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17 December 2008

Mail is Absurd

(Uh, if you're looking for references to Male is Absurd instead of Mail, then go to the previous series of articles on the male, called the Mating Growl)




***


I have received no more than one or two letters in my life that were worth the postage.
- Henry David Thoreau


The written word - you know, the actual written word - has become somewhat of a lost art. This time of year we tend to get a lot of holiday greetings by postal mail, and the anticipation of opening each letter returns, if ever so briefly.

We have friends that I shamefully say our only contact each passing year is the exchange of holiday cards. Some are sent out of obligation for some friends whose time has perhaps come and some are from the guilt for not doing more to stay in touch. And some are the beautiful punctuation of another year's worth of friendship, cooperation and love between people near and far.

And so with all due respect to Mr. Thoreau, we are proud to receive our fair share - and perhaps more than our fair share - of postage paid greetings each year.


Let's take a unique, opinionated (duh) and informative journey back to how it all happened shall we?

***

The US Postal service was born in 1775 under the decree of Mrs. Silence Dogood, er I mean Ben Franklin. Since then, they have ballooned into the 3rd largest employer in the United States (behind Wal-Mart and the Federal Government).

They employ the all of the females that live in Sacramento County California. Okay, not really, but they do employee about the equivalent: 685,000 folks. That's a bunch of knee-high blue postal socks.

The post office consumes over 120 million gallons of fuel per year in their nearly 220,000 vehicles that they operate. I bet they are a huge customer of those little Christmas tree shaped air fresheners too.

If the Postal Service were a private company, with their $75 Billion annual operating revenue, they would rank in the top 25 of the Fortune 500. Yep, at .42 cents at a time too...since they don't rely on tax dollars for their funding; only sales from postage, shipping boxes and collectible Elvis stamps.

They deliver more than 700 Million bills a day, er, I mean bills, letters, packages and cards per day. The Postal Service are the de facto experts in "pushing paper", literally and figuratively.

When was the last time you spent 10 minutes in a post office? Waiting in a featureless line to conduct a piece of postal business with a grumpy clerk at a featureless counter. I mean really, would it kill them to pump in some music? I feel like going postal just at the sheer inefficient grind of their antiquated customer service process.

One area they are most in excellent in though is their law enforcement division, or Postal Inspectors. They are some of the most creative, effective and eager cops I've ever had the pleasure to work with. And it was one of them in 1963 that created the idea for the ZIP code to ease the complexity of routing mail. For those keeping track, ZIP is actually an acronym that stands for "Zoning Improvement Plan". Don't you feel better now?

Ah, but I digress....

Another often under appreciated factoid of the postal service is their presence in our neighborhoods and their impact on our society. During the commission of delivering those 700 million mail pieces a day, they also, on average, save at least one person's life, at least one person's home ... or both. Every day. If you have ever lived near an retired person with a retired state-of-mind, then you also know that the mail's arrival via the postal carrier can be the highlight of their day.

This holiday season, the postal service is handling about 1 Billion less pieces of mail than typical holiday shipping seasons of 20 Billion pieces. Of course, they blame the economy. No, not their economy, but the world economy.

You see, like so many company's in this climate, they seek to blame their own inefficiencies, strategic missteps and failing sales on the big, burly, nebulous "world economy". Hey, why not? Everyone else is!

What will get missed of course in any public dialogue is the reality of the US Postal Service's own economic realities. Because of their unique position as a government sanctioned monopoly in what they do (called the PES, or Private Express Statutes that prevents others from competing at delivery mail and prohibits access to our mailboxes by other companies), they are permitted to continually raise postal rates to absorb the losses incurred from - among other things - our exodus to other more efficient forms of communication. (Holiday cards notwithstanding of course.)

Sure we send Holiday Cards by mail, and hopefully Thank You cards by mail too. But bill pay? Correspondence? Fuggetaboutit. We forward thinkers embrace the currently available technology and use email and the Internet and more customer-centric services like United Parcel Service (UPS), right? So is it fair that we also get penalized by paying more for a service that is falling further and further behind the times? How would like to pay a premium price for a Beta video tape? A cell phone without a camera or Internet? A desktop computer? Jeez.

Because of their monopolistic status, the US Postal Service is guided by what is called the Universal Service Obligation, or USO. Essentially, the USO is a broad document that serves as the government's tool to tell the post office what is required in exchange for protected, government agency status. It is therefore also the document that would dictate their change of direction to serve their government and their public differently, such as pursuing other funding mechanisms, restructuring their workforce or privatizing more of their operation.


Under increasing pressure from government leaders, economists and the public, the Postal Service has attempted to defend itself and the trillion dollar mailing industry.


The Postal Service said that the USO should continue to be broadly defined and there should be no changes to the postal monopoly.

But change they must and change they will. In December 2008, the Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC) is expected to submit, under order of the Postal Act of 2006, their suggested list of changes to how the Postal Service operates.

In what can be seen as perhaps a preemptive move on their part, the Postal Service has also announced the first ever layoff of it's workforce: up to 40,000 people starting in 2009. Hmmm.

They are called changing times for a reason I suppose.

Better get those Holiday Cards and Thank You cards in the mail!


While you're at it, you better make sure you have your Daddios Daily Dose Free FEED too. Join the other faithful readers and be notified whenever there is new content posted here. Make sure you don't miss a word....click the link at the top right of the page!



15 December 2008

Pot Calling the Kettle ... Black?

From the world of sports comes this disturbing tale.

At Auburn University, home to the recently coach-less Tiger football team and home school of famous alumni like Bo Jackson (1992), Rowdy Gaines (1982), Richard Marcinko (Navy SEAL), Jimmy Buffet and Charles Barkley (who didn't graduate).

Coaching candidates for their storied football program consisted of the defensive coordinator of their Tiger team in 2004 that was #2 in the Nation (who is now coaching in Iowa) named Gene Chizik and an former quarterback named Turner Gill, who recently coached at Buffalo. At least 1/2 dozen other coaches - including some of the nation's top coaches - were interviewed too.

But it was Chizik who got the job. And predictably, some of the Auburn fan base was apparently miffed, perplexed and perhaps even enraged.

Yet for anyone in, well, the real world, we know that when more than 1 person interviews for a single job, that the result will be one applicant hired and, yes, the other applicants not hired. Startling, huh?

But if you are Charles Barkley, then this process can't possibly be considered fair by any measure.

From ESPN: "Former Auburn and NBA star Charles Barkley ripped his alma mater on Monday, saying the only reason the Tigers did not hire Buffalo's Turner Gill as the school's new football coach is because Gill is black." Said Barkley: "I think race was the No. 1 factor."

Wow. Of course race is often and unfortunately the factor in a variety of decisions, but to suggest that they - Auburn's highly visible football program - would run off their previous coach for producing a losing season and then pass over what Barkley suggests is the best replacement candidate because of a non-competency trait like race is absurd. Absurd on many levels.

But absurdity and Barkley - and other of celebrity big mouths - are not strangers. He once commented that the Olympic sport of curling was too much like "dusting" and that "any woman can do it". In 1991, while still playing basketball and while engaged in verbal discourse with a fan, he spit on a little girl watching the game instead of spitting on the other fan, which he intended to do. He also frequently fought, physically, with other players and fans alike, which included fines and even an arrest for breaking a fan's nose.

He also denied that his gambling losses (reported to be over $10 million) are the result of an addiction, saying that gambling is not an addiction as long as he has the money to pay the debt, but abuse of drugs and alcohol are an addiction. That is until he got sued by one of Steve Wynn's casino in Las Vegas for $400,000 in unpaid losses. Then he acknowledged that perhaps gambling is a problem and he vowed to quit.

And so, because Barkley's mouth is bigger than his cerebral cortex, of course he continued with his commentary on Auburn's coaching choice.

"I'm just very disappointed," Barkley said. "I just thought Turner Gill would be the perfect choice for two reasons: He's a terrific coach and we needed to make a splash. I thought we had to do something spectacular to bring attention to the program. Clearly, if we'd hired a black coach, it would have created a buzz."

I'll wait while you re-read what Barkley said to put it in context.

Okay then.

So to summarize Barkley's inflammatory logic:

  1. Picking a white coach over a black coach is racist.
  2. Picking a black coach over a white coach is NOT racist but is "spectacular" and 'buzz-worthy'.

Charles needs to take a long, slow and purposeful drink of his own medicine, with a healthy dose of common sense, humility and race-relations 101 added for good measure.

In October 2008, 'Sir Charles' - as many call him - announced that he will be running for the office of Governor of Alabama in 2014. If there is ever a case to keep idiot's-out-of-office, perhaps Alabama voters should mark that date on their calendar.

Public figures all over America lose their jobs over lesser racist comments....so when we will see this standard applied to Charles Barkley?

TNT (the cable TV network that now employees Barkley as a commentator during the NBA season), are you paying attention?


11 December 2008

Honesty Pays, Part II

Close followers of the scattered musings of Daddio's Daily Dose will remember the story recently of Honesty Knight, the mental midget who lit up a joint front of the po-po. Her consequence for that choice will cost her time and money. And with a name like that, I assume it will also cost her in time away from her pole dancing too, but that is a story to explore for perhaps another day.

Today's story is also about honesty, choices and money, but the outcome is far, far different.

***

Murfreesboro Tennessee is about 30 miles southeast of Nashville, is home to about 100,000 people, two Cracker Barrel Restaurants and least a few trustworthy citizens that should make all of us proud.

Last week while visiting the 'loo' at the Cracker Barrel, 75 year-old Billie Watts discovered a purse left behind containing 97 $1000 dollar bills and a picture of a woman and a child, but no identification.

Deciding to not leave it at the counter, Mrs. Watts left the Cracker Barrel to confabulate about the discovery with her husband Malcolm. Upon arriving home, they called the Cracker Barrel back and left her telephone number for anyone who left an item in the ladies room. Minutes later, another elderly woman named Judith called and described the bag and its contents, including the picture.

Mrs. Watts met and returned the money to the now panicked purse owner. Judith offered Mrs. Watts $1000, but she refused. Judith went on to explain that the picture was of her daughter and granddaughter, who were both recently deceased. The money was all of her money and that she was headed to Florida to 'start over' with her surviving son.

Bravo Billie Watts, bravo.

Of course there are those that suggest that this is a made up story, that the money is actually drug money or that this was some scheme by Mrs. Watts to bilk the public out of sympathy. Perhaps. But I suspect Billie and Malcolm Watts know the score. And so does a grateful woman back on her way to Florida.

The Watts family could have used the $1000 reward money, not to mention the whole kitty. In fact, since the $97,000 was all in $1000 bills - and since $1000 bills haven't been printed since 1934 and circulated since the summer of 1969 - the actual value of that purse was more like between $242,500 and $1,358,000 on the collector market.

In their 58 years of marriage, Billie and Malcolm have been through alot. Billie admits to needing her teeth fixed. Her husband Malcolm has cancer, heart problems and both of them suffer from diabetes. For family gatherings, they host their 4 kids, 12 grand kids and 7 great grand kids into a modest, rented apartment. Just this week while researching this story, I discovered that one of their son-in-laws passed away too. Money doesn't heal pain, but it sure can help with the logistics of healing ifyouknowwhatImean.

But right is right. Said Mrs. Watts, "The money wasn't mine. I had no right to it. My mom and dad told me never to take anything that didn't belong to me."

In fact it was one of her grand children, not her, that encouraged her to eventually agree to speak to the media about her story.

I don't know what will be under the Watt's family Christmas tree this year, but if Billie and Malcolm Watts are around, their family will receive the best gift imaginable: a living example of a purposeful life full of character and integrity.

And that is truly the the gift that keeps on giving.

Judge not...oh well, nevermind



Howdy friends. Let's piece together a little common sense today shall we?

Judges are the designated arbiters of truth and justice; ergo, what is right and wrong. Senators? Eh, not so much.

Second, judges may or may not get paid what they are worth, just like you, me and the man on the moon. In any instance, judges who serve in the public sector should probably not expect to be paid what lawyers of equal experience make (not earn, but make) in the private sector. Agreed?

Next, the government bailout of every failing and suffering and mismanaged enterprise (except taxpaying family's that are struggling that is) is being funded by individual and corporate taxpayers like you and me. Like it or not, our tax money is fast filling the pockets of company's who could not fill them the good old fashioned way: with sales from paying customers.

"We pay, we play" worked in the school yard so shouldn't we have some say where and how are taxes are spent now? Think again Sport.

So how should we feel now that in the latest pimping of our tax money, some of our elected officials chose to - in addition to giving money to struggling car companies - they are planning on giving a bunch of judges raises too with the same allotment of taxpayer cash?

Its true. If (when) the $14 Billion auto bailout passes, our senate snuck in a provision to pay over 1200 federal judges nearly $5000 more apiece next year. Think we'll ever see that money again? What ever happened to an equity interest in these company's to insure that we will get value back from the money invested?

There are many disturbing irony's here. For starters, the money that was earmarked for one purpose is instead being used for another purpose. What would you do if you gave your kid $20 bucks to buy milk, eggs and bread and he instead bought beer and magazines? And what about that the misuse of our money is to pay judges of all people? In many cases, diversion of capital expenditures would be a criminal or civil violation, yes? Yet, try to get a court to hear that argument now, eh? Ha. Ironic indeed.

Federal judges, the recipients of said bailout funds, are appointed for life, their life. That means that they can not lose their job unless they die. How about you? How stable is your job right now? Your honor earns nearly $170,000 a year now. So that they can keep up with the federally mandated pay raises of Congressmen and women they will be given almost 3% more next year, just like your US Senate will. What? You don't have a federally mandated raise each year? Sucker.

The United States Constitution specifically provides that the compensation of federal judges "shall not be diminished during their Continuance in Office," which means that no one can reduce their salary. In addition to their lifetime appointment, the intent is to keep their cases free from "popular passions and political influence". Obviously our founding fathers didn't anticipate the ramifications of a well-timed pay raise though huh?

"Desperate times deserve desperate measures" comes to mind when I think of using taxes collected by the government to bail out a industry needed to sustain our economy. Where does giving a dude a raise who is already guaranteed a paycheck for life fit into that model of desperation?!?


So who is the mouthpiece of this darling piece of legislative horse hockey? Why none other than Senate Majority leader Harry Reid of Nevada. The same Harry Reid that was caught red handed transferring land he owned in Nevada to a crooked friend, so Reid could in turn benefit from a $1.1 million dollar windfall profit without having to disclose it on those pesky federally mandated disclosure forms for senators. Unfortunately for Americans, Reid has not seen the inside of a courtroom yet for this misdeed and misuse of power. Fortunately for Reid though, any judge who would hear such a case just got a $5000 raise, courtesy of Reid. Hmmmm.

The Senate's Democratic Caucus said this about Reid: "It is hard to imagine a better model for leadership." I'd say that is proof that nobody can ever accuse our senate from having an active imagination. Of course, keep in mind that they all will get raises this year too.

Please keep these poor shysters elected citizens in your thoughts this holiday season whilst you wonder if the flailing economy will gobble up your non-federally mandated job too.

09 December 2008

Advertising is Absurd, Part 1

For 10 years, the makers of Airborne herbal supplement "The One Developed by a School Teacher!" (2nd grade teacher Victoria Knight-McDowell) claimed that it could be used daily to prevent colds and could even stop a cold if you already had one. People bought it, literally and figuratively; their sales climbed like a fever to over $100 Million per year.



Their claim was even 'authenticated' by an outside research facility. Sounds impressive eh? Dispensing medical claims by a teacher just wasn't enough it seems. Well it turns out that independent research facility was a company started specifically to support Airborne's claim and to provide the appearance of independence. It was comprised of two people. The leader of those two used a fake degree from Indiana University suggesting that he was, you know, something of a doctor, scientist and researcher that he was not. Oops.



Airborne later reworded its marketing and packaging to say the supplement "boosts your immune system." But the damage had been done; the public's trust had been violated.



Now there is a class action lawsuit. But of course.



Elise Donahue, the CEO of Airborne, unlike in it's previous 10 year campaign, claimed in a press tour that Airborne is not actually a cure for the common cold, but can only boost a healthy person's immune system. Still, they have removed the wording of a miracle cure from their packaging because, in the words of their noble leader: "We found it confused consumers ... Consumers are not really scientifically-minded enough to be able to understand a clinical study." Hmmm. Arrogance personified. Where's the harpoon?



And Airborne's culture built on fraud and deceit is now going to cost them over $23 million USD in a settlement. If you don't have a receipt to prove you actually bought any Airborne, you can sign an affidavit and you can receive a settlement ... in the form of more Airborne products! Don't worry, the lawyers will get real money, the 'victims' will get more of the dreck that didn't work the first time....the last of the great deals huh?



There are so many better ways for a company to make money and to generate goodwill among your customers than lying to them and selling them schlock. Amazing that some companies continue to try to pull the wool over our eyes at every opportunity.



So, what companies are doing it right?

Among my list of companies that are doing it mostly right are:

  • Disney World - they are masters at the customer experience and the more I learn about their inner workings, the more impressed I am.
  • Dooney & Bourke - their original products were made out of All-Weather Leather (they shrink the leather instead of stretching it) from cows that never saw a barbed wire fence. I wish they made more men's products.
  • Container Store - they take of their employees first. Because without happy employees, there can be no happy customers. What a concept!

There are others, but I shall refrain and perhaps dedicate a future post to those enterprises that do it right, or try like hell anyway.



08 December 2008

Oh Yeah, Honesty Will Pay


I've never been much of a FOF (Follower of Fiction). Never needed to be frankly. The real world is absurd enough, dramatic enough, colorful enough and dynamic enough to give me most of the entertainment I need.

Okay, enough of that.


Ms. Honesty Knight is from the great state of Indiana, city of Muncie, population of nearly 70,000 Hoosiers.

Last week at the prime age of 32 she found
herself the hapless passenger of a motorist who had run afoul of a local traffic ordinance. While Indiana's finest troopers were questioning the driver, it seems that Ms. Knight, yes, Ms. Honesty Knight desired to pass the time with a smoke.

Presumably not wanting to offend those present, she asked
the state troopers if she could spark one up. 'Sure' they said.

So she promptly pulled out a rolled marijuana joint and lit 'er up.

And so just like that, the traffic violation turned a little more comedic, and a little more, uh, consequential for Ms. Honesty.

There. Now don't you feel a little better about some of the not-so-great choices you've made in your life?

"It is always the best policy to tell the truth, unless of course you are an exceptionally good liar."
- Jerome K. Jerome