Good news, bad news, and the news

Sometimes it seems we get so little good news. It’s just exhausting. The economy. Discord. Partisanship. Crime. In this world, whatever comes across the news transom that is fun or interesting is worth noting, because there is something awful right behind it. And so we shall mention that the van driven by the character Uncle Rico in the cult film “Napoleon Dynamite” now resides in Minnesota, “somewhere in Lake Calhoun area,” according to gossip blog LOL/OMG. It’s this van, and for an unexpectedly large group of Americans, it is as iconic a vehicle as, say, the Batmobile, which is also in Minnesota (one of them, anyway), or the Delorean from “Back to the Future,” which, as it happens, also made the move to L’Etoile du Nord. They’re all owned by the same guy, and you can rent them out if you like, although it’s a bit pricey. But good news is rarely free.

In more good news, via the Star Tribune, a University of Minnesota researcher was a recipient of one of the $500,000 MacArthur Grants popularly knows as “Genius Grants.” The recipient was Marla Spivak, an entomologist best known for her work with bees. Another winner: David Simon, creator of “The Wire” on HBO. What do beekeeping and “The Wire” have in common? As the opening theme to the highly regarded show tells us, when you walk through the garden, you gotta watch your back.

And now, on to the bad news. According to Frederick Melo of the Pioneer Press, the last adult bookstore in St. Paul has shuttered. Melo offers a summary of the hard times we are in for adult entertainment: “The Belmont, a strip club at the same intersection, was briefly transformed into a police precinct [station]. Also gone are such infamous adult clubs as the Payne Reliever on Payne Avenue, Casey’s and Raquel’s Rap, a ‘sauna’ that advertised ‘Frank Adult Discussion’ with nude women on West Seventh.”

Speaking of St. Paul and bad news, Chris Havens of the Star Tribune offers the following discouraging headline: “For many in St. Paul, taxes to go up.” Specifically, according to a presentation of the Joint Property Tax Advisory Committee, “More than half of St. Paul homeowners are going to see an increase on their 2011 property tax bills.” Havens didn’t seek responses from people whose taxes are likely to climb, but he got them in the comments anyway: “Are MY taxes going to be used to pay for 3 meals a day for someone elses kids?? That is WRONG!!”, one writes, because, gosh, nobody would ever want to make sure our society has a social safety net that prevents children from starving.

There’s apparently a new weapon on the street, and it was recently used to render a Mankato man unconscious, according to Robb Murray of the Mankato Free Press, republished by the Pioneer Press. The weapon is something called “Blast Knuckles,” which are, in essence, brass knuckles with contacts on the front that cause it to act like a stun gun. The victim in the story was approached by two young men who asked him where a party was. “Not here,” he replied. And then they allegedly placed the stunning device up to his head and knocked him unconscious. If the number of Blast Knuckles videos to be found online are to be believed, a lot of young people believe that these stun devices are a prank, perhaps figuring it’s cheaper than driving around in Uncle Rico’s van. They must not have heard about David Cornelius Smith, the man who was Tasered at a Minneapolis YMCA last week, and who died shortly afterward.

When you’re discouraged enough by the news, it’s easy to think little or nothing can be done about any of this — and we’re in an especially pessimistic time, with stories such as this one, from Tom Scheck of Minnesota Public Radio, titled “Gov candidates face hard choices on health, human services programs” and detailing how there will be a surge in needs for state-funded social services in the next few years, just when the state is facing an economic crisis that will leave it strapped for cash to pay for such things. The story details the three major candidates’ approaches, with a dire warning from DFL candidate Mark Dayton that simply cutting them doesn’t solve anything: “You take a butcher knife rather than a scalpel to an existing program and you just do more damage, and actually cost taxpayers more because all of these people flood to emergency rooms rather than neighborhood clinics.”

Ugh. Let’s turn to the arts for some good news: In this declining economy, it’s rare to hear about a new print publication, much less one that seems to be doing pretty well. Of course, that newspaper is called Busted, and, as detailed by Dawn Stevens of FOX 9 News, consists mostly of mug shots of people arrested in various Minnesota counties. One supposes that a case could be made that this is an example of using tragedy as entertainment — as profiting off human misbehavior and tragedy. The publishers make the case that they offer a social good, and the people who sell it argue it’s entertainment. One supposes the same discussion could be had about the newspaper industry in general, or any industry where there are profits that follow tragedy. “I got the shotgun, you got the briefcase,” Omar Little once said. “It’s all in the game.”

In sports: Well, at least we won’t lose the Timberwolves, if the Associated Press has it right. This despite the fact that, as the AP puts it, the Timberwolves “tied a franchise record for futility last season by winning just 15 games in the first season under president David Kahn and coach Kurt Rambis.” It’s all in the game.

Comments (5)

  1. Submitted by Andrew Zabilla on 09/28/2010 - 12:12 pm.

    Max, you wrote about a comment on the fact that St. Paul taxes are going up:

    Are MY taxes going to be used to pay for 3 meals a day for someone elses kids?? That is WRONG!!”, one writes, because, gosh, nobody would ever want to make sure our society has a social safety net that prevents children from starving.

    There are different types of people who oppose taxes, but… there are people who are struggling right now to make ends meet and if this person is one of them, I can certainly understand their frustation. Frankly, without having any context about the comment’s author, your comment seems rather callous, judgemental and aloof – as if everyone paying taxes is in a situation where those extra dollars every month aren’t needed. Not everyone is that fortunate.

  2. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 09/28/2010 - 12:48 pm.

    Andrew, I must gently suggest that you’re not giving bunny proper credit.

    After all, to maintain the proper “Glean” decorum, he had to sort through 54 comments such as:

    “Must have tax increase
    Have to pay all those workers who don’t work and apparently can’t be fired.”

    And…

    “For years St. Paul city council told us taxes went up because our property values went up.
    So they lied?!? Taxes actually go up because elected officials vote to spend more money… I am SHOCKED!”

    And, perhaps worst of all..

    “I’m sure the citizens of St.Paul are happy. They voted for the do gooders.”

    All of which, as you can see, not only fail to provide the necessary segue for one of bunny’s teh witty comments, but might actually give the thoughtful reader something of value to mull.

    None of these responses are of the sort that bunny would likely re-tweet…this was a tough job for bunny, so give him a break.

    Anyway, why do you hate kids?

  3. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 09/28/2010 - 04:42 pm.

    Seems as if we have all sorts of, how shall I say it, “Well perfumed hot air” flying on the issue of taxes in St. Paul, today (and precious little factual information to back up assertions being made).

    If you want to know why your taxes are going up, take a look at what’s happened to St. Paul’s share of Local Government Aid (and that of the 85% of other municipalities who receive it).

    If you want street lights, fires put out, streets patrolled, potholes patched, all the routine services that make life in any city seem relatively acceptable, safe, perhaps even pleasant, you have to pony up sufficient property taxes to make up for the millions of dollars that have been extracted from your city’s budget.

    That extraction has happened simply to ensure that little King Timmy Pawlenty (and Tom Horner and Tom Emmer’s) best buddies, whose incomes have skyrocketed over the past few years, don’t have go back to paying taxes at the rate such people were paying back when Minnesota was known as “the state that works;” back when we were prosperous and turned in economic performance that exceeded every other state in our region for many decades running (and what was that B.S. about cutting taxes to improve the “business climate” being a panacea for our state?).

  4. Submitted by James Hamilton on 09/29/2010 - 09:49 am.

    I’m apparently unclear on the concept of “adult book store”. It seems to me that there are at least three storefronts on University Ave offering videos, toys, clothing and other adult items. Is it that they don’t offer books in this post-literate era?

  5. Submitted by James Hamilton on 09/29/2010 - 09:59 am.

    St. Paul property taxes always have been influenced by property value increases and decreases and always will be. It is the value of your property relative to all of the other property in town, however, that determines whether you pay a larger or smaller percentage of the levy each year. The amount of the levy is and always has been set by local government: city, county and school district.

    As much as we’d all like to think that budgets can be cut (or the line held) at the drop of a hat, the fact is that some increases are built in to the system, e.g., pay increases in long-since negotiated salary schedules.

    The bottom line is, people shouldn’t rely on sound bites from politicians when looking for an explanation of their property tax bills and shouldn’t necessarily blame the politicians when they do increase. Independent thought, always in short supply, also may be necessary.

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