Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Zippety Doo Dah

I like the United States of America. I like Americans, generally. I have noticed, though, that some of the combative, freedom-loving spirit of individual Americans is disappearing. No, I'm not pointing to any cowardly behaviour on their part, nor am I saying that there is any lack of will to fight enemies, real or perceived. I just think that they are allowing themselves to be pushed around more now than in the past.

They are becoming more like Canadians.

That is not a bad thing, if it is restricted to behaving politely rather than belligerently when the former course would be more appropriate. But that is not what I am referring to here. Americans are becoming positively docile when it comes to obeying silly rules, even those issued by commercial enterprises which exist to 'serve' their customers.

Generally, I think Americans have more to fear from the measures designed to protect them, especially via laws enacted and enforced by government, than from external violations of their security, including acts of terror.

Big Brother is alive and well in the United States. Everyone knows it. Most even accept that fact as necessary. A few don't like it. Hardly anyone resists it.

The bend-over-backwards disease is spreading throughout the American population, beyond merely allowing governments of every stripe to walk over every individual's rights. The disease is spreading, and now includes an insane will to co-operate with intrusive shenanigans perpetrated by commercial enterprises.

Every credit card purchase we transacted in the United States prompted a request by the salesclerk for photo identification. It wasn't because we were Canadian; everyone at every check-out was subjected to the same indignity. We were told it was for our own protection, to ensure that no-one was using our credit cards fraudulently. Sure. There is a lot of credit card fraud, yes. There are a lot of unprincipled slugs out there, who have no compunction about stealing from you and me in every way possible. And I'm not just speaking of politicians. Nevertheless, abusing everyone's rights in the interests of preventing abuse by a few slimy individuals is not the answer. Why not just vigorously prosecute the thieves. Send them to jail. Make them pay back any money they stole. Don't treat me like a criminal instead.

Every time we purchased fuel in the United States and paid for the transaction at the pump, we were asked for our zip code as part of the electronic process. We don't have a zip code. We are Canadian. We have a postal code. The software used at the pumps of American gas stations won't accept our alpha/numeric postal code combinations. Why are we supposed to enter a zip code? Security. For our own protection. How, exactly, does that protect us? If the pump won't accept the transaction for lack of a zip code, it means that the purchaser has to go into the service station kiosk to transact the purchase there, with a real live person. That's time consuming and a nuisance. Naturally, I looked for shortcuts, ways to subvert the system.

What!? Me, not obey the rules? It is no damn business of any oil company what my zip code is, or even if I have one. My arrangement is with the credit card company. They know where I live, including my postal code. Every time I was confronted by an annoying and useless request for my postal code by the software in a gas pump, I typed in 90210. About half the time it worked and I was able to complete the transaction. When that particular zip code didn't work, I tried pressing random keys until the machine hiccuped and let me carry on. Occasionally, no matter what I did, the machine was as stubborn as I was and there was nothing to be done but go to the kiosk to submit to yet another example of unnecessary intrusion into my life.

So, let's see if I understand this nonsense correctly. Supposedly, the oil company is concerned that someone might have stolen my credit card and might be making a purchase with it that would then be charged to poor old helpless me. Checking for the correct zip code, supposedly one which matches my credit card billing address, will somehow protect me. OK, gee thanks! I am so happy that someone is looking out for my interests.

But wait! Where do you, dear reader, keep your credit cards? In your wallet, you say? Well, isn't that strange. That's where I keep mine too! I keep a lot of other stuff in my wallet, like my drivers license, citizenship card and even other credit cards. Each of these other items has my postal code on it, right there, on the front, in plain sight. Were I an American, these items would display my zip code instead. So, in order to steal my credit card, someone would likely have to steal my wallet first. In the wallet are multiple other items containing my postal code. Hmmm. I must be missing something here. Maybe the protection applies if I leave my credit card behind somewhere, without my wallet. Maybe. But how often does that happen? Is it fair and reasonable to penalize every driver, many millions of us, for the sins of a few? I don't think so.

Oh... and how effective is the system if it accepts, even if only occasionally, the 90210 zip code of Tori Spelling and Luke Perry from the like-named TV show?

Give me a break.

Come on, you formerly feisty Yanks. Fight this nonsense. If you don't, this idiocy will show up in Canada soon and I will have to fight it here. Americans used to be fiercely individualistic, proud and free. Don't roll over, you guys. We're counting on you.


  1. Actually you are too right: We are suffering from Bent-Over-Forward disease, and I suspect you can guess what our government is being allowed to do to us might result in AIDS!
    It's possible to be much too "civilized" for one's own good.

  2. What's that old expression, Ted... something about "give 'em an inch and they'll take a mile," or something like that? Sounds like that's what's happening, doesn't it?