Still here.

With Harry Potter and family commitments over the last few days, I’ve read little. I have a few items to comment on, but I don’t have the time or energy to write them in any depth beyond a passing mention. Regular blogging to return soon.

More Thoughts on “Universal”

Following on recent examples, The Forward posted a story about Jews who choose not to circumcise their sons.

A few months before his son was born, Thomas Wolfe of Wheeling, W.Va., consulted the rabbi of his Reform congregation to discuss plans for the baby’s circumcision. “I had the perception that a circumcision was just an innocuous procedure, with no risk,” he later told the Forward. After the rabbi had recommended that Wolfe find a ritual circumciser, or mohel, to perform the newborn’s bris, Wolfe did a little Internet research. “It wasn’t really until that time that I became aware of all the controversies,” he said.

The article is mostly good, although the concluding quote is an absurd abuse of logic I’ve addressed before. (I can’t find the link right now.) Still, it should become apparent that not all Jews are circumcising their sons.

It isn’t, judging by the comments left on the article. Or, I should say that many Jews believe that Jews who reject circumcision aren’t really Jewish anymore, either because they’re not following this particular commandment or because they’re not practicing Jews in other regards. It’s strange that this is the one that matters, and that it’s impossible to reject it, even though there are many actions prescribed by the Old Testament that are no longer followed because they’re not consistent with modern understandings of rights and facts. Instead, we’re stuck with something like this, from Bill in the comments:

Frankly, I am shocked that a man could hate his son and the children of others, so much as to deny him the medically established protection of circumcision!

Especially to make this denial at a time when the media is filled with mention of HIV/AIDS and the fact that circumcision is a proven transmission preventative – just as it has proved to be in the case of many other STD’s.

If you don’t cut your children sons, you hate them. If you advocate against others cutting their children sons, you hate their children sons. Ignore the obvious truth that routine/ritual infant circumcision is surgery that is not medically indicated. You hate your sons unless you cut them because you’re denying them now (even though they can still choose later).

Or they can achieve the same results with less invasive methods. There might be options other than circumcise and don’t get HIV or don’t circumcise and get HIV. Just because I advocate against infant circumcision does not mean that I want people to get HIV. I’ve been accused of that more than once, and it’s the same shallow, unintelligent thinking.

Personally, I’d rather teach sons (and daughters) that safe sex is far more effective at preventing HIV and STDs than genital cutting. I’d also teach them a healthy dose of skepticism in believing the latest fantastical scientific breakthroughs reported by the media. Reporting doesn’t imply they’re false, but it doesn’t guarantee that they’re correct, either, or that they’re reported in the proper context. A 50% reduction may sound amazing, but when it’s a 50% reduction of a 1% risk, it’s not nearly as exciting. Shouldn’t we question why that 1% risk is always ignored?

There is some common sense in the comments¹. From S.K.:

Having been born in the Soviet Union, my parents did not give me a bris out of fear of the authorities. Upon arriving in America, I proudly had a bris in a hospital.

It was painful, but worth it. I’m sure that if given the choice, the majority of the uncircumcised children of these ultra-Reformists would also opt for a bris when they get older. The bris is our covenant. It’s a permanent reminder of who we are.

I get the impression that S.K. is advocating for infant circumcision. If so, he is wrong, no matter how much he values his bris. However, I’ve said what he said in the second paragraph. If we refrain from cutting Jewish infants, a majority of them would likely have themselves circumcised. It would have meaning and value to many Jewish men. I don’t reject that or seek to prevent that. Adults should remain free to do to their own bodies whatever pleases them, for whatever reason.

If circumcision has religious meaning to an adult male, he should do it. If it has cosmetic value to him, he should do it. If it’s merely a time-saver during his daily shower, and he thinks that is worth more than his foreskin, I don’t care what he does. I am only against forced genital cutting without medical indication². In America that means infant circumcision, for whatever social or religious reason.

¹ There is also a great deal of irrational thinking. Shriber stated:

Infants are totally dependent on their parents. I didn’t know who I was till I was given a name and more importantly a language in which to express myself. I didn’t choose either my name or my language. My parents imposed English on me. I might have been more comfortable with Chinese or Swahili. Are dare my parents force me to speak English? They took away my autonomy. Tough they will say. If you didn’t like English you should have been born to a Chinese or Swahili speaking couple.

Just like a male can’t replace his now-removed foreskin, he can’t learn Chinese or Swahili. Such pro-circumcision advocates simply aren’t interested in recognizing that children might have rights that include being free from unnecessary surgery.

² Potential benefits, or “medically established protection” to use Bill’s more convincing but less factually accurate term, are not a medical indication. Potential benefits are also not a social justification. If no less invasive intervention is available to treat a medical problem, circumcision passes proxy consent in the American context of children. Otherwise, we must value human rights more.

Economics won’t bow to populism.

Because Democrats incorrectly believe government is part of the solution, not part of the problem¹:

While John Edwards was winding up a tour of America’s most impoverished areas, another Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), came to Anacostia yesterday to stake his own claim as a poverty warrior — and to present a vision for fixing struggling inner cities that directly challenges that of Edwards.

To the Edwards campaign, Obama’s move to address poverty is a sign that Edwards has shifted the debate. “This is another example of Edwards leading on the issues and other candidates following,” campaign spokesman Eric Schultz said.

The Edwards campaign should refrain from patting itself on the back. Every economic populist in this (or any) campaign will wrap himself in this issue. That’s what economic populists do. It’s always a marketing push to the middle rather than an economic push to the top.

¹ Note that this does not mean I’m against a limited public safety net, which is the claim levied against libertarians. There is a difference in believing that government is ineffective at solving the problem and believing that Americans living in poverty “deserve” to be there or should stay there until they can dig themselves out.

Don’t just “Do Something”.

Never let it be said that Democrats in Congress aren’t living up to their promises to reform the system.

Farm bloc lawmakers yesterday offered the U.S. fruit and vegetable industry $1.8 billion in new federal grants over the next five years as part of a farm bill that would leave in place far larger subsidies for grain, cotton and dairy producers.

The package, unveiled yesterday by Committee Chairman Collin C. Peterson (D-Minn.), also increases funding for land conservation, wetlands protection and nutrition programs — popular with environmental groups and urban lawmakers.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) called the package “a good first step toward needed reform.”

Right, so reform means keeping large subsidies and adding smaller subsidies. Can we have the old status quo?

I looked through the entire article, and the only mention of reform, defined quite loosely as a change in actions, is this:

Federal payments to private crop insurers would be reduced by about $1 billion over 10 years to free funds for other priorities.

An earlier subcommittee draft of the farm bill would have merely extended the current farm subsidy programs. The proposed new version would do away with some price guarantees and allow farmers to opt for an income guarantee instead.

Taxpayers will save $1 billion over 10 years, which will be immediately shifted to some other spending “need”. Like income guarantees. But at least Congress wants to phase out price guarantees.

I was not blind to the devil’s bargain in 2006 I used to vote for Democrats to replace Republicans. They’re both irresponsible. But I don’t know what’s worse, abandoning principles or being so stupid that you ignore the electoral justifications behind your victory. I’d already made up my mind that I won’t make that mistake in 2008. I’m just amazed that Democrats keep trying so hard to reinforce my decision.

I don’t think Maryland Gov. O’Malley is dense.

First, the obvious:

Maryland’s efforts to close a gaping budget shortfall next year could result in higher income taxes for the state’s more affluent residents — and a possible break for those earning less.

Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) and leading lawmakers say they are giving serious consideration to overhauling the state’s tax brackets, which are among the flattest in the nation. Everyone with taxable income of more than $3,000 a year pays the same rate.

To close a “gaping budget shortfall,” Maryland could try not spending so much money. Novel, I know, but it’s been known to work for middle-, lower-, working-, and even upper-class families where expenses exceed income.

But there are (Democratic, not that it really matters) politicians involved, so that idea is not only not feasible, it’s not “fair”.

O’Malley called the structure “patently unfair” this week, saying at a Democratic breakfast in Frederick that Peter Angelos, the wealthy trial lawyer who owns the Baltimore Orioles, should not pay the same rate as “the woman who cleans his office.”

“I’m in favor of progressive taxation, where people who make a lot more pay more,” O’Malley told reporters recently.

Does everyone in Maryland pay the same dollar amount to the state? Do Peter Angelos and his cleaning woman each pay $500, to pick a random tax amount? No? Then people who make “a lot” more in Maryland already pay (a lot) more. Anyone who believes otherwise is either too dense to be qualified for public office or a liar.

Risk can’t be wished away; complications will occur.

I’m quoting a plaintiff’s press release, so yes, I understand the one-sided nature of this news. As such, I will only quote the facts:

The infant was a healthy seven pound newborn who was delivered without complications on February 14, 2007. The following day, a routine [sic!] circumcision was performed on the infant by Dr. Malek using a Mogen clamp, a metal, hinge-shaped device used during the procedure. At the completion of the circumcision, hospital records indicated there was significant bleeding. Inspection of the penis revealed nearly all of the glans had been amputated at the time of the circumcision. Three months later, the infant required penile skin transfer surgery at the University of Illinois, with need for future procedures, some of which are only appropriate at the age of puberty.

Is it a cheap shot to wonder whether or not the boy will be happy that at least he will not be laughed at in the locker room for having a foreskin? And his risk of becoming infected with HIV is now reduced by 50% or more. The scars and likely imperfect results from trying to reconstruct a glans? No, that won’t bother him at all, and the assholes who would tease him for having the body he was born with certainly won’t mock him now that his penis is disfigured. (I almost wrote mutilated to describe his penis, but luckily I remembered that only female genitals can be mutilated.)

Turning off the snark and sarcasm now, I’ll stick with just anger:

According to medical expert witness, Dr. David Zbaraz with Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago, who reviewed the Sarah Bush medical records of the infant, “The Mogen clamp when used properly cannot amputate a male infant’s glans. The injury to this boy was completely preventable.”

Completely preventable? Of course it was completely preventable. But that would’ve involved not circumcising without medical indication rather than relying on “when used properly”. Doctors are human. They make mistakes. To face the risk (and outcome) of such mistakes, the surgery should be necessary or requested by the patient. Anything else is madness.

Link via the embarrassing Medgadget. Any doctor who would analyze this story by saying the following should be embarrassed:

Maybe the doc should have been less stupid and used the SmartKlamp.

Maybe the doc should’ve been less stupid – and less unethical – and not performed surgery on a child based on the non-medically indicated whim of someone other than the patient. But such a rational belief makes me a “moonbat”.

Witnessing Violence Against the Constitution

Here’s a reminder that politicians are the same, regardless of party affiliation. Politics is about power, to the exclusion of ethical statecraft.

The long-awaited Rockefeller TV-violence bill will be introduced before the August recess, says Steven Broderick, press secretary to Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.). The bill would give the FCC the power to regulate violence on cable and satellite, as well as on broadcast.

It will also likely require the FCC to define indecent violent content, a call the FCC punted to Congress in a report it issued several months ago.

He also is buoyed by the change in congressional leadership. A similar bill that Rockefeller introduced in 2005 did not go anywhere.

“Last time, Congress was under different management,” says Broderick. “Times have changed, and programming on TV has changed.”

Broadcast restrictions on cable and satellite will never hold up to court scrutiny, so it’s not worth discussing. It is useful as a reminder that politicians consider the Constitution a mere suggestion for legislating.

I’ll also be quite amused if the FCC can come up with rules for indecent violent content. It’s perpetually ignored such demands for verbal and sexual indecency, preferring the power option that allows it to threaten with unwritten rules. Also, it shouldn’t be the FCC’s job to set the rules. If Congress feels it should make such laws in the face of “Congress shall make no laws”, it should at least determine the specifics of its disregard. Eventually, that must fall to court review, as well.

With that out of the way, let’s look at broadcast schedules (remember, cable and satellite are irrelevant here) to examine Mr. Broderick’s statement that “programming on TV has changed.” The Fall 2005 broadcast television schedule:

  • 24
  • Prison Break
  • CSI
  • Law & Order
  • Bones
  • Ghost Whisperer
  • Criminal Minds
  • Lost
  • Alias

The Fall 2007 broadcast television schedule:

  • 24
  • Prison Break
  • CSI
  • Law & Order
  • Bones
  • Ghost Whisperer
  • Criminal Minds
  • Lost
  • Heroes
  • Jericho

If I’m reading that correctly, the only difference in the two schedules is the subtraction of Alias (boo!) and the addition of Heroes and Jericho. Comparing Alias and Heroes strikes me as an even trade on the violence scale, so Mr. Broderick is essentially saying that the addition of Jericho now justifies government regulation of television content. Does Sen. Rockefeller really want to hang this bill on that argument?

Link via Hit & Run

Apparently money isn’t green.

Interesting (via Fark):

Jeffrey Lee is not interested in the soaring price of uranium, which could make him one of the world’s richest men.

“This is my country. Look, it’s beautiful and I fear somebody will disturb it,” he says, waving his arm across a view of rocky land surrounded by Kakadu National Park, where the French energy giant Areva wants to extract 14,000 tonnes of uranium worth more than $5 billion.

“I’m not interested in white people offering me this or that … it doesn’t mean a thing.

“I’m not interested in money. I’ve got a job; I can buy tucker; I can go fishing and hunting. That’s all that matters to me.”

How exactly is white relevant?

Sen. Clinton is Rod Tidwell.

Sen. Clinton and her populist buddies are opportunists, nothing more. Consider:

“Our tax code should be valuing hard work and helping middle-class and working families get ahead,” [Senator Hillary Clinton] said in Keene, N.H., as she campaigned for the Democratic presidential nomination. “It offends our values as a nation when an investment manager making $50 million can pay a lower tax rate on her earned income than a teacher making $50,000 pays on her income.”

It should equally offend our values when a teacher making $50,000 pays a lower rate on her earned income than an investment manager making $50 million pays on her income. Having a tax code that is used as a tool to push agendas, pick winners and losers, demonize success, and generate fleeting economic “equality” offends our values. Set a base exemption and tax everything – and everyone – else equally, at a rate as low as possible, regardless of an individual’s economic results.

Let me ask a question or two. If there is unfair treatment here, and it seems there is, why is the explanation always that the rich aren’t paying enough? Why is the problem never that the poor are paying too much?

“Human being” ranks higher than gender.

Somali-born model Waris Dirie, a victim of childhood FGM, uses her celebrity status to campaign against FGM through the Waris Dirie Foundation. She’s doing noble work, but I’m struck by the over-simplification of the debate by this sentence on the main page of her foundation’s website.

If genital mutilation were a problem affecting men, the matter would long be settled.

Of course it affects men, and I mean only FGM. The statement is too simplistic to be anything more than a biased piece of feel-good cheerleading. It’s a sound bite without substance. Saying it dismisses the fact that FGM affects men. Many men see this as positive. They are wrong, but we will not convince them by isolating FGM’s harm as exclusive to the women who’ve been mutilated.

Still, there is an argument to be made using that statement in reference to male genital cutting. To get there, consider this quote from Ms. Dirie:

“Every day I still struggle to understand why this has happened to me – this cruel and terrible thing for which there is no reason or explanation – whatever they tell you about religion or purity. I can’t tell you how angry I feel, how furious it makes me.”

I could’ve said that. I will say that. Every day I still struggle to understand why this has happened to me – this cruel and terrible thing for which there is no reason or explanation – whatever they tell you about religion or purity. I can’t tell you how angry I feel, how furious it makes me.

I am not minimizing what happened to Ms. Dirie or any other victim of FGM, although I know some will read it that way. I do not care. Forced genital cutting without medical indication is barbaric and unacceptable. The violation and horrific injustice is not unique to females just because the damage is more significant.

Male genital mutilation is a problem affecting men (and women). The matter is not long settled, except that it continues without restriction. Most men are fine with that. Many women, too. They are all mistaken, whether or not the genitals being cut belong to a girl or a boy. I will never consider a societally-dependent gender bias before I consider the act of genital mutilation itself. The latter is wrong, so the former is irrelevant.


In a related story, read this quote by a nurse from Nigeria, a victim of female genital mutilation. She disapproves of FGM, but her quote is useful (from this article):

You see, there are times that I want to agree with the people that are advocating for female circumcision. By virtue of my profession, I have been opportuned to see the vagina of a lot of women, and I must confess that some of them can be very ugly. Some of them are so big and long, as if competing with the men’s penises. Sometimes it is the labia that looks funny. Some even come with colours different from that of their body part. For some women, there is nothing that can be done to it, it cannot close up. Once she unfolds her legs, that is it. The thing will just be open like that. Like a big sore between the thighs. But just as you have the ugly ones, so you have the beautiful ones. Someone once told me that a beautiful woman will definitely have a beautiful vagina. So, once you see a beautiful woman, be sure that her vagina will look beautiful too. Maybe it is because of this ugliness that they actually started circumcising women. One can never tell.

It is not because of that ugliness, but the thought process is informative. In greater detail, this analysis mirrors a common theme found in deciding to circumcise male infants. The natural genitals are ugly, so it is society’s duty to eradicate this problem, to “fix” them. Presumably the child will not do so if given the choice, even though it allegedly means he’ll be resigned to a sex life that does not involve another person. So we must do it for him or her. Of all the possible opinions, only the child’s opinion is irrelevant.

That is no way to make a medical decision for any child.