Will medicine conspire with technology?

A writer at PC Magazine offers a circumcision analogy to discuss the possibility of implanting RFID chips into children.

I have two children, a boy and a girl. When my son was born 12 years ago, the obstetrician asked within hours of his birth if I wanted to have him circumcised. This is a common practice for boys, so I didn’t hesitate to say yes. Of course, it is a medical procedure, and in hindsight, I wish I’d thought about it for more than 35 seconds.

I wonder if his son will wish he’d thought about it more.

Now imagine a world where the doctor had, instead, asked me if I wanted my son “chipped.” Here’s how that conversation might have gone:

Doctor: “Mr. Ulanoff, it’s a simple and virtually painless procedure.”

Me: “You mean there’s no cutting? No blood?”

Doctor: “Well, no. There is cutting and blood, but it’s a small incision and there’s very little blood.”

Cutting and blood. Nothing major, per the usual nonsense. It could happen.

Have we reached the point where ethics might step in yet, regardless of the potential benefits the parent is trying to achieve for the boy? Does the boy’s desire – or lack of desire – not matter if the boy could have GPS, a unique identifier, and his credit information stored under his skin? Cool isn’t a compelling justification.

A hint of suspicion from the author starts sneaking through with mention of Department of Homeland [sic] Security near the end. Then this:

Me: “But, Doc, he can have it removed at any time, right?”

It’s a shame this can be so obvious in one situation but so ignored in another.

Doctor: “Yes, but I wouldn’t recommend it. It’s not easily removed, and the scar might be larger than you or he really want.”

About that scar and what he wants…

Doctor: “Uh, yes, Mr. Ulanoff, but let’s remember that this is about your son. I need your permission. Keep in mind that 35 percent of today’s children get the implant and most before the age of 2.”

Your decision about his body? Check. “Most” people are having it done? Check. Before the child can object While the child is young enough to forget the procedure? Check.

I can see the scenario where implanting RFID chips into children takes a similar path to acceptance as male circumcision. I’d obviously be against it, since children aren’t property and implanting an RFID chip can hardly be considered a medical necessity. There are also identifiable, easily imagined concerns about privacy and government, especially given our current national opinion that if you haven’t done anything wrong, you don’t have anything to hide.


It was bound to happen. In the forums, this:

And, I can assure you that the circumcision at 0 years is better than one at 24 years due to yucky things.

That’s why the path to acceptance of such lunacy with RFID chips is easy to see. “I know better than you what you need” is an irrational flaw embraced present in too many.

The difference between “can’t” and “won’t”.

Like every vegan, I’ve encountered the “I couldn’t live like that” response, as in this story from Ryan at VegBlog. Explain veganism to someone and it’s always “I couldn’t”, usually followed by rambling about deprivation (and protein). Ryan has the right take on this:

… You say “I couldn’t live like that!” to someone who’s living in squalor with cat feces piled on top of decade-old newspapers. You don’t say it to someone who simply chooses not to consume animal products (including cat feces piled on top of decade-old newspapers).

Veganism isn’t about deprivation. It’s not about sacrifice. …

I choose to be a vegan because I’ve weighed the factors to the best of my intellect and determined that it’s right for me. I’ve chosen a specific path. I have not denied myself anything.

Contrary to popular disbelief, I do not crave meat. (Nope, not even steak hamburger beef.) I don’t secretly sneak off to McDonald’s for a Big Mac/fish sandwich/chicken nuggets combo, with a milkshake chaser. And I don’t feel like my life is lacking anything.

It’s hard to believe that I could have a different opinion and act on it, but I do.

P.S. You aren’t the first person to offer me “just one little bite” of your steak when we’re at a restaurant. It wasn’t funny the first time it happened. It gets less funny every time. But thanks.

Providing me something I want exploits me.

The FTC decided that no “price-gouging” occurred last year when the price of gasoline rose to $3-per-gallon. That’s the right answer, since “price-gouging” is a nonsensical concept rooted in politics rather than economics. But one member of the 5-member commission voted that “price-gouging” occurred.

The one dissenting commissioner, Jon Leibowitz, suggested that the commission had started with an answer and then found a way to justify it. He said the FTC had found “some plausible justifications for the unexpected and dramatic price spikes that bedeviled consumers in the Spring and Summer of 2006.”

“The question you ask, determines the answer you get: whatever theoretical justifications exist don’t exclude the real world threat that there was profiteering at the expense of consumers,” Leibowitz wrote.

Commissioner Leibowitz should be fired immediately for incompetence. Name one business that doesn’t profiteer at the expense of consumers and I’ll name a business that has or will soon fail.

Commissioner Leibowitz seems to believe that there is a correct level of profit that must not be exceeded. Why? If customers don’t like the price, with its assumed profit built in, they may refrain from buying the product. If a sufficient number of customers value their money more than the product (a gallon of gasoline), the price will fall to encourage more sales. Absent that quorum of uninterested customers, their subjective preferences were overruled by other subjective preferences.

Style over substance is not integrity.

Speaking of dress codes:

During the second inning of Wednesday night’s 4-3 loss to the New York Yankees, Francona was called out of the dugout so an MLB security official could make sure he was wearing his uniform top under his usual Boston pullover jacket.

“When Derek Jeter is on second base and I got somebody coming from the league making me go down the runway, I was a little perturbed,” Francona said Thursday.

“That was about as embarrassed as I’ve been in a long time, for baseball.”

The rule requiring managers to wear a uniform is rather silly to begin with, since baseball is the only sport to do so. But it’s traditional and most seem to like it. As a fan, I’m perfectly with managers wearing whatever they want. If a manager today wants to wear a suit like Connie Mack used to do, let him. Simply prohibit anyone (other than the trainer) from the field if he isn’t dressed in a uniform. The manager can then decide how important those mound visits are to him.

But I’ll concede for the rest of this entry that managers should wear uniforms. Does it make sense to pull a manager out of the dugout during an inning? During the game is bad enough, they couldn’t wait until the game was between half-innings? That’s a farce.

“I’m not talking about that, and I’m disappointed that they talked about it. And there will be something said about that,” [MLB vice president Bob] Watson said. “That’s in house.”

When a policy is built on secrecy, someone in management should question the validity of that policy. But Bud Selig is running the show, so I’m not surprised. He must be out of local governments to shake down for a new stadium, so this is how his idle mind fills the time while it’s completely uninterested in the integrity of the game.

Update: Baseball states that “timing was an issue“. No kidding.

Equal Opportunity Pandering

I think lingering on identity politics is bad news for any sort of legitimate and effective approach to leadership. It should be irrelevant whether or not a voter is male, female, black, white, and so forth. I’d much rather politicians focus on a coherent agenda based on principles of limited government and equal, guaranteed rights. But every one of them seems incapable, so in the world we live in, I mostly agree with this editorial from today’s Opinion Journal discussing how Democrats actively court female voters while Republicans don’t explicitly do so.

The rest of the female population has migrated into 2007. Undoubtedly quite a few do care about abortion rights and the Violence Against Women Act. But for the 60% of women who today both scramble after a child and hold a job, these culture-war touchpoints aren’t their top voting priority. Their biggest concerns, not surprisingly, hew closely to those of their male counterparts: the war in Iraq, health care, the economy. But following close behind are issues that are more unique to working women and mothers. Therein rests the GOP opportunity.

The “close behind” issues involve a better way to look at traditional topics. The author’s primary example is the tax impact of income for single versus married women. Like I said, I mostly agree, because at least it’s a step away from past thinking.

Still, the essay annoys me because it assumes an unrealistic fact about today’s Republicans.

For that matter, when was the last time a GOP candidate pointed out that their own free-market policies could help alleviate this problem?

Name one Republican candidate who’s interested in free-market policies. The author only implies economic, of course. The current Republicans fail even that narrow test, but I’m not going to accept such a limited view. Free-market policies involve liberty. Politicians do not get free-market credentials for proposing one policy on a platform that pays limited respect to such liberty. Free is free, not a degree of free.

There’s a bonus in the essay – unintended by the author – that underscores the hypocrisy politicians show in shunning restraints for themselves while restricting liberty for everyone else. Especially Even Republicans.

Republicans should customize their low-tax message to explain how they directly put more money into female pockets.

I’m naming the “Republicans put more money into female pockets” meme the David Vitter Plan.

Don’t get me started on neckties.

I hate dress codes. In almost every instance, it’s merely a tool designed to control people because someone in charge doesn’t trust people to have any common sense. I do not believe that people will dress perfectly without a dress code, but shouldn’t an employer want to know who doesn’t understand what’s appropriate and when? The dress code serves to mask an underlying problem until it can come out in a more damaging way.

So I read this story with that in mind:

Trips to the dry cleaner and mini shopping sprees at stores like Brooks Brothers are just some of the tasks awaiting undergraduate marketing students at Illinois State University’s College of Business this school year. Starting Aug. 27, all students taking classes in the marketing department are required to adhere to a strict business casual code, one that requires them to come to class in items such as pressed polo shirts, pants with finished seams, and dress heels. Students tested out the policy during a grace period last week.

[Marketing professor Linda] Showers and other faculty drew up the “Business Casual Professional Dress Code” requirements last winter, sending out a memo to students this summer with details on the code, along with the school’s rationale for the move. Included in the memo were detailed guidelines that cautioned students against wearing dresses or skirts “shorter than four inches above the knee,” and prohibited them from wearing cargo pants, jeans, and sweatpants, among other items. “Clothing that works well for the beach, yard work, dance clubs, exercise sessions, and sports contests are not appropriate for a professional appearance,” the memo reads. Hats are also not permitted, though allowances are made for students who need to wear head covering for religious or cultural reasons.

If students don’t adhere to the dress code, they get a zero for the day and are asked to leave the classroom. The faculty member that implements the punishment is required to talk with the student about why the outfit is inappropriate for the classroom.

College “kids” are almost never kids. Clearly Illinois State is content with the nanny-state mentality that someone in administration must give orders for fear of chaos breaking out. Without this, clearly these “kids” would show up to class sans clothing. This policy doesn’t even show respect for the faculty members, since they must act as glorified babysitters.

If I attended a school that did this, I’d deal with it in two specific ways. First, I would take no marketing classes this fall. Second, I’d transfer at the end of the semester.

The first part is not true, actually. I’d take a marketing class or four. I’d show up in casual dress every single class. The professor would ask me to leave. I’d make a scene. I’d leave. And I’d drop all marketing classes on the last day to drop without penalty.

College is a time to learn, preferably to think. If students can’t figure out for themselves that there are different expectations for different situations without being forced to conform, the college is not doing its job, either in the admissions office or the classroom.

Selective Consideration

The Centers for Disease Control addresses the issue of the United States in its factsheet on male circumcision and HIV:

There are a number of important differences that must be considered in the possible role of male circumcision in HIV prevention in the U.S. Notably, the overall risk of HIV infection is considerably lower in the United States, changing risk-benefit and cost-effectiveness considerations.

You don’t say? So why is it that this is most often buried in the bottom of news stories, in those cases where it does appear? If an article is skewed to a population, it should not use the context of another population to make its point. The case of male circumcision and HIV in America does exactly that.


Also, studies to date have focused on heterosexual, penile-vaginal sex, the predominant mode of HIV transmission in Africa, while the predominant mode of sexual HIV transmission in the United States is by penile-anal sex among MSM.

Ditto what I said above.

In addition, while the prevalence of circumcision may be somewhat lower in racial and ethnic groups with higher rates of HIV infection, most Americans are already circumcised, …

There’s an important bit coming up, so I’m going to briefly digress here. First, a sic surely needs to be inserted in the statement I’ve bolded. “Most Americans” are not circumcised. Most male Americans are circumcised. That’s a huge difference in this nation of equal rights. It’s telling that the CDC omits such a key word that would lead any honest person to question whether routine infant male circumcision and federal prohibitions against any non-medical genital cutting on females should co-exist.

Second, would it not makes sense to study the impact that near-universal infant male circumcision throughout the latter half of the 20th century had in reducing the transmission of HIV in America? I will concede that such a study is probably impossible. But addressing the question with at least a reasonable theory and supporting assumptions is not. That it’s missing is also telling.

Returning mid-sentence:

… and it is not known if men at higher risk for HIV infection would be willing to be circumcised, …

Aren’t most (male) Americans circumcised? Clearly there’s that disconnect in this argument, leading back to my last request of appropriate studies. But the largest point in all of this rests specifically with the acknowledged concession that men at higher risk of any risk would be willing to be circumcised. Consider that with the remaining piece of the sentence:

nor if parents would be willing to have their infants circumcised to reduce possible future HIV infection risk.

Most (male) Americans are circumcised, so parents have clearly shown their willingness to have their infants circumcised. Most of those were for far stupider reasons than potential future benefits. I’m willing to bet that parents who circumcise their son so that he’ll look like daddy are more than willing to have him cut in the face of even the most irrational medical hysteria.

We understand that a man could choose not to be circumcised, even if it might, just maybe, someday save him from his minute risk of becoming HIV+ through insertive vaginal sex with an HIV+ female. Or that parents might not agree to circumcise. Yet, the two thoughts never form enough of a logical tag-team to combat the irrational-but-accepted notion that an infant isn’t an independent person who might object to medically unnecessary, invasive genital cutting? Ridiculous. It’s is rational, and correct, to presume that a male would not want part of his genitals cut away to provide a non-guaranteed protection he probably won’t need and can achieve with methods other than surgery.

Lastly, whether the effect of male circumcision differs by HIV-1 subtype, predominately subtype B in the U.S. and subtypes A, C, and D in Africa, is also unknown.

That seems like it might matter, no? Ditto my earlier statement on skewing to a population based on the context of another population.

If you favor male circumcision as a means of reducing HIV risk, fine. Advocate your case to adult males and allow them to determine for themselves, based on their own situation. But leave infants males out of it. Including them in any advocacy shows a lack of intellectual depth and fairness. Infant males are neither sexually active nor capable of consenting to a medically unnecessary genital surgery.

Until I live in your house, I’m not responsible for your mortgage.

I, like you, am going to be at least indirectly hit by the current “liquidity crisis” mortgage bubble, even though I had enough sense to contract for a fixed-rate mortgage when I bought my house. (The wisdom of buying when I did, on the other hand…) That’s just the cumulative reality of living in a capitalist system. Some people will make stupid, avoidable mistakes, but the overall economy can absorb it and survive. Scott Adams talked about this wonderful reality of capitalism today:

This story made me think about one of the great wonders of capitalism: It is driven by morons who are circling the drain, and yet. . . it works!


I’d planned to write up this short-sighted essay that calls for a bail-out of homeowners.

The ultimate solution must not emanate from the Fed but from the White House. Fiscal, not monetary, policy should be the preferred remedy. In the early 1990s the government absorbed the bad debts of the failing savings and loan industry. Why is it possible to rescue corrupt S&L buccaneers yet 2 million homeowners must be thrown to the wolves today? If we can bail out Chrysler, why can’t we support American homeowners?

That’s nonsense, of course. Kip beat me to it and said everything necessary. Particularly, this:

…(Again, and this is important: The spike in foreclosures is not Mr. & Mrs. Bluecollar being kicked out of their single-family home; it’s Mrs. & Mr. Infomercial failing to flip their 20 “no money down” speculative properties. That’s one investor, twenty foreclosures, zero homelessness.)

If there are anecdotal cases of institutions engaging in false advertising, deceptive accounting, manipulating the legally incompetent, then fine — pursue them with the full force of the law. But the mere fact that many otherwise competent people, including financial professionals, happened to make very bad decisions is no claim check on the Fed, Congress, or taxpayers’ wallets.

Issuing that claim check would indeed induce an eventual moral hazard, even though “there’s never been a problem in terms of national housing price [sic] bubbles until recently”. If we assume that this price mortgage bubble is a one-off and won’t happen again, the pattern still exists for bailing individuals out of their mistakes. In the essay, we’re supposed to understand that such rescues work, thanks to the examples of Chrysler and the S&L mess. (The author doesn’t mention deposit insurance. Quite disappointing.) Yet, the presence of that pattern doesn’t constitute an incentive to behave badly? Really?

The government should not bail out people who made bad choices just because they made bad choices. Leave individuals and businesses to experience the consequences (and successes) of their actions when the consequences are merit-based. (Luck, in this context, is merit-based.) That’s the only way to build discipline in financial transactions. Intervention only negates the need to develop those skills.

It’s just a flap of maxillary rhamphotheca.

In researching today’s entry on animal rights and “happy meat”, I stumbled on this fact sheet (pdf) from Certified Humane. It explains Certified Humane’s position on trimming the beaks of laying hens.

Early studies showed that hens that were beak-trimmed at 12-16 weeks of age experienced chronic pain after trimming. However, in 1997 Dr. M.J. Gentle of the Roslin Institute in Edinburgh, UK, conducted research that showed that, although chicks beak-trimmed before 10 days of age may experience short-term pain, they do not experience the longterm pain that was associated with trimming chicks at ages older than 10 days.

Our standards require that, if chicks are to be trimmed, the trimming must occur at 10 days of age or younger. …

The comparison to circumcision is not perfect, of course, but the basic mindset is quite similar. If we can do it so they don’t remember it, the common belief is that any remaining ethical questions¹ simply disappear. That’s too easy because it’s one-sided and rigged to reach a predefined conclusion.

To be fair, this is the opening paragraph of the fact sheet:

HFAC allows minimal beak trimming in order to avoid heavy feather pecking and cannibalism among laying hen flocks. Feather pecking can occur in flocks of any size, and in any production system. Cannibalism is more common in large flocks (flocks of over 60-120 birds) but can also occur in flocks of any size. Cannibalism is more common in non-cage than cage systems.

Animals act in weird, barbaric ways. I wouldn’t attempt to pretend that nature is pretty or idyllic. But when assessing something like beak trimming, we’re supposed to look at cannibalism within flocks. Production system is the wizard behind the curtain we’re supposed to ignore. Why is that?

Fitting anatomy to the system becomes the goal, not fitting the system to anatomy. In that respect, it’s exactly like routine infant circumcision.

¹ For example (pdf):

The ability of beak-trimmed and intact laying hens to ingest feed pellets was examined by highspeed video filming of feeding birds. The birds were exposed to either a deep layer of pellets or a single layer of pellets. In the single layer treatment, there was a negative correlation between mandible asymmetry and feeding success. These data have important implications for poultry welfare, since the degree of bill asymmetry caused by beak trimming may, under certain circumstances, result in inadvertent feed deprivation.

Is adequate feeding relevant to humane treatment?

Tastes Great — Less Killing

There’s an animal rights discussion raging at Megan McArdle’s new digs at The Atlantic. The background is too detailed, and probably too boring to those not interested in the topic, to rehash. However, this statement from Ms. McArdle in response to earlier arguments offers an excellent glimpse at a common fallacy among omnivores.

But I’m still battling with the question of whether animals should have rights. I’m a utility maximizer for animals: I think that eating certified humane meat is a positive moral good, because it causes the creation of additional happy animals (insofar as animals can be understood to be happy). …

There’s a term within the animal rights movement that better explains the ridiculous notion of humane meat. It’s “happy meat”, as in, as long as I believe the animal lived a content life on a farm with ample room to move around and received proper handling and medical treatment, contributing to that animal’s eventual, gruesome death becomes trivial. That’s too simplistic.

The argument is not specifically that animals are treated horribly, making “humane” treatment hunky-dory. Basic laws should cover cruelty, regardless of whether it’s food production or dogfighting. Animals have an identifiable central nervous system. It’s rational to assume that they feel pain. How they process that, we can’t really know, but assumptions and observation indicate that their response differs little from that of humans. Hence, we have a reasonable starting point for laws prohibiting animal cruelty, even in a libertarian model.

The argument rests with the death of an animal. From Certified Humane:

Under the system, growth hormones are prohibited, and animals are raised on a regular diet of quality feed free of antibiotics. Producers also must comply with local, state and federal environmental standards. Processors must comply with the American Meat Institute Standards, a higher standard for slaughtering farm animals than the Federal Humane Slaughter Act.

The American Meat Institute’s recommended animal handling guidelines include this:

AMIF’s audit guidelines recommend that companies conduct both internal (self-audits) and third party audits using the following criteria:

Effective Stunning – Cattle and sheep should be rendered insensible with one shot at least 95 percent of the time. For pigs, electrical wands should be placed in the proper position at least 99 percent of the time. For gas stunned pigs, no more than 4 percent of gondolas may be overloaded.

Hot Wanding (Pigs only) – No more than one percent of pigs should vocalize due to hot wanding. Hot wanding is defined as the application of electrodes that are already energized.

It continues further, although it doesn’t get better. There is an acceptable level of inhumane slaughter within the “humane” standards. We needn’t worry about a potential 5% of cattle who are not effectively stunned on the first shot, making them insensible and unaware of what’s happening to them? I don’t accept that.

The certified humane label is merely a feel-good tool for omnivores. I’m not saying that’s enough to outlaw meat. The argument is more detailed than that, and can’t be summed up in one quick dismissal of non-vegans. I’m even willing to accept that “humane” meat is a positive moral good, as Ms. McArdle claims. The basic welfarist argument that a life ended (barbarically) after being spent not in complete agony is better than a life ended (barbarically) after being spent in complete agony is valid. But that positive gain is neither deep enough nor compelling to solve the full issue (animal death) or to ignore the blatant contradictions in animal cruelty laws that do seem to center more on a “fluffy/cute” test than any sort of principle.