Fans of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels were by definition fans of one of his greatest characters: Death. A calm, steady, and fairly graceful presence, Death could be counted on for some wry observations, delivered in ALL CAPS.
So it was appropriate that when Pratchett died yesterday of dementia at the age of 66, it was announced on his Twitter account in the voice of Death himself:
AT LAST SIR TERRY, WE MUST WALK TOGETHER.
So amidst much hue and cry, Americans are now going to forego the pleasure of receiving bills, bills, charitable solicitations, and hand-painted thank-you notes from far-flung nieces and nephews on Saturday. This is due in part to just the higher costs of delivering mail six days a week as opposed to five and the exponential increase in electronic communication, but also because of some sublimely foolish decisions made by Congress. According to the New York Times:
…post office officials say the cuts, rate increases and staff reductions are not enough to make up for the two reasons it is losing money. One is a requirement that it pay nearly $5.5 billion a year for health benefits to future retirees, a mandate imposed on no other government agency.
Their decision to sponsor a certain well-known bicyclist might have not been the most prudent use of government funds, either.
Although most people are fine with ending Saturday delivery of letters, they are also opposed to closing local post offices. There’s a good reason for that, as it’s one of the most dependable points of government contact in many neighborhoods. The lines might be long, and the service not always the greatest, but you know it’s there.
In the face of some of the usual suspects calling for out and out privatization of the mail service, it’s worth looking back at one of Terry Pratchett’s novels from his great Discworld series, Going Postal. It starts off as a comedy about a man being reprieved from a hanging and then moves into a broadly satirical and optimistic social comedy about the importance of the public sphere and the dangers of turning everything over to the marketplace.
Also, it has one of Pratchett’s better openings:
They say that the prospect of being hanged in the morning concentrates a man’s mind wonderfully; unfortunately, what the mind inevitably concentrates on is that, in the morning, it will be in a body that is going to be hanged.