Archive for the ‘Security’ Category

Service of Leasing a Car in a World of Hackers

Monday, May 7th, 2018

2018 Malibu

A friend was refused a credit card offered by a cashier along with a special promotion at a store she frequents. She has a top credit rating. The cashier didn’t explain why her application was declined and she’d forgotten that she’d frozen access to her credit reports.

I, too, was tripped up by a frozen credit report. This post is to remind folks who protected themselves from the Equifax debacle or who froze their reports for any other reason to remember they’ve taken the step and to tuck the PIN numbers from credit services in a handy place.


In my last post I wrote about my experience identifying myself to my auto insurance company when we were leasing a new car. I didn’t remember which PIN number they were asking for—I have so many for that company–and ran into a second wall when my answer to “What’s the name of your child?” was “I don’t have one.”

Turned out we weren’t out of the woods once we’d cleared the insurance hurdle.

Starting from the beginning, we were at Ruge’s Chevrolet in Millbrook, N.Y. the last Saturday in April. We’d become, uncharacteristically, the kind of indecisive customers salespeople must detest. We finally leaned in favor of one model, but didn’t care for the color of the car on the lot. Fire engine red isn’t us. So we chose a different model.

I’m not used to being this finicky. Our salesman of many years, Barry Lang, was cheerful and patient as we zigged and zagged and although he didn’t show it, he must have been happy to see us leave [while wondering: “What happened to them?”]. It wasn’t the last of us. We had an appointment to pick up the new car Monday morning—the day the lease on our other car expired.

Barry Lang, Ruge’s Chevrolet

Not long after we left, Barry called to ask me to lift the freeze I’d put on my credit file at TransUnion. He gave me all the information I needed to reach them and I immediately tried online as the office was closed until 8:00 a.m. Monday. But my social security number was not in the system. [I knew that wasn’t accurate!]

When I updated Barry, saying I’d return to the city to retrieve my TransUnion file Sunday and grab the earliest train north Monday morning, he told me to relax, to stay put and to enjoy the weekend in the country.

Monday 8 a.m. I answered all the questions of the TransUnion agent until he asked for my PIN number. When you freeze your account, you get this number in a letter mailed to your official residence. I was sunk. The number was in the city. I was 90 miles away.

In the end, I was lucky: I reached David Reich, an associate whose office is next to mine and who was at work early. He found the paperwork and PIN and I was back in business.

The rest of the procedure at Ruge’s was seamless. Barry showed me what was new about the car. In fact, he shot me an email a few days afterwards urging me to contact him if I needed a refresher about the new technology or features. The new car has no key, for example. I start and stop the car by pressing a button.

The glitches were my fault. Remembering how smoothly everything had gone in previous transactions either buying or leasing a car from this company I came unprepared. The hiccups were caused because I’m not yet used to how I’m forced to protect myself from hackers. I didn’t come armed with the appropriate PIN numbers.

I’m grateful to TransUnion for protecting me from potential scofflaws as, no doubt, is my friend, even though she couldn’t glean the goodies offered by the retail store’s promotion.

Have you been blocked from making a purchase because of a credit report freeze or didn’t you freeze yours? Have you found it more complicated than previously to make large purchases involving credit these days?




Service of Family: No Marriage, No Children=No Family & Unfit to Serve?

Thursday, May 3rd, 2018


I was at an auto dealership in upstate New York last weekend speaking with an insurance company customer service rep. Our salesman was arranging for the transfer of our insurance to a new car and when done, he passed me the phone.

After “Hello”—I’d expected a quick “confirming that you’re Jeanne Byington leasing a car,”–but instead the rep bombarded me with questions starting with “What’s your PIN number?” I panicked, looked at my husband and we spat out a few options. The rep interrupted me and then asked, “What is the name of your child?” I answered: “I don’t have one.” He said, “You have to call back. I’ve been logged out.” Click.


So we called back, this time logging in with a PIN number, which worked thank goodness, and we reached a pleasant woman who took the information she needed from the salesman and she then asked me: “What’s your child’s birthday and year of birth?” I told her I don’t have children, but decided to share the birth info of my stepdaughter to move things along. That was the right answer. The company, its staff or computer had assumed that everyone has a kid and that my husband’s daughter–he uses the same company for a range of services—was also mine.

I immediately thought of a comment I read on Twitter by author Father James Martin, @JamesMartinSJ,  regarding the replacement of the fired House of Representatives Chaplain Father Patrick J. Conroy: “The idea that a priest can’t be House chaplain because he’s not a ‘family man’ is absurd and borderline anti-Catholic. Priests have families: mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, nieces and nephews. Also, by that yardstick, Jesus Christ wouldn’t qualify.”

Father James Martin. Photo:

He was responding to a remark by Mark Walker, a Republican representative from North Carolina who is on a committee to find a new chaplain. According to The Hill, Walker said: “I’m looking for somebody who has a little age, that has adult children, that kind of can connect with the bulk of the body here, Republicans and Democrats who are going through, back home the wife, the family—that has some counseling experience…”

I take Walker’s comment a step beyond religion: Is Supreme Court Judge Sonia Sotomayor unable to do her job appropriately because she never married nor had children yet her judgments impact citizens?

Supreme Court Judge Sonia Sotomayor Photo:

Nobody knows for sure why the Chaplain was fired. According to America Magazine’s Michael J. O’Loughlin who wrote “House Republicans rebuff investigation into firing of Jesuit chaplain,” New York Representative Joe Crowley noted that “Mr. Ryan and other Republican members of Congress were unhappy with the chaplain for delivering a prayer in November they viewed as partisan.” Father Conroy reported to The New York Times that after he offered the prayer on taxes, Mr. Ryan told him, “Padre, you just got to stay out of politics.”  While the Republican tax bill was on the table Father Conroy had urged the planners not to create “winners and losers.”

O’Loughlin wrote that “Mr. Ryan told Republican colleagues on Friday that some lawmakers felt Father Conroy was not providing appropriate pastoral care to House members.” I heard Representative Peter King from Long Island, NY disagree on TV news with this allegation.

So why did it take the House seven years to react if this was so? In his work as pastor at numerous churches as well as chaplain at Georgetown and Seattle Universities, for how many people had he provided pastoral care without complaint?

In a subsequent interview with Walker, Scott Wong reported in The Hill in “Conservative leader: Next House chaplain should have a family” that the congressman said “When you walk the journey of having a kid back home that’s struggling or made some bad decisions, or when you have a separation situation or your wife’s not understanding the [congressional] schedule, having somebody who’s walked in those shoes allows you to immediately related a little bit more than others.”

To be effective, must a grade school teacher have children; a female psychiatrist counsel women exclusively, or an obstetrician be female? Is an unmarried man or woman or a couple with no children, regardless of religion, without family? Is a doctor who doesn’t suffer from his/her specialty unqualified to treat that disease? Are there certain jobs unmarried or childless people are ill-equipped to have?

Father Patrick Conroy. Photo:


Service of Unintended Consequences II

Thursday, December 10th, 2015

Unintended Consequences 2

Have you wondered how the shrinking moderate presence in Washington occurred; how the country has an increasing number of citizens from third world countries and how ISIS happened? Homer Byington, my husband, shares his theories.

In 1965, as part of his “Great Society” Civil Rights initiative, President Lyndon Baines Johnson signed into law the Voting Rights Act of 1965, passed by Congress despite the strong opposition of the Southern wing of the Democrat Party, but with the overwhelming support of the Republican minority. Its intent was to give black citizens the same voting rights as white citizens and a proportionate share of representation in legislative bodies such as Congress. It and subsequent court decisions, especially since the 1990s, have led to the re-drawing of State Congressional district lines to create a number of new “black majority districts.” Doing this, obviously, has led to the remaining districts in each state becoming far whiter than they had previously been.

The unintended, and unforeseen, consequence of this was that while there are now far more black and Hispanic congressmen and women than ever before, the number of “safe” seats controlled by extremist white conservatives has also increased even more dramatically. The number of moderates of any political stripe has declined just as dramatically.

President Lyndon B. Johnson

President Lyndon B. Johnson

That same year, again as part of his “Great Society” Civil Rights initiative, President Johnson signed into law the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which was enacted by Congress, despite the strong opposition of the Southern wing of the Democrat Party, but again with the overwhelming support of the Republican minority. Its intent was to replace the existing law, which was discriminatory because it based visa eligibility on the national origin of the immigrant, with a policy that united families. There was no limitation on the number of immediate family members of American citizens that could be admitted.

donkey and elephantThe unintended, and unforeseen, consequence of this has been that the demographic makeup of the country has changed dramatically. Neither President Johnson, nor most others in his administration, and especially the mid-western Republicans, wanted or expected this to happen. They assumed that the vast bulk of immigrants would be family members of existing citizens and, therefore, would continue to be European. Instead, prosperity and declining birthrates there led to, if anything, reverse immigration to, rather than from, particularly Western Europe. Instead, a flood of Third World migrants, taking advantage of a variety of preference categories under the statute on a worldwide quota basis, compounded by the admission of their relatives and, in turn, their relatives, have poured into the country over the past 50 years.

In 2004, the United States invaded Iraq supposedly to fight terrorism and quickly overthrew Saddam Hussein, a Sunni, his Ba’ath Party and army. Perhaps following the example of what the Allies did in Post-war Germany with the Nazis, Hussein was eventually executed, the first tier of Ba’athists and military were prosecuted or jailed and the lower ranks were fired and disenfranchised. The latter, according to Michael Weiss, co-author of ISIS – Inside the Army Of Terror, became the pool of unemployed, unhappy, educated, technologically inclined, skilled Sunni labor from which ISIS sourced the relatively sophisticated team that now staffs its middle and upper-middle management. (Based upon my own experience with Iraqis, I’m inclined to believe Weiss.)

President George W. Bush

President George W. Bush

The unintended, and unforeseen, consequence of this occupation policy was that we and others now have a massive problem dealing with a variety of terrorist attacks by diverse ISIS agents and recruits around the world. President George W. Bush and his advisors may have invaded Iraq with the intention of weakening, and eventually defeating, al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden, (although I was not then, and am still not now sure anybody in the government really understood what he was doing at the time), but they certainly did not intend to spawn a new breed of yet more sophisticated Wahhabi Sunni terrorists. However, that seems to be what has happened.

Homer asks: Do you think that there is any way in which we can undo these past unintended consequences? If so, how would you go about fixing what has happened? And, can you think of any actions our leaders are now taking which will unintentionally result in regrettable consequences for all of us?  

 Tangle of yarn

Service of Keeping Secrets

Sunday, January 25th, 2015

Top secret 2

“Three may keep a secret if two of them are dead,” –Benjamin Franklin

“To keep your secret is wisdom; but to expect others to keep it is folly,”—Samuel Johnson—both on

Clearly General David Petraeus wasn’t speaking to a dead person if he, in fact, whispered classified information along with sweet nothings to his then paramour and biographer Paula Broadwell. As a high-profile person it surely was folly if he did do it.

Telephone 1Jack Shafer took a balanced view of the matter in “In Defense of David Petraeus,” in He posited whether “the case should have been brought in the first place,” observing that government officials deliberately leak information “sometimes to float a policy balloon, sometimes to undermine their bureaucratic opponents, sometimes by mistake, and sometimes (I’m only guessing here) to placate the mistress who is writing an adulatory biography.”

Shafer reports that 1.4+ million are cleared for top secrets and that they create “tens of millions of new classified documents each year.” He quoted the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s observation that with so much at top secret level it slows information between policy makers creating an unsafe, rather than a safe, situation. Shafer wrote: “If neither justice nor national security are being served by pressuring the general, prosecutors should back off.”

top secret 3The reporter doesn’t suggest that Petraeus should go Scott free if he did this as it sets a bad example for lower level people who handle security matters. Shafer asks: “Did we experience a genuine security lapse in the Petraeus case, or are we merely relearning the lesson that Moynihan taught, that the bureaucracy, determined to cover its ass in advance, classifies way too much material?”

We don’t yet know, and Shafer points to two hints that reflect the benign nature of the info Broadwell received. According to the Washington Post, “aides and military officials” passed along the schedules and PowerPoint presentations in question to Broadwell. Quoting Bloomberg View, Patraeus has been “casually advising the White House on Iraq” and his security clearance still holds. Shafer concludes: “Does the right hand of the government know what the left is doing?”

Until the top security definitions are redefined, is it up to anyone to determine that one bit of information is more or less secret after the fact or are rules rules? Is this accusation a tempest in a teapot fueled by a political enemy of Patraeus or the administration? Do you keep it simple and never share sensitive work information with a soul or do you make exceptions under certain circumstances?

know the rules

Service of Details II

Monday, October 6th, 2014

locking front door

Lots of my posts involve details—some that are missing and others I admire.

With all the news about Secret Service staff that forgets to lock the White House front door, lets any old person—in fact anyone–in the same elevator with the President and doesn’t immediately notice gunshot holes on the President’s home/office, and hospital emergency room staff that dismisses a sick patient who’d just returned from western Africa, it was time to again write about the subject.

I heard security pundits talk on WABC radio and NPR, to name two places, and in answer to “how could such mistakes happen?” both mentioned how underfunded the Secret Service is. It doesn’t cost a cent to lock a door, ask extraneous people to wait for the next elevator when the President heads towards one or to use one’s God-given eyes to check out a landmark building for gunshots. One bullet was in a window. It wasn’t seen for four days.

pick up the phoneAs for the Dallas hospital, seems nurses and doctors use a different electronic charting system where the patient with ebola was sent home. Would you leave to chance that a client or boss saw something on a chart—electronic or traditional–as important as a sick patient who had returned from a country where the ebola virus is flourishing? Communication people! Get out of your chairs or pick up the phone and speak to each other.

While some overlooked these crucial details, others gloried in attending to every one.

  • On my walk to work in Manhattan last week I passed a man by the window in a dry cleaning store leaning over a white shirt, tending to stains with meticulous care.
  • In a spotless apartment building a new employee did something to the hall floors that brought up a shine unlike any we’d seen in 10 years.
  • Merchandising in some stores is a joy to revisit, such as Cursive in Grand Central Station, Lyme Regis, Ltd. in Kent, Conn. and Lilli and Loo in Hudson, N.Y. Wizards select and place enticing treasures in eye-catching displays and are never caught off guard.

    Cursive at Grand Central Station

    Cursive at Grand Central Station

It’s ironic that these three examples are in non-essential, life-saving situations.

How does an employer best get the message to employees that how they do their jobs may be crucial to the survival of others and/or the business that pays their salary? Is attention to detail and common sense something a person is taught at home, in school, at work or are folks born with the gene?

Get the message


Service of Technology II

Wednesday, August 15th, 2012


New York Congressman Peter King, who chairs the House Homeland Security Committee, said during a radio interview yesterday that the Port of Authority of New York and New Jersey put its money–$100 million–behind technology to handle airport security because “technology does not make an error.” Staff also thought it would save money over the cost of human patrols.

jetskiHe was referring to the jet skier who ran out of fuel and trotted up and past Kennedy Airport’s cutting edge defense system to get help. [Along with Kennedy, the $100 million also covers the systems at Teterboro, LaGuardia and Newark airports.]

verizonvan44thst1Meanwhile, an office mate in our midtown Manhattan offices has been without phone service for almost a month. This major vendor’s repair staff wanders in and out of his office every few days and there’s a crew-or at least a van–planted outside the building. With all the bundling and high tech combos fighting for space underground and the complicated nature of the wiring and computer programming, I can only assume that MIT grad students may need to be called in on the case because it’s over the heads of ordinary repair people. Another reason: The best have been fired because their salaries are too high.

Simultaneously, I tried to help a friend whose new accounting program-a well known brand-was causing fits. The default type on the invoice template was tiny. I found where I could click “12 PT” and followed all the prompts, dutifully hitting “next” and performing each step as told. I finished by assuring the program that this was what I wanted. When we returned to the template, nothing had changed: Miniscule type all ’round.

I could go on but you get the point: In this environment, how could Port Authority gurus think that “Technology doesn’t make errors?” Don’t people program, oversee and repair these high and low tech systems? Like everything else, couldn’t they break down on occasion? Do we need to learn how to use and fix what we have before leaping forward at warp speed to launch new systems?


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