Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Reverend Joshua versus The Crazy (Part Two)

(Also see Part One!)

I opened up the ol' Inbox today to this gem:

Dear Joshua

Not only are you in violation of an agreement that you signed not to talk about the company in any way, but you are naming [Crazyhouse office] which was not your employer. You were employed by [Another Company, Not Crazyhouse Office]. [Crazyhouse Office Group] is an umbrella group for many companies around the country - all of which you have left yourself open to lawsuits from. You are advised to remove the article immediately. Failure to do so will result in many lawsuits from companies around the country, including your former employer [Another Company, Not Crazyhouse Office], which by the way, didn't protest your unemployment benefits. We may now do so, along with a lawsuit if you do not remove the article immediately since you were fired for cause and therefore are not eligible to get unemployment insurance. NYS will go after you for all monies already given to you.

We are giving you a few days before we notify each of the companies as individual entities who may also sue you for violation. We will share the info with them and join in the many lawsuits. We will also notify your hosting company of a violation of their terms of use in using free blog space to illegally disparage a former employer. Not only will your blog be removed, but they will also add testimony as they have a copy of the article and we do too.

We will acknowledge receipt of this message when the blog is taken down. Don't wait too long.

Your friend

Internet Lawsuit threat! For. The. Win. Man, I hope he totally doesn't tell the unemployment people that he changed his mind three months later and decided that I was fired for cause! I guess this Termination Notice with the reason for termination listed as "downsizing" is totally a forgery, probably by the same organization that forged Obama's birth certificate!

I planned to put the Strange but True Tale of Michael's Confidentiality Agreement in the third and final segment, but he totally spoiled it so I went ahead and included it part two. I may go back and change the name of where I worked to Crazyhouse Office. In fact, yeah, that's what I'll do. Hopefully this will avoid MANY LAWSUITS FROM AROUND THE COUNTRY. And it is also funnier, plus the Interests of Accuracy are appeased.

This reminds me of the legal threats Something Awful receives from aggrieved crazy people. I guess that puts me in pretty good company. But enough about that crazy bullshit, it's time for PART TWO OF THIS CRAZY BULLSHIT:

The Internet and You

The nature of the business requires that employees have largely unrestricted access to the Internet. The clientele is constantly changing and – aside from refusing to aid in the battle against our planet becoming uninhabitable and also declining service for blatantly obvious scams and frauds – Crazyhouse Office will provide services to anyone who puts in the barest effort at appearing legitimate. Because the clients include some fully-legal adult services, you can’t run content filters; because new clients are always coming along, you can’t run URL filters. Well, you could run filters that a competent IT professional would regularly update, but that requires hiring a competent IT professional. So the end result is that employees have unrestricted access to the Internet.

The obvious downside to allowing employees full access to the Internet is the possible loss of productivity, which is why most employers either limit access to the Internet or fire unproductive workers regardless of what causes them to not do their goddamned job. Michael doesn’t like that every other company in the world either limits their employees’ Internet access or fires them for not doing their job. Michael’s solution: create Earthfrisk, a social networking site similar to MySpace or Facebook, and require employees to contribute. (See also Michael's blog at Earthfrisk.) Employees contribute by using the StumbleUpon toolbar to randomly find new websites based on settings and interests of our choosing and posting links to those websites on Earthfrisk between calls. This site was created and maintained at an alleged cost of thousands of dollars per month so that Michael would not have to fire employees for using the Internet. I guess it’s cheaper than hiring an IT professional to maintain filters and I don’t really see how this helps productivity but I’m not batshit insane.

Although Michael repeatedly stated that he created Earthfrisk with no intent to profit – he does not sell advertising space of any kind – my impression from looking at the site and some posts and comments he made on various technology-related websites attempting to subtly advertise Earthfrisk was that the original purpose of the site was to actually compete directly with MySpace and Facebook and that employee contributions were intended to give the appearance of legitimate traffic and usage. Earthfrisk is poorly designed, provides no unique services, and - due to Michael’s constantly-trumpeted personal beliefs - the content focused largely on crazy right-wing nonsense; unsurprisingly the site has not, as of this writing, gained much market share.

This bizarre Internet Usage Policy is where my first real problem at Crazyhouse Office arises. As I’ve established, Michael is largely unable to hold coherent conversation for longer than 45 seconds unless it involves Obama’s Secret Plan to Destroy the World. The only clear explanation I was given about the IUP was that if I found something that I liked via StumbleUpon, I was to post it on Earthfrisk. No quota or quality control was defined or mentioned; if you like it, post it. It made sense to me that we would only post things that we like or find interesting from the position of the site having credible, quality material. I asked for clarification on what should be posted and Michael reiterated: if you like something, post it.

I didn’t keep track of what or how often I posted during my first month because I was under the impression that my job was to provide customer service to callers and this Internet nonsense was a trick being played on me by a vengeful God. Given that we were fairly shorthanded, I was also focused more on answering calls than randomly surfing the Internet or posting to a poorly-designed, third-rate social networking site. What Michael didn’t bother to clarify during my interview, or training, or on the three separate occasions I asked for clarification, was that he does indeed require a certain level of participation on Earthfrisk and he allegedly let it be known that certain people were not maintaining this level. He did this, allegedly, by storming around the office and bellowing it while people were taking calls, after which he retreated back to his office without further explanation. Of course I had no clue what he was talking about because I’m on the goddamned phone and can’t pay attention to his gibberish so I make the critical error of thinking whatever he was on about was more irrelevant lunatic political bullshit. Eventually an email was sent out by one of the veteran employees noting that Michael wanted more posts; I let Michael know that I wasn’t finding much of interest and a large amount of what I was finding had already been posted by other employees, as the StumbleUpon database shared by all StumbleUpon users. He mumbled something to the effect that other employees had mentioned the same problem, so he was looking into it and not to worry about volume.

Two days later I was pulled off of the phone and informed I was being suspended for one day (without pay, obviously) because of what my roommate adequately described as “a lack of contribution to the Internet Culture of the Workplace.”

I was upset because I was explicitly told by Michael just days earlier not to worry about post volume and that he had continually been unclear about exactly what volume of posting he was looking for. Michael did everything he could during the meeting to avoid saying “just post anything” without actually saying “just post anything” although I read between the lines and decided that clearly he meant “just post anything.” He would send out a directive a few months later, after he launched his new Social Networking Strategy Game Website, that we should post at least once for every two sites we visit, which would have been helpful fucking information before I lost a day’s pay over it.

Escalating Insanity

I made certain to post often, without regard to value of content, after my suspension and things ran smoothly for a month or so. This would soon change. At the time my desk was located beside the windows on the other side of the office. After a few weeks I noticed that Liz, who sat directly on my left, had begun turning her monitors away from the window on my right. I assumed that she was having trouble with sunlight glaring on her monitors, which was odd because I didn’t have any problems with sunlight, but I didn’t think much of it until a meeting that Liz had regarding her performance.

Normally a performance meeting is held privately in a separate office where a supervisor or supervisors will have a discussion with the employee. Not at Crazyhouse Office; Liz’s performance was reviewed at the front desk on a conference call with the Sales Manager who telecommutes from Long Island. The discussion was a loud airing of grievances audible to the entire staff. After a rundown of her shortcomings as an employee, Michael asked Liz about her monitors. As it happens, Liz didn’t turn the monitors away from the window because of glare; Liz was turning her monitors away from me because she was concerned that I was looking at what she was doing on her computers.

The conversation was just loud enough for everyone to hear it but no one was able to follow the entire conversation because they were trying to take calls, which led a couple of employees to believe that I had done something wrong. Fortunately I was able to piece together that Liz was concerned that I was looking at what was on her monitors and she didn’t want me to see what she was doing. This was absurd, because there obviously isn’t anything she should be doing at work that other people shouldn’t be able to see, a point Michael made, and she also made sure to turn her calling-station monitor away even though there was nothing she could do on that computer that wasn’t work-related. The next day I was moved to another desk on the other side of the office. I was fine with this arrangement because my old seat was in a corner away from the air vents and a couple of warm summer days in the sunlight had nearly resulted in me melting. And since I couldn’t possibly see her monitors from my new seat, everything would be fine…

…until a week or so later when Michael informed me that Liz was accusing me of sexual harassment and that he needed me to write a statement claiming that I had never done any such thing. I, having never sexually harassed Liz, wrote a statement to that effect and gave it to Michael. Apparently she was making a similar claim against another employee and generally looked to be angling for a lawsuit. Liz disappeared a week later with no explanation given.

Denouement Part One or “When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.”

Randomly, in the middle of the day in the middle of September, Michael sent his assistant around with some very important paperwork that all employees had to sign by the end of the day. Before I have an opportunity to look at the document, Michael’s assistant comes around again to retrieve the original paperwork and give us new copies. Apparently the first copy had at least three typos - I say “at least three typos” because the new copy had two typos - unless you’re familiar with the law and legally binding contracts, in which case the entire document is one long typo. Amusingly, one of the remaining typos is a misspelling of Michael’s last name.

Once I finally look at the document I notice that it appears to have been written in Microsoft Notepad and is clearly based on someone’s poorly-thought out idea of what a legally binding document might look like if there weren’t hundreds of years of work that went into creating a common idea of what a legally binding document actually is. Ostensibly the purpose of the document is an agreement to protect the confidentiality of Crazyhouse Office’s clients and their customers – a Confidentiality Agreement, if you will. However, a close examination reveals that the document’s true purpose is to protect “certain ideas and information relating to [Michael]” from being disclosed “without the express written consent of the Discloser [Michael] …and to prevent the Confidential Information from falling into the public domain or into the possession of unauthorized persons.”

Now the reason I think this may be more about protecting Michael’s Confidential Information and not the Clients or their customers is because of the Summation that appears in the middle of the document clarifying that “the recipient will NOT discuss ANY personal information ABOUT [Michael] UNLESS it pertains to preforming [sic] your job…will NOT discuss any personal information pertaining to [Michael] that you have learned in the past or will come to know in the future to ANYONE for ANY REASON outside of work, PERIOD.” And yes it did include the words in all caps. Crazyhouse Office gets a cursory mention in the final third of the first Summation. The second Summation spells out the consequences: “if you break any term of this contract YOU WILL be FIRED and YOU WILL be sued to the fullest extent of the law. Even if you QUIT or are FIRED you can STILL be sued for disclosing any confidential information of [Michael], or the companies listed in this contract.”

Fun fact: notably, one of the circumstances under which the recipient is no longer obligated to protect Michael’s Confidential Information is if the information “was ordered to be publicly released by the requirement of a government agency.”

Secret fun fact: I haven’t been ordered to release this information by the requirement of a government agency…or have I?

Generally legal documents don’t have summations in them because the whole point of an attorney is to pay them a lot of money to do that for you. It’s kind of a racket. Speaking of having an attorney double-check this gibberish, I looked over the document and decided that I needed to take a good goddamned look at this and maybe even have an attorney look at the agreement before I signed it. It appeared to be very broad to the point that I was concerned that I might be signing away my right to tell people that I have a job. I know it’s preposterous, but when in Rome, do as the Romans do: act craaazy. When Michael’s assistant asked if I was ready to sign the agreement, I said that I would like more time to look at it. I also mentioned that I might see if the attorney I previously worked for would mind looking over it. Michael’s assistant sighed and walked away; five minutes later Michael came over to tell me that he “would give me a chance” to have my attorney look at the agreement, but I needed to leave for the rest of the day and that the agreement had to be signed before I could return to work.

I called the attorney I had previously worked for and asked if she would mind reviewing the contract; after reading the agreement her first question was “your boss is crazy, isn’t he?” After we discussed the agreement, my understanding was that it was poorly constructed, clearly based on some sort of template found online or in a book, and that I should sign it without hesitation if my continued employment was at stake. Everything the agreement covers is either protected under existing privacy laws, such as tax returns and medical records. Aside from that, publicly-stated anti-government paranoia and a fundamental misunderstanding of Science isn’t Confidential Information.

In the meantime I found out that others had not signed the agreement, but after I was sent home Michael left for the day without pursuing the issue any further. This began to concern me and I wondered if the entire incident had been a set-up to see who would balk at signing because apparently Michael’s fucking paranoia was contagious and had begun to seep into my head. I returned the next day and signed the agreement, as did everyone who hadn’t signed it the day before, and that was the last it was mentioned.

Continued in Part Three!


Nate said...

My God. So many thoughts ...

1) I hate to admit that I was taken off guard, then subsequently distracted by the Something Awful lawsuit link. After I ran through a few of those stories, I devoted myself to reading the rest of your article, even at the cost of checking the blog you linked to.

2) I just clicked to the blog you linked to, and goddamn and praise Moses, what the bloody frizzyfuck! This has to be the best wackjob personal soapbox I've ever seen since I accidentally found some guy's site about how Jerry Falwell abducted his daughter. I desperately want to link this in our "Network Affiliates" section.

3) I know I alluded to it in my comment on part one, but I found myself inadvertently subbing characters from "The Office" in place of the characters from your tale of whoa. Michael = Michael Scott (of course); the assistant = Dwight, until I learned it was a she, then it changed to Angela; and Liz = the fat chick with the glasses.

4) First you're going to get me killed by enraged victims of dishonest clients. Now, you're going to get our blog shut down. What's your encore, dude?

5) Working with the paranoid is very much a "looking into the abyss" kind of thing, because there have been many times I've thought "they" were out to get me, based solely on a handful of tangentially related circumstances. If you were really starting to spiral down, I'd imagine him ending his letter with "Your friend Michael" would be cause for concern.

6) I noticed earlier today that Part One had a favorable response that has been deleted by the author. Curious part is, it was posted by someone from outside the SGM family. Strange.

Rev. Joshua said...

I debated including the link to SA at the top of the article due to concerns about sidetracking people, but I assume anyone who was originally reading Part Two will remember and return promptly. The responses to those Legal Threats are so goddamned funny though. "It would appear that voicing your opinion on the Internet is now highly illegal, especially if it is negative and involves rambling neo-conservatives."

I was originally referring to the Crazyhouse Office as "The Office" and used "Michael" instead of "Mike" to complete the allusion. The incident with Mike stomping around the office bellowing like a tard about Obama being dogshit is when I finally made the connection between Mike and how his lack of self-awareness actually far surpasses Michael Scott. And now that you mention it, his assistant did wear wire-rimmed eyeglasses similar to what Dwight wears, although she wasn't a douche like Dwight. So yeah, there's plenty of similarities to choose from.

Mike's commitment to his insanity is very strong and definitely creates "looking into the abyss" moments; after a while you start to consider that maybe you're the crazy one and Obama is out to kill everyone, but a quick Google search will often bring you back to your senses. I have no problem admitting that my concern over having to sign the Confidentiality Agreement was a result of thinking clouded by long-term exposure to that kind of lunacy, but in retrospect it was just silly bullshit that I should have immediately recognized. The "your friend, Michael" closing was a nice touch. "Your friend who fired you without for reasons that changed during the final conversation we had." Thanks, friendo.

I know who left the comment and I imagine it was removed for sound reasons.

As far as getting our blog shut down, that's really the only threat that concerns me. For various reasons, free service providers on the Internet often choose deletion of content over potential legal hassles, although I'm hoping that Google/Blogspot have a) backbone and b) enough experience with crazy to readily identify his brand of it. The unemployment claim would probably be more serious, although I imagine that the state of New York wouldn't be too impressed with him waiting three months to protest my claim. His admission that the protest is retaliation for telling this story in public is pretty damning, plus this signed separation notice that says I was terminated due to "no position available and downsizing" kind of hurts his claim. His threats hit every Internet Legal Threat cliche except not knowing the difference between libel and slander.

Ron said...

I'm absolutely amazed at how people believe that threats and intimidation can work. It's like when teachers would say "It'll go on your permanent record!" in order to get you to behave in elementary school. There is no permanent record and I really bet that, in this economy, that these other companies (which are ostensibly legitimate) have better things to do than to sue some guy over a blog post. Let's say that he did, indeed, call up a number of the various organizations and say "Sue this man!" These other companies no doubt have better things to do than take on this guy's quixotic crusade. They would probably just laugh at him and hang up the phone. I assume they are already aware that he is mentally unstable, so this would give them more cause. My response to the lawsuit threat would be "you wanna sue me? Bring it on big man."

If anyone wants to sue anyone, you could probably get him for numerous violations of workplace law. The "nondisclosure agreement" is a pretty good sign that the guy was behaving in ways he shouldn't have behaved and would make any investigator really question his account versus the account of others. Kind of like the guy who stands up in church when the preacher is talking about sin and says "I don't do that."

Why didn't y'all just load up the Earthfrisk site with tons of pro-Obama videos? That would have been problem solved in one regard.

Rev. Joshua said...

My response to the Internet Legal Threat was to post Part Two. I have no interest in arguing with him about it. I backed up SGM using the backup tool that Blogger finally added and all of my employment documents are in one place. Worst case scenario, we get a Stan Musial rookie card, we start using the domain hosting for the blog, and the State of New York investigates Michael for making fraudulent protests against my unemployment claim three months after it was approved. And who wouldn't want a Stan Musial rookie card? I know I would.

I'm 99.9% certain the "other companies" either belong to Michael or don't exist. I'd heard reference to a mythical "Florida office" a few times, but nothing ever confirmed it. I was also warned to keep my paystubs because of alleged use of multiple companies and multiple Federal Tax IDs to report earnings for employees - creating a huge hassle for unemployment and FAFSA claims and tax filings - but until I was fired I didn't know that technically I didn't actually work for Crazyhouse Office, nor that the entire operation (both Crazyhouse Office and the company that employed me) was based out of Florida. (I often wondered if the "Florida staff" really existed. If they do exist, I wonder if they wonder if the "New York staff" really exists. IT'S THE GODDAMNED ABYSS!!!)

So Michael apparently creates all sorts of shell companies and various other groups for reasons largely unexplained. I just assume it's paranoia. Part of that paranoia seems to manifest in the need for absolutely secrecy and mystery in matters of which no sane person gives a damn. Another manifestation is being full of shit. Yet another manifestation is believing that not only is he not transparently full of shit, but instead really clever and totally getting over on everyone. Part three includes a good example of this: a recent Craigslist want ad for Crazyhouse Office in which he references Earthfrisk and another of his Internet-based entities, but does so in a way that it appears that he just happened to find these articles rather than him having written the articles. Granted, you wouldn't know the ties if you weren't previously familiar with them and you might not immediately put it all together, but it's still hilarious.

I am not aware of anything Michael does being illegal, immoral or anything other than painfully or hilariously bizarre; however, I do think he is occasionally vaguely aware that most of his actions would not be tolerated in polite company or outside of his own workplace. My estimation is that a rare moment of lucidity lead to the "confidentiality agreement" as Michael realized that current clients who learned of the "Internet Culture of the Workplace" might be interested in an explanation as to why Michael thinks driving up traffic for his personal Internet properties is of equal if not greater importance than handling their customers. I can't imagine that potential clients would be impressed with this sort of nonsense, either.

The first time I was suspended for not meeting the standards for contributing to the ICW, Michael stated that he normally sumarrily fired people who refused to contribute. Towards the end of my run there, Michael would at times find office-wide contributions to the "Internet Culture of the Workplace" lacking, so he would send out bellows and emails stating that part of one's salary is based on ICW contributions (I think he said half, but I don't recall clearly; however, he considered it a significant portion) and for anyone who doesn't want to contribute to the ICW, he'll be happy to pay them based solely on the calls they take. Regardless of his inconsistency in how he handled the issue of contributing to the ICW, I would imagine clients would generally prefer that the services they pay for be unencumbered by Michael's torturously convoluted Internet Usage Policy.

Nate said...

This business strategy sounds like it was developed by the Underpants Gnomes:

Step 1: Steal underpants.
Step 2: ?
Step 3: Profit!

(A funny aside: in that last line of your comment, Josh, I accidentally interpreted "contributing to the ICW" as "contributing to the IWC," i.e. Internet Wrestling Community, and was at once aghast & amused, which is like simultaneously sneezing & farting.)

Rev. Joshua said...

Indeed, I contemplated whether or not I should use a set of initials so similar to wrestling organizations given that we're all wrestling heads and it's a definite momentary mindbender. It reminds me of a moment I had long ago reading an email from a friend who went from a paragraph about wrestling that involved Chyna and the Rock to a paragraph about current events mentioning China and nukes. For a moment I thought I read something about the Rock nuking Chyna.

I had to cut my last comment short because it ran over the character limit and as a result I forgot a couple of points: I giggled a little bit about the idea of Michael calling up headquarters and the secretary on HQ's end of the conversation being "Sue...a science blog...for unemployment claims? Sir, who are you and how did you get this number?"

To answer Ron's question about posting pro-Obama stuff, I posted a few subversive things on occasion, but everyone generally tries to avoid having to talk to him about politics and posting something explicitly pro-Obama - or even hinting at having a political opinion - is not the key to that goal. Everyone essentially becomes apolitical in that environment.