Minneapolis has had gangs for as long as I can remember. In the late 50's and early 60's, you had the Baldies, the Greasers and later the Animals. The Baldies had shaved heads, wore preppy clothes, and jacked their pants up to their armpits. The Greasers had long greasy hair, wore too short black jeans, white socks, and if they could afford them leather jackets and engineer boots. The Animals were just animals.
In the mid 60's the Suprees, and other gangs, identifiefd themselves by wearing wool jackets with black leather sleaves. The color of the wool identified the gang to which you belonged. Some men who are now deep into middle age still have those green jackets.
In the late 60's we either all became Hippies, or got too stoned to care.
In most cases gangs didn't split along racial lines. Instead they represented schools, or neighborhoods.
Some gangmembers went on to become convicts, some lawyers, some doctors and some cops. But during that time frame they did the same thing gangs of today do, they created their own alternative reality.
Not everyone could join a gang. You had to be cool. But cool was a relative thing that could change depending on perception, peers and circumstance. And it generally did not include anthing remotely pro-social. In our world the heros weren't the Lyndon Johnson's or Richard Nixon's. The legends were people with names like Alabama Geno, Motorboat, and Grey Eyes, or in the hippie era Jack Flash, Barabas or Scorpio Mike. We didn't look to Wall Street or downtown Minneapolis for our role models. The skills we admired were the ability to kick high, to take a punch, to score weed, and later for some, the ability to score hard drugs, shoplift without being detected, or open a safe.
Generally the smart kids and the jocks didn't get into the gangs. The Suprees might have been the lone exception. In most cases, the gangs were made up of kids who felt they weren't able to compete in the world of academics or sports. If they got the girl, the girl didn't tell anyone....unless she wanted to be identified as one of those girls. The rule of the day was mostly get high, party and fight.
But for all the similarities that exist between gangs of 40-50 years ago and gangs of today there is one glaring difference. Back in the day, cowardice was never cool!
Two weeks ago a young man was shot while running down the street. Some stories suggest he was the wrong target, others that he was shot over something as trivial as someone unwilling to braid someone elses hair. But no matter what version you hear, he was unarmed and shot in the back. Later someone drove by the young man's house and indiscriminately shot into a group that was gathered to mourn his passing.
A few weeks before that, a young man was gunned down from the bushes as he walked to his car near Lake Calhoun.
Yesterday Minneapolis had it's 30th homocide of 2010. Three people were shot at the Old Colony Gas Station on Washington Ave. One died.
By all accounts, none of the victims were armed.
Back in the day, if you had a beef with someone, the two of you pounded on each other until one, or the other, said "uncle". Then you stopped. It was intimate. You had to look each other in the eye. You had to put your hands on each other. Many times when you were done, you shook hands. If you walked up behind someone and "sucker punched" him, you were likely to be ostracized by your own gang.
In fact, even back in the days of the Old West, when everyone had guns, if you shot someone in the back, you were a "bushwacker". No one looked up to someone who didn't have the nerve to stand toe to toe with their adversary.
Now apparently all that has changed. Now all you need to do to be a tough guy is shoot someone from the bushes, or in the back, or shoot into their house.
People involved in the thug life have a unique ability to see themselves through rose colored glasses. Instead of viewing themselves as petty theives and purse snatchers, they imagine themselves as skilled technicians of legerdemain. Instead of seeing themselves as spouse beaters they see themselves as players. And instead of seeing themselves as cowards, they see themselves as tough; despite all actions to the contrary. In fact, many of them go to movies and root against villans who are doing the very same things they are. It's a self-preservation thing. If they ever see themselves as petty as they really are, they have no choice but to change.
When the murder rate goes up, the response is generally the same, more police, different politicians, and an after school program or two. None of those things are bad. And they do keep a lot of people employed and in the public eye. But first and foremost, we have to change the definition of cool back to where someone who shoots an unarmed person in the back is recognized for what he is. And only that person's peers, neighbors and those important to him, can accomplish that.
I remember when Mary Esther, one of our staff, first brought in a new Commodore computer to utilize its word processing function. It was probably 1987. We all looked at it like it was from outer space.
Every afternoon I get a news alert from the Star Tribune with the days headlines. It used to be that I had to read the newspaper in the morning, or listen to the evening news to get the same information. With CNN, I am beamed notification of such things as the World Cup results, or the LeBron James hoodwink, at the very moment they happen. Thank you internet.
The things we now take for granted, we once thought we didn't need. Just try to take them away. One consequence of progress is we open paths to information and functions that speed processes and increase producitvity. Another is, we open up a vehicle for instant communication and gratification that can be used at will by anyone; including individuals who used to be heard only by the unsuspecting, who ventured too close to a corner, in Downtown Minneapolis or St. Paul, and marveled at their ranting and the little tin foil umbrella they wore on their head.
Think about it, we have created the worlds largest soapbox. Only now the conspiracy theorists, the end times predictors, the people who took orders from the voices in their heads are all disguised by an attractive color screen that somehow legitimizes that which used to be ignored at best, and made fun of more often than not.
Reading the comments after news postings in the electronic edition, particularly political stories, is more entertaining than the comics used to be in the written edition. Except they're not suppose to be entertaining.
Many feel the need to comment on each and every story, demonstrating something I call e-courage, the intestinal fortitude to hit a button and hide behind a pseudonm to say that which they would never have the intestinal fortitude to say in public.
Minnesotans old enough to remember when boxing was popular, will remember Ken Norton as the man who beat Scott LeDoux, the "Fighting Frenchman", in the last great fight at Met Center. Those from the Little Falls/Bowlus area will also remember him as the person who ended Duane Bobick's quest to become the next "White Hope", in 1 minute 48 seconds of the first round.
For the rest of the world he is a bit more than a footnote in boxing history, but short of being universally considered a great fighter. He held the WBC version of the Heavyweight Title, for one fight, and the NABF version for two. He is probably best known as the man who broke Muhammed Ali's jaw in the first round of a twelve round fight, and then barely squeaked out a decision.
Norton had skill, he had a punch, and he had heart. But he had one fatal flaw, he couldn't back up. Dubbed the "Mummy" by Ali, he fought like he had one foot in a bucket, unable to do anything but move forward, mostly in a straight line. He had no capacity to change his fight plan.
Ali, who came back to beat Norton twice, is recognized as one of, if not the, greatest of all time, largely because he had the ability to go in with a plan, but reassess and adapt as a fight wore on. Just ask George Forman.
I always considered George W. Bush the Ken Norton of politics. Once he made a decision, he was going to stick with it through thick and thin. Despite good intentions, his inability to reassess and adapt was probably at the root of why he left office with such a low approval rating. Think Iraq.
Now we have a pugilistic governor who just took one on the jaw. I am speaking of the Supreme Court decision to overturn his unilateral budgeting gaff of last year. Early indications are that hasn't changed his game plan. Pawlenty and his supporters continue with the ridiculous rhetoric of "activist judges" in spite of the fact that each of those voting in the majority was appointed by a Republican governor, with the final decision written by the Chief Justice Pawlenty himself appointed. The "my way or the highway" attitude seems to still be in place, as evidenced by his remarks yesterday.
There is a school of thought that places great importance on developing a plan and sticking to it, regardless of the consequences. In that same school, there is even a premium placed on "doubling down", upping the ante when dealt a setback. On the other hand, there are those who have defined insanity as doing the same thing, over and over again, but expecting different outcomes. Whether Pawlenty proves to be a Norton or an Ali remains to be seen. The quality of life in our State, and Pawlenty's legacy, may well hang in the balance.
The quote used for the title of this blog, or something very much like it, is attributed to St. Francis of Assisi. A close friend of mine used to paraphrase it with the saying, "Damn what they say, watch what they do, and you'll know who they are".
Yesterday, after the fourth or fifth email message I received portraying Obama as the antichrist, or telling me if I didn't forward the senders favorite bible passage to at least 10 friends I would be denying Christ and burn in hell, I posted the following on my facebook page:
"To all those people who feel the need to forward me fraudulent and unsubstantiated emails that advance whatever political or religious ideology they are into at the moment; get a life!"
It was followed by:
"DAILY THOUGHT: SOME PEOPLE ARE LIKE SLINKIES - NOT REALLY GOOD FOR ANYTHING BUT THEY BRING A SMILE TO YOUR FACE WHEN PUSHED DOWN THE STAIRS."
I'll admit, the second part was probably overkill. But the first is serious, at least for me. Politics and religion have destroyed at least as many friendships as sex and money. I really do not appreciate receiving a slide show, accompanied by Motzarts greatest hits, extolling the glory of God and taking up all of my computer memory. Nor do I appreciate those comparing current political leadership to Hitler, or Marx, and calling into question lineage and faith that wouldn't even be considered if it was directed at anyone but Obama, and more specifically anyone who wasn't Black. So don't send me that stuff. Truth be told, when you do, it brings about a reaction in me that is probably just the opposite of the one you are promoting.
You see, I have my own relationship with God, and my own political ideology. And I believe that most people who use words to try to get me to believe what they believe do so because they are insecure in their beliefs, and are looking to validate themselves more than convert me. I have one exception to that rule, one friend who I know is concerned with my salvation, even if he does forward me stupid emails. But most of the people who include me in their attempt to convert the unconverted, either religiously, or politically, don't even know me. So please knock it off. I can pretty much assure you that even if I was convertable, that fact by itself won't get you into heaven or win any elections.
A tax by any other name may still be a tax. And so called "sin taxes" are generally thought to be a bad idea. But nowhere is it more justified as a fee than with alcohol, since 75% of treatment admissions are paid for with public dollars.
Let’s see, a while back, Steve Simon and Chelsea Becker publish a commentary promoting a tax/fee on alcohol as a way to pay for such things as DWI enforcement, substance abuse treatment, and other social ills caused, or exacerbated, by alcohol use. Shortly thereafter, Rob Hahn, the owner of the Midwest Wine Connection and then Dan O’Gara and Pat Mancini bar/restaurant owners, wrote counterpoints; Hahn with a counter proposal to tax fast food, and O’Gara/Mancini with a plea not to add another tax to the supposedly overtaxed alcohol industry. Both, tongue in cheek I hope, extol the health benefits of alcohol.
First let’s be clear, we already tax items that are shown to negatively impact society at a rate where the tax is designed to offset the costs associated with misuse of the item; think cigarettes, and now tanning beds. And alcohol negatively impacts society more than either of them, and in fact, more than all illegal drugs combined. The impact on health care from things like alcohol related accidents, diabetes, cirrhosis, kidney disease, malnourishment and dementia are all well documented. The impact on broken families, unemployment, poverty and homelessness is clear. And alcohol is also one of, if not the biggest contributors to crime; not just DWI, but domestic/family abuse, stranger on stranger violence, sexual abuse and any other crime where a lowering of inhibitions is a factor. Yet we have those who argue against a fee to offset those costs. We all know the rationale for taxing cigarettes. Their use is shown to increase the risk for cancer. Most people don’t smoke, so we have no problem placing the costs to society on those who do. Most of us don’t use tanning beds. We have no problem taxing those who do because sunlight, in large doses, causes melanoma. And to the argument brought forth by both earlier commentary pieces, like the occasional glass of wine, Vitamin D, one source of which is sunlight, is also a health benefit in small doses. But many of us use alcohol, including many politicians who pass laws. And many beverage alcohol manufacturers, like the tobacco companies of the ‘50’s, make large campaign contributions. So passing such a tax on alcohol will be a task worthy of Sisyphus.
But on to the arguments presented by the other authors. Fact, unlike the scenario portrayed in the O’Gara/Mancini piece, an alcohol tax would land most heavily on those who abuse alcohol. A recent SAMHSA study confirms that 23% of the U.S. population has engaged in binge drinking in the past 30 days. Wikipedia defines binge drinking as the consumption of alcohol with the primary intention of becoming intoxicated. It’s defined elsewhere as consuming at least 5 drinks in a row. It’s not your occasional glass of wine. Others have estimated that 80% of the overall alcohol consumed in this country is consumed by 20% of those who drink. Assuming those 20% are more likely to develop problems like alcoholism and engage in things like driving while intoxicated, domestic abuse or other behaviors brought about by a lowering of social control; the O’Gara/Mancini argument that a tax/fee would, “punish responsible consumers”, doesn’t seem to hold much water. In fact, a tax/fee could almost be portrayed as prepayment for treatment and enforcement. The impact would not fall disproportionately on those who read a magazine for wine connoisseurs, or those who have one or two drinks with dinner.
O’Gara and Mancini argue that alcohol is unfairly taxed and cost of a new tax will increase unemployment statewide and put bars out of business. Too bad users of other products have not had to endure the same market conditions as those of beverage alcohol. I do not wish to seem facetious, but we really need to examine the increase in the comparative cost of alcohol. In 1970, a loaf of bread cost an average of 25 cents, today the same loaf of bread goes for $2.00. In 1970, a gallon of gasoline was 32 cents; today that gallon of gas is $2.75. In 1970, a pack of cigarettes was 30 cents, today $4.00. And for Mr. Hahn, the cost of a Big Mac, fries and a soft drink at McDonalds was under a buck. Despite cost increases, people have not stopped eating, driving or smoking. Prices for most things are now between 800% and 1500% higher than they were 40 years ago. Conversely, the cost for a 24 can case of cheap beer in 1970 was around $4.00. Today you can buy it for $12.00. Alcohol prices in liquor stores have increased by less than half of those for other commodities. Those charged in restaurants and bars may well be another matter.
Oh, one more fact, the percentage of tax dollars spent on the eradication of substance abuse has gone down 11% over the same time period.
In keeping with Hahn’s propensity for full disclosure, I operate programs that deal with the individual and societal consequences associated with the use of alcohol and other drugs, as well as the criminal behavior that accompanies their misuse.