L. Neil Smith's
by Carl Bussjaeger
Exclusive to TLE
I've been morbidly amused lately by the realization that, among its other flaws, the U.S. Postal Service's state-protected monopoly on routine correspondence delivery has rendered it the nation's primary vector for the spread of anthrax.
Think about it: It's illegal for anyone else to routine transport regular correspondence. Therefore, all such letters - and bills, payments, junk mail -pass through the hands of the Posties. All of it. Everything. And what we've discovered that means is...
When a single anthrax-contaminated letter passes through that system, the system itself is contaminated.
And so is every other innocent letter subsequently handled by that system.
Like Grannie's birthday card for your little daughter.
Have a special birthday surprise, Sweetpea, compliments of USPS.
Of course, it doesn't have to be anthrax, nor of malicious intent. Have you ever suffered a flu-induced cough or sneeze as you were mailing a letter?
But wait! If, like me, you're blessed or cursed with a grim sense of humor, it gets better. Recognizing that they have a wee bit of a problem with secondary contamination, the Posties have instituted a decontamination process, which has been called "e-beaming" in the mainstream press. It's being used at several major postal centers across the country, and apparently every item addressed to a federal facility is being so treated. Sounds very responsible, doesn't it?
Unfortunately the Posties little safeguard may be making more people sick than the anthrax letters have. Descriptions of the process are vague, but it seems to involve exposing mail to very high energy levels to kill any anthrax spores present. The bad news is that it also breaks down other organics - like paper - into a toxic gas. Which is then trapped inside your carefully sealed package, just waiting to be opened and released.
Be real careful opening that birthday package from Grannie addressed to little Sweetpea.
In just one federal building incident, a single Postie-improved box made several dozen people ill, requiring medical treatment.
The Post Awful recommends opening your mail in a well-ventilated area. Or maybe outside.
I feel so much safer now.
Happily, it looks as though they won't be able to kill off quite so many of us. Since 9-11, the Post Office has seen the greatest drop in mail traffic in thirty years. With email and electronic payment systems becoming omnipresent, people are turning away from slow - and deadly - physical mail delivery.
And electronic encryption makes correspondence and bill-paying more private, too.
But wait! There's more! If you order now... The USPS sitting on that comfy monopoly certainly isn't going to absorb the cost of protecting you to death. And with revenues down, they want a three-cent first class mail postal increase to thirty-seven cents.
I've gotta digress again: Have you ever noticed that gov agencies have a remarkably ass-backward take on pricing? I grew up in a southern city that never understood supply and demand could apply to the city's transit system. Every time ridership dropped, cutting into - well you can't call it profit, since like all gov transit systems, it required massive influxes of tax-victim dollars to stay sorta-afloat - When fewer people rode, the city raised fares to make up the difference. Being more expensive, more people found other sources of transportation, which called for another rate hike, which... But unless you're a government employee, you get the idea. Soon enough, my own mother found it cheaper to use a car (gas, maintenance, insurance, downtown parking fees) to get to work than to ride the bus. Not to mention being quicker and more convenient.
And here's the USPS repeating the mistake. Mail traffic drops, and rather than encourage people to use their system, the idiots scare off customers with another rate hike.
But the USPS is a monopoly with the imprimatur of the State. Legally, there is nowhere else to go when it absolutely, positively has to be there physically. Unlike computer systems - if you don't like Microsoft, go Mac. Or BEOS. Or Linux. Or ... And annoying as Windows' BSOD can be, it usually doesn't actually kill you. Remember: Open your mail outside. And don't forget the rubber gloves.
I've never been a fan of the Posties. Sometime back, I wrote a piece of fiction called "Postage Due" http://email@example.com/postage.htm. It's a fun little tale of the Post Office taking over the country. At one point, a hero notices the USPS eagle logo has been re-done in a severe black and white. I recently took a friend to a post office (I know, but she HAD to...).
The new, grim, monochrome logo on the official mailers caught my eye immediately.
I figure it's only a matter of time before the death merchants at the USPS replace the eagle with a vulture.