All posts by Arizona Humanist

Latinos and Education in Arizona

Like the rest of the US, Arizona has a serious problem regarding educational attainment gaps between white and Latino students. According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, whites in 2015 were 46% proficient in reading by grade 4 and 44% proficient at grade 8; Latinos were 21% proficient at both grade levels with similar disparities present in math.* As with the US generally, Latinos are not the only non-white group to fare poorly in school in Arizona. However, as they comprise 31% of the population, Arizona has one of the country’s largest Latino populations.* Many Latinos have an educational experience different from their non-Latino counterparts in that most (73%) speak a language other than English at home.* Does this explain why Latinos experience worse educational outcomes than whites? Can we do anything to close or narrow these outcome gaps?

Expansion of the United States, Ward et al, 1912

Background on Latinos in the US and Arizona

Arizona’s current proportion of Latinos is relatively high depending on when in the state’s history the comparison is made. In 1930, for example, the state’s Latino population was also roughly 30%. It would fall to closer to 20% from around the 1950s to the 1990s when it began to rise again. However, in 1870, the proportion of Arizonans who were Latino was 60.9%. This high proportion of Latinos stemmed, in part, from the fact that, up to about 1850, most of the Southwest was controlled by the Spanish or by Mexico.*

Hispanic Share of Population by State, 1870-2012, Krogstad and Lopez, 2014

The US granted citizenship to all Mexicans living in territories acquired from Mexico.* By 1900, there were about 500,000 Mexicans living in the US due to labor needs in building the railroad system. Changing economic needs, labor needs, and immigration policies like Operation Wetback influenced the ebb and flow of immigrants across the southern border up to the 1960s. Immigration legislation passed in 1965 led to a surge in Latino immigrants across the country.

Why Arizonans Should Care About Latino Education

People in the US generally might wonder why anyone should care about whether Latinos do well in school. One reason they might care is that most people in the US believe that all people are created equal. In 2015, when asked if they thought that Thomas Jefferson’s assertion that “all men are created equal” is true, 76% of US respondents said that it is.* If people generally begin life on the same footing, it stands to reason that it is largely external forces that prevent them from achieving their full potential. People in the US also generally believe, one, that races are not currently equal and, two, that they should be. A majority of people in the US, 61%, feels that changes are needed to achieve racial equality.*

Arizona also faces the possibility of not being able to meet the needs of the changing job market by not being able to properly educate its large Latino population. According to a report by Georgetown University, by 2020, 68% of jobs in Arizona will require postsecondary education.* Consumer spending is a significant driver of economic growth generally.* In the US, consumer spending makes up two-thirds of the economy.* However, there must also be job growth in order for consumers to have the income to actually spend. If a third of Arizona’s citizens are not well-educated enough to do or qualify to do the jobs that will be available in the near future, they will not generate the income necessary to keep consumer spending up. This will be detrimental to the economic well-being of all Arizonans.

Why Arizona Latinos Are Not Performing as Well as Whites

There are several problems that English Language Learners (ELLs) face that their English-speaking peers do not. One obvious challenge is that they must acquire proficiency close to their peers while they are simultaneously expected to learn the same material, taught in English, as their peers. Given that a proportion of a given group of English-speaking students will struggle with course materials in their native language, the challenge for ELL students is even greater. ELLs do especially poorly in Arizona. According to Department of Education data, Arizona’s rate of graduating ELLs (18% compared to 75.7% for the general population) is the worst in the country.* By contrast, California, which has a similar composition of ELL students, graduated 65% during the same period.*

English Language Learners Versus Total Graduation Rate, Sanchez, 2017

Another major influencer of student success is parental education. More than 65% of Latino adults in Arizona have no educational experience outside of high school.* In a longitudinal study by Dubow, Boxer, and Huesmann, published in 2009, the researchers followed 856 third-graders over a 40-year timespan. They found that their parents’ educational attainment level significantly predicted their child’s educational and occupational success at age 48. The researchers note that lower educational attainment in adults is associated with a host of negative child development outcomes stemming from such phenomena as greater parental stress.*

One other major influencer is poverty rate. Data from the US Census Bureau show a strong correlation between poverty and educational outcomes in the US.* According to those data, 28.9% of people aged 25 and older in 2014 without a high school diploma were living in poverty. This poverty rate is reduced by half (to 14.2%) for those with a high school diploma but with no college.* Given the strong association between poverty and lack of education, it is not surprising that both would impact Spanish-speaking immigrants the hardest. As a group, they are already more likely to be poor as a disproportionate number are more recent immigrants, and such immigrants typically do not leave their home country if they are already financially well-off.

US Census Bureau, 2014

Possible Solutions

In a 2012 report by the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development of Victoria and the University of Melbourne, researchers noted the strong impact of reading to children on improving educational outcomes. They found that reading to kids 4–5 years old 3–5 days per week has the same effect on the child’s reading skills as being 6 months older. They also found that increasing the number of readings to 6–7 days per week had the same effect as the child being nearly 12 months older.* This may present a special challenge for parents who speak Spanish only as, one, they may be disinclined to read to their kids in Spanish for fear of worsening their English attainment, and, two, they may be right to fear doing so. One way to overcome this might be to expose children to reading while they are at school or to make children’s books in audio form more widely available to them.

Milem, Salazar, and Bryan reported in 2016 on findings by the Arizona Minority Education Policy Analysis Center suggesting strategies for improving educational outcomes for English Language Learners in Arizona generally. One recommendation they give is to examine entrance requirements that grant or deny access to ELL services.* The nonpartisan Arizona education analysis organization Center for Student Achievement wrote in 2016 that the precipitous drop in Arizona students being classified as ELL is probably due to too-generous proficiency tests more than to actual proficiency. However, it is difficult to know for sure as data on students reclassified as fluent in English are not readily available.*

In 2000, Arizona’s Proposition 203 was passed, requiring a statewide abolition of bilingual education in favor of Structured English Immersion (SEI).* The proposition stipulates that students are expected to learn English within 1 year.* Prior to implementation, opponents argued that this was, one, an unrealistically short amount of time, and, two, would result in years of cumulatively incomprehensible classroom education.* A 2000 study by Hakuta, Butler, and Witt supports that contention. They found that the time to achieve oral English proficiency is roughly 3–5 years while academic proficiency takes 4–7 years.* These writers suggested that, within the time available during formal school hours, it might be impossible for ELL students to keep up with their peers. They suggest that summer and after-school programs might be needed.*

The Near Future

The evidence is overwhelming that educational attainment among Arizona’s Latinos is a serious issue that will have far-reaching impacts on the state’s economy and on people of all racial and national origins. Although Arizona’s Latinos experience high rates of poverty and, to a much larger degree, have the extra barrier of language, there are, nevertheless, ways that the gap can be closed. However, as this process will take years to show progress, and time has already been lost by not taking the issue seriously enough, Arizona’s leadership will have to work diligently to help its inhabitants prosper in the coming years and decades.

2014 State Per Capita CO2 Emissions vs Party Lean

Do people in red-leaning or blue-leaning states have a bigger carbon footprint?

Just looking at data from the Energy Information Administration from 2014, it looks like red states do produce more CO2 per capita:


I wanted to better quantify this, though, so I ran the data through a Pearson correlation calculator.* Here’s the dataset in case you’d like to check my work:

And, here are the results:

As you can see, mathematically, as the proportion of a state that was Republican or leaned Republican in 2014 went up, so did the state’s per capita CO2 emissions. The value of R is 0.549, a moderate positive correlation. R2: 0.3014.

For the sake of thoroughness, I performed the same calculation for the Democrats. Here’s that dataset:

Here’s the resultant graph:

The value of R is -0.5593, a moderate negative correlation. R2: 0.3128.

2016 State Per Capita GDP vs Democratic Lean

How well do states perform economically that have populations leaning Democrat or Republican? To try to answer this question, I took data from Gallup for 2016* to determine political leaning and compared it to data from the US Bureau of Economic Analysis for state per capita GPD* using a Pearson correlation calculation.*

State Per Capita GDP vs Percent of States Identifying as Democrat or Lean Democrat

From the resulting graph, one might expect a slight positive correlation, and one would be right. The value of R is 0.462. Although technically a positive correlation, the relationship between the variables is weak. The value of R2, the coefficient of determination, is 0.2134.

* * *

For the sake of thoroughness, we can perform the same test for percentage of states that lean Republican:

State Per Capita GDP vs Percent of States Identifying as Rep or Lean Rep

From the resulting graph, one might expect a slight negative correlation, and this is what we find. The value of R is -0.4692. Although technically a negative correlation, the relationship between the variables is weak. The value of R2, the coefficient of determination, is 0.2201.

* * *

What, if anything does this prove? Primarily, it doesn’t appear that either Republicans or Democrats can strongly boast of improving the economy if that metric is based on per capita income. However, if one side did want to make the claim to being better for the economy, the analysis appears to support the Democrats. These results are similar to those I found in another Pearson correlation I performed using Gallup data in comparison to unemployment figures.

The War on Initiatives in Arizona

On April 14th, 2017, Arizona Governor Doug Ducey signed House Bill 2244 into law. The bill primarily calls for the following:  “Constitutional and statutory requirements for statewide initiative measures must be strictly construed and persons using the initiative process must strictly comply with those constitutional and statutory requirements.”*

The bill as introduced by House Representative Eddie Farnsworth (R-12) pertained to concealed weapons permits and “electronic reports.” That bill’s text was stricken in the Senate Appropriations Committee, where all six Republicans voted in favor, and all four Democrats voted against the measure to replace the bill’s language and intent.*

View Senate Appropriations Committee Votes

The bill passed the Senate with all Democrats opposing and all but one Republican voting in favor:*

Breakdown of Senate votes on HB 2244
Party Affiliation Yes No Abstain Total
Democrat 0 13 0 13
Republican 16 1 0 17
Total 16 14 0 30
View Senate Votes

In the House, the bill also passed exclusively with Republican votes:*

Breakdown of House votes on HB 2244
Party Affiliation Yes No NV/E Total
Democrat 0 23 2 26
Republican 34 0 1 34
Total 34 23 3 60
View House Votes

Legislators in favor of the bill note, in the text of the bill, that initiatives give “extraordinary power” to voters. They write that courts have required strict compliance when a legislative tool is considered an extraordinary power. In order to amend any voter-approved initiative, Arizona’s Voter Protection Act requires three-fourths of the state House and Senate to vote for the amendment. This stipulation inhibits the legislature from changing or correcting voter-approved measures. Thus, according to the authors of the bill, the initiative has become an extraordinary power, requiring that it be held to a standard of strict compliance to constitutional and statutory requirements.*

The measure could result in individual signatures or entire pages of signatures on petitions being thrown out due to minor instances of noncompliance. If a page has more than the maximum of 15 signatures, it could be thrown out. If an address is deemed to be illegible, the signature could be thrown out. If a petition sheet does not conform to size requirements, the entire page could be thrown out. A signature might also be stricken if the signer uses a shortened version of a name such as “Jim” for “James.”* Such rules were in place prior to the passage of this bill where 20 different discrepancies could result in a page of signatures or individual signatures from being counted. However, before HB2244, only “substantial compliance” was deemed necessary, allowing officials leeway in determining whether a minor example of noncompliance was serious enough to warrant rejection.*

Other Battles in the War

In addition to the strict compliance bill, Republicans authored House Bill 2023, signed into law by Governor Ducey on March 9th, 2016, which makes it a felony to collect and turn in ballots unless one is an election official, family member of the signer, or a mail carrier. Although presented as a way to protect the integrity of elections, no Republican has furnished evidence of a single instance in which someone has tampered with ballots. On the other hand, this law makes it impossible for organizations behind various initiatives to pay groups to collect ballots once initiatives have received a sufficient number of signatures to get them on the ballot.*

On March 23rd of this year, Governor Ducey signed House Bill 2404 into law, which outlaws pay-per-signature gathering of signatures on citizen initiatives. The bill also requires that signature collectors be paid minimum wage and raises the total days election officials have to verify signatures. Critics charge that, because of the law, signature collectors will have less incentive to collect as many signatures as possible. Legislator Doug Coleman, who voted in favor of the bill, responded that petition gatherers can simply use volunteers. However, an analysis of initiatives that went to ballot over four election cycles found that none made it using only volunteers.* As with HB2244 and HB2023, HB2404 was authored by and voted for exclusively by Republicans. As with HB2023, sponsors and passers cited concerns of protecting voters from fraud, though they again furnished no evidence that such fraud had occurred.* In fact, available evidence suggests that how signature-gatherers are paid has no relationship to prevalence of fraud.*

Initiatives in US and Arizona History

Stakeholders in the policy surrounding initiatives include voters (who will suffer or enjoy the results), legislators (who may face political repercussions from implemented laws), signature-gathering organizations, initiative organizers, businesses, and election officials (who ultimately must implement initiative laws).

Detractors of the concept of initiatives argue that the “public legislature” allowed for by the initiative process contrasts with the Framers’ view of an elected republic that would “refine and enlarge the public views, by passing them through the medium of a chosen body of citizens.”* Those more in favor of direct democracy might cite Jefferson who wrote that “Every government degenerates when trusted to the rulers of the people alone. The people themselves therefore are its only safe depositories.”*

Arizona, like 24 other states, allows voters to propose initiatives, a law established in the state constitution at the state’s founding. Initiatives are laws or constitutional amendments proposed and voted on by voters which allow those voters to change the state government beyond and, in some cases, in opposition to what state legislators do. To get an initiative on an official ballot, a number of voters equal to 10% of the total number of voters who voted in the most recent gubernatorial election must sign a petition in favor of a particular proposal. Initiatives must be filed by the secretary of state no fewer than 4 months prior to the date of the election. Between 1970 and 2013, various entities attempted 425 petitions. Of those, 16% made it to the ballot. Of those, under half were approved by Arizona voters. This means, ultimately, that only 8% of petitions attempted became law over that period.*

Ballot initiatives have been controversial from the start. The first attempt to curtail initiatives came in 1916 after initiatives had passed granting women’s suffrage and instituting alcohol prohibition. This early attempt failed. The Voter Protection Act mentioned in the text of HB2244 was the result of a failed 1996 initiative to legalize marijuana. The initiative passed, but lawmakers gutted it the following year. In response, a 1998 initiative created the Voter Protection Act which requires 3/4 vote by state legislators in both chambers to repeal an initiative-created law and then only to “further the purpose” of the law. A criticism of the Voter Protection Act is that it caused a downgrade in the state’s credit rating. However, the state’s treasurer shows a current rating of “Very strong” from Standard & Poor’s, which is just below its best rating and very close to its rating over the past 10 years.*

The Future of Initiatives

Between 1970 and 2013, 67 of 425 initiatives made it to the ballot, less than half of those 67 becoming law. Because it currently takes more than 200,000 signatures to get an initiative onto the ballot,* it is already extremely difficult for citizens who do not feel adequately represented to defy the plans of the state’s dominant political faction.

In order to give a stronger voice to voters via the initiative process, electronic initiatives could be employed. An electronic voting system has already been successfully employed in the state since 2012 that allows state candidates to gather half of the signatures required for their nominations. A similar system could be employed for initiatives.* For now, though, unilateral efforts by members of a single party in the state, ostensibly created to protect the integrity of the initiative process and ballot-gathering, are instead more likely to reduce the ability of citizens who feel unrepresented to have a voice.

Jefferson on Public Education

From Notes on the State of Virginia, February 27, 1787*

Every government degenerates when trusted to the rulers of the people alone. The people themselves therefore are its only safe depositories.

But of all the views of this law none is more important, none more legitimate, than that of rendering the people the safe, as they are the ultimate, guardians of their own liberty. For this purpose the reading in the first stage, where they will receive their whole education, is proposed, as has been said, to be chiefly historical. History by apprising them of the past will enable them to judge of the future; it will avail them of the experience of other times and other nations; it will qualify them as judges of the actions and designs of men; it will enable them to know ambition under every disguise it may assume; and knowing it, to defeat its views.

In every government on earth is some trace of human weakness, some germ of corruption and degeneracy, which cunning will discover, and wickedness insensibly open, cultivate, and improve. Every government degenerates when trusted to the rulers of the people alone. The people themselves therefore are its only safe depositories. And to render even them safe their minds must be improved to a certain degree. This indeed is not all that is necessary, though it be essentially necessary.

An amendment of our constitution must here come in aid of the public education. The influence over government must be shared among all the people. If every individual which composes their mass participates of the ultimate authority, the government will be safe; because the corrupting the whole mass will exceed any private resources of wealth: and public ones cannot be provided but by levies on the people. In this case every man would have to pay his own price.

The government of Great-Britain has been corrupted, because but one man in ten has a right to vote for members of parliament. The sellers of the government therefore get nine-tenths of their price clear. It has been thought that corruption is restrained by confining the right of suffrage to a few of the wealthier of the people: but it would be more effectually restrained by an extension of that right to such numbers as would bid defiance to the means of corruption.

If every individual which composes their mass participates of the ultimate authority, the government will be safe; because the corrupting the whole mass will exceed any private resources of wealth….

When You’re Right, You’re Right

Sometimes I like to surf out onto the ol’ worldwide web and look for people with whom I unexpectedly concur on this or that. I know that may sound a bit weird as the whole point of the ‘Net is to argue with people, but I do it nevertheless. In this case, I have found a bunch of Republicans, conservatives, or other figures on “the right” who I think said something downright agreeable. Enjoy! (Also, please let me know if you know of other examples!)


“I don’t think we should ever tamper with abortion. You’ll never stamp it out. It’s been in existence since the world began, and it’s going to be here when the world ends.”

Barry Goldwater


Barry Goldwater on Abortion


Animal Welfare

“Factory farming amounts to a complete subordination of animal life to human convenience, the reduction of thinking, feeling beings to commodities only and of their fate, no matter how horrific, to a calculation of pure self-interest.”

John Conner Cleveland, speechwriter for George W. Bush, Dan Quayle, Dick Cheney, and Sarah Palin

Climate Change

“I have been to the Antarctic; I’ve been to Alaska. I’m not a scientist, and I’ve got the grades to prove it. But I’ve talked to the climatologists of the world, and 90% of them are telling me that greenhouse gas effect is real, that we’re heating up the planet. I just want a solution that would be good for the economy that doesn’t destroy it.”

Lindsey Graham


* * *

“Absolute certainty is unattainable. We are certain beyond a reasonable doubt, however, that the problem of human-caused climate change is real, serious, and immediate, and that this problem poses significant risks: to our ability to thrive and build a better future, to national security, to human health and food production, and to the interconnected web of living systems.”

Kerry Emanuel, long-time Republican and atmospheric scientist at MIT

* * *

“I’m a registered Republican, play soccer on Saturdays, and go to church on Sundays. I’m a parent and a professor. I worry about jobs for my students and my daughter’s future. I’ve been a proud member of the UN panel on climate change, and I know the risks. And I’ve worked for an oil company and know how much we all need energy. The best science shows we’ll be better off if we address the twin stories of climate change and energy and that the sooner we move forward, the better.”

Richard B. Alley, Professor of Geosciences at Pennsylvania State


Gun Control

“As you know, my position is we should ban all handguns, get rid of them, no manufacture, no sale, no importation, no transportation, no possession of a handgun.”

John Chafee


* * *

“If I were writing the Bill of Rights now, there wouldn’t be any such thing as the Second Amendment. […] This has been the subject of one of the greatest pieces of fraud — I repeat the word ‘fraud’ — on the American public by special interest groups that I have ever seen in my lifetime. […] ‘A well-regulated militia….’ If the militia, which was going to be the state army, was going to be well-regulated, why shouldn’t 16 and 17 and 18 or any other age persons be regulated in the use of arms?”

Warren Burger



“I believe in the idea of amnesty for those who have put down roots and have lived here even though sometime back they may have entered illegally.”

Ronald Reagan




“I’m an atheist. An agnostic is someone who is not sure; I’m pretty sure. I see no evidence of God.”

George Will

* * *

“It was old Tom Jefferson that had us separate the church and state and, while I have nothing against a minister being a member of Congress, he should leave the Bible at the front door. Just carry it around in his head, and don’t try to preach and practice religion in the halls of Congress.”

Barry Goldwater



“[N]owhere do our hopes take more visible form than in the quest of science…. The remarkable thing is that, although basic research does not begin with a particular practical goal, when you look at the results over the years, it ends up being one of the most practical things government does…. [O]ne thing is certain: If we don’t explore, others will, and we’ll fall behind. This is why I’ve urged Congress to devote more money to research. After taking out inflation, today’s government research expenditures are 58% greater than the expenditures of a decade ago. It is an indispensable investment in America’s future.”

Ronald Reagan


Paul Bloom and Sam Harris on Eating Animals

Harris: Well, all of this segues rather nicely into our own moral horror of continuing to eat meat despite the fact that we are convinced ethically by the arguments against it. I mean, we have failures of impulse control, we have a long-running commitment to dietary practices that we find indefensible. In fact, we may be indistinguishable from this doctor in terms of the clarity with which we have ambled into evil.

Bloom: I think future generations will view us as analogous to slave owners.

I think future generations will view us as analogous to slave owners.

Harris: Well, that’s — you sounded like you said that somewhat tongue-in-cheek–

Bloom: No.

Harris: …but I think I know you might actually fear that prospect. Were you joking or you were…?

Bloom: No, no. It’s an easy exercise to imagine what a hundred years from now, what we do now will be seen as monstrous. The treatment of non-human animals is obvious. I think our indifference to the suffering of the very poor is another example. I could think of some other more controversial cases.

Harris: Yeah.

[I]f you look at the numbers, we may be causing more suffering to nonhumans than ever before because we’re breeding for their meat.

Bloom: And, I do think, you know, it’s such — so many people eat meat everyone, just about everybody I know that it’s easy to make light of. But we’re complicit in the horrific suffering of many, many creatures. This may be — you know, our mutual friend Steve Pinker wrote a book on human moral progress and I think 99% of the book is correct, but I think that, if you look at the numbers, we may be causing more suffering to nonhumans than ever before because we’re breeding for their meat.

Harris: Yeah, let’s take the ethics of meat-eating more or less from the top. So you and I both agree that we are participating in a system that is on some basic level ethically indefensible. Factory farming is just a horror show. We both know that if we had to work in an abattoir, we would never stomach it. We would never do it. I know that I’m not going to go out and kill a cow to get my next hamburger, and I certainly wouldn’t immiserate one for every moment of its life on the way to the killing floor to get my next hamburger. And yet the fact that I participate in a system that does this knowingly more or less condemns me as a total hypocrite. That’s kind of the basic situation. Are there any other moving parts there you want to add?

Factory farming is just a horror show. And yet the fact that I participate in a system that does this knowingly more or less condemns me as a total hypocrite.

Bloom: I think ethically this isn’t a very hard case I’ve heard defenses of meat-eating, and they’re some of the worst arguments I’ve ever heard in my life: “Animals don’t feel pain.” “Humans have a right to do whatever they want.” “It’s natural.” You know, the arguments which wouldn’t be taken seriously in any other domain, arguments that are just born out of guilt and bad faith. So I think it’s clear enough that what we do to animals is wrong. You know, to some extent, we could ask ourselves, talking about the doctor and other cases, “What’s it like to knowingly do evil?” And I think this is what it feels like. We know what it’s like to knowingly do evil. All I’ll sort of nibble at around the edges is it’s not really hypocrisy. I think a nicer term for it is this word “akrasia” — it’s weakness of will. We know the right thing to do. We’re not shy about saying what the right thing to do is. We just can’t do it.

We know what it’s like to knowingly do evil.

Harris: Well, the question is — so let’s just expand the picture a little bit. One question is what would be the best way to change this. You know I’m someone who’s supportive of natural, grass fed, more ethically sustainable ways of raising animals insofar as it’s easy to do that. I don’t make crazy sacrifices so as to only get meat or chicken or eggs or milk that has come by the most ethical sources. Which is to say, I’ll go to a restaurant and I will eat like a non-vegetarian and not interrogate them about where they get all their meat.

But it seems pretty clear that the system could be improved significantly and make it far less horrible. These animals could have much better lives than they do and that would be a good thing and that demand for that kind of meat would probably be more effective than some percentage of people defecting as vegans or vegetarians. Obviously this is a totally tendentious and self-serving meat-eater sort of argument except it might also have the virtue of being true. Well, before we totally close the door to it, just take a peek across that threshold: Is there any merit in saying that one could more effectively help farm animals by being a conscientious consumer of meat?

I guess this is almost like the trophy hunters saying that they are in fact conservationists by going to Africa and killing some number of lions and paying for the privilege, they are in fact the best conservationists. There may be some merit to that argument too. Kindly either support or disabuse me of all that.

Bloom: I’m actually on the same page on this. Peter Singer, who’s of course very powerfully supported vegetarian movements, very much protested against the suffering of animals, has at different times has been sort of thoughtful on the issue of humanely-raised animals. His point, and my point, is that the badness of the act isn’t necessarily killing animals to eat them. It’s not clear whether that’s a bad thing, particularly if the animals didn’t exist prior to your intervention.

Harris: The thing is that, before we blow past that: I agree, though, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t do it. In fact, I know I wouldn’t like myself if I became so callous as to be happy to do it. You know, if I just got into the hang of it. You know, “Killing cows horrified me initially, but once I killed a hundred of them, you know, I just didn’t really care because damn I love a good hamburger.” I don’t want to be that person.

“Killing cows horrified me initially, but once I killed a hundred of them, you know, I just didn’t really care because damn I love a good hamburger.” I don’t want to be that person.

Bloom: That’s interesting. That’s sort of a Kantian view. So Kant, at one point — this is probably a misinterpretation — but said, “Look — you know, animals don’t matter in their own right, but you don’t want to make them suffer because it will corrode your feelings towards humans. It’ll make you into a worse person.” And it’s interesting — I also would find it hard to kill animals just because I would have a natural repugnance towards doing it.

Harris: But I certainly don’t take the Kantian view that they don’t matter in their own right; I think they they certainly matter in their own right to the degree that they can suffer or be deprived of happiness or due to the degree that their conscious. So, for instance if we could raise anencephalic animals, so brainless cows who have by definition no experience but they’re just basically — synthetic biology is the ultimate case of this, or synthetic meat is the ultimate case of this —

Bloom: Growing meat in a test tube.

Harris Yeah growing meat in a test tube. There’s obviously no ethical problem with that.

[G]rowing meat in a test tube. There’s obviously no ethical problem with that.

Bloom: So I’ll plant my flag in a couple of things. First thing, you know there may be problems with killing humanely-raised animals, but that’s a hard case, and I think it would be such a step up to move up to humanely-raised animals from what we have now. It would cost more and there’s issues — there’s sort of a classist issue about encouraging people to do this. But I think that’d be such a moral step because I think what goes wrong in what we’re doing now isn’t killing the animals, it’s causing the suffering, causing the pain.

Harris: But don’t you think — so I don’t want to let us off the hook too quickly there because each one of these stations you blow past makes it that much more likely that you’re going to get your Thanksgiving dinner with a full spread and a turkey harvested one way or the other. My first ethical concern is, I mean, forget about the details of how horrible it is for the animals and what changes we might make there. If you know that you would find it ethically repugnant to kill an animal and to kill animals day after day so as to secure your protein, you wouldn’t want to live this way. You’d much rather pet a cow than kill it with a stun gun or by any other method. If you know you’re that kind of person and you wouldn’t want to be any other kind of person, doesn’t it seem just transparently unethical to be willing to delegate that process to others and just keep it you know out of sight out of mind and go on eating meat however raised?

You’d much rather pet a cow than kill it with a stun gun or by any other method.

Bloom: If you find it morally repellent to kill animals, yes. If you find it morally repellent to kill animals if you were the killer, then you shouldn’t be demanding other people do it for your sake. On the other hand if you just find it repellent or unpleasant, that’s kind of different. I might be pro-choice but not have the stomach to do abortions. I may not have the temperament to be a prison guard, but that doesn’t mean that to be consistent I have to be against prisons.

Harris. Right.

Bloom: On the other hand, if I said to be a prison guard would be morally repellent, then I should be against prisons. If it’s morally repellent that implies there’s a better alternative and I should be…. So, it depends. If you believe that killing the cows — those humane cows — is wrong for you to do it yourself, then that really does raise an issue with your belief about eating meat in general. On the other hand, if you just didn’t have the stomach for it, that’s kind of a different case. I don’t think that should stop you from eating meat.

If you find it morally repellent to kill animals if you were the killer, then you shouldn’t be demanding other people do it for your sake.

Harris. Right. Well, I think I come down on the side of it being wrong — what complicates it for me is there’s the pleasure to which I’m marginally attached. Yeah, I like eating meat certainly some of the time. I’m a little squeamish about it at other times. But I also just have this feeling that we don’t understand human health and nutrition enough. The fact that there’s any controversy at all about what human beings should eat so as to be healthy, I find to be an incredible scientific embarrassment, the fact that you can have debates about carbs and protein and fat consummated in good faith by experts and there’s still some uncertainty here is an amazing state of our current situation in science.

The fact that there’s any controversy at all about what human beings should eat so as to be healthy, I find to be an incredible scientific embarrassment.

But my concern is that there is enough uncertainty and my brief experience of 6 years as a vegetarian convinced me that it’s hard enough to be sure you’re getting everything you need — or at least it was then — that I’m leery of doing it for health reasons and, when I think about raising kids as vegetarians, and especially as vegans, then it begins to look like a poorly-controlled science experiment. I see people who are raising vegan kids and now I’m going to hear from them. You know, they’re going to be outraged that I have any doubt whatsoever that you could raise healthy vegan kids but–

Bloom: You’re going to get an email from my sister.

Harris: But I have significant doubts on that score, and there’s certainly no biological or evolutionary guarantee that this is an easy or straightforward thing to do. And when you know you have to supplement B12 and who knows what else, you really should be supplementing so as to get things right. And so part of this is just laziness, not wanting to have what I eat and what I feed my kids become such a life-consuming project as a vegetarian or vegan where I have to be absolutely sure that I have all the dials tweaked appropriately. It’s just easier to eat meat sometimes and fish sometimes and be reasonably sure that I’m getting everything that a human needs to get.

[T]hat laziness, given the magnitude of the suffering we’re imposing on non-human animals, that laziness is a horrible thing about me.

But that laziness given the magnitude of the suffering we’re imposing on non-human animals, that laziness is a horrible thing about me. That laziness is not justifiable if you actually look closely at the details.

Bloom: There’s also a middle ground. I mean we don’t want to be in a position of saying, “Well, I couldn’t live if I gave 80% of my money to charity; therefore, I’ll give nothing.”* And to some extent — I share your concerns about living a vegan or even a vegetarian lifestyle, but I think then plainly if you restrict yourself to ethically-raised animals, plainly that’s much, much better and there there’s no health concerns. People could live just fine off of chickens who didn’t suffer as opposed to those who did. The question then is to how to sort of mandate such shifts, either a radical shift to making everybody vegetarian or vegan or a more moderate shift of you know making people eat animals that didn’t suffer as much. And I think there is an interesting difference between first-order and second-order prohibitions. And there’s actually speaks to some broader political issues.

So it occurs to me talking about this with you that I would be very reluctant to try to commit to only eating ethically-raised animals. It would be very hard and inconvenient. I’d have to embarrass myself at restaurants — I’d have to be that guy, and I don’t want to be that guy questioning the waiter and having other people roll their eyes. And you know I accept that that’s an awful excuse for participating in the suffering of animals, but there it is.

I’d have to be that guy, and I don’t want to be that guy questioning the waiter and having other people roll their eyes. And you know I accept that that’s an awful excuse for participating in the suffering of animals, but there it is.

However, I would be in favor of legislation….

Harris: Yes.

Bloom: …that restricted — said you have to have all your animals ethically raised.

Harris: Absolutely. Yeah.

Bloom: By analogy, I don’t think I have it in me to donate a huge amount of my money to help the suffering poor, but I’d be in favor of taxes that took my money and redistributed in such a way. And so the first order versus the second order contrast is very different. I think we’re in favor of policies because it takes it out of our hands because we know we’re not unique, we know we’re not the one sort of sucker opting out while everyone else gets to eat the meat or keep the money. And some of this speaks to the limit of individual free choice and why sometimes we’d want to choose to be constrained in certain ways.

Harris: Yeah, I think that’s a great point it’s a point that has arisen on other topics for me just the utility and just the fundamental difference of a systemic change as opposed to having to wake up every morning and rely on your own heroism and commitment to some sort of internal discipline. I think the biggest changes for us morally just across the board as a species and as a civilization will come at the second-order level. It can’t be that we just get every person to fully optimize his or her ethical code so as to be impeccable. We need legal and institutional changes which enshrine our better judgment there. So I think that’s true but we can obviously we can’t keep killing and immiserating animals with a clear conscience until some benevolent despot passes that law for us. We can’t abdicate personal responsibility here.

[W]e can’t keep killing and immiserating animals with a clear conscience until some benevolent despot passes that law for us.

Bloom: No, we can’t. I think every person — this isn’t what I want to say it’s not meant as an excuse — but every person living, every person listening to this now probably from the affluent West has to live a significant burden of guilt for all the things that they’re doing and all the things they’re not doing and all the things — and if you don’t live with that burden of guilt, you’re either a saint or you’re a moral ignoramus. You’re either a saint because you’re doing all the right things or you’re somebody who is morally blind to the harms you’re causing and the good things that you should be doing and you’re not.

Harris: This is a dangerous conversation to have had because we’re going to hear from some deeply unsatisfied people, unsatisfied about our ignorance of just how easy it is to live a happy healthy life as a parent feeding nothing but vegetables and a few well targeted pharmaceuticals to your kids and just the flabbiness of our commitment to our own ethical insights.

[I]f you don’t live with that burden of guilt, you’re either a saint or you’re a moral ignoramus.

Bloom: Then again, maybe people didn’t start off thinking we’re really good people anyway.

Harris: Maybe I’m burdening us with too much self-flattery here. So just to make something truly constructive of this, I want to keep the conversation open, I’m inviting the vegetarians and vegans among our listeners to send me the best resources they have. So understand that I am convinced of the moral case. And the question is how to idiot-proof vegetarianism and/or veganism. This is another wrinkle we’re walking into here because vegans I think will say some vegans will say that merely being a vegetarian, which is to say being willing to eat eggs and dairy products, that is not an ethical place to stop on this slippery slope, that, in fact, hen-laying chickens and milk producing cows suffer as much as any animal. Is that something that you understand to be true or do you think that vegetarianism is a fully defensible ethical position?

Bloom: It’s a case-by-case thing. I think that the vegans are right about eggs and milk and all the problems revolving around that. I think some forms some certain types of shellfish, there isn’t a moral issue because they don’t have — they’re probably not sentient. All I would say is that right now we’ve confessed to living terrible lives. If people could persuade us with somewhat less terrible lives that would be a sensible progress.

I think that the vegans are right about eggs and milk and all the problems revolving around that.

Harris: I’m not satisfied with the mirror confession because I think it’s — just step back from being ourselves for a moment and just look over our shoulders at what we’ve just confessed: We are two people who have admitted to participating in a system that is not only — and sometimes objectively — bad but perhaps so bad as to be the kind of thing that will be on the short list of embarrassments to our descendants, so that you look back at the excesses of the Middle Ages and you think how on earth could those people have behaved that way — they’re burning witches alive — witches didn’t even exist — but you know they’re burning their neighbors alive for imaginary crimes. What the hell was going on? And we’re both conceding that the way we raise and treat and consume animals year after year is probably that order or analogous to slavery. And yet we’re to some degree blithely participating in it and not really signaling much of a willingness to change.

So, let me perhaps throw you to the wolves here. I’m going to signal my own willingness to change and so get ready, you know, now your reputation is destroyed. (laughing) You know, “I don’t know why I had this guy one my podcast.” Moral monsters like you just don’t belong on my podcast, Paul. But I’m appealing to my listeners vegan / vegetarian to send me some streamlined information on how to idiot-proof this process and the clearest argument that you can do this without obvious deficits in your health, and I’m signaling my willingness to explore this, whether this is going to be my posting my pre- and post-blood work to my blog, I don’t know, but I’m going to investigate further.

But, the parenting responsibility does change it for me a little. Experimenting on myself on the order of a decade seems different than you know having a 19-month old who I have to figure out whether or not she should eat chicken. In any case, to make something constructive out of this rather than just reap the whirlwind, I want the conversation to continue. Send me good information and I will post it to my blog.

Bloom: Well fine, Sam. You seem to be out-moral-signaling me here. I’d also like to add that I would be highly receptive to any instructions that people have about living a more moral life with regard to eating of animals. Please send them to Sam. And Sam will keep me appraised on what he hears. And I will tell you for total certainty I am not going to post my fucking blood work on any blog.

Harris: Why not? What? You’re sheepish about your cholesterol?

Bloom: My blood work is my blood work. In the age of social media and Internet, some things are sacred.

Harris: Right. No, I think it would be an interesting experiment to run. I’m sure you know many people have done this but to see just how things change over the course of, I don’t know, three months or so. I’m just, you know — I certainly did become anemic last time around and no doubt 20 people tell me how I was an idiot and how I could have easily supplemented my way out of that problem. In any case, I’m willing to experiment with this and — do you know if Singer or anyone has spent time on how to engineer the second-order changes that would really be helpful if not creating a vegan earth, creating one that won’t be an embarrassment to our descendants?

Bloom: It’s not a literature I’ve studied. I know singers weighed in on the benefits of a laboratory-raised meat and other alternatives like that. You know he’s — there are some vegans — I think there’s an irrational school of vegans — who would object even to laboratory-raised meat. But I can’t capture that the moral arguments for that and I won’t try.

Harris: But strangely they seem to want their tofu to be shaped like meat and look like meat and taste like meat and be called…

Bloom: Tofurkey. I think that the best progress will be made by using the tools we’ve had with some success for other cultural and social changes, like you know people quitting smoking are putting their money into retirement savings and so on. I think some of the techniques that the Nudge people are on about Cass Sunstein and Richard Thaler and others might have some success in this domain. And I think in the end, legislation would do a world of good. Sometimes we need a Leviathan to help us be better people. But having said that — I know it’s a cop-out for me to say, you know, “Stop me before I kill again.”

I think in the end, legislation would do a world of good. Sometimes we need a Leviathan to help us be better people.

Harris: Yes.

Bloom: So, you know, I won’t necessarily wait myself for legislation before becoming a morally better person.

Harris: “Pass a law before I kill again.” That’s even worse.

Bloom: That’s right.

In my experience, people simply don’t know what a wretched life the average cow, pig, or chicken lives. This is probably partly by design and partly due to the fact that we simply don’t want to know.
This is actually not so far-fetched. A major argument against eating meat is that animal agriculture is generally much more environmentally detrimental than plant agriculture. Test tube meat might become perfectly palatable but still be environmentally unsustainable. Also keep in mind, if you will, that the best argument Bloom could produce for why this dilemma should exist is that he doesn’t want to be embarrassed when he goes out to dinner.
Do vegans and vegetarians themselves really want this or is this an attempt to make the meat substitutes more palatable to omnivores?

BLS Unemployment Data vs Gallup Republican Support by State

Updated April 9th, 2017

So, here’s a question: Do Republican states do better or worse than Democratic states with respect to unemployment? CNN looked into this a bit here. They just looked at states with Republican or Democratic governors, though. There, they found about a 1 percentage point difference in unemployment in favor of Republicans. I’m not sure, though, that the state governor is the best gauge.

My little study here assumes that party preference correlates closely with party dominance in each state. Am I correct in assuming this? I don’t know. Would a more responsible researcher have figured this out before publishing this? Yeah. Am I feeling like I don’t care enough at the moment? Yeah.

With this auspicious intro, the results:

The party affiliation is self-identified from Gallup; the unemployment figures are from the BLS.

Here’s what the two datasets look like plotted:

Just looking at that mess, there doesn’t appear to be any correlation. This graph was generated at Social Science Statistics. Their analysis goes like this:

The value of R is -0.2407. Although technically a negative correlation, the relationship between your variables is only weak(nb. the nearer the value is to zero, the weaker the relationship).

The value of R2, the coefficient of determination, is 0.0579.

Here are the data in case you like to look at such things:

For the sake of thoroughness, we can do the same test for Democrats. Here’s the plot for that:

As you can see, it’s still a mess. You can sort of maybe see that there’s the slightest positive correlation, but I wouldn’t expect that to be a statistically significant correlation. I do like that, if you look at it just right, it looks a little like a hummingbird.

Here’s the Pearson correlation analysis:

The value of R is 0.2249. Although technically a positive correlation, the relationship between your variables is weak (nb. the nearer the value is to zero, the weaker the relationship).

The value of R2, the coefficient of determination, is 0.0506.

Using Voter Registration to Predict Votes for President

Updated March 17th, 2017

In mid-2014, Mark Blumenthal and Ariel Edwards-Levy helpfully published a listing of all then-available data on state voter registration:

I was curious to what degree this info could be used to retroactively predict the outcome of the 2016 US presidential election.

If you quickly glance at their list, you might wonder where Alabama is. Well, Alabama doesn’t require party registration (as the chart title suggests). The same is true of Mississippi and of Georgia. Due to these omissions, you might think that this undertaking already doesn’t make much sense. There are still 31 states listed, though, so it could still be an interesting exercise.

So, how do we go about figuring out prediction rate? My solution was to first figure out the differences between percentages of registered Republicans and Democrats in each state. For example, the difference here in Arizona is 29.5% Democrat vs 34.8% Republican for a roughly 5 percentage point Republican advantage. Ultimately, Trump won the state by 3.6 percentage points. So, not too bad for Arizona.

I then performed that calculation for all 31 states that require voter registration compared to the Clinton/Trump outcome by state. The results are here:

The states where registration is most predictive:
NJ — 1.0 percentage point difference (ppd)
AZ — 1.6 ppd
AK — 1.7 ppd
ME — 1.9 ppd

And where it’s least predictive:
OK — 38.0 ppd
LA — 39.4 ppd
KY — 45.1 ppd
WV — 63.7 ppd

Some of these numbers are obviously incredibly high. Why? Well, look at Democratic registration in some of these states that are obviously red states:

State — Dem — GOP
OK — 44.7% — 43.2%
LA — 47.4% — 27.8%
KY — 53.9% — 38.5%
WV — 50.3% — 28.8%

I’m tempted to think that this has something to do with the Dixiecrats.

But if we look at states Dixiecrat chief Strom Thurmond won in 1948, only Louisiana tracks with that hypothesis:
State — Percentage of Vote Won
MS — 87.2%
AL — 79.8%
SC — 72%
LA — 49.1%.

Of course, it doesn’t help that Louisiana is the only state of those four that requires party registration.

On the other hand, Thurmond hugely lost those other states with unexpectedly high Democratic registration, getting…
under 1% of the vote in Oklahoma (Truman won the state with 63%),
under 1% in West Virginia (Truman won the state with 57%), and
1.3% in Kentucky (Truman also won with 57%).

Putting aside for now an explanation for why some of these states have unexpectedly high Democratic registration, what are we left with?

Well, even with the outliers, this method is 71% predictive with a mean state predictive score of 12.8. Not bad but not great. And if we remove those four biggest outliers, we get a more respectable 81.5% predictiveness with a mean state predictive score of 7.8. A little better but of questionable usefulness.

Regardless of that dubious utility, I maintain that the exercise was interesting in itself. Perhaps residents of some of these outlier states will stumble across this info and throw in their two cents for an explanation. Is it that they all have a lot of old timers who never bothered to change registration because cross-party voting isn’t a problem in those states? Is there some other reason?

Keep in mind too that California’s result was 15 percentage points different from expectation based on voter registration. How come? I don’t know. Feel free to chime in if you think you know.

2000 Census and Redistricting

The 2001–2002 round of congressional redistricting was the most incumbent-friendly in modern American history, as many pundits have noted. But the new district lines not only insulated incumbents from competition. They also froze into place a key feature of the 1990s districts that has escaped the notice of the press, political scientists, and most redistricting attorneys and experts: a “distributional bias” that gives Republicans a roughly 50-seat head start in the battle for control of Congress. In combination, these two features — extreme protection of incumbents and a powerful pro-Republican bias — might prevent Democrats from regaining control of Congress in this decade even if public opinion shifts heavily in their favor.

Sam Hirsch, The United States House of Unrepresentatives: What Went Wrong in the Latest Round of Congressional Redistricting, Election Law Journal, Volume 2, Number 2, 2003