Bob Schwartz

Tag: Postal Service

Arm Postal Workers

United States Postal Service
It seems that the National Rifle Association and an incongruously growing number of fearful politicians are currently lining up behind a proposal to train and arm teachers to fight the threat of gun violence. In the view of some, this makes more sense than requiring universal background checks and limiting assault weapons and oversized ammunition magazines.

The scenario is that when psychopaths like Adam Lanza try to force their way into Sandy Hook School in Newtown, Connecticut, they will be shocked and awed to find themselves facing a militia of teachers, a special forces unit capable of both taking out terrorists and teaching reading to six-year-olds.

Good plan. But it doesn’t go far enough.

It is time to arm postal workers.

We know, to begin, that postal workers have faced their own sort of psychopathic terror over the years. Not often, and certainly not often enough to have earned the undeserved meme “going postal.” But on the principle that you can never have too many guns in the hands of good guys and gals, it would be a welcome preventative.

On top of that, postal workers walking their delivery routes regularly navigate the mean streets of America, just as our police do. Why not, then, train, arm and deputize these postal workers as sworn peace officers? This has many benefits: the streets will be safer, and the Postal Service will be playing a vital role—a role that should fend off any questions about their budgetary problems, especially with changes in the use of mail.

Part of being a good American is coming up with good ideas to keep our country safe—especially ideas that increase the number of guns and gun owners. Saving the Postal Service is just a bonus. You’re welcome, NRA.

The Postal Service Loves Modern Art

Postal Service - Modern Art
We are becoming inconstant cultural historians. History, cultural and otherwise, requires more than knowing what happened when, or even knowing its significance. Real history is about an overwhelming sense of appreciation for just how major something was, both in its time and as a precursor of today.

This trajectory is unwelcome but not surprising. We have never lived in a time when the trip from new to newer to newest is as breathtakingly fast, which means that the past exists as a distant dot, visited on a need to know, need to show basis.

One hundred years ago, an art exhibition was held in New York that changed America. The International Exhibition of Modern Art, better known as the Armory Show, took place in February and March of 1913. It is the most important art exhibition in American history and an inspirational watershed for culture of all types.

Armory Show

The exhibition was organized to showcase the state of the art—the contemporary work that was being done by European and American artists, work that was well ahead of what most American audiences were familiar with and had yet seen. It would be years before a major American museum took up the mission: the Museum of Modern Art in New York did not open until 1929.

This is from the New York Sun newspaper in 1912, announcing the upcoming event:

Show of Advance Art Promises a Sensation

Futurists and Cubists Will Be Featured Here in February

Whole Room of Cezannes

Founder of Post Impressionism Is Hardly Known in New York

Cezanne is virtually unknown in America except by his name, and there will be great curiosity…

Matisse has been seen and shuddered at in the little New York gallery of Photo-Seresston…

Every art museum and art program should be giving at least a nod to this, if not a full-blown celebration. Some are, some aren’t.

Here comes the U.S. Postal Service to the cultural rescue. Ironic, because the Postal Service itself is in dire need of rescuing. But when it comes to celebrating modern art, and this particular moment, there it is.

On March 7, the Postal Service will issue a set of stamps called Modern Art in America 1913-1931. They explain, “In celebration of the triumph of modern art in America, the U.S. Postal Service commemorates 12 important modern artists and their works, 100 years after the groundbreaking Armory Show opened in New York in 1913.”  On the full sheet of stamps is a quote from Marcel Duchamp, one of the more than 300 artists who exhibited at the Armory Show: “American is the country of the art of the future.”

The set includes stunning reproductions of works by Stuart Davis (House and Street),  Charles Demuth (I Saw the Figure 5 in Gold), Aaron Douglas (The Prodigal Son), Arthur Dove (Fog Horns), Marcel Duchamp (Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2), Marsden Hartley (Painting, Number 5), John Marin (Sunset, Maine Coast), Gerald Murphy (Razor), Georgia O’Keeffe (Black Mesa Landscape, New Mexico / Out Back of Marie’s II), Man Ray (Noire et Blanche), Charles Sheeler (American Landscape), Joseph Stella (Brooklyn Bridge).

Through its stamps, the Postal Service has served for decades as a chronicler of culture, well-known and less-known. This year alone we have muscle cars, Johnny Cash, Rosa Parks, Grand Central Terminal and Lydia Mendoza (one of the greatest stars of Tejano music). And, of course, the Armory Show.


Marchel Duchamp - Nude Descending A Staircase

Celebrate the Armory Show this month. Revel in art, its past and its present. Visit galleries. Buy some art. Visit an art museum. Join an art museum. And then go to the post office (yes, there are still post offices). Buy a couple of sheets of the Modern Art in America stamps ($5.20). Keep one, and maybe frame it and hang it on a wall. Use the other stamps on letters or even bill payments. It’s an easy way to make the world more beautiful and interesting, and to show that art still and always matters.

Stamping Eid al-Adha

The relationship between American society and Islam is complicated.

At this point in history, there are few sentences that could be more absurdly understated. In so many spheres, that relationship is, to be polite, messed up beyond all reason.

There is a long and growing list of events and phenomena that contribute to and reflect those complications. How the world’s largest or second-largest religion (depending on accounting) became so toxic in the world’s most tolerant democracy is a story still being written. No doubt having a black President whose father was a Muslim, who spent part of his youth in the world’s most Muslim country, and whose middle name is Hussein is the latest part of that.

The Postal Service, out of a sense of decency and diversity and political realities, rushes in where others fear to tread. This is itself a complicated thing.

October 26 is Eid al-Adha (“Feast of the Sacrifice”), the major holiday on the Muslim calendar.

Islam shares many stories with its Abrahamic precursors, Judaism and Christianity, though some of the scripture is added to or modified. So it is with the story of Ibrahim (Abraham) and his son Ishmael (Isaac). Ibrahim and Ishmael are said to have built the Kaaba, the building in Mecca that is the centerpiece of the commanded pilgrimage—the hajj. Ibrahim was also told in a dream to sacrifice his son as a sign of obedience to Allah and, as in the Old Testament, was stopped only at the last moment when Ishmael was replaced by a sacrificial sheep.

Eid al-Adha marks the end of the annual pilgrimage and Ibrahim’s faithful near-sacrifice of his son. (For discussion elsewhere, the question of how this deep and fascinating father-son sacrifice in the Old Testament—see, e.g., Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling—is not on the Jewish calendar, but became such a central event of the Christian and Muslim calendars.)

Some think that the Postal Service should not be in the business of commemorating religious holidays and people, given the wall—the admittedly porous wall—between church and state. The Mother Teresa stamp issued in 2010 is just one of those flash points. The Postal Service explains:

Following the announcement of the Mother Teresa stamp, groups such as the Freedom from Religion Foundation objected to the Postal Service’s seeming violation of its own guidelines.

“We received numerous letters saying that we should not be doing religious stamps,” says Terry McCaffrey, manager of stamp development. “But we are honoring her for her humanitarian work, not for being a member of a religious order.”

After all, McCaffrey asks, to what extent should religious inspiration disqualify an otherwise worthy subject?

Over the years, many religious figures have been depicted on stamps in recognition of their contributions to society, independent of their personal motivations or beliefs. Stamp honorees have included Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., for leading the struggle for civil rights, Father Edward Joseph Flanagan for his work with delinquent and homeless boys, and Padre Félix Varela for his advocacy for the immigrant poor.

Still, the signs of protest for Mother Teresa were stronger than with most stamps.

As for minority religions, the Postal Service shies away (but see Hanukkah below). No Buddhism, for example. Interestingly and somewhat surprisingly, the Postal Service did dip its toe in Mormon waters. In December 2005, it gave a nod to the 200th anniversary of Joseph Smith’s birth, not with a stamp, but with the much less substantial cancellation mark. Note below that the Postal Service did not issue this postcard; that is privately produced. The only government involvement is the cancellation mark. Also notable is that given it was holiday season, this postcard includes a Madonna stamp to go along with the Joseph Smith cancellation.

Holidays provide a little bit of cover for the Postal Service. Instead of unacceptably eliminating Christmas, the Postal Service went to religious inclusiveness and diversity. So we have a Hanukkah stamp for Judaism—even though Hannukah is a relatively minor holiday on the Jewish calendar.

A few years ago, we were offered a Muslim stamp for the Eid feasts:

This stamp commemorates the two most important festivals — or eids — in the Islamic calendar: Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha, and features the Arabic phrase “Eid mubarak” in gold calligraphy on a blue background. Eid mubarak translates literally as “blessed festival,” and can be paraphrased “May your religious holiday be blessed.”

Employing traditional methods and instruments to create this design, calligrapher Mohamed Zakariya of Arlington, VA, working under the direction of Phil Jordan of Falls Church, VA, chose a script known in Arabic as “thuluth” and in Turkish as “sulus.”

As shown above, the Postal Service modified the Eid stamp in 2011, keeping the exquisite calligraphy, changing the color from blue to red, and issuing it as a Forever® stamp:

The U.S. Postal Service® commemorates the two most important festivals — or eids — in the Islamic calendar: Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha. On these days, Muslims wish each other Eid Mubarak, the phrase shown in calligraphy on the stamp. Eid Mubarak translates literally as “blessed festival” and can be paraphrased “May your religious holiday be blessed.” This Eid stamp features gold calligraphy against a reddish background.

Saying that the original Eid stamp was issued “a few years ago” is imprecise. It was actually issued on September 1, 2001—ten days before 9/11. It seems that this small step in the direction of recognition and tolerance got lost in some twisted history that as a country we are still trying to straighten out.

The stamp is available for purchase from the Postal Service. And even if you are not among the 1.7 billion people celebrating Eid al-Adha next week, it is still a beautiful addition to any piece of mail—and a beautiful statement.