Second Opinion Quick Takes From The Editorial Board

May 14, 2009

Eating their cakes, and baking them too

Who says that those historical designations and resolutions approved by state legislatures and widely mocked as inconsequential are as meaningless as critics claim? Last year, the Maryland General Assembly designated little-known Smith Island cake as Maryland's official state confection, and the guffaws could be heard from Annapolis to Tangier Sound.

But guess what's happened since then? All the publicity has touched off a cottage industry that stretches all the way from the Smith Island village of Ewell to Salisbury and West Ocean City, where a business called Original Smith Island Cake Company opened last week.

The 15 different flavored cakes baked by the OSICC should not to be confused with the Smith Island cakes made by Classic Cakes or the ones produced by actual Smith Islanders. Any way you look at it, that's a lot of dessert.

Of course, the point of this designation was to help stir up tourism and economic opportunity for Smith Island, which has taken a turn for the worse as the crabbing industry has suffered and alternate employment opportunities have grown scarce.

It's not clear that cakes produced off-island are all that helpful in this regard - even if you have to admire the entrepreneurial spirit behind them.

- Peter Jensen

A seat at the table

The Bush administration shunned the much-maligned United Nations Human Rights Council, thereby making the perfect the enemy of the good. Thankfully, President Barack Obama has taken a different approach.

There's no question that the U.N. Human Rights Council deserves much of the criticism it gets. A number of its members are themselves serious human-rights violators; current members include Cuba, China, Saudi Arabia and Russia. Moreover, the council tends to focus disproportionately on misdeeds by Israel, often ignoring much worse transgressions by the likes of Sudan.

But this is one of those cases where it is better to have a seat at the table than to carp from outside the room.

For all its flaws, the U.N. Human Rights Council is still the world body's most important human rights institution. Its predecessor achieved impressive victories that have made the world a better place, including the establishment of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The council's capacity to do good could be tremendous-if it can be steered in the right direction. That is more likely to happen now that the U.S. is on board and taking a leadership role.

- Michael Cross-Barnet

Bill Ayers in Baltimore

Last month, the Pratt library announced that Bill Ayers, with co-author and wife Bernardine Dohrn, would talk about their latest book, Race Course: Against White Supremacy.

But the couple and their Weather Underground past largely drowned out the book's topic: bigotry in education, elections and the criminal justice system.

Ayers, who became a political lightning rod during the presidential election because of his acquaintanceship with Barack Obama, has expressed regret for his actions as a founding member of the antiwar group. Of course, there are many who may never forgive him.

But the fact of the matter is, this man is a distinguished education scholar, and he's elevating the discourse about race relations in this country. As such, the library is the perfect forum for this conversation. The library welcomed dissenters, as long as they followed the library's code of conduct.

The Pratt should be applauded for the courage to host this event, ignoring the protests that have canceled other stops in this book tour. The library and its patrons deserved nothing less than a civilized, intelligent discussion.

- Nancy Johnston

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