I like the mysticism

Until a few weeks ago, I plodded along with my trusty usually working Dell mp3 player, which handled most of my portable music needs for the last eighteen months. It didn’t play Audible audiobooks and I’d begun to push the 20 gigabyte storage capacity, but I didn’t want to spend money for a new player. Those issues grew until I decided to upgrade to a new, not-iPod mp3 player. I saw zero reason to upgrade by spending $100 more on an iPod than on any other comparable player. After some research, I purchased a new player. When I heard the sound quality, I returned it. I researched the market a bit more, finally deciding that I’d risk the iPod’s extra expense once, just to understand the fuss. Three weeks ago, I bought an iPod. Today I’m a believer.

Now that I have an iPod, I’ve discovered the joy of iTunes, if obsessively spending 99 cents every day (or every few minutes) can be considered a joy. (Here’s a hint: It can be.) It offers the convenience of downloading individual songs that I discovered six years ago when Napster first made its appearance. If I hear a song I like, such as Alphaville’s “Forever Young”, but realize that it’s the group’s only song I like, I can pay 99 cents instead of $10. It’s amazing, but you knew that already.

I mention this back story to lead into a discussion of this article about Steve Jobs, Apple, and an impending battle within the downloadable music industry. Consider:

Two and a half years after the music business lined up behind the chief executive of Apple, Steven P. Jobs, and hailed him and his iTunes music service for breathing life into music sales, the industry’s allegiance to Mr. Jobs has eroded sharply.

Mr. Jobs is now girding for a showdown with at least two of the four major record companies over the price of songs on the iTunes service.

If he loses, the one-price model that iTunes has adopted – 99 cents to download any song – could be replaced with a more complex structure that prices songs by popularity. A hot new single, for example, could sell for $1.49, while a golden oldie could go for substantially less than 99 cents.

Can the music companies be that stupid? That’s rhetorical because it’s the same industry that fought downloadable music for years, choosing to sue its customers instead of altering the product to meet their changing demands. Apple has already sold more than 500,000,000 songs, but consumers paying for downloads is still in its infancy. The “training” that record companies should’ve done five years ago is just beginning. The rules shouldn’t change yet. And yet, this is the logic of one record company:

Andrew Lack, the chief executive of Sony BMG, discussed the state of the overall digital market at a media and technology conference three months ago and said that Mr. Jobs “has got two revenue streams: one from our music and one from the sale of his iPods.”

“I’ve got one revenue stream,” Mr. Lack said, joking that it would require a medical professional to locate. “It’s not pretty.”

It’s not Mr. Jobs’s fault that Sony BMG can’t figure out how to diversify its business. That assumes that Apple screws the record companies with each sale, which isn’t true because the record companies earn approximately 70 cents per song. I haven’t verified the cost structure, but that seems impressive when assuming that Apple bears the costs of operating iTunes.

The other aspect of the impending battle involves Apple’s closed standards for the iPod and iTunes. Currently, users must burn songs purchased through iTunes onto blank discs before transferring the songs to a player other than an iPod. I encountered that tedious procedure, which is why I bought only a few songs before I purchased an iPod. Now that I have an iPod, the restriction is annoying but trivial. As much as I’d like to see Apple open its standards, it doesn’t seem to be necessary right now. I purchased an iPod, and I was adamant about not paying the extra $100. Apple is doing something right.

That makes this statement interesting:

Hilary Rosen, the former chairwoman of the Recording Industry Association of America, agrees on that point. “If Apple opened up their standards, they would sell more, not less,” she said. “If they open it up to having more flexibility with the iPod, I think they’d sell more iPods. On the other hand, I don’t think it’s their fault that nobody else has come up with something great” to compete.

If the sun comes out tomorrow, it’ll be light. If it doesn’t come out tomorrow, it’ll be dark. What kind of idiotic statement is that? While Ms. Rosen does acknowledge that Apple “invented a better mousetrap”, she wants to believe that they should give away that advantage. Why? To sell more iPods? That logic is ridiculous. Considering it comes from a former representative of the RIAA, I’m not surprised. In not opening its standards, Apple is “reacting” to consumer demands. As long as iPods outsell other mp3 players 4-to-1, Apple’s executives have no legitimate reason to change their strategy. I’d entertain the idea that it’s not a viable long-term strategy, considering what happened to the Mac in the late ’80s, but for now, I see few flaws. Ride what works.

Finally, consider Sony BMG’s strategy for gaining an advantage:

Sony BMG in particular has taken steps that may apply pressure to Mr. Jobs to make Apple’s software compatible with that of other companies. The company has issued dozens of new titles – including high-profile CD’s from the Dave Matthews Band and the Foo Fighters – with software to limit the number of copies that can be made from the disc.

The software is compatible with Microsoft’s music software, but not Apple’s, and as a result music from those Sony BMG albums cannot be transferred to iPods that are hooked up to Windows-based PC’s. EMI has been test-marketing similar software with a handful of titles.

Those albums must be labeled. If I buy an album with that nonsense on it, I will be angry. I have complete faith that hackers will produce software to break the security scheme, just like the pointless DVD regional codes, but I shouldn’t have to go to such extremes to use my music in a manner most convenient to me. Stupid.

Everyone’s doing it; it must be okay

Last week I didn’t post the day after I wrote about circumcision. I didn’t, and still don’t, want my site to become only about circumcision. The topic had built so long that I had to resist the urge to post again. I’d planned to keep this plan for a while longer, but I need to respond to someone else’s post about my first entry. I’m still keeping my goal, but this is necessary. As last time, I use coarse language and graphic descriptions. Etc., etc.


Call my circumcision post bitching, moaning, and wailing if you like; I’ve certainly been known to do all of those here. But I wrote it based on my research and my experience. You have the right ability to disagree with me that there are “supposed evils of male circumcision”. But before I stroll through the evils of male circumcision, in general, I’ll remind you that I wrote that routine infant male circumcision is evil. I even mentioned that I think adult male circumcision is stupid, but that adults may choose that for themselves if they like. It’s just easier to post two links, one of which goes back to my post, and then write that “this appears to be largely a gay thing” than it is to actually consider the facts, I guess. Anyway, now that I’ve clarified what I already clarified, I’ll propose some of the evils of male circumcision.

I’ll start with the basics. These are the purposes of a healthy, intact foreskin [footnotes from original article]:

  • Protection: Just as the eyelids protect the eyes, the foreskin protects the glans and keeps its surface soft, moist, and sensitive. It also maintains optimal warmth, pH balance, and cleanliness. The glans itself contains no sebaceous glands–glands that produce the sebum, or oil, that moisturizes our skin.[11] The foreskin produces the sebum that maintains proper health of the surface of the glans.
  • Immunological Defense: The mucous membranes that line all body orifices are the body’s first line of immunological defense. Glands in the foreskin produce antibacterial and antiviral proteins such as lysozyme.[12] Lysozyme is also found in tears and mother’s milk. Specialized epithelial Langerhans cells, an immune system component, abound in the foreskin’s outer surface. Plasma cells in the foreskin’s mucosal lining secrete immunoglobulins, antibodies that defend against infections.
  • Erogenous Sensitivity: The foreskin is as sensitive as the fingertips or the lips of the mouth. It contains a richer variety and greater concentration of specialized nerve receptors than any other part of the penis.[15] These specialized nerve endings can discern motion, subtle changes in temperature, and fine gradations of texture.[16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23]
  • Coverage during Erection: As it becomes erect, the penile shaft becomes thicker and longer. The double-layered foreskin provides the skin necessary to accommodate the expanded organ and to allow the penile skin to glide freely, smoothly, and pleasurably over the shaft and glans.
  • Self-Stimulating Sexual Functions: The foreskin’s double-layered sheath enables the penile shaft skin to glide back and forth over the penile shaft. The foreskin can normally be slipped all the way, or almost all the way, back to the base of the penis, and also slipped forward beyond the glans. This wide range of motion is the mechanism by which the penis and the orgasmic triggers in the foreskin, frenulum, and glans are stimulated.
  • Sexual Functions in Intercourse: One of the foreskin’s functions is to facilitate smooth, gentle movement between the mucosal surfaces of the two partners during intercourse. The foreskin enables the penis to slip in and out of the vagina nonabrasively inside its own slick sheath of self-lubricating, movable skin. The female is thus stimulated by moving pressure rather than by friction only, as when the male’s foreskin is missing.
  • Now that we know the foreskin isn’t useless, what can happen when it’s removed? I mentioned how a newborn’s foreskin doesn’t begin to retract until a few years into life, at the earliest. The foreskin and glans are essentially fused together. With circumcision, as practiced in the United States, the doctor forcibly separates the child’s foreskin from his glans. This leads to scarring of the glans as sensitive skin is ripped away. Scarring and removal of nerve cells will lead to reduced sensitivity. Less commonly, forcing the foreskin from the glans may not separate all skin, leaving skin bridges. Google “skin bridges” if you think that might be a pleasant outcome.

    Once the child is circumcised, at least his penis will be cleaner, right? Unfortunately, the foreskin has a role in protecting the penis. Society believes that smegma is dirty and must be eliminated. Society believes the foreskin will trap urine and cause infection. However, removing the foreskin exposes the penis to urine and feces for extended periods. Diapers act as sealants, guaranteeing constant contact with waste products the intact penis is designed to protect against. Wow, that’s not really cleaner, is it?

    As the child ages, nothing else happens because the circumcision is in the past, right? If you guessed “yes”, you’re wrong. As the child ages, the now-exposed glans and remaining foreskin encounter constant contact with diapers and clothing. This contact causes wear on the penis. Where the glans of an intact penis will encounter little abrasive contact, the circumcised penis suffers constant contact. Without the foreskin and its naturally-lubricating glands, the penis has no protection. This will lead to keratinization, or what may generally be considered calluses. This, however, does not go away because there is no rest period for the circumcised penis. It remains in constant contact. This will worsen throughout the male’s life.

    Men can still enjoy sex, though. Right? Of course, but at what cost? After the foreskin is peeled away, the doctor is left to estimate an appropriate amount of skin to remove. This isn’t obvious as it would be in an adult male who’s undergone puberty and the effects it has on the body. The doctor will remove this skin once he’s estimated the correct amount. If the doctor guesses incorrectly and leaves too much, this can be adjusted (or not) later. If the doctor guesses incorrectly and leaves too little, too bad. The child will now suffer tight, perhaps painful, erections.

    Once he becomes sexually active, the circumcised male may deal with the additional bonus of skin tearing. This will occur when his too tight (or even looser) circumcision tears due to the friction of sexual intercourse. There will be blood. There will be pain. There may even be additional scarring. All of those are quite conducive to a happy sex life, no?

    Of course, it’s possible to decipher that from the link to Andrew Sullivan you provided. I wonder, though. Did you read what he lists in his anti-circumcision argument? I suspect not, so consider these details from “a study published in the British Journal of Urology”:

    When the anatomically complete penis thrusts in the vagina, it does not slide, but rather glides on its ownbeddin of movable skin, in much the same way that a turtls neck glides in and out on the folded layers of skin surrounding it. The underlying corpus cavernosa and corpus spongiosum slide within the penile skin, while the skin juxtaposed against the vaginal wall moves very little. This sheath-within-a sheath alignment allows penile movement, and vaginal and penile stimulation, with minimal friction or loss of secretions. When the penile shaft is withd
    rawn slightly from the vagina, the foreskin bunches up behind the corona in a manner that allows the tip of the foreskin, which contains the highest density of fine-touch neuroreceptors in the penis [1], to contact the corona of the glans, which has the highest concentration of fine-touch neuroreceptors on the glans [18]. This intense stimulation discourages the penile shaft from further withdrawal, explaining the short-thrusting style that women noted in their unaltered partners. This juxtaposition of sensitive neuroreceptors is also seen in the clitoris and clitoral hood of the Rhesus monkey [19] and in the human clitoris [18].

    Wait, the foreskin has a function in sexual intercourse? Evolution couldn’t be that smart, could it? We’re led to believe that the foreskin is like the appendix, with no clear reason why man still has it, but that doesn’t seem to be the case.

    Of course, you do go on to state that “straight women are pretty solidly on the other side for reasons that are readily comprehensible”? I’m not sure what constitutes readily comprehensible, but I suspect they’re reasons of ignorance more than reasons of preference. However, I’m momentarily willing to grant that women are solidly on the circumcision side. So what? I discussed that in my original post, noting that it was irrelevant because women don’t get to decide how a man should be, only if she wishes to be with him as he is. But I’ll quote just for emphasis. His answer is in response to a parent, but it’s still relevant. Consider:

    Some men and women gag at the site of an uncircumcised penis, A.Z., but they’re assholes that you wouldn’t want your grown son to fuck anyway, right? Besides, circumcision rates in the United States are falling–just 65 percent of all newborn males are circumcised today–so the men and/or women your son will one day be fucking and/or be fucked by are unlikely to be disgusted by an uncut cock, A.Z., as they will either have encountered more of them or they’ll have one themselves. As for whether or not men prefer to be circumcised, well, most cut men are happy with their dicks, A.Z., and most uncut men are happy with theirs. The thing about the unhappy cut men, though, is that they can’t get uncut, you know what I’m saying?

    I’d apologize for his language, but fuck it, this topic is too important to be polite. But I’ll add a clarification based on the argument that parents decide to circumcise their son(s) because of women’s preferences. I’m assuming this comes down to the mother’s reasoning when including women’s preferences. She knows what women want, etc. But enough explaining.

    When a mother accepts the decision with the (partial, at least) reasoning that her son’s future sexual partner(s) will prefer his penis if he is sans foreskin, she sexualizes her son with an external expectation of what’s appropriate inconsistent with parental duties. She’s more worried about another mother’s daughter than she is about her son. If she must sexualize her child, she should ask herself the better question, “Which foreskin status will he prefer?”. In that context, the answer should be obvious. Regardless of whether or not he wants to remain intact, that choice remains his if he is intact until adulthood. When circumcised as a child, he loses that choice. His personal preference remains relevant in his life, but becomes frustrating and impossible to satisfy if it requires his foreskin. So, no, I don’t particularly care what women prefer when it comes to the dealing with an intact penis when the alternative is a mutilated penis.

    It’s certainly possible that none of this will convince you of the evils of male circumcision. Remember, if it helps, to put this in the context of routine infant male circumcision. I’ll end this discussion with this statement and a simple declaration. Consider:

    The gross inadequacy of these arguments [for circumcision] is yet another instance of people failing to develop or apply the all-important philosophical skill of thinking in principles. People simply don’t often-enough ask questions like: Would this sort of argument hold water in other, similar cases? As a result, they accept all manner of ludicrous conclusions simply because the arguments, taken in stark isolation, seem unobjectionable. As a result, people who would never dream of cutting off a child’s ears so as to eliminate the problem of dirt collecting behind them are willing to cut off the foreskin so as to prevent the collection of smegma.

    America must afford equal protection to boys. Routine circumcision of males must stop. Now.

    I know it’s just a poll

    Warning: Do NOT follow the link in this story if you do not wish to know potential spoilers for the new season of Alias. I wish I didn’t know, but I already did, so I read it. End of warning.

    While reading this story about the new season of Alias, I noticed a reader poll in the sidebar. Consider:

    The answers are stupid. Just like movie studios delayed disaster/terrorist films after September 11th, 2001, any new movie delays in the aftermath of new terrorism are attributable to obvious business logic. When a major calamity strikes a society, impacting most members, even if the impact is merely on an individual’s national pride, demand for calamity entertainment withers. Why would a movie studio, in the business of making entertainment money, release supply into evaporating demand? Yes, an event like September 11th was beyond any imaginable scale, so some sensitivity factors in (an assumption I’m willing to concede). But it makes up little of the overall decision, because what if the nation wanted that movie as a catharsis? Would the movie studio show it for free as a matter of sensitivity to the victims? Of course not.

    To news outlets who offer such worthless content: if you’re going to bother me with silly, poorly-reasoned polls, show me an ad instead.

    He isn’t being harsh enough

    I can’t begin to explain how happy this thrashing by Radley Balko made me this morning. Consider:

    The Washington Post’s Sally Jenkins — possibly the worst major daily sports columnist writing today — writes the most bizarre sports opinion piece I’ve seen in a very long time. And sports columns can be awful.

    I’d suggest that Jenkins stick to writing about sports, and only sports. But she tends to embarass [sic] herself there, too.

    Ummm, I concur. Not specifically about her foray into “sports as Intelligent Design?” argument. I could challenge any number of questions she poses, but why bother? I concurred with Mr. Balko’s opinion almost five years ago.

    When Michael Vick led Virginia Tech to the BCS National Championship game (in January 2000), Ms. Jenkins wrote the most condescending piece of “journalism” I’d ever read. Her column amounted to little more than a nice pat on the head for Virginia Tech, congratulating us on reaching the pinnacle game while admonishing us for thinking we could compete with a “real” team (Florida State). That we led after three quarters and could’ve won until almost the end seemed to escape her attention. Every other football analyst in the nation wrote about the stunning performance by Michael Vick in that game and the amazing rise of Virginia Tech throughout the season, while Ms. Jenkins stood alone, pretending that none of it happened. Her column was so obscenely devoid of intelligence, I wrote a letter to the Washington Post. (I knew it wouldn’t accomplish anything, but still.)

    I wonder if the last four years of Virginia Tech football changed her mind about our worthiness? How about our preseason rankings?

    From the land of milk and duh

    An interesting new scientific study is beaming around the Internets today. The story goes deeper than the premise, but I think it’s important, or at least relevant to me, to highlight it. Consider:

    Redheads sunburn easily, putting them at high risk of skin cancer.

    Really? No kidding.

    Ok, so that was the setup so that I could write “from the land of milk and duh.” There’s actually an interesting scientific discovery here. Consider:

    Duke chemistry professor John Simon analyzed how the pigments in naturally red and black hair reacted as they absorbed either ultraviolet B rays associated with sunburn, or ultraviolet A rays, which can penetrate and damage skin even without a burn.

    Both kinds of light caused a reaction with the redheads’ pigment that creates molecules that damage DNA and cells in ways that can spur cancer.

    In contrast, only UVB light caused that oxidative reaction with the pigment from black hair, called eumelanin, Simon reported.

    Dr. Simon stated that this is only a theory, with more research necessary to determine if his findings are consistent with other researchers. That, of course, is how science works. Doctors knew that redheads have a higher risk of skin cancer, but no one knew why. Dr. Simon presents his hypothesis based on test observations and now other scientists work to disprove that theory. Sorta like evolution, one suspects.

    This theory may not lead to the proverbial cure for cancer (literally in this case), but the advance of knowledge is important. I’m not even sure it adds much because it doesn’t change my relationship with the sun; I treat the sun as a stalker and avoid it as much as possible. (I’m practically a shut-in.) But, again, satisfying intellectual curiosity is useful in a developed society. And it allows me to write “from the land of milk and duh.”

    Particularly annoying, though, is I now know that even when I’m walking around, my arch nemesis UVA is lurking. Bastards.

    (Yes, I know I’m probably the only person who thinks that’s funny, but holy crap, am I laughing.)

    Why am I admitting this?

    Today is Michael Jackson’s birthday. I didn’t see this on a celebrity birthday list or on some random website today. I know this useless fact from memory, which amounts to more than twenty years of precious grey matter real estate wasted on a trivial piece of non-information. Why do I know that today is Michael Jackson’s birthday? I know because, like every other pre-teen in the early ’80s, I couldn’t listen to Thriller enough or learn enough details about Michael Jackson. That meant no end to watching every fluff-piece MTV could air. One of the details I learned was that his birthday is August 29th.

    Like every other fact I ever encountered, his birthday should’ve bypassed my brain as it passed through my ears. It didn’t, and here is the embarrassing reason it didn’t. I was born in July, six weeks early. If my mom had carried me to term, her due date was August 29th. As a child obsessed with pop culture’s biggest star, I thought that would’ve been the height of cool. Michael Freaking Jackson! Instead, I share my birthday with Linda Ronstadt. That crushed my then pre-teen spirit.

    Today, I can’t tell you which year Michael Jackson was born, and I’m as pleased as possible about that for someone who still remembers the day. But not knowing the year doesn’t mean this post doesn’t offer proof that we’re wise not to let children make meaningful decisions without some form of intelligent supervision. How many ten-year-olds would’ve written “Michael Jackson” on their presidential ballots in 1984?

    I won’t even discuss “Break the cable! Break the cable!”

    Reading through my Virginia Tech news feed tonight, I realized that classes started Monday. Normally, this wouldn’t factor into my world anymore because I graduated more than seven years ago, except that memory sparked another memory. So I’ll share it here.

    After my freshman year, the annual influx of freshmen always entertained. It was the common belief as we all aged, the new students looked younger and younger. I swear that toddlers attended VT by the end of my graduate career.

    But we had no sympathy for the kids. We’d ride the Blacksburg Transit (the free bus system) just to mess with them. They were always the impatient chatterboxes intent on pestering the driver with their constant giddiness about where all the parties were. They’d only been in town for six or seven days, so they knew nothing. As knowledgeable Blacksburg inhabitants, we always told them when to get off the bus. We didn’t tell them the correct bus stop, but they couldn’t expect everything, could they?

    I bet he wrote it on a TPS report

    Coinciding perfectly with my move into a new house, which requires a different route to work, the train system begins it’s once-every-decade track upgrades. Perfect. Primarily, this has meant that the train proceeds slower than normal, without actual stops between stations. It’s a little frustrating, but I always have a book or a movie, so the annoyance factor is low.

    Wednesday, this was not the case. The train stopped once for a signal problem. The delay lasted nearly 30 minutes. But I semi-expect that right now because of the track work. We stopped again a few minutes after the train journeyed past the signal delay. The conductor announced this:

    Please do not laugh when I tell you this, but we’re being stopped for a mandatory Federal Railroad Administration efficiency test.

    The efficiency test delayed us an additional 20 minutes. Thank you, Uncle Sam.

    Do they serve an orthopedic function?

    I was never one of the cool kids in grade school. My mother made certain that we lived in a good neighborhood with good schools, but we never had much money left over after the basics. I rarely had the latest clothes or shoes. My red hair already made fitting in with the cool kids that much harder, so without the hip fashion, I spent my academic years as one of the smart kids, instead.

    I’m not complaining. I’ve achieved enough through my intelligence that I can now afford all of those hip fashions, if I want. But I’m not complaining because, as much now as then, I don’t want those finer things. I’m content with t-shirts, shorts, and a pair of Chucks. It might be hip, I don’t know, but the whole bit costs maybe $60. Living in the D.C. area, I know people who spend more than that on their left sleeve. It’s insanity. Happily, because I’m still the old man I was at thirteen, I don’t feel bad about it. I think I’m adjusted enough to just accept that people are different, with different tastes, wants, and needs. Yay, me!

    So why am I so pleased when I see one of the fashionable cool kids in D.C. getting into his Saturn?