MARTY RUSELL: Going postal over a new rate increase

OK, I'm down to my last two 39-cent postage stamps, the middle of the month bills are coming due and the postage rates are going up May 14 to 41 cents.

In the past, that meant I had only three options: Go out and buy just enough 39-cent stamps to beat the price increase and get those bills in the mail before the 14th, wait and buy a book of the new 41-cent stamps and pay more or start tacking on some of those 1-cent stamps that always seem to be laying around when you don't need them and you can never find when you do.

Luckily, the postal service (motto: when it absolutely, positively has to be there within a year or two) has given us a new option this time around. It's called the forever stamp and while I applaud the idea, I have some reservations about the name. The way it works is that the postal service is now offering special stamps at the going rate – still 39 cents until May 14 – that can be used even after the rates change (i.e. every year).

It's a good idea. That means I can go out today and buy a book of the forever stamps at 39 cents per stamp and continue to use them even after the rate hike. No more searching for 1-cent stamps and no more wasted stamps from the old rate. But a forever stamp just sounds a little daunting to me. Anything stamped forever seems to carry some negative or sinister connotations like eternity or marriage or a sexually transmitted disease. Why not just call it what it really is, a no-expiration stamp? Or maybe the Twinkie stamp. It can sit on a shelf for eons and still be good.

Good idea, bad name.

You would think that in this modern era of electronic communications, the Internet, satellites and fax machines we would no longer even need snail mail and e-mail and faxes have definitely cut into the postal services' volume of business but most of us still pay those pesky bills through the mail (make 'em wait on it) and where would be around Christmas without all those catalogs filling our mailboxes.

Unfortunately, until someone invents a Star Trek-style transporter device, most businesses and households still rely on the postal service. And as long as gasoline prices keep going up and the mail still is delivered mostly by the most fuel inefficient vehicle on the road – a Jeep – postal rates will keep going up.

To put things in perspective, the first first-class postage rate in this country way back in 1883 was 2 cents. It didn't climb into double digits until 1974 when it jumped up to 10 cents. There have been 15 rate increases since 1974, including this month's jump to 41 cents.

Marty Russell writes a Wednesday column for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at 227 Lester Hall, University MS 38655 or by e-mail at marusse1@olemiss.edu