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Nancy Edmonds Hanson

Rather than being "unheralded," you might call Nancy Edmonds Hanson "reforumed." The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead hired her at 17, “launching the shyest teenager in all of darkest North Dakota on nearly 50 years of writing adventures.” She covered news and features there and wrote columns for most of the next 10 years. Since then, she's written, edited, advised, marketed and taught all over the place. Her work has turned up in North Dakota Horizons and many other magazines over the years, along with bookstores, where her guide to freelance writing was a long-term best-seller (among the fraction of bookbuyers who want to write); the regional book publishing and distribution business; public television; countless anonymous advertising and public relations venues, and — for nearly 25 years — in the classrooms of Minnesota State University Moorhead's School of Communications and Journalism. She's also a bona fide Photoshop wizard, has a photographer husband and chef daughter and is crazy about cats.

NANCY EDMONDS HANSON: After Thought — Too Late To Close The Drapes

Privacy was a big deal when I was growing up in small-town North Dakota — mostly because there wasn’t any. From party lines to rural postmasters who made a mental note of your bills and letters, confidentiality was as rare as neighbors who didn’t gossip.

My mother adhered to just one strategy: When you turn on the lights at night, always pull the shades.

Ah, simpler times! Those were the days of “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.,” when the specter of spying seemed the realm of sneaking Russians. We felt sure that Boris and Natasha had no interest in everyday Americans. We know now how that turned out.

In the meantime, though, advertising graduated from clever cartoons and unshakeable jingles to psycho-science. By the 1970s, ever-eager advertising geniuses already realized peddlers of Coke, Kleenex and coffee could target customers far more effectively than by merely plunking their ads amidst episodes of “Bonanza” or “Beverly Hillbillies.” By divining consumers’ deepest dreams, fears and quirky notions, that faceless mass audience could be sliced and diced into far more precise profiles. That’s the moment when diving into your personal data emerged as a high art. To this day, it’s the life force of scientific selling.

Today America claims to be shocked — shocked! — that Facebook has been keeping track of the personal minutiae that we toss with little thought into its pixelated maw. Worse, the social media steamroller has been tabulating that data all along and selling it — gasp! — to companies that seek to turn our tendencies into an overpower urge to buy stuff we don’t need and ideas we didn’t think up ourselves. We are revolted by disclosure of the private facts we’ve freely flung into the web-o-sphere. It’s so bad that very old men in Congress who can’t recall their locker combinations are shown on TV grilling that young punk who runs the Facebook about the nefarious tricks of his trade: “Now, Mr. Zuckerberg, about these cookies … are they oatmeal or chocolate chip?”

Welcome to the world of advertising. The ways and the means are nothing new. All that’s different now is the scale on which it’s being practiced.

Of course, I, too, understand the creepy feeling when my secrets are being plucked from the ether. But like all the footprints you and I have left in our life’s journeys, the watchers have been tracking them all along. We seldom notice.

Compared to the low-tech lizards who’ve scoured public records and commercial transactions across the decades, 2018’s insidious technical wizards crunch big data like tyrannosaurs. Our discomfort stems from that speed and ferocity. Its black and heartless soul belongs to the shady warlocks of the web.

Yet their evil powers are really nothing new. We can draw a straight line from the birth of psychographics — market researchers who learned to probe consumers’ lifestyles and appetites in a sunnier, simpler time — to the dark arts now practiced by Cambridge Analytica and, indeed, state-sponsored cyber warriors.

Facebook is far from alone in basing its business on the time-tested TV advertising model: Create tempting programs to draw an avid audience, then sell their eyeballs to the highest bidder. Note, too, that the political manipulation that alarms us most is rooted not in the ethics of this long-accepted corporate approach … but in unauthorized misuse of what’s been gleaned.

Quite a few of my serious, thoughtful friends say they’re swearing off Facebook to protect their privacy. Too little, way too late. Unless you change your name, abjure all commercial contact and retreat to the bottom of the Marianas Trench, you’re on the radar — and have been in the crosshairs since Grandpa and Grandma were tadpoles.

Last month, Facebook promised to reveal whether users’ personal data had been hacked. I waited with bated breath. Here’s what I learned:

“Based on our investigation, you don’t appear to have logged into ‘This Is Your Digital Life’ with Facebook before we removed it from our platform in 2015. However, a friend of yours did log in. As a result, the following information was likely shared: Your public profile, Page likes, birthday and current city. A small number of people who logged into ‘This Is Your Digital Life’ also shared their own News Feed, timeline, posts and messages, which may have included posts and messages from you. They may also have shared your hometown.”

I was almost disappointed. No big deal.

My public profile is … public. My birthday and current city hold zero surprise. My Facebook “page likes” can reveal no arcane trove of jealously kept revelations (except, perhaps, that I really, really like cats). My politics? Look at my T-shirts and my bumper stickers — you can’t miss where I stand.

There’s not one single thing there that’s worth freaking out over. It’s already available in a hundred other places. If I ran into you in the produce department of Hornbacher’s — or, for that matter, Robert Mercer himself, the evil billionaire behind the move to misuse our most covert mysteries — I’d happily share all of that in a minute. And probably much, much more. If you were slow on your feet, in fact, I might talk your ear off before you could get away.

Privacy concerns are very real, but there are far greater worries that data gleaned from silly Facebook quizzes (what’s your pirate name? who were you in a previous life?). Russ’s and my credit card information, for example, has been caught up in several cataclysmic data breaches — Equifax, Target, Adobe. Meanwhile, countless government agencies and financial institutions maintain computerized records of every move we make. Are they secure? Wanna bet? Data hacking is a booming industry all around the world.

I can’t get too excited over social media’s revelations about my opinions — I wear them on my sleeve — or my most recent web search for a better kitty litter deodorizer. Fighting that fight is like flapping your arms at saplings while missing the very scary forest that engulfs you.

Let’s admit it: By and large, our secrets … aren’t. But when we turn on the lights at night, I still do like to close the drapes.

NANCY EDMONDS HANSON: After Thought — Keep An Eye On Your Pants

We’re not really the adventure-travel type. That’s why, when planning our spring break trip to Puerto Vallarta, Russ and I snubbed the jungle canopy zip-line option, the deep-sea dolphin swim and even the VIP nightclub crawl (“Party like a professional!”). Instead, we went with the all-inclusive family resort with five fabulous restaurants. We’re boring that way.

But given how slowly we move these days, we weren’t altogether surprised when adventure nipped our heels in a most unexpected way … when a thief in the night stole my husband’s pants.

Let me explain. He wasn’t wearing them at the time. Instead, we were both sound asleep just a few feet away.

The day had begun with a 3 a.m. slip-and-slide to Hector Airport in snowy slush. All that stood between us and Paradise was 14 hours or so in purgatory, soaring 1,500 miles south in what could best be termed “livestock class.” Fueled by Delta’s 4-ounce plastic glass of pop and a packet containing exactly 11 smoked almonds, squeezed into accommodations that made a dental chair seem comfy, I dreamed of azure skies, a surf-kissed beach and buffets abounding in seafood and fresh fruit.

We’d won this glorious trip in Moorhead Rotary’s annual travel raffle. From the moment we stepped into the lobby of the splendid Riu Palace Pacifico, we knew it was a true prize: Stained-glass ceiling, 8-foot crystal chandelier, elegant Old World trappings, the kind of lush tropical courtyard that would make my poor Minnesota houseplants weep … and look! The buffet was dead ahead!

Soon we were strolling back to our room, sated on fresh shrimp and mango, more than ready for a good night’s sleep. I stepped out on the charming balcony for a last moonlit salute to Bahia de Banderas. Then we both sank into an exhausted coma.

Next morning, I returned to the balcony with my coffee, watching the M-shaped wings of frigatebirds float gracefully high above. With a shock, I realized that rhythmic roar wasn’t the north wind, but the pounding of the Pacific surf. It was a perfect moment.

A fellow guest startled me as he strolled along the walkway that encircled the hotel just beyond the edge of our balcony: “Hola, buenos dias.”

And no bugs! There wasn’t even a screen over the sliding door … which, come to think of it, had been slightly open when I got up ….

And then Russ awoke and said, “Where are my pants?”

“Where did you leave them?”

“Right there” — and he pointed to the chair in front of that door.

There are only so many places you can misplace a pair of pants. We searched all of them. Searched again. We even looked in the little safe inside the closet. Who’d put their pants in the safe? Not Russ for sure! We checked anyway.

Slowly, reality dawned. The trusting Minnesota genius who’d slipped outside for a bedtime glimpse of the sea hadn’t managed to properly lock the door. While we both snored, an unseen guest had tested the slider, found it unsecured and stretched inside just far enough to grab one of the only two swipe-worthy prizes within reach.

All I can say is, thank goodness he didn’t take my knitting!

But he did slip away with Russ’s nice tan slacks, belt and — worse — the wallet in its pocket.

A dilemma most dire! The worst part was reporting the theft to the hotel security chief … who asked, “Why didn’t you put them in the safe?” He listened, stony-faced, to my excuse (“that’s not where we keep them in Minnesota”), then asked for a description. A moment later, one of his minions brought out said pants, nicely folded. They’d retrieved them just after dawn while patrolling that pretty courtyard. I’ll bet they wondered what we’d been up to.

Naturally, the wallet was missing. The thief didn’t get too much — only small bills intended for tipping, a Minnesota drivers license for a 6-foot 3-inch redhead … and the same two credit cards I was carrying in my purse. I quickly learned our thief hadn’t missed a beat, testing them in the wee hours, but without success. Visa’s fraud-sniffing protocols had somehow spotted him instantly and slammed the door on both accounts …

… leaving us 1,500 miles from home with no operable plastic and only the few small bills in my own pocket.

Bank of America’s representative was highly efficient. In just a few minutes, she’d closed the account and forwarded replacement cards, which were in our mailbox back in Moorhead by the time we got home. In the meantime? Get a job, perhaps?

The second Visa card was issued by our credit union, Affinity Plus. The emergency rep was not only helpful but sympathetic. Would we like her to send emergency cards to our hotel? Yes, please! But our hopes were dashed when she called back a little later. The processing company would happily approve stop-gap assistance, she said … if I could authenticate myself by sharing our joint savings account number.

Suspiciously, I did not know it by heart.

By now, the sun had set on another day. As the moon rose over the bay, I texted our travel agent — “help!” — and resolved to place a direct call to our local Affinity folks — by now, closed for the day — the next morning.

And then the cavalry arrived. Tod Ganje and Jill Baldwin from Travel Inc. both responded before bedtime. Possibly texting in their pajamas, they debriefed us, consoled us and promised to help. Our biggest concern (since hotel, meals and travel were already covered) was how to check our suitcase for the flight home without that everpresent plastic. By the time we awoke after a sound sleep, Tod had prepaid the baggage charge and entered it on our flight documents. Perfect.

Meanwhile, as we were drinking our first cups of (delicious) coffee, Affinity’s Roz Johnson sprang into action. I asked her for that elusive savings account number; instead, she called the card processor herself. They could send the emergency cards, she and her counterpart agreed, but that wouldn’t help, since they’d never get across the border by the time we had to head home.

So our heroine came up with a better plan. Roz sent me down to the hotel’s ATM. I called her when I got there. She alerted her contact, who unfroze the purloined account just long enough for me to withdrew enough pesos to get us by. I called Roz back, and her minion once again closed it.

And all was well.

It was a wonderful trip! We can’t wait to go back. Meanwhile, let us meditate on the lessons our adventure has taught us.

First: If you travel with two credit cards, split them up. Next time, I’ll carry just one, and Russ the other. If history ever repeats itself, we’ll still possess one piece of functional plastic.

Two: Booking travel and banking online may work just fine in the best of times. But when the cards are down (so to speak), I’ll take the help of a smart, caring human professionals like Roz, Tod and Jill every single time.

And, finally … always pack a second pair of pants.

NANCY EDMONDS HANSON: After Thought — Last Call

We finally did it — we cut the cord. After a lifetime of landline telephony, we pulled the anchor and sailed away from Ma Bell.

No wonder, then, why I’m feeling just a bit adrift.

We’d been thinking about doing it for a long, long time … every winter when new directories are dropped off on our front step, and we deposit them straight into the recycling bin; every time I dial a number retrieved from my ancient Rolodex, only to find it’s no longer in service; and (for years now) every time that dadblasted ringy dingy blares forth at the most inopportune moment, only to bring on the umpteenth idiot robocall or another hapless taker of surveys.

Though we left the official Ma Bell a long time ago, we’ve still maintained that connection to the civilized world via our cellphone company’s home service. We needed it in case of emergencies, we thought. We needed it so our older relatives can reach us (though we’re now the oldest ones left). We needed to keep the line open for the Publishers Clearinghouse Giveaway, who we somehow assumed would place an old-style call with the good news.

In other words, we dragged our feet. Though both Russ and I rarely lay down our Androids from sun-up to sleepytime, the thought of disconnecting the “real” telephone seemed so … final. Was landlineless life worth living?

So I asked a small question on Facebook: Was this a good idea? Turns out, my virtual friends are passionate about this issue and were just waiting for someone to ask them. One hundred forty-four replied! Exactly three of them told me, “Don’t do it,” two citing the possibility of cell towers going down and a third mentioning faxes. As a survivor of Michael Damron’s notorious assault on Fargo-Moorhead phone lines in 1995, the tower thing doesn’t scare me much. As for faxes, I haven’t needed to send one for a decade; a modern-day Damron could sabotage that service, and most of us would never notice.

The most common reaction on Facebook: “OMG, you mean you still have a landline? LOL.”

It seems that Russ and I were blithely unaware that we’d fallen in among the last of our kind — antique specimens still hardwired to humanity. So we joined the modern world ourselves. I’m beginning to relax.

What kept us wired, I think, was a combination of inertia and sweet memories. There was a time when installing your first telephone in your first apartment was an unmistakable sign of adulthood — a confirmation that you were so grown up that Northwestern Bell trusted you to forward a monthly check. For the first few decades of adult life, I couldn’t wait to get the new directory; the first thing I did was look up my own name. Yep, there I am! I’m somebody!

Until now, I’ve never lived in a home without its own telephone. Oh, sure, we shared a party line when I was a child and more easily impressed — three shorts. Like all the neighbor kids, we mastered the subtle art of picking up the neighbors’ calls, then giggling silently until our mothers caught us. It was rude and unethical, she’d lecture us, to eavesdrop. I never caught her practicing the stealthy art herself, though I still have my suspicions.

Our family moved often, as we followed her teaching gigs in the fall, then returned to the farm in summer. Getting the telephone hooked up was the universal signal that we’d, so to speak, arrived. Our state-of-the-art connection to the outside world was always black, always equipped with a rotary dial that chipped Mother’s fire-engine-red manicure, always mounted in its place of honor on the wall in whatever kitchen we inhabited. Though anything but mobile, it did come with a twisted spiral cord long enough to pull into the coat closet by the back door for highly sensitive teen-age conversations.

The phone’s thoughtfully designed receiver was sturdy and fit the hand just right, with the listening part snugged against your ear and the talking end nicely resting near your mouth. Conversation was crystal clear (or as clear as teens ever managed). Calls never ended abruptly except when my parents said, “Enough is enough.” It didn’t require any ritual of recharging. No one I knew ever dropped it, not even once, in the toilet.

But progress shuffled it aside. After 20 years of ever more demanding cellphones, I’ve become trained to not jump when melodic tones blare out of my back pocket. I’ve come to depend on the built-in phone directory that tells me whose call is coming in and relieves me of any responsibility to try to remember digits.

Texting has finally bewitched me, after years of the haughty conviction it was for the birds. Pecking at the “6” button thrice to achieve an O was way more trouble than it was worth, back in the era of flip phones … especially for someone who needs more than 140 characters just to say “hello.” Now, of course, that’s been replaced by a not-so-smartphone that arrogantly attempts to guess every word I’m trying to type, coming up with some of the most hallucinatory blurts since Timothy Leary’s heyday.

Today, in fact, I’m as inclined to avoid flexing my vocal cords as any text-crazed Millennial.

But maybe that’s because of all we have left behind. Remember when you could hear every word of both sides of a telephone conversation? When you and your caller could step on the end of each other’s sentences or interject without the sound gapping out? When you could carry on conversations while fixing supper, with the receiver safely ensconced between your shoulder and your cheek?

And do you recall being able to reel off your number without even trying whenever someone asked — instead of pulling out your screen to be sure? Oddly, though I still must double-check to be sure I haven’t mangled those cellphone digits, I can reel off the long-outlived cadence of my first Fargo phone number without a moment’s hesitation.

And that, at last, sums up what all this progress has cost us. Before robocalls, before phishing, before endless sneaky, slanted “surveys” — telephones deserved to be answered.

NANCY EDMONDS HANSON: After Thought — No Magic Bullets

Of course, it’s about the guns. Let’s get past that right now. The 19-year-old who slaughtered 14 teens and three teachers at a Florida school so much like Fargo South or Moorhead High was able to buy a military-grade weapon undeterred … though a federal law from a saner era, the 1968 Gun Control Act, still prohibits him from buying a handgun.

That act was passed 50 years ago, when Congress and the public acknowledged that handguns were linked to most crimes. It was easy enough for them to accede to the public’s demand for an age limit on the weapon of choice for criminals and killers.

Long guns — rifles and shotguns — were for hunters, sport shooters and farmers picking off varmints. High-school boys drove to school with guns racked in their pickup trucks’ back window. In the classroom, teachers had almost forgotten the bad old days of fueling kids’ nightmares with mandatory drills for atom bomb attacks.

School massacres hadn’t been invented yet. Even then, we had no answers.

Today, everyone who’s ever raised a child — or been one herself — is dizzy with questions. According to the Washington Post, 150,000 American students attending at least 170 primary or secondary schools have experienced a shooting on campus since the Columbine High School massacre in 1999. Two of them were right down the road in Red Lake and Cold Spring, Minn, too close for even a smidge of comfort.

Of course, it’s about guns. A majority of the post-Columbine massacres have been committed by young men with AR-15 semiautomatic rifles. They’re the most popular weapon in the United State. Their fans characterize them as a benign choice for hunters and sportsmen. Manufacturer Colt describes its best-seller with a greater jolt of testosterone … “the closest commercial AR-15 you will find to the military M4.” After more than a decade of active marketing to gun aficionados, some 4 million AR-15s are on the ground today. They’re not going anywhere.

But the easy availability of fearsome weapons like the AR-15 is only one part of the problem. You can spot the other holding that gun with rage in his heart and his finger on the trigger. Mental illness — at least, trauma and resentment and anger that causes young men to kill — is a part of the equation, too.

Let’s take a deep breath here. Yes, we need to talk about sensible regulation to keep lethal weapons out of reach of the young, the mentally ill and dangerous individuals of every age. We need to eliminate the tools to turn them into automatic rapid-fire killing machines. We need thorough background checks and interstate registration. We might even take a look at the loathsome federal law passed in 2005 that prohibits shooting victims from suing gun manufacturers. Lawmakers do, after all, have the leeway to institute reasonable reforms. Constitutionally guaranteed freedoms can indeed be regulated to prevent harm — much as libel and slander laws restrain our First Amendment freedom of speech.

But to make our children safer — safer every day, not just in those pitch-black moments when an armed and mortally damaged young man sprays their classrooms with bullets — we need to examine a separate and even more difficult issue. We need to seriously address mental wellness in children and teens.

I understand why mental health experts righteously bristle when that comes up. Children and adolescents who struggle with mental illness are far, far more likely to be victims rather than perpetrators of carnage. Depression, anxiety and other psychiatric diagnoses hammer them with risks that are truly horrifying, from various kinds of self-harm to suicide. One out of eight North Dakota students reported seriously considering suicide in the state’s most recent assessment of behavioral health. Nearly one in 10 said they’ve made an attempt in the past year.

But the pain of these potential victims may apply just as aptly to the gun-toting would-be killers. According to data gathered by the Secret Service, 98 percent of armed attackers experienced or perceived a major loss before they acted. Almost 80 percent had a history of suicide attempts. Seven out of 10 felt persecuted, bullied, threatened, attacked or injured by others prior to the incident. In 80 percent of cases the agency studied, the attacker acted alone.

We can’t afford to discount a connection between these damaged young people and school violence. Isolation and rejection, perhaps both caused and compounded by other mental conditions, sometimes seem to congeal into rage.

It could happen here. Educators and mental health counselors recognize the problems all too many kids bring to school that get in the way of confidence and learning. They’re already working to help them heal. Most local teachers have received training to help them recognize how trauma of all kinds affects children and their behavior. Now specialists called “student wellness facilitators” also add an extra level of expertise on the schoolground, thanks to an initiative developed by the foundation known as Imagine Thriving. Counselors refer troubled students who may need help to them; the facilitators connect the kids and their families with local resources for counseling and support, including financial aid. It seems to be making a difference, but the problem is massive: Since these wellness programs began in 2014, some 1,700 young people, elementary through senior high, have been referred or sought help themselves.

Neither gun reform nor mental wellness training, by itself, is the magical silver bullet America is demanding so loudly. Revising laws on access to guns is an uphill climb, given the cult-like following and virtually unlimited resources of the NRA. Allocating adequate resource for mental wellness is every bit as steep. No corporate sponsors and big-bucks PACs are lining up so far to counter the easily purchased influence fueling the status quo.

Will our children remember their school days as a fearful time of active-shooter drills and lock-downs? Will they see teachers armed with Glocks?

We urgently need deliberate, serious study of gun violence and measures that can control it. We need reasonable debate and compromise. We need action. Otherwise, we are left to defend the children who are our future with little more than unreliable half-measures, bullet-proof backpacks … and the desperate hope that our own ZIP code won’t be the next number that comes up.

NANCY EDMONDS HANSON: After Thought — Ask … And Shall It Be Given?

Are you reading this on Thursday, Feb. 8? Then you’re perched at the pinnacle of year-round efforts to persuade you to step up with support for North Dakota charities’ good works. For 24 magical hours, three Fargo-based funders — the Impact, Dakota Medical and Alex Stern Family Foundations — are together matching every donation of $10 or more made to participating nonprofit organizations. Most arrive online via

They represent a galaxy of compelling causes: education, health care, the arts, religion, advocacy, human and animal welfare — you name it, there’s a good chance you’ll find it on this year’s list. After all, 401 separate nonprofit organizations and funds appear there — a tenfold increase from just 38 back in Year One.

Twenty-two times as many people made contributions last year as at the start. With matching funds, the financial impact on nonprofits was 15 times the first campaign’s — nearly $10.7 million. That brought the 10-year total to more than $41 million. Today’s results are expected to easily float it across the $50 million mark … with campaign planners hoping to double the number of donors who pull out the plastic (or checkbooks) to pitch in.

Sponsors of Giving Hearts Day have worked long and hard to generate the juggernaut that it’s become. Collaborating with the charities themselves, they’ve created a newsworthy mood that’s light-hearted, fun and sometimes just a little goofy, like last year’s Mr. Matchy-Matchy in his heart-spangled suit. Under this year’s banner of #countme, they’ve built a positive showcase for North Dakota nonprofits to highlight their good works … and, of course, a channel for persuading generous folks to open up their wallets.

Underneath the happy anticipation of this year’s campaign, though, is a dark undercurrent that seems quite new — a backlash from good people who are feeling exhausted and a bit annoyed at the blizzard of do-good options.

With competition for those charitable dollars at an all-time high, the charities hoping to boost their totals have been coached in best-practice “friend-raising” techniques. They’ve been inundating Facebook and email with persuasive appeals and filling known donors’ mailboxes with postcards, letters and sophisticated marketing materials. Some have bought ads in the media. Others have turned to the telephone to remind friends to pick them today.

Plain and simple, humans don’t much like to be asked for money. The more often and insistently they’re asked, the likelier they are to speak up. This year, the chorus is louder than I’ve ever noticed in the past. Particularly on social media, more people — more thoughtful, charitable, warm-hearted people — seem to be tiring of the blizzard of charitable appeals.

It worries me. The objections I’ve been hearing aren’t coming from Scrooge McDuck and his caustic flock of cynical penny-pinchers. Instead, they’re coming from the same kind folks who tirelessly volunteer for public-spirited causes, from feeding the hungry and sheltering the homeless to supporting all kinds of positive community projects in every corner of the state. They’re the ones who stand tall when charities call them, who deeply care about countless civic-minded crusades.

“Nine items of marketing in my mail today for Giving Hearts Day,” one woman reported last week on Facebook. “It makes me not want to give when I see the fancy marketing and ‘Pick me! Pick me!’ materials dropping in my mailbox. If they have money for all this fancy stuff, they do not need my donation.”

Another estimates she receives about 10 fund-raising appeals every week (not all, of course, tagged to Giving Hearts Day). “That’s about 500 pieces of unwanted mail a year — a waste of money and environmentally bad. I resent it.”

Some complaints, like hers, center on wasting paper and postage on printed appeals that mostly go unread. Other commenters feel fleeting fury at the flurry of “asks” in email, Facebook posts and pop-up ads. Since they’re so much less expensive than ink and paper, they’re proliferating even faster — like fruit flies. My own email inbox is larded with dozens every single day. But “delete” is even better than single-sort recycling; I ignore every one of them.

With so many supplicants, even a modest amount of contact from each can seem overwhelming. Yet nonprofits truly depend on these campaigns. Despite all the headlines about grants and corporate gifts, a cool 80 percent of funds that keep nonprofits running come from you and me — individual donors who can be touched by their values and their missions … or cajoled ’til we finally yield.

It’s easy to dismiss these persistent emotional appeals as a waste of money. But if they weren’t generating donations well in excess of what they cost, you can be guaranteed certain they would not keep coming.

Part of the Impact Foundation’s program, in fact, is to teach nonprofits how to do a better job of all of this. Their core gospel is tough but unavoidable: Those who do not ask, do not get.

Yet members of the backlash emphasize that too many, asking too often, leads to the same result.

There’s no magical answer. The source of the targeted would-be donors’ discontent — too-frequent pleas that some contend can be equated to nagging — is, at its heart, glaringly simple: An excess of good causes seeking support among a limited supply of potential benefactors inclined and able to contribute.

Giving Hearts Day relies on a smart game plan to tackle the syndrome. It scores its points by multiplying the impact of every gift, even small ones. It coaches charities in composing their most compelling stories. And the volunteers and staff who are making this greatest occasion of philanthropy happen strive, oh so hard, to define giving not just the right thing to do … but the best way to feel good about yourself and your role in a much larger mission.

This is the last time I’ll say it (promise!): If you’re reading this on Feb. 8, 2018, there’s still time to join the fun.

NANCY EDMONDS HANSON: After Thought — Changing The Course

Does it seem that we’ve been fighting floods forever? Pretty close. Residents along the Red River have been wrangling Mother Nature every 10 or 15 years since settlement began. Inevitably, Mother seems to have the upper hand.

In between flood emergencies, we generally turn on each other. Fargo-Moorhead and its neighbors have been sharing vastly divergent opinions of the F-M Diversion Project for fully 10 years. Sometimes it seems as if the bickering will never end … can never be fully resolved. No local issue has ever drawn in more head-butting stakeholders — town and country, businesses and homeowners, two cities, two counties, two states and the Feds — or attempted to temper more sizzling degrees of personal and civic self-interest.

Yet the record does show it can be done. Victory has been achieved before … and by nearly the same cast of impassioned characters.

Sixty years ago, draglines finally attacked the course of the tangled river and straightened out at least a few of its legendary kinks. In 1959, Fargo-Moorhead tackled the issue of containing the Red’s epic rampage in a victory that holds some lessons — and some hope.

The Red has been soaking Fargo-Moorhead’s feet ever since the cities’ sketchy, sweaty birth in 1871. By 1882, they were fighting the first of the floods that arrived like clockwork through World War I. After taking a break in the Dirty Thirties, the sluggish river returned with a vengeance in 1943. St. John’s Hospital (now Prairie St. John’s) stood on the bank of an oxbow that reached to Fargo’s Fourth Street; it had to be evacuated.

The river’s path was different then. South of Main Avenue, it took a lazy westward loop from its current course to the edge of Island Park, then back to Second Street. A generous finger of Minnesota pointed straight to the brand-new F-M Community Theater on Fourth Street South.

To no one’s surprise, epic floodwaters returned in 1950 and again in 1952. Streets ran deep on both sides of the river, reaching 5 feet on Broadway. Water stood hip-high on the main floor of Dommer’s Boathouse near Fourth Avenue Southwest in Moorhead, the beloved spot where fun seekers had been renting boats and canoes for decades to enjoy the river’s calmer moments. Hundreds of homes and business were swamped. Utilities were damaged and destroyed. The cost to both cities was enormous.

The soggy cities dreamed of a solution. Though their physical footprint was a fraction of today’s (Fargo with 38,256 people and Moorhead, 14,870) and embraced a far shorter stretch of river, temporary dikes didn’t do the trick. Yet no one could see the way to salvation. Ideas were tossed out, like scrapping St. John’s Hospital (which had had to be evacuated) and rebuilding on higher ground. Then they were systematically shot down — impossible, impractical, unaffordable.

At last, frustrated city fathers spotted a glimmer of light in Washington, where in 1950, the Disaster Relief Act empowered the Federal Emergency Management Agency — FEMA — to help deal with flooding. The two cities, which been fighting alone, spotted an ally. As the clean-up began in 1952, Mayor Murray Baldwin and the City Commission appointed a committee to work with the Army Corps of Engineers. It submitted its plan just a year later. The goal: to straighten out the critical snarl in the river that inundated downtown and speed the water on its way north.

And the outcry was instantly ferocious. Almost six dozen occupied homes would have to be demolished on both sides of the river, along with businesses and facilities dating back to the steamboat days.

Moorhead feared the more easterly channel, bounded by an enormous permanent levee on the Fargo side, would back up water onto its dependably higher, drier ground. City leaders fretted that downstream landowners would sue them if the amended flow of floodwaters caused damage to their farms. The beloved boathouse and swimming hole would have to go. Even the proto-environmentalists of the day had their say, decrying the removal of 200 trees from the riverbank.

But flood-control proponents persisted through six years of often-heated squabbling. The break finally came in 1959, when the recalcitrant North Dakota Legislature passed a measure specifically permitting Moorhead to sue the city of Fargo for any damages that might ensue.

By July, Fargo Mayor Herschel Lashkowitz would preside over the draglines that dug a new, straighter channel about a quarter-mile east of what had been Minnesota’s western border. They worked through the summer. At the end of October, the river’s flow was permanently diverted into its new pathway, and the blip of age-old former riverbed went dry.

Grandparents among us today still remember the sight: a mucky, barren depression punctuated by the old dam. Crowds gathered to see what they could see — submerged skeletons, perhaps? Submerged treasure? A stolen safe had been long rumored to be ditched down below. Police investigated, just in case. But to thrill-seekers’ disappointment, they spotted nothing but a rusty bicycle and a few corroded oil drums.

Meanwhile, the Corps also dealt with less controversial obstacles north of the Veterans Administration. One of three small adjacent oxbows was eliminated outright with crosswise excavation. The other two were fitted with weir dams that permit normal flow from day to day but divert high water to a straighter, broader path.

But besting Mother Nature by epic engineering wasn’t the end of the story then, as it hasn’t yet been today. By straightening the rerouted the Red River — the historic border between two states — 22.5 acres of what was still legally Minnesota was marooned on the wrong side. Not until the U.S. Congress approved an interstate compact in 1962 did the boundary shift east to the new riverbank.

Clay County’s loss was the city of Fargo’s gain. Remember that … and thank the North Star State next time your children sled on the Dike East or you park your car in the big lot east of the Stage at Island Park.

Sixty years ago, we won one. Two cities, two states and the federal government succeeded in not only taming a fraction of Mother Nature’s power, but untangling their competing interests long enough to redraw the map. Odds are, we can do it again.

(Thanks to archivist Mark Peihl of the Historical and Cultural Society of Clay County and author Terry Shoptaugh, author of Red River Floods, for the research on which this is based.)

NANCY EDMONDS HANSON: After Thought — Hello? Hello? Is Someone Listening?

Of all things, Russ and I were talking about bath mats. I’d just taken a shower downstairs, and I’d noticed that the mundane incumbent — already bearing the stains of years of feline hairball disposal — had begun shedding bits of fuzz and flakes of latex all over the tile floor. A trip to Target seemed to be in order soon.

When I logged into Facebook the next morning, the first thing I saw was an Amazon ad. For a bath mat. Not just any bath mat — the precise unusual shape the room required, in the perfect color and even the fiber content I had in mind.

Cue the music from “The Twilight Zone”!

We all know by now the World Wide Web tabulates nuggets of data from every move we make online … the sites we visit, the purveyors we follow, the people and events we mention, the answers we search for on everything from air fryers to eczema. But is someone listening, too?

Until last night, shopping for a new bath mat had honestly never crossed my mind — not in what we naively consider real life nor via Wi-Fi. I have never googled anything of the sort. I have never even typed those two words together until now — not in either email or a text. Bath mats just don’t seem to generate much conversation.

And no, we do not have Alexa or another so-called “personal assistant” device hanging on every word that’s uttered in our household. I’m even pretty sure our venerable microwave oven is too elderly to overhear us.

So … where did that ad come from? I’ve had the creepy feeling ever since that someone or something is eavesdropping on every word. Tin foil hats are not really my style. Otherwise, though, rational explanation of this cosmic-level coincidence eludes me. Tell me this: How many ads for unusually shaped off-white bath rugs have you noticed lately in your own newsfeed?

What next? First, of course, I ordered that perfect bath mat.

Then I resolved to never again think out loud about the bathroom.

When I shared this odd little story with several friends, they began showering me with their own weird synchronicities. We could explain many. Not all, though.

By now, everyone who’s even marginally tech-savvy has gotten used to seeing ads for books or music or shoes we’ve perused online pop up wherever we go next. We understand, at least vaguely, how Big Data and artificial intelligence logarithms enable the stalking. We’ve made peace with marketers gleaning sometimes-uncanny insights from our googling and browsing.

Click once; be tracked forever. We get it! If you’ve ever clicked on, say, a cat-lover’s T-shirt but dropped out before the “buy” button … you know for sure it’ll dog your cyber footsteps like a forlorn puppy.

Marketers are simply thrilled. “Artificial intelligence and marketing will make strides together,” one industry report crows happily. It goes on: “In 2017, marketing platforms collected and stored information such as site usage, browsing patterns, search history and content preferences to create customer profiles and behavior marketing strategies that help marketers create custom messages to address these prospects.” (It doesn’t mention if that data documents whether you prefer showers or baths. Yet.)

It doesn’t take an Alexa to pry open the doors of your private life. Our devilish devices already watch and listen to us. Smartphones are little tattletales. Next time you install an app, actually read the permissions before you hit “agree”: Chances are you’re giving it access to everything but your underwear drawer.

A year or so ago, tech experts revealed many so-called “smart TVs” — the kind that “learn” your voice, the better to respond to spoken commands — are always listening, even when you think they sleep. The recordings go … somewhere. A.I. is studying your speech, theoretically to serve you even better when you’re too lazy to reach for the remote to change the channel. While distant humans are almost certainly not listening to desultory conversation in your family room right now or spying on TVs that support Skype with their tiny cameras … they could.

Creepy? That seems to depend on your generation. To the majority of 20-something, the tech is amazing and cool. Digital since birth, they argue, “What’s not to like? It makes life easier.”

Some of us, though, are old enough to remember when pulling the shades and closing the front door guaranteed privacy. For us, it’s simply hair-raising. Self-aware gadgets so skilled at watching and listing drive shivers deep into the soul of anyone who remembers George Orwell’s “1984.” In that classic novel of a dystopian future ruled by Big Brother, the protagonist hides from the sinister “telescreens” that monitor him, even in his abode. Orwell wrote his prescient book in 1949, when TVs were still dumb little convex tubes inside huge cabinets with rabbit ears sticking up on top. Who (but he) ever dreamed they’d someday watch us back?

Paranoid? Perhaps. So let’s test it. A friend suggested we discuss the weirdest random topic we could imagine in front of my phone. How about old-time potato mashers? You’d be surprised how much we found to say about smashing boiled Russets. She even shared her mother’s favorite trick for getting them lump-free and creamy — squeezing the spuds through a potato ricer.

The next morning, several ads were featured on my smartphone, just like any other day … but with a difference. No, the kind of grandma-style hand masher we’d reminisced about wasn’t among them. But what did show up? A handheld appliance called the Dash Masha … and an electric rice cooker.

Close enough? I think so. Keep it to yourself.

NANCY EDMONDS HANSON: After Thought — Turning Up The Heat

At a time when there’s so much to worry about — global war, the long-range forecast, the coming shortage of citrus fruit — it seems almost silly to mention the one threat that causes us most to get hot under the collar.

But here is it: the thermostat.

As outdoor temperatures crashed this week, the Hansons’ silent battle for the perfect indoor climate heated up all over again. Not since the heat of last summer has control of our indoor environment caused such serious discord at our normally serene address. But, once again, modern technology and the surreptitious urge to dominate have now brought us to the edge of passive-aggressive Armageddon.

Ground Zero is the dimly lit hallway where the thermostat quietly resides. It’s out of sight from every other corner. Yet whenever Russ or I come near, the whole house begins to sizzle or shiver from guerilla attacks to enforce our very different notions of the ideal indoor habitat.

You could say the difference is just a matter of degree. Russ regards the great indoors as an extension of his body temp. When he comes inside, chilled after hours of fiddling with the timer on the porch lights, he’s no sooner taken off his gloves than he dials up the thermostat to warm his frigid bones.

Like many human males, he considers the furnace as a sort of full-body electric blanket. This differs just a tad from his wife’s position — that our indoor environment is a giant, energy-sucking black hole into which we pour our monthly tithe to Moorhead Public Service.

I attribute our differences to the way that we were raised. He grew up in urban Bismarck-Mandan, where MDU piped natural gas, sight unseen, straight into his childhood domicile. I, on the other hand, learned the ways of the world one floor above the family coal bin.

If you, too, grew up in a house heated by coal, you remember the roar of a ton of dusty black bituminous tumbling down the chute to the basement. There it waited, dark and sulfurous, for Dad’s periodic trips into the stone-walled cellar to feed the roaring beast — the coal furnace, where the flames of hell danced and leaped behind the little glass porthole in the door.

The mere notion of a wall-mounted dial to control the heat was as space-agey as the Jetsons. If December winds rattled the single-paned windows on the northwest side of the house, he trekked into the shadowy cellar to stoke the fire and feed it shovelfuls of black chunks, ranging from the size of your head to the dust in the bottom of your pockets. He’d fish out the burned-out clinkers, still aglow, with long-handled tongs. At bedtime, he’d make a last trip to bank the fire and throttle the oxygen that fed it … then stir it up at dawn.

More sophisticated systems employed the flames to heat water in a boiler, which then circulated through radiators strategically stationed throughout the house. Radiators were a wonder: a modern convenience on which both snowy mittens and dampened dishtowels would dry in a flash, and which warmed many a chilled young backside fresh from a frigid sledding expedition.

Our house wasn’t that ultramodern. Instead, our coal furnace relied on the most basic of scientific verities: Heat rises. The coal-fired warmth rose through a register on the main floor, then continued upward to where the chilly bedrooms waited. No sissy thermostats reined in the scorching heat of a freshly fed fire or spurred the furnace to accelerate all on its own. Nor did the firepit let us forget its contributions. A backdraft of smoke, a dusting of soot, the vague perfume of sulfur — all reminded us from time to time of just who, or what, kept the North Country’s fierce wolfish winds at bay.

Childhood taught me climate control was very much a manual art. Too hot? Sit farther from the register. Too cold? Put on a sweater. They were the same hardy lessons that Laura Ingalls Wilder had written about scores of years before, still prevailing in the 1950s in our own little house on the prairie.

Today’s environmental give-and-take relies more on psychology than on the conscious effort of days of yore. At our house, it usually takes the form of guerilla incursions on the thermostat. Rather than adding or subtracting a layer of clothing, personal comfort too often relies on sidling past the dial, all innocent, and giving it an unannounced tweak.

If I hear the fan lurch up to speed, I can calculate Russ’s whereabouts with some precision. He’d tell you that he knows who’s been afoot when he spots ice forming on the kitties’ water dish.

Our seasonal psychological warfare generally lasts until the annual spring armistice. But it’s to no one’s real surprise that incursions resume as the mercury rises in midsummer. Then, though, it’s the sweaty husband who twirls the frosty thermostat ever lower … and the cold-hearted, cost-conscious wife who’s guaranteed to get hot under the collar.

NANCY EDMONDS HANSON: After Thought — Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner?

Exactly 50 years ago, a new woman sat down in my spot at the family Thanksgiving table.

The stranger bore a vague resemblance to the chair’s previous occupant. She answered to the same name, took the same heaping helping of the same green bean casserole and knew where to put the roaster when she helped clean up after dinner.

While her appetite was about the same, her attitude was enormous. The achingly shy bookworm whom the family had packed off to Fargo-Moorhead 10 weeks before had seemingly shape-shifted to an altogether different species. Five decades later, she would realize they’d have traded this one to get their old daughter back in a New York minute.

But it certainly wasn’t New York. Home was still the same tiny hamlet in darkest North Dakota where she’d graduated from high school six brief months before. Yet their daughter, v.2, wasn’t the same one they remembered.

Have you, by chance, sent your own fledglings off to college in recent times? Are they coming home from a distant campus for Thanksgiving? Bank the homefires and batten the hatches! That first big family get-together after they’ve unfurled their wings is bound to blow up with a flap or two. You may think you know your kids so well … but guess who’s coming to dinner?

On Thanksgiving 1967, the dutiful 17-year-old who’d sewn her own tidy pastel cotton frock the night before graduation came home in bellbottom denims, fringe and beads, dragging otherworldly LPs to tide her over. Sedate and deferential when her parents sent her out into the world, she returned for the holiday weekend louder, revved up, spoiling for debates and virtually bursting with all the confidence and grass-green wisdom only three scant months on a college campus can impart.

Now that she’d seen the world (Moorhead, at least), her eyes had been opened to all the planet’s miseries and triumphs, contradictions and intellectual shocks. The self-styled scholar headed home eager to share her thoughts on absolutely all of it … a firestorm of newly formed opinions unlike any ever hinted at in that household.

If you’d been at that dinner, along with Grandma, Auntie Irene, Uncle Oscar and her bemused little brother, you, too, could have been battered at length by all she suddenly knew about … well, pretty much everything. The quaint, cozy slipcovers of humdrum home and family had finally been lifted from her eyes. Fresh from one quarter of History 101 and Basic Philosophy, she was personally thrilled with the vast new insights she possessed, and she couldn’t wait to enlighten all the dear simple folk she’d left behind in the hinterland.

The college girl’s parents would have put it rather differently: “Uff da! This kid thinks she knows everything!”

Grandma sadly shook her head but commented only on the hair the fledgling was growing out as fast as she could force it from her scalp. “Your poor hair,” she commiserated vaguely, and added, “You would look so much better with a normal hairdo,” patting her hairnetted steel-blue coif.

The collegiate escaped the fam the next night to meet up with a gaggle of classmates temporarily on leave from the Real World there in the hinterlands. Oddly, they’d changed, too. They all talked more. Boone’s Farm Apple and Strawberry Hill were prominently displayed in a neighbor’s rec room, along with exotic fare like taco chips. For so many who’d been barely hatched into the world, they were eager to reminisce about of the “old days” of their youth, while comparing tales of derring-do in the far-off Big City — Grand Forks, perhaps, or Valley City, Ellendale or Fargo-Moorhead.

Thanksgiving is famous for twanging family tensions, where friction between youthful all-knowing offspring rubs awkwardly against parents’ innocent assumption that they’re still in charge. If you haven’t seen your own little whippersnapper since you dropped him off at freshman orientation, it’s best to practice deep, calming breaths. Those familiar-looking aliens who’ll soon drag duffels of dirty laundry through your front door are going to face a shock or two themselves.

“Our house had gotten so much smaller,” our daughter recalls of her first Thanksgiving at home. “And you and Dad were … not as big as I remembered.”

Fresh from her campus in the Twin Cities, she remembers Fargo-Moorhead looking quaintly droll — pretty much as desolate as my old stomping grounds did back in 1967. “Everything was slower. Drivers had forgotten how to use turn signals, and everybody mostly looked alike.”

She points out, “I remember how pissed you were when I went out with my high school friends the next night and stayed out really late.” Darn right. When preferred to hobnob with her far-flung crew, all fascinated by sizing up how each had changed, than sitting on the couch reminiscing with Mom and Dad. She spent the remainder of her weekend doing what all college students apparently whenever they go home — sleeping soundly in her old bed.

On Thursday, if you secretly fear college has turned your kids into puffed-up know-it-alls, be reassured. Given the next four years of exposure to the universe of knowledge left to absorb, and realizing what a scant fraction they’ve mastered, their heads will eventually deflate. Humility will reclaim the upper hand. Remember, please, that — when you trekked home from school to tackle the ritual roast turkey — your parents thought the same of you. Yet their pride and patience prevailed. They sat back to watch you flap proud wings and crow on the edge of the nest.

NANCY EDMONDS HANSON: After Thought — Warming Up To Winter

We finally turned our furnace on last Friday. It wasn’t the 32-degree high that did it; it was the 40-mile-per-hour gusts the night before that convinced us to start burning wattage in a more significant way.

Thirty-two degrees? Ha! In March, that would warrant running outside without a coat. The fully acclimated Minnesotan laughs at such measly reports after surviving many a winter. But now, after a warmer-than-average summer and an October of unearthly sweat-inducing days, the story’s a bit different.

That little boost of artificial warmth did feel — I admit it — pretty good. I’m so ashamed.

For one whose veins run with Viking blood, flipping that switch so early hints at weakness. Not for us, the sheepish donning of jackets when a random breeze blows on a run-of-the-mill day in autumn. Not for us, the breaking out wooly knitted hats when we can still see bare pavement. Though the first nippy clues to the coming season may redden our cheeks, we thrust icy fingers into our pockets and soldier on.

The first whiff of impending winter is a tonic for the Minnesota or North Dakota soul. Weird, right? Transplants who grew up where water in the bird bath doesn’t even freeze in February may gasp in shock and awe at their first taste of what’s to come. Oddly, though we North Country natives may complain, we privately revel in it. We were bred for times like these.

That’s why neither Russ nor I had touched the thermostat since August, when we wrapped up our — shall we say “heated” — summer-long battle over air conditioning, pitting subarctic comfort against common sense. We hadn’t given it another thought until that cheeky little Canadian clipper rattled the roof and shivered the siding late last week.

I was the first to cry “uncle.” I’d begun to waver the night before, when the speed-limit-exceeding breeze rattled the windows and puffed the wooden blinds out almost parallel with the floor. The next morning, when my breath fogged the bathroom mirror, I knew that it was time. Without warning my stalwart Nordic husband of my intent, I crept into the bedroom, which faces north, and … closed the window.

Does this sound like an epic surrender? Maybe not to you, if your genes encode tender memories of the tropics. For Russ and me, though, it was radical. That window, selected for energy efficiency and insulating power, hadn’t been slammed since it was first installed. Oh, it might have been angled now and then to keep out summer rains blown horizontally by a passing tsunami. But closed? Never! Until now.

We were, after all, raised in the true Nordic tradition of bracing fresh air. Especially at night, it was an article of faith in the houses where both of us grew up that the best sleeping took place igloo-style, in between flannel sheets deep under an Everest of bedding. If you’d peeked at the bunkbed where I slept away my youth, all you’d have seen was a human caterpillar wrapped within a cocoon of quilts and itchy wool blankets and, perhaps, a nose rising like a periscope from the pillow.

My grandparents brought their mystical Scandinavian faith in the curative power of fresh air when they arrived from Norway. It seemed to serve their iron constitutions well, while also providing a convenient rationale for the drafty homes of their day. Deep breaths of frigid air are good for you! Fresh! Cleansing!

Their faith in Nature didn’t quite rule out the comfort of gathering around the red-hot oil burner steaming in the central room, as it struggled mightily to heat an entire house. But it did keep you from dawdling while hopping over polar-cold linoleum to choose school clothes from the uninsulated closet … the true, original meaning of teen “cool.”

Today, those memories are (literally) frozen in time. Central heating has stripped away the “brisk” from breakfast on these dark near-winter morns. Eddie Bauer and Cabela’s have armed us to beat back the fiercest weather wrapped in uniforms of manmade fibers and goose-made down. Our cars not only start the first time we turn the key; they wrap us in computer-monitored year-round comfort as we sit on our heated seats, peer through frost-free glass and listen to hot music beamed down by satellite.

And yet, the call of that Viking blood whispers in our ears. Here in the southern reaches of Moorhead, our thermostat rarely breaks the 65-degree mark. We wear slippers and sweatshirts around the house. Now that the wind has moderated, the windows are open again. Otherwise, sound sleep is merely a dream.

The wisdom of our forebears still calls to us today: “There’s no bad weather — only bad clothes.” We keep it cool around here. Even our supersoft, comfort-craving modern social habits reflect what they understood so well. You can always put on a sweater when you’re chilly. But if the opposite is true, people look at you funny if you decide to rip off your shirt.