It makes a great spread for toast, too.

Via Kip comes the disturbing but unsurprising news that Texas Gov. Rick Perry signed¹ an executive order that has no coherent public policy justification:

By issuing an executive order, Perry apparently sidesteps opposition in the Legislature from conservatives and parents’ rights groups who fear such a requirement would condone premarital sex and interfere with the way parents raise their children.

Beginning in September 2008, girls entering the sixth grade — meaning, generally, girls ages 11 and 12 — will have to get Gardasil, Merck & Co.’s new vaccine against strains of the human papillomavirus, or HPV.

“The HPV vaccine provides us with an incredible opportunity to effectively target and prevent cervical cancer,” Perry said in announcing the order.

“If there are diseases in our society that are going to cost us large amounts of money, it just makes good economic sense, not to mention the health and well-being of these individuals to have those vaccines available,” he said.

As Kip pointed out, becoming infected with HPV does not guarantee cervical cancer. All this will do for public health is prevent a few cases of HPV infection. His grandiose rhetoric to the contrary, Gov. Perry has done nothing quite as dramatic as he claims. Or rather, the dramatic result is not what he now claims.

Kip also pointed out that the key factor in this debate and whether it makes sense to make vaccination mandatory is that “HPV is not casually contagious.” There is no reason to mandate such an action. Boys are not going to enter the doors of George W. Bush Middle School, sneeze, and infect every any girls with HPV. This is over-reaction with no reasonable basis.

The obvious parallel, of course, is infant male circumcision, which has been justified because it appears to have an impact on HPV transmission. Whether or not that prevention is substantial is irrelevant. The core principle when making a permanent change to someone’s body is medical need. Medical need rarely exists in infant male circumcision; likewise, there is no medical need here to force such an action on young girls. There is no public health basis and a highly subjective personal health basis. Behavior can be taught, and like boys with the behavioral negatives that circumcision supposedly cures, some understanding of the individual affected should influence the decision.

This is naked rent-seeking for Merck poorly disguised as social engineering by Gov. Perry. He delivers millions of customers to Merck. What is he getting in return? Gov. Perry should be ashamed.

¹ Note the wonderful headline to the AP story: Texas Gov. orders anti-cancer vaccine. Gardasil is an anti-HPV vaccine. There is an important difference. Gov. Perry is not mandating an anti-cancer vaccine, no matter how well-intentioned he believes his action to be. It’s being sold with that exaggeration to make it more marketable. Unfortunately, there are individuals involved who can’t consent to such politically warm and fuzzy experimentation on their bodies.

Thank you, Janet and Justin.

I don’t need to see risqué commercials during the Super Bowl, nor do I much care about the halftime show. But I can only assume that Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake are the root cause of this year’s debacle billed as commercials. My rough estimate is that, of the total aired, I viewed 50% talking animals, 40% violence, 8.7% CBS promos, 1% suicide, 0.2% GoDaddy breasts, and 0.1% funny/interesting. Wonderful. Next year, maybe a little creativity. Or just go ahead and give us 75% talking animals and 25% network promos.

I’m beginning to wonder if Mike judge knows something.

P.S. The amateur-created Doritos commercial, aired early in the game, was the only ad worth my time. The rest, particularly every ad from Chevy, stole time from my life that I will never retrieve.

P.P.S. Yep, I noticed the phallic homage from Prince during the halftime show. As I mentioned, normally I don’t care about the halftime show, but I watched last night because of Prince. I’m glad I did, because he’s always amazing. But the phallic silhouette was a subtle middle finger in the middle of an otherwise Disneyfied crapfest.

Promoting Ignorance

I seldom watch the evening news because everything it presents can be found in shorter, more productive (i.e., less sensational) formats on The Internets. Last night I stumbled on a segment on NBC where Brian Williams introduced the news that Exxon Mobil produced a record profit of $39.5 billion for 2006. Rather than taking the standard “windfall” profits route, Williams hit a different bit of stupidity. He set up the reporter to address this popular “outrage” by asking what incentive Exxon Mobil now has to find alternate energy sources. Ehhhhhhhhh.

I didn’t listen to the answer because, as he asked it, his implication lacked any notion of understanding or belief that Exxon Mobil might not drive its business into the ground seeking ever greater profits from oil. In the larger context of the economy, Exxon Mobil doesn’t have to perceive any incentive to find alternate energy. Perhaps Exxon Mobil doesn’t want to be in that business and believes that oil (and natural gas) will be around long enough that it can keep generating profits without alternate energy sources. I doubt its executives believe that, but it doesn’t owe anyone beyond its shareholders an obligation to adjust its business to market pressures. If alternate energy is potentially profitable, someone will pursue it. That someone will most likely include Exxon Mobil. This is not complicated.

Of course, the $20 billion or so that Exxon Mobil invested in exploration and research last year suggests that they’re at least working to find more oil, oil that we currently can’t reach or find. While not an alternate energy source, finding more oil delays the need for finding an alternate energy source. The scarcity and political ramifications that Williams probably thought he was asking about are a bit more complicated than one company generating a large¹ profit through its activities. If Williams wanted to make that point, he should’ve offered a monologue on how a $39.5 billion profit is socially irresponsible or some other pontification. He probably figured that Al Gore already has that covered, which left him free to continue his economically simple misunderstanding.

¹ I’ve made this point before, but it probably needs to be said again. In absolute dollars, $39.5 billion is impressive and mind-boggling. In the context of the expenses (and taxes) needed to create such a figure, a great deal of the luster wears off. As a percentage of total revenue, the net profit is only 10.45% (39,500/377,635). Many companies with a smaller absolute dollar profit have significantly higher profit ratios. To illustrate this point relative to Exxon Mobil, its revenue for the fourth quarter of 2006 decreased (pdf link) by more than $9 billion from the same quarter in 2005. Yet, it managed to keep net income mostly stable by lowering its costs. There’s obviously more thorough analysis needed to give that weight, but only politicians with a populist axe to grind would hammer its conservative results. Maybe I should hammer away at the “revenue” brought in by the U.S. government.

Does the classification matter?

The latest issue of Wired includes an article on the threat to soldiers wounded in Iraq from acinetobacter, “an opportunistic pathogen” they’re picking up along the evacuation chain from the battlefield. While reading the article, I stopped on an interesting question not related to the subject. First, the facts:

A homemade bomb exploded under a Humvee in Anbar province, Iraq, on August 21, 2004. The blast flipped the vehicle into the air, killing two US marines and wounding another – a soft-spoken 20-year-old named Jonathan Gadsden who was near the end of his second tour of duty. In previous wars, he would have died within hours. His skull and ribs were fractured, his neck was broken, his back was badly burned, and his stomach had been perforated by shrapnel and debris.

Unfortunately, Mr. Gadsden died from the undiagnosed infection that resulted from his wounds. It’s tragic, and the implication of uncontrollable infections is scary. The article is worth reading to get the full understanding. But this is what got me thinking:

[Gadsden’s mother Zeada] discovered that an autopsy was performed shortly after her son’s death. The coroner recorded the “manner of death” as “homicide (explosion during war operation)” but determined the actual cause of death to be a bacterial infection. The organism that killed Gadsden, called Nocardia, had clogged the blood vessels leading to his brain. But the acinetobacter had been steadily draining his vital resources when he could least afford it. For weeks, it had been flourishing in his body, undetected by the doctors at Haley, resisting a constant assault by the most potent antibiotics in the medical arsenal.

I stopped at “homicide (explosion during war operation)” because I’d never thought of how a military death would be classified. Thinking in these terms could open a can of worms that I’m not trying to open. I’m intellectually curious about this designation and uninterested in the political implications. I don’t imagine we’d find too many who would challenge “homicide (explosion during war operation” for a situation like the one that led to Mr. Gadsden’s death, but both sides think they’re the “good guys”. How would another army’s autopsy rule on the death of its soldiers? Would we question if it ruled the same manner of death, because that would imply that we’re murderers?

I don’t have any answers on what our response should be. I haven’t thought of it before, and I suspect most simply wouldn’t care. I don’t know that the distinction even matters for either side, but I found the question interesting.

A government takeover can’t be far behind.

This is only peripherally about the Major League Baseball Extra Innings package, although I will discuss that angle again. But I can’t let it pass when a politician so bravely steps in to assist in a way that highlights his previous hypocrisy. Consider:

A proposal to make Major League Baseball’s “Extra Innings” exclusive to DirecTV has drawn the ire of Sen. John Kerry.

The Massachusetts Democrat said he plans to raise the matter with the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission at a hearing Thursday.

“I am opposed to anything that deprives people of reasonable choices,” Kerry said in a statement. “In this day and age, consumers should have more choices _ not fewer. I’d like to know how this serves the public _ a deal that will force fans to subscribe to DirecTV in order to tune in to their favorite players. A Red Sox fan ought to be able to watch their team without having to switch to DirecTV.”

So many issues pop up, but it’ll probably make the most sense to first address the MLB decision in the context of Sen. Kerry’s remarks. MLB is stupid if it proceeds with this asinine marketing strategy, but it is free to hurt its business if it so chooses. It is not obligated to “serve the public” any more than Whole Foods is obligated to cater to vegans. That, of course, brings up the notion that consumers should have more choices. I view keeping cable as an Extra Innings choice as desirable because it specifically impacts me. But MLB should have the same range of choice to run its business in whatever way it believes will maximize its profits and its brand, even if that means running both into the ground. Sen. Kerry’s rhetoric will serve well the economic populism that pervades our public discussion, but it’s misguided.

With his statements, Sen. Kerry also managed to make a mockery of his stances on most economic issues and many personal choice issues. If Senator Kerry is in favor of people having reasonable choices, why isn’t he promoting Social Security reform, for example? I contribute, even though I’d prefer to put my money in personal investments controlled by me and backed up by actual assets. But I don’t have that choice. How does that serve the public? I’m sure I could walk through a point-by-point list of Sen. Kerry’s campaign issues and find many more examples where he’s been less than a champion for allowing people to have choices. (I have little doubt I can find multiple examples where Sen. Kerry believes that businesses should be limited, so I won’t challenge him there.)

Greater than all of this, though, is the simple fact that Chairman Kevin Martin and the FCC have no regulatory control over cable that would enable it to take action against Major League Baseball. Sen. Kerry should know this. I assume he does, but that doesn’t sell because then the government¹ isn’t there to come to the rescue.

¹ Major League Baseball should not have anti-trust exemption. There shouldn’t be anti-trust prosecution against MLB if it didn’t have the exemption, but that’s getting further into that issue than I’m interested. Since these are the rules we’re operating under, and MLB is happy to benefit from them, I won’t feel bad if/when Congress goes after the owners for this exclusive deal with DirecTV. Feed the snake enough and you will get bitten.