Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Carrots Without the Sticks

Buried in the back pages of today's LA Times is a gem of an article highlighting the questionable empirical evidence for economic enterprise zones, which have lately been touted by W. as a response to the aftermath of Katrina.

Call me an old-line positivist, but for something to have effectively changed, beyond normal variation, the data must support the evidence. Take a read:

Over the last 10 years, the federal government has chartered 40 empowerment zones and 40 renewal communities, both of which offer tax breaks to qualifying businesses. One is in Los Angeles. Another covers a portion of New Orleans.

In addition to the federal areas, many states and cities have their own enterprise zone programs.

Over the years, economists have attempted to measure the effectiveness of the zones. Some studies have found statistical evidence of higher rates of economic growth and job creation. Others have not. Several analysts who reviewed past research have told Congress the overall results are inconclusive.

When asked for empirical evidence that enterprise zones work, the White House and the Treasury Department cited a 2001 study by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which oversees the federal programs.

HUD looked at the first six urban zones established during the Clinton administration. They were in Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, Detroit, New York and Philadelphia.

Of the six, four experienced greater job growth than comparable areas where the special benefits were not available, the HUD study said, and owners reported that the climate for doing business had improved.

But two zones fared worse than comparable areas, and 65% of businesses in the six areas reported no benefit from being in empowerment zones. In addition, few firms took advantage of the tax credits, and more than half of those that used them said they were of little or no importance in hiring or investing decisions.

HUD said it was unable to reach conclusions about the effectiveness of the zones.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Bad Food is Universal

Anthropologists disagree vehemently about the extent of human cultural universals, but for the cynics in the crowd two items are head and shoulders above the rest: utter stupidity and really bad food.

Another Column One example of Pulitzer-level reportage today from the LA Times strikes yet another blow to globalization of food trends. Target, this time - Mexico - and the food, Japanese instant noodles:

That's a brand of instant ramen noodles that to him means lunch. Leon's grandmother stocks them in her tiny grocery store in this hamlet 40 miles southwest of the capital. The preschooler prefers his shrimp-flavor ramen with a dollop of liquid heat.

"With salsa!" he said exuberantly at the mention of his favorite noodle soup.

Through the centuries, Moorish spices, French pastries and Spanish citrus have left lasting impressions on Mexico's cuisine. Now Japanese fast-food noodles, first imported here in the 1980s, are filling pantries across the country.

Time-pressed school kids, construction workers and office drones have helped turn Mexicans into Latin America's largest per-capita consumers of instant ramen. Diners here slurped down 1 billion servings last year, up threefold since 1999, according to a Japanese noodle association.

My worst food experiences in Mexico were tacos made with roasted grasshoppers and dried, salted tripe wrapped in a tortilla, but hey - those were at least authentic.

I hope the Times continues to give front-page coverage to food articles banned from the haute cuisine afficionados in the Food Sections on Wednesdays. A week ago, the World section also reported on the popularity of Spam gift baskets in Korea (Oct. 15 - go check it out if you can get past the registration barricade).

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Morning Reading Fun

Angelinos love their cars, and more literate Angelinos (the few, the proud) are turning to Dan Neil's weekly auto review in the LA times. A past Pulitzer-prize winner, Neil combines the best of over-the-top sports rhetoric with a few witty Chandlerisms in most of his columns.

Today's piece on the new Mazda Miata MX-5 was particularly enoyable. For those of you who don't regularly get a chance to read amusing columns with the morning coffee, here are some choice excerpts:

MAZDA Miata, how do I love thee? Let me count the days.

Um, two
From its fiercely flatulent dual-exhaust note and buzzy metabolism to its stunt-kite agility, the MX-5 is all about sensory involvement.

Which is great, absolutely brilliant, two days a week, when the MX-5 can find the empty onramps and lightly patrolled canyon roads to practice its unique brand of necromancy. Weekdays, though, this car is a rolling root canal.
It doesn't help that the car's final-drive ratio is 4.10:1 and that peak torque (140 pound-feet) resides at 5,000 rpm. Put it all together and you have a car that is screaming bloody jihad at 25 mph if you don't shift into second gear.

The MX-5 is the sort of car for which two-car garages were made.

The central console, shaped like one end of a snowboard, holds the fuss-free climate and audio panels. Most notable is the band of shiny black plastic — "piano black" only if your piano is made by Mattel — which, unless I'm mistaken, is the same material that appears in the Ford Fusion (Mazda is a corporate holding of the Ford Motor Co.).

But the car lives for cornering forces. Once it finds its posture, the MX-5 clings to a white line like Kate Moss.
It's not easy to sap the joy out of a car like this — this artful dodger, this blithe spirit — but somehow, Los Angeles manages.

Stuff like this makes waking up fun.