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Dear Readers: In 1955, the year I began writing this column, I wrote an essay for Christmas Day. Reader response was extremely rewarding, and I have reprinted that message every year, with a few topical modifications. This is my Christmas message for 1999:

Dear Readers: Today is Christmas. What has happened to peace on Earth, good will toward men? In many parts of the world, there is no peace, and in the hearts of many men, there is very little that could pass for good will.

Our youth insist that we are poisoning the environment, and they are right. They resent living in a world they didn't make, and who can blame them? But what generation ever made the world it had to live in?

Although our universities are once again places of higher learning, racism still exists on many campuses. Prejudice against minorities is on the increase, and I fear it's going to get worse before it gets better.

Unfortunately, the "war on drugs" has turned out to be a colossal failure. The increase in the number of homicides is staggering, and most of it is drug-related.

Guns and knives are standard equipment among teen-agers. It is not uncommon for a teen-ager to get shot or stabbed for his jacket or his shoes. And now, our children are vulnerable even in their schools and places of worship. Metal detectors help some, but not enough. It seems no place is safe.

While alcohol is still the most abused drug of all, marijuana and stronger substances, like crack cocaine, are commonplace in junior and senior high schools. The dropout rate is appalling. Why should a kid stay in school when he can get rich dealing drugs? This is the message too many young people are getting.

Suicide is the second most frequent cause of death among teen-agers ages 15 to 19. (The first is accidents.) Every 100 minutes, a young person under the age of 24 in America will kill him- or herself. Over the past 35 years, the youth suicide rate has tripled.

More bad news is that venereal disease is epidemic, not to mention AIDS, for which there is no vaccine and no cure, although new drugs are providing hope.

We are becoming increasingly desensitized to filthy language, garbage "art" and rotten stuff on TV. Violence, bigotry and talking dirty must be tolerated, we are told, because we dare not endanger "freedom of speech." I am firmly against censorship, but where is the moral outrage against all the filth we encounter on a daily basis? It's almost impossible to find a movie the whole family can go to these days. What has happened to plain, ordinary, everyday decency?

Because this is an advice column, I spend the greater part of every day with grief and trouble. I am adored by some of my readers, despised by others, chastised, castigated and dumped on. Does it depress me? No, it does not.

After 44 years, I still find writing this column immensely rewarding. I realize that many people who write to me don't want advice. They just need someone who will listen.

My column has provided me with an opportunity to shine a spotlight on ignorance and fear, comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable. I am well aware that mine is an enormous responsibility, and I try hard, 365 days a year, never to let you down.

You, dear readers, are my friends. You invite me into your homes, and often, we have breakfast together. I want to be there for you when you need me.

So, if you feel the need to unburden yourself, blow your top, register a gripe, or tell me off, I'm as close as your mailbox.

God bless you all. I hope 2000 will be your best year ever.

-- Ann Landers

Problems? Dump on Ann. Write her at The Buffalo News, P.O. Box 100, Buffalo, N.Y. 14240.

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