Thursday, April 28, 2016

A Lesson in Empathy

I grew up in Iowa, but have little warm feelings toward the place. It's not that I actively dislike it, I just don't really care about it. My parents moved away from the hometown where I grew up about 5 years ago, and I don't think I've so much driven through the state since then, and I can't for the life of me conceive of when I would ever end up back in my hometown for basically any reason. Again, I don't feel any over antipathy toward the place, I just don't feel any meaningful connection. Even though I spent the first 23 years of my life in Iowa, and it undoubtedly shaped me in many ways, I just don't really care about it.

I moved to Minneapolis shortly before my 23rd birthday and immediately felt at home. My dad hails from Northern MN, and trips to Minneapolis were often the most exciting part of my childhood growing up. For whatever ineffable reasons, I always felt much more connection to and affection toward Minnesota. I remember once having a talk with my brother over some beers about how it just made so much sense to move to Minneapolis as we both did, because we both always felt much more like Minnesotans than Iowans. And now that my folks have moved up to Minneapolis from my childhood home, pretty much all of my connections to Iowa are severed.

Which is all a long way of saying I consider Minnesota my home.

I've also never understood why people get so incredibly upset about celebrity deaths. I mean, I get why people are sad when some artist or performer they enjoy passes, but I never understood getting legitimately upset about it. After all, it's not like you've ever met. That celebrity doesn't know you,  doesn't know shit about you, and doesn't care about you. Getting upset over their death just seems...odd. In fact, I'm pretty certain I lost some friends for life when I gently suggested it was weird how upset people got over the death of David Bowie, someone they've never even met.

But then Prince died.

It hit me like a ton of bricks. Frankly, it was fairly confusing. I mean, I'd long been a Prince fan and appreciated everything about his musical genius. But it genuinely felt like a close relative had died. I don't know that I've ever been more homesick for the Twin Cities than I was seeing all the spontaneous dance parties and tributes and all other forms of collective mourning happening in the immediate wake of his death. It felt like I was missing a relative's funeral in that way that I felt like I should be there. Like I needed to be around friends and family just to process this.

In trying to figure out why the death of someone I've never met affected me so much, especially given my previous stance of thinking this was an insane way to react, I think I've settled on the fact that we shared a hometown.

Prince loved Minneapolis and Minneapolis loved Prince. Here's a pre-fame Prince in 1979 explaining that Minneapolis is his home and he'll always stay. And stay he did. Paisley Park right there out in the burbs. While pretty much every other famous person runs away to find their fame and fortune in more glamorous environs, Prince stayed. He could often be found at Vikings games. After the Lynx won their last WNBA championship, he brought them back to Paisley for a post-championship concert. He wasn't just a celebrity from Minnesota, he was a celebrity of Minnesota.

It's a pretty strong contrast to the state's other famous musical export. Dylan pretty famously got out of Minnesota fairly quickly, landing in the NY folk scene before he was out of his teens. And he never really came back, not in any meaningful sort of way. While there's a lot about him that clearly stamps him as being a Minnesota product, you get the feeling the place is no more than a tour stop to him. Minnesota seems to be to Dylan as Iowa is to me -- a place you're from, not too much more.

And I think that's what makes Prince's passing so intense. We both claim Minneapolis; I as an immigrant who fell in love with it and have more connection there than anywhere else, he as the most favorite native son. It's a pretty tenuous connection, sure, but I'm obviously not alone in feeling it, if the thousands who spontaneously poured into downtown last Thursday are any indication.

So now I get it. I get why people can be so saddened by the death of someone they don't know or ever met. I mean, I'm not a monster -- I understood the basic process of it. But as with so many things, actually experiencing it is a hell of a lot different than understanding it on an intellectual level.

So in addition to eating this big ol' slice of humble pie, I think I've got a little bit more empathy in my angry, withered heart. That's Prince for ya, still teaching us all valuable lessons we didn't even know we needed to learn.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Saying Goodbye to Minnesota's Patron Saint

Grief. Sadness. Heartbreak. The day sex died. It's hard to put it into proper words.

One of my greatest regrets in my short life is that I never got to see the Purple One perform live in person. The only Prince story I really have involves specifically not getting to see him play -- I was at some sort of showcase type show of local music (I want to say it was one of the Doomtree blowouts, but I honestly don't remember) and suddenly there was an insane buzz all through the venue. Now, I have to assume that anywhere in the world, if Prince is in the house, people start to go crazy. But when Prince is in the house in Minnesota, people go even crazier. But when Prince is in the house in Minnesota and furthermore it's in First Avenue, a place nearly synonymous with his funkness, it's truly insane. As soon as the first person sighted Prince lurking in the wings, every person in the place knew within moments. In the greatest tease I'll ever experience, Prince stood in the wings for awhile, before eventually strapping on a (unplugged) guitar and beginning to noodle around as if trying to figure out the songs. It was only a matter of moments before he would join the performers on stage, surely. But, as is his beguiling way, he instead simply took the guitar off and disappeared back into the ether of the wings.

Really, this might be the most fitting anecdote I could have. After all, Prince is one of the few people to ever exist where you repeatedly tell the story of the time you kinda sorta could see him offstage. That's the kind of presence the man had.

Yet through it all, Prince remained a fairly...well, normal guy, as much as you could ever apply that word to a pansexual little person funk god. After all, he was a huge Vikings fan and regularly attended games. He continued living in Minnesota most of his life, despite being a world-famous rock star. He beat the siblings of celebrities at basketball and made them pancakes.

This is one of those times when I really wish I was in Minneapolis to join in the collective mourning for the hometown boy done good. I've got nothing to say that will compare to the inevitable countless eulogies and obituaries penned for the man by writers much more insightful and loquacious than I. I just know that I, like a lot of folks right now, feel like I lost a family member and it'll take a good while to recover.

Good night, sweet Prince.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

What An Hilarious Failed Thievery Attempt Can Tell Us About Crime

Last night the weather was finally nice enough to sleep with the windows open for the first time this Spring, which is one of my favorite nights of the year (ahead of it on the list: the day we set clocks back and all sleep in, the night before Christmas, the night of my birthday, the night when Brigadoon comes out of the fog). Anyway, around midnight, as I was finally beginning to drift off to sleep, I heard a car door open and for some reason thought someone was breaking into my car. As I sat listening to the noise, I tried to somehow magically determine if it was just my neighbors coming home much later than usual, or if my paranoid first thought had indeed been correct. As I pondered whether I'd remembered to lock the car doors after bringing my groceries in, I had a trio of thoughts that prevented me from caring too much:

1) I leave nothing of value in my vehicle at any time. Mostly because I own nothing of value, but also because I've had my car broken into roughly 857,349 times and have learned my lesson (one of the few downsides to city life).
B) My car has a factory-installed CD player, which is both worthless and really difficult to remove. Given that non-factory CD players comprise the only things ever stolen from my vehicles, I could safely conclude there ain't nothing in there worth taking (or, just as accurately, that I would give a shit if it was taken).
III) What was I going to do? Hop up in the dark, throw some clothes on, find my glasses, run downstairs and then...I dunno, fight them? Yell at them? Explain in detail this is a prime factor in eroding the social trust networks that improve so many life outcomes? Plus, my bed is super comfy and I was super sleepy.

So I went to sleep and promptly forgot about the whole thing. Until I was walking the dog this morning when on the way home, about 50 or so feet from my car, I saw a little black object that looks exactly like my CD carrier. Which, unsurprisingly, turned out to be the CD carrier I keep in my car. Unrelated to the point I'm making, this is by far my favorite part of the story*. After taking the dog home and feeding her, I went out to assess the damage. Fortunately I had left the doors unlocked so they didn't break a window (more on that in a bit). They emptied out the glove box presumably looking to see if I had anything worth taking, but they left everything. Including the nice GPS unit an ex's rich parents had given me for Christmas several years ago. Much like the CDs, this stands as a comical aside of how quickly the value of certain things has deteriorated with the technological changes of the past decade or so.

But as I looked around the car, it became increasingly clear they had taking nothing. Not nothing of value, but just straight up nothing (though, again, I don't keep anything at all valuable in there). Until I remembered that last night after getting groceries, I didn't have a free hand to carry in some of the non-perishables, so I just left them in the trunk figuring I would grab them later. "But surely they didn't," I thought to myself. "Why would they even want that?" I wondered with increasing curiosity as I rounded the back of the car only to open the trunk and find a true horror scene. I had found the one thing they did take from my vehicle:

A 24-pack of Diet Pepsi.

Humorously enough, there are some things of minor value in the trunk -- tools and the like -- which would probably fetch zero dollars but have some utility. But none of that was taken, either. Just the Diet Pepsi. So I have been keeping my eye out for people who look like thieves who don't use tool sets and are watching their figure, but have yet to ID the culprits.

But the question remains -- what does this teach us about the reality of crime? Short answer: a shitload!

For one, this bears all the marks of the crime of convenience, by far the most common type of street crime. Unlike the super intelligent super criminals of the television world, or the clever and always-plotting criminals of bourgeois imagination that lead to ever-hilarious "how to avoid crime" pamphlets, most people who commit these kinds of property crimes don't really plan them out ahead of time. They may have a general plan of "let's test the handles of parked cars," but they don't case vehicles for days scoping out the choicest prize (after all, if they did, they would have known not to bother with my car).

Also, it's not like they broke a window to get in there -- that's probably a level more than this particular group of kids was willing to do. Had I remembered to lock my doors (which I do 99% of the time!), they more than likely would have just moved on down the street. And I say "kids" intentionally, because I can all but guarantee this was a group of teenagers. Not only because I'm now over 30 and therefore do not trust any teenagers for any reason, but because it's been well-documented that these kinds of street crimes are almost exclusively the domain of people in their mid-teens to early-20s, and more often than not, boys rather than girls.

All this speaks to the most important point, which is that people aren't "criminals," they're people. That is to say, I think a lot of folks who aren't criminologists (so, you know, everyone) view people who commit crimes as if that's like their 9-5 or something, like they wake up in the morning and punch the crime clock, trying to work their way up the crime ladder so they can get a big enough crime 401(C)** to retire early and raise some little criminals in the suburbs.

Instead, people who commit these types of property crimes (who most people are referring to when they use the term "criminal") turn out to be not terribly different from most people. Maybe these kids were out specifically trying to steal things from cars that night, but there's also a pretty decent chance this was on a complete whim. But in either case, it's not like they identify as people who occasionally steal things from cars, as if that's what is central to their sense of self. Instead, that's more than likely just one of many things they do during the copious amount of free time teenagers have.

Also fun and related -- this is why official crime stats are not very good. Or are often, pardon the highly-specific scientific jargon, pretty damn shitty. What's often referred to with the super-metal-sounding-for-a-fairly-boring-concept name of the Dark Figure of Crime is the notion that probably well less than half of all crimes committed are ever reported to the police (whether those crimes reported to police ever actually end up in official stats is a whole other story). This story is a prime example of one of the many types of crimes that goes unreported -- even if they had stolen anything of value, it would have to have been very valuable for me to bother reporting it to the police, and then I'd only do that because I assume my insurance would require me to. But in every previous case I've had my car broken into and things actually stolen from it, I never bothered reporting it, because I knew exactly what would happen -- eventually a very polite officer would stop by my house, listen to my story, write down a report, and that report would be filed away somewhere to never be seen again (which is a quite reasonable thing for the police to do, as there is less than zero point to searching for a stolen car CD player, at least of the kind I could afford).

So in the end, this is all just a no-harm, no-foul reminder to lock your car doors when parking on the street. But it taught us some valuable lessons about criminology, and I'd like to think, the importance of taking all the groceries directly inside and putting them away.

*Why is this my favorite part of the story? Because what explains not stealing my CDs, but simply moving them a bit down the road? Like seriously just moving them roughly 50 feet. None were missing, they weren't broken, it doesn't even appear like they were thrown. Just moved. So here's my current theory: one of the guys rooting through my car grabbed them against the protestations of the other fellas. "Come on, these have to be worth something!" he tried to argue, while they all just laughed at him for his naivety (this was his first attempted theft). Now just trying to save face, but having already snatched them up, he carries them for awhile, waiting until all the other guys aren't looking, and then gently sets them down so they don't hear anything and look at what he's doing. Now there are no more CDs, and he can claim he was just kidding the whole time and was, like, never planning on stealing them for real! Shut up, guys!

**The C is for Crime!

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Social Forces Exist and People Are Sometimes Just Shitty People

Many people hate them for the wrong reasons,
others hate the for the right reason
As a young(ish) white man, I am constitutionally required to #feelthebern. As such, I find this tweet hilarious. Not hilarious in a "Rita Rudner funny" kind of way, but hilarious in a "US Government Simultaneously Lecturing Cuba About Political Prisoners While Literally Operating a Lawless Prison on Cuban Soil" kind of way.

I find this tweet endorsement so insanely apt because Courtney Love is the Hilary Clinton of popular music. The parallels are simply too many: for one, both have always been and seemingly will always be overshadowed by their more famous husbands (regardless of how undeserved it may be). They're also both regularly accused of being willing to discard and discredit anyone who stands in the way of what they want. But more what I'm getting at is how they're spoken about, regarded, and just generally understood by so many people.

Because, frankly, both have gotten so much shit their entire careers. In many cases, it has been completely undeserved and obviously only heaped upon them because they are women who dare to exist and be successful in what stubbornly remain male-dominated industries. And while both have plenty of examples of staunch and vocal defenders, even those who greatly dislike either or both of them simply have to admit they've also gotten a lot of shit for things that would not have been a problem if they were men. It's an argument so self-evidently obvious it doesn't even need to be made.

So to sum up: Courtney Love and Hilary Clinton both get a ton of undeserved shit exclusively because they are women. Pretty undeniable.

...and yet you can already hear the obvious and obnoxious "however," right? Well, in this case, the obnoxious however is that both Courtney Love and Hilary Clinton also have some pretty major faults. Like...really major faults. For instance, pretty much everyone who has ever met Courtney Love seems to very much dislike her. Heck, here's a collection of 11 Diss Tracks That Are Probably About Courtney Love and you can peruse the comments section for suggestions of dozens more songs that are varying degrees of being clearly about the songwriter's distaste for Love. These songs are all written by people who have interacted with Love, and the sheer number of them all coming to the same conclusion seems to strongly point to there being something about Love beyond her gender that is causing this reaction. After all, while plenty most all women in the music industry suffer ridiculous levels of sexism, few come anywhere close to the level of vitriol Love seems to inspire.

Similarly with Hilary Clinton -- there are many, many reasons to dislike her as a candidate for President that have nothing to do with her gender. For instance, the horrid things she's said about black youth, her support for the disastrous and illegal Iraq war, her continued hawkish stance on the entire Middle East, her completely uncritical support of Israel, the fact that she is "stalwart friend of of World's Worst Despots,"  her continual leading from behind such as when she conveniently forgets everything she previously said about the TPP or her convenient about-face on gay marriage, or hell, just her inability to correctly pour a beer. Again, the point is that none of these are gender-based issues (unless you were to excuse male politicians for these same behaviors, in which case, totally sexist).

So it makes a ton of sense that Love's and Clinton's supporters would view any and possible all criticisms of these two as motivated at least in part by sexism, and why their detractors would feel like they're being unfairly accused of sexism due to the fact there are many reasons they dislike one or the other (or probably for a lot of people, both) and none of those reasons are necessarily gender-related.

In the end, it simply had to be. How could Courtney Love Cobain endorse anyone other than Hillary Rodham Clinton when Courtney Love Cobain is Hillary Rodham Clinton?