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St. Paul Pioneer Press: Letter to Editor: Almost Impossible to Protect Social Security Number

Highland Villager: Peanuts in Rice Park? What Could Be More Perfect?

St. Paul Pioneer Press: Which Holiday? Just Come Out and Say It.

Almost impossible to protect Social Security number

To the editor:

Paul Jaeb ("We're all vulnerable," June 5) is correct that we need to guard our personal information to prevent identity theft. However, when it comes to guarding our Social Security numbers, I fear that horse has already left the barn.

So many entities are convinced they need our Social Security numbers, it's laughable to think we can keep them secret. And the government may be the worst offender.

For instance, I bought a Minnesota fishing license this spring. Entering information in his terminal 10 feet away, the store clerk called out to me, "What's your Social Security number?" No, I knew better than to yell it back to him. But why does the State of Minnesota need my Social Security number to sell me a fishing license?

Just last week, I sent a check to the IRS for estimated income taxes. Instructions on the form said I should write my Social Security number on my check.

Why not? I suppose since anyone who sees the check will already have my name, address, bank account number and signature, I might as well hand over my Social Security number, too. What harm could come from it?

Are they nuts?

Peanuts in Rice Park? What Could Be More Perfect?
Note: This commentary of mine appeared as the featured editorial in the Dec. 15, 2004, Highland Villager newspaper.

I was a bit taken aback recently when I picked my Pioneer Press up off the porch and was hit with the news that a group of hard-working downtown boosters don't like the "Peanuts" statues in Rice Park.

The Ross Group, an 11-member women's organization that has worked to beautify downtown St. Paul for more than a decade, has asked the St. Paul city council to relocate the statues to a site they would consider more appropriate. They say that the statues are not in keeping with the historical character and nature of St. Paul's beloved crown jewel of a downtown park. In particular, the group says the comic strip characters clash with the park's statue of novelist and St. Paul native F. Scott Fitzgerald.

At first glance, the "Peanuts" statues might seem out of place. They are, as we Minnesotans say, "different." But I'm surprised that the women of the Ross Group aren't more open-minded. These well-intentioned community activists seem like the sort of progressive, urban sophisticates who would appreciate art in all its forms.

There seems to be some artistic elitism at work here. Ross Group leader Sally Ross told the Pioneer Press that the comic strip characters don't fit Rice Park. "Rice Park is very lovely and old. It's surrounded by the library, the Ordway, Landmark Center. ... The cartoons are out of place."

Yes, the Ordway, the Landmark Center and the Central Library are beautiful buildings and centers of culture. But I wonder if Ross has forgotten something: the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts, just four years ago, staged a production of "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown."

How's that for irony? Charlie Brown and his friends are high-brow enough to grace the stage of the Ordway, but still considered by some not worthy of display in Rice Park.

Perhaps we just need to broaden our understanding of art and literature. I feel safe in saying that millions more Americans have enjoyed "Peanuts" in its various forms than have ever read a Fitzgerald novel. Likewise, countless more people have been inspired by the eternal message found in "A Charlie Brown Christmas," than have been shaped by Fitzgerald's masterpiece of social commentary, "The Great Gatsby."

Maybe some people wish that were not the case, but it's still the way it is.

Furthermore, the Rice Park statue of Fitzgerald is merely a representation of a dead man. The "Peanuts" characters, on the other hand, are art and literature brought to life. They are the St. Paul-inspired work of Charles Schulz -- which continues to touch millions of both children and adults -- in a hands-on form.

But the Ross Group women seem to think that "Peanuts" is just for kids. Sally Ross told the Pioneer Press that the statues should be moved to Como Park or Harriet Island, near facilities used more by children.

Don't children come to Rice Park? Let's see. What are those buildings that surround it, again? The ones that don't mesh well with the "Peanuts" statues? There's the newly-renovated Central Library, with its large children's section and programs for children. There's the Landmark Center, home to the youth-oriented SteppingStone Theatre, to which my own children have gone on field trips. And then there's the Ordway, also a destination of my children's field trips.

In addition, this coming summer the Ordway will present the fifth annual Flint Hills International Children's Festival, right there by Rice Park!

And as my own eight-year-old was astute enough to point out to me, Rice Park sits directly in a path between what may be downtown St. Paul's two biggest attractions for children: the Science Museum of Minnesota, and the Minnesota Children's Museum.

Rice Park and "Peanuts": What could be a better fit?

Guest opinion column. Appeared in St. Paul Pioneer Press 11/25/2004

Which Holiday? Just Come Out and Say It.

by David W. Downing, copyright 2001

"In Theaters This Holiday."

That's part of the advertising campaign that preceded the recently-opened movie "The Polar Express." Which holiday? Veterans Day? In that case, I missed it. Strange that a movie would play only one day. But of course, that's not what they meant. The movie opened Nov. 12, the day after Veterans Day, and it will be playing for some time -- maybe even through Presidents Day.

All this "holiday" stuff is driving me nuts. "Buy our product this 'holiday.'" Which holiday? It doesn't make sense.

I know what you're thinking. Just another rant from a guy who wants them to say "Christmas." Not exactly. What I want is some accuracy and logic in the language that we use.

In the case of the movie, it makes sense to say it will be playing "this holiday SEASON." In fact, that's what people used to say when they wanted to note the period of time encompassing Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, New Year's Eve and Day, Kwanza, and any other holiday that occurs during that period. Used that way, "holiday" is an adjective that describes "season." That makes sense.

Likewise, it makes sense to use "holiday" as an adjective to broadly describe "holiday" shopping, entertainment, music, travel, giving or spirit. All of these can and do encompass more than Christmas, so using the adjective "holiday" in front of them makes perfect sense.

But saying "this holiday" makes no sense. Which holiday?

It's not a crime to recognize a holiday by name. For example, I don't go "holiday" shopping; I go Christmas shopping. You may go Hanukkah shopping. That's the fact of what each of us is doing.

And the holiday season is not one, universal event. Remember, it's a time period encompassing numerous independent holidays, each with its own unique practices. For example, it is traditional to celebrate Christmas by decorating an evergreen tree. This icon of the Christmas holiday is known as a Christmas tree.

So why do the City of St. Paul and the Pioneer Press insist on referring to the decorated evergreens erected downtown as "holiday trees"? The paper reported that the trees would be up for "the holiday season." Good. Mayor Randy Kelly said the trees are a sign that "the holidays" are approaching. Fine.

But for crying out loud -- they're Christmas trees! Why can't we acknowledge that?

This slight jumped out at me when it appeared in the same Pioneer Press "In Brief" column that just two days earlier had reported the White House commemoration of the Hindu holiday of Diwali, which involved a local college professor. In that report, the newspaper rightly had no qualms about referring to Diwali by name and reporting the background of the holiday. By doing so, the newspaper served its readers by giving them news and information.

So why is "Christmas" a dirty word?

The Diversity Police have gotten it all wrong. In their zeal to see that no holiday is left behind, they risk rendering all holidays equally neglected. They started with the goal of helping us as a community learn about and recognize each other's holidays. But I fear the effect may be just the opposite. If we can't mention a specific holiday -- Christmas, for instance -- because not everyone observes it, then we're on the road to a generic "holiday season" in which we all celebrate our own private holidays, unbeknownst to our neighbors.

Then, we'll be even more segregated than when the Diversity Police first came to town.

The answer is not in pretending that certain holidays don't exist. The answer is in treating each holiday as a fact. They exist. Some holidays may be observed by most people; some may be observed by only a fraction of us. But they exist. Some people may observe several holidays; others may observe only one (or none at all). Regardless, the individual holidays exist.

So let's be honest and straightforward. A Christmas tree is a Christmas tree. Let's call it what it is.

"This holiday"? Which one? By acting as though there is one generic holiday, we short-change each individual (and diverse) holiday.

Each holiday is a holiday -- each with it's own name. Let's use it.

page and website contents copyright 2004 David W. Downing