Playing Fizzbin at the Indiana BMV

I have decided that it is easier to play Fizzbin (also known as Fizbin) than it is to conduct business at The Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles.

If you are a geek like me, you remember Fizzbin from the classic Star Trek original series episode “A Piece of the Action.” (See the end of this entry for a refresher if necessary.) For geeks, the name is synonymous with misdirection and confusing rules. And, unfortunately, that describes my last visit to the BMV.

As some of you may know, I am the primary caregiver for my 81 year old mother. 

My mother is 81 years old, legally blind and unable to walk without assistance.  I recently brought her here from Alabama to live with me in Indiana. (My mother had been an Indiana resident for over 30 years prior to moving to Alabama.)

On Friday, May 4, 2012, I took my mother to the my local License branch to get her a Indiana State Identification card. I had all the proper documents: Birth Certificate, Marriage License, Social Security Card, utility bills, bank statement, etc. (Now, it is worth noting here that I am college educated and previously worked for a government agency managing FTA and DOT grants, so I speak fluent bureaucrat.)

Even though I had all the necessary documentation as listed on the Indiana website, the license bureau rejected her social security card because it was “too old.” There is no qualification listed on the website that certain types of Social Security cards would be considered unacceptable. We were unable to get her ID card and now will have to make another trip.

I have several concerns: First, a reasonable person would have no way of knowing that any given Social Security card would be unacceptable. I, for example, am college educated and double checked the requirements before I came. I also had other acceptable documents with her Social Security number that I could have brought had I known that her card might not be good enough. I had no reason to question that a valid Social Security card would not be satisfactory.

Secondly, the staff was uncaring, particularly given my mother’s age and disability.

This ID law as practiced is onerous and a burden, especially to the elderly and disabled. To have to make more than one trip to get an ID card is deplorable, especially as the elderly and disabled often no longer drive and require assistance or have to pay someone to transport them.

Most troubling is the fact that in the 21st century, Indiana’s BMV website still does not give its citizens the information they need in order to conduct their business with the State.

On Monday I emailed three members of the Indiana HouLegislature expressing my concern:

…  First, a reasonable person would have no way of knowing that any given Social Security card would be unacceptable. I, for example, am college educated and double checked the requirements before I came. I also had other acceptable documents with her Social Security number that I could have brought had I known that her card might not be good enough. I had no reason to question that a valid Social Security card would not be satisfactory.

Secondly, the staff was uncaring, particularly given my mother’s age and disability.

This ID law as practiced is onerous and a burden, especially to the elderly and disabled. To have to make more than one trip to get an ID card is deplorable, especially as the elderly and disable often no longer drive and require assistance or have to pay someone to transport them.

Most troubling is the fact that in the 21st century, Indiana’s BMV website still does not give its citizens the information they need in order to conduct their business with the State.

So far, I’ve gotten several phone calls from legislators and a call from the branch manager anxiously offering to resolve my problem by running my mother’s number through the link with the Social Security office – even if I didn’t have the proper documentation.

Here’s what I want to know: Where was all this “help” on Friday when we made our initial visit? And what about fixing the BMV’s website so that someone really knows what to expect (and what to bring) when they come for an ID card or a driver’s license? This seems to be a point that is getting lost. Why is it that I am suddenly deserving of this help because I know how to contact a legislator’s office?

Silly me. I think that that the BMV should do everything it can to help every customer before sending them away empty-handed. Maybe Mr. Spock can compute the odds on that happening.

Here’s a “refresher course” in Fizzbin:

Alice Unchained: An argument for a stronger public domain

The Mad Hatter's

There is a great article on Techdirt.com by Mike Masnick which talks about how the remakes of Alice in Wonderland illustrate the good that can come out of material being in the public domain. He very clearly makes the point that endeavors based on public domain material can succeed financially, and, that in fact, there is an artistic freedom to the projects that might not exist if the source material were still under copyright.

While Masnick’s argument makes the point that public domain material can still make money, the article also captures the essence of what the public domain is supposed to be about:  work entering the collective culture of our society and becoming the building blocks for other works of art.  And the fact that a high profile public domain work is so successful today makes it even sadder that this year, absolutely nothing enters the public domain in the United States.    

That fact has serious consequences for the future.  Think about it for a moment – these great versions of Alice in Wonderland might not even exist if not for the public domain.  My husband’s last jazz CD,   Tidings of Comfort and Joy: A Jazz Piano Trio Christmas, was completly based on public domain songs.  If the original material were not in the public domain so that Jim could freely write his own arrangements of these classics, it is questionable whether the CD would have ever been made.  So projects like these cannot exist without a wealth of public domain material for artists to draw upon. 

Because of the strong lobbying of congress by studios and corporations to further extend the term of copyright protection, the public domain is indeed shrinking.  For an interesting (and prophetic) look at how the American people’s interests are not being represented, I highly recommend law professor Jessica Litman’s book Digital Copyright.  The book is very readable for a lay person and offers a shockingly honest look at the workings of copyright law in the United States.  Like me, you may be left wondering exactly who represents the interests of the people.

To learn more about the public domain, see  The Center for the Study of the Public Domain at Duke Law School.