Okay, I have to vent here. We all get a little crazy sitting alone at our keyboards in this business, and it's finally gotten to me.
I know there are serious signs of a complete mental breakdown in the US, with polls reporting that millions of people are actually excited at having a low-rent religious fanatic who consistently mispronounces pundit as "pundint" (shades of Dubya!), pilfers state funds for her family's personal use, lies about her alleged opposition to Washington pork, claims the bloody war in Iraq is "God's will," forces her 17-year-old daughter to make a momentary mistake into a lifetime one by marrying the kid who got her pregnant, and refers to blacks as "sambo" and to Alaska's indigenous people as "arctic arabs," running for vice president on the ticket with a man who is a walking medical disaster waiting to happen.
These are probably the same people who still give the worst president in the history of the Union a 30 percent approval rating, who keep watching reality TV shows (perhaps thinking they're real), and who still think having 180,000 US troops indiscriminately slaughtering Iraqis, Afghanis and Pakistanis is making the US "safe."
But right now I want to talk about Homeland Security and the US Postal Service, two small examples of domestic insanity.
I tried to mail a book to my father last Saturday for his 86th birthday. In order to make sure it would get there by Tuesday, I sent it in one of those flat-rate Priority Mail envelopes--the ones that promise two-day delivery. It cost me $4.80 (five 90-cent stamps, one 24-cent stamp and two 3-cent stamps). I dropped the little package off after hours into the mail slot in the lobby of my local post office.
Yesterday, my envelope was in my mailbox, though, with a blue sticker attached headed:
"Important Customer Information: We regret that your mail was not collected or is being returned to you due to heightened security requirements. All mail that bears postage stamps and weighs more than 13 ounces MUST be taken by the customer to a retail service associate at a Post Office."
Okay, so dad won't get his present on his birthday.
I called the local PO to ask what was going on, and was told that any package over 13 ounces with stamps has to be handed in person to a counter employee.
"With stamps?" I asked. "What if I had worked at a company and had a metered stamp put on it and then dropped it in a mailbox or mail slot?"
"Then it would go," I was told. "Because we'd have a meter number to trace who mailed it."
Let's see. The meter would trace the package to whatever big company I might have worked at, but I don't see how that would help them trace it to the actual mailer. Imagine trying to figure out from the meter number which Merck employee or which Pfizer employee sent that package of anthrax, or which Philly Inquirer employee mailed that stink bomb...
Now, what about if I brought my package to the counter? Would it be opened and checked? No, I was told. I would simply be asked by the counter clerk whether the package contained any banned substances, like bodily fluids, liquids or bombs. If I said no, it would be accepted for mailing. ("I know this all sounds silly," the postal worker on the phone told me, "but I don't make the rules. It's Homeland Security.")
Wow. The Post Office and the Department of Homeland Security are sure keeping our mail trucks and our airlines safe with this clever policy.
I mean, we can be sure that those stoopid Ayrabs wouldn't think to put a metered stamp on the bomb they send through the mails. And that asking at the counter thing, that would sure catch anyone trying to slip some deadly substance into the mail stream. The clerks are probably trained to look for certain kinds of markers of suspicious behavior--a tic, a shifty look, or some reticence in the answer given.
So this is what it has come to in America. We're ready to put a refugee from the "Jerry Springer" show a missed heartbeat away from the White House, and we keep our mail and our aircraft industry safe from terrorists by returning (through the mail, mind you!!) packages that are left in a mailbox if they have postage stamps on them.
Dad, if you're reading this, I'm sorry your present is going to arrive late. Take it up with Mike Chertoff, the guy who made sure everyone got out of New Orleans alive when that city was hit by Hurricane Katrina.
Is this a great country or what?
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