Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The StateDepartmentKiada

Over my 58 plus years I have experienced and seen some dipshitery. I have experienced and seen incompetence of bureaucrats at TIAA-CREF and State Farm. I have experienced and seen the incompetence and legalism of bureaucrats at the Internal Revenue Service. I have experienced and seen the incompetence of bureaucrats at the New York State Tax and Finance Department and the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles. But I have never experienced the level of incompetence and outright stupidity that I have experienced at the hands of the US State Department.

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.

Yours disgustingly,
Ronald Helfrich
Ronald G. Helfrich
Ronald G. Helfrich Jr.
Ronald Gail Helfrich Jr.
Yada, yada, yada

Postlude: So out of the blue I received a priority post package from Passport at State and lo and behold it had 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


Just to prove to you, dear readers, that Kafkaesque nightmares and Voinivichean surreal hillarity aren't the monopoly of insurance companies like State Farm alone I thought I would share my recent Kafkaesque and Voinivichean tale about TIAA-CREF with you.

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

Life in a Mass Consumer World...

Walmart, the company that drove wages down and in the process helped destroy American companies and American wage levels. Walmart, the company that made money by driving prices and wages down and enriched its owners. Walmart, the company which doesn't enrich its workers and whose workers often end up on the public welfare roles because they don't get a living wage. Walmart, the company whose workers often end up on medicaid because they don't earn enough to get decent health insurance from their employer. Walmart the company subsidised by American taxpayers who whinge about welfare all the while benefiting from it. Walmart, the company that uses "illegal" labour because it just loves low wage labour. Walmart, the company that played a leading role in moving American jobs to China and enriching the Chinese economy in the process. Walmart, the company that looks the other way while workers are put in danger in places like Bangladesh thanks to a lack of regulation, something companies like Walmart like, of course. Walmart, the company that once touted its we sell American which now rarely sells American. Walmart, the epitome of wealthfare, limited globalisation to increase corporate profits (why not free movement of labour?), and bah humbugism, yes you gotta "like" em, particularly since the popularity of Walmart seems to prove that Americans prefer cheap mass produced goods (the god of mass consumption) even to American nationalism (the god of ethnocentrism).

Life in a Cheap Mass Production World...

As anyone who thinks about it for more than ten seconds knows, or should know, DVD reviews should not and cannot be simply about the the TV show or film transferred onto DVD. This is a mistake so many "reviewers", amateur and "professional: make. Look through the DVD review sections of many publications online and off and you will find "reviews" of DVD's that focus solely on the content. A DVD, however, is not simply the film or a television show transferred into digital form. It is also a product in which a film or television show is transferred onto a plastic disc and packaged in a keepcase holder.

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

The StateFarmKiada

I was reminded once again this week that bureaucracies be they of any type, governmental, corporate, educational, cultural, have, on occasion, perhaps on too many occasions, a Kafkaesque and Voinavichain quality to them.

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.