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Jewish World Review May 9, 2001 / 16 Iyar, 5761

Bill Tammeus

Bill Tammeus
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Consumer Reports

If you're in the write mood, wish the U.S. happy birthday -- AS you may know - if, like me, you keep a list of birthdays you want to remember - America will turn 225 years old on July 4.

Among the birthdays not on my list to celebrate that day are those of Geraldo Rivera, Leona Helmsley and George Steinbrenner. But we don't need to degenerate into a discussion of why. I've already spent more time talking about those beetleheads than I wanted to.

But America. Ah, America. Now there's a birthday worth noting.

And as it turns out, noting may be almost the perfect word.

That's because the Smithsonian's National Postal Museum and the U.S. Postal Service -- which, like me, regularly needs more money than it has -- have launched an effort to get school children around the country (as well as the rest of us) to send a card or letter to America on its 225th birthday this year.

It's not clear whether America's eyesight is still good enough to be able to read piles and piles of cards and letters full of bad handwriting. But the Postal Service seems willing to risk it.

The Postal Service's crack naming team has put its head together and come up with this catchy name for the letter-writing campaign: "Birthday Wishes to America." Hey, that's why they pay the naming team such big bucks.

So send your sincere, if badly written, birthday notes to: Birthday Wishes to America, c/o The National Postal Museum, P.O. Box 44100, Washington, D.C., 20026-4100. I'd pass along the e-mail address but there doesn't seem to be one. In fact, having an e-mail address for this would almost certainly defeat the purpose, which is to sell more 34-cent stamps.

The Postal Service doesn't say that quite as directly as I have, but you know it's the truth.

The explanation given by Postmaster General William J. Henderson reads like this: "Writing, sending and receiving cards and letters is a tradition that has preserved our nation's history and changed lives - particularly in times of personal triumph and tragedy. Unlike other communications, card and letter writing is timeless, personal and immediately tangible."

By "timeless," I suppose he means that it sometimes doesn't seem to matter much to the Postal Service when our letters arrive. But maybe he means something less profound.

By the way, for all these birthday wishes to count (whatever that means) they must be received by July 4. Which means you have approximately 45 minutes to get yours written and mailed.

The Postal Service says it's trying to "set a world record for the most birthday wishes ever received by one addressee." I have no idea who holds the current record (and the Postal Service doesn't say), but my guess is it may be Liz Taylor - if she gets just one birthday wish each year from every former husband.

All right. Are you ready to write your birthday wishes to America? If so, the Postal Service has this advice: "Before writing, think about what you would like to say."

As a columnist, I can tell you this is stupid advice. I'd never write a word if I had to think first about what I wanted to say. Instead, just begin and hang on.

The Postal Service also suggests you "consider your tone and the key message." Presumably this means don't start out: "Dear America, you old geezer. Sit down while I unload my bag of gripes." But why not begin that way? Is the idea to suppress free speech?

Just go ahead and write. Write whatever you want. And then buy a stamp. My own letter will include a copy of this column. And I'll ask this question: Aren't you glad I didn't first think about what I wanted to say?

Comment on JWR contributor Bill Tammeus' column by clicking here.

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Reprinted by permission, The Kansas City Star, Copyright 2001. All rights reserved