Friday, November 30, 2007

How HR Fumbles PR

  1. By setting ridiculous requirements for jobs. [I love entry-level slots that require four years of experience.]

  2. By never getting back with applicants on the status of their applications. [It is just possible that the applicant takes the process more seriously than the HR department and might be adjusting plans in case the job comes through.]

  3. By advertising for jobs that have already been filled. [Cute.]

  4. By continuing to solicit applications when there already are plenty of qualified candidates for just a few vacancies. [Close recruitment! Make a decision!]

  5. By cramming 80 percent of the real job responsibilities under "other duties as assigned." [You know what I'm talking about.]

  6. By not communicating with the departments on what is truly needed for the performance of the job. [It's embarrassing when a person who is doing very well in an acting capacity ultimately fails HR's screening criteria for the job.]

  7. By treating applicants as nuisances. [They are your customers in several ways.]

  8. By permitting executives and managers to circumvent the selection system. [Do you have a full-time system or an occasional system?]

  9. By requiring applicants to complete sizable assignments in order to prove their merit. [Some firms gets free consulting advice that way.]

  10. By pretending to go through an objective process. [You should be able to shout all of your real policies from the rooftops.]

Meeting Follow-Up

I strongly second the advice given by Managing Leadership in this post on the importance of following up meetings with a memorandum of results.

If you don't prepare such a memo, details have a way of slipping away and the necessity to designate precisely who will be doing specifically what by exactly when will eventually become painfully apparent.

Risks and Resources

There are two subjects that are likely to receive enormous attention if you are submitting a proposal to a board or governing body: risks and resources.

Questions about the risks are natural. The board/council members will want to know what can blow up and what are the worst possible outcomes if they approve this action. These are people who live with second-guessers. They know that once they approve your idea it becomes their idea. They want to be reassured that you've realistically anticipated potential problems and that your plans to handle such scenarios are solid.

Presenters are often less prepared to address the issue of resources but it is equally important especially if you are asking the board/council to take a controversial course of action. It boils down to this: If they are going to grasp a thorny issue - and catch the ensuing criticism - they only want to do so once. They don't want you to return in 10 months with a sad story about needing additional staff or funding. They seek assurance that by making the big decision, they will have provided you with the resources needed to do all of those great things that your proposal promises. In other words, good news is wanted in 10 months; not a recitation of why things aren't getting done.

There are other subjects, of course, that need to be addressed during a presentation advocating a particular course of action. Those can pose problems but it is likely that they will receive far less attention than risks and resources. Ignore those at your peril.

Quote of the Day

The effective manager develops the ability to hear what others are not saying.

- Theodore Levitt

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Congrats on the Promotion

British comedians Mitchell and Webb provide an example of leadership succession in the Third Reich.

Free Grendel

Moral equivalence: Hollywood revises Beowulf.

[HT: Arts & Letters Daily ]

They've Had the Maps for Years

Business Week reports that VW is opening a huge factory near Moscow.


Sit down and have a few drinks.

Thomas P.M. Barnett on the next five states.

[HT: Bob Fitch ]


Disturbing stuff: The FBI is going after botnets: robot criminal networks.


Mark Steyn on the silence of the artistic lambs. An excerpt:

Earlier this year, Channel 4 in London broadcast a documentary called Undercover Mosque in which various imams up and down the land were caught on tape urging men to beat their wives and toss homosexuals off cliffs. Viewers reported some of the statements to the local constabulary. The West Midlands police then decided to investigate not the fire-breathing clerics but the TV producers. As the coppers saw it, insofar as any "hate crime" had been perpetrated, it lay not in the urgings and injunctions of the imams but in a TV production so culturally insensitive as to reveal the imams' views to the general public. As The Spectator's James Forsyth put it, "The reaction of West Midlands police revealed a mindset that views the exposure of a problem as more of a problem than the problem itself."

Guidelines for Audiences

There are many guidelines for people who make presentations but very few for audience members. These tips are offered on behalf of speakers everywhere.

  1. Do your job. You are an audience member, not a human being who happens to be in the room. This means you have responsibilities that go beyond merely breathing, facing in the right direction, and keeping your feet off of the chair in front of you. Your ability and willingness to fulfill those responsibilities will contribute enormously to the success of the presentation. Your job responsibilities are listening, contributing when appropriate, being courteous and cooperative, exhibiting a positive attitude, being supportive of the speaker's efforts (not necessarily of what the speaker says), and learning.

  2. Show up on time. When a meeting is scheduled for 10:00, that does not mean that you should start thinking about attending at 9:59. It also doesn't imply that 10:05 or 10:15 will be fine or that you should show up at 10:00 and then fumble around for ten minutes in the back of the room getting coffee and searching for a bearclaw. It especially does not allow waving at friends or muttering jive excuses while meandering your way to a seat in the front row. It means that at 10:00, you are seated and prepared to listen. If being tardy is unavoidable - and that happens to the best of us - quietly join the audience.

  3. If you are in danger of dozing off, don't risk becoming a side-show. In a world of crazy schedules and time changes, it's entirely possible that you were up all night or are still operating on Rangoon time. If so, find a chair - get one from another room if need be - in the back of the room. If you can't stay awake, ask a colleague to take notes in your absence so you can get your rest elsewhere. This isn't just out of consideration for the speaker. Do you think your career will be helped if you're snoring and drooling in the front row?

  4. If you can't listen, fake it. If you are unable to listen, then pretend to do so. Adopt the same quasi-attentive expression that your children affect when you are telling them stories about the good old days. There is a trick to this: When you pretend to listen, the odds are great that you will actually start to listen.

  5. Be professional. Whispering and passing notes went out in, what, the fifth grade? Remember, part of your job is to send good vibrations to the speaker.

  6. Don't be biased from the start. Sure, the topic may not be the greatest, but search for interesting aspects. If you can't find any, you're probably not trying hard enough. Be particularly careful not to assume that you already know all you need to know about the subject. If you were ordered to attend, please remember that the speaker didn't issue that order.

  7. Avoid distractions. Listen for the main idea, not for all of the details. Assume that you are going to have to put the speaker's message in plain language. What would you say?

  8. Take notes. The part that you think is unforgettable is forgettable. Trust me on this.

  9. Play ball. There are some workshop exercises that you may not like. (Role-playing is usually high on my list.) If you are going to be in the workshop, however, play along. By the end of the class, you may see the method in the madness. Besides that, what works for some students won't work for others. Look for the stuff that works for you.

  10. Be polite. You can disagree with a speaker and still be courteous. Seek to clarify the diffferences rather than to prove you are right. While doing so, you may find that you and the speaker are largely in agreement. If you have a question that is too long or specialized, ask it over the break or after the class.

Cell Phone Justice?

The judge who flipped out over the ringing of a cell phone has been removed.

I confess to having some sympathy for him. It is difficult to conduct any business nowadays without one of the annoying devices going off.

Quote of the Day

One of the worst things about life is not how nasty the nasty people are. You know that already. It is how nasty the nice people can be.

- Anthony Powell

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Cage Shaker

Andy Grove wants big companies to "think disruptive." An excerpt from the Portfolio article:

In my position as a lecturer at Stanford Graduate School of Business, I’ve been working with my colleague Professor Robert Burgelman to examine how large companies can defeat the law of big numbers. Successful businesses sooner or later encounter a situation in which the reward for their success becomes a punishment of sorts. The reward is that they get big. The punishment is that when they get big, it gets harder and harder for them to grow. And then their investors pile on the abuse.

The Power 25?

Fortune thinks these are the 25 most powerful people in business.

Law Blogs

The ABA Journal gives its list of the top 100 law blogs (aka blawgs).

[HT: Instapundit ]

Career Pattern: Drivers with Brakes On

James Waldroop and Timothy Butler have written on the acrophobe/driver pattern where a person strives to move ahead but believes he or she shouldn't be advanced.

The acrophobe/driver will press on the gas pedal to get ahead and then slam on the brake when the feelings of unworthiness kick in.

In my coaching practice, I've noticed a surprising number of accomplished executives who suffer from this pattern. They differ from the individual who lacks drive and never seeks advancement. These people are in the race but tend to engage in self-defeating behavior once they near the finish line. In many cases they have had this pattern for years without noticing when it begins to surface. When they do achieve a goal, they quickly dismiss the accomplishment and instead of acknowledging that they earned it, they cite luck, charm, or some other feature as the real reason for their victory.

Part of the solution is for the person to keep careful watch for self-defeating behavior, such as not returning phone calls or missing deadlines, and to implement a plan to eliminate those negatives. The biggest step, of course, is to recognize that the pattern exists. We often assume that fear of failure is more common than fear of success. I'm not sure if that is true.

The Changing One Percent

Economist Thomas Sowell looks at people in the top one percent of income and finds that group is transient. An excerpt:

At the highest income levels, people are especially likely to be transient at that level. Recent data from the Internal Revenue Service show that more than half the people who were in the top one percent in 1996 were no longer there in 2005.

Among the top one-hundredth of one percent, three-quarters of them were no longer there at the end of the decade.

Quote of the Day

It is almost axiomatic that as soon as a place gets a reputation for being paradise it goes to hell.

- Paul Theroux

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Snowboard Update: Jump Higher

Creative Criminal has the details on this creative ad.

Miscellaneous and Fast

Awesome book blurb contest.

An interview from The American with CEO Bill Marriott.

The vote is in on the annual Merry Christmas! versus Happy Holidays! argument.

Nina Easton at Fortune magazine interviews Vice President Cheney.

From Nissan: 62 miles per hour in 3.6 seconds but with a $69,850 price tag.

Ask a Manager on the implications of a Cornell University study on competence.

Some self-help books to avoid.

Michelle Tsai on why labor contracts are worked out at night or on weekends.


Nicholas Bate, who travels the world advising clients on how to get more out of life, has a new book coming out. It looks intriguing.


An important part of Gelb’s role was to reinforce, through exaggerated deference, the fragile self-absorption of Horowitz and Wanda, the daughter of Arturo Toscanini. “I had dinner with them once a week,” Gelb says. “Part of my duties was to talk to them and take them out. I had always called him Mr. Horowitz, but his friends called him Volodya. At one point, shortly before Horowitz died, he was in a very expansive, affectionate mood, and he said to me, ‘You know, you’re like a member of our family. I don’t think you should call me Mr. Horowitz anymore. You should call me Maestro.’ ”

After Horowitz died, in 1989, Gelb’s last managerial act was to insure that the pianist was buried in the Toscanini family tomb, in a Catholic cemetery in Milan, by claiming that Horowitz, although Jewish, had been on the verge of conversion.

Read the rest of the story about Peter Gelb, general manager of The Metropolitan Opera, for an education on handling prima donnas.

[HT: Arts & Letters Daily ]

Your Boss and Myers-Briggs

Writing in Portfolio, Deborah Geering considers how some famous bosses would score on the Myers-Briggs personality test and how you may be able to identify your own boss's type. An excerpt:

INTJ Bill Gates is likely an INTJ (Introverted, iNtuitive, Thinking, Judging), according to Ross Reinhold, a consultant who operates Innovative and independent, Gates and his ilk value competence and self-sufficiency. They have a knack for reducing complexities to their most basic, and for finding efficient ways to improve processes. Unlike ENTJs, INTJs come across as restrained, an image that often reflects their skepticism and lack of emotion in decisionmaking. Although open-minded, they quickly discard unworkable solutions—sometimes with sarcasm.

Cities for Families

Joel Kotkin looks at the appeal of family-friendly cities. An excerpt:

This web of relationships affects where people live and work. The presence of a familial network has long been known as one reason for immigrants to cluster. Similarly, grandparents tend to follow grandchildren, and sometimes vice-versa, since they offer the prospect for low-cost help with childcare.

The family's enduring supremacy is also apparent in the attitudes of young people, the so-called millennials. As Morley Winograd and Michael Hais suggest in their upcoming book, "Millennial Mainstream," this new generation is twice as numerous as Generation X, and far more family-oriented. They display markedly less proclivity for teen pregnancy, abortion and juvenile crime. They also tend to have more favorable relations with their parents, with half staying in daily touch and almost all in weekly contact.

Quote of the Day

Even if it doesn't work, there is something healthy and invigorating about direct action.

- Henry Miller

Monday, November 26, 2007

Book Review: Zugzwang

I have a confession to make. I read Zugzwang by Ronan Bennett, a thriller based in 1914 St. Petersburg, and barely glanced at the illustrations of the chess game that is played throughout the course of the novel. If I were a chess enthusiast, the subtle nature of the moves would have been of interest but for louts such as myself they became a minor distraction from a very entertaining tale.

Dr. Otto Spethmann, an astute but apolitical psychoanalyst, is quickly ensnared in a complicated conspiracy against the Czar. The subsequent ride through a Russia about to go from bad to terrible is well-paced and informative. Dr. Spethmann, whose patients include a noted chess master, a Bolshevik leader, and the beautiful daughter of an anti-Semitic power broker known as The Mountain, finds that his own life is in zugzwang, a chess term for a position in which a player must move but every move makes his position worse.

Bennett deftly evokes the atmosphere of a society in which an international chess tournament can seize the attention of the local populace while terrorist bombs are exploding around the city. People debate the prowess of chess masters as revolutionary and counter-revolutionary plots proliferate, the Czar's advisors are divided between pro-German and pro-French factions, and the First World War is just over the horizon.

Zugzwang moves quickly - there is not a moment when history gets in the way of the plot [take that, Marx!] - and yet the underlying message comes through quite clearly: The real madness in St. Petersburg is not in Dr. Spethmann's office.

Is That a Requirement or a Cover Story?

We're all familiar with the "halo effect" in which a favorable part of a person's background blinds us to other, perhaps less desirable, factors.

Linked to that, however, is a tendency to seize upon non-qualifying characteristics as a way to justify an employment decision. In the horror show known as Recruitment and Selection, cries of "He has an MBA" or "She worked for the governor" are used as crucifixes to fend off queries from sharp-toothed skeptics. Once the statement is made, tradition dictates that the matter is closed and all present are expected to defer to the selection board's wisdom.

Mixing real job requirements with political ones may be justifiable. Sometimes, doing so helps to sell a worthy selection. The fluff, however, should never be confused with what is truly required for successful performance of the job.

Genius Update

Russell Platt notes that opera lovers have Maria Callas and everyone else has Glenn Gould.

Maginot High

The CSO web site has an interesting article on securing a suburban high school. An excerpt:

It was as difficult as it sounds and it required difficult conversations. Everyone agreed, for example, that the school should have smart doors that have magnetic locks and can be controlled by computer. But the police rep rather intensely demanded that the architects’ design allow for complete lockdown of all doors. Lockdown can keep a gunman out, or at least slow him down. Reduce the number of people shot dead.

The fire department rep protested with vehemence. He mandated that doors stay open on each of the school’s four floors at all times. He was imagining the crush of students and teachers trapped in a locked down building during a fire.

[NOTE: I'd add: Early intervention/counseling with troubled children, adopting a tough line on discipline, a willingness to go to court to uphold suspensions and expulsions, and an equally tough stance on bullying. Designing a school is a defensive measure. Defensive measures give the initiative to the offenders. My guess is that fear of lawsuits has greatly hindered school administration.]

I'm on a Health Kick

In the interest of promoting serious science, here's a memorable list of the top 10 bad things that are good for you.

[HT: Eric Rodarte]

The Old Boss

The old boss was a real pistol. If he had a problem with your performance, he'd get right with you and declare in no uncertain terms what the deal was and what he expected. In five minutes, the storm cloud would have passed.

You're very different. You won't yell at all but will quietly lower the boom months or even years later when it's time for a performance evaluation, a pay raise, or a promotion.

The old boss had a nutty love for the product. He'd get misty-eyed just talking about what had been invented or tried years ago. Can you imagine that?

You don't get very emotional about anything; in fact, we all suspect that if the company shifted to making square ball-bearings tomorrow you wouldn't blink an eye.

The old boss knew everyone in the plant and would even squander time talking to the characters in the mailroom.

You know everyone "who counts" and it's clear you don't have time for idle chit-chat. You're a very busy person.

The old boss could be a little rough around the edges. He seldom wowed the promotion boards.

You're on to that game and make a point of socializing with the people who will be selected for those boards.

The old boss took college classes at night as well as plenty of workshops but never completed his degree.

You got your degree years ago, seldom attend workshops, and save many of your evenings for schmoozing.

The old boss would speak up at company meetings if he thought something was wrong.

You diplomatically test the waters and don't make a scene. After all, you want to keep your options open.

Hey, it's certainly good that old boss and his strange ways have gone.

We can learn a lot from a modern manager.

Quote of the Day

I am thankful for laughter, except when milk comes out of my nose.

- Woody Allen

Sunday, November 25, 2007

The Needed Attitude

Which of the following attitudes is needed more often in organizations?

"Let's try it!" or "Let's explore the downside."

You can put together a good argument for each side.

The positive thinkers have an attractive "can do" enthusiasm but many firms have been harmed by an optimistic rush into dangerous waters.

On the other hand, while the skeptics can earn their pay by pointing out real drawbacks, they may sink advances that are only achieved by a willingness to assume some risk.

Which is best?

I'll provide the classic consultant's response: It depends. Knowing which way to lean demands a knowledge of the history, leadership, and spirit of the organization as well as the issues at hand.
Any leader who automatically favors either side, however, should be carefully watched.

7 Writing Tips

Some hard-won writing tips for those who struggle with a blank page:

  1. To write well you must write. This doesn't mean that you talk about writing or read about writing or sit in coffee shops looking like a writer. It means that you must crank out the bad drafts in order to get the good ones. Most accomplished writers are great re-writers.

  2. Recognize that writing is a craft, not a product of inspiration. You cannot wait for the right mood to stroll in the door. Write every day.

  3. Be especially wary of phrases and paragraphs that you love. Your affection may hide their flaws.

  4. Favor simple words and short sentences. Strive for clarity.

  5. Take a break from your work. What seemed brilliant last night may seem idiotic this morning.

  6. Read books, essays, and plays by the best writers. Study their secrets. Notice how they capture and hold attention. See how and when they break the rules and yet make things work. Let their work assist you in developing a "Bad Writing Detector."

  7. Seek to produce work of high quality but beware of the paralysis of perfection. The greatest works of literature could benefit from editing. Their authors knew, however, that a time arrives when the work must be finished.

Jihadi Roots

Andrea Elliott on when boys grow up to be jihadis.

[HT: Real Clear Politics ]

Quote of the Day

No people in history have ever survived who thought they could protect their freedom by making themselves inoffensive to their enemies.

- Dean Acheson and Paul Nitze

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Miscellaneous and Fast

The New Yorker has a slide show of Gahan Wilson cartoons.

Mr. T and Mr. Shatner are flacking a video game.

How the strikes in France affected the environment.

Kenneth Anderson on the need for special terrorism courts.

Christopher Hitchens defends Martin Amis.

Does Sao Paulo show that a megacity can work?

Birth Order

Some new research on whether the folklore about birth order and personality is correct. An excerpt:

Does this explain the studious, aspirational and conventional nature of famous first-borns such as Prince Charles, Tony Blair, Bill Clinton and JK Rowling? Are Ricky Gervais, Dawn French, Fidel Castro and Bill Gates helpful, affectionate, creative and sociable because they are middle children? Certainly, you could argue, the risk-taking, revolutionary characteristics ascribed to last-borns are the chief traits of Charles Darwin, Copernicus, Descartes, Mozart... and Ronald Reagan.

[HT: Arts & Letters Daily ]

Important Thoughts

Take some time out today and read this article on thoughts from a dying man, professor Randy Pausch. An excerpt:

So what did Pausch actually say that day? He spoke about the brick walls that often appear in the path of every accomplishment. "Remember," he said, pacing the floor, "the brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. The brick walls are there to stop the people who don't want it badly enough."

Top Five on Scotland

The leader of the Scottish National Party give his top five list of books by Scots or about Scotland.

It's pretty eclectic, ranging from The Wind in the Willows to The Wealth of Nations.

Quote of the Day

In a room full of lawyers, any idea, no matter how brilliant, will be instantly attacked.

- David Maister

Friday, November 23, 2007

Showing Respect in China

Gary Rosen takes a short march through China and discovers he's being carefully monitored. An excerpt:

For a group of American reporters, attending such meetings day after day creates a peculiar psychological dynamic, one very different from an ordinary journalistic setting. Our sessions typically lasted an hour and followed a tightly scripted protocol. We would enter with business cards in hand, distribute them to anyone of prominence who greeted us, sit for a presentation, and then, time permitting, ask a few questions. At the conclusion of every session, one of us would rise to thank our speaker and to present a small gift from the group (a light-up pen gizmo from the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, a Seattle Times baseball cap, etc.) and a plaque from the Better Hong Kong Foundation. Finally, we would all gather around for a group photo to commemorate the happy event.

Regularly treated like representatives of the U.S., we could not avoid the feeling that, whatever our professional responsibilities, part of our job was to act as goodwill ambassadors. We were eager to make a positive impression, to show the right mix of curiosity, appreciation, and politeness. When Mr. Huang pointed out this or that Chinese achievement, our inclination was to praise it, as if wanting to let the Ministry of Foreign Affairs know that, yes, we really did like the country. Above all, we did not wish to give offense or to confirm our hosts’ preconceptions about American “China-bashing.”


When then-seventh-grader Carlton Solomon Jr. threw a lit firecracker into the boys bathroom at school last year, he lost his phone privileges for a month and his father made him wake up at 8 o'clock the next few Saturday mornings to cut the grass.

Carlton, now 13, also was suspended from James Island Middle School for the misbehavior and received a criminal charge. The courts referred him to an arbitration program that required him to write the school a letter of apology, finish 14 hours of community service and take part in a program in which incarcerated youths share their stories to teach others the consequences of juvenile crime.

Read all of Yvonne Wenger's article on schools sending disciplinary matters to court.

Bate on How to Think

Consultant, professor, and author Nicholas Bate on:

How to think like Richard Branson

How to think like Steve Jobs

How to think like Howard Schulz

How to think like a Beatle

Tech v. Life

Years ago, I determined that a digital wrist watch is not for me. In most instances, I don't want the precise time. Being able to ascertain the approximate time with one quick glance is enough for my rough purposes. Besides, there is something about the appearance of an old Timex watch that is far more appealing than a windowed band resembling a miniature blood pressure device.

My tendency to be tech-skeptical has come with a price. I was the last person in Arizona to purchase a fax machine - although I'm far from the only person to hate them - and yet can readily acknowledge their benefits. I'm considering a BlackBerry with equal skepticism. Its advantages are obvious but my hesitation comes from a deep-seated fear:

That using the latest technology will turn me into a tech fetishist.

You've seen those folks. They'll show you how a new device will do this, that, and 50 other things and, the longer you listen to them, the more you think, "This seems to make life more, not less, complicated." Using a pencil - remember those? - I can write an appointment in my calendar in seconds while some friends spend two minutes tapping and clicking it into their Cosmo Space Wizardry Whatever. They boast of the automatic reminders and other fine things but they're just as inclined to overlook a meeting.

Clearly, I'm not anti-technology. It can be difficult to be a blogger and fall into that camp. Does it sound odd to love technology while worrying about being a lover of technology? It may seem to be a small leap from one to the other and yet a needed sense of detachment can be lost in the process.

Earning a Bargain

Seth Godin looks at the shopping frenzy of the day that follows Thanksgiving and notes that making customers uncomfortable is a winning strategy.

After all, if the medicine burns, it must be working.

Quote of the Day

It is always fun to do the impossible.

- Walt Disney

Thursday, November 22, 2007

College Slogans: Who Can Beat the University of Chicago's?

Thomas Bartlett wonders: Does a college need a slogan ?

An excerpt:

There are edgier slogans out there. Plenty of colleges have unofficial mottos, which make their way onto T-shirts and coffee mugs. For instance, Reed College's underground slogan is "Communism, Atheism, Free Love." Students at Swarthmore College experience "Guilt Without Sex." And then there's "Where the Hell Is Grinnell?" and "The University of Chicago: Where Fun Goes to Die."

Dark Humor Break

One special cartoon.

"Gastronomic Porno"

Joseph Epstein, one of the best essayists out there, on appreciating Thanksgiving. An excerpt:

Comfort food is what Thanksgiving provides, and to the highest possible power. Large browned turkeys, rich heavy stuffings, sweet potatoes, cranberries . . . but enough of this gastronomic porno. Everyone has in mind his or her own memories of splendid Thanksgiving dinners.

My own are those my late mother-in-law used to give at her house on a small lake in Michigan. She was a dab cook, everything fresh, handsomely set out, perfectly prepared, without the least bit of pretension. She invited her extended family, roughly 20 of us, most of whom drove up from Chicago.

The dominant figure at these dinners was a large, ebullient, red-faced man named John Lull, the second husband of my wife's Aunt Phoebe. John was at what Mencken once called "the country-club stage of culture": A man who lived for golf and food and drink, had an eye for women. At first sight, he was your homme moyen sensuel, except there was nothing very moyen about his sensuality, which was pretty damn extraordinary. Diet, cholesterol, calories, these were words that I never heard pass his lips.

Miscellaneous and Fast

James Wood on how "War and Peace" works.

Mark Fisher on a "Hillbilly Thanksgiving Menu."

Andrew Santella on the "War on Thanksgiving."

Steve Martin and "King Tut."

Quote of the Day

Gluttony is not a secret vice.

- Orson Welles

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Whet Your Appetite

It was due to a career change that New York chef Anthony Bourdain found himself sitting on a rock at the edge of the Kalahari Desert, waiting for the Bushmen to bring him the warthog rectum. It was May 2006, and Tony, as he's known, had left the Manhattan restaurant business to reinvent himself as a television gastro-explorer—a man who would travel anywhere and eat anything for his Travel Channel show, No Reservations, which completed its third season in September. The warthog had been slathered in dirt and charcoal, then slow-cooked to moist perfection. The creature's rectum—the "poop chute," Tony would later call it—was an elongated, translucent tube that looked, if one were being optimistic, a bit like the manicotti you can procure in Little Italy. "The chief of the tribe is offering it to me, the fruit from three days of hunting," Tony would later say. "The whole tribe is watching, his status is based on being a gatherer of meat, and here he's giving me the best part. What am I going to do?" Tony was going to choke it down, his eyes glazing over. In typically wry narration recorded for the show after he returned home, he described his appetizer as "barely cleaned … lightly charred" and dubbed it—with all due respect to the Bushmen—"the worst meal of my life."

Executing Evaluations

Jared Sandberg on the limits of performance evaluations, those creative writing exercises so beloved by managers and supervisors.

10 Rules for Thanksgiving

  1. Thou shalt not discuss politics at the dinner. There is next to no chance that you'll convert anyone and any hard feelings that are generated may last long after the pumpkin pie is finished. Why spoil a good meal?

  2. Thou shalt limit discussion of The Big Game. This is mainly directed at the men who choose to argue plays, records, and coaches while their wives stare longingly at the silverware. The sharp silverware.

  3. Thou shalt say nice things about every dish. Including the bizarre one with Jello and marshmallows.

  4. Thou shalt be especially kind to anyone who may feel left out. Some Thanksgiving guests are tag-alongs or, as we say in the business world, "new to the organization." Make a point of drawing them in.

  5. Thou shalt be wary of gossip. After all, do you know what they say when you leave the room? Remember the old saying: All of the brothers are valiant and all of the sisters are virtuous.

  6. Thou shalt not hog the white or dark meat. We know you're on Atkins but that's no excuse.

  7. Thou shalt think mightily before going back for seconds. Especially if that means waddling back for seconds.

  8. Thou shalt not get drunk. Strong drink improves neither your wit nor your discretion. Give everyone else a gift by remaining sober.

  9. Thou shalt be cheerful. This is not a therapy session. This is not the moment to recount all of the mistakes in your life or to get back at Uncle Bo for the wisecrack he made at your high school graduation. This is a time for Rule #10.

  10. Thou shalt be thankful. You're above ground and functioning in an extraordinary place at an extraordinary time. Many people paid a very heavy price (and I'm not talking about groceries) to give you this day. Take some time to think of them and to express gratitude to your friends and relatives. Above all, give special thanks to the divine power who blesses you in innumerable ways.

Pilgrim Farming

John Stossel notes that the Pilgrims learned that communal farming didn't work. An excerpt:

What Plymouth suffered under communalism was what economists today call the tragedy of the commons []. But the problem has been known since ancient Greece. As Aristotle noted, "That which is common to the greatest number has the least care bestowed upon it."

When action is divorced from consequences, no one is happy with the ultimate outcome. If individuals can take from a common pot regardless of how much they put in it, each person has an incentive to be a free rider, to do as little as possible and take as much as possible because what one fails to take will be taken by someone else. Soon, the pot is empty and will not be refilled -- a bad situation even for the earlier takers.

What private property does -- as the Pilgrims discovered -- is connect effort to reward, creating an incentive for people to produce far more. Then, if there's a free market, people will trade their surpluses to others for the things they lack. Mutual exchange for mutual benefit makes the community richer.

Quote of the Day

One day I saw an ad in the paper that said, "Send me a dollar and I'll tell you how I make money." I sent the guy a dollar. I got a postcard back that said, "Thanks for the dollar. This is how I make money."

- Jackie Vernon

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Fitness and Culture

Malcolm Gladwell considers the culture of long distance running in Kenya. An excerpt:

We've always known that running is culturally important in Kenya, in a way it isn't anywhere else in the world. But these are staggering numbers. A million 10 to 17 year olds running 10 to 12 miles a day? I'm guessing the United States doesn't have more than 5,000 or so boys in that age bracket logging that kind of mileage. 70 miles a week is an enormous amount of running--even for an adult. I ran middle distance at a nationally competitive level as a teenager, and never got close to 70 miles a week.

"The Glorious Toothpick"

A simple product that is, of course, not that simple:

Forster was soon making toothpicks in Boston, but people there did not see much point in buying quantities of what they could whittle themselves. To sell his product, Forster devised clever schemes. He hired employees to visit stores and ask for wooden toothpicks, which retailers were not accustomed to carrying. Soon after these disappointed customers left, Forster himself would come in peddling his wares wholesale. As soon as the storekeepers had toothpicks in stock, Forster’s shills would return and buy them. These were then returned to Forster, who recycled them to the trade.

In another scheme, he engaged Harvard students to eat at local restaurants and ask loudly for wooden toothpicks, which the restaurant managers soon felt obligated to provide. Having established a mar­ket in the Boston area, Forster moved his fledgling manufacturing operation to Maine, where white birch grew in abundance. With the help of Charles Freeman—a Sturtevant employee who had been assigned to develop the toothpick machinery—Forster’s mill was soon turning out toothpicks by the millions daily.

Read the rest of the story here.

Lead into Gold?

In an unprecedented feat of biological alchemy, researchers have turned human skin cells into stem cells that hold the same medical promise as controversial embryonic stem cells.

Two teams of researchers -- one led by Kyoto University's Shinya Yamanaka, the other by the University of Wisconsin's Junying Yu -- used a virus to add four new genes to skin cells. Thus transformed, the reprogrammed cells became capable of changing into nearly any cell type in the human body. Embryonic stem cells also have this ability, and may someday be used to cure degenerative diseases, grow new organs and even replace limbs.

"It's a new era for stem cells," said Robert Lanza, chief science officer of Advanced Cell Technologies, a cloning company in California. "It's the holy grail. It's like turning lead into gold."

Read the rest of the Wired News story.

Culture Break

Donald Pittenger at 2Blowhards takes us on a tour of some little-known Italian impressionists.

Worst 80s' Video

All of us have accomplished admirable things and some less than admirable things, but whenever you are down, take some solace that you did not produce this.

Miscellaneous and Fast

Via The Onion: Law firm buys leather chair!
[HT: The Wall Street Journal Law Blog ]

Fred Siegel recalls an encounter with Norman Mailer.

How do the German media routinely depict the United States?
[HT: Andrew Sullivan ]

Where is Google heading? Some thoughts from The Wharton School.

The Moral Leader

Harvard Business School Professor Sandra J. Sucher uses literature to illustrate points in her class on The Moral Leader. An interview excerpt:

A third story that resonates deeply with the moral challenges business leaders face is The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro, which is about an English butler, Stevens, and the decisions he makes while in service to his master, Lord Darlington, between the First and the Second World Wars. Stevens acts on a very stringent moral code that requires him to put the interests of his master before every other consideration. The novel is an exploration of the nature and limits of loyalty. A student once said, "That book hit me like a bullet between the eyes. I could see myself doing exactly what Stevens did—subordinating everything to my career and my bosses' interests. It was terrifying." Loyalty is something that we come to expect as leaders. Understanding what loyalty can look like from a subordinate's point of view is illuminating, helping us understand the choices that we ask our subordinates to make and the costs that loyalty may impose.

Surfer Wisdom

Has a surfer come up with a plausible explanation of the fabric of the universe?

Crime Story: Over the Line?

Did a broker's brash style result in her death?

An excerpt from Robert Kolker's article in New York magazine:

If they seemed like just another pair locked in the familiar Manhattan boss-assistant microdramas, that all changed on the night of October 30, when Mandy, Stein’s youngest daughter, discovered her mother’s body face down in the living room of her Fifth Avenue penthouse in a pool of blood. The hood of Stein’s sweatshirt had been pulled over her head. Police thought she might have fallen, but then they pulled the hood back. Someone had hit her with something heavy, the medical examiner would later determine, as many as six or seven times. There was no jewelry missing, no sign of a sex attack. The untidy, brutal method of the killing suggested it wasn’t premeditated but a crime of passion. It didn’t take long for the police to come to believe what many of those closest to her had suspected right away—that Linda Stein had finally, perhaps inevitably, pissed off the wrong person.

Quote of the Day

Drink nothing to the dregs, either of the bad, or of the good, for to moderation in everything has one sage reduced all wisdom.

- Baltasar Gracian

Monday, November 19, 2007

Humor Break

And now for something entirely different. Mitchell and Webb on:

Write this or that or maybe

Lager beer

SS uniforms

[HT: Jonathan Wade ]

It's Odd But...

Some of the worst employees think they are the best employees.

The executive who callously handles employee disciplinary problems will run to a lawyer and invoke every possible protection if he or she is threatened with discipline.

The victim in a workplace dispute will often feel a greater sense of guilt than the perpetrator.

The people who grumble about the injustice of the existence of an inner circle want to replace it with their own inner circle.

At least 20 percent of your best performers don't receive the recognition they deserve.

We form teams to conduct extensive research before purchasing a computer system but will swiftly make personnel selections that are far more important and even more expensive.

We wouldn't think of throwing out a piece of equipment that can still provide excellent service but little is done to retain an excellent employee who has turned in a resignation letter.

High schools that dropped Latin as a requirement think Geometry will be more helpful to its students.


James Lileks is peddling a neat coffee mug at his blog and I'm envious.

[Once upon a time there was an mug but the design was uber-basic and whatever jolt you got from the coffee was erased by the mug. A strange and wonderful one is in the works. Promise.]

Too Long?

I recall reading several years ago that many Americans believe that if they have to devote more than ten minutes to preparing a meal, then they have engaged in serious cooking. As a result, the frozen food companies try their best to keep preparation time below that magic number.

This makes me wonder "How long is too long?" when it comes to the workplace. Here's a rough - and completely arbitrary - guide:

Routine staff meeting: A 15 minute length should be the maximum. Limit time and you force people to get to the point.

Brainstorming a specific topic: No more than two hours and that's being generous. If people are experiencing brain-lock, reconvene at another time.

Board meetings: Lean agenda, one hour. Packed agenda, two hours. Let it drag on and the caliber of discussion will decline. [Sometimes you have to indulge the ego. As Congressman Morris Udall once noted, "Everything has been said but not everyone has said it."]

Face to face employment interview: At least one hour unless all the candidate has to do to demonstrate his or her skills is to fog a mirror. Don't go beyond 90 minutes.

Termination meeting: No more than 30 minutes. You're there to deliver a message, not to discuss a decision, and once that message has been delivered, the recipient would rather be somewhere else.


Mark Steyn on giving thanks and America. An excerpt:

We know Eastern Europe was a totalitarian prison until the Nineties, but we forget that Mediterranean Europe (Greece, Spain, Portugal) has democratic roots going all the way back until, oh, the mid-Seventies; France and Germany's constitutions date back barely half a century, Italy's only to the 1940s, and Belgium's goes back about 20 minutes, and currently it's not clear whether even that latest rewrite remains operative. The U.S. Constitution is not only older than France's, Germany's, Italy's or Spain's constitution, it's older than all of them put together.

Americans think of Europe as Goethe and Mozart and 12th century castles and 6th century churches, but the Continent's governing mechanisms are no more ancient than the Partridge Family. Aside from the Anglophone democracies, most of the nation-states in the West have been conspicuous failures at sustaining peaceful political evolution from one generation to the next, which is why they're so susceptible to the siren song of Big Ideas – communism, fascism, European Union.

If you're going to be novelty-crazed, better the zebra-mussel cappuccino than the Third Reich.

Quote of the Day

Be - Know - Do

- The three elements of leadership from the U.S. Army Manual on Leadership

[You can advertise jobs on this site! Go to ]

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Music Break

Gary Jules sings Mad World.

Dave Van Ronk sings Cocaine Blues.

Five for Fighting sings 100 Years.

Peter, Paul and Mary sing A-Soulin.

Miscellaneous and Fast

Roger von Oech on his weirdest seminar settings.

Starbucks can't say that I haven't been doing my part to push up sagging business.

WaiterRant encounters a vicarious dog lover.

Good news for job-seekers who want to telecommute.

The 2007 IgNobel Prizes have been announced.

Back by popular demand: How to read a judicial opinion.

Real contender: a Nihilist Job Resume. [HT: linkbunnies ]

[You can advertise jobs on this site! Go to ]

Test Driver?

Tim Ferriss has started a firestorm with a post on "test-driving" friends by intentionally creating scenarios in which certain qualities would be revealed.

Some questions:

Would you want to be friends with someone who would intentionally conduct experiments with you?

Is it likely that the manipulator in the test-drive stage will cease to manipulate once the friend has passed the test?

An excerpt:

3. Take them to a restaurant with good food but bad service. (Testing: how diplomatically they contend with and resolve incompetence, which is the default mode of the universe)

4. Invite them to an event or function and then profusely apologize when you realize you’ve forgotten your wallet. Offer to repay them later or treat them the next time out. (Testing: how they relate to money issues. Wonderful people sometimes turn into irrational monsters as soon as even a few dollars are involved. It drives me crazy to keep a running ledger of who owes whom for a few dollars here and there, especially in social settings. Repaying the favor is mandatory, but dwelling on differences of pennies is tiring.)

Beyond Hugo

Duncan Currie examines the good news from Latin America. An excerpt:

What about the blustery Chávez? Isn’t he attracting broad Latin American support? In fact, the Venezuelan gadfly has high negatives throughout the region. Of the seven Latin American nations polled in the 2007 Pew Global Attitudes Survey, majorities in Chile (75 percent), Brazil (74 percent), Peru (70 percent), Mexico (66 percent), and Bolivia (59 percent) expressed little or no confidence in Chávez “to do the right thing regarding world affairs.” Even in Argentina, perhaps the most anti-American country in the region, 43 percent of respondents had little or no confidence in Chávez.

In the same poll, majorities in Venezuela (72 percent), Brazil (65 percent), Chile (60 percent), Mexico (55 percent), and Bolivia (53 percent), along with a plurality in Peru (47 percent), agreed that “most people are better off in a free-market economy, even though some people are rich and some are poor.” As Pew reported, “There is broad support for free-market economic policies across Latin America, despite the election in the past decade of leftist leaders.” Indeed, majorities in Venezuela (74 percent), Brazil (70 percent), Mexico (65 percent), Chile (63 percent), and Peru (61 percent), along with a plurality in Bolivia (49 percent), said that foreign companies were having a “good” impact on their countries.

European Vulnerability

Mark Helprin on the soft underbelly of Europe. An excerpt:

Germany must fascinate the Jihadists, too--not for displacing America as the prime target, but as the richest target least defended. Though it will never happen, they believe that Islam will conquer the world, and so they try. Unlike the U.S., Europe is not removed from them by an ocean, and in it are 50 million of their co-religionists among whom they can disappear and find support. Perhaps out of habit, Europe is also kind to mass murderers, who if caught spend a few years in a comfortable prison sharpening their resolve before they are released to fight again. In July the French sentenced eight terrorists connected to the murder of 45 people to terms ranging from one year, suspended, to 10 years. In Spain, with 191 dead and 1,800 wounded, the perpetrators will spend no more than 40 years behind soft bars. Though in 2003 Germany found a September 11th facilitator guilty of 3,066 counts of accessory to murder and sentenced him to seven years (20 hours per person), he was recently reconvicted and sentenced to 43 hours per person, not counting parole.

Quote of the Day

Nowadays most men lead lives of noisy desperation.

- James Thurber

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Personal Cell Phone Booth

If you've ever encountered a loudmouth with a cell phone in a restaurant, you see the beauty of this.

Geekologie has the details.

The Haters

Occasionally, you will encounter haters. The hater often believes that he or she is motivated by idealism and that may be true. It was once said of Henry Wallace that he would give his right arm for an idea ...and yours too, for that matter. Haters frequently possess a self-righteousness and a passion for excellence that can serve as convenient excuses for harsh action and for condemning anyone who is not quite with the program.

To the hater, an opponent is not simply misguided or mistaken, but evil. Conspiracies explain events that would more accurately ascribed to blundering or happenstance and the other person's motives are always suspect.

The hater sets impossible standards and then attacks people for not meeting them. The hater may be able to get the trains to run on time but if a hater gains enough power you can be assured that eventually the trains will run to a camp, either one dedicated to "re-education" or something far worse.

The hater does not just worry about how you behave, but how you think. If you think differently, the hater's initial reaction is that you must be poorly educated or must not have understood because if you had, then you could not possibly hold an opposing opinion. Once it is established that you are quite comfortable with your thoughts, however, the hater will cast you into the darkness. You are a heretic and the hater would much rather punish heretics than persuade unbelievers. The former activity indulges the passions while the latter frequently requires the reassessment and restraint of those very passions.

A baffling feature of haters is that they so often perceive themselves as considerate humanitarians. ["Afterwards," Hitler once remarked, "you rue the fact that you've been so kind."] Many a joke has been told of those who love humanity but hate people. The reason why the joke is so common is the practitioners of that concept are a sizable tribe. I've met many a self-described "people person" who would be far more oppressive than the insensitive power structure he or she rails against.

They're a sad lot, of course. The haters have little joy except for whatever pleasure can be squeezed from searching for the negatives in life. Unfortunately, they will always be with us and one of the wisest things we can do is to review our own attitudes to ensure that we aren't slipping into their ranks.

Top Five: Discovery

Dava Sobel gives a top five list of books about journeys to discovery.

Quote of the Day

Whenever I watch TV and see those poor starving kids all over the world, I can't help but cry. I mean, I'd love to be skinny like that, but not with all those flies and death and stuff.

- Mariah Carey

Friday, November 16, 2007


Before I left San Antonio, Barzun called my attention to what he slyly referred to as his “most notable accomplishment.” It was a book lying on a coffee table in the sunroom and titled “Introduction to Naval History: An Outline with Diagrams and Glossary.” I turned it over in my hands and looked inside: it was, as promised, a point-by-point synopsis of seafaring events, designed for the education of naval officers. It turns out that, during the Second World War, the U.S. Navy commissioned Barzun, an associate professor at the time, to write it. And why not? It was always risky to assume that any topic was beyond Barzun’s ken.

Shirley Hazzard learned this one evening, in the mid-nineteen-seventies, when she and Barzun found themselves standing in a storage room on East Seventy-ninth Street, up to their necks in books. They had been asked by the head librarian of the New York Society Library to help him weed out superfluous and out-of-date volumes. “There we were,” Hazzard told me, raising her arm, “books stacked this high, and I thought, We’re really in for it. We’ll never get through these. Then Jacques reached into a pile, glanced at the title—it didn’t matter which book it was—and said, ‘This one’s been superseded by another; this one is still valid; this one can stay until someone or somebody finishes his new study,’ and in a couple of hours we were done. It was a very impressive performance, because, you know, he wasn’t performing at all. It’s just Jacques.”

Jacques Barzun is 100 years old and still thinking deeply. Read the rest of The New Yorker article here.

[HT: Arts & Letters Daily ]

Committee Members

The Questioner who sharply probes efforts at progress but is somehow absent whenever any work needs to be done.

The Role Model who will look great at the conference table so long as he or she never voices an opinion.

The Parliamentarian who won't oppose a motion for infanticide if it is properly worded.

The Lounger who resigned from the committee months ago but has told no one and continues to attend meetings.

The Mystic who will provide crucial information but only if asked with a direct question.

The Occasional Star who shines rarely but whose brilliance on those occasions makes up for all of the dead periods.

Quote of the Day

We look at it and do not see it.

- Lao-tzu

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Nitwittery Update

This story on the banning of "Ho, Ho, Ho" is another one that seems like a practical joke.

I think they need to kick back and relax at a Scottsdale resort.

[HT: Adfreak ]

Fascinating Read

Or perhaps I should say "fascinating listen" since my drive time has been graced by the CD of historian Jay Winik's marvelous The Great Upheaval: America and the Birth of the Modern World 1788 - 1800.

A masochistic training/consulting schedule has put me on the road lately and Winik's book has lessened the burden. The volume is so packed with intriguing items that I know I'll be listening to it again. If you enjoy well-written history and a broad overview of a crucial period, this has my highest recommendation.

[One thing about the CD: At times the French pronunciations seem to be abit off. Could I possibly be wrong? Non!]

Miscellaneous and Fast

Weapons for geeks who want to play King Arthur.

Does Great Britain really need a motto?

Actor Ron Silver has a blog.

The Norman Lear Center and Zogby have a report on the entertainment tastes of liberals, moderates, and conservatives. [HT: Freakonomics ]

Religion? Like, You Know, Whatever

As the tabloids used to ask:

Truth or Fiction?

John Podhoretz on the rigid screening process for the religion co-editor slot for a major news magazine and a major newspaper.

Quote of the Day

Keeping score of old scores and scars, getting even and one-upping, always make you less than you are.

- Malcolm Forbes

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Neat Site: Songza

Many thanks to Eclecticity, who uses the site to locate Lawrence Welk versions of Led Zeppelin tunes, for steering us to Songza, an Internet jukebox.

Check it out.

Defending Your Right to Agree with Them

Stuart Taylor explores the intolerance that lurks on many college campuses. An excerpt:

"At least in the humanities and social sciences," Emory University professor Mark Bauerlein wrote in a 2004 essay, "academics shun conservative values and traditions, so their curricula and hiring practices discourage non-leftists from pursuing academic careers.... The quasi-Marxist outlook of cultural studies rules out those who espouse capitalism. If you disapprove of affirmative action, forget pursuing a degree in African-American studies. If you think that the nuclear family proves the best unit of social well-being, stay away from women's studies."

Over the decades, academic extremists have taken over more and more departments, like cancers metastasizing from organ to organ. For example, the 88 Duke professors who signed a disgraceful April 2006 ad in the school paper spearheading the mob rush to judgment against falsely accused lacrosse players included 80 percent of the African-American studies faculty; 72 percent of the women's studies professors; 60 percent of the cultural anthropology department; and lots of professors in romance studies, literature, English, art, and history.

[HT: Instapundit ]


I don't think Jack wanted to hear about your proposed changes to his project during the meeting.

You mean because he's not open to any changes?

No. Because he felt ambushed. You should have given him a call ahead of time.

I didn't have time to do that.

Spare me the sad story. You had enough time. You just didn't want to do it.

That may be true. But Jack's a big boy. He should have been able to handle some opposition.

Oh, he can. But he'll also remember how you decided to shift from supporter to adversary at a time that could have caused maximum embarrassment. It's a question of respect.

I can't worry about Jack's feelings. We've got a job to do.

I know. Only the thing is, you see, worrying about Jack's feelings is part of that job. At least it is if you want to be effective.

Red Alert: The China Model

Rowan Callick examines the potential danger of China's strategy, which is perestroika without the glasnost. An excerpt:

From Vietnam to Syria, from Burma to Venezuela, and all across Africa, leaders of developing countries are admiring and emulating what might be called the China Model. It has two components. The first is to copy successful elements of liberal economic policy by opening up much of the economy to foreign and domestic investment, allowing labor flexibility, keeping the tax and regulatory burden low, and creating a first-class infrastructure through a combination of private sector and state spending. The second part is to permit the ruling party to retain a firm grip on government, the courts, the army, the internal security apparatus, and the free flow of information. A shorthand way to describe the model is: economic freedom plus political repression.

The system’s advantage over the standard authoritarian or totalitarian approach is obvious: it produces economic growth, which keeps people happy. Under communism and its variations on the right and left, highly centralized state-run economies have performed poorly. The China Model introduces, at least in significant part, the proven success of free-market economics. As citizens get richer, the expectation is that a nondemocratic regime can retain and even enhance its power and authority. There is no doubt that the model has worked in China and may work as well elsewhere, but can it be sustained over the long run?


Genius Ray Kurzweil talks to Wired News about his movie. An excerpt:

WN: So in the movie's narrative, Ramona the avatar is the main character?

Kurzweil: It's a Pinocchio story. She detects a "gray goo" attack, an attack of self-replicating nanobots. The Department of Homeland Security is oblivious to this, and won't listen to her, so she gets her other avatar friends to work on this. But she breaks some homeland security protocols in the process. She's arrested -- and there's a discussion about how you can arrest a virtual person. She hires (civil rights attorney) Alan Dershowitz to defend her, and also to establish her rights as a legal person. She feels she's human enough to have human rights. There's a whole courtroom scene, and finally the judge says, "OK, I'll grant your legal rights if you can pass the Turing Test." She hires Tony Robbins, the motivational speaker, to help her become more human, and the plot goes on from there.