PROPS TO THE P.O. As you may have heard, the post office has raised the rate for sending a first-class letter to 41 cents. This might be an opportune time to spend a moment thinking about our mail service.

For a lot of people, the post office is the symbol of inefficient government bureaucracy, the butt of jokes and scorn. When conservatives were fighting the Clinton health care plan in 1993, they used to say it would "combine the efficiency of the post office with the compassion of the IRS." Har, har! But let's step back and consider the service the post office actually performs.

Let's say you live in New York, and you want to send a note to your Aunt Millie in California. You can take your letter and drop it in a box on the corner -- or if that's not quite convenient enough for you, you can just leave it jutting out of your door. The post office will pick it up there at your house, transport it 3,000 miles, and personally hand it to Aunt Millie, all within the space of a few days.

And what do they charge for this service? Fifty dollars? A hundred dollars? Forty-one cents. And not only that, they do it 700 million times a day (not counting Sundays and the 11 federally mandated holidays). So the next time somebody makes a crack about the post office, stand up for it! Yeah, if you show up at the post office at 11 pm on April 15, there's going to be a long line. But given the magnitude of the task they have to accomplish, they do a damn fine job.

--Paul Waldman

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