Testing nerves is part of good commentary and column writing

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As this thinly-priced farm year and deeply bitter election year glides toward its inevitable end, readers continue to pack my email inbox with sugar-coated compliments and napalm-encased invective.

Sometimes this polar divide is showcased by comments on the same column and, sometimes, these warmly complimentary/on-fire angry emails even arrive the same day.

This past summer, however, one pair of opposites arrived within an hour of each other.

Sunday, July 31 at 8:22 a.m.: “God bless you,” wrote Candice S. for “your article in the South Bend Tribune… (it) was right on.”

Sunday, July 31 at 9:38 a.m.: “WOW, nice work at politicizing your garbage article on July 29. You did a hack job …”

Electronic blowtorch

Another reader, Kevin B., pointed his electronic blowtorch my way Nov. 23 after a post-election column questioned President-elect Trump’s commitment to global trade, low inflation, and low interest rates.

“Wow,” he began, “your message is quite sickening. First off, it is hypocritical. … King Obama’s policies have been nothing more than a wealth redistribution plan.”

Mike S. sent the same sentiment in mid-July after a post-Republican Convention column reminded readers Mike Pence, now the vice president-elect, voted both for and against the Renewable Fuel Standard while in Congress.

“(Y)our Sunday column … was reasonable (until) you decided to question the conservatism of farmers & ranchers,” Mike’s email read. “My hope is, following the DNC (Democratic National Convention), you will write a column pointing out the hundreds of contradictions from Hilary (sic) Clinton & Tim Kaine. That would be a balanced approach.”

Nothing new

Mike’s comments are similar to many received by me and newspapers that publish the Farm and Food File. Several asked in some form, as one Ohio reader asked, “Why do you people even print a guy like Guebert?”

There are many possible answers to that simple, loaded question. One is that, maybe, the editors like what I write. Another could be that maybe they like how I write it.

The more likely reason, however, is that the editors see their newspapers as public gathering places where people discuss the news, share ideas, and encounter different opinions to ensure that important issues — like trade, farm bills, environmental standards, renewable fuels, and climate change — are debated openly and from all sides.

That’s the idea behind newspapers’ “Op/Ed” pages, an American invention, incidentally. Contrary to what most suspect, the “Op” isn’t shorthand for “opinion;” it’s shorthand for “opposite,” as in the page opposite of the editorial (“Ed”) page.

The position is both literal and figurative. Literal in that it is located in the same place, opposite of the editorial page, every day, and figurative in that it usually holds stories and columns that are the opposite of those found on the newspaper’s editorial page.

Dependable writer

Even at that, maybe newspapers “print a guy” like me because I work relatively cheap, never miss a deadline, and know the proper use of a semicolon. Commas, I admit, remain mysterious.

Complimentary remarks

Not all the mail since July arrived on fire. Most, in fact, was complimentary and some was even sweet. More than one came from Europe; another from a long-ago acquaintance who is now in a post-retirement (Are we that old?) second career as a Lutheran minister.

One card, though, stood out among the rest. It’s old and yellowed and arrived in an old and yellowed envelope that carried no return address. It only was postmarked: “Grand Rapids, WI.”

The card’s front shows five Holstein cows huddled in a snow-sprinkled pasture and a rising, full moon behind them. Inside the card reads: “Mooey Christmas.”

More poignantly, however, the sender — in a shaky but clear hand — wrote above that message, “Allie Boy,” and signed under it, “Howard.”

A year’s worth of low prices and even lower politics fades to complete insignificance when someone somewhere offers such a kind and loving gift as that. Thank you.

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Alan Guebert was raised on an 800-acre, 100-cow southern Illinois dairy farm. After graduation from the University of Illinois in 1980, he served as a writer and editor at Professional Farmers of America, Successful Farming magazine and Farm Journal magazine. His syndicated agricultural column, The Farm and Food File, began in June, 1993, and now appears weekly in more than 70 publications throughout the U.S. and Canada. He and spouse Catherine, a social worker, have two adult children. farmandfoodfile.com

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