Archive for the ‘Rhetoric’ Category

Sociologist-in-chief is dusting off his cliched and inaccurate rendering of evolutionary biology to explain why voters are reacting so negatively to Democrats,

Part of the reason that our politics seems so tough right now and facts and science and argument does not seem to be winning the day all the time is because we’re hardwired not to always think clearly when we’re scared,’ Obama said Saturday evening in remarks at a small Democratic fundraiser Saturday evening. ‘And the country’s scared.

OK, when I read this (up to the ‘Obama’ in this quote) I thought BO was talking about the Democrat candidates, Democrats in general, and Jamie Galbraith in particular.

This is a very, very rich quote to mine, which is why so many people are donning their hard hats and setting the blast caps. The country’s scared: he finally has that right. I mean, give him credit (come on, you can do it): he isn’t calling us a bunch of racists. The rest of the quote has him attributing our “fear” to the economic downturn.

But, of course, Barry the Science Guy can’t even get his “fight or flight” response right. We lower order animals-who-vote are purely emotional and can’t process “science.” My very, very first reaction to this was, “So, show me the ‘science.’ What ‘science’? What ‘facts’ are so compelling that only someone in the grip of terrorizing fear can turn a blind eye and vote against a Democrat, and you know, tell a pollster that they not only miss George Bush, they’re getting a little nostalgic for Sweater Boy?”

Those were the days: real hair and cardies with pockets.

Fun fact: the sweater that Jimmah wore for his Oval Office Thermostat speech is in his Presidential library/museum. Contrast with Hawaii B-O, who keeps the temps at +75 F. I say we send November 3 condolence packages of sweaters to Chairman Zero with little notes saying, “It’s a cold, cold world out there and cold voters are Republican voters. Aloha means ‘good-bye,’ too.”


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It seems like yesterday that the Obama campaign was mocking [disabled war hero victim of torture] Senator John McCain for not being able to use a keyboard.  And it seems like just a few minutes ago, the first crisis the Secret Service had to handle was when BO dropped his Bubble-Busting Blackberry.

Well, all that too-cool-for-you cutting edge techno savvy networking is soooo 2009.  The Øne has stepped into the WABAC machine and became my mother, who threatened, in all seriousness, to write me out of the will for suggesting that she might find a word processor useful.  In the ’80’s.  Here’s what Grumpy Gramps told the newly minted grads at Hampton University this weekend:

“You’re coming of age in a 24/7 media environment that bombards us with all kinds of content and exposes us to all kinds of arguments, some of which don’t always rank all that high on the truth meter,” Obama said at Hampton University, Virginia.

“With iPods and iPads and Xboxes and PlayStations, — none of which I know how to work — information becomes a distraction, a diversion, a form of entertainment, rather than a tool of empowerment, rather than the means of emancipation.”

I’m wondering if they booed the Geezer-in-Chief off the stage in time for him to beat the dinnertime rush at the Luby’s (4 p.m. and the place is a mad house.)  By the way, even I know how to use an iPod- there are only 250,000,000 in circulation.  And I didn’t realize that Xboxes and Playstations are offering “information” that becomes a form of entertainment.

I think he needs to find himself a teleprompter that is a little less in love with alliteration and condescension.

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From “Notable and Quotable” on the op-ed page of the WSJ:

John McWhorter writing last week for TNR.com:

Why does Sarah Palin talk the way she does? . . . [She] is given to meandering phraseology of a kind suggesting someone more commenting on impressions as they enter and leave her head rather than constructing insights about them. . . .

The easy score is to flag this speech style as a sign of moronism. But we have to be careful—there is a glass houses issue here. Before parsing Palinspeak we have to understand the worldwide difference between spoken and written language—and the fact that in highly literate societies, we tend to have idealized visions of how close our speech supposedly is to the written ideal.

Namely, linguists have shown that spoken utterances—even by educated people (that is, even you)—average seven to ten words. We speak in little packets. And the result is much baggier than we think of language as being, because we live under the artificial circumstance of engaging language so much on the page, artificially enshrined, embellished, and planned out.

Well, not all of us speak in little packets- this from Anne Kornblut of the Washington Post [emphasis mine]:

…a woman named Doris stood to ask the president whether it was a “wise decision to add more taxes to us with the health care” package.

“We are over-taxed as it is,” Doris said bluntly.

Obama started out feisty. “Well, let’s talk about that, because this is an area where there’s been just a whole lot of misinformation, and I’m going to have to work hard over the next several months to clean up a lot of the misapprehensions that people have,” the president said.

He then spent the next 17 minutes and 12 seconds lulling the crowd into a daze. His discursive answer – more than 2,500 words long — wandered from topic to topic, including commentary on the deficit, pay-as-you-go rules passed by Congress, Congressional Budget Office reports on Medicare waste, COBRA coverage, the Recovery Act and Federal Medical Assistance Percentages (he referred to this last item by its inside-the-Beltway name, “F-Map”). He talked about the notion of eliminating foreign aid (not worth it, he said). He invoked Warren Buffett, earmarks and the payroll tax that funds Medicare (referring to it, in fluent Washington lingo, as “FICA”).

Always fond of lists, Obama ticked off his approach to health care — twice. “Number one is that we are the only — we have been, up until last week, the only advanced country that allows 50 million of its citizens to not have any health insurance,” he said.

A few minutes later he got to the next point, which seemed awfully similar to the first. “Number two, you don’t know who might end up being in that situation,” he said, then carried on explaining further still.

“Point number three is that the way insurance companies have been operating, even if you’ve got health insurance you don’t always know what you got, because what has been increasingly the practice is that if you’re not lucky enough to work for a big company that is a big pool, that essentially is almost a self-insurer, then what’s happening is, is you’re going out on the marketplace, you may be buying insurance, you think you’re covered, but then when you get sick they decide to drop the insurance right when you need it,” Obama continued, winding on with the answer.

Halfway through, an audience member on the riser yawned.

But Obama wasn’t finished. He had a “final point,” before starting again with another list — of three points.

“What we said is, number one, we’ll have the basic principle that everybody gets coverage,” he said, before launching into the next two points, for a grand total of seven.

His wandering approach might not matter if Obama weren’t being billed as the chief salesman of the health-care overhaul. Public opinion on the bill remains divided, and Democratic officials are planning to send Obama into the country to persuade wary citizens that it will work for them in the long run.

It was not evident that he changed any minds at Friday’s event. The audience sat politely, but people in the back of the room began to wander off.

Even Obama seemed to recognize that he had gone on too long. He apologized — in keeping with the spirit of the moment, not once, but twice. “Boy, that was a long answer. I’m sorry,” he said, drawing nervous laughter that sounded somewhat like relief as he wrapped up.

But, he said: “I hope I answered your question.”

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I talked Friday with a colleague in Communications who described a current research project and its puzzling results.  He asked people about the credibility of blogs and the credibility of articles in the mainstream press.  Blogs scored lower: “Anybody can write anything in a blog,” people thought.  But then he had people read “posts” in blogs and “articles” in the mainstream media on a particular topic (in this case, food poisoning).  He proceeded to ask them questions about the credibility of what they had read.  Now, blogs scored much higher than the mainstream media!  This wasn’t due to anything about the particular posts or articles; the same text that was a “post” for one subject was an “article” for another.  He has no idea how to interpret the results, and thinks that people are just confused.

I don’t think so.  Here’s my suggestion.  People realize that anyone can say anything on a blog.  But they also think they can  screen out bias, incompetence, and foolishness more readily from blogs, which tend to be frank and even artless about their perspectives.  They moreover realize that blogs often debunk or at least reveal bias in articles in the mainstream press, the credibility of which has taken a beating over the past four years.  So, people judge a reasonable-sounding blog post more credible than a mainstream media article, which they judge in turn more credible than an unreasonable-sounding blog post.  They rate blogs in general low in credibility just because there are so many of those.

Never on this blog, of course….

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Mike Lucas, a gay porn star, gave a speech at Stanford criticizing Islam. The reaction to the speech prompted him to write an op-ed for The Stanford Daily. That brought on a torrent of comments which are remarkable for their intolerance, abusiveness, and sheer idiocy. (Warning: Strong language!) Here are a few brief ones:

• i am scared of this man.

• This is just another Jews for Israel, Pornstars for Israel, Arabs for Israel, Christians for Israel production, mean to make Israel the center of the God Universe and to make Islam, the George Bush’s World Trade Center Demolition Team, and Osamba bin Laden the center of the anti-God universe.

• hahahaha what a [bleeping] retard.
learnt some SAT words have we? adult porn star. HAH. like I’d be caught dead exchanging words with him and his merry band of idiots.
there’s a place for argumentation, and there’s a place for retards like this guy, it’s called the psychiatric ward.

• Well said R! Took the words out of my mouth. This guy has no reason to be listened to, not because I am closed minded but because he simply has no logical basis for his views. I don’t write him off because he’s gay or a porn star but because he is stupid and has no right or basis to speak with “intellectuals” at a leading university.

• The author is a [bleeping] idiot.

The last 40% of the comments are much better, motivated primarily by disgust at the first 60% and dominated by people who are not Stanford students.

What on earth is going on at Stanford? Doesn’t anyone take elementary logic?

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Vonnegut’s Rules

The late Kurt Vonnegut’s rules for writing short stories.  They’re excellent rules for writing any sort of fiction.

I wish more screenplay writers would follow these rules; movies might be a good deal better as a result. When I watch “deleted scenes” on a DVD, my respect for the writers always plummets. It’s always good that the scenes were deleted, and I generally wonder why anyone would have written them in the first place. I usually could add quite a few scenes that ought to have been deleted but weren’t. (A prominent exception: M. Night Shyamalan—a superb craftsman, in my view.)

Analogous rules apply to any kind of writing. Here is my adaptation of Vonnegut’s rules to academic writing. Rules 1, 5, 7, and 8 require no adaptation at all:

  1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.
  2. Give the reader at least one idea he or she can root for and take away.
  3. Every idea, even those of your opponents, should have a motivation for which your view can account, and should be there for a reason.
  4. Every sentence must do one of three things—raise an important question, reveal a dimension of the problem, or advance the argument.
  5. Start as close to the end as possible.
  6. Be a severe critic. No matter how brilliant your leading ideas, subject them to the most devastating objections you can imagine—in order that the reader may see what they are made of.
  7. Write to please just one person.
  8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To hell with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why….

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Hat tip to Instapundit, who entitles his post “Cats and Dogs Living Together”: Moderates have been spotted at the meetings of the Modern Language Association, which rejected resolutions against Israel and for Ward Churchill in favor of ones expressing support for academic freedom. I especially admire these remarks, from someone who opposed even the more moderate resolutions as showing too much sympathy with the indefensible:

Charles Rzepka, a professor of English at Boston University, said during the meeting that he was startled to read some of the pro-Churchill material distributed by supporters of the original resolution, and that he was wondering if the MLA would be seen as backing the wrong side. In an interview after the meeting, he said that the MLA’s reputation would take a hit for any perception that it was backing Churchill. “I support speaking truth to power,” said Rzepka, but that requires truth, he added. [Emphasis added.]

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