Weekly Meanderings, 23 April 2016

Screen Shot 2015-08-17 at 8.05.34 PMGood deed of the week, from AP:

GUN BARREL CITY, Texas (AP) — A customer eating alone at a Texas restaurant left a big surprise behind for an 18-year-old waitress — a $1,000 tip.

Alesha Palmer says she was so stunned by the gift she began crying in the middle of Vetoni’s Italian Restaurant in Gun Barrel City, a small community about 50 miles southeast of Dallas.

The high school senior told Tyler television station KLTV (http://bit.ly/1VrIF15 ) that she was serving a couple she knew last weekend and they asked about her college plans. She says she told them her parents would be helping her pay for it.

Another customer who was seated nearby got up to leave and approached the restaurant owner. She says after he left, she asked if everything was all right and her boss showed her the receipt with the huge tip from the man, who asked to remain anonymous.

Disconnected:

Whether it’s to find information, entertainment, or social engagement, we reflexively seek to be wired—sometimes obsessively, usually uncritically, always expectantly—into other venues. But for all the seemingly infinite benefits of connectedness, our intensifying screen time is stunting our attention spans. The creeping inability to stay focused in the digital age is buttressed by a wealth of scientific research (e.g., “Human Attention Span Shortens to 8 Seconds”) and endless anecdotes from mindful individuals no longer able to read a real book or have a face-to-face conversation without “phubbing”—glancing at the phone while talking to someone. Naturally, some digital evangelicals insist that everything is fine, that digital multitasking is a good thing, honing our brains to solve highly fragmented 21st-century problems. Nonetheless, we’re hearing new stories about attention-related worries every day (November 28, 2015, in The New York Times: “I opened a book and found myself reading the same paragraph over and over …” ) because, alas, they’re real.

The underlying concern with the Internet is not whether it will fragment our attention spans or mold our minds to the bit-work of modernity. In the end, it will likely do both. The deeper question is what can be done when we realize that we want some control over the exchange between our brains and the Web, that we want to protect our deeper sense of self from digital media’s dominance over modern life. Miller is something of an anomaly; most people don’t fret over the quality of their thought. But he’s also typical, because like an increasing number of Internet users, he knows that the digitized life is beginning to alienate us from ourselves.

What we do about it may turn out to answer one of this century’s biggest questions. A list of user-friendly behavioral tips—a Poor Richard’s Almanack for achieving digital virtue—would be nice. But this problem eludes easy prescription. The essence of our dilemma, one that weighs especially heavily on Generation Xers and millennials, is that the digital world disarms our ability to oppose it while luring us with assurances of convenience. It’s critical not only that we identify this process but also that we fully understand how digital media co-opt our sense of self while inhibiting our ability to reclaim it. Only when we grasp the inner dynamics of this paradox can we be sure that the Paul Millers of the world—or others who want to preserve their identity in the digital age—can form technological relationships in which the individual determines the use of digital media rather than the other way around.

The top five critical skills for college grads.

How many scholarships for these twins?

CHICAGO — Twins from Chicago have raised the bar when it comes to achieving in high school.

They have been accepted to a combined 56 colleges.

According to the Huffington Post, Deprice and Shaprice Hunt have earned nearly $1.6 million in scholarships.

Shaprice has been accepted to 35 colleges. Two of them have offered her a full-ride scholarship and five others have recruited her to play basketball. She earned $1.3 million in scholarships, the Huffington Post reports.

Deprice, who is a youth activist in Chicago, has been accepted to 27 schools and offered two full scholarships. The Huffington Post reports he earned $300,000 in scholarships.

In addition to their acceptances and scholarships, the twins also have perfect attendance.

They say their goal is make sure their mom doesn’t have to pay for their college.

Who says the rabbis won’t change?

Dan Balz on Hillary Clinton’s candidacy:

Minority voters have been the linchpin of Clinton’s nomination strategy and were a key to her success in New York. Among African Americans nationally, the NBC-Wall Street Journal poll shows her with a net positive of 51 points. But that’s down 13 points from her first-quarter average and is about at her lowest ever. Among Latinos, her net positive is just two points, down from plus 21 points during the first quarter.

Voters’ perceptions of her having the knowledge and experience to be president remain strongly positive and unchanged since last fall. On other measures, such as whether she is easygoing and likable, or “shares your position on issues,” or is able to bring real change to the country, or is honest and straightforward, she has seen her standing erode since last fall and even more when compared with her first presidential campaign, in 2008.

“By any conventional standard, this is a candidate who’s been disqualified to be president [by the voters],” McInturff said. “Her terrible numbers for months have been masked because we have the one candidate in modern history who has worse numbers. The spectacle of Donald Trump has gotten so much attention that she’s slipped under the radar for what ought to be a real story. . . . Her numbers have gone from terrible to historic and disqualifying.”

Ben Tinker:

(CNN)From allergies to insomnia, there’s a pill for just about every problem. The problem is, those pills often come with a lengthy list of potential side effects.

And in the quest to cure what ails us as quickly as possible, those warnings are too often overlooked.
A new study, published Monday, offers the most definite proof yet of what scientists have known for at least a decade: that anticholinergic drugs (PDF) are linked with cognitive impairment and an increased risk of dementia.
Though you may have never heard of this class of drug, you’ve certainly heard of the medications themselves, including Benadryl, Demerol, Dimetapp, Dramamine, Paxil, Unisom and VESIcare. They are sold over the counter and by prescription as sleep aids and for chronic diseases including hypertension, cardiovascular disease and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

And this from Moriah Balingit:

Jacob [Legette] was one of a group of students who got to personally show Obama his science fair project, a collection of toys and miniatures he made on his 3-D printer. Obama tried out a bubble wand that Jacob made and held a miniature model of the building in which they were standing.

But before Obama could move on, Jacob had an urgent inquiry.

“I have a question, Mr. President,” Jacob said. “Do you have a child science adviser?”

Obama, it seems, was receptive to the idea. In a speech later, he mentioned Jacob by name and suggested it would be good to have a child science committee.

“I should add, by the way, Jacob . . . had a very good idea,” Obama said. “We should have a kid’s advisory group that starts explaining to us what’s interesting to them and what’s working, and could help us shape advances in STEM education.

Anyway, that was Jacob’s idea,” Obama continued. “So way to go, Jacob. We’re going to follow up on that. Give Jacob a round of applause.”

A child science-advisory committee could fit in with the administration’s goals of improving science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education in schools, including at the elementary level. The same day Jacob pitched his idea to the president, the U.S. Education Department released guidance to school districts on how to direct federal resources on increasing STEM education. Obama has also advocated for computer coding lessons in the classroom.

Skinny jeans move on over, here comes skin sensors:

Putting clock-radio-style numbers on your skin might not seem all that desirable. But these flashing digits are the proof of concept for a new electronic skin. In theory, “e-skins” like the one described Friday in Science Advances could be used for everything from monitoring vital signs to making wearable electronics a whole lot more wearable.

Lots of researchers are working on “smart skins.” The idea is to package electronic sensors into a super-thin, super-flexible material — so thin and flexible that the user could wear it like a temporary tattoo. Recently, one research group even made a functional smart skin out of office supplies, such as Post-it notes and foil, showing that the whisper-thin electronic sensors need not be made from expensive materials.

Creating smart skins that include display screens is the ultimate goal: This would allow hospitals to monitor the vital signs of their patients with a simple stick-on patch. And in your day-to-day life, you could have the capabilities of a smartwatch in the palm of your hand — or wherever else you wanted them.

ATM wisdom:

Unless you want to go to a physical bank branch, wait in line and work with a teller to make a withdrawal every time you want cash, you’re probably going to need to use an ATM occasionally. So, if you ever use an ATM, as many Americans do on a regular basis, you’re at risk for having your debit card information stolen. That, in turn, makes the money in your bank account vulnerable, which is problematic, given that you probably plan to use that money to pay bills, buy necessities, make loan payments and do anything else a person with a checking account does.

Demoralizing, isn’t it?

There’s not much you can do to guarantee you won’t ever fall victim to ATM skimming, other than not using ATMs, but there are ways you can manage the damage fraud causes and minimize your risk of becoming a victim in the first place. FICO reports that 60% of all skimming incidents occurred at non-bank ATMs — you might want to avoid using those. Some banks and ATMs are testing various technologies that allow account holders to withdraw money without using their cards, so you might want to see if that’s an option for you.

Upgrading to an EMV chip-enabled debit card — if your bank has not already provided one — can help, too, since the chips have a dynamic code (unlike traditional magnetic stripes) designed to make counterfeiting more difficult. In fact, the spike in card fraud could be the “last hurrah” before EMV adoption becomes more widespread.

That’s some weirdness… Nick Perry:

AKAROA, New Zealand (AP) — The wedding rings were made of pasta, the ceremony was held on a pirate boat, and when it came time for the kiss, the bride and groom slurped up either end of a noodle until their lips met.

New Zealand on Saturday hosted the world’s first Pastafarian wedding, conducted by the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. The group, which began in the U.S. as a protest against religion encroaching into public schools, has gained legitimacy in New Zealand, where authorities recently decided it can officiate weddings.

Saturday’s ceremony was all about having fun. The guests came dressed as pirates and shouted plenty of hearty “Aaarrrhs.” The groom, Toby Ricketts, vowed to always add salt before boiling his pasta, while bride Marianna Fenn donned a colander on her head.

The church claims that global warming is caused by pirates vanishing from the high seas, and that there is a beer volcano in heaven.

“The Flying Spaghetti Monster created the world. We know that,” said marriage celebrant Karen Martyn, aka the Ministeroni. “We weren’t around then and we didn’t see it, but no other religion was around to see it either, and our deity is as plausible as any other.”

The church has been battling to gain legal recognition around the world, with mixed success. It was formed in 2005 as a way to poke fun at efforts in Kansas public schools to teach not only evolution, but also “intelligent design” — the idea that the universe must have had a creator.

Church founder Bobby Henderson said in an email that he thought it was odd that most weddings still have such an entanglement between religion and government.

“It’s sad that so many people feel pressured to do the traditional Christian wedding even when they don’t relate to much of the religion,” he said. “If people can find some happiness in having Pastafarian weddings, that’s great, and I hope no one gives them any flack about it.”

Tom Jacobs:

Many studies have linked exposure to nature with higher levels of physical, mental, and emotional health. But the question remains whether these benefits are peripheral to one’s overall health, or genuinely important in the long run.

Well, there’s no more telling indicator than the length of one’s life. And, using that metric, living in a home that is surrounded by green space matters enormously.

A large, longitudinal study of American women found those who live among abundant vegetation had a 12 percent lower mortality rate than those with little or no exposure to nature (excluding accidental deaths). The largest differences were found in rates of death from cancer, respiratory diseases, and kidney disease.

“Findings were consistent across all regions of the U.S., as well as in urban and rural areas,” reports a research team led by Harvard University epidemiologist Peter James. “We observed no threshold at which greater greenness exposure was not associated with lower mortality rates.”…

The results were striking. “Higher levels of greenness around each participant’s address were associated with lower rates of all-cause, non-accidental mortality,” the researchers write, “regardless of adjustment for age, race/ethnicity, smoking, and socioeconomic status.”

Those with the highest levels of vegetation around their immediate home had a 12 percent lower mortality rate than those at the lowest level. “Results were similar for the 1,250 meter radius, although the relationship was slightly attenuated,” the researchers write.

This is partly explained by the fact that those living in green surroundings tended to be more social, and in better mental/emotional health (with lower levels of diagnosed depression and antidepressant use). Playing a smaller but still significant role: They exercised more than people with less access to the natural world, and were exposed to less air pollution.

“These findings suggest that green vegetation has a protective effect,” James and his colleagues conclude, adding that they suggest the value of “policies to increase vegetation in both urban and rural areas.” Indeed, it’s hard to think of a health-boosting intervention that is more of a bargain.

Tammy Webber and Emily Swanson:

CHICAGO (AP) — All that talk of an angry America?

An Associated Press-GfK poll finds that most Americans are happy with their friends and family, feel good about their finances and are more or less content at work. It’s government, particularly the federal government, that’s making them see red.

Almost 8 in 10 Americans say they’re dissatisfied or angry with the way the federal government is working, while about the same proportion say they’re satisfied or enthusiastic about their personal lives. Republicans are far more likely to be angry — half of GOP voters, compared with about one-quarter of Democrats or independents — and those Republicans are much more supportive of Donald Trump, the front-runner for the party’s presidential nomination.

Still, anger isn’t so much driven by political ideology as it is by an overall disdain for a political system that doesn’t seem to be working, voters said in follow-up interviews. They’re upset with both parties, as well as career politicians and Washington insiders who, those surveyed said, don’t put their constituents’ interests first.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than fifty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.