Tuesday, June 28, 2011

We Should Pull Out of Afghanistan

I haven't been one to be bashful about my opinions on the War in Afghanistan.  Nearly two years ago, I had opined that being in Afghanistan was a bad idea, both from geopolitical and militaristic points of view.  There's one point that I had not mentioned prior to today: economic. 

According to Pew Center numbers, 60% of Americans believe that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have caused debt.  When you spend über amounts of money that you don't even have to begin with, and have no exit strategy in terms of being able to pay the money back, that would be a textbook example of debt. 

The American government spends comparably way more on defense spending than any other Western nation.  I don't really want to get into how the rest of the developed world should be putting their fair share in defense spending, or how America needs to stop acting like the world's policeman, but it makes me ask: Why are we still over there in the first place?  Are we trying to mollify our consciences by unwaveringly supporting a failed attempt at nation-building?

The majority of the American people, probably for the first time, want the troops to come home because they feel that the probability of a stable government being created in Afghanistan is unlikely.  Even if the primary objective was to get bin Laden (why that took the greatest military in the world a decade to do, I'll never know), Al Qaeda is going to replace him with some other stooge, and they'll continue to do the same terrorist acts that they have been doing.  If you want to stop Al Qaeda, stop focusing on nation-building and start looking at counter-terrorism.  You can create a smaller, but more effective defense strategy that is not only more economically salient, but also minimizes the possibility of putting troops in harm's way.  It sounds like a win-win, no-brainer suggestion, but for the 40% who cannot understand the overtly simple premise that wars cause debt, I guess they'll be the ones waving their flags with blind patriotism and pressuring politicians to support the war until the economic burden helps put America six feet under.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Parsha Korach: When and When Not to Question & Defy

I always found Korach's punishment of being engulfed by the ground (Numbers 16:30) for questioning the current leadership to be perplexing.  Abraham questioned G-d and His justice right before He was about to wipe out Sodom (Genesis 18:25).  Moses also questions G-d when He was about to wipe out Israel for the Golden Calf incident (Exodus 32:13-14).  In the Passover Hagaddah, out of the four sons, the son who is unable to ask a question is on the bottom of the totem pole, even lower than the evil child!  And I don't need to expound upon how much diversity there is within the world of Jewish thought.

If Judaism gives us precedent to question the legal system, and more glaringly, G-d, what did Korach do wrong?

The Pirke Avot (5:17) gives us great insight into the answer.  When Hillel and Shammai were debating each other, it was done for the "sake of Heaven," or what is commonly referred to as l'shma.  Korach, on the other hand, was making a power play.  He was saying that the Jewish people were intrinsically holy (Numbers 16:3), so then why bother with all of these "silly commandments?"  The modern-day equivalent of this sentiment would be called "spiritual but not religious."  But the commandments are not antiquated rituals.  The legal system is about improving ourselves, our interpersonal relations, as well as how G-d fits into all of that. 

It wasn't enough for Korach to attempt to turn the system upside-down.  He wanted to make a power grab in the name of religion, which is what makes the move all the more repulsive.  Whether it's suicide bombers or those who initiated the Crusades, pretending that your interpretation is the "literal, inerrant" will of G-d while committing atrocities and unethical behavior in the name of religion and in His name is heinous.  This, of course, is not meant to be read as a blanket disapproval on questioning and defying.  The punishment that Korach received is to remind us that we should not question or defy in the specific context of when it's a political power play, about self-interest, or a way to satisfy the ego.  These sort of actions cannot be done so with an ulterior motive supporting it.  Our questioning or defiance can become permissible, and even obligatory, when we do so in the search for truth and in the name of Heaven.

This blog entry is a post-Shabbos reflection based on my D'var Torah given at a lay service on Saturday, June 25, 2011.   

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Is There a Libertarian Argument Against Gay Marriage?

"Libertarians are fiscally conservative and socially liberal."  That misnomer highly annoys me, mainly because it's an inaccurate oversimplification.  However, I figured that at least for gay rights, libertarians would be supportive of gay marriage, even if some of them had a personal aversion towards two people of the same sex being together.  After I had recently read this blog entry on the Libertarian Republican, which is based on an article from self-identifying libertarian Pastor Peter Briggs, it looks like I was wrong.  Apparently, there are libertarians who argue that libertarianism is against the idea of gay marriage.  However, this begs an important question: can Briggs' arguments withstand scrutiny?  Let's find out!

  • "Marriage is not a privacy issue. Civil marriage is a public institution."
    • Marriage is not inherently a public institution.  Throughout a majority of Western history, marriage was a private matter.  The truly libertarian thing to do here would be to take the government out of the marriage business altogether.  As I have stated before, marriage in its most base form is a contract between consenting individuals stating that they want to have a social, emotional, and economic relationship together.  Since we have to deal with the reality that government is going to be in marriage business for a while, we might as well offer the same rights to homosexuals as we do heterosexuals.  Not doing so would be a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment, not to mention the libertarian axiom of contract rights. 
  • "In attempting to legalize same-sex marriage, they are now inviting the government into their bedrooms."
    • If that's the case, then libertarians should advocate getting rid of all civil marriage.  That way, government can stay out of everybody's bedrooms since civil marriage is inherently intrusive.  However, you're not hearing such advocacy from anti-gay marriage libertarians.         
  • "Homosexual marriage is not an issue of individual rights."
    • Last time I checked, contract rights and "life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness" were essential to individual rights.  Moral pluralism is also very much a part of libertarianism.  So how is this not an issue of individual rights?    
  • "Every American has a right to marry, but also faces restrictions upon whom they may marry. No one is permitted to marry a child, a close blood relative, a person who is already married, or, in most states, a person of the same sex. These are not restrictions upon the right to marry; they are part of the definition of marriage."
    • It should be self-evident that we have to face restrictions brought on by the law.  Without it, we'd be in anarchy, and as a libertarian, I don't advocate that.  However, it doesn't apply here.  No one is permitted to marry a child is because a child is not at an age of consent, and thus unable to enter a legally binding contract.  I'm not going to get into the whole incest bit, but I would like to comment that although many Western nations prohibit incest, I was intrigued to find that incest is not prohibited across the board in the Western world.  As for marrying a married person, it should be evident that it would be a violation of a previously signed contract, unless all parties in the contract agreed to the change (e.g., a signed divorce decree vindicating the parties of responsibilities laid out in the previous marriage contract).  And I'm just curious, whose definition of marriage?  The Christian definition?  The one from the Bible?  That can easily be construed as a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.  As for the definition of marriage, this point is something I have stated before, but I feel it merits re-iterating: In the history of marriage in Western civilization, a man has been able to marry a twelve-year old girl, he was unable to marry outside his religion, socio-economic class, or race, or even better, there was a time in which marriages used to be arranged.  The definition of marriage in Western culture has been anything but consistent.     
  • "Freedom of conscience and religious liberty would be threatened. In the wake of same-sex marriage, we have already seen religious nonprofits being told to compromise their principles or go out of business."
    • Because of the nature of non-profits, there are two primary entities that would threaten such organizations: donors or the government.  If you have repulsed enough donors with anti-homosexuality sentiment, that would be the non-profit's fault because they don't know how to conduct business and do fundraising well enough to stay afloat.  Such is the way of non-profits. Now, if the non-profit's primary source of funding is the government, we shouldn't be angry with the government for yanking funding.  Since we are dealing with a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, we should be asking why a religious non-profit is receiving government funds in the first place.  If you want to make a private donation to a certain non-profit because it does great work, that is your choice.  However, we shouldn't be using taxpayer dollars to fund these organizations to compel taxpayers to donate to religious non-profit organization with which we don't agree.     
  • "Same-sex marriage would compel every employer, including the government, to give same-sex couples benefits identical to those of heterosexual couples."
    • Let's forget that most Fortune 500 companies already offer couples benefits to same-sex couples without same-sex marriage being legal in all fifty states.  Private employers should have the right to hire and discriminate as they please.  They should, however, keep in mind that Americans are increasingly supportive of gay rights and gay marriage, something that is illustrated by these recent Pew Center and Gallup polls.  Age is a social trend in favor of gay rights because the younger are much more favorable than older citizens.  Knowing someone who is gay is another social trend in favor of gay rights.  With increased societal acceptance, more gay people will come out, which means a higher probability of acceptance.  My point is that as time goes on, people with anti-homosexual views will be increasingly viewed as bigoted, which is a similar trend we saw during and after the Civil Rights movement.  In short, anti-homosexual views are bad for business.  As for the government's role, they ideally shouldn't be providing such benefits because it's more money from taxpayer's pockets.  However, while government is handing out these benefits, we might as well provide equality under the law.   
  • "The rights of children would be undermined. Children have a natural right to be raised by the mother and father whose union produced them."
    • The day in which there is no need for orphanages or foster homes, we can take this argument seriously.  Until that time, this argument has no merit.  If it did, we should also make adoption illegal since the child would not be with their natural parents.  There are many children without loving, caring homes.  Homosexual parents should help provide such homes.  Not only has there been no conclusive study proving that homosexual parents are more unqualified than heterosexual parents, but organizations such as the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the American Psychiatric Association (APA), amongst other medical organizations, confirm that homosexual parents are just as capable as raising children as heterosexual couples.  

The only legitimate libertarian concern presented in the article is that government is involved in the business of marriage in the first place.  If government is to have any role, it would to be to make sure that the contract rights of marriages, whether straight or gay, are enforced by all parties involved.  Short of that, there is no legitimate libertarian objection to two people of the same sex entering in a marriage contract. 

Furthermore, many libertarians support gay marriage, including Jeff Miron, Bob Barr, Ron PaulDavid Boaz, the United States Libertarian Party, the list goes on and on. 

There is plenty of room for political discourse in this country.  I personally can't stand marijuana. But as a libertarian, I have to concede that as long as people aren't harming others while smoking it, then they should be permitted to use it because it wouldn't violate the libertarian axiom of non-aggression.  The same argument can be said for gay marriage.  You can like gay marriage.  You can dislike gay marriage.  And if you don't like gay marriage, don't get married to someone of the same sex!  But if you're a libertarian that's going to argue against gay marriage, keep that opposition on the personal level.  Otherwise, you are against the contract rights, individual liberty, and pursuit of happiness that you profess to believe in.  Wouldn't that make just you a conservative in the garb of a libertarian?

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Bringing Equanimity Into Shabbat

The notion of equanimity was a theme upon which I had reflected greatly this past Shabbat.  The closest we get to "equanimity" in the Hebrew is מנוחת הנפש, or calmness of the soul.  A calm soul has an inner even keel, in spite of whatever externalities come about, whether they are good or bad.  In Jewish thought, equanimity does not mean that we passively and idly stay in a state of numbness as we go through life.  The founder of the modern-day Mussar movement, Rabbi Israel Salanter, said that "As long as one lives a life of calmness and tranquility in the service of G-d, it is clear that he is remote from true service."  In contrast to Eastern traditions, we don't treat life as if we are oblivious or asleep.  We are very much meant to handle life's joys and challenges.  Our tests in life help indicate where we are on our spiritual barometer. 

It sounds noble and whatnot to keep an even keel while dealing with the ups and downs in life, but how do we go about it?  It is clearly much easier to say it rather than do it.  There are many ways that we try to relieve stress: deep breathing, yoga, massages, a drink after work, watching television, or spending time with family and friends.  The extent to which forms of stress relief work obviously depends on the individual.  However, what I find is that many of these attempts at remedies don't get at root problems in order to bring about מנוחת הנפש. 

What I have realized is that Judaism has always had a mechanism to bring about the calmness of the soul: Shabbat (שבת). 

For many of my Orthodox friends, when you ask them why you do such-and-such a mitzvah, their answer typically is "because G-d told us so."  I'm a rationalist, as well as an inquisitive human being, so I feel compelled to ask "why?"  Many other Jews also ask the question of "why" because the answer of "because I said so" doesn't satisfy neither the intellect nor the soul.  I have to go further in this particular discussion because I would like to know why שבת is the only ritual in the Decalogue.  What is so special about שבת that it is one of the "Ten Commandments?"  Such questioning makes me want to look at the predominant motifs of שבת and explore the interplay between שבת and מנוחת הנפש, which is what I will do right now.

  • The Creation Story.  We rest because G-d rested after creating the universe (Genesis 2:2-3).  Does this mean that G-d was so tired that He needed to take a break?  He is Infinite Oneness, so obviously not!  "Rest" is a mistranslation.  A more accurate rendering would be "to desist."  Much like G-d desisted from working, we also desist from work.  Every week is a re-enaction of the process of creation: six days we create, and on the seventh day, we desist.  Not only do we desist from creating, but we renew our covenant with G-d every week.
  • Slavery and the Exodus.  Deuteronomy 5:14 gives us a different reason for שבת.  Shabbat is a reminder of the Exodus and how the Jewish people used to be slaves in Egypt.  Much like when G-d liberated the Israelites during the Exodus, שבת is meant to liberate our souls.  We don't have to withstand the back-breaking labor that the Israelites had to endure in Egypt.  However, we very much have to contend with a different kind of slavery.  We are slaves to our cell phones, our wallets, our jobs, our rat-racer way of life.  שבת gives us the opportunity to step away from that craziness for a day and liberates us to focus on what's truly important.
  • Peace and renewal.  As previously mentioned, our stressful lifestyles warrant a day to take it easy.  It's not a simply a day of physical rest.  It is an opportunity to rejuvenate the soul and focus on the spiritual.  It is a time to examine the previous week and figure out how to make next week all the better.  Think of it as the weekly version of אלול.  The Talmud (Berachot 57b) calls Shabbat "a sixtieth of the World-to-Come."  It has a connotation of peacefulness and tranquility attached to it.  That is why there is no competition on Shabbat or any need to "get ahead in life."  It's not so much about doing as it is being.  In short, it's being grateful for what you have and enjoying it to its fullest.
  • A Sanctuary in Time.  This is the beautiful wording of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel: "Shabbat is a sanctuary in time."  Time is the first thing that G-d sanctifies, long before human beings, places (e.g., the Temple), or objects.  In Judaism, the ultimate spiritual goal is to [consistently] take the physical (i.e., the mundane) and elevate it into holiness.  As Heschel states, "we live under the tyranny of space for six days."  On the seventh day, we transcend that feeling with Shabbat.  That is why Shabbat is the only day of the week with a special name.  The rest of the days of the week are generic (e.g., Sunday is "Day One," Monday "Day Two, etc.).  Therefore, on Shabbat, we dress in our finest clothes, serve our finest foods, and use our finest chinaware.  We use this time to spend with family and friends, study Torah, and de-stress.  
To avoid the despair of the rat-racer world, G-d gave the gift of Shabbat.  This is a gift that many Jews have ignored because "it reeks of tradition" or "the prohibitions don't make sense."  Rather than throwing out the baby with the bath water, what Jews, both observant and non-observant alike, should do is take a look at these motifs and figure out the best way to bring them into their Shabbat practice.  Shut off your phones for a day.  Don't pull out the credit card to make a payment.  Spend time with your family and friends.  By observing Shabbat, you have a sure-fire mechanism that will bring you equanimity in an otherwise hectic week.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Can We Be Skeptical About Global Warming?

I have always found that a healthy dose of skepticism does a person good. It prevents humans from leaping before looking, thereby creating less problems. It makes sure that we are using our brains rather than taking an individual's word on a leap of faith. This healthy dose of skepticism has been lost when discussing anthropogenic global warming. The Left never had it on this topic to begin with, especially when you consider the fact that environmentalism has become a secular religion for many on the Left.

As for the Republicans, global warming denial has become just as vehement on the Right as blind faith towards environmentalism has been on the Left. As fellow libertarian Steve Chapman points out, "Conservatives fear liberals will use climate change to justify heavy-handed intrusive regulation and wasteful subsidies, and they are right to worry. But that's no excuse for pretending global warming is a myth or refusing to do anything about it."

Pretending global warming is a myth.....that's what got me thinking.  Is there so much concrete evidence for global warming that any attempt to refute it would put you on par with Holocaust deniers or 9-11 Truthers?  Although this debate is highly extensive and can very easily involve a lot of verbose, scientific jargon that most laypeople don't understand, I'm just going to list a few reasons why we have the right to be skeptical:

  1. Money is a great motivator.  It also makes us more cynical about a certain interest group when considering one's motive.  Whether it's Big Business, union leaders, or politicians, when you "do it for the money," the ulteriority greatly erodes the integrity of their motive.  Why should scientists be any different?  The scare of global warming brings in billions of taxpayer dollars in research grants and funds towards "climate change study." More grants and funds means more money, not only to keep their livelihood afloat, but also to keep their wallets full of cash.  
  2. Power is also a great motivator.  Those disseminating the message of mainstream environmentalism are predominantly on the Left.  Once Communism was disproved with the fall of the Berlin Wall, the intelligentsia of the Left needed another way to subtly get their feet in the door in order to force their utopian statism on the rest of Americans.  What a better way to gain more government control than with environmental alarmism?  The environment, much like health care, has the potential to cover many facets of consumerism.  If left to their own devices, the Left would completely do away with individual rights, particularly from an economic standpoint. 
  3. A study done by the Harvard-Smithsonian Institute for Astrophysics back in 2003 shows that temperatures from the eleventh century were comparable to the twentieth century.  If fossil fuels did not exist during the eleventh century, and we saw a similar flux in temperature back then, can we really say that fossil fuel emissions are the cause of climate change?
  4. We are unable to predict the weather forecast for the next week.  How do expect to know what Mother Nature has up her sleeve for the next century?  Even if you want to differentiate between meteorology and climatology, what about those computer models that depict doom and gloom scenarios like the movie Day After Tomorrow? Computer models cannot even accurately simulate past climate changes.  How can we expect an accurate depiction of the future climate?  Furthermore, publications such as the New York Times and Time magazine have flipped back and forth multiple times over the past one hundred years on whether we're in a state of global warming or cooling.  Look at Time Magazine's article back in 1974 about how the same fossil fuels that the environmentalist Left kvetches about was going to bring us into the next Ice Age.  You read that correctly.  Back in the 1970s, there was a fear of global cooling.      
  5. Although I can keep going, I am going to conclude with this chart below from the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine.  In terms of determining causation of global warming, the chart is very telling.  Consumption of energy has skyrocketed post-World War Two.  However, the temperature did not fluctuate as if the temperature were affected by our carbon emissions.  What we see here is that solar activity and surface temperature are, at the very least, correlated, if not an instance of causation.  If you want to be skeptical of my skepticism, be my guest.  However, you run into a problem if you try to unambiguously argue that global warming is in concert with our rate of [energy] consumption.  You just can't unequivocally do that.  Let's keep the debate up, but let's not augment the size of government or demonize consumerism in the name of environmentalism.      

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Why the Rise in Gas Prices?

Knowing that the summer is approaching soon, common sense dictates that gas prices will increase.  Although this has been an issue for quite some time, the Arab Spring brought the "pain at the pump" to people's attention.  It is evident that gas prices have gone up, but why?  According to recent Pew Center poll numbers, 31% of Americans think that the cause of the increase is the corporate greed of Big Oil.  Big Business is a frequent scapegoat for when something in the economy goes wrong, and that portrayal is often inaccurate or overstated.  Are Americans hurting at the pump because of the likes of Halliburton and Exxon-Mobil, or is there something else at play?

People like to blame those "evil speculators" for causing oil prices to go too high, but as Cato Institute senior fellows Jerry Taylor and Peter van Doren illustrate, not only are speculators not gouging us at the pump, but speculation is what helps maintain volatility in the oil markets.

This is not a case of avarice; it's a case of dealing with market forces, mainly those of supply and demand.  I'll start with demand first because that will be easier.  When demand for a good or service increases, price increases.  That is what is going on with world demand for oil.  The biggest geopolitical factor in the demand for oil is China.  Since Deng Xiaoping opened its doors to trade with America in the late 1970s, China has experienced massive GDP growth.  China's accessibility to technologies has soared in recent years.  As a developing nation of over 1.3 billion citizens, its demand will inevitably increase.  As such, price of oil is going to increase.  India is also following suit.  And we all know that America's demand for energy isn't going to be abated.      

Knowing that demand isn't going to decrease anytime soon, maybe supply can bring some relief.  Remember those "pesky" speculators?  They are reacting to what is going on in Libya.  Although Libya is only responsible for 2% of the world's oil supply, what speculators are potentially anticipating is that these uprisings reach other nations such as Saudi Arabia or Nigeria, who supply much larger percentages of world oil than Libya.  The increase in prices essentially is a "geopolitical risk premium" that acts as a compromise that takes into factor both scenarios of a tranquil dénouement and absolute disaster.  If all goes well in that region of the world, we should see a decrease in gas prices later within the year.

But why wait for a potential scenario to play out in Northern Africa or the Middle East?  Isn't there something we can do here in America?   Because of the BP accident last year, Obama put a moratorium on oil drilling.  This clearly decreases supply of [domestic] oil, thereby increasing the price of oil  The House has already passed H.R. 1229 last month, which will uplift Obama's decision to tap into our own natural resources.   However, the Senate has yet to vote on the matter as of date.

Obama has made it clear that he wants initiatives that shift America towards "clean energy."  By investing in "clean energy," this would decrease American dependence on oil.  The issue with "clean energy" is that it is unable to fulfill America's energy needs.  According to EIA statistics, renewable energy only accounts for about 8% of America's energy.  The cost of creating energy by using renewable, according to the EIA, would be much higher for electricity generation than other sources, especially when capacity factor comes into play.  In layman's terms, renewable energy is highly costly and inefficient at producing energy.  Also, most of renewable energy comes from ethanol.  Ethanol is a subsidized scam which distorts the price of gasoline and increases the cost of food by diverting it towards ethanol, as opposed to food.

I don't expect environmentalist groups to get off their high horse about "clean energy."  I don't expect any new drilling endeavors in the Gulf of Mexico or ANWR anytime soon.  And I certainly cannot predict what is going to happen to the political stability overseas.  Short of the calming of uprisings throughout Africa and the Middle East, I wouldn't expect gas prices to go down.       

Monday, June 6, 2011

San Francisco's Assault on Circumcision

When I initially heard about San Francisco wanting to put a circumcision ban on their ballot for November, I dismissed it as sheer ridiculousness.  A thousand-dollar fine and a year in jail seems a bit steep for one of the most common medical procedures in American hospitals.  Keep in mind that San Francisco leans far to the Left, and as such, is prone to such tomfoolery, like the time when San Francisco banned the Happy Meal late last year.  After thinking about this ballot initiative for a while, it made me wonder why certain individuals within that city would attack a medical procedure and call it a violation of human rights. 

It's not simply because politics has become so polarized in this country that any topic is now a "hot button" issue.  No!  Those who are anti-circumcision cry "mutilation" and "assault" because of the connotation of the practice.  The practice of circumcision (ברית מילה) is practiced by Jews, as well as Muslims.  Regardless of the actual origin of the practice, circumcision is very much associated with religion.  Religion also happens to be tied to the concept of tradition.  ברית מילה is well over three millennia old.  For Left-leaning San Franciscans, religious traditions such as circumcision are antiquated relics to which modern "progressives" should not cling.  To allow such a practice to continue to exist would hold society back.  Therefore, opponents to circumcision have an anti-religious axe to grind.

This would be the optimal time to go through each of their objections and see if they have any merit:
  • "Circumcision does more harm than good."  Like any other medical procedure, circumcision comes with risks.  As such, you should consult your doctor, as well as the statistical probability of complications.  However, there are considerable health benefits to circumcision.  The NIH found that it can reduce the chance of contracting HIV by 64%.  The World Health Organization (WHO) also follows suit.  Mayo Clinic points out that it decreases the contraction of urinary tract infection (UTI), penile cancer, and STDs.  The American Academy of Pediatricians (AAP) had similar findings.  
  • "It's traumatic for the baby."  I can hardly believe this is an actual argument against circumcision.  It's not even the fact that there is no sound evidence to prove this statement.  It's simply common sense that the probability of remembering anything from infancy is next to nil.  Clearly, this is an argument with the explicit intention of distracting us with fear.  
  • "A circumcised penis is an insensitive penis."  This argumentum ad metum is what gets a lot of people.  The anti-circumcision crowd will tell you that by "nipping the tip," you cut off any sexual sensitivity or stimulation.  One could argue that because this is a "religious practice," the goal here is to curtail sexual desire, thereby making life miserable for all.  However, no conclusive study has been able to prove this.  As a matter of fact, the AAP goes as far to say that the circumcised penis actually receives more pleasure.       
  • "Male circumcision is just like female circumcision."  This is a fallacious analogy.  To equate female genital mutilation (FGM) to male circumcision is insulting to one's intelligence.  Let's start with the fact that female circumcision has no health benefits whatsoever, something that cannot be said for male circumcision.  Female genital mutilation actually causes harm to many women, according to the WHO.  FGM causes long-term complications in health, as well as complications in childbirth.  Furthermore, FGM occurs at an age during which a child can remember the trauma, unlike a procedure done in one's infancy.  Also, in FGM, sexual enjoyment decreases, where as with male circumcision, the results are ambiguous and anecdotal at best.
  • "The procedure is being done on the child.  Shouldn't the child have a say?"  I'm not going to argue with that.  However, it's called parenting.  If you are to be a good parent, you will be doing a good amount of imposing on your child.  Parents make plenty of choices in which the children don't have a say: school choice, religion, diet, extra-curricular activities, the list goes on.  This argument is nothing more than a red herring.
Postscript:  We are dealing with a very controversial issue because it is one of sexuality and religion.  Here we have a medical procedure that is shown to have medical benefits.  Also, like any medical procedure, it also comes with its risks.  As the AAP states, "Because circumcision is not essential to a child's health, parents should choose what is best for their child by looking at the benefits and risks."  This is indeed a personal matter and should be treated as a private issue.  However, to go as far as making circumcision illegal is nothing short of an attack on religious freedom.  As Marc Stern of the American Jewish Committee so accurately pointed out, "This is the most direct assault on Jewish religious practice in the United States.  It's unprecedented in American Jewish life." 

One can see that health benefits are not the primary reason for this procedure.  Sure, health benefits can be cited, but they very well could be moderate once overall risk assessment [with complications considered] is done.  The main reason for this procedure is because it is a religious rite.  Although my interest is primarily from the standpoint of a Jew living in America, Muslims also use circumcision as a sign that they belong to their given religious community, hence why Muslims are the largest group of practitioners worldwide.  It's difficult to not use a slippery slope argument because I know that it's a logical fallacy.  If this initiative somehow manages to pass, it doesn't automatically mean that religious freedom will be eroded.  We are dealing with a potential ban in only one city that leans far to the Left.  However, knowing the history of the Jewish people, this hypothetical erosion is certainly within the realm of probability, which is why I wouldn't be the least bit surprised to see other bans against religious practices, Jewish or not.

One could argue that raising your child as a Christian or an atheist is a form of traumatic child abuse.  We are allowed to have disagreements.  That is what makes the plurality of America so wonderful.  But to tell a parent that they cannot raise their children or to erode freedom of religion simply because you disagree is unacceptable.  For the sake of freedom and one's ability to make religious choices in this country, I hope this initiative falls flat on its face.

4-18-2016 Addendum: A Canadian study helps support the idea that a circumcised penis is just as sexually sensitive as an uncircumcised one. As this Vox article points out, while the sample size is smaller than normal research for this sort of thing, it still shows that if there were a significant difference, we would have seen some sort of difference in the study.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Egypt's Cold Peace With Israel Is Starting to Thaw

When the peace treaty between Israel and Egypt (معاهدة السلام المصرية الإسرائيلية‎) was signed back in the late 1970s, many political pundits were happy about the prospective of peace in the Middle East.  Much was given to get Israeli-Egyptian relations to that point, including the unfortunate death of Anwar Sadat, an Egyptian leader who was actually working with the Israelis for peace instead of planning Israel's destruction. 

Cold peace between the two nations doesn't solve the root problem, mainly that of Egyptian anti-Semitism.  Egyptian hatred of the Jew is nothing new.  Whether with Nasser or the past decade, it has always been impediment to a longer-lasting peace.  The Arab Spring has caused even more pandemonium in Egypt than any of us cared for.  Egyptian citizens are no longer able to tolerate the total lack of freedom in their society

It would be nice to see some economic and political reform occur in Egypt.  It would also be nice to see the Egyptian citizenry see the cause of their stagnant standards of living to be the Egyptian government.  However, based on some recent Pew Center data that shows that a majority of Egyptians want the treaty with Israel to be annulled, Israel has the potential to be a scapegoat for Egypt's internal problems, as if this weren't history just repeating itself.  This remains to be seen since the Egyptian elections will not occur until this November.  It is equally true that the increasingly anti-Israel sentiment in Egypt can be used during the electorate process to get a fundamentalist group such as the Muslim Brotherhood into power and break the cold peace that has lasted between Israel and Egypt for all these years.  As for the outcome, only time will tell.