Your honor: peas or carrots tonight?

Via Amy Alkon, a story with some relevance to my stance that medically unnecessary male circumcision of all minors should be prohibited (and enforced, where necessary) by the state. From Canada:

A Canadian court has lifted a 12-year-old girl’s grounding, overturning her father’s punishment for disobeying his orders to stay off the Internet, his lawyer said Wednesday.

The girl had taken her father to Quebec Superior Court after he refused to allow her to go on a school trip for chatting on websites he tried to block, and then posting “inappropriate” pictures of herself online using a friend’s computer.

In the case of cultural circumcision, which includes medicalized circumcision that seeks potential health benefits, the obvious first standard for what to prohibit is objective harm. Circumcision is surgery, so it always involves objective harm to the body. When there is no medical need for the surgery, forcing it on another person is an assault, regardless of the intent. Preventing this type of harm to one by another is a legitimate function of any state. Prohibition of medically unnecessary circumcision forced on minors is valid. QED.

Discussing the male circumcision issue within the libertarian community is an interesting process. Strangely, many libertarian males seem displeased, however mildly, about their parents circumcising them. Yet, in an odd consideration of limited government and individual liberty, they also seem reluctant, often vehemently, to consider state involvement. This is more a misdirected focus on minimizing the state as the ends than on maximizing liberty with the best, possibly necessary means. (More on this to come in a detailed post I’m working on.)

But there is a limit to legitimate state intervention. Always, the first response I get in the libertarian discussion is that parents make all kinds of decisions for their children that the child may not like, should we legislate those? I think that logical leap is lacking in logic, but it’s not (generally) offered with malice, so it’s worth considering. I usually discuss some combination of objective harm and the permanence of choices. Unless one is being intentionally ridiculous, it’s worthless to advocate an exact comparison between requiring your child to take piano lessons and requiring him to undergo unnecessary surgery that removes portions of his healthy, functioning anatomy. “Requiring” is a key word in considering intervention, but “unnecessary” is the much more important word as it ties directly to objective harm. Surgery causes objective harm in a manner that piano lessons do not. The difference, to some degree, is parenting. I do not favor state intervention in normal parenting, nor have I written anything that could be construed as favoring limitless intervention. I offer specific guidelines for legitimate state intervention.

Which brings us to this case from Canada. I guess it’s possible that there’s more to the case than the reports I’ve read. It seems hard to believe that, so I will assume there is nothing more. So, this judge made an egregious error. The state’s intervention is illegitimate.

It’s not controversial to accept that, which gets us back to the more fundamental issue. What is the legitimate boundary for state intervention? It’s somewhere short of this case, we all probably agree. It’s at least as far as prohibiting the assault of children, however well-intentioned. We don’t all agree, or I wouldn’t be writing this. But I’ve made an argument in favor of my stance that outlines criteria for deciding how to limit or condone state involvement in parenting decisions. This case shows that my effort is an attempt at an objective standard that aims to protect the rights of all individuals, regardless of their power within society based upon having not reached the objectively arbitrary age of majority.

Politicians like power, not lessons.

Here’s another example of why Sen. Obama’s economic thinking scares me. (Not enough to vote for Sen. McCain, but more than enough to not vote for Sen. Obama.)

Sen. Barack Obama rolled out a proposal yesterday to curb speculation in energy markets, which his advisers said would help stabilize soaring gasoline prices.

The presumptive Democratic presidential nominee laid out a four-step program that would, among other things, close an “Enron loophole” that protects some trading in energy futures from federal oversight, his advisers said.

I don’t know enough about oil futures to offer any educated comment. But I know that suggesting placing allegedly-benevolent government regulators with a specific goal in mind (i.e. lowering gas prices) is a recipe for disaster. Central planning does not work. The laws of economics are not mere suggestions. Where price can’t reach its natural point, even if that includes speculation, supply will decrease.

An interesting insight into how economic facts are irrelevant to all politicians:

“I think everyone believes there’s too much speculation in the oil markets, and a lot of it flows directly from that particular loophole,” New Jersey Gov. Jon S. Corzine (D) said on a conference call hosted by the Obama campaign.

I do not believe that there is too much speculation in the oil markets. I believe there may be unwise speculation in oil, but that will catch up to the speculators.

I, like everyone who travels any distance in a vehicle powered by gasoline, feel the effect of any speculation in oil. So what? What legitimate claim do I have to say to you that you can’t speculate in oil? The arrival of speculators in baseball cards in the late ’80s/early ’90s killed the economical fun of the hobby for me. Where a pack of cards used to cost 50 cents for a dozen or so cards, the price changed to $2 for six cards. Should the government have regulated that? It even had the built-in “for the children” excuse.

But oil is different!

Is it? People have made choices, whether to live far from work or drive inefficient cars (relative to other available choices). Choices have consequences.

If we approach this debate honestly, many of those being hurt today by the rising price of gas are speculators. They speculated that oil would be cheap and abundant forever. They speculated that oil prices would stay within their comfort zone. They lost. And now the market for less efficient SUVs is changing.

Why should I trust that politicians actually care about the problem when proposals like this clearly demonstrate that the most recent lesson – the speculative effect on housing – is entirely lost on politicians? More importantly, will this increase in “gotcha” regulation decrease if/when the speculative bubble pops? Speculating does assume that prices are artificially high, that there’s some lower point at which prices “should” be. It is about nothing but the price of gas, right?

Post Script: Proposals like this strengthen my belief that Bob Barr’s candidacy will harm Sen. Obama. There are libertarian/moderate voters who will never vote for Sen. McCain and want to see the death of George W. Bush-style Republican government. Where they might’ve voted for Sen. Obama, spewing stupidity after stupidity in a populist appeal to those ignorant of economics will cost him votes. Maybe the net will benefit him, but there will be a trade-off. How is Sen. Obama a new kind of politician?

Are we angry about the assaulter or the assault?

I only know the facts to the extent that the article states:

School board members voted 5-0 to fire Mount Vernon Middle School science teacher John Freshwater. Board attorney David Millstone said Freshwater is entitled to a hearing to challenge the dismissal.

Freshwater denies wrongdoing and will request such a hearing, the teacher’s attorney, Kelly Hamilton, told the Mount Vernon News.

Freshwater used a science tool known as a high-frequency generator to burn images of a cross on students’ arms in December, the report said. Freshwater told investigators he simply was trying to demonstrate the device on several students and described the images as an “X,” not a cross. But pictures show a cross, the report said.

I stand firm on innocent until proven guilty. Until he has a hearing, I’m not interested in saying much more than anyone who would teach religion in a science classroom is not qualified to teach science. I hope it’s obvious that anyone who would burn an image on a child’s arm, be it an “X” or a cross, is fit only to wear a prison jump suit.

That said, is this about violating the First Amendment rights of the children or violating their human rights? Change the scenario: would we allow parents to burn an image of a cross on their child’s body? Many will reflexively offer some variation of “of course not”. But that’s not accurate. We already allow parents to “burn” a (permanent) religious mark on their (male) child’s body through genital mutilation. And that doesn’t disappear in three or four weeks, as the burned image of the cross/”X” disappeared. Why is the less damaging, less permanent assault reprehensible and the more damaging, more permanent assault considered a reasonable parental choice?

Decrease your demand for oil. (We want it.)

I have two comments on this story:

As high-level delegations from the United States and China meet this week in Annapolis for their latest talks on economic coordination, the Bush administration’s concerns about the value of the Chinese currency have been overshadowed by anxiety over the global price of oil.

On the first day of talks, U.S. officials repeated their call yesterday for China to stop subsidizing fuel for its citizens, arguing that it contributes to surging demand for oil and thus higher global prices. Since Chinese citizens pay a fraction of the market price, they have less incentive to pull back in their use of gasoline and heating oil.

Comment the first: It’s pathetic for a country that subsidizes so many products, to the detriment of its own citizens, to criticize another country for subsidizing a product. It makes zero difference whether the product is corn, milk, sugar, or oil. Subsidies lead to distortions in an attempt to bypass the price system. There will be unintended consequences. It’s transparent when acknowledging this on one product and playing dumb on others.

Comment the second: If you’re meeting with representatives from another country for talks on “economic coordination”, it’s a bit embarrassing to be criticizing a country’s “economic coordination”. Central planning is as central planning does.

It shocks his conscience (that he might not get more donations).

With the news that FCC Chairman Kevin Martin would support the proposed Sirius-XM merger after achieving “voluntary” “concessions”, a merger (without the extorted concessions) I’ve loooooooong supported, I should’ve known some further rent-seeking would interfere. It’s just too obvious for politicians to bypass the blood in the water when the companies are willing to cut themselves. And so it was yesterday:

Senior members of the Congressional Black Caucus yesterday criticized a compromise plan for the proposed merger of the XM and Sirius satellite radio companies, saying the deal does not provide enough opportunities for minority-owned programming.

The companies already agreed to lease 4% of their channels. Central planning now should surprise no one since the FCC created this mess by stipulating from the beginning that exactly two companies would be involved in the satellite radio business. Hubris is a bizarre flaw inherent in central planners. Still, this new extortion extension of the sleaze is amazing. I can think of no recent examples quite as bold and shameless.

[North Carolina Democrat Rep. G.K.] Butterfield said he got the idea for the 20 percent set-aside for minority-owned companies from Georgetown Partners, a minority-run private-equity firm based in Bethesda, and its managing director, Chester Davenport.

The firm, which has invested in wireless and media companies, objected last year to the merger, arguing that a monopoly could limit opportunities for minority programming.

Georgetown Partners isn’t claiming that it expects to receive that 20 percent. (Nor does it suggest terms that will inevitably be dictated rather than negotiated.) And I’m sure its political donations to certain Democratic congressmen is entirely coincidental.

Delving further into the role of mafioso as public servant, this:

“It’s shocking to the conscience in this day and age, where “the minority populations” comprise a significant part of the satellite radio audience, that Mr. Martin would settle for what I deem to be crumbs that have fallen off the table,” [Maryland Democrat Rep. Elijah] Cummings said. “We can do much better. I am hoping that this can be revisited.”

If “the minority populations” are listening, it’s incomprehensible to think that Sirius and XM are not already serving this market in a manner that the market deems acceptable enough to pay $13-plus-taxes each month. It’s also incomprehensible to imagine that “the minority population” does not already own a portion of the satellite radio market. I am neither a minority nor a woman, but I imagine that many individuals who qualify for one or both of those distinctions own stock in Sirius and/or XM, just as I do. Amazing as it is, no one is restricted from being financially involved. With Sirius’ stock price, each 100-share block is under $300. The Free Money Congress is mailing could buy nearly 250 shares.

As I suggested above, it’s also possible for anyone, minority or not, to approach Sirius and/or XM about creating programming aimed at segments of the market. I’m speculating, but I doubt executives at either company would refuse to consider such new ideas. Not that they’re actually new.

This is just another example of the inevitable embrace of ego, greed, and power become the only reason for regulation. Protecting consumers is the ruse. Whether regulatory actions benefit consumers is irrelevant to the regulators. Cummings demonstrates this with his contradiction that “the minority populations” demand minority-owned channels, even though they’re already listening to satellite radio and have yet to advocate for divesting of some assets to (other) minority-owned companies at shareholder meetings.

Does that come with a side of epinephrine?

I overheard a conversation yesterday in which this was offered:

  1. Humans need protein.
  2. Meat has protein.
  3. Humans need meat.

Who am I to argue with that irrefutable logic? Still, I’ll offer my own example:

  1. Humans need protein.
  2. Peanuts have protein.
  3. Humans need peanuts.

Even those individuals who are allergic to peanuts, they’re humans. They’d better start eating peanuts or they’re going to die!

If you like meat, defend it (or don’t) with facts. But be honest about it. If you like the taste and think that is more important than the negatives (death of the animal, adverse health effects), say so. I can respectfully disagree. With logic like the above, I just disagree.

There is a slippery slope on the other side of the hill.

Andrew Sullivan nominates this Douglas Kmiec editorial for his Malkin Award, which is given “for shrill, hyperbolic, divisive and intemperate right-wing rhetoric.” (see here) Mr. Sullivan quotes this:

“In a depopulating world, the claim that there is a universal right to marry regardless of gender becomes a frightening ally of a claimed universal right to access to genetically engineered children.”

Strangely, there is nothing to build to that anywhere in the essay. Nor does Kmiec word the next sentence – his concluding sentence – correctly to argue for what he wants. Perhaps it’s not an intentional “mistake”. Judge for yourself:

People should reject this claim by returning traditional marriage to its rightful place.

No one is removing traditional marriage from its allegedly rightful place. To achieve accuracy, though, the proper assessment is to request that people reject this (again, unsupported) claim by returning marriage to its traditional place. The use of “traditional” still assumes a history of marriage that is not based in facts, but it would get to the debate a smidge better.

The rest of the essay is a rather ridiculous example of the form, which is surprising since it comes from an attorney. Has Kmiec never studied the concept of rights independent of the majority? He doesn’t give any basis for rejecting that concept other than to make a feeble bow at the altar of mob rule. That’s not enough. For example:

Voting to overturn the court’s ruling should not be misunderstood. Gay and lesbian individuals are within the humanity acknowledged to be created equal and worthy of respect in the Declaration of Independence, but that responsible reaffirmation of equality of citizenship does not deprive the community of making a necessary and reasoned distinction for its own survival.

The community, apparently defined as America, will not survive if we grant equal rights to all citizens. “You’re equal, don’t get me wrong, but you understand that we don’t want to die out, right? It’s not personal?” It gets more pathetic, though:

Beyond correcting the court’s disregard of the separation of powers, insisting upon preserving the link between marriage and procreation: 1) promotes the orderly continuation of the species; 2) avoids the uncertainties of single-gender effects on children (most parents readily recognize the distinctive contributions of male and female in child rearing); and 3) takes respectful account of the difficulties of accommodating religious freedom that arise subsequent to the legal acceptance of same-sex marriage. Oddly, and incompletely, the California Supreme Court managed to ignore these important issues in its 170-plus page opinion.

People will not stop having children because gays and lesbians can marry. If you decide that two gay men marrying means you no longer wish to have children, you’re mistaking cause and effect because you’re an idiot. You retain your choice. If you make the choice not to have children, it’s still your choice, one that is not forced upon you.

If you wish to avoid uncertainty, do not have children. Children change the lives of their parents in unpredictable ways.

There is no difficulty in accommodating religious freedom that arises from the legal acceptance of same-sex civil marriage. That’s all that’s under discussion. An attorney should understand that, so Kmiec is either ignorant or shameless.

For good measure, Kmiec throws this out:

When carefully assessed, the acquisition of unnatural reproductive means often advances the interests of the very affluent through a libertarian exercise that would threaten all hope of democratic equality.

First, our Constitution is not based on democratic equality. Those two words do not complement, they compete. We get one or the other as a default. If we get the latter from the former, it’s a happy accident. I’m not inclined to organize the state around praying for happy accidents.

Second, is a married couple using a surrogate to carry an embryo created from the couple unnatural? What if they raise the child in Kmiec’s Catholicism?

Kmiec wants to run from the non-looming end-of-the-human-race slippery slope he fears. In doing so, he sets himself on the non-looming forced-child-rearing slippery slope. That’s better?

Applying facts to a set of rules is not controversial.

From the Supreme Court’s ruling that detainees at Guantanamo Bay have the right to challenge their imprisonment, a ruling I think shouldn’t be controversial in any way, a paragraph in this story seems odd.

As both sides of the court acknowledged in Thursday’s decision, the cases exposed fundamental differences in the court’s vision of judicial power. The conservatives favor adherence to strict rules and regulations promulgated by the political branches. The liberals are content to let judges judge, working out the boundaries between constitutional rights and national security.

Is that an accurate way to assess what the liberal judges are doing? I don’t think so. (I haven’t read the decision, so maybe they made statements to that explicit effect.) Rather, it’s more likely they’re working out the boundaries of constitutional rights based on the Constitution’s text and the facts of the case(s) at hand. The outcome for national security is more speculative in nature, without a clear method for determining consequences.

It’s often been stated in the last seven years that the Constitution is not a suicide pact. To an extent, yes. But it’s also absurd to suggest that the Constitution means only what is convenient for those in power at any given moment. What’s the purpose of a Constitution in that world?

If the Constitution is flawed, make the case for changing it. If it’s not flawed, honor it. Pretending it doesn’t exist is not a valid choice.

Beware: The vegetables are out to kill you!

How many times do we have to go through foodborne illnesses, with vegetables blamed as the cause rather than carrier, before someone with a national forum finally speaks the truth and tells people to stop being stupid? Once again a vegetable is tainted with harmful bacteria – this time, tomatoes and salmonella, respectively – and the reaction is to blame the vegetable and act stupid. For example:

Restaurants are removing tomato slices from sandwiches and grocery stores are plucking red plum tomatoes from their produce aisles following a nationwide alert that raw tomatoes may have infected scores of people with a rare form of salmonella.

Of course that’s a reasonable response because tomato slices are served raw, which allows the bacteria to survive. But how does that then lead to this?

Salmonella is more frequently associated with poultry, which carry the bacteria. But produce is increasingly a vehicle for salmonella infection as well. Scientists and public-health experts don’t completely understand how pathogens contaminate produce. …

Don’t completely understand? Fine, but are they aware of the link? Let’s see how the paragraph continues:

… The bacteria can be found in animal feces, which can spread through contaminated water, manure or improper handling. It can enter tomatoes through the roots or flowers, or through cracks in the skin of the fruit or the stem scar. Once inside, the microbe is hard to kill without cooking. Tomatoes have been linked to 13 outbreaks of salmonella since 1990, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a Washington advocacy group.

Holy smokes! Who would’ve guessed that? Too bad we don’t have any prior evidence to suggest that animal agriculture is the cause. Blame the vegetables! Except, that’s irrational. We have prior evidence of salmonella contamination, as well as evidence involving E. coli that suggests this exact link:

The likely source of an E. coli outbreak in spinach that killed three people and sickened more than 200 was a small cattle ranch about 50 kilometres from California’s central coastline, state and federal officials said Friday as they concluded their investigation.

They found E. coli “indistinguishable from the outbreak strain” in river water, cattle feces, and wild pig feces on the ranch about a kilometre from the spinach fields, the California Department of Health Services and U.S. Food and Drug Administration said in a joint report.

Let’s continue burying that in the story, though. Meat is fine because it should be cooked. I, dirty hippie that I am, with my “natural” foods, I need to be careful because that will kill me. And, anyway, I’m not getting enough protein, so who am I to tell anyone else what is and is not the cause of anything to do with food?

Thankfully, with our main course of ignorance, we’ll get a heaping side dish consisting of rent-seeking regulation:

Consumer advocates and produce trade groups say fresh produce needs mandatory safety standards. Currently, growers follow voluntary guidelines issued by the FDA.

Lovely. Our existing animal agriculture safety regulations are followed so closely that vegetables regularly become contaminated. But, if we just regulate the vegetables enough, we’ll all be safe. That’s a brilliant line of thinking.

Or I could just mutter “barriers to entry” and end this entry.

A MINI is more fun to drive.

At one point I considered buying a Prius. I even put down a (refundable) deposit to reserve a soon-to-arrive car. Then I did some research while I waited and came to this realization stated concisely by Reihan Salam:

Consider the eco-conscious automobile par excellence, the Toyota Prius. As it turns out, manufacturing the Prius’s battery is extraordinarily carbon-intensive. Paying off this carbon debt through fuel savings will take 46,000 miles, according to Wired. Only after 100,000 miles would the Prius catch up with carbon savings offered by a ten-year-old Toyota Tercel. And the Prius would never catch up with a 1994 Geo Metro XFi.

I’ve driven approximately 80,000 miles since the beginning of 1999. I’m on my third car. Knowing my driving and buying pattern, the Prius makes no sense from a “green” perspective.

I wasn’t primarily trying to go green. I wanted the excellent MPG. The numerous (anecdotal) reports of much-lower-than-advertised MPG results convinced me that the extra cost was not worth the risk.

Link via Andrew Sullivan.

UPDATE: This reader dissent to Andrew Sullivan’s original post makes useful points. In my case, only the “46,000 miles” argument was relevant since I bought a new MINI instead of a ten-year-old Tercel. It’s also possible that I didn’t take a long-enough view into the future. Fair points.

I still love my MINI more than I ever would’ve loved a Prius.