obvious passion for HIV/AIDS into the real-world through volunteerism or activism.  Many working in the non-profit and political technology industry speak often on the topic of “slacktivism:” when a would-be real-world activist instead fulfills his or her need for volunteerism with relatively simple and ineffective forms of online activities, like simply switching out an avatar to the cause-de-joure. I have my own thoughts on that particular subject, but for this post I instead want to focus on what we, as individuals or those working for social change organizations, can focus upon when an issue takes the web by storm.

Our goal as change-makers should always be to convert those who care about an issue into someone who acts upon those passions.  So you’ve found dozens of people retweeting your cultivated message on HIV/AIDS?  Great– contact those people and engage them with some of your other efforts-whether it’s penning letters to elected officials, signing petitions, writing an op-ed for their local paper, or volunteering at their local AIDS service organization.

Instead of lamenting these “slacktivists,” lets instead work to cultivate them into activists. At both an individual and organizational level, there exists massive opportunities online to reach new supporters, or re-engage those already passionate about your issues, especially HIV/AIDS.

So today, on Worlds AIDS Day, take that next step. Stand up and be counted.  Don’t stop with simply adding a red ribbon to your avatar, but proactively work to see this crisis end, and the virus curtailed.

First and formost, know your status. Get Tested!

For my HIV-negative brothers and sisters, join a clinical trial. We’ll never find a vaccine or cure without your participation.

Volunteer with your local AIDS-service organization (I’ve linked to several for those living in the Philadelphia region), or find organizations online doing spectacular work.

Regardless or how you want to take your passion further, the important thing is acting upon your hopes and dreams. Together we can eradicate this horrible disease, but only if we create real-world activism from raising awareness online.

Failure to Mobilize the Electorate: The Community-Organizer-in-Chief Forgot to Organize!

I specifically wanted to wait several days before writing up my own, humble analysis on last week’s midterm elections- you can already find pretty much every viewpoint from across the ideological spectrum hashed out and analyzed to death on any website that’s ever focused on our domestic politics.  But in my mind, one of the largest hurdles that prevented Democrats from escaping the great bloodbath of 2010 is not being discussed in the context of it’s impact on this election cycle- namely, the Democrats lack of organizing throughout the congressional session and recent election. Our “community organizer-in-chief” forgot to organize, with tragic results for Democrats up and down the ballot.

First, I should mention that there are obviously countless factors that contributed to such a “shellacking:” high unemployment at the top of the list, disappointment and disillusionment among first-time Obama voters, lack of progress on key legislative priorities for the traditional democratic constituency groups, as well as playing defense in nearly 50 House districts McCain won over Obama in 2008.  There is no magic “silver bullet,” in that these numerous issues all contributed to the election results last week, and had unemployment been at 7% rather than nearing 10%, things would have been dramatically different.

Also important in my eyes is the atrocious messaging, from the White House to the Congress and into the states, that contributed to an unaware public acting outside their own self-interests.

  • Why don’t Americans know that Obama passed the single largest middle-class tax cut in our history?
  • Why don’t Americans know that we’re on-track to re-gain nearly ALL the money from TARP, even making money on interest?
  • Why don’t Americans know that the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office said the stimulus bill saved or created literally millions of jobs?
  • Hell, why did they even call it a “stimulus” bill in the first place, instead of calling it the Largest-Middle-Class Tax Cut in History that Saves Millions of Jobs and Avoids a Global Economic Meltdown bill instead?

Understandably, when all these mis-haps and outside forces meshed together they created an untenable environment for Democratic victory. But with a robust organizing program, much like Obama launched during his ground-breaking presidential campaign, I believe these losses would not have been as staggering. Sure, Organizing for America (the iteration of Obama for America during the campaign) sent out e-mails to try to engage supporters, and here and there asked members to call their representative– but from the start the organization was mishandled and forgotten, housed not independently but instead as part of the Democratic National Committee (DNC). Texting those on your list three times the night before the election after nearly two years of dis-engagement does not bode well for a campaign’s success.

The stage was set during Obama’s historic campaign, when Obama himself steered donations away from outside interest groups and 527s and instead directed all the left-leaning wealthy donors to his own campaign. This may have made sense from a communications standpoint in 2008, but two years later I argue that decision unintentionally dismantled the vast infrastructure needed to effectively answer these groups on the right. Adding fuel to the fire was the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling, which in effect opened the floodgates for shady groups like Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS to saturate countless media markets with attack ad after attack ad, without the necessary Democratic counterweight.

After these outside groups were de-funded, many of us hoped that Organizing for America would take on the work needed to continue the momentum after the election: engage these millions of new voters and provide a rallying cry for the President’s policies.  Instead, OFA was housed in the DNC, and instead of aggressively mobilizing for progressive policies, they simply became another tool for the national party.

Imagine what OFA could have done to combat that fateful August recess of 2009, when the tea party ransacked town hall meetings across the country, and what those actions could have done to shape the debate away from “death panels” and instead toward a robust public option for all Americans.

Imagine what OFA could have done to inspire these new voters to continue and build upon the change they began in 2008 with Obama’s election.  Instead, perhaps the best organizing done pre-election was done by a group of three young people, in the course of just one night, when they launched WTFhasObamaDoneSoFar?, virally trying to mobilize a base of voters disheartened and disillusioned with the past two years.

Obama began his career as a community organizer, and all organizers understand the need to continually engage your supporters, bringing them into the process. When you go silent, your supporters go silent, and because of this incredible lack of consistent organizing, not just before the election to get-out-the-vote, but throughout the first two year’s of this president’s term, the Democratic Party paid a much heavier price than they had to pay.

The Morning After Gut-Punch- You Live to Fight Another Day

“The work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die.”  -Ted Kennedy

It’s the morning after.  You’re looking around at an empty union hall, an empty office, with trash and signage littering the ground and weeks-old pizza stinking up the workspace.  You spent the past few months working 16 hours every day, 7 days every week, while seriously neglecting your family, friends, and personal health.  You knocked on thousands of doors, schleping through the cold and the rain every single day, and spent more hours talking to voters on the phone than you’d ever like to admit.  Your supporters said you could win, and you felt your heart pound with the enthusiasm of working to elect a candidate you’ve poured your heart and soul into.

But then you lost; and it’s not just you.  Democrats lost more seats in the House of Representatives than any party has lost in one single election cycle in nearly 70 years.  Countless state legislative bodies, governorships, and Senate races– Democrats lost them all.  And on each of those races also worked a handful, or even many, young staffers that put their own entire heart and soul into that campaign as well, only to feel that same gut-punch of defeat this morning.

This post isn’t to re-hash specific election results, Nate Silver has done an amazing job at that; and this post isn’t about working to identify what exactly went wrong for the Democrats, I plan to go into those themes a bit later. This post is for all the young staffers and volunteers in the field today, many of my own friends, feeling dejected and lost, and how to pick up the pieces and move forward even stronger than you have before.

Barack Obama’s campaign of hope and change inspired millions of young Americans to get involved in the political process for their first-time ever in 2008, and many of these young people today feel their first real sting of defeat- but it’s my hope that you all realize that through this adversity you will only grow into a stronger, and more effective, staffer or volunteer in your next race, and the race after that.

I remember watching the results in Ohio in 2004, watching Bush win re-election and the candidates I worked with across the midwest fall one-by-one to defeat.  It was heart-breaking.  After devastating loses in 2002, it was tragic to see those I worked so hard to support conceding, one by one.

Yet two years later, I remember balling my eyes out as Nancy Pelosi raised her arms victoriously in the air, celebrating a massive Democratic land-slide that swept many of those members into office that lost their seat last night.  But if I had let the discouragement of defeat permanently soil my desire to work in politics in 2002 and 2004, I would have never felt that amazing rush of victory in 2006, and again in 2008.

Losing hurts.  What happened last night will have enourmous consequences at every level of our government- from state-based legislation to redistricting efforts to national policy- but we learn from loss, we pick ourselves back up, and we live to fight another day. We point to positive results (like over 100 openly lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender candidates winning their races), and assess our weaknesses.

So, to my friends out in the field today cleaning up your empty campaign offices, I’d remind you to always remember the prophetic words of Teddy Kennedy:  “The work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die.”

 

Vote! Your Social Media Overlords are Making it Fun!

Every so often, as citizens of the greatest country on the face of this earth, we are asked to participate in one of the most fundamental tenets of a participatory democracy- voting.  Today, as millions across the nation schlep to their polling places, our social media overlords are doing everything they can do to make this process as harmless, fun, and social as possible.  And major props to them for it!

Facebook is doing their part, complete with polling place information and a running tally of facebook members who have already taken to the polls. What I really like is monitoring the total number of your own friends who have voted!  Of course, once you vote you get your very own badge on your wall.

Not to be outdone, foursquare is offering its members their own special “Election 2010″ badge just for checking-in to your polling place with the #ivoted hashtag.  Foursquare has also launched a constantly-updating website to watch people checking-in to their polling places across the country.

What I love about both these efforts is that they both play on an on-going theme in our American democracy that goes back decades itself- proudly displaying your “I voted” sticker when you go to the polls.  In recent years many municipalities have done away with the physical-world sticker, but now our social media titans have stepped in to provide that much-needed badge- both for us to wear with pride, and also to pressure our friends to join in on the fun.

So get out. VOTE! You forfeit your right to complain and moan if you do not vote. Our democracy cannot survive without it’s citizenry participating in this most basic functions, and when Democrats vote, EVERYONE wins!

Update:  Readwriteweb just published a similar blog post on the subject with even more information. Check it out!

What are you Waiting for?

It took me months to finally publish a blog post.  It wasn’t for lack of ideas– I keep an on-going list of ideas I’d like to write about, and I’m constantly scribbling down concepts I’d like to flesh out in more detail.  But I waited..and waited.. and waited.. because I didn’t like how my website header looked (still don’t, if anyone is interested in helping make a nicer one), or my About page wasn’t worded to my liking.  I was waiting to perfect little things that in the grand scheme of things weren’t as important as the content I wanted to create. I finally jumped in– and everything else just came together.

So my question is, what are you waiting for?  Whether it’s that perfect job you’ve put off applying for because your resume is. not. absolutely. perfect, or that twitter account lying dormant because you haven’t built up a strong following, if you keep waiting until that elusive “perfect moment,” you’ll likely be waiting a helluva long time.

Organizations and small businesses sometimes wait to engage in social media outreach, just because they’re waiting for everything to be perfect.  Enough followers before you offer a deal, or enough fans before you launch a series of articles– they are waiting to provide the content, without realizing that the content will grow their audience.  We’re all guilty of waiting for that special moment, without realizing that while waiting we’re missing countless moments.

It doesn’t take paying some “social media consultant” a gazillion dollars and spending countless hours on media training to start a twitter account and begin engaging with people.  Simply listen, and respond, and you’ll see the benefits of the medium.  Just today,  super-blogger Jeff Gibbard shared a story of a business simply listening to what he was saying on twitter, engaging in conversation, and winning over his service.

The simple gesture of reaching out to someone nearby, talking about something, seemingly mindless, Marathon Grill got a regular for lunch; I may have never tried it otherwise.

It’s these simple gestures, simply listening and engaging, that’s important with social media. You don’t need to wait, you can simply jump in.

While you wait for these “perfect moments,” you run the risk of missing opportunity, often-times unbeknown to you.  Just look at Chris Coons, Democratic nominee for Senate in Delaware.  Running in a year highly unfavorable for Democrats, many others took a pass on the race.  There was a likely shoe-in Republican nominee for the seat– so why jump into an unwinnable race?  Well, the race can instantly become winnable when the other side nominates an unelectable candidate.  Suddenly your decision to just jump in makes a whole lot of sense.  Same goes for Scott McAdams in Alaska.  Running in a Republican state, in a Republican year, as a Democrat might not have made much sense– until Lisa Murkowski launched a write-in campaign, and suddenly you have a chance at becoming a United States Senator.

My point is that, yes it’s important to plan, yes it’s important to have goals before acting haphazardly, but when that waiting becomes debilitating, you’re losing opportunities, both known and unknown.  Just jump in, head-first, with whatever you want to do– and everything else will work itself out.

Innovating itself to Relevancy? LinkedIn launches “Signal”

Maybe I’m a tad too harsh with my headline, but I’m so incredibly frustrated with LinkedIn. The end-user experience, the community within the site, the purpose of using it– I’m frustrated all-together with the network. And my frustration largely stems from my belief that the concept of a social site for professionals and networking is genius; the potential for a thriving network of professionals swapping war stories and helping each other up the career ladder seem great, so why do I really really want to like LinkedIn, but just can’t get into it?  That’s not to discredit the site– there are millions of users, their traffic is up, and countless bloggers have espoused the benefits of maintaining a presence on the social network.

But for me, I’ve rarely found reasons to continue coming back to the site.  I primarily log in when I find someone interesting online that I’d like to know more about.  I’ll surf over to their profile, check any messages in my inbox while I’m there, log out, and spend my time sharing links and finding information through other sources like facebook, twitter, or google reader.

All this might change with a new “labs” feature launched today called “Signal.”  Today on their blog, they highlight five key features to the new product:

  1. Filter: Browse only relevant status updates from your stream
  2. Search for keywords, topics, or people across your stream
  3. Get an auto updated real-time stream with rich content
  4. Find the hottest trending links across any relevant topic
  5. Who’s shared this link

The LinkedIn team’s five points are exactly on-topic, and go a long way in explaining the utility of the lab.  I’ve found that Signal is the perfect tool to allow me the opportunity to find interesting people on the network working in fields relevant with my own work, and see what they are sharing and saying.  The best part is that the stream isn’t JUST for your own connections– you already had an easy way to follow their updates from the LinkedIn homepage itself.  Rather, you can determine the subset of users you’d like to find updates from based upon their degree of connectedness to you (friends of friends, 3rd connections, etc), industry, region, school, keyword, or workplace.

I believe this is the most killer-feature:  I can search the connections of my connections who work in non-profit management specifically; or I can search connections of connections that also went to American University working at a certain company, and see what they are sharing and saying.  These broader searches really highlight the inherent utility within LinkedIn, and since many users automatically import their twitter stream into their profile, there seems to be a healthy amount of information loading into these new filters.

Here’s a quick screencast I made for the more visual-learners among us:

This might just be the first-step LinkedIn makes in the long march back toward relevancy, and into a site that promotes a vibrant community rather than simply a repository for web-based resumes.  If you’re interested in trying out Signal, click here.