Friday, December 28, 2007

Mourning the M-bag

Just before Christmas I went to the post office to ship 40 pounds of books to Spain. The books were obscure English language books on linguistic history. On calculating postage I was informed by an apologetic postal employee that my preferred shipping method, cheap, take as long as you like, slow boat, surface mail (the M-bag) no longer existed.

The M-bag died on May 14, 2007, and with it the incalculable value of the paper diplomacy of ideas, stories, poems, and literacy programs. Myriad scholars, book dissemination non-profits, and generous individuals who believe in the value of ideas, of sharing books, and of literacy, have been struck hard by this passing. In lieu of a dollar a pound by slow boat, offered is four dollars a pound by air.

The United States Postal Service, by offering universal service to all of the Union, with special rates for dissemination of ideas in the form of media, print and library materials has a distinct role in American civic life. This historic civic role is what distinguishes it from a fully private corporation whose sole civic mission is to operate ethically and profitably enough to pay taxes.

So readers you have a choice. Accept this passing and read 101 Uses for a Dead M-bag, or sign an online petition to request the return of the M-bag, and affordable surface shipping of books around the world. Think of it as homeland security.

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