I’m still here

The last week-plus turned into a minor blog vacation, as I spent Christmas weekend and the rest of my break from work bonding figuratively (and almost literally) with my couch and my Xbox 360. For reference, I took my Gamerscore from 865 to 2,145 since Tuesday. Some of that was easy enough with Civil War, but I also finished Prey and played a bunch of Madden 07. I’ve had a blast and it’s felt good to step away from The Internets for a few days. But fret not, I will be back to regular blogging tomorrow, or Tuesday at the latest.

You’re excited, aren’t you?

Forced at gunpoint to wield a gun. What’s to fear?

I always have been, and always will be, against the military draft. Start with a process that makes demands on only 50% of the population (hey, wait a minute). Then throw in forced servitude for no other crime than being born the correct unlucky sex. Finally, give control over that process to politicians/central planners. It results in a fine constitutional mess of injustice and economic inefficiency. It’s all quite anti-liberty. Thus, it remains in the government arsenal.

In light of recent events the length of time since it last occurred, Selective Service is interested in a dry run of the system. It’s unlikely to happen until 2009, according to the article. Even now I’d be in the tail end of those eligible, so my number would not likely come up for consideration. By 2009, I’ll be pushing the outer range limit even more. All said, I’m not particularly worried for myself. However, I’m qualified to address this anyway:

The Selective Service “readiness exercise” would test the system that randomly chooses draftees by birth date and the network of appeals boards that decide how to deal with conscientious objectors and others who want to delay reporting for duty, said Scott Campbell, Selective Service director for operations and chief information officer.

“We’re kind of like a fire extinguisher. We sit on a shelf” until needed, Campbell said. “Everyone fears our machine for some reason. Our machine, unless the president and Congress get together and say, ‘Turn the machine on’ … we’re still on the shelf.”

We don’t fear the machine itself, but that machine, at the discretion of elected dolts, becomes a weapon designed to send men to fight a war. It has the ability to make life hell for a lot of people, unless we choose to consider involuntary servitude something other than hell. I’m not willing to embrace another definition, which means I can think of “some reason”.

Wish hard enough and prohibition still won’t work

It’s all in how you approach the issue, isn’t it?

Federal officials are concerned that teenagers are abusing prescription medications and over-the-counter cold remedies even as their use of illegal drugs has generally declined over the past five years, according to a government survey released yesterday.

Illegal drug use by teenagers has fallen 23 percent since 2001, but their use of prescription narcotics, tranquilizers and other medicines remains “relatively high,” government investigators said.

There’s never a better time to incite more drug hysteria than the present. “Relatively high” is persuasive.

“This is now an area of drug abuse that we need to pay more attention to,” said Lloyd D. Johnston, the University of Michigan researcher who led the annual “Monitoring the Future” survey, now in its 32nd year. “My guess is that young people do not understand the dangers of abusing these drugs.”

Young people don’t understand the dangers of anything. Maybe we should just lock them in their rooms until they reach 18 21 an age where they’ll listen to government nannies who know better.

“If there is one thing that every adult can do today to help protect young people against prescription drugs, it is go to your medicine cabinet, take those prescription drugs you are finished using and throw them away,” said John P. Walters, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy. “If you have teens in your house, remove this hazard today.”

I thought the current plan was to allow people only what they should “reasonably” use, leaving no pills in the bottle when whatever it is the pills are supposed to correct is cleared up. Did I miss something? I smell more invasive oversight of prescription drug use. If your doctor prescribes too many pills, he definitely wants to get your kids hooked on abusing drugs. He should be arrested. Oh, never mind. I bet kids would never think to look in the trash. Just in case, we should probably implement government-provided hazmat bins for old prescription drugs. Or we could have a central office in each town where people come to receive their daily pills. Consider it a community nurse’s station. That would work. For the children. Of course, I’m quite thankful that kids aren’t stupid enough to use other household items to get high when other, more effective, less dangerous items aren’t around because government has protected them.

“We’ve had in the past a tendency to take our eye off the ball,” he said. “We want to continue this decline, and that requires us to stay at it. If we fail to send anti-drug messages across multiple contexts with young people — especially given the contrary drumbeat that still appears in popular culture and on the Internet — we risk losing our progress.”

Kids aren’t media-savvy enough to decipher propaganda from the messages they want to hear? Nonsense. Our drug policy doesn’t work, and can never work.

I value your rights. Let’s vote on them.

There is little need to rehash the details, but New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine signed the bill providing equal-but-not-really-equal civil unions to same-sex couples. Of particular note is Gov. Corzine’s statement explaining his willingness to accept the legislature’s reasoning behind the civil union label instead of marriage, creating economic inefficiency on top of the separate-but-equal outcome. Consider:

The New Jersey bill creates a commission that will regularly review the law and recommend possible changes.

Corzine, a Democrat, said that seems to be a reasonable approach, but he said calling the arrangement a civil union rather than gay [sic] marriage is preferable.

“For most people, marriage has a religious connotation, and for many there is a view that that term is not consistent with the teachings of their religious belief,” the governor said. “So there is not democratic support in the broader society for that label, even though there is strong support for equal protection under the law.”

The state constitution of New Jersey presumably requires equal protection. “Democratic” support for the label matters how? Really, the Governor is stating that he believes mob rule is acceptable, in spite of said constitution. Granted, the New Jersey court’s ruling allowed this option, but the future is obvious. Marriage will arrive, whether the broader society wants it or not. Gov. Corzine should lead. If he doesn’t want to lead, he should resign. He should’ve refused to sign the legislation until the legislature gave him a solution that contains equality in practice, not just wishful thinking.

Play or pay, you decide.

Some Xbox 360 owners are upset, believing that games creators are soaking them by offering game content already on the disc on the Xbox Live Marketplace. Users trade Microsoft Points for the content. (80 points = $1) Consider:

What this means, apparently, is that you aren’t actually downloading any content — you’re just getting an encrypted key file that unlocks things already on the game disc. That is, you’re being taken for a ride, buying stuff you already own. Other allleged offenders include The Godfather, Lego Star Wars, and Microsoft’s own Viva Pinata.

From what I’ve heard, the purchase is not for content, but the encryption key to unlock the content. This content is unlockable by the player through playing the game. If the player doesn’t have the time or inclination to earn the content, he can purchase the key to make it available immediately.

This is not an example from the Marketplace, but it’s what I’m playing now. In Gears of War there are three difficulty levels: Casual, Hardcore, and Insane. Insane is only available once the player completes the campaign for the first time, on either Casual or Hardcore. Essentially, if Epic Games decided to offer the key to unlock Insane without completing the campaign first, that is the issue at stake.

The content is on the disc, but the user does not have to pay to unlock it. In my Gears example, I completed the campaign on Casual to unlock Insane. (Yay, me!) That’s why I bought the game, so even if Epic offered the key for sale, I wouldn’t buy it. I choose play. Yet, if someone else is only interested in playing the game once and wants to cheat buy his way to the hardest difficulty, I’m not going to get outraged. Good for him. That’s the beauty of the free market: choice is wonderful.

My caveat is simple. If the unlockable content is not advertised with a notice that it can be cracked through playing the game, that’s a shady business practice and should be stopped. I haven’t reviewed any of the offending content – I don’t have those games – to see how it’s marketed, but I suspect that the source I provided is correct and the content is not game creators sticking content on the disc and then charging gamers for what they’ve already paid for. There is a service underlying the fee. Why should that be a problem? Pay or don’t. To each his own.

Who should we blame for dereliction of duty?

A dozen years of Republican power, yet if the Democrats perform even the fiscal cleanup reform necessary, they’ll be to blame for any of the pain involved. Consider:

So will the Democratic Congress be any better than the Republican Congress was? A look at half a dozen likely policy proposals makes clear the answer will probably be no:

  • Tax Increases…
  • Spending Increases…
  • Alternative Minimum Tax. A 1969 tax increase that was enacted to soak the rich is suddenly going to seriously soak the middle class. Some 3.5 million taxpayers paid the AMT this year. But unlike the regular tax, the AMT is not indexed to inflation, which means the number of taxpayers the AMT hits is expected to balloon–by some estimates to as many as 23 million in 2007. Less than 5% of families with incomes between $100,000 and $200,000 are now paying the AMT, but more than 80% may pay it in 2008. Almost no families with incomes of $50,000 to $100,000 pays the AMT today; but as many as 35% of such families will in 2008.

    To eliminate these very unpopular AMT increases would cost about $750 billion over the next 10 years. What taxes the new Congress will raise to solve this dilemma is unclear, but either AMT or other taxes will have to rise.

  • Protectionism…
  • Energy…
  • Social Security. Just 10 years from now Social Security benefits paid out will exceed taxes paid in, so something will have to be done to fix the system. Individually owned Social Security accounts would help by allowing workers to enjoy bigger returns. But Democrats are dead opposed to the idea of turning millions of Americans into owners of stocks and bonds, which will lead to the liberal solution of raising Social Security taxes and reducing benefits. The forthcoming plan will likely be to raise the cap on earnings subject to Social Security taxes ($97,500 in 2007). That would raise taxes on everyone earning more than this amount, especially the most productive wage earners. If the cap went up to $150,000, for example, it would mean a tax increase of $6,510 on a worker earning that amount.

The Alternative Minimum Tax and Social Security are absolutely problems that must be addressed. The longer we wait, the worse the pain will be. Obviously someone will take the blame. But it’s shameless to acknowledge that the Democrats will have to address the crisis and then blame the unpleasant reality on them.

I don’t seek to absolve the Democrats of any guilt, for they surely must share. Still, I have to come back to the reality that the allegedly fiscally conservative Republicans had six years of complete control over the two branches of government necessary to implement reform on these issues. They did nothing. When the weeds got thick, the party punted in favor of attacking gays and Janet Jackson’s breast.

Both parties are to blame for creating the problem, and I’m certain the Democrats will come up with stupid non-solutions to both. But I know who to blame for letting the problem get this severe.

Six days

I predicted this, but I’m amazed at the speed and audacity with which the United Nations discarded the words adult and voluntary.

“These (African) countries should now prepare how to introduce circumcision on a large scale,” UNAIDS chief Dr. Peter Piot told Reuters. “The science is clear.”

Baby boys should be targeted first but then attention should switch to adolescent boys and adult men, said Piot, who is in New Delhi to meet Indian officials on how they plan to tackle the world’s largest HIV/AIDS caseload.

The HIV crisis is raging in Africa among sexually-active adults, and UNAIDS wants to focus initial resources on circumcising baby boys. Baby boys can’t fight back, and if you circumcise them young, they’re much more likely to grow up and circumcise their own children. It’s indoctrination to perpetuate an otherwise unthinkable practice. That’s how it occurred in the United States in the early 20th century. It’s how it will occur in Africa in the 21st century.

The United Nations is a despicable organization in the circumcision debate. It lacks any legitimate notion of human rights or gender equality. Baby boys are human beings with inherent rights, not tools for ideological social experimentation.

Science isn’t the primary facet of this debate.

One point of follow-up on the Scottish article I discussed this morning. Further along in the article, this:

“The presumption against male circumcision in Scotland should be lifted,” said Dr Tim Hargreave, a urologist at Edinburgh University and a senior adviser to the WHO.

“There needs to be a policy shift in light of this evidence. Parents who seek circumcision for non-religious reasons should have ready access on the NHS.”

“There is an enormous anti-circumcision lobby that has very real concerns. But you have to separate the science and the evidence from the emotional baggage,” he said.

Isn’t it convenient how easily Dr. Hargreave lumps “real concerns” into emotional baggage, since the science is so convincing? That would be truthful if it were true. Dr. Hargreave’s position, like most who support infant circumcision, falls into the realm of truthiness.

Yes, I’m angry about being circumcised, a fact I admit. That does not change my argument. My “emotional baggage” appears in the tone and lack of patience I sometimes take surrounding the issue of infant circumcision, but there are facts and logic behind what I say. I do not deny the science, instead explaining why it isn’t enough to overcome the ethical concerns and the reality that less invasive procedures exist to resolve medical issues if they arise.

Orac, at Respectful Insolence, has an interesting take on the battle against vaccines that I think can be applied equally to the circumcision debate. I have no idea if Orac would agree with me, but his words speak truth to what I’m trying to say. Consider:

Supporters of pseudoscience … always have the advantage in such events, because the pseudoscientist can throw canards, dubious data, and distortions with abandon and force the skeptic or scientist on the defensive batting the canards aside, so much so that it is very difficult and sometimes impossible for a skeptic to get his message across.

Obviously the pro-infant circumcision lobby would classify me as the pseudoscientist in the circumcision debate, but that doesn’t fit. Skeptic versus non-skeptic is the key. Skepticism to Dr. Hargreave, and presumably most pro-infant circumcision folks, is “emotional baggage”. Circumcision is the panacea for all that ails society. Males should accept that the men and women who came before them and made their decision for them were wise and only acting with the best of intentions. The skeptic sees that this is modern medicine’s version of snake oil. Some people will improve by accident, but most are getting nothing measurable out of it. Does that mean everyone should drink up because it might work? Of course not. But that truth is “emotional baggage,” stifling the debate away from where it should be.

To their credit, the NHS stated that the recent results are not sufficient for it to reconsider its current policy that circumcision is unnecessary and should not be funded.

Thanks to Kip for the Science Blogs link.

I can quote a press release, too.

This press release has gotten some mileage recently, which surprises me because it’s from February. It’s obviously “relevant” now, as you’ll see, but I wonder how people can throw something like this around while missing points so obvious.

A statistical review of the past medical files of more than 300 couples in Uganda, in which the female partner was HIV negative and the male was HIV positive, provides solid documentation of the protective effects of male circumcision in reducing the risk of infection among women. Male circumcision also reduced rates of trichomonas and bacterial vaginosis in female partners. The study is believed to be the first to demonstrate the benefits to female partners of male circumcision.

Thomas C. Quinn, M.D., professor of infectious diseases at Hopkins and a senior investigator at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, will present an overview of this trial, plus two others presently under way, as part of a plenary discussion at CROI on circumcision and HIV. But, he says, “We will have to wait for the ongoing two trials before drawing conclusive recommendations about circumcision for all men, and whether or not the benefits apply to transmission from females to males only, or to females from men as well. However, early indications are dramatic and, if proven, one case of HIV disease could be prevented through circumcising anywhere from 15 to 60 males.”

Continue reading “I can quote a press release, too.”

Who needs brains when we have other people’s money?

One sentence, three flaws:

Scottish parents who wish to have their male infants circumcised should have the procedure paid for by the NHS to prevent the transmission of AIDS, a World Health Organisation (WHO) expert said yesterday.

First, allow me to repeat the obvious counter-argument to this. Male infants are not sexually active and parents have more ability to teach their children safe sex practices and responsibility than ability to predict their child’s personal behavior 15 or more years into the future. So, unless their sons intend to have unprotected sex with HIV-positive women, something parents can’t know, circumcising male infants to protect them from HIV is unconscionable folly.

Second, the World Health Organization is strongly pro-male infant circumcision and strongly anti-female infant circumcision. I understand the reasoning depends on centuries of what’s socially acceptable, but I’ve already pointed out the hypocrisy in applying different rules to boys and girls when they apply equally. Specifically, human rights are subject to more than just a clean operating room and good intentions. The World Health Organization should read through its own literature with a keener eye.

Third, for those in the United States longing for socialized healthcare, this is the sort of quandary you’ll be in. Fanatics will seek to allow parents to chop off parts of their sons on the national dime. That’s absurd enough, since there is no medical need for the surgery, but it should be clear that national resources are not unlimited. Every penny unnecessarily removing a foreskin is a penny not spent curing disease. I suspect socialists don’t think this way. There’s always another rich person who can be forced to pay her fair share, right? That’s unjust, but also false. People will die now so that little boys might not die six or seven decades from now of diseases with causes not specific to their foreskins. It’s stupidity.