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    « One Way or the Other…or the Other | Main | What's So Foreign 'Bout Peace, Love, and Understanding? »

    Right-Wing Rhetoric, Lesson Three: “Limbawful”


    While I’m continually fascinated by the careful diction, innuendo, and tone that forms the rhetoric of right-wing masters like O’Reilly, there’s one guy who is so over-the-top, so bombastic, and so downright logic-less that there’s really only one word I can use to describe him:

    Limbawful [lim-baw-fuhl]—adjective

    A word used to describe anything that is incredibly offensive, personal, rude, and derogatory; generally aimed at making people look and feel stupid; often accompanied by bluster and spittle.  (see also, Limbreiching)

    Limbawfulness is commonly used to bulldoze an audience by simultaneously making them angry and bamboozling them, but doing so in such a convoluted way that it’s difficult to detect.  Here’s an example:

    One day while driving home from work (this was back in the mid-90s),  I came across Rush Limbaugh blow-hardily pontificating on the evils of sex, the crashing morals of (then) today’s generation, and the risk of AIDS.  His argument centered on the false security provided by condoms for those looking to reduce their risk of contracting the disease. 

    Rush explained that condoms were 90 percent effective, then went on to liken having sex with a condom to flying in an airplane.  He asked, rhetorically, whether any of us would fly in an airplane if we knew it had a 10 percent failure rate.  If not, he went on, why would we ever trust our lives to a condom?  It’s the same thing, he said.

    Well, no, Rush. It’s not.

    The crater-sized gaps in his argument took little time to find.  First, the basic facts seemed a bit fuzzy; I didn’t have the information at my fingertips, but for some reason I thought the failure rate of condoms was much lower than 10 percent, perhaps more like 2 percent.  (Turns out that the failure rate is roughly between 0.5 percent and 2.3 percent but, in fairness to Rush, that’s a perfect-use failure rate.  Given that some people tend to use the things somewhat imperfectly, Rush’s 10 percent estimate probably isn’t that far off.)  

    But even if I accept his 1-in-10 statistic, the analogy still crumbles.  Let’s start from the end of the argument: one’s willingness (or unwillingness) to fly on an airplane if 10 percent of them insist on listening to gravity’s call. Well, it doesn’t take a genius to see that the fatality rate of such an event would be pretty near 100 percent.  But that’s not the case with the front end of the analogy.  If, as Rush claims, 10 percent of condom-centric sex ends in condom failure, it certainly doesn’t mean a 100 percent fatality rate for those so affected.  In order for that to be true it would mean that 100 percent of sex events had at least one partner with HIV, that 100 percent of HIV-related sex events resulted in HIV-transmission, and that 100 percent of HIV transmissions resulted in death. His logic is just downright limbawful. 

    In the early 90s, an estimated 0.3 percent of the adolescent and adult U.S. population suffered from HIV and the rate of transmission in unprotected (or failed-condom) sex was, at most, 10 percent.  Rush’s math was all wrong because his facts were all wrong (or simply absent from his argument completely, likely because they were inconvenient truths).  The real math says that a 10 percent condom failure rate (which I’ll accept) multiplied by a 0.3 percent chance that my partner has HIV (and, yes, I know that I’ve smoothed out the demographic differences here for simplicity’s sake, but it’s not a big difference), multiplied by the maximum 10 percent chance that any unprotected exposure results in transmission means that I don’t have a 1-in-10 chance of dying, I have a 3-in-10,000 chance of possibly dying from AIDS at some time in the future. That’s 0.0003 percent, or roughly equivalent to the likelihood that I’ll die of accidental drowning.

    I’ll acknowledge that it’s still more dangerous than flying in an airplane (a 1-in-20,000 chance of dying), but if you give the average young male odds of 3-in-10,000 in exchange for a brief tumescent explosion, my guess is that he’s taking his chances. As a persuasive argument, Rush, you’ve got nothing to work with here.

    More importantly, how could Limbaugh possibly think I was that dumb?  I learned how to think this way in the fifth grade back when Mrs. Levy was handing out purple dittos printed with word problems that asked me stupid questions about the speed of trains relative to fleet-footed gazelles. (By the way… those dittos were made with spirit ether back then, which is probably why so many of us enjoyed sniffing them….) If I could figure it out, then certainly Rush Limbaugh, given all that talent on loan from God, could figure it out as well.  He just didn’t want to.  It didn’t serve his purpose. On top of that, he apparently assumed that his listeners were either so blindly loyal or so exceedingly stupid that they wouldn’t know or care about his obvious manipulations. 

    But then, that’s all limbawfulness is truly about, isn’t it… an attempt to snow us with idiocy and temporary talent…


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