And now for something a little different

Andrew Sullivan has really been annoying me lately with all his anti-circumcision posts.  Loved this take from Leah Cypress:

Nor will anyone’s concerns be assuaged if they are brave enough to read the comments to any of the articles on the subject, which always include a slew of opinions calling circumcision “child abuse” and suggesting that its practitioners should be thrown into prison. To select one relatively mild comment on a New York Times article, which was at one point the top “readers pick” comment: “Should the authority of parents over the life of their child extend to making permanent and unnecessary changes to their child’s anatomy based solely on their own whims (even if those whims are based in religious beliefs?)”

As a parent, it seems to me that most of these outraged people are unaware of the actual extent of “the authority of parents over the life of their child,” including the authority and responsibility to make life-changing decisions for them…

Let’s take another example: piercing babies’ ears. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends against it. Unlike circumcision, there are no health benefits to counteract the slight risk of infection, nor is there any downside to delaying the procedure until adulthood (as opposed to circumcision of older children and adults, which is far more invasive, risky, and painful than infant circumcision). Nevertheless, it is a very common practice, and no one is attempting to ban it.

The health benefits of circumcision are clear. The American Academy of Pediatrics, in a 2012 position paper, highlighted the role of circumcision in reducing the spread of STDs and decreasing the risk of urinary tract infections and penile cancer, and determined that the benefits of circumcision outweigh the risks. Claims that circumcision affect sexual sensitivity, they added, have not been borne out by scientific studies.

As parents, we make choices for our children. We make medical choices for them. We make cosmetic choices for them. We make cultural and religious choices for them as well, many of which can never be undone. And circumcision — which has been a cornerstone of the Jewish faith for thousands of years — is different from many of the hundreds of choices parents make for their children after weighing the risks and rewards on their own personal calculus. Circumcision is medically beneficial, but more importantly, it is an essential part of Jewish identity. As a Jew, I cannot help but view those who would remove my right to circumcise my son as trying to take away my cultural identity — or prevent me from passing it on, which is the same thing.

Okay, I’m not really Jewish (my father was a non-practicing Jew who is now a baptized Methodist), but believe it or not, it matters enough to me that it certainly played a very important role in my thinking with the three boys.  Anyway, just love this defense.

On being smart

Hope I can link to a few points from this “What does it feel like to be a smart person” post on Slate without seeming hopelessly arrogant.  Given what the author reveals about his intellectual qualifications, he’s surely much smarter than me, but a lot of this really resonated with my life experience as a smart person (and formerly very obnoxious, judgmental smart person):

I assumed intelligence and academics were all that mattered, and things like friendships, sports, etc., were nice, but not as important. A pretty bad assumption, in retrospect. As a meta-comment, I think people frequently tend to overvalue things they are good at and undervalue things they are average at.

For a long time, I used to discount people who were less smart. That doesn’t surprise me given that rankings were so heavily emphasized during my school years, but I wish I hadn’t fallen into this trap. I ended up having fewer real friends than most of my classmates. I try not to regret things that have passed, but I also wish someone had slapped some sense into me when I was younger…

While I’ve worked hard, most of my successes came from my innate intelligence. As a result, I got used to being naturally good at things. Recent studies have shown that people who believe intelligence is innate tend to give up much faster than people who believe it can be developed, and that was definitely true for me throughout most of my 20s. I’d try things once or twice, then stop if I felt like I wasn’t getting anywhere, which was often. There’s a lot of cognitive dissonance when you’re not good at something you expected to be great at, and the easiest way to resolve that dissonance is by quitting.

Not all the points resonated with me, but those above most certainly do.  And like the author, I’d like to think I’ve come a long way towards getting over these negative aspects.


So, you want to know what I’m interested in on-line?  There’s this:


Yep– the NC Governor’s race and disposal splash guards (Alex has a bad habit of making them utterly disappear).

Why Obama lost

1) Noam Scheiber’s analysis is the best I’ve read:

The problem was that Obama proceeded as though playing it safe, which was strategically defensible, was at odds with defining Romney. But these two things are actually perfectly consistent. The Obama campaign has done a masterful job portraying Romney as an out-of-touch plutocrat, then connecting that character profile (Romney defenders would say caricature) with a set of policies that favor the wealthy over the working stiff: upper-income tax cuts, voucher-izing Medicare, draconian spending cuts. Which is to say, they fleshed out a detailed portrait of their opponent and what he stood for, and they made it stick. There was nothing especially risky about continuing in that vein tonight. The campaign has been field-testing those themes for the better part of six months.

Had Obama been on his game, he would have hammered away on this relentlessly. Every response would have explained how Romney’s polices favor people like himself, who don’t need help, and short-change the people who do. Social Security, Medicare, health care, education—pretty much any question Jim Lehrer could have thrown at him could have been connected to this larger picture. Instead, Obama spent too much time in the weeds of his own proposals…

Romney, on the other hand, debated like a candidate completely aware that the game wasn’t about details, but what the details summed to. Every response was exquisitely calibrated to reveal a man who feels middle-class pain and has no ideology other than what works (to borrow an Obama mantra from 2008). He started out with anecdotes about struggling women he’d met in Dayton and Denver. He portrayed himself as an advocate of expanding health care and regulating Wall Street. His only objections to Obama’s accomplishments on these fronts were entirely practical: to the rising healthcare costs Obamacare would bring and the clunky government bureaucracy that would run it; to the way Dodd-Frank labeled the five biggest banks too-big-to-fail (which, he argued, would commit the government to backstopping them, though the truth is that it also earns them a lot more government scrutiny).

In reality, Romney spent most of the last year-and-a-half telling voters he wanted to wipe these measures off the books, with only the vaguest suggestion of what he might do instead. (Obama’s best line of the night came when he urged voters to ask themselves, “[I]s the reason that Governor Romney is keeping all these plans to replace [my programs] secret because they’re too good?” which worked on a variety of levels.) But tonight he was simply Romney the businessman-technocrat, willing to tinker here and there—keep this, lose that—until he stumbled on the right answer.

It was Obama’s job to point out these fundamental contradictions in Romney.  And though he tried at times, he generally failed to do so.

2) Seth Masket points out why Obama might not have been as prepared as we’d expect:

The second reason is that to the extent Obama prepped for this debate, he prepped to debate someone else other than who showed up. The awkward Randian conservative, so uncomfortable in his own ideological skin, had morphed, incredibly rapidly, into a pragmatic, confident moderate.Jim Tankersly (via Wonkblog) summed it up nicely:

Apparently Mitt Romney likes government regulation, loves Medicare the way it is, agrees fairly regularly with President Obama, and does not, in fact, want to cut taxes very much. Those are gross simplifications of Romney’s economic platform, and ones very much at odds with the anti-tax, anti-regulation, pro-entitlement-reform campaign the former Massachusetts governor has waged for more than a year.

I was really struggling with this. I couldn’t tell whether Romney had completely abandoned his old positions on taxes and regulations or whether he was just casting those positions in a new light. Regardless, the pivot to the center that had been conspicuously absent from Romney’s campaign this year finally happened, in the space of 90 minutes.

3) Kevin Drum, Amy Davidson, Derek Thompson, and Clive Crook (and many others, I’m sure) all focus on Obama’s missed opportunities.  Here’s Crook:

Again and again, he missed open goals. He let Romney say that he, Romney, would take better care of entitlements than Obama would. Incredible. He watched as his attack on Romney’s tax proposal kept bouncing off, until he looked feeble for repeating it. Why on earth didn’t he force Romney to say which deductions would be removed to pay for the lower rates? He let Romney boast about his Massachusetts health care plan and in the same breath denounce Obamacare (to all intents and purposes, the same policy). Romney’s argument about letting states be laboratories is tactically clever, and there’s something to it, but surely Obama could have asked why Romney doesn’t at leastadvocate Romneycare to the rest of the country. The president remembered to criticize insurance companies but (unless I missed it) forgot to mention that Obamacare is mainly about covering 50 million people who, you know, don’t have health insurance. He let Romney attack him for failing to cut deals with the GOP, as though Republicans would have compromised if only they’d been talked to politely. In response, Obama meekly referred to Republican intransigence, but threw the comment away. That was a chance to lay the blame for paralysis in Washington on Romney’s party, where it mostly belongs. And what about the 47 percent–about moochers, dependents, people whom Romney won’t ever convince to be responsible, this nation of parasites? Hardly worth mentioning, I suppose.

And the others have plenty of other examples.  Now, in all fairness to Obama, this is surely hard to do well.  It’s not as if Obama is stupid.  But it is a real shame as the performance was clearly so far below what Obama is capable of and it really allowed Romney to skate by with all his lies and distortions in a way that he should not have been.  Just imagine a “come on, just give us one deduction Mitt.  Just one.  Home mortgage interest?  Charitable giving?” and then follow that with the “secrets” line (his one good attack of the night).  Romney was always going to come off well because he really brought his A+ game, but Obama certainly could have fought him to a draw– or even won– given the superior material he has to work with.  The problem is that Obama really did bring his C game.  And it hurt.

More debate ramblings

1) I think the key is that Romney was good; not that Obama was bad.  Now, sure Obama was not “good” as far as the debating goes, but he certainly didn’t do anything that should cost him supporters.  I’ll switch over to tennis.  Obama wasn’t hitting a bunch of unforced errors, rather he kept returning not particularly deep and Romney kept hitting winners.  I still think for Romney to win, it’s not enough for him to maximize his latent supporters, but that he’s actually got to eat into Obama a little bit.  Nate Cohn agrees:

While Romney was on the offensive and Obama was listless, the president did not commit any gaffes and Romney did not level any blows that are likely to reverberate for the next few days. The president did not appear incapable or incompetent as much as he was simply out-debated. If you tend to believe that elections are about the incumbent, this matters. Forty-nine percent of voters have already made it clear that they’re willing to reelect the president, so the question is whether tonight’s debate introduced new information that might change their minds. If so, it would have to come from changing perceptions of Romney, not the president.

2) To that end, I think the thing to watch this week is not the margin between the two, but the actual numbers.  If Obama holds around 49 and Romney still shows an inability to get across 47, then Obama is definitely good.  If Romney does show consistent numbers over 47, we may well have a real race (a point Cohn also makes).

Photo of the day

Naturally its from the debate (via N&O’s gallery):

US President Barack Obama (R) shakes hands with Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney on October 3, 2012 in Denver, Colorado (Charlie Neibergall – AP | October 04, 2012).

Something tells me those psychologists who analyze facial expressions would tell us that these are not genuine smiles.

It’s Good

I like Nate Silver sticking with the football metaphors:

My own instant reaction is that Mr. Romney may have done the equivalent of kick a field goal, perhaps not bringing the race to draw, but setting himself up in such a way that his comeback chances have improved by a material amount.

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