Catching Up: Random Links

I’ve been pre-occupied the last few days, so I haven’t caught up on my blogging duties the way I should. Refunds will be processed upon request. To discourage you from seeking that refund, here are a few stories stuck in my queue:

Courtesy of a Robert Novak column from last week:

Addressing a Republican fundraising dinner at the Washington Convention Center on Wednesday night, President Bush declared: “If the Democrats want to test us, that’s why they give the president the veto. I’m looking forward to vetoing excessive spending, and I’m looking forward to having the United States Congress support my veto.” That was more than blather for a political pep rally. Bush plans to veto the homeland security appropriations bill nearing final passage, followed by vetoes of eight more money bills sent him by the Democratic-controlled Congress.

Better late than never would be how I’d like to analyze that. Unfortunately, we’re mostly discussing a 14% increase versus a 7% increase and a 30% increase versus a 22% increase. This isn’t fiscal conservatism. Consolation from the lesser of two evils, anyone?

Next, government understanding of economics always achieves its predictable unintended consequences:

Beef prices are up. So are the costs of milk, cereal, eggs, chicken and pork.

And corn is getting the blame. President Bush’s call for the nation to cure its addiction to oil stoked a growing demand for ethanol, which is mostly made from corn. Greater demand for corn has inflated prices from a historically stable $2 per bushel to about $4.

Economic laws are inviolable, not suggestions open to the good intentions of government policy-makers.

Continuing on a similar theme, that politicians believe reality is subject to the whims of the United States government and can simply be legislated into existence, this:

“America deserves more-fuel-efficient cars,” said Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington. But she added that “the only way consumers are going to get more out of a tank of gas is if the president and his party help deliver votes in a narrowly divided Congress.”

“America’s strength lies in our ability to invent new and better ways of doing things,” she said. “The challenge we face now is transforming America’s energy policy — one that is well over 50 years old and too reliant of fossil fuels — to one that will make America a global leader again in energy technology and get us off our overdependence on foreign oil.”

Congress (and the president) can legislate creativity and innovation. And it comes with a centrally planned national energy policy. That should work out well. Just look at corn and ethanol.

Well, hello!

Yep, I’m still here. I know Rolling Doughnut has been mostly quiet this week. The site was down last weekend, and when it came back, the gremlins had eaten a necessary component of cgi. I couldn’t access my login. And then life stepped in with a few needs. But regular blogging will return this weekend. I have a backlog on several topics, including you know wrote (if that frightens you). Just in case you wondered where I’ve gone.

Parents are not psychics.

Familydoc has a frustrating post discussing the medical facts surrounding circumcision. I don’t have any general opposition to the information, and was surprised that Familydoc acknowledged that the medical issue is “a tie”. That’s why I’m stuck to understand how that leaves the decision to parents to choose based on their “religious, cultural, esthetic, but not medical” reasons. Familydoc offers this as an explanation of parental “rights” to justify allowing them to choose non-medically necessary cosmetic surgery.

Since American law accepts that parents have a right to abort their unborn fetuses, as well as to decide where, what, when, and how their born children eat, sleep, get an education, it seems logical that the decision to circumcise or not rests with the parents – as long as circumcision is not intrinsically harmful.

I’m not an attorney, but I can see how that logic is flawed. A right to abortion is about control over one’s own body, unless I’m mistaken. Imposing circumcision on an infant is about control over another’s body. Quite different. And the decision about where, what, when, and how their born children eat, sleep, and get an education do not involve permanent physical changes to a child. If I didn’t get a good education, I have the option to get one later in life. If I was forced to eat food I didn’t like, I have the option to now be vegan. If I was forced to go to bed at 8:30, I now have the option to stay up to watch Stephen Colbert. I’ll add one. If I wasn’t allowed to play with certain kids who didn’t meet my parents approval, I can now hang out all night with those bad elements.

I do not have the option to replace my now-permanently-gone, healthy foreskin.

I left a long comment on Familydoc’s entry discussing the ethics and harm of infant circumcision, so I won’t address those (or the rest of the entry) in great detail here. However, it should be obvious that the harm of circumcision can be subjective, since Familydoc acknowledges that harm occurs. I’m just not dismissive of subjective criteria. Individuals have different, impossible-to-predict preferences. Even on the supposedly insignificant criteria of aesthetic value, the individual’s opinion is what matters.

In society we rightly grant parents the power to make medical decisions by proxy. They can and should work to the child’s (i.e. the patient) best interest. However, when journeying beyond the limited boundaries of immediate medical need, the criteria for allowing such decision-making power must get significantly tougher. As in baseball where the tie goes to the runner, in medicine, the tie must go to the patient, who we can and should assume would demand the least invasive stance necessary. Routine infant circumcision is the most invasive stance, a solution in search of a problem.

Ethics matter. Anything else treats children as their parents’ property.

Via Everyone Needs Therapy as a recommendation following on an earlier post¹.

¹ TherapyDoc’s earlier post, a commentary on an article about Jewish parents opting not to circumcise their sons, lacked a sufficient discussion of the ethics of infant circumcision. TherapyDoc relied on the argument that Jewish identity and culture would diminish, if not disappear, without infant circumcision. I disagree. More importantly, it’s irrelevant in a civil society where inherent individual rights are guaranteed.

A Question Worth Asking

Continuing on the theme of my previous post, comes another unfortunate story:

A 15-year-old boy has died in the Eastern Cape after being circumcised, allegedly by an 18-year-old, the province’s health department said on Friday.

Earlier this week another eight unregistered surgeons were arrested for circumcising boys in the Transkei.

I want to make sure I have this right. Circumcision is “good” because it reduces the risk of HIV. We must convince African men, particularly fathers, on the benefits of circumcision. When those circumcisions are done “illegally”, we must be angry and stop it. The approach to stop this type of “illegal” circumcision by traditional healers is to educate communities about the necessity to perform “legal” circumcisions. We have faith that this will work. I think I got it.

So why will education work to teach African men to perform circumcisions correctly but it won’t work to have them learn safe sex practices?

Free Speech Liberty: Possession vs. Use

Daniel Henninger, deputy editor of The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page, offers his take on the Second Circuit Court’s recent ruling against the FCC in today’s Opinion Journal. The gist:

After the decision, editorialists and columnists in newspapers everywhere mocked the FCC’s “moralists” and “language police” for its provably quixotic effort to suppress the most commonly used words–today–in our language. Nevertheless, virtually none of these newspapers could bring themselves to rearrange the famous four letters–k, f, c, u and h, t, s, i–into either word, instead publishing them as f*** and s*** or resorting to euphemisms: “highly pungent,” “oft-heard vulgar words” and “celebrity cursing at awards shows.”

There is tedium following, demonstrating allegedly contradictory views about what is and isn’t acceptable. Then he arrives at this:

Still, I come back to the otherwise uninhibited newspaper industry’s reticence. Perhaps they fear that most of the public, their readers, aren’t quite there yet with this practice. Or perhaps deep in the primeval corner of the editorial soul sits the sense that somehow there really is something not quite right with promoting verbal f’ng and s’ng in public. In other words, perhaps there are defensible reasons for separating “polite society” from what we’ve got now, which is Paulie Walnuts society.

Take out the prudish last sentence and you end up with what we have where Constitutional protections are noted: a free market solution where “dirty” words don’t regularly appear. I know, it’s difficult to believe that can come about without government interference and restriction, but it happens.

Mr. Henninger offers some more prudish drivel about discipline and not giving in to the “slovenly, unrestrained ethos” of “dirty” words before arriving at this:

Judges Pooler and Hall are probably right that “they” didn’t create this F&S problem and besides, it’s everywhere now. But it’s disheartening to see a primary U.S. institution nominally associated with utilitarian rigor now throwing in the towel. And yes, it’s pathetic and hopeless to imagine that the FCC can ever get this right. But to wake up one morning to discover that of all the socially organizing institutions in American life, the only one slightly disturbed if a Nicole Ritchie speaks to the nation about her Prada handbag in terms of F&S is the Federal Communications Commission, well, that’s pathetic. And some day, it may be more than that.

That’s the issue, isn’t it. Mr. Henninger would rather have “utilitarian rigor” than Constitutional rights. He believes that “socially organizing institutions” should care enough to protect us. And, without such protections, we’re on a slippery slope to God-knows-what kind of national verbal nightmare. Ignore that the free market, devoid of government restrictions, works in print. And on cable. So, despite evidence contradicting what he fears, he laments the loss of one form of paternalism.

In related news, Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito offered useful analysis of free speech restrictions.

“I’m a very strong believer in the First Amendment and the right of people to speak and to write,” Alito said in response to a question of “where’s the line” on what can be posted on the Internet. “I would be reluctant to support restrictions on what people could say.”

The newest justice, who was protective of speech rights as an appellate judge, added that “some restrictions have been held to be consistent with the First Amendment, but it’s very dangerous for the government to restrict speech.”

Free speech is never about what is socially acceptable in the public sphere. Despite the Constitution’s protections, every American has the option to be offended and to avoid that which offends him. He does not have the option to seek government action to stop what offends him. If Joe Reader is offended by profanity in his newspaper, he might cancel his subscription if he encounters it. Incentives matter, and work to restrain. Only the small, fearful mind thinks otherwise and demands government coercion.

Sometimes, “benefits” can’t accrue.

How many of these cases will we need before we realize that healthy children should not be surgically altered? (Originally from the Canadian Pediatrics and Child Health Journal’s April issue – pdf.)

Ontario’s chief coroner, Jim Cairns, details how the child, 7 days old, was brought to a doctor for a circumcision in 2006. The doctor used a PlastiBell ring. Local anaesthetic was not used.

I’ll spare the details, but the baby boy died from complications seven days after the PlastiBell was applied to his penis to unnecessarily remove his previously healthy foreskin. When people advertise all of the potential medical benefits from infant circumcision, they tell a woefully incomplete story. When they advertise the surgery as having only minor, rare complications, they lie. Again, how many boys must die unnecessarily to serve a utilitarian dream of risk-free society?

From the article:

Dr. Cairns writes that in canvassing colleagues, he found a number of complications following circumcision in Canada, including:

– two children with necrosis or death of tissue in the penis
– two infants requiring transfusions
– one baby with a buried penis following to a circumcision
– a number of infants with complications related to the use of devices to perform the circumcisions.

Yet none of these complications were reported in the medical literature and so are not publicly available for study or for review.

On that last point, I don’t wonder why. Denial helps avoid the inevitable guilt when realizing that society allows and encourages this abomination.

Link via Clara.

You can find more information on the PlastiBell ring from its make, Hollister.

Hollister Incorporated is an independently-owned global company that develops, manufactures and markets healthcare products, servicing over 90 countries. From the earliest days of our company, there has been a strong sense of community—a connection to people. That connection is embedded in the very fabric of our company, and as we continue to develop new products and services, we are focused on meeting the healthcare needs of people throughout the global community.

Routine infant circumcision is not a “healthcare need”. While I’m sure Hollister feels it is serving the health care community, I don’t understand how making a product that violates the human rights of every single patient who has that product attached to his penis conforms to Hollister’s mission “that the ethical way is the only way to conduct our business.”

Religion, Reason & Circumcision

I read a lot of frustrating (to me) statements about circumcision. Here’s one for today:

We often get the idea that God is out to deprive us of something. We read the Bible, and particularly the Law, as enlightened Westerners and marvel at the ridiculous things God required of his people. Or were they ridiculous…? It is not so uncommon for science to catch up to what God told people several thousand years ago.

Maybe, just maybe, God knew something about hygiene and health all along. Circumcision and monogamy do go a very long way toward protecting both partners from infection and disease. I wonder what else God knows that we haven’t figured out yet….

It’s also not so uncommon for science to disprove what God told people several thousand years ago.

Whether or not the Bible contains any literal truth or not is beyond my concern here. I can accept that some of it is probably true in the process of stating that much of it reads like a collection of parables rather than a text of historical record-keeping. It’s also worth noting that the New Testament clearly indicates that circumcision is not a requirement or a command for the followers of Jesus. For the sake of the 21st Century argument against circumcision, both points are irrelevant. We live in a society ruled by laws. Inherent human rights must inform those laws. No words from any book can be used to justify cutting away the healthy foreskin of a child.

Several demonstrable historical facts are also important here. At the time of the Bible and Christ, without access to clean water for regular bathing, hygiene was probably an issue. That wouldn’t have justified the routine circumcision of infants, for even then, medical practice should not have involved removing healthy body parts from children. (Is the curse of poor hygiene only attributable to the foreskin, where girls stay daisy-fresh without regular bathing?) However, we do not face that condition today in the Western world¹.

We also know that the foreskin has health/biological functions. It protects the sensitive mucous membrane of the glans and inner foreskin from damage and keratinization. It provides sexual pleasure for both men and women. It has a functional purpose during intercourse. It is neither an anatomical mistake of evolution nor a proving ground for faith.

We also know that the historical reality of circumcision and the “modern”, Western reality of circumcision are different. In Biblical times, circumcision generally involved removing whatever part of the foreskin protruded beyond the tip of the glans. Today, and particularly in circumcision designed to reduce HIV transmission, Western medicine removes a significant portion of the foreskin. In infancy, this requires tearing the adhered foreskin from the glans. It generally involves removing the sensitive frenulum, as well. The penis is more “skinned” than cut.

What we practice today – the ritual mutilation of children for religious and cultural reasons – was not handed down from God. Whether from evolution, God, or some combination of both, we have brains. We are meant to use them. God never commanded circumcision, as explained in detail in Marked in Your Flesh by Leonard Glick. But if He did, I’m not willing to descend to such irrational behavior when reason demands a different response. As I’ve said before, any god who would demand such an abomination is not a god who deserves respect or allegiance.

¹ The development of antibiotics and condoms, in addition to monogamy, further reduces the notion that we should invade the body of an innocent child with a scalpel because he might act irresponsibly. Of course, if he’s being monogamous according to God’s law, he probably doesn’t need circumcision to protect him from HIV.

Freedom for $1.05 or drugs for $2?

The words leading to the coordinating conjunction in this story’s lede sentence gives the reader more than enough information to know how this will affect drug enforcement policy.

A cheap, highly addictive drug known as “cheese heroin” has killed 21 teenagers in the Dallas area over the past two years, and authorities say they are hoping they can stop the fad before it spreads across the nation.

“Cheese heroin” is a blend of so-called black tar Mexican heroin and crushed over-the-counter medications that contain the antihistamine diphenhydramine, found in products such as Tylenol PM, police say. The sedative effects of the heroin and the nighttime sleep aids make for a deadly brew.

We’re going to get fear to justify more brutal attempts to enforce prohibition. It’s stupid, but typical. And being so obvious, it’s not what warrants the most attention. Better to start here:

“Cheese” is not only dangerous. It’s cheap. About $2 for a single hit and as little as $10 per gram. The drug can be snorted with a straw or through a ballpoint pen, authorities say. It causes drowsiness and lethargy, as well as euphoria, excessive thirst and disorientation. That is, if the user survives.

I expected a multimedia presentation with the requisite pause and ominous drumbeat after that last sentence.

It makes no sense to pretend that something like “cheese heroin” is bad. I’m sure it is. But what evidence do we get to excuse “if the user survives”? After all, we’re told that 21 teens have died in 24 months. That’s an awful statistic, but outside of some other context, it doesn’t tell us anything meaningful.

Authorities say the number of arrests involving possession of “cheese” in the Dallas area this school year was 146, up from about 90 the year before. School is out for the summer, and authorities fear that the students, with more time on their hands, could turn to the drug.

The first statistic we get is an approximation that 236 people were arrested for possessing this drug in the two years in which 21 students have died. I’m left wondering whether these arrests involved teens or not since the article doesn’t say. It does use the academic calendar to measure arrests. That’s a quaint device.

But looking at the numbers, are we to assume that almost 10% of users die? Highly unlikely, for no rational person would believe that Dallas police have arrested every possessor of “cheese”. (I’m sure they’ve tried, mightily.) I’m still left trying to triangulate a rational context for this hyper-fear.

Drug treatment centers in Dallas say teen “cheese” addicts are now as common as those seeking help for a marijuana addiction. “It is the first drug to have even come close in my experience here,” says Michelle Hemm, director of Phoenix House in Dallas.

Without hard numbers¹ it’s difficult to draw concrete conclusions, but I’m guessing the number of marijuana users addicts is high enough that a comparison implying a 10% death rate among “cheese” users is flawed. So the death rate is lower, as a percentage. What percentage are we looking at? Is the level of fear and panic implied in this story justified?

I don’t have the answer, unfortunately. Again, I’m sure “cheese heroin” is nasty, dangerous stuff. But I’m left wondering if there isn’t a message in this story about prohibition?

[Dallas police detective Monty] Moncibais then asked how many students knew a “cheese” user. Just about everyone in the auditorium raised a hand. At one point, when he mentioned that the United States has the highest rate of drug users in the world, the middle schoolers cheered.²

“You know, I know being No. 1 is important, but being the No. 1 dopeheads in the world, I don’t know whether [that] bears applause,” Moncibais shot back.

Decades of prohibition and we’re the best at having people use drugs. A sane policy would not continue pursuing prohibition at all costs. It would acknowledge that people will use drugs, despite a general consensus among fans of prohibition that drug use is bad. Reasonable officials would seek to minimize the damage from that drug use instead of trying to win an unwinnable “war”, even if it meant decriminalization.

But that doesn’t win elections or justify larger budgets. Fear does that.

¹ The next paragraph in the article:

From September 2005 to September 2006, Phoenix House received 69 “cheese” referral calls from parents. Hemm says that in the last eight months alone, that number has nearly doubled to 136. The message from the parents is always, “My kid is using ‘cheese,’ ” she says.

That provides more numbers, but I don’t think they help or hurt my argument.

² At this point in the story, CNN has a video link titled “Watch middle schoolers raise hands, admit they know drug users”. I laughed at the stupid absurdity.

They are equal human beings.


For 3-year-old Amira, a law banning female genital mutilation in Eritrea came too late.

Wrapped in an orange traditional dress, Amira’s mother, who gives her name only as Gerejet, says she circumcised the child to please her future husband.

“It was the culture that we have taken from our grandmothers, but we also do it for the pleasure of the men,” the 30-year-old told Reuters in a small village 100 kilometers (62 miles) west of the Eritrean capital, Asmara.

When people say there is zero comparison between cutting the genitals of males and females, they are blind to the obvious. Change the pronouns in that excerpt and it would be eerily familiar to the unspoken thought process of several thousand surgeries carried out every day in America. There are complexities within the comparison that should not be shoved aside, of course, but the justifications for cutting are too similar to ignore.

“Congress shall make no law…”

The NCAA kicked a reporter out of the press box for liveblogging a game at the baseball super-regional yesterday. I find that absurd, but the NCAA can set whatever restrictions it wants. What’s amusing is the inevitable reaction from the reporter’s newspaper:

Courier-Journal executive editor Bennie L. Ivory challenged the NCAA’s action last night and said the newspaper would consider an official response.

“It’s clearly a First Amendment issue,” Ivory said. “This is part of the evolution of how we present the news to our readers. It’s what we did during the Orange Bowl. It’s what we did during the NCAA basketball tournament. It’s what we do.”

It’s clearly not a First Amendment issue. The government has played no part in this. This is a dispute between two private parties who agreed to a set of rules. Obviously one party is either misunderstanding or ignoring the rules. But the government didn’t violate any free speech right.

Convoluted hat tip required. Link found at Instapundit, via KnoxNews, which linked from Poynter Online.