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Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Baseball Shouldn't Be A Year-Round Sport

I've written numerous times about the dangers of kids playing a single sport year round:
  1. Young Athletes, Overuse, and Torn ACLs
  2. Want to Double Your Kids' Chance of Injury? Have Them Specialize in a Single Sport
  3. Overuse, Not Curveballs, Hurts Young Arms
  4. Kids and Sports: How Young is too Young? How Much is too Much?
  5. Aristotle, Virtue & the Youth Sports-Injury Epidemic
But don't take my word for it (or from the studies I cite). Take it from former Atlanta Braves pitcher John Smoltz, who this last weekend at his induction ceremony into the Baseball Hall of Fame, had this to say about the topic:
I want to encourage the families and parents that are out there to understand that this is not normal to have a surgery at 14 and 15 years old. That you have time, that baseball is not a year-round sport. That you have an opportunity to be athletic and play other sports. Don’t let the institutions that are out there running before you guaranteeing scholarship dollars and signing bonuses that this is the way. We have such great, dynamic arms in our game that it's a shame we're having one and two and three Tommy John recipients. 
So I want to encourage you, if nothing else, know that your children’s passion and desire to play baseball is something that they can do without a competitive pitch. Every throw a kid makes today is a competitive pitch. They don’t go outside, they don’t have fun, they don’t throw enough — but they’re competing and maxing out too hard, too early, and that’s why we’re having these problems. So please, take care of those great future arms.
I disagree with Smoltz in one respect. Baseball should not be (rather than is) a year round sport. Unfortunately, there are more and more coaches who tell their star players that in order to get that Division I scholarship, they need to play in next week's tournament or attend the following month's showcase when in truth, they probably don't.

Take Smoltz's advice to heart: "Don’t let the institutions that are out there running before you guaranteeing scholarship dollars and signing bonuses that this is the way... Know that your children’s passion and desire to play baseball is something that they can do without a competitive pitch." If we do, then maybe baseball will stop being a year-round sport.

Monday, July 27, 2015

James Dunn: A Baptist and a Patriot

In one of the ironies of American history both Thomas Jefferson and Sam Adams died within a few hours of one another on July 4th. This past July 4th another champion of religious liberty and disestablishment, James Dunn, also died. Dunn will never be as famous as Jefferson or Adams, but many in Washington (presidents, lobbyists, and members of Congress) will remember his tireless efforts to keep church and state separate as executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs (now known as the Baptist Joint Committee on Religious Liberty) from 1981-1999.

As I've posted previously the Baptist Joint Committee (BJC) ("The Top Religious Liberty News Stories of 2014," "Religious Minorities and Religious Freedom"), which was founded in 1936 and is the only faith-based agency devoted solely to religious liberty and the institutional separation of church and state. It is composed of representatives of 15 national, state, and regional Baptist bodies in the United States, such as the Alliance of Baptists, American Baptist Churches USA, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, the National Baptist Convention of America, and the Progressive National Baptist Convention (the Southern Baptist Convention used to support the BJC, but it cut its funding to the BJC in 1990, accusing the BJC of leaning too far to the theological left). The BJC limits its activities to a small number of issues related to religious liberty and the separation of church and state: church electioneering, civil religion, free exercise, government funding, political discourse, public prayer, and religious displays. It does file amicus curiae (“friend of the court”) briefs with the Supreme Court in order to argue on behalf of specific points at issue in a case. Over the years, the BJC has filed more than 120 legal briefs in court cases.

Dunn helped put the BJC on the map in DC. Under his leadership in the 1980s the BJC opposed sending an ambassador to the Vatican and fought against a constitutional prayer amendment. At the same time he worked with members of Congress to pass an alternative to the school prayer amendment, the Equal Access Act, which made it illegal to discriminate against any meetings (including religious meetings) of students in public secondary schools. Perhaps his crowning achievement was working with the Clinton administration in the 1990s to pass the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, which restored a number of religious freedom protections. Dunn used humor to disarm his opponents and is "famous" for once quipping, "Baptists have only one creed, and that is – 'Nobody can tell me what to believe, except Jesus.'"

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Here are a few more "Dunnisms" (from the BJC website - "Truth with the Bark on It: The Wit and Wisdom of James Dunn"):

“I’m a Texas-bred, Spirit-led, Bible-teaching, revival-preaching, recovering Southern Baptist. That’s neither a boast nor a whine, just an explanation of ‘where I’m coming from’ as the kids say.”
–Address to American Baptist Churches, 1995

“Religious freedom and church-state separation are a package deal.”
–Reflections, June 1, 1999

“When government claims to aid all religions, it never fails to play favorites.”
–Reflections, October 1985

“The trouble with a theocracy is everyone wants to be Theo!“
–A favorite classroom saying of James Dunn

“Like breathing in and breathing out, freedom and responsibility are two parts of one process.”
–Reflections, November/December 1984

“Freedom is not absolute. No one is ‘free as a bird.’ Only a bird is free as a bird. We are not free to deny basic freedoms to others. When anyone’s freedom is denied, everyone’s freedom is endangered. We are not free without responsibility. Freedom and responsibility are like two sides of a coin, inseparable. No matter how thin it is sliced, the coin of responsible freedom still has two sides. God made us able to respond, response able, responsible, and if responsible, free.”
–Linfield College Commencement, May 30, 1999

“The best thing government can do for religion is to leave it alone.”
–Reflections, October 1983

“No pastor or priest, no doctrine or disciple, no book or belief, no church or creed comes between the individual and God.”
–What Are We Stewards Of? 1993

“Dear Mr. Vice President. I know you. I like you. You mean well. But this time, as we say in Tennessee and Texas, you’ve ripped your britches.”
–Dunn to Vice President Al Gore when Gore backed federal funding for faith-based groups during his 2000 presidential campaign

“It is despicable demagoguery for the President to play petty politics with prayer. He knows that the Supreme Court has never banned prayer in schools. It can’t. Real prayer is always free.”
–Dunn statement on May 6, 1982, responding to President Ronald Reagan’s call for a constitutional amendment to permit public school-sponsored prayer

Sunday, July 26, 2015

No Good Reason Why

A good friend died a few weeks ago (that's us singing "If I Fell" at his first wedding), and I've been at a loss as to what to write. Mike was extremely successful. He worked as a CPA for Price Waterhouse, he flew jets in the Navy, he patrolled the streets of San Jose as a policeman, he earned an MBA from Harvard Business School, and he played on a Lincoln Glen Little League team that reached the World Series (a team that included Dave Righetti). Most recently he worked for UBS and was ranked as one of the top investment bankers in the United States. More importantly, he was a loyal friend, a devoted husband and father (he leaves behind a wife and three adorable boys), and a tireless advocate for his adopted city of Pasadena. All I can say is that I (and many others) will miss him. He left this life way too soon, and there's no good reason why.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Boomerang and the Grexit

It is stunning that Greece, which in many respects is the basis of Western Civilization (I realize that the term, Western Civilization, is anathema for some -- not for me), has become something of a laughingstock in Europe. A combination of unbridled government spending, political corruption, and widespread tax evasion has left the Greek economy in such dire straights that it has come perilously close to being booted from the European Union.

While there are numerous accounts of how Greece got itself into the mess it's in, I highly recommend Michael Lewis's, Boomerang: Travels in the New Third World. He only devotes one chapter to Greece ("And They Invented Math" -- the others focus on Iceland, Ireland, Germany, and California) but not only is it insightful, it is uproariously funny (in a depressing sort of way) and a joy to read. Below you can find an interview of Lewis on PBS's "Newshour."


Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Are Islam and Democracy Incompatible?

Are Islam and democracy incompatible? The fact that few Islamic countries are democratic has led some to that conclusion. For instance, the philosopher Jacques Derrida once declared that Islam is “the other of democracy,” the historian Bernard Lewis has argued the basic modern notion of democracy is “alien” in most Islamic societies; and the linguist George Lakoff has written that “Muslim thinking is in principle against the individualism, pluralism, and secularism characteristic of modern democracies.” And when you look at the data, it can be tempting to draw the same conclusion. As the table below shows, most Islamic countries do score low on various measures of democracy:1

However, the fact that some Muslim countries are democratic suggests that Islam and democracy are not incompatible. Why that may be so is the subject of Paul Kubicek's (professor of political science at Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan) new book ("Political Islam and Democracy in the Muslim World"), in which he conducts case studies of seven Muslim countries that are or close to being democratic: Turkey, Malaysia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Mali, Indonesia, and Senegal.

I may be going out on a limb, here, but I'm guessing that most readers are not interested in reading Kubicek's book. You can listen to an interview of Kubicek on the topic in a recent Research on Religion podcast ("Paul Kubicek on Islam, Political Islam, and Democracy"). I highly recommend it. Here is a brief description of the podcast (from the Research on Religion website):
Can democratic governance on a national scale coincide with Islam? Professor Paul Kubicek (Oakland University) takes us on a comparative journey to show where predominately Islamic populations have existed successfully with democracy. While much of media and scholarly attention on the topic of Islam and democracy has focused on the Middle East, Paul discusses the interesting cases of Turkey, Senegal, Mali, and Tunisia, while also noting some of the difficulties in democratic transitions in places such as Bangladesh. He also shares his reflections on the Arab Spring.
As always, you can listen to the podcast from the Research on Religion website or download it from iTunes.

P.S. Anyone who is entertaining the idea of reading Kubicek's book read the introduction by clicking on the following link: https://www.rienner.com/uploads/555388b00661c.pdf

References

1Paul Kubicek. 2015. Political Islam and Democracy in the Muslim World. Boulder, CO: Lynne  Rienner Publishers, p. 5.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Grape Expectations


I've written before on how the price of wine affects our evaluation of it (“Do Expensive Wines Really Taste Better?”). There I noted that a study by the economist Robin Goldstein that involved more than 6,000 blind tastings found that “individuals who are unaware of the price do not derive more enjoyment from more expensive wine,” and it didn't matter if the individuals were amateur wine tasters or experts. Another study by wine broker Brian DiMarco turned up similar findings. While many of us believe that our palates can distinguish good from bad wine, it appears that for most of us, whether we are amateurs or experts, "price is often a far-too-powerful signal to our taste buds."

Price is not the only thing that signals the quality of the wine we drink. So are the glasses we serve it in. If we serve wine in the glasses that are designed for specific types of wine, the wine will taste better, at least to those of us who “know” the difference between them (and haven't read this blog post). As the behavioral economist Dan Ariely notes (“Predictably Irrational”),
If you want to enhance the experience of your guests, invest in a nice set of wineglasses. Moreover, if you’re really serious about your wine, you may want to go all out and purchase the glasses that are specific to burgundies, chardonnays, champagne, etc. Each type of glass is supposed to provide the appropriate environment, which should bring out the best in these wines (even though controlled studies find that the shape of the glass makes no difference at all in an objective blind taste test, that doesn’t stop people from perceiving a significant difference when they are handed the “correct glass”). Moreover, if you forget that the shape of the glass really has no effect on the taste of the wine, you yourself may be able to better enjoy the wine you consume in the appropriately shaped fancy glasses.
In other words, if you think the shape of the wine glass matters, it will matter even if you know it shouldn't.