Monday, October 7, 2013
Barth Bracy of the Rhode Island State Right to Life Committee is at it again. From his half-cooked story about Occupiers in armbands engaging in military style condom drops on Catholic schoolgirls to his "mostly false" ranking at Politifact Rhode Island, regarding the public's attitudes about reproductive rights, Bracy seems to maintain a cordial, if distant relationship to the truth.
Now he's complaining about HealthSourceRI, the web portal through which thousands of Rhode Islanders will finally be able to access decent, affordable healthcare for the first time in their lives. Bracy's complaint is that his "layman's reading" of the Affordable Care Act suggests that HealthSourceRI is somehow out-of-compliance with federal law.
Tax dollars sent to help cover plans that offer abortion will be separated from accounts used to pay for abortion services. Federal law prevents the use of any federal money from being used to access abortion, except in the case of incest, rape or danger to the life of the mother. This is the Stupak-Pitts Amendment, and was inserted by President Obama into the law through an executive order. Bracy's claim that there will be "government subsidies for insurance plans that cover abortion-on-demand" is conspiracy minded foolishness, and false.
Bracy's complaint seems to stem from the fact that right now all of the 28 plans being offered on the exchange cover abortion. For those interested in such a plan, I would suggest waiting a bit. The law mandates that at least one such health care plan be included on the exchange by 2017, and most likely, before that date rolls around, there will be more than one such plan to choose from.
In the meantime, Bracy might want to calm down and think carefully before making any more outrageous claims.
at 2:01 PM
Thursday, October 3, 2013
An essay I wrote as part of my class at the Humanist Institute on :
I thought I would try to find a topic that has not been, to my knowledge, extensively explored in skeptical literature, and settled on male circumcision because it is a "traditional practice" reflective of an "entrenched belief system." In tackling this subject I will attempt find putative "scientific" studies that argue for and against the practice, and point out where these studies fall short or seem to be excessively dependent on shoddy methodology or beholden to partisan religious beliefs.
Wikipedia defines circumcision as "the surgical removal of the foreskin (prepuce) from the human penis," a definition that I think is fine for the scope of this essay. Circumcision appears to be the oldest "planned medical procedure" and today is mostly associated with the religious practices of Jews and Muslims. The World Health organization estimates that approximately 30% of males over the age of fifteen are circumcised, and almost 70% of these are Muslims.
Jews and Muslims ostensibly follow the process of circumcision because it is set down in the Hebrew Bible, specifically Genesis 17: 9-14, in which Abraham and his sons are circumcised as part of a covenant with God.
Then God said to Abraham, “As for you, you must keep my covenant, you and your descendants after you for the generations to come. This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and you. For the generations to come every male among you who is eight days old must be circumcised, including those born in your household or bought with money from a foreigner—those who are not your offspring. Whether born in your household or bought with your money, they must be circumcised. My covenant in your flesh is to be an everlasting covenant. Any uncircumcised male, who has not been circumcised in the flesh, will be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.”
The roots of God's command may perhaps be found in the institution of slavery. Peter Charles Remondino in his History of Circumcision (1891) "suggested that it began as a less severe form of emasculating a captured enemy: penectomy or castration would likely have been fatal, while some form of circumcision would permanently mark the defeated yet leave him alive to serve as a slave." Though an interesting suggestion, there appears to be no way to prove this idea.
Remondino's book was last printed in 1974, and his position that circumcision could cure or prevent "alcoholism, epilepsy, asthma, hernia, gout, rheumatism, curvature of the spine and headaches" was accepted as fact by doctors. According to Marilyn Fayre Milos, RN and Donna Macris, CNM, MSN, in "Circumcision: A Medical or a Human Rights Issue?” (http://www.cirp.org/library/ethics/milos-macris/) "As scientific advancements found legitimate pathologic etiologies for diseases previously believed to be prevented or cured by circumcision, new excuses were adopted to substantiate this elective genital surgery. Since the turn of the century, one excuse after another has been used to perpetuate a practice most of the world has never considered." Science, it seems, was being used as an excuse to justify circumcision.
Over the years it has been postulated that circumcision improves hygiene, prevents venereal disease, prevents penile and cervical cancer, protects against urinary tract infections, and even today is believed to decrease the chances of contracting AIDS. However, the reasons for the continued prevalence of circumcision seem to be religious and cultural. One woman I know told me that she did not want her son to feel ostracized by having a different looking penis, while others balk at the thought of breaking with strong religious and family traditions.
Still, in 1975 the American Academy of Pediatrics concluded, "There is no absolute medical indication for routine circumcision of the newborn" and later the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists concurred. However, by 1999 the AAP decided to take a "neutral" stance on circumcision and still later in 2012 advanced a report that that posits some benefits in the reduction of HIV (40-60%) for heterosexual sex. There is no reduction in risk noted for homosexual encounters. (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/27/science/benefits-of-circumcision-outweigh-risks-pediatric-group-says.html)
So what is the verdict on circumcision? Unfortunately both sides of the debate rely on pseudo-science to make their case. Dan Bollinger, a prominent opponent of circumcision, claims 117 boys die each year due to circumcision, yet the CDC noted no circumcision related deaths in 2010. Bollinger gets his number through bad science and flawed assumptions. The blog Circumcision News checked out Bollinger's methodology, and found it wanting. (http://circumcisionnews.blogspot.com/2010/05/fatally-flawed-bollingers-circumcision.html) For one thing, Bollinger assumes that the higher rate of male infant mortality (when compared to females) is almost completely due to botched circumcisions. This is patently absurd.
On the other side of the issue, however, there is also a kind of pseudo-science, or at least a lack of willingness to follow where the science seems to lead. Dr. Douglas S. Diekema, a member of the AAP's task force of circumcision has said, “There’s no compelling medical reason to do it. There’s also no compelling reason that it’s not a valid choice for families to make. There are some small benefits and these need to be weighed against the risks.”
So is this entire issue simply about a cosmetic alteration to male genitalia, as miner an issue as piercing a baby's ears? If circumcision is a medically neutral procedure, then it seems that the AAP, in taking no position on what essentially amounts to cosmetic surgery performed on infants, is violating the tenet of "First, do no harm." This neutral position ignores the testimony of men who have experienced a sex life both with and without a foreskin. Milos and Macris cite the following:
"I was deprived of my foreskin when I was 26. I had had ample experience and was happy with the pleasure I could experience as an intact male. After my circumcision, that pleasure was utterly gone. Let me put it this way: On a scale of 10, the intact penis experiences pleasure that is at least 11 or 12; the circumcised penis is lucky to get to 3. If American men who were circumcised at birth could know the deprivation of pleasure that they would experience, they would storm the hospitals and not permit their sons to undergo this unnecessary loss."
It took no time at all to find other stories of men realizing a greatly reduced amount of sexual pleasure post circumcision. Blogger David Louis writes, "I had disgust with the surgeon for failing to warn me, and disgust with myself for letting this happen, and an overall feeling of bitter bitter disappointment of the loss of sexual feeling. Now, 30 months on, the foreskin removal is a horrendous loss to me and my sexual enjoyment." (http://davidlouis77.wordpress.com/2010/05/08/adult-circumcision-my-experience-2-years-on/)
As compelling as these stories are, I can find no studies that address the issue of decreased sexual pleasure post circumcision. As most circumcisions are performed well before the child comes of age, circumcised men can never know what they are missing, if indeed they are missing anything.
There is a possibility that this issue is too charged because of religion, culture, tradition and even perhaps a bit of institutional reticence on the part of the so-called "medical establishment" to rock the boat. If the AAP were to come done conclusively against circumcision, would young men be justified in suing their doctors for inflicting unnecessary surgery?
Until very recently, the idea that babies experience pain due to circumcision has been ignored. Almost all circumcisions in the world were routinely done with any kind of pain relief for the infant. No one doubts that circumcision causes extreme pain in infants. Though unable to articulate their pain babies show signs of increased blood pressure, increased heart rate, decreased oxygen in the blood, and a surge of stress hormones. In most industrialized nations anesthetics are now routinely used during and after circumcisions.
Isn't subjecting newborns to extreme pain a violation of medical doctrine? Science clearly indicates that babies suffer extreme pain due to circumcision, yet still the AAP maintains a mostly neutral position.
What data there is certainly seems to mitigate against infant circumcision, yet this data is ignored. Instead, proponents appeal to cultural, religious and traditional norms. Opponents counter with even more evidence of circumcision's harm, even where none seems to exist. The issue is polarizing and both sides quickly jump on any new study that can justify their opinion, critically examining those that run counter to their position and naively popularizing even flawed studies that support them.
The question of circumcision then, falls squarely into the realm of pseudo-science, at least when it comes to processing the various arguments for and against it. The studies we have are tantalizing and interesting, but just how real cost-benefit analysis can lend itself to experimentation and prediction remains elusive.
at 1:13 PM
Monday, September 23, 2013
|Cassidy Lynn Campbell|
Right now there is a sixteen year old girl in California who won, against all odds, the title of homecoming queen in her high school. As news of her victory spread, ignorant, mean-spirited adults from across the country took to social media for the express purpose of cruelly mocking this young lady.
These adults, motivated in no small part by bigotry spawned from their understanding of religion, called Cassidy Lynn Campbell all sorts of names, and even completely dehumanized her by calling her by the pronoun "it" rather than "she."
Ms. Campbell is transgendered, and identifies as a woman. At the age of sixteen she is still a minor. She could be your daughter, and grown adults have decided that it would be fun to dehumanize and mock this brave and vibrant young woman in an attempt to psychologically traumatize and emotionally destabilize her. For these low minded, awful people, hurting a young person with a bright future ahead of them is no different than playing Farmville: it's a trifling way to pass the time. A fun, sadistic lark.
Now I know that I am extra sensitive to this type of thing because my niece, Jessica, was once the victim of terrible death and rape threats over the Internet. As bad as these threats were, the insults she received, from adults, not her peers, were in truth more insidious.
She was called an "evil little thing" by her state representative. Notice how she was also dehumanized. Jessica is called a "thing" while Cassidy Lynn Campbell is called an "it." This is the first step towards really hating someone: Deny their humanity, then the insults can flow freely
Being a teenager, most people will agree, is hard enough without the burden of being put down, insulted, judged and abused. As responsible, sane, caring adults who are not assholes, it is our job to do what we can to nurture the next generation, and that means protecting our children, as best we can, from the outrageous attacks of the ignorant and the obscene.
It's time to support our children, without question, without pause and without conditions. Anything less would be inhuman.
at 11:10 PM
Friday, September 20, 2013
White House Interfaith Panel—No Place for Humanists | Center for Inquiry
Tom Flynn on Interfaith, specifically government sponsored Interfaith. Very interesting.
Tom Flynn on Interfaith, specifically government sponsored Interfaith. Very interesting.
at 9:00 AM
Monday, September 16, 2013
Wednesday, September 11, 2013
2012's Heart of Humanism Rookie of the Year Award for Best Team Added in 2012. This is an award given annually by the Foundation Beyond Belief, a "a 501(c)(3) charitable foundation created to focus, encourage and demonstrate humanist generosity and compassion."
HRI was recognized because of our monthly work with Habitat for Humanity, where we help build houses on the second Saturday of every month, (feel free to join us, whatever your philosophical orientation might be) our participation in Light the Night, a walk to generate money to combat Lymphoma and Leukemia, (you can contribute to our cause here), our four time a year highway clean-ups in Cranston and our infrequent blood drives, among other things we do.
The Heart of Humanism award came with $50 in prize money, which the group has decided to donate to the International Rescue Committee's efforts to aid Syrian Refugees, and we're sweetening the deal by raising more funds for that effort. Don't be surprised if you see a couple of Humanists with buckets collecting money at Saturday's "No War on Syria" rally at Burnside Park from 1-3 pm as well. (But if you can't make it there you can always contribute to our efforts by clicking on the photo that accompanies this piece or following this link.)
Too often, when big things are happening on the national and international scene, we can feel hopeless and small. When that happens we have to look to ourselves and work together to make the world a better place. A few dollars given today may help change the life of a child thousands of miles away tomorrow.
at 12:51 PM