Sunday, September 24, 2017

On basketball and race

The claim, from K.L. Reeves' personal opinion, is that it is culture that is holding back prospective white American basketball players.

Whether you admit it or not, deep down inside you, the intelligent reader, kind of believes it, too; that black men are, whether by nature or nurture, better at the game of basketball. And that’s OK. Lots of people feel this way. It’s a part of a belief system that began to develop decades ago, around the time that many of our ideas on race began to shift. During that time of radical change, new systems of racial thought — newer, somewhat more palatable ones — began replacing their older, more objectionable precursors. Through it all, institutional racism remained wholly intact, albeit cloaked in a kind of deceptive civility.
Indeed, since the turn of the new century, white foreign-born players have consistently outperformed their American counterparts. At least in the NBA. And it’s not particularly close, either. Note, for instance, the rosters of the past 16 All-Star Games. Then look at the makeup of white starters and role player. Notice a trend? A majority of them — glaringly so, given population disparity, the game’s historic roots, etc.— are foreign-born.
The careers of Dirk and Nash stand as clear examples white superstars excelling in the NBA. But it’s also true that being born and raised in America carries with it certain, very different notions of what it means to be white. It’s practically considered gospel that race has no place in sports. And yet racial dynamics very much persist. As much as I’ve tried to stay away from it as a writer, I simply couldn’t explain past this one: White American basketball players have a harder time than their black peers reaching their full potential, I think, because of the stigma that comes with being white kid playing a black game.
Young whites in America grow up with the belief, however implicit, that basketball isn’t their game. In the words of Martin Luther King, clouds of inferiority begin to form in their little mental sky, where limitation is placed on that rare and particular dream. We are all, in our own ways, complicit in this, having bought into this powerfully dangerous myth, and the results have been nothing short of astonishing.
If you tell a child he can’t be something; that something isn’t for them: If you do this long enough, that belief system will become his own.
Today, such systems don’t develop as overtly as they once did: say the way blacks were once trained to believe they were incapable of reading — that reading wasn’t for them. Though there may be instances where white basketball players will self identify as somehow inferior, thereby reinforcing the stigmas and stereotypes, the bulk of the belief stems from the unspoken, from inference and allusion. And it can start as soon as they pick up a ball, the glass ceiling glaring back at them. The child is told, through unwitting social cues, often by those closest to him, that he might look up to Michael Jordan, but he’ll never be Michael Jordan.
Again, such psychological short-selling is seldom overt, and almost never malicious.
After all, what parent doesn’t want their child to be great at something they love? And yet, given our lack of proper historical reflection on matters of race and steadfast dependence on categorization, it’s hard not to fall into these habits. No matter where you fall on the social-political spectrum, strong racial beliefs are deeply entrenched. The decline of the white American NBA star is, in this sense, a litmus test. You’re white and want to be great at football? Okay. Baseball? Go right ahead. Hockey? Obviously!
… Are you sure about that?
....When {Larry} Bird was coming of age, the stigma of being a white basketball player simply wasn’t as great as it is today.
If K.L. Reeves is right, then those who are now seeking a genetic explanation for the racial disparity in the NBA are part of the problem.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Culture and genes

Americans of the stupid variety keep trying to justify the way things are by genetics. But the fact is that culture (learned behavior) is far stronger.

Doesn't matter what those who don't make assumptions (e.g., "the NFL is a meritocracy")  but look at it carefully find.
The NFL’s racial divide
Teams don’t consciously build rosters based on race, it just ends up that way

 It’s not that they’re excluding anybody. They’re looking to be successful, according to the pattern that has worked. This is why it gets to be so difficult to shatter tradition. You can’t just come in and show somebody that a black center is as good as a white center in order to displace that tradition. You’ve got to come in and show that he is better.”
The so-called free market (or unbridled avarice, depending on your viewpoint) doesn't turn the culture of an enterprise or of a society into a meritocracy any more than the free market abolishes slavery or human trafficking.

PS: I should add that "best person for the position" often does not have objective measures.

In Memoriam: Summer 2017

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Book memo: A Long Way Home

Having seen the movie, Lion, which was well-made, I picked up at the library the book, "A Long Way Home" by Saroo Brierley.   As the title blurb says: "As a five-year-old in India, I got lost on a train. Twenty-five years later, from Australia, I found my way back.  This is what happened in between"; and the book adds significantly to what is shown in the two hour movie.  Definitely worth reading.  It provides all kinds of interesting things to think about.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

The Date of Zero and Its Larger Consequences

The Bakhshali manuscript is now the oldest extant manuscript on Indian mathematics --  it has recently been carbon-dated by the University of Oxford to date to 200-400 AD.  That date is much older than previously thought, at least by five centuries, if not more.  This now supposedly pushes back the earliest recorded date for the use of zero in a place-value system.

Perhaps however, there is a larger point that is being missed.   E.g., as per Wiki, the Bakhshali manuscript "is written in an earlier form of Śāradā script, which was mainly in use from the 8th to the 12th century, in the northwestern part of India, such as Kashmir and neighbouring regions."

To me it seems that now the inferred dates of everything written in the Śāradā script may need to be reexamined. (e.g., Wiki again:  "The Śāradā or Sarada or Sharada script is an abugida writing system of the Brahmic family of scripts, developed around the 8th century.")   Even with the caveat that Wiki isn't the most reliable source of information, it seems to me that some non-trivial amount of history may need to be re-written.

Saturday, September 09, 2017

Rakhigarhi: New player enters the field

I'm still dubious about finding any ancient DNA in the hot and humid conditions of India, but Professor Vasant Shinde of Deccan College, Pune,  and his collaboration with South Korea (presumably Seoul National University College of Medicine) have tried (and rumors have it that their findings are held up due to politics), and now the Times of India reports that another player has entered the field.

Thursday, September 07, 2017

US loss of military competence

Two stories on the radio:

1. Navy Officials Examine Training Procedures After Ship Accidents

After four ship accidents this year , the US Navy thinks years of short-cuts in training might be a contributing cause.

2. Taliban Attacks U.S. Afghan Base In Response To Leaflets

In Afghanistan, propaganda leaflets dropped by the US Army had a cartoon in which the Shahada was superposed on a dog; the dog was meant to represent the Taliban, being chased by a lion that is the US military.  After so many years in Afghanistan, they don't seem to have a clue as to what is instantly offensive to Muslims.

On Rakhigarhi Rumors

Sunday, September 03, 2017

How to handle the Internet