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The Miracle of Circumcision

The New Scientist on the debate over whether the procedure can reduce the risk of HIV transmission.

New Scientist, July 16 The cover story suggests there may be “not just one kind of human brain, but two.” Neuroscientists used to conduct most of their studies on male animals and humans—“the female menstrual cycle made interpreting results more complicated.” But new research on females attributes some dissimilarities between the sexes to differing brain structures. These variations could explain why men and women respond differently to medications, why women are more prone to depression, and why men are more likely to suffer from autism, stuttering, and dyslexia. A piece notes that three new trials support the claim that circumcision could prevent the spread of HIV through heterosexual sex. But the studies have been criticized: Two were stopped early because of positive results and therefore “exaggerate the beneficial effect” of circumcision. Some critics also worry that circumcision “could encourage risky sexual behaviour by lulling men into a false sense of security, or even making them believe they are immune and so can stop using condoms.”

Weekly Standard, July 28 An article observes that today’s “political landscape is littered with people who have been castigated, fired, or forced to apologize for the gross infraction of saying something true.” The campaign season has been marked by many candidates disavowing their surrogates’ statements, like McCain’s recent public disagreement with adviser Phil Gramm’s comment that Americans were in a “mental recession.” According to the piece, “politicians and voters” now “prefer to luxuriate” in the “the slough of the subjective and the romantic.” An editorial scolds Condoleezza Rice for softening diplomacy in negotiations with Iran and North Korea. The piece notes that it has “been a dispiriting few weeks” and “several conservative political appointees have said that they are embarrassed to be working in the Bush administration.”    

New York, July 28
A feature examines Jimmy Carter’s political currency in the presidential campaign. The former president “provides a blend of issues that’s almost irresistible for a Republican candidate to exploit, especially one trying to shore up his conservative base.” But Carter is “not about to change his plans—say, to cancel his visit to see Hamas—because it might somehow hurt the Democrats in 2008.” The piece adds that “what’s most interesting” about him is that “his mind-set and his policies seem to jibe so well with the attitudes of young people, students, and the blogosphere.” A piece reveals the world of the “Union Square Spartans,” a group of partly homeless, “mostly black city kids” who have devised their own public version of a Fight Club. The group stages semireal fights in Union Square and posts videos of them on YouTube, somehow hoping to make money from their spars—but they are “warriors without a business plan.”

The New Yorker, July 28 A piece investigates how “[a]ny Californian who is reasonably prudent can live a life centered on the cultivation, sale, and consumption of marijuana with little fear of being fined or going to jail,” despite efforts by the federal government to shut distributors. Conflicting state and federal laws have given cautious growers and dealers the “best of both worlds” because “prosecution for growing and selling has become much less likely while federal busts and seizures keep prices high.” An article identifies a new uprising among Chinese youth, who are “not in pursuit of liberal democracy but in defense of sovereignty and prosperity.” These “neocon nationalists” draw “on a nostalgic image of what it means to be Chinese” and don’t understand why “the world still seem[s] to view China with suspicion” as they live in “the moment of [the] greatest prosperity and openness in [their] country’s modern history.”

Newsweek, July 28 The cover story considers the dangers of kids coming out of the closet, focusing on the death of Lawrence King, an eighth grader who was shot in the middle of class by a peer. King went to school “decked out in women’s accessories” and would “paint his fingernails hot pink and dab glitter or white foundation on his cheeks.” He was killed by a boy whom he asked to be his valentine. A piece looks at top McCain chum Mark Salter, who unleashes a “Ciceronian derision” upon anyone who crosses his candidate. Unsurprisingly after 19 years of service, the presumed GOP candidate’s “speechwriter, former Senate chief of staff, coauthor, biographer and closest adviser” lives a “McCaincentric” life: His wife is a “former McCain secretary … and their vacation home on the coast of Maine was purchased with [McCain] book royalties. …”

Mother Jones, July/August 2008 In the cover package on the economy, an article implicates former Texas senator and former McCain economics adviser Phil Gramm in the passage of legislation that “greased the way to the multibillion-dollar subprime meltdown.” In 2000, the “handmaiden to Big Finance” snuck a measure called the Commodity Futures Modernization Act into a $384 billion omnibus spending bill. In addition to an Enron-lobbied stipulation that “exempted energy trading from regulatory oversight, allowing [the company] to run rampant,” the act contained wording that prevented oversight on “credit default swaps,” which protect financial institutions from losses on investments. One source says that such swaps are at “the heart of the subprime meltdown.” A piece embeds a writer aboard an Antarctic cruise ship to test the idea of “ecotourists as ambassadors.” To the writer’s disappointment, “[m]ore than a few” of the cruise ship’s 110 passengers were lured to the continent by “that paean to snow and fatherhood, March of the Penguins” and seem oblivious to basic facts of global warming.