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July 27, 2007

Circumcision Offers Many Health Benefits

A July 20 article incorrectly reports that the current rate of circumcision in the United States is 57% (“Activists Up Efforts To Cut Circumcision Out of Bris Ritual”). Data released in 2006 by the Center for Disease Control showed that 80% of American males are circumcised; for non-Hispanic whites, the figure is 86%.

The discrepancy is that the 57% prevalence represents only those newborns circumcised in the birth hospital and reported statistically. It has been shown that in 15% of newborns the procedure is done but not reported. Another 10% of circumcisions are done after hospital discharge, for religious or other reasons. This unreported 25% accounts for the discrepancy between 57% and the true CDC rate of 80%.

Compelling evidence of multiple protective health benefits has been rapidly accumulating in the medical literature. Newborn circumcision is analogous to immunizations in that it is a procedure that may be uncomfortable and has minor risks, but it provides lifetime protection against serious disorders.

Among the health advantages of circumcision are preventative effects against:severe infant kidney infections in the first year of life (tenfold protection), local infections of the foreskin, permanent inability to retract the foreskin, HIV/AIDS (twofold protection), human papilloma virus (threefold protection), Chlamydia (twofold protection), syphilis, chancroid, penile cancer (almost complete protection), cervical cancer in female partners (twofold protection) and penile skin diseases (twofold protection).

After more than 50 years of pediatric practice in the San Francisco area, I have been seeing an unusual phenomenon in the past decade or so. Reflecting some local success of the anti-circumcision movement, Jewish boys are being brought in with foreskin-related diseases. These include severe infant kidney infections, painful foreskin infections (balanoposthitis) and a permanently unretractible foreskin (phimosis). Some of these young boys have required circumcision at an age (often 1-5 years) when the procedure is more traumatic and complicated and carries the added risk of general anesthesia.

A newborn circumcised boy will have lifetime health advantages from infancy through old age compared to one with an “intact” foreskin. It is disturbing to see Jewish parents accepting bad advice, ignoring the scientific evidence (as well as tradition) and placing their sons at a health disadvantage.

Edgar Schoen, M.D.
Clinical Professor of Pediatrics, Emeritus
University of California, San Francisco
San Francisco, Calif.

Germany Was Awarded 1940 Olympic Games

In “The Nazi Games,” author David Clay Large errs in simply stating that Tokyo was supposed to host the 1940 Olympic Games (“Dangerous Sport,” May 25). As I found out through my own research — which includes a lengthy interview with the last living member of the 1936 International Olympic Organizing Committee, Ilse Robaschik — the 1940 games were ultimately supposed to be hosted by none other than Hitler’s Germany.

Robaschik shared with me the in-house IOC’s “Official Report on the Olympic Games,” which she helped assemble. Published in the spring of 1940, it tells how the IOC eventually awarded Germany both the summer and winter Olympiads.

In early 1939 the IOC withdrew the games first from Finland and then from Japan because of the successive outbreak of wars between, respectively, the Soviet Union and Finland and Japan and China. Switzerland then received the games, but could not stage some events because of inadequate facilities. After appealing to other nations to step into the breach, the IOC decided that, based on Germany’s performance in 1936, only the Germans were qualified under the circumstances to do the games on such short notice. By July 1939, as the official report notes, 18 nations — including France and the United States — had mailed in their deposits to participate.

Even as late as August 1939, the IOC’s president, Duke Henri de Baillet Latour of Belgium, believed that the games would be held. Robaschik, who worked as Latour’s translator at the time, remembers word for word how he dismissed her anxieties about the possibility of war after returning from a private audience with Hitler:

“My dear child, the Führer will make no war. He wants to hold the games.” Ten days later, German troops marched into Poland and World War II was under way.

John Rodden
“The Walls That Remain: East and West Germans Since Reunification”
Austin, Texas

Is Iran Arming Iraqis?

Opinion writer Ronald Neumann notices a pattern of a proliferation of intelligence reports about Iranians “reaching out to terrorist groups whenever the threat looms of armed confrontation with the United States” (“Understand Why Iran Is Arming Iraqi Militias,” July 20). He concludes from this pattern that Iran is arming Iraqis to attack American forces.

But I have an alternate explanation for this pattern: scenario-fulfillment by the observer. In short, one sees what one expects to see.

This would not be the first time that scenario fulfillment has had a role in American-Iranian relations. It was acknowledged to be one of the causes of the USS Vincennes incident in the Persian Gulf in 1988, in which a civilian Iranian airliner was shot down by an American navy cruiser.

In regard to that event, Captain David Carlson of the USS Sides wrote in the San Diego Union Tribune about the daily hysterical intelligence reports about pending Iranian attacks:

“All of us were done grave disservice by an intelligence system that (protected itself) by forecasting every possible worst-case scenario. Combined with heightened safety concerns (and not a few career concerns as well) in the wake of the Stark’s and Samuel B. Roberts’ experiences, this aided in creating an undercurrent of tension and a sense of imminent danger.”

A dead give-away of this sort of scenario-fulfillment thinking is the unwillingness to acknowledge contradictory information. Neumann’s article invokes reports of Iranian “shaped anti-vehicle explosives that tear through heavy armor” to bolster his claim that Iran is arming the insurgent — totally ignoring media reports that factories for the manufacture of such shaped charges have been found in Iraq.

Cyrus Safdari
New York, N.Y.


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