The Week in Commentary
Beware those who argue every difference in extremist terms
Jose Leonardo Santos, an anthropologist, looks at the similarities of rhetoric used by extremists even in very different ideological camps.
"In real life, no group is homogenous. You can't say all Minnesotans like hockey (just too many of us). Few true statements begin, 'All Christians...' or 'All Feminists ...'. But extremists in both groups want you to think otherwise. And the media cover extremists, because they're the loudest.
"When people think 'feminist,' they don't think of me. I drink beer and argue over which James Bond was best. They think of Catherine Mackinnon, telling us that all sex between men and women is rape. Similarly, when some people hear 'Christian,' they think of angry protestors yelling 'God hates fags.' Extremists are so alike, it's creepy. ...
"Everyone else is wrong. If you can get them to persecute you, it proves you're right. ... Maybe the rest of us, the nonextremists of every stripe, should get together and talk. We could spare ourselves the yelling."
A serving of Spam, seasoned with survivor's guilt
Moira Manion, a writer and cartoonist, recalls her introduction to Hormel's iconic product.
"When Mom opened a can I had to leave the kitchen. The stuff looked like pureed human flesh, smelled fishy and had a yellowish gelatin covering that made me gag. I tried to ignore how the raw, pink smell would change as the sliced Spam cooked in butter in the cast-iron skillet, becoming a buttery, meaty, crisp scent that made my mouth water.
"It was survivor's guilt that finally made me try Spam.
"Dad never said anything about me being spoiled because I hadn't gone through the horrors he had. ...
"I didn't know what Dad had escaped, but something in the air of my family indicated that it had been Very Bad, and that I should be grateful that I had Hamburger Heaven, Mighty Mouse and pop bottles I could return to the grocery store for a penny. And I should be grateful for those rectangular blue cans with pictures of slabs of Spam on them."
"I was never afflicted personally with distaste for Spam, being one of those kids who occasionally had it in my lunch bag (on white bread with Velveeta and Miracle Whip). I never had it with syrup, but maybe now I'll give it a try. I never could really understand why my WWII vet uncles made sarcastic remarks about it and would not allow it in their houses. This commentary makes me realize how culture and experience can alter even our most seemingly ordinary preferences." -- John C. Rezmerski, Mankato
"A beautifully written piece. I remember an American POW from WWII telling me that he used to dream of Spam when he was incarcerated and starving, and it was the first thing he asked for when he was liberated." -- Terry Garey, Minneapolis
"Touching insight on the introduction -- now I want to fry some up (really). Also makes me appreciate and realize how fortunate I am to live in the conditions I do now (it never ceases to impress and amaze me what people have had to endure and survived to bring them where they are today)." -- Michael Gavin, Orlando, Fla.
'Someone Just Like You'
Joyce Sutphen, Minnesota's poet laureate, offers a poem reflecting on the anniversary of the I-35W bridge collapse.
Whoever you were — crossing the bridge earlier in the day — you went from one side to the other, barely noticing the river, the way you were held up in the sky by a fragile and faulty design.
You crossed over, one car in a lane of blue, silver, and black, tapping your fingers on the wheel, changing the station to catch the weather report, picking up your cell phone to say you were on the way home.
You were early that day — or a bit later, but everything else was about the same, though the bridge shook slightly, a bird flew out from beneath the railing, someone looked up and saw a flash of blue.
It only took a minute and you were headed North or South, and someone else was crossing — someone just like you, feeling the sky falling, the world collapsing beneath them, that other side now more impossible than the moon.
These days, the call of the wild is likely to be digital
Bob von Sternberg, a veteran reporter, wonders what's being lost as people bring their digital devices into the wilderness and near-wilderness.
"Sure, there's the growl of the occasional logging truck from a long way off, but you never doubt that you're deep in the north woods, comfortingly far from civilization.
"But that's been changing the past few years, as this wired century has muscled its way into the wilderness. Gone are the days when the pay phone in the closest little hamlet served as the lifeline to the civilization you'd tried to leave behind, if only for a weekend, a week or a month.
"The old sounds now are interrupted by the digital ones. Trilling and beeping cell phones, the expansive chord of laptops being fired up, the deedle-deedle-deedle and boops of the i-everythings doing their assigned tasks. Add to that the satellite TV rigs that have sprouted in so many cabin yards and atop roofs, allowing the interiors to glow with the cathode light of 100 channels. ...
"Much is gained from all of this — information, entertainment, intellectual stimulation, the banishment of boredom — but I can't help but think that something's being lost, that the pixels are leeching away some part of reality. Or, to be pompous, a bit of our soul. Used to be, we'd head into the wilderness to reconnect with earth and sky, to find the self that work and the city and routine can rub so raw. But the keyboards and charging cords keep us anchored to that life and become an electronic mediator between us and the natural world. It's still out there, but all of this electronic detritus makes it harder to get there."
Minnesota needs all of its environmental protections in place
Samantha Chadwick, a preservation advocate with Environment Minnesota, describes the challenge she sees in efforts to reduce environmental regulations.
"For several years I've been following the controversy around proposed sulfide mining in the Arrowhead region of Minnesota. So far, these new projects are undergoing scientific and public scrutiny to determine how, or even whether, sulfide mining can be done in Minnesota without polluting our water, irresponsibly damaging the environment and risking public health.
"The evaluation of risks from this new type of mining wouldn't be happening if citizens and political leaders hadn't put in place conservation measures and environmental review laws and standards, and if they hadn't purposely protected some places from the most destructive development.
That's why I'm disturbed by what's happening to wilderness protections in political arenas today. Nowhere is the issue of corporate influence in politics more relevant than in the realm of environmental issues. And it really hits home in Minnesota, with the push to roll back laws that protect the Arrowhead from unregulated sulfide mining.
"We have a U.S. Congress right now that is no friend to the environment, voting more than 240 times to weaken environmental protections. I've been looking at bills that threaten public lands -- measures to abolish, circumvent or otherwise water down laws that govern lands like the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, the Superior National Forest, Voyageurs National Park and other public lands across the country. Bill proponents are actively working to make it easier for logging, mining, and gas drilling companies to access areas now set aside for conservation. ...
"While some of these measures are blatant attacks that abolish wilderness protection, others are quieter attempts to circumvent processes that industry might find bothersome because they give scientists and the public the chance to evaluate projects and weigh in on decisions. Especially for decisions about the use of public lands that belong to all Minnesotans, these protections and processes should remain in place."