The Week in Commentary
For Americans, it's easy to speak out against violations of human rights
Kristi Rendahl of The Center for Victims of Torture invites Minnesotans to consider the perspective of immigrants from parts of the world where torture and terror are commonplace.
"Minnesota is home to several thousand Bosnians and more than 25,000 Liberians. In the past six months, I've spent time in Bosnia, Liberia and Lebanon, among other countries directly affected by war and torture. Returning from Sri Lanka in late April, I noticed how challenging it can be to explain the lingering trauma in these places.
"The war in Bosnia has been over for nearly 17 years, but the devastating effects remain. It's hard to imagine living in the same community as someone who killed your friend or raped your sister. But for Bosnians it is reality. The rape camps were not just violations that can be forgotten. Communities are haunted by this legacy as children conceived by rape come of age, and deep-seated anger manifests itself in domestic violence. ...
"Back home, media coverage is filled with semantic gymnastics about torture. The United States and 77 other countries around the world are signatories to the U.N. Convention Against Torture, yet its use is endlessly debated and the buck stops nowhere.
"To do the right thing in the United States requires only the will to defend the worth of human beings wherever they are threatened. There is nothing to prevent us from assuming leadership. Nothing except ourselves."
"Thank you, Kristi Rendahl, for being a leader in U.S. public media by sharing your experiences and sense of hope in humanity. Empathy has no national borders." -- Colleen Bertsch, Minneapolis
"You articulate very well the reasons why we Americans should care about the harm caused by human rights violations, wherever they occur. You also show the cost of apathy and the failure to set and uphold clear standards of law with respect to what is permissible conduct — even in war." -- Phil Steger, St. Paul
"History has shown what happens when men and women stand by because the risks seem too high or because they thought their individual action could not make a difference. Rendahl's article shows that it is not only iconic images of the Tank Man at Tiananmen Square that are worthy of inspiration to persist in the face of terror. It is also the work of men and women who believe in the difference they are making every day, in the face of the most cruel and severe retaliation." -- My Lo
Sometimes, getting the best deal isn't the best idea
Gary Dop, a poet and English professor, offers his views on the proper use of Web-based daily deals.
"Read the fine print. When I ordered a coupon for Sweet Taste of Italy — I love their bread — and showed up later that evening, the 15-year-old at the counter told me the deal wasn't valid till the next week. I congratulated her on the brilliant marketing move; she grinned. Then she asked if I wanted a Cannoli with my full-priced order. I did. ...
"Be ready for collateral damage. Recently, my wife tried to order a massage for herself and her friend. She called me at work, worried because Groupon would only let her order once. She asked me to buy the other massage. I clicked the deal, and her friend, Sarah, received the following email: 'Dear Sarah Smith, Gary Dop has bought you a massage.' Her husband emailed me the next morning asking why I was giving his wife a massage. ...
"It dawned on me that daily deals sometimes function like a mail-in rebate, only worse. With daily deals, you're often paying for a coupon, not the product, and companies hope you never use the coupon, essentially giving them your money for nothing. It's ingenious marketing."
North Minneapolis proved it can come together to weather a storm
Karen Kelley-Ariwoola, a north Minneapolis resident and former foundation executive, expresses her satisfaction at the way her community's leaders responded to last year's tornado.
"One poignant lesson emerged that has forever changed me: Relationships are the currency that builds community.
"This lesson is especially sweet in light of the longstanding reputation of north Minneapolis as a place where relationships among community leaders are not strong. As a funder and resident I've had the privilege of knowing many of those who lead the work on the north side, and I have longed for the more coordinated and collaborative community building model. My experience in the aftermath of the tornado revealed the inherent capacity of north side leaders to link arms for change. From the moments after the tornado, a renewed sense of caring and concern for one another kicked in and the humanness of our community became a story bigger than the tornado itself.
"The camaraderie that I saw played out in my neighborhood, after my own house and block were hit by the storm, was evident as well in the overall leadership of the tornado response led by a group called the Northside Community Response Team (NCRT). This group of nonprofit leaders met multiple times a week following the storm to create a strategy for meeting the needs of the tornado survivors, and has maintained an ongoing connection.
"Contrary to what is often said about the absence of quality relationships in north Minneapolis, these individuals — all from various areas of expertise, and many without prior connection — worked to build a cohesive team that is now credited with designing and implementing an effective community response to the tornado."
There's more than one religious view of the marriage amendment
Pam Fickenscher, a Lutheran pastor in Edina, explains how her religious faith leads her to oppose the constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage that will be on the ballot this fall.
"In his recent commentary ("Why the definition of marriage matters," May 18), B. Gehling makes the stunning claim that the 'definition of marriage' has been stable and fixed for most of history. Therefore, he argues, the definition currently upheld by the Roman Catholic Church should be enshrined in the Constitution. We should accept his claims neither on historical or religious grounds.
"Marriage has taken a number of shapes through history, many of which would not be supported by Minnesota law, as any child carefully reading the Old Testament will discover. In many times and places, legal definitions were much more concerned with the orderly passing on of wealth than with the welfare either of a mother or her children. ...
"Marriage, as understood in my Lutheran religious tradition, is a social good that, while not right for everyone, provides a stable framework for lifelong faithfulness and love. In such stability, indeed, children can flourish, if that stability is anchored in love and forgiveness. But it is the lifelong commitment and faithfulness of the partners and the support a community provides to a relationship that create that stability — not the inborn gender of the two people involved."
"Thank you for your well reasoned challenge to the assertions of those who support this amendment!" -- Alison H, New Brighton
"Point well made. Righty rightists using the government to force their beliefs and 'feelings' on the citizenry is every bit as ugly as when the lefty leftists do it." -- Terry Franklin, Minnesota
How an influx of college students can change a neighborhood
Karin Winegar, a St. Paul journalist and author, explains why she thinks her city should limit the number of homes that can be converted into rental housing for college students.
"With more than 30 years' experience in this target neighborhood, my position is: Please, yes, for God's sake, limit it. In fact, can we reduce the number of rentals? ...
"On one occasion I pulled up to my curb to see two college boys -- one in the house to the east, one in the yard to the west -- urinating in broad daylight. 'Knock that off or I will call the police!' I said.
" 'Sorry!' said the boy in the yard.
" 'Hey, I live here,' said the other, the one taking aim from his front steps.
"No, you don't really. You park here, you have a place to sleep and study and order in pizza. You definitely drink here and screech and bellow in the streets at ungodly hours. One of you stole my husband's car and drove it until it ran out of gas, leaving a key on a St. Thomas lanyard jammed in the ignition. That episode cost us $750 in repairs.
"But you don't live here. For you our neighborhood is a launching pad; for many of us it's a destination....
"Worst of all, your bad behavior forces us to be grumps, geezers and nags ... . This is not who I wanted to be when I grew up."
"It is a shame that the neighborhoods around colleges and universities fall apart like this. My experience as a student renter went beyond having a fun place to live — it made economic sense. Living on campus added another $1,000 to my expenses! ... I think we should look at curbing the demand to live off-campus, though I'm not sure how to do that." -- Mike Allen, St. Paul
"Duluth is constantly struggling with this same issue. Just last week, the Duluth City Council proposed yet another sanction to limit the number of rooms a landlord can rent to four, making many of the large older homes in Duluth unrentable and much less likely to be bought by landlords. As student enrollment is increasing, the need for rental property has increased as well.
"Communities that were once mainly occupied with single families are seeing more and more renters. Being a college renter myself I have seen this kind of behavior from fellow students. I think this kind of behavior is abhorrent." -- Eric Lemke, Duluth