We should value critical thinking skills more.

How do people get so stupid that this passes muster as an excuse to circumcise a child?

Ultimately, a friend who works in elder care made the difference, by describing some of the horrible foreskin infections she has had to treat in older patients.

When my grandfather was in his last days, several veins in his legs collapsed from the damage of smoking for too many years. His doctors had to address this and there were no pleasant options. Still, I would never think to use that as an excuse to perform intrusive procedures on the legs of a child. The logic is equally flawed.

The only lesson to be learned from “horrible foreskin infections” in men in elder care is that those facilities are horrible at caring for their patients. Removing a child’s healthy foreskin because it might become a problem if he ends up in incompetent elder care many decades later is irrational.

Wii have a disagreement, but only one side is correct.

In this Boing Boing story on successful efforts to hack the Nintendo Wii – allowing independent, non-sanctioned games to work on the Wii – Cory Doctorow writes:

Incredible as it may seem, there are still companies that think that they should have the right to tell you what you can and can’t do with your hardware after you pay for it.

They have such a right. It’s called a contract. The customer agrees to it, admittedly without negotiation, when he buys the hardware.

I agree that companies who insist on this are stupid. I wouldn’t run the business that way. But Nintendo’s executives run the company, not outsiders seeking to impose a different set of decisions. If the consumer doesn’t like the terms attached to the hardware, he should refrain from buying the product until the terms change. Anything else is insolent whining.

We want Dallas! We want Dallas!

It’s “Dallas Week” in Washington, which is a one-week celebration, twice each year when the Redskins play the Cowboys. I despise the Cowboys and everything about them. I don’t care who Tony Romo is dating this week. I don’t care how wonderful Terrell Owens¹ is. I don’t care how this season ranks in the history of seasons in Dallas history. There’s one story line for me: win and we’re in the playoffs.

Obviously there are multiple reasons why this is improbable. Sean Taylor’s death is the largest and longest lingering, of course. The franchise will never be the same. But there’s also the injuries, starting with half the offensive line, and concluding with the loss of quarterback Jason Campbell. Yet, we’re still in position to make the playoffs. For me, there’s one specific reason: Joe Gibbs.

Throughout our recent struggles, many focused on Coach Gibbs’ mistakes. The complaints are valid. But no one is perfect. The point is not that the coach must do everything right. He must be the best person for the job. And Coach Gibbs’ leadership through adversity demonstrates why he’s a Hall of Famer and why he’s still the right man for his job. I will make no calls for his dismissal, now or in the future.

Former Redskin Doc Walker makes the case, via Michael Wilbon’s column:

“They lost the guys who were supposed to be the right side of the offensive line, Jon Jansen and Randy Thomas, essentially for the entire season. Shawn Springs’s father is in a coma and he’s traveling back and forth to see his dad. You’ve got a free agent rookie [Stephon Heyer] starting at right guard. You’ve got the whole team flying to a funeral and playing the Bears three days later. You’ve got your franchise quarterback going down in that very game, then you’ve got the backup quarterback’s wife giving birth . . . on the eve of his first start in 10 years, then coming out and going 0 for 8 but steadying himself to win the game. It’s a movie. We can’t imagine how difficult it is to manage all that. But Joe knows how to manage in the chaos. Go all the way back to his 0-5 start in his very first season as head coach. That was so chaotic. But he believed. Even if you don’t believe initially, he does. And he just doesn’t waver.”

I’ve always believed. Watching him coach through his first tenure made me understand how important it is to not waver in my trust in him. When he took over, the franchise was a mess. We couldn’t win, we had no stability, and the pride in being a Redskin had disappeared. We’re still struggling at times on the first count due to Campbell’s inexperience, although we’re going in the right direction. On the latter two points, there can be no debate that Coach Gibbs has brought those two back to Washington. I’d vote for him for president, if he ran. I’d write his name in next November, except his winning would mean he wouldn’t be head coach of the Redskins any longer. He could do both, though.

In the cruelest misfortune of the week, I had tickets to today’s game. I planned to take my younger brother to the game, his first NFL experience. But I’ve picked up some nasty cold that is not conducive to sitting in rainy 40-degree weather. This team is worth getting sicker for, but I want to be healthy for next week’s showdown with the Seahawks in the playoffs.

If we win, of course. Just win.

¹ He’s so wonderful that he needed to push off the defender – offensive pass interference – to score one of his touchdowns against the Redskins in Dallas. With a referee 10 feet away. That’s official deference to a storyline, not calling the game as it happens. He’s good, but not as good as he’s allowed to be through leaving the yellow flag in the waistband.

The post where I applaud Ron Paul.

Having hammered away at Ron Paul over the last three days, in the interest of fairness, I’ll comment on the non-story story that won’t die. Rep. Paul’s campaign accepted a $500 donation from a white supremacist. Some people, for irrational reasons, want him to give the money back as a repudiation of white supremacist ideas. Please. As if accepting $500 dollars is going to influence a campaign, or that the campaign could possibly screen every donations for ideological problems.

Yes, he could’ve returned the money after it was brought to his attention. But why should he? I agree with this logic:

“Dr. Paul stands for freedom, peace, prosperity and inalienable rights. If someone with small ideologies happens to contribute money to Ron, thinking he can influence Ron in any way, he’s wasted his money,” Paul spokesman Jesse Benton said. “Ron is going to take the money and try to spread the message of freedom.

“And that’s $500 less that this guy has to do whatever it is that he does,” Benton added.

There’s already too much credit given to irrational, feel-good nonsense in politics. Logic requires we always give credence to sanity alone, but sometimes, when reason fails, it must be delivered as a “suck it”. Kudos to Rep. Paul’s campaign for telling relentless opponents looking to score cheap points on a non-issue to suck it, even if it harms him.

Meet our next Treasury Secretary, Harry Potter.

Following on yesterday’s theme, Mike Huckabee is the only national candidate (that I know of) currently advocating the FairTax. With friends like him, who needs enemies?

Instead we will have the FairTax, a simple tax based on wealth. When the FairTax becomes law, it will be like waving a magic wand releasing us from pain and unfairness.

That quote is taken from Huckabee’s campaign site. I’m not about to claim that FairTax advocates and Huckabee supporters are the same group. Overlapping, yes. The same¹, no.

I can accept a claim that a plan is better than what we have. I want evidence, of course, and I’ve stated that evidence from the FairTax leaves me against the plan. But to pretend that anything short of eliminating taxes completely will be “like waving a magic wand releasing us from pain and unfairness”? Huh? No thanks. Even if I supported the FairTax, that kind of lie would turn me off of Huckabee².

¹ First, obligatory dig at Rep. Ron Paul. Why do people claim that Ron Paul is a libertarian because many of his supporters are libertarians? Overlapping, yes maybe. The same, no.

² Second Obligatory dig at Rep. Paul. There are other issues that disqualified him from my vote long before I got to this issue. But like Mike Huckabee, Ron Paul does not believe in evolution. I think Rep. Paul is leaving himself wiggle room in there as a politician, but I will not accept the pandering of wiggle room. Rejecting evolution despite clear evidence is irrational. Neither Paul or Huckabee could earn my vote based on that (among many objections).

The FairTax is a bad idea.

Remaining from a September debate, I owe regular commenter Scott my analysis and opinion of a national sales tax. To be upfront, I began my search against the idea. Not because I wanted to hate it, although I do hate it. Yet, as I’ve thought about my 15-year support for a flat tax plan – and I acknowledge that it has its problems – I’ve considered some of the basics of a national sales/consumption tax. The economics and politics of a national sales tax fail miserably.

From Americans for Fair Taxation, I roamed through some of the finer points of what is now under consideration. I used this recent editorial to focus mostly on the ideas. For example:

What emerged from this research is that a national retail sales tax is a preferred method of taxation among most Americans surveyed.

A majority of Americans supported slavery at our nation’s beginning. Segregation was hunky-dory for most well into the 20th century. Even today, a majority of Americans believe that surgically altering the healthy genitals of their male children is reasonable. Of course income versus sales tax is not comparable to those sorts of oppression, but forgive me if I fail to be swayed by such arguments in favor of any position. Mob desire is irrelevant because good intentions do not guarantee good outcomes. The details matter.

Research on the price of consumer goods reveals that up to 20% of all prices today represent hidden income taxes and payroll taxes. Once these taxes are repealed and replaced with the FairTax, it is likely that market pressure would force retail prices to fall.

This is either ignorant or dishonest. The FairTax will not eliminate embedded taxes; it will merely change the source of which businesses collect taxes from individuals. Even something as simple as an apple will have embedded taxes.

The apple will require a seed to create an apple tree. That seed will have a sales tax. The tree will require fertilizer to make grow. That fertilizer will face a sales tax. The fertilizer will need to be transported from producer to apple grower. That fuel will face a sales tax. The distributor needs a truck to haul the fertilizer. That truck will face a sales tax. The truck will require gas to operate from A to B. That fuel will face a sales tax. And so on, all the way to my cupboard.

Now, imagine something more complicated, with multiple ingredient raw materials. Think that iPod that Americans love doesn’t consist of parts purchased from vendors with an “s” for plural who all require inputs to make their products? The disappearance of embedded taxes is a myth, unless we assume that someone who currently fails to absorb hidden costs will suddenly absorb non-hidden costs. I will not assume something quite that silly.

Which leads to this, perhaps the boldest claim:

The FairTax would collect revenue from the underground economy.

How, exactly, when basic logic suggests the FairTax would push more of the U.S. economy underground, not less? There would be evasion everywhere. Need to get your hair cut? Here’s $20 cash. Need your lawn mowed? Here’s $40 cash. Never doubt the human capacity to subvert rules. Simplicity is important, but reducing the burden of complying is much more effective. Absent that, reducing the ability to bypass the system is important. I don’t have to believe that taxes are good to push the idea that collecting as close to the assumed amount is wise. Otherwise, reality will be destroyed by the theoretical estimate and actual receipts. The rate would increase more the greater those two figures differ.

As the FairTax advocates own figures indicate, the sales tax is not 23 percent. That’s only the tax-inclusive rate offered because it looks better² than the tax-exclusive – the common metric – rate of 30%. Dividing 30¢ sales tax by the final price of $1 and 30¢ gives a 23% tax-inclusive rate. But in Virginia, if I go into the store and buy a bottle of water, I see the price of the water as 99¢ and the final price as $1.01 after the 2% sales tax is added. No one pretends that the rate is 1.98%.

In the end of the editorial, this:

Significantly, the FairTax eliminates all loopholes, gimmicks, exemptions and deductions from the federal tax system.

The “prebate” is certainly an exemption, and given the details, I’d call it a gimmick. The details:

Another benefit of the FairTax is that, unlike other sales taxes, it would not hit the poorest Americans the hardest. The FairTax proposal calls for sending every American a “prebate” check to offset the cost of the national sales taxes paid by those living in poverty. This feature would effectively exempt those living below the poverty line from paying taxes to the federal government, and provide all taxpayers with a reimbursement of a portion of taxes paid.

Who’s administering this “prebate”? How are differences in regional cost of living factored into the “prebate”? Are the differences factored in? According to the following document, “The Prebate Explained” (pdf):

Poverty level spending represents what it costs families of varying household size and composition to buy their necessities.

All consumers are alike. Every central planner believes that and the “prebate” requires the adoption of central planning. You need four chickens, two gallons of milk, one dozen eggs, and eight ounces of cheese. That’s normal. Except it’s not, because the government can’t know everyone. It can only assume and expect you to fit that mold. Some people will receive a larger “prebate” than they should and some will not receive enough. It’s inevitable.

And what about those people who spend their “prebate” on lottery tickets, for example? I’m not offering that as an expectation of what “the poor” will spend their “prebate” on or as a judgment on lottery tickets. I think people should be able to spend their money on whatever they want. But this plan specifically relies on government-managed handouts, in advance and tied to no actual spending, to make the plan plausible and not regressive. How do we prevent such wastefulness among citizens when it leads to further reliance on the government to pay for necessities? There will be people who waste their “prebate”, just as there are now millions of Americans who believe that their tax refund is found money rather than an interest-free repayment of excess taxes paid as many as 16 months prior. There will be a call to further assist these people through government resources. The loopholes, gimmicks, exemptions, and deductions aren’t going anywhere.

Neither is the intrusion of government into each person’s privacy. To get the “prebate”, Americans must do the following (according to the pdf above):

The registration form requires only the following information:

  1. The name of each family member who shares the residence;
  2. the Social Security number of each family member;
  3. the family member to whom the monthly prebate check should be paid;
  4. a sworn statement that all listed family members are lawful residents, that all family members sharing the common residence are listed, and that no listed family members are incarcerated;
  5. the address of the shared residence; and
  6. the signature of all family members 21 years of age and older.

Failure (unwillingness) to adhere to those instructions results in no “prebate”. And again, who will be managing this information and
distributing monthly checks to millions of households? Maybe the IRS goes away, but why should I believe its replacement will be any better? (Who validates that my claim of 6 children is correct? Fraud and waste, anyone?)

The effect of eliminating regressive payroll taxes is commonly overlooked when analyzing the FairTax, but it would have a very significant impact, as these taxes represent the single largest tax burden on these income earners.

I agree with fixing the burden of payroll taxes. It is inherently regressive. Making it “fair” would be a huge tax increase on higher earners, but it wouldn’t help our economy. So what to do?

Eliminating the tax is a great idea, but the FairTax only seeks to fund the underlying flawed entitlement through a sales tax without addressing the fundamental flaw in seeking to be revenue neutral to maintain ineffective programs. And since when has Congress been expenditure-neutral? Why should I believe it will suddenly find fiscal responsibility? Taxes are bad¹ and should be lowered as much and as soon as possible, but we need to cut expenditures first. Without that measure, we’re engaging in diversionary games³.

Finally, and most damning from a practical path, how do we transition from an income tax to a sales tax? The Y2K nonsense was overblown. Flipping the switch from Income Tax on December 31, 20xx to Sales Tax on January 1, 20xx would be a realized nightmare, but I’ve seen nothing other than that simplistic transition implied. That’s foolish.

I also used this chain of entries from Kip at A Stitch in Haste as research.

¹ We have a $9,124,016,501,555.91 national debt, as of today. That has to be repaid.

² For another example of this sleight-of-hand marketing, read this.

³ There is one final caveat looming large. We’d have to repeal the 16th Amendment.

A dose of common sense.

Newsweek interviewed Dr. John Bartlett, chief of infectious diseases at Johns Hopkins, for its article “2007: Another Year of AIDS“. I know, with a title like that, how could the reader not be optimistic? Anyway, I think this is useful to note:

So how are we faring in lowering HIV transmission rates?
There are some promising studies that have been done or are being done now. The circumcision and the antiretroviral therapy for [HIV-positive] breastfeeding women [to prevent transmission to the baby] studies were a great success. Though, while circumcision might be very good at lowering the rates in places where not a lot of circumcisions are being done now, that’s not the case in the U.S. or in many other countries …

Advocates of forcing circumcision onto sexually-inactive infant males to prevent HIV always notice the first part of Dr. Bartlett’s statement and ignore the qualification that the U.S. does not meet the criteria from the studies everyone is now touting.

And notice the use of “might be very good” for non-circumcising nations, an acknowledgment that (voluntary, adult) male circumcision is not a vaccine. Looked at honestly, circumcision is little more than a distraction from the problem and its real cause(s).

There is no right to designer children.

Via multiple sources, but with public commentary from Rogier van Bakel, here’s a maddening story with at least one comparison I will make.

DEAF parents should be allowed to screen their embryos so they can pick a deaf child over one that has all its senses intact, according to the chief executive of the Royal National Institute for Deaf and Hard of Hearing People (RNID).

Jackie Ballard, a former Liberal Democrat MP, says that although the vast majority of deaf parents would want a child who has normal hearing, a small minority of couples would prefer to create a child who is effectively disabled, to fit in better with the family lifestyle.

Ballard’s stance is likely to be welcomed by other deaf organisations, including the British Deaf Association (BDA), which is campaigning to amend government legislation to allow the creation of babies with disabilities.

A clause in the Human Tissue and Embryos Bill, which is passing through the House of Lords, would make it illegal for parents undergoing embryo screening to choose an embryo with an abnormality if healthy embryos exist.

To fit in better with the family lifestyle. The similarity to permitting parents to surgically alter the healthy genitals of their male children for any or no reason is exact. Harming the child – and cutting off healthy bits of his genitals or deliberately selecting an embryo because she will be deaf is harm – so that he or she meets the parents’ expectations of valid physical characteristics is immoral. It should not be allowed.

As Mr. van Bakel wrote¹:

For about two seconds, I tried to apply some libertarian gloss to the situation — parents making up their own minds about their offspring, how bad can that be? — but it just wouldn’t stick. Um, what about the right of the child to be normal (no, that’s not a pejorative word) and healthy?

Indeed. In a world of individual rights, the child matters first and only.

He continues:

These people are truly a bunch of, hell I’ll say it, immoral imbeciles. They want a child with a deliberately-bred disability because junior would “fit in better with the family lifestyle”? Great. It follows … that we should defer to legless parents who decide to have their obstetrician snip a couple of limbs off the foetus.

As one commenter at Nobody’s Business noted, we already (irrationally) defer to parents who decide to have their doctor² snip the healthy foreskin off their newborn son. There is an obscene, ongoing precedent for such abomination.

More from the article:

Ballard, …, said in an interview with The Sunday Times: “Most parents would choose to have a hearing embryo, but for those few parents who do not, we think they should be allowed to exercise that choice and we would support them in that decision.

Manipulating a child’s healthy body to meet parental whims, before or after birth, is not a valid choice. Just as a child’s natural difference is not a repudiation of the parents’ validity, similarities do not confirm that all is perfect. This is especially true when the similarities are imposed.

¹ I particularly like his explanation that normal is not a pejorative. To extend that idea to my topic, in America the intact penis is normal but uncommon. The circumcised penis is common, but it is not normal.

² The willingness of doctors to engage in such clearly unethical behavior must not be ignored.

Only people who offer a different option are lobbyists.

When I’ve looked at our candidates for president, I find little to be happy about. The only candidate I can moderately stand is Sen. Obama, and I’ve already discussed more than enough issues (no means yes, school “reform”, economic illiteracy, and catering to special interests) with his candidacy to demonstrate that I will not vote for him. That said, I suspect he’s the least bad choice out there. That should not be construed as anything as complimentary as back-handed praise. A vote for Sen. Obama is a vote for little more than more of the same, but with a smiley stamped on the decree.

As we approach the real beginning of the election process in Iowa, it’s important to focus on the lack of change offered in promises of change. Sen. Obama spoke in Iowa yesterday. (Text via Andrew Sullivan) A few highlights:

At this defining moment, we cannot wait any longer for universal health care. We cannot wait to fix our schools. We cannot wait for good jobs, and living wages, and pensions we can count on. We cannot wait to halt global warming, and we cannot wait to end this war in Iraq.

Most of all, I believed in the power of the American people to be the real agents of change in this country – because we are not as divided as our politics suggests; because we are a decent, generous people willing to work hard and sacrifice for future generations; and I was certain that if we could just mobilize our voices to challenge the special interests that dominate Washington and challenge ourselves to reach for something better, there was no problem we couldn’t solve – no destiny we couldn’t fulfill.

We know the solution, right? It’s the one we allegedly haven’t tried yet. It involves hope, even though Bill Clinton ran on that in 1992. Hope expressed through government. For example:

I’ve heard from seniors who were betrayed by CEOs who dumped their pensions while pocketing bonuses, and from those who still can’t afford their prescriptions because Congress refused to negotiate with the drug companies for the cheapest available price.

Please provide examples of the former rather than the same “corporations are evil” rhetoric. Please explain to me how the drug companies would not be a special interest in “negotiations” with Congress. And where in the Constitution does it say that the government is responsible for either of these?

Just two weeks ago, I heard a young woman in Cedar Rapids who told me she only gets three hours of sleep because she works the night shift after a full day of college and still can’t afford health care for a sister with cerebral palsy. She spoke not with self-pity but with determination, and wonders why the government isn’t doing more to help her afford the education that will allow her to live out her dreams.

No one is owed a college education, period, but especially when individual life steps in the way. I sympathize with this woman’s plight and admire her willingness to push through to achieve everything she values. But it is not my responsibility to pay for that. If she can’t afford college and caring for her sister through work, the solution is to drop out of college right now if paying for that interferes with paying for what she must pay for or deems more worthy of receiving her personal financing. Yet, Sen. Obama pushes more government intervention in education, as if the existence of grants and federally-subsidized loans don’t exist, or that they’re not already increasing the cost of education. How is a group of individuals like this woman not a special interest if it leads to more government intervention for a preferred-by-some outcome?

You know that we can’t afford to allow the insurance lobbyists to kill health care reform one more time, …

Who might prevail, then, if not a universal health care lobbyist? Sen. Obama is not against lobbyists if they advocate his government solution. If you want change, run on removing the perverse incentive that ties insurance to employment without creating a perverse incentive that ties insurance to citizenship. One size does not fit all, of course, and being practical, shifting the cost from the individual in some form is never a good idea.

…and the oil lobbyists to keep us addicted to fossil fuels because no one stood up and took their power away when they had the chance.

This is immature and the type of soundbite nonsense that proves Sen. Obama is a politician first. Anyway, who is the lobbyist “keeping us addicted” to <insert government program/subsidy> and why are we not standing up to them, too?

But that’s not what hope is. Hope is not blind optimism. It’s not ignoring the enormity of the task before us or the roadblocks that stand in our path. Yes, the lobbyists will fight us. Yes, the Republican attack dogs will go after us in the general election. Yes, the problems of poverty and climate change and failing schools will resist easy repair. I know – I’ve been on the streets, I’ve been in the courts. I’ve watched legislation die because the powerful held sway and good intentions weren’t fortified by political will, and I’ve watched a nation get mislead into war because no one had the judgment or the courage to ask the hard questions before we sent our troops to fight.

Why no mention of Democrats standing in the way? Beyond that, how exactly does Sen. Obama expect to achieve that change in Congress while sitting in the White House? The only tool at his disposal to achieve what he is promising is the veto. Yet, he ignores that and pretends as though he can make all of this magically appear. Can he not grasp that government involvement always leads to special interests, favored and non-favored? He’s engaged in enough of it in this speech to convince me that he grasps the concept quite well. He’s not selling change, only his chosen winners and losers. And we know who “wins”. The same person who always win in this collectivist idiocy.

If you believe, then we can stop making promises to America’s workers and start delivering – jobs that pay, health care that’s affordable, pensions you can count on, and a tax cut for working Americans instead of the companies who send their jobs overseas.

I am part of America, too. I do not want promises. I do not want the government to “deliver” me a job, health care, pensions, targeted tax cuts, or any other illegitimate present. That is the current way of doing things. Wrapping them in bromides is not change.

I’m still not voting for Sen. Obama.