Clarence Thomas and the Future of America

I was able to borrow Corey Robin’s The Enigma of Clarence Thomas from my local library after thinking about these themes for so long. As I read it in hardcover, I don’t have a set of notes, so I thought I could write a summary from his eyes:

There has been a corruption of the black man in America. It is a corruption led by progressives seeking to atone for America’s long history of slavery and post-slavery racism. The root cause of racism is unknown, therefore we can never hope to defeat it. Heavy racism will always exist, regardless of our best intentions as a society.

The progressive path is a path proven to fail. The reason why is our political systems are systems led by (racist) whites. Improvements suggested by white people, implemented in systems controlled by white people are simply another means of control of black people by white people.

It does not matter whether the intention of a program is honorable or not. The end result is always the same. Programs meant to help the underprivileged simply set up guidelines to help others abuse them.

Programs like affirmative action reinforce who is in control (white people), making a black man’s success dependent on the recognition and charity of the white man. I know, because I have lived it for myself. Even if a black man is lifted through such a program, there will always be a stigma, both to people who view the man, and within the man himself, that this was only possible with whites’ help.

If schools really cared about equity, they wouldn’t use affirmative action to “bestow” opportunity to blacks. Instead, they would look at other ways to evaluate individuals that wouldn’t bias against blacks in the first place. The reason they don’t is simple: elitism. Schools (the white men who control them) have no desire to give up their power. Anyone’s claims for diversity is merely superficial; you want things to look fair not you want things to be fair.

Eminent domain is supposed to provide fair compensation for the use of land. Let’s talk about what it really is: the right for a government to take advantage of poor (usually black) people, giving “fair” price for land that is immediately gentrified or magnified in value once blacks are disposed of. This “protection” simply makes it easier for those who know how to play the game (wealthy whites in power) to once again take advantage of blacks.

It’s futile for blacks to seek political power – they can never change things when they will always be outvoted at large. Instead, the path forward for the black man is through the economy, through capitalism.

The black man must create his own institutions, develop his own wealth, and then use his economic wealth to speak, to breath power into his politics. Talk is cheap, it’s money that proves the real values of a man. Therefore, one’s use of money needs to be freed. One needs to be allowed to use his money in any way he likes, he must have the ability to earn money in any way he likes. If money can help a man’s viewpoint get visibility, he must have the freedom to use his money to get this viewpoint, communicated by intermediaries, across.

He must have access to guns. Yes, this means white people will have the means to hunt him down, but they always did anyway. A right to bear arms means he can now protect his property, his family, his woman.

The police are surely racist. But this racism is what can make the black man strong. Survive and be stronger for it. What progressive rights have done are to make the black man weak. Things like welfare and social services allow the black man to learn dependency. They prevent him from understanding the truth of America and forging him into someone who can overcome hardships and lead a new generation – his own family. Instead, these efforts let him leave his responsibilities as a man. Prisoners are being punished for crimes. Punishment = a different set of rights versus normal citizens. These penalties are critical in making a black man who can survive America.

I’ve been able to live through both types of black men. My father was a liar who left me.  I could never understand why he never felt responsibilities towards his own children. My mother could not raise me. It was left to my grandfather to teach me the values to survive in America, as an entrepreneur who refused to suck on the government’s tit.

The black man can never be dependent on anyone other than other black people. We are on our own. We must be left free to our devices to succeed.

Back to me again: Robin’s book helped me think a lot about racism. In some ways, perhaps Thomas is right. I do agree on his thoughts on diversity and elitism (I am also someone who takes advantage of it) in institutions. What I do not know is if we should just give up. I’ve heard Thomas referred to as a black nationalist and I never understood what that meant until I read the book: to me, it means creating a black nation-like entity within America. Blacks do their thing and be left alone, and whites the same.

The problem I see there is how that extrapolates into the future. I feel that if you want to achieve progress in economy, humanity -> move towards the Star Trek utopia where everyone is united on a common mission, you cannot do it divided. If you’re just thinking about the now, with no aspirations for mankind, then his view is fine. We can be stuck in the middle ages forever. You just live your life in the same place with your “people”, have kids, die. If we are simply animals, that’s the way.

If you want to explore the potential of humankind, however, it has to be different.

Perhaps that goes back into the core roots of conservatism vs progressive thinking, I don’t know. But from a selfish American standpoint, if I want to see the American economy to keep growing, I feel I need to find ways to get everyone to be part of the success. Extracting my wealth from the bottom may make me better off, but doesn’t grow the American pie. I want to see everyone contributing and befitting to maximize what humans can do.

Cycling At 40

For a couple of years, I have been slowly inching towards the performance benchmark of 4.0 watts / kg. In cycling, w/kg is the standard way of measuring performance, pound for pound. You may produce more watts because you’re bigger, but what happens when we climb that mountain?

W/kg is not the perfect performance comparison tool but it’s the best cycling has.

This year, I started really strong – I just felt like I was making clear gains on a weekly basis. I came back to the US around New Year’s after a month in Asia. My FTP (a measure of power output) was at 225 watts (I was very sad), but I got up to 250 watts (this is a big jump in a short amount of time) within the spring. I was at 3.8 w/kg with another month or two of work I hoped to reach 4.0 with another gain of 10 or so watts.

Of course, since we’re talking about 2020, COVID blew up. A few months later I moved out of California to the altitude of Colorado, where breathing isn’t quite the same. From reading anecdotes, people often drop around 10% in power going to 5K feet. And that’s what I saw, back to 225w.

Now, at the end of the year I’m around 245w but I just had to send my Saris H3 trainer for repair, and I’ll be without it for a few weeks. I don’t have time to bike outdoors.

I originally hoped to hit 4.0 w/kg to coincide with my 40th birthday, but now I want to hit it during my 40th year (counting western-style). As a cherry on top, I’d love to win any race on Zwift in my current category B during the next year. Racing on Zwift….so hard.

Understanding Racism through the eyes of Clarence Thomas

I initially read this New Yorker profile on Clarence Thomas last year, but it’s been stuck in my mind ever since. So much so I had to read it again this week – I cannot remember reading an article twice in this way before, where I thought about it so much that I had to revisit it much later. What do you do about racism? And what is racism? If you listen to the New York Times podcast, Nice White Parents, it helped me think about what is it we really want when we ask for diversity or equality.

At Yale, Thomas developed an understanding of racism that he would never shake. Whites—Southern and Northern, liberal and conservative, rural and urban—are racists. Racism, Thomas would tell students at Mercer University, in 1993, “has complex and, to a certain degree, undiscoverable roots.” Not knowing its beginnings, we can’t know its end. The most that can be hoped for is that whites be honest about it. Honesty is demonstrated through crude statements of personal animus or intellectual suggestions of racial inequality. Dishonesty is demonstrated through denial of one’s racism and sympathetic extensions of help. Dishonesty lulls black people into a false sense of security, assuring them that they are safe when they are not. One of Thomas’s favorite songs is the 1971 hit “Smiling Faces Sometimes,” by the Undisputed Truth. Its classic lyric—“Smiling faces, smiling faces tell lies”—resonates with his experience of Northern white liberals. Among the virtues of the Reagan Administration, he has said, was the fact that no one there was “smiling in your face.”

Racism isn’t so much about “I don’t like a certain race”. After all, Donald Trump is quite sure of his lack of racist temperament. I think it’s more of what Clarence Thomas (and Harvard’s Project Implicit) is referring to – a refusal to believe in one’s own capability for bias (racism) at scale, leading to systemic racism.

When it comes to the issues surfaced in Nice White Parents, I too want to live in a diverse community with my children going to great schools. But do I just want to be around other “safe” upper middle class people, who just happen to be mostly white?

Or another way to think about it, “Black People are not Dark-Skinned White People.

[Warriors] And with the second pick…

As the Warriors on Wednesday, if I could trade down slightly, I’d go for Obi Toppin, last year’s college player of the year, and another asset (veteran cog).

From The Athletic:

The best pick-and-roll big in the draft. An absolute monster athlete in terms of explosiveness. Great speed for his size, and it’s really tough for defenders to stay attached to him in exchanges. Can beat taggers to the spot on the back side. A powerful leaper who is an elite dunker and finisher at the rim, having made 76.7 percent of all shots at the rim in non-post-ups, according to Synergy. Also, Toppin is terrific out in transition, creating numerous opportunities every game with his speed and finishing. He’s not just a pick-and-dive guy, though. He’s very fluid and can really shoot it off the catch, particularly out of pick-and-pops. Made his catch-and-shoot attempts at a 58.1 effective field goal percentage, and he has touch and a clean release on the ball that should translate into continued improvement. The questions come on defense, where Toppin is particularly bad in space right now and might be a bit stuck between the 4 and the 5 positions at the NBA level.

Here’s what I see:

  • Amare Stoudemire. Stephen Curry = Steve Nash. Detonate.
  • Offensively, he not only has the skills, but he dominated the college level. Pick and roll, passing, finishing, shooting – I have not heard any negative aspects of his offensive game. Does not need to handle the ball to impact the game – key for the Warriors.
  • Ready to contribute in the NBA to a good team – the Warriors need explosive, skilled athletic ability.

Concerns:

  • Yes, he’s a lot older. He should be college sophomore age but he’s closer to grad student age.
  • Not a good defender. May not have ideal size, length, agility. What I pay attention to is effort, however. Stephen Curry is probably a league average defender. But he puts effort in to maximize his abilities. I have not seen anything to suggest Toppin is an unwilling defender.

Why Toppin and not…anyone else? Yes, there are plenty of raw, high talent, younger candidates out there – let’s talk about Wiseman, Edwards, Ball. Not just raw in terms of potential, but actual achievement at their former levels. I don’t believe any of them can contribute to a playoff team next year because they can be all be abused defensively. As much reports tout Wiseman’s defensive potential, he’s not considered a NBA-ready defender right now. Yes, Toppin is 2-3 years older than the current tier 1 prospects in this draft, but do we really think the others will be better than he is now by year 3? My guess, only one of the three reaches that mark and I have no idea which one.

Looking back historically, Toppin reminds me of Derrick Williams, 2011’s #2 pick. Another explosive, perhaps undersized, big who also shot well from 3 (56%) in college. I still don’t know why Williams did not pan out. Will Toppin’s shot from the college 3 work in the NBA? Will his release time (see SprawlBall) allow him to get that shot off consistently?

As for the Warriors actual interest in Toppin? From NBC Sports:

“The interview call went very well. They have a great organization over there at Golden State. I believe they like me a lot,” Toppin told reporters Wednesday over Zoom.

But Toppin hasn’t spoken with the Warriors since his interview and hasn’t worked out for Golden State. That has to be a bit concerning.

I think this is the perfect smokescreen for pulling off a trade.