Weekend reflections

Weekend Reflections is on again. Please comment on any topic of interest (civilised discussion and no coarse language, please). Feel free to put in contributions more lengthy than for the Monday Message Board or standard comments.

Christians a minority in the US

Rightwing bloggers are making a big fuss about a poll in which 47 per cent of US Muslims stated that they thought of themselves first as Muslim, and only 28 per cent as Americans first. By contrast, for self-described US Christians, the results were 48 per cent for American first, and only 42 per cent for Christian first, with 7 per cent saying “Both” and 3 per cent Don’t Know. The only possible reading of this data is that less than half of all Americans are in fact Christians in the religious, as opposed to the cultural/tribal, sense of the term. Galations 3:28 is pretty clear on the subject, but more importantly, it’s obvious that you can’t seriously believe in, and worship, an Almighty God if your allegiance to an earthly power comes first, or equal, or if you don’t even know.

As should be apparent from previous discussion, I don’t have a problem with this, belonging mainly to the secularist tradition. But it might be useful in discussion of US exceptionalism to note the preponderance of nominal believers revealed by this question.
Read More »


I’ve been at Parliament House in Canberra today, where I’ve just been awarded a second Federation Fellowship. That means another five years of funding for me and my Risk and Sustainable Management research group. We’ll still be working on the problems of the Murray-Darling, but now with a focus on adaptation to climate change. Now it’s back home for a quiet celebratory drink.

Congratulations to all the other Fellows, but especially to my colleague in the agricultural economics profession, Dave Pannell, who will be working on dryland salinity problems, a nice complement to my work focusing on irrigation. It’s a very well deserved award.


Since we’ve been discussing beatups lately, here’s a classic example of the genre. MSNBC runs a story with the headline “Study links imprisoned veterans, sex crimes” and the lede (US pressparlance for opening sentence)

Military veterans in prison are more than twice as likely to have been convicted for sex offenses than nonveteran inmates, the government reports. Federal researchers cannot say why.

Reading on, it turns out that Federal researchers can and do say why. Military veterans are about half as likely to be in prison as non-veterans. So, the startling finding is that (drumroll) the imprisonment rate for sex crimes is about the same for veterans and non-veterans.

As one of the authors observes when she gets a word in halfway down the story

“I don’t want people to come away from this thinking veterans are crazed sex offenders. I want them to understand that veterans are less likely to be in prison in the first place.�

This is a mildly interesting finding, but presumably explained by demographics (veterans are, on average, older than the population at large, and active criminals younger) the fact that (except in desperate times like the present) the US military does not like to recruit people with criminal records.

Sea change

Just this weekend, I’ve noticed a sudden change in the tone of political commentary, suggesting that the insiders have undergone a collective change of view. Suddenly, all the stories I read are about how Howard really is losing this time (the commentary from the Costello camp is particularly acid, and a drastic change in the space of a week). It seems as if the proximate cause of all this was the failure of the mythical ‘Budget bounce’ to emerge in the opinion polls (the government got another bad one today). In addition, it seems as if a lot of commentators really were convinced that the government’s moves on IR and education would be seen as sensible political responses to public concern and not as an admission that Labor was in tune with the voters on these issues.

Interestingly, the betting markets don’t seem to have moved too much away from even money, while the polls have been giving a consistent message all year. The election will be a big test for the relative predictive powers of polls, pundits and punters.