Circling All Multiple-Choice Answers

I do not discount the possibility that a beauty pageant contestant can be informed on any given topic. I discount the possibility that a beauty pageant is a forum capable of generating an interesting discussion of any particular topic. What Miss California has to say about same-sex marriage is rather irrelevant to the debate.

That said, I find the outcry amusing. From FOX News:

Miss California Carrie Prejean, blasted by a Miss USA contest judge because she opposes gay marriage, may have grounds for a discrimination lawsuit herself — against the Miss USA pageant, a legal analyst says.

“If she really feels some tremendous stress as a result of losing — and I’m certain she’s probably devastated from what happened to her — she can articulate a viable claim for monetary compensation for psychic injury,” said FOX News legal analyst Mercedes Colwin.

I’m not an attorney, but I’m certain this is preposterous reasoning. Rule number one: Never take legal advice from a cable television news program. Even if I didn’t understand this rule, reading the article tells me enough. Nowhere does the (unnamed) reporter quote Miss Prejean’s response to Perez Hilton’s question. If you haven’t heard it, she said:

PEREZ: Vermont recently became the fourth state to legalize same-sex marriage. Do you think every state should follow suit? Why or why not?

CARRIE: I think it’s great that Americans are able to choose one or the other. We live in a land that you can choose same-sex marriage or opposite marriage and, you know what, in my country and my family I think that I believe that a marriage should be between a man and a woman. No offense to anyone out there but that’s how I was raised and that’s how I think it should be between a man and a woman.

Perez Hilton gave her a zero for her answer. If I thought a judge’s vote on an answer to a question in the Miss USA pageant could justify a lawsuit, this still isn’t that. She didn’t answer the question because she said it’s great that we can choose to marry a partner of either gender but we shouldn’t be able to choose any marriage other than one man and one woman. The possibly-accidental inclusion of great generated her predicament, not her dismissal of a civil right because she was raised to believe her opinion is as valid as logic.

Link via Timothy Lee’s Twitter feed.


Now for a snarky answer: She can’t articulate a viable claim because she couldn’t articulate a viable answer.

On Widespread Gender-Based Double Standards

One more story for today that draws a parallel to the gender-bias in child genital cutting in America. (Note: The names of the minors should be redacted, but they’re obviously known, so I’m leaving them in the excerpt.)

Alan Jepsen was playing videogames at his home in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, when the cops came knocking on his door. He was handcuffed in front of his sister and thrown in jail. In the words of his attorney, Jeffrey Purnell, “This child, this 17-year-old high-school kid, had to spend a week in jail—they locked him up and they put him in jail with grown-ups.”

His crime: Having sex with his 14-year-old girlfriend. And, perhaps, being a boy.

The day after Alan’s arrest, Sheboygan authorities arrested Norma Guthrie, also 17, for having sex with her 14-year-old boyfriend. Norma, however, did not have to spend a single day in jail. She was released immediately, on signature bond, while Alan was held on a $1,000 cash bond, which his family could not afford. Sheboygan County Assistant District Attorney Jim Haasch is handling both cases.

The disparity in the punishment of these 17-year-olds, both accused of having sex with the 14-year-olds they were dating, goes much deeper. Haasch charged Alan with a Class C felony, which, according to court records obtained by The Daily Beast, carries a maximum prison sentence of 40 years. Norma, on the other hand, was charged only with a misdemeanor, which carries a maximum sentence of nine months in jail.

If the facts are as they appear, this is despicable. And entirely predictable. Males are viewed as possessing endless sexual appetities. Females are viewed as sexual victims. The typical defense of the non-existent ethical distinction between genital cutting on male and female minors rests solely on the mistaken notion that female genital cutting is strictly designed to limit the female’s sexuality, if not destroy it completely. (And imposed by women, even when it isn’t.) For males, we pretend that potential medical benefits dismiss the same ethical issues involved in female genital cutting because parents say their intentions are good. Anyway, we’re told, males enjoy sex more than enough, and genital cutting doesn’t affect male sexual experience. And if it does, although it doesn’t, that’s exclusively a good thing, except removing nerve endings couldn’t possibly alter sexual experience, so why are you worried?

Here’s an example:

Between 2002 and 2003, Turkish scientists studied how circumcision influences male sexual functions. They only studied men who were circumcised for aesthetic or religious reasons. The average age of those surveyed was 22.3 years old, and their sexual functions were equal before and after circumcision. After the survey was carried out, scientists concluded that circumcising grown men does not negatively effect their sexual functions. On the contrary, the fact that it causes a delay in ejaculation is more of an advantage than a complication.

Circumcision affects sexual function. It delays orgasm, which is an objective claim. Whether or not that is positive or negative is subjective to the individual, yet it’s treated as an objective finding. It’s not stated here, but most commonly the argument relies on some defense that women prefer this outcome, so it is good. (Check virtually any propaganda by Brian Morris or Edgar Schoen.)

If a man likes large breasts, he does not have the right to impose breast augmentation on his daughter to achieve this positive outcome. We understand that, of course, because it involves controlling a female’s sexuality. But we embrace a double standard when the roles are reversed, even though the ethical issue is the same. We must not deviate from the belief that men are predators and women are delicate flowers. So, no, I’m not surprised that there is a double standard involving prosecution of these two Wisconsin teens.

Original link via Radley Balko.

Put on Your Editor’s Cap

Imagine you work for Reuters and this study crosses your desk.

Conclusion.The key factor associated with acquisition of HPV was lifetime number of sex partners, whereas circumcision was the most significant determinant for clearance of any HPV infection and oncogenic HPV infection.

You deem that worthy of a write-up. How do you write that up? If you highlighted the greatest risk factor the study identified, you’d be thinking like a responsible journalist. You’d also be unqualified to work at Reuters, apparently, as the story (run by Fox News) shows:

Men who are circumcised may be more protected against persistent infection with the virus that causes genital warts, a new study suggests.

The study, which followed 285 men ages 18 to 44, found that among those who became infected with the human papillomavirus (HPV), circumcised men were more likely to have their immune systems “clear” the virus by the end of the 18-month study.

When it came to the risk of acquiring the virus in the first place, the biggest risk factor was having a large number of lifetime sex partners, the researchers report in The Journal of Infectious Diseases.

The story waits until the third paragraph to present the largest finding, and then it’s only as an afterthought. The key lesson we’re supposed to take is that circumcision appeared to protect men. That’s bias, a conclusion seeking support.

Yet, notice how the article must clarify. The risk is identified “among those who became infected”. Isn’t that a useful key? We know how men (and women) can protect themselves. Don’t sleep with lots of people. Wear a condom. Actions have consequences.

If adult men want to use this study to justify circumcising themselves, I don’t care. I think it’s unnecessary because there are better ways to protect themselves. Someone else might think differently. But that’s not the point of headlines like this. It seeks to push infant circumcision. “See, it has medical benefits,” proponents claim. It’s propaganda wrapped in the appearance of good intentions.

John Harvey Kellogg’s Legacy

The “OMG Michael Phelps smoked marijuana” story is still a hot topic, with the general tone thankfully being that this is hardly worth wasting the effort of any brain cells. I concur, but that won’t stop the usual idiots from moralizing. The extends a little further to at least the appearance of moralizing, as evidenced by Kellogg dropping its endorsement deal with Mr. Phelps. I regard this as nothing more than a business decision. It’s weak and cowardly, but nothing in my support for capitalism suggests that individuals can’t be stupid.

Still, this provides a reminder that the company’s co-founder, John Harvey Kellogg, endorsed and promoted a radical, not-uncommon opinion for the late 19th century. From Kellogg’s book, Plain Facts for Old and Young, here is Kellogg’s “cure” for masturbation in children:

In younger children, with whom moral considerations will have no particular weight, other devices may be used. Bandaging the parts has been practiced with success. Tying the hands is also successful in some cases; but this will not always succeed, for they will often contrive to continue the habit in other ways, as by working the limbs, or lying upon the abdomen. Covering the organs with a cage has been practiced with entire success. A remedy which is almost always successful in small boys is circumcision, especially when there is any degree of phimosis. The operation should be performed by a surgeon without administering an anæsthetic, as the brief pain attending the operation will have a salutary effect upon the mind, especially if it be connected with the idea of punishment, as it may well be in some cases. The soreness which continues for several weeks interrupts the practice, and if it had not previously become too firmly fixed, it may be forgotten and not resumed. If any attempt is made to watch the child, he should be so carefully surrounded by vigilance that he cannot possibly transgress without detection. If he is only partially watched, he soon learns to elude observation, and thus the effect is only to make him cunning in his vice.

This is one of the contributing arguments that encouraged the establishment of routine, medically unnecessary male circumcision in America. Anyone who denies this origin is misinformed when seeking a gender-based exception to the objective claim that medically unnecessary genital cutting on a non-consenting individual is unethical, whether the mutilated is female or male.

To demonstrate further, this is from Kellogg’s writing:

In females, the author has found the application of pure carbolic acid to the clitoris an excellent means of allaying the abnormal excitement, and preventing the recurrence of the practice in those whose will power has become so weakened that the patient is unable to exercise entire self-control.

Victorian-era Americans embraced circumcision because they replaced priests with doctors. They did not replace superstition with science. American medical knowledge of the foreskin accepted a religious foundation for any research, just as American medical knowledge today is ignorant of the foreskin because the circumcised penis is viewed as normal rather than common.

While I think boycotting Kellogg in 2009 because John Harvey Kellogg was despicable in 1888 is melodramatic, the history is worth repeating independent of the company. Boycotting Kellogg in 2009 because of it’s business decision regarding Mr. Phelps is a different matter. I support that.

Could government stimulus buy everyone a pony?

When media outlets publish scientific findings, do they behave responsibly or do they adhere to sensationalism? From CNN, this headline:

Could smoking pot raise testicular cancer risk?

As the article states in the lede, the study’s researchers have not moved beyond describing this as a “hypothesis”. How many people will read the just the headline and conclude that smoking marijuana leads to testicular cancer? The last few years of reporting on HIV and male circumcision has shown that people get carried away with fear despite the clear contradictions to the worst case scenario that rational thought provides. A responsible headline would say something like, “Researchers theorize marijuana-testicular cancer link”. That’s weak, I think, but it’s closer to the truth.

Notice, too, how the headline states “testicular cancer risk” rather than “risk of testicular cancer”. People who react with fear rather than reason will stop reading after “cancer”. Like HIV and male circumcision in America, few bother to examine the risk.

Testicular cancer is not common; a man’s lifetime chance of developing testicular cancer is about 1 in 300. Because treatment is so successful, the risk of dying from this cancer is very low: about 1 in 5,000.

But, CANCER! Now the prohibitionists will use another tactic, despite an obvious argument:

For patients using cannabis for medicinal purposes, the improvement in quality of life may outweigh any potential risk of testicular cancer, said [UCLA professor Steve] Shoptaw.

I’d shorten that to state that anyone who smokes marijuana might judge the improvement in quality of life may outweigh any potential risk of testicular cancer. All tastes and preferences are subjective. Individual liberty requires that we set aside our moral disfavor when making laws for any activity that does not intrude on the liberty of another individual. If you smoke pot, you are not harming me in a tangible way. Even if you increase your risk of testicular cancer. Contrary to the prohibitionists, the risk of being offended is irrelevant.

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”?

If you lie down with communists, you wake up without rights.

Now this is an issue, as we reach the closing ceremonies?

Ambassador Clark T. Randt Jr. pressed the Chinese government on Saturday to immediately release the Americans, the statement said. U.S. officials would continue to raise concerns about the detentions with senior Chinese officials, it said.

“We are disappointed that China has not used the occasion of the Olympics to demonstrate greater tolerance and openness,” the statement said.

It urged China to show respect for human rights, freedom of speech and religion.

It is a savage view that believes the best individuals should hope for is to be tolerated by a government.

The blunt criticism came just hours before the end of the Games, which have largely followed the plan of China’s leaders for a smooth-running event that would increase the country’s international prestige.

And the world played the willing dupe, despite the Communist government’s well-known lack of respect for human rights. Somehow, participating in the games would convince the rights-abridging propagandists to not be rights-abridging propagandists?

Under pressure to address human rights and free speech concerns, China said it would allow protests during the Games in three designated areas. But none of the more than 70 applications to demonstrate was approved, and some people were arrested as they sought the permits, rights groups and relatives said.

“We found it unusual that none of these applications have come through,” [IOC president Jacques] Rogge said at a news conference Sunday.

Unusual? What part of rights-abridging propagandist makes arresting people seeking permits to protest – an infringement on at least two rights – in any way unusual or unpredictable?

Similar thoughts at A Stitch in Haste.

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.

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?

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.