Check Your Premises

From England:

It took a death threat to stop Abdi’s wife from circumcising their two daughters, aged 2 and 4. She called him from Somalia while on holiday to say she wanted to carry out the procedure.

Abdi, a London-based Somali, said that his wife’s eagerness to circumcise their daughters was fuelled by a combination of religious, cultural and tribal pressures placed on her after she took the girls to Somalia for a brief summer break last year.

But he refused to be swayed, despite his wife’s argument that the girls would improve their chances of attracting a good husband because they would be perceived as being more traditional and pure.

First, notice the third paragraph. I can’t and won’t begin a detailed analysis because it would be speculation, but the information there suggests that this reasoning is at most a difference of degree between this and what Western parents often choose for their sons. The focus is on how to make the child more attractive to a future partner, not what the child needs. Attempt to build a defense of infant male circumcision on the grounds of potential benefits, but ultimately this reasoning must make no distinction between those alleged-but-not-really medical reasons and the nonsense that what the child’s future sexual partners might want is relevant to what to do to his genitals. The whole notion is absurd.

Second, this one example proves nothing. However, it demonstrates that those who perpetuate the belief that female genital cutting is exclusively perpetuated by men are mistaken. At some point we have to lay down our agenda of blame and figure out how to stop these violations. I suspect the desire to blame is responsible for much of the inability to see the similarities between male and female genital cutting. Medically unnecessary genital cutting on a non-consenting person is unethical. That is a statement of principle free from the ramifications of gender-specific reasoning and outcomes. It considers only the victim. That’s what matters.

On Ross Douthat Joining the New York Times

The Atlantic’s Ross Douthat is the new conservative columnist for The New York Times. I haven’t read enough of his work to suggest that this is unwarranted. And he is, in fact, a talented writer. It’s just that I’ve been unimpressed with his thinking whenever I’ve encountered it. He shows very little interest in liberty or constructing a government that respects the interests of those with whom he disagrees.

In this entry from early last year, I criticized Mr. Douthat’s thinking on two topics, prostitution and infant circumcision. His position in both cases was objectively weak, at best. I’ll leave you to follow the link for my challenge to his views on prostitution. Here, I’d like to repost what I wrote in response to his tongue-in-cheek-yet-mind-numbingly-stupid view on infant circumcision.


Of course, since it’s apparently okay to ask questions unrelated to the topic, let me ask a question: Why is it automatically self-harm worthy of prohibition for an individual to sell sex, even when it’s voluntarily sold, yet it’s reasonable to permit parents to surgically alter the genitals of their healthy sons – who may or may not approve of such permanent, physical alteration – as Mr. Douthat suggested last year in defense of infant circumcision?

The answer to how one person can hold two incongruent opinions rather obviously rests in a willingness to use personal, subjective tastes and preferences to inform the legal code of a diverse, secular, civil society. It’s the same central planner impulse that resides in every individual who seeks to dictate which freedoms are abhorrent.

Since I’m off on the tangent, in that entry, Mr. Douthat states:

Proponents, like myself, point out that even saying the word smegma is really disgusting. Again, I think we pretty much win the debate right there, without even getting into the whole HIV question.

I get the tongue-in-cheek nature of the comment, whether he meant it or not. I think he did because I think he views circumcision as inconsequential. (Remember subjective tastes and preferences?) But any understanding of human biology demonstrates the stupidity of such an argument. Female genitals produce smegma, as well. We do not cut female minors for that reason. Or, more to the point, we do not permit parents to cut their daughters just because they, the parents, are disgusted by the mere mention of the word. We manage to find the correct reasoning to prohibit that. But for males, parents can use only the mere mention of smegma as an excuse to cut. Or they can reject even that reason and order it because it’s fun to check “yes” on the consent form. The law is based on our conditioned beliefs rather than facts.


This wasn’t in my original response, but it warrants a comment in light of the weight Mr. Douthat’s opinions will now receive because he is a columnist for The New York Times. From his entry on circumcision (emphasis in original):

… I believe I have the weight of the American experience on my side when I say that any such dampening [of sexual pleasure] would have to be extremely negligible.

He proves that he can’t possibly know this from experience with his next sentence:

All of which is to say that I’m gratified that my parents took it upon themselves to have a procedure performed on my infant self …

Without any sexual experience with his foreskin, he knows it’s “extremely negligible”. How? “I have experience with one side of the debate, so I am an expert on both sides of the debate” is not a sign of a great thinker. It is a sign of a mind interested in selecting the necessary facts to reach a desired, self-centered conclusion. I’m unimpressed.


LINK: Think government manipulation of intervention in the economy is good? Read George Will’s latest column. (H/t: Cafe Hayek)

LINK: Jim Harper has an entry on Cato @ Liberty discussing President Obama’s pledge to post all bills for 5 days of public comment before signing them. Mr. Harper reviews the steps the administration has taken and offers a positive review of the idea, although he correctly criticizes the administration for playing loosely with the 5 day timeline.

I agree with that in principle, but that’s not my concern here. The deficit spending bill mistakenly labeled The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 is now online for public comment. I thought about adding comments, but why? I’m realistic enough to understand that what I say will not matter. It will not matter how many people comment against it, this is a done deal. The five days concept as implemented is worthless political propaganda. Honestly, if members of Congress can’t be bothered to read the bill, yet they’ll happily vote by party line, they don’t care what the American people think. They’re trading favors for power. The game hasn’t changed. So, wake me when this fails and tell me what the next stupid idea is.

LINK: I reject non-therapeutic infant circumcision because it is logically and ethically unacceptable. I question the science surrounding claims, particularly those involving HIV risk reduction, because there are obvious holes in the argument. However, unlike (too) many activists, I have no problem with vaccines. I think the logical and ethical arguments differ, and I don’t believe in conspiracy theories about Big Pharma. And from what I’ve read, the autism-vaccine link appears weak, at best. This report seems to confirm that (link via Kevin, MD):

THE doctor who sparked the scare over the safety of the MMR vaccine for children changed and misreported results in his research, creating the appearance of a possible link with autism, a Sunday Times investigation has found.

I would use this as a lesson for everyone who thinks that a claimed HIV risk reduction for (adult, voluntary) male circumcision need to be concerned about the long-term reality of their idea. I think we will eventually look back on the HIV-foreskin connection and realize the mistakes in the studies. But I do not approach the topic from that angle. I don’t need it, of course. I can concede the point for the argument and rely on ethics and objective indications of health and easier methods prevention.

For now, it’s too late anyway. The link has gained widespread acceptance because people want to believe it, regardless of facts or reasonable caution. The mindset is the same, as this excerpt from Orac’s post at Respectful Insolence suggests. (I read the post, but there’s too much to parse easily, so I’m using the summary pulled by Kevin, MD.)

“None of this will matter to antivaccinationists,” he writes, “who view Wakefield as . . . a persecuted scientific hero . . . I’m sure that [anti-vaccine proponents] will wax ridiculous about what a great doctor and man Wakefield is and how it’s big pharma and its minions who, frightened by the implications of Wakefield’s work, are working hard to demonize him and suppress his ‘science.'”

When emotion precedes logic in an objective debate, reason is lost. That would be unfortunate but defensible if it only affected the decision maker. It does not. The individual fears of parents results in poorly conceived decisions for children. Vaccinate but circumcise. Don’t vaccinate and don’t circumcise. Neither combination is justifiable when weighing the evidence with logic and ethics.

LINK: To lighten things up just a bit, will the Mets never learn?

“Whatever they did last year, they already got paid,” [Francisco] Rodriguez told the New York Daily News. Whatever they did, I have all the respect in the world. They worked hard and they deserve it. This is a different year and different ballclubs now. I don’t want to make any controversy, but with me and (J.J.) Putz and the additions in the bullpen, I feel like now we are the team to beat.”

K-Rod should ask Carlos Beltran how that worked out last year. However, I love this rivalry.

Irrational Requests as Ethical Dilemma

Is it ethical to use fertility treatment when the mother already has six children?

How in the world does a woman with six children get a fertility doctor to help her have more _ eight more?

An ethical debate erupted Friday after it was learned that the Southern California woman who gave birth to octuplets this week had six children already.

Large multiple births “are presented on TV shows as a `Brady Bunch’ moment. They’re not,” fumed Arthur Caplan, bioethics chairman at the University of Pennsylvania. He noted the serious and sometimes lethal complications and crushing medical costs that often come with high-multiple births.

So I don’t use this solely to leapfrog to my concern, I’ll say no, it’s not ethical, although I won’t go so far as to say it should be prohibited. But if the facts are as they’re being speculated in the media, the doctor who administered these fertility treatments acted unethically.

Okay, so to jump to my question. We’re talking about whether this is ethical, but not enough people would realize the ethical dilemma this presents for the law. This woman can legally alter the genitals of six of her newborns, for whatever reason or no reason, while her other two newborns are legally protected from unnecessary genital surgery. The general consensus in the American medical and legal community is that this is ethical. No one should be surprised that a ridiculous case of fertility treatment for a woman with six kids can occur.