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December 19, 2014

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Peculiar naming rites

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The Postal Service is looking to launch a clothing line.

Honest.

This is not make-believe, like the story about Chuck Hagel giving a speech to Friends of Hamas. Dan Friedman, a New York Daily News reporter, says he thinks he inadvertently started that one when he called a Republican aide and asked whether there were any rumors floating around about the nominee for secretary of defense. As an example, Friedman said, he asked about speaking fees from anything like “the Junior League of Hezbollah” or “Friends of Hamas.” Soon the idea was all over the right-wing media.

“The names were so over-the-top, so linked to terrorism in the Middle East, that it was clear I was talking hypothetically and hyperbolically. No one could take seriously the idea that organizations with those names existed — let alone that a former senator would speak to them,” Friedman wrote.

I think I speak for us all when I say: Hahahaha.

Also, as long as we’re at it, Sarah Palin is not working for Al-Jazeera or teaching at Harvard. Those stories started on a humor website. And it seems extremely doubtful that the 19th-century presidential candidate John Charles Fremont actually ate anybody when he was lost in the mountains during his exploring days. My point here is that you can’t blame everything on Twitter.

But about the Postal Service’s new line of clothing.

“The agreement will put the Postal Service on the cutting edge of functional fashion,” a spokesman said in a news release announcing the birth of the “Rain Heat & Snow” brand of apparel and accessories.

The good news is that this is a way better plan than the U.S. Postal Service Pro Cycling Team, which you will remember was an investment of an estimated $40 million in the theory that the American people would like their postal system a whole lot more if they associated it with Lance Armstrong.

This time, the service says it’s not putting up any cash. It’s just licensing its “unofficial motto” to a Cleveland apparel company in return for a little slice of any profits that will occur if it turns out that consumers have been harboring a secret yen for fashions that will make them look as if they were delivering the mail.

The motto, by the way, is: “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.” It comes from a translation of something by Herodotus, who is not getting a commission.

If “Rain Heat & Snow” doesn’t work, perhaps the folks in Cleveland would be interested in a “Never on Saturday” line of leisure wear.

The Postal Service is in a tough place. A while back, Congress turned it into a semiprivate entity, which was supposed to operate just like a profit-making organization except for the part where it had to continue to fulfill all the wishes, hopes and whims of Congress.

When you’re strapped for cash, dignity is the first thing to go. Just ask the members of the minor league baseball team in Corpus Christi, Texas, who play their games at Whataburger Field.

Auctioning off your motto is nothing, really. We have lived with the sale of naming rights so long that generations of Americans have grown up taking it for granted that it is a fine thing to see your college team end a season by winning the Beef ‘O’Brady’s Bowl. Remember when Houston was stuck with Enron Field in 2001? Embarrassing for a second, but then the city resold the rights to Minute Maid for $170 million. Naming rights: good. Renaming rights: better.

This week, Florida Atlantic University announced plans to christen its football stadium in honor of GEO Group, a private prison corporation.

“It’s like calling something Blackwater Stadium,” a critic told Greg Bishop of The New York Times. Meanwhile, the folks at the University of Louisville are cheering for their basketball teams in the KFC Yum! Center.

Yum! is the parent company of fast-food chains Taco Bell, Pizza Hut and KFC. It forked over $13.5 million to imprint the stadium for the next decade. Sandra Kendall, the marketing manager for the center, said the exclamation point was “part of the deal.” The folks in Louisville, she said, do not find this disturbing.

Perhaps if the Postal Service agreed to become the Postal (Yum!) Service, the KFC people would be willing to pay off part of its pension obligations. This has not happened, people! But feel free to spread the rumor.

Gail Collins is a columnist for The New York Times.

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  1. I suggest the clothes MUST be made in the USA and then let er rip!

    CarmineD