Instapun*** Archive Listing

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July 23, 2007 - July 16, 2007

Monday, July 23, 2007

Excuse me...

Creeping journalism.

SURVIVING WITH HONOR. I didn't get at all involved in the controversy over JetBlue's decision to fund the Kos Convention. I did observe that Roger Simon of Pajamas Media seemed to be taking a mild view of it -- and that a few conservative bloggers took him to task for it. I must say, though, that I did a double take when I read this portion of his most recent defense of his position. After repeating his point that agitated rhetoric makes money by attracting readers and viewers to niche media markets, he says:

This economic motive is augmented by ideological loathing of the type practiced broadly by the likes of Kos and O’Reilly and more subtly – but perhaps more lethally – by pseudo-objective outlets like The New York Times. Everyone is playing to his or her audience. But the loser is that audience. It is we the citizens.

With this polarized media atmosphere, it is small wonder that the President and the Congress have the pathetic poll numbers they do. Our leaders present themselves to us through that media and, in a very real sense, are part of it. They are one and the same. The Congress is a media personality. Much of what they do is media defined. It is one big show, much like sports. And we citizens have been reduced to fans, chanting “Our team is red hot, your team’s worth diddley-squat,” just as we did in junior high. But the games and the issues are real.

Meanwhile, we are left with a polity that is virtually dysfunctional, lost in their own electoral ambitions and outmoded ideological preachments and not talking to each other. We have a Left with no response to a misogynistic/homophobic religious fascist enemy that abhors separation of church and state and a Right willing to use their religious values to shut down the US Congress over the fate of one woman when they could not possibly have any true medical knowledge of her situation.

Talk about irony. [emphasis mine]

Yeah, let's talk about irony. I confess my first reading of the boldfaced portion of his post was as a reference to the right wing in this country as it is characterized by the left. And actually that is the left's response to Islamofascism -- to ignore it altogether while imputing precisely its evils to their domestic political opposition. Irony in spades. As one commenter suggested, the Terry Schiavo tempest pales in comparison to the ideological dislocation represented by the leftist media's hateful transference of such opprobrium from the enemy to fellow citizens. That's why those on the right can't put sufficient stock in Simon's well meaning platitudes to reach across the aisle and "just get along" with the Democrats. We know they want to inflict as much damage on us as they possibly can, legislatively, culturally, and personally. They're as open about that as the Islamofascists are. Appeasement is a sucker's game in both conflicts.

Of course, anyone can see what's underway here. Simon and his PJM venture are getting a taste of the perks of media credibility. He may even have reached the point of getting his telephone calls returned by some of the more influential media stars. It can't hurt a burgeoning reputation for even-handedness to position one's self between O'Reilly and the DailyKos. I wish him luck with that.

But I'd also like to draw attention to a few other things that are broadly if not specifically relevant to the issue on which he's chosen to adopt such a superior tone.

Simon's JetBlue Argument

I repeat that I don't care what JetBlue does. To me it just seemed like one more strikingly bad business decision, which is something that company is starting to get a reputation for after a promising guerilla start. I never much cared about Ben and Jerry's obnoxious poilitcs either. I confined myself to never buying their products. I'll never fly JetBlue, though less for their Kos affiliation than for their tendency to strand airline passengers willy nilly all over the country.

Still, the argument that those who are genuinely indignant about legitimizing leftist radicals in this fashion should shut up and be polite about it is hauntingly similar to the leftist claim that fighting Islamofascists just makes them mad and is therefore counterproductive. Comity is not on the liberal agenda. Yelling about their newest gambit -- a la O'Reilly -- is actually the mildest of responses available and the quickest way for a stupid business to learn the market's first and cruelest commandment: Thou shalt not piss off thy potential customers.

Aside from that, it's equally silly to pretend that large corporations are going to make showy investments in right-leaning organizations. In all probability, a higher percentage of media conglomerate executives are conservative than are their journalist employees in network news organizations. Has this resulted in any moderation of the leftist bias of CBS, ABC, or NBC? No. And it won't. Elite media lords also believe their most discriminating customers are liberals. Who's going to stick his head into the boardroom to tell them different?

Cozying up to the Left

I'm sick of people decrying partisanship as if that were the real problem. It isn't. The problem lies in the positions the partisans are taking. On the left, we are not seeing positions that any reasonable believer in the American experiment can afford to compromise with. The majority party in the congress is doing everything in its power to secure the military defeat of a U.S. army in the field, in a strategic theater of operations. At the same time the majority party in the U.S. Senate has recently voted (with only one dissent) not to protect freedom of political speech in the one mass medium they don't control AND they are using Senate procedural tricks to prevent passage of a law that would preserve the freedom of American citizens to speak with impunity to authorities when they suspect their lives might be in danger from terrorism. And dare I mention that the only product of their tenure in the majority thus far has been an endless succession of small-minded investigations intended to uncover their hidden Holy Grail -- an excuse, any excuse, for impeachment of the President of the United States.

Yeah, conservatives overreacted to Terry Schiavo. That's got to be right up there with an institutionalized conspiracy to commit treason and subversion of the government. Maybe if Pajama's Media has enough productive debates and dialogues with the left, we'll find some common ground in the middle. Conservatives will agree that families can pull the plug on inconvenient relatives, and Democrats will agree to go a little slower in betraying the national security of the U.S. and removing the speech and religious rights of the home-grown "misogynistic/homophobic religious fascist enemy that abhors separation of church and state." Then, maybe we can all work together to build the non-smoking, non-meat-eating Luddite utopia we should all be striving for, where every terrorist has a dream-team legal defense like O.J., where nobody but some of the smarter folk in media and government make any more money than a physician in Canada, and where nobody drives from place to place in a car bigger than a golf cart or more impact-resistant than a Miller Lite can.

To those on the inside of the new media this may all appear to be a game consisting of performers,"fans," and oh yeah, some real issues. To those of us watching from outside, it's not a game or a pristine issue debate, but a war for the preservation of American civilization.

Count me out. Where should I mail my pajamas to make the resignation official?

UPDATE. Sorry, but I had to add more after reading this exchange. Mostly, Simon's commenters weren't happy with his post for reasons similar to my own. Then came David:

David :
"Our leaders present themselves to us through that media and, in a very real sense, are part of it. They are one and the same."

That might be the most insightful comment I've read about the current political environment in years... keep going down that road.

Jul 23, 2007 08:43 AM

Who got an immediate response:

Roger L. Simon :
Thanks, David. You made my day.

As for those who worry that I like the Daily Kos, you should reread the above post. I think it's paleo-idealogical drivel.

Jul 23, 2007 09:01 AM

Perhaps needless to say, he ignored ALL the critical comments.

Problem is, the point David singled out for praise is the least accurate statement in Simon's post. When it comes to the Bush administration in particular, our leaders are not "one and the same" with the media. (One could make a slightly different case with regard to the Clinton administration and the upcoming Hillary administration, but that's not where we are at the moment.) The mainstream media are far closer to Daily Kos than they are to the schmucks who have managed communications for the Bush White House. And sadly, even the Republican leadership in Congress is closer to the Daily Kos than they are to the Bush White House -- that is, they invest all their beliefs about voters in popular memes that are derived from dishonestly conducted polls and the sense of immune privilege they experience from being surrounded by sycophant staffers and ravenous lobbyists.

The tragedy of the past few years is that the only meaningful contingent which has not grasped Simon's cynical point is the Texas lunkheads in the Bush administration. We posted about them all the way back in November 2005.

George W. Bush doesn't like to fire people. It's his greatest weakness. If he wants to prevail in his most important policies, however, it's time he overcame that weakness. Pictured above are the first three heads that must fall: Dan Bartlett, Strategic Communications Planning; Scott McClellan, White House Press Secretary; and Nicolle Devenish, White House Communications Director...

By any possible standard of competence in communications, these people are miserably and irredeemably inept. If they were merely obedient soldiers executing the instructions of the big boss, they should have resigned en masse long ere this in protest at being deprived of the opportunity to exercise their good judgment. If they actually concocted the communication plans that responded to the crises listed above, as seems more likely in the court of the Great Delegator, they should be drummed out of the profession -- hollow square, buttons ripped off, swords broken -- the works.

In fact, this is an area where I do have relevant professional expertise. For 10 years I was a consultant on internal and external communications to Fortune 100 companies, as well as a speechwriter for the highest ranking corporate executives. From first to last, the Bush White House has made nothing but mistakes in its communication strategies with the media, the Congress, and the people. The mainstream media and the Democratic Party, however, have succeeded by default in the tarring and feathering of the President to a degree I almost can't imagine.

Roger L. Simon is flat wrong in implying that the big media game he describes includes the President and his staff. They are playing in a different arena, called real life. Make no mistake. I hold George W. Bush centrally responsible for not detecting the problem and remedying it. The malefactors also include Karl Rove, who is also not competent by any standard I know.

But for Simon to contend that the most important wielder of power in our nation is also a corrupt and cynical packager of messages designed to keep ordinary Americans out of the loop is absurd. This is where his professional credentials come up short. He's a novelist and scriptwriter, not a communications professional.

The truth is, it's entirely appropriate for politicians to use state-of-the-art communications technologies and techniques to press their case on important issues. The Bush administration hasn't done it, probably because they thought sincerity and integrity of purpose would be sufficient. They were wrong. But it's despicable for Simon to indict them for a crime they've never shown the talent to commit.

What I'm feeling about now is disgust. Roger L. Simon is in the process of becoming a star of the new media. Where is his declaration of the principles he will adhere to as he increasingly becomes a membr of the insider club he simultaneously deplores and seeks to placate?


Come on in, Newt.
The water's fine...

INSTAPUNK ALWAYS RIGHT, PART XIX. He's not sexy. He's not good looking. He's not popular. He's not charismatic unless you like blazing intellect. But he's the candidate the Republicans need if they're ever going to return from the valley of the shadow.

Questions for Dean Barnett: We're at war. Don't you sometimes yearn for a candidate who knows how to fight a war? Not smooth, not nuanced, Not polished and posed. But poised for the bulging jugulars of those who dare to defy him.

Here he is, warming up in the wings, twirling that damn ninja sword around his oversized head:

Dismissing the GOP presidential field as a "pathetic" bunch of "pygmies," Newt Gingrich hinted Monday he might step in to beat Democrats Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama.

"If, in mid-October, it's quite clear that one or more of the current candidates is strong enough to be a serious alternative to a Clinton-Obama ticket, you don't need me to run," the former House Speaker said at a breakfast sponsored by the American Spectator. "If it becomes patently obvious, as the morning paper points out, that the Democrats have raised a hundred million more than the Republicans, and at some point people decide we are going to get Hillary unless there's a radical change, then there's space for a candidate," he added. "So you'll know by mid-October one of those two futures is real."

Asked by the Examiner if he was prepared to commit to a run, Gingrich said, "I'm perfectly happy to do what I do," he said. "Whether that leads to the presidency is the country's problem, not mine."

Gingrich mocked Republican presidential candidates for subjecting themselves to a May debate hosted by Chris Matthews of MSNBC's "Hardball."

"You're watching an utterly irrelevant, shallow television celebrity dominate everybody who claimed they want to lead the most powerful nation in the world," he said.

Gingrich ridiculed "the idea of 10 or 11 people standing passively at microphones," and said he refused to "shrink to the level of 40-second answers, standing like a trained seal, waiting for someone to throw me a fish."

He added: "These are not debates, these are auditions. By definition, the psychology of an audition reduces the person auditioning and raises the status, for example, of Chris Matthews."

Pressed by The Examiner about whether his political baggage renders him unelectable, Gingrich compared himself to a famous French statesman. "This is like going to De Gaulle when he was at Colombey-les-Deux-Eglises during the Fourth Republic and saying, 'Don't you want to rush in and join the pygmies?'" he said.

"I have no interest in the current political process. I have no interest in trying to figure out how I can go out and raise money under John McCain's insane censorship rules so I can show up to do seven minutes and twenty seconds at some debate." Still, he said he might enter the race before the deadlines to "start filing petitions.

And this:

Former house speaker and potential GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich ripped conservatives and liberals alike Monday at a breakfast sponsored by the American Spectator.

Here's how Newt unloaded on half a dozen newsmakers:


Fred Thompson, potential presidential candidate "I'm excited to see whether Fred turns out to be as decisive a front-runner as John McCain...The guy who wasn't even in the race is now the exciting new name, having decided that he would leave television for the purpose of entering television."

Sen. John McCain, presidential candidate "The guy who had spent the most on consultants is on the verge, I think, of dropping out of the race, right after he collects his FEC [Federal Elections Commission] money."

Robert Novak, conservative columnist and author "Sometimes he's right and sometimes he's just venomous....He was once a good reporter, he's now just a personality."


Al Gore, maker of documentary "An Inconvenient Truth" "[Not] in touch with reality. ... The advertisement for his movie was the most viciously anti-animal advertising that I've seen in a long time. They had these little penguins walking on sand. It was terrible."

Michael Moore, maker of documentary "Sicko" "I find Michael Moore so despicable I can't imagine looking at a movie by him. It would be like looking at a movie by Goebbels."

Come on, Dean. Tell me you wouldn't love this campaign. And then tell me how we could have had Reagan if we hadn't had Goldwater first. We have a dead party. We need more than a glossy 8 by 10 to resurrect it.

We need to rechart the whole terrain with guts and brains. I'll await your careful and pragmatic rebuttal.

UPDATE. Ah, the internets. What fun we have. Dean Barnett emailed to say, "I'm bored with the race at this moment. Newt doesn't quicken my pulse."

Dean is bored. He spends months building up the prospects of the most soporific presidential candidate since George Romney, and now he's bored?

Yesterday, PJM CEO Roger L. Simon. And the Blogfather, Glenn Reynolds (More about that at a later date.) Today, rising substitute talk show host Dean Barnett.

You see, it's just not interesting when the only things on the line are the fate of western civilization, capitalism, and Christianity. A book deal would be good. Or a contract for your own talk show. That would quicken the pulse. It might even make up for eight years of Hillary. In fact, we might be looking at eight GREAT years of Hillary. Something to talk about. On the show. You know.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Stay Tuned...

She's a writer too.

PUBLISHING RIGHTS. This is going to be big:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the California Democrat who this year became the first woman to hold the top spot in the House of Representatives, is writing a memoir, to be released in the summer of 2008 by the Doubleday Broadway Publishing Group.
"From my parents' home in Baltimore to representing San Francisco in the Congress, my life has been devoted to family and public service. I look forward to telling my story for my grandchildren and in recognition of the contributions of all women across America," Pelosi said in a statement issued Thursday by Doubleday, a division of Random House, Inc.

InstaPunk spies will be fanning out across the publishing world to obtain portions of the manuscript as it is written. Check in here on a regular basis because we are going to be THE source for pre-publication Pelosi portions.



REVENGE. I've been ticked off about one comment for months. I was writing about Laila Ali and mentioned in passing that Muhammed Ali was the greatest athlete in history. Here's what a commenter said:

The greatest athlete history has ever seen (or some such proclomation) is Mohammed Ali? The Boxer? Wow, that's...grandiose.

Grandiose? Uh, no. It isn't. I apologize to everyone who knows what an idiot this guy is. To everyone else I say screw you. Muhammed (not Mohammed) Ali was the most famous man in the world in his day. He reigned at the pinnacle of his sport for close to 20 years. And his sport was one which can kill or maim you.  He was the greatest prizefighter who ever lived, and therefore the greatest athlete.

I'm not linking to all the fights which proved he was the most talented, the most resourceful and the bravest his sport ever produced. You can find those for yourselves. If you know the names Liston, Williams, Terrell, Folley, Frazier, and Foreman. I'm linking to the thing that is unique to boxing -- the ironic tragedy that talent can cripple you. In the early days, they said Ali was all talent and couldn't take a punch. In the late days -- 17 to 20 years in -- they said his ability to take a punch was TOO great. They were right about that. Ali's Parkinson's Disease has everything to do with fights like this at the end of his career, when he retained his title by surviving repeated knockout blows that didn't knock him down from sluggers like Earnie Shavers and Ron Lyle, who would have levelled Joe Louis or Mike Tyson.

Ali was the Greatest by too much. Clips like the one I'm showing here cause me physical pain. Don't ever make the mistake of claiming that some other athlete -- Michael Jordan, Barry Bonds, etc -- can hold a candle to Muhammed Ali. They can't.


Thursday, July 19, 2007

The New Math of Abortion

CONFUSING THE ISSUE. Sometimes you stumble on some blog entry by chance, read it, go on, and then belatedly it occurs to you that something you read back there doesn't sound quite right.

That happened to me yesterday at Classical Values, where Simon posted this:

Eric at Classical Values is discussing Clayton Cramers's piece on the prevalence of abortion before Roe. His conclusion about abortion is that it may actually be happening at a lower rate since Roe.

A few minutes later, the buzzer went off: "a lower rate since Roe"? I didn't think so. So I followed the link to Eric's post, where he began with a similar statement (all the boldface in the excerpts below was added by me):

Clayton Cramer notes that there were plenty of abortions before Roe v. Wade -- and that there may have been more than there are now.

....even before Roe v. Wade (1973), Oregon theoretically made abortion unlawful except to save the life or health of the mother--and yet still had 199 abortions per 1000 live births in 1970. Does anyone really believe that 1/6th of all pregnancies in Oregon required an abortion for the life or health of the mother? You can pass laws, but if a large fraction of the population strongly disagrees, that law will be disobeyed unless you have a very powerful police presence trying to enforce it. Think back to the national 55 mph speed limit, or most restrictive gun control laws.

I'm reminded of the situation in Pennsylvania, which had similar laws to Oregon's, as did most states. I don't know what the Pennsylvania statistics from the period are, but I do know that as a practical matter it was very easy to obtain an abortion -- provided the individual woman (or her family) had the money to pay for it.

Eric's post goes on to underscore a point that's also relevant to the question of what statistics people are using and how they're using them:

Cramer also links his earlier post on the same topic, in which he concluded that the pre-Roe statistics were "disturbing to the conventional wisdom":

If you believe that Roe v. Wade started a deluge of murdering babies, then why was the abortion rate so high in states that pro-lifers would consider civilized? Does anyone seriously believe that 16% of Oregon pregnancies required an abortion for the life or health of the mother? It should be obvious that a lot of those were elective abortions, disguised as being for "the life or health of the mother."

If you believe that before Roe, America was a barbarous place where women had to get backstreet abortions (except for the five "enlightened" states of Alaska, California, Hawaii, New York, and Washington), then you need to explain why the abortion rates in some of the states with severe abortion restrictions were higher than the abortion rates in the states that allowed abortion on demand.

I find this data fascinating, and disturbing to the conventional wisdom.

I don't think either side in the abortion debate especially wants any of this publicized, and I think it's worth examining why.

The pro-abortion people like to paint the pre-Roe world as a patriarchal hell in which oppressed women were either forced to bear unwanted children or else resort to "coat hanger abortions." The anti-abortion people paint the pre-Roe world as governed by the type of values often portrayed in 1930s movies (aka "traditional values" -- but never mind the less traditional 1920s), in which those few women who might get pregnant out of wedlock would never have had abortions because a Godly America would not allow it.

The truth is unpalatable to both of these "conventional wisdoms."

But what is the truth? Is it at all decipherable? I looked up the data Clayton Cramer was citing. It consists of a table on page 31 of this paper (available as a PDF file):

The states highlighted in yellow are the ones that had abortion on demand prior to Roe v. Wade. The status of D.C. is unclear because the table in the PDF file employed boldface to indicate states with abortion-on-demand, and the D.C. typography was indeterminate.

Now. I don't want to say that Clayton Cramer has cherry-picked his data, but he has cherry-picked his data. The 199 per 1000 figure he cites for Oregon in 1970 is hardly the most interesting or instructive statistic, let alone trend, on the table. It probably is the highest abortion rate in a state without a significantly urban population that year, and in that respect it is actually atypical. The rates for Georgia, New Mexico, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia are strikingly low. The figures for New York, D.C., and Hawaii are strikingly high. And what's the meaning of the crack about "civilized"? The people who might automatically assume that New York and DC are more civilized than Georgia and the Carolinas are probably not pro-lifers. In fact, even this far back in time, the distribution of abortion rates among these states seems to track with the current red state-blue state breakdown, which makes it pretty easy to understand the high Oregon number.

Worse than all this is the failure of the table as a whole to provide any support for Cramer's main point -- the one uncritically repeated by Simon and Eric -- that the data somehow suggest abortion rates might be lower after Roe v. Wade than before. The year-to-year trends on the table are unmistakeable. For the time span shown, the abortion rate increases every year in every single state that has legalized abortion in some measure. Furthermore, we see dramatic increases in the states that passed an abortion-on-demand law after1969, with the exception of Hawaii. For example, Oregon's neighboring state of Washington leaped from a rate of 83 per thousand in 1970 to 265 per thousand the following year, when abortion-on-demand became legal.

Indeed, the most interesting aspect of the data is the huge differentials between the states, which directly undermines Cramer's argument that abortion is somehow analogous to the 55 mph speed limit as a law held in universal contempt and therefore continuously, ubiquitously broken. One doesn't have to be biased pro- or anti-abortion to interpret these differentials as arising from multiple factors that could vary widely from state to state or region to region.

There's a general cultural factor -- the disposition of the population to seek abortion as a personally acceptable alternative to an unwanted pregancy. There's a medical ethical factor -- the disposition of physicians to find abortion an acceptable/unacceptable service to provide their patients and therefore to interpret the existing law strictly or loosely. There's a governmental factor -- whether the state administration regards a restrictive abortion law as meaning what it says or as a wink-wink license for de facto abortion-on-demand. Finally, there's a timing factor -- it may take longer in some states than others for women to realize that a restrictive abortion law is (or isn't) code for abortion-on-demand.

Depending on your viewpoint, for example, New York is a perfect storm of all these factors that drives abortion to insane levels, or Georgia is a perfect storm of the same factors preventing real access to abortion despite its technical legality.

So. Was Clayton Cramer right? Almsot certainly not. Additional searches turned up state-by-state abortions-per-thousand-live-births data for the year 2003. On the upside, this is far enough into the post-Roe era that any early volatility should be smoothed out. On the downside, the data are obviously from a different source and may reflect a different collection and verification approach. Still, the figures are better than no figures. 

New Mexico
New York
North Carolina
South Carolina

*Indicates a state that added abortion-on-demand after 1969.

Everyone is free to draw his own inferences. My own take is that a couple of patterns exist which tend to confirm my interpretation of the 1969-1972 differentials. The states that started out with high abortion rates in the immediate aftermath of limited legalization seem to have plateaued: Oregon, Colorado, Maryland, New Mexico. This suggests that in these states limited legality probably was code for abortion-on-demand to a significant degree. Yet the two locales that suffered the biggest explosion of abortions in the wake of legalization -- New York and D.C. -- show very significant declines from their 1972 highs. Does this mean, as Cramer suggests, that Roe has in fact reduced the incidence of abortion? You're free to think so, I suppose, but there's a more obvious explanation. Note that New York's 2003 rate of 509 is very close to the 534 of its pre-abortion-on-demand year of 1970. It's therefore reasonable to ask how much of the stratospheric 1183 per thousand recorded in 1972 represented an influx from neighboring states (uh, say, New Jersey) where abortion was illegal or severely restricted. D.C. has similarly dropped back from the outlandish 1801 abortions per thousand in 1972 (that's 64 percent of all pregnancies that didn't end in miscarriage or stillbirth!) to a level just under its 1971 rate.

But the real kicker in these statistics is what happened in the states that produced low or relatively low abortion rates in the 1969-1972 timeframe: Delaware, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia. They're all way up under Roe. Note, too, that our simplified 2003 chart omits states that added restrictive abortion laws after 1970. (Incidentally, these are not "most states" as Eric declares, but just over half.) If we compare those to the 2003 data, we have quite a few additional examples of  hugely significant increases under Roe:

Alabama 19
Arkansas 24
Arizona 7
Connecticut 66
Florida 42
Kansas 369
Massachusetts 41
Mississippi 1
Nebraska 34
Pennsylvania 52
Tennessee 0
Vermont 32
Wisconsin 116

Of course, none of these figures speak to the question of how many illegal abortions were occurring prior to Roe v. Wade, which is the last refuge for Cramer's argument. Anecdotally, numbers quoted for this category of abortion vary by orders of magnitude depending on whether you are a pro-abortion or pro-life advocate.

Nevertheless, there are are also some data here that one can consult, if not for a definitive answer at least for some strong indications. Consider, for example, this analysis by It says, in part:

The head of one of the major pro-abortion organizations in the U.S. said: "In 1972 there were 1,000,000 illegal abortions and 5,000 to 10,000 women died from them." True? Or False?...

The United States, since the 1940s, has reported such deaths separately, so we know the number of deaths from illegal abortions. Good! Now if we knew how many illegal abortions it took to cause one death, we could easily calculate the total number of illegal abortions...

The following chart was used on the floor of the US Senate during the tumultuous debate on abortion in 1981. It was compiled from official U.S. statistics and was not challenged by the pro-abortion forces.

The reasons [for the drop after 1960] were new and better antibiotics, better surgery and the establishment of intensive care units in hospitals. This was in the face of a rising population. Between 1967 and 1970 sixteen states legalized abortion. In most it was limited, only for rape, incest and severe fetal handicap (life of mother was legal in all states). There were two big exceptions — California in 1967, and New York in 1970 allowed abortion on demand...

In these two large states, legalization should have substituted "safe" for unsafe abortions. It should have saved many women’s lives. Actually there was no sharp drop in the number of women dying. Let’s look further. By the year before the U.S. Supreme Court decision which allowed legal abortion on demand in all fifty states, the death rate for illegal abortions had fallen to: 1972 = 39 (With 25 additional deaths that year due to legal abortions.) Now abortion was legal in 50 states. Now back alley abortions should have been eliminated with their alleged toll of maternal deaths.

In 1973 there should have been a really sharp drop in women dying. The chart, however, shows that there was no such drop. The line didn’t even blip. The previous rate of decline actually slowed, to flatten out in the late 70s and 80s. According to the U.S. vital statistics, as anyone can see, legalization of abortion did not save almost any women’s lives...

let’s recap: Pro abortionists claim that in 1972, the year before the Supreme Court legalized abortion, there were 1,000,000 illegal abortions and 5,000 to 10,000 women died.

Actually only 39 women died — less than one per state per year.

But they can’t have it both ways.

- Either there were not many illegal abortions


- Illegal abortions were all extremely safe.

Since we assume that all illegal abortions were not extremely safe, it seems obvious that THERE WERE NOT MANY ILLEGAL ABORTIONS.

The article also cites a 1981 study "by Dr. T. Hilgers from Creighton University, who estimated the figure probably was at or somewhere near 100,000 abortions annually in the U.S. prior to legalization." Case closed? Not quite. There's a huge qualifying factor in here, which the authors cite:

Let’s look at the late 1950s. Those were the supposed bad old days. All abortions were illegal, and illegal abortionists were alleged to be busy. In the July 1960 edition of The American Journal of Public Health, there was an article by Dr. Mary Calderone, founder of SIECUS and medical director of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. She stated:

"90% of illegal abortions are being done by physicians. Call them what you will, abortionists or anything else, they are still physicians, trained as such; . . . They must do a pretty good job if the death rate is as low as it is . . . Abortion, whether therapeutic or illegal, is in the main no longer dangerous, because it is being done well by physicians."

This opens to door to the possibility that a lot of abortions were being performed illegally under faiirly safe conditions prior to any legalization. Might this rescue Clayton Cramer's claim? Probably not. Why?

Isn't it reasonable to assume that the first legal abortions were performed by the very doctors who were previously willing to offer that service under the table? Isn't it also reasonable to suppose that there were such doctors in every state, albeit in different numbers? And finally, isn't it reasonable to suppose that women seeking an abortion would always prefer to obtain it legally rather than illegally?

If the answers to these questions are yes, then the figures we have for 1970 and 1971 are almost certainly an approximate upper boundary of the most liberal estimate we might make of the number of illegal abortions performed in the U.S. prior to Roe. In all likelihood, the actual number of illegal abortions performed is lower than the '70-'71 figures, because illegality does deter some percentage of people -- patients and doctors -- from breaking the law. After all, there were solid citizens who did observe the 55 mph speed limit, as even Clayton Cramer might concede.


I am not saying that any of the analysis establishes the facts beyond dispute. Nor am I making any statement whatsoever about what the data suggest with regard to the disposition of the abortion issue itself. What I am saying is that Clayton Cramer's analysis is misleading and insupportable based on data that are available.

I'm politely suggesting that Eric and Simon of Classical Values be more careful in the future about who and what they quote unskeptically.

On all the big social-cultural controversies of our time there are large numbers of what we might call free-floating statistics; i.e., Kinsey's 10-percent gay guesstimate, NARAL's 10,000 women a year dead of botched abortions before Roe, a million missing American children, Michael Moore's 47 million Americans without health insurance, etc. It's hard enough to discuss such matters honestly and productively without the noise created by false but endlessly repeated statistics.

It behooves all of us who write about these topics to be as careful as we can be about not contributing to the miasma of falsehoods the most ardent on any side would have us believe.

Sorry to have been so long about it.

UPDATE. Clayton Cramer writes to say that he never claimed Roe v. Wade reduced the number of abortions. He's said as much in an update to his blog. A close reading of his entries suggests that he is correct, although one can easily see how Eric and Simon of Classical Values made the wrong inference they did. Cramer succeeding in leaving a wrong impression he now regrets. I apologize for transferring a Classical Values misreading to Mr. Cramer. Nevertheless, I stand by my most serious objections to Cramer's entry. He did cherrypick data to make a slight point that was distinctly at odds with the data he had available and did not reproduce for his readers. I will also point out that his update does not acknowledge his material misrepresentation in important ways of the the data he cited  That his selective citation was consistent with his libertarian views I note without malice. My principal point still stands. This is the process by which  fallacious statistics become embedded in the public consciousness. We are all responsible to keep this from happening. That's why I'm being forthright about my own error. I have also asked Clayton Cramer, via email, to be forthright about his. If he is, I'll trust him in future. If he isn't, I won't. Sometimes things can be that simple, and that's as it should be.

For the record, I'll say that I emailed all parties involved about this post. Clayton Cramer responded promptly. I have yet to hear from anyone at Classical Values.

UPDATE 2. Cramer's okay. He meets halfway at least. That's a lot in the egosphere of blogs.

UPDATE 3. Eric Scheie of Classical Values has just checked in. He also defends Clayton Cramer and graciously directs -- in a blog update -- readers here to correct any mistaken impressions. Meanwhile, Mr. Cramer is claiming to have started hacking the Internet in 1972, when I was just a glimmer in my father's eye. Uh, okay. Not true.  1972, when I was still watching the radicals begin their conquest of American universities. Who, I wonder, earns true veteran status on this battlefield?

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The Reality Mess

What The Bleep Do We Know? A documentary about quantum physics.

MORE GRINS. A few days ago I stirred up a little hornet's nest about the pet orthodoxy of the materialists. For all I know, they're still duelling over details in the Comments section of that post. I said in an update that I wasn't going to get into a back-and-forth on the subject, and I'm not. To me the science in question is a mere skirmish in the much larger and more interesting debate about the nature of reality. As a matter of fact, I became a skeptic about contemporary evolutionary theory not from a religious perspective, but from a scientific one. There are so may breathtaking possibilities emerging in other sciences that the determinedly mechanistic arguments of the evolutionary biologists seem like a B-52 -- an ancient juggernaut that has been continuously updated and retrofitted through time because it was always cheaper to do that than to build something new. But the fact remains that the B-52 is an old old plane, in every sense a dinosaur in aviation terms. Its utility has nevertheless been preserved, as far as I know, but if you started over with a clean sheet of paper, knowing everything that's been learned since its design in the 1950s, you'd have a very different vehicle.

I'm aware that's not an argument of any kind. It's an esthetic observation. And so, in many ways, is the documentary I'm linking here. The ideas expressed in it are so strange and transformational in their implications that it's hard to accept the fact that the speakers on-screen are also highly credentialed scientists. Oddly enough, their studies and experiments in their own fields have driven them in the opposite direction from the disciples of Dawkins. They are not clinging ferociously to an idea they have accepted so wholeheartedly that they confuse it with fact. Rather, they have been propelled into a state of questioning everything, including their own work and their own most intimate sense of personal experience. Interestingly, they do not seem angry about the questions they are asked again and again. They appear, in fact, to reside in a permanent state of rather joyful wonder. Even when they describe the skepticism they encounter, they refrain from getting snide. They understand. They're humble. They're happy to be both students and teachers, and they're content with the fact that many of their colleagues interpret the evidence differently. Odd, huh? Do their ideas have any implications for the other subject? You decide.

If you're interested, here are the ten parts:

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6
Part 7
Part 8
Part 9
Part 10.

There's more information about the movie at

As a small bonus, here's a response from one of the participating scientists to an attempted debunking by Michael Shermer. You can decide for yourselves whether there's any "real science" behind the movie.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Bin Laden Proven Alive!

Holding today's edition of the Philadelphia Daily News

PSAYINGS.5S.1-11. Yes, the news is very very bad. Even Osama bin Laden is aware of the shameful milestone that has just been recorded by the losingest team in the history of American professional sports. The Phillies stand alone (or is that 'lie supine' alone?) as the only American team ever to have lost 10,000 times.

As a sidenote, the appearance of this bit of videotape also removes any reason to hope that bin Laden is pushing up daisies somewhere in Waziristan.

Talk about a blue Monday...

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