No conspiracy. I think the media is lazy.

Here are three stories to demonstrate that media reporting on male circumcision borders on propaganda. First, from Aidsmap:

A meta-analysis of studies of circumcision in gay men and men who have sex with men (MSM) has not found sufficient evidence to show that being circumcised reduced their risk of acquiring HIV. Although it finds a small reduction in the risk of HIV infection in circumcised men, this is not statistically significant – in other words it could just be a chance finding. Furthermore, the study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, found that although circumcised men who were exclusively insertive for anal sex had a lower risk of infection with HIV, the difference with uncircumcised men was still not statistically significant and could have been chance.

Fair enough, and there are further possibly-relevant nuances in the article. Those aren’t my focus here (nor do they overcome my principled objection to forced circumcision). Rather, consider how the editor titled this news:

Jury still out on whether circumcision protects gay men against HIV

What would it take for the jury to finally be in? We see how quickly it’s in on unstudied results assumed from a study that appears to give the results the researcher wants. (The answer? Six days.) When the jury gives an answer you don’t like? Deliberate further. I don’t wonder why.

Note: We can debate the semantics of scientific investigation of the hypothesis and findings, but pro-circumcision researchers use only a very loose application of either.

Second, from Time (emphasis added):

Circumcision is believed to lower H.I.V. transmission in several ways. The inner surface of the foreskin is rich with cells that are more vulnerable to H.I.V. than cells on other parts of the penis; because they are also closer to the epithelial surface and at higher risk for tears during intercourse, they increase susceptibility to infection. Removal of the foreskin further lowers men’s odds of developing genital ulcers (from diseases such as syphilis), which in turn lowers their vulnerability to H.I.V. during intercourse. In theory, circumcision should be protective for all men who participate in insertive sex, including heterosexual men and men who have sex with men.

Believed to lower is accurate, because all studies involving (voluntary, adult!) male circumcision and HIV risk reduction look at results. None of them have shown what generates the results researchers claim. There are theories, but nothing concrete. It could be nothing more than flawed methodology, right? Yet, Time reported male circumcision’s claimed role in reducing HIV risk as its 2007 medical breakthrough of the year. Has the magazine changed its opinion to one of logically-defensible caution?

Third, from the Jerusalem Post:

Almost a third of male immigrants from the former Soviet Union are uncircumcised, according to a survey by the Geocartography Institute commissioned by the Jerusalem AIDS Project.

The survey also found that 2.2% of women who immigrated from the FSU “didn’t know” whether their partner was circumcised, and 72.8% of female partners of uncircumcised new immigrants would prefer that they don’t undergo ritual circumcision.

That 72.8% figure is interesting. It’s subjective, a point I actively make, even when it benefits me. But this is the type of irrelevant statistic pro-circumcision propagandists like Dr. Brian Morris love to spew when their carefully-chosen studies suggest that women prefer circumcised partners. We mark anyone who would argue in favor of compulsory breast implants for teen girls because their male partners prefer large breasts as intellectually ridiculous. The same applies here. What women prefer only matters if the male choosing circumcision for himself wants it to influence his decision. For the anti-intellectuals who don’t get this, the propaganda can work against them. They’ll never notice, of course.

Continuing, with emphasis added:

Research carried out abroad shows incontrovertibly that circumcision reduces by 60% the risk of a man being infected with HIV by a female carrier. In many African countries with high HIV rates, men are lining up for circumcision, and Israel’s experience in circumcising thousands of adult males has aroused interest in the UN and among African governments.

How does incontrovertibly reconcile with believed to lower? In the same way that “six in 10 circumcised men are immune to HIV infection”?

Seeking help from the Benevolent Giver of Rescue

I sent a letter to my Congressman today.

Congressman Davis:

I write to you with a heart and mind burdened by disillusionment with capitalism. I’ve plodded along for years, just being a good American. I pay my bills on time. I go to work every day. I own a home. I vote. I do my part.

Recently, I decided to improve my life just a little bit, adding a simple pleasure to my leisure time. I purchased a new computer (stimulating the economy!) with a Blu-ray drive. I now have better picture quality when watching movies. God bless America and her bounty.

But, and this is a surprise to me because I expected everyone else who shares this country to have the same understanding that each person’s actions affect the common good, but they don’t. The evil CEO at Netflix is being so very greedy, it’s disgusting. As I’m sure you know, Netflix raised its monthly membership fee by $1 for users who want Blu-ray rentals. They are picking my pocket. I want Blu-ray on my membership, but it should be free. I know you agree.

I have not budgeted for an extra dollar in my membership fee. When I signed up, I said to myself, “Self, $14.99 is the limit. And you will have Blu-ray access.” Now imagine my displeasure to learn that I can’t have what I want for the price I deserve. I know you share my displeasure. How much deprivation do they think is appropriate? I say none! I need to be rescued so that I don’t have to cancel my membership. So, I ask: what will you do for me?

Direct deposit would be nice, but I’ll accept a check each month. Just think, it’ll help the post office, so I can see the logic. I’m willing to accept that little extra inconvenience for myself if it’ll benefit the greater good. The obscene $1 hike doesn’t happen until November, so there is just enough time to pass legislation in the Congress so that my $1 arrives in a timely manner.

Also, I know there are millions of other people affected by this price-gouging. Just think, if there are 1 million people who must now pay an extra dollar each month, that is $1,000,000 of windfall profits for a service that should be free. Each month. That’s $12,000,000 per year. And I bet the number is higher. That can’t stand. We need a tax on windfall DVD rental profits!

Thank you for your serious consideration. Please do not let the DVD rental market seize up. I await your reply.


I urge you to do the same on this matter of national urgency.

Always check your assumptions.

I’m always curious to see how our biases encourage us to frame reality. It can be something as simple and unimportant as complaining that the umpire squeezed the strike zone on your team’s starting pitcher instead of admitting that each pitch consistently passed the plate over the batter’s box. Or it can be something more, as this entry demonstrates in referencing the U.S. Supreme Court’s refusal to hear the Oregon circumcision case, which I mentioned yesterday.

UPDATE – My good friend Rabbi Zalman Berkowitz at miyan this morning reminded me that a conversion is in almost all cases not complete without the bris. In other words, the Supreme Court is preventing the kid from his religious aspirations by not ruling in favor of the father. It is not going too far out on a limb to come to the conclusion that this case prevents freedom of religion, and is an invasion of privacy. The case now goes back to an Oregon judge to determine whether the boy wants to undergo the procedure.

That’s an interesting way of analyzing the Court’s decision that is self-evidently wrong. The blogger assumes that the boy wishes to convert and have himself circumcised. The Oregon Supreme Court concluded that it did not know the answer to that question, only the stated claims of the father (for) and mother (against). The Supreme Court is merely saying that procedural paths short of its consideration have not been exhausted. The Court did not close the option for the boy to undergo circumcision if he indeed wishes to convert and undergo circumcision. But assuming the boy wants the circumcision is (at least) one assumption too many.


It’s worth remembering that the Oregon Supreme Court established two tests for the lower court to use in its evaluation. If the boy wants circumcision, the case is over. Fair enough, you will hear no complaints from me. His body, his choice.

But if the boy does not want circumcision, the case continues, with the lower court instructed to determine if the father’s imposition of circumcision would cause irreparable harm to his relationship with his son. The court essentially ignored that this would be the imposition of medically unnecessary genital surgery on an individual who objectively denies consent. One person is granted property rights over another if the court rules using a subjective test. Apart from being ethically wrong, that is hardly a precedent for arguing that the state is preventing freedom of religion.

This is also a good time to again state my position on ritual child circumcision. The problem with ritual child circumcision is not its religious aspect. The age – and by extension, ability to consent – of the circumcised is the sole issue. The child can’t consent. He might not consent when he can decide for himself. The surgery under consideration is not medically indicated, making this solely an issue of self-ownership. Each person has an exclusive liberty interest in his (or her) body. No one has an option for proxy consent that can ever legitimately overcome this natural right. Claiming a First Amendment protection is no help because the child retains his right to – and from – religion, independent of his parents’ opinion. Government also has a legitimate interest in preventing the imposition of objectively identifiable physical harm on another who can’t consent.

I’ve written in the past that the age of majority should be the legal standard for non-medically-indicated surgery. However, I am not opposed to a competent minor deciding for himself that he wants to be circumcised, for whatever reason he prefers. A 12- or 13-year-old may have developed sufficient maturity to decide this for himself. Perhaps the child in this case fits that, and if so, again, you will hear no complaint from me about his decision or his father’s willingness to grant that request.

Disclosure: I would not consent to the procedure if my (hypothetical,) healthy 13-year-old son asked to be circumcised, if that matters in considering my analysis. Saying “no” to a child’s wish for non-medically-indicated surgery is a legitimate parenting choice. Saying “yes” over a child’s objection is not. The former is a temporary denial of a liberty interest based on the parents’ subjective judgment. The latter is a permanent denial of a liberty interest based on the parents’ subjective judgment. The subjectivity of parental judgment is the crux of this case, as well as the general topic of child circumcision.

The only time I’ll (mockingly) use Sarah Palin’s folksy fraud.

This is old, but I still want to write about it. In the lead up to the bailout bill, executive compensation caught fire as an issue. It’s something shiny because the numbers can be large. It’s also convenient because it enables partisans to avoid the complex discussion of causes and factors that might implicate them as part of the problem. From Ezra Klein (via Andrew Sullivan.):

One quick point on the bailout negotiations: The Democrats are making a big deal over limits on executive compensation. Such limits are nice, but in the context of this crisis, utterly meaningless. If Democrats extract concessions such that CEOs can be paid a lot of money rather than an obscene sum of money, but are unable to add provisions protecting homeowners, they will have lost, and lost badly.. Limits to executive compensation are a feel-good provision with little real world relevance or impact, and while it would be nice to have them in the bill, no one should be fooled into thinking them a high-level priority, nor believing that a compromise where compensation limits feature as a key Democratic boast suggests anything other than a total collapse in the negotiations.

This is why I’m not a partisan. I can’t (correctly) dismiss a provision as little more than a quest for happy feelings and then suggest that the provision should be in the legislation anyway because I want those happy feelings. There are real principles and, more importantly, real people involved.

In Mr. Klein’s defense, that isn’t quite enough evidence to support my argument, nor am I implicating him beyond that sentiment. Rather, nonsensical rhetoric from Senator Obama on the proposals then under consideration is a perfect example. (Mr. Klein sourced this without a link, which I tracked down.)

First, the plan must include protections to ensure that taxpayer dollars are not used to further reward the bad behavior of irresponsible CEOs on Wall Street. There has been talk that some CEOs may refuse to cooperate with this plan if they have to forgo multi-million-dollar salaries. I cannot imagine a position more selfish and greedy at a time of national crisis. And I would like to speak directly to those CEOs right now: Do not make that mistake. You are stewards for workers and communities all across our country who have put their trust in you. With the enormous rewards you have reaped come responsibilities, and we expect and demand that you to live up to them. This plan cannot be a welfare program for Wall Street executives.

This is collectivist crap. Executives are stewards for the shareholders. Their responsibility is to run the business according to the goals of the owners, which is presumably to earn profit. Sometimes this goes badly. The owners should learn to write better compensation contracts for the future if they dislike their current results.

The political side is irrelevant, but Congress doesn’t think so. Where contracts exist, including for excessive subjective adjective compensation, government has a responsibility to honor the binding nature for all parties (i.e. not the politicians). Where politicians don’t like the contracts they’re buying, they should not buy the contracts. (They shouldn’t buy them, regardless. I’m sticking with the bailout line of reasoning.) Bitching that J. Dom Pérignon should suffer to make Joe Six-Pack feel better is obscene. If you need your schadenfreude, don’t bail J. Dom Pérignon out of his mess.

I’d question why we can’t agree on this, but I realize that punishing J. Dom Pérignon is more about implementing more regulation. The happy feelings are the bonus.

Ideology versus Efficiency

One of my long-running frustrations with libertarian thought is the idolization of gold (and to a lesser extent, silver). I could be wrong and there is substantial merit to the argument. I just don’t think so. All currency is relative. During a famine, would you accept gold for a loaf of bread? A loaf of bread for gold? The answer is different, right?

Megan McArdle posted about this last week:

“Hard money” types tend to denigrate the dollar as little green pieces of paper, not a real thing that’s actually worth something. This seems to me like a version of the Marxist fallacy, the belief that value can be somehow intrinsic rather than relative. Gold is pretty, of course, but not actually much more “useful” than a dollar bill. It does have some industrial application, but the vast majority of the gold in the world is used for money or jewelry.

A dollar is a real thing: a store of value and a medium of exchange. These are extraordinary valuable uses. Indeed, the need is so great that if currency is restricted or unavailable, people do not simply revert to barter; they turn something into a currency.

She continues, leading to a story about prisoners using canned mackerel as currency. We can, and probably should, complain loudly about fiat currency, if only to encourage and force more responsibility and less maniuplation by the government. But fetishizing gold misses the point. The point that gold has an extra application is most irrelevant because most people are not interested in bartering with organizations interested in gold’s industrial applications. Gold has value for the same reason a dollar isn’t a mere piece of ink-stained paper: someone else values it.

That is real, but it is also subjective. Argue for gold. Argue against fiat. Just remember that they are separate issues.

The activist judges in Washington are not active.

Here’s an update to the ongoing circumcision case in Orgeon, confirming my expectation from May:

The U.S. Supreme Court has rejected an Oregon dispute between a father who wants to circumcise his 13-year-old son against the wishes of the boy’s mother.

The case now goes back to an Oregon trial judge to determine whether the boy wants to undergo the procedure.

Of course. I’m not an attorney like the father, but even I could figure out that the Supreme Court would refrain from addressing the issue because the lesser options to resolve the case haven’t been exhausted. This is the correct course of non-action.

From a different angle, it will be wonderful when sentence two in the news report is not relegated to an afterthought. It’s the question that matters.

I’ve been thinking.

Hi, I run an active blog here. You may not know it because the top of the main page changes so rarely these days. There are now only 5 posts, including this one, on the 21-day-history main page. But I’m still here, still pondering the world and figuring out what to say about it. Normally that’s easy: read news, sit in front of computer, type, publish. Easy.

Yeah, I wish. Really, it takes motivation and creativity. I’ve had little of the former lately and the latter takes effort. I’m to blame.

More interesting – hopefully – is the reason behind the lull. I didn’t know what it was. I just knew that diverted attention left this page stale. The Phillies are still in the playoffs and winning. That takes some. I’ve also rediscovered my Xbox 360, only to get the Red Ring of Death. And so on.

That was my explanation until Friday night. Driving home, I listened to music rather than talk radio or podcasts. Time to not think actively freed me to figure out my the explanation. Apathy. I’ve been at this long enough to realize how consistent the themes are. Too few care much about liberty, choosing instead to structure the world according to their own lives.

Ranting here about the bailout bill, for example, would accomplish so little. The narrative is set. Morons like Harold Meyerson rule the day. It won’t last forever, but while it does, the anti-intellectuals won’t be stopped. I did not favor the bailout, nor do I favor the corporate welfare so many misinterpret as free market capitalism. The story will remain free of facts as long as there is an outcome-determined agenda. The socialist is no different than the corporatist.

I won’t change the world. So what? I don’t write to change the world. I write because I like it. It helps me process the world. It helps me learn. It helps me teach. And I’d rather focus on individuals. If I convince one person to refrain from circumcising a child, it’s worth it. If I provide an insight that helps someone convince someone else, it’s worth it. I won’t change the world. So what.

In other words, I’m back. The pace probably won’t pick up immediately. The Phillies are still in the playoffs, remember. But I’ve decided to stop being angry that people continue to harm others, be it with the state or the scalpel. I’ll write instead. And I’ll get angry again. I’ll just direct it rather than allow it to fester.

Pathetic? Meh.