Only an elitist allows results determine his efforts.

Let’s all show our surprise that abstinence education doesn’t work.

Programs teaching U.S. schoolchildren to abstain from sex have not cut teen pregnancies or sexually transmitted diseases or delayed the age at which sex begins, health groups told Congress on Wednesday.

Teens will have sex. Who knew? And they will make bad choices, as well as “bad” choices. Yet, if the information is structured with a “just say no” pretense, everything will be okay. People who believe that should not be in charge of anyone else’s money. They probably shouldn’t operate heavy equipment, either.

More pathetic, though, is the resort to ad hominem from our culture warriors, aka politicians.

Rep. John Duncan, a Tennessee Republican, said that it seems “rather elitist” that people with academic degrees in health think they know better than parents what type of sex education is appropriate. “I don’t think it’s something we should abandon,” he said of abstinence-only funding.

I guess “elitist” is the new “for the children.” But about those parents providing preferred types of sex education, if they’re the ones teaching their children abstinence, why is the federal government spending taxpayer money on something that parents know how to teach? Isn’t there an implication that parents won’t provide their children the appropriate type of sex education if it’s not funded by taxpayers? I guess that doesn’t qualify as “elitist”.

Link via John Cole.

It’s like legislating that puppies are cute.

Congress, protecting you from the world they built:

Lawmakers have agreed to make it illegal for employers and insurance companies to deny applicants jobs and health care coverage because DNA tests show they are genetically disposed to a disease.

It also makes clear that, while individuals are protected from discrimination based on genetic predisposition, insurance companies still have the right to base coverage and pricing on the actual presence of a disease.

Here’s an idea: eliminate the favorable incentive that irrationally ties health insurance in America to employment. If employers are no longer in the insurance business, they’ll have no opportunity to discriminate on the basis of future health care expense. Instead, Congress leaves the underlying problem that permits possible discrimination and codifies “discrimination is bad, mmmkay.” Never mind that politicians discriminate against the unemployed, under-employed, and self-employed.

Naturally Congress misses the point that discrimination is not inherently evil. It is often used for reasons we don’t like, so we’ve attached an exclusively pejorative interpretation to it. But I discriminate against meat when I choose vegetables instead. I discriminate against Ford when I drive a MINI. The Phillies discriminated against a local player when they traded him for a player they value more. Politicians discriminate against one expenditure when they vote for another. Sometimes, discrimination is just about making choices in a world with limitations.

I’m playing semantics right now. Conceded. But semantics matter, as this shows:

[Senator Olympia] Snowe noted that nearly 32 percent of women offered a genetic test for breast cancer risk by the National Institutes of Health declined because of concerns about health insurance discrimination.

I’m not advocating mandatory screening against a person’s wishes. But I’m also against prohibiting insurance companies from pricing risk more precisely by requiring genetic information through the voluntary application process. (Is that the inevitable future from this legislation?) Yet, just as an insurance provider may require the test, no applicant is forced to accept that condition. Competition breeds options where it is permitted. To a significant extent, it is not permitted while insurance is tied to employment, so we get further legislation.

Although it’s not explicit, I think the sponsors of this legislation are more content with the collective outcome of this. Insurance providers are good at knowing their business. They understand risk and how to price it based on statistics. Congress seems to be saying that pricing it better – to the individual, based on the individual – is discriminatory. Perhaps. But the risk will be priced. The only question for discussion is who pays. Is it shared across the insurance pool or paid by each according to his risk?

Legislation like this, as opposed to the more logical solution that removes the faulty incentive, clarifies the political mandate: genetic luck, just like financial “luck”, increases one’s responsibility to the unlucky.

Consent plays a role, too.

This article on adult circumcision was the companion piece to the recent Los Angeles Times article on infant circumcision. It would’ve been easy and proper to focus on consent, here and in the article on infants, but instead it’s mostly fluff seemingly intended to prove that men really, really like circumcision. The facts don’t support the article’s implications, although you have to know the facts because they weren’t provided in the article. I suspect this is mostly because the reporter lazily relied on urologists, who will inevitably see only men with an issue. Healthy, happy intact men don’t generally visit a doctor to say everything’s fine.

Still, I found one useful nugget (emphasis added):

Dr. David Cornell, a urologist who runs the Circumcision Center in Atlanta, sees men who want a circumcision because they prefer the appearance and because they want to feel more comfortable socially.

“I hear a thousand times a year from men who don’t feel that they look like most other men in the locker room. In our society, there’s an overriding preference for circumcision,” says Cornell, who performs 250 procedures a year on men who, for cosmetic reasons, want a circumcision or a revision to one they don’t think looks right.

Even where the male eventually agrees with his parents and/or society’s subjective judgment that circumcision is more aesthetically appealing, what is specifically appealing is also subjective. Dr. Cornell surgically alters (consenting¹) circumcised men toward the body they want. This part of his practice demonstrates that even when parents guess correctly, there is no guarantee that this will be sufficient.

Of course, men could also choose this if left intact, with a better chance of getting exactly what they want² because they have everything to work with, rather than the remnants of the original circumcision.

¹ Also from the article:

Though frequently attacked by anti-circumcision activists, [Dr. Cornell] says, “I’m doing a cosmetic operation on a consenting adult. Why he’s doing it is his business.”

He’s correct. Those activists damage the legitimacy in this debate. Circumcision is only the expression of the real issue, the lack of consent from healthy minors whose genitals are surgically altered.

² Or what they think they want. I know at least one man whose parents did not circumcise him. He chose it for himself as an adult to conform to societal expectations. He hates the results and regrets his action.

Let’s organize a One Million Cow March on the Capitol.

The New York Times editorial board has an interesting reaction to PETA’s announcement of a $1 million prize to anyone who can produce commercially-viable in vitro chicken-meat by June 30, 2012. (The requirements are strict; it’s unlikely anyone could possibly meet this deadline.) Consider:

We are disgusted by the conventional meat industry in this country, which raises animals — especially chicken and pigs — in inhumane confinement systems that cause significant environmental damage. There is every reason to change the way meat is produced, to make it more ethical, more humane. …

So far, so good. But there has to be a “but”.

… But the result of the technology that PETA hopes to reward could be the end of domesticated farm animals. This has often seemed as if it were the logical conclusion of some radical animal-rights activists: better for animals not to exist at all if there is a chance that they would suffer.

I doubt seriously we’d see the end of domesticated farm animals, even in a world where everyone went vegan. Existing endangered-species legislation suggests we’d take an unkind view to complete extinction. And given that such a world will never exist, this fear is particularly worthless.

Nor is it particularly radical to suggest that it’s better for an animal not to exist than for it to suffer. I’ll temporarily pretend that the inevitable slaughter of the animal does not qualify as suffering. The “happy meat” argument in favor of Humane-Certified is different from the majority of animal agriculture in the United States today. Assuming “happy meat” animals will suffer only at their end, most animals raised for food will suffer throughout their lives. That warrants a discussion, even if the eventual answer is to default to the status quo.

This is not an adequate defense:

We prefer a more measured approach. Ensure the least possible cruelty to animals, by all means, and raise them in ways that are both ethical and environmentally sound. …

Again, so far, so good. Even for those who disagree because they prefer an abolitionist approach, this is better than nothing. But there has to be a “but”.

… But also treasure the cultural and historical bond between humans and domesticated animals. Historically speaking, they exist only because of the uses we have found for them, and preserving their existence means, in most cases, preserving the uses we have made for them. …

This is a ridiculous defense, but I’ll defer to Erik Marcus, where I found the link:

You know: the cultural and historical bond that involves one party cutting the other party’s throat. Yeah, let’s treasure that. …

As I implied earlier, treasuring the bond does not require death. For other species, we requires letting the species live, to the detriment of nearly every other consideration. That may be right, or it may be wrong. In the debate the costs of protection must be considered. But existing evidence undermines the “slaughter or extinction” nonsense.

At least they didn’t say that animals want us to eat them.

Businesses are people, too.

From Robert Samuelson, here’s an odd column in today’s Washington Post. I’m not interested in tackling specifics because Mr. Samuelson seems to offer mostly his own guesses as to the future of spending in America. But he did amuse me with a contradiction.

To say that the shopping spree is over does not mean that every mall in America will close. It does mean that consumers will no longer serve as a reliable engine of growth. Consumption’s expansion required Americans to save less, borrow more and spend more; that cycle now seems finished. Without another source of growth (higher investment, exports?), the economy will slow.

This is an interesting thesis, perhaps. But much later, he offers this:

What can replace feverish consumer spending as a motor of economic growth? Health care, some say. Health spending will surely increase. But its expansion will simply crowd out other forms of consumer and government spending, because it will be paid for with steeper taxes or insurance premiums. Both erode purchasing power. Higher exports are a more plausible possibility; they, however, depend on how healthy the rest of the world economy remains without the crutch of exporting more to the United States.

How is health spending not consumer spending? Economically, is paying a doctor to fix my heart different than paying a mechanic to fix my car’s fuel pump? Both are payment for a service. The importance we apply to the two, as well as demographics in both population aging and car ownership, matters, but not in how we think about spending. In a free market, people will spend on what they value. But people will spend.

Mr. Samuelson’s point that health spending will crowd out consumer spending is strange, coming after he posited that consumer spending is declining. It’s also strange to claim as a blanket statement that higher insurance premiums erode purchasing power. Surely at least some of the risk protection purchased through premiums will be consumed through health spending. How – and how much – does it matter who pays the service provider?

Inevitably that leads to another point. Higher exports are a more plausible possibility. Fine. But to suggest that this is surprising or new requires an unwillingness to define “consumer” as one who consumes rather than an individual who consumes. Does the business creating new products not need equipment to build those products or computers to manage that production? Does the business shipping those products to foreign markets not need trucks and ships? What about packaging material to protect those products during shipment?

It’s possible, maybe even probable, that Mr. Samuelson’s prediction will prove true. It’s problematic because it views specific spenders as the objectively preferable path. It’s better to understand that the economy is large, global, and dynamic. It will change. When allowed to adapt, change will mean long-term progress, despite any short-term bumps. But when viewed as something to be wrapped around a preferred path, problems abound. It’s projecting tomorrow based on yesterday, when every first year finance student is exposed to learns the idea that past performance does not equal future performance.

Mr. Samuelson concludes that “the ebbing shopping spree may challenge the next president in ways that none of the candidates has yet contemplated.” The economy will always challenge the president in ways not yet contemplated. That’s why the president should avoid meddling.

Surgery as a Replacement for Parenting

I used to feel some reservation about quoting parents when they’ve said something stupid about circumcision. You’ve probably figured out that I shed that a long time ago. When someone says something stupid to a reporter, I highlight it solely to point out that people are using stupidity to justify imposing permanent, medically unnecessary surgery on their child. (Doctors are complicit in this nonsense, which will also be obvious.) From an article out of St. Louis:

“I tell people there’s not a real medical reason for them to have [ed. note: Have? Force.] a circumcision,” said Dr. Jack Klein, chief of obstetrics at Missouri Baptist Medical Center, where 1,873 of the 2,144 boys born in 2007 were circumcised. “I will tell you the majority reason that people get circumcised is because they want their kid to look like other kids.”

That social conformity is reason enough, say some parents concerned about future locker room comparisons and sexual relationships.

“I really didn’t want to be faced with a teenage boy asking me why I didn’t do this and not have a really good reason for him,” St. Louis resident Amy Zimmerman said of her 2-year-old son John.

Notice who she is concerned about. Her concern was about her own feelings, her own desire to avoid the potential for (allegedly) tough questions from her son. That was enough for her to justify unneeded surgery on her son. She seems to wish to parent her son only in ways that do not exceed her level of comfort with potential issues. If it might be uncomfortable for her, her fear is enough to dismiss the healthy, intact (i.e. normal) individual he was, as well as the preference he may one day hold for having his genitals intact. Ms. Zimmerman fails to understand what it means to “not have a really good reason”.

Not that he would’ve complained if she didn’t have him circumcised. That’s speculation. But even if he would eventually complain, it’s an easy position for parents to say “We didn’t cut your healthy penis because it was healthy.” That’s rather simple. If he’s not placated by that, it would still have been possible for him to choose circumcision. But if she’s faced with a teenage boy asking why she did this, and he is not happy about it, what then? Oops?

If an individual does not want to parent his or her children, that person should not have children. Cosmetic surgery on healthy children to avoid future questions is a coward’s solution.


Unfortunately, doctors are complicit in this abdication of parenting. Dr. Klein’s statement above makes this clear, since the surgery is objectively not indicated. But they cede this point in the name of parenting, a very poor conception of that responsibility.

Ultimately, it’s a personal decision, said Dr. Joseph Kahn, chief of pediatrics at St. John’s Mercy Medical Center.

“Like every decision for every surgery on every child,” he said, “it really needs to be something that’s discussed with the parents.”

Ultimately, we don’t treat it as a personal decision. The male choosing or rejecting circumcision for himself would be a personal decision. And like every other decision for every other surgery on every female and male child, it really needs to be something that’s medically necessary. That’s the first principle that’s ignored. Or can parents just order any cosmetic surgery for their child son(s)?

Female genital cutting is prohibited, of course, regardless of the “personal decision” parents might wish to make. We don’t listen to nonsense about parents deciding what’s best for their family, the newest mantra I see developing around male genital cutting. What’s best for your family, when you decide to have a family, is that each person’s bodily integrity is respected. You decide to have children. When they arrive healthy, you do not then have a special veto power over the form of that child’s body just because he is a he and not a she.

Where medical need is absent, intervention is illegitimate.

The new looks like the old.

I have a lingering internal question over whether my mistrust of government is still a healthy skepticism or is now in mired in the depths of cynicism. I don’t think the difference matters significantly because I still reach the same conclusions. But the latter might make the rare exceptions harder to accept when they appear. And yet, as I wonder, a story like this on Senator McCain’s proposed “gas-tax holiday” comes along (link via John Cole):

Earlier Monday at a community college in the Philadelphia suburbs, Obama rejected a tax holiday as bad economic policy. “I’ve said I think John McCain’s proposal for a three-month tax holiday is a bad idea,” Obama said, warning consumers that any price cut would be short lived before costs spike back.

“We’re talking about 5 percent of your total cost of gas that you suspend for three months, which might save you a few hundred bucks that then will spike right up,” Obama said. “Now keep in mind that it will save you that if Exxon Mobil doesn’t decide, ‘We’ll just tack on another 5 percent on the current cost.’”

I’m calling my mental approach skepticism because Senator Obama demonstrates here what cynicism really is. Where he could talk exclusively about the stupidity of a tax holiday bribe, he had to jump into talking points. Let’s assume Exxon Mobil, since they’re the working man’s evil oppressor du jour right now, would “just tack on another 5 percent on the current cost”. Then what? I, as a price-conscious consumer in need of gasoline, drive to the Shell station where the 5 percent isn’t “just tacked on”. Although it could be, because in a competitive market, companies are able – and certainly willing, the evil bastards – to “just tack on” whatever little windfall profits they want.

I’ve heard Senator Obama is a new kind of politician. I’m not buying it. A new kind of politics would rely on something a little more honest than pandering to voters with a scapegoat and misrepresentation of economics. This is one more reason I will not be voting for Senator Obama in November.

“Just a ‘little’ off the top” is subjective.

In an essay discussing a magazine article reviewing the origin of circumcision, the author demonstrates – parenthetically – why it continues.

(The most logical explanation is simple. The male organ [sic] simply looks better post-circumcision than it does pre-circumcision. And looks matter: Consider how visual an animal the human male is and just how much time he spends gazing at himself.)

That’s not logic. That’s a subjective preference rationalized from an ex post facto analysis fueled by cultural conditioning, as well as a refusal to accept that what is common is not necessarily normal and may, in fact, be harmful.

(For my own parenthetical, the last sentence of the excerpt warrants a response, but it is beyond the scope of my more fundamental argument. If you understand my objection to the first two sentences, my critique of the third sentence is obvious.)

Then, this:

I put the magazine back on the stack, fishing for my handkerchief to deal with the chilly sweat now covering my forehead. [ed. note: There is slightly more context to this excerpt, before and after, but excluding it does not alter the meaning.]

I will never understand how circumcised men react to discussion of the topic this way, only to defend imposing on infant boys what would be so objectionable to them now. What makes a man express relief because he doesn’t remember rather than disbelief that something so objectively offensive could be forced on him? And where is the empathy, the moment of thought for other individuals that might make us ask whether or not he wants his healthy penis cut?

“Neutrality” is an interesting concept for government.

This article raises interesting issues on the need for investment in Internet infrastructure. I can’t quite decipher whether the AT&T executive is looking for government funding of this needed infrastructure. I think so, although I’m just guessing. Also, while a projected increase in network traffic as video options expand online is inevitable, I’m skeptical of this claim:

[Jim Cicconi, vice president of legislative affairs for AT&T] said: “The surge in online content is at the centre of the most dramatic changes affecting the internet today. In three years’ time, 20 typical households will generate more traffic than the entire internet today.”

In three years? I’d like to see those projections.

But that’s not my point here. Generalize this from the specifics about net neutrality and wonder why we can’t get more of this from the government.

The US Department of Justice said in a statement last year: “However well-intentioned, regulatory restraints can inefficiently skew investment, delay innovation and diminish consumer welfare, and there is reason to believe that the kinds of broad marketplace restrictions proposed in the name of ‘neutrality’ would do just that with respect to the internet.”

Regulatory restraints can inefficiently skew investment, delay innovation and diminish consumer welfare? Even when well-intentioned? Who knew?

Will they reduce rates or add more services when the economy improves?

The current, apparent economic journey into recession demonstrates why limited government is wise. Unlike individuals, who tend tighten their financial dealings through closer observance and more critical judgment, government chooses only one path during tough economic conditions.

Fairfax County yesterday joined a growing list of communities across the region that have raised property taxes this year to protect government services and public schools in the face of declining real estate values and a generally sluggish economy.

Perhaps an analysis of the Fairfax County government would reveal a limited array of indefensible services. I doubt it, but I’m rather more interested in the theoretical here. Individuals can’t simply require a higher salary when their salary falls below break-even. They must understand their need to reduce expenses, however temporarily. When services are essentially guaranteed¹ by the government, flexibility causes problems, as these counties are now discovering. No one should be surprised.

No reasonable person is going to suggest cutting out schools, for example, to save money. But if you send your children to a school that you pay for directly, will you likely be more or less inclined to scrutinize how the school spends its (i.e. your) money? Will administrators likely be more or less accountable for each penny? If there’s an important message that needs to go out, and the school usually prints for distribution, might direct concern regarding costs lead to e-mail distribution instead?

Unfortunately, we have layers of extraneous bureaucracy instead. We have distance between consumer and cost. We don’t know how to say “no” when funds are unavailable or the request is ludicrous. We concede more services as public goods, then relinquish more of our money when tax receipts fall below spending. We cease to question any previous transfer of services to government provision. And when the economy picks up, government takes the credit.

¹ Services are guaranteed. Quality, maybe not as much.