Tag Archives: security


British Postal Codes

I don’t know if you pump your own gas these days or not. I suspect you do, like most of us these days, unless we visit to New Jersey where it’s against the law to do so. This fact of modern life was satirized in a scene from one of my favorite movies, Back to the Future, where Marty McFly is astonished to see four attendants at a filling station launch themselves at a car to check the air in the tires, clean the windshield, pop the hood to look at the oil and coolant levels, and take the driver’s order for gas. Now, those were the days!

Of course, if we’re paying cash, we have trudge over to the attendant—the horror of it all!—and schelp back to the car where we can then fill the tank ourselves. If we’re using a credit or debit card, our lives are somewhat easier. Indeed, if we used plastic to pay for gas, we rolled up to the pumps, got out, swiped our card through the reader, waited for the screen to respond, chose a grade of gas to our liking, and started pumping. Those days are gone, apparently, because the little magic screen now asks us to enter our zip code, a security measure in case we have stolen our own credit card and are trying to use it a half mile from where we live. I understand the need for this little addition, since having a credit number used and abused by someone else does not make for a good day in the life of the card holder, but I also have to confess it took me back a bit when I first had to enter the number with my little index finger. The screen also told me that if my postal code included letters, I had to see the attendant. Huh? I thought. There ain’t no letters in a zip code. What’s with that?

As it turns out, there are letters in postal codes of many countries around the world. Say you want to send a nice letter to Oxford Press in Oxford, England. You write your nice letter, put it in an envelope, and after putting on proper postage, address it to:

Oxford University Press
Great Clarendon Street

My little experience pumping gas showed me, once again, there is always more to learn. And I’m glad. Think how insufferably dull life would be if we knew all there was to know by the ago of, say, 30. As it is, the older I get, the less I think I know. And that’s not a bad way to be.Please note that the “postal code” includes letters and numbers, so they got it about 1/3 right. Not bad for a former mother country. They’re not alone, however, in using letters: about 250 other countries do as well, including, in some cases, the U.S. So, we’re in a minority by using only numbers. Who knew this? Not me!

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Windows and Walls


Recently I went to visit the ATM at my local bank, and something was different. The ATM had been moved down a few feet, and the driveup windows were gone. In their place was a blank brick wall. I thought at first that they had closed the drive-up, which didn’t make any sense because the lanes and carrier machines were still in place. I went in and asked them what happened to the drive-up windows. They said they had been bricked over for security reasons and the tellers used closed-circuit cameras. I also noticed that the tellers inside the bank were behind what I assumed to be bullet-proof glass. I didn’t ask any more questions so they wouldn’t think I was casing the joint.

I suppose that the most determined thieves would not be deterred by a brick wall although it would give pause to most. There are also those geniuses who try to pull ATM’s out of the wall. My question is, once they have it, what do they do with it? You can’t exactly ride around with an ATM in the back of your pickup without attracting a lot of attention. Anyhow, it’s a sad day when banks feel they have to close up their drive-through windows and put their tellers behind glass.

We have all become used to increased security since 9/11, which has manifested itself in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. Everyone knows about the 3-ounce liquid limit with carryons and taking our shoes off at security while flyi8ng. It could be worse. I taught with a woman who made frequent trips to Israel on El Al. She said that the security process before a flight could take four to five hours. Every bit of luggage was searched and checked by bomb-sniffing dogs, and every passenger was questioned, sometimes several times, by security people toting semi-automatic weapons. If your luggage or your story was the least bit out of line, you didn’t fly. Now that’s security.

We hear about conspiracies and plots when suspects are arrested, although I believe we don’t know half of what is going on. It’s just as well—all this attention to security can create a sort of semi-permanent anxiety and paranoia. Even the church I go to has security people and a security plan with three levels depending on the severity of the threat. At first, I thought a church of all places would be safe, but as we know there have been shootings of pastors and shootings inside churches. Schools were similarly considered safe until Columbine in 1999. All this has become part of our lives.

Given the situation, what do we do? I would suggest that we do what I see most people doing—go calmly about our business. The statistical probability of dying in a terrorist attack is quite low, so we can relax know we’ll probably die of something else. Focusing on the relationships and faith we have and contributing to our communities are the best ways we have to provide for our own safety.

We should be grateful for those who guard us. As George Orwell is reputed to have said, “People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.” I would amend “rough men” to read “courageous men and women.” I know I could not do what they do.

It’s no surprise that the world is, and always has been, a dangerous place. Personally, I remember the “duck and cover” drills in the ‘50’s where we practiced what we would do in the event of a nuclear attack. The answer was, cower in fear, which we did. My class one year was to go outside in the hall and cower next to a large wall made of glass brick. Even as a nine year old, I thought this was not the best idea I’d ever seen. We could have used my bank’s blank brick wall, but thank goodness it never came to that.

Dame Julian of Norwich, an English mystic who lived from about 1342 until about 1416, understood threat and upheaval. England during her time was visited by the Black Death, which took off up to half of the population. Peasants revolted several times during her lifetime, and the political situation was uncertain. Most people lived short, hard-working lives and never traveled more than eight miles from the place they were born. And yet, out of all of this, Julian wrote words that we can take to heart in our present situation: “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”



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Friday Poem of the Week: The Cats Are at Work

There are thousands of cat at computer pictures on line. What are you people doing all day? Why aren't you filling out your brackets?

There are thousands of cat at computer pictures on line. What are you people doing all day? Why aren’t you filling out your brackets?

The Cats Are at Work

a follow-on poem to “The Cats Are Driving to Work”

for Alyssa, who liked the original poem

The cats are at work.
They pull into their reserved spaces
Growling from a long commute
Slouching toward the entrance in that peculiar feline way,
Not speaking (they’re cats, after all),
Flashing their ID’s at the tiger behind the security desk.
They settle into their little chairs at their little desks with a sigh.
No purring at work: it’s not forbidden,
It’s a simple reality. Work is not purr worthy.
They ply their trade, international security,
These cats, guarding their humans sleeping at home
From cyber threats and depredations
Perpetrated by bears and panda who want to
Steal all the catnip.

The HR cats have it the hardest:
They explain once again to the testy but talented
Siamese from accounting
That medical insurance does not cover an eyelid lift
And that HR is not there to protect her interests
But those of the company.
It’s a startling revelation repeated over and over to the
Cat employees. They’re not stupid,
Just hopeful that if they ask the same question enough times
They will receive a different answer.

Interview over, HR cat pops another Xanax,
Takes a quick lap from her milk mug,
And wonders if there’s fish for lunch in the cafeteria
And not nasty dried cat food. Again.
She sighs, calculates how long it is until nap time
And quietly hopes for a mouse to scurry by.
And so, day after day,
The cats are at work.

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