How many times does Lucy have to pull the football?

From Politico on Sen. Obama and gay equal rights:

So he took a different tack: “Now I’m a Christian, and I praise Jesus every Sunday,” he said, to a sudden wave of noisy applause and cheers.

“I hear people saying things that I don’t think are very Christian with respect to people who are gay and lesbian,” he said, and the crowd seemed to come along with him this time.

…his ability to sell gay rights in the black church is unique and appealing.

To which Andrew Sullivan replies:

Now you may have many reasons not to vote for Obama, and no gay voter should vote on one issue. But solely with respect to gay matters, there is simply no choice here. Obama’s positions, candor, courage, generation and religious embrace of us are dispositive.

Why is there no choice? Or, to be clear, why is there a different choice other than choosing neither candidate in this election on equal rights for gay Americans, just like every other election leading up to this one?

Sen. Obama is not selling equal rights. He’s said nothing more than so-called Christians are saying nasty things about gay Americans. He’s calling for such rhetoric to stop. He did not call for action to correct the separate legal treatment. For several years now, he’s had the opportunity to act, to sponsor legislation ending official United States bigotry. Has he sponsored a repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, the most obvious target available to him as a senator?

At least the traveling salesman carries a product sample when he pitches grandiose claims as he stands on your front porch.

That’s true, that’s true.

While I’m being a little tender, reading blogs over the last five years or so has revealed an interesting demographic slant. Science-fiction loving atheists write almost 100% of the blogs I enjoy.

As I’ve learned, that’s a large population of libertarians, but it still seems strange to me. I’m not religious, in that organized religion is too interested in doctrine without concern for actual faith. I’m not much of a joiner, either. Still, I’m not an atheist. I move closer to that position all the time, but I doubt I’ll ever move further than my present agnostic-bent.

The love for science-fiction¹ is entirely new to me. I enjoy sci-fi movies like many Americans. I’ve just never given much thought to those stories in written form. I don’t know why. Probably the socially-awkward, introverted nerd stereotype blocked me, which is strange because, with a little more showering than the stereotype, I am the stereotype. But I’ve figured out that I should question my perception and be open-minded about it. I might like it. I’ve bought one audiobook novel, and I’ll probably borrow a few paperbacks from the library to give it a shot. (I’m open to suggestions for novels.)

I don’t find either of these mysterious. The connection to libertarianism is not only prevalent, it’s obvious. Reason provides the objective link to how individuals should be treated. I will abandon faith whenever reason demands it. And I love technology. I’m just amazed at how effortlessly, and without thought of wanting to know more about those two areas, that I came to having them both central in what I want to learn.

¹ I don’t foresee any future interest in Fantasy. Harry Potter is about as far into the fantasy genre as I can get.

I want readers. I don’t need readers.

I know I use Rolling Doughnut as a pulpit for a wide range of topics, and not all of these are interesting to the same people. I think about that, but when I blog, I aim for this advice, which Wil Wheaton summarizes today:

Back in the days when Tony Pierce wasn’t spending his time trolling his own commenters and generating controversy for the sake of building page views, he wrote a fantastic post about avoiding blogging burn out, which was something we were all talking about in those days when we were all sort of defining what blogging was and wasn’t, making it up as we went along (but not admitting that we were.) I forget exactly what the advice was (and it’s all massively awesome advice that should be required reading for everyone — including Tony, today — who aspires to do more than talk about their cats with their blog) but it can be distilled down to a couple of things: write what you want to, write what’s on your mind, and don’t worry about who is reading it. It’s such simple and logical advice, but clearly isn’t easy to absorb and put into practice, because I need to remind myself about it at least twice a year. I used to worry a lot about wasting people’s time with my blog, but now I save that obsessing for my books.

The italicized advice is how I think about what I write. On this path, I’m never going to be the top blogger who gets thousands of hits per day. I realize that’s solely an “indictment” of my interests and (lack of) focus rather than a claim that the most popular bloggers are somehow focused on the wrong things or worse, are selling out. Hammering away at circumcision doesn’t help, either. In general, but at least on that, I hope I can educate someone who hasn’t considered it from an ethical/logical approach. If so, wonderful. If not, so be it.

UNAIDS needs to rebuild its ethical framework.

Following on the last entry, UNAIDS issued another press release (pdf):

Two United Nations agencies have issued a joint call to boost protection of the human rights of people regardless of their sexual orientation or their actual or presumed HIV status.

In a statement, the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) urged “all governments to be vigilant in respecting and protecting the rights of individuals in this regard, in particular the rights of all to be free from murder, torture, violence, arbitrary arrest and vilification, regardless of their HIV status or sexual orientation.”

The bodies voiced their concern over reports of forced HIV testing, arbitrary detention on the basis of HIV status and the disclosure of one’s HIV status without consent.

Again, this is a noble goal. I agree with it. But UNAIDS fascinates me with where it draws its lines on human rights. Forced HIV testing is bad. Forced genital mutilation¹ is good. Taking a person’s blood, which the body will replace, is bad. Taking a male’s foreskin, which his body will not replace, is good.


Does this have something to do with intent? Presumably governments are forcing HIV tests on people to facilitate persecution and/or exclusion. That’s inarguably bad, since individual liberty based on human rights is a valid principle. Presumably parents are forcing genital mutilation on their male children for its potential to prevent reduce the risk of female-to-male HIV transmission. Even if I assume this intention is Good&#153, condoms and behavior modification achieve better results. They are the specific, identifiable reasons why we must not abandon the fair and equal protection of human rights, regardless of gender. Yet, UNAIDS rebukes this understanding of rights in favor of fear and panic, with an additional nod to tradition².

Any idea that a right to remain free from unnecessary, unjustified force vests after some extraneous condition is met is invalid. I suspect UNAIDS would argue against that interpretation of its actions. Its actions argue against any other interpretation.

¹ But ONLY on boys; UNAIDS has ethics and how dare anyone who suggests otherwise.

² This argument strikes me as succumbing to fear. It’s easier to accept a human rights violation than it is to call it out and risk being criticized by those who practice the tradition. This is the coward’s path.

The number of X chromosomes should not matter.

The push for separate rights based on gender has never been so obvious.

Ten U.N. agencies have launched a campaign to significantly reduce female circumcision by 2015 and eradicate the damaging practice within a generation.

In a statement released Wednesday, the agencies said female circumcision violates the rights of women and girls to health, protection and even life since the procedure sometimes results in death.

That is, of course, a noble goal. But how is permitting encouraging male genital cutting any less worthy? (I’ll get to “health” in a moment.) Do boys not deserve the same respect? Does every boy facing the circumciser’s blade survive his ordeal?

“Today, we must stand and firmly oppose this practice because it clashes with our core universal values and constitutes a challenge to human dignity and health,” Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro told the Commission on the Status of Women where the campaign was launched.

“The consequences of genital mutilation are unacceptable anywhere, anytime and by any moral and ethical standard,” she said. “Often, female genital mutilation is carried out on minors, violating the rights of a child to free and full consent on matters concerning her body and body functions.”

These agencies¹ argue that males don’t require human dignity. They argue that males don’t require their full, healthy bodies. They argue that moral and ethical standards do not fully apply to males. They ignore that unnecessary genital surgery is carried out on male minors. They reject the notion that a male child has an equal human right to free and full consent on matters concerning his body and body functions.

They defend this idiocy with the following note in the press release (pdf):

In contrast to female genital mutilation, male circumcision has significant health benefits that outweigh the very low risk of complications when performed by adequately-equipped and welltrained providers in hygienic settings Circumcision has been shown to lower men’s risk for HIV acquisition by about 60% (Auvert et al., 2005; Bailey et al., 2007; Gray et al., 2007) and is now recognized as an additional intervention to reduce infection in men in settings where there is a high prevalence of HIV (UNAIDS, 2007).

Significant is subjective. The missing word potential before “health benefits” is necessary, since most males have a healthy foreskin with no history of problems when they are circumcised². Very low is subjective. But the key word in that note is outweigh. Who is the appropriate person to evaluate the balance of those two sides? For example, who decides that the inherent risk of death is low enough? These agencies claim that every female must decide for herself from birth, but every male is subject to the decision of his parents until he reaches the age of majority. Females are assumed to be against medically unnecessary cutting until they state otherwise. Males are assumed to be indifferent, at worst, to medically unnecessary cutting until they state otherwise, when it’s too late because a portion of their genitals are already gone forever.

The ten agencies involved place political correctness before principle. They possess no moral or ethical credibility.

¹ The agencies are The Joint U.N. Program on HIV/AIDS; the U.N. Development Program; the U.N. Economic Commission for Africa; the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization; the U.N. Population Fund; the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights; the U.N. refugee agency, UNHCR; the U.N. children’s agency, UNICEF; the U.N. Development Fund for Women and the World Health Organization.

² This omission is damning to the intellectual integrity of the agencies.

House Votes to Shift the Deck Chairs

I’m hard-pressed to imagine a scenario in which simplifying the tax structure is bad. Although this legislation would only achieve it on the front-end, replacing simplification with complication elsewhere, the front-end suggestion is good.

The House of Representatives brushed aside threats of a White House veto yesterday and voted 236 to 182 in favor of an $18 billion tax package that would rescind a tax break for the five biggest oil companies and use the revenue to boost incentives for wind and solar energy and energy efficiency.

There is no reason for Congress to pick winners and losers by giving tax breaks. (Again, redirecting those breaks to favored groups is not a principled stance by Congress.) As always, Congress is horribly short-sighted and unaware of unintended consequences.

The Bush administration, Republican lawmakers and big oil companies condemned the bill, which they said would raise fuel prices for consumers, discourage oil and gas exploration in the United States and unfairly discriminate against a single industry while other manufacturers continue to enjoy tax breaks.

Of course fuel prices will go up. If I could find a reason not to be cynical, I’d ignore the probability that members of Congress want this to happen so they have a continuation of one of their favorite targets to bully in populist, economically-ignorant rants. But I’m cynical, so I think they know this. How else to explain the nonsense my local Fox affiliate bombarded me with last night in claiming that a gallon of gasoline could rise to the “outrageous” price of $4. Adjectives require more than one data point.

That the price of a gallon of gas already includes – inefficiently – the $18 billion cost of the existing tax break. Removing inefficient tax breaks would push the price of gas (closer) to its true market price. That’s problematic?

On the second point, profit alone should encourage or discourage oil and gas exploration. Let the market figure out the details. The ongoing results will also work to push for alternative energy without requiring shifting tax breaks from one group to another. And, no, arguing that one industry will get tax breaks does not justify giving them to another.

Lazy Journalism: Or, words have meanings.

I had this article open in my browser from earlier this morning. I should’ve taken a snapshot before refreshing. One error is gone, but the same error still exists. The title of the article is “Economy Slows to Near Crawl”.

The economy skidded to a near halt in the final quarter of last year, clobbered by dual slumps in housing and credit that caused people and businesses to spend and invest more sparingly.

I don’t recall having trouble buying luxury items in the last quarter of 2007. I definitely don’t recall having trouble buying necessities in the same time period. Has the economy really skidded to a near “halt”, meaning that it has skidded to a near stop?

I don’t think the new headline, replacing halt with crawl, is much better. Surely there’s a better word for the apparent lack of expansion, given that we’re not quite at breadline status. Semantically, I’d choose stagnant, but that might have some Americans who weren’t six when the ’70s ended concerned. Not that it doesn’t concern me, but I recognize it from the intellectual, not the experiential.

Or the AP could’ve taken the easy way, reporting “Economic Growth Slows to Near Halt,” or some other such evaluation of the facts.

Prove it.

Senator Clinton makes a bold claim:

Blasting “companies shamelessly turning their backs on Americans” by shipping jobs overseas and railing that “it is wrong that somebody who makes $50 million on Wall Street pays a lower tax rate than somebody who makes $50,000 a year,” Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton increasingly sounds like one of her old Democratic rivals, former senator John Edwards of North Carolina.

The first half of her statement is boring rhetoric. Corporations are evil, blah blah blah. Empty talking points. Whatever.

The second half of her statement is absurd. She needs to prove it. Show me one Wall Street executive who pays a lower tax rate than somebody who makes $50,000 per year.

No matter what, I will take no solace. If she could fine one, her solution would be to raise the rate on the individual making $50 million. She’d never imagine that she could (ask Congress to) lower rates or simplify the entire tax code.


It’s interesting that the first screen a visitor encounters at her campaign website is a place to give her your information, accompanied by a big red SUBMIT button. Freudian, anyone?

Senator Obama does the same, but he doesn’t ask for first or last name and invites the visitor to LEARN MORE. I won’t pretend that the result isn’t nearly identical, when mentality meets policy, but the marketing difference explains a lot.

The issue is always individual rights.

Three circumcision topics, in order from past to present.

First, author Susie Bright wrote the following based on a discussion in her podcast from 2005:

The problem is, it’s one thing to decide for the newborn… and it’s another to deal with the adult men around you who already had the choice made for them a long time ago. So often people think they’re talking about “babies,” when they’re really talking about themselves.

I’m not deluded into thinking the foundational basis for my advocating against circumcision isn’t my complete dissatisfaction with being circumcised. I hate it. I have been and always will be upfront about that. But, that’s not where my thinking is on why infant circumcision as practiced in the United States is wrong. What is broken can’t be fixed; I’m not trying to fix it. Nor do I need to resolve any phantom psychological problems some imagine I suffer. I’m only making the basic human rights (and common sense) argument I wish someone had made before I was born.

In other words, it’s only about me when someone else makes it about me. That involves assuming something I haven’t said, or ignoring what I have said. You like being circumcised? Good for you. I’m not trying to convince you otherwise. You think your preference permits you to impose it permanently on a healthy child? Only there do we have a problem.

Next, from a blogger who self-identifies as a (paleoconservative) libertarian, this argument pointing to Time’s ranking of voluntary, adult circumcision as a way to reduce the risk of female-to-male HIV infection:

So much for Penn & Teller’s anti-circumcision show [sic]

I’ve seen the Penn & Teller: Bullshit! episode on circumcision, which its producers describe thusly:

In episode 301, the third season premiere, the mischievous magicians examine the historical, religious, medical and ethical arguments associated with circumcision.

How many of those has the blogger, Josh, ignored? There’s the obvious medical argument against circumcising healthy infants, that we don’t routinely perform surgery on healthy children that corrects no malady. However, I’m only interested in challenging the direct flaw in pretending that X scientific assertion (reduced female-to-male HIV risk) demands Y response (circumcising healthy infants). X doesn’t demand Y. Aside from the easy medical dismissal, the beginning of the ethical analysis informs us that the HIV angle on voluntary, adult male circumcision suggests nothing about forcing infant circumcision on healthy infants, the topic of the circumcision episode of Penn & Teller: Bullshit!.

Finally, for parents who claim a First Amendment right to circumcise their children, consider:

Forty-four percent of Americans have either switched their religious affiliation since childhood or dropped out of any formal religious group, according to the largest recent survey on American religious identification.

The obvious shortcoming is that it’s a survey with insufficient detail. It can’t specifically rebut any rights claim.

Yet, it demonstrates the valid individual rights counter-argument to the invalid group rights claim such parents make. Freedom of religion is an individual right. Parents have only the individual right to practice their own religion. They may raise their children in that religion, but that is a concession to practicality and reason, not a separate guaranteed right. There must be limits that protect the child’s individual rights. That includes his individual right to be free from religion by rejecting his parents’ religion. Modifying his body permanently revokes his right. That can never be legitimate.

More of the same. Yeah, that’s the ticket.

George Will writes in today’s Washington Post on potential running mates for John McCain:

Three two-term governors might help McCain, including Mississippi’s Haley Barbour, 60. He has two things McCain lacks — impeccable conservative credentials and a genial disposition. He was conspicuously competent in Hurricane Katrina’s aftermath. …

Conspicuously competent? How about conspicuously unethical (link via).

Many Mississippians have benefited from Governor Haley Barbour’s efforts to rebuild the state’s devastated Gulf Coast in the two years since Hurricane Katrina. The $15 billion or more in federal aid the former Republican national chairman attracted has reopened casinos and helped residents move to new or repaired homes.

Among the beneficiaries are Barbour’s own family and friends, who have earned hundreds of thousands of dollars from hurricane-related business. A nephew, one of two who are lobbyists, saw his fees more than double in the year after his uncle appointed him to a special reconstruction panel. Federal Bureau of Investigation agents in June raided a company owned by the wife of a third nephew, which maintained federal emergency- management trailers.

Meanwhile, the governor’s own former lobbying firm, which he says is still making payments to him, has represented at least four clients with business linked to the recovery.

No evidence has surfaced that Barbour violated the law; at the same time, the pattern that emerges from public records and interviews raises “many red flags,” said Ken Boehm, chairman of the National Legal and Policy Center, a watchdog group in Falls Church, Virginia, that investigates the investments of government officials. “At the minimum, the public is entitled to a full explanation of the facts,” he said.

It gets worse from there.

I already have a low opinion of Senator McCain. I would expect this sort of thinking and marketing from him. I expect better from the usually reasonable George Will. Perhaps I’m confusing the quality of his analysis with the quality of his recommendations resulting from his analysis? If so, he should stick solely to the latter.

Unfortunately, Barbour also was a lobbyist for a while, and the right to “petition the government for a redress of grievances” is another part of the First Amendment that the co-author of McCain-Feingold finds unimpressive.

Maybe I should rethink my opinion on the quality of Mr. Will’s analysis. It’s citizens, not lobbyists, that McCain has a problem with. Sure, his public statements suggest Mr. Will’s analysis. But his public (and private) actions do not. Those already in power are free to do much, much more than those not in power.