More choices exist beyond “Now” and “Later”.

From the initial premise, this article on circumcision from The Boston Globe is flawed. The title is “Disputing the need for circumcision”, which implies that the onus to justify a position is on those who understand that males are (almost always) born with healthy genitals; surgery is not indicated.

The discussion should be over. But it’s not. Our culture is irrational enough to believe that a circumcised penis is normal and a normal penis is weird. We’re stuck with a psychologist, Ronald Goldman, defending sanity rather than a circumcision proponent trying to defend insanity. Typical.

The article opens with a passage from the Book of Genesis. I’m unimpressed, for multiple reasons.

The interviewer descends further into the ridiculous throughout his interview with Dr. Goldman. Specifically, this tired nonsense, begun with an intelligent rebuttal from Dr. Goldman based on ethics:

Would you want someone else to make the decision . . . or would you want to reserve that choice for yourself.

Q. I’d prefer them to make that decision when I was an infant than for me to make it at the age of majority, when it would be many times more painful.

Spoken with the ignorance of hindsight exhibited by most circumcised men, to which I’ll just ask questions, in no particular order:

  • How much evidence do we have from infants that circumcision pain is acceptable to them?
  • How do we know it would be many times more painful as an adult?
  • What’s the difference between the pain management (not always) given to infants and the pain management available to adults?
  • What’s the difference between the circumciser’s ability to judge how much skin to remove from an infant versus an adult?
  • Does the adult’s ability to offer his input into that estimation matter?
  • Is it relevant that intact adults almost never choose or need circumcision?
  • Do similarities in the rates of disease (allegedly, in many cases) related to the penis/foreskin and the lack of similarities in rates of circumcision between America and Europe indicate anything significant?

At the end, the interviewer asks Dr. Goldman a curious question:

Q. Are you circumcised? How did you get so passionate about it?

I’d ask the interviewer how he got so indifferent about imposing medically unnecessary surgery on a boy’s healthy, normal genitals.

I wish to include the possibility that the interviewer is not indifferent. The belief that parents may impose medically unnecessary surgery on their boy’s healthy, normal genitals is a passionate stance in defense of routine infant circumcision, whether it’s acknowledged as such. So, to the interviewer: how did he get so passionate about circumcision?

Principles of Liberty vs. Politics of Selfishness

To stay on the Michael Kinsley theme, his new essay in Time discusses libertarianism. Calling Ron Paul a libertarian isn’t the only mistake (omission?):

To oversimplify: Democrats are for Big Government; Republicans are against it.

This is a slam-dunk, so no need to feel like it’s an oversimplification. Mr. Kinsley is correct about the former, but he should’ve replaced against with for in that sentence.

To oversimplify somewhat less, Democrats aren’t always for Big Government, and Republicans aren’t always against it. Democrats treasure civil liberties, whereas Republicans are more tolerant of government censorship to protect children from pornography, or of …

Selective, no? Democrats do not treasure civil liberties any more than Republicans. They treasure different civil liberties, but Democrats are no more prepared to defend what they dislike than Republicans. You can look at pornography, as long as it doesn’t offend your neighbor’s feelings that you like only heterosexual caucasian pornography in which the man works for a living before coming home to have sex with his stay-at-home-mom wife. I exaggerate, of course, but how many First Amendment issues do Democrats cave on at the first hint that someone is offended?

Many people feel that neither party offers a coherent set of principles that they can agree with.

The first truth in the essay.

… For them, the choice is whether you believe in Big Government or you don’t. And if you don’t, you call yourself a libertarian. Libertarians are against government in all its manifestations.

Followed by an oversimplification. Anarchists are against government in all its manifestations. Libertarians (with a small-“l”) recognize that the government has a legitimate function, represented by powers expressly given to it in the Constitution.

Mr. Kinsley continues with more oversimplification, which I will ignore through ommission. Picking up later in the paragraph:

… And what is the opposite of libertarianism? Libertarians would say fascism. But in the American political context, it is something infinitely milder that calls itself communitarianism. The term is not as familiar, and communitarians are far less organized as a movement than libertarians, ironically enough. But in general communitarians emphasize society rather than the individual and believe that group responsibilities (to family, community, nation, the globe) should trump individual rights.

Both Democrats and Republicans behave as “communitarians”. Democrats treat wealth as community property. Republicans treat marriage as a collective right for two people rather than an individual right. Need I continue?

Like the AMT entry, I think Mr. Kinsley mostly gets it. The second half of his essay is good, apart from the “Ron Paul is a libertarian” part. I recommend the essay if you have any mistaken notion that libertarians are anti-social loners who think we should each command our own army and trade little children as day laborers so we can all save one penny on a pair of shoes. I just wish he didn’t play loose with the truth about communitarians Democrats and Republicans to set up his conclusion. He could’ve gotten there with the truth.

The self-inflicted wound creates temporary sanity?

Michael Kinsley on the AMT:

The alternative minimum tax. It sounds horrible, doesn’t it? And it has very bad press. The AMT was invented in 1969 as a way for the government to collect at least something from affluent people who had been a bit too successful at taking deductions and credits on the basic Form 1040. It operates like an extra fence around a maximum-security prison. If they don’t get you the first time, they’ll get you the second.

It would be easy to get indignant here because that’s a ridiculous analysis. It’s impossible to describe those 155 non-taxpayers as “a bit too successful at taking deductions and credits on the basic Form 1040”. Those deductions and credits came about because the politicians were picking winners and losers with giveaways in the tax code. The problem arose because 155 people figured out they could benefit from complexity being harder to manage than simplicity and the extreme inability of politicians to grasp that.

The next paragraph eliminates indignation, almost.

Conceptually, this is all wrong. Tax deductions aren’t (or aren’t supposed to be) goodies distributed like candy on Halloween. Each one should have its own justification. And you are entitled to each one you qualify for. Giving the kids too much candy and then trying to take some of it back is a good way to become unpopular in the neighborhood. The AMT is getting more unpopular every year, as more and more taxpayers fail to make it over that second fence. That group was fewer than 1 percent of taxpayers in 2000 and will be 20 percent in 2010 unless something is done.

There are a few points worth making, but they require going into details. Mr. Kinsley is offering an incomplete summary more than analysis. Fine. But it’s incorrect to assess the AMT’s new victims as failing to make it over the second fence. The AMT is getting unpopular, in the basic populist sense that it arose, because the government is actively pushing people over the first fence. Mr. Kinsley later adds:

The problem with present arrangements isn’t the AMT; it’s Bush’s tax cut for the affluent.

That is a reason more people are hit by the AMT. It is not the problem. From the liberal viewpoint that loves progressivity¹, everyone else is the rich. The average liberal voter is thinking that he is, at best, succeeding reasonably, whatever his level of success. It’s the other guy who should face the burden, the guy who is supposedly rich. He knows there’s a top sphere that deserves to be punished forced to pay his fair share, but he is never that guy. Now that the AMT is hitting through poor (illegitimate) design, the dual burdens of complexity and stupidity hover around his checkbook. And he’s pissed.

Later, Mr. Kinsley writes:

The AMT prevents the federal deficit from being even higher than it is.

Technically true, I suppose, but that’s wrong. The deficit is high. “Higher” is worth discussing, but the inability of Congress to stop trading federal goodies for votes keeps both the deficit and taxes high. Deficits prevent the AMT from being lower.

Mr. Kinsley’s conclusion, however, is spot on. A flat tax would be the answer. But the problem always rests with politicians and their inability to govern based on principles of fairness (and the Constitution), as opposed to the economic populism that currently rules.

But one person’s loophole is another person’s important social policy — or, in fact, the same person’s important social policy. As soon as we get that simpler system, people will start cluttering it up again: lower rates for capital gains, to encourage investment; the charitable deduction, to encourage philanthropy; a bigger exemption for dependents, to encourage “family values” (you got a problem with this, buddy?). But all that’s okay — in 20 years we can sweep out the clutter and start all over again.


¹ Conservatives love the AMT, too, since they can’t be bothered to spend less. Or fix the AMT while they had complete control of the government.

Not only does he think to the left, Robert Reich can’t see to the right.

I’m extra-ashamed today that I ever voted for someone who would give Robert Reich any job involving economic policy. From his blog today (emphasis mine):

No candidate for president has suggested that the nation should raise the marginal tax rate on the richest beyond the 38 percent rate it was under Clinton (it’s now 35 percent, but the richest of the rich, as I’ll explain in a moment, are paying only 15 percent). Yet new data from the IRS show that income inequality continues to widen. The wealthiest 1 percent of Americans are earning more than 21 percent of all income (the data are from 2005, the latest the IRS has examined). That’s a postwar record. The bottom fifty percent of all Americans, when all their incomes are combined together, is earning just 12.8 percent of the nation’s income.

This is an incomplete picture, and I’m sure Reich knows it. Look at the full picture using the same tax data Reich uses, but fails to link:

[I don’t know why this image won’t appear. I’m looking into it, but until then, the link works.]

Click to enlarge

On their 21.2 percent of all income, the top 1 percent pay 39.38 percent of all taxes. On their 12.8 percent of all income, the bottom fifty percent pay 3.07 percent of all taxes. Those number are in the above table. Strangely, they’re in the column immediately to the right of the column Reich uses to select his data. Reich is intellectually dishonest.

Looking further at the tax tables, consider:

Click to enlarge

Aside from the brief blip of President Bush’s 2001 tax cuts, the tax burden for the top 1 percent of income earners has steadily increased since 1980, more than doubling in 25 years. The tax burden for the bottom 50 percent of income earners has steadily decreased since 1980, more than halving in 25 years. Still, Reich has the gall to write this:

If the rich and super-rich don’t pay their fair share of this tab, the middle class will get socked with the bill.

How are the top income earners not paying their fair share? They do not receive handouts benefits in anywhere near the proportion that middle- and low-income earners receive from their tax dollars, yet they’re still cheating the rest of America? Reich is a liar.

There is much more to analyze from Reich’s entry, but it’s the usual nonsense. Head over to Greg Mankiw, from whence the link came, for a brief synopsis of Reich’s idiotic redistributionist tax proposal.


Measuring twice will still prove inaccurate until adulthood.

From the “Ask Anyone” advice column from Buffalo’s ArtVoice:

I just found out that I’m pregnant, with a boy. I don’t believe in circumcision, but my husband does, and so do our families. If I refuse to circumcise him, will he end up psychologically scarred for life? Do my wishes trump my husband’s here, or do we have to decide 50-50? —Occam’s Razor

Based on my experience of visiting Buffalo, Danielle’s hometown, I don’t imagine there’s much support for common sense on circumcision. Yet, I’m generally pleased with the answer. The condensed version of the response:

The Gay Perspective: …
… Don’t cave in to pressure. Having an uncut [sic] penis will not scar him for life. Circumcising him might.


Additionally, although the reader’s question involved psychological scarring, every circumcision causes physical scarring. That must not be ignored, especially because most people choose this medically unnecessary surgery for “aesthetics”. Lunacy.

Information further in the article makes me wish I could numb my forehead so that I could bash it into my desk:

The Sales Guy says: … a good friend of mine is—how do you say?—unsnipped [ed. note: The correct word is intact (i.e. normal).], as it were. He swears if he had a say he would have preferred circumcision early on. The reason being a certain mild sexually contracted infection turned unusually problematic because of the “ turtleneck”—it lasted far longer and was more painful than it otherwise might have been. So take that into consideration.

With all due respect¹, this man’s foreskin has nothing to do with his troubles. He did not contract his mild STD because his parents did not subject him to unnecessary surgery. He contracted it because he had unprotected sex with an infected partner. Don’t be irresponsible enough to contract the STD and protracted recovery will not be an issue. Condoms. Duh.

I will never understand why so many people avoid critical thinking on this.

¹ None is warranted for this individual’s conclusion.

Acknowledging risks would be a nice change.

This story is making the rounds today:

Nearly 19,000 people died in the United States in 2005 after being infected with virulent drug-resistant bacteria that have spread rampantly through hospitals and nursing homes, according to the most thorough study of the disease’s prevalence ever conducted.

The study also concluded that 85 percent of invasive [methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus] infections are associated with health care treatment. Previous research had indicated that many hospitals and long-term care centers had become breeding grounds for MRSA because bacteria could be transported from patient to patient by doctors, nurses and unsterilized equipment.

I wrote about a study involving MRSA two years ago that highlighted the frequency with which newborn males become infected. From that article:

They defined as previously healthy any child who had no hospitalizations other than at birth, and no surgery other than circumcision.

Infants die from infection as a result of circumcision, whether it’s MRSA or something else. They should be included in any study. Because they have invasive surgery imposed on them unnecessarily, they should probably be moved to the beginning of the analysis.

To be fair, I do not know which infection killed the boy in Canada in April. The news reports only indicated infection. In the end, it doesn’t matter. Circumcision is surgery. It is almost always performed on a completely healthy child boy. The risks are inherent, immediate, and unavoidable. No potential benefits – medical or cultural – can overcome that basic fact for a healthy child.

Bonus: Megan McArdle has an interesting take on MRSA and national health care here.

Beware of marketing over facts.

Any entry dealing with Harold Meyerson involves a man who never met a government solution that didn’t deserve to find a problem to address. It’s worth remembering.

In today’s Washington Post, Mr. Meyerson offers this:

My conservative brethren in the op-ed commentariat have made a disquieting discovery: The Republican candidates for president are saying nothing that addresses the economic anxieties of the American middle class. Both David Brooks and Michael Gerson, writing last Friday in the New York Times and The Post, respectively, expressed a mixture of amazement and horror at the disdain that the candidates display toward broadly centrist proposals to bolster Americans’ economic security, and at the candidates’ apparent indifference to their need to craft such proposals of their own.

How about this for the middle class: Discover a solution for whatever worries you. Invest. Save. Spend. Follow your bliss. Become a miser. Whatever. You have the power. Government doesn’t have the power. We’ll only make things worse. Rely on us and we’ll be back here in four years with greater anxieties.

Naturally, that can’t work because it’s realistic. Instead, we’re supposed to be thankful that there are broadly centrist proposals, which is an unfortunate euphemism for central planning to the needs of one group at the expense of the others. Yet, Mr. Meyerson wants us to agree with this:

“The Democrats propose something” such as expanding health-care coverage for children or providing federal matching funds for 401(k) accounts for families of modest means, bemoaned Brooks, “and the Republicans have no alternative.” Gerson grumbled that the candidates were taking gleeful potshots at the “baby bonds” notion — providing newborns with small savings accounts — that Hillary Clinton briefly floated, despite the fact that the idea has won support from the right as well as the left.

Expanding health care coverage for children. Nope, can’t oppose that, even though the existing program covers poor kids. The expansion would involve reaching into the middle class, presumably to cure their anxieties rather than to purchase their votes in exchange for individual responsibility. It’s for the children.

Federal matching funds for 401(k) accounts for families of “modest means” is nothing more than a transfer from “the rich” to the “poor”, as defined by a politician. It doesn’t matter if “the rich” live in a high-cost of living area or use their funds to invest in new businesses that will employ those of “modest means”. No, a straight wealth transfer is enlightened statecraft.

I’m amazed that Mr. Meyerson is bold enough to endorse baby bonds. While it’s amusing to assume that $5,000 is a small amount, when multiplied by the roughly 4,000,000 babies born each year, $20,000,000,000 is not a small amount. Even if we ignored mathematics, Sen. Clinton has already abandoned the idea. I’d like to see the support she received from the right that’s so convincing she dropped the plan immediately.

As a road map to governance, this is both dim and skimpy. President Giuliani, Romney, McCain or Thompson can reliably be counted on to be against whatever Clinton is for. Beyond that, if we total up their domestic and economic policy proposals, they intend to do almost nothing at all.

If they weren’t raving lunatics, charlatans, or both, I’d say “Great, where do I check their name on my ballot.”

What unites these positions is more than just a common opposition to Hillary’s (or John Edwards’s or Barack Obama’s) proposals for universal coverage. They also adhere to the fundamental Republican laws handed down by Goldwater and Reagan: All government interventions on behalf of the people are inherently wrong. They erode freedom. The market can do a better job of whatever it is that needs doing.


What the Republican field fails to realize is that the America that Goldwater and Reagan defended against the presumed predations of government no longer exists. …


… When Barry and Ronnie walked the earth, most Americans had enduring relations with their employers (ensured, in many cases, by a union contract), and their employers often provided them with health benefits and a pension. …

Where has that gotten us? People become uninsured the moment they change or lose a job. This is a condition FDR created with the New Deal. And there are underfunded pensions that one could arguably say came about because individuals punted control of that part of their life to someone else who may or may not have the individual’s best interest as prime motivation.

… Clearly, the private sector that Barry and Ron extolled while denouncing government ain’t what it used to be, and Americans know it.

No doubt the quickening creep of the federal government into all areas of economic life has nothing to do with that.

By the evidence of all polls, Americans are now looking more to government to provide, at least in health care, some of the security that employers used to offer.

Trading one parent for another is a good idea? Why? I’m not interested in letting people who are too immature to manage their own lives have the reigns of mine, as well.

A recent Wall Street Journal-NBC News poll even showed that 59 percent of Republicans believe that foreign trade is bad for the U.S. economy, vs. just 32 percent who think it’s good.

If it’s to be believed, 59% of Republicans are idiots on this issue.

So, the short version is that Harold Meyerson still thinks government is benevolent and politicians won’t sell out today’s voter with a transfer of those promises to tomorrow’s voter.

I’m sure the Left wouldn’t politicize this office.

How far off the rails we’ve gone:

The Bush administration again has appointed a chief of family planning programs at the Department of Health and Human Services who has been critical of contraception.

Susan Orr, most recently an associate commissioner in the Administration for Children and Families, was appointed Monday to be acting deputy assistant secretary for population affairs. She will oversee $283 million in annual grants to provide low-income families and others with contraceptive services, counseling and preventive screenings.

Why do we need an Office of Population Affairs? Since when is it a right to have everyone else pay for you to have (mostly) consequence-free sex? I don’t recall seeing that in the Constitution as a federal power.

The furor, of course, will be about Orr’s presumed position on birth control versus abstinence, as she seems to be an ideal political bone to toss to the social conservative base, as if this will suddenly improve our nation’s morals.

Update: I do not want to remove this because it was here when I first posted the entry. But I can’t find a link to this alleged statement from Orr, via Think Progress. Until I can verify, the quote shouldn’t be here. See comments for more explanation. See this rundown at Think Progress, via John Cole. Particularly this (emphasis in original):

In a 2000 Weekly Standard article, Orr railed against requiring health insurance plans to cover contraceptives. “It’s not about choice,” said Orr. “It’s not about health care. It’s about making everyone collaborators with the culture of death.”

Wonderfully intellectual, no?

Something in Orr’s past intrigues, similar to her position above.

From the Washington Post article:

In a 2001 article in The Washington Post, Orr applauded a Bush proposal to stop requiring all health insurance plans for federal employees to cover a broad range of birth control. “We’re quite pleased, because fertility is not a disease,” said Orr, then an official with the Family Research Council.

I support the goal to stop requiring insurance to cover it, although I would aim for a full reversal rather than just for federal employees. Government should not mandate coverage for any particular service or product. Still, within her limited scope here, Orr gets a temporary pass.

However, she’s an intellectual joke if she wants to pander that fertility is not a disease, by which I think she means “it’s not worth covering under insurance”. There are more ways than just heterosexual, missionary-position intercourse to create a family, and none of them are any less moral or Godly. There are many people who need fertility services and want that coverage. The market should decide whether or not it’s covered.

Even if it’s just normal, boring contraceptive services, government has no justification for interference. Since people need and want these services, there is inevitably a market for it, at some price. Maybe that price isn’t conducive to a deal for some services, but that’s economics, not theology. Covering it shouldn’t be mandated, but it shouldn’t be prohibited, either, which is what I think social conservatives want.

This is the problem with the Bush administration specifically, and politics in general. It can’t ever do the right thing for no other reason than it’s the principled action. It can’t control itself from using its own subjective, selfish reasons. Occasionally it’ll hit the correct bullseye, but usually there are intended consequences that are incorrect. Shameful.

P.S. Think Progress bolds Orr’s “fertility is not a disease” comment without reflecting on the validity of such a mandate for insurance. That’s probably an indirect comment on what Think Progress believes about that validity, but I’m not familiar enough with the site to draw a definitive conclusion.

Political theory is a portion of life theory.

Megan McArdle has a concise explanation of how libertarian is not the same as libertine, despite the flawed, determined hopes of morals enforcers in control – or aiming for control – of government:

Being a libertarian means recognizing the limits of the formal legal system to regulate human behavior–not recognizing the formal legal system as the only limitation on human behavior.

Something happens to a man when he puts on a necktie.

From Chris Pirillo:

When Starbucks introduced for-pay Wi-Fi in 2002, it seemed like a great deal. But five years later, the model appears old and stale and ready for a complete overhaul.

According to my friend Mike Elgan at, Starbucks will begin providing their customers with free Wi-Fi within the next year. This is an excellent development. I believe we shouldn’t have to pay for wireless access points, and I bet you don’t, either.

Who pays for the router (infrastructure) and ongoing connection (overhead)?

Delving into relevant specifics, how many people go into Starbucks looking for coffee, a sofa, and a wireless connection? How many people go in to Starbucks looking for a cup of coffee and a fast exit? Given that the cost of the initial investment and ongoing internet connection is not free¹, why should the latter subsidize the former?

If you want a service, pay for it. If you can find someone willing to provide it with the cost included in the primary product of the business, offer that establishment your business. But do not expect another group to pay for something it doesn’t value because you find the fringe benefit so neat-o that you refuse to pay for it.

For fun, change the subject from WiFi in coffee shops to any illegitimate product/service offered by the government, at full taxpayer expense, for a niche group of taxpayers (or non-taxpayers).

Title reference here.

¹ These will be minor on a per customer basis, and I’ll generously assume each Starbucks franchise would not reach its bandwidth capacity. That does not change the analysis. Also, include security to prevent customers from unintentionally (or intentionally) exposing Starbucks to civil and criminal liability.