I Go On The Road For 10 Days

This week, a collection of items from my “This may make a column item some day” file, items dictated but not published because of space limitations.

I hope you’ll find that at least some of them—better yet all of them!—were worth saving and including in a column appearing while I will be on the road for 10 days.  Herewith the items which I’ve been saving for such an on-the-road occasion:

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Iowa, Nebraska Guard Service Was Too Long
But Units Leave With A Proud Record

“Iraq, Afghan wars over for most Guard returnees,” said the front page World-Herald headline.

As I see it, that news was long overdue.  There has been no reason for us to continue to send Americans to fight and die in Afghanistan or to die while performing training and peacekeeping missions in Muslim-sect-divided Iraq.  The mission in both countries should have involved less reliance on National Guard units.

Guard members enlist primarily to be trained and serve from time to time in this country in important domestic duties ranging from suppressing or preventing riots to helping fight floods.  The training sessions and occasional home state duty allow them to hold civilian jobs and live with their families and still from time to time fulfill a traditional and important stateside role which traces its roots back to the “Minute Men” of Revolutionary War days.

Predictably but still to their great credit, the National Guard units have served bravely and effectively while suffering a distressing number of deaths and serious wounds in as many as three tours of duty in Afghanistan or Iraq.

So a well-earned “Well done!” to the 3,100 Nebraska and Iowa National Guardsmen who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan—and a “Why not bring the rest of the troops home?” question to President Obama.

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A Bleak Picture Of Russia’s Future
Cause For Concern In West, Too?

As Russia moves backward into one-man dictatorial rule poorly disguised as democracy, the country faces a harsh reality which could blunt Russia’s attempt to reassert a significant if not dominant role in Eastern Europe.

The reality which faces de facto dictator Vladimir Putin:  A steady population decline fueled in large measure by drunkenness.

I don’t believe this increasingly bleak prospect for Russia’s future, Putin’s aspirations to the contrary notwithstanding, has been given enough attention by the media generally in this country.  But the picture was painted in stark terms in a report by the New York City-based Council On Foreign Relations.  (The report has been in my “some day” file for some time, but I  know of no evidence that Russia’s basic problems have changed.):

The Foreign Relations Council report said:

“Russia’s population has been plummeting for over a decade, by about 750,000 persons per year.  This decline is mitigated by significant immigration, making the excess of deaths over births even greater than that 750,000 figure.

“Long-term projections forecast a population decline to as little as 100 million by 2050, from the present population of 143 million.”

Further observations from the Council On Foreign Relations report:

“The mortality increase of the last decade shows little signs of abating.  The excess death rate is most significant among working-age men.  For comparison, a 16-year-old boy in the United States has an 80-90% of reaching his 60th birthday.  A 16-year-old boy in Russia has a 50% chance of turning 60.”

The report lists the major causes of this excess mortality as cardiovascular disease and such “external causes” as “industrial and workplace accidents, traffic accidents, suicide, homicide, poisonings and other forms of trauma and surgery.”

Then this shocking observation:

“A major underlying factor driving these causes of death is alcohol.  The damage done by alcohol consumption cannot be understated, with patterns of drinking as much to blame as sheer quantity.  A significantly disproportionate number of deaths take place on Sunday or Monday, after weekend binge drinking.”

The Council On Foreign Relations report also included this potentially significant observation:

“Russia’s Slavic population suffers lower life expectancy, lower birth rates and higher mortality than its ethnic groups that are traditionally Muslim.  Traditionally Islamic ethnic groups make up just over 10% of Russia’s population, and that percentage is rising…

“The possibility of higher birth rates producing large cohorts of disenchanted, unemployed young Muslim men in the economically undeveloped Muslim region is another concern.”

My reacton:  Growth of a Muslim minority, believers in jihad or “Holy War” against “infidels” (non-Muslims), could make Russia an even more volatile source of potential danger to peace in Eastern Europe and beyond.

Against this background of uncertainty about Russia’s future, including the growth of a Muslim minority, is the ominous fact that Russia’s military arsenal still includes nuclear weapons.

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‘Farm Product Prices Could Fall
But Farmers Should Stay Financially Healthy’

The section-front story carried this headline:  “Risky time for farmland values.”  The opening paragraphs reported the hardly startling news that farmland valuations have increased with grain prices—corn selling for over $6 a bushel and soybeans at $13 or more.

A Kansas City Federal Reserve Bank economist was reported as having written that Nebraska farmland values could “plummet” if crop prices drop.

That risk is hardly news, since that pattern has been well established over the years:  farmland values customarily follow crop prices up and down.

But if you turned to an inside page and read the rest of the story—repeated studies show the readership drops off sharply when the story is continued on an inside page—you found this important language:

“The banking officials have said that a large share of the recent high-priced farmland sales have been with cash from farmers who have made strong profits from selling grain and that relatively few acres of land have been offered for sale.  By keeping debt levels low, more of today’s farmers should be able to stay financially healthy even if grain prices fall, banking officials have said.”

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Today A Lecture On Telephone Manners:
Too Many Do Poor Job With Voicemail

I’ve written before that from time to time I take a chance and answer the phone by saying, “This is Mrs. Andersen’s secretary speaking.”  More often than not when I use this response, it is appropriate because the caller is someone asking for Marian.

Occasionally when I’m asked, “Will you take a message for her?” I reply, no, but so as not to appear impolite, I quickly add, “I’ll hang up and you call back.  I’ll let the phone ring until your efforts go into voicemail.  You can be assured Marian will get the message because she checks her voicemail every 15 minutes or so.”

My “15 minutes or so” remark usually draws a laugh, so that I wind up not appearing—at least I hope this is the case—impolite.

I broach this subject again as a way to—scold might not be too strong a word—those of you who do not pay close attention to your voicemail.  I have one friend whom I call from time to time and get a message like this:  “This is Joe Jones.  I’m sorry I can’t talk with you now but please leave a message and your phone number and I will get back to you as soon as possible.”  As soon as possible sometimes turns out to be never.

I suspect that more than a few absentee responders don’t call up his or her voicemail with any frequency, so unanswered calls pile up for days, in some cases.

It would be much more honest if such bad telephone manners were replaced with a response something like this:  “Leave your name and telephone number and I’ll get around to call you when I have time—probably sometime within the next week or so.”

At least it would have the virtue of honesty—except, of course, in the case of recorded calls which are never returned.

Good telephone manners are simple.  Why don’t more people practice them?

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First Husker Team Undefeated (In Two Games)

Let me finish today with a cartoon after telling you how football began at the University of Nebraska in 1890.  (The players weren’t called Cornhuskers yet.  For a time they were known as the “Bugeaters.”  Don’t ask me why.)

The first coach was named Dr. Langdon Frothingham, described simply as a “faculty member.”

Dr. Frothingham and his team got the NU football program off to a 2-0 start with wins over the Omaha YMCA (10-0) and Doane College (18-0).

Dr. Frothingham coached only that one year.  Perhaps he wanted to retire undefeated.

Incidentally, you will note that the NU football program is 122 years old, not 118 as reported in stories of that historic comeback victory over Ohio State.

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As promised, a cartoon—one of my favorites:

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