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Red state, blue state, money

September 29, 2016

Governor Brownback no longer wants to be accountable for the economic trends of his administration, and so is burying the state report on that. It’s true, of course, that no one state’s course is true test of any policy. As with medicine, any one patient has a unique history and may respond idiosyncratically for any number of reasons. If you want to test state policies, compare all the states. That article rightly points out the tricks that are played otherwise:

How can conservative commentators claim that red states dominate? A tactic favored by Mr. Trump’s economic adviser Stephen Moore is to rely on measures goosed by population expansion, like job growth or a state economy’s size. That’s like portraying India as a beacon of prosperity because it has one of the biggest economies in the world and creates millions of jobs annually. Economic performance is measured in the lives of individuals, not aggregates. Another favorite approach is to cherry-pick a handful of red states with decent records and contrast them with the most troubled blue states. With Texas now stumbling as oil prices fall, the new conservative favorite is Utah. Utah’s low poverty rate and long life expectancy are impressive, but spotlighting a single state ignores the more numerous red states that dominate the lowest ranks of state performance — whether for life expectancy, obesity, rates of violent crime and incarceration, or labor force participation of prime-age workers.

Of course, even where someone isn’t purposely cherry picking the data, there’s still the problem that any correlation may have causes other than the one being tested. Many of the worst performing states were parts of the former Confederacy. Even now in the 21st century, that history may still be a cause of economic under-performance. As well as a their conservative leanings.

Two cheers for Bobby Patton Jr.

September 28, 2016

He started college in Plan II — my undergraduate program — before getting a degree in finance. Now, a successful energy and real estate investor and part owner of the LA Dodgers, he is donating $20 million to the University of Texas’s College of Liberal Arts. Says Patton:

After I left UT, I realized just how important liberal arts were to my life. They taught me how to learn and how to keep on learning.

Well said. Science journalists know that too, and don’t want liberal arts forsaken in the current focus on STEM.

Human skin as disease reservoir

September 27, 2016

The trypanosomes that cause sleeping sickness hide out in the skin of survivors between outbreaks. Who would have thought? No one, really. As Greg Laden argues, that exemplifies why basic research is good.

Facts in debate

September 26, 2016

I agree with Ed Brayton that the networks showing the presidential debate should make use of real-time fact checkers. It’s basic journalism, and quite understandable — and deplorable — that the Trump campaign doesn’t want that. Politifact and others will provide a back channel for that.

The inevitable murkiness of politics

September 26, 2016

The suffragists were women, now rightly viewed as heroes. But women also opposed suffrage. And neither side saw the consequences correctly.

Today’s Christian evangelicals in the US mostly are aligned with the right. That wasn’t always the case in the past. And there are many Christians today who take quite a different political tack than the evangelical right, some clinging to the name evangelical.

Cultural appropriation

September 23, 2016

We all would be better off if believers took more seriously the actual histories of their religions. No, the Torah is not 5,000 years old, as so many Republicans like to pretend. Little more than half that. I saw paintings yesterday that are more than ten times as old. Many religions lived and died in those 40 millennia. Jesus and Mo nails it.


September 22, 2016

Andrew Roberts argues that we all would have been better off if Napoleon had not lost at Waterloo:

If Napoleon had remained emperor of France for the six years remaining in his natural life, European civilization would have benefited inestimably. The reactionary Holy Alliance of Russia, Prussia and Austria would not have been able to crush liberal constitutionalist movements in Spain, Greece, Eastern Europe and elsewhere; pressure to join France in abolishing slavery in Asia, Africa and the Caribbean would have grown; the benefits of meritocracy over feudalism would have had time to become more widely appreciated; Jews would not have been forced back into their ghettos in the Papal States and made to wear the yellow star again; encouragement of the arts and sciences would have been better understood and copied; and the plans to rebuild Paris would have been implemented, making it the most gorgeous city in the world.

This primer on interest rates points out that Napoleon wouldn’t have had to fight at Waterloo if he had had a better credit rating.