2006-05-25

Circumcision as an adult, part 1

I wish to write a personal account of my recent circumcision because I had been looking for similar information when I was in the process of deciding whether or not to have it done, and while I did find a limited number of personal accounts, I would have appreciated more and from different angles. To uninterested observers, the things I'm going to write may seem like a lot of detail about something minor, but it may not seem as unimportant to some. It is these I write for.

Among the predominantly Catholic/agnostic/atheist population in Slovenia, circumcision is usually not performed at birth. If performed, this is usually done in childhood or teenage years due to a significant medical reason - in particular if the foreskin is too narrow to reveal the glans penis completely, making hygiene difficult and sexual performance painful.

I will soon be 26 and I had no such pressing medical cause. My penis performed well, was well-shaped and good-looking. My girlfriend did observe that I had comparably more foreskin than her other lovers, and I found this to be an annoyance during sex because it could decrease friction and pleasure for both when I wasn't 100% erect.

But the primary reason in favor of my circumcision was a series of what looked like yeast infections: red spots that would take a long time (several weeks) to develop. If promptly, properly and continuously treated with clotrimazolum, they would take an equally long time to go away. (Clotrimazolum is the active ingredient in an over-the-counter, non-prescription anti-yeast cream available in Slovene pharmacies as Canesten.) If left untreated, the red spots would gradually cover the penis and begin to itch painfully, requiring a prescription antibiotic cream to go away. Despite my attempts at proper hygiene, these incidents would repeat several times over a number of years, and my understanding was that my attempts at fixing this were largely foiled by the damp environment provided by my foreskin. In its plenty nooks and crannies, the yeast would find a moist and anaerobic place where it could hide until the conditions were once again in its favor so it could proliferate. I therefore concluded that the only way to tackle this problem permanently would be by removing the foreskin.

There are two ways to have a medical procedure in Slovenia: to pay or not to pay. The national medical insurance scheme will cover the cost of a procedure if doctors decide that it is necessary by prescribing it. I could probably get a doctor to prescribe the procedure and get it done for free. However, the waiting period at the Ljubljana Clinical Center is some 18 months; also, when I last underwent treatment there, I wasn't too enthused about the nurses' attitudes and the experience. So I picked the only institution in Ljubljana I was told of where the waiting period is short and that performs circumcision privately - the Rozna Dolina Surgical Sanatorium.

I soon found out that these circumcisions were being prescribed and performed all by exactly one and the same doctor who is in some sort of business relationship with the Sanatorium. It is an old geezer called dr. prim. Marko Stanonik dr. med., and he turns out to be a traditionalist, authoritarian Catholic fellow who converses with an air of arrogance and judgementalism. During my initial examination appointment with him, he was visibly skeptical and sarcastic of modern phenomena such as this thing called internet where I learned various facts about circumcision about which I wanted to talk to him. I was expecting to get some reassurance and objective medical opinion, but none was forthcoming. The guy appears to have an underlying belief that no kind of informedness is possible, or even desirable, on behalf of a patient - even if one is undergoing surgery. He gave me a cover diagnosis of phimosis - a condition I don't have where the foreskin is too narrow to retract over the glans penis - and told me I will be contacted by the Surgical Sanatorium.

I almost balked out of the operation when I learned from the Surgical Sanatorium that the same doctor who performed the pre-op examination would also be doing surgery on me. I disliked the guy for his patronizing judgemental traditionalist attitudes and his failure to help me with making up my mind about whether circumcision or something else would be a good idea for me. After some contemplation, though, I decided that his ability to communicate isn't the most important aspect of a surgeon, and that he may do a good job regardless of how bad at public relations he might be. (My main support for this is research I read about which found that, how much a doctor gets sued, is unrelated to how good he is as a doctor, but instead is related to the tone of voice and quality of communication he uses towards his patients; so good doctors who communicate poorly get sued for other people's errors, and bad doctors who communicate well don't get sued even for what were clearly their errors.)

Almost two months after my initial examination, the date of the operation arrived and I decided to go ahead with it, but with some hesitation. The morning of the operation, I shaved my pubic area as instructed and appeared at the Sanatorium some 30 minutes late. I paid for the operation, which cost EUR 334 (the USD equivalent shifts continously). After another 30 minutes of waiting, I was taken in by a kind nurse and asked to strip and change into a revealing hospital garment, slippers and a hairnet. After changing, I was led into the operation room where I laid down on the table. A nurse prepared me by shaving a spot on my thigh and sticking to it a palm-sized electrode. I waited for a few minutes covered in the green paper-like sheets they use during operations. I was told several times to relax, but the requests seemed pointless; I was definitely anxious. At this time I was wondering why I got myself there and was despairing over the fate of my penis and foreskin, which hadn't caused me any trouble recently and which I rather liked when it wasn't causing me red spots and things. However, by this point I would really have needed a very good reason to leave. So I waited, anxiously.

Dr. Stanonik arrived and they started working immediately. A nurse exposed my pubic area and hung the green covering over me in such a way that I couldn't see what was happening. The surgeon started talking to me about my work and at the same time started working on me; it felt like a diversion to make me not think about what was happening simultaneously. I felt an injection of anaesthetic in three spots at the base of my penis. I didn't feel much for most of the remainder of the operation, except for what felt like removal of part of the foreskin, which hurt like hell! It seems that the anaesthetic didn't take well on the left side of the penis, because I generally felt more on that side, including this pain, but I didn't feel anything elsewhere. During the operation, the surgeon generally joked and refrained from giving me any accurate and meaningful information when I asked for it. The nurses were kinder and responded more factually. The whole thing, from first prick to completion, took some 30 minutes. When it was over, they had packed my penis into a roll of gauze, which I received instructions to remove the next day. I asked the surgeon what sort of painkillers would be necessary, and he said that generally they're not. I thought "Yeah, right" to that.

After the operation, I immediately reported a gradually increasing pain which I felt was going to get worse by the minute as the anaesthetic wears off. I requested painkillers but was told that I would get them later when I get into the waiting room, and that I should sit down a bit first. I needed to sit down because I had vertigo, but I knew I'll also desperately need the painkillers, so I pretended to be fine and dressed and went into the waiting room. They asked me to stay there for another 45 minutes - sitting upright, fully clothed, among other patients - to make sure that everything is OK. I got a single 75mg pill of diclofenacum (Naklofen), but it was too little, too late: in the waiting room, my penis started hurting like hell while I was squirming and gritting teeth; nobody paid me attention except the other patients who simply preferred not to sit very close to me. After some 45 minutes, another nurse called me in to check my bandages; it was OK, and after I asked her, she did get me three more diclofenacum pills to last me through the day. It hurt like hell driving home, and when I got home it hurt for another hour or more until both the diclofenacum pills finally started working. I stayed on the couch and didn't move much for the rest of the day, and the pain was OK.

In the evening I had to remove the bandages when they were soaked with urine after peeing, and I found my penis in a sorry state indeed; the glans was nearly hidden in the swollen tissue around it. I went to bed with another, final pill of diclofenacum.

I was told before and after the operation that I should avoid erections and physical activity until the wound heals. This was easy enough during the day, but I was wondering how I'm going to achieve it during the night, because at that time erections are subconscious - and are in fact necessary for keeping the penis healthy. (Smokers have much weaker night-time erections and significantly more erectile dysfunction.) And indeed, the penis wouldn't listen to the surgeon, and I got several erections during the night, including a wet dream! Fortunately, no trouble seems to have come from it, and at this time (the second day) the penis appears to be healing normally. Meanwhile, I heard an encouraging report from a female friend about her colleague's improved sexual experience after circumcision. Consequently, me and my girlfriend can't wait for the wound to fully heal in order to try the newly shaped penis in practice. :)

2006-05-22

The incredible stupidity at Diebold

This is incredible:
David Bear, a spokesman for Diebold Election Systems, said the potential risk existed because the company's technicians had intentionally built the machines in such a way that election officials would be able to update their systems in years ahead.

"For there to be a problem here, you're basically assuming a premise where you have some evil and nefarious election officials who would sneak in and introduce a piece of software," he said. "I don't believe these evil elections people exist."
The whole point of election systems is to provide resistance to fraud. The standard (manual) election process has all sorts of fraud protections built in:
  • You are authenticated before you vote so you don't vote twice and so it's known how many people voted.

  • You make your vote privately behind a screen, and you throw it into the box anonymously, so that no one can know how you voted, and therefore cannot force you to vote a certain way.

  • There are at least three people from different candidate parties to monitor fairness of the election process, and they all count the votes to ensure objective counting.
Now here's a company that creates electronic election systems, magic-in-a-box which requires great expertise to get right and otherwise opens up the door widely to all sorts of additional types of fraud, and the attitude of the company that makes these systems is: "Oh, we don't believe there's a threat of fraud in the first place."

Excuse me?!

Why hasn't yet this person, and everyone with the same mindset, been fired?

2006-05-20

FAQ about capitalism and capitalists

In my personal experience, I have run across several prevalent misconceptions about capitalism and capitalists. I feel that some of these need to be addressed in a dedicated FAQ. If you have run into other misconceptions that you think need addressing, you are welcome to post it in a comment. If you have any of your own questions about capitalism and capitalists, you are welcome to post that, too.

1. Do capitalists eat their own children?

Contrary to popular lore, the answer is - disappointingly - no. Capitalists do not eat their own children, or indeed even the children of their neighbors. They have been known to eat veal and sometimes caviar, though.

2. Do capitalists eat poor people?

Again, the answer to this question is a let-down. No. Though there have been stories of capitalists burning poor people over a slow roast, upon detailed investigation these have turned out to be myths. It appears that capitalists are actually quite safe to be around, even for people from poorer elements of the society.

3. Do capitalists have souls?

Research is still out on this one. See also Are communists godless?

4. Is capitalism evil?

Although this looks decidedly like a no-brainer, the results of a deeper investigation could be surprising. There is actually a surprising body of research which shows that capitalism improves certain aspects of society, such as: quality and availability of goods; dependability of infrastructure; improved health and education standards; improved general happiness and life expectancy. However, others credibly object that authors of any such research must themselves be soulless, child-eating capitalists, and thus should not be trusted. The jury is still out on this one.

5. What is the best way to defend against godless, child-eating capitalists?

Based on existing experience, the best strategy is to abandon all logic, defy common sense and pre-empt any impulse towards rational thought. Beware talking sense to a capitalist: as the uncivilised creature he is, he will resort to the cruelest possible tactics, such as logical thinking, and won't be reluctant to use the inhumane pressure of rational argument. Avoid this weapon of destruction at all cost. It has been found that one might survive a capitalist attack by surrounding oneself in a sufficiently thick fog of irrational claims and appeals to emotions.

2006-05-09

Cells from mutant mice kill cancers

Here's a link to the fascinating New Scientist article from the headline. My commentary to this article is below in Slovene.

Če obstaja raku-odporna mutacija v miših, gotovo obstaja tudi v človeku. Glede na število ljudi na svetu je celo kar verjetno, da je med nami vsaj nekaj, ali kar nekaj takih, ki so odporni proti raku. Kandidat za to je vsak, ki še nikoli v življenju ni imel rakavega obolenja.

Če bi našli takega človeka ali več njih, bi lahko zdravljenje raka v ljudeh postalo podobno enostavno, kot je opisano v članku. Zajeli bi delež belih krvničk rako-odpornega človeka in jih dali bolniku, ki bi, če bi bilo kot pri miših, nato preprosto ozdravel!

Problem je le najti takega človeka. En sistem bi bil, kot so raziskovalci postopali pri miših, ampak ta bi bil seveda preveč mengelejevski: množico ljudi bi bilo treba okužiti s kakšnim smrtonosnim rakom, nakar je pravi človek tisti, ki preživi. To seveda med ljudmi ne more iti.

Šlo bi pa mogoče tole: identificirali bi vse tiste ljudi, ki so zdravi in v življenju še nikoli niso imeli raka. Zajeli bi njihove bele krvničke in jih dali v krvni obtok pacientov z neozdravljivimi rakavimi obolenji. Če kakšen od pacientov preživi, smo našli rako-odpornega darovalca. Vsem, za katere se izkaže, da so rako-odporni, ponudimo razumno nagrado v zameno za njihove bele krvničke in s tem ozdravimo raka vsepovsod.