January 13, 2012


When I was at UCLA in 1980-82, the place to be on weekend evenings was Westwood, the dining and movie theatre district just south of UCLA's campus. Everybody drove from the suburbs, paid to park, and then walked around like they were living in a city. Then it went out of fashion. Today, Colorado Blvd. in Pasadena is the new Westwood for today's well-heeled young people who want to drive somewhere to find a vibrant urban experience (i.e., pretty girls walking around at night). There's nothing particularly wrong with Westwood these days, it's just kind of staid and empty compared to the old days.

I'd assumed that this was just natural generational change or a matter of taste. Westwood is mostly modernistic and kind of swoopy-looking, so it still looked kinda cool in 1980, while Old Pasadena is pre-Great Depression-looking, and early 20th Century urban looks are more in style these days. But an article in Los Angeles Magazine by Dave Gardetta attributes the change to differences in government regulation. 
People who once drove to Westwood on Saturday nights now visited Old Pasadena. 
“If you had told people in 1990 that this switch would occur,” says Shoup, “you would have been considered insane.” There are many theories about why Westwood died, and Shoup has his own. “It’s a myth to say Westwood died because of one high-profile homicide in the 1980s,” he says, referring to the 1988 death of a Long Beach woman named Karen Toshima, killed in crossfire. “Westwood had an unbelievably high parking requirement—ten spaces for every 1,000 square feet of restaurant. Old Pasadena had none. Westwood had dangerous alleys, crumbing sidewalks. If you want to know why Old Pasadena succeeded Westwood, parking was a big part of the story.” 
Cole had created the first Shoupista paradise: No parking requirements, parking meters where once there were none. His city grew rich off the notion—and nobody has tried it since. “For 5,000 years,” says Cole, “we built cities around people, and they worked well. For 50 years we’ve built them around the parking lot—a ridiculous use of land, of money, and an intrusion into the intimacy of human scale. Now we’ve painted ourselves into a corner. The saving grace is that the first 5,000 years might come back again.”

What I think this means is that Westwood (which is part of the city of Los Angeles) had onerous restrictions on new businesses, requiring them to provide lots of parking spaces, while Pasadena let entrepreneurs get away without investing in a lot of parking spaces, which attracted newer, more interesting businesses.

The idea behind mandating that new businesses provide parking spaces is to mitigate an externality so they have to meet the full costs. But maybe that degree of fairness slows new businesses down too much? 

January 11, 2012

An exception to Moynihan's Law of the Canadian Border

From the NYT, a map of percentage of adults who admit to binge-drinking:

The lowest state was Utah, the highest Wisconsin. 

January 10, 2012

Goodbye, Mr. Chimps

From my new column in Taki's Magazine:
Although future behavioral taboos are notoriously hard to predict, it’s clear that within this decade America will end the use of chimpanzees in entertainment. I’ll go much further out on a limb and also predict that within a generation, and for much the same reasons, we will seriously consider banning child stars. 

Read the whole thing there.

January 9, 2012

Chump change

The newspapers are full of stories about how casino mogul Sheldon Adelson has given $5 million dollars to Newt Gingrich to run attack ads against Mitt Romney, revivifying Newt's campaign. 

Is $5 million really headline news in politics these days? I feel very naive about this because I have no clue what the real deal is, but I've long noticed that when I'm reading stories about the political contributions of heavy hitters like Adelson and Haim Saban, the numbers tossed around about their donations don't seem all that staggering. Now, T. Boone Pickens giving $165 million to get Oklahoma State almost into the BCS title game -- that's significant money. But $5 million sounds like what some used car dealer ponies up to get his college football team's weight room refurbished, not the kind of serious moolah that may determine the course of American history. Reading these articles, I feel like I'm in that scene in Austin Powers where Dr. Evil is defrosted after 30 years and threatens to blow up the world if he's not given "One. Million. Dollars!"

January 8, 2012

Nutrition and Inequality

Over the last year or two I've noticed a growing conventional wisdom consensus that inequality in America has something to do with nutrition. For example, Paul Krugman uses the word "nutrition" three times in today's column:
The failure starts early: in America, the holes in the social safety net mean that both low-income mothers and their children are all too likely to suffer from poor nutrition ... 
Think about it: someone who really wanted equal opportunity would be very concerned about the inequality of our current system. He would support more nutritional aid for low-income mothers-to-be and young children. ... 
And the Congressional wing of his party seems determined to make upward mobility even harder. For example, Republicans have tried to slash funds for the Women, Infants and Children program, which helps provide adequate nutrition to low-income mothers and their children ...

I don't watch as much sports on TV as I used to, so maybe I'm missing out on a trend that's obvious to Krugman in which we see NFL and NBA players increasingly suffering from rickets and stunted growth. I don't know, though. For example, linebacker James Harrison of the Steelers is one of 14 children, but he seems full grown to me.

Seriously, is there something substantive I'm missing in the growing handwaving about "poor nutrition" causing inequality?

Affinity scams and subprime

Here's a good NYT article on one example of what seems like a general pattern in the subprime disaster: affinity scams in which immigrant brokers fleece their co-nationals.
Financial Ruin of Immigrants Tied to Broker 
For years, a self-made real estate magnate named Edul Ahmad personified the collective dreams of Richmond Hill, Queens, which is populated by many immigrants from Guyana, in South America. Mr. Ahmad drove a yellow Lamborghini, sponsored a cricket team and held white-glove parties at a lavish banquet hall that he owned. At a prominent intersection near the border of Richmond Hill and South Ozone Park, his smiling face looked down from a large billboard that promoted his real estate services. 
Many residents responded, taking out high-risk mortgages that they were told they could readily afford. 
In July, it all came crashing down. Agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation arrested Mr. Ahmad, charging him with masterminding a $50 million mortgage fraud that seemed to exemplify a nationwide phenomenon of celebrated immigrant brokers who were accused of preying on their own. ... 
Mr. Ahmad, 44, is charged with luring buyers into subprime mortgages, inflating the values of their properties and concealing his involvement by using straw buyers, like his wife and the Guyanese-born captain of the United States cricket team, Steve Massiah.

Guyana, by the way, is supposed to have the highest percentage of its nationals living in the U.S. of any country. The organization GuyanaUSA argues that so many Guyanese have moved to America that the U.S. might as well take over the whole country.

"Breaking Bad"

I finally got around to watching Vince Gilligan's Emmy-winning AMC TV show Breaking Bad, and I like this dialogue from the first season. Two DEA agents in Albuquerque, one white and one Mexican-American, are searching drug dealer Krazy-8's lowrider car and discover the control box for making it bounce up and down:
Hank: "Ay yi yi, Gomey. It's a culture in decline." 
Gomez: "It's a rich and vibrant culture." 
Hank: "It's a car that jumps up and down. What the hell, you people used to be conquistadors, for Christ's sake."

It's a theme of the show that whites also are in cultural decline, as suggested by character names. The two meth cookers are Cal Tech grad turned high school chemistry teacher Walter White and an old student he flunked named Jesse Pinkman, who calls himself "Cap'n Cook" in burlesque of that most admirable of middle class Englishmen.