Smart people saying smart things

Ta-Nehisi Coates: “A Flawed America in Context”

When you study racism, with all its attendent woes, there is something comforting about those kind of numbers. It tells you that whatever you are struggling with here is not a deviation from the human experience, but an expression of it. There is very little that “white people” have done to “black people” that I can’t imagine them doing to each other. America’s particular failings are remarkable because America is remarkable, but they are not particularly deviant or outstanding on the misery index. This is just sort of what we do. The question hanging over us though is this: Is this what we what we will always do?

Kathleen Geier: “Internet payday loans and the major banks that enable them: a growing scourge”

So what do the major banks get from participating in payday loans? It’s simple: it’s all about the overdraft fees. The automatic withdrawals frequently result in overdrafts, and that can add up to big bucks in overdraft charges for the banks. The Times article relates one particularly nightmarish story of a woman who visited her local Chase branch and closed her account — or at least, she thought she closed it. But it remained open, and Chase ended up charging her $1,523 in overdraft fees. Overdraft fees running into hundreds or even thousands of dollars a year are not uncommon. The payday lenders are by no means the only bloodsuckers here.

Rosemary Radford Ruether: “Can Men Be Ordained?”

A synod of bishops from the four corners of the earth, and a full panoply of Mother Superiors, recently converged on the Holy City of Rome to consider the vexed question of the ordination of men. The Holy See had received many tearful appeals from the cruder sex claiming to have a call to the priesthood directly from God Herself. But Her Holiness had firmly replied to these appeals that the call must have been a wrong number. Our Holy Mother in Heaven would never call to the ministry those so obviouslv disqualified by reason of gender. But the men had refused to take no for an answer. Throwing down their picks and shovels, they had declared that they would do no more maintenance work for the Church until there was equality of rites. They sent petitions to the Holy See, filled with arguments for the ordination of men, both theological and practical. Although, of course, they could cite no example from Jesus himself, the incarnation of Holy Wisdom, since he most evidently had ordained no men to the priesthood (or women either).

John McKay: “Mini-Snopes: Congressional pay edition: again”

I’m all for economic populism, but let’s focus on the right things. How much pay Congress makes is not important. How much pay you make is. How much Social Security and Medicare your parents, grandparents or you collect is. How much food, rent, and medical support other vulnerable Americans get is. If you’ve fallen into the the trap of hating the poor, then do it for the veterans. Many of them are poor, old, hungry, and sick. Everyone loves the veterans, in theory. It’s too bad they don’t care as much for the civilians that the veterans were protecting.

Will Bunch: “If This Is the Deal, Philadelphia Schoolteachers Should Strike”

Strike? I know what some of you are saying: What about the kids? Spare me. Aside from the basic — and fairly obvious — fact that the long-term education of Philadelphia’s children would die the death of 1,000 cuts here, there’s something bigger at play. What I would like Philadelphia’s — no, America’s — kids to witness first-hand, more than anything else, is that they can grow up to be adults who will fight for their rights, for their families — and for their human dignity.

And win.

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  • ellie- plenty of people of all races and creeds have gone for a loan and not gotten it. Especially nowadays if not as much as just post 08 crash. it’s mostly based on credit history.

  • Also, plenty of white people are forced to get Payday loans. is it because they’re white?

    I agree with the abrasive right wing guy though. You don’t see Asians and Jews get turned down for loans or for much of anything. If your community or family doesn’t value education you are a victim of that not racism. 

  •  In the community I grew up in, it was common for me to remove my yarmulka so as not to be identified as Jewish, which reduced my chances of being publicly humiliated by other neighborhood kids. I suppose that’s not a casne of being turned down for anything (except maybe a peaceful walk) but I wouldn’t call it a huge advantage of Judaism, either.

  • Lori


    You don’t see Asians and Jews get turned down for loans or for much of anything. 

    You don’t, but people who live in the real world and are not dumb as a rock do. I saw it plenty when I lived in a minority white neighborhood in LA.

  • P J Evans

    If your community or family doesn’t value education you are a victim of that not racism.

    Except that minority communities tend to have older schools that are less well maintained, and have younger teachers with less experience. And possibly fewer schools, too. If everyone in [generic you] your community is poorly educated, it’s going to be hard for you to value education. If you have no role models outside of sports and music, you’re not going to value education.

  • The trolls are strong on this one.

    First page and we already have Chris Hadrick trotting out the glibertarian “at gunpoint” definition of force.

    Geoffk then provides a lengthy example of what Chris Rock described when he said “What’s he got to do, shoot Medgar Evers to be a racist?”

  • Tricksterson

    I don’t remember any green or blue skinned people in the Earthsea books.  But yeah, maybe because the whole Earthsea world reminds me of it, I picture most Earseaites as looking Indonesian.  Except for the ones from that Northern island who I tthink of as looking Chinese and the northeastern barbarians who look like Vikings.

  • arcseconds

     That could be just a bad pseudo random number generator.  If you don’t know what you’re doing, it’s easy to make a RNG that kind of strikes you as random, but actually has significant levels of non-randomness. 

    (not that I know what I’m doing, but I do know this is a problem, so if I needed to write a source of randomness myself I’d try to find an algorithm that has some mathematicians or cryptographers telling me that it’s a good one.)

    I suppose the take-home message here is that even if you know to a high degree of certainty that the outcomes have ‘unexpected’ statistical properties, it might not be clear why they have those properties.  Is it malice or incompetence?

  • EllieMurasaki

    Which ought to result in higher-than expected numbers of doubles for both players, surely?

  • PJ evans – so how do Jews and Asians remain so well represented in American colleges?

    “If you have no role models outside of sports and music, you’re not going to value education.”

    there are plenty of role models in other areas

    Dave – you were an “oppressed” (more or less) minority, yet here you are.  Why didn’t you become a pimp or a drug dealer?

  •  > Why didn’t you become a pimp or a drug dealer?

    I had better options, and took some of them. Why do you ask?

  • P J Evans

    Well, whichever it was, it was sure helping the computer. It was much more random when it was two people against each other. Someone was cheating, and it wasn’t the human players. (Irony: said friend is a computer systems consultant, doing things like custom device drivers.)

  • P J Evans

    This is not top secret information. You just need to pay attention to the world around you. And recognize that what happens to people you know is not the same as what happens to people with dark skin.

  • arcseconds

     Not necessarily.   The naïve way of writing a RNG is to string a whole lot of arithmetical operations together and inspect the output.  If it ‘looks’ random, then it’s good enough.

    Unfortunately, sequences that humans think are random seldom are.   And the non-randomness can often manifest itself in unexpected ways, such as starting to repeat itself after a few thousand trials.  I imagine it’s fairly common for computer games to save the last random number generated as the random seed for next time they start up, so it’s quite conceivable to have a computer game that plays fine the first few goes but then strangely the game play starts to become very boring.

    But they won’t have really obvious patterns to start with.  Doubles coming up a bit too often every second throw is a harder pattern to spot than doubles coming up too often no matter who’s throw it is, and if the RNG just happens to do this it might slip through the radar.

    Having said that, I suspect the doubles thing is deliberate. Even in the days of wild west programming, they would have played the game a bit before releasing it, surely. Maybe they just couldn’t write an AI that could play backgammon challengingly enough without letting it cheat.  I just raised the rubbish RNG as a possibility.

  • arcseconds

    Being more random when it’s two humans playing does seem very suspicious, yes :]

    The other possibility, of course, is human superstition.  Humans are dreadfully prone to supposing all sorts of things about genuinely (or pretty close to) random sequences, like ‘streaks’ and ‘bias’ and ‘rolling all the ones out’ and that sort of thing.  Doubles should crop out one out of every six roll of two dice, so they actually should be quite common.  If you tend to discount your doubles (it’s quite possible you don’t get all that elated about a double-ace, for example, because you might have been better off rolling a 7), and tend to notice your opponent’s more (a form of confirmation bias if you already suspect cheating, maybe), then it’s possible to get the impression of cheating or bias when there is none.

    Playing with another human might be a different emotional experience, and they’re also capable of defending themselves if you whine about the computer liking them more :]

    I don’t know your friend — and therefore, I don’t trust them! I’m not impressed by no computer programmers, neither.   So I’m not going to accept anything less than a record of a significant number of trials, with proper statistical analysis done on them.  (what’s the p-value for getting that number of doubles?), verified and signed by a Justice of the Peace, preferably one that has accepted Kant into their heart and can recite ‘On a Supposed Right to Lie from Moral Motives’.

    Seriously though, it’s not hard to believe a computer game from the 80s ‘cheats’.  But in general we have to be circumspect about accepting human testimony about patterns in a sequence of events.

  • And then there’s bugs that actually cause a bad seed.

    I found one such in the Apple ][ Lemonade program: a person had inadvertently added a RND(-1) instead of a RND(1) into the program, which had the effect of seeding the random number generator the same way all the time.

    Result? The weather always followed the same pattern and I kept wondering why before I discovered the bug :P

  • PJ, asians have dark skin

    Dave- my point is because you were the victim of taunting becoming a drug addict / dealer didn’t automatically proceed from that.

  • Yes, I understood your point.
    And I agree, neither becoming a drug addict nor a drug dealer automatically proceeds from being taunted.
    If I ever encounter anyone foolish enough to believe otherwise, I will be sure to pass that insight along.

  • P J Evans

     Your bias is showing.

  • P J Evans

     FWIW, he’s one of those who has Knuth on his shelf. (He was in ACM at the time, too, so I think a bit more involved with correct functioning than most.)


    The other possibility, of course, is human superstition.  Humans are
    dreadfully prone to supposing all sorts of things about genuinely (or
    pretty close to) random sequences, like ‘streaks’ and ‘bias’ and
    ‘rolling all the ones out’ and that sort of thing.

    Plus the tendency to focus on rolls that stood out, often downplaying your own good rolls and focusing on the poor ones. Having played tabletop games for over 20 years, I’ve noticed that some people can be extremely susceptible to this.

  • Conservatives tend to say, “This is the way we’ve always been, so there’s no point in trying to change.”

    I am not certain I would even go this far. Most of the conservatives I know seem to think that there’s nothing wrong with the way things have always been. The powerful exploit the weak and that’s the way things should be. The rich deserve better opportunities and educations than everyone else because they’re rich.

    Anyone who says that no one deserves to be exploited and that everyone should have opportunities and a good education is a “socialist” and therefore evil (or misled by evil people).

  • yet when the Israeli government coerces Ethiopian women into getting DPV shots so there won’t be an amount of black people that makes the white people in Israel uncomfortable no one at Patheos can be bothered to phone in a post. rather deal with imagined dog whistles than with out and out actual racism transparently based on race. 

  • Lori

    This is getting really old Chris. Don’t you have somewhere else to peddle your crap?

  • Tricksterson

    Citation please?

  • Trickerston -

  • Rhubarbarian82

    “Tu quoque” logical fallacy (see also: “And the United States still hangs black people“).

    Work on your argumentative skills. Better yet, work on being somewhere else.

  • Seriously, Chris, can you quit with the sillyassed attempts at deflecting?

    You’re not even subtle about it. You just hamfistedly slap something down like you think you can distract from the stuff you’re blabbering about and then act all surprised when that dog don’t hunt.

  • Rhubarb- you are the one using that fallacy. I’m pointing out racism today, not in the distant past,  and you are saying THAT racism doesn’t matter because of the legacy of racism in the US.