Thursday, May 31, 2012

Fun Facts From My Future Home State

I'm moving to Vicksburg, Mississippi in a couple of months, and because I like to be prepared, I did a bunch of research about my soon-to-be-home state.

Fast Facts

-Jackson is the largest city, with a population of 174,514. The total population is around three million, about 1/3 of whom are black.

-59% of Mississippians consider themselves "very religious", the highest percentage in the U.S. It's also the only state with over 50% Baptists.

-As of the 2010 census, Mississippi was last in per capita income and had the lowest median household income out of all U.S. states. It also had 14 of the 100 lowest-income counties in the U.S. The American Human Development Project ranked it third-worst in the country behind West Virginia and Arkansas. CQ Press ranked it the least livable state in 2011. It's not all bad, though: Mississippi has one of the nation's lowest costs of living, and one of its highest rates of charitable giving.

-According to the private Commonwealth Fund, Mississippi is ranked 50th in overall health care, 50th in mortality rate amenable to health care, 50th in infant deaths per 1,000 live births and 51st in percentage of overweight children (including U.S. territories, I believe) at 44.5%. 34% of Mississippians are overweight, as per USA Today.

-Mississippi has not gone Democratic in a Presidential election since Jimmy Carter, and has voted for a non-Republican candidate only thrice since 1960 (the other ones were George Wallace in '68 and Robert Byrd in '60). It was the only state where every single county voted for Barry Goldwater in '64 (Alabama had no Democratic counties, but a few with unpledged delegates). Excepting the Attorney General (Jim Hood) and one member of the House (Bennie Thompson), Republicans control every major political institution or position in the state. In 2004, their constitutional ban on same-sex marriage passed with 86% approval, the highest margin of any state.

History Time!

-Mississippi has been a French, Spanish and British colony. It went over to the U.S. in the Treaty of Paris (1783). Between 1795 and 1832, the U.S. government negotiated ten different treaties with various Indian tribes for the state's present-day territory. It became the 20th state admitted to the Union in 1817, and was the second to secede from it in 1861.

-And boy, did they pay for it. Mississippi suffered the largest casualty percentage of any state in the Civil War. 78,000 Mississippians entered the war and 59,000 were either killed or wounded in it. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Memorial Day evolved partially from a Mississippi custom.

-Related to Vicksburg specifically: Newitt Vick, after whom the town was named, was a Methodist minister and a conscientious objector during the Revolutionary War. The siege of Vicksburg was one of the Civil War's pivotal battles; the town fell after a 47-day siege, effectively cutting the South in two. Vicksburg surrendered on July 4th, so the town didn't celebrate Independence Day for another 82 years thereafter.

-Mississippi hates alcohol. Absolutely loathes it. It banned alcohol in the state in 1907, a dozen years before Prohibition was passed, and it was the first state to ratify the 18th Amendment. After the 21st Amendment repealed Prohibition, it kept up the statewide ban for another another third of a century. When it finally went to a county option system, allowing counties to decide whether they'd be "dry" or "wet", the language of that law specifically reaffirmed the spirit(s) of Prohibition.

-Incidentally, Mississippi didn't actually ratify the 13th Amendment (banning slavery) until 1995.

-Mississippi's is the only state flag to incorporate the Confederate battle flag.

Economy Time!

-Mississippi's unemployment rate dropped to 9.0% in March. Before that, it had been over 9.6% for the previous 28 months, including 26 over 10%. The state GDP grew by 1.1% in 2010, one of the lowest rates of any state.

-It ranks third in casino gambling income among the states, behind only Nevada and New Jersey, due to the profitable riverboat gambling trade. Six riverboat casinos work Vicksburg alone.

-Although the days of King Cotton are long over, Mississippi still ranks sixth among the states in cotton exports. It's fourth in rice and fifth in poultry; its top agricultural commodity is broilers (5-12 week old chickens; I had no idea), followed by soybeans, corn, cotton and aquaculture. In fact, it's the country's leading producer of farmed catfish, and one of the leaders in shrimp.

-The importance of the poultry industry extends into manufacturing, where its biggest manufactured good is processed goods, especially chickens. It also produces furniture, chemicals, motor vehicle parts and ships; the Huntington-Ingalls shipyard at Pascagoula manufactures merchant vessels and nuclear submarines for the U.S. Navy. The state also has important petroleum and natural gas mining concerns.

Trivia Time!

-The word "Mississippi" is believed to originate from the Ojibwa/Cherokee mici zibi, which means "Father of Waters". The entire state is lowlands, and is subject to frequent flooding from the Mississippi River. Thunderstorms, hurricanes and tornadoes are common (the latter average is 27 per year).

-The Mississippi state fossil is the basilosaurus, a prehistoric whale. The state tree and the state flower are both magnolias, and its official nickname is the Magnolia State (other nicknames include the Hospitality State, the South's Warmest Welcome, and the Birthplace of America's Music). Their motto is "Virtute et armis" (By Valor and Arms), the state reptile is the alligator and the state beverage is... milk. (#prohibition)

-Speaking of culture, Elvis was a Mississippian, as were Jimmy Buffett and Howlin' Wolf. Morgan Freeman, James Earl Jones and Oprah Winfrey are all from the state; same with William Faulkner, John Grisham and Jim Henson, creator of the Muppets.

-Mississippi has produced some unbelievable football players. Brett Favre, Walter Payton, Jerry Rice, Archie Manning, Eli Manning, Deuce McAllister, Patrick Willis, Steve McNair, Donald Driver, Ray Guy and many others were either born in the state or went to its schools.

-Coca-Cola was first bottled in Vicksburg. The first human lung and heart transplants were performed in Mississippi. When Teddy Roosevelt refused to shoot a bear cub and inadvertently inspired the teddy bear, that was in Mississippi too. The state hosted the first world heavyweight championship, is home to the International Checkers Hall of Fame, and is home to the graves of the King and Queen of all Gypsies in the United States. Finally, the world's largest shrimp resides in the Old Spanish Fort Museum in Pascagoula, presumably dead. (I'm slightly terrified.)

This is what I imagine daily life is like there--fighting off giant cannibal shrimp!

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Decision Points: Big Choices

Hello, Internet. It’s been a while.

If we’ve never met, my name is Andy. I write down the ramblings that come into my head and post them as a part of Tisdel’s Tirades, my online clearinghouse for all things coherent. Whether these things are actually tirades is up to my mood on any given day; usually they’re reviews, football critiques, or sometimes generally angry rants about an obstinate person in the national political environment (or closer to home). None of it is particularly special, inspired or relevant to the day-to-day lives of a majority of my readers.

Today, however, I’m going to break that particular trend and put out what I think is some good advice. It’s advice I intend to take, and it applies fairly well to most of my recently-graduated classmates, friends and kindred spirits. It’s entirely possible that you’ve heard it before, and if so, I invite you to read mine anyway; perhaps I used a different adjective, a fresh example, or some unconventional way of catching your eye and reshaping the clay into something reasonably new. Or maybe not.

When you’ve just graduated college, and you’re sitting in your old room in your parents’ house at 22 and trying to figure out what you want or have to do with your life, your mind has a way of looking for guidance from any source available. For me, the things that come easiest to mind are the movies, TV shows and books with which I spend so much time. Protagonists, and even for subsidiary characters, have it comparatively easy: sure, your life may be ended or altered or changed in massively unpredictable ways at the author’s whim, but at least you’ll always know when it’s coming. The horns will blare out a Hans Zimmer war march, or the violins will script a sad and passionate leavetaking, or a swarm of unlikely-but-true events will wipe out all your prevarications and leave you facing your Big Choice with no barriers or delays allowed. Your life will change, and you will see it coming.

But real life doesn’t work like that. You can still fall in love, lead your company to huge successes or die bravely on the battlefield, but you’ll never see it coming. Life doesn’t broadcast its life-changing events; they’re sneaky, they’re tricksy and they’re disguised as normal, everyday decisions. You’re still making a Big Choice, but instead of one climactic moment where Hagrid asks you to go to Hogwarts, it’s the million tiny choices you’ve made over the years that light up your path. My choice of the College of Wooster has shaped me to a huge degree, but nobody sounded the trumpets when I visited the campus in the spring of 2008. And it was a series of tiny decisions, mine and others’, that put me in the position to choose that school at all. I’m sure every reader of these words can relate to that in some fashion. If movie choices are love at first sight, life choices are meeting at a coffee bar, seeing each other a few times over the next month or two and slowly getting to know the other person as the relationship flowers into mutual attraction and romance.

In a brave new post-graduation world, it’s easy to panic and overreact about the Big Choice or series of Big Choices you’ll be making in the coming months and years; getting a full-time job that you can live off of, getting an apartment, picking a graduate or law or medical school, and on and on. And it’s easy to get paranoid and freak out over the Big Moment lurking somewhere on the horizon. You don’t have to. There are Little Moments all around you, and it’s your choice at any given moment that might end up setting your path for years to come. Instead of waiting for the huge choice, focus on keeping your life in order from day to day, and the Big Choices will reveal themselves in due time. (This has helped me not freak out, or at least freak out less frequently.)

Monday, May 21, 2012

Wisconsin Campaign Coverage

There's a fine line between massaging the facts to your advantage and being downright disingenuous. Everyone does the former because it makes you look good. If you choose the latter, though, you'll alienate more voters than you draw in... at least if those voters are actually paying attention, like I was a few minutes ago.

One of the ads currently airing on Channel 12 Milwaukee just told me that under Governor Jim Doyle, unemployment in Wisconsin went up 37%, and unemployment in Milwaukee went up 28%. While not an actual lie, this is manifestly disingenuous. Unemployment didn't go up 37% in real terms under Doyle; assuming the underlying numbers are correct, it went up 37% from whatever it was pre-Doyle... like moving from 10% to 13.7%, not 10% to 47%. If unemployment in WI had hit that level, it would be a national catastrophe. The unannounced change in emphasis conceals the true meaning of the statistic (however meaningful it actually is; unemployment under Doyle was relatively static in his first five years before the 2008 recession began) and makes it just blatantly misleading.

I choose not to vote for candidates who fuck about in that fashion.

While I'm on that subject, let's tackle Scott Walker's claim that Wisconsin created over 23,000 jobs in 2011.

First: as Forbes pointed out, for the first 15 months of Scott Walker's governorship, he was content to use the same method of measuring job creation that saw him posting a loss of around 24,000 jobs in the past calendar year. Even the most ardent supporter of the Governor might balk at the timing of discounting conventional statistics that make him look bad... instead of his new statistics that make him look better... a few weeks before the election.

Second: Whether it's a net gain or a net loss over the past calendar year, 23,000 jobs is a relatively small number in a state with 205,000 out of work. I understand the symbolic importance of running as a job creator or attacking an opponent as a... job destroyer(?)... but either way, it's not an incredibly significant number. (Never mind the debate over the role of government in job creation; that's another thing entirely.)

Third: Any way you look at it, using whatever numbers, Walker is not on track to hit his target of 250,000 new jobs in Wisconsin by the end of his first term. Although this has very limited significance due to the timing of the recall election... since Walker will have been in office for about a year and a half on Election Day... it's still worth keeping in mind.