Selling Communism

Reading a travel website today, I came across a link to the Museum of Communism in Prague. I was searching through some of the photos and other information for a little insight into how the topic is presented. Ignoring the imported American “icons of capitalism”, I adore the discovery of marketing in former communist countries.

I visited Prague in May 1999, but it’s a large city and it had almost a decade to emerge from its former communist shell. Signs of the capitalist grip were everywhere, so I suspect that the material is presented well, in the typical (usually boring) museum style. There are only a few photos on the site, so I can’t get a feel for the whole museum.

The photos sparked a memory, though. They have the drab feel of someone trying to market information without unihibited creativity. Citizens of the former communist countries are learning marketing, but at distinctly different paces. Roaming the streets of Maribor, Slovenia in early 1998, I came across two distinct window displays. A clothing store display depicted two women kissing, while a department store display featured boxes of soap.

I would love to traverse the brain of someone who walks by that department store window and thinks “Ooooooh. Soap!”.

Customer Service Hell

I’ve had a few issues with Customer Service recently. I’ve had the cable company hang up on me because I told them I didn’t like a billing policy. Yahoo! hung up on me because I asked the “customer service” rep not to interrupt me while I was explaining my billing complaint. And now my county government is trying to steal my money through late charges because their computer system ignored my online payment.

I phoned them yesterday to clear this up and they said I had to file an appeal. At one point, the supervisor asked if we could hang up now. “No, I’m not done,” was my reply. To her credit, she didn’t hang up. That’s the only thing she did right.

Ultimately, I’ll pay the late fees if they reject my appeal because I’m not stupid. But I won’t make it easy. The $102 will consist of approximately 140 written checks. I’ve done it in the past and I’ll take joy in doing it again. (And yes, every check will be for a different amount. Think $.02, $.73, and $.46)

For my entertainment, here’s the appeal letter I wrote today.

December 30, 2003

County of XXXXXXX
Appeals Board

Dear Sir or Madam:

I have two property tax bills that were incorrectly deemed overdue. I’d like to resolve this matter quickly and appropriately. The property tax numbers are #XX-XXXX-XXXX-X (Car) and #XX-XXXX-XXXX-X (Motorcycle). I’m appealing the assessment of late fee interest and penalties.

I made an online payment for the full sum of my tax bill ($281.28) on September 28th. This payment was never processed by XXXXXXX County. After receiving a late notice, I called on November 5th to resolve this matter. The customer service representative I spoke with could give no explanation for this payment not being processed correctly. The representative instructed me to make the online payment again, which I did on the afternoon of November 5th. The representative also told me that the late fee interest and penalties would be removed, which she failed to do. She also failed to note this in my account history.

I’ve now received another notice for the assessed late fees, minus the $281.28 I paid on November 5th. These are charged in error and should be removed. I’ve included a copy of the online receipt from my November 5th payment, but I do not have the confirmation receipt from September 28th. The only form I have for the 28th is the information confirming my information is correct. I clicked “Submit” at this point, and received the confirmation. I didn’t print this page because it had no confirmation number.

As I hope you are aware, there is no confirmation number on your online payment receipts. There is only an acknowledgement that the information was received. I’ve never had trouble with your system in the past, so I naively trusted it on September 28th. Also, I’m not sure if there is supposed to be an e-mail confirmation for the online payment process. If this is where the confirmation number is supposed to be, I received no confirmation e-mail for either my September 29th attempt or my November 5th payment.

I spoke with a supervisor on December 29th about this matter. She informed me that I needed to have the confirmation number for this transaction. I am surprised that this confusion continues to happen. First, your representative told me the fees would be removed on November 5th and did not remove them. Now, a supervisor is telling me to send in a confirmation number which couldn’t possibly exist. She also informed me that I had to file an appeal since late fees can’t be removed over the phone. I trust that this is the policy, but there is clearly a plethora of improper training/understanding of procedure going on here that perpetuates me receiving bad information.

I’m confused by this. I’m supposed to trust my county government, yet I can’t get a correct answer as to how to deal with this situation. Thus, I’m forced to file this appeal. I’ve made every good faith effort possible to pay my property tax on time and I continue to be met with issues on the part of the county government. I ask that you please rectify this situation by removing the incorrect late fee interest and penalties from my account. This is the only logical solution to this issue.



That letter was pages 2 and 3 of the 15 pages I faxed to the county this morning. I don’t expect to win, but they’re already wasting my tax dollars with this nonsense, so I’m going to make them waste my money on me.

Lucky Penny

A few weeks ago, I was in my hometown of Richmond, Va. I always get a large limeade from Bill’s Barbeque when I’m back. This time, I received a surprise in my change that surprised me.

Normally, I don’t pay attention to my change, but this time I looked. One of the pennies I received was minted in 1919. Figuring I’d hit the lottery, I checked online for an estimate of its value. To my disappointment and happiness, it’s worth about $19. While not the windfall I’d hoped, getting an extra $18.99 in my change is a little bonus for me.

I’d forgotten about the penny until I read this article from USA Today. The foul ball from Game 6 of this year’s CubsMarlins playoff series auctioned for $106,600. It was purchased by Harry Caray’s in Chicago, one of the best restaurants I’ve experienced, so that they can destroy it in February. The ball’s owner is the aspect of this that surprised me. It’s not ‘That Guy’, the one everyone is familiar with. This is the guy:

MastroNet auctioned the ball on behalf of a 33-year-old Chicago attorney identified only as Jim. According to the company, he was sitting near Bartman when the ball was deflected. The man put the ball in his pocket after it bounced his way.

That is a true lucky penny.

Deer are smarter than the citizens

Browsing the news yesterday, I came across an interesting story that made me think of an earlier post. A deer ran through a metro station in Maryland on Monday, using the escalator during its travels. Deer seem smart enough. I bet this one used the escalator correctly, unlike my fellow Washingtonians.

Now that I’ve resorted to linking myself, this is a good opportunity for me to mention the archives. I don’t have an extensive blog archive yet, but there is material that doesn’t appear on the main page. When you have a moment, browse the older entries, grouped by month on the right, to catch up on all of the exciting insight you might’ve missed. Thanks.

Reliving my Dale Murphy childhood

I went to Atlanta this weekend, so I’m going to wax nostalgic for a moment.

One experience I needed was a tour of Turner Field, aka “The Ted”. This is the current home of the Atlanta Braves. Although I’m now a Philadelphia Phillies fan, I grew up a huge Braves fan. That’s not true. I grew up a huge Dale Murphy fan.

My fandom for the Braves ended on August 3, 1990, when Murphy was traded to Philadelphia with Tommy Greene for Jeff Parrett, Jim Vatcher, and Victor Rosario. That trade was an outrage. They could’ve traded him for a box of stale popcorn and it would’ve been a better trade than they got.

So I followed Murphy to Philadelphia. I went to Philadelphia on August 5, 1990 to see Murphy. Thanks to Murph, I found my true home and I remain a die-hard Phillies fan.

But this weekend was about reminiscing. No appreciation of Murphy’s career could exclude Atlanta. And I like stadium tours. The Skydome tour is fun, but I didn’t get to go on the field because of a Monster Truck rally. The Wrigley Field tour is the shining example of how a tour should be done. I played catch with my brother in the outfield, the single best baseball experience of my life. Maybe next time we’ll bring gloves. I digress.

These factors combined to make this tour a requirement. We arrived at the stadium shortly before 11am, since the tours are given on the hour. I was excited like a 4-year-old who’s just met SpongeBob SquarePants. I ran to the parking lot next to Turner Field, which is where Atlanta Fulton County Stadium used to be. The outline of the field is marked, which allowed me to take this picture of me standing in Centerfield, where Murphy roamed during his greatest years.

I also took this picture, which shows where I sat for the first game I ever saw Murphy play on August 22, 1987. I sat in the bleachers next to rightfield, where the #6 street lamp now stands.

The Braves played the Pittsburgh Pirates that day. Seeing Murphy was a dream fulfilled. There was another dream fulfilled, but it wasn’t mine. Tom Glavine pitched his second game in the big leagues. He’d lost his first game in Houston several days earlier, but on this day, he notched his first major-league win, pitching a beaut. Have a peek at where he stood that day.

I’ve been a Tom Glavine fan since. (I was bummed when he signed with the Mutts instead of the Phillies after the 2002 season.) Here’s the boxscore and recap from the August 23, 1987 edition of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

After swimming in fond memories, we headed to the stadium so we wouldn’t miss the tour. Upon entering the stadium, I noticed the giant number statues for each of the retired numbers. Murphy wore #3. I spotted it and zoomed to the location of that spectacular sight. It needs no further introduction, for its glory shines through.

Beneath it was this plaque highlighting his career.

Anyone familiar with my site knows that I like to rant. Since I’m happy about my weekend, I will say that the condition of this plaque should be an embarrassment to the Braves and leave the rant to your imagination. The important thing is this: look at those stats!

It’s absurd that Murphy is not in the Baseball Hall of Fame. For an excellent examination of that issue, read Jayson Stark’s column regarding Murphy’s eligibility for the HoF, written last year. He was inducted into the Braves Hall of Fame in 2000, marked by this bronze plate leading by the entrance.

As much as I despise the Braves, the tour was wonderful. Dave the Tour Guide was exceptional in bringing the stadium to life with stories and humor. I commend the Braves for doing such a fine job with the tour experience. We visited much of the stadium, including the rooftop view, luxury suites, press box, and locker room.

Besides seeing Murphy memorabilia, the reason for doing the tour was to get in the dugouts and on the field. I love this part of tours. Did you ever wonder how good the view is from the dugout? I do, and here it is:

The only view better is this one, which Braves players see when sitting on the top of the bench, where they keep their hats and gloves and sunflower seeds. See if you can figure out why this one is better. (Hint: look skyward!)

Who could ever be unhappy staring up at that majectic #3?

I believe Dale Murphy will be in the Baseball Hall of Fame. It will be a magical day, with sunshine and laughter and cheers. I will be there and I’ll remember all of the joy I had watching him play. He defined my childhood and allowed me to grow into the beauty of baseball. This trip reminded me that I’ll carry that with me forever.

Earthquake shame

I’m ashamed of my neighbors. We experience an earthquake and many of them feel the need to call the AM news station. And the newspaper. And the Po-Leece. I know the world was coming to an end, but what will the police do about rocks dancing across your patio?

I could forgive that, but none of you provided a quality disaster quote. (Will Thomas, you suck.) Instead of that silver medal quote I requested, I have to resort to juvenile innuendo for my entertainment. Regretfully, I present this to you:

Chris Glover was cooking at home in Fredericksburg. He didn’t feel anything, but his two daughters, 4 and 8, did.

“They came running into the kitchen and said, ‘Did you just make a big noise? Because the doors were shaking and all the birds outside flew away,’ ” said Glover, 40, a library system employee.


Earthquake update

There was an earthquake outside of Richmond today. Many people around the Washington, D.C. metro area felt it. From this article, I present the common man’s report from the nation’s capital:

“A woman says she felt the ‘earth shake down’ in Fairfax, while a man in Laurel says his ‘whole house was shaking.’ Ken Smith in Rockville says his office shook and ‘stuff moved on shelves.'”

“Colleen in Arlington says she was sitting at her home computer and heard a low rumbling and then her desk lamp started to shift. ‘I also felt a slight vibration through my desk.'”

I will be watching the local news tonight. As much as I like the initial quotes provided by my fellow citizens, I know Fox 5 has it in them to find me an earthquake quote. Will Thomas, earn your paycheck and find me one of life’s winners. I’m going to set a high standard for you. See if you can beat my favorite disaster quote, from an Amtrak derailment several years ago. I’m not making this up.

“Jim Anderson, who lives less than a mile from the site, said he was in bed when the derailment startled him and his dog. ‘I thought my furnace blowed up. I heard a bunch of grinding and then boom,’ he said. ‘That dog of mine jumped out of bed and started growling at the window.'”

Ok, that’s a gold medal quote. Aim for the silver, Will.

Beware of catching Tono

Flu season is wreaking havoc across the U.S. This isn’t surprising since it’s the traditional flu season. What’s causing the most chaos is a shortage of flu shots. What entertains me the most is that health officials openly admit that the flu shot isn’t 100% effective. This quote explains it all:

“Even though health officials urge people to get their shots, it is still not clear how effective they will be against this strain, which is somewhat different from the three that this year’s vaccine is designed to combat.”

There are two obvious problems with the flu vaccine:

1. You’re getting 3 strains of flu. People get sick from this and it lingers. Would this be acceptable if we suddenly had an AIDS vaccine and people more than occassionally developed AIDS from the vaccine?

2. Companies that make the flu shot are guessing at which strains will be a problem. They’ve already admitted that they guessed wrong this year, so people who’ve had the shot are not immune to what is going around right now.

I was in Las Vegas last month and can confirm that Nevada has seen an outbreak. I caught the flu there. My friends caught the flu there. (From me, no doubt, but who’s counting?) It’s bad, but that’s why humans have an immune system. Don’t be afraid to use it.

One day, we’ll wake up to the idea that a healthy diet and exercise are the best protection against illness. Until then, we’ll continue to inject ourselves with random illnesses in the belief that it will protect us from all illness. This flu season should be an indicator. Don’t behave obediently to every word doctors say. We’re advanced, but we have more to learn. Don’t be a lemming. Think for yourself.

In summation, the flu shot doesn’t work. Duh.

Politicians suck

Browsing the newspaper this morning, I found an article that made me angry. It seems that Republicans in Congress wish to replace Franklin Roosevelt with Ronald Reagan on the U.S. dime. Why, I asked myself. That’s the dumbest idea since proposing a constitutional change to allow Arnold Schwarzenegger to run for president. Republicans have lost their minds.

Here are quotes from the article that makes me angry:

“Supporters of the ‘Ronald Reagan Dime Act’ said Roosevelt and his government-expanding New Deal represented decades past, while Reagan’s conservative, anti-communist administration ushered in society as it exists today.”


“‘It’s what precipitated me introducing the bill at that time and why it was a lot easier to get a lot of support,’ said Rep. Mark Souder, R-Ind.”


“‘I believe he represents conservative values as we would see them implemented through a president better than anybody else we’ve had in American history,’ Souder said. ‘He, to conservatives, represents kind of the reverse of FDR, who is kind of the liberal icon. Ronald Reagan is the conservative icon.'”

(Special note to voters in Mark Souder’s Indiana district: he must be voted out if he runs for re-election. He’s wasting our tax dollars with this and you have the power to stop it.)

Ronald Reagan is not a saint. He was president during a very prosperous time in United States history. Bill Clinton was president during a very prosperous time in United States history. Ronald Reagan had a scandal while in office. Bill Clinton had a scandal while in office. Where’s the push to idolize Clinton?

It’s time to start a petition to have Clinton’s face put on the $10 bill. Sure, Alexander Hamilton was instrumental in solidifying the financial foundation of the U.S., but that was during the age of agriculture. Clinton was president during the prosperous Dot-com 90’s. We missed our chance to change the money during the industrial age. Let’s not miss it for the information age!

Mark Souder… you, sir, are an idiot.

P.S. Earlier in this post, I meant to write “…quotes from the article that MAKES me angry…”. Get used to it, because that’s what your children’s grammar books will say once Arnold Schwarzenegger becomes president. I’m just practicing. So should you.