Quick hits (part II)

1) I’m not sure what the solution is for crushing medical school debt, but insofar as it encourages new physicians to choose over-compensated specialties over primary care, that’s a really bad thing for all of us.

2) Kevin Drum on how segregated urban schools are.  You know who is not so bad?  North Carolina (i.e., Raleigh and Charlotte):

3) I had no idea you could add periods and pluses to gmail addresses.

4) I gotta say, I think this new approach to biometrics and computer security is really cool:

When you’re browsing a website and the mouse cursor disappears, it might be a computer glitch — or it might be a deliberate test to find out who you are.

The way you press, scroll and type on a phone screen or keyboard can be as unique as your fingerprints or facial features. To fight fraud, a growing number of banks and merchants are tracking visitors’ physical movements as they use websites and apps.

Some use the technology only to weed out automated attacks and suspicious transactions, but others are going significantly further, amassing tens of millions of profiles that can identify customers by how they touch, hold and tap their devices.

The data collection is invisible to those being watched. Using sensors in your phone or code on websites, companies can gather thousands of data points, known as “behavioral biometrics,” to help prove whether a digital user is actually the person she claims to be.

5) Tim Miller on Democrats’ “embarrassingly timid” opposition to Trump.

6) Parenting without reward or punishment?  Hmmm.

Many parents grew up with punishments, and it’s understandable that they rely on them. But punishments tend to escalate conflict and shut down learning. They elicit a fight or flight response, which means that sophisticated thinking in the frontal cortex goes dark and basic defense mechanisms kick in. Punishments make us either rebel, feel shamed or angry, repress our feelings, or figure out how not to get caught. In this case, full-fledged 4-year-old resistance would be at its peak.

So rewards are the positive choice then, right?

Not so fast. Rewards are more like punishment’s sneaky twin. Families find them alluring (understandably), because rewards can control a child momentarily. But the effect can wear off, or even backfire: “How much do I get?” a client told us her daughter said one day when asked to pick up her room…

The whole concept of punishments and rewards is based on negative assumptions about children — that they need to be controlled and shaped by us, and that they don’t have good intentions. But we can flip this around to see kids as capable, wired for empathy, cooperation, team spirit and hard work. That perspective changes how we talk to children in powerful ways.

There’s actually lots of good parenting advice in this, but, I cannot imagine parenting without fairly common use of reward and punishment.

7) It’s hard to imagine a policy change more representative of today’s GOP than changing coal regulations that will result in about 1400 more Americans a year dying.

8) Those damn Russians, “Russian Trolls Used Vaccine Debate to Sow Discord, Study Finds: Twitter accounts that were used to meddle in the 2016 presidential election also sent both pro- and anti-vaccine messages and insulted parents.”  On a totally unrelated note, I found “Red Sparrow” not great, but pretty damn entertaining.

9) Just came across this interesting CityLab feature on public bus ridership.  Something I am paying far closer attention to now that it is how my oldest son is committing to community college.  So far, (mostly) so good, but definitely some hiccups.  Also, it needs to work better, but the Transloc app is so cool.

10) It is amazing to me, sometimes, just how alike I think with Kevin Drum and Mike Pesca.  Pesca had a great “spiel” on straw bans recently, but there’s no transcript, so here’s Drum’s post on the matter:

For the moment, I’ll highlight a trivial story that will nonetheless probably piss off a whole bunch of you:

The California Senate on Monday approved legislation barring dine-in restaurants from offering plastic straws to customers unless they are requested….The measure exempts fast-food restaurants and other businesses.

“This bill is the last straw,” Sen. Jim Nielsen (R-Gerber) said. “This is a first step to the total banning of plastic straws. To me it almost looks silly. I think the negative consequences [of straws] are a bit overstated.”…But Sen. Bill Monning (D-Carmel) said the proposal will help educate the public about the environmental hazard of plasticsthat are not biodegradable. “Let the consumer request it if they want it,” he said.

Here’s what’s going to piss you off: I agree with the Republicans about this. California is too full of performative legislation that’s designed to make some point or other but is almost certain to have no actual effect. I’d prefer that folks pick a career and stick to it. If you want to be a performer, go to Hollywood. If you want to be a politician, propose legislation that actually accomplishes something. How about a plastic packaging tax, similar to what France is doing? If that’s not enough, go bigger. But whatever you do, make it something that delivers real results, not just a pat-on-the-back for getting on board with the fad of the week.

11) I got in yet another ridiculous argument about diet soda last week.  This time with somebody who just kept going on about how your liver turns aspartame into formaldehyde.  Oh no!

Questions about aspartame relate to its metabolites – the chemical products created when our bodies digest the sugar substitute. Critics have raised concerns about the metabolites methanol and phenylalanine.

Over time, methanol can produce the known carcinogen formaldehyde. While this might seem scary, the video claims that the body actually produces and uses 1,000 times more formaldehyde than you could consume through aspartame. After helping to make important proteins, formaldehyde gets turned into formic acid and exits the body through urine.

12) Should you choose a female doctor?  Ummm, yes:

Does gender matter when choosing a doctor?

Whether your doctor is male or female could be a matter of life or death, a new study suggests. The study, of more than 580,000 heart patientsadmitted over two decades to emergency rooms in Florida, found that mortality rates for both women and men were lower when the treating physician was female. And women who were treated by male doctors were the least likely to survive.

Earlier research supports the findings. In 2016, a Harvard study of more than 1.5 million hospitalized Medicare patients found that when patients were treated by female physicians, they were less likely to die or be readmitted to the hospital over a 30-day period than those cared for by male doctors. The difference in mortality was slight — about half a percentage point — but when applied to the entire Medicare population, it translates to 32,000 fewer deaths.

Other studies have also found meaningful differences in how women and men practice medicine. Researchers at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health analyzed a number of studies that focused on how doctors communicate. They found that female primary care doctors simply spent more time listening to patients than did their male colleagues. But listening comes with a cost. Doctors who were women spent, on average, two extra minutes, or about 10 percent more time per visit

My doctor is a man, but I chose him because he listens.  And I found him through my kids’ amazing pediatrician who is a man and a terrific listener.

13) Good take on Sacha Baron Cohen: and conservative fear.

But Cohen’s real trump card is Col. Erran Morad, an Israeli “anti-terrorism expert” who plays into every fantasy American conservatives seem to have about Israel. Many of the show’s targets show an admiration for him as uncritical as it is unstinting; for the most part, they’re putty in his hands. But I would argue that—unlike “pitiable” Baron Cohen characters, who tend toward absurdism in ways that frequently absolve the targets—Morad does reveal some pretty unsavory things about the American right. For one, the miasma of fear in which it simmers. This was Spencer’s excuse: He claimed he feared for his life and that Cohen “exploited my state of mind for profit and notoriety.” Shaun McCutcheon—an Alabamian Republican activist whose main achievement until now was helping to eliminate limits on aggregate campaign contributions—was similarly fearful, telling Morad that he has “a large concern about terrorism and the fact that terrorism is possibly coming to the United States more than it already has.” Three conservative men who decided to throw a fake quinceañera in order to entrap “illegal” Mexicans expressed similarly paranoid sentiments: One claimed that the purpose of the traditional coming-of-age party was to rape young girls.

14) I added a couple of these Chrome extensions the Wired staff cannot live without.  (I saved this week’s quick hits on onetab instead of a bunch of open tabs).

15) Really liked Yglesias‘ generally positive, but honest and not hagiographic, obituary of McCain.  He was a complicated man.

15) If you’ve been looking for the really negative McCain obituary, this is the one for you.

16) Adam Davidson on the serious jeopardy that Alan Weisselberg places Trump in.

There are now multiple investigations of the Trump Organization being conducted by the special counsel Robert Mueller, the New York Attorney General, The New York State Department of Taxation and Finance, the Manhattan District Attorney, the Southern District of New York, and—quite likely—other jurisdictions. President Trump is unable to stop most of these investigations. With Cohen and, now, Weisselberg providing information, it is becoming increasingly certain that the American people will—sooner or later—have a far fuller understanding of how Donald Trump conducted business. That is unlikely to go well for him.

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About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

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