"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 1 July 1996. Updated every WEEKDAY.

Glutteous Magneticus



The arrival in many states of

high-tech drivers' licenses with

digital photographs and magnetic

data strips has had neo-Luddites

and other technophobes sweating

for a couple of years now. Call

it paranoia, but few people can

get excited about government

getting a better handle on who

you are. But we can all take

consolation in the normal

processes of entropy. The truism

that everything falls apart

applies to even the most

impressive products of the

digital age. (It's the

unremarkable ones that tend to

stick around.)



The State of Minnesota's new

driver's licenses, manufactured

by the Deluxe Corporation, are

"ghosting". The digital

photographs are fading away

under the influence of the

plastic license sleeves found in

many wallets and pocketbooks.

Considering that Diane Arbus

took more flattering portraits

than most DMV shutterbugs, most

people might consider this

disappearance a definite plus.

But the forces of chaos also

affect our ATM cards, which seem

to be losing their magnetic juice just

when we need cash the most.


I've been told on a number of

occasions that my problem is, no

doubt, an eelskin wallet. This

urban myth proposes that such a

wallet will demagnetize most

data strips on ATM cards, ID

cards, and even heavy-duty key

cards. But, alas, mine is a

simple and modest leather

affair, barely holding together

after years of panicked rifling.

The only plausible explanation

appears to be that my bony butt

is emitting demagnetizing rays,

an explanation which elicits

stony silence from most bankers.



It's clear that most ATMs

have some type of sensitivity

setting. There are a few

powerful machines I return to

again and again, confident that

my degenerating card will still

be legible to a jacked-up data

scanner. This is the banking

industry's version of safe sex:

if you want dependable service

with no lingering regrets,

you've got to return to the same

teller machines over and over

again. You've got to develop a

symbiotic relationship based on

mutual respect. If you're in a

strange land, or a lousy part of

town, the last thing you wanna

do is play patty-cake with a

digital dance partner that keeps

sticking its tongue out at you.

Which begs the question: What's

so "convenient" about automated

banking if my card only works in

one or two machines? Well, at

least I still don't have to talk

face-to-face with anyone, right?

I still have my late-night

anonymity, right?


[Ben Franklin]

It seems only a matter of time

before there's a meltdown of

affinity, credit, debit, Visa,

Mastercard, and checking cards.

We're headed for a consolidation

of plastic money on the order of

William Gibson's Mitsu-Bank

chips. Upscale grocery stores

everywhere are installing

obtrusive multicard scanners and

keypads. They stand like

sentinels in every cashout

aisle. With direct deposit and

other stupid bank tricks, soon

the new Ben Franklin C-note will

be rendered irrelevant, just a

collectible blip on the cultural

map, somewhere between Cabbage

Patch dolls and Pet Rocks in



[Low Jack]

Not to underestimate the social

value of pets. Upstart tech

companies across the land are

marketing injectable microchips -

ostensibly to help identify

cats, dogs, horses, and other

domesticated animals that won't

volunteer information about

themselves. Some cities have

even begun the somewhat ominous

project of microchipping strays,

biters, and other problem dogs

in the urban scene. Can sex

offenders be far behind? And

what about all those

politically-correct ex-hippie

academics who're turning our

universities into the Good Ship

Lollipop? Shouldn't we be

tracking them with this useful

new subcutaneous Lo-Jack?



Vigilance is our watchword. Never

mind alien abductions and

nonconsensual probing: We need

to keep the government out of

our wallets and off of our data

stripes. And it wouldn't hurt to

teach Rover how to fetch a

carton of milk and a cash


courtesy of E.L. Skinner