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16 posts from June 2011


Another no vote on expanded Minnesota fireworks law

I asked for feedback on my column questioning whether it's time for Minnesota to expand its fireworks law to include more than just tame, ground-based fountains. And I've been getting it. Here's another letter:

You must have been in dire need to complete a column deadline with your choice of legalizing the "stronger" fireworks material you wrote about on 6/28/11.  Are you nuts?  There is no upside to possessing, shooting, or any other interaction with that level of fireworks.  Factor in the manufacturing shortfalls, outright stupidity that goes with setting them off, drunkeness, and the obvious noise to the person or neighbor not wishing to have fireworks shot off within earshot, and the list goes on and on.  There must be many other topics you can select to write about.  In case you missed it, its a no from me on further legalization.  Thanks for your time.  Don Hodkinson Chatfield, Minn.

No, Don. I'm not nuts. 



How many lawmakers will have the courage to March in July 4 parades?

On Monday, I plan to attend the annual July 4 parade in my hometown of Brainerd. It's always a decent parade with at least a few marching bands and lots and lots of politicians. But I wonder how many state lawmakers will have the courage to march in this year's Independence Day Parades around the state. Especially if there's a government shutdown.

Honestly, I won't blame individual legislators if there's a shutdown. Right now, the negotiations involve a small group of legislative leaders, the governor and several of his key staff members. Most lawmakers are playing the role of tense spectator. Still, my sense is that Minnesotans are restless, and if there is a shutdown they will blame anyone and everyone in state government, regardless of which party they're a member of.

Good thing homegrown tomatoes aren't quite in season yet.



Reader: Home fireworks are a neighborhood nuisance

Here's a note from a reader in response to my column today questioning whether Minnesota should expand its fireworks law to include pyrotechnics that leave the ground. My response follows:


I was left wondering why you didn't use data from the fire department or the police department on calls about fires and illegal fireworks use.  Along with injuries, fires and disrespectful use are probably the next biggest issue that unfortunately restrict us from fireworks.  Using only biased data from a fireworks manufacture to support legalizing fireworks that leave the ground is only a part of the story.
The problem is many people don't respect the current law for ground only devices, legalizing off ground fireworks will lead to less respect.  Fireworks should only be allowed in designated areas and not in neighborhoods, unless you hold a permit to shoot them off in a neighborhood.  IE: "The Rochester Fireworks Display."
Some examples I have experienced are; some people shooting "off ground" fireworks all year long, not just the fourth of July which is very disrespectful to a neighborhood.  It can make a quiet peaceful neighborhood just the opposite.  It scares some pets and the fireworks often land on other people's property such as vehicles, houses, etc. which can damage what it lands on - or start a fire.  Plus it requires the adjacent landowner to clean up the mess.


Thanks for your note, AP. I'll put it on my blog. We do fireworks safety stories every year. (This year it ran on Monday on Page 1D). And in none of these stories has there been any indication that fireworks-related injuries have been on the rise since some fireworks were legalized here a few years ago. We always quote safety experts. This year, I thought I'd at least present for conversation's sake, another viewpoint. As for the neighborhood disturbance aspect of this, I empathize with you. It's a definite nuisance, especially on a pleasant summer evening when I'd like to have the windows open while I'm sleeping. But it's only a week or so a year. I can live with it.  I realize, though, that others might consider it a much bigger imposition. 


Have a great holiday, no matter how you choose to celebrate it.



Rochesterfest Parade litter was stunning

I offer my compliments and heartfelt thanks to the city employees who were out early, early Saturday morning to clean up the mess after the parade on Friday night. And, boy, was there ever a mess.

Usually, by the time I get up and venture out on the Saturday morning after the Rochesterfest parade the route, from East Center Street to 11th Avenue, to Fourth Street, to Civic Center Drive is pretty much spotless. But this week, I was up and out the door by 5:45 a.m. to drive to a journalism seminar in Minneapolis, and the streets along the parade route were strewn with enough garbage to feed our waste burner for a week. Bottles, food wrappers beer and pop bottles and cans. Half-eaten food scraps. Junk everywhere.

Wow! what slobs some people are. No respect for public or private property. How would these people feel if someone camped out in front of their house for three or four hours on a summer evening and tossed bottles and paper plates, h0t dog buns and cigarette butts on their lawns? 




I ate the "meateater" at Rochesterfest and lived to tell about it

Greg Sellnow at the 2010 Minnesota State Fair with a "hotdish on a stick"

One responsibility of a newspaper columnist, of course, is that we "sacrifice" for others. We test the waters, so to speak, for our readers to make sure there are no sharks before they swim.

So, today I took the plunge and bought and ate a "meateater," one of the new Rochesterfest foods one of our reporters wrote about in a story on Tuesday. To recap — it's a bratwurst, slathered in cheese, wrapped in a hamburger, wrapped in bacon, deep fried and served in a bun.

One woman, who ordered ahead of me, described it as a "heart attack on a stick."

It was tasty; I enjoyed it. And five hours later, here I am still alive and feeling well enough to write about it.

Then again, maybe I'm not a good judge for these types of things. I'm a meat lover. When I go to the State Fair, while my wife is munching on an apple or enjoying a fruit smoothie I'm tearing into a pork chop on a stick, hotdish on a stick or big fat bacon on a stick.

Last Saturday, our daughter Abby, who comes home on weekends from her job at a summer camp, informed us that she was going to stick to a vegetarian diet for a while, meaning I had to alter my evening cookout plans. We had tofu dogs.

Oh, the horror!



More wit and wisdom from Sister Generose of Saint Marys Hospital

Sister generose
I thoroughly enjoyed the hour I spent with Sister Generose Gervais, whom I wrote about in my Saturday column. I couldn't begin to fit everything from our talk in the column — including her answer to a question I'm sure she's been asked a hundred times — "What's your secret to a long and productive life?" (Sister Generose is 91, and has the mental acuity of a 40-year-old.)

She said there is no secret, that it's just by the grace of God that she's been permitted to remain on this planet this long. She says she's no better than those who get sick and die at a young age.

"Yes," I said, but you're in very good health, and you were trained as a dietitian. You must eat a pretty healthy diet?"

Her response: "Yes, I guess I do, but I don't make it a phobia. I eat meat, I eat desserts."

She pointed to the candy dish on the desk in her office and repeated the offer she made as soon as I'd walked in.

"I told you to take a treat. Now, I don't know if you're not eating candy because you might gain a pound or because you're just trying to be polite."

I relented and took a peanut M&M.

"Oh, go ahead, take a handful."

She says she has no plans to retire. Ever.

"Work never hurt anyone. I have a bum knee, but I get around with a cane, and a go cart if I have to go long distances...

"They say 'when are you going to quit?' And I say 'as long as the Lord gives me health and life why not do something." 



Is it time to allow consumers to buy "real" fireworks in Minnesota?

Images-2 Some Minnesotans would argue that Gov. Jesse Ventura's all-too-long four-year stint in office is famous for two things: the rebates (known as "Jesse checks" ) that taxpayers received when revenue came in better than expected, and the legalization of some consumer fireworks in our state.

The $200 or $300 Jesse checks were spent years and years ago, of course. But Minnesotans can still enjoy "ground based" fireworks without fear being reported to police by the neighbors.

Today, I received a news release advocating that Minnesota's fireworks law be broadened to include more than just the relatively tame fountains and sparklers that are legal now.

"Consumer fireworks have never been safer and their use continues to increase each year," the release stated. "This alone provides a strong case for the regulated and sensible use of all consumer fireworks.

"In 1979, Americans used 29 million pounds of consumer fireworks, and in 1976, the Consumer Product Safety Commission reported 11,100 fireworks-related injuries, which breaks down to 38.3 injuries per 100,000 pounds of consumer fireworks used.

"By 2009, the use of consumer fireworks skyrocketed to 213.9 million pounds, and in 2009 the CPSC reported only 8,800 fireworks-related injuries, which breaks down to 4.1 injuries per 100,000.

"In the short span of 33 years, use of fireworks in America has increased over 700 percent, while injuries have dropped an amazing 89 percent."

You might have guessed by now that the news release comes from a fireworks manufacturer — Phantom Fireworks, to be exact. So, they're a little biased. But still, it raises a good question. Is it time to join our neighbors in North Dakota and South Dakota and allow fireworks that shoot high into the air?(Wisconsin's law is similar to Minnesota's, and Iowa allows little more than sparklers.)

I have to admit that I've come around on this. I was not an advocate of the law allowing fountains and other ground-based fireworks. But now that they're here, I have no problem with it. But is it time to legalize the stronger stuff? I'm not sure. What do you think?



Can there ever be enough recognition for military vets?

We've received some interesting letters to the editor lately about military veterans. They were sparked by discussion of a proposed veterans' memorial at Soldiers Field, and the observance of Memorial Day. Here are two more letters set to run in the next couple of days. My comments — or, more accurately, question — follow.

To everyone who didn't take the time out for the Memorial Day ceremony:

I would like to thank you for not taking the time to remember those who took time out to fight for your freedom. They gave 3 million lives; 1.5 million wounded; and more than 38,000 became prisoners of war for you.

Over 44 million veterans did this for you and how did you thank them? By thinking of yourself and doing whatever made YOU happy. Remember someday your freedom will be gone, and you can stand up and say I helped this happen because I did not have the time to be part of the fight for freedom.

Remember YOUR children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren will live in a country that you and I will not recognize!

May God continue to bless America.

Larry Pederson


I believe Barbara Upton's June 9 letter to the editor missed the purpose for Memorial Day and Veterans Day. It is not the celebration of war. On the contrary. We reflect on the service and sacrifices made by our military servicemen and women who gave their lives for a principle and purpose greater than themselves.

When we honor fallen peace officers, we do not celebrate the criminals who murdered them, nor do we pay homage to the fire that snuffed out the life of a fireman.

Why do so many gather near graves on Memorial Day to place flowers and tokens of affection on their loved ones' graves? So they will be remembered. We honor their life, not the disease or accident that took them away.

Why have so many placed a paver with their veteran's name on the walkways of Soldiers Field Veterans Memorial? So they will be remembered. The footsteps we take are borne on the shoulders of those who died that we might remain free. We are continuing their noble journey.

Anyone who has given their life for another should have their name etched in stone. When we no longer remember our heroes we begin to lose our sense of value. To be forgotten is the greater loss.

Joseph Connell

I completely agree with Mr. Connell's letter. It's very nicely done, and expresses my personal sentiments on this issue.

But, I find Mr. Pederson's letter a bit troubling.

Although I've attended many Memorial Day services in the past, I didn't attend one this year. I was in the Brainerd area that weekend at my folks' cabin, and I didn't make it a point to drive into town for a ceremony. Honestly, I can't promise that I would have done so had a been in Rochester. 

Does that make me unpatriotic? Does that mean I don't love my country? Does that mean I'm personally helping to ensure the downfall of democracy. I sure hope not.

Here's my question for those who contend that veterans don't get enough respect. How much adulation for veterans is enough? What should be our behavior? Should everyone in the community who is able attend a parade or memorial service on Veterans' Day, Flag Day, and Memorial Day? Should we all go to a cemetery and stand at the grave of a veteran for a moment of silence, even if we have no family or personal connection to the person whose body is in that grave. I don't know the answer to these questions, I'm just asking.

I have deep respect for veterans, especially those who died for their country, or were in combat and suffered wounds or mental trauma from what they endured. They are heroes, plain and simple, and I've written about many of these brave souls time and again in my column and in feature stories. 

But should I feel guilty that I didn't serve in the military. Should I be made to believe that I'm less American, or less patriotic because I chose to go directly to college from high school and not do a stint in the Army or Navy? Should I hang my head in shame because I did not attend a Memorial Day service.

And here's another question I don't have the answer to. If you are a veteran, at what point — if ever — does that stop defining who you are? In other words, is it more important to have been a father or mother than to have served two or four or six years in the Air Force. Does there come a point where a career or vocation better defines who you are than a veteran of the U.S. military?

Again, I don't have the answer to these questions. I'd be curious to know what others think about this.


When does a "cabin" become a lake home?

100_1099_4 Here are a couple of emails that I'll be incorporating into a future column following up on my earlier piece on Minnesota lake country terminology such as "cabin" and "Up North."

I've received a lot of feedback to that column. Apparently there are a lot of folks in (naturally) "lakeless" Olmsted, and surrounding, counties who own property "Up Nort'"...

I love your column.   I think you have a wonderful way of looking at a great variety of subjects.  Keep up the good work.   

But at last I found one point where I have to disagree with you - at least a little.   In your June 4th article you had some definitions for some "up north" things, including "The Cabin".   I believe my family has a very typical Minnesota cabin - which we of course refer to as "the cabin".  It is a somewhat ramshackle structure, on a lake of course, which requires all the time I can afford to give it just to maintain the current state of disrepair.   We have enjoyed it for many years and now the first grandkid is starting to come share time with us there.  I really do believe our place qualifies as a Minnesota cabin.   My disagreement with you?   Minor indeed, but our place is only near Faribault, certainly not north of that line from Willmar to Coon Rapids.  I don't necessarily disagree with your definition of "up north", I would just suggest that "the cabin" can be pretty much anywhere.


This is my first time making a comment about a newspaper article.  Enjoyed your Sat. article.  I do have to make a correction though.  Some cabins "Up North"  are called Lake Homes not cabins.  My husband and his brother own a cabin on Long Lake by Longville.  My brother in law went to a "cabin" on our lake and told the owner that he had a very nice cabin.  He was corrected and was told it wasn't a cabin but a "Lake Home"!  Ours is still a cabin!  As for driving up north....on holidays we usually leave Thurs. night around 5:30/6:00 and come home on Tuesday.  It seems like alot of people have the same idea.  My hubby was not happy with me last week.  We were 45 minutes late in we left at  6:45.  I was late in getting things ready because I wanted to watch the last night of Dancing with the Stars, Biggest Loser and American Idol!!!  But would you believe we made it to the cabin in record time in 25 years.  We hit all the green lights in Zimmerman, Elk River and Anoka.  That over 4 hour drive is worth it.  (We live in Vasa a little town between Cannon Falls and Red Wing)  Nothing like opening a can of beverage at 11:00 pm and looking at the stars and then waking up in the morning and drinking coffee on the deck.  As for the endless train of PWs, ATVs,RVs, SUV and forgot to mention every car has a dog in their vehicle.  We noticed that the last 5 years.  We don't have none them!  Also, we bought the cabin my hubby's Uncle Willard Lynch from Rochester had.  They were lucky.....he would work at the hospital and after work they would get in their airplain and fly  "Up North". 
Also, we love to read the Post Bulletin.  Sue Hedeen



More discussion about flashing lights in the pavement at pedestrian crossing

Here's a letter from an anonymous reader on the famous (infamous?) flashing lights on Civic Center Driver, across from the civic center complex. I know I'm in the minority on this, but I think the lights are cool and will help signal to readers that "Stop for pedestrians" really does mean STOP FOR PEDESTRIANS! ...

It's interesting that tonight's editorial is about one of my favorite subjects - pedestrian crossings.

Rochester is a unique community. Some of us think it is too large and growing larger faster than we would like, others think it is too small and not large enough to attract the types of activities that are found in much larger communities. Either way you look at Rochester, too large or too small, one thing is very clear - if we are in our cars we have no respect for those people trying to cross the road whether it is in a marked cross walk or one that is unmarked. Let me give you some examples: I work right downtown and have to cross First Avenue S W at least twice every day to get from the parking lot to the office.

The crosswalk I have to use is not marked and I can count on one hand with a few fingers left over since the law changed, the number of times cars that have stopped or even slowed down while I am trying to cross and that, unfortunately includes police cars also (not on emergency business). Now I would understand a car not stopping if I were standing on the curb, but, because of the parking on that part of the street, one has to walk out into the street to be sure there isn't a car coming, and still they don't stop.

I watched with interest the installation of the crosswalk lights in front of the Civic Center. Thinking as the installation was going on how little the effect of the extra warning equipment was going to be. It didn't take too long for my pessimistic thoughts to be borne out. Saturday afternoon coming up to the crosswalk as a young father and his daughter started to cross I discovered the flashing lights on the roadbed aren't bright enough to catch your attention and the new crosswalk signs with the flashing lights are hidden behind the decorative street lights and banners on both sides of the street. Sunday afternoon it was even worse, when stopped for a family crossing from the Civic Center to the parking ramp a car continued right on through the intersection while the lights were flashing, a car was stopped in the left lane (mine) and the family was partially across the street. Even the gentleman crossing with his family yelling at the driver running through the crosswalk didn't slow the driver down or get his attention.

What is the answer? I don't know, but I'm afraid that we will see in this paper, as we did not so long ago, the story about another driver who didn't stop for a pedestrian.