Snowball Fights in a White Neighborhood

Corey RobinI grew up in Chappaqua, New York, which is 20 miles northwest of New Rochelle. Both towns are in Westchester County, but they’re different.

Chappaqua’s population is 81% white, 12% Asian, and 2% black. Its median household income is $100,000. Its poverty rate is less than 4%. New Rochelle’s population is 47% white, 19% black, and 28% Latino/a. Its poverty rate is more than 12%. Its median household income is $67,000.

But here’s how I really know the difference between the two towns.

When I was growing up, my friend Mario, who’s no longer alive, came over to play. It was a snowy day. We decided to throw snowballs at cars. Our position protected by a tall hedge, we packed the snowballs tight and started hurling them onto the street. We did it for a while, till we heard a car screech and stop. And then we ran like hell.

About five or ten minutes later, my dad called out for us. The police were in the driveway. We got a stern talking-to, my parents yelled at us, and that was that.

—Corey Robin
A Tale of Two Snowballs

See: Cowardly Police Officer and the Snowball Fight

The Super Bowl Isn’t Good for the Economy

Super BowlAs we prepare for the biggest game of the year in the most boring sport, I thought it would be a good time to consider some economic and political issues regarding the Super Bowl. Let’s start with the fact that the first Super Bowl was in 1966. Bart Starr led the Green Bay Packers to the first two championships. But it is wrong to think of it as that big a deal. What it really was, was a corporate merger.

You see, the NFL was always just what we think of as the National Football Conference (NFC). But in 1960, the American Football League (AFL) started up and it did quite well. It did what companies in a free market are supposed to do: compete! But the NFL didn’t like that. So the two companies saw that they could make more money if they stopped competing and cooperated. So the first Super Bowl was part of the process of the AFL integrating into the NFL as the American Football Conference (AFC). I suppose it does make the whole thing more exciting, but it also makes ticket prices higher and gives football teams undue influence on local governance.

But the Super Bowl is great for the economy, right? It stimulates spending? Not especially. Mike Cassidy at The Fiscal Times lampooned this idea, The Super Bowl’s Economic Impact: Not So Super:

Like a family driving their SUV to get double bacon cheeseburger combos, everything about the day is wholesale, venti, XXXL. According to the National Retail Federation (NRF), Americans are expected to spend $14.3 billion as they watch the Seahawks battle the Patriots in the big game’s 49th iteration. It’s the nation’s second biggest eating day, a huge weekend for big-screen sales and routinely the record-setter for all-time TV ratings.

Cassidy brought up three points to counter this. First is the fact that $14.3 billion is not that much when you consider that American consumers will spend $12 trillion this year. If we look at the daily level, the Super Bowl is roughly half our spending. But of course, the spending for today does not take place in a single day. Still, it is sort of impressive. But that’s not the whole story.

The $14.3 billion dollars is a very deceptive number. If people weren’t eating food while watching the Super Bowl, they would be eating food while doing something else. This isn’t to say that the Super Bowl doesn’t increase spending. But it is to say that that the extra spending is far less than this headline number. As Cassidy noted, “It’s a great day to be a pizza delivery guy or a Best Buy investor. But it’s a bad day to be in pretty much any business that doesn’t involve watching football from your couch.” And that isn’t the whole story either.

The final issue — and the nail in the coffin of the Super Bowl stimulus — is that people generally have fixed incomes. So any extra spending today will be offset with less spending in the weeks ahead. So all the Super Bowl does is move spending around and focus it on a particular day. If Americans tended to over-save, then an excuse to consume might be welcome. But Americans already have extremely low savings rates. We don’t need the encouragement of the Super Bowl.

Not that I care about that. I think an excuse for a party is always good. What I don’t like is the idea that we should thank our corporate overlords. They are doing everything they can to oppress us. The Super Bowl is a big money maker for them. That’s why they do it. They shouldn’t be treated as though they care about the social good. Because they don’t.


You are, of course, allowed to enjoy the Super Bowl. But baseball is a much better game:

Cowardly Police Officer and the Snowball Fight

Police AbuseYesterday, Talk of the Sound reported, New Rochelle Police Draw Guns on Black Youths Over Snow Ball Fight NSFW. This took place in New Rochelle, NY — a town of about 80,000 people just north of New York City. In the video that I embedded below, a police officer seems to be detaining and searching two men who were having a snowball fight. But he does so at gunpoint. According to some sources, the police had been called because of a report of someone with a gun. It’s possible, but it sounds more likely to be a justification after the fact.

What I wonder is how this can possibly be correct procedure. The officer walks up to one man who is knelling on the ground. He is holding his pistol in one hand and searching the man with the other hand. If the man on the ground had been so inclined, he could have grabbed the officer’s weapon. Guns are not an especially good weapon up this close. And then, after searching the first man, he walks to the second — leaving him prone to the first man. If these had actually been dangerous men, the foul mouthed officer could have been taken down or even killed.

According to Talk of the Sound, this was not some inexperienced officer. They are not providing the name of him at this time, but they did report, “We will say that he is a Superior Officer (i.e., Sergeant, Lieutenant, Captain)…” Of course, I’ve never particularly bought into the whole idea that our policing problems are due to a lack of experience and training. There are bigger problems — particularly the culture of police departments. One thing is very clear in this video: the officer is not there to serve. He’s there to bully everyone.

So I think that the officer knows this is not a case where dangerous men are running around with guns. If he did, he would have responded in a different way. He would have put his gun away and called the other officers in a bit closer. My best guess — from years of interacting with police officers — was that it was an exciting opportunity. Two young black men were having a snowball fight, so he brought his car to a sudden stop and jumped out of the car. When the young men didn’t immediately respond to him, he drew his gun. Or he drew his gun immediately. And later that night when he went home, he told his wife about what a dangerous job he has.

Another interesting thing in the video is that the officer repeatedly looks toward the camera. He actually seems a whole lot more concerned about it than he is about the lawless snowball fighters. And I suspect that it is the presence of the camera that caused the whole thing to be resolved so quickly and amicably. It’s possible by that point, the officer realized that he looked like a total jerk. But I’m not sure shame is something that many officers allow themselves to feel.

Ultimately, this is as good an example of the problem with our policing that you will find. Why was it necessary for the officer to draw his gun? It clearly wasn’t. But as I’ve written too much around here, police have convinced themselves that their jobs are really dangerous, when they are not. And as a result, police officers tend to be pussies who would rather kill innocent children than risk the slightest threat to themselves. In this case, everything worked out well. But pulling a gun is dangerous, and should be a last resort, not de rigueur.

Update 3 February 2015 9:40 am

The Daily News reported, Video Showing New Rochelle Police Officer Pulling Gun on Teens Not What It Seems: Cops. According to them, when they showed up, one person put something in his waistband and ran. The other officer chased him, but didn’t catch him. I’m not sure what to make of that. Regardless, why was it necessary to hold a gun on the people who did not run? Why was the officer yelling obscenities at the young men when they were already on the ground with their hands in the air? And why did the officer search them with his gun still drawn? I am more convinced than ever that this is a great example of a badly trained police officer with a chip on his shoulder.

“Serious” Economics Is Just a Stalling Tactic

Paul KrugmanIt’s always fun to read Paul Krugman when he’s angry. And he was angry on Friday, I See Very Serious Dead People. He discussed a number of things, but I want to focus on one thing that he almost wrote about. One of his main complaints with the world of economic policy debate is the way that the very people who claim to be pushing “serious” policy ideas are the ones pushing useless and, very often, counterproductive policies. “I know that people who airily dismiss the austerity debate and all that and demand that we focus on the long run think they’re taking a brave stand; but you know, they aren’t.” That’s about right.

It often seems to me that talking about the “big picture” and the “long run” and “structural issues” are just a way to appear to be doing something, without actually doing anything. This problem is global, but it is especially typical of the United States. I noted this after 9/11. An obvious change would have been to put pilots in a separate compartment from the passengers. But that would have cost a lot of money. So instead, we got entry x-rays and bans on shampoo. But overall, it was just very clear that the government felt it more important to look like it was protecting us than it was to actually protect us.

With economic policy, the solutions to our problems are pretty simple. We went through this in the 1930s, and we know what works. But instead, we get the exact same policy prescriptions that failed back them. The most annoying of these is the idea that businesses aren’t hiring because American workers just don’t have the skills that employers want. This same thing was said in the late 1930s, but somehow, when the government started spending in expectation of World War II, those same workers were plenty skilled. And after the war, they continued to be. Funny that. Even funnier is the fact that so many establishment figures today recycle this same point without a hint of irony.

But I don’t think that they are ignorant. The purpose of claiming that the problem is a “skills gap” is that it doesn’t have a clear solution. The only thing that can really be done is to have the government pay for workers to go back to school and get those skills that businesses are supposedly so desperate for. And that means it is always at least a couple of years away. And when the last crop of students finds that they aren’t any more employable than they were before, no one cares. It isn’t like there are labor reporters everywhere disseminating the information.

Our economic problems are just a matter of doing what worked before: stimulus, which used to be the standard response to a recession, regardless of political party. This was true right up to the last Republican president. Our economy would be booming right now if Obama had grown the government the way that Reagan and the two Bushes grew it. But we couldn’t do that! So instead, much of the Washington punditry — including many so called liberals — call for mysterious, complicated, and slow policy. Needless to say, such pundits don’t have to worry about losing their jobs. So the pain they push on the rest of us and the years of bad times their policy preferences guarantee are no big deal.

Economic policy is not rocket science. When people claim that it is, all they are doing is arguing that we do nothing. It is kind of like global warming denial: we just don’t know enough; we need more study; there are no simple answers. It’s all nonsense. It’s all stalling. It’s just a way for the power elite to hang onto power.

Terry Jones

Terry JonesThe great comedian Terry Jones is 73 today. He is, of course, one of the members of Monty Python’s Flying Circus. I tend to think that he doesn’t get enough credit in the group. I suspect that this is more because he has the least distinctive face of the group. But that is a big part of what he adds to the group. He is the only one other than Michael Palin who gets lost in roles. Everyone else is pretty much John Cleese doing whatever part, and so on. Jones is especially great playing an older woman, as he does especially brilliantly in Life of Brian.

The critical dynamic in Monty Python was between Jones and Cleese. The consensus seems to be that Cleese was the brains of the outfit and Jones was the heart. Without those two, the show would have been at best just mediocre sketch comedy. Cleese is a comedic genius. But it was Jones that pushed the comedy outside the confines of the studio. It’s funny that many people think of the parrot sketch as a classic Python bit. But it is entirely typical of other sketch comedy of that time. What actually makes the show Pythonesque is stuff like the Michael Palin openings of the old man running toward the camera and saying, “It’s…” Of course, without Cleese, I believe the show would have been just too bizarre to have ever taken off.

One thing that wasn’t highlighted nearly enough was Jones’ physical comedy. He was the best of the bunch. Here is a good example of it. It also shows another aspect of him, which is that he has absolutely no shame:

Another aspect of Jones is that he is a rather good director. To begin with, I assume that the other members are just about impossible to direct. But more than that, all three of the main films — Holy Grail, Life of Brian, and Meaning of Life — look great given their budgets. But directors never get much credit for doing comedies, even though they are clearly the hardest kinds of films to make work. And after about two decades, Jones is coming out with a new comedy, Absolutely Anything — co-written with Gavin Scott and starring Simon Pegg and Kate Beckinsale.

And finally, he’s done some rather good and thought provoking documentary series like Terry Jones’ Medieval Lives and Terry Jones’ Barbarians. You can usually find them online.

Happy birthday Terry Jones!