Monthly Archives: May 2009

Going Postal

Earlier today, went to my local post office to mail a letter and buy some stamps. I spent about 45 minutes standing in line with a dozen other people.

There were two tellers working out front. One was a young chap who didn’t really count, as he was tied up the entire time with a couple who were apparently there to negotiate an international treaty. The other was an elderly lady who had no business being there; she was not particularly quick or attentive, and between every customer she shambled out of the room for a few seconds – presumably to summon help from the legion of Post Office workers who were banging away in the back. It was to no avail, as nobody joined her…

I am not upset at these two; they were good people, doing the best that they could under trying circumstances. I am, however, incensed that there was no available help when demand exceeded supply. I was not the only one. One of those in line muttered something about making reservations, another lamented that not bringing a sleeping bag. I remarked that this made Wal-Mart look good, and that if Kroger’s tried this in their stores they would be bankrupt in a week.

So why do Postmasters behave like this? Because they can. The Post Office is effectively a monopoly; they can get away with stuff because you have nowhere else to go.

Where’s the Outrage?

On Monday, when I was on my way home, The gas stations were selling petrol for about $1.95, except for one that is always more expensive that was at $2.09. Let’s ignore the outlier and go with $1.95.

On Tuesday morning I noticed that one of them had gone to $2.35. By the end of the day all were at that level, except for the odd one out, who was now sitting pretty at $2.45.

Ignoring the outlier (who is always 10-15c more expensive than everybody else), By my FITA* calculations, $1.95 to $2.35 is about a 20% price hike.

In one day.

And nobody said a thing.

Let’s contrast that with the recent “tragedies” on the stock market. According to this page, the only bigger one-day drops in the Dow-Jones Industrial Average were in 1914 (24% though this figure is not considered reliable) and Black Monday in 1987 (22%). The only recent drops of note were a measly 7-8% each:

  • September 29th 2008
  • October 9th 2008
  • October 15th 2008

Since March 9th, The DJIA has risen from 6547 to over 8400. That means that the market went up by over 25%

And nobody said a thing.

But when the Dow drops by 7%, the newsies trot out all of the doom-and-gloom-merchants predicting the end of the world.

What’s wrong with this picture? And why is it that a one-day 5% drop in the Dow makes headlines while a one-day 20% rise in gas prices does not even merit a byline?

Have we collectively forgotten to do mathematics?

Where’s the outrage?

* FITA=Finger In The Air

Plus ça change…



  • Name: Wal*Mart
  • Logo: A smiley face – YAY!
  • Narrow, cluttered aisles.
  • Lots of “markdowns” and “rollbacks”
  • No help when you need it
  • Long checkout lines, (not enough cashiers)
  • The biggest supply chain in the world, but always out of the things I want.
  • Your choice of Carts: 2, 3 or 4 bad wheels.
  • I didn’t like shopping there.



  • Name: Walmart (no star, no hyphen)
  • Logo: What is it? A star? A sun? or, as one wag suggested – a sphincter?
  • Wider, uncluttered aisles
  • No more “markdowns” or “rollbacks”
  • Grocery prices doubled. Apparently it had nothing to do with gas prices.
  • Still no help when you need it
  • Long checkout lines, (still not enough cashiers)
  • Still the biggest supply chain in the world, but always out of the things I want.
  • Your choice of Carts: 2, 3 or 4 bad wheels.
  • I still don’t like shopping there.

plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose” (Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr) – the more things change, the more they stay the same

(Naturally, all trademarks are acknowledged)

Now Reading: Rainbow Six, by Tom Clancy