Published by

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 — After Disaster, Forget The Rummage … Cash Counts

First, the hurricane. Then comes the second disaster — the blizzard of well-meant rummage.

I know you have only the best intentions. Me, too. We want to help the Texans who lost everything they own to Hurricane Harvey. But please, please put down those garbage bags of used clothes, stuffed animals and odds and ends from your pantry. They are literally more trouble than they’re worth.

The images of grief, loss and suffering wring hearts at a time like this, and the urge to help somehow can be almost overwhelming. That generosity is guaranteed to make we ourselves feel better … but the wrong kinds of spontaneous giving — and there are lots of them — only make the crisis worse.

If you want to really make a difference, donate cash.

That’s the best advice from seasoned disaster professionals in our own back yard. They’re watching their colleagues with boots on the ground in Texas and Louisiana. They’ve been there themselves in years gone by. They know how the relief and recovery process must proceed. And from their own experience, this is the most sincere advice they can give us: Leave your stuff in your own closet. Down at Ground Zero, it’ll only get in the way.

When the sky is blue and the forecast sunny, the rest of us barely spare a notion for the battle-tested disaster relief experts on standby to head to the heart of the storm. Only after a heart-breaking onslaught like Harvey’s (or Irma’s imminent arrival) does that reality come into focus: There are people — smart, brave, hard-working people — whose whole livelihood is based on knowing what to do in the worst of times. Like these.

The disaster that dominates tonight’s news isn’t their first rodeo. That’s how they know that piles and piles of miscellaneous sweaters, shirts, jeans, shoes, pillows, jackets, teddy bears, T-shirts, underwear, swimsuits, ties, board games, pajamas, Christmas decorations and whatever else is lying around in the basement or stashed in bottom drawers will ultimately help no one at all … not even those we see on TV who’ve lost everything they hold precious to those polluted, reptile-infested floodwaters.

Instead, the onslaught of donated stuff just gets in the way. It becomes a disaster in its own right. It sops up costly storage space and precious volunteers’ time that could be far better invested in more urgent pursuits. Or it’s pretty much ignored until it becomes a hazard.

On Sunday, CBS News chronicled bales of pointless donations blocking emergency access on Honduras airstrips after a hurricane. Other piles still rotted on an Indonesian beach years after a tsunami until they were finally doused with gasoline and burned. The former director of the Center for International Disaster Information in Washington told a reporter, “Generally after a disaster, people with loving intentions donate things that cannot be used in a disaster response, and, in fact, may actually be harmful. And they have no idea that they’re doing it.”

Of course they mean well, as they gather clothes with some measure of useful life remaining, along with this and that around the house that they think that they can spare. But once those semis full of stuffed trash bags and bulging tote bins have arrived, they present a tremendous challenge to relief workers. They need to be warehoused, sorted, cleaned, organized and distributed, and — amidst far more urgent demands like shelter, meals, assessing losses and practical matters of survival — that seldom happens. Even when it does, it’s a burden that gums up the system … especially when a rather embarrassing share of those donations turn out to be dirty, useless, worn out or requiring repairs that’ll never be made.

One of the best things about Americans is our open hearts in times of trouble. We want to help. We want to feel that thrill of doing good. Sadly, filling a box with our cast-off belongings seems to satisfy that sincere urge far better than the colder, more corporate kind of contribution — sending a check or, likelier today, logging onto a website to click a few keys, kicking into a relief fund.

Yet that helps most. Random cans of tuna and beans from a thousand food drives are less immediately useful than money to order groceries in commercial quantities to prepare meals for crowds of displaced families … who, after all, have no kitchens to cook those individual boxes of Kraft Mac ’n’ Cheese for themselves.

Too, the corps of trained professionals who arrive with relief organizations need to be equipped, housed, fed and paid. Recovery isn’t measured in weeks or months. It takes years. Long past the point when the immediate crisis has been forgotten by the national news, recovery workers will still be helping victims navigate through public programs and insurance snags, finding the tools and resources to finally rebuild a semblance of normal life.

We’ve experienced that right here. After the Red River Valley floods of 1997 and 2009 and the Minot disaster of 2011, good-hearted people all over the country streamed a deluge of well-intended miscellany in our direction. Managing all that stuff was, frankly, a nightmare. Relief organizations seldom bring this up out of respect for those kind, generous donors’ feelings … but tons ended up in the hands of salvage companies, at best, or piled up in local landfills.

If you want to help, give money. It’s as simple as that. Reputable public charities and faith-based organizations are already on the ground, and they understand how to apply every dollar where it matters most at this very moment.

And if you don’t have ready cash? Here’s an idea. Instead of piling up your odds and ends to fill a semi headed to Texas or Louisiana, lay them out in your own garage and sell them to eager bargain-hunters here at home. (And, afterwards, dispose of the left-overs yourself.)

Then go ahead and write that personal check. The disaster-relief troops at Ground Zero won’t have to ship it, store it, sort it, size it, clean it, organize it and somehow transport it wherever it might eventually do some good. You’ll feel terrific, knowing the minute it’s deposited, your gift will start to make good things happen.

NANCY EDMONDS HANSON: After Thought — Flashbacks To The Floods

It seems wrong to think about ourselves when Houston is drowning … but how can we avoid the flashbacks?

While we agonize for Texans fighting for their lives, the news video is all too familiar in our own neck of the woods. Here in the Red River Valley, it brings back images we’d all rather forget — Fargo-Moorhead’s valiant fight against then-record waters in 1997; the devastation that followed a few days later in Grand Forks and East Grand Forks; and the all-time record crest in 2009 that nearly took us under.

Memory is a funny thing. Terrors that seem indelible do, somehow, fade and dull in the sunshine. The near-constant pounding and growl of crews building permanent dikes along the river has relieved bad dreams of days when the roaring Red threatened to erase our normal, everyday life for good.

Today, at the end of a dry, dry summer, we’d mostly forgotten those floods … until Hurricane Harvey. Our situation, though different in so many ways, was just as desperate as what we’re witnessing on the nightly news. This is what the weather can do. This is what our own weather has done, as recently as the days when today’s second- and third-graders were being born.

This is what it will do again.

But memory dims and becomes domesticated. Maybe that accounts for the ho-hum that’s come to surround the F-M Area Diversion for most of us in the communities it will protect. While critics strategize ways to torpedo the mammoth $2 billion plan to slide the torrent around the cities, we who live here have pretty much sat back while government leaders have done all the heavy lifting.

Perhaps we count on Moorhead’s and Fargo’s city-centric efforts to keep our front steps dry. Here in Moorhead, we’ve invested $105 million, along with the state of Minnesota, in an 11-mile system of earthen levees that stretches from north of the country club to 50th Avenue South. Two hundred forty-nine homes have been sacrificed to make way. We’ve built 12 new pump stations and 78 stormwater gates over the past eight years. If the city hustles to build clay dikes in front of the 80-some holdouts who punctuate that would-be impervious wall, we should be safe to a crest of 39.5 feet.

Fargo has been just as busy with its downtown floodwall and 20 miles of earthen dikes. Some 200 homes have been bought out there, moved or demolished, with many more still in limbo. South along the river’s twisting oxbows, the same kind of campaign has reduced formerly tiny Briarwood to open fields and is relocating Oxbow. Its goal, too, is to protect to FEMA’s 100-year flood level.

We like what we’re seeing these days. We aren’t required to buy flood insurance anymore (though some of us, prone to cross our fingers, still do). Those new floodwalls look good. On the south side, where we live, we barely remember the neighbors’ homes that lined the riverbank just seven years ago. We’ve come to rather like the open sweep of grassy dike across the street, where their kids so recently played with our own.

Secure, complacent — and saving a little money, to boot. What floods? Our cities have invested a fortune in thwarting the threat of once-in-100-years flooding … and most of us apparently figure we won’t be around long to have to worry about it again.

Except. Our climate is growing warmer, wetter and — yes — wilder. It’s a paradox that, despite the drought to the west, precipitation is trending upward. Horticulturists have bumped us up from growing zone 3 to 4. Storms are stormier. Though winter snows have been scant in recent years, the specter of 1996-1997 — 117 inches — will never fully melt from our imagination.

And now, Houston’s agony again demonstrates what “unprecedented” really means.

All the hundreds of millions already spent building our cities’ walls and dikes should indeed be adequate to protect us from Red River tantrums equal to those we’ve already witnessed. But what of the next?

That’s where the diversion — the megaproject most of us understand only dimly — comes in. It’s been chugging along since 2008, ironically begun a year before the worst flood in F-M history. The numbers are too big for the ordinary mind to really grasp. That goes double for the engineering. Weighing every conceivable alternative, local leaders agree the Corps of Engineers has chosen the only one that provides protection from the degree of disaster that we still can barely imagine. The unusual public-private partnership received formal federal approval a year ago, and the Corps at work on the first steps. Projected completion date: 2024.

If, that is, opponents don’t manage to sink the ship. Critics have attacked from every angle, raising often-valid points that have surely made the present project better. But the controversies have morphed into an impassioned quest that’s only gained momentum.

Everyone loves a good bout of David-vs.-Goliath, and the mission to sink the diversion has always been portrayed in just those terms. Some of the main players on the Goliath side surely have fed the furor — the word “arrogant” keeps coming up. Resentment squirts its bile in many directions: town vs. rural, wealthy vs. down-to-earth, small towns vs. the not-so-big cities that pass for a metropolis in these parts. But let’s examine the problem with how roles in this epic drama have been cast.

Take a closer look at what critics portray as the forces of evil. What I see right here around me in the middle of purported Goliath-land is something quite different than the looming, faceless, heartless force that’s been depicted. Instead of the monolithic villain that anti-diversion challengers feel they face, I see tens of thousands of people just like them. I see families living along this ruthless river who love their homes and need their livelihoods every bit as much as the valiant Davids upstream who are battling to protect their own.

This challenge belongs to all of us. None of us wins unless we press forward together toward a mutually acceptable solution. Watch the news from Houston. Listen to their stories. Feel their fear and desperation. Weigh the overwhelming odds against ever regaining “normal.”

And then let this one overwhelming truth consume you: What we’re seeing in Texas … that could all too easily be us.

Compromise, you guys! Persist in negotiation! Go for the mutual win. We’re all Davids here, and the real Goliath is the Red River itself. Give up a little to gain a lot. That’s where we’ll find our heroes.

It’s not a question of whether we’ll ever face the Red’s full fury again. It’s simply, “When?”

NANCY EDMONDS HANSON: After Thought — Oh, Now I See

These old eyes — they’ve seen a lot. Back in my younger days — let’s call them my 20-20s — they took in more than enough, both good and bad, to make me the wise old woman I am today.

Make that the wise old “squinty” woman. While I can still claim to have some insight, I can’t seem to make things out. Simple things: The instructions on the back of the allergy pills. My favorite pie recipe, printed in pumpkin brown on a cream background on the Libby’s label. Information on where and how to order tickets for a concert. The restrictions on that fabulous Herberger’s coupon I just tucked into my purse.

I miss the days before glasses became my crutch. I know it’s perfectly normal to have to try a little harder to see what there is to see. But really, now — the price tag on a onesie for our granddaughter? A Class B dot somewhere on the Minnesota map? The sign on a trendy restroom door? As an ever-present reminder of the passage of time, my changing eyesight has worked like clockwork … but, all in all, I’d be happier with a calendar.

The eye doc says my experience has been pretty normal. Originally blessed with near-perfect distance vision, I’ve only needed a little help with close-ups as the decades rolled along. Remedial aid was easy, thanks to those little cute little half-glasses made famous by Roger McGuinn and Teddy Kennedy … or Granny Clampett. I could overlook them — actually, look right over them — when faced with a full-size vista. Life was good.

I’ll never forget the exam that changed my life. It proceeded normally enough. “Which is clearer, 1 … or 2? 1 … or 2? How about now — 1 … or 2?” As usual, I was trying mightily to perceive a difference, any difference, when the doctor finally sat back. “Hmm,” he hummed with a satisfied sigh. “And how old were you on your last birthday?”

“Forty,” I told him (resisting scolding him with a slap, “That’s not what you ask a lady”).

He grinned triumphantly. “Right on time!”

And thus was launched this half-life of hating my spectacles. Sure, I could read the classified ads again. I could figure out the lyrics on the little insert inside a CD case and the fine print on my car insurance contract. But who needs any of that?

True, I could resume doing counted cross-stitch on fabric finer that a gunny sack. But that didn’t matter much. I, who once could thread a needle on the first pass, now could no longer manage to stab the floss into its eye without a magnifier.

I hate wearing glasses. Have I mentioned that? The past 20 years of experience hasn’t left me one bit more inclined to love these simple aids so many take for granted.

I hate the shifty pursuit of the right spot in my progressive lenses. I hate the dust and fingerprints they collect, along with occasional cat licks. I hate the red marks where they gently pinch my nose. I hate the way they steam up on humid August days and fog over when I open the door in winter. I hate it when I push them up on top of my head, knowing they’ll slide off backward the next time I nod, and then I’ll drive right over them while backing out of my parking space. (To be clear, that only happened once. But still ….)

Early in my star-crossed adjustment to trifocal lenses, I hit on a better option. Instead of the challenge of figuring out where to peer at any given moment, I ordered three separate pairs — one for reading and knitting, another for working at the computer (where I spend the best part of the day) and a third for distance. That’s the one I need least, the one that invariably ends up atop my cranium … leading to the spectacle of one pair on my head, another on my nose and the third — well, that’s the one I’m still looking for.

It’s not a perfect system. Just ask my husband what happens when I bring the wrong pair to a restaurant and beseech him to whisper the menu in my ear.

Nevertheless, acceptance was inevitable. I’ve more or less mastered the art of juggling. I’ve also resigned myself to ordering replacements whenever the scratches and prolonged abuse finally make them only a little less transparent than those eclipse specs you wore Monday.

But I’ve been noticing lately that much of what I want to read is getting harder. After a few years of straining to make out the text and even ads in favorite magazines, the problem came into focus when I faced the new edition of my textbook. I found it nearly unreadable. Oh, good, another excuse for my students.

Stung by my anxious squint, I finally hied myself back to the eye clinic for a serious work-up. I fully expected dire news. My tired old eyes must be fading. Imagine my relief when the doctor said, “No change!”

But, then, why am I so persistently squinting whenever I settle down to read?

The culprit seems to be an epidemic of an entirely different type — specifically that: the type. While my venerable trifocal generation remains the biggest and most eager consumer of the good old printed word, the graphic artists who design magazines and books have been leaning more often toward smaller fonts — the kind we used to call “mouse type.”

Perhaps their motive is budgetary. As the fortunes of magazines and book publishers have wavered, they’re trying to fit all those words into a smaller, cheaper package.

Or maybe it’s just the whimsy of graphic fashion. Page designers — are they all in their 20-20s? — seem to have fallen deeply in love with creative tricks to prettify their content. Some seem to regard readability as a poor second to artistic expression. Why else would a sane person set the text of a story, say, in decorative leaf-green words against a sky-blue background, or lay yellow verbiage across a photo of a busy city street at sunset, or dare to dream the impossible dream: teensy white letters reversed out of a field of dead black? High-mileage eyes simply cannot decode them.

All these masterpieces undoubtedly look stunning on the designer’s monitor. But no matter how many ooh’s and aah’s they earn from their artistic peers, their ads and print pubs don’t accomplish a thing if their actual audience — we, their readers — can’t make them out.

The years have warped these eyeballs just a bit. Yet I can see a clearly perfect vision: Clean black letters on a plain white background, forming words so clear that I can read squintlessly, as effortless as in days of yore.

I long to be free again to concentrate on what I’ve read rather than how hard it can be to read it.  I dream of handsome pages without end, laid out for readability rather than leaps of artistic inspiration. What’s that you say? Why, you’re right! I just described the Kindle.

NANCY EDMONDS HANSON: After Thought — Paper, Pencils And Patience

Item: When top computer hackers got their hands on the voting hardware that dozens of states use to tabulate the vote, it took them just 90 minutes to infiltrate the brain of the first device. In the next few hours, they cracked every single one of the voting machines.

We’re not talking about nefarious cybercrime here — not sophisticated campaigns by Boris and Natasha. The occasion was DEF CON, a huge convention of happy computer hackers who gathered in Las Vegas for fun and games last weekend. One highlight was the first-ever Voting Village, where fun-seekers could apply their cracking habits to dozens of voting machines acquired by scouting eBay and government surplus auctions.

They met the challenge in 90 minutes. Piece of cake!

Some keyboard wizards broke into the machines via remote access. Others, the hands-on types, honed in on shocking physical vulnerabilities like open ports on the back of machines and stupid passwords like “abcde.” Voting Village volunteers gleefully uncovered previously unknown vulnerabilities in every single one of the machines in short order … then into hacked a few online voter registration databases for good measure.

In a chilling demonstration of what computer geniuses apparently do for giggles, these white-hat hackers (the good guys, who probe to make systems safe) gleefully dismantled the last notion that America’s voting systems are secure. They deftly demonstrated the same kind of arcane digital tricks that less kindly intruders apparently managed in the weeks leading up to the 2016 election.

At least 21 states’ records and systems were breached last year, according to federal investigators. Intruders with darker intentions presumably drew on unlimited financial backing and support, not to mention leisurely undetected hours in the dark. But at DEF CON, our own fun-seeking white hats did much the same thing openly, right out in the sunshine, spurred on by nothing more than the awe of their fellow hackers. And they breached the ramparts in mere minutes.

Really, how could we have been so innocent? Who among us trusted that high-tech would be the final answer … for anything? Yet computerized voting once seemed so clinical, so efficient, so secure, that we were lulled into taking their trustworthiness as a “given.” If dirty work fouled the system on which our democracy depends, surely it would bear the sticky fingerprints of sneaky individual voters gaming the rules.

Wrong. States like North Dakota have spent years cooking up new hurdles to bar the unworthy from voting — like the arcane voter ID law that a federal judge threw out before last year’s election. But while these anxious electoral purists have been trying to root out voters they deemed undesirable, one by one, the genuine threat lurks elsewhere. It turns out they were beating the bushes for suspicious trees, yet missing dark shadows in the forest.

True voter-perpetrated fraud is vanishingly rare. That what the men and women who oversee elections in every state tell us. But DEF CON’s hackers — just for fun — should have turned our confidence in computerized vote-counting on its head.

There is an answer, though — a messier, more intense and embarrassingly retro way to ensure that votes are counted … and can be reconfirmed by canvass and recount. Minnesota, North Dakota and 12 other states (mostly in New England and the Upper Midwest) have defied the siren’s call of turning tabulation over to machines. Instead of taking the easy way out — embracing the purported convenience of touchscreen, networked electronics — we plod along placing our time-tested trust in marking physical ballots by hand, then scanning them.

Then we safeguard them, ready to reconfirm and recount when close elections warrant. As every vote counts, so does physically counting every vote. Just ask Sen. Al Franken, whose victory was finally confirmed six months after the 2008 election. After an excruciating recount, his margin of victory over incumbent Sen. Norm Coleman was just 312 votes … out of 2.9 million cast.

Sure, the relatively cumbersome manner in which Minnesotans and North Dakotans count the votes slows down the media’s breathless horserace-style reporting. But slow and steady, it turns out, can do wonders for America’s peace of mind.

Paper. Pens. Patience. What can it hurt? Is it so unthinkable that, sometimes, civilians might even may fall asleep on Election Night with the leaderboard still in question? At most, it means one more night’s sound sleep. We have the next four years to lie awake and worry.

NANCY EDMONDS HANSON: After Thought — ‘We Will Bury You’

It was 1956, and the world seemed simple. Our big, boxy Emerson TV, with its puny convex picture tube, streamed all kinds of benign pleasures into our little house on the prairie: “Make Room for Daddy,” “The Milton Berle Show,” “Hopalong Cassidy” and — the high point of that entire year for me — the moment when Captain Jim Rohn displayed my crayon drawing on his kids’ show on Channel 4.

My parents watched “The Huntley-Brinkley Report” every night. It was a sacred civic duty. That’s where we heard the words that would shadow my generation’s childhood: “We will bury you.”

I was 6. Russia — in those days, the U.S.S.R. — was the monster that mumbled beneath our beds in the darkest hours of night. Nikita Khrushchev’s ominous words peeled back the veneer that separated our safe and low-key world from the black-and-white TV newscasts our parents turned on at suppertime. Just think: One lumpy little man in Moscow on the other side of the planet could shake his fist and create reverberations we’d feel for the rest of our lives.

When the general secretary of the Soviet Communist Party made that portentous vow to visiting Western ambassadors, many of them walked out in protest. The flamboyant Khrushchev’s famous pronouncement was, of course, far from the first shell lobbed in the verbal battles of the Cold War. But for me and my peers so long ago, it marked one of our earliest encounters with the face of terror (thanks to the miracle of television) … the ominous threat that, in modern terms, “went viral” … and delivered us all onto the field of lasting panic.

Far beyond the Red River, American leaders were quaking before the Red Menace. Joe McCarthy’s paranoid pursuit of Commies under every bed was finally on the ebb, but preparations were well on their way to preserve us from Armageddon.

Mine was the generation inoculated against Russian influence in the primary grades. We started every day of first grade with the Pledge of Allegiance, unaware that Congress had amended it just that year — 1954 — with the new addition of “under God.” The revision was said to set us apart from the “godless Communists,” as well as imply heaven’s approval of our capitalist system.

We gathered in the gym to watch civil defense movies that advised us on how to survive a nuclear attack by crouching beneath our desks with our arms over our heads. I can’t recall whether we practiced “duck and cover” together back in our classroom, but I know I tried it a time or two myself when I got to school early and no one was around to see. Like a fire drill, it seemed like a good idea.

We were especially aware of the threat of “atom bombs,” perhaps, because of defense measures here in North Dakota. Grand Forks Air Force Base opened for business when I was a first-grader, with Minot following in third. Signs along budding Interstate 94 constantly reminded us it was a “national defense highway,” initiated in part for quick evacuations during atomic attack. By the time my class graduated from high school, our peaceful prairie was punctuated with underground missile silos, and jets from Minot occasionally screamed overhead, scaring the gophers and the cattle.

My first transistor radio, like every one manufactured until 1963, had two tiny triangles embossed on the AM dial at 640 and 1240. That’s where, when the Russians attacked, you could tune in emergency information from the federal government via CONELRAD, the precursor to the Emergency Broadcast System.

In south-central North Dakota, where I went to high school, the ever-present Soviet threat led to some cultural challenges. By the time my family lived there in the 1960s, our neighbors — Germans from Russia, who’d endured 50 years of suspicion as we fought Germans in two world wars — were targeted for being “Rooshian.”

No one who knows North Dakota, though, could ever wonder about their loyalty. Anti-communist fervor was in full flower. The John Birch Society had impassioned loyalists, though it flew somewhat under the radar. I remember Birch propaganda on every desk in our eighth-grade classroom, delivered without explanation or discussion. It was mimeographed on pulpy pink paper and featured a photo of President Kennedy gleefully hugging Khrushchev — obviously doctored, even to an eighth-grader’s unsophisticated eyes. There were occasional glimpses, too, of Birch Society founder Robert Welch’s little blue book, the bible of the far-right tribe, in bib overall pockets or on the dashboards of Chevys parked behind the church.

The Farm Bureau’s Citizenship Academy at the Peace Garden was steeped in anti-communist training. Back-road signs and the sides of barns proclaimed “Impeach Earl Warren” and “Get U.S. out of U.N.”

“We will bury you” — not on our watch, buddy!

Fast forward 50 years … and Russians still lead every newscast. We’re still fighting the Russian menace. TV anchors still share dire news daily about the Russians — not troops, but terabytes of purloined digital data, nefarious business loans and shady dealing that slides under, around and through official U.S. sanctions. Democracy has been compromised, doubt cast on our votes. The oil-slicked fingerprints of Russian billionaires, bankers and mobsters seem to be turning up all over Washington, D.C.

The mind-boggling web of connections between the White House and Nikita’s smoother successor Putin defies the odds to a degree that’s next to mathematically impossible. Has Russia been playing the longest game in modern history?

Back in 1956, Nikita Khrushchev predicted this. Here’s the rest of that quote that gave little kids nightmares: “If you don’t like us, don’t accept our invitations, and don’t invite us to come to see you. Whether you like it or not, history is on our side.”

He elaborated a week later: “We will take America without firing a shot. We do not have to invade the U.S. We will destroy you from within.”

The Russians’ wiliest weapon is in play right now: Big bucks, not bullets. Yet lots of the same folks who feared them in their youth seem to be giving it a pass.

NANCY EDMONDS HANSON: After Thought — Grilling Nothing Burgers

If you have an appetite for news, you know what’s on the menu this month: Nothing burgers.

They’re sizzling hot this summer. Cooked up in the realm of casual excuses, the nothing burger has been on the lips of Republican apologists ever since journalists began salivating over tantalizing whiffs of the meatiest political scandal since Richard “I Am Not a Crook” Nixon.

Hungry newshounds have been doggedly sniffing out the juicy evidence for more than a year now. They’re drooling over hints, and now much more, that the current occupants of the White House have a distinctly Russian flavor. As they turn up the heat, the evidence that started out rare is headed for well-done.

“Nothing burger” — that’s how the president’s defenders are dismissing growing evidence the Family Trump and their sycophants welcomed covert digital assistance from Russia to score their jaw-dropping victory. When Chief of Staff Reince Priebus was grilled about what Donald Trump Jr. had been cooking up with the Russians, he proclaimed it “a big nothing burger.”

Shades of “where’s the beef”! Not since Fritz Mondale’s run back in 1984 have we heard ground meat (or the absence thereof) served up so often in prime-time news. Back then, a classic Wendy’s TV commercial supplied what became the catchphrase of the campaign when a tiny female curmudgeon stared at an oversized but barren bun, demanding to know where the meaty part of her lunch had gone.

The phrase “nothing burger,” though — oddly girlish and coy — required some tracking down. Was it Valley Girl dialect from the 1980s? A remnant of stylish jabber from the TV comedy “Sex and the City”? It sounds familiar … but where did it come from?

Nothing burgers, it turns out, had lurked on the back burner for 65 years when Kellyanne and Reince and their troop of defenders served it up in its current context. Hollywood’s pioneering movie critic and gossip columnist Louella Parsons tossed it off in 1952, describing a minor performance in the sense of “much ado about nothing.” She was inspired, perhaps, by one of the hot trends of her day. California was falling in love with beef on a bun as the fabled McDonald brothers launched their burger chain with golden arches right in her backyard.

Helen Gurley Brown, though, deserves co-credit. You remember her, don’t you … the legendary editor of Cosmopolitan magazine, flagship voice of the female sexual revolution? Helen made the catchphrase her own. It first appeared in her book “Sex and the Single Girl,” a tome that shook the civilized world, just a little, back in the swingin’ Sixties. She tossed it in into her sassy magazine columns, too, along with the other term she coined, “mouseburger.” Both were handy to disparage all that was bland and unremarkable, be it too-innocuous accessories or a too-submissive outlook.

Like other terms that explode as sassy slang, then inch toward respectability, nothing burgers have crept into the English language’s chaotic, messy cupboard. They’ve even breached the ramparts of the sober, noble Oxford Dictionary with an official definition: “something that is or turns out to be insignificant or lacking in substance.”

Proper English or not, Reince may still rue the day he added nothing burgers to the menu, as grilling over the Russian scandal drags his team over the coals. But then again, they sound like just the thing when you’re going to have to eat your words.

NANCY EDMONDS HANSON: After Thought — Entering The Age Of the Nonsumer

There was a day when an afternoon of window-shopping sounded like fun. But the attraction of retail therapy has dimmed for me across the years — and what killed it dead was actually shopping for windows.

Back when I marched with the “shop ’til you drop” brigade, prowling through stores to select choice wares was deemed to be a pleasure. I was raised on the prairie, after all, where serious shopping was mostly a matter of settling on the meager choices in the mercantile aisle of the local Fairway.

Exposed to serious merchandising along the urban byways of Fargo-Moorhead, I fell in love. The selection made me dizzy with delight, among the tempting splendor of shelves plump with every appealing brand. And sidewalk sales! The adolescent urges long fed by Seventeen magazine but channeled through Montgomery Ward blossomed into a serious mission. The plastic in my purse still had plenty of freeboard then, and my fit young feet could manage long safaris, stalking the wily bargain.

No more. Somewhere along the line, my idea of a good time has evolved far beyond the ethos of accumulation. I have enough … and, actually, quite a bit more.

My primitive passion has cooled. I’ve become a nonsumer. Rather than “just looking” in hopes of spotting the perfect something — somehow lovelier, cuter, prettier, more clever or superior in some way to whatever I already own — my first choice is to stay at home.

This remarkable transformation began with subtle signs. Trips to West Acres stretched out to semiannual events; after raising a teenage daughter, it was a glorious relief. When we were on vacation, a day of cruising charming shops became dropping into one or two, then pleading to stop for coffee. The Mall of America’s appeal shifted to people-watching at Caribou.

But a recent stop at Albertville, Minn., threw it all into the spotlight. Russ settled in for the long haul with a thick book on World War II spycraft in a cafés that poured plenty of refills, while I set out to seek treasure in the Eldorado of off-price retail.

I was back in exactly as many minutes as it took to stroll from one end to the other, repulsed by too much of what, honestly, I already have. When I returned to the car with one tiny sack — a teensy T-shirt sporting a pink roller-skating dinosaur (hint: not for me) — I recognized what I’ve become. A nonsumer.

The metamorphosis from “want” to “have” to “please, no more” has been gradual. When a loved one asked what I wanted for Christmas or my birthday, I began to recite the curmudgeon’s motto: If I can’t use it up, wear it out, eat it or accidentally break it without regret after a decent interval, I don’t want it.

Reality has dawned, and it isn’t pretty. Shopping for new, at this stage, has metamorphosed into exchanging our nickels and dimes in a futile race to keep what we already own operational.

As Russ and I now relax at home amid the overly ample piles of what we’ve already collected … we listen for hints around the house of what’s next on the agenda. No matter how serene the evening, something must be on the brink of breaking down, wearing out, being pummeled by bad vibes or possibly leaking onto the carpet. As all aging homeowners understand, this is our mantra: What next?

At some unrecognized point along the way, the pleasurable act of exchanging money for … stuff … evolves into merely matching the pace of what’s regressing. We neither need nor want to take on more precious cargo — be it stylish, charming, whimsical or gorgeous. We’ve got enough to do keeping up with what’s already decaying behind our backs.

Window-shopping? Ha! Instead, welcome to the brutal reality of actually being forced to buy some.

Who knew windows could rot? I had no clue. Russ, on the other hand, saw the possibilities in a few seconds. After decades as a nonsumer himself, ossifying while I browsed the thickets of retail America, he suddenly understood. Shopping, ahoy!

A monster emerged from the depths of the dedicated nonshopper I thought I knew so well, a man who — given a choice — would buy a favorite shirt in every color so he’d never have to enter a store again.

Suddenly, he glimpsed revenge for all the hours he’d dawdled while I pawed through the racks of mark-downs. Our rotten windows had finally provided him with a totally legitimate excuse to satisfy all those pent-up consumer longings.

He spent days studying the research, then hours more prowling home-improvement-store displays with the crafty prowess of a hunter stalking game. He haunted window display with laser focus, reveling in casements and double-glazing, weighing energy efficiency and aspiring to baked-on finishes that meant never painting trim again.

Money was no object. Wherever could he have learned that?

Most wives, I think, have grappled with how best to tell their honey about some unexpected plunder they’ve hauled home in the back seat of the car. Men don’t. I found out about the half-dozen windows he’d contracted for installation when the crew arrived to unload the truck … the ultimate impulse purchase, roughly equal to a week on Waikiki.

NANCY EDMONDS HANSON: After Thought — Driving Ambition

I was born certain I knew how to drive. All I really needed to do, I figured, was wait for my legs to grow long enough so I could reach the footfeet.

I mean the gas pedal, children. “Footfeet” was what our parents called it, back when learning to drive was almost as basic a part of early childhood as mastering how to feed yourself with a spoon.

Or it was, at least, in rural North Dakota and Minnesota. City kids — those raised in metropoli like Moorhead and Fargo and Grand Forks — had to handle the universal lust to drive in a slightly more civilized fashion, awaiting high school drivers ed and formal instruction on paved streets complete with curbs. But out on the farm and in the tiny towns where I grew up, the experience was rather different. The fine points of civil society’s prescription for turning out educated drivers took a back seat to the natural need for more hands on the wheel.

We started young.

I didn’t cut my teeth on a tractor, as so many of my farmbred peers report. Instead, my proving ground was the municipal dump. There, sitting on my father’s lap, I could “drive” our old Hudson to my heart’s content while, unbeknownst, he forestalled disaster with his knees firmly pinning the steering wheel.

I was 4. My legs were still at least a foot shy of reaching the gas pedal and the brake, while the clutch was a mystery far beyond me. But I could steer, by george, guiding the lumbering sedan among smoking piles of refuse and taking meandering turns at famous landmarks — the mountain of old tires, the broken wringer washing machine, the pile of wind-tossed tree limbs too big to burn in the barrel behind the house. Flocks of seagulls flapped and swooped, cawing loudly as they competed for choice morsels; feral cats slipped among the bounty, stalking the fat, sassy rats that called the post-apocalyptic landscape home.

Driving! It wasn’t just the cool rite of passage that my urban peers anticipated. Instead, it was both natural and necessary where the distances were long, the roads empty and, too often, the combine sitting idle in the field until someone could speed into town to pick up the critical part.

My brother had the advantage, back in our ’50s household. Despite my early dump-driving skills, he was the one Dad tapped to steer our old Allis Chalmers out in the field, while I was relegated to the dish rags and ironing board that kept the domestic world turning. He was 9 or 10 by that time — compared to some of my friends, a bit of a late starter.

Working on motors became the kind of father-and-son bonding experience that he and his buddies — grandfathers now — treasured when they were boys. For him and Dad, that meant keeping the farm machinery and the rattletraps my family drove in what passed for peak condition. Or moving, at least. It seemed (still seems) to me that they had a genius for fixing big, greasy engines with baling wire, chewing-gum wrappers and bits and pieces scavenged from the rusty old implements and ghostmobiles permanently parked back in the shelterbelt. It’s a love that has never left him. He hates computers with a passion.

City kids did have some early advantages back in those days when children first nursed their need for speed. They could start out on two wheels, learning to balance their bikes on sidewalks and paved streets — and mastering that little rodeo move to jump the concrete curbs. We lacked that maneuver. No paving and no curbs. We just learned to fight loose gravel.

But we had an edge when came when it came to cars. We could master automotive motion out of town. In our earliest lessons, deep dusty ruts across farm fields held the tires nice and steady. By the time we graduated to county roads, there were two lanes but literally no traffic. Collisions were no risk at all. We could spot the occasional neighbor headed toward us by the cloud of dust visible from miles away — and get ready to practice the stoic two-fingered farmer’s salute that bound us as members of the tribe.

As our drivers tests approached, though, a bit of book learning was essential. By the time I showed up at the local sheriff’s office to apply for my full license, I’d never so much as navigated an entrance ramp onto the brand-new interstate highway. In fact, I’m not sure I’d ever had to stop at a stoplight. But I was already a pro at some peripheral skills they never tested: Watching for suicidal deer leaping onto the road late at night, say, or dodging hay bales tipped from a carelessly stacked wagon.

I polled some Facebook friends the other day about their own experiences. Setting aside those law-abiding folk who waited until drivers ed class in their teens, they shared a bunch of memories that made me smile. Several confessed, like me, to being dumpground drivers. Others cited cemeteries, where anyone who witnessed their early blunders was guaranteed to stay forever silent. Some practiced with a parent in barren parking lots on Sunday afternoons. And then there was the apparent majority: tractors, tractors and more tractors.

Ellen, a farm girl, recalled, “It was out in the field with a truck that would get progressively fuller. How many farm kids fell into a daze between hopper loads … only to be startled into total concentration by the loud whistling, yelling and waving of arms from the other end of the field by the dad driving the combine?”

Robin: “I learned out in the pasture. ‘Use the brake and don’t touch the accelerator and don’t break an axle on the prairie dog holes.’”

Kent: “Field and pasture road driving — learning courtesy of wheel ruts has its advantages. I learned a lot about acceleration, shifting and braking without the stress of total steering control.”

Cher: “My uncle, 8 years older than I, taught me to drive on the little-used airport runway in Bowman. In a Volkswagen bug. I was about 10.”

Ellyn: “I drove farm machinery when I was so light they tied me in the seat. The few times I had to stop, I’d jump on the pair of brakes on either side of the gear box so they took. John Deere A and B, combine, windrow, baler, etc. The car was easy!”

Nancy: “Dad took me to the Capitol grounds on Sundays with our 900-foot Chrysler station wagon, with fake wood side panels, of course!”

But Larry — an import — topped us all with his hair-raising tale from a very different childhood: “In Southern California, we learned to drive on the Ventura Freeway. During rush hour. In a torrential rain. All of us.”

NANCY EDMONDS HANSON: After Thought — Social Security … Now It’s Personal

Almost exactly 50 years ago this week, I got the first big shock of my more-or-less adult life. I was handed my very first paycheck … and it wasn’t all there.

I’ll bet you remember that moment, too. You’d put in your time for some agreed-upon sum — for me, a buck-something an hour — and multiplied your reward out in your head, planning exactly how many record albums, gallons of gas and boring necessities you’d spend it on.

But rather than the expected amount in the high double digits, the prize finally in your hands fell considerably short of what you’d expected.

Welcome to the world of payroll deductions. Back then, Old Age, Survivors and Disability Insurance — Social Security — was the furthest thing from my mind. I was more interested in acquiring “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” than squirreling away one single penny for some theoretical “golden years.”

The missing money didn’t really amount to much, looking back — 3.9 percent for OASDI and 0.5 percent for Medicare (introduced just the year before) — but still, it stung. I mourned my missing $3.20, just a quarter shy of covering the vinyl LP I so coveted.

Now, at last, the circle has closed. A few days ago, I found myself in the windowless, rather grim Social Security office on the third floor of the Federal Building in downtown Fargo, signing up to start the flow of the benefits I’d once pigeonholed to think about in the unimaginably distant future.

Until last week, Congress’s perennial bitter debates over benefits seemed pretty abstract. Of course, I did have an opinion (as I do about most everything): All those long-laboring, exhausted old folks had earned their monthly pittance with a lifetime of labor, plus a lifetime of taxes to pay for it. Social Security certainly sounded like a good thing … for someone else in that crowd of old folks I vaguely knew must be out there somewhere.

But now that I’m a new recruit myself in that elder army, I see the proposition far more plainly. It’s my money. Give it back.

I’m still pretty new at this “old” stuff. Enter AARP, the fearsome force that’s been tracking me for years and years, ever since my far more senior husband (by 26 months) turned 50. When I showed up for its pleasant May workshop in Fargo, I was amazed: first, at how simple they made the big step sound, and second, how my hundreds of peers who filled the room could all look so much older than me.

Fantasy aside, I gleaned insight into the crucial next step: Enroll online at

Easy enough — until I realized how much more the government knows about me than I do myself. Registration required proving who I was by answering several deceptively simple questions. Could I pick out the lender for whom I co-signed my daughter’s college loan in 2003? Nope. The issuer of our mortgage, which had bounced like a ping pong ball between corporate mergers until we paid it off nine years? Huh uh. The blighted address where I’d lived on for two months as a college sophomore? Are you kidding?

I flunked a quiz on my own life. That barred me from moving on to the next step. I needed to consult someone who knew more about me than I did. And where might I find such an all-knowing, all-seeing guru? Big Brother!

Which is how I found myself tapping a touchscreen kiosk in the Social Security suite and taking a number. Eventually I stood in front of a patient, helpful young woman as I explained my dilemma, which sounded suspicious even to me. She spoke very slowly to make sure Grandma understood, reviewing my IDs and ultimately concluding that I was indeed the ancient human whose name they bore. She gave me a printed code to bypass the online test that had proven too tough for me — then shooed me home to my computer to finish.

But that wasn’t all. Just to make sure I’d been listening, I received no fewer than five letters from Washington, D.C., over the course of the next seven days — each addressing one, and only one, point. One confirmed I’d visited the office. Another instructed me, as she had, to go online to wrap up my registration. A third — same date, a few minutes later — confirmed that I’d done exactly that. But the most interesting of the five was the one I opened last, a dire announcement that I’d been ruled ineligible for one particular type of payment to low-income people who’ve never worked. The reason, listed two lines farther down: “You told us you do not want to file a claim for SSI.” Yes, that would do it.

Now, duly enrolled as an official old person, I could examine the meticulous records the feds have kept on every penny I’ve earned through the past half-century. I could also see, with blinding clarity, the payroll taxes squirreled away for this day when I’d finally be deemed — um — mature. Humbling … all those years of getting up early and working late, reduced to a pretty short list of brazen figures! I could also see, bite by bite, the six-figure sum Social Security and Medicare have chomped out of my earnings. (Since I’m mostly self-employed, I’ve had the honor of paying twice as much as you wage slaves, thanks to rendering both the personal and employer’s shares of what’s due unto Caesar.)

Yes, I may have griped about those deductions — oh, a gazillion times or so since the first time in June 1967. But suddenly — now that I’ve achieved that perfect degree of personal ripeness — it doesn’t seem so bad. For many of those years while I was younger, haler and heartier, my dollars were not only funding benefits for the good retired folk in line ahead of me … but piling up the nice surplus my generation helped amass.

Mingled deep in the national budget, my paltry contribution was being used, as intended, to maintain generations of grandmas and grandpas before me. That its excess was also squandered on pointless wars and other national schemes along the way does nothing to negate the promise that’s undergirded our expectations for our future.

Now, when Congress is panting for budget cuts, the “old age, survivors and disability insurance” in which we’ve invested has mysteriously morphed into someone’s idea of a government handout. Entitlements? I beg your pardon. Those benefits are mine, and yours as well — regardless of whether lax caretakers have frittered away the principal!

Now that I’m officially inducted into America’s elder army, watch out. Thanks to the feds, I’ve reconnected with every Hanson dollar piled up along the journey from my first paycheck to demi-retirement, and I’ll be happy to take on anyone who dares consider my imminent checks — and yours — a “handout.”

When the fearsome AARP army marches on Washington to take on our sleazy foes, look for me in the first battalion. Keep your grubby budget-slashing fingers off of my Social Security, you sniveling hounds! Now it’s personal.

NANCY EDMONDS HANSON: After Thought — It’s Not Cool To Be Hot

Some (don’t) like it hot.

When the North Country hits the 90s, something peculiar happens to the delirious glee with which many of us anticipated summer: Our ardor cools overnight.

It’s part of our Minnesota and North Dakota heritage — at least if your forebears, like mine, consumed way too much cod, favored fur-lined hats and were bred to survive in the Arctic.

Winter is normal. This season? Too much sweat.

Oddly, we do dread the endless dark that Scandihoovians are perfectly adapted to endure. We spend those long, frigid months dreaming of the fabled Mediterranean clime … and sneaking to Arizona to sample it. But when our own summer finally brings the Northland to a simmer, we revert to that other ancient ancestral tradition: We complain ceaselessly about the heat.

I’ve been singing the song of my people since the Fargo-Moorhead broke the all-time record high last week, inflating to 95 obscenely early in the season.

“Is it hot enough for you?” TV meteorologists rejoice. Hallelujahs are heard from tender transplants from toastier locales. We natives? We utter pitiful sighs, seek deep shade and shift into neutral.

My personal reaction to this weather is coded in my genes. I come from a long line of stalwarts who slept with the windows wide open in January … who divorced from down coats when the temps top 32 … who tossed a light jacket into the back seat, just in case, on April Fool’s Day, then noticed it again in November.

I’m programmed to perspire when the mercury oozes above 70. Ninety degrees? That’s toaster territory. When you can’t touch the steering wheel without potholders, enough is just enough. Sleeping on a hot night is a nightmare. So is figuring out what to wear, especially when America hasn’t witnessed your bare upper arms for decades.

Add high humidity — something everyone raised on the prairie absolutely loathes — and you have the perfect prescription for ick. Everything feels sticky, from doorknobs and leather upholstery to your own underwear. Even walking from air-conditioned house to air-conditioned car to air-conditioned office is enough to work up a nasty film of sweat.

And I hate sweat. Avoiding it has shaped my whole life. I blame this odd phobia on the trauma of growing up before anyone had even dreamed of the wonders of air conditioning. It has left a permanent mark, not only on me, but on most of our corps of pre-1960s pioneers.

We were raised back when the admonition to “be cool” really meant something. Do you recall those hot times, too? The days took on a rhythm in the stifling ovens we called “home.” Up early, Mother opened all the windows to catch the fresh morning breeze. By noon, she was making her rounds shutting them again and drawing the shades to repel the sun. Midafternoon, she plugged in the noisy Sunbeam fan to move the hot, humid air around, accomplishing little more than ruffle our feathers.

In the evening, we’d pile into the car, crank down the windows, open the vents, and cruise around to cool off. On the best nights, we’d end up in Mayville, N.D., at the A&W, where a root beer float offset the tropical misery like nothing else could do.

And there was the rock-lined cellar. I read “Gone With the Wind” and the entire Encyclopedia Britannica down there between the water heater and the coal bin, perched on a rickety old wooden kitchen chair under a single bare lightbulb. That damp, earthy scent and delicious chill were heaven … until I was busted. Like all parents of the ’50s, Mom was deathly afraid of letting her offspring get overcooled, suspected of inducing polio in those frightening days of the epidemic.

Then a miracle on Main Street showed there was a better way. Businesses began adding central air conditioning as the economy boomed. Suddenly grocery shopping wasn’t nearly the chore it had been, back when the best you could do was linger by the meat case.

I remember the envy neighbors felt — but wouldn’t admit — as new houses popped up with venting to accommodate air conditioning, the ultimate status symbol. Frugal homeowners poo-pooed it. Who’d spend so much for so little, given (they said) the few truly hot days our locale afforded?

My mother-in-law was one of them. She held off her husband, who spent years trying to convince her to add it to their brick home on the prairie, which retained summer heat like a pizza oven. When he finally prevailed, she continued to grumble a bit — “I hate those holes in my ceilings” — until she fell in love with the thermostat. From that point on, theirs was a house where you always wore a sweater.

As for her son, Russ — like me — would give up hot water if it meant he could keep the air conditioning. In summer, even here in Minnesota, it’s just not cool to be hot.