The Week in Commentary
Considering the gulf between them, Legislature and governor accomplished much
Peter J. Nelson, director of public policy for Center of the American Experiment, offers a cheerful assessment of the legislative session just concluded in Minnesota.
"The reality is, the circumstances leading into the session forecasted a rather dire outcome with more bruising battles and little agreement. Republican majorities in the Legislature and Gov. Mark Dayton came to the session still sore from a knock-'em, sock-'em budget fight over the summer. Even without sore feelings, it's hard to imagine a wider ideological chasm separating Minnesota's DFL and 'tax the rich' governor from Republican legislators who owe their majorities, at least in part, to Tea Party activism. ...
"The session wasn't always (or often) pretty — politics is a contact sport — but these circumstances were largely overcome. The Legislature clearly made a decision to send Dayton bills that he would sign. Of the major omnibus bills — including transportation, higher education, environment and natural resources, game and fish, pension, health and human services (HHS) finance, HHS policy, agriculture and bonding — only the education finance bill and the tax bill were vetoed. ...
"In the end, more was accomplished over the course of the session than anyone could have reasonably expected."
Dolphins need a better habitat than the zoo can give them
Maggie Ryan Sandford, a science writer, argues that people who like dolphins shouldn't mourn the closing of the dolphin exhibit at the Minnesota Zoo.
"Dolphins are highly intelligent. Studies increasingly suggest that they are at least as intelligent as chimpanzees — maybe more so. They recognize themselves in the mirror, which means that, scientifically speaking, they have a 'sense of self.' So it's absurd to think they could live healthy, fulfilling lives confined in a tank. Even more absurd, perhaps, is the notion that good science could be conducted on dolphins in such an environment.
"If there's one thing research on dolphins in captivity has taught us, it's that they are stressed. (This also applies to orcas, which are actually big, black-and-white dolphins.) They consistently exhibit erratic behavior and inflict harm on themselves and their tank-mates — sometimes on their trainers. They suffer from unnatural afflictions like chlorine poisoning and stomach ulcers. It was complications from a stomach ulcer that killed Taijah, the juvenile dolphin who died last February. Five others died at the zoo in the five years before that, including seven-month-old Harley, who mistakenly jumped out of his tank and hit his head on the deck between the pools."
"Thank you so much for this article. ... I am elated to find a young mind and your professor more like Jacques Cousteau who recognized that dolphins should not be in captivity." -- Mo Brock, Atlanta, Ga.
"I hope your readers/listeners will take your comments very seriously... and try to imagine themselves trapped in the same small room in their home forever." -- Sandy McElhaney, Woodbridge, Va.
Got enough diapers? Check. Baby blankets? Check. Fear?
Annie Baxter, a reporter for Minnesota Public Radio News and expectant mother, recounts her experience with a childbirth class that failed to give her the peace of mind she was looking for.
"Then the instructor, a woman I'll call Lula, marched across the room and shut the video off. Lula turned to our class — a group of five couples — and said she would not show us what happened next. It was too private. But she would tell us the story.
"Moments after this incredibly easy and joy-filled birth, the water in the birthing tub turned red. The woman was hemorrhaging. 'At that point I turned to the mama and said, "Remember the conversation we had about saying goodbye? That time has come." ' Lula looked out at our class. 'I told her was time to say goodbye to her husband and her baby.'
"Say goodbye. It took everyone in our group a few seconds to comprehend the message. Lula was telling us this woman was going to die. ...
"It's hard for me to understand where such fear-mongering is coming from. People engage in all sorts of activities that are far more dangerous than childbirth. Are they ever lectured to a similar extent on the risks? When friends tell me they're going rock climbing or skydiving I don't grip them by the arm and rattle off the names of anyone who's ever plunged to his death scaling a mountain or jumping heedlessly out of a plane."
"Thanks for sharing. Best of luck to you on your journey to and through parenting!" -- Beth-Ann Bloom, Woodbury
"Unfortunately, we also found plenty of fear-mongering in our childbirth classes, as well. We were told lots of things that the hospital would 'make' us do, or would never 'allow' us to do. None of it ended up being true ... ." -- Victoria Bagale, Michigan
How did skin become a sin?
Patrick Scully, a Minneapolis performance artist facing trial on charges connected with swimming naked at a public park, offers a defense of skinny-dipping.
"Somehow, we have lost something here that has been enjoyed since the dawn of humanity. For thousands of years we humans have removed our clothes to bathe naked in lakes and rivers. Since the glaciers receded from Minnesota 12,000 years ago, humans have enjoyed the waters of this land of lakes au naturel. Not so long ago, in very recent history, someone decided swimming suits were necessary. What happened? ...
"I now live in Minneapolis, where we do ourselves a great injustice by criminalizing nakedness and by reinforcing a culture of fear of the body. Instead we should embrace a culture of appreciation of the body. Such a culture would celebrate who we are, fostering thinking like Walt Whitman's: 'I sing the body electric .... That of the male is perfect, and that of the female is perfect.' The potential of such a culture exhilarates me.
"Fortunately, signs of appreciation, exceptions to the fear, already exist. I frequently spy naked bodies downtown: on sidewalks in front of office buildings, churches, restaurants and government buildings. These bodies are bronze; they are not breathing, but are nonetheless naked. Neither the Walker Art Center nor the park board deems it necessary to warn visitors entering the Sculpture Garden that a naked young woman is standing there on a pedestal. Such art represents a chink in the culture of fear that may make room for a greater opening.
"Minneapolis allows for public nakedness, if it is art. Park board ordinance allows for nudity in the parks as a part of artistic performances. But why allow nudity only for artists? Why not for everyone?"
"We appreciate your simple and level-headed commentary." -- Joseph Migliore, Medford, Ore.
"When my mother was in grade school, swimming lessons and classes were gender-specific, not mixed. No one wore suits, except teachers — they were in the pool a lot and had a reason to have special swim wear. When these classes were mixed, parents had to spring for expensive swim suits. Kids got used to wearing suits and nude swimming dropped out of mainstream culture. Not that surprising." -- Gregg Bendtsen, Brooklyn Park
All you need is love, plus a visa and work permit
Jennifer Ehrlich, an editor with MPR News, describes the diplomatic complications that come with an international marriage.
"Tom is Belgian and I am American. We've lived together in both places. To make that happen we've had to satisfy the nosy needs of two governments that wanted to know much more than our marital status before they issued visas: They required proof of love.
"We have a closet packed with fat accordion folders that contain the paper trail of documents we presented to immigration officials as evidence of our love.
"There are the basic forms in triplicate, the marriage license, the birth certificates, the passport stamps, the school transcripts -- all sealed by bureaucrats in obscure offices, attesting to their authenticity. There are even chest x-rays. Every piece of paper represents a wait in a long line. ...
"It's the kind of personal correspondence that you would not usually show to anyone else. Ours is notarized."