Fast & Curious: Short Takes on Random Things

Resigning woman

Lucia MacIsaac

Lucia MacIsaac resigned as board chair of the Port of Sydney Development Corporation last week prompting residents all over the CBRM to say, “Who?”

MacIsaac has not been exactly high profile in her role but then, neither has the port board. In fact, the only thing I can tell you for sure it has done since it was appointed in 2017 was to vote (at its very first meeting) not to publish the minutes of its meetings. (The first rule of Port Board is: you do not talk about Port Board.)

MacIsaac resigned following the port’s annual general meeting Tuesday evening, telling the Post that council had refused to accept the board’s “strategic plan” for the organization. I’m not entirely sure why council refused — the Post quotes Mayor Cecil Clarke suggesting a “provincial minister” had “disagreed” with one of their “requests” and their “solicitor” had advised caution. I clearly have some work to do.

But I wrote about the strategic plan back when Port CEO Marlene Usher presented it to council in July 2018, noting:

On Tuesday, Usher asked that the PSDC board’s mandate be expanded, once again, to encompass all of Sydney harbor.

Asked by District 7 Councilor Ivan Doncaster if this meant the board would once again control the greenfield site, Usher demurred, saying the board would simply “advocate” on behalf of harbor development.

That advocacy will include trying to get private businesses to offer services like treatment of international waste (a prerequisite for getting Andrew Prossin’s One Ocean Expeditions operation based here, and one that is much more complicated than it sounds, as the Spectator explained here and here) and providing fuel.

It will also include “advocating” on behalf of both container terminal…and the rail line.

(I will resist a tangent about One Ocean Expeditions, but if you haven’t read the latest developments with Prossin’s cruise line, you’ll find them here.)

Council didn’t approve the strategic plan back in July 2018,  instead requesting a staff issue paper on the subject which was to have been delivered in September. I don’t recall seeing such a paper, but that doesn’t mean there wasn’t one — I will look into it for next week’s issue.

In the meantime, may I just point out that MacIsaac is the head of LearnCorp at CBU and LearnCorp (how did not know this?) trains people to work in the “energy industry.” And if you’re thinking solar, geothermal, wind and/or tidal, clean the petroleum out of your ears: I mean old school energy. Their “areas of expertise” include:

  • Onshore & offshore oil and gas operations
  • LNG Liquefaction
  • LNG Regasification
  • Pipeline systems

You know: the future.

 

More than consumers

Amazon warehouse. Source: Wired https://www.wired.com/2014/06/inside-amazon-warehouse/?mbid=social_twitter

Amazon warehouse. Source: Wired

As you may have noticed, I’m a bit obsessed with Amazon this week, which is funny, really, because I haven’t bought anything from Amazon since my global payment card was so cruelly taken away from me this spring. (I whined about that at the time. Now I’ve been told that not only has the credit union no plans to offer a replacement product, it will start charging me $25 anytime the card is charged because it’s still listed with some online retailer as my preferred method of payment. Finance is fun!)

But I digress.

My obsession with Amazon started with Emily Guendelsberger’s book, On the Clock, which I reviewed this week (she’s the Philadelphia journalist who worked three, low-wage jobs, including one at an Amazon warehouse, then wrote about it) but it got a further boost from an article about Jeff Bezos and his “unstoppable” company in a recent New Yorker.

In it, a Columbia law professor, Tim Wu, expressed the problem with Amazon more concisely than I ever could:

If you’re a consumer, it’s perfect for maximizing the efficiency of finding what you want and getting it as cheap and fast as possible. But, the thing is, most of us aren’t just consumers. We’re also producers, or manufacturers, or employees, or we live in cities where retailers have gone out of business because they can’t compete with Amazon, and so Amazon kind of pits us against ourselves.

The thing is, most of us aren’t just consumers.

 

Corporate comrades

That same New Yorker article began with a description of founder Jeff Bezos’, Amazon’s “principles” and “precepts” (employees carry them in their wallets on laminated cards) and reading them it struck me, as it has before, that modern corporate culture owes a lot to Russian and Chinese communism. Consider the Bezos-isms employees are expected to learn by heart and tell me they couldn’t as easily have come from Mao or Lenin:

Examine your strongest convictions with humility.

Frugality breeds resourcefulness, self-sufficiency, and invention!

Never say ‘that’s not my job.’

Dare to think, dare to speak, dare to act.

(Okay, that last one actually was a Maoist exhortation, but I don’t blame you if you couldn’t tell them apart.)

As with so many of my realizations, I soon discovered I was not the first to have it: Sara Robinson was writing about it in Slate way back in 2012 (“How corporations have made America like the USSR“), saying of the generally accepted American idea that the USSR lost the Cold War:

An old bit of wisdom says: choose your enemies carefully, because over time, you will tend to become the very thing you most strongly resist. One of the most striking things about our victorious corporations now is the degree to which they’ve taken on some of the most noxious and Kafkaesque attributes of the Soviet system — too often leaving their employees, customers, and other stakeholders just as powerless over their own fates as the unhappy citizens of those old centrally planned economies of the USSR were back in the day.

Robinson’s analysis focuses on more important issues than slogans, but I just can’t get past the slogans. Amazon warehouses feature banners reading, “WORK HARD. HAVE FUN. MAKE HISTORY.” Remember, these are aimed at people who may walk over 15 miles per shift gathering items from drawers and risking dismissal if they fail to collect them fast enough. There’s probably lots of opportunity to “make history” in the process, but what kind of history?

My favorite corporate sloganeer at the moment, though, is Concentrix, the call center operator that took over Convergys in 2018. During the course of my research last week, I ran across the description it gives of its “culture” on its website. It presents everything in a funky font against a cheery backdrop and if you didn’t speak English, yo, you’d probably think, “Cool.”

Concentrix culture

Source: Concentrix website https://www.concentrix.com/

But I speak English, and so found myself, once again, arguing with a text:

WE ARE FANATICAL ABOUT OUR CLIENTS AND STAFF

Do you have a dictionary in the office? Because if you’d looked up “fanatical” before you included it in your marketing materials you would have seen the definition is either “extremely interested in something, to a degree that some people find unreasonable” or “holding extreme beliefs that may lead to unreasonable or violent behavior.”

Do your clients and staff ever take out restraining orders?

WE HAVE HIGH INTEGRITY WITH EXEMPLARY CHARACTER

I think that’s something you’re supposed to show, not declare.

WE ARE TENACIOUS IN OUR PURSUIT OF EXCELLENCE

You scare me.

WE VALUE KNOWLEDGE, OPENNESS, AND TRANSPARENCY

By which you mean, you track your employees’ every movement from the moment they enter the building to the moment they leave.

WE HAVE CONTRARIAN VIEWS ON HOW TO RUN A BUSINESS

Buy high, sell low!

WE ARE BOLD IN OUR DECISIONS

I’d be more comfortable if you were “informed” in your decisions.

WE ARE DISRUPTIVE IN THE MARKETPLACE

This is not necessarily a good thing.

WE INVEST IN THE FUTURE

This is magical realism.

WE ALL CONTRIBUTE AND ARE ONE CONCENTRIX

Four legs good, two legs bad!

(I always feel better after these arguments, probably because I always assume I’ve won.)

 

Lights! Camera! Action!

Excuse the dated intro to an item about film-making. You need neither lights nor a camera to make a film in 2019. You don’t need a big budget or access to A-list actors either. What you might need, though, is a little instruction from someone who has actually made films. And if that’s the case, then you’re in luck:  local author and filmmaker Kenn Crawford will be leading a free introduction to writing and film-making for beginners at the Glace Bay Library.

Crawford, who offers an online “Fundamentals of Screenwriting & Story Structure” course says of his approach:

[Y]ou’ll learn what you really need to know to get your story idea out of your head and on the written page in a format that can be shot by you or by independent filmmakers that do not have a large budget.

The free introductory workshop — for ages 14 and up — will be held on Thursdays (November 7, 14, 21 and 28) from 6PM to 8PM at the Glace Bay Library at 143 Commercial Street.

All you need to bring is your imagination!  If you do have a phone, tablet or camcorder, you can bring it along, but it is not a requirement to participate.

Space is limited to 20 people. To register, visit the Glace Bay Library or call 902-849-8657.