CBLA-InComps: Episode 1 – The Port Menace

“With the press of this button,” Dr. StrangeJob declares, “we will bring transparency, integrity, and honesty back to the good citizens of Cape Breton.”

“Make sure you press the right button,” shouts Madi, but her warning came too late. Rather than releasing CBRM’s confidential Port documents into public waters, Dr. StrangeJob dumped CBRM’s excess sewage into Sydney Harbor.

It was supposed to be a simple plan: Break into City Hall, find the confidential Sydney Port documents, and release the files to the public. What could go wrong?

… but then again it was the group’s inaugural mission.

Their mandate: To save Cape Breton. Incompetence runs rampant in all areas of the beloved Island. The truth may be out there, but the truth is not being shared with the citizens of Cape Breton. The island needs a new type of superhero, a group of truth avengers, guardians of the Cape Breton galaxy.

In the mould of heroes past and with the goal of futures pleasant, Dr. StrangeJob formed the Cape Breton Liberation Army – Intelligence and Competence Squad (CBLA-InComps). InComps first mission focused on transparency issues involving a proposed multi-billion dollar container port shrouded in secrecy, exclusivity contracts, backroom deals, non-disclosure agreements, and in camera meetings. Their goal was to release all of the municipality’s secret port documents to the citizenry.

… but something went wrong. Something went very, very wrong with the mission!

*****

Dr. StrangeJob, Madi, Ali, and Psycho Sam attended the evening Council meeting as planned. On cue, just prior to the meeting’s closing prayer, the InComps left the Council Chambers to hide in the washrooms until closing time. It is now 2:00 a.m. and all is clear.

“OK, it’s time to break into the Mayor’s office and get those files,” says Dr. StrangeJob, “put on your masks and follow me.” The Doctor, looking like an ageing hippie in a salt ‘n pepper cap, leads the group to the Mayor’s office, enters the four-digit security code, and heads directly to the Mayor’s desk.

“Damn, I thought I was here to break down the door,” says Psycho Sam, the Squad’s Communication officer with a secretive military past and penchant for blowing things up.

“No, you’re here because I told mum that I would keep you out of trouble,” says Dr. StrangeJob.

“How did you know which office was the Mayor’s and where did you get the security code?” asks Madi, the group’s Chief of Intellectual Guerrilla Activities (IGA).

“I will explain that later, but let’s just say that we have a friend at City Hall,” says Dr. StrangeJob, pulling a hidden lever from behind the Mayor’s desk. The inside mole had provided the Doctor with the Mayor’s office number, security code, and location of the hidden lever, but they did not prepare the group for what happened next.

The Mayor’s entire desktop transformed into a Star Trekish computer console complete with buttons, levers, and dials. We’re not talking Star Trek Beyond console, not even Next Generation technology, more like something from the 60’s TV version: control centre for all things CBRM.

“Holy dipswitch!” exclaims Dr. StrangeJob. “So, that’s what she meant by the Mayor’s control,” letting it slip that the inside mole was female.

“It’s up to you, Ali,” says Dr. StrangeJob. “It was my job to get us to this point, but it’s your job to get the data and then get us out of the building.”

Ali, the youngest member of the InComps Squad, is an international ESL student who has been conditionally accepted by the university to study computer technology and GPS. Dr. StrangeJob had specifically recruited Ali because the mission required someone with GPS expertise. The Doctor is not technically inclined, doesn’t get out much at night, and has no sense of direction. In fact, the last time the Doctor was in City Hall after dark was in the mid-70’s when the drunk tank was in the basement.

Ali stared at the console panic-eyed and speechless. His ESL training was still in the basic conversational phase, and his computer classes did not start until next week.

“We have fifteen minutes before the guard’s next round,” says Dr. StrangeJob to Ali, “so where do I put the thumb drive and what button do I press to download the files?”

“Let’s just blow the damn thing up and get the hell out of here,” shouts Psycho Sam.

“Keep your act together Sam.” says Madi. “Did you take too much Ritalin again?”

“Stop bickering you two! There are only ten minutes before the guard returns,” says Dr. StrangeJob, making a mental note to check his little brother’s prescription in the morning.

Ali, still speechless, fumbles at the console and points to a USB slot in the center of the desk. Dr. StrangeJob inserts a USB thumb drive. Ali continues to decipher the cryptic messages displayed next to the buttons, levers, and nobs.

“Eight minutes,” says Dr. StrangeJob.

Ali locates two buttons in the top corner of the console: one labelled “File Dump” and the other “Port Dump”.  Knowing he was on the right track, Ali pulled out his smartphone to cross-reference dump on his language translator.

“Seven minutes,” says Dr. StrangeJob.  “Hurry up Ali! Time is running out.”

“It’s one of these,” says Ali, pointing to the two buttons, “but I am not sure which is the right one.”

Dr. StrangeJob, his view of the console obscured by his Guy Fawkes mask, makes his best split-second informed decision and presses a button.

Madi was the first to realise that Dr. StrangeJob pressed the wrong button. Myoptic and prone to inserting her contact lenses into the wrong eyes, Madi’s poor vision had heightened her remaining senses. The pungent smell of the sewage suddenly spewing into the nearby harbour alerted her to their mistake.

“You pressed the wrong button,” shouts Madi.

“Holy crap!” exclaims Dr. StrangeJob, not fully realising the significance of his choice of words. “Hey Sam, text Miss Mackie and tell her to meet us out back with the car ASAP. Let’s head to Tim’s for a meeting and sort this shit out.”

Ali, using his GPS phone app, led the group through the building, avoiding security and reaching the back exit just as Miss Mackie roared into the parking lot.

Miss Mackie was appointed getaway driver because she happened to have a car, a valid driver’s licence, and lots of gas (the car that is, but then again, she is a 73-year-old vegan). No traffic cop in their right mind would suspect anything nefarious from a 73-year-old recently retired schoolteacher. At least that was the thought. Still, as an extra precaution, the four defenders of political transparency travelled to Tim’s stowed in the trunk of Miss Mackie’s Pinto. It was a bumpy ride.

Miss Mackie had just turned onto George Street when she heard the siren and saw the flashing lights of the police car in her rear-view mirror. Officer Richard Less had noticed the slow-moving low-riding Pinto on Townsend Street and decided to pull the vehicle over.

Dr. StrangeJob, on the other hand, was wishing he had used the washroom before he got into the trunk of Miss Mackie’s car.

Miss Mackie pulled the Pinto over to the side of the road and watched as Officer Less exited his vehicle and strutted to her car window seductively caressing the grip of his revolver. Richard had watched one too many Dirty Harry movies.

“Licence and vehicle permit please,” says Officer Richard.

“Why did you pull me over?” Miss Mackie sternly asks.

“You are driving pretty low on the back end. Perhaps I should take a look in the trunk,” replies Officer Richard.

“Thanks for bringing that to my attention, but I am in a bit of a hurry,” says Miss Mackie.

“Ma’am, this is a safety issue, and I insist,” retorts Officer Richard stepping back two paces from the Pinto while releasing the clasp from his holster. He was in full Dirty Harry mode.

Miss Mackie gave him the stare that only a 73-year-old retired teacher can, but then smiled slowly as she recognised Officer Richard.

“What was your name again?” asks Miss Mackie.

“Officer Richard Less,” replies Richard.

“I remember you. I taught you grade six about 20 years ago,” says Miss Mackie, “except you went by the name Dick back then.”

“So, Officer Dick Less,” smiles Miss Mackie, “Thank you for your concern and have a good day. I will be sure to mention to your mother what an excellent Officer you have become.”

Officer Less deflated, remembering his sixth-grade teacher with fear and knowing she was not to be messed with.

“Yes ma’am, you have a great day,” says Officer Less, sheepishly handing back her licence while skulking back to the patrol car.

Miss Mackie continued to their destination and parked the Pinto behind Tim Hortons on George Street.

“So, did you get the files?” asks Miss Mackie, as the four bruised and battered passengers climbed from the trunk of the car.

“No, my numbnuts brother pressed the wrong button and released excess sewage from the water treatment plant into the harbour,” says Psycho Sam.

“So, that explains the stink,” replies Miss Mackie, waving her hand across her nose.

“No, that smell has more to do with the four of us being scared shitless stuck in the trunk of your car,” the Doctor replies, rushing into Tim’s heading straight to the washroom.

*****

To maintain secrecy and avoid suspicion, InComps hold their clandestine meetings at various coffee shops throughout the area. The George Street Tim Hortons, for example, is so noisy that the group is relatively safe from any form of eavesdropping. The InComps huddle inconspicuously in a corner booth, meticulously camouflaged as a group of 12 steppers holding an after-meeting group discussion. Just another bunch of anonymous caffeine addicts gobbling sugar treats.

“Well, at least we can say we raised a bit of stink on our first mission.” jokes Dr. Strangejob, trying to lighten the mood of the group. “But seriously, this was a colossal f#@&-up! What do we do now?”

“Maybe we should just wait for the whole thing to blow over,” suggests Madi.

“Let’s blow some shit up as a diversion,” suggests Psycho Sam.

“No, we need to take responsibility for our actions. We cannot become like those we fight against,” says Ali.

Just as Dr. StrangeJob was about to speak, his phone started playing The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. A look of trepidation came over his face—that ringtone was assigned to only three of his contacts and he knew that InComps’ future would be determined by the outcome of the conversation. He excuses himself and steps outside to take the call, hoping it’s the good, fearing it’s the ugly, but expecting the bad.

The group silently watches the Doctor through the window. They can tell by his expression that something serious is about to happen.

Dr. StrangeJob returns to the table. He sits and stares quietly at each member of the group, searching for the words he knows he must speak.

“I take full responsibility for the mission’s failure.”

“I will turn myself in.”

“The InComps will need to find a new leader.”

… to be continued (?)

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Competence is our final frontier. Join the farce and support the journey of the CBLA-InComps. Their mission: to expel incompetence, to seek out the competent, and to boldly go where Caper heroes have gone before. We are legion. We know who you are. We are going to the Legion.

Dr. StrangeJob

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One Gaffe at a Time – Step 4

Step 4: Made a directive that all minions turn their will and lives over to management care. 

My sponsor, Donald D., is pleased with my 12+1 Step progress and was particularly delighted with the reversal of character and wordy transformations pondered during Step 3 of my recovery. Unfortunately, Step 4 may be a tougher challenge, especially considering Step 4 may require competent minions to turn their will and lives over to incompetent managers.

The Peter Principle states that all employees in a hierarchy tend to rise to their level of incompetence. Hence, the higher up the corporate ladder you look, the more likely to find incompetent managers. I refer to this as Ladder Fatigue: the further up an organisational ladder a competent employee climbs, multiplied by the length of time in the senior position, the less likely the individual will remain competent. Although a functional addict can still be a competent worker, the concept of a “functional incompetent” is an oxymoron. Would it be oxymoronic to expect a competent minion to turn their will and life over to an incompetent supervisor?

Step 4 inspired Dr. StrangeJob’s theory of osmosis-moronus—the process of becoming a moron through assimilation. Osmosis-moronus has proven a key factor in the proliferation of incompetent bureaucracies. The adage that one rotten apple can ruin the whole bushel is scientifically proven. Speaking of oxymora, it is my unbiased opinion that the common abnormality with the systematic chaos involving civil servants has brought me to the partial conclusion that I am absolutely unsure how we got into this fine mess. But it does explain absent minded career politicians that are clearly confused and deafeningly silent when discussing corporate ethics. Need I say more?

For every yin there is a yang, and for every incompetent manager, there is a competent employee just waiting to be found. Competence, although rare, can have a positive effect on an incompetent environment, a process the Doctor refers to as reverse-osmosis-moronus. Fortunately, working the Steps of IA may thwart osmosis-moronus as you search for the ultimate higher power of true competence. Step 4 provides hope and a mission to expel incompetence, to seek out the competent, and to boldly go where senior managers have rarely gone before. Join the search for the Competence of your understanding, but be forewarned, we are never truly cured of incompetence. What we have is a daily reprieve, contingent on the maintenance of our competent condition.

Step 4 may sound a bit preachy, but then again, I should never generalise. It may be my least favourite step but it is not a real phony. It is a sure bet or definite maybe that it could be a deliberate mistake or planned serendipity that this bittersweet post makes an honest liar of me. Or maybe I am just being oxy-moronic.  

Future columns will discuss my continued journey through the IA recovery process. Until then, feel free to view the inaugural IA meeting, learn about Incompetents Anonymous, read the Audacity Prayer and 12+1 Steps, or become familiar with IA’s additional support groups.

Dr. StrangeJob

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One Gaffe at a Time – Step 2

Step 2: Came to believe that senior management, thinking greater of themselves, could restore the hierarchy to complacency.

I have been trying to get through the 13 Steps of Incompetents Anonymous (IA) as quickly as possible, but my previous three sponsors kept telling me to slow down. Fortunately, I just found an online IA sponsor that believes I will be ready to start Step 2 as soon as my check clears. I also hope I can use his digital signature to verify attendance at court-ordered recovery meetings. Does anyone know if one-on-one texting sessions can be substituted for group sharing sessions?

Step 2 is one of the easier steps for a recovering incompetent to complete. With Step 2, we are not searching internally for personal recovery, but rather focusing our attention on senior management and their inability to restore malfunctioning hierarchies to some semblance of competence. As discussed in the brown-nose nose-diving effect, there is an inevitable downward spiral of incompetence permeating the upper echelons of many of the world’s corporate ladders. Also, keep in mind that Step 2 refers to your existing management’s ability to restore the hierarchy to complacency. In other words, we are asking if current management, (i.e. the very same group that caused or allowed the mess to happen in the first place), has the ability to bring a semblance of competence back to the organisation.

Bottom line – If you are waiting for senior management to circumvent corporate calamity, then don’t hold your breath. I should know because I am a survivor of corporate mayhem and have the employment insurance claims and layoff notices to prove it.

The process of bureaucratic recovery generally starts when a newly appointed senior manager proclaims the need to think outside of the box or warns of the need to make tough decisions. These pronouncements are followed by a series of focus groups, external consultations, rebranding, reorganisations, and all kinds of money and time wasting activities. The process ends with huge fanfare and the release of the updated organisational chart that was pre-approved by senior management prior to the start of the corporate review.

Although the above may sound like a “glass half empty” view of corporate efficiencies, I should note that sometimes things can accidently work out for the better. The “glass half full” scenario does not require direct intervention from senior management but may involve sheer luck, legal interventions, management bonuses, senior level severance packages, or external auditors.

I implore you to be vigilant in pursuing Step 2, watch for the warning signs, and stay clear of the layoff zone. If management even hints at the need to think outside of the box, then they are looking for someone to blame. If they suggest a willingness to make tough decisions, then they are looking for someone to fire. If they claim to be working in the best interest of the company, then they are about to give those that question their authority a layoff notice, those that support them a promotion, and themselves a bonus.

Damn. I just lost another sponsor. Turns out what I thought was an online IA support group was actually a robotic Artificial Intelligence (AI) self-help website. That explains my sponsor’s weird voice. My first hint was when I tried to prepay for my Step 13 session and noticed that the site only supported 12 steps. What would IA recovery be without Step 13?

Step 13: If you have sincerely worked through the preceding 12 steps and still remain incompetent, then you are basically screwed. Your only recourse will be to follow the advice of Dr. Wilbur Swain (Slapstick by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.) – “Why don’t you take a flying fuck at a rolling doughnut? Why don’t you take a flying fuck at the mooooooooooooon?”

Future columns will discuss my journey through the IA recovery process. Until then, feel free to view the inaugural IA meeting, learn about Incompetent Anonymous, read the Audacity Prayer and 12+1 Steps, or become familiar with IA’s additional support groups.

Dr. StrangeJob

The Audacity Prayer: Grant me the authority to eliminate those that will not follow, the ability to terrorise those that remain, and the audacity not to care about the difference.

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