Bill Maher, Rush Limbaugh, and language

I don’t think I need to update anyone on Rush Limbaugh’s controversy, but briefly: Law student Sandra Fluke testified before Congress (but really just before Democrats because Republicans don’t let women testify about reproductive health) about requiring insurance companies to cover contraceptives. She said that it can cost a law student up to $3,000 for contraception. Limbaugh did a little sneaky math and calculated that Fluke would have to have sex over 2.5 times a day in order to spend that much. Of course, he was pretending that contraception means only condoms (estimated at $1 a piece). As a result of his numbers, he concluded that Fluke must be a “slut”. He did not literally mean that she is having sex that frequently, but he did mean to say that if a woman has over a certain amount of sex, she is a slut; he used this contention to draw his wider point that it was not that expensive for contraception. Outrage has ensued and now that Limbaugh is getting screwed by his advertisers, we’re all waiting for him to post the video on the Internet for all to see.

(Incidentally, costs for certain types of contraceptives which have other health benefits for women – benefits some of them clearly need, such as they concern cysts – can run close to the numbers Fluke has given. The highest number I’ve seen comes in around $900 a year, pre-tax.)

So let’s fast forward and see where we are. The Republicans in Congress have largely refused to say Limbaugh was wrong in what he said. At best they will admit that his language was a tad saucy for their politically savvy tastes. It’s pathetic: Limbaugh said there is a limit on how much sex women should have and if they exceed that limit, they are sluts. This should be a no-brainer, but Limbaugh is a fat god to the Republican orthodoxy, so no one wants to take him down a notch. Even if he deserves it.

In fact, one part of that orthodoxy has gone so far as to look for an off-setting penalty against the political left, as Jon Stewart put it. FOX Noise has been going after the language of comedian and talk show host Bill Maher in an effort to basically say, “Look! Your guy does it, too! If you don’t condemn him, you’re a hypocrite!” It isn’t a bad strategy. If someone says Maher’s language is reprehensible, FOX and other Republicans can say everyone says bad things and there’s no reason to get in such a huff about it all, plus it’s unfair to go after someone on the right when few ever go after those on the left. On the other hand, if someone defends Maher, whether successfully or not, the Republicans have diverted attention from Limbaugh’s admonishment of women who have ‘too much’ sex.

Unfortunately, I feel compelled to chime in and contribute to the Republican plot to distract people.

First, I want to point out that Bill Maher does not enjoy the status on the left that Limbaugh enjoys on the right. Hell, as an atheist I’m not even a big fan of him. Sometimes he’ll have a good quote here and there and I like that he can be brash, but he hardly represents the left at-large, especially when he barely represents mainstream New Atheists. Second, here is his defense:

I’m a comedian – not just a guy who says he is, like Rush, but someone who – well, you saw me do stand-up last year in D.C. There’s a big difference between just saying you’re a comedian and going out and getting thousands of people to laugh hard for 90 minutes. And the one I’m compared to most is Carlin, who also had these kind of problems. Edgy is my brand – everyone wants that, but they say, “but never go over the line.” It’s like telling Tom Brady, ‘Throw into coverage 40 times a game every game but never throw an interception.'”

FOX Noise, having randomly gone after Jon Stewart in the past, knew that “I’m a comedian” would be the first line of defense from Maher, so they went about declaring as much and saying that since they knew what the response would be that the response was therefore invalid. They claimed it is ‘hiding behind comedy’. They’re wrong. There is a different context to comedy and thus language has to be understood differently in that world. Let’s look at some parallels and examples.

Say I was to discuss these words: nigger, cunt, slut, fuck, asshole, and cock. Many people would be too PC to actually say them, but I would gladly use them. I presume that if I’m having an intellectual discussion on language and the taboo aspects of it that I am speaking with an adult. People should be able to deal. But even if they can’t manage to hear some naughty words, does that mean that I am at fault for using derogatory or demeaning language? Of course not. A discussion about “nigger” does not mean I have actually called anyone a nigger. A talk about “fuck” does not mean I told someone to fuck off. Context obviously matters. Now let’s jump back to comedians.

A comedian who says something incredibly offensive does not necessarily actually believe what he has said. When Daniel Tosh says that his girlfriend recording a game on regular ESPN instead of ESPNHD is a valid excuse for domestic violence, he doesn’t actually mean that. Context matters. In this case the context is that of comedy. If President Obama said the same thing as Tosh, it wouldn’t fly. He (and most politicians) aren’t afforded those sort of luxuries of comedy. He can crack some jokes, but he’s on a very short leash. We expect different language from different people in different environments. This isn’t that hard.

Now to switch gears just a tad, here’s another piece from Maher:

To compare that to Rush is ridiculous – he went after a civilian about very specific behavior, that was a lie, speaking for a party that has systematically gone after women’s rights all year, on the public airwaves. I used a rude word about a public figure [Sarah Palin] who gives as good as she gets, who’s called people “terrorist” and “unAmerican.” Sarah Barracuda. The First Amendment was specifically designed for citizens to insult politicians. Libel laws were written to protect law students speaking out on political issues from getting called whores by Oxycontin addicts.

Maher is wrong on some of this. Nothing Limbaugh said was libelous. He used numbers provided by Fluke to create a hypothetical scenario. From there he said she was a slut which, regardless of context, is simply opinion. He is just as protected by the First Amendment as Maher is when he goes after Sarah Palin. This is part of the reason I don’t think Maher can be said to represent anyone except himself.

He does sum things up nicely, though:

Of course if you take out of context over 10 years snippets inside comedy bits you can make anyone look bad – and sometimes, I have been! Not perfect, but not misogyny. In general, this is an obvious right wing attempt to dredge up some old shit about me to deflect from their self-inflicted problems. They are the kings of false equivalencies.

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The attacks on Michelle Obama

Michelle Obama has done an excellent job in her role as the First Lady. Her efforts to curb obesity deserve nothing but praise. Being fat is terrible. The only thing worse is being proud of it – I’m looking at you, America.

Unfortunately, in its faux-libertarian, blatantly dishonest attacks, the right has been going after Obama. We have morons like Michele Bachmann who whine about efforts to make poor women aware of tax deductions they can claim in caring for their infants. Then we have the other side of the moron coin, Sarah Palin, claiming that it’s okay to eat, eat, eat all sorts of shit food – despite the heavy evidence that Americans are dying because of the crap they eat. (Do dead people have liberty?) And, of course, there’s Limbaugh. He attacked Obama for eating healthy by lying and claiming she was eating shitty food.

This almost all stems from Obama’s effort to push through a bill last year that decreased the number of hungry students while at the same time funding healthier food for public schools. Conservatives, more willing than ever to lie, keep saying over and over and over “I don’t want to be told what I can and cannot eat!” (Or maybe they’re just that fucking stupid. I don’t know.) The bill changed some government standards for food in public schools. If these people weren’t against the government giving kids shit food, then they shouldn’t be against the government giving them good food. The difference is in quality, not mandates or forced diets or any other nonsense.

What brings this on is the polemics of the argument. Limbaugh showed them perfectly: Michelle Obama had shitty food? SHE HATES YOUR FREEDOM AND IS JUST AN ELITIST!!1!! It’s annoying. We can’t have an honest discussion about this stuff. People who actually give a damn about health are over here saying, hey look, nutrition starts at birth. We need to make sure every child is as healthy as can be. And we also need to make sure we continue those good habits. That doesn’t mean being perfect or not having that big meal at Thanksgiving. It means keeping the salt down, cutting out the trans-fats, boosting the minerals and vitamins; it means exercising – go for a run or a walk, lift weights, play tennis. Every day? If you can, sure. But anyone who isn’t a polemic asshole knows that one doesn’t need to train like a star athlete to be healthy.

Take a look at this typical conservative response I got (via Facebook) about Limbaugh’s failed attack on Obama:

1) You’re right. Ribs are healthy.

2) “Individual splurges”? WAIT a minute! You just said it was healthy? Let’s take a poll: Ribs for dinner – healthy or unhealthy?

It’s this sort of polarization of which I am becoming increasingly intolerant. Anyone who bothered to follow the links from the Limbaugh story knows that Obama had a small serving of lean ribs with a series of healthy sides that most Americans would never touch; she went to that restaurant specifically because it was healthy. What’s more – and I’m sure I’ve lost the polemic audience at this point, what with my use of facts and junk – she was skiing. I personally make it a point to eat some fast food before I take the mountain. I want to give myself the most energy I can for the day because I know how quickly I’m going to burn it off – just because a food is generally not healthy does not mean it is always not healthy. Not that Obama ate unhealthy or had a fatty meal because she went skiing. She actually had a healthy meal. Limbaugh and every supporting conservative either just lied or was willfully ignorant.

That brings me to my next point: fast food. Yes, once in an absolute great while, I will indulge without the reason of some major activity. As shitty as the food is, I’ve never had a problem with admitting how great it tastes. I have it maybe once or twice a month. I’m sure I’ve also gone three or four months without it. And even if I wanted it twice a week, I could get away with it because of my metabolism and healthy activity. Does that make me a hypocrite? Does it make my pro-health arguments invalid? Does it mean Obama would disapprove? Nope, nope, nope. But despite that, I hear one conservative I know give me a shit every time he sees me with a fast food burger. I hate it. Not because it exposes some double-standard – I don’t have that in regards to health. I hate it because it’s an example of the sort of polemics that are more comfortable on conservative radio than in rational discussion. I wish we could banish these arguments wherever they rear their ugly little heads.

But don’t think my motivation here is personal. I’m seeing these pro-fat arguments being made all the time, not just by friends or on Facebook. Polemics are the annoying surface of the issue, but the real problem is that all these conservatives are promoting fatness. It is wrong to not try and be healthy. That doesn’t mean it’s wrong to be fat – though fat people tend to be the chubby face of the problem. It means people ought to make an honest effort to be healthy. That will vary from person to person. (It’s especially frustrating when the lying conservatives pretend like that isn’t true.) America faces a terrible problem right now: we’re getting fat and not enough people are angry about it.

Forcing one side to argue an extreme hurts a very noble cause. And despite the lying and unwillingness to engage in an honest dialogue, I think most conservatives also recognize that obesity is a serious problem. We need to tackle it. If we can get our arms around it. We need to take the politics out of all this, get rid of the asshole-ridden polemics. Michelle Obama is making a very good effort and everyone should be thanking her. We need to follow her lead. Fill our schools with healthy foods. Discourage kids from getting fast food. Make restaurants disclose what they’re feeding us. Encourage more activity. These are good things. Let’s not fight against them because of some unrelated ideology.

Limbaugh and Hannity involved in fraud?

The above question mark is ironic: like FOX Noise, I’m really outright claiming what I wrote. However, unlike FOX Noise, what I’m claiming has evidence:

But according to an online account, Premiere [the radio company that employs Limbaugh and Hannity] is hiring actors to fake on-air calls to radio shows who do not divulge the scam. Before being abruptly removed, their website read:

“Premiere On Call is our new custom caller service… We supply voice talent to take/make your on-air calls, improvise your scenes or deliver your scripts. Using our simple online booking tool, specify the kind of voice you need, and we’ll get your the right person fast. Unless you request it, you won’t hear that same voice again for at least two months, ensuring the authenticity of your programming for avid listeners”.

As reported, once the actor “passed the audition, he would be invited periodically to call in to various talk shows and recite various scenarios that made for interesting radio.” In addition, the source was specifically told there would be no on-air disclosure of the fabricated nature of the call. He subsequently landed the job, at $40 per hour and a minimum one hour of work per day.

This suggests an array of radio clients is broadcasting bogus calls by actors, categorized by their accents or vocal qualities. Next time you hear a “gruff”, “clean”, “crisp”, “deep”, or “textured” voice, you might just be hearing a Premiere On Call actor secretively playing a real person.

This report stems from an accidental posting that appeared on Premiere’s website. I can’t say I’m surprised at the revelation. Both hosts have a history of being very selective about what information they present; the fact that they would hire actors to demonstrate specific points makes sense. They just aren’t honest guys and this is perfectly within their characters.

The ease of tearing apart Rush

Rush Limbaugh recently had this to say:

The problem is, and dare I say this, it doesn’t look like Michelle Obama follows her own nutritionary, dietary advice,” Limbaugh said on his radio program. “And then we hear that she’s out eating ribs at 1,500 calories a serving with 141 grams of fat per serving.” “She is a hypocrite,” Limbaugh continued. “Leaders are supposed to be leaders. If we are supposed to go out and eat nothing, if we are supposed to eat roots, berries, and tree bark, show us how.”

Isn’t Limbaugh and co. the ones always complaining that they don’t need government telling them how to eat, that they can make the decisions for themselves? Strange then that he would whine that Mrs. Obama isn’t giving him adequate instruction.

But, hey, despite the massive irony, I agree with Limbaugh. Being a fat ass is a problem in America and if our leaders want to remedy the situation, they’ll be significantly more effective if they adopt healthy behaviors. But as anyone who isn’t a freakin’ moron knows, that doesn’t mean eating healthy 100% of the time. In fact – and brace yourselves for this one – different people have different bodies. I can get away with eating McDonald’s several times a week if I want. I don’t, but I could. And actually, I did throughout much of high school. That’s because I have a high metabolism. The reasonable effort it takes for me to be healthy is going to be different than the reasonable effort it takes for a lot of other people. That doesn’t mean I can always eat a bunch of crap food. But it does mean that if I decide to have a big meal at a restaurant once in awhile, I won’t be adversely impacting my health in any significant way.

Furthermore, I’ve lifted weights at various times throughout my life. I started toward the end of junior high and went into high school with it (pre-McDonald’s days, what with being 14 and having no money). When I started out, my gains were slower than they should have been. The reason? I wasn’t taking in enough fat and protein, among other things. When I returned to valuing my health, I became aware of the sort of foods I ought to be eating if I want to make certain types of gains. That involved eating a lot of stuff that would have made a lot of people fat. But my result? Faster and more significant lifting gains.

In short, different people have different requirements in order to become healthy, and effective leaders (on healthy living) need to do what is right for their own bodies in order to become healthy. Michelle Obama can get away with a bad meal here or there. A Mike Huckabee, who is a great example of someone who did a lot for his own health, has less leeway. George W. Bush, another healthy guy, has different requirements. So I agree with Limbaugh’s point, but I, of course, must dismiss his piss-poor ideological reasoning for making it.

Oh, and as regular FTSOS readers will know, I always enjoy granting as many points as possible to conservatives before still taking down their arguments. That’s what I did here, because as it turns out, Mrs. Obama’s meal actually looked more like this:

The Vail Daily earlier reported the first lady and friends went to Restaurant Kelly Liken in Vail Village for dinner. The FLOTUS reportedly ate “a pickled pumpkin salad with arugula and a braised ancho-chile short rib with hominy wild mushrooms and sauteed kale.”

She’s sure to be waddling around the White House any day now.

The irony of Limbaugh

It only took about 3 minutes today before I heard Rush Limbaugh say something so ironic it was stupid. He was talking about President Obama’s response to Mubarak and in the course of making stuff up he said that Obama wants Mubarak to fail. Then he called Obama “the worst person in the world” for that (among other things, including being black, but I digress). Wasn’t it Limbaugh who said he hopes this president fails?

We were scammed!

And they didn’t own it, the Native Americans. They didn’t even really own Manhattan, but they sold it to us anyway. We were scammed.

~Rush Limbaugh, paraphrase from November 24, 2010

Oh, Rush

Rush Limbaugh recently said this:

Everything this president sees is a political opportunity, including Haiti, and he will use it to burnish his credentials with minorities in this country and around the world, and to accuse Republicans of having no compassion.

So what does Rush want? Should Obama not help Haiti? Was George Bush right when he initially only offered $35 million in aid after the 2004 tsunami? Perhaps he should have given less?

The reason anyone might accuse Republicans of having no compassion is because Limbaugh is the unofficial icon of the party and he says garbage like this. If he doesn’t like being perceived as heartless, then he needs to stop being heartless. It’s pretty simple.

He also appeared to discourage help for the island nation, saying, “We’ve already donated to Haiti. It’s called the U.S. income tax.”

So don’t give any more, people! What Obama has donated so far counts as your contribution! Idjit.

Text “HAITI” to 90999 to automatically donate $10 to the Red Cross.