Atlas Shrugged: The Mocking

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Megan McSkinner

Oh, joy! Megan McArdle, who promised not to blog about her wedding, once again blogs about her wedding. Watching a glibertarian attempt to deal with the real world is always amusing. It's like putting the world's laziest rat in a maze, where is stops and complains loudly that it's not getting its treat every time it hits a dead end. A less entitled rat would turn around and find another way, while the glibertarian rat expects to be rewarded just for showing up.

Let's watch "Ratatouille" McArdle run the maze of the post office. Our story begins with McArdle at one end of the maze, 200 wedding invitations clutched in her little paw. At the other end is a mailbox slot, which will dispense an electrical shock to the wedding pleasure centers of the rat, genus Parkslope wannabeous.

I went to the post office today to mail our wedding invitations. They are, I grant, a sort of odd shape--large and square. (This is what happens when you outsource your wedding invitations to India, apparently). So they take an odd amount of postage.

Which is why they wouldn't let me mail them.

No, I kid you not. The post office lady is, it turns out, only allowed to put ten envelopes through the machine at once--and while our wedding is intimate, it's not that small.

Oh, no! McArdle has gone down a straight corridor that ended in a wall! What will she do when faced with the barrier of odd-sized envelopes?

Fine, give me the stamps, I said.

Ah, the motivation is strong in this test subject. It's a pity, therefore, that when faced with the wall, the subject demands another wall.

No, she said, I don't have the right stamps. You should go to a "philatelic window", an entity that does not apparently exist in the local post office.

Rats! Foiled again! McArdle has run from one dead end to another. She sits, waiting for the treat to materialize anyway.

My request for stamps in smaller denominations was turned down on the grounds that I would have to put too many stamps on the envelopes.

No treat? But--she's come so far!

I was willing to inflict the indignity of multiple stamps on my wedding guests, in the name of, um, getting them their invitations on time.

She was willing to go through the wall, but the wall just didn't care.

Her tone, however, suggested that while I might be some sort of multi-stamping barbarian, the honor of the United States Post Office was at stake.

What is a glibertarian rat to do when the dispensers of treats refuse to dispense their treats on demand? Do the Treat Gods not understand that running the maze is for lesser rats, the kinds with brown coats instead of shiny white coats?

Well, that's all very nice, but the invitations are a little late getting out as it is.

It's as if the wall doesn't even care that McRat needs to get to the other side right now. Perhaps it is confused because the rat is just sitting there, but that's no excuse. McRat must reach her mail slot, however. The self-gratification brain center is too powerful to be ignored, and McRat soldiers on.

I asked for the smaller stamps, at which point I was informed that she simply did not have sufficient stamps in the correct denominations.

Another dead end. Damn this maze and its insistence on having twists and turns and making you think, remember, and plan.

So let's recap here: there are no stamps. At the post office. And they will not run the invitations through the machine, either.

There are walls. In the maze. And you have to go around them to get what you want when you buy heavy wedding invitations from India because while you are willing to go into debt for your wedding, you are not willing to appear to be of modest means before the other Parkslope rats.

Now, I have no idea whether this is regulation run amok, combined with Soviet-level distributional inefficiency; or whether she simply didn't feel like dealing with my wedding invitations, and started making up rules to force me to take my damn business elsewhere.

Glibertarian rats see plots everywhere. They think that someone is watching their every move. They are right, but it is not because the watchers enjoy dispensing tasty treats to entitled rats.

I'm not going to say that this would never happen in a private organization, either. And I know that many of my readers are even now itching to jump in and call me a privileged, whining, entitled yuppie, who has some damn nerve thinking she ought to be able to just waltz into a local post office with a bunch of non-regulation envelopes, and pay the people there to transport her mail throughout our fair land.

You know us so well.

Where the hell did I get the notion that the post office was supposed to mail the things I bring there, no matter what size they are?

From your entitled little rat brain?

(Well, actually, here, which makes no mention of the fact that the local post office may not actually be able to mail your letters. But I digress.)

All I want to say is, any private company that behaved this way should go out of business. And right now, that's how I feel about the United States Post Office. At least if they didn't exist, I'd have known I needed to make other arrangements.

Wait--didn't McRat make it to the mail slot? Where's the end of this story?

No matter; the moral of the story is clear. When you are trying to mail cards that are too heavy to take standard stamps and too big to go through the automatic system and you don't do it far enough ahead of time to accommodate your special needs, the moral of the story is that the post office is inept and mean.

h/t Downpuppy in comments


tat said...

I call b.s. on her story. There's clearly something that she's leaving out of her narrative. Either that or she managed to piss off the teller from the get-go and the postal worker was just f***ing with her.

Downpuppy said...

The great thing about this story is that everyone reading it knows how badly Megan screwed up something dead simple.

Heck, everyone has seem postal workers patiently leading people through odd little thing after odd little thing. And everyone has mailed tons of letters. Everyone capable of using the meter in their office knows how to run 30 flats through it & pay the office manager.

Even her loyal commenters are starting to notice that the common element of her stories of failure is her.

The best part is when she admits that the amount needed is $1.22.

I would soooooo love to hear the other side of this story.

commie atheist said...

Was reading one of the DeLong posts you link to below, and came actoss this comment from "kharris" that I believe perfectly sums up Ms. McArdle (and the rest of the right side of the punditosphere, for that matter):

Sadly, McArdle once knew more about economics than she does today. Megan's career as a professional scribe is so far fairly brief, but her career as a public scribe is much longer. She had a personal blog for a long time, on which she wrote extensively about economic issues. She has never been fair minded. She has always thought that sneering and jeering were acceptable tools for dimissing good arguments that were not to her liking. However, in her early days, she worked harder at crafting real arguments and was less likely to say simply stupid things dressed up to be convincing. She is learning the craft of the bought-and-paid-for hack. She's a smart girl, and is picking up that craft with impressive speed. It is highly unlikely that the catalog of scribal trickery Neal identifies in Megan's writing was taken in through osmosis. She has cultivated slipperiness. Megan practices what modern philosophers identify as "bullshit". She's not merely ignorant. She is has made herself ignorant to serve a selfish purpose.

Not much more you can add to that.

Clever Pseudonym said...

Between my sisters and cousins, I've been a bride's maid almost a dozen times. Their weddings have ranged from modest to enormous, but each time we always went down to the post office and bought a couple rolls of stamps and took care of the invitations on our own (which raises a tiny question - why is Megan mailing her own invitations anyway? That's what bride's maids and mothers are for). We've never had a hassle mailing them once.

As for the other side, I'm sure that postal worker ended their day with a story that started with the words "you are not going to believe the witch I had to put up with today." I can see Megan sashaying into the post office with her oh-so-superior and condescending "you work for me, you simple little peon" attitude, thrusting her hundreds of invitations their way with a faux regal tone that just stinks of a "take care of this, Jeeves" smugness.

And again, she makes the whole situation look like everyone but her is at fault. Even though she didn't plan ahead, expect there to possibly be a problem mailing odd-sized letters, anticipate a post office not having the specialized stamps she needed on hand (because, in Meganland, other people don't mail stuff too, so why don't they have what I need when I need it, dammmittt!), or consider other possibilities available to her. Poor Princess Megan.

Kathy said...

It seems something important was left out of her story. If the postal clerk was being deliberately obstructive and jerky, she should have asked for the supervisor/manager.
I'd just have asked the clerk "what should I do, then?" and then taken notes on the answer. Tho chances are Megan merely had to leave the envelopes with the clerk to be processed later.

zeppo said...

And she gets paid to write this stuff? She should just get a blog at blogspot or something and then she could complain to her heart's content.

Man... I wonder if the Atlantic would give me a writing gig so I could whine incessantly.

Ken Houghton said...

The wedding is in June: high season. It's the first weekend of April, and 200 invitations are just now being mailed??

Geez, and I thought they knew how to play this game. Next thing, you'll tell us the 4BR house they're buying is in the DC exurbs.

Ken Houghton said...

Side note: if the postage is really $1.22, there are two other options:

1) Buy 600 first-class (44 cent) stamps,and put three on each envelope. You pay an extra $20.00, but get everything mailed at once, without having to worry. (Or buy 400 first-class stamps and, iirc, 200 second-ounce [37 cent] stamps, cuitting your excess payment to $6.00.Either way, you put 3 stamps on the envelope, which is fine.) or

2) Go to the private sector (Mailboxes etc.) and see if they can deal with the volume.

Strangely, she doesn't mention the private-sector alternatives--either she didn't try them, or the cost was even higher.

None of this changes that the invitations are Very Late for a Society Wedding.

Emily said...

I left a comment of her blog noting how it would be nice to hear the clerk's side of the story. Hardly anybody else saw the need.

Megan's commenters pointed out a solution involving printing your own postage. Megan claims that wouldn't work because you need a PC and she & her boyfriend both have macs. Does her public library have PCs? She's inviting 200 households. Any of them in DC and she could ask to borrow their computer?

That said, back in my working days, I like to think that I would emphasize to the increasing irate customer what she COULD do to get the problem solved.

Mr. Wonderful said...

What Ken Houghton said. If they don't have the exact postage, you--in deference to your guests--absorb the loss and pay for the round numbers that will get you over the top.

If she didn't do that, and if she stamped (so to speak) her little foot in indignation that the P.O. didn't have exactly the right denominations, then she's a miserable bitch looking to feel victimized rather than wanting to solve a problem for a relatively minor cost.

But go be surprised. MM is an apologist for an imaginary world. Any "moral victory" she can extract from the real world "proves" her point. At least it does to her and her equally narrow, technically hair-splitting fans.

Dillon said...

Someone who is unable to mail a letter should probably wear a helmet at all times, for her own safety.

Anonymous said...

$1.22 to mail an invitation?!?! WTF kind of invites are these? Is each one a 9X12 sheet of steel? Are they literally engraved onto metal?

And I will second all commenters everywhere who expressed outraged puzzlement that McMegan gets paid cash money to write this stuff.

Mr. Wonderful said...


I can believe a wedding invite costs that much to mail. You've got the thick, creamy invite itself, which may or may not be adorned with a little ribbon or include, in a gesture to our 18th century forebears, a little sheet of "blotter" for drying up the quill-inscribed, inked response.

You've got the "I will/will not" attend card. You've got the little return envelope. All of which comes in a thick, creamy envelope.

The scandal isn't the cost of postage. The scandal is how late she is in sending them out. Which she knows. That's why she's so cross about the whole thing. It's "really" the Post Office's fault that she's committing this social error, you see.

Clever Pseudonym said...

Emily - the comments really shocked me. I don't know why; this is McArdle and people soulless and idiotic enough to find anything redeeming about her writing we're talking about. I just couldn't believe people were responding with remarks along the lines of "why can't those stupid little unskilled peon government workers do their job right?" As if they weren't talking about human beings and that Megan's precious need to send out her wedding invitations was more important than this person being treated politely.

Susan of Texas said...

Actually, a steel engraved invitation would be pretty cool.

I can understand goofing up, I do it all the time. But I try to hide my shame, not blog about how the mean people refused to fix my mistakes or problems.

It's strange, the ladies at my post office and the people at the DMV are all very nice. The only problem I have is a few private businesses that tried to rip me off in the name of squeezing as much money out of me as possible.

Kia said...

This little postal drama took place in DC, right? Well I find that almost all postal employees here are African-American. Which sort of lumps them together with the largely African-American DC government which some people treat as a sort of running joke. I notice it in (surprise!) the Washington Times, the DC Examiner, and, occasionally, on that foul little Kaplan handout, the Express. The gag runs something like "isn't it hilarious that the spinning hub of the world's awesomest government is located in a third-world city mismanaged by black people?"

Downpuppy said...

It's not real exotic.

For $1.22 you get to mail a 3 oz envelope larger than 6.125" by 11.5"

CLBetley said...

With great foreboding, I reluctantly read the original McMegan link. Ordinarily I avoid giving the Atlantic the value of a click-through, but I was curious about this particular story, for a number of reasons.

My father, a high school dropout because of the real Great Depression, helped make my brother and myself the first generation of my family to go to college through his earnings as a postal clerk. And it always annoys me when people paint the USPS as an example of poor government service provided by overpaid workers. For less then 50 cents, the USPS will take something tangible from your own hand anywhere in the country, that you can drop off at a receptacle that Federal law forbids people from tampering located on street corners in every neighborhood in the country. People spend more than that on all kinds of crap, including annoying cell phone ring tones, or on text messages with no tangible record of having been sent, no recourse to being lost.

One of the things that makes what seems to me the ridiculously low price of postage possible is the possibility of automating the processing of letters, which in itself has eliminated thousands of "overpaid" postal worker jobs. But the other cost of that automation is that letters eligible for the 44 cent rate must meet certain size and weight standards. No private sector vendor would be able to accomplish the same thing, without imposing similar conditions, including a rate of return to the owners of its capital. McMegan simply ran into the problems resulting in from such needs for standardization, and should have anticipated it. I'm sure the main Post Office in DC could accommodate her needs, and my memory of living in DC says it is open 24 hours a day to serve the national Capitol's diverse shipping requirements.

But the other reason I bothered to read this particular McArdle whine was to confirm what I already expected. The old Atlantic might have published as an amusing anecdote told by Thurber or Twain. McArdle turns the topic into yet another right wing screed, with her patented blend of straw-man-liberals with her words put in their mouths, self-indulgent condescension ("intimate, [but] not that small."), and the tone-deaf repetition of her own reactions to her confrontations with reality, which make the reader just want to shake some sense of humility into her over-privileged solipsistic head.

I dropped my subscription to the Atlantic, which I had held since those aforementioned college days, when they started giving Mark Steyn a venue for his hateful ignorance. But at least he knows (or seemed to know) how to write as a journalist, rather than as a prima-donna.

Wile E. Quixote said...

Susan of Texas wrote:

It's strange, the ladies at my post office and the people at the DMV are all very nice. The only problem I have is a few private businesses that tried to rip me off in the name of squeezing as much money out of me as possible.

Yeah, same here. I regularly go to the post office to mail packages to my nephews in Sweden. The people behind the counter have their shit together and I'm usually in an out in a matter of minutes, unless of course I'm behind some semi-retarded glibertarian like McMegan McArdle who can't understand simple concepts like how to mail things. And as for the DMV, well the last time I was there I was in and out in less than 20 minutes. Speaking of the DMV some time last year McMegan wrote a huge post about the ordeal she went through to get her license and tabs renewed on her car because it had a broken mirror and needed to have the mirror fixed to pass the inspection. She tried to make it sound as if she was trapped in a Kafkaesque bureaucratic nightmare with a frisson of Catch-22 but only revealed what an incredibly stupid drama queen she is.