Sunday, November 24, 2013
Yesterday was the 50th birthday of Doctor Who, the celebrated British television show that premiered on the BBC on 23 November 1963 at 17:16:20. Doctor Who was the creation of a Canadian, Sydney Newman, the British producer Verity Lambert, without doubt one of the most important women in British and global television, and others. Its remit was to teach British children history and science. It went on to teach children fear, fear of the Daleks, the pepper pot shaped Nazish nemeses of the Doctor. It went on to become one of the longest running television shows beyond soap operas running from 1963 to 1989, when it was cancelled by BBC brass who hated it, only to be rebooted in 2005 by noted British writer Russell T. Davies, the writer of the original version of Queer as Folk.
I began watching Doctor Who in the 1980s thanks to PBS affiliate WMHT in Albany, New York, which ran the show on its second channel, channel 45. I continued to watch it when I moved to Utah in the 1990s thanks to PBS affiliate KUED. My first doctor was the fourth doctor, Tom Baker and I have loved him most ever since. I have a sneaking suspicion that for most of those of us who watched and watch Doctor Who our first doctor is our favourite doctor. Thanks to PBS affiliates, however, I was able to see all the episodes featuring the fourth doctor, the fifth doctor, Peter Davison, the sixth doctor, Colin Baker, and the seventh doctor Sebastian McCoy. Thanks again to PBS I was able to see all the episodes featuring the third doctor, Jon Pertwee, and many of the episodes featuring the second doctor, Patrick Troughton. Thanks to DVD's I have been able to see many episodes of the first doctor, William Hartnell.
Needless to say, I loved Doctor Who. I loved its engagement with serious issues, its discontinuity, and perhaps most of all its often sophisticated humour something that made it much more appealing to me than its very serious US TV cousin Star Trek which followed, to some extent, in Who's footsteps, and its discontinuity. As someone said online, looking for continuity is Doctor Who is a fools errand but that is one of its joys. Each doctor is different yet similar to the others. One of the most useful books on Doctor Who, in fact, is titled The Discontinuity Guide.
I was rather hesitant to watch Davies's reboot of Doctor Who. I had very fond memories of the old Who, of classic Who, and I feared that the reboot would not pay homage to the history of Doctor Who before it. I found out when I started watching the new Who that my trepidations were misplaced. Davies's Who reboot, a reboot Davies admitted was influenced by Joss Whedon's brilliant Buffy the Vampire Slayer, was, if tenuously at first, loyal to the history of Doctor Who and new technologies and great storytelling made the new Who as good and sometimes even better than the old Who. The third series Stephen Moffat episode "Blink", for instance, is as good and perhaps better than any episode of Doctor Who before it and is one of the best episodes of TV I have ever seen.
So I want to end this brief blog post by wishing one of my favourite TV shows ever a happy birthday. Happy 50th Birthday Doctor Who Long may you reign.
Tuesday, September 17, 2013
This academic year one of the departments I teach in, History, had its part-time adjunct office moved from Alumni Hall on the very south end of campus to the Milne Library where every library should be, in the centre of campus. We history adjuncts share the office with English Department adjuncts.
Before we made the move we were asked by the History Department secretary if any of us would prefer to have a Mac in the office. I am a Mac--I got a MacBook and later a MacBook Pro after two of the three laptop PC's I bought broke down within a year, specifically a Dell and a Toshiba--so I said yes. And lo and behold there was a Mac desktop computer waiting for me when I arrived at my office in Milne 309.
There was only one problem. I didn't know the password to the two entry portals of the Mac. So off I went to the History Department. They didn't know since the library IT folks set up the computers in the office. So I went to IT not once but twice. Three weeks into classes and one week after I went to the IT office in the basement of Milne I finally got a happy ending. I can now use the Mac desktop in my office at Milne. Sometimes bureaucracies do work if sometimes slowly particularly if you are, like me, a lowly adjunct.
Wednesday, August 21, 2013
In August of 1993 I got an American passport, number 053587520, in the name of Ronald Gail Helfrich Jr. I renewed my passport in 2003 and had suddenly become Ronald Helfrich in that passport, number 208900656. I didn't think a thing about this because I answer to the names Ronnie, Ron, Ronald, Ron Helfrich, Ronald Helfrich, Ronald G. Helfrich, Ronald G. Helfrich Jr., and Ronald Gail Helfrich Jr. These are all permutations on my name. Duh! And hey, if taking out the Gail and Jr. from my name was OK for a bureaucracy of the American federal government it was fine by me. Ronald Helfrich like Ronald Gail Helfrich Jr. was my name after all.
But there was a problem with me using my passport for identification purposes in the hyper surveillance paranoic post 9/11 world. The New York State Department of Motor Vehicles in all their bureaucratic and legalistic stupidity wouldn't accept a passport with a name that differed from that on my Texas Driver's license, Ronald G. Helfrich Jr. and my social security card, Ronald G. Helfrich Jr. So I dutifully filled out the passport renewal form, put my name, Ronald Gail Helfrich Jr. on it, sent the Department of State a copy of my first passport which had Ronald Gail Helfrich Jr. on it, sent them a copy of my social security card, which had Ronald G. Helfrich Jr. on it, and sent them a copy of my birth certificate which had me as Ronald Gail Helfrich Jr. And what did I get back from the legalistic idiots at State? I got a letter asking me for an affidavit of name change and telling me I had to fill out an application for a US passport, telling me I had to have individuals indicate that Ronald Helfrich is Ronald Gail Helfrich Jr--this is the level of surreal nonsense practised by the dipshit gobshites at State--and telling me I had to send them more money, $25 bucks. Apparently the idiots at State don't realise that Ronald Helfrich and Ronald Gail Helfrich Jr. are one in the same person. Nor do these dipshits realise that they are the ones that changed my name from Ronald Gail Helfrich Jr. to Ronald Helfrich in the first place. If this were a Goglesque and Bulgakovian Russian satire these two would be doubles of one another with one, Ronald Helfrich, working at the Department of State where he is causing the other, Ronald Gail Helfrich Jr., all sorts of bureaucratic headaches.
Well done US Department of State. You are the biggest bureaucratic legalistic idiot fuckheads without a sense of common sense I have ever encountered. I hope you appreciate my award for you are indeed well and truly the Pharisees, scribes, and hypocrites of the new millennium.
Postscript: So I asked the arseholes at State to contact me by email about my issue and they, of course, called my pay as you go phone instead. I wouldn't have a problem with this except that I have, as I said, a pay by go phone and I prefer email because of this. Anyway, this gobshite at State named Rebecca called and she tells me that though they changed my name in 2003 from Ronald Gail Helfrich Jr. to Ronald Helfrich they can't change it back to the original unless I jump through their idiotic hoops and send them affidavits that Ronald Helfrich and Ronald Gail Helfrich Jr. are one in the same--I am not making this up, dear readers, I couldn't make anything this surreal, absurd and just plain stupid up--something that is obvious to 99% of the population, and more money. State, of course, in classic blame the victim fashion blames me for this "mistake" since I filled out the form with Ronald Helfrich in 2003. When I asked why they allowed my name to be changed in 2003 but not now in 2013--I filled in the form with Ronald Gail Helfrich Jr. this time--they said they couldn't but offered no credible explanation as to why they did it in 2003 but can't do it now. Apparently, I am captive to the petty stupid ass whims of an arshole government bureaucracy that, ironically, wants all our documents to be consistent or, and this I suspect is more likely, I am captive to a bureaucracy that can't admit it fucked up in 2003.
Postscript Two: So I told the arseholes at State that I wanted my monies back. They said no, all fees are forfeited. If I did something like this my arse would be hauled into court for theft. Needless to say government theft isn't called theft. It is called forfeited fees. Wish I could get away with that. Hell I could live off stolen, err, forfeited fees.
Postscript Three: My letter to State
Hello you petty arse play by the inconsistent rule book wankers at the Passport division of the Department of State. My legal name is Ronald Helfrich. My legal full name—as you know those of us in Western countries have first names, middle names, family names, and , in my case, a Jr/Jnr because I am named after my dad— Ronald Gail Helfrich Jr. Aren’t semantic games wonderful? Anyway, in August of 1993 I got a passport, number 053587520, in the name of Ronald Gail Helfrich Jr. I renewed my passport in 2003 and had suddenly become Ronald Helfrich in that passport, number 208900656. I didn't think a thing about this because I answer to the names Ronnie, Ron, Ronald, Ron Helfrich, Ronald Helfrich, Ronald G. Helfrich, Ronald G. Helfrich Jr., and Ronald Gail Helfrich Jr. These are all permutations on my name. Duh! And hey, if taking out the Gail and Jr. from my name was OK for a bureaucracy of the American federal government it was fine by me. Ronald Helfrich like Ronald Gail Helfrich Jr. was my name after all.
Since you allowed me to change my name once without any documentation I might add—I assumed you knew then that Ronald Helfrich and Ronald Gail Helfrich Jr. were legal variations on my name—there is no reason you can’t change it back to its original form. Hopefully common sense has not disappeared at State since then. There should be no problem doing this since I sent documentation when I sent in my renewal form, specifically my ss card, my birth certificate, a photo of passport 053587250, showing conclusively that Ronald Helfrich was and is Ronald Gail Helfrich Jr. That I did this shows how surreal, absurd, Kafkaesque, and Voinivichean all this bureaucratic masturbatory bs has become in the US.
I wouldn’t care way or another about my name on the passport as long as it has some variation on Ronald and Helfrich in it but the idiotic bureaucracies of the US in all their anality do. Therefore, I prefer it to have the name Ronald Gail Helfrich Jr, just as it was on my previous previous passport, for consistencies sake. If you are too petty to do the right thing—I suspect you wouldn’t know the right thing if it kissed you on the lips--send me a passport just like my previous one.
Ronald G. Helfrich
Ronald G. Helfrich Jr.
Ronald Gail Helfrich Jr.
Yada, yada, yada
Postlude: So out of the blue I receive a priority post package from Passport at State and lo and behold it has my renewed passport in it with my correct full name, Ronald Gail Helfrich Jr. I don't know why they changed my mind. My whinging? Letters I wrote to my congresspeople? A soul at passports was sensitive to my kafkaesque plight? Whatever the reason it was a relief. Unfortunately, I got the passport just after I mailed my old ones back to them so now I have to wait for their return. Beyond this problem there is another problem with my brand spanking new passport. State didn't put the city I was born in on the passport. I don't think I will return it because god only knows what might happen if I did. So until next time a bureaucratic nightmare comes along that I can blog about I bid you adieu dear readers.
Thursday, August 15, 2013
TIAA-CREF, as some of you may know, stands for Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association – College Retirement Equities Fund and is, according to "reliable" sources, the leading retirement provider for people who work in the academic, research, medical and cultural fields. I opened a TIAA-CREF account way back in 2000 or so when I worked at SUNY Press with $300. A few months later I was laid off and I haven't made any additional contributions since because I was, uh, laid off and my "career" has never recovered from this wonderful experience. Thank you SUNY Press and up yours. Thirteen years later my little account has grown to a whopping $664.07. See what TIAA-CREF can do with a little investment?
I recently received a missive from the messengers of the Olympians on high at TIAA-CREF telling me that thanks to a new agreement reached with the Research Foundation of SUNY, SUNY Press is an unimportant arm of the Research Foundation, that my paltry account, and any account below $1000 dollars, was no longer worth their time and was adding to their accounting costs--gee I hope I am not helping to bankrupt this Fortune 100 corporation--and that I had thirty days to transfer the monies or they would send me a refund minus the ten percent charges one gets for doing such things if one isn't 59.5 years of age. Don't you just love it, dear readers, that TIAA-CREF is cleansing my account and that I end up paying the price? Now that is what I call choice. Now that is what I call capitalism. They also, by the way, sent me a form indicating I could transfer my monies into one of the various retirement options at Siena College but since I don't work for Siena, well this option is moot. So much for corporate competency and efficiency.
I now work in the SUNY system, of which in good Kafkaesque and Voinivichean fashion the Research Foundation, SUNY, is really not a part, so I think, well OK, I will open a replica of my the account at SUNY Oneonta and start contributing a bit each month toward my retirement. After contacting SUNY Oneonta who sent me to one Peter Crehan Oneonta's TIAA-CREF representative for SUNY Oneonta, proving you really can still reach a real human being in the United States, I still don't know whether can do this. I asked him whether the account he suggested I open, a 403(b) is the same that I have now. I, as you see dear readers, find this stuff about as exciting as watching paint dry. I asked him if I can add $355.93 plus dollars to the account I have now and keep it. I asked him if TIAA-CREF would pay the fees if I took a refund since they are closing my account. I asked about the life insurance lines in the documents they sent me to sign since I don't have a life insurance policy with tyrannical TIAA-CREF. I still don't know the answer to any of these questions. I wonder if the New York State Attorney General's office or the political entities that regulate companies like TIAA-CREF in New York can help me? I doubt it, they are generally in cahoots with big Money--I give you Chuck Schumer, Mr. Overturn Glass-Steagall himself--but lets see.
I tell you all this dear readers so to help you understand that the division between economic corporations and political bureaucracies is a false or demagogic one. Corporations are bureaucracies. They are hierarchically organised with a few god figures at the top who run the business and more and more minions as you go down the pyramid who really run it. They supposedly hire on the basis of merit. And dealing with them is akin to what the protagonists of Franz Kafka's The Trial and Vladimir Voinicich's Ivankiada had to go through. Such is life in the modern world, a world in which bureaucracies, mostly looking out for their own narrow interests and which care little about yours, dominate daily life. Enjoy.
Postscript. It is now six days late and TIAA-CREF has answered all my questions. But dear reader don't jump to conclusions that TIAA-CREF has suddenly become a lovable and efficient bureaucratic teddy bear. The forms that Peter Crehan sent me to rollover my account were missing the most important form so my surreal bureaucratic journey through the labyrinthian castle that is the TIAA-CREF bureaucracy has not yet finished.
One more thing, TIAA-CREF asserts my account was closed not at their insistence but at the insistence of the Research Foundation who didn't want to deal with menial accounts like mine anymore. Regardless of who closed the account I can't imagine it is bankrupting either.
Tuesday, August 13, 2013
One of the problems associated with MHz's Beck DVD releases--I recently purchased Beck episodes one through three and ten through twelve--is its packaging. Beck, the 1997 to 2010 Swedish television programme based on Maj Sjöwall’s and Per Wahlöö’s popular Martin Beck book series, has been released in installments by MHz networks, a PBS affiliate in DC and northern Virginia, a company that offers this series along with other television shows from Scandinavia, Italy, and France for sale (a good thing in an American incredibly parochial when it comes to television viewing) via its MHz DVD division. Unfortunately MHz DVD, presumably because it wants to reduce costs, has stacked three DVD's on top of one another, something that puts MHz in the same league as cheapo companies like Mill Creek, Echo Bridge, and the el cheapo division of WB, in their DVD keepcases increasing, in the process, the likelihood of damage to these DVD's. Since MHz prefers cheap packaging to quality packaging I will not be purchasing further releases of Beck from this company. I have an all region DVD player and so I have more "choices" than the average American DVD viewer as a result and I will, in the future, be buying my Beck from across the pond.
Up yours MHz. You just lost a customer.
Saturday, August 10, 2013
As some of you may know I had a car accident in January of this year. I was driving home from my teaching job in Oneonta on I88 when I ran into a blizzard while coming up a hill near Duanesburg, New York. I had moved over into the passing lane because I was coming on the US 20 interchange at Duanesburg and I wanted to give incoming traffic a path onto the freeway. Big mistake it turns out. At at the top of the hill my Honda Fit hit an ice patch and slid and slid eventually ending up in a guardrail. I tried to turn off cruise control but was too late. Long story short: car totaled.
The crash was only the beginning of my nightmare. I had to, of course, buy another car because I commute to my job seventy some miles away. I decided upon a Ford Focus because it is heavier and thus hopefully safer than a Fit (a great car for local commuting) and my friend Bonnie Weddle had one and I liked it for a number of reasons. So I borrowed money from my credit union and got a Focus.
Since I bought a new car I had to change my automobile insurance and this is where the nightmare continues. State Farm twice told me they needed only the bill of sale from Crossroads Ford in order for them to do this. I contacted Crossroads three times to make sure they faxed the bos to State Farm. Mission accomplished I thought to myself for I never heard another word about the bill of sale from good old State Farm. Mistake.
Well last week I discovered that someone or something had scratched the passenger side of my car from the front door handle to the back tail light. As you have probably guessed dear reader I don't live in the safest of neighbourhoods in Albany. I live in a neighbourhood that has experienced burglaries, car break-ins, and seen car tyres/tires slashed. Anyway, I called State Farm to tell them and to see if this repair will be covered by my insurance and they told me that part of my insurance had been cancelled because they had never received my bill of sale.
After several days of frantic investigation I discovered that State Farm did receive my bill of sale. But they lost it. And while State Farm apologised and did the mea culpa samba the bureaucracy with its computerised play book still marched on like the dim witted plots of English detective fiction. I received a letter from State Farm the day I discovered the damage to my car that some of my coverage had been cancelled. Today I received three notifications from the great insurance bureaucracy, one contained a cheque for the amount of coverage cancelled because they didn't get my bill of sale they lost, another said my coverage had been restored, and another asked me to pay $227.91, the monies they refunded me via cheque when they cancelled parts of my coverage as a result of them misplacing my bill of sale. And to top this surreal Kafkaesque and Voinavichian nightmare journey off State Farm now apparently expects me to pay to send the cheque back to them or pay to write another cheque and send it to them. My time and effort in this--my time and effort should be, in a capitalist society, money, shouldn't it?--appears to be as irrelevant to them as does the question of the morality of them asking me to pay for their mistake does.
The moral of this tale dear readers? Dealing with bureaucracies, public or private, governmental or corporate, is often akin to waking up and finding that you have turned into a giant insect. The other moral? Perhaps it is time to consider Amica.