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March 24, 2000

First class postage rates keep going up and so does the use of e-mail. There must be a correlation, but it's not because e-mail is "free." You know, it costs a bit to own a computer and to be on the internet requires the outlay of a few dollars, too. So e-mail is not literally a no-charge service, even if it is an almost instantaneous delivery. Still it's fun to use and the immediacy of it just adds to the allure. I can send a message to my niece in China and know that it will be in her hands before I get up from the keyboard, and her reply arrives just as fast. From China! That's half way around the world. The postal service will have to do some innovating to match that.

E-mail has brought about a new informality in correspondence. Many such notes seem more like inter-office memos than what we've been accustomed to in exchanges with friends and family heretofore. Nothing wrong with that. Some of the stilted phrases in the traditional letters we exchanged sounded artificial, unreal. The language of e-mail is more conversational and I think that's good. There's a place for formal writing and all of us should continue to use it on the appropriate occasions. Meanwhile, enjoy the fun of e-mail.

Like you, I receive a lot of junk mail. Most of it is easily recognized and quickly trashed, but occasionally a few pieces are so intriguing that I am lured into opening them. Once in a great while there is actually some kind of reward in doing so. A case in point is a tabloid-size newspaper with a peculiar name: "Old News. This publication appears nine times a year and it looks pretty much like other newspapers, except when you read the headlines. Then you find that the stories, most of them written in contemporary English and in the present tense, deal with historic matters that occurred many years ago. The illustrations are largely pen and ink sketches but they effectively convey the sense of the story they accompany.

In the most recent issue, the front page contains these headlines: "Donner Party Menaced by Mountain Snow," an account of the tragedy-plagued band of 83 pioneers who suffered indescribable conditions in a wagon train trekking to California in 1846; "Wright Brothers Build Powered Flying Machine," obviously telling about Orville and Wilbur and their daring adventure with an airplane; "Casey Jones Killed in Train Wreck," a story about the 1900 locomotive crash which claimed the life of the legendary engineer; "Medieval Exercise Program Threatens Health of Monarch," an account of King Henry II of England in the 12th century when he was plagued by obesity; and "Woman Stabs French Leader" telling of the stabbing of the radical French editor Jean-Paul Marat in the 18th century.

The paper has 12 pages and each of them bears stories of historical significance, all with headlines in the present tense. They are both clever and interesting. I don't know how I got on their sample mailing list but I am impressed with the publication. Some of the other articles in the current edition deal with Ulysses S. Grant writing his memoirs and Florence Nightingale becoming a nurse. I'm even considering a paid subscription to keep track of other things from years gone by that may have escaped my notice previously.