Still Ignoring the Key Fact

Reports like this always rely on a belief that the eureka moment can be whatever we want it to be.

A study in Uganda has come up with a surprising finding about sex and H.I.V. Washing the penis minutes after sex increased the risk of acquiring H.I.V. in uncircumcised men.

Men who washed within three minutes had a 2.3 percent risk of H.I.V. infection compared with 0.4 percent among those who delayed washing for 10 or more minutes. The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases paid for the study.

Is it so hard to point out that this only matters for men who have unprotected sex with HIV+ female partners? What is the statistical context¹ for an intelligent comparison of 2.3% versus 0.4%?

Lacking what every news item over the last two years has lacked, the foreskin, by itself, is not the problem. Behavior matters. HIV is not going to miraculously jump onto his penis and infect him if he hasn’t picked it up already. Don’t have unprotected sex with HIV+ partners. It’s not complicated. A male will need neither surgery nor stopwatch to stay healthy if he follows that simple, time-tested strategy.

¹ I suppose we’re to assume the authors of the study controlled for the incidence of intact men engaging in unprotected sex with HIV+ female partners.

Because of a slip-up, the researchers did not ask details of how the cleansing was done or directly about using soap, said Dr. Ronald H. Gray, a co-author from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Some soaps used in Africa are more irritating than those used elsewhere.

Small detail, that. But I’m sure everything else can be trusted to adhere to rigorous standards and should be presumed correct.

Equality means equal? As in the same?

Finally, a government official who is intellectually able to understand a most basic idea of equality:

Tasmania’s Children’s Commissioner, Paul Mason, wants the State Government to ban the non-medical circumcision of young boys.

Female genital mutilation is illegal in Tasmania.

Mr Mason said it’s unfair that boys aren’t given the same protection.

“We’re discriminating against the little baby boys themselves, because they’re not safe whereas the little girls are,” he said.

He said circumcision is an abuse of human rights and should be outlawed until the person is old enough to decide for themselves.

“It’s a permanent procedure, they get no choice.”

I don’t have anything to add that I haven’t already said. Bravo to Mr. Mason.

A spokesman says the Government is not currently considering laws in relation to the issue.

I’d be angrier than I am angry if I was shocked.

Government-approved degrees, for free!

Via Hit & Run comes the news of a proposal from Sen. Max Baucus, a classic example of government’s perpetual ability to ignore incentives and consequences:

Montana Senator Max Baucus says he wants free college tuition to be offered for students majoring in math and science.

The Democrat says he plans to introduce legislation in the coming months that would give full scholarships to high school graduates majoring in math, engineering, sciences or technology.

Naturally, Sen. Baucus proposes this because the U.S. needs to be more competitive with students around the world. No doubt he has an idea of the perfect mix of math and science to non-math and science college degrees in the U.S. Central planners always do, since who could be silly enough to rely on something as outdated and obscure as salary to be an indicator of what’s in demand and what’s not. No, it’s much better to trust Congress. That way, everyone can be a rich scientist.

Sen. Baucus does have one hitch in his plan to prevent gaming the system for a free education. Students would have to “to work or teach in a related field for at least four years after graduation.” That should suffice to weed out the undesirables who want to use the system for personal gain. They’ll clearly just give of themselves for the greater good instead of getting a degree in math or science, working four years at a job they may or may not like, and then retreating to graduate school to retool with four years of salary and no debt. But the incentive to do that once they have a government-funded love of technology instilled in them is too low to contemplate.

And I bet no one would think to get a dual degree in science and . The extra classes would still be on the taxpayer dime since most schools don’t charge for extra classes beyond a certain threshold per term. But that would be absurd. No, we can expect the best and brightest to finally shake off their aversion to intellectually stimulating fields and choose to go into the already highest-paying fields because the benevolent government would now deem them worthy.

What’s next, federal athletic scholarships for American high school athletes to enable us to better compete against foreigners? It’s not right that our professional leagues are being taken over by kids from the Dominican Republic and David Beckham.

The “do anything, as long as it’s something” mentality of politicians never ceases to make my brain hurt.

P.S. There is a stipulation in the funding based on merit, right? One not already met by merit scholarships provided by universities and private charities?

I retract my praise of the Bush Administration.

Remember back to October when I wrote about this story:

In its statement, USAID said the funding “should not have occurred, and there will be no further circumcisions performed with U.S. Government funds until the PEPFAR Scientific Steering Committee reviews data from ongoing clinical trials and considers any recommendations on male circumcision from the normative international Agencies.” PEPFAR is the Bush anti-AIDS program.

I guess the “results” are in. Were they even in doubt?

President Bush’s $15 billion anti-AIDS program will begin investing [SIC!] significant money in making circumcision available to African men seeking to protect themselves from HIV, top U.S. health officials said Sunday.

Recent research showing that circumcision dramatically cuts the rate of HIV infection is highly convincing [ed. note: <sarcasm>I’m shocked.</sarcasm>], a delegation of U.S. officials, led by Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt, told reporters in Johannesburg.

Countries taking part in the President’s Emergency Program For AIDS Relief have been invited to seek money to expand access to the procedure.

If you want to know how carefully our $15,000,000,000 will be spent, guess:

Circumcision funding would be small at first, with budgets in the hundreds of thousands of dollars for individual countries. But it is likely to grow to be “an important part” of the program in coming months and years, said Kent R. Hill, an assistant administrator for the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Small at first, but likely to grow in the coming months. Surely we’ll have a definitive answer by then.

The cells in the foreskin of a penis are especially vulnerable [ed. note: Are we sure?] to HIV, and removing the foreskin makes a man about 60 percent less likely to contract the virus, studies in South Africa, Kenya and Uganda have shown. The research reinforces studies showing that regions with high circumcision rates generally have lower rates of HIV.

About those regions… “Generally” isn’t enough, unless you’re world health experts or the United States government. Then definitive proof isn’t necessary, nor is the obvious point that $15,000,000,000 buys a lot of condoms, which have a definitive, significantly higher success rate at preventing HIV, pregnancy, and other STDs than male circumcision’s “about 60%”. I’m sure the Bush administration is waiting for “broad international consensus” on the issue of condoms and their effectiveness.

As I said in October:

I’m not sure where funding AIDS prevention in Africa falls within the Constitutional responsibilities granted to the United States government, but that’s not my issue.

Today, it’s my issue. Where is funding AIDS prevention circumcision in Africa noted within the Constitution? Which article grants that power? All of the immoral actions of our government weren’t enough, so we had to have this? Really?

Of course, what could possibly go wrong with government handling HIV/AIDS policy? I’m sure our $15,000,000,000 will be spent wisely. It sure will buy a lot of garlic, beetroot, lemons and African potatoes.

Unfortunately, this is also support for another belief of mine. There is a push within the anti-circumcision movement to promote a single-payer health care system in the United States because it would presumably require the bureaucrats to stop funding unnecessary surgeries to fund necessary medical care. This will not work because our politicians are short-sighted. They make decisions for political gain. As long as there is a desire by parents to hack away parts of their sons and an ignorant denial of science and ethics acceptance that this is okay, infant circumcision will continue in America. It doesn’t matter if it’s funded by insurance, government, or parents. It will continue. Just because rationing decisions must be made does not mean that rational decisions will be made.

The worst part of this is easy to predict. This money will be used to fund infant circumcisions, regardless of what the parties involved are now claiming. That’s just the inevitable line of (non-)thinking from public health officials. If it wasn’t, we wouldn’t have seen the push for infant circumcision six days after the latest findings on voluntary, adult circumcision were released in December. Voluntary and adult always get lost. Always.

I know I just ripped Glenn Reynolds…

… but allow me to imitate him for a moment. Megan McArdle says:

As a class, the old and sick are already luckier than the young and healthy. Again, for individuals within that class–those with desperate congenital conditions, for example–this is not the case. But I’m not sure it’s terribly compelling to argue that we should massively disadvantage a large group of people in order to massively advantage another, equally large group of people, all to help out the few who are needy, or deserving, or unlucky.

I agree. Read the whole thing.

His clarification shifts him from stupidity to ignorance.

To “libertarians” like Glenn Reynolds, nonsense like this is federalism:

In an interview with CNN today, former Senator Fred Thompson’s position on constitutional amendments concerning gay marriage was unclear.

Thompson believes that states should be able to adopt their own laws on marriage consistent with the views of their citizens.

He does not believe that one state should be able to impose its marriage laws on other states, or that activist judges should construe the constitution to require that.

If necessary, he would support a constitutional amendment prohibiting states from imposing their laws on marriage on other states.

Fred Thompson does not support a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. [ed. note: I’ve added the strike-through on this line about Fred Thompson’s position. See the comments for an explanation.]

Aside from the typical blather about “activist judges”, is there a better indication that the new “federalists” are more concerned with permitting their own agenda than with Constitutional rights. Marriage belongs at the state level. Marriage equality belongs at the federal level.

It’s okay for one state to declare that individuals can marry at 16 and another state to declare that individuals can only marry once they turn 18. It’s okay for one state to mandate that a six-month separation must precede divorce and another state to permit immediate divorce with consent from both parties. That’s federalism.

It is not okay for any state to say that females can marry at 16 while males can only marry once they turn 18. That is discrimination, not federalism. State laws must still adhere to protections guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.

The new “federalists” want you to believe otherwise. They want everyone to believe that marriage is a shared right rather than an individual right exercised by two people. They’re okay with discrimination, as long as it’s their preferred discrimination. That can’t be achieved with federalism, so they must push “federalism”. They must redefine it into an empty, meaningless concept, lest their fraud be dismissed.

More thoughts from John Cole.


Is there a more ridiculous presidential candidate flirter than Fred Thompson? Further demonstrating his idiocy:

On the issue of Iraq, Thompson refused to provide a timeline for how much longer US forces would remain in the country under his administration, but said, “We need to make every effort to make sure that we don’t get run out of there with our tail between our legs before we’ve done the job of securing that place.”

Asked about critics who call him “too lazy” to put in the long hours necessary to run for president, Thompson said: “If I have critics in Washington it’s not going to come as a surprise to me. I’ll have more by the end of this campaign,” adding, “The proof’s in the pudding. I think that’s curable.”

I’m sure these sound bytes were quite folksy in Thompson’s southern drawl, but our president should be a leader, not a guy who can unfurl a meaningless cliché to avoid answering a question.

Thus always with socialists?

A few days ago, Andrew Sullivan linked to a story about (now deceased) English broadcaster Tony Wilson with this quote:

“I’ve never paid for private healthcare because I’m a socialist. Now I find you can get tummy tucks and cosmetic surgery on the NHS but not the drugs I need to stay alive. It is a scandal,” – socialized medicine patient Tony Wilson

The title of this entry doesn’t refer to any sense of hypocrisy. Mr. Wilson’s friends chipped in to pay for a five-month’s supply of the medicine he needed, so I’ll accept that he was stuck on his socialist beliefs. But I am not surprised at the irrational disbelief and outrage at finding out that socialism doesn’t work. It probably is a scandal that the NHS will pay for something unnecessary while rationing away from something necessary. But again, this isn’t a surprise.

In socialism, rationing decisions will be made by bureaucrats. Bureaucrats can’t know, and almost by definition don’t care, about individual needs or desires. Their job is to manage with limited resources, so they will make the tough decisions. There is some balance of uninformed and political involved, but neither should be reassuring or viewed as a path to competent choices. Success is percentages and luck, not merit.

As such, I’m fascinated by this mixed-up e-mail sent to Andrew Sullivan by a reader:

Every healthcare system, public or private, must choose which care to provide and the cost versus efficacy arguments must be weighed carefully. It is always bad to base public policy on a single anecdote and we certainly should not be denying people Sutent solely because someone taking it died within the month. It is telling, however, that you used this story to bash the NHS for being conservative with other people’s money – rather than bash the drug company for refusing to sell its product at a price the customer is willing to pay.

The first statement I’ve bolded is misleading if you don’t dissect it properly. Of course difficult rationing decisions must be made. This is true of any good or service with a finite supply. The correct analysis is who does the choosing. In public health care, it’s the government, with a preference for your opinion only if you’re politically connected or important. In private health care, the individual makes the decision.

The second bolded statement demonstrates what advocates for socialized medicine claim is the fatal flaw of the free market. We must bash the drug company because it didn’t sell at whatever cost the customer is willing/able to pay. No. Life has costs and no party should be expected or forced to offer something in a way that doesn’t meet its preferred terms. The result can be viewed as heartless, but coerced compassion is merely coercion, not compassion.

It would be better to run with this quote from Mr. Wilson:

“I used to say some people make money and some make history – which is very funny until you find you can’t afford to keep yourself alive.

Decisions have consequences. Socialists are just as capable of making “bad” decisions as capitalists. It’s a tragedy when anyone can’t afford to keep himself alive. I am not advocating heartlessness. I do not believe that a free market system should or would allow poor patients to die. I’m just saying it’s more effective to raise standards for everyone rather than setting a maximum standard so that everyone can be covered minimally on the public dime.

It is not reckless or immoral to earn wealth. Mr. Wilson apparently contributed much to his industry, but eschewed personal financial gain for his efforts. I wouldn’t make that choice, but it’s not my place to force him to earn wealth. But wealth isn’t a zero-sum game. It doesn’t have to be finite, to be stolen and shared.

To me, there is no greater achievement than when a man can take care of himself. I accept that someone can disagree. Everyone is free to pursue a goal of voluntary collective responsibility and support. But don’t try to force me to join you. If your economic idea can’t survive without force, it’s immoral.

This can’t be right.

From a story about a teen bride and her 40-year-old husband suing to get a few of her belongings back from her parents, I found this statement from the attorney for the teen’s parents a bit odd:

[Robert] Tatum said case law establishes that a minor’s property and earnings belong to the minor’s parents if obtained before emancipation. That was the case with Windy, since she was given all her gifts before getting married, he said.

That can’t be the case law. Can it? I have no idea, and I’m sure the specifics refer to North Carolina where the case is located. But that’s just bizarre to me.

I’ve said that permitting parents to force circumcision on their infant sons is tantamount to treating the child’s body like property. It’s easy to understand that a minor’s earnings are more nuanced than his physical body. Still, how can this be seen as anything other than treating children like productive assets for the parents?

Link via To the People.

UPDATE: Point #2 in Kip’s comment is the key. Mr. Tatum spoke in terms too general for the lay person. In the proper context of understanding the law, I have no problem with such precedent. As I suspected but left unclear, the nuanced part of the case law is the key. It wins here.

It’s August. Prep-work for the heartbreak must occur.

It’s that time of year again. Summer is winding down. The last whiffs of meat charring on barbecue grills are in the air. Temperatures are making a final push higher before their looming decline into autumn. School buses are getting waxed and refueled. The Phillies are making a push for the post-season.

For the better part of the last seven years, the Phillies have followed the same routine. Slump horribly in April. Play en fuego throughout May. Swoon rhymes with June for a reason. July brings an improbable hint of life. The last few sputters in the playoff engine burn out in the first days of August as the team pulls itself back into contention. Playoff optimism fever strikes the Phandom. And at some point, this always happens:

Despite every persistent, justified note of pessimism, the Phillies have a chance. The road to the playoffs is clear, lit up like Clark Griswold’s house at Christmas. Phans begin scanning travel websites to figure out the myriad of possibilities for traveling to the World Series League Championship Series Divisional playoffs. Optimism is the only rule of the day.

Yet, somewhere in the back of every phan’s mind, he or she knows. We’ve been here before. This time isn’t going to be different. The collection of tickets to playoff games that never happened litter the hidden memorabilia box in the closet, tucked into the original envelope because they’re too painful to look at every day. The hot streaks will come to a close somewhere in September. The details of the script aren’t set, although we can’t shake the feeling that our nation’s capital is now the swamp where Philadelphia’s October dreams go to die. How will it happen this year? That’s all we can think about.

And yet, this year is no different. We want to believe, so we let ourselves believe. We allow a brief glimpse of “what if this year is different?” slip through the cracks of our mental barricades. Maybe, we think, we’ll be able to look back on this team the way we look back at 1993. That team shouldn’t have succeeded the way it did. Even with the almost fulfillment of the goal that year, that was our team. “They” became “we”. We almost won it all. We could taste it. It was ours. We love those guys. We want these guys to mean as much to us as those guys. We wonder if it can happen again.

Like every other phan who’s checking scores from around the league every day to see how the Phightin’s are holding up for October, we know how this will end, except we allow ourselves to get suckered sucked in once again. We’re along for the ride, even when we expect it to crash horribly and, inevitably, far too short of the road’s end. We believe this year will be different.

Please let it be different this year.