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A number of you have told me that you don’t look forward to reading the column on your computer screen. That’s not necessary if you have a printer. Print out the column and take it with you to the breakfast table or wherever else you choose to read printed material. (You can also call up past columns in case you missed them.)
And, if you haven’t already done so, let us know your e-mail address so that we can send you a weekly reminder when a new column is available.
December 11, 2008
Time to listen again to the voice of the reader, starting with some critical voices and finishing with some more upbeat reader reaction.
For openers, I can’t think of a more sweeping indictment than the recent message from an Omaha reader who implies that my writings on political matters are evidence that I’m a “grumpy old man.”
Of course, I must plead guilty (if that’s the appropriate way to put it) to the description of me as an “old man.” Eight-five is indeed old, although I prefer to refer to “advancing maturity” rather than “old age.” I hold with the great British poet Robert Browning, who started his classic poem Rabbi Ben Ezra with these words:
Grow old along with me!
The best is yet to be,
The last of life, for which the first was made.
Now as to the second count in my reader’s indictment; i.e., that I am “grumpy.” My dictionary defines “grumpy” as: “Moodily cross, surly, ill-humored.”
In response to the “grumpy” charge, I call three character witnesses. Can a man be fairly described as “grumpy” when the family’s three cocker spaniels show their love by leaping on him in an outburst of joy every time he enters the house after an absence of a few hours? (When I discussed this matter with Marian, she thought it entirely appropriate that I describe my non-grumpy bond with the cocker spaniels, but she declined to become further involved in any public discussion of my alleged grumpiness.)
My bottom line in regard to this particular charge: If being a political grump means being frequently and outspokenly skeptical of Big Nanny governmental proposals to address any conceivable problem of American society (Marian said I should call it Big Daddy government), I quite willingly plead guilty.
* * *
Two anonymous internet messages, apparently from the same person, charged me with racism. At least one of them apparently was inspired by my comment about the things that the great golfer Tiger Woods does when he gets a driver in his hands; i.e., he very frequently misses the fairway, frequently by a wide margin. (This is pretty consistently followed by a near-miraculous recovery shot, with Tiger on the green putting for a birdie or a par.)
Apparently, in this reader’s opinion, you are an “evil racist” for writing anything but praise about Tiger’s golf game.
In response to a criticism that I “continue to ignore the impact of Senator Gramm on our economic mess,” I would reply:
I am aware that some Democrats are saying that among those responsible—if not chiefly responsible—is former Senator Phil Gramm, Texas Republican, because while chairman of the Senate Committee on Banking, he spearheaded efforts to pass banking deregulation laws. Included was the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act of 1999, which removed Depression-era laws separating banking, insurance and brokerage activities.
Gramm has replied that he can’t see how the sub-prime mortgage mess was caused in any way “by allowing banks and securities companies and insurance companies to compete against each other.”
Writing in response to my pointing out that Cornhusker All-American and Heismann Trophy winner Johnny Rodgers set his record for touchdown receptions in three seasons while Nate Swift was in his fourth season when he broke Rodgers record this year, an Omahan (who describes himself as an “administrative professional”) said Swift did it “without having to hold up any gas stations.”
To bring up Rodgers’ gas station holdup—which he freely discusses and apologies for to this day—seems to me to deserve an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. I was talking about record-breaking contributions to the Cornhusker football program, not the life histories of the contributors.
An Omahan takes issue with my criticism of the fact that dividing up the state’s presidential electoral votes by Congressional district is a bad idea which only two states—Nebraska and Maine—have adopted. “I am assuming you would employ the same argument to favor a return to a two-house state legislature,” my critic writes. (Nebraska is the only state with a one-house legislature.)
My critic’s assumption is incorrect. There are fundamental differences in the governmental principles involved as between state legislatures and the Presidential Electoral College.
In another communication, this same critic asked me to inform him how many times, before this year, had I expressed criticism of Nebraska’s 17-year-old law allowing the splitting of electoral votes by Congressional district. An obvious response, it seems to me:
During that 17-year period, there really was no practical occasion to criticize Nebraska law.
It was only this year that a serious effort was made to take advantage of the 17-year-old law. And by serious effort, I mean that Obama’s massively-financed campaign sent 16 paid workers to the Second District in pursuit of a single electoral vote.
Incidentally, my thanks to this critic for adding: “And by the way, your point about Mr. Rodgers’ covering only a three-year period is very well made.”
This same critic, in another Internet communication, queestioned my description of CNN’s coverage as slanted to the left an “irresponsible high percentage of the time.” He asked if I had taken into account the amount of time given to “Lou Dobbs and his dog and pony show.”
I would reply that, like the token conservative columnist or two in The New York Times stable of left-leaning columnists, Dobbs might be considered sort of a token conservative among a stable of CNN left-leaning commentators like Anderson Cooper, Larry King, Arianna Huffington, joined on occasion by the likes of Michael Moore, the baseball-capped “documentary” maker, a darling of the liberal left.
* * *
So much for the critical letters—all of them welcomed, I stress, except the anonymous personal insults. From honest differences of opinion can come education and, sometimes, consensus and mutual respect.
Herewith an example of what I’m talking about—two letters from a friend in Bloomfield, Nebraska.
One letter takes issue with my statement that while the big issue was the billions-of-dollars bailout of the AIG Insurance conglomerate, too much attention was paid to the fact that the company went ahead with a $400,000 outing which rewarded winners of a sales promotion contest that had preceded the bailout.
Some national news media played the $400,000 outing at an upscale resort as a bigger story than the billions-of-dollars bailout itself, and I criticized this.
“Where I live, $400,000 is not considered a trivial matter,” my Bloomfield friend wrote.
I would agree that it was very poor judgment on the part AIG executives but hardly the major story which some in the national news media made it.
The second letter from my Bloomfield friend took issue with a news report, cited in my column, which said that major oil companies had spent more money on oil exploration and development in 2007 than they reported in profits. “Statistics sometimes are meant to fool the public,” my friend wrote. But he ended his letter this way:
“You are serving Omaha and Nebraska well with your timely thoughts on current events. Keep it up.”
Among other favorable comments directed my way:
“I like your attitude. And (almost) every time that I read your column, I like it more and more. Please continue to honor the concept of logical reasoning.”
And this: “You’re so right about the energy dependence problem. The focus on all related problems is so scattered. Everyone seems to want to diddle with bits and pieces of it. My take is that large cities and even smaller cities will be forced at some point to plan all infrastructure around public transits.”
And from an Omaha friend, an expression of approval for my having written this in connection with the subprime mortgage crisis: “Remember that those who ignored these fundamentals are to be bailed out by taxpaying Americans who have the good sense to live within their means.”
This from an Omaha reader: “We look forward to your column and found the most recent so very much on target—every bit! Thank you.”
The column in question covered a range of comments—from criticism of politically attractive but misleading names for government programs to “Some Thoughts On Media Performance.”
This from a friend: “One of your better columns. Getting better with age.”
He was referring to a column that ranged from my comment that the current financial crisis was caused in large measure by people trying to live beyond their means to a lighter concluding item which told of a “take-charge Chihuahua named Samantha” being added to daughter Nancy’s Denver family.
And a letter from an Omahan who helpfully pointed out that I had made a mistake in my political arithmetic in an October column.
I had stated that Ben Nelson defeated Kay Orr by 4,030 votes in the 1990 gubernatorial election—this was accurate. But my mistake was that I said Nelson’s 6,352 vote deficit in other counties was overcome by Orr’s 10,328 vote margin in Lancaster County.
The reverse was true. Nelson did have a 6,352 vote deficit without including the Lancaster County votes, but in Lancaster County he beat Orr by 10,382 votes, producing his statewide margin of 4,030 votes.
This friendly letter of correction ended with these words: “Thank you for your thought-provoking editorials.”
With a mixture of appreciation and regret, I must end this “voice of the readers” with the final contributions from Elmer Pinkerton of Elmwood, Nebraska.
For a good many years, Elmer (I call him the Sage of Elmwood) has been sending me comments on each of my columns—and comments on a good many other things.
So it is with both appreciation and regret that I report that Elmer has decided to retire as my weekly advisor. Elmer stressed his continuing friendship but seemed to me to be saying that there comes a time for even good things to end.
So, today, the last of Elmer’s “voice of the readers” comments, including some advice which I intend to follow.
To a critical reader’s suggestion that I retire, Elmer Pinkerton responded: “Retire? Why? Why do they read you if it bothers them too much?”
Some other comments from the Sage of Elmwood:
“After reading this morning’s OWH, I believe Omaha should annex Elmwood so we can pay the money they so desperately need to keep up with all the extras they so badly need. Poor babies!”
And this: “Al Gore again! A windmill costs millions…and works only a third of the time when the wind blows and must have other back-up ready two-thirds of the time when the wind does not blow.”
And this advice: “Keep plugging but remember—ya cain’t win.”
But, good friend Elmer, I remember that there are occasional victories—incentive enough for me to keep plugging.
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