I Hate Politicians, and So Should You

Partisan propaganda is easy. Today I saw this photograph (source via Wil Wheaton’s Tumblr):

Anti-Romney Propaganda

Of course we should forget about Mitt Romney. That shouldn’t default as an endorsement of Barack Obama. I created the image below:

My anti-Obama Propaganda

See how easy that is? Should I thus assume that those against Romney think any (or all) of the factual marks against Obama indicate the same “don’t vote for him” decision that facts about Romney indicate?

They’re both liars. All politicians are liars. Why would I vote for either of these liars, when both will only take away the rights of citizens and steal more power for government?

Accountability to Those Who Pay the Buck-O’-Five

Ken at Popehat has a perfectly concise take-down of LZ Granderson’s ridiculous CNN essay arguing against seeking too much information from our government about “Fast and Furious“. I won’t be able to say it better than Ken, so here are his words. (And if you’re not reading Popehat, correct that in your RSS reader.)

But to go much beyond the criticism of these men runs the risk of learning that this great nation of ours is heavily involved in doing some things that are not so great.

It would be nice to see this as a wry comment on American willingness to overlook lawbreaking by the government when it is committed (at least nominally) in service of goals of which we approve.

But the straight-faced reading is too similar to what I have come to expect from the media to be certain of my hoped-for satirical reading. Right now scandals over both Fast and Furious and the government response to it are being spun in many places as a cynical partisan obsession. I have not the shadow of the doubt that many of the loudest critics of the government have partisan motives. But if we dismiss criticism of government misbehavior because of partisan motivations, we’ll never entertain significant criticism of the government. We’ll always have partisanship. We can’t let it be an excuse to abandon our obligations as citizens to monitor and criticize the government.

Like Granderson, I know that “freedom isn’t entirely free”. It’s not “squeaky clean”. Unlike Granderson, and like Ken, I expect America to strive to be as squeaky clean as possible. Where we (allegedly) can’t be, I want to know why. I want to know what my government is doing in my name. I do not want elected dictators.


LZ Granderson has exhibited questionable critical thinking skills in the past. A year ago he wrote an essay against the San Francisco ballot initiative that aimed to prohibit non-therapeutic male child circumcision. It was awful in nearly every paragraph. His arguments were either incomplete or idiotic in every case.

Lifting the Venn of Ignorance

This Mother Jones blog post – “The Venn of Ron Paul and Other Mysteries of Libertarianism Explained” – is ostensibly a rebuke of libertarianism by dumping on its (alleged) chosen vessel, Ron Paul. Unsurprisingly, the author, Josh Harkinson, does not understand libertarianism. The diagram:

Mother Jones: Venn of Ron Paul

I know, ha ha. Especially with the additions of the accompanying “Libertarian Theology” glossary and the “Rand of the Free” poll. It’s so powerful.

If only it were true. To quote David Boaz:

… Libertarians are not against all government. We are precisely “advocates of limited government.” Perhaps to the man who wrote the speeches in which a Republican president advocated a trillion dollars of new spending, the largest expansion of entitlements in 40 years, federal takeovers of education and marriage, presidential power to arrest and incarcerate American citizens without access to a lawyer or a judge, and two endless “nation-building” enterprises, the distinction between “limited government” and “anti-government” is hard to see. But it is real and important.


A government is a set of institutions through which we adjudicate our disputes, defend our rights, and provide for certain common needs. It derives its authority, at some level and in some way, from the consent of the governed… What we want is a limited government that attends to its necessary and proper functions… Thus libertarians are not “anti-government.” Libertarians support limited, constitutional government — limited not just in size but, of far greater importance, in the scope of its powers.

Admittedly, in the comfortable mindset of someone who likes ignorant gotchas, I probably violated my libertarian principle of individualism because I let someone else speak for me. I just stole his words. Nevermind that I cited Mr. Boaz and provided the necessary links. As a libertarian, I’m required to live without assistance from anyone for anything, forever. Hell, I drive on government roads every day. Eventually I’m going to figure out that this makes me not a libertarian.

To show that anyone can have fun with drawing, I’ve attempted my own Ha Ha.

Making Ha Ha

To finish the point, I have an entire blog category in which I explain why more state action is warranted and necessary. So, yeah, “anti-government”? Not so much.

Link via Boing Boing. (Note: Original venn diagram re-sized to fit my out-of-date blog template.)

All Government Is Force. Even Regulation.

Back to the Occupy movement…

I have some sympathy for Occupy Wall Street and its offspring around the country. There is enough broken in the way our economy works that only a fool would advise inaction. Where I quickly part ways is with the obvious implication that our government can fix crony capitalism (i.e. corporatism). Our government is complicit in this problem. It serves the needs of politicians. Where power exists to grab, it will be grabbed. If this involves buying access to or the use of that power, it will happen. The solution is to limit power, not to pretend that human nature can be changed.

This interesting post from writer Lauren McLaughlin addresses an approach for going forward. She’s right that the movement needs to stop protesting and Do Something. I don’t think she’s right on what should be done.

For example, she suggests:

Early complaints about the movement’s lack of specific demands is also falling away as an increasingly focused platform centering on economic justice comes into focus. Poll the former residents of Zuccotti Park or any of the other occupation sites and you’ll hear a variety of ideas, but the most common seem to be the following:

– Regulate banks in a way that disincentivizes the reckless gambling that puts all of us at risk.

– Tax investment returns at the same rate as income.

– Reform campaign finance laws so that we’re no longer being governed by Goldman Sachs.

On the first item, banks were regulated before the financial crisis hit. That we still had a financial crisis may indicate that crimes took place, although I’m doubtful the evidence is strong. But it also demonstrates how difficult it is to get the correct regulation. Unintended consequences will occur. If we radically alter and/or increase regulation, what happens?

It’s also worth noting that capitalists, rather than corporatists, advocate letting banks fail. The fear of failing, including bankruptcy, is a motivator. It’s unlikely to be the exclusive answer, but we haven’t tried it in conjunction with anything yet.

I’d flip the second to suggest taxing income at the same rate as investment returns. Power is the problem, not inadequate revenue. The point of reducing the government is not mere animosity to government (or worse insinuations). As long as power exists, it will be abused.

On the third, I’m not clear enough on the implication of the item to comment extensively. If it’s a response to Citizens United, then I disagree. Corporations are not people in the literal sense, but in the legal sense they are, and for good reason. Corporations (and other forms of organization) are made up of people. Those people do not lose rights because they’ve chosen to work together. If they do, it’s not a large leap to discredit democracy. But, again, reduce the scope and amount of power available within government and the incentive to buy it will reduce.

Ms. McLaughlin’s next paragraph is revealing from my perspective:

Of course, there are other ideas, like making banks finance their own future bailouts through a financial transaction tax, but I think it’s fairly easy to see the big idea at the heart of the movement: American capitalism and democracy are broken. The big difference between Occupy Wall Street and The Tea Party is that the latter sees the government as the big evil, whereas the former fingers a reckless and under-regulated banking industry that has captured our government and bent it to its will.

I’m not a Tea Party guy, so I’m not so concerned about the difference. But the two have similarities and should recognize that the root causes are very similar. Why does the Tea Party see the government as evil? I think there’s some truth to the assertion, but I don’t know the answer. I also know many Tea Party members have taken the initial, singular focus on government spending and turned to other causes in which they want more government, not less. I’m not sure the analysis that it thinks government is evil is accurate.

Either way, if that’s true, the only way “a reckless and under-regulated” – both subjective terms, with the latter being much less defensible – banking industry could capture our government and bend it to its will is with the full participation of our government. Corporatism is a sinister cooperative effort, not a sinister takeover. Trusting the same government that’s been captured so readily and thoroughly to provide a solution is bizarre. As long as there is power to abuse, this will continue, even if it takes a different form. Any action that is to be a solution rather than a perpetuation of chasing new problems must account for this. I haven’t seen evidence that the Occupy movement understands this. It may yet win, but I fear the outcome if it does.

In related news, the government that will somehow help is the same government that sees no problem with pepper-spraying peaceful, if disruptive, protesters with a callous disregard for the necessity or safety of the force. This is the state in action. This is what Occupy requests when it calls for more government regulation. All government is force. Why is it wrong to use against you, but okay to use against me?

The Explanation May Not Fit on a Placard

Continuing with the Occupy Wall Street theme, the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee released an “Open Letter of Support for the Occupy Movement”. It’s predictably full of pointless nonsense which I think underlies the larger problem with the Occupy protests. To be clear I do not assume that UUSC speaks for the movement. I’m only aiming at it because it states ideas that appear to be generally applicable to Occupy Wall Street.

From the beginning:

I stand with people around the country and the world who are calling for economic justice.

“Economic justice” doesn’t say anything. What’s meant by the term? Equality of process? Equality of outcome? There are different possible meanings. Some are legitimate and principled. Others are naive. Which is it here?

My values affirm that each person has inherent worth and dignity; that justice, equity, and compassion should be the guiding principles for human relationships; and that all people deserve access to the democratic process.

More ideals without evidence to demonstrate we do not have them in some form. In the abstract, sure, these are great. But what does it mean in reality? Who doesn’t have access to the democratic process? What are the intended consequences? What might be the unintended consequences? Can “the democratic process” create valid outcomes that you don’t like?

My recognition of the inherent worth of every person compels me to speak out against policies that privilege the demands of corporations over the human rights of people. I support the Occupy movement in its affirmation that protecting workers’ rights and ensuring that basic human needs are met must take precedence. All people have a fundamental right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of themselves and their families.

Please provide examples of where the demands of corporations are privileged over the human rights of people. Government requires a balancing of rights. It’s primary task is protecting the rights of individuals. Corporations are individuals, which is to say a collection of individuals. If individuals have a human right to free association, the form of that association shouldn’t matter, right? Is the Occupy movement free association? Are the human rights of people the rights of individuals or the abstract of a right, like “free speech”? Are “workers’ rights” a subset of human rights or separate and applicable to everyone?

If someone believes my last paragraph, how does free association and an individual’s inherent worth and dignity matter only to the extent that their “fundamental right” to a standard of living is met? If the solution is to tax the rich (more), and that seems to be the Occupy movement’s demand, then there’s an implied point at which an individual becomes a valid target for the rest of society. Justice and equity require both a floor and a ceiling?

I also join the Occupy movement in decrying the wealth disparity that leaves millions struggling for economic security. Policies and legislation that promote economic marginalization are morally unacceptable. Everyone is entitled to a government that recognizes and promotes basic economic rights. Justice, equity, and compassion should be foremost in our government’s decision making.

Is this alleged wealth disparity the cause, or merely a coincidental fact? Wealth and prosperity is only fixed in the moment. But we don’t live in a moment. There is tomorrow, and if we create and produce, there will be more tomorrow. Some will get rich, some will not. This isn’t necessarily problematic or unfair. Stating that everyone should have some minimum is not the same argument as assuming that no one should have above some maximum. Is Occupy interested in creating and producing, and is it interested in consent in achieving economic security, which is not well-defined here?

I agree that policies and legislation that promote economic marginalization are morally unacceptable. However, the solution includes limiting government power, not relying on the right mix of benevolent politicians. The latter don’t exist in sufficient numbers to make a technocratic democracy work without horrible, rights-violating offenses.

Economic oppression is not only a violation of fundamental human rights, it is also a blow to democracy. When economic power is concentrated in the hands of a few and when corporations are awarded the same status as actual human beings, the democratic process is fundamentally compromised. Basic fairness requires that all people have equal opportunity to participate in political debate and to be represented in government.

Define “economic oppression”. Provide examples. Explain how the Occupy movement’s undefined solution resolves the problem. What are the intended economic consequences of democracy? What might be the unintended consequences? Can “the democratic process” create valid outcomes that you don’t like?

Economic power is concentrated for many reasons, including cooperation from politicians. Politicians will be involved in democracy. Democratic tyranny is possible. This is why equality of process is superior to equality of outcome. Democracy does not guarantee equality of process. How would the Occupy movement address this?

Have corporations been awarded the same status as actual human beings? Who will Apple vote for next week? In 2012? What about Starbucks? Again, corporations are a collection of people exercising their natural right to free association. Do they lose certain rights because they join collectively rather than act alone? What would be the consequences – good and bad – of altering the current corporate structures?

I envision a powerful and radically inclusive movement for economic justice. I recognize economic justice as a right that is due to all people, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, language, religion, political or other opinion, immigration status, national or social origin, property, birth, or other status or distinction.

Is economic justice a right due to “rich” people who are to be taxed? What does this right look like for anyone classified as rich?

I sign this letter as an expression of gratitude to all who are working for economic justice in the United States and around the world, as an affirmation of my hope for fair and compassionate economic reforms, and as a renewal of my commitment to help make it so.

Are we listening to those working for economic justice who know nothing more than the slogans and solutions, those who haven’t attempted an understanding of the complex problem?

Link via Ethics Alarms.

Krugman says, “I’m Rubber, You’re Glue…”

It’s been a decent chunk of time since I last posted, but I have things to say again. (And Google removed shared items from Google Reader.) We’ll see how long it lasts.

What better (i.e. easier) way to jump back in than to comment on Paul Krugman saying something stupid and lacking in self-awareness. As always it’s “you shouldn’t do that, but ignore that I’m doing it.” Consider this, from last week:

Over the last couple of days, I’ve been getting mail accusing me of consorting with Nazis. My immediate reaction was, what the heck? Then it clicked: the right wing is mounting a full-court press to portray Occupy Wall Street as an anti-Semitic movement, based, as far as I can tell, on one guy with a sign.

I have a lot of sympathy for this complaint, given one of my major interests. It’s a pathetic generalization and an embarrassing reflection on the person willing to dabble in stereotypes without individual evidence. It’s a dishonest tactic, which suggests fear dominates rather than confidence. Any large-ish movement is going to attract its share of crazies who value conspiracy theories over logic. Unless the movement is based on the conspiracy theory itself or a plainly evil belief, the extreme views are probably not widely held within the group and many group members are likely fighting the nonsense out of public view. Generalizing in this way is flawed and stupid, as any case of being uninterested or unwilling to think is.

So, one paragraph in, Krugman has my sympathy. If this had been the issue Krugman intended to pursue, fine. He didn’t.

My first thought was that OWS must have the right really rattled. And there’s probably something to that. But actually, this is the way the right goes after everyone who stands in their way: accuse them of everything, no matter how implausible or contradictory the accusations are. Progressives are atheistic socialists who want to impose Sharia law. Class warfare is evil; also, John Kerry is too rich. And so on.

Krugman makes no distinction between those making accusations and those who share (some) similar, conservative views. It’s “the right”, without specificity. That stroke is too broad.

The key to understanding this, I’d suggest, is that movement conservatism has become a closed, inward-looking universe in which you get points not by sounding reasonable to uncommitted outsiders — although there are a few designated pundits who play that role professionally — but by outdoing your fellow movement members in zeal.

He’s closer here, since it’s clear that “movement conservatism” implies “professional”. But his aside is not enough to excuse what he’s doing. Most people see the distinction between Rush Limbaugh and a neighbor, perhaps even when the neighbor praises Limbaugh. I hope the same is true of anyone tempted to make a professional pundit like Bill Maher the spokesperson for every liberal progressive everywhere. It’s a silly, immature way to view the world (and a key reason I hate partisanship).

Krugman continues:

It’s sort of reminiscent of Stalinists going after Trotskyites in the old days: the Trotskyites were left deviationists, and also saboteurs working for the Nazis. Didn’t propagandists feel silly saying all that? Not at all: in their universe, extremism in defense of the larger truth was no vice, and you literally couldn’t go too far.

Many members of the commentariat don’t want to face up to the fact that this is what American politics has become; they cling to the notion that there are gentlemanly elder statesmen on the right who would come to the fore if only Obama said the right words. But the fact is that nobody on that side of the political spectrum wants to or can make deals with the Islamic atheist anti-military warmonger in the White House.

The last line says it all. (It’s not the last line in the post; just the last important line.) Is it only “that side” engaging in heated, sweeping accusations? “That side.” Krugman is in pot-meet-kettle territory. Everyone who believes anything and shares that belief is a propagandist, literally. In the pejorative, as Krugman implies here, he’s claiming that only the right propagandizes. It wouldn’t take long to find instances of the left engaging in the same tactics against the right, considering I read Krugman’s post.

Barbara Kay Is Mistaken on Circumcision.

I’ve read many bizarre, irrational rants advocating for non-therapeutic child circumcision. This recent opinion piece by Barbara Kay in Canada’s National Post is the worst drivel of that sort I’ve encountered. (It’s a response to a counter opinion piece by Jackson Doughart.)

She begins:

In 1970, some 97% of American males, and about 70% of Canadian males were circumcised. Those numbers have fallen dramatically, thanks in large part to ardent activism by anti-circumcision “rights” groups.

Jackson Doughart believes that the Canadian government should pass legislation that would prevent religious leaders and health-care legislators from performing or authorizing the ritual circumcisions of newborn children. He bases his argument on two often-adduced moral grounds: that the circumcision of infants violates their human rights, because they cannot give informed consent to the procedure, and that male circumcision is a “mutilation,” comparable to female genital mutilation (FGM), already outlawed.

Non-therapeutic genital cutting on a non-consenting individual is morally and ethically wrong. It violates the individual’s human rights (e.g. right to be free from harm), regardless of the individual’s gender or the subjective reasons provided for the surgery. It would be no less ethical to cut off healthy, functioning fingers or ear lobes than to cut off a healthy, functioning foreskin.

To her second point, there are forms of FGM that are less invasive than male circumcision and performed for many of the same non-therapeutic reasons. Yet, these forms of FGM are still illegal. We recognize that they violate the child’s rights because they cause unnecessary harm.

Before addressing Mr. Doughart’s moral concerns, I stipulate to set aside any religious argument for our debate. I can assure Mr. Doughart that Jews, myself included, would unequivocally renounce the ritual of male circumcision if scientists provide a causal link between circumcision and increased risk for morbidity. But after 5,000 years of what is essentially a massive controlled study of Jewish and Muslim men, from which no negative effects can be ascribed to male circumcision, that is unlikely to happen.

She establishes a ridiculous straw man in an attempt to demonstrate that, religious argument aside, child circumcision is moral. It’s unfortunately all too easy to prove that circumcision increases the risk for morbidity, but that’s not the proper argument. There’s far more to the ethical question than her implication that it’s obviously good and unassailable if it doesn’t kill the patient. And the 5,000 year “controlled study” of Jewish and Muslim “men” really involves children who become men. There’s an important difference there beyond the obvious issue of consent since circumcision of an infant is subtly different from circumcision of an adult.

Carrying the straw man to its illogical conclusion, she writes:

Conversely, Mr. Doughart should stipulate to endorse male circumcision if it can be shown to decrease the risk for morbidity. Which it can.

She’s ignored the ethical argument of rights, apparently because putting quotes around a word proves it doesn’t apply. Somehow. But she’s also dismissed the concept of ethics. To her, any intervention is ethical if it decreases the risk of morbidity. In her misguided view, it doesn’t matter if the person wants it or is ever likely to need that intervention. If it can decrease some risk, it’s automatically ethical.

That’s ridiculous, of course. Should we begin studying female genital cutting to determine whether or not it reduces some risk, no matter how small the absolute risk is? What about removal of breast buds from infants? If SCIENCE! trumps any ethical concern, as Kay expects the reader to accept, then there is no intervention on children that can be considered irrational or offensive if it reduces the risk of morbidity in some way. To Kay, science and the application of science (i.e. medical ethics) are the same. They are not the same.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends male circumcision on the basis of irrefutable evidence that it dramatically lowers the rate of HIV, not just in men, but in women and children (according to one British researcher, “The foreskin of the penis is a magnet for HIV.”)

With the availability of Google, it’s not difficult to learn what WHO recommends. Its recommendation isn’t what Kay states it is:

… WHO/UNAIDS recommendations emphasize that male circumcision should be considered an efficacious intervention for HIV prevention in countries and regions with heterosexual epidemics, high HIV and low male circumcision prevalence. …

That statement does not describe the United States or Canada. Ignoring that – to the point of calling the finding a “miracle” in the next paragraph – is egregious. I’d be curious to understand why she and her editor made this inexcusable mistake, but regardless of the reason, she’s wrong. Its actions show that it ignores ethics, like Kay, but WHO does not recommend male circumcision, full stop.

Yet Mr. Doughart shrugs off this miracle, claiming there are “far better ways” to eliminate HIV, like “educating youth about sexual health and condom use.” Actually, both have been tried. They don’t work in significant numbers (although sexual-fidelity campaigns have been effective: is Mr. Doughart on board for those?).

There are (at least) two problems with this. First, the studies in Africa were not long-term. We do not know if the percentage of HIV infections among circumcised males will eventually match the percentage among intact males. There are portions of Africa where circumcised males have higher HIV infection rates. It’s reasonable to suggest that males engaging in unprotected sex with HIV-positive women over a long-enough period will become HIV-positive, that circumcision can’t prevent HIV. Or they could wear condoms…

Second, the ethical problems with non-therapeutic circumcision of non-consenting individuals isn’t resolved by studies on groups of people. The individual is an individual, with his own preferences and possible actions. “Most” males may not use condoms, but any male might. The preferences of an individual who never engages in risky sexual behavior should not be ignored because some number of his peers engage in risky sexual behavior.

Passing to the moral realm, the argument of “informed consent” is easily demolished by the fact that we routinely vaccinate our children against disease without their consent for their own good. Even before we knew of the HIV connection, amongst those circumcising their sons, health and hygiene were always the reason. STDs are much more common in uncircumcised men, and circumcision causes a 12-fold reduction in the incidence of urinary tract infections. Complications from circumcisions performed by experienced surgeons and mohels are as rare as those springing from dental procedures or vaccinations: that’s to say, statistically negligible.

Vaccinations are a red herring. They protect against diseases by activating the body’s natural immune response. Circ
umcision amputates healthy skin on the theory that it might cause problems. (Worth noting: The link between circumcision and reduced risk of female-to-male HIV transmission is not fully understood.) This comparison ignores the likelihood of problems or the means by which the individual becomes sick. An individual can get measles by doing nothing more than venturing into his community. Becoming HIV-positive requires a bit more active behavior, and specifically with one’s penis. Preventing such infections is easy, and the method is known. Proxy consent for circumcision can’t be sufficiently compared to proxy consent for vaccinations.

As for the rest, earlier in her essay, Kay said there were no negative effects from circumcision. Now she’s acknowledging that there are, in fact, complications. That’s relevant to her mistaken belief that only increased morbidity matters. She should also prove that such complications are “statistically negligible.” (Are they negligible to the males who receive those circumcision complications?)

Kay is also engaging in the common tactic of presenting relative risk rather than absolute risk. For UTIs, the relative risk is impressive in the absence of critical thinking. She neglects to mention that this benefit only exists for the first year of life. The absolute risk of a UTI, however, is not as impressive. It’s only 1% for intact males, which is less than the 3% risk of UTIs for females in the first year of life. For the majority of those in the 1%, treatments less invasive than circumcision will be sufficient to resolve the infection.

On to the pernicious myth that male circumcision, a 30-second procedure, is a “mutilation” and the obscene canard that it is the equivalent of sexist FGM. FGM is a horribly protracted and painful cutting of girls under terrifying circumstances, with the specific intention of eliminating the capacity for sexual pleasure, and rightly considered a criminal action. According to UNICEF, at least 100 million women have been genitally mutilated. Compared to their uncut peers, these women are 69% more likely to hemorrhage after childbirth, and up to 55% more likely to deliver a dead or mortally ill baby. For every 100 deliveries, the WHO estimates FGM kills one or two more children.

Not all FGM is “sexist” in the way Kay implies, since it’s perpetuated and carried out by women. Nor is all FGM performed with the “specific intention of eliminating the capacity for sexual pleasure.” This is the most common result, but we don’t look at intent when criminalizing this in the Western world. The federal anti-FGM act in the United States explicitly excludes any parental intent. The act is separate from why it’s performed. Parents who cite reasons similar to what society permits for male circumcision are given no more credence than those who intend to inflict the vilest outcomes. The act itself, rather than intent, is the sole criteria. The same must be true for boys.

“Mutilation” is a disgusting word to apply to the excision of a non-essential bacteria trap, nearly painless and instantly forgotten (those who claim otherwise are fantasizing; no credible study demonstrates lasting effects). Unlike ordinary circumcised men, FGM victims know they have been mutilated in the real sense of the word. Feminists constantly remind us that men have all the power. If true, how is it that after so many thousands of years — coincidentally up to the advent of the sexual revolution and the privileging of erotic freedom over ethical mating — so many millions of intelligent and even powerful Jewish and Muslim males never spoke up about their alleged victimhood?

Non-therapeutic genital cutting on a non-consenting individual is mutilation. Among the definitions of mutilate is this: To make imperfect by excising or altering parts. Kay just described circumcision as excision. She is wrong to maintain this disconnect between her accurate word and her inaccurate understanding.

Beyond that, calling the foreskin non-essential ignores the individual. It’s absurd. Anything that doesn’t kill the individual can be considered non-essential. The term has no relevance to proxy consent for non-therapeutic genital cutting. A male may value and prefer what she considers non-essential on his body. Her belief that the opinion of a male’s parents’ matters with regard to what is non-essential on his body is wrong. Each person is the arbiter for himself. As long as the individual is healthy, removing any normal body parts is unethical.

Calling the foreskin a “bacteria trap” is no more accurate than calling the vagina a bacteria trap. Bathing is quite easy in our society. Surgically excising a child’s foreskin is an abdication of parental responsibility, not a prudent response.

The ability to make a procedure painless does not render it ethical. The ability to “forget” the surgery assumes that the child’s experience during the procedure and healing are irrelevant. That is a monstrous view. And the implicit “you can’t miss what you never had” argument is equally ridiculous. Circumcision removes the male’s foreskin, not his brain. The male is capable of knowing that he has been mutilated, even in the typical scenario where his mutilation is less severe than a female victim’s.

The obvious reason why so many men, including but not limited to Jewish and Muslim males, never speak up is because they were circumcised as children. They incorrectly perceive circumcision as normal, rather than common. And, from my discussions with other men, there is a very strong defense mechanism against seeing themselves as harmed. (This same response can be seen among victims of female genital cutting, some of whom don’t view themselves as victims.) Our world is more complicated than this imaginary world Kay conjured up.

The responses of these millions of men is irrelevant to the ethical question involving individuals. Kay ignores this. What the individual prefers for himself is what matters for non-therapeutic surgery. If he does not want non-therapeutic genital cutting, he is correct for himself. The rights Kay incorrectly dismisses belong to the individual, not to the majority opinion within his society. If any right belongs to the majority, it is meaningless. Stating that most males don’t care about being circumcised is not a defense for forcing it on any individual male.

On the point about “erotic freedom over ethical mating”, it’s a strange non-sequitur that ties into her last paragraph. So far, she’s propped up her indefensible argument with ignorance, straw men, and selective fact-checking. She ends with ad hominem:

Set aside the rights-based rhetoric. It’s about sex: Circumcised men have greater pre-orgasmic endurance; non-circumcision permits more frequent ejaculations. What matters most to the anti-circumcision activists is their diminished pleasure with frequently changing sexual partners, as befits an era where the number of conquests is a more common metric of romantic success than long-term relationships. Our legislators have better things to worry about than this.

On par with calling the foreskin a “bacteria trap”, stating that circumcision imparts “greater pre-orgasmic endurance” is propaganda. She is saying that circumcised males take longer to reach orgasm, which she expects us to grasp as “good”. She’s making a value judgment that endurance is objectively better. It isn’t because she’s unavoidably declares that sex is changed by circumcision. Again, all individual tastes and preferences are subjective. Some males will value “pre-orgasmic endurance.” Some will not. Each is right for himself, so imposing it on all is unethical.

Instead of attempting to prove that the subjectiv
e is objective, she states that males against non-therapeutic child circumcision merely want to have lots of promiscuous sex with as many people as possible. She presented no evidence to suggest what activists prefer or what circumcised males would do if left intact. Her smear attempt is embarrassingly stupid.

However, it’s worth exploring the implicit sentiment in her ad hominem attack. “Ethical mating” is supposed to be better than “erotic freedom” in some objective, provable manner to Kay. Since circumcision allegedly promotes “ethical mating”, circumcision is allegedly good. But what she’s saying is that circumcision can and should be used by parents as a tool to control male sexuality. She rightly denounced sexism that attempts to excuse female genital mutilation, so why does she endorse sexism to excuse male genital mutilation?

Krugman’s Tale of Inaccurate Caricatures

Last week, Paul Krugman did his hacktastic best to suggest that the two competing sides of government philosophy are the far right and the center. He paints himself as part of the caring center, of course, opposed to the meanies on the right who inevitably despise anyone lesser. It’s all kinds of ad hominem fun, and concludes with this bit about how we need to end the heated political rhetoric that’s apparently only been happening since President Obama’s election in 2008:

It’s not enough to appeal to the better angels of our nature. We need to have leaders of both parties — or Mr. Obama alone if necessary — declare that both violence and any language hinting at the acceptability of violence are out of bounds. We all want reconciliation, but the road to that goal begins with an agreement that our differences will be settled by the rule of law.

Or Mr. Obama alone if necessary? President Obama can do nothing constitutionally to end such not-new rhetoric. Krugman’s point is silly and makes me think of this:

That seems about right.

Hanna Rosin Is Still Mistaken on Circumcision. Uh Oh.

Yesterday, the New York Times ran an article about a recent study (on a semi-related topic) that suggests the U.S. infant male circumcision rate fell to 32.5% for 2009. This has been floating around for a few weeks. Frankly, I don’t believe it, as much as I’d like it to be true. When the data are fully analyzed, we’ll either see the rate climb or the exclusions will reveal circumcisions that weren’t counted but must logically be assumed (e.g. ritual). I’m aware of my culture’s insanity.

This story has, predictably, brought out the usual folks and their BUT TEH AIDS!!!!1 rhetoric. For example, a year after showing her ignorance and bias¹ for circumcision, Hanna Rosin returns to prove that she’s still willfully ignorant.

The New York Times reports today on new findings that circumcision rates have declined precipitously in the United States, from 56 percent in 2006 to 32.5 percent last year. That’s a phenomenal decline in just three years. …

No kidding. It’s so phenomenal that, were she ever willing to break out her critical thinking skills, she might focus her blog entry on that point. Instead, she regurgitates the same incorrect, irrelevant propaganda.

… The story quotes doctors saying that of course no one in the profession should ever tell a parent to circumcise their child and the Centers for Disease Control declines to comment because they never do on this issue, even though they know full well that the drop in circumcisions is a potentially serious public health problem. …

That quote is this:

“No one is going to tell a parent, ‘You have to circumcise your child.’ That would be foolish,” Dr. [Michael] Brady said. “The key thing physicians should be doing is providing information on both risks and benefits and allow the parent to make the best decision.”

Any doctor who agrees with that is an unethical coward. The key thing physicians should be doing is rejecting the offensive parental request to surgically alter healthy children boys.

As for what they “know full well,” this from the New York Times article:

Some 80 percent of American men are circumcised, one of the highest rates in the developed world. Yet even advocates of circumcision acknowledge that an aggressive circumcision drive in the United States would be unlikely to have a drastic impact on H.I.V. rates here, since the procedure does not seem to protect those at greatest risk, men who have sex with men.

Context matters, a caveat Rosin ignores.


… But circumcision has become like abortion these days, where allying yourself with the Mengele doctors who mutilate infant boys risks bringing a horde protesters to your office door.

Doctors (and non-doctors) who circumcise healthy boys mutilate them:

1 : to cut up or alter radically so as to make imperfect
2 : to cut off or permanently destroy a limb or essential part of

Words have meaning independent of the desired preference of pro- or anti- child circumcision arguments. For mutilation, that meaning is independent of the victim’s gender and the proxy’s intent.

She continues:

It does not really matter if any individual parent decides that circumcision is not for them, as I explained in this New York magazine story, “The Case Against the Case Against Circumcision.” …

This is the crux of her mistake. The (unnecessary) circumcision Rosin defends is not for the parent. It’s imposed on the individual child boy. This is why it’s unethical, regardless of all the unimpressive, incomplete facts she shares. It’s not about what the parents want, but what the boy needs. Proxy consent has objective, logical limits. That our society ignores these does not reduce their validity.


… But it absolutely matters if a whole society turns against the practice. The exact relationship between circumcision and the prevention of certain diseases – from AIDS on down – is not perfectly understood. …

Promote anyway, apparently, since there’s no chance missed factors could contribute to the conclusion.

… But it is absolutely understood that societies in which the majority of boys are circumcised have lower rates of such diseases than other societies.

From AVERT, worldwide AIDS & HIV statistics from 2008 show that North America has an adult prevalence of 0.4%. Most 15-49 year old American males are circumcised. Canadian circumcision rates are declining, but a large percentage in that age group are circumcised. Western & Central Europe, where most males are intact, has an adult prevalence of 0.3%. But it is “absolutely understood” that mutilating societies have lower rates of such diseases. Rosin is entitled to her own facts, apparently. She knows.

Still more:

Anti-circumcision activists have convinced us that circumcision is harmful and dangerous and does a lifetime of damage. …

Circumcision is surgery. It removes healthy tissue and nerves. That’s harmful. Every boy suffers some form of harm (e.g. scarring), but some boys suffer far worse. Collectively it is not “dangerous”, but individuals are not statistics. And since this damage is permanent, it certainly lasts a lifetime.

If a male chooses circumcision for himself, that is his right, regardless of his reason. The issue is its imposition on healthy, non-consenting children boys. Their health proves how the science involved is twisted, since only potential benefits seem to count as “science”. Their lack of consent proves the ethical argument against permitting prophylactic circumcision (i.e. ritual, cultural, and “scientific”), unless Rosin wishes to open proxy consent to medically unnecessary genital surgery on female minors.

¹ I also highlighted her ignorance and bias here and here.

Republican ≠ libertarian

I wrote this when it was topical but forgot to post it.

It seems that Eugene Robinson doesn’t know the difference between a Republican and a libertarian. In this two-weeks-old column discussing the self-inflicted political wounds of Rand Paul, Mr. Robinson lumps these in as a part of Paul’s “Libertarian La-La Land.” This would be a useful approach if a) Rand Paul happened to be a libertarian (or Libertarian) or b) Robinson understood liberty. Regarding Paul’s comments on the Civil Rights Act of 1964:

Actually, there are quite a few direct questions that Paul will be asked. Does he still believe it ought to be permissible to deny Americans access to housing because of the color of their skin, as he argued a few years ago? I have a personal stake in this one, since I live in a neighborhood where a legal covenant once kept African Americans out. Is this sort of thing cool with him?

Inherent in the way Mr. Robinson asked these two questions, he believes they’re related closely enough that Paul’s answer must be the same for both. It’s a “gotcha” question. Say that private-sphere discrimination should be legal and you’re a racist, no thinking necessary. But saying you believe someone has the right to be an asshole doesn’t require you to believe that person should be an asshole, or that such a person shouldn’t be criticized and excluded from polite society. Am I a racist for saying you can be a racist, as much as I despise it?

From the end of his column:

Now that he is running for the Senate as a card-carrying Republican, Paul is going to have to abandon, or pretend to abandon, many of his loopy beliefs. This won’t be easy, as illustrated by the hemming and hawing he did before finally endorsing the Civil Rights Act. Even then, he suggested that the law was justified only by the prevailing situation in the South. As soon as Paul is allowed out of his cave, someone should ask him whether the landmark legislation properly applies to the rest of the country.

As an exercise in critical thinking, did Paul say the Civil Rights Act should only be applied to the South? If he did, he’s an idiot and Robinson should say so directly. If Paul didn’t say that, stating only that the South was the problem that justified a federal (i.e. national) response, is Robinson’s tactic here legitimate?

Next, Robinson highlights Paul’s response to the BP oil spill (emphasis added):

And while we’re at it, what about Paul’s recent analysis of the catastrophic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico? The Obama administration faces growing criticism for not being tough enough on BP for its failure to stop the gushing flow of crude that is fouling Louisiana’s ecologically sensitive coastal marshes. Paul, however, sees things differently. “What I don’t like from the president’s administration is this sort of, ‘I’ll put my boot heel on the throat of BP,’ ” Paul said. “I think that sounds really un-American in his criticism of business.”

The “un-American” part is consistent with the campaign by Republican cynics and Tea Party wing nuts to delegitimize Obama’s presidency. But the general idea — that it’s wrong to hold private firms strictly accountable for disasters such as the gulf spill — appears to be something that Paul really believes, since he also dismisses the recent West Virginia mine explosion in which 29 miners were killed.

“We had a mining accident that was very tragic,” he said. “Then we come in, and it’s always someone’s fault. Maybe sometimes accidents happen.”

But maybe accidents are less likely to happen when appropriate safety standards are established and enforced. This kind of cause-and-effect reasoning is meaningful only to those who live in the real world, however. From all evidence, Paul lives in Libertarian La-La Land, where a purist philosophy leads people to believe in the purest nonsense.

I’ll speak to general libertarian philosophy, not Rand Paul’s ideas. It’s not wrong to hold private firms strictly accountable for disasters for which they are responsible. That’s what society should do. And to the extent government regulation is justified, a response according to pre-existing rules and procedures is appropriate.

That’s not what happens now. We have public outrage and figurative spankings from our President-as-father. (This is not exclusive to President Obama.) The financial crisis of 2008 shows this, as Obama has repeatedly demonized everyone associated with Wall Street while Congress funneled public money to them and configured new regulations to entrench their businesses against competition. It’s naked populism, not enlightened principle in the face of depraved “Libertarian La-La Land” philosophy.

As for established and enforced safety standards, only the government can be trusted to do that?

I want none of what I’ve written to suggest that I support or seek to defend Rand Paul and his comments. There’s more complexity to the Civil Rights Act and libertarianism, as evidenced by what’s missing from Mr. Robinson’s column and much of most reporting on the story. Anyway, Paul strikes me as a politican at his core, like his father, who is also not a libertarian. No one should act as though he discredits libertarianism.

For example, from Robinson’s column:

I’d also like to know whether Paul really believes in a conspiracy among the U.S., Canadian and Mexican governments to turn North America into a “borderless, mass continent” bisected by a 10-lane superhighway. Because that’s what he said in 2008.

“It’s a real thing,” he said of the imaginary threat to U.S. sovereignty, “and when you talk about it, the thing you just have to be aware of is that if you talk about it like it’s a conspiracy, they’ll paint you as a nut.”

Very little paint is needed.

Fair enough that Paul is a nut, but libertarians won’t view “borderless” countries with fear and disdain. Lumping the two together is silly to the point of ignorance (or dishonesty).