Imagine the fun of National Healthcare!

I can’t imagine a better story to support my contention from yesterday that the federal government should not be funding medical research than this story:

Federally funded “pregnancy resource centers” are incorrectly telling women that abortion results in an increased risk of breast cancer, infertility and deep psychological trauma, a minority congressional report charged yesterday.

The report said that 20 of 23 federally funded centers contacted by staff investigators requesting information about an unintended pregnancy were told false or misleading information about the potential risks of an abortion.

The pregnancy resource centers, which are often affiliated with antiabortion religious groups, have received about $30 million in federal money since 2001, according to the report, requested by Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.). The report concluded that the exaggerations “may be effective in frightening pregnant teenagers and women and discouraging abortion. But it denies the teenagers and women vital health information, prevents them from making an informed decision, and is not an accepted public health practice.”

It’s not essential to take the specific topic of abortion out of this debate. Like it or not, abortion is legal in America. If the federal government should be funding science, or not funding science for moral rather than constitutional reasons, does it not have the obligation to tell the truth? Or is the truth, as based on evidence, too inconvenient to fit with a specific political agenda? Just like I don’t want my tax dollars paying for circumcisions, religious Americans probably do not want their tax dollars paying for abortions. This isn’t a complicated argument. Keep the government checkbook out of science.

I hope Tom Clancy is not a prophet

If Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman paid any attention to national politics, he’d know that Gambling Is Bad and Americans Hate Gambling. But, until the House gets around to outlawing Las Vegas, Mayor Goodman is in charge. And Tom Clancy has him working feverishly to protect Las Vegas from its no doubt imminent economic collapse, thanks to his new “terrorists invade Las Vegas” edition of Rainbow Six:

“It could be harmful economically, and it may be something that’s not entitled to free speech (protection),” Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman said of the game’s realistic scenes, which he had not personally viewed.

“It’s based on a false premise,” Goodman said, adding federal and state leaders have repeatedly assured him that Las Vegas is “the safest place imaginable” nearly five years after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks on the East Coast.

“I will ask … whether or not we can stop it,” Goodman said of the game’s planned November release.

In other news Destroy All Humans has completely turned me off the idea of visiting strange towns filled with stereotypical bumpkins. I might end up dead with my brain stem extracted through mental powers. Or worse, I might end up the victim of mind control and be forced to sing and run around in circles. And I definitely fear being in a hotel when a UFO launches a sonic boom or two at the structure’s foundation, thereby causing it to collapse. Why didn’t someone acknowledge that the game’s makers don’t deserve free speech because the resulting fictitious game might scare me?

As stupid as Mayor Goodman’s comment is, I’m going to happily give (hopefully legally take from, of course) Las Vegas some of my money next month when I’m there on vacation. He’s worrying for nothing.

Source: John Dvorak

Look through the way back machine

I read a lot more than I could ever or would ever post here about the recent studies linking circumcision to HIV prevention. My basic opposition to using that possible link hasn’t changed. It’s illogical to assume that the future, possibly risky sexual activities of a newborn should force a decision on his genitalia so prematurely. Such an irreversible decision should be delayed until he can decide. Nothing has changed in my stance.

Today, though, I thought of an example. Using basic generalizations, most new parents won’t have to worry about their child engaging in sexual activities for 15 to 20 years. Maybe a little optimistic, as I’m sure most will skew to the earlier range, but the point is the same. This long time frame gives science a chance to catch up. It also provides parents with a huge window in which to sneak in a few lessons in responsible personal behavior and the power of unintended consequences, but parents have mostly bypassed that in the nascent rush to change their reason for circumcising. The underlying desire to cut remains unchanged.

Here’s the example which shows the flaw in that rationale. Almost 15 years ago, I sat in my brother’s dorm room with a group of friends. We’d all heard there would be a shocking press conference. When it finally aired, we all watched as Magic Johnson retired from the NBA because he was HIV-positive. None of us could believe it, because more than losing one of the game’s greats, we knew his announcement was his own death sentence. He had HIV, which meant a horrible death from AIDS was soon to follow. That was the accepted wisdom.

Today, 15 years later, Magic Johnson is very much alive. He returned to the NBA twice, and now owns a successful chain of movie theaters. To my knowledge there are no indications that he is hampered or near death. Science caught up enough to keep him alive. More than that, his life isn’t merely an existence held together by machines and hospital beds and inactivity. He’s living with HIV. Where it used to be a death sentence, he can now manage his disease. I imagine it’s worrisome, but we no longer operate under the assumption that it must be fatal, and imminently so. That’s the power of science.

So, knowing that we’ll likely make significant progress in the next 15+ years, no one should use a possible correlation between HIV and the male prepuce as an excuse to abandon common sense. Life will always have risks, but those risks can be mitigated by responsible behavior. Responsible behavior can be taught and learned at any age. Given that the foreskin, once removed, can never be replaced, surgical amputation is extreme by today’s standards. But today’s standards are the wrong measure when dealing with infants. The future is where HIV risk will be relevant to today’s infants. Parents should look there and imagine what the answer should be.

Whatever it is, the answer is not circumcision today.

The Is he serious? Quote of the Day

From the article discussing President Bush’s threatened veto, explaining why he has kept his veto pen in its original packaging. (I guess it’s like collectible Star Wars figurines – worth more unopened.) Enjoy:

“By working closely with Congress — and by threatening vetoes when they were called for — discretionary spending has been kept in check and there hasn’t been a need to veto a spending bill,” said Scott Milburn, a spokesman for the Office of Management and Budget.

I understand that Mr. Milburn has to toe the line, but seriously, wouldn’t it be better to say “No comment” when the reporter calls seeking quotes for a story on the lack of presidential vetoes? Discretionary spending has been kept in check? Who’s his speech writer, Tom DeLay? At least I got a chuckle out of it.

Reading more in the question than the subject

I noticed a poll question on Sen. Bill Frist’s new medical/health blog, Medical Matters. Behold:

Do you support S 2754, legislation which supports research to produce pluripotent cells without destroying human embryos?


I’m trying to determine if that question is intentionally or unintentionally misleading. I support the talking point aspect of this debate, which is stem cell research. It’s stupid to pretend like every cell ever created that could be a human will be a human. Restricting science from exploring stem cells is anti-progress that will harm people who exist while protecting people who never will. If that was S 2754, sure, I’ll take Yes please.

But if it’s the two specific aspects of S 2754, I must say No. Federal funding would be better spent on legitimately federal tasks. I have little doubt that private companies, as well as research organizations and universities (I’m ignoring the public funding for simplicity), will do the necessary research to uncover whatever potential stem cells hold. All they need is for the government to get out of the way. It’s almost a broken record.

That plays into point number two¹, which is that “destroying human embryos” will encourage politicians to pummel any scientific research that doesn’t meet their agenda. In this case, it’s the fundamentalist Christian ideal that life begins at conception, even when the cells involved could never be a human. After all, S 2754’s sponsor is Sen. Rick Santorum. I’m sure he expects “destroying human embryos” to be interpreted in a particular manner, which may or may not be grounded in science. Science should remain rooted in evidence-based discovery, not political expediency.

In a shameful yet unsurprising probability, President Bush threatened to veto this bill. That would be his first veto in his 5½ years in the Oval Office. Correct decision, wrong reason. I guess by now I should expect that the good things in this administration are mere accidents of circumstance. So be it.

¹ Please read the comments for a better discussion of point number two.

Like a burglar returning your DVD player

I received a surprise in the mail yesterday. It seems I overpaid my taxes, so the United States Treasury sent me a sizable check, with interest, for my overpayment. I’m surprised because I use tax software to prepare my tax return. A card accompanying the check promised an explanatory letter in the near future, so I await that. I can’t imagine what I could’ve missed, but I’m shocked by pleased with the government’s honesty. Sweet.

The smart thing to do is to stick it in my 401(k), not to treat it as found money as so many do when receiving their expected tax refund. I advise that ad nauseam, so using this to justify some unplanned expenditure would be hypocritical. That might save me, too, because I have a sneaking suspicion that it’s a government trick. Give taxpayers a whole bunch of money back, expecting them to spend it, thereby rescuing the economy. After that, just follow up with an “Oops, you were right all along, please return what you owe.” But politicians would never do such a thing. Would they?

Anyway, I must be the favored class that progressives complain about. Clearly President Bush himself is looking out for me. Wait until he finds out I don’t live in Texas and won’t contribute this check to his party’s Permanent Majority Fund. Sucker.

Overheard in Washington, DC

I’m the wrong person to agree, because I like the heat wave we’re dealing with today since it’s warm and not humid, but this strikes me as absurd:

“It’s too damn hot.” – random woman

If I happened to be the type of person who talks to people strangers, I probably would’ve commented on the cup of steaming Starbucks coffee she held. But I’m not, so I didn’t. Instead, I pointed her out to The Internets and laughed..

No society looks good in this debate


Writing in the British Medical Journal, Ronan Conroy, senior lecturer at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, says the growing acceptance in Britain and elsewhere of so-called “designer vaginas” was exposing Western double standards.

“The practice of female genital mutilation is on the increase nowhere in the world except in our so-called developed societies,” he writes. “Designer laser vaginoplasty” and “laser vaginal rejuvenation” are growth areas in plastic surgery, representing the latest chapter in the surgical victimisation of women in our culture.”

I think women choosing to have their genitalia surgically altered is strange, at best, but defining this as female genital mutilation is absurd. As I’ve mentioned before with male circumcision, which is worth expanding to include women, I don’t care what adults choose to do to their bodies. If women want to succumb to bizarre societal norms that may or may not be real, they should be able to choose that for themselves. Research it or not, have a good time. I hope it works out for them. But in that context, it’s cosmetic surgery. This is not that:

Mr Conroy writes: “It is Western medicine which, by a process of disease mongering, is driving the advance of female genital mutilation by promoting the fear in women that what is natural biological variation is a defect.”

There was an assumption by Western critics that in the developing world the practice was forced on young girls. In fact, it was often welcomed as the mark of entry into adulthood and they were proud of it, he said. “The high moral tone with which those in richer countries criticise female genital mutilation would be more credible if we in the North had not practised and did not continue to practise it,” he added.

We in the West are barbarians for allowing adult cosmetic surgery, and that’s somehow analogous to girls having genital surgery forced on them? No. Where is Mr. Conroy’s attack on adult male circumcision as male genital mutilation, since society perpetuates the myth that men are defective without surgery? Would he then defend infant male circumcision because most men in the West grow to think that their circumcision is wonderful? The whole idea is preposterous.

Men and women should be allowed to choose any body-modifying surgery they wish for themselves. But only for themselves. Genital mutilation¹ of children is wrong, whether it’s done on girls or boys. Adults can consent. Children can’t. That is the travesty, not the way some adults choose to disfigure themselves.

¹ Some will challenge the use of mutilation to describe male circumcision. Consider the World Health Organization’s definition of female circumcision, which is most often called female genital mutilation:

“All procedures involving partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs whether for cultural, religious or other non-therapeutic reasons.”

What makes female genitalia more worthy of protection than male genitalia? Male circumcision involves partial removal and injury to the genital organs, so the conclusion is the same. Circumcision for non-therapuetic reasons is mutilation.

More lessons in civics and fewer in social appeasement.

A few days ago, Glenn Reynolds wrote of Tennessee’s proposed Constitutional amendment aimed at protecting marriage from those who believe that individual rights should determine how the government treats the citizenry. Mr. Reynolds and I are in agreement that constitutional amendments for this question are a bad idea, but I mostly added on that last bit as a summary of my own feeling because I don’t care for parts of his explanation. Consider:

My own sense is that this sort of thing belongs in the political sphere, and that efforts to insulate it from the political sphere, either by judicial fiat or constitutional amendment, are a bad idea.

UPDATE: This is part of a string of losses for gay marriage advocates, reports Dale Carpenter, who has detail on what’s going on. As I’ve noted before, it seems to me that the big push on gay marriage came before the public was ready. You have to educate first; there’s been good progress on public attitudes toward gays, but it actually seems to go faster when gay marriage advocates aren’t getting a lot of publicity and calling people who disagree with them bigots. (Kaus has noted this, too — scroll down due to lack of permalinks at Kausfiles.) Honey, vinegar, and all that.

My own feeling is that Americans are basically fair, and will come to support gay marriage on their own given a bit of time. And I think that — despite claims that they’re really just opposing “judicial activism” — gay marriage opponents fear that I’m right.

I understand his point, and I believe he’s right that Americans will eventually support same sex marriage on their own. I also think he’s right in describing what will be most effective, given our current political atmosphere in which selling out one group of Americans is an accepted strategy for buying another, larger group. That’s a practical realization of how malignant our political climate remains. We shouldn’t pat ourselves for working within that system, though.

The larger, more troublesome challenge in accepting that thinking is that this flawed climate should invalidate a Constitutional approach to achieving equality. It’s ridiculous to assert that the opinion of a majority of Americans matters in this. Why should a segment of Americans wait for future generations to grant them fundamental rights that should be respected now? We live in a republic based on individual rights, not a land where mob rule should dictate how our courts interpret our Constitution. Judicial fiat or not, the role of our judiciary is to interpret the Constitution, thereby protecting the individual rights of every citizen from government and other citizens. Only in not faithfully administering its duties is a court engaging in judicial activism.

The legislature may be the best location for this fight, but that doesn’t make the courts a bad place for it. The majoritarian mentality consuming the willingness of our elected representatives to uphold the Constitution indicates the fallacy of abandoning the Constitution to meet the mob’s delicate condition that it never be offended by others and that the minority must bow to the majority until the majority is ready. Our liberty doesn’t work that way.

Turn it to eleven and slam that axe

I’ve been away for a few days because my birthday was Saturday. I didn’t really do anything adventurous over the weekend, as I’ve rediscovered the profound genius in occasionally doing nothing. A good bit of the last three days involved little more than rockin’ the free world with Guitar Hero. Fine, the closest I came to rockin’ the free world involved shredding I Wanna Be Sedated with the windows open while Danielle threw the goat a few times. She and our cats were entertained. Or at least she was. The cats mostly begged to have their heads scratched. To-may-to, to-mah-to.

Anyway, that’s how I spent a few days away enjoying the arduous transition from 32 to 33.