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The News You May Have Missed: May 2019

Plowing Ahead

Helicopter parenting, the practice of hovering anxiously near one’s children, is “so 20th century,” says The New York Times (March 16). The new analogy for the extreme behavior of some affluent parents is snowplow: a machine that clears any obstacles in children’s paths so they don’t have to encounter failure, frustration, or lost opportunities. In the recent college-admissions scandal, some parents resorted to criminal methods to get their children into elite colleges, and they made sure their kids didn’t know “how they got there.” Some parents even help their college-age children set up “play dates” in campus dorms and call professors to argue about grades. Madeline Levine, a psychologist and author, describes stunted students: “One came home because there was a rat in the dorm room. Some didn’t like their roommates…. One didn’t like to eat food with sauce.” Julie Lythcott-Haims, former dean of freshmen at Stanford, says snowplow parents have it backward: “The point is to prepare the kid for the road, instead of preparing the road for the kid.”

The Few, the Proud, the Dysphoric

From July 1, 2016, when the Obama administration lifted the ban on transgender troops, through February 1, 2019, the Pentagon spent nearly $8 million treating troops with gender dysphoria, according to data obtained by USA Today (Feb. 29). Over 1,500 service members on active duty and in the reserve force in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, and Public Health Service have been diagnosed with gender dysphoria. Most are senior enlisted personnel, but 20 are senior officers — majors, lieutenant commanders, and higher. Treatments have included 22,992 psychotherapy visits, 9,321 hormone prescriptions, and 161 surgical procedures — 103 breast reductions or mastectomies, 37 hysterectomies, 17 “male reproductive” procedures, and four breast augmentations. Psychotherapy sessions cost nearly $5.8 million and the surgeries cost more than $2 million.

Bad News Bot

A man in a California hospital received news of his imminent death — from a robot (The Mercury News, March 8). The experience was “horrible,” said Ernest Quintana’s granddaughter, Annalisia Wilharm. A nurse told them a doctor would come by to deliver Quintana’s test results. Instead, a machine with a video screen wheeled itself in. A doctor on the screen told them, “I don’t know if he’s going to get home,” and he suggested giving Quintana morphine. “When that robot said that to him, he looked over at me and said, ‘Well, I guess I’m going to go quickly,’ and put his head down,” Wilharm recalled. “It was pitiful.” Quintana, 79, died two days later from chronic lung disease. Michelle Gaskill-Hames, senior vice president and area manager of Kaiser Permanente Greater Southern Alameda County, insisted that “in every aspect of our care, and especially when communicating difficult information, we do so with compassion in a personal manner.” She also bristled at the characterization of the video device as a robot, calling it “inaccurate and inappropriate.” InTouch Health calls its video device the iRobot.

Cheeky Championship

The town of Krasnoyarsk in Siberia hosted the first-ever “Slapping Championship.” The contest is precisely what it sounds like: Men take turns slapping each other until one of them gives up. Unlike similar sports such as boxing, participants cannot dodge, block, or deflect their opponents’ slaps — they’re required to feel the force of each blow. A tall podium stands between the competitors, and spectators help them regain their balance after they are smacked in the face. The match is over when one of the contestants refuses to continue being slapped or is disqualified. The winner, Vasily Kamotsky, walked away with a 30,000 ruble ($470) prize. The slapping face-off was part of the Siberian Power Show sports festival, a two-day extravaganza that also featured pole dancing and “mass wrestling” (The Moscow Times, March 19).

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