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Did Federal Shutdown Really Cause July Baby Boom In D.C.?

By John Moritz, McClatchy Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON — For years, the weather has been blamed when there are alleged cabin fever-induced spikes in births. Now, some in the Washington area are pointing to Congress to explain packed maternity wards at several local hospitals.

This July, nine months after Congress failed to pass appropriations legislation — shutting down much of the government and sending hundreds of thousands of federal workers home for more than two weeks — some hospitals are reporting higher-than-average numbers of births. Skeptics say the coincidence is probably just another false “baby boom” claim, which have been made after hurricanes, snowstorms, and even the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

“Usually these stories are just romantic hypotheses with nothing to support them,” said Philip Morgan, a professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who’s the director of the Carolina Population Center. “A few hospitals will have extra babies, so if you go looking for evidence you can find it.”

In 1970, statistician Richard Udry published an analysis of a supposed baby boom reported by The New York Times nine months after a blackout had hit the city in the fall of 1965. Examining the combined hospital statistics throughout the city compared with averages from several years prior, Udry found no evidence of a real rise in births.

Still, even Udry knew that his evidence would hardly quell the excitement related to reports of such baby booms.

“It is evidently pleasing to many people to fantasy that when people are trapped by some immobile event which deprives them of their usual activities, most will turn to copulation,” Udry wrote.

UNC’s Morgan said such events were unlikely to affect the birthrate because they rarely had an effect on other factors, such as couples using contraception. However, he said some cases had been scientifically corroborated, including a rise in births in metropolitan Oklahoma City after the bombings in 1995 and a decrease following the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision in Southern states.

“It’s possible, but I doubt it,” Morgan said. “If anything, the government shutdown would irritate people and make them rethink having a child.”

While it would take years to compare this year’s births with the long-term trend to prove such a boom, the spike in births at at least one hospital has people excited.

“It’s not actually a rumor, it’s real,” said Gary Stephenson, a spokesman for Sibley Memorial Hospital in Washington, who said the hospital had averaged three more births per day so far in July compared with the same period last year. In addition, the hospital had eight more babies this June than it did in June 2013.

While Stephenson acknowledged that the increased rate wasn’t beyond the norm, he said similar past events, such as the debunked post-blackout boom in New York, seemed to give such anomalies credit.

“When you see constituent bumps (in births) over time … I think it does cause one to think,” Stephenson said, adding that a nurse at Sibley had predicted the recent uptick.

Not all hospitals said they had evidence of a baby boom. A spokeswoman for MedStar Washington Hospital Center, the district’s largest, said the maternity ward there hadn’t seen any recent anomalies in the number of births, which was actually down in recent weeks.

AFP Photo/Mark Wilson

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White House Christmas Ornament Features Presidential Train

By John Moritz, McClatchy Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON — In a move that’s sure to please train enthusiasts, the 2014 Christmas ornament from the White House Historical Association will be a two-piece locomotive and rail car to commemorate the fateful last journey of President Warren G. Harding.

The ornament is a model of the “Presidential Special,” which Harding traveled on during a trip to Alaska in 1923. The train car — an early 20th-century Pullman heavyweight — was known as the “Superb,” and its replica features bunting with a White House inscription.

While the choice of a model train wasn’t made to attract the nation’s large population of model train enthusiasts — the hobby’s largest trade magazine has more than 100,000 subscribers — White House Historical Association President Stewart McLaurin said it was a bonus to this year’s design.

“Clearly, when we select the design for an ornament, we hope it will be something popular,” McLaurin said.

On Harding’s trip to Alaska, the president fulfilled a childhood dream of becoming a railroad engineer, conducting the locomotive for 51 miles, McLaurin said.

On his return trip, Harding fell ill and died Aug. 2 in San Francisco. His body was brought back to Washington aboard the Presidential Special train, which had carried him west weeks before. An estimated 3 million Americans lined the train’s route eastward to pay their last respects.

Harding’s presidency is best-known as one of the most corrupt in history. Legend has it that the term “smoke-filled room” was coined to describe a secret meeting in a Chicago hotel room where political bosses selected Harding as a compromise candidate at the deadlocked 1920 Republican Convention.

Harding’s administration was infamously plagued by the Teapot Dome scandal, in which his secretary to the interior, Albert Fall — one of several Cabinet members given the position because of his connections with Harding in Congress — was found to have accepted bribes from oil companies in exchange for cheap leases to oil reserves on federal lands. Harding himself was never found to have committed wrongdoing.

The ornament has had a successful opening, McLaurin said, with sales up 20 percent over last year. McLaurin credited the strong sales in part to a later release this year, which he said created “anxiety and anticipation” among the 120,000 people who buy the ornaments annually.

This year’s ornament is the 34th annual ornament issued by the White House, with each year celebrating a different presidency, along with several anniversary ornaments. The ornament can be purchased for $18.95 from the White House Historical Association website, athttp://www.whitehousehistory.org/whha(underscore)ornament/ornament.html.

Sales of the ornaments, which are manufactured in America, benefit the preservation of the public rooms in the White House.

AFP Photo/Brendan Smialowski