The United States Postal Service is determined to enter a profound and probably fatal spiral towards obsolescence. With its latest rate hike, Americans can now pay more for the same wildly uneven service.

Most Americans don't write many letters any more and sending a handful of birthday and thank-you cards every year isn't exactly going to keep the Postal Service coffers full. That leaves monthly bill payments as perhaps the last regular first-class mail generating routine in the average American home. Being the Postal Service, however, they are trying hard to shut themselves out of that market, as well. Now when you mail a twenty dollar check to someone, you have to slap a forty-one cent stamp on the envelope, a 2% surcharge. Sure, forty-one cents doesn't sound like much, but if you start thinking of it as a 2% increase on a twenty dollar item, you might sit up and pay attention when your bank or credit union talks about paying your bills online.

What will we get for our forty-one cent stamp? The same wildly uneven Postal Service delivery and mail handling. For instance, the Postal Service regularly delivers Newsweek to our home on Tuesdays. It does that with a fairly high rate of predictability.

The delivery of Sports Illustrated, another weekly magazine, is highly unpredictable. The magazine should arrive in my mailbox on Thursdays and just less than half the time, it does so. The remainder of the time, it arrives on either Friday, Saturday, or Monday, depending on lunar cycles, the direction of the prevailing winds, and whether or 15 across in the local paper's crossword puzzle begins with a consonant.

I can live with Friday deliveries; Saturday deliveries are less-than-ideal. There is no excuse for Monday deliveries. That leaves me with just two days (Tuesday and Wednesday) before the next issue is supposed to land in my mailbox. In addition, the magazine often covers events due to occur over the weekend. There isn't much point reading about what might happen when the event has already come and gone.

I've been after the Postal Service on multiple levels to find out what's going on. Clearly, they are able to deliver magazines with some predictability and regularity if Newsweek is any guide and that's all I'm really asking for. However, no one at the Postal Service can explain their wildly uneven delivery record. In fact, I've started closely tracking the delivery of magazines so that when I next speak to the local Postal Service gurus, I'll have hard data about actual delivery times to present.

If the Postal Service is going to charge us more, it seems only fair that we hold them up to a reasonable standard for delivery service.