Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Parsing Harper and the CBC

The text in this piece is based on the CBC Newsworld page that originated at 10:35am EST on November 24, 2009. If you doubt the content or think it's been switched around by the powers that be, you could probably visit the Wayback Machine at Archive.org to confirm the initial content if you're that kind of cat. And if you don't agree with my conclusions, well, good for you. That's how things work. Feel free to take exception on your own time, the rest of us get an early start in the morning.

From CBC.ca- Don't muzzle testimony in detainee issue: PM

Let's take it from the top:

A parliamentary committee should not block testimony from those willing to offer evidence responding to allegations that detainees were tortured in Afghan prisons, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Tuesday.

Although not mentioned by name, Harper was referring to David Mulroney, who used to run the government's Afghanistan Task Force.

C'mon. Let's be fair. Prime Minister Harper is, if nothing else, conscious of using the right, non-litigious words for any situation that might, if not shield him, at least make him look not-so-bad in the eyes of the law (the Cadman affair notwithstanding). If the good Mr. Prime Minister welcomes testimony from anyone in the know (such as bureaucrats, field-level workers) who might have two cents worth of opinion on whether or not the federal government a) knew about potential mistreatment of prisoners or b) actually thought this was a bad thing or c) actually cared if it was happening in the first place, so be it. Good on him. But if he's just referring to David Mulroney, well, I guess we can't stop him.

Mulroney, who is now Canada's ambassador to China, said he wants to testify to rebut the testimony of diplomat Richard Colvin. Colvin told a parliamentary committee last week that all detainees transferred by Canadians to Afghan prisons were likely tortured by Afghan officials.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper says a parliamentary committee should not block testimony from officials willing to respond to allegations that detainees were tortured in Afghan prisons.

"The diplomat in question, as everyone knows, has a right to his opinion and has given us his opinion," Harper told the House of Commons. "We also know that a large number of his colleagues didn't agree with those opinions and … they have asked for their right to speak, so I’d encourage the opposition not to muzzle them."

One could suggest that he's obliquely referring to Richard Colvin, who recently said that he'd heard allegations of torture of Afghani prisoners. He also admitted that he'd "only spoke to four detainees himself, and he had no way to guarantee those prisoners had in fact been captured by Canadian troops." This isn't rock-hard evidence on Colvin's part. But it has introduced a note of doubt into the process, so those allegations have to be followed-up. Especially by a government who was elected under the auspices of transparency and accountability. Right?

But Opposition MPs have said they do not want to hear from Mulroney yet, saying they want the government to first release documents related to the torture allegations before he appears.

MPs are seeking cabinet minutes from that time period, all memos sent from Colvin and returned to him and human rights reports given to the Defence Department.

Harper said on Tuesday the government "has and will continue to make all legally available information available. But during question period, Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe said that "we'll hear from witnesses when we have documents, non-redacted documents. We don't want redacted documents."

Bully for Stephen and his betas. That said, why do I have the feeling that the opposition won't be happy with the level of disclosure (especially if there are big black lines pasted through the names of key figures) and that the Conservatives are going to be deeply hurt that the material they supply isn't welcomed with open arms and a cuddle? It's possible that they're going to score a serious point here and hand over everything related to the transfers and bolster their case in such a way that the Liberals can only whine about the whole "it's not what you did it's the way you did it" situation. Or it's possible that Harper's definition of 'everything' is represented by whatever his people have told him is presentable. We'll see.

Colvin has also said his concerns were ignored by top government officials and that the government might have tried to cover up the issue. Colvin further maintained that Mulroney told him to keep quiet about the situation.

Fine. Let Mulroney, in so many words, say "I did not tell anyone to keep quiet about the situation and I disagree with the logic behind Mr. Colvin's findings." Let him be definite and absolute about what happened. Or watch his tapdance. And, listening carefully, so far I'm hearing an overture.

Since then, the government has attacked the credibility of Colvin's testimony. Defence Minister Peter MacKay has claimed that Colvin's statements "cannot be sustained."

Mr. MacKay, define 'sustained' in this context. Assume I'm a moron (and a case surely could be made) and need these things spelled out for me. You haven't said that Colvin's statements are 'untrue', 'out of context', 'false', 'misrepresented' or 'incorrect' and I understand all of those terms. Define 'sustained' or defer to a lawyer who knows what they're talking about.

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff said the prime minister must have known about the torture allegations because of the "cascade" of reports in 2006 and 2007. "It defies belief that this information never reached the prime minister," Ignatieff told the House of Commons. "How can anyone believe that the prime minister did not himself know about torture in Afghan jails and the risk that detainees transferred there would be tortured … How can he possibly justify his failure to act?"

Oh, I don't know. The words "need to know basis" appear to fit in here pretty well, and doesn't Prime Minister Harper hire people to take care of these things? I'm not suggesting that he shouldn't have known about it, I'm just thinking that machinations might have been in place to keep things, shall we say, delegated.

But Harper dismissed the accusation. "The fact of the matter is that whenever Canadian diplomats or Canadian military officials have concrete evidence, substantial evidence, of any kind of abuse, they take appropriate action."

Define 'concrete evidence'. C'mon. You've used the term, stand behind it and risk taking the hit if the rest of the country doesn't agree with your definition.

'Risk taking the hit'. And as soon as I type that, the karmic boomerang flies from my hand...

Rick Hillier, the former defence chief, is to appear at the committee Wednesday, where he's expected to rebut a claim that he was warned that his troops were turning over detainees to torture in Afghan jails.

Good for him! Let him cite dates, times, criteria, details. Nobody else has, Harper and Colvin included. Harper and Colvin especially.

Also scheduled to appear are Maj.-Gen. David Fraser, who led troops on the ground in Kandahar, and Lt.-Gen. Michel Gauthier, who was responsible for overseas deployments in 2006.

Hillier has said he doesn't remember "a smoking gun" of the sort Colvin described. The retired general has said there were always concerns about transferring people to Afghan control, but he doesn't remember such a pointed warning.

The word 'remember' is very interesting. Speaking for myself, I have a lousy memory. I don't remember what I had for lunch on Tuesday of last week. I don't remember anything about my grade 12 formal except for the fact that Romanian red wine is a fine drink when you're seventeen. And if I'd heard rumours about mistreatment of prisoners and a) didn't believe them or b) didn't much care, I might not remember when I first heard the rumblings. I'm just sayin'. Like so many other people over so many other issues in this affair.

Read Colvin's affidavit before flinging mud and decide whether he's a well-intended dupe or whether he's revealing something that was kept out of the public eye. And maybe take a leap and assume that the rest, heaven forbid, is politics.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Alpha behaviour

From the Urban Dictionary: Keyboard Courage

1: A quality or characteristic displayed by a person through the written word that this person would not ordinarily possess.
2: The confrontational attitude exhibited by someone via an anonymous entry to an internet web-page or posting.
3: An attitude demonstrated by someone when they realize that actions taken by them or words written by them across a computer connection will have little, if any, personal repercussions.
4: A false bravery possessed by an individual who does not possess the true quality in person.

2003. The last few iterations of Bernie had been on a manic high of enthusiasm. Version 1.0 considered asking for a transfer out of Toronto to coach softball to Lions Club kids in the Ottawa Valley because he believed in the value of teamwork and determination. Version 1.5 had wanted to redesign the office's org charts and version 2.0 had decided to throw everything he had behind small entrepreneurs because they were our nation's backbone.

I blinked and missed 2.5, but Bernie 3.0 was a policy wonk with law and order leanings. He’d been extolling the virtues of watching 24 not because he necessarily liked the show but because it was important; he'd go onto explain that we (North America, presumably) needed a strong prime time conservative voice on the airwaves.

I was pleasantly indifferent to both the show and Bernie's politics. I didn't think 60 minutes of prime time was going to galvanize any political movement outside of the audience who thought that slogans on t-shirts and bumper stickers represented the alpha and omega of thoughtful political discourse. I felt he was shoving a lot of ideological issues into places where they didn't quite fit: he dismissed the movie 'Traffic' for not respecting law and order, or cheapening the family compact, or did something else that that didn't conform with a policy doc somewhere close to his heart. To each his own...right?

The only thing that genuinely bothered me was how familiar his approach was. I was raised in the Baptist church. I am intimately acquainted with that moment where a conversation turns into a sermon and the preacher expects a certain level of deference from whoever they have appointed parishioner.

I was most interested in how Bernie had started referring to himself as the alpha male at weird times. He'd loaned a book to a few people in the office and pointed it out to different departments with “I read the Anthony Bourdain book first and they're all reading it because I’m the alpha male,” or “They've all started going to my favorite biriyani place for lunch because I’m the alpha male,” and so on. He'd started using it with a deadpan, matter-of-fact delivery Bill Murray would have envied, but it segued into sort of a smug, self-confident smile by the fifth or sixth time it dropped into conversation.

The office thought it was a bit weird. Versions 1.0 through 2.5 of Bernie himself wouldn't have tolerated it from anyone else. His tongue was probably housed firmly in cheek, but that wasn’t a certainty; he'd dropped the phrase often enough that it started to feel like a series of trial balloons, a little experiment to see how this new paradigm played out amongst the locals. Maybe somebody would agree that he was, truly, the alpha male in residence and make the necessary arrangements for the rest of the tribe.

He used it one time too many over a plate of chicken tikka masala and somebody followed it up quietly with “Self-appointed, of course?” and the table erupted in laughter. Bernie joined in pretty much on time, laughed the loudest, and the group moved onto other topics. He didn’t refer to himself as the alpha male again. At least not while we worked in the same Ministry.

Long after that job was over, somebody sent me a quote from an online News & Politics forum where Bernie waxed rhapsodic about Greenland and Canada's defense of the Northwest Passage, a region he claimed to know very well having visited it repeatedly. I knew that Bernie made one visit when we worked together; it's possible his next job sent him northward on a monthly basis. Or maybe the high-octane Lions Club forum fuelled enough keyboard courage to simply seize the topic at the expense of the truth.

You can make a case for attention needing to be paid, but leave it to somebody who cares. Telling tall tales on a message board lacks dignity but isn't a shooting offence. I wasn't about to register to view the original post and I refused to be put onto any de facto firing squad over somebody else's snit. I deleted the mail, left the sender to settle their own score with Bernie and left Bernie himself to his own devices.

Years later, I'm sure that there are kids in the Ottawa Valley who found an alternate softball coach to dispense life lessons and seize a teachable moment or two during batting and catch practice. And those concerned about Canada's sovereignty over the Northwest Passage had a booster in Bernie 3.0 to assist them with their struggle.

Bernie's 4.0 specs are out of my purview and I sleep well at night.

Nov 2009

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Worse employment behaviour

It was late 2001 and 9/11's effects shockwaves arguments posturing politicizing momentum everything was still fresh and for anyone out of a job it wasn't easy to navigate. I had been in software for seven years and software abruptly wasn't unless you were with Microsoft and I firmly was not. I had a long list of wasn't, to be honest. Wasn't employed, wasn't confident, wasn't in the best of moods, wasn't finding anything and wasn't exactly filled with trust.

I was, however, involved in a job-finding course with Employment Canada. I thought that it had to help. Or couldn't hurt. If it was in the feds' best interest to stop paying out EI in my direction, perhaps their rather formal job seminars would suggest interview/sourcing/resume/searching tips that I'd neglected.

This formality included a few mornings of cold-calling each week. We were to go through the want ads/phone books/job sites and find a company that we wanted to know more about (regardless of whether it was looking for able-bodied recruits or not). We were to call the company and not ask for a job, but to ask about what they did and what they were looking for in new employees. In a perfect world, the person on the other end of the phone would at least outline what the company was all about and maybe even ask for your contact information for that distant day when they might actually be hiring again.

I understood the point of the exercise: it made you comfortable asking questions and convinced you that cold-calling didn't have to be terrifying (it was, but didn't necessarily have to be). And if you actually got somebody on the phone and they gave you information you'd asked for, you were supposed to write a thank-you letter to that person c/o the company in question.

Formal, yes. The thank-you note seemed a bit much. But desperate times, desperate measures, right? And what harm could it do?

I had done this a few times with software and consulting firms and a firm I'm going to call Document/Action. They advertised their ability to 'help our clients surpass their own goals and meet their clients needs by helping them to communicate their services in plain-language and with common-sense tactics.' I had no idea what they actually did. Their website implied that they had a system for improving workflow and streamlining documentation. It sounded like something I could work at as an editor.

I called and had a chat with Robyn, a bored sounding woman who wouldn't outline their system ("It's proprietary, but if you visit any of the big law firms you'll see our name on their outgoing docs") and said she'd keep me in mind if they were looking for office staff or consultants.

Two days later, she called back. The head of the company wanted to meet with me to discuss their system and potential job prospects. I showed up at their office a few days later to meet Lesley, the company's founder. Her manner was weird. She over-enunciated and smiled a lot in a way that suggested an image coach had told her to smile when there was a lull in the conversation. Everything was framed with a too-big smile (her "Could you pass the cream?" at the coffee machine was sold with the force of Broadway) and everything she said sounded vaguely patronizing. "Robyn was impressed by that thank-you letter. Wow! We've never got one of those before. Good for you!"

She beamed in a way that asked for a response. I had nothing. "Uh, I'm glad it..."

"Really, good for you! It shows that you're polite and that you think about other people's feelings. That's good in a communicator. That's great. We forget that a lot. But it's all about feelings eventually, isn't it?"

Sure it is. She talked about feelings a bit more then she talked about 'the system' which was sort of a template for editing the documentation of your choice. You'd put the most important aspect into box one and the secondary material in box two and summarize in box three and stick it into a database and charge the client $75.00 per hour to get their own material back. She made a few other references to communication and caring and the client's feelings ("They have to feel like we've distilled their thoughts into something stronger than they first imagined") but it was really just an editing exercise. And I'd have to learn 'the system' if I was to work for her company, and it wasn't difficult but it required a certain mindset. Some people simply didn't get it. Some did. If I got it, I might be able to work for them. They actually led seminars to teach 'the system' to some of their well-heeled clients.

I waited for the part where she told me I'd need to take a test, or to ask me for my approach to writing or editing. We never got that far. She pulled out one of their seminar sales-sheets and said "Now, the price looks a little stiff at first, but when you think about the rates we pay once you've learned it and a client has taken you into their firm..." and I tuned out. I was horribly aware of what was coming.

She'd highlighted one of her seminars and the fee (around $1800) and took a very long time to very gently explain that I couldn't work for them until I'd learned 'the system.' And it was possible that I wouldn't 'get' the system so I couldn't work for them. And Lesley wasn't just the presenter, she was also the adjudicator. She'd be the one taking the money, judging the results and placing me with their clients. If there were any clients. I saw seminar salesheets but very little staff and no client list.

This had not been a job interview. It had been a pitch. It had to look like an interview to get me in the door. It was so blatant a pitch that I actually was confused by it for a few hours. I didn't think that anybody would try to pull something that was such an obvious cash grab. She could have simply said "Give me $1800 and I might give you a job" and saved both of us some time.

Worst of all, it wasn't even a full-fledged scam. It was a functioning business with some decent clients (who were revealed to me on the way out the door). It just wasn't as groundbreaking or essential as their website and general attitude suggested. They probably had four or five full-time employees and a handful of consultants they'd trained to work offsite. Their primary revenue-flow was training. You wouldn't know it until you got there.

And the weirdest part was the barely concealed contempt behind it. No false sincerity, just a faint impatience that I wasn't signing-on immediately ("We take Visa and Mastercard," she'd said hopefully). I said I'd think about it, which was reason enough to shoo me out of the office, which was a blessing. I was a rube, sure. Having discovered my rubeness, I wanted to go home and wash it out. But she insisted - with the biggest smile of all - that I simply had to meet Robyn, my initial contact and the recipient of the thank-you note. Robyn was well dressed, grey haired and radiated 'you're an easy mark' with everything she said.

"I'd never gotten anything like that before from a phonecall," she said. "We thought this Michael person, he must be pretty special." And she didn't even sell the line. If you're going to scam, you've at least got to go for it. She was on script but was phoning it in. I was a potential $1800 and it wasn't worth her effort to go for it.

What's the next step past cynical? I can't describe it, but just I'd met it. When you're too bored to scam and its a large part of your lifestyle choice, it's straight downhill from there.

I went home and spoke to a few gainfully-employed consulting types and asked their take on it. They all said that learning a technique is sometimes part of a position, but it's part of doing business. Anyone who offers to teach you something for a fee under the auspices that it might land you a job with them has a seriously flawed business model or really likes collecting fees. I was disappointed but not surprised. I was also not entirely freaked out and desperate at being employed - that came later - so I wasn't going to shell out and hope for the best. But I knew there was a point where I would have done that, if the resources were available. Maybe a lot of people did.

Lesley called that evening with - surprise - a special offer on her next seminar. It would only cost me $1500 to possibly get work with her firm. I declined and said I wasn't interested, there were too many variables.

"Whatever do you mean by that?" she asked pleasantly.

"I can't see myself paying for training for a job I might not get."

"I can understand that, Michael. But between you and I, and trust me on this, I think you'd really get it and..." and a few other polite words and when it was clear I wasn't interested she made some disappointed noises and that was that.

Rick (aka The DI) wrote me later that night. We'd worked at the same software firm for a few years, he'd been laid off around eighteen months before me. I gave him a short account of the day's events and asked if I simply should have flipped them the finger of my choice and taken my leave most ricky-tick. He replied with:

"Based on your story, I personally would have whipped it out and pissed on their desk then and there but for an old bit of advice I hold dear.

Whenever anyone tells you 'trust me' when offering money or asking for it, think of this:

Who do you trust?

Trust in the lord.

You did okay my son

I went to bed and remembered the three-word message I'd sent him when he'd been laid off: Bastards. Bastards all. It applied equally well to the day I'd just lived.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Employment behaviour

It's October 2003. I had just been laid off from a small consulting firm (rather politely: the office manager cried when she did it) and was heading to an interview at yet another consulting firm while waiting for a job offer from a software firm (which I was sure I was going to get) and from one of the big Canadian banks. I went to the consultants believing that it was a 'safety' option since I was sure I'd get the software job. I was also sure that I didn't actually know anything and I shouldn't turn down any interview when looking for work.

The job posting called for somebody with copy writing and proposal writing experience. The office was downtown in a charming old building that had been a small hotel in the 40's and 50's and a swish wine bar in the 70's and 80's. I'd gone there with my sister and her friends a few times when it was still a cool place for U of T students to waste time in. Those days were long gone but I recognized the oak-lined walls and leather chairs. In fact, it still looked like the swish wine bar to the extent that they'd just taken out a few tables and re-purposed the bar (it held coffee makers) and left the rest of the furnishings.

I looked around for computers, printers, offices, cubicles, etc. Nothing except a few closed doors. "The rest is all downstairs," was all I got out of the Hiring Manager, which wasn't entirely unreasonable. I understood the outside office was for the clients. She wouldn't even show me the downstairs which was a bit troubling, but she was within her rights as an employer.

She asked me for some proposal and marketing samples and to explain my approach to work. And did I know how to use Nexis/Lexis (I didn't) and did I mind working late? I told her that I used to work in software and would frequently work weird hours, coming in at noon and leaving at 11pm.

She said "It would be more like coming in for 9am and leaving at 9pm. Sometimes. Not always, of course."

"It happens," I said. "How often does it happen here?"

She changed the subject. She also wouldn't exactly outline what the position required. She asked if I'd written sales scripts (I had) and had I ever delivered them to an audience? That sounded like a sales job and I'd never done sales outside of scripting and I didn't want to be involved in sales or to be interviewed for a sales position under false pretenses. I said that outside of scripts, sales didn't appeal to me and she changed the subject back to working late and still wouldn't say how often it happened.

She finally asked if I'd mind taking a test, "an advanced behavioural & IQ test employed by our firm." It was a fairly standard grammar test with some logic-testing questions at the end. I filled it out, shook her hand and went home.

That evening, she called and said that the owner of the firm would be calling me sharply at 7pm the following night. "He's very busy and tied to tight schedules so he won't phone you back if you don't pick up," she said. "And you did very well on our IQ test. You got 89 out of 100. We usually don't call anyone who doesn't get over 90, but your answers were very interesting even when they were wrong."

That sounded strange, if sorta-kinda complimentary. I said "Can I ask what IQ testing method you use?"

There was too long a pause on the phone. "What do you mean?"

"That test...was it Mensa, or that Yale test that they give to US students, or..."

"It's something we've compiled from the best of all the tests our clients have recommended," she said very quickly. "And you did well, Michael. You really did."

In all of our other conversations, she'd been more formal. I became Michael when I asked a potentially awkward question. This suggested that the standard test wasn't as 'standard' as they'd made it out to be.

They were, of course, free to use whatever kind of test they wanted, even if it'd been compiled from a few self-help or management books that the firm's owner was into at the time. But they'd implied that it was something different and I thought it was a bad omen for the rest of the proceedings.

The next morning, the software company called and told me I wasn't going to get the job. The consulting firm's position was suddenly a lot more tempting and I wasn't so bothered by the prospect of another test.

At 7:00pm that evening, the owner called. It started with a careful, slightly echoing voice saying "Michael, I'm on a speaker phone. I like to walk around my office while I interview somebody and even though you're not here I'm still going to walk around my office. I'd like you to be sure that nobody interrupts you and that you're quite comfortable because, although this isn't going to be a long phone call, it's very important that we not be interrupted and that I have your full attention. This might be a very significant step in your career and I think you should take it all seriously. Now. Are you comfortable?"

'Comfortable' doesn't come close. It didn't help that he sounded like Hans Conreid, aka the voice of Snidely Whiplash in countless Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoons. A milder, polite Snidley. Sort of what Snidley would sound like if he had you over for cigars and sherry. But the resemblance was uncanny. And the interview was holding less and less appeal for me. It felt like a lot of fuss over something that should take far less time and hold far less drama.

But I didn't have a job. So I said "I'm very comfortable, thanks. And what would you like to know?"

I can skip over most of the rest: his questions were along the same lines as the Hiring Manager and were almost entirely proposal based. I didn't particularly like proposal writing but he appeared to like my approach to it and kept suggesting that other forms of writing (marketing, technical) were in the works and I might be the guy to bring them into regular rotation. Between topics, he'd say with great gravity "It's important you answer this question honestly: on a scale from 1 to 10, how is this experience feeling for you?"

He was scoring solid sevens and eights until he asked about my salary expectations. I quoted the range that was listed on the job posting and put my expectations on the higher (but not highest) end, which was a bit higher than my salary in consulting.

He said, "That's very interesting. Now, if I said that we could start at..." and listed a far lower number (lower than I had been making in either software, government or consulting), "...with a guarantee of making up for it in time-and-a-half overtime every month?"

"That's interesting too," I said. "How much overtime is average?"

"We get a lot of rush jobs," he said. "Not every week, but enough to make a little extra. Maybe a lot extra. It's the kind of thing that I think would be very good for you, Michael."

That was the fourth or fifth 'This would be good for you, Michael' comment and I'd never heard anything like that in any other interview. He might have been deeply concerned about me as a person and I'm a bastard to mock it. Or he might just have been manipulative and pretentious.

"Can you give me an average number of extra hours?" I asked.

"It's hard to get an average. But you'd be busy. It'd be a great chance to work your way up very quickly."

I didn't ask 'Up to what?' because I thought the answer would be useless. He finally played the number game again and said "On a scale from 1 to 10, how do you feel about our salary discussion?"

I felt that the manipulative and pretentious scenario (not to mention cheap) was looking more apt by the moment.

"I'm saying 4 out of 10 for this one," I said.

Without missing a beat, he said "Alright. Now, what would get you up to, let's say, 8 or 9 out of 10?"

"I think another six thousand dollars per year would do it."

It sounded arrogant. It wasn't meant to. His offer was very low and the overtime details were very slow in coming.

He took a few seconds and said "I'm going to be honest with you," (as if this should be an option, or as if it was a favour bestowed upon me and few others), "I like your writing samples. I usually don't like that sort of thing because I want my people to write the way I want them to write. But I liked yours right when I read them. I think that this sort of firm is what a younger writer needs, especially somebody like you. So, Michael...I would we willing to put in writing that we would have a salary review every three months based on your performance and the amount of overtime that's required. This means that if you've had an above average level of time and a half and a salary increase isn't warranted, we'd let it slide for another three months. Does that appeal to you?"

My salary-score stayed at 4 out of 10, something he said he wanted to "take away and think about if I get some spare time tonight." He repeated his belief that his firm was just what I needed a few times more and it's not that it sounded insincere. Quite the opposite. It was polished. It was the sincere belief of somebody who sincerely needed a cheap proposal writer who might get lured in with the promise of great overtime for unspecified clients and a salary review guaranteed in writing which actually guaranteed nothing more than a chat every 90 days.

We parted cordially. I wasn't going to say no to anything. But 'yes' was going to be a difficult point to reach.

My wife and I went away for a week for a family wedding. While away, the bank called me and offered me the job. I accepted the terms with barely concealed glee (it had been a dark horse and was a good job) and called the consulting firm upon my return to politely withdraw from the process. I did, and they fell off the radar immediately.

Less than a year later, their office closed and re-opened as, you've got it, another wine bar. The oak-lined walls are still there, now festooned with a quasi-French look rather than the British gentleman's club aura of days past. This 'worldwide consulting firm' disappeared from the city and even the internet. I google the owner's name from time to time and he's listed as a senior partner in a number of other companies, all consulting/recruiting related, all of them about to hire exciting new people. I wonder if they all need to take IQ tests.

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