Monday, March 29, 2010

BIG IT and little it

What's the point of havin' a rapier wit if I can't use it to stab people?
- Jeph Jacques
Nativism is on the rise. In a rather disturbing column, Frank Rich lets us know that its not Health Care that has the Tea Party Movement roiling. Its Gangs of New York all over again. Rich mentions Kristallnacht, thereby likening the recent hate speech targeted at icons of diversity, John Lewis and Barney Frank, as a step toward fascism and the rule of the mob. Maybe it is. Perhaps its time for a public discussion of The Ox-Bow Incident. It can happen here. Bob Herbert wants reasonable minded people to push back. This behavior shouldn't be tolerated. Will that work? He does seem right to vilify those in the media and those in Republican party who have been fanning the flames. It is a perverse form of leadership, betting on a backlash, the anger of the silent majority. David Frum takes on his own party about the Health Care legislation itself and the overheated rhetoric behind it. But he was a speech writer, not an elected official. Which conservative with better leadership credentials will restore a path toward toleration for differences in point of view and a move toward negotiated solutions. It would seem easier to do on Finance reform. We'll see.

I've been involved in a little madness too, the March kind. Each of the ballgames this weekend were well contested and compelling to watch. One of things not commented upon, at least not directly, is that two of Final Four teams, Butler and Duke, have white ballplayers in pivotal roles. Gordon Hayward of Butler, is baby faced and looks completely unintimidating from the neck up, but he's got game. As the article explains, he learned basketball at the guard position and then had a growth spurt. (This is the same story as for Ohio State's "player of the year" Evan Turner.) Butler is no fluke. They were rated #15 before the season started and have at present the longest winning streak in the country. But Hayward and his partner at forward Matt Howard, don't look like they should be good. Guru Dick Vitale had them losing in the first round to UTEP. Now the word is out and Hayward is viewed as good candidate for to make the NBA. But there were some perception hurdles to overcome first.

Duke perhaps is not quite so unrecognized. Two of their white starters, Jon Scheyer and Kyle Singler get shown on Sports Centers a fair amount so are familiar to any basketball fan. Their center, Brian Zoubek, was unknown to me. I hardly watched any ACC basketball this season, supposedly a down year for that conference. Duke out rebounded Baylor 41 to 35 and looked like the physically more dominant team, particularly in the second half. (Baylor's center, Josh Lomers, was in foul trouble the entire game and played very few minutes as a result.) Nonetheless, Duke was considered the #1 seed that didn't really deserve its seeding. Yet in Sagarin's ratings Duke has been very high all season. Could the perception that they didn't deserve their seed while Syracuse and Kentucky did, though both of them are now out of the Tournament, be the result of that fact that Duke starts 3 white players?

I wouldn't have even thought about this topic but for Tom Friedman's column, The Real Dream Team, where he makes the argument that as long as American allows immigration from Asia, then those kids will make for the scientists and engineers of the future so our fate will be secure. Isn't this a (mildly) racist argument too? Are we really served by promoting the stereotype? And what of the next generation after that?

Do each of us harbor a mild form of racism in thinking about reality, each domain having its high achievers and also rans, with us putting people in boxes in advance of seeing how they perform? I'm sure Kahneman and Tversky would tell us that yes we do this, it's part of human nature. If so, should we try to reform ourselves? or learn to live with it?

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