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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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    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.

    Wednesday
    Jul042012

    Speaking of Logic

    Figarist David Kaufmann put us on to a great fallacies site. Fun and useful, even while it implies that fallacies are a sin. So do we, in Thank You for Arguing. But in rhetoric, the real sinner in a fallacy is the person who falls for it. Rhetoric has few rules. If you can persuade without threats or actual violence, you’re good.

    As we note in our book, most fallacies come down to one or more of these three elements:

    Bad proof. This includes false comparisons, bad examples, and ignorance as proof (assering that the lack of examples proves something). The tests didn’t find anything, so you’re not sick.

    Wrong number of choices, offering just two choices when more are actually available, or merging two or three issues into one. We can bomb Iran, or we can let them destroy Israel.

    Disconnect between proof and conclusion. The tautology—in which the proof and the conclusion are identical—constitutes the most infamous disconnect. He’s good at sports because he’s an athlete.

    Our favorite fallacious quote comes from the great Homer Simpson. When he offers his daughter, Lisa, a doughnut, she asks if he has any fruit instead. “This has purple in it,” Homer replies. “Purple is a fruit.”

    Can you name the fallacy?

    Sunday
    Jul012012

    Should Logic Be King?

    Here’s an interesting question from a Figarist, and Figaro’s very own answer.

    Howdy Figaro-
    What is your opinion on rhetoric vs. logic? I read a very interesting blog post recently [http://charltonteaching.blogspot.com/2010/09/rhetoric-versus-logic.html ] that talks about how logic gained preeminence as a sort of truth standard, to which all other forms of study are subordinate, while rhetoric always remained secondary to truth, more like a way of pointing towards the truth. The implication I believe was that logic became almost inherently fascistic in a sense. Opinions?
    Gabriel
    Dear Gabriel,
    What you’re really talking about is the difference between rhetoric and what the Greek Sophists called “dialectic.” Rhetoric seeks to persuade people into making a choice, feeling loyal toward a group or leader or brand, or convicting someone of a crime. Dialectic engages in dialogue to find the “truth.”
    It’s very nice to subordinate every kind of conversation under King Logic. But people will go on trying to persuade each other. As logical old Aristotle himself put it, “sorry human nature” will employ emotions as well as logic. 
    Which isn’t entirely bad. Most disagreements have nothing to do with truth or falsity. They have to do with choices. If every choice were a true/false question, we wouldn’t need dialogue at all. Just the right manual.
    Figaro is very much pro-dialectic. He loves the ancient dialogues. But when it comes to choosing candidates—or vacations for that matter—he prefers good ol’ rhetoric.
    For more on the distinction between philosophical logic and the rhetorical kind, see Thank You for Arguing.
    Fig.

     

    Wednesday
    May232012

    "Thank You" Does Aural

    A Figarist just asked if there’s an audio version of Thank You for Arguing or Word Hero.  It just so happens that an audio CD is being released on June 4. It’s available for pre-order on Amazon.  

    The actor David Drummond does it with a voice so melodious that he makes Figaro sound sexy and funny at the same time. As if I suddenly morphed into George Clooney. I tell you, this Drummond guy is that good.

    Thursday
    May172012

    Short Boors and Hookers

    Chicago Tribune reporter Heidi Stevens asks whether there are any good acronyms out there. We answered with A-1 concision.

    Let us know your favorite—and least favorite—acronyms or abbrieves.