The Week in Commentary
Maybe we should move toward a right to rent guns
Bob von Sternberg, a veteran reporter, shares the insight his daughter offered after learning about the movie-theater shootings in Colorado.
"She didn't linger over the CNN bulletins, but peppered my wife and me with questions for the rest of the day about what on earth had happened in Aurora. This was, after all, the first mass shooting that had ever creased her consciousness.
"At one point, she offered a suggestion: Nobody but police officers or hunters needs a gun. If you want to go hunting, you could rent one.
"Huh. I've never heard such a succinct, sensible gun control strategy for a country that's awash in firearms and a complete outlier in the developed world. ...
"Yeah, such an idea is political lunacy, given the clout of the NRA and the timidity of nearly every politician of stature to stand up to that elephantine lobby. But maybe some of them could heed New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who said hours after the shooting that expressing remorse and condolences isn't enough, that the men running for president need to explicitly say what concrete proposals they have for ratcheting down the gun violence that has engulfed this country."
"Well, it's sweet and thought-provoking, but I believe I have the right to bear arms and I want to keep that right." -- Jane Burnes Leverenz, Pine City, Minn.
"Life is simpler for 10 year olds, bless their hearts. You might ask this bright kid, James Holmes, what he would have used if he didn't have firearms? ... We need to get real. What is the root of such viciousness? Alienation? Disintegration of the family and neighborhood? People not connected to people any longer? Instead of bailing the overflowing bathtub, turn the faucet off first! Deal with the root cause of the problem that creates such human monsters." -- Lee Love, Minneapolis, Minn.
To cut down on bullying, transform school culture
Christopher Nelson, an elementary educator, suggests that no anti-bullying policy can substitute for a school culture that makes bullying unacceptable.
"My definition of school culture is simple and not very technical: Everyone, from the principal, teachers, custodians, educational assistants, cafeteria staff and, most importantly, parents and students, all agree on the same positive principles of education. In short, it's 'What we do here.'
"When new students or teachers arrive at a school, they quickly find out what's allowed or not. In the case of a bully, teachers, staff, administrators and students all agree on what's not OK, and the group relays that message to the bully. The challenge is to assimilate the bully into feeling like he or she now belongs to this new group, rather than feeling ostracized.
"It's difficult, but if the school can welcome the bully, and I think this is key, you've started to develop positive school culture, because instead of feeling pushed out, the bully now has something to push for, and it's being a positive member of a group. Victims, or targets of bullying, also have a stronger connection, and learn to stand up for themselves because of that perceived sense of support. ...
"Here in Minnesota, the Governor's Task Force on the Prevention of Bullying is working on recommendations due next month. I know there is no one formula, but I also know that developing a strong, positive school culture is key to eliminating bullying and ultimately, to improving the quality of education in today's schools."
Why I love vacations by car
Susan Maas, a writer and editor, lays out her reasons for preferring the old-fashioned family road trip to other forms of vacation.
"When my husband is driving, I usually have two or three maps open across my lap, spread over me like colorful paper blankets. Bliss for me: sitting in the front passenger seat, with my family around me and a lovingly assembled road trip playlist on the stereo, weighing the fastest route against the scenic one.
"Naturally it's easier, with portable DVD players, iPods and handheld video games, to contemplate eight-hour driving days. But it's rarely as hard to fill time on the road as we once feared.
"Especially when the road is a new and unfamiliar one, with previously unseen sights to absorb. And when the kids feel free to speak up about stopping to snap a photograph, or when you welcome their opinions about which greasy-spoon diner to try for lunch. ... As 6th century B.C. road-tripper Lao Tzu wisely mused, 'A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving.' ...
"Between the convenience of air travel and the relatively few vacation days most Americans receive (we're the world's only advanced economy that doesn't guarantee our workers any paid vacation; European workers, on average, enjoy at least 20 paid vacation days a year), it's no wonder that serious road-tripping is a lost art. Most people can't spare the time for these long trips; we're thankful we can."
Founders couldn't have meant to take away the role of common sense in gun control
S.J. Schwaidelson, a Minnesota writer and blogger, explores some of the complexities that surround the Second Amendment.
"Since Day One ... there has been debate over the intent of the amendment, and whether or not firearm type was limited to the scope of a militia. The Supreme Court has never defined the meaning of the word 'arms,' and subsequently any attempt to limit the type of firearms permitted has become a constitutional debate.
"What has been omitted from the debate is common sense.
"Lots of people have permits for and legally own handguns. Some people feel safer having one in the house, and they are supposed to be trained in the use and storage of such a weapon. ... But show me where in this country one needs to own a couple of Uzis, AK-47s, and a few customized M-16s thrown in for good measure. Does one need to ever stock thousands of rounds of armor-piercing ammo?
"It's time to give up our delusions of frontier life; them days are long gone. Even in our most rural communities, there is not a single reason for anyone to own an assault rifle. ... How is it that New York City can ban giant sodas and too much salt in your fries, but cannot stop assault weapon ownership?"
"I absolutely agree. Our founding fathers had no idea that humans would eventually produce weapons for mass killings. Why bother with a police force or armed service when we can take care of it as individuals?" -- Kathy Schleichert, Cushing, Minn.
"Switzerland has the law for automatic weapon ownership of every able citizen. Their gun death rate is zero. Syria has gun control 100 percent, and one dictator can kill innocent children. What about the lady who stopped a crazy gun shooter in a church last year or the other hundred police stories each year where self-defense guns saved lives?" -- Leonard Mehl, Minnesota
"I can go on and on why gun control is stupid, but I don't have to since I have the Second Amendment to the Constitution." -- Lonny Glover, International Falls, Minn.
In following Brodkorb case, don't confuse gossip value with legal merit
Sara Gullickson McGrane, an expert in employment law,offers her thoughts about a sensational lawsuit involving the state Senate.
"The salacious nature of Michael Brodkorb's wrongful termination lawsuit has tongues wagging and media buzzing. It is important that we keep discussion of the case grounded in reality.
"Brodkorb was an at-will employee. Brodkorb, who was a top aide to then-Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch, will likely argue that he was not an at-will employee. But the fact remains that anyone hired to support an elected official may be dismissed when someone new takes over. ...
"Don't expect hundreds of depositions. Even when depositions do occur, do not expect the court to cast a wide net when it comes to the discovery phase. The court has the authority to decide the number of depositions each side can take. ...
"Depositions will likely be private. In this case as well as any other, the court has a duty to protect third parties who are not participating in the case. Given the media interest, the court will likely enter some kind of protective order to keep confidential information from becoming public. ...
"The Brodkorb case will undoubtedly become an interesting spectator sport over the next several months as the case is tried in both the legal courtroom and the court of public opinion. But we must focus on facts, and leave the innuendo at the door."
Want to know whether the climate has warmed? Ask the trees
Lee E. Frelich, a forest ecologist, describes some of the ways in which he thinks the environment has already adapted to a changed climate.
"This summer's heat wave, following the warmest winter on record and an exceptionally early spring, makes one wonder if we have reached the point where effects of global warming can be felt and seen on the landscape. I think so.
"We have had warm winters and summer heat waves before. Warm and cool periods, dry and wet periods have always occurred and will continue to come and go. However, as time goes on they are superimposed on a systematic rise in temperature caused by the accumulation of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere. ...
"However, we now have a systematic rise in temperature that can't be explained by natural influences, which is superimposed on natural climatic cycles. ...
"Trees are a much better reader of climate than our weather instruments; they are exposed to the elements all day, every day. The droughts of recent years, alternating with heavy rains that supply more water than trees can use at one time; warm winters that actually allow the ground to get colder due to lack of insulating snow, and the record early spring of 2012 are registering their impacts on the forest.
"Last week I visited friends at Lake Vermilion in northern Minnesota. In the boreal forest around the lake I saw red pines with browning crowns, a lack of balsam fir and black spruce regeneration, and rapidly expanding red maple, basswood and ironwood, tree species from the temperate deciduous forest to the south. I had not expected to see these changes so soon. But I realized they were happening faster than expected because of a warming climate's enhancement of natural extremes, combined with the chronic effects of slightly warmer temperatures all the time and other changes in the environment -- such as a European earthworm invasion, which exaggerates droughts by stripping the forest floor of its insulating layer of leaf litter. ...
"Nature has already worked out what the best trees are for a warmer climate. We just have to learn to read the clues."