Seek first to understand, then to be understood

So, big surprise, while the economy falters along, people continue to be out of work and the Israelis and Iranians gear up for Armaggedon, what’s the big news rocking the 24/7 news cycle? Todd Akin and American’s favorite pastime, ABORTION! YEA!

First, let me just say, I’m kind of divided on the whole Akin dropping out of the race thing. On one hand he’s clearly not cut out for primetime so sharpen your knives and set the table, Democrats, because I’m sure he’ll let fly something stupid at least once more before Election Day. Then again, this is what Republicans like to do on an all too regular basis. Someone says something stupid and the rest of us immediately throw him under the bus instead of coming to his defense and calling out the media for what it is; a bunch of scare-mongering sensationalists. That’s politics, I guess and the reality of the situation probably dictates that it’d be a good move to move over. I guess we’ll all find out on November 6th.

Until then, though, I’m going to jump to Akin’s defense. Not because I necessarily thinks he deserves it but because I think his position deserves it. And I’m not even saying it deserves it because it’s correct. I’m saying it deserves it because if, as a nation, we stop debating these issues in an objective and rational manner, carefully weighing both sides but, rather, flying off the handle, calling each other all sorts of stupid names and putting words and thoughts in other people’s mouths and minds we might as well just give up. I tell folks who think this country has gone off the rails in terms of political discourse that we should at least be thankful that our politicians aren’t literally beating each other over the head with canes and fire tongs (like cousin Roger did back in 1798) but perhaps they’re right. At least before Aaron Burr shot Alexander Hamilton they both engaged in rhetoric so high it would make Joe Biden look… oh, wait, bad example but you get the idea.

But back to Akin, his comment falls into two categories. First, his poor choice of the phrase “legitimate rape” and, second, his overall message; what he meant had he had a bit more time to prepare for the camera.

By “legitimate rape” he meant forcible rape. It would have been better had he just left off the modifier altogether but not because he thinks there is such a thing as legitimate rape but because the other kind of rape clearly does not factor into this debate on any level. What sort of rape is that, you ask, already, I suspect, indicting me in your mind as someone who thinks a woman in a short skirt deserves to get raped or some such nonsense? We all know that there are plenty of young girls (and a fair number of boys) under the age of 16 (or whatever the age of consent may be in their particular state) that have had sex with men or women over the age that would make it legal. To give an example of how innocent this might be, in Wisconsin, where these is not “close in age” exception, a girl or boy aged 18 years and 0 days would be guilty of statutory rape if he or she slept with a partner aged 17 years and 364 days. If they’re married, however, then it’s completely legal. Can that scenario, even though it is technically rape, really be equated to any other form of rape? (And before anyone goes there, I’m not condoning sex between a 17 year old and an 18 year old although, when there are 10 year olds having sex in the back of classrooms maybe we should be concentrating on that first.)  This also doesn’t even take into account the 8% of rape charges that are false, and therefore truly “illegitimate”; a number four-times as high as false reporting of other crimes, by the way.) Was what he said stupid even with a better choice of words or is there enough truth to his remarks that they are at least worth considering (even if we don’t end up agreeing with them in the end)? After all, that’s what having an open-mind is all about.

Now, again, I agree that even without the phrase “legitimate rape” his remarks weren’t what I’d call intelligent. In fact, speaking as someone who’s coached more than a few people on public speaking and having said a few things in media interviews I’d rather I hadn’t (although nothing even remotely this stupid), he probably should have just left the whole science of the situation out of it, not being a scientist himself and knowing that abortion, especially rape-related abortion, is one of the hottest-button issues in the country. But he didn’t, so let’s just look at what he said with as open a mind as possible, “seeking first to understand and then to be understood”.

He stated that pregnancy in the case of rape is very rare and added that a woman’s body has ways of rejecting a pregnancy in the case of “legitimate rape” (again, rape, not including statutory rape or falsely reported rape). As I said above, he should have just stopped with the words “very rare”.

So let’s look at that. Let’s just lay out the possibilities without taking sides quite yet. RAINN (Rape, Abuse, Incest National Network) says that pregnancies resulting from rape happen at a rate of 5%. This is based on a general incidence of pregnancy from one-time sexual intercourse. However, RAINN follows up by saying this number could be lower based on a variety of factors I will get into shortly. But I think we can both agree that 5% isn’t rare although it’s a fair bit more rare than the 27% chance a woman has of getting pregnant when her partner uses the withdrawal method and and 85% chance when no form of birth control is used. I’ve also seen other stats listing rape related pregnancies occurring at a rate of 6.42 to almost 8% with the followup that this is at least twice as common as the consensual rate of 3.1%. The Guttmacher Institute reported 1%. Hmm, 1% up to 8%. Statistically, that’s kind of a big gap but okay, using these numbers I’d say Akin and his doctors are wrong. Rape related pregnancies are not all that rare. But are these numbers accurate? Let’s look at a different analysis.

An article in the New England Journal of Medicine reported on a number of studies of women in Minnesota and Chicago, victims numbering in the thousands, where no pregnancies occurred. So that’s certainly rare. But whatever, statistics from studies done here and there can often be manipulated. Let’s take a look at some larger numbers to see if any of these statistics actually pass the “smell test”.

A 1995 Dept of Justice Study revealed that 170,000 women were the victims of rape. Another 140,000 were victims of attempted rape but we won’t figure them into the calculation because, biology degree or not, I think we all know how a baby is made.

Now, using statistical analysis and being generous (i.e. favoring a higher percentage outcome) with my numbers, let’s say there are actually 200,000 rapes each year.

Of that 200,000 one third were either too young or too old to get pregnant. That leaves 133,333.

A woman is only capable of getting pregnant 3-5 days per month. 133,333 times 1/6th (5 our of 30) is 22,222.

1/4th of all women of childbearing age have been sterilized. The remaining 3/4ths equals 16,666.

According to another study in the New England Journal of Medicine only half of all rapists actually deposit sperm so now we’re left with 8333.

15% of men and women are naturally sterile. That leaves us with 6020.

Another 15% of women are on the pill or already pregnant. 5118

It takes the average couple 5-10 months to conceive. (Of course, other studies have said there’s only a 3% chance of conception at one time but we’ll go with the 5 month number.) So 5118 divided by 5 is 1023.

Miscarriages happen at an average rate of 15%. 870

870 divided by 200,000 is 4.35 out of 1000. 0.00435. Now that is rare!

So even without the whole “her body has ways of rejecting it” argument we’re at a rare occurrence.

But what about that whole thing of the body rejecting the pregnancy? No, it’s not some magic, hocus-pocus. It’s stress. Many couples will tell you that getting pregnant is not as easy as it sounds and doctors will often point to stress as a major cause in not becoming or not staying pregnant. One doesn’t even need a degree in obstetrics to realize this makes sense. Stress is bad. Pregnancy causes even more stress and this all can often lead to miscarriage. And this is between two people actually trying to have a baby and only dealing with the stresses of day to day life; things like a mortgage, long days at the office and, perhaps, the result of a past successful pregnancy.

I wouldn’t know and I hope to never find out, even second-hand, but my guess is that there aren’t too many things more stressful than rape, if anything, so that minuscule percentage is likely even lower; on the high side like 500 per year in the US.

Finally, roughly half of all rape victims end up carrying their pregnancies to term.

In 2008 there were 825,564 abortions reported to the CDC. So we’re talking about a problem that affects 3 in every 10,000 women. Sure, for those 250 women it’s a big problem I’m sure, but 450 people die each year falling out of bed. Why aren’t we talking about that?

So I think it’s safe to say, agree or disagree with Mr. Akin, his statement, if we seek to understand what he might have meant instead of projecting our own wishes of political demise on him, isn’t unreasonable on any level other than the fact that he doesn’t choose his words carefully (which is at least half the battle in getting people to understand you properly).

As to the greater issue of whether abortion should be legal and just how legal it should be, I’m going to leave that for another post.

Is it time for state funding of media to go?

The Washington News Council ruled on a disagreement between the Vitae Foundation and KUOW regarding a story that KUOW ran last April. It should be well noted that this is only the fifth time in its 14 year history that the WNC has had to make a ruling, the vast majority of the disagreements brought before it being mediated.

In five out of six complaints brought before the council it ruled in favor of Vitae, deciding that KUOW did have the responsibility to get a response from Vitae before running the story and that, having made some factual errors in the original story, KUOW should have corrected those errors on-air, not just online. The only complaint that went in KUOW’s favor was that of wanting them to run a full, on-air story on Vitae. In regards to this, Joel Kaplan of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting puts it best “A credible and responsible news organization promptly corrects its mistakes,” Mr. Kaplan said. “It does not trade its most valuable commodity — its airtime — as a way to apologize by promoting a story on an organization that does not pass the newsworthy test.” () And I think Vitae’s request for a full story had more to do with the fact that KUOW chose not to get a response or make timely and appropriate corrections to the original story, not that they wanted a full on story just because.

One thing that is absent in all of this though (and not without reason, since WNC should remain apolitical and like any good judiciary, rule only on the cases before it, not the greater themes those cases depict), is the fact that both KUOW and Planned Parenthood receive government funding. Does this make them more likely to air biased stories portraying other organizations that receive government funding in a kinder light? There are certainly critiques of private news sources airing preferential stories about organizations from which they may benefit and regardless of the legitimacy of those critiques, these organizations always quick to point out a potential conflict of interest (i.e. in a story about GE, NBC will point out that they are owned by them). Should KUOW at least point these facts out as well? Maybe not. The connection, after all, isn’t quite as close; Planned Parenthood doesn’t own KUOW. But the whole arrangement of government funded media is just a bit too Pravda-esque. And why continue with it anyway?

Norm Arkans, the Associate VP of Media Relations and Communications for the University of Washington told me his office is the one that lobbies for funding from the University for KUOW and said that the only funding KUOW receives from the University goes to cover most of the station manager’s salary. All the other operating expenses of the station come from listener support and underwriting. Of course, not included in the station manager’s salary or in the operating budget as a whole are all the benefits an employee of KUOW receives: pension, health care, etc.

News Director Guy Nelson says differently, stating that “KUOW gets no state funding (not even from the UW, though we are considered UW staff) and only a small amount of CPB funding.”

According to their website, KUOW receives 89% of its funding from individuals and business support. The important question is, how much of the remaining 11% comes from the tooth fairy?

In regards to government funding in general he adds, “while decreasing federal funding wouldn’t change much for KUOW, it could really hurt small stations around the country who are much more dependent, leaving their listeners with no alternative to commercially owned radio and news. So for that reason, independent public radio is very important and government funding is a necessary part of that.”

For what it’s worth, Arkans said KUOW is “a good news organization” with “a strong commitment to fairness.” Okay. Is that “strong commitment” sort of like the “serious consideration” that KUOW said during mediation it would give to running an on-air story about Vitae? Words are nice but they ring hollow when confronted with actions such as these.

Nelson states that “every news organization makes occasional errors. Neither the WNC or CPB said or implied that KUOW is biased in its coverage or lacking in professionalism. Anyone who alleges a conflict needs to come up with evidence to support their claims.” Hmm, does not owning up to your mistakes immediately following their happening and having to go before the Washington News Council where you’re ruled against not constitute evidence? Well, certainly not the level of evidence required to convict beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law but not reaching that level of evidence has never seemed to stop the media (and I refer to all media, not just KUOW or NPR). Maybe NPR’s firing of Juan Williams because he dared to answer a question truthfully instead of politically-correct constitutes evidence.

For the record, Planned Parenthood and the reporter of the original story, Meghan Walker, declined to comment on this story.

And while we’re exploring government funding of the media let’s take a gander at Voice of America. Since the passage of the Smith-Mundt Act in 1948 VOA has been prohibited from broadcasting within the US (although, thanks to the interwebs you can listen to streaming audio online). Why? Evil, scary propaganda, like, you know, a recent story about Algae as Fuel. Wait. What? You mean like this story on NPR: “Could Algae Be Milked Like A Cow?” Maybe not like a cow but certainly like a grant from the CPB! So if VOA is not allowed to broadcast stories about algae because they receive government funding how is it that NPR, who also receives government funding can?

What Are We Supposed to Do When the System Is Broken?

This morning Laura Ingraham ran a story about Michigan abortion doctor Abraham Hodari who continues to practice despite countless instances of forced abortions and even, what one might generously label, the negligent homicides of four young girls.

And then there’s Maurice Clemmons and his cold-blooded murder of four Lakewood Police Officers yesterday.

What do these two tragic cases have in common? They represent a failure of the system. I don’t have some grand illusion that life is supposed to be fair. There are some sick folks out there and sometimes really bad things happen to really good people. It may be tragic but it’s life. The grand illusion that I do carry around is that, while life may not be fair, government should be. And by that I mean government needs to uphold and enforce laws that help to prevent tragedies like those I just mentioned.

The crimes committed by Hodari and Clemmons should never have happened. Hodari should have, at the very least, been stripped of his medical credentials long ago for forcibly aborting pregnancies. In my opinion he should be spending several years as a guest of the Michigan State Penal System. Clemmons should not have been released on a scant $150,000 bail after being charged with child rape. He, too, should, at the very least, be awaiting his rape trial in a Pierce County Jail.

But neither of them are and what are we left with? Who knows how many more young girls may be forced to go through abortions before Hodari is stopped? In the case of Clemmons I suspect justice will eventually be served and he’ll be placed behind bars without the possibility of parole but I doubt this will be the last time that innocent people must die at the hands of a felon walking free. So I ask you, what are we suppose to do?

Some may say, “Well, we still need to rely on the system. Sure it may have some kinks but it’s still the best on Earth.” Others may advocate reform at the ballot box. I’d certainly hope that whatever idiot judge that granted Clemmons bail be retired as soon as possible, but is any of this really enough?

I’ll add one more name to the list: Khalid Sheik Muhammad. What is this guy doing receiving a criminal trial? He’s already admitted to planning 9/11. Why is he not already six feet under? All the criminal trial is going to do is serve as an opportunity to plead not guilty on the grounds that either a) only 2800 people died on 9/11, not the 3000 that the government is charging him with or more likely b) everyone that died on 9/11 deserved it because they were infidels. Either way he’ll use the time to rail against the evils of the very country that is allowing him the opportunity to do so.

This can’t continue indefinitely. We can’t keep relying on “the system”. I’m not advocating blind vigilantism. As much as I can empathize with someone who takes the law into his own hands and blows away the guy that raped his daughter, it’s not right. I don’t agree with the guy that murdered abortion doctor George Tiller either. Abortion is still, unfortunately, legal and, to the best of my knowledge Dr. Tiller, while a despicable human being, wasn’t so despicable as to forcibly abort any of his patients’ pregnancies. But when “justice has been served” and the verdict is not guilty on account of the guy didn’t get read his Miranda Rights or, as in the case of Dr. Hodari, he laughs at his accusers because he believes he’s above the law (and apparently rightfully so if you go by the State of Michigan’s actions) what must be done? At what point do we concede that the government is not doing its job and feel well within our rights to take matters into our own hands.

In many states, Washington included, we have the Castle Law, which allows homeowners to shoot dead anyone that enters their house and poses a threat to their safety. And there are other instances where we, as private citizens, are completely within our rights to take lethal force against someone who is threatening us or someone around us. So, if someone who is a known killer, either because there is undisputed evidence clearly indicating that they are beyond any doubt, or because they’ve admitted to it themselves, and the government lets them go because of a technicality, do we just sit around and wait until they are in the process of committing another murder (or, in the case of Dr. Hodari, manslaughter is probably the more appropriate charge but, either way, he’s still killed someone), or, given the opportunity, do we prevent further murder by any means possible? Again, I’m not advocating blind, vigilante justice but surely there is a point at which private citizens can not rely on government. I’m not saying we’re there yet but the discussion needs to occur if people like Hodari and Clemmons are walking free and enemies of war are being afforded the same rights as common criminals.