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Figaro rips the innards out of things people say and reveals the rhetorical tricks and pratfalls. For terms and definitions, click here.
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    Can’t She Just Give Bush Some Money?

    cindy_s.jpgQuote:   “Why do you make time for donors and not for me?”  Sign held by Cindy Sheehan, whose son died in Iraq, while the president’s motorcade drove to a Republican fundraiser in Crawford, Texas

    Figure of Speech:   alloiosis (al oy OH sis), the this-isn’t-that figure

    Sheehan’s alloiosis (Greek for “difference”) gives the president two rotten choices:  Meet with her and legitimize her anti-war protest, or admit defeat and cancel the fundraiser.  Her figure is a form of antithesis, weighing opposites.  Bush himself favors this kind of black-or-white argument, because it makes subtler forms of reasoning look immoral.

    Snappy Answer:  None.  Sorry, Mr. President, for once you can’t win with an antithesis.  Express  your sympathies and hope the woman leaves.  You could fly back to Washington.  But our soldiers depend on a Commander in Chief who can vacation without flinching.


    Eat Right, Be a Stick Figure

    food_pyramid.gifQuote:   “We needed a symbol that maintained that 80 percent high recognition, that was motivational and conveyed some general messages.” Eric Hentges, the Agriculture Department official responsible for the new food pyramid.

    Terms:   Ethos, Pathos, Logos—the three basic forms of persuasion

    Are you as excited about the new food pyramid as we are? It cost $2.4 million to design and has rainbow colors, a stick figure, plus a staircase that means…something. They kept the pyramid because it’s recognizable, even though it no longer represents anything.  That’s using Ethos, the “character” part of persuasion.  We’re more likely to trust a brand we recognize.

    The little stick man gets our heart rate up just looking at him.  (Pathos, or argument by emotion).  Then there are the “general messages”—that’s Logos, rhetoric's rational side.  The main message seems to be a website, www.mypyramid.gov, where you can learn what the hell all this means.

    Snappy Answer:     “Two and a half million dollars could buy 860,000 Big Macs.”

    Got a snappier answer?  Email Figaro.


    Book: Billie Jean Not Jackson’s Lover

    michael-jackson.jpgQuote:  “They should be ashamed.  They’re the ones who let a pedophile go.”  Eleanor Cook, a juror who voted to acquit Michael Jackson and then wrote a book saying he was guilty.

    Term:  antirrhesis  (an ter REE sis), the “Oh, yeah?” argument

    Jackson jurors accuse Cook and another juror of cashing in on the Jackson case.  “They should be ashamed of themselves,” Susan Rentschler told the Reuters news agency.  Cook retaliated with an antirrhesis, a counter-argument that picks up an accuser’s rhetorical grenade and tosses it back. But Cook risks blowing herself up:  the vote to acquit was unanimous.

    Cook claims the foreman threatened to have her expelled from the jury unless she voted with the majority.  That's why she says she "caved."  Well, sure.  It would have killed the book deal!

    Snappy Answer:    “They all should have to sleep over at Neverland.”

     Got a snappier answer?  Email Figaro.


    Plus He Kicked a Dog When He Was Ten

    roberts_ad.jpgQuote:  “America can’t afford a justice whose ideology leads him to excuse violence against other Americans.” Abortion rights group Naral Pro-Choice America, in a TV ad attacking Supreme Court nominee John Roberts.

    Term:   “Straw man” fallacy.  Instead of dealing with the actual issue, find or make up something about your opponent that’s easy to attack.

    As an administration lawyer under the first Bush, Roberts argued that the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871 doesn’t apply to anti-abortion protesters.  Naral says Roberts sided with “anti-choice extremists who use bombings and other forms of intimidation.” But the case had nothing to do with whether bombing clinics was a good thing.  Besides, Roberts was representing the views of his client, the president, not necessarily his own. 

    Dredging up a single case from more than a decade ago creates a “straw man.” It diverts attention from the central issue: Will Roberts make a good Supreme Court justice?

    Snappy Answer:   "Good thing Bush chose John Roberts, then!"

    Got a snappier answer?  Email Figaro.


    Now Explain Nipples for Men

    breastplate.jpgQuote: "I am hopeful that the scientific community will eventually admit the possibility of intelligent design, even if that acceptance is discreet and muted." Lehigh University biologist Michael Behe, a leading proponent of the Intelligent Design theory

    Term: Ad ignorantiam (ad ig nor AHN tee ahm), the it's-not-disproved-so-it's-true fallacy

    How do you disprove a theory that won't name its origin? You can't. And so the Intelligent Design people commit a logical foul: the fallacy ad ignorantiam, which says that something is true if it hasn't been disproved.

    By re-branding creationism as "Intelligent Design," fundamentalist Christians inserted themselves into public debate. But the Intelligent Design crowd makes a difficult target. They don't have to defend their Designer in Chief, because they're careful not to mention Him.

    "Perhaps molecular machines appear to look designed because they really are designed," Behe says. By who? Steve Jobs?

    Snappy Answer: "Who's the Designer?"


    That’s fubar, imho

    slang.gif Quote:   “c|n>k – coffee through nose into keyboard” Translation of an Internet acronym by the Internet Dictionary & Translator, www.noslang.com

    Figure of Speech:    skotison (SKO tih son), the figure of ultimate darkness

    Skotison, which means “Darken it!” in ancient Greece, uses obscure language to seem profound, or to make the speaker feel part of an exclusive group.  People who can type 70 words per minute and have perfect control over the shift key nonetheless insist on using computer-cipher like “lol” (laugh out loud) and “imho” (in my humble opinion).  Why?  Because it makes them feel part of the computer “literate” tribe.

    Along comes the Internet Dictionary & Translator to save the rest of us.  Type in some jargon or acronym, and it will give you the English version.

    Snappy Answer:    "Something's wrong with your keyboard."   (Avoid using the word “skotison.”  That would be a skotison.)