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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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    Thursday
    Sep272012

    Ready for Some Wednesday Night Debateball?

    Good Figarists around the world are getting out their chili recipes, unpacking their foam No. 1 signs, and buying team regalia. It’s Presidential Debate time! The first one’s October 3. Bring your vuvuzela!

    Wait. Only Figaro brings his vuvuzela to debate parties?

    In a tight election, everything makes a difference. In this election, though, the difference the debate will make will be, um, different.

    This election is about turnout, not undecided voters. That’s because the few remaining undecideds (“Stragglers” would be a better name) are among the least news-savvy people. Both campaigns are focusing instead on turnout, with voter-registration campaigns, laws designed to suppress minority votes, and micro-target marketing. And the debates?

    Each candidate will use code language to signal the fringes without turning off moderates. Consultants call this technique dog whistling, because it sends messages in a rhetorical frequency only insiders can understand. Obama will talk about fairness, community, level playing fields, and following the rules. Romney is practicing his scriptural phrases, military jargon, and coded messages about Israel.

    Meanwhile, the campaign’s spinners are trying to lower expectations for their own candidates and flattering their opponents. If Romney does very well, looking decisive and presidential while attacking Obama in jovial, Reaganesque fashion, he can outscore the president. And that will gin up enthusiasm among Republicans.

    Which is the end game for Romney. He rouses his party or he loses.  Be there for the kickoff!
    Wednesday
    Sep262012

    Perish the Thought

    After a long dry spell, Barack Obama at last offered up some juicy oratory in a speech at the United Nations. Tying American policy to its founding principles—freedom of speech first among them—the president wound up with a fine accumulatio.

    There is no speech that justifies mindless violence. There are no words that excuse the killing of innocents. There’s no video that justifies an attack on an embassy. There’s no slander that provides an excuse for people to burn a restaurant in Lebanon, or destroy a school in Tunis, or cause death and destruction in Pakistan.

    accumulatio (ah-cume-ew-LOT-io), the heaper. From the Latin, meaning “a heaping up.” 

    The accumulatio summarizes a speech, piling up all its themes and making them blaze. In this case Obama uses the figure to blast inexcusable responses to speech, making the responses sound more offensive than the original speech. He’s talking, of course, about the movie trailer with an abusive portrayal of the Prophet Mohammed.

    Obama’s speech represents the best of epideictic or demonstrative rhetoric, language that defines a people and its values. Long live America’s freedom of speech. And long live those who speak out against hateful speech. 

    Saturday
    Sep222012

    For Beachbody Coaches

    I just gave a talk in Orange County to the top coaches at Beachbody—an impressive (and very goodlooking!) group. Here are the slides from that talk. Please keep in touch, coaches.

     

    Tuesday
    Aug142012

    Eddie Haskelling Paul Ryan

    Ann Coulter, the demonizing rightwing agitbabe (and object of Figaro’s pervy fantasies), had to get on board with Mitt Romney’s suprising choice of a running mate. Problem is, Ms. Coulter had been backing the substantial New Jersey Governor, Chris Christie—presumably because the other potential picks weren’t potty-mouthed enough for her.

    So what do you do if you’re caught marching out of step with your political party? Deploy an Eddie Haskell Ploy!

    I think Paul Ryan is the perfect pick. I didn’t see it until Romney did it. 

    Figaro named this figure of thought after the smarmy kid in “Leave It to Beaver,” the one who sucks up to Mrs. Cleaver. Use the Eddie Haskell Ploy to enthusiastically endorse an opposing choice when you know you’re going to lose. It’s a great way to improve a relationship even while you lose the immediate battle. 

    In Thank You for Arguing Dorothy Jr. uses an Eddie Haskell when she says she won’t be going to a party—one her parents would never let her attend. The host’s parents won’t be there, Dorothy says, and (looking dramatically serious) “there’ll probably be alcohol!” (Page 64.)

    Too many people try to win arguments by scoring points. Smart people score relationships—or, in Ann Coulter’s case, the love of deep-pocketed Republicans. Nice Eddie, Ann! Keep at it, and one day your latest book may rival the sales of our book!

    Tuesday
    Jul172012

    Persuasion's Fulcrum

    Will rhetoric determine whether Obama or Romney wins this fall? You bet it will, though in ways that may surprise you. It’ll come down to two factors: turnout, and a very few persuadable voters. That’s what all that fuss about super-PACs and anonymous donors comes down to. The money pays for advertising, which affects turnout and persuades the few remaining persuadable voters.

    So here’s a drinking game to help you tolerate the barrage of political advertising. If an ad focuses on values issues like marriage or abortion, it’s trying to increase turnout for one party or another. Chug a chalice of communion wine. If it focuses on anything practical like the economy, it’s aiming at the precious few voters who haven’t yet made up their minds. Down a Red Bull. 

    How few are these “undecideds”? (Figaro prefers the more positive term “persuadables.”) Check out this comment from political guru Paul Begala.

    The American president will be selected by fewer than half the number of people who paid to get into a Houston Astros home game last year — and my beloved Astros sucked last year; they were the worst team in baseball. Put another way, there are about as many people in San Jose as there are swing voters who will decide this election. That’s not even as many people as attended Puerto Rican cockfights in the past year — although there are obvious similarities.

    Some people have poked holes in Begala’s assertion. But the point is this: persuasion isn’t about the people you disagree with. It’s about the fulcrum; the persuadable audience.

    Sadly, America’s persuadable political audience follows the news less, and so is more easily manipulated, than the rest of us. Money in politics isn’t the problem. The fulcrum is the problem.

    Friday
    Jul062012

    The Obvious

    Figaro is taking a break from being an egghead and showing smart people how to argue or just be witty. Meanwhile every few seconds some moronic nonsense goes as viral as a cat video. So let’s go viral!

    I shall now state the obvious. Feel free to add your own.

    The Obvious

    Because Somebody Has to State It

    By Jay Heinrichs

     

    On Common Wisdom:

    The more things change, the more people wish they wouldn’t.

    Laughter isn’t the best medicine. That’s medicine’s job.

    A watched pot actually does boil, usually the moment you look away.

    There are better ways of knowing someone than walking around in their shoes.

    A man’s home isn’t his castle, unless it’s an actual castle.

    There’s no such thing as an ill wind. Wind doesn’t get sick. You can have an unhealthy wind, though, which sucks.

    When you smile, only some of the world will smile with you. The rest will wonder why you’re smiling, or just hate you.

    If you scratch someone else’s back, your own back won’t feel any better.

    Sometimes where there’s smoke, there’s not much fire. Hardly any at all.

     

    On Health:

    When you’ve got your health, you’ve got everything. Except possibly money, or friends.

    Diets actually work great. They make some people millions.

    Sitting in a chair all the time makes you really bad at not sitting.

     

    On Sex:

    When people say “Screw it,” they’re not really suggesting anything.

    I don’t know why people ask “How was it?” after sex. The question should be “How is it?” before anything else happens.

    If you have sex with an animal, it won’t be able to tell you how it felt.

    A man with a long foot usually has a long other foot.

    Cars aren’t sexy. I mean, that’s perverted.

     

    On Science:

    When you swat a fly, you kill one of God’s creatures. That’s one less fly, on the other hand.

    Nature doesn’t care if you mess it up; it just makes different nature. The kind humans won’t live in.

    If mermaids existed, they’d be slimy.

     

    On Sports:

    Pornography and professional sports both mean watching other people have fun, or pretend to.

     

    On Politics:

    A conservative is somebody who likes to annoy liberals. A liberal is somebody who gets annoyed by conservatives.

    People who want to defend marriage shouldn’t try to prevent marriages. They should try to prevent divorces.

    A candidate who has been successful at business has proven that he can be successful at business.

    I don’t know why liberals want to call themselves “progressives.” Most people like liberal helpings, but who goes to progressive dinners?

    People who think the government’s budget is just like a household budget must have a bigger Pentagon than mine.

     

    In General:

    A gift made by hand has been touched more than one made by a machine.

    Don’t really want someone to have a nice day? Just tell them to have a day.

    What makes a tautology boring is that it’s just a tautology.

    The best lessons are the ones you remember.