Explainer Mailbag: Admiral Overboard?

This week’s Explainer about the vice president’s electric bill elicited a slew of follow-up questions. Matt Gross and other readers noted that the vice president is squatting in the chief of naval operations’ old residence. So where does poor Adm. Vern Clark, the current chief, live?

The 1974 bill that booted the chief of naval operations didn’t establish a new official residence for him. It did allow, however, that it was “the sense of the Congress that living accommodations generally equivalent to those available to the highest ranking officer on active duty in each of the other military services, should be provided” for him. Three years later, Quarters A in the Washington Navy Yard became the chief of naval operations’ new official residence. It sits near Eighth and M Streets SE and is popularly called Tingey House, after Capt. Thomas Tingey, the yard’s first commandant. Explainer doesn’t know how Clark’s residence compares to those of the other Joint Chiefs of Staff, but he hasn’t heard Clark complain. And Explainer doesn’t know where the chief of naval operations lived between 1974 and 1977.

Several readers asked about the Blair House. Didn’t the vice president used to live there?

No, the Blair House is the president’s official guest house. It’s where visiting foreign dignitaries stay. Though Explainer supposes they can stay in the Lincoln Bedroom if they’re willing to cough up a six-figure campaign contribution (not that that would be legal, of course). The Blair House also served as a temporary home for President Harry Truman from 1948 to 1952, during a White House renovation. It wasn’t too accommodating: He survived an assassination attempt there on Nov. 1, 1950.

David Waghalter asks, “What are mortar shells?” Hey, Explainer already answered that one. Another reader has “long wondered what the hell ‘six sigma,’ that wondrous business strategy of Jack Welch, is anyway. Seems like a job for Explainer.” Actually, it’s a job for Moneybox.

Steve Judkins wants to know: “How much of my first-class postage is subsidizing cheap rates for junk mail?” The answer: None. By law, the postal service is prohibited from using one rate class to subsidize another.

And surely the postal service would make money if it wasn’t throwing it all away on its sponsorship of Lance Armstrong’s cycling team, some readers argued. Well, the USPS doesn’t spend $2 billion on cycling, but it is a hefty sum. The latest three-year deal, announced in April, costs an estimated $25 million and runs through 2004. The postal service thinks the advertising benefits outweigh the costs, but just in case, maybe they could ask Lance to deliver a few packages during the off-season.

Next question?