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Questions for life, retailers, the city …

Published 10:14am Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Column: Notes from Home

No, you can relax. I’m not writing about immigrants, foreign languages, or even foreigners. At the end of one year, poised to jump into the next, I’m noticing how much that happens around me, sometimes involving me, are the world’s way of doing things that I just do not understand.

Some of these things that are beyond my comprehension are small.

For example, how is it fair that I get sick with a chest cold — coughing, wheezing, sneezing — two days before Christmas?

Or another small confusion: When did it become a good idea for stores — like Walmart and Home Depot — to get customers to do all the work finding what they want in big-box stores and then also scan their own purchases at the checkout line? If I want an impersonal shopping experience, I’ll go to Amazon or other online vendors. If I’m in the store, I want to interact with people — including at the checkout line.

More medium-sized points of confusion arise as I drive about Albert Lea. Why is the speed limit on Bridge Avenue set at 45 after getting past the fairgrounds on the way to the mall? Why doesn’t the speed limit on U.S. Highway 69 get trimmed until you get to Ascension Lutheran Church? What’s the basis for the need for speed on those streets? And what’s the source of the antipathy city planners in Albert Lea have toward left-turning vehicles. Or more precisely, why the lack of empathy for the people stuck in the vehicles lined behind those turning left on Bridge and Main Street?

I’ve heard about the plans to turn Bridge into a four lane “parkway” from downtown to the mall. But the problem on that street does not flow from the amount of traffic over the course of a day; it is the traffic jam caused by vehicles trying to turn left. Four lanes on Main doesn’t really help with that problem for much of its course through town. This is the first place I’ve lived that appears to have some sort of resistance to getting left-turning vehicles out of the flow so others can move on.

A bigger source of confusion is all the schadenfreude being exhibited by Democrats over the Minnesota GOPs financial mess. Leaders of that party saw an opportunity and invested resources — including going into debt — to achieve a goal. That’s not a bad thing. Some goals are worth it, and making fun of them or hoping this debt creates lingering problems just doesn’t make sense, especially from a political party that embraces deficit spending most of the time.

Another really huge thing I don’t understand are the ideas that dominate our politics today. It’s about “my health care” whenever and however I want it, whine the voices from the left. It’s about “my money” and blaming the poor who get sick for their diseases, chant the voices from the right. It’s about going wherever I want, whenever I want via mass transit, cry the voices from the left.

It’s about going wherever I want, whenever I want via my Hummer (using fuel subsidized by taxpayers), insist the voices from the right. Get religion and spiritual values out of the political process, scream the voices from the left. Make Christianity — the hardline, Jesus kicks non-believer butt version — the only legitimate religion playing a role in our country’s society and politics, scream the voices from the right.

Whatever happened to the community? Whatever happened to the ties enshrined in the Constitution that bind us together as a nation? Whatever happened to the message of justice in all of the faiths of this country — the preaching of prophets and messiah — that instructs believers to bring comfort to the poor and afflicted, not paperwork and blame? I don’t recall Jeremiah, Isaiah, Jesus, Paul or Mohammed every telling their followers to “go forth and yourselves wealthy” by any means necessary.

New Year’s Day beckons. A fresh start. An election that might change the status quo in Minnesota and in Washington. I’ll do my best to resolve to understand all of these confusing things better, to look for explanations that make sense. But as a pessimist, somehow I think that resolution is likely to go the way of all my previous resolutions …

 

David Rask Behling teaches at Waldorf College in Forest City, Iowa, and lives with his wife and children in Albert Lea. His column usually appears every other Tuesday.