Perhaps in a surprise, I don’t swear in this entry.

I’m behind on commenting on this, but I was quite pleased at the smackdown handed to the FCC in its indecency ruling against Fox. It’s nice to see that fighting back against Constitutional abuses can succeed. (I’m assuming the Supreme Court won’t reverse the decision.) The court’s arguments throughout the last thirty years have been absurd, despite the limited and “public” nature of broadcasting at the time of Pacifica. With the rise of cable and the Internet, among other sources of entertainment, government meddling in content is simply unacceptable. The First Amendment says what it says.

What’s most useful to read into the decision is the reaction.

“I’m disappointed in the court’s ruling,” FCC Chairman Kevin J. Martin said in an interview. “I think the commission had done the right thing in trying to protect families from that kind of language, and I think it’s unfortunate that the court in New York has said that this kind of language is appropriate on TV.”

It’s his job to “protect families”. The government should not be in the nannying business. And notice his obfuscation of the ruling. The court did not rule that swear words are “appropriate” on television, only that the FCC went too far in the way it applied it its vague, unclear rules in the case at hand. It said the FCC’s behavior was inappropriate. The decision of what’s “appropriate” on television is up to broadcasters and viewers. The free market can decide, as it’s already doing on cable. There are more than enough channels offering a wide-range of programming, along with the technology to block anything unwanted.

The Parents Television Council, which has sent hundreds of thousands of indecency complaints to the FCC in recent years [ed. note: many of them form letter duplicates from people who never saw what they complained about], criticized the ruling. The group’s president, Tim Winter, said in a statement that “a court in New York City has cleared the way for television networks to use the f-word and s-word in front of children at any time of the day.”

A court in New York City didn’t do that. “Blame” the framers of our Constitution. It also bears repeating here that, while the way is allegedly cleared, market demands will still restrain what shows up on television. Maybe the Parents Television Council could divert some of its attention from bombarding the government with pleas for force to networks with declarations that “indecent” programming will be met with the “Off” button on the television.

Saving the best for last, Commissioner Copps goes further in threatening his dream of censorship because he is never one to be outdone (see here and here):

FCC Commissioner Michael J. Copps warned in a statement, “any broadcaster who sees this decision as a green light to send more gratuitous sex and violence into our homes would be making a huge mistake.”

I would love to come up with something witty, but I’ll point to Jesse Walker’s reaction:

In real life, Michael Copps has five children. In his mind, he has 83 million.

I might even up that fantasy to 300 million.

A Surgical Strike of Omission

According to his bio at the Council on Foreign Relations, Michael Gerson’s areas of expertise are:

Democracy promotion; human rights issues; health and disease; religion and politics.

Not so much, based on his recent essay in the Washington Post, “A Surgical Strike Against AIDS”. After a silly attempt at humor, warning about use of the word penis, he opens:

Circumcision is an, ahem, uncomfortable topic. The traditional Jewish bris calls this medical procedure a sign of blessing on the newcomer. Ten out of 10 male infants seem to disagree.

Right, ten out of ten male infants disagree. I think we should be able to agree on that. So far, so good, but let’s keep that in mind as we look out for Mr. Gerson’s alleged human rights expertise. (You already know what will be missing, don’t you?)


During World War II, American soldiers were often circumcised to prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) — another hidden sacrifice of the Greatest Generation. From the 1950s to the mid-1970s, the circumcision of American newborn boys became increasingly common.

And we’re off to the obvious conclusion. I’ll make an assumption and temporarily accept that this version of history is correct, that American soldiers chose circumcision for themselves to prevent STDs, let me ask a reasonable question: how is it a “sacrifice” to society for soldiers to choose genital cutting to make unsafe sex “safer”? That sounds fairly selfish to me. And how does this logically morph into circumcising infants, which constitutes the next sentence in Gerson’s essay? There should be an analysis of human rights offered between those two statements. There isn’t. I wonder why.


But suddenly Uncle Irving seems pretty wise. Studies in Uganda, Kenya and South Africa indicate circumcision halves the risk of adult males contracting HIV through heterosexual intercourse. An author of one of those studies, Robert Bailey of the University of Illinois at Chicago, told me, “There is nothing else currently out there in public health or HIV prevention with protection results this compelling.” Studies are ongoing to see if male circumcision protects women from transmission — researchers suspect it might but are waiting for the evidence. The benefit for men, however, is increasingly undeniable.

Quaint, worthless reference to Uncle Irving aside, I’m calling bullshit. Condoms offer far more protection from HIV than circumcision could ever hope to achieve. I don’t need to deny anything about circumcision to know this. Any scientist who claims otherwise is an idiot and unworthy of conducting genital cutting studies on human beings.

After a quick bit in which Mr. Gerson presents scientific speculation as fact¹, without naming Langerhans cells or paying lip service to contradictory evidence, Mr. Gerson continues:

… Massive infection rates seem to be associated with uncircumcised males, ulcerative STDs and having many concurrent sexual partners. Researchers hope that broader circumcision will remove a contributor to this deadly cycle.

Don’t get distracted by the wrong parts of those sentences. Mr. Gerson expects you to focus primarily on one part, “uncircumcised males”. But that’s not useful to the eventual decision on whether circumcision is “good”, or, more importantly, if it should be imposed on infant males. The two key parts here are “massive infection rates” and “concurrent sexual partners”, which seems to me a clumsy way of saying unprotected sex (with HIV-infected partners). While it’s clear that public health officials are looking for the cumulative effect of mass circumcision, I challenge anyone to argue that the decision to undergo genital cutting shouldn’t be on an individual² basis. If we dismiss the notion of the individual, we eventually end at mandatory circumcision. That is simply unacceptable.

It should be clear to everyone that the real issue with (female-to-male) HIV transmission is the inevitable consequence of unprotected sex with HIV-positive partners. Circumcision will not prevent that. It may delay it, but infection will occur eventually. We already know that condoms and other safe sex practices are far more effective than circumcision, but it’s worth emphasizing something useful from the studies in Africa. I hadn’t thought to analyze the data this way, but Justin Jackson at This Week in Science offers a critical clarification of the data (discussion starts at 13 min. 30 sec mark). Basically, he highlights that the difference in HIV rates among the circumcised and intact males in the study was small, and even for the intact men, the overall HIV infection rate for the group was only 3.4%. The infection rate in the general population of Kenya is greater than 6%. The undiscussed reality of this study is that education generated a far greater reduction in the infection rate in both groups than circumcision created. When are we going to discuss that? (As he points out in the show, we must also consider the difference in education the two groups may have received, whether intentional or unintentional.)

Back to Mr. Gerson. After discussing cultural concerns about circumcision, he writes:

There are also practical obstacles. Like any operation, circumcision presents a risk of infection. Much of Africa lacks the equipment and personnel to perform the procedure on a large scale. But similar arguments were made against the possibility of AIDS treatment. A concerted American and international commitment proved that pessimism to be unjustified.

Like any operation, circumcision also presents a risk of complications. This gets ignored. Health expertise? If applied to non-consenting infants, human rights expertise?

Mr. Gerson is right that much of Africa lacks the equipment and personnel to perform mass circumcisions safely and effectively. Still, the recommendation is now out, with the accompanying hysteria. Circumcision has begun, whether countries are ready or not. That’s quite irresponsible. But don’t worry:

As circumcision scales up, the reductions in overall infection rates will be gradual. But the implications for the individual man in Africa are dramatic. A $40 or $50 procedure can cut his risk of HIV infection in half. Giving him that option is a matter of moral urgency.

How many condoms and educational materials would those $40 or $50 outlays fund? Also, note how Mr. Gerson mixes the mass action needed to generate a noticeable reduction with the individual action of a male. Stating that individuals have “that option” seems to indicate an appreciation for liberty with his utilitarianism, but don’t accept such an assumption.

That begins with African governments. Both routine infant circumcision and adult circumcision must be considered, especially in the areas of highest infection.

Do those infants have “that option”? Remember, Mr. Gerson already admitted that ten out of ten infants disagree that circumcision is a sign of blessing. But Mr. Gerson advocates it anyway, going so far as to offer his nod to a cheap, dull cliché, calling circumcision “the kindest cut” . Human rights expert? In this area, his advocacy is makes him nothing more than an expert in violating human rights. That’s the ulti
mate flaw in thinking that the terrible reality of HIV justifies radical action. I don’t pretend that Mr. Gerson sees infant circumcision as radical, a viewpoint he shares with far too many Americans. But in calling for more European effort, he demonstrates his lack of concern for the ethical human rights aspect.

On that point, the crux of Mr. Gerson’s error, I like this review of his article at Male Circumcision and HIV. This is at least as good as what I would’ve written, so I’ll quote it here:

This swift acceptance of circumcision despite the obvious logical contradictions can only come from people accustomed to the practice of circumcision in their own culture. The reason why European nations are resistant to the implementation of this measure may just be that they have different moral values. Perhaps they can see more in an infant’s objection to this surgery then [sic] simply an aversion to pain. Since European cultures have no interest in proving that circumcision has health benefits, they may still be sensitive to the rights of an infant to keep his genitals unaltered. Perhaps, since most European males have experienced life with a foreskin, they may find it delusional for a man to choose to have it cut off rather than put on a condom to prevent infection.

No interest in proving that circumcision has health benefits, they may still be sensitive to the rights of an infant to keep his genitals unaltered. Anyone reading these recent studies who doesn’t at least question the application of those findings by anyone other than the male losing his foreskin should read that paragraph as many times as it takes to understand the ethical implications. Mr. Gerson included.

¹ Mr. Gerson also includes this poorly written argument:

A circumcised male is exposed to less HIV virus during sexual relations, and has less chance of being infected.

He should’ve said something like this:

A circumcised male has less (erogenous) mucous membrane, so he has fewer cells to become infected with HIV.

I don’t pretend that he’d ever include erogenous, even though it’s fact. But to state that a male is “exposed to less HIV virus” is silly. The same amount of HIV virus presumably remains in his partner, regardless of his surgical reduction. I don’t think this was anything more than lazy writing. That doesn’t excuse it.

² That individual basis should be left to the male who will lose his foreskin. Others argue that “individual” can include the male’s parents. They are mistaken. But that is separate from the point I’m making here.

We can’t stop access to weapons, if we understand the term “weapon”.

This appears to be an unfortunate vindication of what I argued in this recent post:

A vehicle hurtled through a crowded street festival in the District last night, knocking people down, throwing some in the air and pinning others beneath its wheels, according to accounts from police and witnesses. Authorities said 35 people were taken to hospitals, seven with severe injuries.

The chaotic scene occurred about 8 p.m. at Unifest, an annual street festival sponsored by a prominent Anacostia church. Witness accounts indicated that a gray station wagon, with a woman driving, plowed through swarms of festival-goers on Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue and W Street SE, among other thoroughfares.

The driver of the station wagon “was purposeful,” said a man who saw some of the incident from his porch. “She was going purposefully. She was not going to stop.”

If this was intentional, can I expect to soon hear a call for a ban on cars?

No? Why not?

Wouldn’t a meat-eater taste better than a vegan?

The subject of yesterday’s example on the derogatory use of “ginger”, Jeremy Clarkson, popped up on my radar today with an anti-vegan essay. (He’s apparently basing his attack on a foundation offered by EarthSave.)

The facts it produces, however, are intriguing. Methane, which pours from a cow’s bottom on an industrial scale every few minutes, is 21 times more powerful as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. And as a result, farmed animals are doing more damage to the climate than all the world’s transport and power stations put together.

What’s more, demand for beef means more and more of the world’s forests are being chopped down, and more and more pressure is being put on our water supplies.

Plainly, then, EarthSave is encouraging us to go into the countryside at the first possible opportunity and lay waste to anything with more than one stomach. Maybe it wants me to shoot my donkeys. Happily what it’s actually saying is that you can keep your car and your walk-in fridge, but you’ve got to stop eating meat.

In fact you’ve got to stop eating all forms of animal products. No more milk. No more cheese. And if it can be proven that bees fart, then no more honey either. You’ve got to become a vegan.

It’s worthwhile and intellectually honest for both sides to debate the impact of factory farming on land and its consequences. It may be devastating or it may be managable, but this method of food production produces a negative. That is simply not open for debate.

After much gnashing of teeth on how dull and uninteresting a world of only plant foods would be for him, he offers this “tough” question:

There are wider implications, too. Let us imagine that the world decided today to abandon its appetite for sausage rolls, joints of beef and meat-infused Mars bars. What effect would this have on the countryside?

Where now you find fields full of grazing cows and truffling pigs, there would be what exactly?

Going vegan alone will not solve global warming¹. And going vegan without a rational transition period to accommodate the existing animal population and redevelopment of factory farm land into other productive uses would be a mistake. So, while I harbor no fantasies that the world will soon see a mass switch to veganism, I also understand that benefiting from such a miracle wouldn’t be an overnight reality. Not all vegans are “free-range communists and fair trade hippies,” to use Mr. Clarkson’s term.

He then informs us that a much less radical solution may be possible:

So plainly the best thing we can do if we want to save the world, preserve the English countryside and keep on eating meat, is to work out a way that animals can be made to produce less methane.

… We all know that the activity of our bowels is governed by our diet. We know, for instance, that if we have an afternoon meeting with a bunch of top sommeliers in a small windowless room it’s best not to lunch on brussel sprouts and baked beans.

There are more negatives from animal agriculture than just methane, but Mr. Clarkson is actually thinking a little. There may be more than one solution. I have no problem admitting as much because my preferred solution is obviously open to subjective challenge. Working the argument down to a core issue helps.

If only his facts were completely correct:

So if we know – and we do – that diet can be used to regulate the amount of methane coming out of the body, then surely it is not beyond the wit of man to change the diet of farmyard animals.

At the moment, largely, cows eat grass and silage, and as we’ve seen, this is melting the ice caps and killing us all. So they need a new foodstuff: something that is rich in iron, calcium and natural goodness.

He then suggests feeding vegetarians to cows to get those nutrients. I laughed, because it’s a joke. But do you remember his pleasant story about “fields full of grazing cows and truffling pigs”? It’s nice to imagine, especially if we throw in a few rolling hills and a pretty violet sunset. With or without my embellishment, it’s also not generally true. Cows raised in industrial settings generally get less grass and more silage. Their bodies are not designed for the large quantities of grains we feed them to fatten them up and make it easier to raise more cattle in less space. Surely this factors into the debate.

How much will new drugs to reduce methane production help? Even if we can decrease the methane, what would result from actually creating Mr. Clarkson’s idyllic world of cattle grazing in open fields? What happens to the economics of grain and other foods as a result of using land to grow food to raise animals?

Link via Fark, where you can find the usual commentary that not eating animals places you lower on the food chain because animals are ours to do with as we see fit, and besides, humans need protein and that only comes from animals. Oh, and not eating meat means you’re a “sackless nancy” who is also a hypocrite because, come on, we all know that vegans kill many varieties of living beings, like bugs and algae and bacteria. Probably on purpose.

¹ For the sake of this entry, assume global warming is a serious problem that man can halt and reverse.

It’s the lack of protein.

PETA is often absurd and ridiculous, more interested in publicity – no matter how negative the result – than actually furthering its cause. For example:

Citing the need to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is calling on congressional leaders to give vegetarians a tax break.

In a letter sent Wednesday to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), PETA President Ingrid Newkirk stated, “[V]egetarians are responsible for far fewer greenhouse-gas emissions and other kinds of environmental degradation than meat-eaters.”

The letter added that vegetarians should receive a tax break “just as people who purchase a hybrid vehicle enjoy a tax break.”

The flaws are many and obvious, so I won’t bother with them here. What’s important to remember is that, while every member of PETA is a vegan or vegetarian¹, not every vegan and vegetarian is a member of PETA or agrees with its tactics. Assuming that a dietary choice would automatically align someone with a specific group is intellectually shallow. Just so that’s clear, since some commentary doesn’t.

Link via To The People, with additional commentary at Hit & Run.

¹ The vegetarian/vegan debate is sometimes abbreviated to veg*n to include both without the cumbersome use of both words. I don’t know if PETA has any vegetarian employees or activists, or if everyone is vegan. I assume there are a few vegetarians, which is why I included them.

“Actually, gingervitus is the medical term.”

This story requires the obligatory link to “Ginger Kids“, the greatest episode of South Park:

A shaken family told how they have been hounded out of three homes — for having ginger hair.

Kevin and Barbara Chapman and their four children have been targeted by thugs for three terrifying years.

The youngsters have been verbally abused and beaten up, while vandals have regularly smashed the family’s windows and sprayed hate-filled graffiti on the walls of their council homes.

Only this week, the slogan “Gingers are gay” was daubed across one wall.

I find it hard to believe something like this could happen, so my crap detector is going off. It just seems too ridiculous. But small-minded people will find anything to taunt someone different. That’s not going away.

Wondering whether there’s a disconnect to the typical sort of nonsense directed at redheads in America and a taunt that includes “gingers are gay”, I researched the ramifications of the British slang for ginger. I found this dictionary:

  1. Homosexual. Rhyming slang, from Ginger beer – ‘queer’.
  2. A ginger or red haired person. Pronounced with hard g’s as in goggles.
  3. Carbonated drink, such as cola. [Scottish use]

Who knew? And I didn’t realize that it’s pronounced with a hard “g”. Overall a banged-up mental process to arrive at such a derogatory term, but still fascinating.

For an example, consider this story from December in the UK:

The BBC has upheld a complaint against Jeremy Clarkson, the Top Gear presenter, after he described a car as a “bit gay”.

He provoked the ire of the gay community when he asked a member of the show’s audience if he would buy a two-seater Daihatsu Copen, retailing at £13,495. The man said, “No, it’s a bit gay”, to which Clarkson added: “A bit gay, yes, very ginger beer.”

Story link via Fark. “Ginger beer” link via Citizen Crain, where you’ll find good commentary on the free speech implications of this example. Daihatsu Copen here. A better image here.

Dirty 10-Letter “C” Word

Here the most petulant little article you’ll read today.

Until recently, Bill Gates has been viewed as the villain of the tech world, while his archrival, Steve Jobs, enjoys an almost saintly reputation.

But these perceptions are wrong. In fact, the reality is reversed. It’s Gates who’s making a dent in the universe, and Jobs who’s taking on the role of single-minded capitalist, seemingly oblivious to the broader needs of society.

The evidence? Bill Gates gives away his money with his named attached and is actively involved in some of those charities. He’s even spoken out against cutting the inheritance tax! OMG, if Bill Gates sees the wisdom of it, why shouldn’t we all? He’s such a saint? Seriously, is that the implication I’m supposed to infer? I hope not because it’s ignorant.

And the case against Mr. Jobs? He either doesn’t give donations larger than $5 million, or he doesn’t do so with his name attached. And because most billionaires give away their money with their name attached, a statement the author makes in a tone that clearly indicates that billionaires donating their money are self-congratulatory publicity leeches. Except Bill Gates, because he talks about “solving global health problems”. Otherwise the author’s alleged point falls apart.

That leaves only one perceived sin by Mr. Jobs.

…, he uses social issues to support his own selfish business goals. …

Jobs can’t even get behind causes that would seem to carry deep personal meaning, let alone lasting social importance. Like Lance Armstrong, he is a cancer survivor. But unlike Armstrong, Jobs has so far done little publicly to raise money or awareness for the disease.

Get that? He doesn’t (openly) raise money for cancer research. Because, once you have cancer, you have an obligation to speak out against it to whomever will listen. And you’d better do so, or else you’ll get tagged thusly:

On the evidence, he’s nothing more than a greedy capitalist who’s amassed an obscene fortune. It’s shameful. In almost every way, Gates is much more deserving of Jobs’ rock star exaltation.

In the same way, I admire Bono over Mick Jagger, and John Lennon over Elvis, because they spoke up about things bigger than their own celebrity.

It’s time for Jobs to do the same.

Mr. Jobs is supposed to be upset because he’s not admired by the author. And he should definitely be embarrassed about his fortune and being a “greedy” capitalist, because that’s capital-B Bad. But the Bono comparison is useful. Where Bono’s activism is quite public, it’s also stunningly short-sighted and wrong¹. Time will tell that perhaps Bill Gates is throwing much of his money into worthless efforts that do nothing to solve global health problems.

With great wealth does not come great obligation. Despite the clear indication that most people with wealth donate money (and noteriety) to charity, which Mr. Jobs may be doing, individuals should be free to do with their money as they see fit. That includes not doing.

Should we now talk about all of the Apple and Pixar employees and shareholders who’ve made significant sums of money over the years thanks to the ideas and innovations facilitated by Mr. Jobs? How much money have those employees and shareholders donated to charity? How many Apple products have individuals used to create compelling marketing material for charity marketing campaigns?

Jobs is already contributing.

¹ Debt relief is not a policy for long-term economic success.