Stop breast feeding

Okay, not really.  But for women who struggle with it for a variety of reasons, they sure shouldn’t beat themselves up that they are somehow handicapping their child’s future.

Imagine a random-assignment, rather than observational study on breast-feeding.  Well, they actually did that in Belarus, and the results are pretty interesting.

Some earlier observational studies have suggested that children who are exclusively breast-fed have higher I.Q.s through adolescence, and even higher incomes at age 30. But a randomized trial, a more rigorous type of study that better controls for socioeconomic and family variables, found that breast-feeding in infancy had no discernible effect on cognitive function by the time children reached age 16.

Researchers studied 13,557 children in Belarus, assigning them as newborns either to a program that promoted exclusive and prolonged breast-feeding or to usual care. Mothers and children were followed with six pediatrician visits during the first year of life to assess breast-feeding habits. The study is in PLOS Medicine.

At age 16, the children took tests measuring verbal and nonverbal memory, word recognition, executive function, visual-spatial orientation, information processing speed and fine motor skills.

There was no difference in scores between the two groups, except that breast-feeders had slightly higher scores in verbal function…

“If you want to breast-feed in hope of increasing cognitive functioning scores, you may find some benefits in the early years,” said the lead author, Seungmi Yang, an assistant professor of epidemiology at McGill University in Montreal. “But the effect is going to be reduced substantially at adolescence. Other factors, such as birth order and parental education, are more influential.”

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Quick hits (part I)

1) I love books and as much as I like to shop at Amazon, there’s nothing like a real bricks and mortar book store.  The Greene family loves hanging out at our local Barnes & Noble (and yes, we buy things there).  It would be such a shame for them to go out of business. Dave Leonhardt:

At first glance, this seems like a classic story of business disruption. Barnes & Noble and Borders were once so imposing that they served as the model for the evil corporation trying to crush independent bookstores in the 1998 movie “You’ve Got Mail.” Then the world changed. The old leaders couldn’t keep up. Such is capitalism.

Except that’s not anywhere near the full story.

The full story revolves around government policy — in particular, Washington’s leniency, under both parties, toward technology giants that have come to resemble monopolies. These giants are popular, because they provide good products and service. But they have also become mighty enough to vanquish their competitors and create problems for society.

For most of American history, the government viewed giant corporations of any kind as inherently problematic. Their size gave them too much power — to eliminate competition, raise prices, hold down wages and influence politics. So the government passed laws to restrain businesses and occasionally broke up the largest, like Standard Oil and AT&T.

In the 1970s, however, a new idea took hold: Size was not a problem so long as prices remained low. Bigness could even be good, because it promoted efficiency and thus lower prices. The legal scholar Robert Borkwas the most influential advocate for this view, and it soon guided the Supreme Court, the Reagan administration and pretty much every administration since.

But the theory has two huge flaws, as a new generation of scholars, like Lina Khan, is emphasizing. One, prices are not a broad enough measure of well-being. Wages, innovation and political power matter as well. If prices stay low but wages don’t grow — which is, roughly, what’s happened in recent decades — consumers aren’t better off. Two, regulators have focused on short-term prices, sometimes ignoring what can happen after a company drives out its rivals.

The book business is looking like a case study. Amazon is taking over, yet has never run into antitrust scrutiny. It has reduced prices, after all. It sells many e-books for $9.99 and hardcover best sellers at a big discount. So what’s the problem?

Plenty. Amazon has been happy to lose money on books to build a loyal customer base, to which it can then sell everything else. “Amazon isn’t primarily concerned about books these days,” Oren Teicher, who runs an association of independent bookstores, told me. “They are far more focused on getting consumers into their ecosystem so they can sell them every other product under the sun.”

But the artificially low prices have created a raft of problems. Fewer books are commercially viable. Publishers are focusing on big-name writers. The number of professional authors has declined. The disappearance of Borders deprived dozens of communities of their only physical bookstore and led to a drop in book sales that looks permanent.

All the while, many writers and publishers are afraid to criticize Amazon. They’re not being completely paranoid, either. When publishers have fought Amazon, it has sometimes punished them by disrupting sales. Internally, Amazon executives have described small publishers as a “gazelle” — and itself as a cheetah.

2a) Excellent 60 Minutes segment on the problem with prescription drug prices.  1) Obscene greed at the expense of suffering human beings, and 2) an American health care system that legally prevents proper price controls (like exists in most of the rest of the world) to allow that extreme greed.

2b) Drum on the insane, only-in-America, variance in MRI prices:

The price [for an MRI[ varies from about $400 to $2,800 at different hospitals. But even within a single hospital, the price varies between $500 and $1,800 depending on who your insurer is. That’s because some insurers are able to negotiate better deals than others. Needless to say, these differences may very well translate into different copays and different out-of-pocket costs for patients. And if you have a high-deductible plan, that can mean thousands of dollars.

This might all seem kind of crazy, but it’s the free market at work. And thank God for that. If we had the government interfering and setting prices, everyone would be paying the identical $380 Medicare price for a lower limb MRI, just like they do in France and Japan. There’s no telling what havoc this could wreak on the salaries of hospital CEOs.

3) Fathers who exercise have smarter babies.  At least among mice.  Damn, epigenetics is fascinating stuff.

4) Research from my graduate school friend David Kimball on how stereotypes of voter fraud are (unsurprisingly) inextricably linked with racial stereotypes.

5) George Will is no fan of Mike Pence:

It is said that one cannot blame people who applaud Arpaio and support his rehabilitators (Trump, Pence, et al.), because, well, globalization or health-care costs or something. Actually, one must either blame them or condescend to them as lacking moral agency. Republicans silent about Pence have no such excuse.

There will be negligible legislating by the next Congress, so ballots cast this November will be most important as validations or repudiations of the harmonizing voices of Trump, Pence, Arpaio and the like. Trump is what he is, a floundering, inarticulate jumble of gnawing insecurities and not-at-all compensating vanities, which is pathetic. Pence is what he has chosen to be, which is horrifying.

6) And Dana Milbank is no fan of Tom Cotton (and honestly, what decent, non-totally-xenophobic) person is?

7) This NYT feature on first-person accounts of the grey areas of sexual consent was disturbing in so many ways.  And, not to get all moralistic, but, two things… 1) stop getting so damn drunk and then having sex, and 2) is it so crazy to think maybe you should know somebody at least a bit before you have sex?

8) Virginia shows the way on fighting the Opioid crisis and it’s not complicated: treat it like the public health issue it is and use Medicaid.

9) As somebody with -10 vision, damn do I appreciate what my glasses do for me.  I hate to think of all the people desperately in need of glasses who cannot get them.  We should definitely do more in this area.  Also, damn are glasses obscenely over-priced in America.

10) Now that’s what you call a headline, “She was told her perpetually runny nose was from ‘allergies.’ It was a brain-fluid leak.”

11) Loved this interview about “bullshit jobs.”  So glad I don’t have one:

Sean Illing

What are “bullshit jobs”?

David Graeber

Bullshit jobs are jobs which even the person doing the job can’t really justify the existence of, but they have to pretend that there’s some reason for it to exist. That’s the bullshit element. A lot of people confuse bullshit jobs and shit jobs, but they’re not the same thing.

Bad jobs are bad because they’re hard or they have terrible conditions or the pay sucks, but often these jobs are very useful. In fact, in our society, often the more useful the work is, the less they pay you. Whereas bullshit jobs are often highly respected and pay well but are completely pointless, and the people doing them know this.

Sean Illing

Give me some examples of bullshit jobs.

David Graeber

Corporate lawyers. Most corporate lawyers secretly believe that if there were no longer any corporate lawyers, the world would probably be a better place. The same is true of public relations consultants, telemarketers, brand managers, and countless administrative specialists who are paid to sit around, answer phones, and pretend to be useful.

A lot of bullshit jobs are just manufactured middle-management positions with no real utility in the world, but they exist anyway in order to justify the careers of the people performing them. But if they went away tomorrow, it would make no difference at all.

And that’s how you know a job is bullshit: If we suddenly eliminated teachers or garbage collectors or construction workers or law enforcement or whatever, it would really matter. We’d notice the absence. But if bullshit jobs go away, we’re no worse off.

12) If you read one thing this weekend, read the story of the 19-year old Ukrainian who posed as an American high school student.  Amazing story.

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