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Cuban player Yasiel Puig has often been criticized for lacking discipline and for his "energetic" approach to the game. His fascinating journey to the U.S. was recently chronicled by LA Magazine and ESPN. (Getty Images)

Baseball's Demographic Shifts Bring Cultural Complexities

by Jairo Ramos
Apr 18, 2014

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Latino Dodgers players Yasiel Puig and Hanley Ramirez often celebrate with each other. Decades after Jackie Robinson became the first black man to play an MLB game, African-Americans still make up only about 8 percent of all MLB players.

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This week, baseball fans celebrated Jackie Robinson Day, 67 years after Robinson became the first black player to partake in a Major League Baseball game. Coincidentally (or not), the racial, ethnic and cultural dynamics of the sport today are the topics of much discussion in this week's news.

Decline In Percentage Of Black Players

According to an article published this week by the Pew Research Center, the proportion of black baseball players in the Major Leagues has steadily declined in recent years. Jean Manuel Krogstad writes:

The share of black MLB players reached a high of 18.7 percent in 1981, according to the Society for American Baseball Research. In 2014, 8.3percent of players on opening day rosters were black. Before the most recent decade's decline, the last time baseball had such a small share of black players was 1958.

Michael Brendan Dougherty recently speculated at The Week that this phenomenon was partially caused by teams pushing to move their stadiums to the suburbs — and away from black people.

ESPN writer Howard Bryant posed another possible explanation. He says the increasing focus on sports stats and analytics is also keeping blacks out of the loop:

I told [Former Oakland A's general manager, and sports-analytics pioneer Billy Beane] that I did not believe he was a racist, but the end result of the way baseball teams were increasingly being built — targeting college players over high school prospects when two percent of college players are African-American, relying heavily on Latin American players, and reducing the emphasis on the stolen base in a power era — would yield fewer black players.

According to Pew, as the share of blacks has declined, whites are taking up a larger slice of the MLB pool — even though they are actually becoming a smaller share of the country's population.

Hispanics, on the other hand, are largely over-represented in baseball — in 2012, they accounted for nearly 27 percent of all baseball players while composing only 17 percent of the country's population. According to the Society for American Baseball Research, that same year nearly 85 percent of all Hispanic players were natives of either a foreign country or a U.S. territory such as Puerto Rico.

"This Team Has Too Many Latinos On It To Win"

Baseball clubhouses might be diversified — but they aren't necessarily integrated. In a column published this week, retired MLB pitcher Dirk Hayhurst wrote about a sharp divide that separates many dressing rooms into two factions: Latino players vs. everyone else.

Part of the divide, says Hayhurst, is discrimination. Racist humor, according to Hayhurst, is ever-present in baseball clubhouses — but he claims there are also race-specific notions that create bias among the agents and managers that oversee teams. Hayhurst writes about the comments made by a Tampa Blue Jays scout while he was covering the team just last year:

"This team has too many Latinos on it to win," mused the old scout beside me. "Get too many of them together on a club and they take over. The club divides, has no sense of itself. They might not be terrible. I mean, them boys can play, but they ain't gonna win no championship. They're too emotional to go the distance."

But he says part of the divide is cultural — and can arise early on in a player's development. He writes that American players are taught certain on-field etiquette rules from an early age — to stay cool after they hit home-runs and abstain from talking to members of the opposite team. Latino players, Hayhurst writes, are often perceived as "flashier."

Adrian Burgos, Jr., a history professor and author of Cuban Star: How One Negro-League Owner Changed the Face of Baseball, recently told my colleague Shereen Marisol Meraji that in a Latin country like Cuba, players are focused on entertaining crowds. "They want to make the crowd be loud, so they play up the highs and the lows, Burgos said. "But those behaviors that work in Cuba become the basis of how they get chastised in the American press; they're 'too loud, too celebratory.'"

But according to Hayhurst, it's not just the press picking on Hispanics. He says many up-and-coming white players aren't too amused by those attitudes either.

And for many freshly drafted whites, selfish and worried about who deserves to go forward, the thinking is that these new Latin teammates—the ones that can't speak the language, write a check or read a physical evaluation form, but can effortlessly showboat on the ball field—don't deserve it.

Yasiel Puig's Journey And Transatlantic Human Trafficking

Burgos made his comments in the context of a profile of Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig, who's one of the hottest (and most controversial) names in baseball. But according to a new report, less than two years ago, Puig was being held hostage in Isla Mujeres, off the coast of Cancun, accompanied by "a boxer, a pinup girl, and a Santeria priest, the latter of whom blessed their expedition with a splash of rum and a sprinkle of chicken blood."

The story of Puig's journey from his native Cuba to the U.S. via Mexico was chronicled in the last issue of Los Angeles Magazine, and it has been the object of much discussion. Through an investigation that took him from the Caribbean island to Miami, Fla., writer Jesse Katz was able to shed light not only on the circumstances around Puig's upbringing but also on the human-trafficking business that has brought many other MLB players across the ocean.

From turning smugglers in to Cuban authorities, to having his escape attempts thwarted at least four times and eventually being held hostage in Mexico, Puig had to stick his hands in many strange affairs before returning to the glove and bat at Dodger Stadium.

A new story published by ESPN on Thursday offers a step-by-step account of Puig's gripping expedition.

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Osama bin Laden is referred to as a shaheed, or martyr, on a sign outside the library at a girls' school in Islamabad. (AFP/Getty Images)

Pakistani Madrassa Names Its Library For Osama Bin Laden

Apr 18, 2014

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Latino Dodgers players Yasiel Puig and Hanley Ramirez often celebrate with each other. Decades after Jackie Robinson became the first black man to play an MLB game, African-Americans still make up only about 8 percent of all MLB players.

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A sign outside the small library at a religious school for girls in Pakistan's capital says the room has been named for a martyr — Osama bin Laden, whose al-Qaida terrorist network was responsible for the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks that killed more than 3,000 people in New York, Pennsylvania and Virginia.

"For us he was a hero of Islam," a school spokesman tells Agence France-Presse.

The school in Islamabad is run by "hardline cleric Maulana Abdul Aziz, the imam of the city's Lal Masjid (Red Mosque)," according to Pakistan's Dawn newspaper.

In 2007, that mosque was the site of a week-long standoff between armed militants and Pakistani security forces. It came to an end when government forces moved in. More than 100 people died. Afterward, there was a wave of suicide bombings, assassinations and other violence across Pakistan as militants struck back.

Bin Laden was killed by U.S. Navy SEALs in May 2011 during a raid on the compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, where he had been hiding for several years.

Earlier this week, Fresh Air interviewed New York Times correspondent Carlotta Gall about her new bookThe Wrong Enemy: America in Afghanistan, 2001-2014. Here's how the show described that book:

"Highly critical of Pakistan, it offers new information about how Islamabad has helped the Taliban in Afghanistan, and how Pakistan's intelligence agency may have helped Osama bin Laden hide out in Abbottabad, Pakistan."

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Above, a 2005 Good Friday ceremony on the streets of Washington, D.C. (Getty Images)

How Do We Explain The Evolution Of Religion?

by Barbara J. King
Apr 18, 2014

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Latino Dodgers players Yasiel Puig and Hanley Ramirez often celebrate with each other. Decades after Jackie Robinson became the first black man to play an MLB game, African-Americans still make up only about 8 percent of all MLB players.

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Religion is a cross-cultural universal, even though not every human being professes faith in God or some other supernatural being. Those of us who are atheist or agnostic make up 6 percent of the American population. A further 14 percent say they are not affiliated with any particular religion.

But religiosity is found in every human culture and biologists, anthropologists, and psychologists keenly debate how it arose. Just like language, technology and bipedalism, religion too evolved over time. But how did that happen?

In a new paper published online in the journal Animal Behaviour, biologists Bernard Crespi and Kyle Summers ask a specific version of this question:

"How did religion actually originate and evolve, step by small step, with Darwinian continuity and explicable selective pressures mediating each stage?"

The answer Crespi and Summers favor is grounded in kin selection theory, as posited in 1964 by W.D. Hamilton. Kin selection turns on the concept of inclusive fitness, the idea that an organism's biological fitness derives not only from the direct production of offspring, but also from aiding the reproduction of its other relatives.

Copies of some percentage of our genes reside in our relatives' bodies: 50 percent for our parents, children and sibs, 25 percent for grandparents, and so on. When, under certain conditions, we help our relatives, we may boost our own genetic legacy. (You can read up on kin selection and inclusive fitness in the Encyclopedia of Ecology.)

Crespi and Summers' hypothesis is this:

"Religion and the concept of God originated and are maintained in the context of maximizing inclusive fitness through serving the interests of one's circle of kin and one's larger-scale social and cultural groups."

In other words, serving God and serving the "circle" of people to whom one is psychologically (and sometimes genetically) tied becomes, in Crespi and Summers' formulation, synonymous.

Crespi and Summers define religion as "a sociocultural belief and behavior system involving both supernatural ideas and morality." Definitions of institutions as complex as religiosity are always arguable; I'd have preferred a more explicit emphasis on practice, on specifically what people do. In fact I think Crespi and Summers do, as they lay out their hypothesis, rely heavily on practice rather than only beliefs, more so than their definition suggests. We see this in the initial stage of their proposed evolutionary trajectory, which focuses on the biological family:

"Grandparents and parents should seek to inculcate prosocial, mutualistic and altruistic behavior among their descendants, over whom they exert pervasive psychological influences during early child development."

The grandparents and parents themselves would directly benefit from this transmission of values — that is, from the practices resulting from such transmission — Crespi and Summers note.

Over time the "circle of kin" expands to include more and more non-relatives, as within-group ties are strengthened by shared practices and beliefs. A key step in this process involves the onset of belief in the supernatural, which Crespi and Summers see as beginning when the influence of the ancestors was felt in the group even after their death:

"Initially it was ancestors who apparently became the first supernatural agents and gods: they were absent, of human form, morally powerful, immutable, and mysterious yet comforting by virtue of warm, supportive bonds of kinship. Religious rituals focused on ancestors also necessarily strengthen kinship links and foster cooperation more generally ... . Ancestors, and other kinship figure gods, may serve to unify groups through psychological kinship at increasingly higher levels as human populations increase."

While this hypothesis is rooted in cooperation, it doesn't ignore competition — especially between groups. Competition of this nature may be driven by differences in religious ideology, as we see all too readily in the modern world. Religion, the authors recognize, "generates new conflicts as well as suppressing previous ones."

Crespi and Summers offer more nuance in their evolutionary thinking than I can convey here and some of their thinking I just don't buy.

They are quite taken with a significant role for oxytocin in priming religious tendencies, to take but one example. As the science writer Ed Yong has noted, wild claims for oxytocin are not uncommon. But far from being the hormone of love and cooperation as often advertised, oxytocin works in ways heavily dependent on context. In certain situations, oxytocin is associated with greater dishonesty, as Yong reports.

When, seven years ago, my book Evolving God was published and I gave interviews based on it such as this one at Salon, I grappled with the same basic questions that preoccupy Crespi and Summers. I went in a different direction by emphasizing that human religiosity was primed by the meaning-making, imagination, empathy and rule-following of other primates (primates with whom we shared a common ancestor in the past, or those common ancestors themselves). Religious imagination flowered later, in the hominin lineage, as our brains were increasingly selected over time to think beyond the here-and-now.

My framework back then focused more on preconditions for human religiosity than Crespi and Summers' does, and also on attempting to pinpoint the roots of religion in the archaeologically visible behavior of Neanderthals and early Homo sapiens. But I see the two core sets of ideas as basically complementary.

Crespi and Summers' hypothesis invites thought — about the relative roles of cooperation and competition, and the intergenerational transfer of practices as well as ideas — in the growing literature on the evolution of religion.

While we work to explain the evolution of religion, another question arises: How do we explain the equally pervasive and persistent existence of atheism? I wonder what research is being done to explain this phenomenon.


Barbara's most recent book on animals will be released in paperback in April. You can keep up with what she is thinking on Twitter: @bjkingape

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A masked pro-Russia gunman looks through a window of a regional administration building seized earlier in Donetsk, Ukraine. (AP)

Deal In Doubt As Separatists Refuse To Budge In Ukraine

Apr 18, 2014

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Latino Dodgers players Yasiel Puig and Hanley Ramirez often celebrate with each other. Decades after Jackie Robinson became the first black man to play an MLB game, African-Americans still make up only about 8 percent of all MLB players.

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"Armed pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine said Friday that they were not bound by an international deal ordering them to disarm and were looking for more assurances about their security before leaving the public buildings they are holding," Reuters reports.

What's more, "the separatists' spokesman told the BBC that the Kiev government was 'illegal,' so they would not go until the Kiev government stepped down."

The Washington Post sums up the situation this way:

"The pro-Russian militants occupying the Donetsk government offices said they supported an accord signed Thursday in Geneva that seeks to calm the potential for violence in the restive region. But they said they would lay down their weapons and leave only if the new national government in Kiev steps down."

Thursday evening in Geneva, as we reported, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, emerged from meetings with foreign ministers from Ukraine and the European Union to say the parties had agreed that all "illegal armed groups" in Ukraine should immediately lay down their weapons. Also, all "illegally seized buildings" in eastern Ukraine were to be returned to that nation's authorities.

The deal was seen as something of a breakthrough. But as Kerry cautioned, it would need to be followed by actions on the ground.

Now, the BBC notes, "a tense standoff continues in eastern Ukraine, where pro-Russian separatists — many of them armed — are occupying official buildings in at least nine cities and towns."

On Morning Edition, NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson said it doesn't appear the protesters in eastern Ukraine will be leaving those locations anytime soon. Some of them have said, she pointed out, that they want to see the demonstrators in Kiev's Maidan Square — the people whose protests led to the February collapse of Ukraine's previous, pro-Russia government — dismantle their camps first.

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We're all in agreement that Alison (Tatiana Maslany) is our favorite Orphan Black character. Here, she hangs out with Felix (Jordan Gavaris) and Donnie (Kristian Bruun). (BBC America)

Pop Culture Happy Hour: 'Orphan Black' And Dream Sequences

Apr 18, 2014

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First things first: It's hard to figure out exactly how to talk about the BBC America series Orphan Black in any way that's remotely meaningful without revealing at least the premise, which takes a couple of episodes to develop in the first season. So while we — including Petra Mayer of NPR Books — did our best not to spoil you on the season that's past, and while we say nothing at all about the opening of the second season (which we watched in preparation), understand that the basic What's Going On? question that arises in the pilot is the premise of our conversation. Not the twists and not the turns, but the general road we're on, if that makes sense. And as promised, we can tell you that BBC America is indeed marathoning that first season — it's underway as of 9:00 a.m. Eastern time Friday, and will begin again at Episode 1 at 8:00 p.m.

If you prefer to skip the Orphan Black discussion, you can skip to about the 19:30 mark, where you'll find our second topic this week: dream sequences. David Lynch! Buster Keaton! My So-Called Life! Emotional work and narrative work and another taxonomy courtesy of Glen! We talk about dream logic (as Glen calls it, "my teeth are falling out I gotta take a test I'm naked") and dream locales, and Buffy The Vampire Slayer gets its second mention of the week.

As always, we close the show with what's making us happy this week. Stephen is happy about a Buzzfeed longread that he's too modest to tell you should lead you to a classic A.V. Club longread. As many (many, many) of you knew he would be, Glen is happy about the release of a new record that echoes an idea Glen told you about long, long ago. Petra is happy about the noises that baby animals make, because sometimes, that's just what the heart needs. More substantively, she's also happy about some gaming news. And I'm happy about a movie and story that taught me a lot about adaptation.

Find us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter: me, Stephen, Glen, Petra, producers Nick and Jessica, and our dear pal Mike.

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