Sunday, December 11, 2011

Welcome to the Third World

Yes, yes, y'all, the Bears played today in Denver against the Broncos and FOJ Tim Tebow, but something much more pressing is on the horizon.  They want to gut, ruin, and disembowel the United States Post Office, a notion that is far more important than Caleb Hanie leading our hometown team against the Armies of Tim, I mean the Broncos.

The United States Postal Service plans to close 252 mail processing centers and lay off 28,000 employees by the end of 2012.  They will close and sell off buildings and properties, eliminate a letter arriving the next day in local markets, and allow an additional 461 more centers to close by the end of 2015.  Those 28,000 people who are targeted for layoff will likely not find any job nearly as good as their postal jobs ever again, because jobs with the USPS translate to nowhere else in the work force.  And ultimately, we will never again get our mail in a timely manner.

I have a post office box in downtown Chicago.  I got very good service at this station for a long time.  It was open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.  If you were downtown on a Saturday night and you wanted to swing by to get unclaimed mail and, oh, look, I got a package!  You walked to the post office box window, rang the bell, and someone would greet you pleasantly and fetch your package.  It was delightful.

About two years ago, a lot of the older employees decided to take early retirement.  They have been replaced by either no one or employees who are so elderly that they have been made ill by the work they are required to do.  People with postal boxes are not getting weekly periodicals in a timely manner and, far worse, are not getting their bills and even checks in a timely manner.  When one doesn't get bills in a timely manner, one is forced to go to extraordinary measures to get the money there in time.  Race to the place of business and slip a check under the door.  Overnight a payment using Express Mail.  Call a utility or a credit card company and beg for extra time.  Pay on line.

One of the great joys of my birthday is receiving cards and bon mots from people via the US Mail.  (Not everyone can get it together for that, so phone calls are also lovely.)  Bon mots you can hold in your hands and carry to your brain and to your heart are precious things.  Emails are fine, touching in their immediacy, but the surprise of getting congratulations, sympathy, a birthday wish cannot be compared.  Thank-you notes are taken more seriously if they are in writing.  Someone has cared enough to make or else go to a store and buy something, then go to a facility that sells postage, affix said postage to the envelope, look up your address, and mail it to you.  That is effort that only the US Mail can provide.

America is an enormous country.  In the great American heartland and in the vast American west, there are tiny farming communities or former mining towns whose sole link to the outside world is via the US Postal Service.  These places are on no regular trucking routes, relying on the US Mail and rural free delivery.  A farm may well be 30 minutes from town and the person on that farm might be elderly or infirm.  If mail is eliminated in their town, they would be forced to go fetch their mail on their own in some other town that might be 90 minutes away in each direction (this is a conservative example; consider Alaska).  Because not all transactions can be done electronically, if they are expecting a check they need for their business to survive, they have to use gasoline and time away from their jobs to receive the check, and they have to keep doing it until the check arrives.  That is three hours and many gallons of gas (at approximately $3.40 per gallon) just to see if they received money due them.

I visited Dubai, one of the United Arab Emirates, in 2004.  As recently as 55 years ago, Dubai was a sleepy fishing village; these days, as you all know, it is something much bigger.  There is no mail delivery in Dubai.  There are no street addresses and no postal codes.  Everyone, individuals and businesses, has to get a post office box and then go to post offices to fetch their mail.  DHL, Fedex, and UPS can deliver with street and building names and a solid, working phone number for the driver to call for more specific directions. Dubai has grown up fast without sensible urban planning; America has grown greedy and foolish.

I am sure that some pea brain somewhere (with a political affiliation that is not my own) thinks this is a good idea, but I tell you that it is not.  Getting a card that is sent from one side of Chicago to the other side of Chicago in more than a day or a bill that goes from North Carolina to San Francisco in more than three days smacks of the Third World, of an emerging nation, of a country that also can't get it together to get the citizens proper health care.  Oh, wait, that's us, too.  Mail is a simple thing and we have been doing it for a long time, like from the inception of the country including, for a short while, even using guys on fast horses.  Because the mail is important.  Due to some idiocy of governance, all of this could go away.

Snow, rain, heat, humidity, biting dogs might not keep the mail from going through, but it would be shameful if Congress doesn't act to keep a strong, fast mail service.  Otherwise the greatest nation on earth will take yet another step toward becoming the greatest jerkwater joke of all time.

And back to the Bears and Broncos.  It got to overtime and the Broncos won.  Never mind that the tying and the winning points were thanks to Denver field goals, the talking heads of sports talked to FOJ QB Tim Tebow like he did it personally.  He thanked the team for keeping the faith and he thanked some big guys upstairs (John Elway not included and he used the "g" reference).  He did not say, "Holy smokes, we got dang lucky that Marion Barber made a mistake at the end of the fourth quarter."

God doesn't care about football.  If God cared about football, chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) would not be a concern and players would espouse the virtues of a solid education in concert with a solid athletic performance.  I'm just sayin'.

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