There’s only one thing left to do

As the Phillies continue our key weekend matchup with the Cincinnati Reds, current leaders in the N.L. Wild Card race, I want to make the Phillies aware of something: given last night’s tedious near-miss, they’re on notice


I do not watch The Colbert Report, but I like this because it has 8 spots, nicely corresponding to the number of hitters in the standard National League lineup. My demand is simple. Win. Take the Wild Card. I’m sick of just missing the playoffs. The Phillies should be, too.

No, no, no, a million times no

I’ve cited Andrew Sullivan’s entries on male circumcision in the past as support for my arguments to protect infant males from surgical alteration of their genitals. Today, I’m at a loss for words because of this:

As long-time readers know, I’m a big opponent of male genital mutilation, aka circumcision. But the data are clear on HIV infection, and under those circumstances, as I’ve said before, I’m prepared to make an exception.

I’m not one of the multitudes of routine infant circumcision opponents who denies the results because they somehow don’t fit my argument. Maybe there are methodological flaws in the studies, maybe not. I don’t know, and it doesn’t matter. The studies offer evidence, not recommendations. It takes reasoning to filter the research into a coherent approach to preventing HIV. Circumcising (male) infants to prevent HIV is neither reasonable nor coherent.

Children do not engage in sex until well beyond the period in which they can be taught responsible behavior and an understanding of consequences. Their intact genitals do not expose them to HIV. They do not need to fret over whether or not condoms will provide them adequate protection. For each boy, HIV will not jump onto his penis, crawl in between his glans and foreskin, and burrow through the susceptible cells. His intact foreskin will not create a public health crisis.

That’s what makes Mr. Sullivan’s statement so frustrating. He does not say if his exception is limited to adult circumcision or includes infant circumcision. Perhaps his limit is adult circumcision, but reading the linked article, I suspect he’s willing to concede on infant circumcision. If it is the former, he should note that distinction to avoid confusion (I noted an example here). If it is the latter, he is wrong.


Richard Feachem, executive director of the Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria, said research revealing the protective effect of circumcision against HIV was set to change parental expectations and medical practice across the world. Instead of viewing the operation as an assault on the male sex, it was increasingly being seen as a lifesaving procedure which every parent would want for their sons.

Show me how routine infant circumcision is considered an assault on the male sex, outside of opponents such as myself. Unfortunately, I must concede that I am in the minority. So, again, show me how public opinion will now reverse to make the procedure so desirable.¹ One caveat: you must use science instead of fear. Will circumcision alone be enough? Are there better, less invasive methods of prevention? Does circumcision in conjunction with other methods of prevention add a significant increase in protection? Is this solution targeting those most at risk?

Removing the foreskin is thought to harden the glans (head) of the penis, making it less permeable to viruses. Research conducted in 2005 showed the transmission of HIV from women to men during sex was reduced by 60 per cent if the men were circumcised.

Hardening (thickening, really, through keratinizationexplicit warning: NSFW) of the glans used to be understood and accepted as an outcome of circumcision. Punishing masturbation is much easier when the penis loses sensitivity. Then it became a lie propagated by circumcision opponents, presumably because knowledge of the foreskin as mucous membrane disappeared among physicians. Also, selling surgery is easier if the supporter pretends that there will be no harm from removing the “useless” flap of skin. Now keratinization is a feature again? Using reduced sensitivity to sell routine infant circumcision is like pretending that the Ford Pinto had a secondary heating system. At least they’re honest now.

And what about female-to-male transmissions?

CONCLUSION.–The odds of male-to-female transmission were significantly greater than female-to-male transmission. The one case [from 379 couples] of female-to-male transmission was unique in that the couple reported numerous unprotected sexual contacts and noted several instances of vaginal and penile bleeding during intercourse.

How about another study? This back-and-forth could go on.

Dr Feachem said: “We know the factors that cause HIV to spread rapidly in a country – the number of concurrent sexual partners, the use of condoms, the presence of other sexually transmitted diseases and male circumcision. Other things being equal, in a circumcised population you have a low and slowly developing epidemic and in an uncircumcised [sic] population you have a high and fast developing epidemic.”

Beware conclusions drawn from poorly phrased assumptions and questions. All other things are not equal. The other three factors listed are not consistent. Two of them can be taught. The other is also a function of individual responsibility. But not included here is why there is a disparity in the populations. The studies include only Africa, which is not particularly analogous to Europe and the United States. The U.S., for instance, has the highest HIV infection rate among industrialized nation. We’re primarily circumcised. European nations have lower incidences of HIV infection. Those nations are predominantly intact. The researchers should explain the difference before so quickly assuming that boys must lose healthy tissue.

He added: “Circumcision is growing strongly in popularity in South Africa and in North America. We see males seeking circumcision very commonly in South Africa. The news of its protective effect caused a substantial increase in demand for adult male circumcision.

I reiterate my point from earlier. North America (i.e., the United States) has had a love affair with circumcision for more than a century, so growing strongly in popularity is absurd. Facts matter, no? But what’s important is the key word in Dr. Feachem’s statement, adult. Adults can consent; infants can not. There is also a significant difference in the penile development of infants and adults. Adults do not require tearing of the foreskin from the glans to remove the foreskin, as is necessary with infants. Making the leap from what’s appropriate for adults into what’s appropriate for infants without considering intellectual and anatomical differences is absurd.

“Circumcision fell out of favour in North America and the UK as an unnecessary operation. Following this research, I think it extremely probable that parental d
emand for infant male circumcision will grow as a consequence.”

Repeating the notion that circumcision is out of favor in the United States (specifically) does not make it true. It’s falling, but the majority of newborn males still have their healthy foreskins surgically removed.

Returning to the impact of a male’s sexuality as he grows from infancy into young adulthood, when he reaches an age where he may become sexually active, the presence of his foreskin could potentially cause him problems. Responding to that calls for parenting. Parenting might include a discussion of sexual promiscuity and HIV. It might also include consideration of circumcision. What’s important is that the boy will have input. If he is against it as a preventive measure, it should not be forced upon him. Short of medical necessity, the decision should remain his alone. When he reaches adulthood, he can make the decision based on his understanding of his HIV-risk.

If that scenario had occurred for me, I’d be intact today. I understand my sexual history and risk enough to make informed decisions. I have never put myself in a position where HIV was a significant risk worthy of pre-emptive amputation. I do not intend to do so. How has genital surgery helped me? How can parents know which scenario their child son will live? Permanent medical decisions should not be made for infants/children based on fear of the unknown. That is not science, that is superstition and ignorance.

Instead of writing what I’ve said enough times already, consider this counter-balance:

Deborah Jack, chief executive of the UK-based National Aids Trust, said the research findings were encouraging.

“It is clear the promotion of voluntary circumcision can play an important role in reducing the risk of HIV transmission,” she said. But she warned: “People who are circumcised can still be infected with HIV and any awareness campaign would have to be extremely careful not to suggest that it protects against HIV or is an alternative to using condoms.”

I didn’t volunteer for circumcision any more than the one million infant males circumcised in America every year volunteer. Or the millions of infant males around the world who will now be circumcised as a result of this research. Parental demand for prophylactic surgical amputation was never sane, is not sane, and will never be sane, regardless of the various wonderful explanations we can create to justify it. In America we do not allow female circumcision (calling it female genital mutilation) for any reason other than specific medical indication. Boys, however, are subject to parental whim. Parental whim is subject to scientific discovery open to expansive interpretation. Radical surgical amputation should not be the first response to imagined future risks involving infants.

Post Script: More on this topic here.

¹ The article is from a British newspaper. Noted. However, it will be apparent in a moment that the target audience for routine infant (male) circumcision as a preventive measure against HIV includes the United States.

Free ice cream for everyone! And a unicorn!

I want tax reform in the United States. I know I’m not alone. For example, this editorial by Ed Feulner, president of the Heritage Foundation, discusses the guidelines of a sensible approach. Simplicity, fairness, and all that. I agree. I just don’t understand how the wishful thinking extends to betting on Sen. Ron Wyden as (potentially) the man to deliver real reform.

I discussed Sen. Wyden’s plan in the past. I reached an unfavorable conclusion that he’s the guy to reform anything. As Mr. Feulner mentions, Sen. Wyden is concerned with crafting a legacy. The correct goal is to overhaul the federal tax code. Expecting credit for it is the dream of a politician, not a leader. Fixing what needs to be fixed is in Sen. Wyden’s job description. Does he want a cookie and a medal, too, if he enacts tax reform?

Wyden says he wants to help deliver this fairer, flatter system, but that will require real persistence. He has, alas, disappointed tax reformers before. This is the same man who voted to repeal the death tax in 2002 but flip-flopped this year and voted to keep that pernicious tax alive. And if we look at the fine print of his tax-reform plan, it appears that he’s better at rhetoric than real change. His so-called reform would leave tax rates at 35 percent and actually increase the double-taxation of savings and investment.

But if Wyden abandons class-warfare politics and fights for the right sort of reform, he could have a chance to join the political immortals. He also could help all taxpayers and improve the American economy at the same time. Fixing the tax code will be difficult, but it’s not impossible. It’s time to get it done.

I agree with the last three sentences of that excerpt. The sentences that preceeded it suggest I’d have better luck at generating economic growth by wagering my savings on the Phillies in a Vegas casino than by counting on Sen. Wyden to deliver on the promise. I stand by my original assessment of his reform leadership.

Congress should stamp Return to Sender upon receipt

Couldn’t the Bush administration achieve this through a presidential signing statement? Why go through the established process if executive power is plenary?

The Bush administration has drafted amendments to a war crimes law that would eliminate the risk of prosecution for political appointees, CIA officers and former military personnel for humiliating or degrading war prisoners, according to U.S. officials and a copy of the amendments.

Officials say the amendments would alter a U.S. law passed in the mid-1990s that criminalized violations of the Geneva Conventions, a set of international treaties governing military conduct in wartime. The conventions generally bar the cruel, humiliating and degrading treatment of wartime prisoners without spelling out what all those terms mean.

The draft U.S. amendments to the War Crimes Act would narrow the scope of potential criminal prosecutions to 10 specific categories of illegal acts against detainees during a war, including torture, murder, rape and hostage-taking.

Left off the list would be what the Geneva Conventions refer to as “outrages upon [the] personal dignity” of a prisoner and deliberately humiliating acts — such as the forced nakedness, use of dog leashes and wearing of women’s underwear seen at the U.S.-run Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq — that fall short of torture.

I’d like to believe that this is a cowardly admission that some of our government’s policies are dishonorable (and illegal), but that’s too optimistic. Instead, I suspect the spin will involve thwarting a plot by activist judges, prosecutors, and politicians (traitorous Democrats, no doubt) to eliminate useful interrogation techniques because those nefarious individuals want our enemies to win. Or something. The president, he knows best. The only consolation is that the administration didn’t let this slide and then offer pardons for anyone convicted before January 2009. (I’m assuming the next president could pardon future patriots convicted of outrages upon personal dignity, since we’re at a permanent conservative majority.) Either way, this is shameful and should be rejected by the Congress.

Just because I like this quote:

Retired Rear Adm. John D. Hutson, the Navy’s top uniformed lawyer from 1997 to 2000 and now dean of the Franklin Pierce Law Center, said his view is “don’t trust the motives of any lawyer who changes a statutory provision that is short, clear, and to the point and replaces it with something that is much longer, more complicated, and includes exceptions within exceptions.”

This administration has obfuscated enough.

It ain’t the heat, it’s the humility.

I’d like to believe that Congressional incumbents should be worried come November, but I’m willing to predict now that the status quo will win. Why, when the polling evidence indicates change may be imminent? Consider:

Most Americans describe themselves as being in an anti-incumbent mood heading into this fall’s midterm congressional elections, and the percentage of people who approve of their own representative’s performance is at the lowest level since 1994, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

Especially worrisome for members of Congress is that the proportion of Americans who approve of their own representative’s performance has fallen sharply. Traditionally, voters may express disapproval of Congress as a whole but still vote for their own member, even from the majority party. But 55 percent now approve of their lawmaker, a seven-percentage-point drop over three months and the lowest such finding since 1994, the last time control of the House switched parties.

History may suggest that such numbers spell doom for the current Congress, but I’m stuck with the 55 percent approval number. Unless I’m mistaken, 55 percent is a majority sufficient to keep incumbents where they are, spending money and legislating liberties away. When the election shows that people are willing to step away from the usual vote for a recognizable name, and away from a vote for more federal “freebies”, I’ll believe that it’s 1994 all over again.

* Title reference here

Popular and expensive doesn’t equate public good

I’m more intrigued by the background of how this case made it to court than I am in the specific ruling:

The park district described the dispute as “a far-reaching issue of great public importance,” while the Bears argued that the real heart of the disagreement was money.

The [Chicago] Bears claimed that the park district, which owns Soldier Field, simply didn’t want to pay the additional cost of having police pat down thousands of fans arriving for games.

The park district refused to conduct the searches last season, and the team hired a private security firm to do it. Fans were searched before the final home game and a playoff game.

I’m a tad confused as to why the park district would sue, so the judge’s ruling that the it lacks standing seems correct. Yet, I’m amazed at how the issue arose. Presumably the Bears have a lease for Soldier Field, and presumably that lease indicates if game security is provided (or not, by omission). Since that isn’t indicated in the story, I’m working under the impression that it’s not stated. If I’m correct, can the Bears possibly be so arrogant as to expect the park district will provide it security services as the team deems appropriate? The public handout of a cheap stadium isn’t enough?

The better scenario is for the team to operate its own stadium, and provide the security it deems appropriate. If the fans deem the search requirement onerous and unfair, they won’t attend. The team can’t search a fan on his couch. If this results in harm to the team, it’s worthwhile to remember that the team is not entitled to any guarantee of revenue or continued existence. That’s a bit like the burden every other business in America faces.


Previous thoughts here, although my opinion has changed since I wrote that entry. I must’ve still been upset by that loss by the Redskins to express the proper skepticism for the searches.

Not so much the Ha-Ha

I’d planned to avoid discussing the mess that is Mel Gibson, but I’m sick of reading this story in all its self-congratulatory incarnations around the blogosphere and want to point out the obvious.

Another talk show host, Joy Behar on ABC’s “The View,” had a more extreme proposal for the actor, whose anti-Jewish tirade during a drunk driving arrest has been a source of incessant talk for a week. “He needs to be welcomed into the Jewish community,” Behar said to whoops of audience laughter, “by a public circumcision.”

Behar, who jokingly suggested the circumcision, said in a phone interview later that it’s not just Jews who should be expected to speak. “Any bigoted remarks should be addressed by right-thinking people of all kinds,” she said.

I don’t know the status of Mel Gibson’s foreskin, nor do I care. What’s telling is that circumcision is being used as a sign exclusive to Jews, and it’s clearly intended as punishment for Gibson within the context of the joke. And people are laughing. That somehow makes Ms. Behar’s joke “right-thinking”?

Here’s the obvious. Unless 85% of the American population is Jewish, it’s a tad absurd to equate circumcision with Judaism in America. Jewish? Circumcised. Not Jewish? Intact. It hasn’t worked that way here for more than a century. On that basis alone, Ms. Behar’s joke was stupid. [disclaimer] Yes, I know Gibson grew up in Australia, and his father is an anti-Semite. Both are likely important factors in Gibson’s foreskin status. Again, I don’t think it’s relevant, nor do I care. Ms. Behar wasn’t speaking to Australia. And, yes, I doubt she believes circumcision in America is exclusive to Jews. [/disclaimer]

Seen with the intent of circumcision as punishment, it shows a cruel streak that has no place in this discourse, given the superiority of Ms. Behar’s position with respect to Gibson’s bigotry. Are we to believe that circumcision as punishment has a place in society? I don’t accept that. Of course, I’m biased against the circumcision of non-consenting persons, which I believe fairly explains the basis of the joke’s “humor”. Would people who deem parental choice sufficient to permit routine infant circumcision find circumcision as punishment an acceptable practice? I hope not.

If so, what offenses would constitute sufficient justification? Ignorant speech clearly falls within Ms. Behar’s realm of acceptability, but I wonder what else she (and the people who laughed) would allow. As punishment for masturbation, for example? That’s not far-fetched, given the origins of routine circumcision of infants in America as a preventive protection against the ill-effects of masturbation. So where does it stop? I imagine there’s a line, but I can’t find one that’s civilized in this joke.

Note: I admit that I’m over-analyzing this. It was a joke, said on The View. I get that. But some of those women (and men) watching at home will have kids in the future. Kids will include boys, whose foreskins will be at risk due to irrational adult behavior. Many of those future parents already believe surgical amputation is a valid pre-emptive response to the fear of treatable conditions. We shouldn’t further degrade the public debate with nonsensical jokes that pretend circumcision is funny, or that circumcision as punishment is an intelligent response to bigotry.

A city full of green


Robert G. Drummer has been a lobbyist for a long time. He represents the American Moving and Storage Association and the City of Atlanta. But one thing has not changed since he first left Capitol Hill as an aide in 1995: the number of African American lobbyists like himself has remained remarkably small.

But none of these analyses account for the basic, embarrassing fact of the shockingly low number of African American lobbyists.

Count me in the camp who considers this a small issue. I’m willing to concede that the issue of lobbying and lobbyists isn’t so simple that dismissing this fact without discussion is justified. As such, I’ll entertain this:

There will be people who will think it’s wonderful that blacks have been able to stay away from so tainted a vocation. I disagree. Lobbyists are integral to the process that produces our nation’s laws and regulations. When any group is not at the bargaining table, everyone suffers. And like it or not, lobbyists are among the most important folks at that table.

Lobbyists shouldn’t be the most important folks, which is what puts me on the opposite side of seeing this “under-representation” as a problem. Sure, it’s unfair and probably says a lot about the industry. Yet, I can’t get beyond the idea that, if I accept these conditions, then what? What must we do to correct this supposed injustice? What policy implications result, further entrenching feeding at the public trough for issues that have no basis in federal responsibilities other than the made-up interpretations of our Constitution we accept? When any group is at the bargaining table, everyone suffers. That shouldn’t be too difficult to understand.

It doesn’t make sense to reduce the influence of lobbyists while increasing the diversity of lobbyists. Senators and representatives should be interacting with their constituents, not the American Moving and Storage Association. If they stick to their legitimate responsibilities, they’ll have no trouble discovering things to do. That scares me enough. I don’t need extra influence-peddling on top of that.

Flavor Flav teaches economics

By last count Danielle had received more than 800 hits today, thanks to last night’s season premiere of Flavor of Love 2. My highest traffic for one day barely exceeded 100 hits, and that was because a blog with a wide audience linked one of my posts. Most days I slog through issues that matter (subjectively) on a grander scale than a simple reality television show, yet I don’t generate the traffic in a month that one post on Flavor Flav generates. There are various reasons for the disparity, which aren’t necessary for this analysis, but the one constant that remains is a lack of any kind of marketing. Danielle doesn’t link everywhere just to generate fake traffic, a policy to which I adhere, as well. I can only conclude that Google tells the story of the masses. Write what people are interested in and the readership will follow. It’s simple supply and demand.

Post Script: I’ll be watching Flavor of Love 2 from my DVR now, so I won’t piously claim that I’m appalled by the bottom of the entertainment ladder claiming more attention than the top. I just wonder where else those readers are going when they’re done with giant clocks and pretend drama, because it’s not here.

Like making Al Capone your spokesman

I’d like to think that Antigua’s complaint with the World Trade Organization against the United States could encourage the federal government to drop our nonsensical policies surrounding internet gambling (and gambling, in general). It would be great if a quick stroke of the pen could fix our stupidity, but to believe it will is a fantasy. So I put no expectation in the complaint’s prospects. But assuming for a moment that it could change minds in Congress, and acknowledging that normal sanctions by Antigua against the U.S. would be laughable, how does this make any sense?

So the Antiguans plan to ask the WTO for the right to impose sanctions that would hurt — namely, permission to copy and export U.S.-made DVDs, CDs and similar material. Hollywood is not amused.

What kind of connection is that? The U.S. government has an irrational, anti-liberty policy, which it pursues outside the United States, so that entitles Antigua to steal intellectual property from private businesses that have nothing to do with the source of the complaint, other than being (mostly) American? It’s impossible to take their complaint seriously, and I’m on their side. I don’t imagine the fair-minded souls in Congress will care for that recommendation, either. Thanks for standing up for the cause, though.

On a side note, this is amusing:

“Gambling in general, and remote supply of gambling in particular, raises grave law-enforcement and consumer-protection concerns,” the U.S. trade representative’s office said in a legal filing. Attorneys for the trade representative declined to make additional public comments.

Legalizing “local supply” of gambling via the Internets would do a lot to eliminate the “remote supply” concern. I do enjoy that gambling raises grave concerns for law-enforcement before it raises them for the protection of consumers. That’s a good priority list for the government to take. Only the most pro-liberty solution will arise.