Friday, September 25, 2009

Disgruntled Lawyer

Goldenstern's rules tell us to never buy from a rich salesman and to always hire a rich attorney. I don't know who Goldenstern is or was, but his or her wisdom is irrefutable.

A story has been unfolding in the Canadian news media over the past couple of weeks about certain attorneys in Ontario, Canada who are asking to be removed from cases in which the province pays their fees because their clients are unable to do so. These are not necessarily public defenders per se.

My local newspaper has focused especially on one particular case in which a man charged with murdering his wife had originally been paying his defence attorney himself. When the courts decided to award his home to his wife's parents, who now have custody of his children, he turned to the province for financial help since he could no longer afford to pay his lawyer himself. His lawyer, however, decided that the rates payed by the province simply weren't high enough and asked to be removed from the case. The accused requested that his lawyer be kept on, citing confidence in his (the lawyer's) abilities. The judge ultimately decided that the lawyer's compensation, or lack thereof, was not the court's concern and that there wasn't time to arrange for an alternate defence attorney, a preliminary hearing having already been scheduled, and therefore denied the lawyer's request to be removed from the case.

Big win for the accused! Or is it? Let's think about that for a minute. The accused is now being represented by a lawyer who has openly stated that he doesn't think he's being payed enough. It probably doesn't help that, apparently, at least one other public defence attorney did indicate that he might be able to take over the case, but the judge nixed the idea anyway, mainly because the accused was adamant about wanting to keep his current lawyer. Now, not only is the lawyer P.O.'d about the chintzy pay, but he also holds his client directly responsible for not being excused from the case. Would you want a disgruntled lawyer with a personal grudge against you defending you against a murder rap?

The commonly-accepted wisdom is that it's never wise to upset anyone who provides a service, lest it suddenly turn into a disservice. Stiffing a waiter on his tip might only result in him spitting in your food or peeing in your coffee. Distasteful to be sure (pun intended), but things can get a lot uglier when your future hangs in the balance.

I can imagine the defence attorney's opening statement going something like "Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, the evidence against my client is entirely circumstantial. I urge you not to allow his beady little close-set, criminal eyes to affect your decision. I remind you, too, that he was acquitted of all five of his previous spousal abuse allegations, and that they have no bearing on this case in any event."

During the trial, one might hear exchanges such as:

Prosecuting Attorney: Mr. Ferguson, isn't it true that you hated your wife?

Judge: That implies a knowledge of Mr. Ferguson's state of mind. Does the defence wish to object?

Defence Attorney: I'll allow it.

It has been said that anyone who defends themselves in court has a fool for a client. I respectfully submit that so does the lawyer who doesn't really want to defend a case.

(Disclaimer: There was no mention of any previous spousal abuse allegations against the accused in any news story. I added that merely to exaggerate my point. You'll find that I do that.)

Saturday, September 19, 2009


Some years ago, I participated in a Team Building seminar hosted by a former employer.  For those who have never had the dubious pleasure of participating in one, a Team Building seminar is a sort of sabbatical from the normal office routine, usually lasting between three and five days, during which fellow office workers commune to express their loathing of each other in a free and open forum.  No, I'm just kidding!  It's really sort of a group therapy session for co-workers so that they can better understand each others' needs, priorities and motivations.  It strives to dig a bit deeper into the psyches of people than is normal in a regular working environment.  I must admit, though, that certain frustrations and resentments were expressed during the exercise, and tears were shed before it was over.  Let me also state, for the record, that the organization in question didn't become a "former" employer because I was just a little too "open and honest" about my pent-up frustrations and resentment of the boss, if you take my meaning.

A few days before the seminar officially started, the participants were handed a multi-page questionnaire and a mark sense form.  The questionnaire consisted of questions such as:

Which would you most enjoy doing?

a) Building a bridge
b) Balancing a budget
c) Caring for a roomful of children
d) Solving a puzzle
e) Drinking margaritas on a Mexican beach

Well, okay, the choices were rarely as cut-and-dried as option "e".  The point is, the participants had to color in the appropriate letters on the mark sense forms which, I presume, were then put through some kind of computer program which in turn compiled the results into a detailed analysis of each respondent's personality traits; analytical, micro-manager, den mother, flaming homosexual, probable axe-murderer and so on.

In fact, the goal of the questionnaire was to work out each person's Myers-Briggs Type Indicator or "MBTI".  Until then, I had never heard of the MBTI.  For those of you who still haven't heard of it, the MBTI is a four-letter classification system that seeks to profile a person's natural proclivities.  For example, a person's MTBI may be INTP, ESTJ, ISFP or WIMP (well, okay, I don't think WIMP is a possible outcome ... unfortunately).

Each of the four letters indicates a specific personality trait.  The first identifies whether an individual is an Introvert ("I") or an Extrovert ("E").  The second identifies whether a person is iNtuitive ("N" - hey, "I" had already been taken) or Sensing ("S").  The third letter identifies whether a person is Thinking ("T") or Feeling "F") and the last identifies whether a person is perceptive ("P") or judging ("J").  Each of these four characteristics should be thought of as a scale, rather than a black-and-white, one-or-the-other type attribute.  For example, a person need not be completely introverted or extroverted.  One might lean toward extroversion with occasional introverted tendencies, or one might sit smack dab between the two extremes.

So why do we call this collection of four letters the "Myers-Briggs Type Indicator", you may well ask?  Well, basically, because the whole system was conceived of by Katherine Cook Briggs and her daughter, Isabel Briggs Myers during the second world war.  Apparently, each lady could only handle a maximum of two letters.  Putting together four required a joint effort.  But seriously, I found the Myers-Briggs concept interestingly enough that it has stayed with me over the years that have since passed and I've decided to record what I learned here, in the hopes that you, my readers, might share my fascination.  I'll warn you in advance that this post is going to be one of my longer ones and, even then, it will only give a cursory explanation of what Myers-Briggs is all about.  If you're pressed for time or looking for something a bit briefer and less involved, you can always skip to one of my shorter, less in-depth posts, like the one about the Dick Test.  For the rest of us, let's begin by looking at each of the four categories profiled by the MBTI and what each tells us about a person.

Introversion vs. Extroversion
Most of you probably think you know the difference between an introvert and an extrovert.  Introverts are generally perceived as insecure mama's boy, Norman Bates types who shut themselves away from the world until one day they show up at work wielding a double-barreled shotgun and a hatchet, whereas extroverts are seen as outgoing, loudmouthed used car salesman types who crush every hand that they shake and like to talk about themselves a lot. 

Actually, Myers-Briggs defines introversion vs. extroversion more in terms of where a person gets his or her energy or how a person "recharges his or her batteries".  Extroverts, according to Myers-Briggs, get energized by social interaction.  They crave surroundings with lots of other people and they frequently enjoy being the center of attention.  Solitude and silence saps their energy.  Introverts, on the other hand, crave solitude, quiet and reflection.  Social interaction wears them down.

To illustrate, our seminar instructor told us a story about a group of people that was asked to describe their perfect weekend getaway. The extroverts in the group spoke of parties, road trips, night clubs, hedonistic orgies and general merrymaking involving the company of others. The introverts, of course, described quiet, peaceful activities, either alone or with just one or two very close friends.

One particularly introverted woman described her perfect getaway as spending a quiet weekend alone with her husband at their cottage. In the mornings, they would share a light breakfast and a cup of coffee on the patio whilst taking in the soothing sound of the birds and the surf from the nearby lake. In the afternoons they might enjoy a bicycle ride through a nearby nature trail or perhaps some time on the lake in their sail boat. In the evenings they would have supper and share a bottle of wine with soft music playing in the background. Finally, on Sunday afternoon, they would return to their city home early enough so that there would be time to relax and recover from their "hectic" weekend.

Intuition vs. Sensing
The second letter in the MBTI tells us about how a person perceives the world around themselves.  On one end of the scale, we have intuition.  Intuitive people think in the abstract.  When they look at a scene or scenario, they don't always see what there is but, rather, what could be.  Intuitive people are all about possibilities.

Sensing people, on the other hand, are like Dragnet's Joe Friday.  They want the facts, ma'am, just the facts.  They are sticklers for detail.  They're concerned with what is, not with what might be. 

To illustrate, our group was shown a picture of a room full of chairs, arranged in rows and columns, all facing the same way and each person was asked to describe what they saw.  The intuitive people talked about concepts.  The room might be a live theatre or perhaps an auditorium where some public figure or acknowledged expert was about to give a speech.  They tended to miss details like the time indicated on a clock that was in the picture or whether the floor was hardwood or parquet or even the fact that the room happened to be on fire.  Okay, okay, the room wasn't really on fire.  If it had been, the intuitives might have commented that the room had a cozy atmosphere and might be pleasant on winter evenings.

The sensing people, on the other hand, did note the time shown on the clock.  They also described precisely how many rows and columns of chairs there were.  Many of them did the math and gave the exact total number of chairs.  Some of them noted that it was unclear as to whether there might be more chairs outside of the field of view, and that it was therefore impossible to determine the exact number of chairs in the room.  None of them worried about why the chairs were all empty or what the room's purpose was.  They reminded me of Spock from the old Star Trek series and the way in which he used to read out in exacting detail the size, mass, composition, closure speed and estimated time of impact, to the second, of the meteorite that was heading for the Enterprise's main bridge.  What might happen when the impact occurred seemed of secondary importance.

Thinking vs. Feeling
The next characteristic that Myers-Briggs looks at has to do with how a person makes decisions; either based on fact and observation (thinking) or by "gut feel" (feeling).  Thinkers are objective and detached.  They look at the facts.  They may refer to precedent.  They rely on logic.  Feelers often base their decisions on empathy.  They look for the intangible.  They put themselves in the shoes of the people that might be affected by a decision.  They rely more on their emotions.  They can often give no justification for their decisions other than "it felt like the right thing to do".  Thinkers hate when Feelers are right.

Consider the following scenario:  You have been tasked with hiring a computer security specialist for your organization.  One of the applicants that you interview is obviously extremely knowledgeable about networks, data encryption, firewalls and computer security concepts in general.  While being interviewed, he readily admits that his wealth of knowledge and experience comes from having been a hacker who managed to access the credit card data of a major bank's customers and defrauded the bank of hundreds of thousands of dollars before he was caught.  The jail time that he served convinced him to mend his ways and he now seeks to use his knowledge of computer security systems to prevent others like himself from circumventing them.  Do you hire him, or not?

A Feeler might empathize with the applicant.  He certainly has the credentials to do the job, and knowing the methods of the criminal world might prove an additional asset.  His free and open admission about his past and his prison record might be taken as evidence that this person has truly been reformed.  The Feeler's gut may well tell him to trust this applicant and give him a second chance.  The Feeler's gut may feel somewhat knotted the following month, however, when the new security specialist fails to report in one morning and it is discovered that the organization's bank accounts have been drained and closed, and the Feeler's boss wants to know what idiot decided to hire the crook.

A Thinker might look at the applicant's track record to date.  He's shown himself to be untrustworthy.  He is, in fact, a convicted felon.  This makes it all the more likely that his desire to reform is just a ruse and that his true goal is to gain access to the computer system so that he can defraud your organization too.  A Thinker might well send the applicant on his way and hire the next applicant, who appears equally competent but has no criminal record.  A Thinker might later learn that his reservations about the convicted felon were quite justified when the applicant whom he did hire turns out to be the felon's partner who also applied for the position, just in case it turned out that honesty wasn't the best policy after all.

Judgement vs. Perception
The last characteristic profiled by Myers-Briggs indicates a person's decision-making style.  Judging people prefer things settled and finished.  Perceptive people prefer to keep decisions open which, I suppose, is another way of saying that they're wishy-washy and indecisive, but "perceptive" sounds so much nicer, doesn't it?  Judging people, on the other hand, will tell you that it's much better to rush to a quick decision and then to doggedly follow through, never changing one's mind, no matter how the situation might change nor what new information may present itself.  "My mind is made up, don't confuse me with the facts!" is their motto.

It's important to note that Myers-Briggs deals with proclivities and tendancies as opposed to actions. Each person has natural tendencies in the four areas concerned, but those tendancies can be overridden by conscious effort. A person may be naturally introverted, yet make a concerted effort to network and schmooze. An introvert can still act like an extrovert. Myers-Briggs concerns itself with what comes naturally to a person rather than how that person actually behaves.

There's a simple, yet effective demonstration of this concept that you can try right now, if you'll humor me for a moment. Take your hands from the keyboard, let go of your mouse and fold your arms across your chest. Go ahead. Do it.

Did you fold your arms? Good. Now fold them the other way; that is to say, if you folded your arms with the left forearm in front of the right forearm, this time fold them with the right forarm in front of the left one.

You probably managed that too, but it was a lot more awkward, wasn't it? You can fold your arms either way, but only one way comes natrually. The other requires concentration and effort and, even then, it still feels wrong.

Would you like to know your own Myers-Briggs type? You can find out by taking the test on-line here, where you'll not only learn your Myers-Briggs type but you can also get a detailed description of your profile and some examples of famous people who are also your type (yes, gentlemen, I'm sure you're all hoping that you turn out to be Heidi Klum's type). The test probably works best if you take it without any preconceptions. Having read this far, it will be obvious what some of the questions are trying to establish. Obviously, you'll get more accurate results by answering each question as honestly as possible.

After the Team Building seminar ended, one of my co-workers wondered aloud what the point of the Myers-Briggs test was.  "Why would I care whether Tom is an ESTJ or an ISFP?"  He was obviously in ISTJ, or possibly an ESTJ.  And therein lies the answer to his question.  Once one understands the Myers-Briggs profile, one can learn to recognize specific personality types.  This recognition, coupled with an understanding of the Myers-Briggs profile, enables us to understand what motivates the person, how that person thinks, how they arrive at decisions, indeed to predict what they will do in various situations.  This understanding, then, enables us to play them like a Stradivarius; to pull their puppet strings and make them dance to our tune; to manipulate and subjugate every person we encounter and, ultimately, to bend other puny mortals to our wills and ultimately rule the world!  MUHAHAHAHAHAAAAA!!!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

In Your Facebook!

Whenever I tell anyone about my blog, one of the first questions that I'm invariably asked is whether I'm on Facebook. I'm not on Facebook. Some find that odd and can't understand why not. They assume that anyone who blogs must surely also be on Facebook, as though blogging and social networking were pretty much synonymous. They're really not.

Facebook, MSN, Myspace and other such social networks are, by their nature, community-oriented services where large groups of people mingle and converse. Blogging is different. I just sit here, alone in my attic, thinking out loud at the world. Anyone who cares to listen is welcome and I invite comments and other feedback but, in a sense, blogging is a pretty introverted activity.

I'm an introvert at heart. I'm uncomfortable in a crowd. I don't particularly enjoy meeting new people, prefering instead to stick with a small group of familiar friends. Even then, I'm really not intereted in whether they happen to be feeling happy, sleepy, grumpy, bashful, dopey, sneezy or Doc at any given moment.  It's not that I don't care, it's just that every human being goes through shifting moods.  Most of us just deal with it quietly.  If there's an ongoing issue and you think I can be of help, or even just need a sympathetic ear, by all means, talk to me, but do it in person, not through some electronic social club.

Even some people who previously enjoyed Facebook have gotten disillusioned with the service because they find that they can't turn it off, according to a Waterloo Region Record article from some time ago.  These people found that, having created a Facebook account and joined a few groups, they couldn't stop incoming messages inviting them to play games, take quizzes or broadcasting the transient moods of any number of "friends" whom they barely knew.  It's like Jim Varney's annoying Ernest P. Worrell character who keeps popping up everywhere in those old 'eighties TV commercials, "KnowhutImeanVern?" 

Then there are those annoying virtual "pokes".  In the real world, anyone who continually pokes us soon finds themselves on the receiving end of an exasperated "Stop that, willya???"  What Facebook really needs is a virtual cuff across the back of the head to send back in response.

Then, of course, there's Facebook's famous "wall". All through the seventies, while I was growing up, Roger Waters and friends kept telling me that The Wall is a bad thing! In fact, today, they might have this to say:

We don't need no social networks
We don't need no fanboy zones
No online rants by neo Nazis
Facebook leave them kids alone
Hey! Facebook! Leave them kids alone!
All in all it's just more mindless crap on the Wall
Of course, there are the ever-present privacy concerns.  Facebook itself has acknowledged privacy holes in the past.  Of course, they claim to have patched these up and assure all that the network is now completely secure, but that's sort of like fixing the dyke after the city's been flooded, isn't it?  Then there's the lingering doubt about how secure one's personal info really is.  That having been said, privacy concerns aren't really what keeps me away from Facebook. For one thing, I figure anybody who broadcasts their friends, family, personal photographs, interests and even momentary moods online really shouldn't have too much expectation of privacy.  Besides that, I'm cynical enough to believe that the concept of privacy is a myth in our electronic data-oriented society. A half hour and perhaps a few dollars spent on on-line searches will give you most peoples' mailing addresses, phone numbers and even credit histories, criminal records (if any) and family members.  Google my name and you'll come up with several links and references, but Facebook won't be one of them.

Friday, September 4, 2009

That Is SO Cliché!

One of the reasons why I created this blog was to practice my writing skills. I enjoy writing, and I've had some kind compliments from various people about my writing. At risk of sounding immodest, I consider my writing skills to be above-average.

This is not to say that there isn't room for improvement. I'm aware of several weaknesses in my writing. For example, I tend to overuse clichés like they're going out of style. Armed with this awareness, I decided recently to read up on clichés. "Know thine enemy," as they say! My research led me to a web site called Cliché Finder ( which offers a large repository of clichés.

While browsing Cliché Finder's collection of clichés (as if I needed to learn more of them), it occurred to me that clichés can apparently be divided into broad groups, each with its own unique characteristics. I've identified four distinct categories of clichés (well, okay, five actually, but I'll explain about that shortly).

The first group consists clichés that use obscure words with mystery meanings (or was that mystery words with obscure meanings?) For example:

"Thanks to my 3.2-litre hemi, I have 320 horses at my beck and call!"

What's a "beck"? How does one "beck", exactly? Its usage suggests that it's synonymous with "summon". You never hear anyone say "I becked up all the courage I could muster", or "I was becked by my boss on the weekend" or "The district court served me with a becks because of my large and impressive collection of unpaid parking tickets". (Actually, if district courts were to serve Beck's, I'd commit a lot more traffic offenses!)

Maybe it's a distortion or a mispronunciation. Maybe the original word was "beckon", as in "Thanks to my 3.2-litre hemi, I have 320 horses at my beckon call". Still doesn't quite read properly, but at least "beckon" is a recognizable word, and it does fit the context.

Another example: "After the hurricane, the entire city was strewn with flotsam and jetsam." What are "flotsam" and "jetsam"? Has anyone ever seen a flotsam or a jetsam? Actually, the usage makes them sound like plural terms. What's the singular? A "flotsa" and a "jetsa"? Are they anything like "brick-a-brack"? For that matter, I've never seen a brick-a-brack either, even though my attic seems to be full of it, according to a recent post on this blog. I'm pretty sure there's some flotsam and jetsam lying about up here as well. I probably just don't recognize it.

One last example: "He took the whole kit and caboodle". Again, I'm not sure what a "caboodle" is. Sounds like some sort of weird fusion of a taxi cab and a poodle.

The second category of clichés that I've identified is comprised of clichés with recognizable words that are nevertheless used in a strange or unusual context:

"I have no truck with gay people". The context is that the speaker has no "problem" with gay people or has no objection to gay people. Taken literally, one might think that the speaker was asked to produce a truck laden with homosexuals and, regrettably, was unable to comply.

"You pay through the nose to get a plumber on a weekend". Personally, I would be most averse to accepting as compensation for services rendered anything that was discharged from the nostrils of my client.

Then there's a relatively new cliché that I love to hate, and which my daughter uses constantly. "Hey Jessica," I once said to her, "I saw a mechanic at the Jiffy Lube that looks just like Jim Carrey!" Her response: "That's random!" I don't quite understand. What's random about it? Did she think that I saw a Jim Carrey look-alike at a random Jiffy Lube? No, it was a very specific Jiffy Lube. Perhaps she meant that there's a random number of grease monkeys who resemble Jim Carrey. She explained that "random", in this context, apparently means "weird" or "bizarre". I told her that one can't just go assigning random meanings to the word "random".

Next we have clichés that paint odd mental pictures:

"Robert Mugabe can go to hell in a hand basket!" Although I'm quite sincere in this assertion, I'm not sure why a hand basket would be the most appropriate vehicle for one's trip to Hades. Maybe that's what Satan uses to collect the souls that he carries off down there. Hand baskets conjure up images of Little Red Riding Hood or bonnetted maidens packing picnic lunches. They seem a little, how shall I say, "effeminate" for the Lord of Darkness - not that there's anything wrong with that!

Consider this snippit from Ray Stevens' "The Streak": "I was standin' over there by the tomaters, and here he come, running through the pole beans, through the fruits and vegetables, naked as a jay bird!" Granted, jay birds don't wear clothes. On the other hand, they are at least covered with feathers. I can think of other species of animal that I would consider to be much more "naked" than jay birds. The most obvious example would be the Sphynx, a rare breed of hairless cat. Admittedly, a lot of people might not know what a Sphynx is, or might confuse it with the half-lion, half-man Egyptian statue, so perhaps the better-known naked mole-rat would be a more appropriate simile. "Naked as a mole-rat" sounds just as hip as "naked as a jay bird", if not more so. One might consider the phrase "Naked as a naked mole-rat", in order to emphasize the comparison with a naked mole-rat as opposed to fur-bearing mole-rats, but I suggest that this alternative phrase repeats the word "naked" in overly-rapid succession and, thus, sounds repetitive, so I would leave it as "Naked as a mole-rat" and trust in the listener's understanding of the intended reference.

Finally, there's the well-known "Here's mud in your eye!" spoken immediately before quaffing an alcoholic beverage. What a strange toast! Why would anyone sling mud into the ocular orifice of a drinking buddy? This cliché might be more appropriately used in anger. Rather than actually throwing a drink in the face of someone who has given offense, one might retort "Oh yeah? Well, here's mud in your eye!" and then walk away. I would argue that it conveys the appropriate level of anger and disgust, without wasting a perfectly good drink or exposing the wielder to the danger of getting a dry-cleaning bill later on.

The fourth category of clichés consist of phrases that seem to say the opposite of their intended meaning. The most notorious, by far, is the relatively recent "I could care less". This is, of course, merely a distortion of the original "I couldn't care less" which makes a lot more sense than the newer cliché. The phrase is meant to convey extreme indifference; however, anyone who "could care less" is not all that indifferent at all, since he or she obviously does care to some degree. Grammatical distortions such as this are, in my opinion, simply the result of mental sloppiness on the part of those who couldn't care less about proper diction, grammatical precision and the preservation of the English language.

A similar cliché is the sarcastic "Tell me about it!" This is generally used by those who are already fully aware of the situation referred to by "it". As such, there is, in fact, no need to tell the speaker about "it" at all.

I said that I had actually identified five categories of clichés. The fifth category would be clichés that are grammatically and lexically normal, their only flaw being their grotesque over-use; clichés such as "Don't count your chickens before they're hatched", "It never rains, but it pours" or "All good things must end", and so must this particular post. After all, I wouldn't want to overstay my welcome, though the time spent writing these things does seem to pass in the blink of an eye.

I hereby resolve henceforth to avoid the use of clichés like the plague, and may lighting strike me down if I... ZZZZAP!!!