The Race for Eleven

I don’t know where to begin. I’ve spilled so many electrons over the last few years on my frustrations as a Phillies phan. We’re always close but we’re never the last team standing. Good enough to phight. Not good enough to win. After last year’s season-ending thud, I wrote:

Like every spring before, I’ll be back next year, as gullible and full of optimism as ever when pitchers and catchers report to Clearwater.

And I was back this year, gullible and full of optimism. For good reason. The Phillies are the 2007 National League East Division Champions!

After fourteen years away, October baseball means something again. We have a chance. Like seven other teams, we’re 0-0. Like those other teams, we have an equal chance to chase those eleven elusive post-season victories necessary to win a World Series. I have never wanted anything more as a baseball phan.

I’m so happy that I couldn’t care less how the media will focus on the self-destruction of the Mets over the last 17 games, and how, even though the Mets went 5-12 to tumble down the standings, the Phillies went 13-4 to win the division by 1 game. So, focus on New York all you want. That’s the story. Run with it. But the news is that the Phillies have more baseball to play in 2007.

We’ve won 89 games. We’re not stopping until we reach 100.

I move closer to hoarding my savings in cash.

Hillary Clinton is unfit to be president:

“I like the idea of giving every baby born in America a $5,000 account that will grow over time, so that when that young person turns 18 if they have finished high school they will be able to access it to go to college or maybe they will be able to make that downpayment on their first home,” she said.

I recently purchased a new car. I like the idea of getting that car for free. I suspect the dealership will even hand over the keys to me and call it free, as long as I set up a separate transaction where I relinquish a specific number of dollars – strangely matching the value of the car – to the dealership’s possession.

Interestingly, that sounds much like the tax charade that would occur for every child “given” $5,000 from their own future earnings.

It’s possible that funding could come from the earnings of another person currently working (parents?) or who will work in the future. Regardless, I’m sure the “trust fund” aspect will remain an IOU rather than asset-based, with the present tax dollars used for some other socialist adventure. And I discount the possibility that funding would come from the child’s parents, since that would imply a measure of fiscal responsibility wrapped inside this socialism. Since that would also discourage poor people from having children if they have to fund an extra $5,000 up front, there’s no way Sen. Clinton would suggest such a thing. She’ll cave once that possibility arises and claim it’s society’s job to support all children, especially those of the poor, with the poor to be defined loosely later.

More thoughts at A Stitch in Haste, no third solution, and Catallarchy.

Dance, puppets, dance!

From last night’s Democratic debate (I know, there was a debate?):

This is insulting. Follow the Constitution and let reality be the message within that limited sphere.

Via Jeff Jarvis, who says:

The Presidency isn’t a PBS self-improvement show. It’s an executive job.

As some of Mr. Jarvis’ commenters stated, I’m afraid Sen. Obama’s statement is true for too many Americans. Rhetoric wouldn’t continue if it didn’t work, and it wouldn’t rely on the basest claims if those didn’t appeal. Thanks to people like Karl Rove, we have evidence.

The change we need is not to go from fear to hope, it’s from coddling to trust. Stop trying to have the government parent Americans.

Self-interest doesn’t have to match an altruistic goal.

A reader writes to Andrew Sullivan about capitalism and same-sex marriage (emphasis mine):

One of the most astonishing (and underreported) instances of this phenomenon is the defeat in committee of the marriage ban in the Indiana legislature. This past April a group of major corporations (Cummins Engine, Wellpoint, Dow AgroSciences, Eli Lilly, and Emmis Communications, etc.) lobbied against the measure and won.

While I’m not surprised at the lack of coverage, I think it’s important to note smaller victories like this in the civil rights movement. … But it’s also one of the few remaining conservative states remaining that did not write discrimination into its constitution. As a progressive Democrat with a strong populist streak, (as much as it may pain me to admit it) I really have to give credit to big business for doing the right thing on this one.

It’s a nice thought, but is that how it happened, big business doing the “right” thing? The story:

Eli Lilly and Co., Cummins, WellPoint, Emmis Communications and Dow AgroSciences spoke out against the amendment in the days leading up to Tuesday’s vote. All five companies argued that the amendment would send the message that Indiana was not inclusive and hurt their ability to attract top employees to the state.

The additional quotes in the article leave open an interpretation that these businesses behaved in a strictly altruistic manner, but that interpretation is strained. They acted in self-interest. Businesses, like individuals, will behave in a manner consistent with achieving what they desire. Eli Lilly wants to continue attracting talented employees, so it opposed a policy that could alienate some of those employees.

Partisans selectively remember that incentives matter. As Mr. Sullivan’s reader indicates, he normally doesn’t give credit to big business. I won’t presume to know exactly what the reader believes about big business, but I am willing to guess that it involves big business failing to act in a specific manner consistent with the reader’s beliefs. If a business values something else, it’s wrong.

Government incentives are then designed to accommodate inconsistent ideals. Big business should care about making their employees part of the middle class rather than paying them a fair wage based on merit, for example¹. When its incentives don’t match the goals of the government, surprise, a partisan concludes that the business does not respond as it “should”. The new expectation is that it’s evil because it ignores what’s “right”. The entire process is perverse and results in a ceaseless cycle of new incentives, often in the form of restrictions. But it remains the fault of the business, not the policy dictated by the government which is inconsistent with incentives.

The other side of the partisan spectrum acts in an identical manner. Those who believe individuals should not ingest certain substances or read certain material follow the same cycle of being so shocked anyone would defy what’s “right” that more legislation is necessary. The manner in which more legislation skews the incentive toward different evasion rather than compliance is ignored because the intention is what matters. They know how you should behave.

This is where libertarianism excels. There is a minimum expectation of civility, but beyond that, each person decides what’s best for his life. Libertarianism understands that incentives matter. Because it’s impossible to know what the incentive is for everyone, or anyone, libertarianism doesn’t direct anyone to a specific goal or outcome that she “should” pursue for herself. It will not push for the manipulative affect of government intervention on the individual.

¹ I’m assuming a specific belief here, but of a generic progressive partisan, not Mr. Sullivan’s reader. A fine distinction, I know, but my later example of a generic social conservative partisan is meant the same way.

The process of getting it shows why it will fail to deliver utopia.

Medpundit offers a concise summary of the fallacy that U.S. universal health care/coverage will mimic other established universal systems. It also explains why I don’t believe that universal health care/insurance will lead to the end of routine infant circumcision in America. (I removed the links from this excerpt because they make it appear too busy, but they’re worth reviewing at the original entry. Emphasis here is in original text.)

The British are often held up as the standard to which we should aspire. But we don’t live under a British style of government. We live under a government that’s truly government of the people, by the people, for the people. And what the people want, the people get. Witness the influence of disease activism even now on disease specific government funding and treatment mandates. In England, the government only pays for colonoscopies to check for colon cancer if there are symptoms suggestive of cancer or a family history of colon cancer. In the United States, the Medicare pays for a colonoscopy every ten years for everyone over 50, regardless of symptoms or risk. So do many insurance companies., sometimes if not by choice, by mandate. In England, mammograms are only covered for women between the ages of 50 and 70, and then only every three years. In the United States, we pay for mammograms beginning at age 40, yearly, and with no upper age limit. We just don’t have the heart for rationing that they have in other countries.

It’s possible, probable even, that universal coverage would reduce the number of unnecessary circumcisions performed as compared to our quasi-private system now. However, I suspect the decrease will be neither significant nor long-lasting. The fundamental flaw in populism is that it can’t say “no” if a majority demand a “yes”. Principles and rules do not matter. The rights of the minority do not matter.

In this particular procedure, the opinion of the patient will continue to not matter. He is treated as a statistic, at best. If the procedure has the potential to prevent a problem later on, regardless of the actual risk faced, the foreskin’s contribution to that risk, or the consequences of that risk, the illogical defense allowing parents to continue cutting the healthy genitals of their sons will continue.

Remember that populism doesn’t care about proper context in cost-benefit, or even the existence of such analysis. As long as the case could be made, every parent is assumed to be making it. And every infant is assumed to be pleased at that assumption, depsite the undeniable evidence that intact adult males almost never choose or need circumcision.

The out-of-context nonsense we use today is illogical to anyone seriously considering all the evidence. The risks are small. There are less-invasive treatments and preventions available. Comparable countries that do not circumcise manage to achieve the same low levels of disease. These facts are ignored because they contradict our mental conditioning. We believe of circumcision what we want to believe, not what is true. That is why we hear that male circumcision reduces the risk of HIV infection by 60% rather than the more honest explanation of how much it reduces the absolute risk. Sixty percent is far more persuasive than two percent.

For the United States we must be honest and ask if a central planner wannabe who is immune to the rights of individuals enough to issue mandates wouldn’t also be immune to fiscal rationing for non-medically-indicated circumcision, as long as it pleases “the people”.

Via Kevin, MD

Who dreams of being Rich Uncle Pennybags?

The National Association of Broadcasters issued a press release yesterday, quoting NAB Executive Vice President Dennis Wharton:

“XM and Sirius have spent upwards of $20 million trying to bamboozle the Beltway into believing that a monopoly is good for consumers. Yet when you cut through all the distortions displayed by XM and Sirius, you are left with one undisputable fact: Never in history has a monopoly served consumers better than competition.”

The NAB conveniently leaves out any facts to corroborate this bold statement. I’m not interested in challenging it directly, because the basic gist is fine if unrevealing. Competition is good. I believe that. I just wish the NAB believed it.

The existence of press releases and lobbying demonstrate that the NAB knows that it competes with satellite radio. If it didn’t, it wouldn’t spend millions to defeat this merger. It is not acting solely in the best interest of consumers. Incentives matter, and here the incentive is to reduce the strength of all providers of competing technology.

I rarely listen to terrestrial broadcast radio anymore. There is a sameness that is pre-packaged and unimaginative. It’s simply not interesting. I’d rather listen to the artists I enjoy and discover new artists through friends, blogs, and iTunes. Even the limited broadcast offerings I enjoy are available as podcasts, which demonstrates that terrestrial broadcasters agree with the Sirius-XM view of the radio industry’s competition model.

Satellite radio didn’t turn me away from NAB’s clients. Sirius and XM existed when I went looking for an alternative. To be fair, I don’t listen to the music channels on Sirius that often. The repetition of a limited playlist exists there, as well. Maybe it’ll cost Sirius my subscription in the future. Maybe they’ll change. But for now, it has Howard Stern, which is what I want.

The NAB’s press release includes a list of groups and lawmakers opposing the proposed merger, which is its only support for the validity of its position. It takes a little more than that, unfortunately. Instead of putting out pointless press releases calling for competition with a list of politicians, it could actually query those politicians and ask why they abhor the Constitution’s First Amendment, as just one action in the interest of consumers. Or does the NAB not actually care about consumers as much as it cares about remaining partnered with politicians to limit its need to compete?

I hope Philadelphia isn’t built on swampland.

Remember when I wrote that Washington is “the swamp where Philadelphia’s October dreams go to die”? That was just over one month ago, when the Phillies pushed back into the playoff race. Again. But this time we escaped the Washington swamp, winning 3 of 4 games. That puts us here, tied with six games to play in the regular season.

Just like last year, when we fell short.

I’ve entered the lottery for the right to purchase playoff tickets. Again. I’d like to believe that we’re positioned well, since we face the Braves and Nationals at home, while the Padres are on the road. We’ve dominated in the NL East this year, but playing the spoiler is a huge motivator. Also, the Braves are only three games out, so a sweep of us could put them in the mix. I may go insane if this season ends like every other pennant race involving the Phillies this decade.

Go Phillies!

“Unlawful personal injury” is an excellent description.

This is a step in the right direction:

A regional appeals court in Frankfurt am Main found that the circumcision of an 11-year-old Muslim boy without his approval was an unlawful personal injury.

According to the court, circumcision can “be important in individual cases for the cultural-religious and physical self-image,” even if there are no health disadvantages involved. So the decision about whether or not to go through with a circumcision is “a central right of a person to determine his identity and life.”

The penis belongs to the individual, not the individual’s parents or society. That’s as it should be, although the court failed to rule on an age minimum. The answer should be birth, although I don’t hold out much hope in the short-term for that lucid conclusion. Also, some of the court’s reasoning was silly.

The court suggested, in part, that it was a punishable offense to subject one’s child to teasing by other children for looking different.

That wouldn’t translate to the United States, where we have warped views of what it means to look different, how a person should decide to value the opinion of others, and whether or not those decisions belong to the individual or his parents. It’s also bad legal reasoning, since children would then have a “right” to fashionable clothing, for example, if his friends might laugh at him otherwise. Still, I applaud the basic outcome of the ruling. The court seems to have understood that forced circumcision is wrong.

A Correction and Further Proof

I’ve noted the correction in the original entry, but yesterday I incorrectly identified the author of the referenced editorial as a female. Hilary Bainemigisha is a male. The article did not make it clear, but I shouldn’t have made the mistake.

Thankfully, in submitting my entry, Digg user actics linked to a blog entry from the 4th International AIDS Society. The entry that actics used to (easily) figure out Mr. Bainemigisha’s gender is quite telling, given the irrationality Mr. Bainemigisha’s editorial endorsed. The setup:

[Dr Andrew Grulich of Australia’s National Centre in HIV Epidemiology and Clinical Research] said doctors in one well-run Kenyan circumcision study detected a slight but statistically significant increase in HIV infections among circumcised men at the end of the study, when they seemed to have become overly confident that circumcision would protect them completely from HIV and did away with using condoms, despite the warnings of the study organisers. Despite the slight increase in the number of circumcised men who became infected with HIV, it should be noted that overall, far fewer of the circumcised men became infected, in comparison with the control group of uncircumcised men.

The first sentence is the key, but it’s amazing how readily people are to focus only on that second sentence (which has its own problems, when considered in context).

But at 50% protection, there is nothing better than circumcision right now for men.

OK, condoms work brilliantly. But people don’t use them. (For example, Ansbert has two children, so presumably he didn’t use condoms at least twice in his life. And look at all those men, circumcised or not, who were told to use condoms and didn’t in the Kenyan study.)

The example of fathering children is irrelevant, and the “look at all those men” doesn’t mean what is interpreted here. But don’t worry, it gets worse.

With circumcision, a man doesn’t have to remember!

Without condoms and monogamy, he will still get HIV. With condoms and monogamy, circumcision is unnecessary.

So many want to have so much faith in circumcision that they abandon all rational consideration of the facts to make the story conform to the predetermined solution. It’s just as easy to believe in unicorns, but that doesn’t make unicorns real. Common sense has a place in medicine.

Thanks go to Digg user actics for this useful help. I shouldn’t have made the mistake on Mr. Bainemigisha’s gender. It’s been corrected. But my analysis didn’t depend on the journalist’s gender; it remains. Individuals who think like Mr. Bainemigisha and Esther Nakkazi, who wrote the blog entry discussed here, are being irrational.