What Can We Finally Accomplish
In Iraq And In Afghanistan?

A recent headline read:

“’Karza’ calls on U.S. to reduce troop activity in Afghanistan.”

But in a more prominently displayed story a day or two later, I read that there was talk of keeping NATO troops—primarily American troops—in Afghanistan until 2014.

An obvious question seems to present itself.  If the president of Afghanistan believes that America should reduce our troop activity in Afghanistan (arguing that American troop activity aggravates Afghans and may strengthen the Taliban insurgency), why in the world are we planning to continue keeping troops in Afghanistan until 2014?

Consider the Iraq example.  There is still not a strong central government in place—and American “peacekeeping” forces totaling nearly 50,000 troops are a continuing target of violence.

Is there any reason to think we will have greater success in Afghanistan, at a cost of billions of dollars and the lives of more American soldiers?  Can we expect to succeed there where two empires—the British in the 19th Century and the Russians in the 20th Century—failed, at the price of the loss of a great many lives?

Liberators Or Intruders In The Mid-East?

When will we accept that Americans, instead of being welcomed as liberators, are as likely to be regarded as intruders—understandably so when we take on the difficult if not impossible job of trying to turn dictatorships (as in Iraq) and a tribal-dominated-splintered society (as in Afghanistan) into democratic societies?

It seems to me the preponderance of evidence is that we are resented rather than welcomed as we try to introduce democracy into societies where religious factions in Iraq and tribal chieftains in Afghanistan have no concept of the brand of representative government which we are trying to sell.

In some parts of the world—the Middle East is a prime example—religious factions and ethnic and tribal groups have hated each other for millennia.

Should we not seriously consider the possibility—if not the reality—that no matter how good our intentions, we simply can’t solve problems posed by these kinds of hatreds which are inherited by generation after generation after generation of Middle Easterners?

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Anybody Out There Remember How
Huskers Won First National Title?

Now here is the rest of the story.

I can’t resist the temptation to add the discussion of—what topic more appropriate this time of year?—an account of how college football powers like Louisiana State University and the Nebraska Cornhuskers have had national championship opportunities unexpectedly handed to them as a result of unexpected losses by teams which had ranked ahead of them as the end of the season approached.

A news story this week recalled fact that LSU was vaulted into a chance for a national championship game in 2007 because of the unexpected losses of three teams ranked ahead of LSU.

Also cited was the Huskers’ experience in 2001 when a chance to play in the Rose Bowl for the national championship opened up when four teams ranked ahead of the Huskers lost late-season games, thereby boosting the Huskers into the championship game.  Nebraska, as Husker fans know too well, was decisively beaten by Miami, 62-36, in the national championship game in the Rose Bowl.

The point of Monday’s article was that while Nebraska’s chances at a national championship game are very, very slim, but there is historic precedent for a pleasant surprise such as fell to the Huskers in 2001 and LSU in 2007.

Now for the rest of the story—a better example of the good fortune which not only could have befallen the Huskers but did actually help lead to NU’s first national championship.

New Year’s Day 1971 started with Nebraska ranked No. 3 in the Associated Press sports writers poll.  No. 1 Texas and No. 2 Ohio State were upset that day in games preceding the Huskers’ game against LSU under the Orange Bowl lights.

Dramatic Photo:  Tagge Stretches For TD

Texas lost to Notre Dame, 24-11, in the Cotton Bowl and Ohio State lost to Stanford, 27-17, in the Rose Bowl.

Coach Bob Devaney’s Huskers beat LSU 17-12 and won the Associated Press balloting for the national championship.

Making the game even more memorable was the picture of Cornhusker quarterback Jerry Tagge reaching the ball over the goal line for a national-championship-clinching touchdown.

That picture, incidentally, was so symbolic of the Cornhuskers winning their first national championship that The World-Herald reproduced and sold copies which are still hanging in Husker fans’ trophy rooms.  (I have a copy on display in my hunting lodge.)

In the interest of full disclosure, that dramatic, historic photo was not taken by a World-Herald staff member but rather by an Associated Press photographer.  But World-Herald editors had the good judgment to display the picture prominently, making it a part of Husker football history.

Bo’s Post-Game Comments Rap The Fans

Still on the subject of Husker football, some thoughts sparked by Head Coach Bo Pelini’s comments which came as a surprise and something of a disappointment to this fan of both the Huskers and their coach.

In his weekly television show following Nebraska’s 20-3 win over the Kansas Jayhawks, the Husker head coach started his comments with:

“I was disappointed in the fans.  No energy in the stands.”  He also spoke of a “kind of a weird atmosphere in the stadium.”  Bo repeated his criticism of fans in remarks to reporters Monday.

In his Sunday telecast, Pelini went on to express disappointment in the performance of his Husker offense with comments like, “We kind of misfired…we missed a play here and there…we lined up in the wrong formation…we didn’t take advantage of opportunities.”

It’s possible, it seems to me, that there is some correlation between fan enthusiasm and watching the Huskers “misfiring” and lining up in the wrong formation and failing to take advantage of opportunities.  Watching a team lose two fumbles and an interception and draw penalties for obvious mistakes (like a Husker trying to tackle a Jayhawk who had evaded his block) is not likely to promote “energy in the stands.”

* * *

Tougher Editing Would Help
Performance Of Journalists Today

Figuratively turning the page to another of my occasional lectures on news media performance:

One of those things that indicates lack of precision in the use of language was this comment from a television newscaster who said Husker fans should “plan ahead” and dress in warm clothing for the Husker/Jayhawk game.

“Planning ahead” is, I’m sure, better than trying to “plan behind.”  But better use of the language would simply say “plan,” a word which in itself carries the obvious implication of looking ahead.

Then there was the description of Governor Heineman as “incredibly” towering over the Nebraska political scene.  I don’t believe journalists should share with their readers any opinion which cannot be believed because it is “incredible.”  Give us only credible opinions, if you please.

A greater failing than imprecise use of language is the overuse—and, in my opinion, too often the abuse—of poll results.

Recent examples:

Given top play was a poll story which implied that as November 2 approached, Democratic Second Congressional District candidate Tom White was within six percentage points of Republican incumbent Lee Terry.  On Election Day, Terry defeated White by a margin of 23% percentage points.

Lack of Details Flaws Reports Of ‘Exit Polls’

The New York Times and one of its most liberal columnists eagerly reported the results of “exit polls” if some of those results tended to make President Obama and his fellow Democrats look relatively good and Republicans look relatively bad.

The poll results were quoted without any explanation of who conducted the polls, where they were conducted, the wording of the questions, how many voters were questioned, how the pollsters accounted for the increasing number of voters who cast their ballots by mail and are not available for exit polls, what test, if any, was made of the veracity of the voter’s poll-exit responses and how many people refused to be bugged by exit pollsters.

Incidentally but importantly, I offer these frequent critiques of journalistic performance in the hope they will help improve performance.  It is an important job that we do.  The more care and precision we bring to the job, the greater our credibility.

On a personal note, I can remember the irritation from time to time when an editor questioned something I had written or handed a story back to me with a suggestion that I rewrite at least a paragraph or more to make for greater clarity.  The editors were frequently right, I had to concede, and the result was a better product printed under my byline.

I regret to report my opinion that it is clear that in both print and broadcast journalism, tough editing has faded and in some cases entirely disappeared.  The result has been diminution of both clarity and credibility in too much of the finished journalistic product that is shared with the public.

* * *

‘Storm Chasers’ A Baseball Team Name?
Dumbest Decision Owners Have Made—So Far

I’ll finish today with a return to the sporting scene and my nomination for the dumbest sports-related decision of the past week, or maybe of the last year.

A silly nickname—The Storm Chasers—replaced the “Omaha Royals” nickname, which sensibly recognized the fact that the Omaha-area AAA baseball team gets its players from the Kansas City Royals system, with which the Omaha-area franchise has a longtime working agreement.

The supposedly upbeat new title—the relevance of which has not been explained as far as I know—suggests that the main attraction in the new ballpark in Sarpy County will not be baseball but rather fun and games other than baseball.  As a news story pointed out, the Storm Chasers’ target audience “is not baseball purists who chart pitches behind the dugout.  The target audience is a young family of five with cash to burn on T-shirts and hats.”

So come to the ballpark not primarily to watch baseball but to have fun in the sideshow attractions and buy a lot of “Storm Chaser” merchandise.  In that scenario, “Sarpy County Clowns” might have been a more appropriate nickname.

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2 Responses to What Can We Finally Accomplish
In Iraq And In Afghanistan?

  1. Jim says:

    Generally agree and most certainly enjoy your column. You may want to check the Rose Bowl score against Miami mentioned above. I believe that may be the Colorado game from that season. Probably the first mistake of the year, but you were able to make to November.

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