Friday, July 16, 2010

Modern Propaganda Or National Pride? I Fought For You

I had to write a post after seeing this. It is absolutely perfect. Regardless of where you stand politically, or what country you live in, this video is marvelous. From script to editing, from music to casting kids with veterans... I could think of few ways to make it better. It is a perfect example of pathos at work, and tears came to my eyes when I watched it.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

ABC's Faceoff on God, Science and indeed, New Age [Video]

ABC's show Faceoff is about debate. The most recent one about "Does God Have a Future?" doesn't have a future because it does not have a direct link, but is truly fascinating non-the-less -- while simultaneously also being incredibly bad. In my opinion, it is definitely worth the time to watch.

The believers on the panel were Deepak Chopra, a physician and best-selling author of "How to Know God," and prominent scholar, philosopher and writer Jean Houston. They "faced-off" against skeptics Michael Shermer, founding publisher of "Skeptic" magazine, and Sam Harris, author of "The End of Faith".

I would like to address this debate in three paragraphs, of three categories respectively:
1. Topic
2. Content
3. Form

On topic I can say that the debate was everything but. While Sam Harris definitely made a very good first run at defining the issues between science and faith, and qualifying the discussion, it went off-track and jumped from one topic to another without focus. However, it did end up making a lot of sense if considering it as a panel on New Age, Science, and what's in between, rather than of God. What was said is not representative of the topic.

Therefore, the content was not amazingly interesting at the beginning, but while it got better the main interest for me was watching the dynamic between the speakers as well as how they try to reason with each other, what language they use and how it is understood was absolutely fascinating all by itself.

On form, while I am generally pleased with low-key moderation, it is very different from no moderation. Jean Houston sat at the opposite end of the stage and was largely ignored until later in the debate, while Deepak Chopra made the debate about him and his beliefs, feeling free to interfere at will. When Jean spoke she had interesting things to say, which unfortunately had almost nothing to do with the debate and had no content in them at first. This was not a debate, but rather a lesson on how not to build and manage panel discussions.

Elaborating on these points, the speakers on the "God side" of the stage were not believers in any sense the majority of us would understand, or would have expected. This pre-determined that the debate will not discuss what was intended -- God's place in our changing society. The discussion from their side was intrinsically off-topic to the debate which caused it to have no clash points other than the continual attempt to either define what is said, or get to such a point. It is a saddening miss, while at the same time the continual negotiation of language for them to address each other more than made up for it.

Dr. Chopra has an interesting belief system, and I liked him even though he is by far not a very good communicator. I am willing to give that to him for speaking English as a second language, but I can't forgive his misuse of logic by explaining away assertions with logical fallacies.

The worst of these was the claim that nuclear war will break out if people aren't spiritual -- unsubstantiated slippery slope argument if I'd ever seen one. He used it as a link between his assertion and his conclusion. In fact, if I didn't believe he believes in what he says, I'd be tempted to think he chose religion as a cover for proselytizing his beliefs to the masses -- he was in fact asked why he chooses to continually use the word "God."

With all this criticism, which is well deserved, watching was a lot of fun for me, and I learned a lot, if not what ABC intended for me to learn. I recommend the videos. If this seems incongruent to you with my criticism, that is because I can't help but analyze it as a debate, and a social setting of inter-personal dynamics. By far that was the most interesting part to see was the context -- how the content was handled and countered.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Debate in culture [Interview]

The philosophy is not necessarily my own, but it is an interesting commentary on debate in society.
There's a great unwillingness to be rude in intellectual debate. I'm afraid I belong to the seventeenth-eighteenth-century tradition in which if you're not rude in intellectual debate, then you're probably not debating — you're just patting each other on the back. The fact of the matter is that we're all in the business of working with words. As I put it, we're the devil: we're getting people to eat the apple.
You can find the rest here:
The End of Rationalism, an interview with John Ralston Saul.

Motions gathered from recent news stories

For the previous motions post, go here.

THW arrest women who carry more than 3 condoms
Item: Carrying condoms could get you arrested

THB polygamy should be reintroduced in China
Item: China faces growing gender imbalance

THB parents should be taxed for public health costs resulting from not vaccinating their children
Item: Measles Resurgence Tied To Parents' Vaccine Fears

Friday, March 19, 2010

25 Reasons to Date a Debater

Facebook is on everyone's mind, and debaters certainly don't waste time getting into social media.

A new group popped up recently, listing why dating a debater is a good idea. I have seen other versions of this such as Why Debate is Better than Sex, but this one is definitely cute.

Facebook group:
1. They pay close attention to detail.
2. They have well developed "oral skills."
3. They can go for 3 days straight.
4. They fully understand the principle that “practice makes perfect.”
6. They do it standing up…and like it.
7. They can do it one-on-one or two-on-two
8. They never finish early.
9. They like it when people watch.
10. They’re willing to do anything to dominate their partner.
11. They can adapt to a variety of styles.
12. They love a challenge.
13. They’re well schooled in all the latest strategies and techniques.
14. They can flip sides and be equally effective.
15. They’re determined to get what they want, how they want it, when they want it.
16. Stripping off a debate suit to find the birthday suit has never been more fun.
17. They say really sexy words like "permutation" and "cross-examine."
18. They always talk about giving and receiving hedge.
19. They turn your soft power into hard power.
20. They like to be on top.
21. They like to go fast.
22. They're willing to spread.
23. The classic debater "pen flip" is just one of MANY tricks debaters can do with their fingers.
24. Very few of us have good values
25. They can go round after round, in a different position every time

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Harry Potter Open [Debate]

A friend posted this on Facebook, which got many of us geeks very excited -- The Harry Potter Open.

From the Facebook event page:
"Yes, really.
Saturday 31 July 2010 is Harry Potter's birthday. Celebrate it in style, in Birmingham, in debate form.

Reg is £30 a team, or £25 if you come in a suitable magical costume.

There will be food, there will be drink, and of course, there will be Harry Potter motions."
This sounds like fun, I wonder what the motions will be. Too bad that the "Is Snape evil?" question has been answered in the last book.

This is the event calendar page on British Debate:

For the geeks among us I'd also like to remind of AnimeExpo's Otaku Parliamentary Debate.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Daniel Hannan MEP: The devalued Prime Minister of a devalued Government

This is a great short speech by MEP Daniel Hannan, skillfully attacking Gordon Brown, Britain's Prime Minister, at the European Parliament.

I am not a UK citizen and thus this is not my politics, but the speech is good.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Fun comic strips for the mathematicians among you

The power of money, and the power of perspective:

Source: Spiked Math

Presidential debates in a different world - "The Axiom of Choice":

Source: Spiked Math

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Ad Hominem Your Momma! [Comics]

Ad hominem: A logical fallacy explaining itself -- definition in term.
Comic strips FTW! ;)

Source: Luke Surl

Monday, February 15, 2010

The Daily Show: Irony and Assertions on Global Warming [Video]

This clip from The Daily Show starts as a funny sketch on the recent massive snow storm hitting the United States. Then, it turns its attention to Global Warming.

Regardless of where you stand on this issue, the assertions made by folks that Global Warming has to be false, as it snows in Texas, are clearly ridiculous.

By throwing baseless assertions and making wild claims, the sketch illustrates how people reach faulty conclusions. From the logical fallacy post hoc ergo propter hoc (just because it happens after, does not mean it happens because of) to reaching general conclusions based on anecdotal evidence.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Unusually Large Snowstorm
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorHealth Care Crisis

Exaggeration and hyperbole in news titles and their psychological impact

This sketch on The Daily Show demonstrates how titles of news items can be misleading, while being funny. I wrote back in Novermber 2009 on this subject, in a post titled How news headlines frame the discussion: rhetoric subtleties, discussing the power of titles.

it's always nice to find a popular demonstration.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
The Blogs Must Be Crazy
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorHealth Care Crisis

Here is my original post:
In this blog post The Last Psychiatrist looks at news headlines following the Ft. Hood incident, and asks us to guess by publication, which headline goes with what publication.

Political inclinations aside, it is an interesting example of how language shapes us, and how it can be used to bias our opinion one way or the other, establishing the frame for the discussion. Or if you prefer, to underline what we should look at by what the publication believes matters.

The author finds this especially important, as he believes most people only skim the headlines to begin with unless they are specifically interested.

In my experience, headlines often have little to do with what's actually written in the content, and in fact, can instigate beliefs contrary to reality which will persist for years.

One such example from my own experience relating to the 2007 Internet attacks against Estonia, what is now often referred to as "The First Internet War". A story came out when Estonia arrested one student for participating, but the title was that the Estonian student was behind the attacks, which is ridiculous, but a lingering belief.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Personal Story, Tactical Communication and Conversation Manipulation

[syndicated from my personal blog, here]

Going back home from meeting friends for a beer, I was excited. It's not often that I encounter something cool to do which also appeals to my youth's old tactical nature. When I do, I jump it! This is a story of how someone tried to manipulate me, and how I countered.

The two friends with me discussed a fascinating topic I didn't even know existed, and simply because I saw that I could do so, I decided to bring this topic to a larger audience, creating a mini-conference on the subject.

First on my list was to find a location, so I sent an email to a local academic who could be a good partner for this, and called a couple of other friends to get them on board, arranged for speakers, PR and other necessities.

The next day I received an answer with a phone number, and within a few hours had the academic in question on my cell phone. He asked me to call his land line, and I did. Our conversation was very easy-going and friendly in tone. Smiles splattered on our faces.

I told him I am excited to speak with him, as he obviously has more experience on this particular subject. I was differential as academic ego demands, showing him the respect he deserves, but in tone -- I remained an equal.

I made my case, and he cut in, asking "Can you explain what you have in mind? We ran a conference on this four years ago. Do you have something new to warrant an event?"

"No," I answered honestly in an interrupt of my own. He apparently didn't expect that, so I asked to continue my pitch, and then did.

A lot changed in the last four years, and even if not, in a university environment four years ia an eternity -- with many new students who would appreciate this event. I had better arguments than these, and as my purpose was cooperation rather than confrontation, I preferred to move on.

I explained how this topic is exciting, how it has direct impact on both higher education as well as real implications for daily life, governance, and the economy. I used two anecdotal examples to illustrate this, and my excitement probably dripped all over him, even over the phone.

"Well," he responded, "let me tell you about an idea I had."

Warning bells sounded in my head. "Happily, what's your idea?

He told me about an event he thought of, which sounded interesting. As he spoke I got about three ideas running in my head on the subject, but I listened quietly. "I would like to work with you, and if you can take some time to think of ideas for what we can do at this event, I'd appreciate us talking about them."

Stay on message

"Of course," I said, "I'd be more than happy to." And I was. "However", I continued with the same breath, "this conversation is about the first idea, so while I'd definitely like to discuss this with you further later, let's stick to the first one for now."

"Alright." he said, and we discussed a bit further, at which point he said "well, last year we ran a small event on this topic, and there was real innovation there which we could showcase. What will be new here?"

I explained a bit more on why I am excited, and why the topic is relevant, and how such an event can be beneficial. Then I decided to change tactics to show my resolve.

Stay on message, clarify position

"As you know, I am a security professional."

"Yes, that is where I know you from. Security, Internet, Cyber Warfare... Why does this subject interest you?"

"Truth be told," I happily jumped in, "I am excited. I learned to be a strategic person, but at heart, I am a tactical person, energized by excitement. I am excited about this topic, and I am willing to put the time into making this event happen. I will make it happen, but as I know of your vast expertise, I decided I must approach you first."

After more deliberation he asked me "What do you think of my event idea? I'd appreciate your opinion on ideas for it, and we can get back together on this after you think about it."

Alarm bells rang again.

"I already thought about it, and have three ideas so far."

"Oh, great! What are your ideas?"

I shared two, as my short-term memory had already erased the third. I told him as much, and I think he believed me, but it could be seen as a lure or a trick. We were extremely friendly. He asked me to email him the third one if I remember it. I promised to do so.

Stay on message

"I'd like however, to finish our discussion of my idea for now, as there is a time constraint."

When he heard I want to get it done within a month rather than a year, he was shocked. I told him how excited I am about the specific speakers I want to bring, and how one of them is leaving the country to join his new wife, and he is a major source of my energy for this. I mentioned how I understand if his events schedule is already closed for the coming year, but wanted to make sure and contact him first.

It wasn't my intention to go cold on him or play "girl negotiation" by appearing not interested, but rather to give him way out. But whether it was my excitement or the "girl tactic", or even the ego massage, it seemed to work.

He got excited about this speaker as well, and asked about getting him on video before he leaves. Then....


A trick I've never seen before, which unlike the ones used up to now, is purely manipulative from whatever perspective you may look at it.

"How about we both take a couple of days to think of our two ideas, then get back together and pick one?"

This is wrong on so many levels. To begin with, his idea is not on the agenda. Second, he assumes I am willing to give up on my idea. Third, he assumes it's one or the other, this is a false choice logical fallacy.

More importantly, with this trick he can potentially achieve four immediately obvious things. First, wipe the slate clean to run his arguments by me again. Second, put distance between the chats so that I have time to move from my strong position, and consider his, perhaps feeling uncomfortable turning him down again. Third, it puts the subject on the agenda. And fourth, potentially try to wear me down, as most people won't call again in two days, or in two months.

I didn't miss a beat.

"I would be happy to discuss your idea separately, it sounds very interesting and I'd be happy to work with you on it. However, my resources are limited and at this time I am only interested in working on this one."

I added my winning argument: "I believe that I can get very good PR coverage for this mini-event, and get cooperation with Famous-Non-Profit which will also be happy to cover a part of the costs."

He lighted up at the mention of PR. We spoke for a bit and he asked me for a few days to speak with his boss. A few days when I have only a month to get things going are critical, so I wasn't happy about it. But the request was reasonable. He threw the ball into my court though, so when I got off the phone, I sent him an email.

I detailed five good ideas for his event, mentioned I was happy to talk with him, and was looking forward to hear from him soon. I also attached my phone number.

As I said when I started this post, he really is a good guy, and very friendly. But he is also a politician. He is an expert communicator who interviewed people live for a decade as a journalist. So while I dislike manipulative behavior I recognize that for some, such behavior is more than acceptable. In fact, it is regular m.o. and needs to be expected as part of the game.

Thing is, even just a few years ago I would have gotten stuck after his first interrupt, and either ended up working on his event without realizing it -- or by being too friendly. Worse still, I could have mishandled the communication in a potentially offensive fashion. Some years ago more, and I wouldn't have been able to play the game, and would have taken offense.

Being able to switch gears into "I'm being manipulated", think fast on my feet with my responses, and keep the conversation on track for my purposes (also the stated agenda of the call) -- all while keeping the rapport going without losing one heart beat, got me very excited. The content of the call was suddenly secondary.

While I am extremely straight-forward and honest in my communication style to a point of bluntness, I am a work in progress and am always learning. And I must admit, when two professionals meet, the conversation is happening on a completely different level. I am just surprised he didn't read through me that I was on to every single trick, when I was able to deflect them all. Or maybe he did and kept throwing them at me anyway to try and outwit me?

The cynic in me may in retrospect reconsider the first thing he ever said to me, to call him back on land line, as a manipulative gesture to get me in a compliant mood. But that would be too paranoid -- wouldn't it?

There are a few issues to consider about this encounter:

1. What was his motive? Perhaps he confused me for a hungry young hot shot, and wanted to use my excitement for his own ends. Perhaps a clear-cut switch-a-roo to get me to work on his event, "stealing" me from mine. Thus, bringing the conversation to where he wants it.

Then again, maybe he was just trying to end the conversation non-confrontationally.

2. His main tricks, in order were: change subject, switch-a-roo, get back together in 2 days.

3. What can you do to counter such tricks? After all, you may not always have a quick wit about you, or know the specific tricks.

The answer is similar to holding your own in politics: Stay on message. Know what your message is and stick to it. Others may try to confuse you, throw you off, and introduce a red-herring such as sending it for discussion in committee. Stay on message.

4. More importantly, the conversation made it clear it is quite possible he has no political power on this front, and thus can't give me what I want anyway.

Which brings us to...

5. What is your goal?
I kept going as I wanted to convince him, and after a fashion, I did get the best possible alternative result. But why keep at it if it won't achieve my goal?

Two tricks such as he used can be excuses as part of natural discussion, at the third, why keep at it? By this time it is clear to both sides what's going on and no positive result can come out of it.

More importantly, my purpose is to achieve a goal, and if I am not going to, why stay on a call that is probably uncomfortable for at least one of the sides, and as sure as the sky is blue, wastes my time?

If my purpose is not adversarial, why treat the situation as a battle? Cooperative discussion is a much better approach. As no cooperation was likely to happen, keeping the discussion going was pointless.

In summary, it didn't work out. But you should not get me wrong, I have a lot of respect for the guy. But it was one of the more fascinating five minutes in my life these past few months.

Here are some articles I wrote on similar experiences I had:
I'm interested, but in you
Snap! Jazz music and mass hypnosis
WTF! Or, wow, this never happened to me before!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

The West Wing - The Supremes [Video]

In this episode of the west wing (5x17), there is a quick scene where a new supreme court justice debates with Charlie Young (a character in the show) over the validity or invalidity of affirmitive action.

He deconstructs Charlie's argument and suggests a couple of better ones.

I couldn't find an embed version so you can view it from this post, but did find this clip on a Chinese site. Skip to 4:45 in the video time to see the scene:

Friday, February 12, 2010

Euphemism inflation

The Fallacy Files blog carries an interesting post on how euphemisms lose their power over time, and are soon replaced by new ones.
Here's a good example of euphemism inflation:

Decades ago, poor children became known as "disadvantaged" to soften the stigma of poverty. Then they were "at-risk." Now, a Washington lawmaker wants to replace those euphemisms with a new one, "at hope."
Euphemism inflation is the process in which euphemisms lose their value over time and must be replaced. William Lutz, in his book Doublespeak Defined of 1999, documented the use of "economically disadvantaged" as a euphemism for "poor". "Economically disadvantaged" is actually closer in meaning to "poor" than just plain "disadvantaged", since poverty is only one of many ways to be disadvantaged. However, the full phrase is quite a mouthful, so it's no wonder that "economically" was dropped.

When that euphemism wore out, "at risk" was introduced. Presumably, "at risk" is narrower in application than "disadvantaged", since it's usually only children who are "at risk". Poor adults would be included among the "disadvantaged", but it would sound strange to call them "at risk".
You can read more on this here.

Catch of the week: Avatar and statistics

Catch of the week goes to The Numbers Guy over at The Wall Street Journal, where he shows how Avatar is not the most watched movie of all time, as the movie industry counts by total sales, not accounting for inflating, rather than by ticket sales.
Barely a month into its theatrical run, "Avatar" set a record for world-wide ticket sales, topping $1.85 billion. That is a reflection of its wide popularity, and also a reminder of the quirky way that Hollywood crowns champions.

In recent decades, the agreed-upon benchmark for movie dominance has been box-office revenue, unadjusted for inflation. That means "Avatar," like the previous all-time leader, 1997's "Titanic," and prior box-office kings benefited in part from favorable comparisons. Since tallies of ticket sales aren't adjusted for inflation, rising ticket prices have helped pave the way for a number of more-recent films, including "The Dark Knight" and "Transformers," to land near the top of box-office rankings.

Of the top 25 grossing films of all time on's U.S. box-office ranking, 18 were released in the past decade. Adjust the totals for higher admission prices mainly due to inflation, and "Avatar" would be the only one of those 18 to make the list—at No. 24, as of Thursday. The film has grossed $564.5 million in the U.S. and Canada so far, putting it $36.3 million shy of "Titanic's" U.S. record. And "Avatar" is still drawing big crowds in theaters.

How media measure their audience varies widely, and each industry's standard plays a big role in determining how often headline-grabbing records are set. Videogame and book publishers tout units sold, which removes rising prices from the equation but still can create new chart toppers because of population growth.
For the full story, go to the WSJ article.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Colbert Report on Civil Law and Terrorism

In this sketch from The Colbert Report called Formidable Opponent, brought to my attention by my friend Jonathan Braverman, Stephen Colbert debates himself using some logical and some less logical arguments.

The debate is about the pros and cons of holding a civil trial vs. a military tribunal for 9/11 architect Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.

He also emulates some pop culture reference I don't follow, where he plays a [probably] known attorney, claiming he is but a simple person (The Ides of March ftw!)

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Formidable Opponent - Khalid Sheikh Mohammed's Trial
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorEconomy
You can view this video directly here.

Friday, February 5, 2010

The West Wing: Mr. Willis of Ohio

I've been watching the first season of The West Wing in my free time this past month, and I like it. Back when I first watched it, I enjoyed the drama, the plot and learning about government. But more than that, it taught me while letting me have fun.

Most importantly, being engaged with the show which was smart, I felt smart. Or at the very least a part of the elitists. :)

Watching the show again (which so far works hard not to be too liberal or conservative) I can't help but be impressed with Aaron Sorkin's writing, and his incredible combination of ethos, pathos and logos.

This clip from the 6th episode of the first season, Mr. Willis of Ohio, is especially interesting as an idealistic and not realistic moment, where partisan politics is demonstrated in the reverse by a lovable every-day American and argumentation. Naturally, especially relevant in the last year since Obama was elected. But that's just on the surface.

Each episode has just the right plot combination of character development, building the "world" in a continuous story, and a stand-alone episode. It is also a good combination of idealism and realism, how to stick to your principles regardless of pragmatism, when your principles are counter-productive to your principles, and when practicality needs to come first.

Then, it displays arguments for and against varying issues, with a different ideological bias each time -- but always debating each other.

It frames it all with fun (friendship), respect (president's authority), and politics (everything else).

Personally, I find it interesting to see how the Internet changed our lives these past couple of decades, and how this change is reflected in the show.

I intend to keep watching this second time, and I certainly enjoy myself -- which is what matters when it comes down to it. Aaron Sorkin in a master manipulator, but unlike most of the rest of Hollywood, I allow him to manipulate me.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Comics on false authority, straight from Socrates

Via Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereai.

This is a great examination how we often believe authority, even when if it false. A daily example of this in advertising, when some actor speaks on a subject he or she don't understand, or supports a product, to lend credibility and weight to it.

This was examined at length by Socrates, when he tried to understand why the Oracle of Delphi would consider him the smartest man. The answer was that it may be because he alone realizes he doesn't know everything, and that most other smart people mistakenly believe that because they are experts on one subject, they are also on other subjects.

Is Democracy Not For Everyone? (Debate, Video)

In this clip, the speaker Greg Craven, shows how debate can be full of pathos, funny, and get the point across. Definitely worth the three minutes.

The full debate held at the Sydney Opera House (with more positive matter, and impressive international speakers such as a former prime minister) can be found here:

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Word it like Warren

This is very cute:
Really smart people use figures instinctively, even if they don’t know what figures are.

Take Warren Buffett. Investors read his annual Berkshire Hathaway Chairman’s Letter like it was Moses’ tablets from on high, mostly to enjoy his wit and wisdom. Well, okay, mostly to glean the secrets of the world’s savviest investor. But how many investment letters get quoted for decades afterward? Mr. Buffetts’ do, because he’s a wizard at figures—the rhetorical as well as the business kind.

For instance, in his 2004 letter he said that a timely investor is one who’s “fearful when others are greedy and greedy when others are fearful.” That’s a first-class chiasmus, though Figaro doubts that he’d use the term. “It’s far better to buy a wonderful company at a fair price than a fair company at a wonderful price,” Buffett said. Another nice chiasmus.Try it yourself when you want your writing to stick out. It’s not a question of whether we’re against Google. It’s whether Google is against us.

Besides using snazzy ways to change the usual word order, Buffett also likes one of Figaro’s own favorite devices: taking clichés literally. Here’s a quote from a panel discussion he did in 2008: “I try to buy stock in businesses that are so wonderful that an idiot can run them. Because sooner or later, one will.” See what he did? He took the cliché, “an idiot can run it,” and imagined that it wasn’t a cliché at all. Why prefer something that an idiot can run, if an idiot will never run it?

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Content in election speeches

On the "Finding Bad Guys in Data" computer forensics blog, the author wrote of how he looked at election speeches from last year and mapped their content by key words.

A short and interesting post, which you can read here.

I am very excited that someone else in the computer security field takes a look at the importance of words and rhetoric.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Emotional Words Distract, Or Do They?

I recently read an article called Emotional words distract, but only when you're searching for meaning, in which the author discusses the impact emotional words have, and when they may not have an impact at all.

He shows research which examines putting emotional words in different contexts, and how when our task is not related to meaning, they won't affect us much, and the opposite.

An interesting read.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Some psychology links

Money and persuasion
Money is a biasing elaboration moderator of great impact, easy to administer, and almost completely hidden. People do not quickly or intuitively recognize that money makes them feel independent, autonomous, and sufficient. It triggers a biased schema, profile, or template in their minds that causes them to evaluate following information and interaction differently. If you want people to make an independent, but biased evaluation of your arguments, prime them with money.

This ties nicely back to the persuasion literature that demonstrates many cues work best in prosocial (i.e. nonprofit) settings. As I've blogged and written before, many message tactics like FITD and DITF have been proven to work badly in a sales setting, but function easily and effectively in a prosocial way. The Island of Money effect illustrates why. IoM makes us self oriented.
Social contagion in human behavior and emotions
David Disalvo at Brain Spin was an article on how blame can be contagious. He lists many studies on how any number of types of human behavior can be a contagion, ranging from fear and loathing, to obesity and even happiness.
Good looking staff are bad for business
The title of the story speaks for itself, although I am unsure if this will be true for all scenarios, or just in some.
Looking Younger…. Looking Less Masculine?
Egan & Cordan (2008) digitally altered the faces of 17-year-old girls (n=10) to look either younger (morphed to appear similar to the prototype of 10-year-old girls – top row) or older (similar to the prototype of 20-year-old women – bottom row). Additionally, some stimuli were altered by adding digital make-up (right column). The authors had forensic interests and were exploring the effect of alcohol consumption on judgments of age and attractiveness. As a result, they did not report the specific data on attractiveness ratings alone, but, did conclude that faces that appear younger are found more attractive. Raters consisted of an equal number of adult women and men between the ages of 18-70.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Rhetorical game: Change the subject for fun and profit!

I invite you all to play the game of Straw-man Loop -- squirreling for fun and profit!

Someone starts it without warning by responding in a ridiculous, yet well constructed fashion, to another's statement.

The idea is to squirrel and go off-clash, responding to a different argument all-together. Then, in turn, the opponent(s) will respond to a different argument once again. Taking things to extreme by escalating the argument (and not the voice tone) is appreciated.

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Healther Skelter - Obama Death Panel Debate
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The game is beautifully demonstrated on this The Daily Show sketch: Healther Skelter - Obama Death Panel Debate, as seen in the video above.

Speaker 1: "This steak is bad."
Speaker 2: "Deterioration of the senses such as taste due to global warming, is indeed a problem."
Speaker 1: "I agree! In fact, I believe that studying cloud formations on Mars is the only way to go in understanding Oceanography. After all, if we are to get a grip on how Wave Theory works in inter-brain Neural communication, we need a good case study."
Speaker 2: "Case studies are the essence of all evil."

You may also choose to elaborate on your point. In fact, the more logical your argument is, the more fun the game will be, with two considerations:

1. Do not take too long, this is a game of back-and-forth.
2. Depending on the spirit of the game, you may either want to stay away from reality with wild claims, or stick to factual content as much as you can. Building your arguments to suit this gives you extra respect -- as long as you don't stray from the two extreme ends.

You may want to build your arguments to hold multiple logical fallacies, but that is a matter of personal taste. Some may find it adds some spice to the discussion, others may find it makes things too easy.

The spice must flow, but we are out of swimming water! Enjoy your coffee!

Perhaps Exaggerate! is a better name for the game?

Motions gathered from recent news stories

Going over my RSS feed, I note interesting items which would make good debate motions.

Some of these are age-old, some are new. All are recent. The motions I list are merely examples, as every news item could support several different motions

THB Dolphins should be treated as non-human persons with equal rights
Item: Scientists say dolphins should be treated as non-human persons

THB people who donate organs should get a higher priority for transplants
Item: Israeli organ donors to get transplant priority

THB adjoined twins can't be punished for a crime one commits
Item: Could a Conjoined Twin Get Away with Murder?

THB museums shouldn't be allowed to sell their art for monetary reasons
Item: The Art of the Deal

THB community rating in health insurance is fair
Item: Is ‘Community Rating’ in Health Insurance Fair?

THB that dating sites can ban members for not being pretty
Item: axes holiday weight gain members

Sunday, January 10, 2010

You might not be her first... [Updated]

There's objectifying women, and then there's being brilliant.

Due to a witch hunt by friendly feminists, I need to write more than just the above. My friends think I suddenly changed sides. Not so.

I have several ideas about objectification. I am okay with it being used, as I recognize that it works, and then that this is a pluralistic society with free speech. And I believe that the female body can be used in an un-offensive fashion if people only tried. I dislike it being abused, such as can be seen daily. I see it both as realistic and as hurting society on some levels. But that is a discussion for another time, and not why I love this ad.

Make no mistake, this ad is brilliant, and I often strongly object to sex in advertising. Not just on principle, but also as it is manipulative and even stupid.

This ad is brilliant because it combines subtlety with in-your-face by using common popular culture, and at the same time both creating a buzz about it due to the either cool or annoying factor, depending on your view. Then, it also identifies BMW as both HOT and something you'd like to have, such as a hot women. It implicitly says: get a BMW, and you get the hot woman.

It is brilliant because it presents a lure and an answer many would find funny. Because it uses sex overtly rather than as a quiet manipulator. Because it hints that BMW is as sexy as the women.

It is brilliant because it is cool and sexy, without trying to be sanctimonious about it. Most other ads would put the hot women next to the BMW and objectify her so that people associate the BMW with her, as a way to get what they want or need. This ad makes you smile because it is different, and because it requires a bit of thinking; you seek out the words, rather than just look at the women.

Meaning: This is what a woman is, and this is what our BMW is -- everything the women represents for you.

But most of all, it is brilliant because it is simple.

The ad does its job, it gets the attention of its audience and annoys everyone else to get even more attention and success. I may be offended or I may think it is a rare good example of using women in advertising properly -- it doesn't matter, as it is so brilliant because it works!

And when my friendly feminist friends get a second to think, the picture shows much less skin than most other, more "acceptable" ads.

You may ask, why? Why would my friendly feminist friends want to burn me alive? This is due to various reasons:

1. The model is Photoshopped and presents an "impossible image of beauty"
2. The objectification of women is demeaning
3. Using sex to sell is barbaric
4. Being unsubtle at all, so why is this subtle?
5. Implying that women, just like cars, is something you buy
6. Or that if you get the car, the woman comes with it.

But most of all:
7. They would be mad at me for admitting it, as regardless of it being true, they see this ad as perpetrating the problem with our society.

My feminist friends would usually be right, and I'd usually be leading right along with them. But not this time. No, not this time.

As an helpful comment on my personal blog, the USED CAR angle went completely past me. This pun may be even more offensive to some, but in my opinion makes the ad all the more brilliant.

Update 2:
Morgan Collins writes on the funsec mailing list:
This is actually a modified version of the original BMW ad which ran in
Greece and attracted Internet attention back in July 2008. Someone added
the second line "But do you really care?" and posted it on Digg recently.

You can see the original ad here:

There is even an online petition to stop the ad with 65 whole signatures!

Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics

This week two prime examples of botched statistics hit my RSS feed.

The first was an interesting post on how statistics can be mishandled and misrepresented.

In this particular case, the author discusses's market share, and how it "dropped" significantly. In fact, it has not. It is still the leading URL shortener by a large majority, but it was never as big as statistics told us.

In older statistics, only the five leading services were taken into consideration, while in the new statistics, all URL shorteners were considered.

In the second example, the author examines how some things can be made to look bad. The point here is that taking the median of pay in the public sector as compared with the private sector, does not equate one for one the pay for different types of job. Thus, the claim that the public sector gets paid more is false.


The Daily Show on Appeal to Tradition

In the last The Daily Show episode, there was a faux-report on return to tradition and The America That Used To Be. They show that things were never as golden as we remember them, illustrating this with some great fake interviews in what can be an interesting rebuttal to appeals to tradition. But wait, there more!

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While this is far from the best sketch from The Daily Show, it has inspired Lisa Wade at the Sociological Images blog to think about arguments of nostalgia and to speculate on which nostaliga it is we are talking about, with an example of "traditional marriage".
Sociologist Stephanie Coontz, in her acclaimed, fascinating, and fact-dense book, The Way We Never Were, illustrates the way that what is considered “traditional” must be socially constructed. For example, when people say “traditional marriage,” do they mean marriage between a man and his property? Between a man and more than one woman? Is the idea age for marriage 13, 20 or 27? Is it for love, political maneuvering, survival, babies, or kitchens? How you answer these questions depends on when, exactly, in history you’re talking about. (See here for some humorous takes.)

The point: Since all of history is potentially a source of tradition, identifying any given period of time as The Traditional, and therefore deserving of our nostalgia, is arbitrary.

Spin of the Week: Uganda Child Sacrifice and Witch Doctors

[Syndicated from my personal blog, here]

The spin of the week catch goes to Brandon K. Thorp, on the James Randi Educational Foundation blog in an article titled Child Sacrifice in Uganda, where he discusses the recent outrage in regard to claims of witch doctors sacrificing children in Uganda.

The post is built of three sections, claiming:
1. That by merely writing on it and repeating it in a few publications, it has now become truth (what I call self-generating ethos).
2. That evidence is seriously lacking, and what facts are known are questioned.
3. That there are consequences to scaring people about witches, namely, witch hunts.

He ties it all together by discussing the bad journalistic work performed here, from the assumptions made by the reporters who later insinuate them as evidence, to why the evidence actually provided is unlikely to hold any water when scrutinized.

He asks to see what children had actually been murdered, as the claims made about numbers, even if witch doctors do ritually sacrifice children, are ridiculous.

"Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence" combined with Occam's Razor seem to do a good job as a team.

A great work of argumentation, writing and skepticism! I definitely recommend reading it.