Total Drek

Or, the thoughts of several frustrated intellectuals on Sociology, Gaming, Science, Politics, Science Fiction, Religion, and whatever the hell else strikes their fancy. There is absolutely no reason why you should read this blog. None. Seriously. Go hit your back button. It's up in the upper left-hand corner of your browser... it says "Back." Don't say we didn't warn you.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Something Scary

It’s Halloween season! You wanna hear something really scary about politics and media? I saw it on Tucker Carlson the other day.

You remember Tucker.
He used to be the bow-tie conservative on Crossfire. Until they invited Jon Stewart on to dance like a monkey, and he refused. Instead, he told the truth:

STEWART: Here's just what I wanted to tell you guys.
STEWART: Stop, stop, stop, stop hurting America.
STEWART: And come work for us, because we, as the people...
CARLSON: How do you pay?
STEWART: The people -- not well.
BEGALA: Better than CNN, I'm sure.
STEWART: But you can sleep at night.
STEWART: See, the thing is, we need your help. Right now, you're helping the politicians and the corporations. And we're left out there to mow our lawns.
BEGALA: By beating up on them? You just said we're too rough on them when they make mistakes.
STEWART: No, no, no, you're not too rough on them. You're part of their strategies. You are partisan, what do you call it, hacks.

They pulled the plug on Crossfire within the month.

Well Tucker’s got his own show now (“The Situation”), and it’s still all ‘theater’. He ditched the bow tie. Someone in marketing said “let’s go with sex appeal” and so now his shirts are unbuttoned and his hair is perfectly mussed. But he’s still gleefully hurting America.

The other day he had on a guest, a desperate Republican congressional hopeful named Paul R. Nelson, whose only claim to fame was having just used one of the more despicable attack ads I’ve ever seen. Anyway, here’s what it says.

With our service men and women facing death every day, what kind of Congressman would try to gut military spending?
(On Screen: Soldiers alongside a flag-draped coffin.)
The wrong kind. Ron Kind. That‘s right. Congressman Ron Kind has repeatedly voted to deprive our troops of the funding they need to fight for us. But Ron Kind has no trouble spending your money. He would just rather spend it on sex.
(On Screen: A Picture of Rep. Ron Kind with "XXX" printed over it.)
(sound effects: loon noises)
That‘s right. Instead of spending money on cancer research, Ron Kind voted to spend your money to study the sex lives of Vietnamese prostitutes. Instead of spending money to study heart disease, Ron Kind spent your money to study the masturbation habits of old men. Ron Kind spent your tax dollars to study something called the bisexual, transgendered and two spirited illusion [sic] Eskimos, whoever they are.
(On Screen: Images of soldiers in combat.)
Ron Kind even spent your tax dollars to pay teenage girls to watch pornographic movies with probes connected to their genitalia. Ron Kind pays for sex but not for soldiers. If Ron Kind had better priorities, you wouldn‘t be having to hear this. Ron Kind is out of touch and soon he‘ll be out of Congress.
I‘m Paul R. Nelson and I approve of this message.

I wanted to link to it so you could experience just how foul it was, so I went searching for a tape on line, and when I did, I realized that, despite the way Tucker made it look, Nelson did not produce this ad, nor was he the only one to use it. I found an almost identical ad used by Republican Vernon Robinson against Democrat incumbent Brad Miller: The only differences were the names of the candidates, a different announcer’s voice and a little extra word play on Ron Kind (= “Wrong Kind” -- get it?). Cute.

I don’t even know where to begin with the ad. There’s real irony in the flagged draped coffin image, given who actually got us in that war, who has poorly equipped the troops, and who has prevented the images of draped coffins being used by the media based on the premise that its demoralizing. (Stupifyingly Obvious Answer: the Republican administration!) But, as a social scientist, it’s the second part - the claim that Miller is spending money frivolously and lasciviously, as evidenced by suggestive descriptions of studies of sexuality - that really torked me.

Of course, as you’ve probably guessed, Miller and Kind were not in fact diverting money from body armor to their private stashes of porn. They voted to support the NIH (the National Institute of Health), and it’s the NIH that funds these studies, among many, many, many others. I learned from that 210 Republicans, back in 2003, no doubt as part of the War on (Sex? Science? Reason ?) Terror, determined they were better able than the doctors who run the NIH to determine what research is beneficial. So they proposed an amendment to the funding bill, specifically defunding 5 studies, including the 4 mentioned in Robinson’s/ Nelson’s ad. Miller and Kind were among 212 congressman (the slimmest of majorities) who voted down that amendment.
Here’s factcheck’s description of the studies they targeted:

"Vietnamese Prostitutes": This study was an effort to find a way to prevent the spread of AIDS. It was proposed in 2001 by the University of California San Francisco, to “describe drug use and HIV-related behaviors among Asian female commercial sex workers at massage parlors” in the area. The study was awarded $1,726,536 from Fiscal 2002-2004 according to NIH documents.

"Masturbation Habits of Old Men”: Masturbating was included as one part of a much larger study on how declining sexual function affects the quality of life of elderly men. The research would, according to the proposal summary, "provide the most comprehensive picture to date of the sexual behavior of aging men." The project was awarded in August 2001 according to NIH documents and had received $137,378 in funding by Fiscal 2002. It was proposed in response to a recommendation by the NIH to conduct additional research on aging and sexual function.

"Two-Spirited Aleutian Eskimos”: This grant didn't just deal with "Eskimos," it attempted to gain a national picture of homosexuality, bisexuality, transgender and "two-spirited" individuals in the American Indian and Alaskan Native populations. The term "two-spirit" refers simply to Native Americans involved in same-sex relationships, according to a definition posted on the North East Two Spirit Society’s website . The proposal envisioned 400 interviews about sexual risk and drug and alcohol use. Between fiscal years 2002 and 2006 the project received $2,368,017. According to the proposal submitted to the NIH the grant ends May 31, 2007.

"Teenage Girls": This grant actually proposed to study sexual arousal in 180 lesbian, bisexual and heterosexual "women," and makes no mention of "teenage girls" as test subjects as the ad claims. The proposal received $147,000 between fiscal years 2001 and 2002 but was not funded in fiscal 2003. [I also point out that 18 and 19 year olds are technically “teenagers”]

Notice that there’s nothing that connects these studies except the word sex. One is about the spread of disease, one is about aging and mental health, one is a gender study about targets of arousal, one is about psychological health of Native Americans. We definitely don’t want to know about such things. At least Republicans don’t. Like Mark Foley, who voted for the amendment while he wasn’t masturbating in front of his computer.

I remain incredulous that even the Republicans believe, as the ad implies, that Miller or Kind has been taking a prurient interest in the findings of this research. Ironically, the ad makes it clear that Robinson and Nelson and the rest of those who went sifting through research proposals for dirty science have been doing just that.

So in this bizarre and sociopathic attack on their opponents, Republicans have again dragged social and medical science into the muck. The implication is that there is no good reason (though plenty of naughty ones, snicker snicker) to study human sexuality, sexual behavior, or sexual response. Nevermind that each of these studies has been proposed and accepted as scientifically valid and socially beneficial by scientists at the NIH. In fact, given where the funding came from, they all are arguably beneficial to human health. Once again, Republicans are exploiting prudery to make people sick. I know I am.

I’m not going to spend my time making an argument for the beneficial nature of studying sex. It’s obvious, and no reasonable person thinks otherwise. Why would we want to be ignorant of something so central to human life? It wasn't too long ago Kinsey claimed we know more about the mating behavior of insects than we do about humans. When you open up your encyclopedia, you want something THERE, right? Right? Even Republican congressmen know this, and secretly, they agree. The truth is, they came up with the amendment in the first place just to be able to run these ads in the election.

My fear is that an ad like this, as crazy as it is, increases the likelihood that the NIH and other government funded foundations and institutes will be politically driven. What congressman wants to have an ad like this one leveled at him? Just to have your name and the words “prostitute”, “masturbation” and “genitals” appear together in an ad is enough to lose you a few percentage points, potentially. Is there going to be pressure on scientists and public health officials to spare politicians this fate by preferring studies that are neuter? Well, yes, if no one fights back.

But Tucker did not fight back for us. He had on this ridiculous congressional hopeful, played his little ad, and gave him a segment to say what he wanted to. Here’s the “interview”. Don’t read the whole thing, just peruse the hard-hitting bullet-like questions our veteran soldier of the Crossfire aimed at Kind (in bold):

CARLSON: Paul R. Nelson joins me now from Milwaukee to explain his ad. Mr. Nelson, I appreciate your coming on.
NELSON: Hello Tucker, thanks for having me on today.
CARLSON: Why do you suppose the congressman, your opponent has voted to get teenage girls to watch pornographic movies? What would be the point of that vote?
NELSON: Well Tucker, my reaction when I first saw this ad was probably the same as yours and maybe many of your viewers. This cannot possibly be true. And that‘s why we have put the amendment vote number, the NIH grant studies number on the ad itself. So people can do their own research and they can look at it again and again on our Web site at
CARLSON: But wait a second here. Studying the masturbation habits of old men? Explain that to me.
NELSON: Tucker, I have no idea why our federal government is funding this kind of nonsense. And that‘s exactly .
CARLSON: Is that an issue of concern in your district?
NELSON: I wouldn‘t expect, Tucker, that would be a big issue of concern in our district.
CARLSON: What about Vietnamese hookers? Do you have a problem with those?
NELSON: It isn‘t a matter of whether or not I have a problem with Vietnamese hookers.
CARLSON: I mean but is that a huge issue in the third district of Wisconsin? What about transvestite Eskimos. Is there a single one in your district?
NELSON: Not that I‘m aware of.
CARLSON: What is all this about and why are you running a campaign ad about it? I mean it seems so far out.
NELSON: Tucker, what we‘re talking about here is a gross waste of taxpayer money. And remember, we‘re also talking about funding our military. Ron Kind is a San Francisco liberal after the form of Nancy Pelosi herself. And we‘re just pointing out that Mr. Kind, instead of funding our military, my fellow marines who are fighting and dying in the war on terror even today as we speak, he is funding sex studies for these remote groups.
CARLSON: Not just so remote, also teenage girls watching porn. Who are the teenage girls and where are they watching porn?
NELSON: Well I would expect at any college frat party in America, you could probably find folks doing that kind of thing. But the point is here Tucker, these are the kind of waste of taxpayer dollars that has resulted in a $250 billion budget deficit this year.
CARLSON: To be fair, as you know, I‘ve looked at your Web site. And on the issues, I agree with you completely, incidentally. And I think you‘re wise enough to know, the Republicans are in charge and they can‘t control their spending either, I mean let‘s be totally honest here. Who are those mug shots? When you say the masturbating men, you have pictures of these two old guys. Who are those guys and did you get their consent before putting their pictures up?
NELSON: Those folks are folks at the ad agency. Certainly the verbiage of this ad came right out of the congressional record and I think with Mr. Foley and different ones in the Congress, we could have probably just taken mug shots of congressmen themselves. But we determined that might not be the best use of .
CARLSON: Is this spot helping?
NELSON: Absolutely. This spot goes to the heart of what‘s wrong in Washington, D.C. Why our money is being wasted by politicians, instead of being spent on legitimate uses. That‘s what we‘re pointing out in this ad Tucker. And frankly my opponent, Ron Kind, is terrified of this ad. He has even gone so far as to threaten litigation against television stations if we play this ad.
CARLSON: And has it been running?
NELSON: Absolutely. We‘ve been playing it in Madison, most recently, just because those folks appreciate it so much.
CARLSON: OK. Well, I sure appreciate your coming on. Paul R. Nelson, not a friend to transvestite Eskimos. But really the producer of one of the funniest ads I‘ve seen in a long time. Thanks very much.
NELSON: Thank you Tucker.

That last bit by Nelson is a gem isn’t it?

Could Tucker possibly be in the dark? If so, it’s egregiously irresponsible. It’s much more likely the case that he’s exactly what Jon Stewart accused him of being: a partisan hack. You can go on’s video site and watch Tucker in another segment chuckling with some other evil bastard (Bill Wolff) about the ad, suggesting that Ron Kind get out of the race and challenging him to come onto the program to answer these “charges”.

Tucker maintains an illusion of fairness and incredulity during the segment, but manages to make Nelson and his ad look reasonable. No one ever explains what these “charges” are really about -- no explanation of the NIH; no guesses at the potential usefulness of the studies; no skepticism about Republican aims; no mention of other candidates showing the same ad. It’s almost like Nelson has bought ad time. Actually, it’s exactly like that.

This kind of thing is may be typical of FoxNews, but this was MSNBC. Where is news? Where the Hell is the Liberal Media? How can you know whether you’re being informed by a news channel or deliberately misinformed? How much lying can you do without being known as a liar? How much of what you think you know is lies? Jon Stewart, please save us.
(And incidentally, where is the Lefty version of this soulless spinning? The Republicans are still light years ahead in misinformation, manipulation, and obfuscation.)

This marriage between politics and media has to be dug out and thrown in the sun so it can die, just like Crossfire died. The truth will set us free, won’t it?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

oh thanks, warbler. i almost made it through the day *without* vomiting in disgust and revulsion for mudslinging ads and/or tucker carlson. now i have to dryclean this sweater.

Sunday, October 29, 2006 4:30:00 PM  
Blogger Jeff said...

Warbler, I hereby challenge you to a dual of concision. We will agree on a topic and within a week each will compose a blog post addressing it. The blogger with the most pithiness, the most laconism, prevails.

On the topic of campaign tomfoolery, I can scarcely be bothered anymore by their rediculous claims and child-like argumentation. True, the mass media usually swallow this shit hook, line, and sinker - a serious problem about which we both agree - but the campaign ads, one-liners, and simplistic debates are indicative of the medium (mass media) and the market (entertainment).

If we want to see change in the way news gets reported or campaigns get waged we're going to have to exploit the weaknesses of existing institutions and promote alternatives to them.

This post is a step in the right direction. Throwing the media into the sun, as you say, shows their weaknesses. does this well, but you might also appreciate Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR). Pointing to sources of alternative news is the next step, and here I think Democracy Now! and others are exemplary.

Next, if we could just figure out how to reach an audience of more than 30.

Sunday, October 29, 2006 5:11:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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Cancer Type

Tuesday, October 31, 2006 2:27:00 AM  

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