Meta-Blogging: My New Gig

I have a new gig:

As some may have already noticed, I am proud to announce a major change here at Publius Endures. Effective today, I am happy to say that I am no longer the sole author of this blog. Instead, I am now joined by the anonymously named, but always thoughtful, East Coast Libertarian of the site of the same name (his excellent first contribution to this site is here). But that’s not all! Also joining us at Publius Endures will be Nick Bradley of Confessions of a Right Wing Libertarian (and, notably, occasional contributor at and the equally outstanding Tony from RollingDoughnut.

Around the time I posted about going back to work after my long vacation, Mark approached me about a group blog. Through the various idea sessions (i.e. e-mails of “so, what do you think we should name the new site?”) we settled on sharing his blog. I think it’s a great idea, obviously, since I accepted his offer. I’m putting the finals edits into a detailed post, which I expect to finish tomorrow. Once that’s done I’ll have time to begin posting at Publius Endures in the next day or so.

So, what does that mean for Rolling Doughnut? The short answer is very little will change. I’ll still be posting here. Rolling Doughnut is a labor of love; it’s not going anywhere. I’ll cross-post, generally, so my content will still be here. And I will continue to blog about all of my interests. Basically, everything but the libertarian-ish stuff will go here exclusively (and regularly).

The slightly longer answer is that I want to expand my repertoire. I love writing, and I love libertarian ideas. I’ve focused too much on ranting about whatever is the topic of the day. That’s fun, and I’ll continue. However, that doesn’t satisfy my philosophical interest in libertarianism. Commenting on news is good, but I’m looking to make it the beginning rather than the point. This opportunity is a good location and motivation for growing.

Finally, Mark’s already put in the work to establish the site and build a reputation. Whatever good comes from this, he deserves credit for being the catalyst. I hope you’ll continue reading here, but I hope you’ll also join me at Publius Endures, too. It should be fun.

This one is to remind me not to panic.

Last August I wrote the following:

For the better part of the last seven years, the Phillies have followed the same routine. Slump horribly in April. Play en fuego throughout May. Swoon rhymes with June for a reason. July brings an improbable hint of life. The last few sputters in the playoff engine burn out in the first days of August as the team pulls itself back into contention. Playoff optimism fever strikes the Phandom. …

The Phillies are idle today, but last time I checked, we’re losing to the off day. Such is our fate in June. We finished the month 12-13, but that lies because we’ve played at a nice 3-11 clip since June 14th. Somehow we still lead the N.L. East. That’s an improvement over the rest of this decade, but so far, the first half of the season is going exactly as expected. Here’s to a better, more-consistent second half.

They speculate that you’ll buy.

Those evil capitalists, looking to screw customers at every opportunity!

Car buyers trying to cut gas costs face a tough choice regarding hybrids: Buy now, or wait for a more capable and potentially cheaper next-generation car?

But automakers also are pushing hard to build more capability at less cost into their next generation of hybrids.

CEO Takeo Fukui said last month in Japan that Honda wants to cut 33%, or about $900, out of the extra cost of a Civic hybrid over the conventional model, so “customers can choose hybrid purely for economical merits.”

Carmakers have a product in hot demand, given the current price of gasoline. How do they respond to increased demand? By trying to reduce the price. The bastards! At least we can enjoy the feeling of intellectual superiority in knowing that capitalism is evil because we all know a car today is hardly any better than twenty-five years ago. Ha! Gotcha, Honda.

You say 1:367,200, I say 0:367,200.

Let’s set aside the obvious complaint about state lotteries. Obviously the state has no business being in the lottery/gaming business, but that won’t get us anywhere here. Instead, this article raises an interesting question about a scratch-off game in progress. Specifically, this:

State lotteries are coming under renewed criticism for selling scratch-off tickets after the top prizes have been given away. The latest challenge comes from a professor who says he intends to sue Virginia for allegedly selling $20 million a year in lottery tickets that had no top prize available.

About half of the 42 states that have lotteries — including Florida, New Jersey, Michigan and Tennessee — keep selling tickets after the top prizes are gone. The states say the practice is fair because lottery tickets and websites disclose the practice. Also, other prizes are available.

In August 2007, Washington and Lee University business professor Scott Hoover bought $5 tickets for a game called “Beginners Luck” in Virginia. Later, he learned the top prize was awarded in July. Using public records, Hoover calculated that the state sold about $20 million annually for three years in tickets when a top prize wasn’t available. He says the state should compensate these players.

Reflexively I side with the state’s position in this case as long as the practice is disclosed. If, in the example above, Virginia advertised the game on television, radio, and in print with the lure of the top prize after it had been awarded, that’s a problem. But if the rules of the game explain – even in the fine print – that the game will continue until all prizes are awarded (or all tickets are sold), there is no fraud. What’s the issue?

Then there’s the odds. The player is playing a game in which the odds the player will win the top prize are absurd from the game’s inception. Yes, the odds become zero after the top prize is awarded, but surely the player intends to win something if he doesn’t win the big prize. Most lottery players I know habitually use their winnings to purchase more lottery tickets. It becomes (hopefully) a financially self-sustaining habit. So, if the state should compensate players for buying tickets after someone won the top prize, will those players be required to return any winnings?

Or I could be totally wrong and the state’s engaging in shady practice. I seem to be in the minority in thinking the state shouldn’t be in the gaming business, to say nothing of imposing a monopoly. Maybe I’m also being a silly here in thinking the contract is the contract.

Note: Beginner’s Luck on the Virginia Lottery site clearly states that zero top prizes remain.

Assumptions need to be tested as much as principles.

Commentary on yesterday’s Supreme Court ruling in District of Columbia v. Heller (pdf) is widespread around the Internets. I won’t delve any deeper than to say I agree with the ruling and much of the libertarian commentary. The Second Amendment is an individual right. Reading it any other way is ridiculous. Yesterday was a good day for the Constitution.

With that behind us, Eugene Robinson understands and accepts the principle behind the Supreme Court’s decision:

This case, for me, is one of those uncomfortable situations in which my honest opinion is not the one I’d desperately like to be able to argue. As much as I abhor the possible real-word impact of the ruling, I fear that it’s probably right.

I’m not a fan of guns anywhere other than in movies and television. I don’t own one, and don’t expect to in the future. Partly this is because my father died in an accidental shooting. But that part of me can’t be used to interpret the Constitution. It says what it says.

Unfortunately, Mr. Robinson follows that reasonable statement with this support for his apprehension:

The practical benefits of effective gun control are obvious: If there are fewer guns, there are fewer shootings and fewer funerals. As everyone knows, in the District of Columbia — and in just about every city in the nation, big or small — there are far too many funerals. The handgun is the weapon of choice in keeping the U.S. homicide rate at a level that the rest of the civilized world finds incomprehensible and appalling.

The use of the word effective is key. Gun prohibition has been the law in D.C. for decades, yet people still die regularly. It doesn’t work, if only because we haven’t figured out how to make it effective. If a 100% prohibition is not effective, I’m not convinced anything could be.

There’s also the pesky matter of his unscientific assumption of what statistics would show. Theoretically it’s probably true that fewer guns would mean fewer shooting, but reality shows we’re back to (in)effective. And the idea that we’d have fewer funerals is little more than an appeal to “don’t kill Bambi”. There are plenty of ways to kill people.

But come on, it’s not as if the law was making gun violence in the city any worse — and it’s not as if striking down the law, and perhaps adding hundreds or thousands of weapons to the city, will make things any better. The law was flawed, but it was a lot better than nothing.

Do we really know that the law wasn’t making gun violence in D.C. any worse? It’s at least as reasonable to assume that a law-abiding citizen who owns a (legal) gun could stop her murder better than a law-abiding citizen who would own a gun if she weren’t prohibited by the D.C. City Council.

E.J. Dionne, meanwhile, sticks to his partisan line.

In knocking down the District’s 32-year-old ban on handgun possession, the conservatives on the Supreme Court have again shown their willingness to abandon precedent in order to do whatever is necessary to further the agenda of the contemporary political right.

The court’s five most conservative members have demonstrated that for all of Justice Antonin Scalia’s talk about “originalism” as a coherent constitutional doctrine, those on the judicial right regularly succumb to the temptation to legislate from the bench. They fall in line behind whatever fashions political conservatism is promoting.

Mr. Dionne fails to acknowledge the difference between a principle and a preference. He also can’t seem to understand that his boogeyman – the contemporary political right – is not quite reality. Agrees With Me and Disagrees With Me aren’t political parties.

Also, Justice Scalia is the broken clock of legal jurisprudence, not the bulwark of any particular principle.

Finally, this gem:

It was telling in the gun case that while Scalia argued that the Constitution does not permit “the absolute prohibition of handguns held and used for self-defense in the home” — note that the Second Amendment says nothing about “self-defense in the home” — it was Justice John Paul Stevens in dissent who called for judicial restraint. He asked his conservative colleagues where they were able to find an expansive and absolute right for gun possession.

Mr. Dionne writes this despite having written in the previous paragraph that the Supreme Court “ran roughshod” in its ruling striking down a portion of campaign finance law. Where in the Constitution can he find the power in the Constitution for Congress to make laws abridging the freedom of speech?

The rest of his editorial suggests fealty to the democratic majority. I wonder how much he’d bow to that if his perception of that opinion if he felt the majority had a disdain for gun control. The Constitution may not be a suicide pact, but democracy certainly is.


Bonus question: Why does the editorial in favor of the Supreme Court’s ruling have a 600×204 pixel picture of a handgun? Admittedly I get most Washington Post editorials through RSS, but I’ve never seen a picture added to the editorial column. Perhaps a giant picture of the Constitution preceding Dionne’s editorial would’ve been equally appropriate?

The facts are, in fact, relevant.

In response to the Jeremy Kuper essay I criticized yesterday, Laura MacDonald writes an excellent rebuttal demonstrating how little attention Kuper gave the topic beyond the superficial evidence that he believes supports his decision to circumcise his son. This is excellent:

Specifically, let’s talk about the foreskin itself. Its function is – bizarrely – one thing you’ll find absent in most of the discussion articles written about circumcision.

… Often presented as a “tiny” vestigial flap of skin, most particularly by women and by men who haven’t got one, a male foreskin measures around 10-15 square inches when unfolded, some 50% of his overall penile skin system. …

Right, then. Next time they’ll try harder, I’m sure.

For the sheer giggle factor of proving how extreme and indefensible circumcision is when compared to other interventions (i.e. condoms), this:

There is no convincing proof that circumcision reduces sexually transmitted infections in developed nations, and its effect on penile cancer rates is similar to that of soap.

I know. Soap, the preposterous suggestion we needn’t bother offering to men. Especially since they won’t need soap after circumcision. Or does that not make any sense? Whatever. As long as parents get to cut their children in the end, every absurd justification is logical.

“Research” is easy when you seek only approval.

In an attempt to defend the indefensible (i.e. circumcising his healthy son), Jeremy Kuper writes a rambling, disorganized essay at Comment is Free that skims only the surface on each aspect of the debate. Moreover, he includes the euphemism “member”, so the weight of his position automatically suffers according to my rule on penis euphemisms. You can read the essay, if you’re interested, but I already wasted enough time for all of mankind. Consider it not worth your time. And as proof, Kuper writes this near his conclusion:

Possibly the worst effect of circumcision for Jewish people, is the accusation that it is a form of mutilation, and cruelty to a small baby who is unable to give his consent.

Merriam-Webster defines mutilation as “to cut up or alter radically so as to make imperfect” or “to cut off or permanently destroy a limb or essential part of”. Someone takes a blade to a child’s healthy genitals and removes a functioning part of the body. Are we going to quibble over “essential”, because in the context of the foreskin, the clitoris holds no greater objective essentiality. I am not making an accusation that circumcision is a form of mutilation. I am stating the obvious truth that all forms of genital cutting on healthy, non-consenting individuals is mutilation.

Some uninformed critics even appear to confuse it with the horrendous practice of female circumcision, and the removal of the clitoris in some cultures, which is now largely banned. Dr Nahid Toubia argues that the term female circumcision “implies a fallacious analogy to non-mutilating male circumcision”.

Kuper is the uninformed individual in this debate. I “confuse” male and female genital cutting because they are the same act: medically unnecessary genital cutting on a non-consenting individual. That’s not a complicated analysis to arrive at. A few minutes spent objectively considering the act of circumcision could get to that understanding, even if he was unwilling to accept the comparison.

A few more minutes spent researching female genital cutting would demonstrate that removing the clitoris is FGM, but FGM is actually a spectrum of offenses that involve surgical alteration of the female genitals. A quick trip to Google reveals the four recognized types. At least one type is no more damaging than male genital cutting, yet all non-medically-indicated female genital cutting is illegal in Western societies. If I am to be the person who is wrong in this debate, then Kuper must defend the position that legislative bans on all female genital cutting are too broadly defined.

He must also reject the Western liberal tradition of gender-neutral equality under the law, but I’ll accept one concession to facts and modernity if his ego can’t handle an honest, complete exploration of the topic.

There is no do-over in surgery.

I’m still catching up on some of the circumcision-related news items form the last few weeks. Sometimes, I step away from the topic for short periods to recharge my tolerance for the inevitable frustration that arises when considering the various ways the rights of the circumcised are ignored, and the manner in which every breathless proclamation seems to instill even more determination that every male will just love being surgically altered shortly after birth. Stepping away eliminates reduces the number of verbal tirades I feel compelled to unleash. I always come back, though.

This story, forwarded to me by a loyal reader who forwards me useful material that I too often fail to translate into entries, is worth mentioning. Now that I’m looking, I can find a few references to it, but most media seems to have ignored it. Probably because it directly challenges the cheerleading for infant circumcision in the recent past. Anyway, the gist:

A quarter of a century after the outbreak of Aids, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has accepted that the threat of a global heterosexual pandemic has disappeared.

In the first official admission that the universal prevention strategy promoted by the major Aids organisations may have been misdirected, Kevin de Cock, the head of the WHO’s department of HIV/Aids said there will be no generalised epidemic of Aids in the heterosexual population outside Africa.

This is the appropriate point to remind everyone – the unethical scientists at WHO specifically – that the recent research we’ve been bombarded with repeatedly for the last two years suggests that voluntary, adult male circumcision reduces the risk of HIV transmission from female-to-male through heterosexual intercourse. Those infants who’ve been circumcised in the mad rush to embrace fear unsupported by at least the anecdotal evidence any mildly observant individual in a Western society could pick up? Ooops. But, hey, women will dig it, so there’s that.

In case you think this might cause the media to apply any critical thinking to the way they’ve reported on circumcision, fret not, they’re fully prepared to let you down if you get optimistic. In the same article, this:

Critics of the global Aids strategy complain that vast sums are being spent educating people about the disease who are not at risk, when a far bigger impact could be achieved by targeting high-risk groups and focusing on interventions known to work, such as circumcision, which cuts the risk of infection by 60 per cent, and reducing the number of sexual partners.

Interventions known to work. Process that for a moment. It’s known to work¹ at reducing the risk of HIV transmission from female-to-male through heterosexual intercourse! Isn’t the point of this story to report on the possible exaggeration of an epidemic among heterosexuals? I can imagine the editorial review of this article. “Everyone, shake your pom poms with me. Give me a “C”! Give me an “I”! Give me an “R”! Give me a “C”!

I won’t put it in print, but I’m swearing right now.

¹ There is room to debate this, primarily on methodology. Another time, perhaps.

I don’t know, it’s a mystery.

I don’t buy the hype that rising oil prices signal the death of our economy, or even significant long-term harm. This isn’t silly denial. There will be consequences, and many of them will be economically painful. Such is the manner of change. But this is just another in the always present process of creative destruction. Because we’re intelligent, we will adapt. We did so in the late 1970s when we entered Peak Oil for the first time. We’ll somehow survive again.

That could’ve been the direction of Robert Samuelson’s latest column on the latest developments in oil prices and markets. It seems like he holds the seed for this opinion. Late in the essay:

How can we retrieve some of our lost power? The first thing is to get out of denial. Stop blaming oil companies and “speculators.” Next, we need to expand domestic oil and natural gas drilling, including in Alaska. Although we can’t “drill our way” out of this problem, we can augment oil supplies and lessen price strains. It might take 10 years or more, because new projects are huge undertakings. But delay will only aggravate our future problems.

He’s essentially calling for action rather than the whining and sob stories about retirees selling their RVs. We’re going to get there eventually. Better to start now.

But – you had to guess that was coming – this wouldn’t be a Robert Samuelson column if he didn’t work the government into his solution as a necessary, integral ingredient. Economics somehow demands it. He concludes:

Finally, we need to realize that high prices may stimulate new biofuels from wood chips, food waste and switch grass. Production costs of these fuels may be in the range of $1 a gallon, says David Cole of the Center for Automotive Research. If true, that’s well below today’s wholesale gasoline prices. To assure new producers that they wouldn’t be wiped out if oil prices plunged, we should set a floor price for oil of $50 to $80 a barrel, says Cole. This could be done with a standby tariff that would activate only if prices hit the threshold. Oil prices are unpredictable, and should a price collapse occur, Americans wouldn’t be deluded into thinking we’ve returned permanently to cheap energy. We’ve made that mistake before.

We need to find new, cheaper, better alternatives to oil. But economic competition might mean new producers could be harmed by the realization of their risks. Who knew, right? So we should set a floor price for oil, apparently even if new producers can produce fuel at a price equivalent to or lower than the pre-established guarantee of a standby tariff. The possibility for rent seeking and unnecessary subsidization is obvious.

So. High prices are bad. Low prices are bad. Which is it?

Do I get to opt out of this contract?

I don’t wish to be a part of the new social contract proposed by two history professors. Contracts are, or should be, voluntary. I don’t think the authors have that in mind.

For the first time since 1964, Democrats have a good chance not just to win the White House and a majority in Congress but to enact a sweeping new liberal agenda. Conservative ideas are widely discredited, as is the Republican Party that the right has controlled since Ronald Reagan was elected. …

I’m not interested in defending the Republican Party, but this is petty, partisan propaganda. We haven’t tried “conservative” ideas, which I take to mean limited government, in many years. The current administration, and its sychophants in Congress, hardly represent conservative, limited government. Do we really need to walk through a list of the past seven years? Or do we need to wait until the next four-to-eight years are finished and look back and compare successes, or more likely, failures?

The new agenda focuses on protecting middle-class families from the insecurities of the global economy.

How about an agenda focused on all individuals in our society, rather than just middle-class families? Besides, isn’t an obsessive focus on families as the building blocks of society a conservative idea that’s been discredited?

Obama speaks of strengthening families by putting “the rungs back on that ladder to the middle class,” giving “every family the chance that so many of our parents and grandparents had.”

He also speaks of breaking the rungs on that ladder that lead higher than the middle class. Striving higher would be bad, but attempting to stay higher would also be bad. This is implicit in much of his tax ideas.

Also, many of our parents and grandparents had no indoor plumbing at some point early in their lives. It’s a shame we’ve only progressed backwards.

He calls for a tax credit to offset the Social Security tax …

It would be more efficient (and honest) to restructure the payroll tax to reflect an exemption up to a defined salary figure.

Social Security gave support to the elderly, lessening the burden on their children.

This is the height of the fantastical nonsense in the essay. Social Security gave support to the elderly, (possibly) lessening the direct burden on their children. It also increased the indirect burden on their children all younger workers. Not that the return on that support (i.e. payroll taxes) is sufficient to support a retiree. I earn a decent income and I could not live now on the benefits I’m being promised in 2040.

The authors eventually seem to unite on a vision that reshaping our nation on a vision of a national, unionized economy will resolve everything. Like the rest of their pleasant proclamations, they provide no basis for any of this superficial argument. They ignore the all data contradicting this wishful thinking. How are unions treating the auto industry in Detroit, for example? And bowing before the record of FDR is an unwise tactic to convince anyone who’s bothered to understand basic economics.