Just a thought

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The US mail has become deadly. The FBI is unable to trace the anthrax letters. Mailbox technology has not changed in 100 years (has it?).

It would be expensive, but over a period of time, how about installing new mail boxes that include 21st century technology. If there are video cams on money machines, why not put video cams (with a clock) on mailboxes? Further, each letter could be marked by the hi-tech mailbox in a way that would match it with the picture of the person who sent it.

Would this be an unconstitutional breach of civil rights? What about the civil rights of people who receive and/or handle anthrax-mail or letterbomb-mail or whatever-mail?

-- (lars@indy.net), November 03, 2001


I think you're right Lars. Mail drop-off boxes are going to become just like ATMs. We will be getting National ID cards soon too, so in addition to having a camera or retina scanner, you would need to swipe your card through in order to get the box to open.

They would probably have to eliminate picking up outgoing mail from homes though, because someone could stick some dangerous letters in someone else's mailbox before the mailman picks them up. This could be a problem for seniors who cannot drive to get to a machine.

Another possibility that Cherri suggested is that everyone marks their mail with their thumb print using invisible ink that could be verified under a special light scanner. Or perhaps we would all be issued a type of rubber stamp which puts our own unique bar code onto the letters. Actually, I think the bar code idea is already being used for postage on credit. If you don't have enough credit for postage in your account, the letter will be returned to sender.

There are a lot of ideas that could work pretty well, but I think sending mail with the US Postal Service is going to get too expensive. More people will start buying computers and using email. Eventually, the only things that will be sent by snail-mail are packages or official business where actual hardcopy documents or signatures are needed. I predict that by the year 2010 mail will no longer be handled by the Federal Government. They are too inefficient, and private companies can do a better job.

-- seeker (searching@low.and.high), November 04, 2001.

No, you must mail a card for every sappy holiday that we have invented or I will be out of a job.

-- (Debbie Sue @Hallmark.Greetings), November 04, 2001.

Sorry Lars, just realized you probably want an answer ot your question! LOL.

I don't know if it would be a breach of rights, but most ATM machines have cameras and I don't see anyone saying it is illegal. I don't think the Constitution guarantees the right to mail anonymously, does it? If people don't like cameras, I guess they'll have to go to the post office and show their ID, which will somehow need to be linked to the mail they send.

-- seeker (searching@low.and.high), November 04, 2001.

I'm no expert on Constitutional law but I'd bet that videotaping mail box deposits would be legal so long as it is publicy disclosed that such videos are being made.

Another approach?---maybe it's time to eliminate the US Postal Service altogether. Most snail mail these days is junk mail anyhow. Private carriers such as Fed X and UPS could handle the remaining non-electronic mail (packages, letters). The Postal Service is largely an anachronism. An expensive anachronism. What, 800000 employees? How much are the physical assets of the Postal Service (property, trucks, buildings, sorting equipment) worth?

Oh, I know, this would never happen for political reasons alone. You don't eliminate 800,000 jobs without causing a ruckus (especially since half those jobs, or more, are minority persons, and they all have votes). Even if the jobs were eliminated by attrition, over a generation, the politics would be overwhelming. Then there is the political pork that would be lost by building all those fancy post offices in semi-depressed locales.

OTOH, a private mail service might be legally liable for delivering tainted mail so the safety precautions might be greater. Right now, you can't sue the government if they stick an envelope full of anthrax in your mailbox. Can you? Does the USPS have any legal liability?

-- (lars@pony express.net), November 05, 2001.

Nah, just have shielded mailboxes that zap the mail with gamma radiation. Just pray it doesn't leak...

The warm glow from reading your mail might not be a good thing...


snoozin' in the house... (it's rainin' again...)

The Dog

-- The Dog (dogdesert@hotmail.com), November 05, 2001.

"You don't eliminate 800,000 jobs without causing a ruckus (especially since half those jobs, or more, are minority persons, and they all have votes)."

Maybe we could put those people to work picking up trash along the highways, fixing potholes, etc.

-- (USPS @ losing. money), November 05, 2001.

It's my understanding that the PO has been a private entity for years now with federal oversight. I'm too lazy right now to verify that, but someone else may want to do the research.

My outgoing mail goes in a slot in the same huge box that serves my block for incoming mail. What about rural patrons in this plan, Lars...as in those folks who have the mailbox at the road, look for the flag to be raised to see if they have incoming and put up the flag for outgoing.

Personally, I don't even bother reading the news regarding Anthrax anymore. It's taken on a life of its own. More folks die each year from bee stings than have died in all the years that anthrax deaths have been reported. It's not a high priority issue, IMO. The press is sensationalizing it, just like they sensationalize everything else.

-- Anita (Anita_S3@hotmail.com), November 05, 2001.

I'll vouch for that!

-- Gary Condit (screwheryes@killher.no), November 05, 2001.

Here's another thought, Lars. [WARNING TO CIN: Don't read this.]

November 6, 2001

If the Guinea Pig Dies, Beware By EDWARD M. CANER and LAWRENCE M. KRAUSS CLEVELAND -- One of the most dangerous bioterrorist acts against the United States would be an aerosol attack of anthrax. Not only is anthrax resilient and highly toxic, but because a cloud of it would be colorless, odorless and invisible, no one would know it had been released. And because the spores are so small and can seep through tiny spaces, an outdoor attack could expose people both indoors and outdoors to anthrax.

Anthrax patients showing up in hospitals would be the first indication of what had happened, and because the initial symptoms of inhaled anthrax resemble those of the flu, many people's illness could be diagnosed too late, and they would die before they could be treated effectively.

Clearly, some sort of early-detection system is needed.

Currently there is no sophisticated way to tell whether a cloud of anthrax spores has been released. But there could be an unsophisticated one: Let animals provide the early alarm. As any coal miner with a canary could attest, an animal's illness can be a warning of danger for human beings.

It takes nearly 1,000 times fewer anthrax spores to infect a guinea pig or mouse than to infect a human. And once anthrax takes hold in one of these animals, it advances more quickly than it does in humans. It takes only one or two days for a guinea pig or mouse to die from anthrax, compared with an average incubation time in humans of 10 days time that can be used for treatment with antibiotics.

A city, town, college or private institution monitoring these animals might know rather quickly if there had been an aerosol anthrax attack. Health officials would have time to test people in the local population and treat those who were infected before it was too late. Anthrax-like symptoms in a guinea pig, followed by tests on the animal's body, would provide immediate evidence of death by anthrax.

The Department of Defense has a large amount of classified information about anthrax in animals like mice and guinea pigs, and the Pentagon should release it to public health officials. This information would help observers decide where to put the animals' cages for quick anthrax detection. And data on when symptoms are likely to appear would be invaluable for people watching the animals for purposes of anthrax detection.

The costs of using animals to monitor the environment for anthrax spores are not high. We should be putting rodents on the front lines in the fight against terrorism especially now that the front lines are in our own communities.

Edward M. Caner is a fellow and Lawrence M. Krauss is a professor in the physics entrepreneurship program at Case Western Reserve University.


So, forget about all the cameras, etc. Just buy a mouse, put your mail into his "keeper" for a few days before opening, and VOILA, you have a home-grown "detection system."

-- Anita (Anita_S3@hotmail.com), November 06, 2001.

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