A Philosopher's Blog

Republicans, Race, Gender & Free Stuff

Posted in Philosophy, Politics, Race, Reasoning/Logic by Michael LaBossiere on November 16, 2012
Bill O'Reilly at the World Affairs Council of ...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Much to the dismay of the fine folks at Fox (and to the delight at the marvelous mortals at MSNBC) Obama was re-elected president. In the face of this defeat for the Republican Party, there was a rush to explain Obama’s victory.

Bill O’Reilly, visibly shaken by the results, put forth a three part explanation falling under the general heading of demographic change. The first part is that 50% of the voters want free stuff and they voted for Obama because he would give it to them: “It’s a changing country, the demographics are changing. It’s not a traditional America anymore, and there are fifty percent of the voting public who want stuff. They want things. And who is going to give them things? President Obama.”

The second part is that there are more non-white people in America and they voted for Obama, presumably because he is only half-white and Romney was 100% white. The third part is that women (who may simply fall under people who want free stuff) voted for Obama: “The white establishment is now the minority. And the voters, many of them, feel that the economic system is stacked against them and they want stuff. You are going to see a tremendous Hispanic vote for President Obama. Overwhelming black vote for President Obama. And women will probably break President Obama’s way. People feel that they are entitled to things and which candidate, between the two, is going to give them things?”

This explanation, which is a beautiful example of a rhetorical (or persuasive) explanation, certainly matches what could be seen as some of the uglier parts of the Republican narrative regarding people of color, women and the 47%. However, what is most striking about it is that O’Reilly said many true things.

First, he actually underestimated the percentage of voters who like free stuff. I would say that the figure is closer to 100% than 50%, given the extent to which Americans of all classes receive “stuff” from the state and seem to like that “stuff.” I know I liked getting my Pell grant. Now I like driving on public roads, running on public sidewalks, enjoying the protection of the state in the form of police and the military and so on. While I do not receive Social Security yet, I certainly would like to get that when I retire—after all, I have been paying into it for years.

Being somewhat more serious, O’Reilly’s main point seems to be that those who supported Obama did so out of a moral failing—they simply want to get free stuff from the state. However, the evidence that 50% of American voters are morally defective in this manner seems to be assumed by O’Reilly based on the fact that they voted for Obama rather than on the basis of significant and objective evidence. O’Reilly seems to have mainly just bought into Romney’s infamous 47% remark which was not grounded in reality but merely based in stereotypes and prejudices.

Second, he was right that most voters who are not white voted for Obama. Of course, plenty of white voters voted for Obama as well. While O’Reilly and others seem to be casting this as a moral flaw on the part of said voters of insufficient whiteness, he did point to an important reason Obama won: most black and Hispanic voters believed that they would be better off with Obama in office than Romney. While O’Reilly clearly buys into the old racial stereotypes that blacks and Hispanics are lazy spongers and presents this as a reason for Obama’s win, the real reason lies elsewhere. To be specific, the Republican party has made little serious effort to win over black and Hispanic voters at best and at worst some elements of the party seem to embrace views that are at least tinged with racism. This is not just a matter of immigration but of broader issues as well. As such, it is not just that Obama won these voters it is also the case that the Republicans lost them. While it is no doubt emotionally satisfying to put the blame on the black and Hispanic voters, this does them an injustice and also, ironically, serves to make the situation worse for the Republican Party in terms of gaining voters.

Third, he was right that Obama did very well with single women. As with blacks and Hispanics, the explanation seems to be that the women who supported Obama did so from their moral failings—that is, they want free stuff (presumably abortions and birth control). While this might be an emotionally satisfying narrative, it is at odds with reality. While it is true that Obama won over many women voters by doing things that benefit them (such as supporting equal pay for women), this hardly shows that these women merely want free stuff or that they are thus morally defective. If it does, it would seem to show that almost all voters are morally defective—after all, people tend to vote for the person they think will do what is best for them. In this case, women voters would be morally defective, but this would not be a special flaw on their part.

O’Reilly also seems to fail to consider that while Obama did win over many women voters, the Republicans also lost them. Rush Limbaugh denouncing Sandra Fluke as a slut surely did not help the Republicans. It is also likely that the “legitimate rape” and unequal pay episodes of Akin and Mourdock’s idea that being impregnated by rape is a gift from God did not win over women votes. The attempt to impose mandatory transvaginal ultrasoundon women seeking an abortion probably also pushed a few women voters away from the Republican Party. While I could go on providing examples, it should be clear that women had incentives other than getting free stuff to vote for Obama.

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Contraception, Again.

Posted in Ethics, Law, Medicine/Health, Philosophy, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on March 14, 2012
viagra is a commercial produced medicine conta...

Image via Wikipedia

It seems a bit odd arguing about contraception in 2012. After all, the matter seemed to have been large resolved some time ago.  While it is tempting to say that Contraception 2012 is a manufactured conflict, there do seem to be some points worth addressing in this context.

One talking point that has been presented by some folks, such as mainstream American media personality Rush Limbaugh, is that insurance coverage of contraception is the same thing as paying someone to have sex.

In the case of people who are prescribed contraceptives because of medical conditions (such as ovarian cysts), this is obviously not the case. In cases in which the person is simply using the contraception as contraception, she is still not being paid to have sex any more than the coverage of Viagra and comparable medicine for men is paying men to have sex. At most, what is being paid for is the means to have sex (Viagra) and the means to avoid getting pregnant (contraception). True, these are connected to sex, but covering either is not the same thing as paying people to have sex.

Another common talking point is that the plan to cover contraception will be “using people’s money” to pay for something they do not approve of.

One obvious reply to this is that for most folks insurance coverage is either paid for by the individual or as part of a benefit package for a job. Either way, the person is earning her coverage. To use an analogy, my insurance covered my quadriceps tendon repair (mostly). This was not using some other people’s money since I pay for my insurance. Likewise, if a woman get contraception covered by her insurance, she is paying for that (either directly or by getting benefits as part of her compensation).

It might be countered that some women get coverage from the state, so tax dollars could go to pay for birth control. Since some folks are against contraception or do not want to pay for it, this should not be done.

The stock reply to this is that our tax dollars are routinely used to pay for things that we might not want to pay for or that we might even oppose. For example, I’d rather not have my tax dollars pay for subsidies to corporations and I certainly don’t want to be paying for other dudes’ Viagra.  This is the way democracy works-provided that the spending is set up through due process, by agreeing to the legitimacy of the state we also give our consent to the spending-even for things we would rather not contribute to.

Naturally, it can be argued that we should not be required to pay for anything we oppose and this has considerable appeal (see Thoreau’s arguments about civil disobedience for an interesting look at this matter). However, if we adopt this principle for contraception, it must also apply across the board. So, for example, folks who are against war can insist that war should not be paid for using tax dollars and so on. It seems likely that for every proposed spending there will be a person who opposes it-thus the state should not spend money on anything. While this would solve the deficit problem, it would seem a rather absurd solution.

A third talking point is that contraception should not be covered because it does not treat a condition. This is most often brought up when defending the coverage of Viagra (which restores a natural function).

The easy reply to this is that some forms of contraception are used to treat medical conditions (such as ovarian cysts). As such, this use should be covered. But, of course, this would not warrant the coverage of contraception as contraception.

One reply worth considering is that the framing of the debate begs the question against women. After all, the claim is that anything that is covered must treat or prevent a harmful condition and this would exclude contraception (except in cases in which a women would be medically harmed by being pregnant). However, this framing tends to be simply assumed rather than being argued for, which is rather unfair to women in this regard. After all, the matter of pregnancy seems to be unique (and limited to women) and hence it seems questionable to insist that it must automatically fall under the framing in question. It can, of course, be argued that it does-but an argument is wanted here to show that is the case.

While some might be tempted to cast pregnancy as the harmful medical  condition that is being prevented by contraception, the idea of casting pregnancy as a harmful medical condition has rather limited appeal. After all, while pregnancy puts considerable strain on the woman, it seems rather difficult to cast it as an illness that needs to be prevented or treated as if it were comparable to measles or cancer.

A more fruitful line of approach is to argue that contraception provides medical control over a woman’s quality of life. That is, it enables her to chose whether to be pregnant or not. Doing this clearly falls under the domain of medicine and women do seem to have a legitimate claim to this right. After all, much of medicine deals with maintaining a desired quality of life and women would seem to have as much right to that as men.

Naturally, it might be countered that I am treating pregnancy as a disease (which would be some major rhetorical points against me). But this is not the case. All I am claiming is that given that pregnancy can be rather challenging for a woman and, of course, a child is a major consumer of resources a women has a legitimate right to use medical means to maintain her desired quality of life-just as a man has a legitimate right to use Viagra and its ilk to maintain his desired quality of life. Just as Viaga is covered as a quality of life drug, so should contraception.

A fourth, somewhat uncommon,  talking point is that contraception is on par with abortion, so covering contraception is covering abortion.

One stock reply is the obvious fact that contraception lowers the number of unwanted pregnancies and this lowers the number of abortions. As such, folks who are worried about abortion would seem to have a good reason to favor covering contraception.

Of course, some folks contend that contraception is like abortion in that it prevents a possible person from becoming an actual person. While this does have some philosophical interest, it would seem to entail that every moment I am not out and about impregnating women, I am engaged in acts comparable to abortion. After all, by not impregnating as many women as possible, I am preventing some possible people from becoming actual people. Put a bit less absurdly, if I am practicing abstinence, then I am effectively engaged in abortion since all those possible people will never become actualized.

It could be countered that this only applies to cases in which I am actually having sex (and presumably that I should only be having sex with a woman I am married to). That is, every time I have sex, there should be a roll of the dice to see whether or not the woman gets pregnant. Presumably if either of use chooses to use any method that lowers the probability of pregnancy, then this would be on par with attempting an abortion.  As such, the only acceptable family planning would be to decide to have sex only when one plans on a pregnancy since intentionally preventing it would be unacceptable. I would be interested in seeing some arguments for this that do not involve an appeal to theology.

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Of Limbaugh and Maher

Posted in Aesthetics, Ethics, Law, Philosophy, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on March 9, 2012
English: Rush Limbaugh at CPAC in February 2009.

Image via Wikipedia

When American radio personality Rush Limbaugh accused Sandra Fluke of being a slut and a prostitute, it created quite a stir. Folks on the left were suitably outraged and responded with both condemnations and attempts to exploit the situation to raise funds for political purposes. Some folks on the right also condemned Limbaugh’s behavior (or at least his semantics) and others pointed out that the left often seems to give a free pass to the apparently misogynist statements made by liberal celebrities, such as comedian Bill Maher.

I have seen Maher’s TV show and listened to Limbaugh’s radio program. While they certainly appeal to a specific audience, I found both of them to be fairly uninteresting and somewhat less than entertaining. Both men do, however, excel at being nasty to their opponents and both seem adept in expressions of misogyny. After all, while Limbaugh called Fluke a slut and a prostitute, Maher called Sarah Palin a “dumb twat.”Given that Maher and Limbaugh can be seen as two peas in a pod (although one is the left pea and the other the right pea), it is hardly shocking that Maher has come to Limbaugh’s defense as criticism mounts and sponsors have begun to dump Limbaugh. While there are many issues to address here, my main concern is with the ethical matters in regards to the claim that liberals like Maher often get a free pass while Limbaugh is being savaged.

It is, of course, worth considering the possibility that although the two men are being treated differently, the difference is fair. Making this claim stick would require showing a morally relevant difference between the two.

One approach that has been taken by some folks is to point out that Maher has gone  after the likes of Palin and Bachmann with his seemingly misogynistic comments while Limbaugh went after a young law school student. This approach does have some merit. After all, Palin is a public political figure and such attacks are part of the political game. In contrast, Fluke is just a young law student and hence attacking her is a different matter. To use an analogy, Palin is like an armed combatant who is a legitimate target and Fluke is like a civilian who happened to enter the combat zone. As such, attacking Palin is acceptable while going after Fluke is not.

One obvious reply is that if being in the public arena justifies such attacks, then Fluke made herself into a combatant. Metaphorically speaking, she took up arms and charged into battle-thus making her a legitimate target. However, there still seems something dubious about accepting that women who enter the public arena are thus fair game for being called “sluts” or “twats.” This takes me to the second reply.

Another obvious reply is that even though Palin is a public figure and hence fair game for harsh criticism, this hardly justifies calling her a twat. Going back to the war analogy, the mere fact that someone is a legitimate target does not entail that anything can be done to them without it being wrong. Intuitively, using misogynistic terms like “twat” and “slut” to attack women seems to be wrong. As such, if Limbaugh is in the wrong here, so are folks like Maher.

A second approach is to claim that liberals cannot be sexists using the same sort of logic that people use when they say that minorities cannot be racists or women cannot be sexists.

On the one hand, it could be argued that this is true. After all, someone who really is a liberal would seem to hold liberal views regarding women and sexism is hardly liberal.

On the other hand, this could be seen as being a bit like saying that a person cannot be a liar because they are honest. But, of course, the person might not be honest. Likewise, although liberals like Maher claim to be liberals, perhaps they are not.  After all, calling women “twats” hardly seems like enlightened liberalism. There is also the possibility that just as when we say someone is honest we do not mean that they never lie when we say that someone is liberal we do not mean that they are liberal about everything. As such, someone like Maher could be liberal in some areas and not so much in others (such as when it comes to saying hateful things about women he dislikes).

As a final point on the liberal matter, there is also the tradition of folks who love humanity but who are not so keen about actual humans. As such, a person who holds to liberal ideas in theory might not apply them to specific individuals. So, a person might profess to the liberal values of equality and be opposed, in theory, to sexism and yet not practice those values. As such, it seems quite possible for alleged liberals to be sexist. Thus, trying to defend Maher and his ilk by appealing to their liberalism does not work. In fact, this sort of appeal makes them seem worse-they appear to be failing to live up to ideals that they are supposed to hold as good liberals.

A third approach is to argue that while both men said seemingly misogynistic things about specific women, Limbaugh’s attack can be seen as a general attack on women while Maher was expressing his dislike of particular women. In the case of Limbaugh’s remarks, the implication seems to clearly be that any woman who argues for having health insurance cover contraception is a slut and a prostitute. In the case of Maher, he seems to simply be using misogynistic terms like “twat” to express his dislike of particular women. He does not, however, present a general attack that claims all women are dumb twats-just, for example, Sarah Palin.

Thus, Limbaugh could be seen as presenting what might be regarded as a misogynist position while Maher is only using misogynistic language. While this might seem like a rather fine distinction, it does have the potential to be a morally relevant difference in that Mahers might be less bad than Limbaugh in terms of what they say about women. That is, Maher is being mean to specific women he dislikes and using hateful language whereas Limbaugh is not only attacking a specific woman but also engaging in a much broader attack on women (or at least a large subset of woman). That said, some might see Maher as also attacking a subset of women, namely conservative women that Maher’s dislikes.

While I do see something of a distinction here, this does not seem to warrant giving Maher a free pass while Limbaugh is being attacked. After all, Maher is still in the wrong for using such terms.

A final approach, and one that seems to have the most merit, is to argue that there is a relevant distinction between the two men in regards to their role. While Limbaugh and Maher are both media personalities, Maher presents himself as a comedian while Limbaugh presents himself as a commentator. As such, it could be contended that the role of a comedian differs from that of a commentator in ways that warrant the difference in treatment.

On the face of it, this does have some appeal. After all, when comedic shows such as South Park include insulting material, they are often given a pass on the grounds that this sort of thing is a legitimate part of comedy. To use another example, when stand up comedians include sexist and racist remarks as part of their acts, this is typically just considered part of comedy (with some notable exceptions, of course) and not taken as racism or sexism.

One reason for this, obviously enough, is that the comedians often employ racist and sexist language to lampoon racism and sexism. That is, they are laughing at/parodying  these things rather than being racist or sexist.  In the case of Maher calling Sarah Palin a “dumb twat” it does not seem that he is using comedy to criticize sexism against women. Rather, he seems to simply be calling her a “dumb twat.” As such, another reason is needed.

Comedy, as the saying goes, is not pretty. Aristotle, in his Poetics, regards the ludicrous as a subdivision of the ugly. As he saw it, comedy  involves “an imitation of characters of a lower type” and “consists in some defect or ugliness.” Given this view of comedy, it could be argued that comics can thus be excused for ugliness and acting as “characters of a lower type.” Thus, since Maher is acting as a comedian, then he can be excused for such behavior-he is just acting within the legitimate parameters of comedy. In contrast. Limbaugh is not acting as a comedian and hence subject to criticism that Maher legitimately avoids.

That said, there seem to be some points worth considering. The first is that  while Maher is a comedian, this does not give him a free pass across the board-only in the limited context of comedy. As such, if he is acting as a commentator (like Limbaugh) then his comic cloak does not protect him.

The second point is that the comic pass is not all encompassing. Aristotle notes that while the comic character is of the lower, it is ” not in the full sense of the word bad.” He also adds that the ugliness of comedy “is not painful or destructive. ” As such, a comedian can thus exceed the bounds of comedy (as has happened in other cases, such as Michael Richard’s infamous rant) and cross over into evil. While this can be a matter that involves some degree of subjectivity, it seems quite reasonable to regard calling Sarah Palin a “dumb twat” as going beyond comedy and into what is painful or destructive. As such, Maher cannot cloak himself in comedy to avoid the criticism he is due.

A third point is that Limbaugh can also claim to be a comedian-a very good case could be made that he is playing a role and is a parody of what he professes to be. Of course, this would almost certainly not get him that free pass, for the same reason Maher’s remarks are not covered by his comedic cloak.

In light of the above discussion it seems clear that if Limbaugh should be taken to task for his “slut” comments, Maher should also be criticized on moral grounds for his misogynistic remarks. The fact that Maher has largely enjoyed a free pass shows a problem well worth considering: the wink and laugh all to often given to misogyny coming from the left.

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The Contraception Issue

Posted in Ethics, Law, Medicine/Health, Philosophy, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on March 7, 2012
Rush Limbaugh booking photo from his arrest in...

Possibly a Viagra slut?

When the Catholic Church and conservatives decided to make an issue of the coverage of contraceptives in health care plans, it appeared that the Democrats were going to take a beating. After all, the narrative had been presented as one of religious freedom: the tyrannical hand of government had reached out to force Catholic institutions to violate their moral stance on contraception. This fired up the conservative base and even gave a few religious liberals pause. With the re-surging economy, it appeared that God had smiled down upon the Republicans and granted them a stick with which to beat Obama.

And then Rush Limbaugh called Sandra Fluke a slut and a prostitute (and, creepily requested that she post sex videos on Youtube) because she defended the coverage of contraception by health insurance plans, which shifted the narrative. Instead of a morality play in which the cruel liberal state was imposing on the faithful, the morality play shifted to one in which a young woman was being branded a slut and a prostitute for speaking out for the rights of women. This, as might be imagined, shifted the narrative in favor of the Democrats and Obama.

Not surprisingly, some folks decided to “play politics” with this and also attempted to use the situation to raise funds for Obama and the Democrats. This was met with righteous indignation from the right-who were no doubt angry that they had seemingly lost their political and fundraising advantage by this narrative shift. Of course, both parties are right: they each happily play politics and exploit events for fundraising. In this regards, they both seem to be in the wrong.

While I am usually branded a liberal (but never a slut), I do agree that there is a legitimate moral issue in regards to the state requiring employers with a religious affiliation to provide health care that conflicts with the professed morality of said institutions. After all, the liberty of conscience is a basic liberty (as per Mill’s arguments) and alleged impositions on this liberty should be taken seriously.  However, I do believe that the Church’s officials are in error in regards to birth control and have argued for this elsewhere. As such, I believe that their appeal to conscience is unjustified and that they do not have adequate moral grounds to deny their employees such coverage.  I do, however, respect the fact that they are taking a moral stand and that the Church does provide arguments in support of the official line. Of course, this is a rather a moot point now-the insurance companies will pick up the tab so the Catholic Church’s money can remain untainted by sin (well, aside from the money they pay their employees who might use it to buy birth control).

As will shock no one, I believe that Rush acted wrongly (both in terms of ethics and in terms of reasoning) in accusing Sandra Fluke of being a slut and a prostitute. As Rush saw it, Fluke wanted to be paid to have sex. However, Fluke never made that claim. Rather, she contended that insurance should cover the cost of contraception. This is no more paying women to have sex than the coverage of Viagra is paying men to have sex. Rather, medicine is being covered by health insurance-which is, as far as I know, what it is supposed to do. As such, even if the state is paying for contraception (or Viagra) it is not paying people to have sex. Thus, Rush’s reasoning is (shockingly enough) flawed.

In terms of the moral aspect of the matter, accusing a woman of being a slut and a prostitute are two rather serious and insulting accusations. As such, to make such accusations without warrant is certainly unethical. There is also the fact that such accusations are usually used to dismiss or attack women who dare to stand up for themselves and speak out for their rights. In the case of Fluke, this seems to be exactly what occurred. This bashing of women in an attempt to silence or dismiss them is clearly unacceptable in a democracy. There is also the matter of liberty of conscience and expression: just as the Catholic Church has the right to present its moral view without being attacked with hateful slurs and unwarranted accusations so does Sandra Fluke. Liberty is supposed to apply to all of us, not just men.

While I do expect such behavior from Rush, I did expect more from the Republican candidates. The gist of their replies seemed to be that their disagreement was with Rush’s choice of words. That is, they disagreed with his semantic choices. Given that these candidates speak relentlessly about moral values, their replies are tepid at best. I do understand why they are failing to show moral backbone: while many of Rush’s advertisers are dropping him, he is still a force to be reckoned with in regards to the conservative base (and the base conservatives).  There is also the possibility that the candidates actually accept the misogyny behind Rush’s savage attack. Santorum, for example, has said some rather questionable things about women.

While the Republicans are no doubt trying to appeal to a certain part of the base, they are playing a rather risky game. While there are many conservative women, most American women hold to what can be seen as classically liberal views on many issues that are regarded as women’s issues (such as access to contraception, having equal opportunity, having equal rights, not being sexually harassed at work, and so on). As such, the Republicans should rethink what seems to be a strategy aimed at rolling back the rights of American women. While that might play well in some quarters, it will most assuredly not play well in the general election.

In contrast to the Republican candidates Obama took a proper moral stance in condemning these remarks. While it is easy to dismiss this as mere political game playing, this action was certainly consistent with both Obama’s professed values and the fact that he is the father of two girls. In short, he did the right thing. I would like to see the Republican candidates do this as well-if only to show that they have the political sense to realize that they are not getting points with most women voters.

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Cain’s Defense

Posted in Philosophy, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on November 9, 2011
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 07:  Sharon Bialek spe...

Image by Getty Images via @daylife

As it stands, Herman Cain has been accused of sexual harassment (and worse) by four women. His damage control attempts have been somewhat lacking in efficacy.

The first woman to go public was Sharon Bialek. She alleges that Cain groped her and pushed her head towards his groin, apparently using the offer of a job in an attempt to acquire sex. Cain has, as might be imagined, denied these allegations.

Cain’s main defense against this accusation has been to focus on Bialek’s financial problems. Bialek filled for bankruptcy in 1991 and 2001. From a logical standpoint, this approach does have some merit. After all, the credibility of a source depends (in part) on whether the source is an interested or disinterested party. Since Bialek could make money from such accusations, this would provide a financial motivation that could justify regarding her as an interested party and thus lower her credibility. Naturally, such accusations of interest do not directly refute her claims-to think otherwise would be to commit  an ad homimen fallacy.

Since this situation is a “he said, she said” sort of scenario, if Cain (and his people) can show that Bialek has less credibility than Cain, then it would be reasonable to accept Cain’s word over Bialek’s (all other things being equal). However, Cain faces some serious challenges here.

The first is that Bialek is only one of four women who have made accusations against Cain. The second is that settlements (or agreements) were reached involving Herman Cain and some of his accusers when he was heading up the National Restaurant Association. The third is that Bialek has said that she has no intention to seek financial benefits from this situation (for example, she did not sell her story) and this undercuts the attempt to show that she is making the accusation out of a desire for financial gain (and even if she were, the accusation could still be true).

It could be countered that while Bialek is not motivated by the hope of financial gain, she could still be an interested party on other grounds. While she has said that she is a Republican, the Republicans are currently divided into factions around the candidates. As such, it could be claimed that she is acting out of a political motivation and this lowers her credibility.

If it were shown that she had a political interest in the matter, then this would lower her credibility. Of course, it can be countered that Cain has a political motivation in deny the accusations. Also, even if she did have a political interest in the matter, her claim could still be true. After all, whether her claim is true or not depends on the facts, not on her interests or character.

While Herman Cain is being at least somewhat civil in his damage control, others are not. Rush Limbaugh, for example, has succeeded (once again) in disgusting me with his response to the situation.

When discussing the matter, Limbaugh pronounced Bialek’s name as”Buy-A-Lick” and made a licking/slurping sound. Given that Bialek alleges that Cain was trying to trade a job for oral sex, this seems rather pernicious. After all, Bialek is claiming that she was a victim of what seems to be legally sexual assault and this sort of commentary is certainly hateful and hurtful towards women who have been victims (which might include Bialek). While this is part of Rush’s persona, it is not any less reprehensible. After all, questions about credibility can be raised in a civilized and adult manner.

Oddly enough, Rush’s anger was also directed at Bialek’s thirteen year old son. According to Bialek, she asked her son whether she should tell or not and he said that she should do the right thing. Rush said “You think Obama doesn’t love hearing this? A 13-year-old tattle-tale. I mean, that is a brownshirt preview here. Exactly what big government types like.”

Rush seems to be really packing the fallacies in here. He starts by what appears to be the guilt by association fallacy by trying to link the boy to Obama.  After that, he uses a dsyphemism (possibly an ad hominem as well) by calling the boy a tattletale.  He then launches the argumentum ad hiterlum. This is an ad homimem variation is which a person is attacked by comparing that person to Hitler or a Nazi. He then finishes with a repeat of guilt by association by saying that this is what big government likes.

In addition to being what appears to be a string of fallacies, his claims seem rather bizarre. How, for example, is what the boy did (telling his mother to do the right thing) a “brownshirt preview”? Is he really saying that Obama and big government (whatever that means) are big fans of thirteen year old tattle-tales?  What could that even mean? Perhaps it is just a reflex of his to throw in Obama, Nazis and Big Government when attacking anything, whether it makes sense or not. In any case, these tactics do get him plenty of attention-thus showing, once again, that if he is crazy he is crazy like a fox.

Interestingly, if Rush thinks that the boy is a tattletale (rather than a liar) that would imply that he thinks that Bialek’s accusation has merit. After all, a tattletale is someone who tells on someone who has done something.

In any case, none of Rush’s bashing disproves Bialek’s claims. The truth (or falsity) of these claims is independent of the success or failure of Rush’s rhetoric.

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Rush & Oil

Posted in Environment, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on May 6, 2010
Rush Limbaugh booking photo from his arrest on...

Image via Wikipedia

Commenting on the oil spill, Rush Limbaugh said ““The ocean will take care of this on its own if it was left alone and left out there. It’s natural. It’s as natural as the ocean water is.”

Rush is actually right.

First, oil will eventually break down through natural processes. However, this will take a rather long time and the oil will do considerable damage in the meantime. Given Rush’s logic, we should say the same thing about things like dirty dishes and garbage in our houses. After all, natural processes will eventually take care of the food on the dishes and the garbage in the house. So, why bother with those things? Also, natural processes will eventually take care of any illness (this might involve death, of course), so why mess around with medicine?

Second, oil is natural and is as natural as the water. After all, we do not make the oil that we drill for-we simply find it after it has been produced by natural processes. Of course, being natural does not mean that something is not dangerous. Cyanide, rattlesnake venom, red tide, earthquakes, volcanoes, and gamma rays are all natural. Yet they are rather dangerous. The fact that something is natural does not mean that we should not be concerned about it showing up on our beaches.

You know, Rush, it doesn’t make you a tree hugger if you accept that an oil spill is bad. Even the folks in the oil companies are willing to admit this.

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In Defense of Rush

Posted in Environment, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on May 5, 2010
Title: Offshore Description: Offshore platform...

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Rush Limbaugh’s comments on the oil rig explosion and the slick have generated a fair amount of controversy. While I am no fan of Rush, I am a fan of truth and hence will try to refute what I take to be a false accusation against him. Ezra Klein and others seem to be claiming that Rush is blaming Obama for the oil rig explosion.  As evidence, they point to the following:

RUSH:  I want to get back to the timing of the blowing up, the explosion out there in the Gulf of Mexico of this oil rig.  Since they’re sending SWAT teams down there now this changes the whole perspective of this.  Now, lest we forget, ladies and gentlemen, the carbon tax bill, cap and trade that was scheduled to be announced on Earth Day.  I remember that.  And then it was postponed for a couple of days later after Earth Day, and then of course immigration has now moved in front of it.  But this bill, the cap-and-trade bill, was strongly criticized by hardcore environmentalist wackos because it supposedly allowed more offshore drilling and nuclear plants, nuclear plant investment.  So, since they’re sending SWAT teams down there, folks, since they’re sending SWAT teams to inspect the other rigs, what better way to head off more oil drilling, nuclear plants, than by blowing up a rig?  I’m just noting the timing here.

This paragraph, taken by itself, could be read as saying that Obama sent SWAT teams to blow up rigs. However, Klein and the others are engaged in a rather selective reading. Rush goes on to say:

RUSH: Wow. All right, so SWAT teams, we’re sending big sis down there, Janet Napolitano, to look at all the valves and stuff, make sure they’re properly greased. He-he-he-he. Ahem. And Lisa Jackson is doing the same thing. So obviously the regime is open to the idea that this is not an accident. The regime is open to the possibility that this could well have been on purpose. Don’t forget, the original Earth Day, 40 years ago, was inspired by the river in Cleveland catching fire. Forty years later, the day before Earth Day this year, the Gulf is on fire. Coincidence? Jury’s still out. The regime is on the case, soon to tell us what happened.

This paragraph clears things up. Rush is not saying that Obama sent SWAT teams to blow up the rigs. Rather, he is saying that Obama is sending the police because Obama is considering that the rig could have been blown up by people motivated by people with  environmental concerns.

Now that his actual view is known, it can be assesed.

On one hand, it would seem unlikely that an environmentalist would blow up an oil rig. After all, a little thought would reveal that a damaged rig could lead to the sort of massive spill that exists now. A rational person who was genuinely concerned about the environment would not take such a risk.

On the other hand, such an attack is not impossible. After all, people who are strongly devoted to a cause can act and think in ways that seem rather irrational and even evil. Pro-life people who murder doctors and environmentalists who spike trees (which can injure or kill the people cutting them down) show that people can do such things. As such, some “eco-terrorists” could have blown up the rig. Another possibility is that people often act without considering or knowing the possible consequences. In this case, it is conceivable that someone wanted to merely damage the rig and did not realize that such a disaster could take place. Then again, it is possible to imagine an environmental extremist who would be willing to accept massive environmental damage if this would help put an end to offshore drilling.

Of course, while I am wildly speculating, it is also possible that the oil rig was blown up in a ploy to raise oil prices. Or perhaps it was blown up by anti-environmentalists who want to put the blame on environmentalists. That is the thing about speculation without evidence to nail it down-it can go all over the place.

Currently, there seems to be no evidence that this was anything other than an accident. However, it is worth considering that it was not an accident and the administration seems to be looking into this.

As a final comment, it is interesting how Rush takes the administration’s actions to support his own view while at the same time taking shots at it for taking those same actions.

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Talk Radio

Posted in Business, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on October 27, 2009
Blogworld Talk Radio
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CNN recently did a series of segments on talk radio. One fact that struck me is that about 90% of talk radio hosts are classified as conservatives. This, of course, puts a number on the liberal perspective that conservatives dominate talk radio. Naturally, conservatives point out that liberals dominate the other media venues, with the obvious exception of Fox News in the TV arena.

Naturally, there has been considerable speculation about the conservative dominance in radio. Over the years, various implausible explanations have been provided.

One poor explanation is that the dominance is due to Rush’s skills as an entertainer. While it is true that he is a master of his craft, this would not explain the success of all the other conservative hosts nor would it explain the dearth of liberal hosts. After all, it is often claimed that Hollywood is awash in liberals and surely someone among these folks would have the talent to make her/his voice heard.

Another poor explanation is that the big corporations are conservative and hence unfairly keep the liberals off the air. Of course, this runs contrary to the fact that there are plenty of liberals with money and the fact that mainstream media is regarded as being liberal, despite also being owned by the corporate masters. Also, there is the failure of Air America-a liberal attempt at liberal radio that was well funded.

A third poor explanation is that talk radio appeals to the uneducated and is not a suitable medium for the complex enlightenment that is liberal thought. While it is true that talk radio tends to be lacking in intellectual rigor, it is also true that liberal ideas can (and are) be pitched at a level suitable for talk radio. Further, to cast the listeners of talk radio as simpletons is to do them a grave injustice.

One hypothesis that has some plausibility is that the conservatives were able to stake out their territory in talk radio and dig in. Since there is only so much air time, for a liberal to get a show would seem to require that they cut into an established radio show. Of course, this explanation does have some weaknesses and does not account for why liberals have yet to succeed in getting more of the market share.

Naturally, it would be well worth considering the differences between the people who listen to talk radio and folks who do not. For example, perhaps their is a factor here relating to jobs. Maybe folks who work jobs that allow them to listen to the radio more would tend towards being conservative (or at least being entertained by conservative talk). Or maybe conservatives are more inclined to like purely audio media as opposed to visual media. In any case, the conservatives are dominating the airwaves.

Another hypothesis worth considering is whether there is a difference between liberals and conservatives in regards to the skill sets needed to be appealing in talk radio. For example, it has been claimed that actors and journalists are more liberal than other folks, so perhaps there is a link between modes of expression and political leanings. So, conservatives might have a tendency towards talk, while liberals have greater visual skills. Or there might be no connection at all.

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Posted in Politics by Michael LaBossiere on October 7, 2009

As an American, I was disappointed that Chicago lost its bid to host the Olympics. While my cynical side sees what it takes to be the seedy truths about the Olympics (politics and corruption), my better nature still has a fond regard for what the Olympics is supposed to stand for. In any case, I think it would have been good for the US to host the Olympics, even though Chicago would probably have been in debt for quite some time.

While the loss bothered me, what bothered me more was the fact that folks in Americans for Progress cheered and clapped when they learned that Chicago had lost. I was also bothered by the fact that conservative pundits like Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh were eager to have Chicago fail. I was, however, pleased that Joe Scarborough criticized Rush for his remarks.

I do understand that there are some downsides to hosting the Olympics (such as the possibility that the host city will lose money) and I am aware of legitimate concerns about Chicago (such as its infamous corruption).  I am also quite aware that Chicago’s failure to get the Olympics hurt Obama’s standing and also provides the conservatives with ammunition to use against him. That is, of course, why some conservatives have been pleased with Chicago’s loss.

While I do understand the motivation of these conservatives, I believe that they are acting wrongly. While political fighting is to be expected and is, within limits, legitimate, there are times when we need to act as Americans rather than as Democrats and Republicans (and those few third parties that exist). True, getting the Olympics would have been a win for Obama. But, it would have also been a win for the United States. To cheer Chicago not getting the Olympics seems to be to cheer for an American defeat. That is, to say the least, unpatriotic.

To beat someone to the punch, I have the same view of folks who hoped that the US would do badly in Iraq so as to harm the Republicans. While I was against the war and the following occupation, I have consistently wanted us to succeed. After all, I am morally opposed to scoring political points at the expense of the good of the people.

Naturally, I am willing to consider logical reasons as to why it is better that the Olympics is not going to be hosted by the United States. However, the main motivation of the conservative critics has been to see Obama fail. Now, I can understand why they want him to fail on things they regard as being wrong (that is legitimate politics) but to want him to fail in this matter seems to be rather hateful politics.

From a practical standpoint, the conservatives who have cheered this event might be doing harm to their own cause. While some of their loyal followers are no doubt cheering along, I suspect that a significant number of Americans are not happy when America loses and they are even less happy to see the self-proclaimed champions of America cheering at our loss.

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Obama Joker Posters

Posted in Politics, Race by Michael LaBossiere on August 5, 2009

A poster featuring a Joker like modification of Obama’s face has been appearing in Los Angeles and on the internet. In addition to the face, the poster has the word “socialism.” As is to be expected, Rush Limbaugh has also weighed in on this, prompting responses from various bloggers.

Apparently, some folks are calling this a racist attack. However, there seems to be nothing about the poster that clearly seems racist. Unless, of course, any sort of critical response to a black person is automatically racist. That is, of course, absurd. After all, to say that any criticism of a black person is racist would seem to entail that there can never be an warranted criticism of what a black person thinks or does. For example, this would make an argument between a black and white philosopher over something like the nature of universals a racist act. After all, the white professor would be critical of the view he disagreed with.

Naturally, it can be pointed out that the Joker poster is not on par with a bit of philosophical argumentation. After all, it is a fairly harsh image that seems to be trying to convey the idea that Obama is on par with the Joker. That is, a super villain out toburn the world.

True, this is a rather harsh and hyperbolic image. The idea that it seems to be intended to convey does not seem to be a fair one, hence it can also be regarded as unwarranted in addition to being extreme.

However, it does not seem to be racist. After all, Obama is being compared to the Joker and this has no racial baggage at all. While the Joker is white (and actually the color white in classic Batman), there are no racial connections associated with the Joker-at least as far as my memory of Batman movies and comics goes. The poster does not seem to be attacking any aspect of Obama’s race. Rather, it seems to be an attack on what the creator takes to be Obama’s socialist plans.

Now, it could be said that it is racist because Obama is being presented in “whiteface.” However, I suspect that the creator of the poster picked the Joker because he is a convenient symbol of destruction and chaos, which is what some folks think of Obama. This is, I believe, no more racist than Jon Stewart constantly casting Dick Cheney as Darth Vadar.

Rush Limbaugh got into the game by asserting that the Joker thing fits Obama because Obama admits to wearing a mask. Rush says:

Obama has admitted to wearing masks. In “Dreams from My Father”: (paraphrasing) “It was usually an effective tactic, another one of those tricks I had learned. People were satisfied so long as you were courteous and smiled and made no sudden moves. They were more than satisfied; they were relieved, such a pleasant surprise to find a well mannered young black man who didn’t seem angry all the time.” This is his tactic for fooling white people. This is the mask.

In terms of assessing this, there are a couple points worth considering. First, there is a huge leap from the fact that Obama learned to act in ways that did not scare white folks to the claim that Obama is like the Joker. After all, the Joker acts in ways calculated to create fear in people. Second, while Obama “wore masks”, it is also true that everyone seems to do this. We have a mask for work, a mask for our grandparents, a mask for our drinking buddies, a mask for our spouse, and so on. The world, it has often been argued, almost never sees a person’s true self. As such, if Obama is thus like the Joker, then we all are. Third, the Joker doesn’t wear a mask. The classic Joker had his skin and hair color changed due to a swim through chemicals. The latest Joker seems to just wear makeup (or maybe not-the movie does not make it clear).

So, my view is that the poster is not itself racist and Obama is not the Joker, or even Joker like.