Always something new out of San Francisco: we are pleased to amuse you currently with an initiative to outlaw circumcision of boys under 18. Circumcision is a millenia-old conventional practice among Jews and Moslems, and widespread otherwise, so there’s a lot of accumulated experience with it. The science is pretty solid that it doesn’t affect sexual function or pleasure and has (whatever motivated it back in the day) benefits in reducing STD transmission and some other health advantages.

Advocates of this piece of big government meddling have pooched their campaign with propaganda that looks so anti-semitic that fellow-”intactivists” in Santa Monica called off their own program. On a truly loony hour of discussion on our call-in program yesterday, proponents attempted to tie it to female genital mutilation, also sometimes called female circumcision, a millenia-old conventional savagery in some African societies that has the specific purpose of denying women sexual pleasure and demonstrated serious health consequences. Callers offered “I knew a guy who did that and he died” anecdotes, all patiently suffered by the host.

The basic argument is that it’s a permanent, invasive physical alteration to the child’s body, and the justification is that voters rather than parents should decide whether to do it. Meanwhile, children all over the city are being fed unhealthy diets condemning them to a lifetime of struggle with obesity, denied vaccinations that protect them and others against disease, and afflicted by second-hand tobacco smoke. Others, including minors, are allowed to have God’s prescribed natural secondary sex characteristics torn out by the roots with wax, slashed from faces with razor blades, chemically altered in color and form, surgically enlarged with implants, and punctured with hardware. Whole bodies are reshaped by exercise, diet, and high heels. And probably more important than any of this, defenseless children’s minds are being permanently and invasively altered one way or another by crib toys, bedtime reading selections and home schooling curricula, preschool choices, Sunday school, church and no church, and parents sharing political views.

Sigh… I myself knew a guy whose parents gave him a stuffed armadillo when he was a baby, and he grew up to be an accordion player. When are we going to get on top of real threats to our children?

[Cross-posted at Same Facts]

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Michael O'Hare is a Professor of Public Policy at the University of California, Berkeley.