Saturday, March 28, 2009

South Side Irish Parade: Developments Have Developed

We will come back to the concepts underlying the parade, its dynamics and the problems therein next week.

For now, though, there are two news stories of interest that have arisen in the past few days:
  • Evergreen Park Mayor James Sexton has made noises that his suburb might want to host a St. Patrick's Day parade. This would be, if it was done right, a boon and a credit to the south suburbs.
  • One of the people arrested at the parade tells people not to blame him for killing the parade. To Mr. Vasquez, I say that punching a cop was probably a bad move, even if you considered it self defense (which it seems that it wasn't). To his larger point, of course one person cannot be blamed for the parade being cancelled. As we shall see, the problems inherent in the parade are not those of human frailty, but those of bad planning and organizers who failed to change their focus with the changing nature of the event.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

South Side Irish Parade, 1979-2009

I was surprised, shocked and quizzical upon hearing of the "suspension" of the South Side Irish Parade. Read the Sun-Times version here.

I will offer a more in-depth analysis of this event, the decision to suspend it and possible paths for the future in the coming days. Presently, I wanted to offer my reflections based on my own experience and also respond (in one way or another) to the commenters on this version of the story at

My Personal Parade Experiences
I have attended the parade for at least the last ten years. A close friend's family owns a business near 103rd and Western Avenue. I also have good friends who live in the neighborhood, several of whom host parties on the day of the parade.

I have always had a good time at the parade. For several years, we would even stay at a hotel near the parade site and take cabs or walk to the parade to be on the safe side. Most years, though, we would park behind my friend's shop and stand out front to enjoy the parade.

I would be lying if I said that my friends and I didn't drink during the parade. We did, and on the public thoroughfare (which is illegal in Chicago and most everywhere that isn't Las Vegas or New Orleans). We were always responsible about it, though. I have too much experience in my circle of friends with DUI and other legal complications. We always had a sober driver and always got back to the South Suburbs safe and sound.

Alternately, we would walk to a friend's house in the neighborhood, spend the rest of the day and night there and pick the car up in the morning.

We always respected the neighborhood, understanding that we would expect the same if people came to our neighborhood. I never peed in a lawn. I never threw my trash around. I never destroyed property. I never got in a fight or caused any sort of disturbance. I, furthermore, never saw any of my friends do any of these things. If they did, then I didn't see it.

I am not exaggerating any of this just to make myself look like a saint. I pride myself on being a responsible parade goer and one who knows his limits when it comes to alcohol. I have tested those limits in the past, but I am beyond that stage in my life. I know what I can handle and I don't go beyond.

To Those Who Say, "Good Riddance!"
...and at the above-linked article there were plenty of them. A lot of these people, furthermore, claim to be Beverly-Mt. Greenwood residents. I have no way of proving where these people are from, but there were several common themes in their comments.

I guess I can understand their joy at the parade's a point. Yes, I can understand that the mess and congestion and crowds and public drunkenness and destruction of property is out of line and can make life miserable. How could these things NOT be a nuisance?

I can also see the other side of the argument. Yes, these negatives are considerable, but there are positives. Apart from the huge influx of cash into the neighborhoood (which will be discussed at length in future posts...I wonder if it offsets the extra cost of police, fire and sanitation), this event has truly become one of national scope. It brings thousands of people into a unique and historical neighborhood of the city for a day of celebration. I have never lived in a place that anyone has given much of a shit about, so I could see where that might engender a sense of pride.

The numbers of arrests (which don't tell the whole story), furthermore, as compared to attendees (an estimated 300,000) is miniscule. While, as I alluded to, the arrest figures do not encapsulate the fullness of the unpleasntness (and might just say as much about the police as the parade goers), it IS only one day out of the year. To have your neighborhood host an event that brings joy to so many and have to be inconvienenced one day a year seems a small price to pay.

This does not mean, however, that I condone destruction of private property. Private property is sacrosanct. It is, as far as I am concerned, a fundamental human right (the protection of property, that is). This is wrong and takes some creative thinking to make it better (again, more on this later).

In summary, then, while I can see how some people (especially residents of the neighborhood) would be glad to see it go, I can also see how these same people might not be considering all of the facets of the issue.

To Those Who Say, "The Problem is Outsiders!"
Most of the people who said this seemed to be the above people who live in the neighborhood. They lament their neighborhood celebration becoming a magnet for people from "outside," who cause most of the trouble.

They also claim that it would be a good idea, not to mention feasable, to exclude people from outside the neighborhood. This, they state, would return the parade to what it once was - a celebration by the locals, for the locals.

This view is impractical and ill-informed. While most of the people arrested were not from the immediate area, this fact doesn't really mean that much. There were likely more people at the parade who didn't cause trouble (or whose troublemaking was not officially punished) from elsewhere.

The only way to make this happen is to check proof of residency for all parade attendees. The logistics of this would be nightmarish, to put it lightly.

To Those Who Say, "We Want Nothing to Change!"
Sorry, this seems unlikely. Such a decision, I would imagine, was not taken lightly.

To Those Who Say, "This is the Wrong Way to Celebrate Irishness!"
I understand that the stereotype of the Irish as being drunk and violent is one with a long and damaging history. You can say this of most stereotypes, really.

I also understand, however, that in a larger sense, this shows a short-sighted view of the subject. One of the cornerstones of the Irish character and culture is hospitality to one and all. Welcoming strangers into our homes and neighborhoods, encouraging all to eat, drink and be merry is simply part of what Irish people are. While I am not really Irish (I am an American of Irish ancestry), I take great pride in this aspect of my background.

If some American Irish people choose to celebrate their heritage by going to church, fine. If others choose to celebrate their heritage with their friends and a case of beer at a parade, fine. If they choose not to celebrate it at all, fine. If people who have no Irish background decide to join us in our celebration, fine.

What I object to is being told how to engage with my ethnic heritage. Ethnic hertiage can be as much a curse as a blessing, and it might leave one with mixed feelings (as it does for me). I choose, however, to celebrate the best parts of my heritage while not forgetting the negatives.

For Next Time
In my next post concerning the implications of the cancellation of the South Side Irish Parade and it's possible future, I hope to explore the nature of this sort of event, the problems inherent therein and possible suggestions of how the event could change.

To read up on this, you might want to consider the ideas of public goods, negative externalities and the free rider problem.

After doing this, we will consider other possible reasons behind this decision (non-rational maximizing ones) and where we go from here.

I think it is safe to say, however, that the South Side parade as we once knew it is dead and gone forever.

Is that good or bad?

We shall see.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

TSA: Hassling The Handicapped, Taking My Pop And Fighting Terrorism

I, like many people, traveled by airplane during my spring break this year.

I took two flights: one from Chicago-O'Hare to Pittsburgh and then the return flight from Pittsburgh to Chicago.

Overall, the travel part of my trip (taken with my dad) was uneventful. No delays or lost luggage or faulty rental cars or messed-up hotel reservations. No, all of the service providers that my dad and I dealt with were generally quick, professional and gave great value for money. This included two airlines, a rental car company, a hotel and a mobility equipment rental company.

There was one entity, though, that colored each travel experience, making it unpleasant, tense and nerve-wracking.

This entity was, as you might have guessed, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).

You can choose your airline, rental car provider and hotel. You cannot pick to NOT deal with the TSA. If you want to fly inside or from the USA, you have to go through a TSA checkpoint at the airport.

I have had bad experiences before with the TSA and this trip was no different. The web is resplendent with TSA horror stories; just Google-search "TSA sucks" and see what you come up with.

At O'Hare, I had no trouble apart from having to remove my shoes and jacket (as I suspected I would have to). My dad was a different story.

He went through the checkpoint in a wheelchair. Apparently, this marks the person as an immediate threat and subject to additional search. They made my dad remove his shoes and belt, two things that are not easy for him (or anyone) to do while seated. He then was made to walk through the metal detector, trying to keep his pants up.

I guess they didn't realize that he was in a wheelchair for a reason. It was embarassing, demeaning and (seeing as they have hand-held metal detectors) seemingly unnecessary.

On our return trip, it was I who had problems with the TSA. My dad was taken into a side examination room where he didn't have to walk, holding his pants and trying to walk. That was the good part.

The confusing part came when I removed my shoes (not my jacket: apparently jackets are only dangerous when one departs from O'Hare, not when one arrives there), put my bag on the conveyor belt and walked through the metal detector.

I went to retrieve my bag and, well, reassemble myself, when a TSA screener picked up my bag, looked at me like Dirty Harry and turned the contents out on the table in front of him.

Now, just for the sake of completeness, I will recount the exact contents of the bag: A book, some crossword puzzles from the newspaper, a file folder containing documents pertaining to our trip, a package of Juicy Fruit gum and three sealed, bottled beverages (Diet Dr. Pepper and two bottles of spring water). Pretty dull stuff, right?


The TSA Charles Bronson wannabe gathered the bottles up, shook his head at me like one would at a dog who pissed on the carpet, put them behind his counter and shoved the contents of the bag back toward me. I gathered up my legal carry-on items and left the area before I said something stupid (which can be almost anything around TSA screeners).

Apparently, my non-alcoholic, non-combustible liquids were off limits. I was interested in why this was, so I went to the TSA website to their list entitled, "Prohibited Items." No, nothing even close there. Thankfully, I packed my nunchucks, cattleprods, starter pistols and cricket bats in my checked baggage.

I then checked the list entitled, "Food and Beverages." There, I found a stock photo of a burger and fries and nothing more than a vague statement about items purchased inside the airport terminal.

I came to the conclusion that my items were taken unfairly or at least without adequate explanation. Well, I am not sure what I expected. Power-tripping, government-backed, uniformed thugs are never good at putting things into words.

So, to conclude, I have something to say to the TSA agents who made our trip and then to the TSA more generally.

To the handicapped-hassling, beverage-confiscating, jackbooted, pushy, unhelpful, inhumane government stooges in Chicago and Pittsburgh, I hope your day was made by embarassing a handicapped man in public and taking items that may not have been illegal. I also hope you fucking rot in the lowest level of hell.

To the TSA generally, I say you are no more than security theater. You are not there to protect people. You are there to make people think that they are protected. The real failure of airport security on 9/11 (where all of this TSA shit started) was that it worked too well and the hijackers just gamed the system.

The TSA serves the purpose of eye-wash, the visible portion of a security apparatus whose scope and remit we cannot begin to understand. The TSA is a bloated, inefficent, unwieldly government bureaucracy that serves its own interests first and the interests of the people a distant second. The only thing that they protect are their positions and salaries, each person from the airport screeners to the Secretary of Homeland Security engaging not in security but bureaucratic empire-building.

So, TSA, you do not make me feel safer. You do not convince me that you could stop the ever-evolving terrorist threat to our transport system. You do nothing but use your power to inconvienece and hassle people.

In other words, you are no different from any other branch of the government.

I want my dad's dignity back. I want my fucking pop back. I want my privacy back.

Don't bother trying, though. I know you are capable of no such things.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Multum In Parvo, Spring Break Edition, not the sort of Spring Break that springs to mind: blaring crappy pop music out of a Days Inn window in Florida...drinking Keystone Light out of a McDonald's cup...syphilis.

Merely a few short items that combine some of my favorite things:
  • First, sports and economics. Use some economic thinking in making your NCAA Basketball picks.
  • Second, the Coase Theorem and reality (such as it is). See how this foundational idea of the relation between law and economics is playing out with a Las Vegas convienence store.
  • Lastly, booze and economics. Read Tim Harford's take on alcohol prices and their effect on consumption.

Sorry that there is nothing of substance this week (do read the above articles, though). I am away from Madison until the weekend. That and all the festivities for St. Patrick's Day, my dad's birthday and a trip to Pittsburgh.

I will need to get back to work to get some rest for a change.

Anyway, enjoy.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Read Up And Wither Labels?

Yes, I know. Three posts in a week from a guy that used to disappear for four months. What can I say other than I have a lot to say.

First, please read the below three posts. They examine:
  • The situation in Northern Ireland.
  • Alan Greenspan's craven ass-coverning attempt.
  • Brokers jumping out of windows in 1929 (or not).

Second, I have added some more links to the blogroll and links list at your right. Check them out.

Third, I have been toying with the idea of putting labels on my posts. I did it for a while about a year and half ago, but then I stopped. I suppose that this would make accessing previous (somewhat) related posts easier.

What do you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments to this post (after reading the other posts, of course.)

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Plummeting Brokers of 1929: Popular Yet Wrong

It is an image that is seared on the popular conscience in times of financial crisis.

It is October 29, 1929. Stock markets in the United States had lost $30 billion in the course of a week. This was more than ten times the federal budget at the time and far more than the U.S had spent fighting World War I. This would be roughly $363 billion today.

In response to this financial disaster, brokers in New York were despondent and broken. In their despair, they began to fling themselves from the windows of their buildings. The streets of Manhattan are littered with corpses that represented the broken financial dreams of a nation. Even Winston Churchill witnessed such a suicide with horror.

This image is very evocative, very well-known, very widely-quoted and very wrong.

For the straight dope, well, read it here at Straight Dope.

John Kenneth Galbraith, in his classic 1955 book The Great Crash (whose conclusions I reject, by the way), confronts this issue. Galbraith studied suicide statistics and, while the suicide rate did rise from 1928-1932, the figures show no acceleration in September and October of 1929.

I suspect that there were two reasons for the popularity of this image. First, as the Straight Dope article makes clear, there were several well-publicized suicides that were connected (sometimes tenuously) to the events of October, 1929.

Second, and more powerfully, people who were going through the effects of the crash wanted to believe this. They wanted to believe that the people who had manipulated the market and lost all their money would kill themselves in their shame and despair. People were unhappy and poor so this image, as violent as it was, was an understandibly popular one. It is through this, I suspect, that this myth entered the popular conciousness.

We, as a society, need to find an outlet for our frustrations. When they are financial in nature, the targets will naturally be people in finance. That is why, in my opinion, the media has latched on to (and people have readily consumed) the sordid tale of Bernie Madoff. The full resentment of people and their financial woes are given a face and a dastardly story.

This sublimation of fear and resentment directed toward Madoff (who is doubtless a criminal who deserves to go to jail) springs from the same source as the persistence of the 1929 broker suicide myth. People seem to find this act soothing, expiating, cathartic and worth their time.

My one fear in this, though, is that people will "get it out of their systems" without looking into the deeper implications of the event. They will be glad that the brokers killed themselves, glad that Madoff went to jail and be done with it.

Let's not be so hasty. Let's try to understand these things, though the process be difficult and long.

We will all gain a clearer picture and deeper understanding.

And THAT'S no myth.

Too Late To Cover Your Ass Now, Greenspan

It seems that former Federal Reserve Chair Alan Greenspan is trying to deny that he played a part in causing our current financial malestrom.

Give me a fucking break.

The evidence is becoming more and more clear that allowing Lehman Brothers to fail in September of 2008 didn't freeze credit markets. For an excellent and readable empirical approach, read John Taylor's paper on the government response to the crisis (if you don't want to read the whole thing, check out the charts and skip to the last page and read the conclusions).

For regular readers of COTL, you will remember my discussion of this matter last fall. If not (or if you just want to relive those, ahem, thrilling moments, click here and here.

The problem was not the failure of Lehman Brothers. The problem was the ad hoc and uncoordinated reaction of the government to the situation. Short-term cash injections were not enough. Why? The problem was NOT liquidity. The problem was risk.

By propping up some companies and not others, the government caused the (now) fatal crisis of confidence among investors that made making any investment in fixed-income markets too risky. This caused the drop in the bond markets and thus the drying up of credit.

If we are taking a break from dealing with this situation to point fingers, let's make sure they are pointed in the right direction.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Same As It Ever Was?

This was supposed to be over, right?

After the Good Friday Agreement, this was all to be part of the past, wasn't it?

With devolved government and a power sharing executive, the Unionist and Nationalist communities in Northern Ireland were supposed to put violence beyond their plans, weren't they?

Well, for the most part, it seems that they have.

The Real IRA's killing of two British soldiers in Antrim this weekend and the killing of a police officer in Craigavon (near Belfast) yesterday could not but send a shiver down the spine of those who have followed Northern Ireland's fitful path to peace and reconciliation.

The RIRA is a core of "true believers," made up mostly of former members of the Provos who reject the peace process and the perceived collusion of Republican leaders with the British government. Why did they do what they did? For the same reason that terrorists do anything: to bring attention to their beliefs by the use of politically-motivated violence.

What else might have provoked this violence? It could have been PSNI Chief Constable Sir Hugh Orde's decision to bring in British Army intelligence specialists to deal with a growing threat of Republican activity and violence. It seems, after the events of the past few days, that he might have been on to something.

Will these attacks derail the peace process? I sincerely hope not. That will all depend on how the leaders of the Unionist and Nationalist communities react to the situation and how dedicated they remain to making the peace process work.

It seems that this is what is being done...sort of. For the part of the Unionists, DUP Leader and Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson has called for this matter to be left with the police and also for restraint on the part of Unionists to prevent recriminations and counter-violence in the wake of these attacks. British Northern Ireland Secretary Shaun Woodward has condemned the attacks and called for the people of the province to be united.

For the part of the Nationalists, Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams condemned the loss of life, but intimated that if Sir Hugh Orde had not called in British Army specialists, these attacks might not have taken place.

Why the hair-splitting on the part of Adams and Sinn Fein? I agree with Lord Paul Bew's assessment that Adams is facing a difficult position for himself and his party (click on the link and read the whole thing; Bew is a real expert and has an excellent read on the situation).

Reeling from an unexpected electoral defeat in 2007, the lack of support from the Republic of Ireland (they have their own problems) and the seeming waning of political engagement of some former Republican supporters, Adams is in a political conundrum and he, in reacting, tried to speak out of both side of his mouth. He wanted to show that he supports the police and the justice system to pursue the perpetrators of this violence, but also that he still has the fight to question the actions of the British government in Northern Ireland.

This is all well and good as far as the political leaders go. The real meaning of these events going forward, though, rests with the people of Northern Ireland. It seems that the people of Northern Ireland are, by and large, committed to the peace process and the devolved government as it has developed over the past eleven years. There are, and will in some measure always be, radical elements on both sides of the issue.

The key question is how much support, either direct or tacit, is offered to these elements. If it it is a lot of support, then the killings of this weekend will not be the last. Organizations like the RIRA need the support of people in the community to survive as much as they need the channels of international money and arms smuggling to continue their "military" campaign. The same, naturally, goes for their Unionist counterparts.

The people of Northern Ireland must show that they have the political will to resist the actions of those who would bring back the violence and uncertainty of the Troubles of the past forty years. They also must realize that their leaders, people like Adams, might need to change. I believe that it will take a generational shift in political leadership for real, lasting progress to take root.

The generation that fought the British government and those that were in control of that government need to go by the wayside. The generation that grew up with the beginnings of the peace process in the 1980's, who has known as many years of peace as of violence, is where the hope for the future should lie.

It is these people who will have the will and the ability to support the peace process and its institutions. It is these people who will have to resist the temptation to let frustration lead back to the violence of the past. It is these people that will forge ahead and either make or break Northern Ireland as we now know it.

Is this likely to happen? As a life-long student of Irish history, I surely hope so. I am not naive enough, though, to guarantee any such thing.

We, and the people of Northern Ireland, must hold our breath and wait.

Let's hope it is worth it.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Multum In Parvo

Just a few short items of (possible) interest:
  • Los Angeles County has apparently banned swearing this week. The kid that proposed this said that he wanted people to be more civil to each other. What he forgets is that swear words are as much a part of our language as any other word and they indeed have their place. What he also forgets is that his idea would be accepted from the start...when have you ever known the government to turn down a chance to tell people how to behave? To gain some perspective, take a lesson from Professor Carlin. Don't agree with me and George? Well, fuck you.
  • New Illinois Governor Pat Quinn seems to have paid some of his own expenses when he was Lieutenat Governor. You know the political state of affairs is pretty sad when we are overjoyed that a guy paid for his own dinner from time to time.
  • Maureen Dowd on the Obama Administration's silence on pork in the bailout legislation. At least John McCain tried to say, "no se puede."
  • How low will stock markets finally go? Wall Street icon Henry Blodget thinks a lot lower. Steve Forbes is worried too. I tend to agree with them, though more with Blodget than Forbes. Look at the open interest in March SPX puts at the CBOE. Those numbers are too big to be an accident.
  • The White House contiunes its assault on CNBC, this time on Jim Cramer's charges of "wealth destruction." I find Jim Cramer to be smarmy, unseemly and just plain wrong a lot of the time. He did, in this famous blow-up, have things right on interest rates in 2007.