kottke.org posts about USPS
This Esquire article asks: Do We Really Want to Live Without the Post Office?
The postal service is not a federal agency. It does not cost taxpayers a dollar. It loses money only because Congress mandates that it do so. What it is is a miracle of high technology and human touch. It's what binds us together as a country.
Go on, read the whole thing. Near the top of The List of What Makes America Great and No One Realizes Until It Disappears and Even Then Probably Not is The United States Postal Service. A poster child for Mundane Technology if there ever was one.
This is one of my favorite Flickr photos:
This city letter carrier posed for a humorous photograph with a young boy in his mailbag. After parcel post service was introduced in 1913, at least two children were sent by the service. With stamps attached to their clothing, the children rode with railway and city carriers to their destination. The Postmaster General quickly issued a regulation forbidding the sending of children in the mail after hearing of those examples.
Georg Jensen aruges that the USPS has, in effect, turned into a huge mail spamming operation (among other problematic aspects of the organization).
Just as General Motors has in effect subsidized Big Oil by continuing to build gas-guzzlers in recent years, so has the USPS continued to subsidize Big Mail by shaping its operations to encourage what it now calls, revealingly, "standard mail" -- that is, advertising junk mail. Most American citizens are blissfully unaware of the degree to which USPS subsidizes U.S. businesses by means of the fees it collects from ordinary postal customers. For example, if you wish to mail someone a large envelope weighing three ounces, you'll pay $1.17 in postage. A business can bulk-mail a three-ounce catalog of the same size for as little as $0.14.
Children in the mail!
After parcel post service was introduced in 1913, at least two children were sent by the service. With stamps attached to their clothing, the children rode with railway and city carriers to their destination. The Postmaster General quickly issued a regulation forbidding the sending of children in the mail after hearing of those examples.
That photo is part of the Smithsonian Institution's collection at Flickr.
Update: A 1913 NY Times article includes a query from a citizen to the Post Office inquiring whether they could send a baby through the mail:
Sir: I have been corresponding with a party in Pa about getting a baby to rais (our home being without One.) May I ask you what specifications to use in wrapping so it (baby) would comply with regulations and be allowed shipment by parcel post as the express co are to rough in handling
The work of Charles and Ray Eames will be honored with a set of 16 US stamps later this year. (via chris glass)
Interesting piece in Mother Jones about the new rate hikes for periodicals passed this year. According to the article, weekly publications like The Nation and The National Review will face up to $500,000 a year in additional delivery costs. This is the sort of small, seemingly-trivial change that makes this past week's discussions here at kottke.org so urgent: when you look at how rapidly—and sometimes silently—things are changing, you really do need to step back sometimes and ask, "Have we really thought this through? Are we acting, and doing so urgently enough?" How significant is this rate hike? Try this:
Since the 1970s, all classes of mail have been required to cover the costs associated with their delivery, what's called attributable cost. But periodicals, as a class, get favorable treatment: They don't pay overhead, meaning that they don't foot the bill for the Postal Service's infrastructure, employees, and so on.
That's a tradition that goes back to the origins of the nation. The founding fathers saw the press as the lifeblood of democracy—only informed voters could compose a true democracy, they believed—and thus created a postal system that gave favorable rates to small periodicals. (George Washington actually supported mailing newspapers for free.) For 200 years, small periodicals and journals of opinion were given special treatment.
Are the USPS's "forever" stamps a good deal for the consumer? "Absolutely not." Stamp prices increase more slowly than the inflation rate so stamps are continually getting cheaper.
The new postal price restrictions on thickness and whether the envelope is "flat-machinable" or not seem like the USPS passing along internal problems to their customers, the same crappy stuff that banks and the airlines do. Keep the process simple...we don't care about your technology can and can't do. Figure it out.
This may just be the Nyquil hangover talking, but I've an idea. UPS, FedEx, USPS, and DHL should offer in-transit upgrades for package shipping. I'm having something shipped and I realize that I would like it to arrive sooner than it is scheduled for. With computerized systems, they know exactly where that package is in their shipping system...it seems simple in theory to pluck it from its current route and get it going faster. The upgrade would probably come at premium price and not be a true upgrade in some cases, but it would be a useful (and potentially lucrative) feature.
 It's possible that this is already possible. In the grand tradition of weblogs, no real research has been done.
 If you're two days into waiting for a 5-7 day ground shipment from UPS and want it the next day, it may take a bit to get it from a semi in the middle of Montana onto a plane to Miami, i.e. not truly next-day.