Friday, January 15, 2010

Reverend Joshua versus The Crazy (Part Three)

(Also see Part Two!)

It's true, it's true! The big finish! Enjoy!

Money for Nothing (and the Crazy for Free)

Michael sent out one of his occasional emails detailing the latest installment of Obama’s Secret Plan to Destroy the World and apparently I sighed way too loudly as I read it because Michael flipped out and shouts about how I didn’t have to read the email if I didn’t want to, but the article he linked to was that Obama is going to raise taxes in January 2010 so high that he would have to cut everyone’s pay by a third. The original phrasing Michael used was “if you are still here in January, your pay will be cut by a third.” He specifically emphasized that he was referring to me and I thought it was odd that he was already planning for me not being there in January.

Unsurprisingly, there was no tax rate increase, but Michael apparently did recently cut pay, as evidenced by a Craigslist want ad recently discovered by my roommate. (Craigslist deletes ads after a period of time, so I archived this for posterity.) A year ago I would have said that I don’t know what kind of person would focus a want ad on the fact that he had just cut salaries; today, I can confidently say that I know exactly what kind of person does that.

Another email in August had a link to what at the time was just an early draft of the Health Care Bill. Anyone with any knowledge of current events or critical thinking skills was aware that there were at least six versions under review of which this was just one. Not Michael, though: “The Democrats are pulling a fast one trying to pass a Health bill and are lying to our faces right now. Here is the actual bill.” The email also included a huge list of “facts” about the bill, each “fact” referring to a page in the bill and whatever evil aspect of Obamacare it represented. As Michael bellowed through the office that everyone should read the email, he implied that the “facts” were from research that he had personally done. My general policy with Michael’s emails was to spot check them: pick a couple of points and do a quick Google search to debunk them just to make sure that I still lived on planet Earth.

The first “fact” from the email: “Page 22 of the HC Bill MANDATES the Govt will audit books of ALL EMPLOYERS that self insure!! WTF!!” I didn’t even have to research this: if a company decides to self-insure their employees – the employer assumes the direct risk for payment of employees’ benefit claims – of course the government is going to make sure that the employer can afford to do so, especially if mandates exist for health insurance. This is called “closing a loophole” and also protecting employees: the only thing worse than having no insurance is finding out that your employer never actually had the funds to cover the insurance that you thought you had. I double-checked the bill to see if there was something missing from this “fact” and it turned out there was: auditing books of employers who self-insure is part of an 18-month study of the efficiency of self-insurance, not a permanent aspect of health care reform. Two strikes on the first pitch.

I skimmed through more “facts.” “Page 29 lines 4-16 in the HC bill – YOUR HEALTHCARE IS RATIONED!!!” Insurance companies decide what they will pay for based on various factors. You can call it rationing, risk management, cost-benefit analysis, or whatever you like, but it’s all the same. I was disappointed by the inclusion of this oft-repeated criticism, as Michael’s nonsense is usually of a higher caliber. “Page 50 Section 152 in HC bill – HC will be provided 2 ALL non US citizens, illegal or otherwise.” I did a simple search of the bill for the word “undocumented” and found that on page 143, section 143 it clarified: “no federal payment for undocumented aliens,” defining undocumented aliens as “individuals who are not lawfully present in the United States.” Two more pitches, two more strikes.

I skip forward to a “fact” in big red letters, so it must be important and certainly it has to be true if he’s going to call attention to it: “Page 304 L 17-19 BIG ONE HERE: Expedited Data Collection – Chapter 35 and…” it has a link to a page that no longer exists. Fortunately, Google archived it: the point here is that the Health Care Reform act would be able to use collected data in any way it sees fit, exempting the government from protecting the privacy of citizens. Here's the text of the bill on page 304, lines 17 through 19: “Chapter 35 of title 44, United States Code shall not apply to this section.” What is Chapter 35 of title 44, United States Code? It’s the Paperwork Reduction Act! The Paperwork Reduction Act has nothing to do with privacy laws, it's intended to ensure that the goddamned government wastes as little time, money, and - as the title of the law suggests - paper as possible. At this point there are more errors in the “fact” checking than there are “facts.” In compiling this list, Michael failed at reading and comprehension in every conceivable way.

But wait, there’s more failure: in researching that last “fact” I discovered that the list was compiled by this illiterate. Not only did Michael steal someone else’s work, but he stole research that was incorrect to the point of being a lie. You couldn’t possibly fit any more failure and stupidity into one email.

Ohhhh yes you can. The email included the warning that "If Health Reform passes, not only will your pay be reduced, but the Post Office ( which means the government) will run your Dr. office and our health industry, and we WILL sacrifice our elderly as all all socialized medicine does in every nation including England and Canada." I'm done with this part of the story.

Denouement Part Two – Race to the Bottom

Michael spent a great deal of time, money, and energy in creating an Internet-based War/Battle Simulation/Social Networking Strategy Game Website with a storyline based on his particularly odd brand of paranoid delusional politics: United States of Earth. I don’t know anything about how the Game works because I never tried to play it, but the explanation I was given made it sound like an MMO based on a combination of Risk and Diplomacy board games. The plot and setting is familiar; it’s 2011 and Obama’s Secret Plan to Destroy the World damaged America so badly that Republicans won majorities in both Houses of Congress in the 2010 election, but Obama refuses to seat the new Congress and revokes the US Constitution, leading the American people to revolt. The player’s goal is to seize territories and government to eliminate the evil liberals/Federales/traitors boogeymen.

The first guy Michael hired to do website programming for USoE quit after two weeks because he could not get Michael to understand the limitations of web-based gaming and was tired of being instructed to do the impossible. The second programmer quit after being ordered to wash his hands because Michael witnessed him leaving the bathroom without washing his hands; this incident was aired publicly on the calling floor while employees were on live calls as Michael ordered his assistant to very publicly clean the programmer’s keyboard, mouse, and work area with Lysol while Michael stood around shouting about it. Granted, not washing your hands after you use the bathroom is nasty, but this can be handled quietly.

Before United States of Earth went live, Michael needed posts on USoE similar to the ones on Earthfrisk, presumably for the same reason: to make the game website appear to have legitimate traffic. Michael also wanted us to focus on creating Trivia Questions for the game, as players will answer those questions to earn points to create larger armies to win battles to win the Internet, fuck if I know why. Creating Trivia Questions is easy: set the StumbleUpon toolbar to Wikipedia-only and then dig something out of the entries that come up. However, creating Trivia is far more time consuming than simply posting links; each question is multiple choice, so it needs one real answer and three incorrect answers.

Michael’s inability to focus leads to an erratic demand for Posts one day and Trivia the next, then nothing is mentioned for two weeks, then a sudden demand for Posts that changes to Trivia later in the day. One October Tuesday evening, just before the end of my shift, Michael storms around the office bellowing his demands Trivia Questions for the site. I do what I can over the remaining three hours of my shift to add Trivia Questions to the site between calls, but in deference to the clients I focus on answering phone calls and providing customer service to the callers.

A little over an hour into my shift the following day, I receive an Instant Message from the Office Manager telling me to shut down both computers and come to her desk. I know it this can’t be good: the only reason I would need to shut down both computers is if I’m not going to be there for the rest of the day - or possibly ever again. The Office Manager tells me that my bounced calls have been high recently.

Let me explain: in most call centers, you take one call at a time. At Crazyhouse Office, you have calls coming in on top of calls you are already taking and you have to put the first caller on hold to take the next call and so on, with the system having a limit of nine calls per station at any given time. The extent to which calls overlap is related to how many client accounts you handle and the current call volume. If you cannot answer an incoming call quickly enough, the system automatically reroutes the call to another available operator, thus it is called a bounced call or “bounce.” Bounced calls are a legitimate issue, because calls need to be taken promptly and a missed call could mean a lost customer.

From conversations I had with a fellow employee over the previous months, I was aware that my bounced calls were higher than other employees; however I was also aware that my call volume was higher than other employees. I was never given any official assessment of my performance, nor had my performance been discussed in any type of performance review in months because there are no performance reviews. As to why there are no performance reviews is debatable; it could be a result of there being enough just enough employees to cover the call volume, meaning that no one in a position of authority has the opportunity to compile data and discuss it with CSRs. It could also be that Michael’s review of your performance is based entirely on his serotonin levels on any given day. Or possibly your voting record. But this is speculation.

So now I’m getting an impromptu performance review covering some undetermined amount of time. When advising me of my high rate of bounced calls the Office Manager made a motion towards a piece of paper that had a column five numbers on it. I assumed these were the previous five days’ worth of bounces and protested that I had been added to a very large number of new accounts the previous week and was still familiarizing myself with them. The Office Manager claimed the new accounts were irrelevant and that I had been added to the accounts in order to bring my volume up to levels closer to other employees who had more call volume than I did. I wasn’t immediately looking to call the Office Manager a liar, but the numbers I had seen going back some months demonstrated that I was regularly taking a higher volume of calls than the employees she mentioned long before I was given the new accounts. In fact, I had long been taking a higher volume of calls than all but two or three others. The Office Manager mentioned that she had been instructed to look back over my numbers after Michael had noticed that I had not posted any questions to USoE the night before; because my bounces were so high I was being suspended for three days – without pay, naturally. I was furious and twice had to stop myself from screaming obscenities at the Office Manager because Michael was the true target of my rage and he conveniently wasn’t there.

I signed off on my Employee Warning Notice, which focused on bounced calls and doesn’t mention my alleged refusal to further contribute to the Internet Culture of the Workplace, then stalked back to the F-Train. I was still seething when I got home was not certain of what to do next, but after sharing yet another oh-so-hilarious tale of Crazyhouse Office for my roommates, I decided this: Michael would have to fire me if he wanted rid of me. In the meantime, the issue of bounced calls became a hot topic at the office, with regular updates on call volume and bounces being sent out throughout the day with the expectation of minimal bounces. It seems strange to tie the necessity of performance reviews to Michael’s hobbies, but it’s not my company.

When I returned from the three-day suspension, I saw an email from Michael saying not to worry about posting on USoE until the server issues were resolved and that a new server was being installed to handle the new traffic. The new traffic was a result of USoE being posted on Fark; for anyone unfamiliar with Fark, it’s a where people submit websites and news stories and the readership at large will comment on them. If something previously obscure, like USoE, hits the front page of Fark, the site is often overrun with traffic from people who saw it on Fark – the terms for this phenomenon are called “Farking” and being “Farked.” Michael found out USoE had been “Farked” and was allegedly quite pleased with “the publicity” until he read the comments that were being left on Fark about his masterpiece. For someone who takes his mythology seriously, it must have been quite a shock to read quotes like “This has to be a carefully crafted farce… I can only believe that this was concocted by a bunch of snickering undergrads out for the LULZ” and “These people are seriously unhinged” in reference to USoE.

I returned to work as usual the following Monday and The Office Manager took a moment before my shift started to ask me if I was ok and if there was any tension between the two of us. I assured her that I had no problem with her; she was just doing her job. And everything was fine until 15 minutes before the end of my shift on Wednesday, when Michael came by my desk and told me to finish my call, shut down both computers, gather my personal belongings, and come to the front desk.

Michael, the Office Manager, and I went to a conference room; Michael began with an odd question about my recent job searches and then detailed my allegedly poor performance. I noted that it was their failure that I had gone so long with allegedly poor performance without any intervening review to let me know that my performance was unsatisfactory. I also noted that my performance had improved once I was advised that it had been unsatisfactory. Michael suggested that my performance was a result of dissatisfaction with my job, demonstrated by how angry I had been about being suspended for three days, and referred to the fact that I had asked for time off for job interviews. I corrected him and pointed out that I had asked for a schedule switch on one day to interview for job that was a specific and possible career opportunity that I didn’t have high expectations of getting anyway. I didn’t really know how to address criticism for being angry about being suspended without pay for three days; that was one of the dumbest things I’ve ever heard him or anyone else say.

(I should note, in the interests of full disclosure and accuracy, that I did receive one performance review within my first month relating to bounced calls and I resolved the issue to the satisfaction of the Sales Manager who handled the review. I was not, at any time, advised of any threshold or standards of performance and the lack of further review gave me no reason to consider my performance unsatisfactory.)

At this point I determined that any further discussion was futile and a danger to my well-being and freedom as I was already beginning to see spots from anger and most of the words I could think of were obscenities, so I asked the obvious question of whether or not I was being fired and stood up to leave. Michael said that I was being terminated but, in a stunning twist, that if I would sit down and stay calm he would state that my termination was due to downsizing and position elimination, thus making me eligible for unemployment. If I left immediately I would be fired “for cause” and would unable to draw unemployment. So I sat down and then he said something about finding a job I enjoy and then scribbled a note about downsizing on a printout with the company name and employer ID. And with that, my tenure at Crazyhouse Office quietly came to an end.

Epilogue: Fark You, Buddy

United States of Earth did receive some publicity as a result of getting Farked, all of which occurred after my termination. Mother Jones, a very progressive Liberal magazine - who employs my favorite political blogger, Kevin Drum – interviewed Michael about the game and the anti-Obama storyline. Michael uses the second or third last name that I’ve seen - Russotto - in order to “protect himself” from people who, when looking for the main office of USoE, would find themselves directed by a big red sign to the front door of…you guessed it, Crazyhouse Office.

To be honest, I was quite disappointed with the MoJo interview. Here’s an opportunity for Michael to air his views in what will probably be the best opportunity he’ll see at a notable forum; more than that, it’s an opportunity to confront the hated “Liberal Media” head-on. When talking to David Corn - a legitimately bright journalist who regularly challenges and debunks absurd far-right nonsense – Michael, the man who stomps around the office shouting “THIS PRESIDENT IS DOGSHIT!” to a captive audience, is suddenly Mr. Middle-of-the-Road who dislikes each party equally and isn't an ideologue “advancing any partisan agenda.” This anti-Obama scenario is merely the first “stunt” to bring players to the game; a similar “Bush-themed” episode is in the works.

I did see the purpose in taking a moderated stance when discussing USoE for the publicity. If he’s looking to make the game commercially viable he can’t drive away potential customers. But then I found this interview Michael did with Two Stuttering Jerkasses and a Fuckwit (This is a YouTube link, just over minute long. Apparently there’s a longer version of this interview, but that YouTube clip is all of his nonsense I’m going to listen to for anything less than $14 an hour.) On an Internet radio show with an audience consisting of drunks who wear tinfoil hats, permanent basement dwellers, and what George Carlin called "guys in Army fatigues talking to God on a one-way radio" hosted by a couple of clowns who sound like they'd have trouble arguing with a kindergartener, Michael shows his true colors: Obama is evil and these Marxists “Czars” are infiltrating our government and using black helicopters, FEMA concentration camps, and Health Care Reform to kill the elderly. (I only listened to like 30 seconds of that interview so that may not accurately represent what he actually said, but I think I can safely assume that he did.)

And that’s my former employer in a nutshell: Glenn Beck with twice the crazy and half the charm, hiding behind fake names and confidentiality agreements so that he can preach to the chorus and a captive audience without having to risk being called on his bullshit.

I wrote this story to amuse and inform my friends and family, not as part of a crusade against an asshole who fired me and then suggested that he was doing me a favor by claiming my termination was due to downsizing so that I could draw unemployment. Any exposure of someone's political mythology to the harsh light of truth is unintended. Speaking of politics, I did occasionally refer to Michael’s politics as “far-right” and I want to make clear that I wouldn’t smear the Republican Party or modern conservative philosophy with his lunacy, but it is what it is.

I want to thank everyone who made it this far and I also want to suggest that newcomers dig around the archives here at Science Gone Mad. There’s some great work from my fellow Mad Scienticians - Nate, Ron B., Will, Buck, and Jake - all over this joint. Just pick a category over on the right and go. Bookmark us and y’all come on back now, y’hear?



Nate said...

This has been the greatest literary ride I've been on in quite a while.

It makes me kinda eager to write up my experiences as a renter. I think once I kick the tenant(s) out*, I'm on it.

*I rephrase: "Once I evict them for very just cause - among which is alteration of the property without written request or consent, as well a increasingly late payment of rent without including comparable late charges," I'm on it.

Rev. Joshua said...

I can't imagine owning rental properties. I've been renter and done maintenance and clean-up work for a rental property owner, so I've left disasters and cleaned them up and it makes me thing being a landlord is low profit, high stress bullshit.

Nate said...

Right you are! I have this rent payment thing going on with my tenant now - among many, many other things - where I had to send a written clarification and addendum to the lease agreement that - among many, many other things - reinforces to her that she needs to pay the rent by the 5th of every month ... and I even gave her an out that if she needs to pay later in the month, just let me know ... or face a $10 daily late fee.

I got rent this month on the 17th.