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The middle of summer is when the surprises in publishing turn up. I'm talking about those quietly commanding books that publishers tend to put out now, because fall and winter are focused on big books by established authors. Which brings us to The Dream Life of Astronauts, by Patrick Ryan, a very funny and touching collection of nine short stories that take place in the 1960s and '70s around Cape Canaveral, Fla.

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This is the first in a series of essays concerning our collective future. The goal is to bring forth some of the main issues humanity faces today, as we move forward to uncertain times. In an effort to be as thorough as possible, we will consider two kinds of threats: those due to natural disasters and those that are man-made. The idea is to expose some of the dangers and possible mechanisms that have been proposed to deal with these issues. My intention is not to offer a detailed analysis for each threat — but to invite reflection and, hopefully, action.


Postal Service To End Saturday Mail Delivery

Feb 7, 2013
Originally published on February 7, 2013 3:07 pm



The U.S. Postal Service likes to talk about how reliable it is, and they are determined to keep that reputation, even after the change announced yesterday. The Postal Service plans to end Saturday delivery of regular mail. They will continue delivering packages on Saturdays. The decision will save some $2 billion a year, but it's getting mixed reviews, as NPR's Brian Naylor reports.

BRIAN NAYLOR, BYLINE: The financial woes of the Postal Service have been well documented - first class mail is down, thanks in large part to the Internet; hours are being cut at many post offices, the workforce trimmed by nearly 200,000 positions. Now, the post office says it needs to take more drastic action to cut costs. Democratic Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut is critical of the latest decision to eliminate Saturday delivery.

REPRESENTATIVE ROSA DELAURO: The announcement is bad news, both for the Postal Service employees, people across the country. My own personal concerns about Saturday delivery is going to lead to layoffs, facilities closing, and this is a time when the economy can least afford what's going on.

NAYLOR: DeLauro says Congress should act on a comprehensive measure to help restore the post office insolvency. The Senate passed legislation last year that would have allowed an end to Saturday service in two years if other cost-saving steps failed. But the House was unable to pass its own version of the bill. Republican Congressman Blake Farenthold of Texas calls yesterday's announcement by the Postal Service a step in the right direction.

REPRESENTATIVE BLAKE FARENTHOLD: Well, I think this proposal addresses most of the concerns with Saturday delivery. They'll still be delivering the priority mail packages, so people who need to be home to receive, you know, mail-order drugs and things like that, will still be getting them on Saturday. You just won't be getting your magazines and bills on Saturday.

NAYLOR: One big reason the post office has been losing money has nothing to do with declining mail volume or too many post offices. It's Congress's mandate that the service spend some $5.5 billion a year to fund future pension benefits. The Senate bill would have allowed the Postal Service to recoup some of those payments, but congressional Republicans say the post office needs to look at further cost reductions. California Republican Darrell Issa chairs the House committee that oversees the Postal Service. He wants the Post Office to stop delivering to so many addresses.

REPRESENTATIVE DARRELL ISSA: We need to modernize that. We need to get cluster boxes, so not only do you save the post office money, but you have a secure location for your mail and small packages to be delivered.

NAYLOR: The post office says it intends to end Saturday delivery by August. Polls show it's a move most Americans support. Brian Naylor, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.