Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Why Do We Even Have a Post Office?

The Postal Service wants more money because it's going broke. I don't mind forking over another 2 cents to mail something (because I'm a 21st Century guy, and I actually mail things like...maybe twice a year), but at some point you have to start wondering just why we even have a Post Office at all.

After all, this is an Electronic Age, where e-mail is pretty much free, cell phones, computers and Blackberries a are ubiquitous, and if you're a real geek, you can get a bunch of iPhone Apps that will turn your handy little piece of Electronic Heroin into a lean, mean machine that can do calculus, allow you to watch television, read a book, and maybe even fillet a panda, if you need to. Who needs the anachronistic process of writing an address on an envelope, licking something that tastes like a mixture of those black jelly beans that no one eats and ass, and walking to the mailbox anymore?

Why, it's not as if my mail carrier actually delivers much of anything to my home anymore. I get three bills (gas, electric and cable), and the rest of it is stuff I can most certainly do without; catalogs I never asked for, direct mailings from the local politicians, those Val-U-Pacs full of mostly-useless coupons from local businesses that apparently can't get customers without a coupon for 10% off carpet cleaning on odd-numbered Thursdays only, or without offering a free set of steak knives that always break the first time you use them for every 50 pound bag of World War II-surplus no-name brand dog food you buy (I guess because once the food kills the dog, those knives might come in handy?). Same for my gas and cable bills...mostly ads.

I would guesstimate that for those three actually useful pieces of mail I get every month, I probably get somewhere between four and six pounds of useless paper and cardboard that I never wanted, never asked for, and simply toss away. And even those three useful presents I get are stuffed with all sorts of advertising and completely inane shit, which means the guy who lugs the mail around all day probably has 90% of all that wear and tear on his back thrown away.

Take my electric bill, for example; Con Edison is very thoughtful and sends me a three-page bill every month (it needs to be three pages because two of them are simply a rundown of the ass-rape taxes that the Fed'ral Gubmint and NY State have so thoughtfully put upon my energy use), and the third is taken up by those lovely bar-and-pie graphs giving me -- a complete doofus apparently -- a handy visual aid to show me just exactly how I'm getting the Big Purple Electric Shaft every month.

The other six pages of nonsense, printed in color no less, are devoted to advertisements and public pronouncements...usually about how Con Edison is dedicated to saving the environment, although not by saving trees, it seems, and those "Helpful Hints" like "Turn Out the Lights When you Leave the saves Energy!". My mother only shouted that at me all my life, Assholes, so lay off. Maybe there are Con Ed customers somewhere who weren't hen-pecked or developing common sense when they were children, and somehow it fell to the Electric Company to fill this void? That's when they aren't hectoring me to donate to some charity, letting me know that I can reach a Customer Service Representative (three lies for the price of one, complete with photo of a model who is just to awesomely gorgeous to work for Con Ed. Sure, entice the lonely, chronic-masturbator-losers out there to call by putting a pretty face on the bill. I wonder how many a day call wanting to talk to The Chick in My Electric Bill?) 24-hours a day, and reminders that you should Run Like Hell if You Smell Gas and Call a Professional, and a friendly reminder that you just might want to stop looking for the source of the mysterious gas odor in your darkened basement with your Zippo lighter aflame.

I can't, for the life of me, figure out where all the catalogs come from. I figured it was from the online services or utility companies that I use selling my address as part of a mailing list. Now, for some reason I can't discern, I get an actual J.C.Penny catalog just about every other week, and it's not the small one, either. I never shop at J.C. Penny. Radio Shack has my address, yessirrreee, and, no--- I didn't give it them. Lilian Vernon? What the fuck am I going to do with a Lilian Vernon catalog? I hate fucking cats, and I don't need a tea cozy, a hand-knitted dick warmer, or a genuine Lebanese Straw doormat with my dog's photograph silk-screened upon it under the caption "Grrrrrreeetings!". I don't have a dog, for one thing, and the only Lebanese anything that will ever enter my house will probably have D-cups, been converted to Christianity, and possessed of absolutely no gag reflex, whatsoever. Donald Trump, would you please stop asking me to feed your slot machines? No, I don't care if you have Rich Little and Dion and the Belmonts playing the Taj this weekend -- I'm not making the trip! And a man with your cash can get a decent wig, already!

I mean, do we really need all this stuff? It seems to me that a Postal Worker is really expending a lot of effort to hand-deliver information that is already on a website somewhere, and he's actually only expensively delivering absolute shyte. Wouldn't it just be cheaper to encourage those still getting a paper bill to use the website (something I'm about to start doing more often), where they can get that info and conduct their business, too? No envelope, no printing costs, no energy wasted shipping bills back and forth, no Lilian Vernon, no Lebanese, no Pizza Hut or Domino's special offers -- Pizza Hut? Dominos? This is New York. Anyone who eats at Pizza Hut when we have the best pizza on the fucking planet should be made into a Lilian Vernon Doormat -- just a Happy Postman who doesn't have to lug all that crap around; forests spared, gasoline saved, fewer trucks on the roads, fewer delays at the airports.

I mean, it's not as if the Post Office actually makes money, anyway. It's a freakin' Federally-protected MONOPOLY ... and it's still broke.

So why does it persist? Why hasn't the Electronic Age eliminated such an organization?

Primarily, because there's still a significant percentage of people in this country who aren't computer literate. These are mostly Old Folks -- who won't oblige us and die already and spare us the expense of supporting them well after their productive value to society is long past. Mostly, they remember FDR fondly (suckers!), and will tell you the tale, ad nauseum, about how they walked to school through five miles of foot-high snow, uphill both ways, without shoes (because it was the Depression, you know), everything cost a nickle (you could get a lung transplant for a nickle back then, it seems), and they never mastered anything more complicated than a rotary telephone. Which they still have. That's when they aren't ruminating upon the virtues of Epsom Salts and Jimmy Stewart, or drifting into Alzheimer's.

These people will need to be accommodated, and worse, they'll need to be accommodated in the manner to which they have been accustomed, which means a pile of dead trees delivered by an overpaid federal employee who collects, sorts and hauls absolute crap all day for a living. Asking these people to adapt automatically encompasses huge problems (not least of which, is their predictable, full-throated menstrual fury about why is it things need to change?), primarily one of expense and convenience; these people might not own a computer or cell phone, wouldn't know how to work one, can't be bothered to learn how, and would probably scream to a Congresscritter who will sponsor a Free-PC-For-Your-About-to-Drop-Dead-Anyday-Great-Gram bill.

Of course, blind people will need paper bills printed in Braille. Accountants will scream for paper hardcopies, and let's not forget the one, true advantage that paper has over a computer -- it never breaks.

The second problem is one of security. I would probably do everything online if it wasn't so ridiculously-easy to hack a computer or cellphone. The average user is dumb as a fucking stump about internet security, and even the security companies themselves routinely have their security breached (mostly by ex-Employees that they've screwed over. They never learn!). Until encryption software becomes user-friendly, hacker-resistant, and cheap for the majority of knuckleheads out there, most will still receive a bill. Even large corporations who can presumably get the best-and-brightest to hack-proof their systems will suffer security breaches (most of them already do, because you can't hire the best-and-brightest through a second-rate service that you've never laid eyes on in Mumbai, even if it is cheaper than hiring Americans).

Of course, we could stimulate the development of such software and systems, if we just made an effort to do so. I don't know why environMENTALists aren't pushing for online bill payment every goddamned day, even above Windmills, Global Warming/Freezing and The Virtues of Hemp , just to save trees and prevent air pollution. They'd be a damned sight more useful in this endeavor, and they'd actually have some things they've never had before --- a point, and an achievable goal.

Naturally, the reason why we still have a Post Office is (everyone together, now!)....Political!

The Post Office is a super-duper federal jobs program for nose-picking dolts who just couldn't qualify for that top-flight janitorial or fry cook job. Post offices employ thousands of unionized people-who-know-how-to-look-busy-when-they're-just-jerking-off, and those jobs are located in Congressional Districts that come with politicians attached to them, like ticks. The unions are often generous with the campaign cash and "volunteers". Closing a Post Office anywhere is an activity akin to suggesting that we pass a decree certifying that blind, three-legged kittens are an excellent source of protein and Vitamin C, and an excellent winter fuel. People will suggest that you be strung up for even daring to say something like that. There have probably been more Presidents assassinated than Post Offices closed, I'd reckon. So long as there's overpaid-and-otherwise-unemployable unionized government douchebags doing a completely-superseded-by-technology job, there will be politicians who will protect them.

Which means someone will have to pay more for a monopoly system that's run like a Chinese fire drill, is always broke, and that fewer and fewer people actually use. Twenty years from now, we'll all have microchips in our heads (or something) that will connect us to the internet and e-mail, and all sorts of other shit, and some dumbass in a blue polyester uniform that hasn't changed since the1950's will still be dropping a shitload of useless paper on my doorstep, and delivering Delinquency Notices to People Who No Longer Live Here. I mean, it's already getting to the point that when someone says "Check the mailbox", they automatically go to the Blackberry to start looking for e-mail. Within a very short span of years it's not entirely out of the realm of possibility that old-fashioned mailboxes will once again become antiques.

So, I say let the Post Office have it's two cents now; but someone should just have the balls to finally suggest that, within a decade, we may not need it anymore, and then begin the process of dismantling a quaint reminder of days gone by. The occupation of "Letter Carrier" should soon be going the way of the Barber-Surgeon, Town Crier and Witch Doctor. If someone in a position of authority actually did this sort of thing-- planned the slow demise of the Post Office over time -- it might even serve as a form of economic stimulus; DHL and FedEx already do it better than the Post Office, and the technical problems of securing personal data and networks, and of protecting financial information, would draw a ton of investment money back into the Technology field. Telecommunications would experience new growth. People could be put back to work in the Private Sector, rather than the Public One. The Unions would be struck a death blow, and it might even serve as a model of how the Private sector might eventually obviate the need for many government services altogether, saving the taxpayer billions!

Which is why no one will do it, naturally. And why five years from now when the Post Office isn't even delivering the Lilian Vernon catalog anymore, the price of a First-Class stamp will be $11.95.

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