Volume XI, Issue 19 ~ May 8-14, 2003

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Burton on the Bay

Post No Bills — and Deliver No spam
… That’s spam with a small ‘s’

That is the best government which desires to make the people happy, and knows how to make them happy.
— Lord Macaulay: 1824

How true. But here we are 179 years later, and government can be so slow in heeding, maybe even understanding or appreciating, the observations made by Lord Macaulay in Parliament. Not infrequently, circumstances arise that can be solved by common-sense legislation — and the people can be made happy.

Or, at least, less unhappy.

Currently, our state and federal governments have such opportunity — and possibly with no new taxes, fees, licenses or other financial obligations involved — that should make the people even happier.

About half the states have come up with legislation that should do the job. Among them, few have done so as decisively as neighboring Virginia.

Perhaps the only solution lies in Congress via a federal law, seeing the problem is nationwide, even worldwide. But, thus far in the issue at hand, lawmakers in Washington haven’t done much to make the people happy.

Surely, they are aware of the voluminous gripes about invasions of privacy, inconveniences and just plain inconsiderate intrusions in the lives of the people. Yet for some obscure reason, they are dragging their feet.

Can it be they aren’t moved to act quickly and decisively because they have minions who handle their mail, operate their fax machines, answer their phones or punch the keys on their computers? Maybe it should be prerequisite for their office that they be required to do all those things for a month following each election. Then, they might get off their duffs.

Spam with a Small s
The subject at hand is spam, not the Spam with a capital ‘S’ that comes in a can. With Spam, we can ignore it on the shelves of markets if we so desire. Not so with the new kind of spam, with consequences that are inconvenient at best.

Currently spam without the capital ‘s’ is more associated with e-mail. But when we get right down to it, spam is what we don’t ask for — and don’t want — in the mail box, via the phone, fax machine or computer. Surely, the flyers left at the door soliciting business for a pizza shop or other enterprise rates consideration as spam, seeing we don’t ask for them but are obliged to dispose of them — or chase them around the lawn on a windy day.

Remember the good old days, when someone who didn’t want solicitations tacked up a ‘post no bills’ sign? Why, in these days, can’t we expand on that? You know, register just once on a roster signifying that we don’t want any unsolicited messages, offers or whatever stuck in our latches, faxes, phones or computers.

And why can’t government finance compilation and distribution of the roster via those who do the soliciting? Why should we, the unwilling recipients, have to pay in time, effort and the proverbial red cent? Not when we’re the victims.

Oddly enough — and maybe Lord Macaulay would find this hard to believe — much fault lies with our federal government, which by the very bottom line owns and controls the postal system, though management is via a third party so to speak.

The spam Must Go Through
Sorting out junk mail — flyers, pamphlets, cards and letters — is an inconvenience, and like it or not, we are obliged to do so. Occasionally, in my postal box as well as home delivery on Park Road, a letter, check, bill or whatever finds its way to be lodged between the pages of unwanted junk mail. So I have little choice but to go through the whole shebang.

When we’re away for a week or more, the junk mail stacks up. Big as Box 430 is, it is not unusual for it to be packed full with catalogs and flyers, which means I have to wait for regular post office hours to claim the mail that couldn’t fit in the box. That’s an inconvenience.

I went the box route at Riviera Beach Post Office for business mail — specifically to have access to mail at my convenience — and I pay more than $150 a year for the service. But I’m told that though I’m renting the box, I can’t stop spam from being put in it without filling out forms, which can’t guarantee satisfaction. Rain, sleet, fog or snow, the spam must go through.

The fax situation is equally annoying. A roll of print film costs $30, and in the course of a year, the spam accounts for at least one roll, not to mention occasions when it has used the last of the paper in the feeder, which means a legitimate message doesn’t get through.

To stop the spam, I’m obliged to call a toll free number, but that only works for a while. The spam-sender apparently buys another mailing list, I’m on the new list, and again the fax in-box is clogged with business opportunities, travel solicitations, home mortgage offers and such. Though I pay the phone company for the fax line, it gives me little help in keeping the line clear of the unwanted.

Climb a ladder, sit down to a meal or take a nap, and you know what’s next. The phone will ring, and at the other end of the line is some cheery soul trying to sell you new windows, a credit card or even a different phone carrier — though, unfortunately, not a system that can effectively block such nuisance calls.

And it is the recipient of such calls who has to go through the tedious process of trying to block them — and with little success.

There are four working computers in this household, but only one has an e-mail hookup. It fills up with so many solicitation messages that much time is lost trying to ferret through them all to salvage the wanted dispatches. Worse still, there are other times when so much spam arrives the overloaded system crashes.

Let’s Can spam
Back in the days of Lord Macaulay, there were no phones, faxes or computers, probably very little if any junk mail. Salesmen were obliged to knock on the door, where a ‘no salesman’ sign would discourage many. As for those who persisted, slamming the door in their faces was more satisfying than hanging up the phone is today. But with the computer and fax, there is no avenue for reparations.

America Online tells us that 70 percent of e-mail received by its subscribers is spam. I dare say the same percentage holds true for snail mail. One of five messages on the fax machine in this house is likewise; some days, one in three phone calls originates from solicitors.

Why can’t we deal with salespersons and their pitches as they do in Europe with those sending computer spam? The Europeans outlaw all solicitations (fax, phone, e-mail and snail mail) other than bonafide charities with the intended recipient on a list of those willing to accept their messages.

Why is the onus on us, people minding our own business, to be the proactive party to maintain our privacy? Lawmakers could make an awful lot of us happy by canning spam. Enough said …



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Last updated May 8, 2003 @ 1:43am