No Saturday mail? What to do with the Postal Service — not really sure…

March 4, 2010

With word that the U.S. Postal Service might eliminate Saturday delivery, part of me says that maybe the now quasi-governmental entity may have outlived its usefulness, but part of me says we need it.

The problem I see is that our society depends upon a system in which citizens can be assured of having a means of personal and business and legal communication.

I recall the term “post roads” in the history of colonial America. Roads were built between towns for the primary purpose of delivering mail.

The Constitution provides for the federal government to run the postal system.

Back some time ago we moved from a pure government agency, the U.S. Post Office, to the Postal Service, which was to run almost like a private company, with the thought that it would be more efficient and cost effective. That has not necessarily happened.

The Postal Service faces competition from private companies, such as Fed-Ex and UPS, and there is nothing wrong with that if they can provide quicker and more cost efficient service, that is until you come up with, say legal requirements for communication that might be put upon a citizen, or even the ability to communicate with family.

I don’t like the idea of being forced to deal with a private money-making outfit for something that is essential to life. For example, if I am required by law to send some type of communication, say, my tax forms, I don’t want to be subjected to the whim of private enterprise, who can charge me anything and itself decide the delivery schedules.

My argument is probably breaking down here, because for one thing, that is what the Postal Service already does, raise rates and cut down on service (although it has to get government approval). A wholly private entity is probably more likely to be attune to customer needs or demands.

But it just seems to me that society ought to have an official way to be able to communicate and be able to run that system itself. Private businesses will always be available when we want special service.

Let me quote a letter from one Charles Amundson to the San Francisco Chronicle:

“The federal government’s two major responsibilities are defending the nation and delivering the mail.

“No one insists that the Defense Department break even. So why are so many people insisting the Postal Service do so?”

While I am not necessarily in agreement with the federal government priority ranking he suggests, I agree with the general message there. Why does a government service have to make money? I mean that’s why it is a government service — it provides us with something outside the normal market system, because it is something we all must have, rather than just a choice on the open market.

But the problem the Postal Service faces is that it continues to operate in the red and try to be half private and half public. So if faces the pressure of servicing the public at a level that meets everyone’s demand but cannot simply raise rates at the rate to match the demand.

Of course the Postal Serve has also seen declining volume because of e-mail.

I’m kind of stuck on this one. I mean in my own life the U.S. mail has become primarily the way we receive and pay bills and get our junk mail. I seldom — almost never — write a letter.

I tried to do some quick research to see exactly how the Postal Service gets its revenue, but could only find the Wikipedia entry that says it does not get direct government support. Nonetheless, I realize Uncle Sam has to underwrite it.

Yes, it may be time to rethink whether the government needs or should be in the postal business.

One thing retaining some government control does is keep a private entity from becoming a monopoly on our communication — although I realize the kind of communication the Postal Service handles is becoming outdated.

P.s.

The Postal Service wants to provide less service for more money. That is how private business often operates, so maybe it is doing something right.

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Why are we talking and texting our way through life???

June 28, 2009

Why are so many of us addicted to cell phones and BlackBerries and texting and tweeting and just plain being in constant contact and conversation?

Immediately after the news of the death of Michael Jackson thousands of instant messages per second flew through the airwaves.

Actually, a cell phone is all I have experience with – don’t have a BlackBerry and I have never texted or tweeted much less, but I am sure that is just a matter of circumstance in my life and that I easily could, and after all, I do blog.

I first became acquainted with cell phones back when they were car phones and my wife went to work for a cell phone company. We got a car phone as a side benefit.

At the time I was working for a newspaper and believe it or not back in those days I did not yet have a cell phone, almost no one did. And the car I was using did not have a phone, but my wife’s did.

I noticed that when I drove her car (the main family car), I, we, always found a reason to use that phone. You tell people you are on the way, where you are, what was that I was supposed to pick up at the supermarket?

Next we got the actual portable phones, back when they still were as big and heavy as a brick, remember? The bag phones.

After losing my newspaper job in a corporate downsizing and deciding I did not want to start all over again in journalism for the how manyith time? I embarked upon a more-than-decade-long career in truck driving. While I find it hard to believe now, at first the cell phone was just a handy accessory. I did not depend upon it, and in fact, tried not to use it too much because the bills could be expensive, what with all the roaming charges since I was driving coast to coast.

But the novelty of it. I was just beginning in trucking, and I recall calling my wife as I crossed the Pennsylvania-Ohio line, just to tell her I was crossing the Pennsylvania-Ohio line, and of course that I love her.

At that time, that would be back in 1995, we were still calling into dispatch primarily via land line. Most truck stops had land line telephones in the restaurant booths for drivers, as well as banks of them along a wall.

I was team driving at the time and on one occasion my partner and I were looking for a load back home. We were in Massachusetts. Another team from our company was in the same position. I saw one of the drivers headed for the land line phone. I looked at my co-driver and said: “I’m goona beat them”. I dialed up dispatch on my cell phone (even though it cost me roaming charges) and we got the load.

In a relatively short time we all transitioned to personal cell phones. I noticed that land line phones, particularly ones that still were in service, quickly became hard to find. Usually shippers and receivers had phones available to drivers, but they disappeared.

(What did truck drivers do when they broke down before cell phones? The old timers tell me they used to help each other out.)

Another thing that became common was to see drivers holding a cell phone up to their head while driving, instead of the CB mike. Of course I’m still talking about truck drivers, but car drivers also began to be seen holding phones to their heads.

And here’s another cell phone phenomenon. Back in the early days to have a cell phone was a status symbol. It seemed to say, boy you must be important. Even better yet was to be having a cell phone conversation in public. That meant people needed to talk to you!

Once when I was trying to enjoy a lunch at a sandwich shop there was this guy loudly talking on his cell phone. He apparently was some type of foreman at a warehouse. Here he was away from work but barking orders. I got the impression the show he was putting on for everyone was more important than his communication with work.

But now everyone is talking on the phone as they walk or drive along (and I notice that the anti-cell phone talking while driving laws seem to have little effect – people blatantly ignore them). In many cases people have little ear and mouth pieces. They appear to be talking to themselves. You’ve probably done what I did. I thought someone was talking to me and started to talk back only to find the person was holding a cell phone conversation and was annoyed at my interference.

And now people send instant text messages to each other. I guess this phenomenon is popular among everyone, but where I have seen it is with my granddaughter. She always seems to be texting – to whom and why I don’t have a clue. I don’t see her often, but when I do, likely she is texting.

Aside from the social issues of why it seems so necessary to text, all this texting and phoning is dangerous.

There was a terrible commuter train wreck in Los Angeles recently where the train operator was texting (the more recent one in D.C. may have had nothing to do with cell phones, but I wondered). There was a light rail accident in Buffalo where the operator was texting and we all have read many stories of auto accidents where someone was texting rather than keeping his or her eyes on the road.

(In fact I noticed that a teenager had died in an auto accident as the result of inattention due to texting in a story in the Peoria, Ill., newspaper – gave me the idea to blog about this.)

And I just remember something I heard on TV the other day that I believe is true. Some expert was saying no one can really multi-task. We do one thing at a time, we just often find ourselves rapidly changing from one task to another (me not so much these days). I believe that is true. So assuming that it is, that gives us all pause to think when we may have been doing things like talking on the phone and driving a vehicle at the same time (yeah, I’ve done it – many, many times).

So, why are we on the phone all the time? For one thing it’s there. And for another since instant 24-hour darn near anywhere (as long as there’s enough bars) communication is available with such ease it’s become expected that everyone is available all the time in the social and work sense.

Someone I know who has a BlackBerry told me he doesn’t know why, but he checks it in the middle of the night.

And then there is the loneliness factor in what has become such a cold world at times. We’re all so connected and yet many are so lonely.

There also seems to be a lot of insecurity. But if there is someone to text to or someone texting you then maybe that helps or maybe it just feeds the insecurity.

And why do I blog????


World’s newspapers share top story: the swine flu…

April 28, 2009

Newspapers all over the world shared a top story in their Monday editions, the swine flu. I understand that there is concern that a lot of misinformation is going around via new electronic gossipy devices such as Twitter, and I have nothing authoritative to add to the serious subject of the swine flu. But I was perusing a site I have on my favorites by the Newseum that displays front pages all over the U.S. and all over the world. Most of the papers carried the swine flu as the lead story and others had it prominently displayed. The Japan Times (English edition) headline said: Swine Flu in Mexico Sparks Global Panic. I thought that was a little over the top, perhaps (above that newspaper’s masthead is the slogan: All the news without fear or favor).

From Minnesota, however, the Duluth News headline read: Flu Threat Real, but Don’t Panic. The Buffalo News ran the story below the fold with a headline that read: Nations Gird to Avoid Flu Pandemic.

Most of the newspapers had photos of people in Mexico City wearing face masks. A newspaper in Germany ran a photo of Mexican soldiers armed with automatic weapons and wearing face masks with a headline that said: Soldiers Looking for Sick (that seemed ominous).

One in Vienna had a photo of a violin player in an orchestra wearing a face mask, but I don’t know if the photo was in Vienna or Mexico. But a violin player photo from the city famous for violins seemed appropriate to me.

My German is not good, but I do know some Spanish. The headline in Reforma out of Mexico City, the heart of the Swine flu crisis, read: Federal District Lives in Suspense. An accompanying photo showed a religious procession with people wearing masks carrying a replica of Jesus on the cross.

And I hope I am not spreading misinformation, but it seemed the headline below the main story said something to the effect that “they knew since April 2.”  I do know that I heard a story on the CBS Evening News that said workers on commercial hog farms in Mexico (some owned by U.S. companies) had reported getting sick for some time.

By the time most people read this blog it will be Tuesday, and I don’t know what the updated assessment will be, but I know I am going to avoid crowds and keep using that hand sanitizer.

P.s.

You can see the front pages of newspapers all over the world by Googling newseum front pages. (Newspapers are not dead yet!)


Tweet this! The only tweet I need is that from the little birdies…

April 21, 2009

We have all this instant communication and yet the world often seems lonely.

Maybe that’s why so many seem to have to be in instant communication or I should say constant communication with someone else via laptops, cell phones, and those other hand-held devices of which I know little about. And it is not just talking but also this texting thing where I’m told they use crazy abbreviations to throw their instant messages back and forth.

While I often look with wonder and even disdain upon these people seemingly talking to themselves (they’re really on the cell phone via those small ear pieces (blue tooth technology?), I have caught myself doing the same thing.

I’ve been walking each day on a path near our home. The fist time I walked this wonderful trip through nature I was disappointed to see that while so many others enjoyed it too, many of them were chatting on cell phones all the way. I mean what’s the point in getting out into the quiet (minus the chirping of birds) and peaceful solitude of the natural surroundings if you have to be electronically hooked and engaged with the rest of the world?

(And don’t get me going on this new “Twitter” thing where the short messages are called “tweets”.  The only tweet I want to hear is from the little birdies, not the squawking of humans. And yes I realize Twitter is texting, not voice. I was just complaining in metaphor.)

But then on another walk I felt myself compelled to call a former co-worker, a trucker, and ask what he was doing. I’ve done this more than once, I must confess. But I vow to not do it anymore (my fingers may be crossed behind my back). I feel guilty of poor behavior. Certainly it is the right of others to do as they please (I guess), but maybe I can just appreciate nature.

I was already thinking about writing of the addiction so many have to constant communication and then just before I sat down to blog this on my laptop I read a piece by Howard Rheingold in the online edition of the San Francisco Chronicle. He teaches a college class and he noticed that while he speaks few of his students actually look at him. Sometimes he actually asks everyone to turn their cell phones and laptops off. Once he pulled out his camera and shot a video of the class not watching him. Later he projected the video on a screen in front of the class. He looked out and many of the students were watching the video, but not on the projector screen in front of the class but on their own laptops.

You can see the blog he wrote about his at: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/blogs/rheingold/index

He indicated that some of them are doing other things as well, multitasking as it were.

And maybe this lack of attention span explains the ignorance of society. So many people, young ones especially, do not have a clue about the world around them despite their constant communication. The problem may be what that they are actually communicating about and the fact they are more focused on themselves than the world around them. I’m just surmising here.

There is a strange contradiction. I often hear young people, even little children, on television and they sound so mature and so articulate. And yet I have come to the conclusion that many are just parroting the media they are connected to, but do not and will not fully comprehend who they are and what their relationship is to the past and present and future. Many of them are more concerned about maintaining their own stage role. Maybe Shakespear had a point when he said life is but a play and we are all actors upon a stage.”

And maybe I just take things too seriously.

As I contemplate all this, I recall that back in those old days before personal computers and cell phones, when I was banging out stories on a manual typewriter in a newsroom, sometimes we would get to talking among ourselves about not much of anything and the editor, who often took part, would have to remind us that there was work to do. We were supposed to be the lucky ones with an interesting job, not sorting widgets on a conveyor belt.

But many of us do like to talk.

P.s.

And maybe those quizzes they do among young people where they do not know where Canada and Mexico are and probably do not care are just skewed unscientific samples. I mean with all of this communication the word surely must have gotten out.