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Friday, August 31, 2012

What Tiger Woods and New York Cabbies Have in Common

More wisdom from Daniel Kahneman ("Thinking Fast and Slow," Chapters 26-28). Consider the following question:
  • You are offered a gamble on the toss of a coin. 
  • If the coin shows tails, you lose $100. 
  • If the coin shows heads, you win $150. 
  • Is this gamble attractive? Would you take it?
To take this gamble, you have to choose between the potential of winning $150 against the potential of losing $100. Although the gamble's expected value is positive, most people dislike and reject it because for most, the fear of losing $100 is more intense than the hope of winning $150. When people were asked what the smallest gain they'd need to balance an equal chance of losing $100, most answered $200, twice as much as the loss. This loss aversion ratio has been measured in several experiments and been found to range between 1.5 and 2.5 although it tends to increase as the potential loss increases. In practical terms, what this means is that we fear losing something that we have more than we do getting something that we don't have.

Our aversion to loss is often in reference to short-term goals that we set for ourselves. Take New York cabdrivers, for instance ("Labor Supply of New York City Cab Drivers: One Day at a Time"). They probably have a daily target income, which is easier to achieve some days than on others. For example, "on rainy days, a New York cab never remains free for long, and the driver quickly achieves his target; not so in pleasant weather, when cabs often waste time cruising the streets looking for fares. Economic logic implies that cabdrivers should work many hours on rainy days and treat themselves to some leisure on mild days, when they can 'buy' leisure at a lower price. The logic of loss aversion suggests the opposite: drivers who have a fixed daily target will work many more hours when the pickings are slim and go home early when rain-drenched customers are begging to be taken somewhere" (Kahneman, p. 303).

Perhaps the most interesting study of loss aversion involved professional golfers (Kahneman, pp. 303-304).  The economists Devin Pope and Maurice Schweitzer reasoned that if people are truly more adverse to loss than they are hopeful for a gain, then professional golfers would more adverse to missing a putt for par than they would be to missing a putt for a birdie "("Is Tiger Woods Loss Averse? Persistent Bias in the Face of Experience, Competition, and High Stakes"). Why? Because when gauging loss and gain, we typically do so in relation to some reference point or baseline, and in golf the baseline is par.
For the uninitiated, every hole on the golf course has a number of strokes associated with it, and par is the number of strokes that indicates good (but not outstanding) performance. For a professional golfer a birdie (one stroke under par) is considered a gain, and a bogey (one stroke over par) is considered a loss.
Pope and Schweitzer analyzed more than 2.5 million putts and compared those where the golfer was putting to avoid a bogey and those where he was putting to achieve a birdie. What did they find? Regardless of the difficulty and distance of the putt, the players made more putts when putting for par than they did when putting for a birdie. The difference in the success rate was 3.6%, which although it may appear small, it isn't. Evidently, Tiger Woods was one of those whose putting results were included in the study, and Pope and Schweitzer determined that if in his best years, Woods had putted as well when putting for birdies as he did when putting for pars, his average tournament score would have improved by one stroke and his earnings by almost $1 million, which even in Tiger Woods's world is nothing to sneeze at.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Testosterone's Benefits

According to a recent article in Bottom Line Personal (9/1/12), testosterone can help both women and men live longer and more fulfilling lives. Studies have found that a testosterone deficiency in men (estimated to be 40% of men 45 years and older) can lead to higher rates of cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, Alzheimer's, and depression. Ways that people can increase their testosterone levels by losing weight, reducing stress, getting eight hours of sleep, weight training, and eating healthy. You can also increase your testosterone levels with testosterone replacement therapy (TRT), of which their are four types: gels, injections, pellets (surgically inserted), and creams.

But wait a minute. Isn't that cheating? Isn't taking a drug (because that's what testosterone is) to improve performance (because that's what TRT does) considered cheating? Or are ordinary folks such as ourselves exempt from the rules that we hold professional athletes to?

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Mitt Romney and All Things Mormon

In the preface to his book, The Rise of Mormonism, the sociologist Rodney Stark, who is not a Mormon but who has studied the faith and its adherents extensively, wrote:
My "notorious" numbers (in 1984 Stark authored a paper that accurately projected the near future growth of the Mormon church) [have translated] into unwelcome calls from the media whenever they think of something new to say about or to blame the Latter-day Saints. The last few weeks before the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics were dreadful. Most of the news people who called had their agenda down pat, knew exactly what quotation they wanted from me, and were uneducable. The knew the LDS Church had brought the Olympics to Utah to "brainwash" thousands of visitors into joining their faith. I told many of them that if Mormon missionaries could work such miracles, the press would not be calling me, since, for obvious reasons, the press would have been the very first targets of LDS "brainwashing." But they simply didn't get it. Fortunately, every sportswriter who called me got it immediately, recognized it as giving the knockout punch to brainwashing charges, and went on to write sensible things about the Mormons. Do all smart journalism majors flee into the sports departments?
Unfortunately, the rise of Mitt Romney has led to many insensible things being written about Mormons, such as the screed published last year by the late Christopher Hitchens ("Romney’s Mormon Problem: Mitt Romney and the weird and sinister beliefs of Mormonism") that has been making the rounds lately. Thankfully, saner accounts are available, such as the recent the August 22, 2012 issue of The Christian Century, which features two articles on as well as a list of books about Mormonism, which are included in the list at the end of this post.
(For the uninitiated, The Christian Century is a mainline Protestant magazine and has hardly been a "friend" of Mormonism. It does, however, appear to possess the ability to write relatively objective accounts of the Mormon faith.)
Another helpful resource is Tony Gill's interview of Professor Lynita Newswander ("Lynita Newswander on Mormons in America"), an adjunct professor of political science at the University of South Dakota, who recently co-authored the book, "LDS in the USA: Mormonism and the Making of American Culture," with Lee Trepanier. If you are wondering, Newswander is a Mormon; Trepanier is not. The fact that Newswander is a Mormon may lead some to conclude that she is not entirely objective. I suspect that she is not, but co-authoring her book with a non-Mormon should have helped balance things out. Moreover, I would venture to guess that she is no less objective than Christopher Hitchens, who's hostility to all things religious was well known.

Here is the list of books recommended by The Christian Century (p. 27). You can also go to the  on-line listing clicking here ("Mormonism: Essential Reading"):
  • Great Basin Kingdom: An Economic History of the Latter-day Saints, 1830–1900, by Leonard J. Arrington (University of Illinois Press). A masterful account of the policies and practices that enabled Mormons to settle in the hostile environment of the Great Basin. Arrington, the dean of Mormon historians for many years, shows that the Mormons achieved this feat by imposing a managed economy on a frontier society.
  • Mormonism in Transition, 1890–1930: A History of the Latter-day Saints, by Thomas G. Alexander (University of Illinois Press). Alexander describes how the Church of Latter-day Saints transformed itself in almost every dimension in the decades after polygamy was ended and statehood was achieved. These were the years when Mormons assimilated into American society as the church sloughed off the practices that had long alienated them from the rest of the country.
  • Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling, by Richard Lyman Bushman (Knopf). A practicing Mormon attempts to understand the founding prophet of Mormonism in realistic but sympathetic terms.
  • By the Hand of Mormon: The American Scripture That Launched a New World Religion, by Terryl L. Givens (Oxford University Press). An account of how the Book of Mormon was received by believers and unbelievers. Givens presents the ongoing debates about the book’s historical authenticity in evenhanded fashion.
  • The Angel and the Beehive: The Mormon Struggle with Assimilation, by Armand L. Mauss (University of Illinois Press). Mauss offers a sociological framework for understanding LDS Church policy and practices in the 20th century by tracing the oscillations between separation from American society (the angel) and assimilation (the beehive).
  • The Theological Foundations of the Mormon Religion, by Sterling M. McMurrin (University of Utah Press). McMurrin, a cultural Mormon and a philosopher, briefly and beautifully explains the meaning of Mormon beliefs in terms of classic philosophical categories.
  • David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism, by Gregory A. Prince and William Robert Wright (University of Utah Press). Drawing on interviews and the minutes of the governing body of the LDS Church, Prince and Wright offer an inside look at the workings of the inner councils of the church during the administration of David O. McKay, one of its most important 20th-century presidents.
  • Mormonism: The Story of a New Religious Tradition, by Jan Shipps (University of Illinois Press). A religious studies scholar explains the meaning of Mormonism in the broad sweep of religious history.
Finally, about a year ago I wrote two posts concerning Mormons: One addressed the issue as to why it was seemingly OK to make fun of some religious groups (e.g., Mormons) but not others (e.g., Muslims) even though the beliefs of Muslims are remarkably similar to Mormons ("Broadway, Memphis (the Musical), and The Book of Mormon (the Musical)"). The other was a follow-up post ("Satirizing Mormons Redux"), which argued that one of the reasons why some people think it's OK to make fun of Mormons is because they simply think that Mormons are "weird" and thus worthy of scorn, in spite of the fact that those who have actually taken the time to study Latter-day Saints have discovered that Mormons tend to act in ways and like the same things that most Americans do. I then provided a list of well-known Mormons, who, within their respective professions, weren't/aren't a whole lot different than everyone else. I reproduce the list below (with some additions):
  • Danny Ainge, Professional Basketball Player
  • Jack Anderson, Pulitzer Prize newspaper columnist and journalist
  • David Archuleta, Runner-up in American Idol (Season 7)
  • David H. Bailey, Co-author of an algorithm about pi.
  • Stanford Cazier, President of California State University, Chico, and Utah State University
  • Stephen R. Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
  • Dennis Eckersley, Hall of Fame pitcher
  • Henry Eyring, Professor of Chemistry at Princeton University and the University of Utah
  • Gordon Gee, President of Ohio State University
  • Harmon Killebrew, Hall of Fame 1st baseman for the Minnesota Twins
  • Gladys Knight, Grammy winning singer
  • J.W. "Bill" Marriott, Jr., Chairman and CEO, Marriott International
  • Armand Mauss, Sociologist of Religion, Washington State University
  • Stephenie Meyer, author of the Twilight series of books
  • David Neeleman, Founder of JetBlue Airways and Azul Brazilian Airlines
  • Merlin Olsen, Hall of Fame defensive tackle, Los Angeles Rams
  • Anne Perry, British historical novelist; author of the William Monk and Thomas Pitt series
  • Harry Reid, Senate Majority Leader, (D-Nevada)
And, of course...
  • Steve Young, Hall of Fame quarterback, San Francisco 49ers

Friday, August 24, 2012

Is Working at Home Productive?

Many of you know that I often work at home or at a coffee shop because distractions at the office make it difficult to write or conduct other forms of research. However, many employers believe that productivity would plunge if they allowed their employees to work at home. There are other factors to consider, however. Not only do employers need to take into account whether employees are more or less productive, but they also need to consider the rent they would save if a large number of their employees worked at home. That is, if the savings derived from lower rental payments offset the expected drop in productivity, then letting employees work at home would still make economic sense.

The assumption that productivity will drop may be wrong, however. James Liang (founder and chairman of Ctrip, a big Chinese travel website similar to Expedia, and Nicholas Bloom, a labor economist at Stanford, along with co-authors John Roberts and Zhichun Jenny Ying, recently completed a study called “Does Working From Home Work? Evidence From a Chinese Experiment,” in which Ctrip employees were randomized into work-at-home groups and work-at-the-office groups, and they found that employee productivity did not drop. In fact, it increased by 13%. Moreover, another study by Christine Hoehner, a public-health professor at Washington University, found that commuting is bad for our health.

All this and more is covered in the latest Freakonomics podcast, which you can listen to here ("There’s Cake in the Breakroom!") and is only 6:28 minutes long. You can also download it from iTunes.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Melky: Say it Ain't So

As a San Francisco Giants fan, I was stunned when Melky Cabrera was banned for 50 games for using PEDs (performance enhancing drugs). When asked, he didn't deny it. He admitted that he'd taken a banned substance and should've known better. And I agree. He should have known better than taking a substance that has been banned by Major League Baseball.

That said, those of you who've been reading my blog for a while know that I don't think the line between what constitutes cheating in sports and what doesn't is as black and white as some would have us believe ("Lance Armstrong and Cheating""Cheating and Sports, Part I: What are the Rules About Breaking the Rules"). For instance, who decides what supplements are legal and which ones aren't? When I played college and professional baseball, I regularly took supplements before and/or after my workouts, and my son, who is gearing up to play college baseball, takes them as well. Why is it that the supplements I took and he takes are legal while other types of supplements are not? It can't be because what my son takes doesn't enhance performance because it almost certainly does. They help him build up his muscles in a shorter amount of time than if he worked out without them.

Or imagine if the US government decided to ban all performance enhancing drugs. Starbucks and Peet's would go out of business because all of those people who swing by for a shot of caffein (which is, after all, a performance enhancing drug) would no longer be able to do so.

All this is not to suggest that I condone the use of steroids. Ingesting them may improve performance but they're bad for our health, and that is reason enough not to take them. The fact that they're bad for us isn't probably a good enough reason to make them illegal. Cigarettes and excess alcohol aren't good for us either, but there isn't a rule preventing athletes from smoking or drinking. I don't claim to know the answer as to where the line should be drawn (and who should decide), but where the line has currently been drawn strikes me as rather arbitrary.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Thinking Fast, Thinking Slow

One of these days, I plan on compiling a list of (non-fiction) books I think everyone should read. Rod Stark's "The Rise of Christianity"will almost certainly be on the list as will Michael Sandel's "Justice" and Michael Lewis's "Money Ball." Another one that will probably make the list (although I haven't finished it yet) is Nobel Prize winner, Daniel Kahneman's, "Thinking, Fast and Slow." It is a bit long, but it is, for the most part, readable, entertaining, and interesting. His recounting of various psychological and social psych experiments are fun to read, and his distinction between what he and others refer to as System 1 and System 2 thinking (and its consequences) is something everyone should know about. All of us would make fewer errors in judgment if we were just aware of how our brain works. Here's a brief description of the two systems:

System 1 is fast, automatic, impulsive, unconscious, intuitive, and is sometimes referred to as the implicit, experiential, associative, or heuristic system. It controls instinctive behaviors that are innately programmed into us and tends to solve problems by relying on prior knowledge and belief. System 2, by contrast, is deliberate and reflective and is sometimes referred to as the explicit, rule-based, rational, or analytic system. It is slower than System 1, but unlike System 1, it is capable of abstract though and is what many of us use when we're asked to solve complex problems. System 2 thinking is valuable, but it involves hard work, is generally slow, and can be wuite tiring, which is why we often rely on System 1.

Most of the time System 1 is efficient and reliable. For example, it is virtually flawless when it comes to understanding one's own language. When someone is speaking to us (in our own language), we cannot help but understand what they're saying. Even if we don't want to, we still understand. This is generally a good thing, because when it comes to conversing with others, we don't want to have to analyze every word that others utter in order to understand what they're saying.

However, System 1 is gullible--it's prone to believe just about anything--and its intuitions are sometimes wrong, which is why we sometimes need System 2 to jump into the mix and as a corrective. Take, for instance, the following puzzle:
  • A ball and bat cost $1.10
  • The bat costs one dollar more than the ball.
  • How much does the ball cost?
What is interesting about this puzzle is that the answer it typically evokes (from System 1) is wrong. For most folks, the answer that initially comes to mind is $.10 (i.e., 10 cents), but if you do the math, the answer is actually $.05. Even those who come up with the correct answer, probably had to resist giving into the intuitive one (unless they heard it before). As Kahneman puts it, "It is safe to assume that the intuitive answer also came to the mind of those who ended up with the correct number--they somehow managed to resist the intuition."

Now consider the following two riddles:
  • If it takes 5 machines, 5 minutes, to make 5 pretzels, how many minutes does it take 100 machines to make 100 pretzels?
The intuitive answer is 100, but the correct answer is 5.
  • In a lake, there's a patch of lily pads. Every day, the patch doubles in size. If it takes 48 days for the patch to cover the entire lake, how long would it take for the patch to cover half of the lake?
The intuitive answer is 24, but the correct answer is 47.

Both of these questions are a little tougher, but just like the bat and ball puzzle, we need System 2 to resist our initial conclusion in order to arrive at the correct answer. Unfortunately, researchers have found that System 2 can be lazy and will often not kick in when we're tired or unaware that it's needed. For example, studies have found that people are more likely to believe the claims of advertisers when they're tired than when they're not (remember, System 1 is gullible and prone to believe just about anything). This is not an issue when System 2 is activated, but when we're tired, it is hard to activate.

Kahneman is a psychologist, but he won the Nobel Prize in Economics because his research has challenged some of the underlying assumptions of classical economic theory. I'll no doubt return to his book in the future. His discussions of priming, anchoring, and the law of small numbers are fascinating. Those stories, however, are for another time.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Is Going to College Worth It?


Is attending college worth it? In terms of financial returns, happiness, length of life, it is worth it for most people. It isn't for everyone, however. Whether it is or not is the subject of a recent two-part podcast from the folks at Freakonomics ("Freakonomics Goes to College: Part I" and "Freakonomics Goes to College: Part II").  Part 1 explores the value of a college degree and the market for fake diplomas. Part II looks at tuition costs and explores how the college experience makes people so much better off. I enjoyed Part II more than Part I, but both are interesting and highly recommended. As always, you can listen to the podcasts at the Freakonomics website or download the episodes from iTunes.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Education and the Sikh Temple Shooting

When I heard of the tragic shooting at the Sikh temple in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, one of the first things I thought of was that the shooter didn't know the difference between a Sikh and a Muslim. They are often confused because of their long beards and turbans, and in some of the accounts of the shooting, I saw where others had voiced the same idea.

There's a potential error in this line of thinking, however. An underlying assumption of it (or at least a potential underlying assumption of it) is that if the shooter had been better educated, he wouldn't have mistaken the Sikh temple for a Muslim mosque. But that isn't necessarily the case.  If the shooter had had more education (e.g., a class in comparative religion), he may have simply ended up shooting Muslims rather than Sikhs. That doesn't strike me (and hopefully no one else) as a better outcome.

There does seem to be a widely-held belief that more education is almost always the answer. Given that I've earned five degrees, it should be clear that I value education. However, it isn't the panacea that many people believe it is. As I've noted in earlier posts ("Stereotypes in War and Politics,""Terrorist Stereotypes and Misconceptions"), high levels of education have not prevented people from becoming terrorists. In fact, although they're repeatedly portrayed as poorly-educated, religious fanatics, who are motivated by visions of heavenly grandeur, in fact most are well-educated (especially when compared to the countries from where they come) and come from secular and middle class backgrounds.

Thus, while more education is almost certainly a good thing, it isn't the end all to be all. It won't end violence, prejudice, or xenophobia. It may help, but it won't end it.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

How Did Sherlock Do It?

Sherlock Holmes fans know that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle allegedly attempted to kill off Holmes in the short story, The Final Solution. I say allegedly because Doyle didn't have Holmes's body turn up after he and Moriarty fall off Reichenbach Falls, which makes you wonder whether Doyle subconsciously left the door open for Holmes to return. Indeed, in the short story in which Conan Doyle brings Holmes "back from the dead," (The Adventure of the Empty House) it turns out that he didn't fall into the falls at all. Only Moriarty did.

Interestingly, two modern interpretations of The Final Solution appeared on film in the last year. One, the theatrical release, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, stars Robert Downey, Jr. as the British detective. As with the books, it is set in 19th century London, and although it only loosely (very loosely) follows the short story, it does end with Holmes and Moriarty plunging off the falls and into the river below, leaving Watson (and the viewers) with the impression that neither Holmes or Moriarty survive. The second interpretation occurred in the BBC series Sherlock, which stars Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes. Unlike the Conan Doyle stories and the Robert Downey movies, Sherlock is set in 21st century London. Thus, it shouldn't come as a surprise that they don't follow the Conan Doyle stories too closely (although probably closer than the Robert Downey movies).

The Sherlock version of The Final Solution, entitled The Reichenbach Fall, has generated considerable buzz ("Sherlock: vital missing clue behind death fall") because it's unclear how Holmes survives a fall from St. Bartholomew's Hospital (aka St. Barts) in London (pictured at left). Indeed, as in the Conan Doyle short story, everyone (including Watson) is led to believe that Holmes did die, and it is only at the end that viewers (but not Watson) learn that Holmes is still alive. But how he faked his death remains a mystery and the subject of much speculation among bloggers and the media. According to the show's producers, there is still "a clue everybody's missed," and that it was shown on screen how he survived but no one has yet figured it out. I don't attempt to solve the mystery below; it is, however, my first take on what happened.

The episode is about Moriarty's plot to discredit and kill Sherlock Holmes, concluding with Moriarty killing himself with a gun and Holmes apparently committing suicide by jumping from the roof of St. Barts in order to keep Moriarty's henchmen from killing Dr. Watson, Mrs. Watson, and Inspector Lestrade (Holmes's three closest friends). Prior to jumping, Holmes calls Watson from the top of the roof with his cell phone.  He then throws the phone away and jumps with Watson looking on. Watson then rushes to Holmes's body just as it is carried away by the hospital staff. You can watch the final sequence here:

However,
  1. When Holmes is talking with Watson on the phone, he makes sure that Watson is standing where he is blocked by a small building so that he can't see the sidewalk where Holmes's body (or somebody's body) lands
  2. After Holmes jumps/falls, as Watson rushes to see what happens, he is hit by a bicyclist who knocks him to the ground, rendering him groggy and delaying his arrival at Holmes's body. As a result he is only able to grab Holmes's wrist and never gets a good look at the body before it is wheeled away.
  3. Prior to meeting Moriarty on the rooftop, Holmes seeks the help of his friend "Molly," an employee of St. Barts and someone who spends most of her day working with cadavers. Many believe that Molly helped substitute a cadaver in place of Holmes's body, which is why Watson is prevented from getting a good look at the body.
  4. There is a open-bed truck parked next to the sidewalk where Holmes jumps and appears to have mattresses or similar objects in the back. People have speculated that Holmes either jumped into the back of the truck, or that mattresses were thrown on the sidewalk, cushioning Holmes's fall. There might be something to this because the truck pulls away before Watson arrives.
Of course, all this assumes that it was Holmes who jumped. However, as with the original Conan Doyle story, Holmes may have never have jumped at all and what fell was a cadaver provided by Molly. There is some evidence to support this:
  1. In some of the scenes when Holmes is talking to Watson on the roof, the building shown behind Holmes can't be where it is. It should be to Holmes's right (the viewer's left) if he is indeed standing on the top of the roof facing (and talking to) Watson. For it to be to his right, Holmes would need to be standing somewhere else on the roof (i.e., not on the ledge)
  2. When Holmes turns to look at Moriarty's body (I'm unconvinced he's dead either), he doesn't look behind him as he should, but to his right and down. Holmes could only do this if he was standing next to Moriarty and not on the ledge of the roof.
But if that's the case, then who (or what) the heck was that standing on the ledge? Haven't figured that one out yet...

Thursday, August 9, 2012

The State of Religion and State Around the World

In previous posts I have discussed the importance of religious liberty. Back in April I wrote about a report published by the Witherspoon Institute, which makes the case that religious liberty is a good thing for both individuals and for societies ("A Case for Religious Freedom"). And back in October of 2010 ("Religious Freedom and Religious Violence"), I noted that Brian Grim and Roger Finke ("The Price of Freedom Denied: Religious Persecution and Conflict in the Twenty-First Century") have shown that religious freedom is positively associated with a number of other liberties, such as political freedom, freedom of the press, civil liberties, gender empowerment as well as lower levels of religious violence. In other words, it tends to be a good thing.

One of the leading experts on the state of religious freedom and liberty is Jonathan Fox, who is a professor at Bar Ilan University in Israel. He has written a number of books on the topic, and has collected and analyzed a tremendous amount of data on 177 countries concerning the interplay of religion and state. While his books may be more than a lot of readers would want to take on, his research is the subject of a recent Research on Religion podcast ("Jonathan Fox on Religion and State Around the World"), which I highly (highly) recommend. Here is a brief description of the podcast from the Research on Religion website:
What does the relationship between religious groups and the state look like around the world? Prof. Jonathan Fox of Bar Ilan University talks about the findings that have come from his expansive data collection and research exploration into the nature of religion and politics around the world. We discuss how religious organizations are regulated by governments in different parts of the globe and whether or not — and how — religious groups offer the state legitimacy and vice versa.
You can download the podcast from iTunes or listen to it at the Research on Religion website ("Jonathan Fox on Religion and State Around the World"). It's about an hour long and well worth the time.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

The Draw of Obscure Olympic Sports

Synchronized diving, trampolining, ping-pong (ahem, table tennis), canoe slalom, handball, rhythmic gymnastics.  All sports you generally don't see on TV, except every four years, of course, when the Olympics roll around. I have to admit I enjoy watching these events (although I'm a little unclear why badminton's an Olympic sport and baseball isn't). It's the one venue where athletes who toil in relative obscurity get their moment in the sun.  I do wonder how people get involved in some of these sports, though. I mean is it common for someone to grow up wanting to win the gold in doubles badminton?