July 1, 2000
comments powered by Disqus
An article on the front of the metro section of this morning's New York Times describes the growth of commercial activity in Harlem. Under the headline "New Cinema and New Hope in Harlem," the article reports that one soon-to-be-developed retail site "is cater-cornered to a Pathmark -- Harlem's first full-service supermarket in three decades -- which has flourished since it opened in April 1999."
Well, you could get into some definitional questions about what constitutes "full-service," but anyone who lives in Harlem knows that there were supermarkets there before 1999. The ombudsman of The Washington Post, E.R. Shipp, devoted part of her column in May of 1999 to debunking a similar claim that had appeared earlier that month in The Washington Post. She wrote: "The article said, inaccurately, that Harlem had recently acquired its first supermarket. This came as a surprise to Harlemites past and present -- of which I am one. I regularly shop at the Fairway in my section of Harlem; others prefer such supermarkets as Associated and C-Town."
Indeed, the Fairway has been at 133rd St. and the Hudson River waterfront since 1996; directories show an Associated Food Supermarket on East 116th St. and C Town Supermarkets on St. Nicholas Ave. and on Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard. If The Washington Post, an out-of-town paper, was able to grasp this point on the second try, you'd think that the Times -- which, after all, is based in New York -- would do better.
Fireworks Dud: Under the headline "City Officials Tell Revelers, Leave Fireworks to Experts," a story on page B2 of today's New York editions of The New York Times predictably parrots the government line on pyrotechnics. Leave aside, for a moment, the article's failure to include any opposing points of view. (The Wall Street Journal got ahead of this Independence Day perennial with an editorial in Friday's paper that said, "Put it this way. Every year we have propane tanks blow up. But does the government tell us we should leave barbecuing to the professionals and get our ribs from Tony Roma's?")
No, what's really illogical about the Times story is its use of statistics. There's a scientific-looking graph alongside the story showing a steep decline in the number of cases of fireworks seized by city police and fire departments. The article says officials say the numbers "show that the crackdown has discouraged people from bringing fireworks into the city." That's ridiculous. The numbers don't show anything of the sort. They may show that the fireworks smugglers have gotten more clever at hiding their wares. They may show that the police have gotten less clever at capturing cases of roman candles, sparklers and the like. But there's no reason to believe that the amount of fireworks seized by police is an accurate proxy for the amount of fireworks that are being brought into the city. Consider what would happen if you applied that analysis to the trade in illegal drugs. As it is, police and drug enforcement agents tout seizures of large quantities of drugs as successes. According to the Times-fireworks theory of crime statistics, a large seizure would be bad news for police, a sign that the crackdown on narcotics has failed to "discourage" people from bringing drugs into the city.
The other statistic city officials tout -- and the Times passes along uncritically -- is that the number of fireworks-related injuries "has gone down with the increased enforcement efforts." But the Wall Street Journal editorial reports that "the 10 states with absolute bans on fireworks accounted for 41%" of all reported fireworks-related accidents in 1995. Now, it's possible that the 10 states with the largest populations just happen to all have absolute bans on fireworks. But you kind of wish that the Times reporter had read the Friday Wall Street Journal editorial and grappled with it rather than simply passing along the party line from city officials.
The one statistic that would really tell you something about the supply of fireworks in New York is their price. Assuming that the demand is relatively steady from year to year, if the price goes up, it would be evidence that the police effort to restrict supply is having an effect. But there's no information in the Times story about fireworks prices.
The Mail : Smartertimes readers talk back. Letters to the editor, with responses from the editor, on rent control and Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. Click here to check it out.
Subscribe to the Mailing List
© 2017 FutureOfCapitalism LLC