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Pairs of states

June 12, 2018

It is not surprising that economists and political scientists are comparing Minnesota and Wisconsin:

Since the 2010 election of Governor Scott Walker in Wisconsin and Governor Mark Dayton in Minnesota, lawmakers in these two neighboring states have enacted vastly different policy agendas. Governor Walker and the Wisconsin state legislature have pursued a highly conservative agenda centered on cutting taxes, shrinking government, and weakening unions. In contrast, Minnesota under Governor Dayton has enacted a slate of progressive priorities: raising the minimum wage, strengthening safety net programs and labor standards, and boosting public investments in infrastructure and education, financed through higher taxes (largely on the wealthy). Because of the proximity and many similarities of these two states, comparing economic performance in the Badger State (WI) versus the Gopher State (MN) provides a compelling case study for assessing which agenda leads to better outcomes for working people and their families.

The difficulties of such comparisons are manifest. With just two subjects, there is a host of differences whose importance may be overlooked or inadequately accounted. The various policies will have their effects at different time scales. Exogenous factors are multitude.

An international group ranks Louisiana last (#50) in child welfare, saving Mississippi (#49) from taking its usual place on such rankings. Minnesota comes in #6.

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And they’re off!

June 11, 2018

Texas200_2016_camp1Today is the start of the 11th annual Texas 200. Just a bunch of crazy people sailing or rowing up the mosty undeveloped portions of the south Texas coast in small boats, braving a week of wind, sun, mosquitos, shoals, hip-deep mud, and the occasional alligator. Stay safe, everyone. The photo left, by Chad Bachmayer, shows the camp at the Port Mansfield jetties in 2016.

A better graduation speech

June 7, 2018

In these divisive times, Atal Gawande spoke on human equality to the UCLA medical school graduating class.

No refuge

June 6, 2018

There is a straightforward argument why the US should take a large portion of refugees. We are the richest nation in the world. Our economic system quickly turns immigrants into an boon for the whole of us. We have a history and tradition of taking those fleeing tyranny and war abroad, celebrated in verse on the very statue that once welcomed them here. While much of that holds true of most developed nations, there is one more reason why the US in particular is obliged: the foreign wars we have pursued in recent decades, sometimes on false pretense, have poorly served those living where we wreaked violence, and have created millions of refugees.

Of course, immigrants were the chosen enemy by the neo-fascist movement that Trump rode to power. So it is hardly surprising that Americans’ attitudes on refugees has become even more partisan in the past year, as a recent PEW survey shows. Only 26% of Republicans recognize a US responsibility to refugees, compared to 74% of Democrats.

What may be more surprising is how much that question is religiously polarized. White evangelicals, only 25% of whom thinks the US has some responsibility to refugees, shade out Republicans in that. Only about half of mainline protestants (43%) and Catholics (50%) affirm such responsibility. Of US Christians, black protestants are the only segment with a firm majority (63%) so affirming.

It is easy to make sense of all that through a political or sociological lens. Still, I’m certain there are seminarians throughout the land scratching their heads that those without religion are more welcoming (65%) to immigrants than any major segment of American Christianity. They think they are teaching Love. In fact, what they are teaching is religion. Their doctrine might name it Love. That matters little more to American Christian behavior than the name Tiger does to what your pet rabbit eats. The visible lesson about how religion works in culture and in politics has much more carry than biblical verses about helping the refugee.

Emma Lazarus, shown left, was born in New York to a wealthy family. But was Jewish, at a time when that made one a second-class citizen.

Polls and elections

June 5, 2018

I suspect because it involves statistics, many people fail to understand polling, especially as it relates to elections. If a poll estimates a candidate will receive 52% of the vote, and the candidate wins with 55% of the vote, they will think the poll was spot on. But if the candidate loses with 49%, they will think the poll stank. Combine that with the flukes of the electoral college, and it’s not hard to understand the popularity of a false narrative that polling went wrong in 2016. In reality:

The media narrative that polling accuracy has taken a nosedive is mostly bullshit… Polls were never as good as the media assumed they were before 2016 — and they aren’t nearly as bad as the media seems to assume they are now. In reality, not that much has changed.

In the article linked, Nate Silver gives his readers early cautions about polling, leading up to this fall’s elections. I’m certain he will do that more as the time approaches.

Olives, lemons, Sicily

June 4, 2018

oiljugPeople in Sicily were producing olive oil at the turn of the 3rd millennium BC, several centuries before previously known. To put that in perspective, that is a dozen centuries before the oldest parts of the Bible were written or before Rome was founded (ab urbe condita). Historians from the University of South Florida identified the olive oil residue in the remains of pottery found at a site in Castelluccio, Sicily.

Economic historians looking at Sicily’s more recent history make an interesting argument about the rise of the mafia (cite):

In this article, we study the emergence of an extractive institution that hampered economic development in Italy for more than a century: the Sicilian mafia. Since its first appearance in the late 1800s, the reasons behind the rise of the Sicilian mafia have remained a puzzle. In this article, we argue that the mafia arose as a response to an exogenous shock in the demand for oranges and lemons, following Lind’s discovery in the late eighteenth century that citrus fruits cured scurvy.

Oh, sweet liberty

June 1, 2018

An evangelical revival comes to a small university town. And the university there not only refuses it a platform, it tells the preachers they will be arrested if they pray on campus with students, and further orders the student newspaper to print no articles about the revival. Would this happen at a secular, Ivy League school? No. At some large state university? No.

But if you guessed that it was America’s most well-known and famously misnamed evangelical university, you would be correct.

That school, Liberty University now is following fake colleges such as Phoenix, Corinthian, and Trump Univeristy in using boiler rooms to peddle worthless online degrees, as a way of making large money by laying student debt on young people, often veterans. If any of its residential students worry that scam operation might degrade the value of their degrees, well … they also have been duped.