One of the funnier patterns in modern American life is some individual stating something true but unsayable, followed by the ritual public recantation.  There are generally unsayable things (a  constantly expanding list), and then there are others that are only unsayable in particular places or situations.     One of my all-time favorites involved a New York City public health official talking about AIDS and homosexuality.  He wasn’t saying anything generally verboten – he wasn’t pointing out that homosexual men are nature’s Petri dishes .  He said this:  the health department had previously estimated the number of homosexual men with AIDS in the Big Apple by doing a survey of the AIDS rate among  gay men and then multiplying by someone else’s estimate of the prevalence of homosexuality.   He announced that further work indicated that although their estimate of the frequency of AIDS among homosexual men in New York seemed correct, their new estimate of total cases was down by half.  One of the (sharper) reporters asked ” So,  does this mean that according to your new estimate, there are only half as many gay men in New York as you previously thought?” The hapless health official said “Yes, that would follow. ”

There were no really good statistics for the number of gay men anywhere, but politically active gays found that useful, because they could often convince politicians that they were more numerous than they actually were, which increased their influence.   So, there was a very hostile reaction to that health official’s statement.    After a week  or so, he had to give a press conference.  He said ” I said  A.  there are only half as many cases as we thought, B. We had the percentage of gay men infected right  C. But I never said that there only half as many gay men in New York as previously thought. ”

He had been forced to publicly renounce arithmetic.

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33 Responses to Recantation

  1. Toddy Cat says:

    Not only are there more things that you can’t say, it’s getting harder and harder to predict exactly what those things are. I guess the rule is now that anything said about any “victim group” is bound to make some member of that group mad, regardless of what it is. You say Jews are stupid, people scream. You say Jews are smart, people scream. You say the AIDS rate for homosexuals is up, people scream. You say it’s down, ditto. A lot of people seem to be deciding that it’s safer to just not say anything, which is probably the point of the whole exercise.

    • That Guy says:

      BTW, somewhat related, I see more and more chatter about including “Trigger Warnings” on any email, comment, post anywhere, to alert potential victims that something you are about to say might offend their sensibilities in some way.
      This is just more censorship, being pushed as thoughtfulness… of course almost any innocuous statement can be seen as hurtful to some interest group or another…

  2. That Guy says:

    I had a similar questioning of basic arithmetic a numbers of years back – by attorneys. I had negotiated a custody agreement for my daughter, where her mother was to get her one weekend a month and I was to have her the other weekends. When the final wording came back it said I was to have her up to 3 weekends a month, so I corrected it to 3 weekends for the 8 months that have 4 weekends and 4 weekends for the 4 months that have 5 weekends. The agreement came back saying I was incorrect, that there were only 4 weekends in a month! I told my attorney that obviously the other attorney was mistaken, but she said he was still contesting it. Then she said, “Everyone knows there are 4 weeks in a month, so there have to be 4 weekends right? So why are you saying there are sometimes 5 weekends?” I said to her, since there are 52 weeks in a year and 52 divided by 4 is 13, not 12, then there are 4 extra weekends, and so one month a quarter has an extra weekend. Her reply, “I don’t know about that?!” So finally I had to get both attorneys on a conference call and ask them both to take out calendars and look at the number of weekends in each month. Even then my attorney said, “But if that’s correct this year, how do you know it’s going to be correct next year?”…

  3. Cloudswrest says:

    I don’t think it’s very funny at all. One of the more egregious cases was James Watson. And how about the schmuck in DC who used the word “niggardly” and was fired. Then, in other contexts, there’s the programmer who was recently fired by Playhaven (after profusely apologizing) for joking about “dongles” in a private conversation.

    I’ve seen this referred to as “The White Man Grovel”. And the grovelling just makes it worse. It’s just chum to the sharks. John Derbyshire, to his credit, claimed he refused to do this when National Review let him go.

    • erica says:

      Well, it *was* the “White Man Grovel” but it’s spreading: Dr. Ben Carson, Johns Hopkins’ head of neurosurgery, who gained instant attention by taking positions in opposition to the present administration when he spoke at the National Prayer Breakfast with the President in attendance, withdrew as the commencement speaker at JH (and someplace else as well) after students petitioned against him because of comments he made against gay marriage. When gays pulled their righteous indignation card, claiming he had suggested homosexuals were like pedophiles and like those who practiced bestiality, the good doctor offered an apology while saying he didn’t say nor had he intended to suggest that. Dumb to apologize. Being black didn’t save Ben from groveling. Perhaps groveling arises from a parasitic infection and the infestation is much more widespread than we had thought possible.

  4. This is not an entirely accurate description of the incident, though.

    The incident took place in 1988. The city had an original estimate of 400-500k gay/bisexual men with a 50-60% infection rate (in the population of 7.2 million residents), or 250k infected gays. It was revised to only 50k infected gays by comparing the number of known cases with San Francisco and going off the official estimate of the size of the gay community in SF. So, they did not reduce the estimate of the number of gays in half. They reduced it by a factor of 4 to 5, to 100k. Then they tried to wiggle out of it by claiming that the infection rate was only 30% to 50% (which would still make it a reduction of at least 3x.)

    The estimate of 100k gay men in NYC was, without any doubt, way off. That would work out to 2.8% of all males in the city. There have been lots of studies into gay demographics from various angles since 1988 and, by all accounts, 2.8% would be towards the low end of the numbers you’d get if you just picked adult males in the country at random and asked them if they were gay. In a city with a visible gay community like the late 80’s NYC, the number had to be much larger, and it was evident for “politically active gays”.

    • gcochran9 says:

      The original estimate was based on the Kinsey 10% number, which was ridiculous for the population as a whole but could be true of New York City, Stephen Joseph’s estimate of the number of AIDS cases in NYC was in fact too high: the total number of people who have ever contracted HIV in New York City is about 200,000, and many of them were infected after 1988. About 100,000 of those people died from AIDS, and a similar number are alive today.
      Gay men probably account for less than half of those totals.

    • “…2.8% would be towards the low end of the numbers you’d get if you just picked adult males in the country at random and asked them if they were gay.”

      No it wouldn’t. About NYC, then or now, I have no knowledge. But that number is wrong.

      Well, it’s factually wrong. I suppose it still has a shot at being true in some political sense.

  5. That Guy says:

    Feminist explanation of need for “Trigger Warnings”

    Rebuttal from Encyclopaedia Dramatica:

  6. Surely the story about the attorneys having difficulty counting weekends should have been filed under the earlier posting “Math is hard”? Anyway, the Maoists were best at extracting public apologies, and this is probably an example of the transmission of a cultural infection.

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  8. Sheesh. In the old days we used to have to torture people before they recanted. Now they practically beg for the honor of it.

    • gcochran9 says:

      I’ve often thought that Stalin made a mistake in killing so many people. He could surely have obtained all required subservience just by hinting that saying certain things might keep you from getting tenure, or from getting laid.

      But then, maybe that doesn’t work on Russians.

  9. Dahlia says:

    A serious question: who are the people who recant, grovel, appease, debase themselves?

    I can’t help but think that most people of Celtic descent do not do this. Our number one problem in these types of situations, as I’ve often heard expressed, is to not lose it and totally *show our a**”.

  10. Ziel says:

    It was scary for a while there. I remember worrying that it could be spread by Mosquitos, but then I realized that if that were the case New Jersey would be depopulated within two years.

  11. misdreavus says:

    I refuse to be, although I could if I wanted to. But then again, I am pretty unusual.

    This reminds of me of a number of sensible voices in the gay community who saw the proverbial writing on the wall during the early stages of the AIDS pandemic, and desperately warned everybody they could that for the sake of their souls, they needed to restrain their own sexual behavior. Of course, activist groups like ACT UP trashed them every way they could.

    Then, naturally, as the body bags started filling the morgues, these simpering goats blamed everybody but themselves. Reagan was the most popular scapegoat of the day, but there were quite a few others.

    Some things truly never change.

    • Discard says:

      The simpering goats blamed the Catholic Church as well. I recall seeing a program on PBS called “Stop the Church”, a hour-long rant against the Catholics for failing to do something or other. It simply made no sense to me.

  12. Jim says:

    Maybe if Stalin had killed Beria he might have lived a little longer.

  13. Jim says:

    Seriously Stalin didn’t need to kill millions. Some random Ukrainian peasent wasn’t going to take over. He just needed to kill the top people to protect himself. Stroessner stayed in power for 35 years and probably killed less than 10,000 people.

  14. Eugene K – No, I have no data. The Office for National Statistics in the UK just made it up.—evaluation-report/2010/index.html

  15. Toddy Cat says:

    “Lots of people were killed long before Stalin took over.”
    Very true. As Bukovsky pointed out, Stalin was just Lenin ramped up a degree of magnitude. But there is still a lot of evidence that Stalin did indeed enjoy terrorizing and killing people.

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  17. Jim says:

    Lenin for the most part did not target fellow Bolsheviks with extreme violence. That was a big difference between Lenin and Stalin.

  18. Greying Wanderer says:

    “Lenin for the most part did not target fellow Bolsheviks with extreme violence. That was a big difference between Lenin and Stalin.”

    Yes, Lenin and Trotsky were busy killing off the non-bolshevik opposition.

    • Toddy Cat says:

      Yeah, that’s one of the reasons Khrushchev denounced Stalin but not Lenin. Guys like Stalin actually killed party members, i.e. guys like Khrushchev. Lenin just killed ordinary, no-account Russians, Ukranians, etc.

  19. gabriele says:

    Bellarticolo, ma concordo con chi dice… si spera sempre che alla fine vada tutto per il meglio!

  20. gabriel says:

    Great Post.thanks for share… awaiting more.

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