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by Abigail Van Buren

Head-Spinning Numbers Cause Mind to Go Slack

DEAR ABBY: You printed a letter from Judie Songer of Rogersville, Mo., about junk mail. Her letter prompts me to write.

Ms. Songer stated that "Americans receive almost 2 million tons of junk mail daily!" This information apparently was obtained through Ms. Songer's research for a class speech. Abby, 2 million tons equal 4 billion pounds. If we assume the population of the United States to be 250 million, that equates to 16 pounds of junk mail for each man, woman and child in the country. I doubt that even you receive that much mail.

Ms. Songer's point is well-taken. The volume of junk mail is annoying and represents unreasonable waste. This letter is not a criticism of Ms. Songer, but when one refers to information sources, too frequently our discernment is in the "off" position.

Does this really matter? Yes, I think so. As Americans, we are called upon daily to make decisions that affect every aspect of our lives. For example: Please note that this is a presidential election year. I submit that we will hear numerous preposterous claims from individuals running for office. If we accept all these candidates' claims as stated, without some level of discernment, we will deserve what we get.

Now that I have that off my chest, I must admit that I, too, use some of the methods Ms. Songer suggested to discourage junk mail. -- ROGER WHITE, VANCOUVER, WASH.

DEAR ROGER: The person whose "discernment" was switched off was me, for failing to question the figures. I heard from many readers who pointed out the numbers were incorrect. When I contacted Ms. Songer, she replied as follows:

DEAR ABBY: After you printed my letter about how to get rid of junk mail, I was amazed at the positive letters and phone calls I received; and from that feedback, I learned that this subject is important to others as well. However, one caller questioned the accuracy of my numbers, so to satisfy my curiosity, I rechecked my sources. I did misquote them. Two million tons of junk mail are sent per YEAR, not per day. My apologies to your readers. -- JUDIE SONGER, ROGERSVILLE, MO.

DEAR JUDIE: I appreciate the correction.

DEAR ABBY: I'm so scared. There are many students at my school with weapons, alcohol and even drugs. Yesterday, three kids were suspended because of their use of drugs. Earlier this year, someone brought a pocketknife on my bus.

I'm only in seventh grade, and I still have my whole high school to go through. One of my best friends even told me she wanted to get high just to see what it is like. (She also threatened one of my other friends she doesn't like -- not because of me, though.)

I feel so defenseless. What can I do to protect myself? Please publish this in your column so others in my situation will know what to do. Thank you so much. -- SCARED IN PENNSYLVANIA

DEAR SCARED: According to James T. Butts Jr., chief of the Santa Monica, Calif., Police Department, the best thing you can do to protect yourself is to report any unlawful or dangerous conduct you observe to a responsible adult as quickly as possible, and to be brave -- because things will change only when everybody stands up for what is right.

What we must do as a society to reduce crime is make sure that help is available to those who need it -- and assure that there are appropriate consequences for anyone who willfully endangers others.

CONFIDENTIAL TO YOU: Easter is nearly here, so if you plan to surprise a child with a live rabbit, a baby duck or a chick, please consider this: Living creatures need proper care, so unless you are certain that the rabbit, duck or chicken will receive the care it needs to survive, give a stuffed bird or animal instead. Living creatures are not "toys" to be mauled, abused or neglected.

To order "How to Write Letters for All Occasions," send a business-sized, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $3.95 ($4.50 in Canada) to: Dear Abby, Letter Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, Ill. 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

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