Friday, January 19, 2007

More fun ways to ruin your credit

I am a recent college graduate and last summer I decided to go on a two month road trip before getting down to business. My first stop was to visit my aunt in upstate New York and for reasons beyond my control (car trouble) I ended up spending about 10 days sitting around watching TV there. I decided to break up the monotony by getting a new cell phone, since the one I had was purchased through my school and was about to expire. I wanted to get T-Mobile, because my entire family used T-Mobile, and I wanted to keep my number, so I wouldn't have to tell all of my friends a new number. Fortunately, Congress passed a national law that said you could "port" in your number to a new cell provider.

So, I went to the T-Mobile website to look for a T-Mobile Store near my aunt's house and one of the closest stores was at Wal-Mart. I decided to go to Wal-Mart because my aunt knew where it was, and I certainly didn't know my way around. So off to Wal-Mart I went and I picked out a phone I liked and bought it. While it was getting set up, I asked if I could port in my old number. The lady didn't know how to do it, so she called T-Mobile and was informed that it was relatively simple to do and I could do it at home. Satisfied, I bought the phone, went home and called T-Mobile.

This turned out to be something of a nightmare. My old service provider, Alltel, didn't acknowledge that the phone was in my name, because I had purchased it through the University. So I had to call the University and get them to call Alltel who then had to call T-Mobile. I would say conservatively that I spent ten hours on the phone trying to get my number ported in, as even after Alltel released the number, T-Mobile was struggling to assign the number to me. Finally, two days after I got the phone, a lady from T-Mobile informed me that I couldn't port my number because T-Mobile didn't have any towers in that area code. I immediately told the lady I was going to return the phone and cancel service, since I asked when I bought it if I could port in my number and was told then that I could. T-Mobile has a two-week money-back policy and so easy-breezy I returned the phone to Wal-Mart and got my money back.

That same day I got a Cingular phone and recently re-upped with Cingular for two more years.

Flash forward to last weekend, where I was home celebrating a late Christmas with my family. I wake up Friday morning and my mom informs me that I received a call from a creditor that morning and she had gotten a call back number. I call the agency back and lo and behold, I owe $360 to T-Mobile and they have now turned the account over to Amsher Collection Agency, and now they were calling my parents. When I signed up for T-Mobile, I used my parent's home number as my home number, since I couldn't very well use the only other number I had-- the cell number I wanted to port in. I more or less go ballistic on the phone ("I'm not paying anything, don't call my parents, don't fuck with my credit), but to be fair, collection agency's aren't known for their customer service, I had gotten the phone in late May of 2006, more than seven months earlier and this was a spectacularly bad piece of news to get at 8:30 in the morning.

After taking a few days to collect myself, I called T-Mobile and get some information. It turns out that the phone was never disconnected and I owe $200 for breach of contract, plus four months of service at $40 a month (the phone was turned off for lack of payment in October 2006). I told them what happened, but I was told to call the collection agency as T-Mobile no longer controls the account, however, they would extensively note the account so that the agency could refer to my call to T-Mobile.

So I called the agency and I was transferred to a supervisor, and again I relayed my story of misunderstanding. He said he would have to check with T-Mobile and he would get back to me, so I gave him my Cingular number and waited for him to call back.

An hour later he left me a voice mail (I was on the subway, so I didn't get the call) saying that I am libel for the phone, because I "returned it to Wal-Mart, which is the same as returning it to someone on the street. [I] should have returned the phone to the T-Mobile warehouse."

What the hell is the T-Mobile warehouse? Obviously, I was never told this by T-Mobile, in my extensive phone conversations with them, or Wal-mart, when I purchased or returned the phone. I was supposed to simply figure this out, and if I didn't figure this out, it would be a very costly mistake indeed.

I called Amshare back today and was informed that they would settle the account for $280 (the equivalent to seven months phone service) or they would refer my account to an attorney. I asked to speak to the supervisor I spoke with yesterday. I informed him that I couldn't possibly have known to return the phone to the T-Mobile Warehouse and that I only learned of its existence yesterday when he told me about it. He responded: "That's business."

I told him that I can not and will not pay $260 for a phone I only used for a week before returning it to where I bought it from. "Then you will be liable for the charges and we will get an attorney to get the money from you, including legal fees, which will come to more than $360."

I called T-Mobile and asked to speak with a supervisor and I was told that I would get a call from someone. I am currently waiting for that call, but obviously I am not optimistic. T-Mobile says that they have no control over the account once it goes to collections, and the collection agency has no incentive to let me off. In fact, their entire business is based around not letting people off. Collection agencies and car towing service both operate on the principle that no one can afford to do anything other than pay them. When push comes to shove, common sense and fairness never enters the picture because the consumer has no leverage. When a supervisor from T-Mobile calls me back and tells me that he can't do anything for me I will be faced with the choice between ruining my credit and probably being tried in absentia in some court that almost certainly won't be near where I live, or paying more than half what I owed in the original contract despite never receiving any of the services of the contract. I'll let you know what I choose.

UPDATE: I talked to Legal Aid and they advised me to negotiate with Amsher because T-Mobile has already sold the account to them and thus will not help me. Since Amsher tells me that they need a letter from T-Mobile in order to close the account and T-Mobile says they turned over the file to Amsher, I am pretty much screwed. I am filing a formal dispute with Amsher, which should keep me out of court and hopefully will get T-Mobile to do something.

If not, then I will just have to start writing a lot of letters. $280 isn't a huge amount of money, but it is more than I will pay for nothing.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

The Greatest American

I am a little late to the party, but I thought I would point out a poll by AOL and the Discovery Channel from 2005 that asked: "Who is the greatest American?" I found this poll by looking at the Greatest Briton list, which I found because it was mentioned on his wikipedia page that Thomas Malthus wasn't on the list. Obviously, I have too much time on my hands, which I guess is why I have a blog. Now this list is an unscientific poll, but still (via Wikipedia):
  1. Ronald Reagan - 24% of the First place votes
  2. Abraham Lincoln - 23.5%
  3. Martin Luther King, Jr. - 19.7%
  4. George Washington - 17.7%
  5. Benjamin Franklin - 14.9%
  6. George W. Bush
  7. Bill Clinton
  8. Elvis Presley
  9. Oprah Winfrey
  10. Franklin D. Roosevelt
  11. Billy Graham
  12. Thomas Jefferson
  13. Walt Disney
  14. Albert Einstein
  15. Thomas Alva Edison
  16. John F. Kennedy
  17. Bob Hope
  18. Bill Gates
  19. Eleanor Roosevelt
  20. Lance Armstrong
  21. Muhammad Ali
  22. Rosa Parks
  23. The Wright Brothers
  24. Henry Ford
  25. Neil Armstrong

1. Ronald Reagan as the greatest American of all time? Does anyone, literally, ANYONE, believe that to be true? Greater than George Washington, the first President, the General who more than anyone contributed to America even existing, the man who presided over the Congressional Congress, the man who refused to be king and stepped down after only two terms? Really? Not only that, but Washington comes in behind two others! Reagan meanwhile, is a mediocre actor and a President whose only significant accomplishment, the fall of the Soviet Union, came at the cost of years of nuclear paranoia and a huge national deficit. Plus, there was Iran-Contra, which, according to some, was only the tip of the iceberg of Reagan's crime in South America. I don't think it is even possible to make the case that Reagan was the greatest American ever, even if he did die the year before this poll.

2. Abraham Lincoln. I don't want to get into all of the specifics, but Abraham Lincoln is generally overrated. He failed to prevent the bloodiest war in U.S. history, issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1963- three years into his administration and not primarily because he cared about the interest of the enslaved, rather he was trying to block Europe from entering the war- and he excercised near fascist state power during the war, including suspending the writ of habeas corpus and severely limiting both freedom of speech and press. I am not saying he wasn't one of the most important figures in U.S. history, merely that his role is badly misunderstood. History has turned him into "Honest Abe the slavery hating man", but the reality was far more complex. He belongs on the list, and I can understand why so many people like him, but I would put him down a few rungs.

3. MLK was by any standard a great American and I would put him over Lincoln or Reagan (I mean seriously, Reagan over MLK?), though I would still put Washington first.

4. George Washington, the greatest American ever. The only knock on him is he had slaves, which is significant. But slavery was legal then and I don't think you can dock him too many points by rejudging history in the light of present morality. Plus, he wouldn't sell slaves if it broke up slave families and he released slaves upon the death of his wife. Not enough absolve his involvement with the institution, but fairly admirable. He should be number one with a bullet.

5. Ben Franklin belongs on the list somewhere, but probably not this high. He did numerous important things, but never was president and didn't have that much of a prominent role in the revolution. Still a minor error, entirely overshadowed by:

6. George W. Bush in a ranking that is already strikingly anachronistic two years after the poll was taken. Bush would probably top a list of the 25 worst Americans today, but I suspect that some Conservative ballot stuffing got him and Reagan so high on this list.

7. Bill Clinton, God love the big guy, is not one the of the top ten Americans of all time. He is more like the modern Calvin Cooledge than a President of note. Sure, Bush makes him look really, really good, but his Administration was non-descript and the booming economy was not his doing. I imagine all the people who didn't vote for Bush put Slick Willy this high on the list.

8. Elvis Presley, um no. Beyond the questionable nature of putting entertainers on a list of the "greatest" people, I wonder how "great" an entertainer Elvis was. He was a bad actor and spent the last third of his career as the world highest paid night club singer. He didn't write most of his songs and stole his sound from African Americans. How can he be on the list, but Bob Dylan, Mark Twain and Ernest Hemmingway aren't? Answer: the average idiot has heard of Elvis, but the other three earn blank looks and indifferent shrugs from the masses.

9. Oprah... Wow. She is 13 places over Rosa Parks! She is infinity places over Jonas Salk, who only managed to develop the polio vaccine. Sure she does some charity work, but how can someone primarily known for having a day time talk show be among the ten greatest Americans of all time?

10. FDR. Overrated, but definitely one of the most important Americans. His untimely death saved us from the first psuedo monarchy in U.S. history and 22nd Amendment ensured that no one else will serve for longer than George Washington.

11. Billy Graham... Well at least it isn't L Ron Hubbard or the Morman Jesus (he came over here and became an American). More ballot stuffing by Conservatives.

12. Thomas Jefferson, had some characters issues but I think he should be in the top five for sure. It is cultural revisionism to paint him as a racial monster according to our current values. The Declaration of Independence is best piece of writing in U.S. history, and then we have the Louisianna Purchase, the "Revolution of 1800" that demonstrated peaceful political transition, the Lewis and Clark expedition that he authorized and on and on.

13. Walt Disney? Geez, are people just voting for the names they recognize? Henry Ford was a better industrialist and there are many movie people who are more influential. The Disney corporation's continual strengthening of intellectual property law (to protect 1928's "Steamboat Willy" and thus Mickey Mouse) is a major problem for artistic freedom. Nothing would pass into the public domain, ever, if Disney had its way.

14. Albert Einstein - First he should be way higher on this list and second he shouldnt be on it at all. He was only a citizen of this country for 15 of his 76 years and he retained his Swiss citizenship until his death. At least he was a legitamately great man.

15. Thomas Edison - This is about where Ben Franklin belongs. Both were great men, though not inner circle Greatest Americans.

16. John F. Kennedy was one of the worst Presidents of all time. He was hopelessly out of his league in Cuba and almost caused the end of the world with his leadership during the missile crisis (how come no one mentions that we had missiles in Turkey that convinced the USSR to put missiles in Cuba? It should be the Cuban-Turkey Missile Crisis, since the missles were only removed from Cuba when we agreed to remove our missiles from Turkey). If a little Texas redneck (or a vast conspiracy) hadn't ended his Precidency prematurally, then who knows how bad things he would have mucked up foreign policy. He was good looking however, and a lot of baby boomers identify him with the idealism of youth. Never mind that his dad was a bootlegger and he was elected President under false pretenses (read: mob related). Not a great American.

17. Bob Hope, I don't know if he was particularly significant in an artistic, political or social way. He did perform a lot of USO shows, and I guess that makes him the 17th greatest American ever (despite being born in England).

18. Bill Gates went from being a hated, cut throat capitalist to one of the greatest philanthropists in history in only a short few years. I have high hopes for what he is going to do with all of Warren Buffet's money and I can admire an American success story. Bill was smart and went from not much, to more than anyone else.

19. Eleanor Roosevelt did some good things, but how could she possibly be on this list when Clara Barton, the founder of the Red Cross, isn't? Another example of people voting for the names they have heard of.

20. Lance Armstrong is pretty amazing and this list was from before he started partying with Matthew McConaughey all the time. Still, I don't see what makes him better than Michael Jordan or Tiger Woods, not to mention Jackie Robinson (!) or...

21. Muhammad Ali is, to my thinking, far and away the most significant American Athlete this side of Jackie Robinson (whose exclusion from this list is criminal). He sat out the draft, joined the nation of Islam, aggressively self-promoted (now the norm), fought in Africa and generally refused to be quiet. The model that every loud mouth super-star tries to live up to, and no one has come close.

22. Rosa Parks wasn't the first person to sit in the white section of the bus and the popular story of the woman who refused to get up after a long day at work is fiction, still, hers was the most significant act of civil disobedence in this country since the Boston Tea Party. Hard to argue with those credentials.

23. Wright Brothers are certainly worthy.

24. Henry Ford personifies the American Industrial ideal (now exported to the country with the worst paid workers). I would put him a lot higher on the list.

25. Neil Armstrong was just the monkey in a space suit prancing around a moon set in Los Angeles. At least that is what I read in Cracked magazine.

To summarize: 6, 7, 8, 9, 11, 13, 16, 17, 19 and 20 don't belong on the list at all and 1, 2 and 5 were overrated. I propose we substitute James Madison (who wasn't even nominated, though Tom Cruise was...), Bob Dylan (not nominated, though Arnold Swartzenegger was), Mark Twain, Jonas Salk, Michael Jordan, Ernest Hemmingway, Andrew Jackson (controversial, but undoubtably one of the most important presidents), Susan B Anthony (where are the women on this list?), John Marshall (not nominated, though Donald Trump was), Jackie Robinson and Theodore Roosevelt.

If we can take solace in anything, it is that we are not the only country with no clue who was important. On the list of the 100 Greatest Britons, Princess Di is 3rd, ahead of William Shakespeare. Evidently being the prettiest Royal trumps being the greatest writer of the English language, EVER. Sigh.

You like reading blogs? Fag!

The Netflix DVD has been kicking around my house for almost a week, but last night I finally got a chance to see Mike Judge's Idiocracy. It has many problems (technical, scene execution, repetition, third act), but its premise is gold and it isn't so much irreverent as genuinely disrespectful. From what I understand, copyrights do not proclude spoofing and so Judge wouldn't necessarily need permission from Carl's Jr., Fuddruckers or Starbucks to imagine a world where Carl's Jr. drugs patrons and confiscates children, Fuddruckers has become Buttfuckers and Starbucks doles out "full release" lattes (read: blowjobs). The movie is harrowing look at a world where corporate concerns trump real problems (a Gatorade like product is being used to water the crops, but the nation riots when switching to water damages the stock price in brilliant satire of the economy versus the environment debates of today) and the average person considers thinking or reading "Faggy".

The movie feels like you could watch it five or six times and still find cultural references and delirious stupidity. The opening alone is the funniest thing this side of the naked fight in Borat. It is ironic that the creator of "Beavis and Butthead" now bemoans a society where the top rated show is "Ow, my Balls" and the Best Picture (and Best Screenplay) winner is "Ass" (and that is what it is). At least "Beavis and Butthead" wasn't impervious to analysis like the idiotic, calculated "reality" that populates TV today.

I have always like Luke Wilson and I think he does a fine job here. I agree with Dennis, at Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule, that Dax Shepard as Frito steals the show. I had always just thought of him as "that guy from 'Punk'D'" (his work in Lets Go to Prison and Employee of the Month didn't help), but coaxed genuine empathy, not to mention belly laughs, from what was essentially a one note song (clue: Frito isn't smart). The scene where Frito acts as Luke Wilson's lawyer in a courtroom that was part day time TV and part Melee at the Palace was one of my favorites in the movie. Another surprise was how good and even, dare I say it, hot Maya Rudolph was. I find Saturday Night Live completely unwatchable and have never considered her even remotely attractive, but she definitely did it for me here as the completely average hooker who is mostly concerned with avoiding trouble from Upgraydd, her pimp. I recently watched Terry Crews in an embarassing turn in White Chicks (he seemed to be playing "scary miscegenating black man"), but he rallied nicely here. All in all, a nice job from the cast on a script that is definitely pretty flat and flabby (how about that slightly oxymoronic combo) at times.

Fox sabotaged this movie from the get go, only releasing it in six cities (not including New York), before pulling it and releasing it on DVD. Moreover, they reshot the movie after Judge finished, refused to let it be prescreened, slashed the budget (which shows up in the special effects), denied requests by festivals to show the movie after release, and reportedly never finished a trailer for the movie! This year Fox released gems like Date Movie and John Tucker Must Die to seemingly endless ad campaigns, but they didn't even bother to make a trailer in case they wanted to advertise this movie to the public. Perhaps Fox had a problem with a movie that showed the future Fox News as a shirtless guy and a cleavage baring bimbo as co-anchors. Supposedly, there was some sort of fight with Mike Judge and Fox only released the movie at all because it was contractually obligated to. Will the evil of Newscorp never end? First the Dodgers, then the news, now Idiocracy!

So, rent this movie you won't be disappointed. Sure, it has the same third act problems that plagued Office Space, where the ending is a little too neat, not to mention the implications* raised in the third act of either movie, but it is damn funny throughout and even with everything I mentioned there are a million laugh out loud funny quotes I missed.

*Ok, fine, I will mention that it is absurd to think that construction work is substantively better than working in an office. I mean seriously, have you ever worked construction Mike Judge? It sucks. It is hard, you wake up early, your body hurts, the pay isn't good, there is little to no recognition of your accomplishments and bosses are often far more openly abusive than the passive aggressive pussies talking down to you in your cubicle. But, Office Space points out that at least you get to be outside... Idiocracy, meanwhile, concludes that dumb people are doomed unless the smart people save them from themselves, and even then the dumb people will just sit on the sidelines having tons of kids and killing themselves.