Thursday, December 30, 2010

UPDATE: Knitting Headbands Keep Ears Warm in Winter

I am not someone who wears hats, even when the weather is below freezing I have a hard time wearing hats usually because I find them too warm and also I have slippery hair, hats just slide off -- it's weird. But a few years back I decided to try knitting a headband and I absolutely loved it. I knit it from some very fuzzy lavender "fun fur" and I wore it all winter long.

The next year I knit a second one in pink fun fur (above) using a double strand and it too got a lot of wear -- and complements. It's only problem was it started stretching out halfway through the winter and I had to thread elastic through the edges on both sides to keep the fit snug.

After that I began knitting headbands in luxury yarns using pretty lace patterns. One I knit in cashmere and gave to my sister Lisa who said she wore it all winter. I made a few more but they disappeared before I got to photograph them. Funny how that works. Recently I finished this one knit from Knit Picks' Andean Silk, an alpaca/silk/merino combination. I wore it while digging out after our recent blizzard and  it is perfect.

Last night I ordered a couple spools of invisible elastic, the kind you carry along with thread to create snug cuffs and I plan to use one strand for the bands on either side but not in the center. We'll see how that works to keep it fitting snuggly. So I'll keep you posted when I try the new design.

This is another one I forgot I had.It is knit from Knit Picks Cot/Lin, a cotton/linen blend:




Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Our Man at the Wheel during the Blizzard

This excellent picture of Gloucester's famous Man At The wheel during the blizzard was shot by Jay Albert. See the rest of his photos at Cape Ann Images:

This is Good Harbor Beach from Cape Ann, MA's Facebook page:

And this amazing photo is just one of photographer Les Bartlett's many stunning photos on his Follow The Gleam site:

And this photo from Stan Stone of On the Cove shows the damage to the Lanesville breakwater caused by the storm:

Thanks for reading...

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Conscience, Ego, and Narcissism

For months now I have been in an on and off discussions on Anne Rice's Facebook page and on Amazon forums she participates in. We've had some interesting exchanges and I genuinely admire her for being so willing to put herself out there with her beliefs and opinions. She tries to be fair-minded and her fans are pretty entertaining to read as well. Some are simply devoted fans who will agree with her about anything and, God bless them, the world needs fans. But there are quite a few who seem to really enjoy debate. Some are intelligent and articulate, some just rant, but that's the internet for you.

In the last couple of days she has started discussions about what having a conscience means and what it means to follow your conscience. I've found this very interesting because, though there are many who have well thought out opinions, there are also a lot who have powerful prejudices and have cultivated their consciences to support those opinions. I make no judgment on them one way or the other but I do find them fascinating.

Some years a back a popular “pop” spirituality book (Conversations With God by Neale Donald Walsh) included in its discussion the opinion that Adolph Hitler would go to heaven, or whatever eternal reward amounted to heaven, because he followed his conscience even though he did terrible things. I found this a remarkably self-serving argument on the part of the writer because it advances the theory that you can sufficiently convince yourself that something is the dictate of your conscience then that makes it right. As we were told in school, consciences have to be trained and they can be trained in a variety of directions depending on the capacity of the individual to pander to their own ego. The ego is some tricky stuff. A healthy ego is a beautiful thing but very often knowing where the line between ego and conscience is can be a challenge.

Recently I read an article on Huffington Post titled Narcissism: The New Normal by Judith Acosta, LICSW, CHT. In it she states that our culture, being as media-mad as it is, has become a breeding ground and a reflecting pool for narcissism. The more attention we get, the more we feel reinforced, and the more we feel reinforced, the more we feel we are right, and the more we feel we are right, the more invested in our own egos we become to the point where our conscience is heavily influenced by the reactions from others telling us how wonderful we are. At what point does being told we are right about something convince us that, in fact, we are?

I think an excellent example of this is Sarah Palin. In just a couple of years we have seen The Cult of Sarah explode. Her fan base is relatively small but they are incredibly supportive and vocal. As her popularity grows so does her belief in her own authority to the point where she goes around making outrageous pronouncements, believing in her own intellectual capacity, and even making ridiculous gaffes that she then justifies by blaming everything from the “lame-stream” media to the failure of Merriam-Webster to keep up with her word-inventing – and her supporters tell her she's brilliant. In the meantime her family is a shambles, her integrity is non-existent, and her political acumen is less than that of a fourth grader. But she believes in herself! She promotes herself as a moral icon for others to emulate. Does her conscience ever tell her that quitting the job people worked hard to elect her to is immoral? What do you think?

We live in an era when the internet gives us access to incredible tools for self-promotion. Anyone who has a product or a service to sell to the public would be foolish not to take advantage of such access. If you are good at doing this you can easily acquire a following and that is when you have to become doubly mindful of keeping your ego in check. It is so easy to believe you are awesome when there are people telling you that you are. So where does the line between ego and conscience exist? We all have to answer that for ourselves but we can never discount the barometer of what is just vs. what is self-serving. A lot of it has to do with the demands we attach to our conscience-driven choices. We have to remember that our conscience is not universally shared. When we start using our own conscience to try to change others' ways of thinking we are straying into the realm of ego. Can narcissism be far behind?

Thanks for reading.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Post Blizzard: And the Neighbors are Nestled All Snug in Their Beds...

It was a wild and windy night but the lights stayed on so no complaints. This is the backyard this morning:






Stay warm and dry wherever you are and thanks for reading.

The lobster trap tree, post blizzard from Joe's Good Morning Gloucester LIVE Storm Coverage!!!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Spicy Mexican Hot Cocoa While Awaiting the Blizzard

We are awaiting a blizzard here in Gloucester. It is cold and dreary out. I just went out on the back porch to wish a neighbor out walking his dog, a happy holiday and he said, "Are you all tucked in for the blizzard?" I told him, yes, as much as I ever am. But I am well stocked up and am spending the day working on the new book. At the moment the writing is going well and I am excited by the way it is going. I came across this and it sounded like such a good idea I may take time out to make a pot. I'm an enthusiastic fan of My Spice Sage.  Their prices are good, their products extraordinary, and I love all the "gifts" they tuck in their packages.  So give this a chance:
Spicy Mexican Hot Cocoa
Filed under New ProductsRecipes



Spice things up with this rich, chocolaty hot cocoa. Dutch Process Cocoa Powder pairs with Bhut Jolokia Peppers and Ancho Chile Powder in this yummy treat, producing a creamy, spicy kick! 


*Bhut Jolokia Peppers have an extremely high amount of capsaicin, the chemical responsible for its hotness. This can burn your skin, so it is advised your wear rubber gloves when handling and chopping the peppers, or use tongs. Never touch your face or eyes and immediately wash your gloves and hands after handling the peppers.
List of ingredients:
• 2 cups milk
• 1/2 cup half-and-half
• 5 cinnamon sticks
• 1 Bhut Jolokia Pepper
• 1 teaspoon Madagascar Vanilla Extract
• 1/4 teaspoon Ancho Chile Powder
• 1/4 cup Dutch Process Cocoa Powder
• 2 Tablespoons brown sugar
• 1/2 cup milk for topping
• chocolate shavings
Preparation:
Combine the milk, half-and-half, cinnamon sticks, Bhut Jolokia Pepper, vanilla, chile powder, cocoa and brown sugar in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil for five minutes, whisking constantly.
Warm the 1/2-cup milk in a small bowl in the microwave for 1 minute. With a whisk, stir rapidly until frothy. Pour the hot cocoa into two mugs. Use a large spoon to scoop the froth off the top of the warmed milk. Place on top of the cocoa, then sprinkle with chocolate shavings. Serve hot!
Serves 2 spice lovers.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas

They Have Different Needs

Some seeds beneath the earth
Are dormant.

They fell the last time the cool air
Turned the leaves
Gold.

Those seeds have different needs than we do;
Let them go about their life
Completely unharmed
By your views.

We have cracked open, we sensed
Even beneath the earth –
The holy was near,

And are reaching up to know
And claim
Light

As our
Self.

-- St. John of the Cross,
as translated by Daniel Ladinsky

Friday, December 24, 2010

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Too Cool: An iChristmas iConcert

It had to happen. This is too much fun:

Another Great Blog from Frank Schaeffer

Just a year ago I posted a blog from Frank Schaeffer titled Obama Will Triumph — So Will America. It was an inspiring piece and I've been a fan of Schaeffer's ever since. Today he posted a follow up which I am shamelessly stealing here but I encourage you to visit his blog and his Huffington Post articles. He must have felt so gratified writing this:



President Obama 1, Critics 0

By Frank Schaeffer


While President Obama brilliantly cajoled 13 Republicans to join every Democratic senator to ratify the New Start nuclear arms treaty with Russia, adding (as the Times put it) “the capstone to what now shapes up to be a remarkably successful legislative agenda for President Obama’s first two years…” in an interview with The Times of London Julian Assange compared himself to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He also compared the Obama administration criticisms of him to the “persecution” endured by American Jews in the 1950s.

While President Obama signed the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell into law the Michael Moore – once again – interpreted history through what might be charitably called a very personal lens when he – again – let his readers know that yet more WikiLeaks documents mentionhim and his movies!

While President Obama orchestrated the push back in the Senate—that then unanimously approved a bill to pay for the medical care of workers who cleaned up ground zero… after McConnell and other Republicans blocked the bill, Markos Moulitsas on Daily Kos that blasted the President saying "It’s really obnoxious hearing Democrats like Obama trying to make that argument [that Obama needed to compromise with the Republicans on the tax cuts]."

Wait a minute, “Democrats like Obama”? Would that be PresidentObama you’re talking about so dismissively?

“One thing I hope people have seen during this lame-duck: I am persistent,” Mr. Obama said, at a news conference celebrating his end of year achievements. “If I believe in something strongly, I stay on it.”

Yes, and the President keeps proving that his rabid critics on the Right who are working so hard to undermine his presidency at every turn are no match for him.

He also keeps proving that, compared to the Left of the Democratic Party (let alone such "icons" as Assange) he knows how to get things done that actually change lives and matter. President Obama also seems to be the only grownup, not to mention the smartest person, in many a room.

While the Democratic Left navel gazes, inflates their own importance with articles about how they got mentioned in WikiLeaks (WOW!)... while Assange and others suffering from delusions of grandeur keep posturing as saviors of the human race, President Obama, Hilary Clinton, the late Richard Holbrooke et al, actually have been working for the good of America and the world.

The Senate ratified the New Start arms-reduction treaty, which the President said was his foreign-policy priority. Republicans surrendered, then grudgingly allowed the passage of the Sept. 11 legislation too. And that was after they tried to undermine the repeal of DADT.

The President never backed down. He won a string of bipartisan legislative triumphs. Meanwhile the Left keeps saying that to be bipartisan is a sign of weakness. Really?

The President's Right Wing Republican critics are now thoroughly exposed as the hard-hearted empty suits they are.

President Obama's Lefty critics look more and more like petulant teenagers.

Score One to President Obama, Zero to his critics.

Frank Schaeffer is a writer and author of Crazy for God: How I Grew Up as One of the Elect, Helped Found the Religious Right, and Lived to Take All (or Almost All) of It Back




Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Nativity in the Digital Age

If you are a good 'Netizen I guarantee you will chuckle at this. Who thinks these things up? A teensy irreverent but I'm betting the Holy Family would laugh!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Snow for the Solstice: Bon Hiver

It snowed last night for the first time this year here in Gloucester. Since last night the Winter Solstice occurred, making this the first official day of winter, that seemed appropriate. It is beautiful outside right now though I am glad I do not need to go out. I especially love that I work at home on mornings like this. The weatherman doubts that it will last. I am working today and then knocking off early to make some fruitcakes. I know, I know, I should have done that weeks ago but I still have time.

Last night I made another of my crockpot risottos and it was absolutely delicious. I got the idea from a rice dish Helene at My Tartelette made yesterday. My Tartelette is one of my favorite food blogs and her photography is gorgeous. This is my adaptation:



Butternut Squash & Coconut Risotto
Melt 1 tablespoon butter in a skillet and add ¾ c. arborio rice. Stir over medium heat until rice is coated and becoming opaque. Place in crockpot with:
1 cup chicken stock
1 can coconut milk
2 cups chopped butternut squash
1 small onion chopped fine
½ cup unsweetened coconut flakes
½ tsp. thyme
juice of 1 lime

Turn to High and cook for 2 hours. Check to see if more liquid is needed. Stir and cook for another hour. Serve with a little grated lime peel on top.

This is so delicious I'm glad there is some left over for lunch.

I still struggle with Christmas, I guess I always will, but I do love the solstice – I found my CD of Windham Hill's Winter Solstice and have been playing it non-stop. Last night I spent some time with an elderly neighbor who is having a terrible time with the holidays. She said she wished she could just go to sleep and wake up after New Years. Yesterday I also talked to a client who said nearly the same thing. It is oddly comforting to know others go through the same thing and I know why it is, we have so many ideas about what Christmas should be and it never is – never was, really, other than children.

So I keep writing and reading and cooking and knitting and visiting with people who need someone they can feel comfortable expressing their frustration too. In a way I suppose that is a virtue, to be a comfort to those who struggle with this season, too.

It is a shame in many ways because the sacred side of this holiday is dear to me and I cherish that part of it. But the parties and gifts and relentless plans wear me down. Oh well. Today thee is snow and fruitcakes in need of making and good work to be done so those are very good things. I actually love winter and look forward to the months of quiet and stillness and all that can be accomplished in them. 

Last night I started reading Jane Smiley's Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Novel. That is a winter's worth of reading right there. I'm only one chapter in to it but I'm eager for more. I'm going to ty to make time for reading more this winter, to shut off the computer at an earlier hour and put down the knitting and make a cup of hot spiced tea and just sink into a book. My third novel is progressing and I've started work on some knitting design patterns so I have plenty to do.

Bon Hiver, everyone. Thanks for reading.


Monday, December 20, 2010

Barry Eisler's Guide to Effective Arguing

One of the dubious features of many holiday gatherings is the opportunity to exchange ideas and opinions and, depending on the amount of liquid cheer involved, arguments seem to be inevitable. I was so taken by novelist Barry Eisler's Huffington Post blog about how to argue that I shamelessly stole it. You can read it at the original site or just scroll down:

How to Argue by Barry Eisler
The strangest thing about the low quality of Internet argument is that effective argument isn't really so difficult. Sure, not everyone can be Clarence Darrow, but anyone who wants to be at least competent at argument can do it. Here are a few guidelines.



I'll start with a hint: note the qualifier in the preceding paragraph: "anyone who wants to be." I have a feeling most people who suck at argument believe they're actually good at it. They're not, and in fact they're not even arguing -- they're masturbating. Good argument is intended to persuade another. Masturbation is intended to pleasure the self. It's the people who can't tell the difference who mistakenly think they're good at argument. I hope this article will improve the effectiveness of people who are interested in good argument. And I hope it will help people who until now have been masturbating to recognize what they've been doing, and to stop doing it in public.
Also, please note that word, "guideline," which is not the same thing as a rule. The points I make in this essay are primarily applicable to comments in blog posts and other one-to-one exchanges. A blog post itself, which isn't typically addressed to a single person, offers more latitude for, say, the use of ridicule or sarcasm or other techniques that, deployed against an individual, would inhibit that individual from coming around to your point of view. It's a matter of audience, and of intent. There are plenty of other exceptions, too -- but before worrying too much about what they might be, we'd do well to understand the general principles.
1. Insults and the Golden Rule. The most important guideline when it comes to argument is the golden rule. If someone were addressing your point, what tone, what overall approach would you find persuasive and want her to use? Whatever that is, do it yourself.
Let's get a little more specific. When someone addresses you with sarcasm, or otherwise insults you, has it ever -- even once -- changed your mind? I doubt it. Now, it's possible you're uniquely impervious to having your mind changed via insult, while, for everyone else, insults happen to be an excellent means of persuasion. But it seems more likely that your personal experience is representative of the way people work generally, and if you extrapolate just a bit, or if you take a moment to consider whether your own insults have ever persuaded someone else, you should be able to realize that an insult is a useless tool of persuasion. In fact, it's been my experience and observation that insults not only fail to persuade, but have the opposite effect, because they engage the recipient's ego and consequently cause him to cling more tightly to his position.
Let's use a non-Internet example for a moment. Ever see an irate driver flip someone off and yell, "Hey buddy, learn to drive!" or the like? Probably. Now, do you think the recipient of the advice has ever reflected, "You know, that fellow does have a point. What I did was careless and I should probably enroll in a remedial driver education course." So what was the irate driver hoping to accomplish with his insult? If your answer is, "He just wanted to insult the other guy!" you might be right, and if the irate driver was clear about his real goal, at least he's using well-tailored means (though, I would argue, his behavior is still pathetic and childish). But if the irate driver really believes he's doing something persuasive, he's obviously deluded.
Because even the most elementary common sense demonstrates the futility and counterproductivity of insults as tools of persuasion, we have to ask why so many people choose to employ them. I see two possibilities: (i) the people who are doing so are shockingly stupid; (ii) the people who are doing so aren't actually interested in persuasion, but instead insult others primarily to pleasure themselves. Neither of these possibilities is attractive.
Here are a few common insults I see on the Internet. I think the people using them aren't aware these comments are insulting. Their ignorance is likely the result of: (i) a failure of golden rule imagination (unless they feel respected when people offer them equivalent advice); or (ii) such blind certainty that they're right that on some level they honestly expect the other person to respond, "Oh, good point! I really was being stupid there, and I'm grateful to you for pointing it out."
Wake up and smell the coffee.
Stop drinking the Kool Aid.
Well, duh.
Um... 
(Seems innocent enough, right? But does it pass the golden rule test? No -- because the subtext is, "You just said something so stupid that I'm hesitant to bring this up in response, but...".)
And then there's sarcasm. I'll tell you what I hate about sarcasm. First, it's self-indulgent. Its intent is to make the user feel superior. Second, it's unproductive.  Its effect is to irritate the recipient, after which things tend to get less substantive and more personal [Note: As someone who tries to void sarcasm at all costs, I especially appreciated these comments. - KV] (see the section below on Your Ego is Your Enemy). Finally, it's chickens**t. The people who employ it from the safety of their keyboards wouldn't dream of doing it in circumstances where there could be consequences.
Also see the section below on Sham Arguments, which, in addition to their other shortcomings, are almost always insulting.
A hint: adjectives and adverbs, while not necessarily automatically insulting, are usually not your friends in argument because they tend to make you sound bombastic while adding nothing of substance. Include them in the first draft, and then take another look to see if your argument will be stronger and more dispassionate, and therefore more persuasive to your listener, without them.
2. No One Cares About Your Opinion. It might be painful to admit it, but no one cares about your opinion (or mine, for that matter). It would be awesome to be so impressive that we could sway people to our way of thinking just by declaiming our thoughts, but probably most of us lack such gravitas. Luckily, there's something even better: evidence, logic, and argument. Think about it: when was the last time someone persuaded you of the rightness of his opinion just by declaring what it was? Probably it was the same time someone changed your mind with an insult, right? And like insults, naked declarations of opinion, because they can't persuade, are masturbatory. And masturbation, again, is not a very polite thing to do on a blog.
If you think about it, believing a statement of your opinion alone to be persuasive is fundamentally narcissistic. Now, maybe a hotshot celebrity with a million Twitter followers can sway some people to her opinion just by uttering it. Doing so is still narcissistic because it depends for its effect on who is talking rather than on what is being said, but at least the celebrity has a basis for her narcissistic belief. For those of us more ordinary types, though, remember -- the sin of narcissism is worse when committed by someone lacking even the underlying beauty to justify it.
The most egregious example of this kind of useless narcissism I can remember was from one of those old American Express ads, where Annie Leibowitz would photograph a celebrity and the facing page would do a quick Q&A. There was one with writer/director M. Night Shyamalan. The question was, "Favorite movie?" Shyamalan's response: "The Godfather. Period. End of conversation." I remember thinking, "End of conversation? That should be the beginning of conversation! Who cares what movie you like? I want to know why you like it!" Unfortunately, Shyamalan thought what he liked was more significant than why he liked it. This outlook is childish and self-indulgent, of course, but but more importantly for our purposes, it's useless. Disagree? Then ask yourself this: have you ever found yourself persuaded by a bumper sticker?
Here's a simple exercise. Try to get in the habit of using the word "because" after a statement of an opinion. "I like The Godfather because...". "I think M. Night Shyamalan is a good/bad writer and director because...". Using "because" will naturally encourage you to provide evidence and reasoning, the objective underpinnings that turn subjective opinions into effective tools of persuasion. And not incidentally, the offering of evidence is an inherently modest, respectful, and therefore persuasive tactic. Someone who tries to persuade you with no more than an opinion is necessarily implying that he's tremendously important and you're in thrall to his awesomeness. Conversely, someone who takes the time and trouble to offer you evidence and reasoning is implying that you are a logical being worth the effort of attempting to persuade.
To put it another way: First comes your opinion. Next comes the word "because." After the "because" is your evidence -- the facts on which your opinion is based. In writing, an opinion is often known as a topic sentence. Here's a simple example -- note how useless it would be without the evidence that follows it.
Where can you find evidence? Well, if you don't have any to begin with, you might usefully ask yourself what your opinion is based on and why you hold it. Regardless, in the age of Google and Wikipedia, there's just no reasonable excuse for failing to minimally research your position. The only explanations are laziness, an onanistic objective, and narcissism, none of which I'd want to cop to if I could just do the research instead.
3. Your Ego Is Your Enemy. One of the primary causes of ineffective argument is the emotional attachment people develop to their opinions. A Martian might expect that humans would only develop opinions in the presence of supporting facts, and that the strength of opinions would correlate with the strength of supporting facts. But we all know the Martian would be wrong. Most people develop opinions for all sorts of reasons that have nothing to do with facts: I'm a Republican, I'm a Democrat, I live in a certain city, I was born of a certain race or religion, my parents taught me this, etc. And once we've taken a position, we don't want to modify it, lest we implicitly acknowledge that the opinion had no sound basis in the first place. If your opinion is based on facts, new facts can easily change your opinion. If your opinion is based on other than facts, you'll be motivated to maintain that opinion no matter what the facts.
So how do you stay out of ego trouble? First, by not getting into it. If you have an opinion, ask yourself why you have that opinion. What's it based on? And whatever factors it might be based on, how much do you really know about them? In intelligence, you're taught to distinguish between what you know, what you don't know, and what you think you know. Do this as honestly as you can with your opinions and the evidence behind them.
Second, and at least as important: don't get personally engaged. If you insult someone (see the section above on Insults and The Golden Rule), either in the first instance or in response, your ego is engaged. Once your ego is engaged, your primary motivation shifts from persuasion to ego protection. This is a waste of time. If you hadn't put your ego at risk in the first place, you wouldn't be forced to protect it now.
But how can you you resist the temptation to respond to an insult in kind? Well, you can find strength in the knowledge that people who ignore Internet insults and respond substantively appear mature, self-confident, and sane, and are therefore almost always more persuasive to people following the conversation, for one. You can find a way to take pride in following a personal code, for another. Third, you can recognize the danger of the Fundamental Misattribution Error, and know that the person who just insulted you thinks he's a great guy, and that therefore, if you insult him back, he won't find it justified the way you do. Finally, you can ponder what Ghandi meant when he said, "Be the change you want to see in the world."
Here's a little tactical trick. When someone insults you, try to rephrase in your mind what the person would have said if he'd been trying to be polite, and respond to that instead.
4. Good Argument is Good Conversation. A few years ago, I read a terrific Russell Baker review of a book called, Conversation: A History of a Declining Art, by Stephen Miller, in the New York Review of Books. I'll quote three paragraphs from the review here because they're applicable to effective argument, too.
Both participants listen attentively to each other; neither tries to promote himself by pleasing the other; both are obviously enjoying an intellectual workout; neither spoils the evening's peaceable air by making a speech or letting disagreement flare into anger; they do not make tedious attempts to be witty. They observe classic conversational etiquette with a self-discipline that would have pleased Michel de Montaigne, Samuel Johnson, or any of a dozen other old masters of good talk whom Miller cites as authorities.
This etiquette, Miller says, is essential if conversation is to rise to the level of -- well, "good conversation." The etiquette is hard on hotheads, egomaniacs, windbags, clowns, politicians, and zealots. The good conversationalist must never go purple with rage, like people on talk radio; never tell a long-winded story, like Joseph Conrad; and never boast that his views enjoy divine approval, like a former neighbor of mine whose car bumper declared, "God Said It, I Believe It, That Settles It."
Underlying this code of good manners is the assumption that good conversation is not a lecture, a performance, a diatribe, a sermon, a negotiation, a cross-examination, a confession, a challenge, a display of learning, an oral history, or a proclamation of personal opinion.
Regarding "God Said It, I Believe It, That Settles It," see the section above on No One Cares About Your Opinion -- specifically, the part about narcissism.
5. False Binaries. A false binary is a false either/or. Examples would be, "Either we wage war on Islam or we're all be forced to convert!" "We have to fight communism in Vietnam or we'll be fighting it here at home!" "We have to keep drugs illegal or America will become a nation of addicts!" And my personal favorite: "What are we supposed to do if we can't torture prisoners for information, feed them tea and crumpets?"
False binaries are the result either of sloppy thinking or of deliberate attempts to mislead, neither of which is well calculated to persuade. They're usually caused by a conflation of means and ends. If you look at war as a tool, for example, you'll understand it's just one way (and usually not a very good one) for dealing with an enemy, or of otherwise getting what you want. If you conceive of war as the end and not the means, on the other hand, you'll have a hard time seeing other ways of achieving whatever it is you tell yourself you're after. Similarly, if you feel drug prohibition is itself the goal, you won't be able to see past it. If you realize instead that the goal is to keep usage and addiction rates at levels society can manage (as we do for alcohol), possibilities other than prohibition will become apparent.
Watch out for the weasel words in false binaries, too. "We have to fight militant Islam," for example. Okay, but... is there really no way to fight an ideology other than with, say, invasions and drone strikes?
As for the torture vs. tea and crumpets argument, my usual response is, "Really? Those are the only two ways of acquiring information from a prisoner that you can imagine?" Because so many other possibilities are obvious -- what do police do? What did World War II interrogators do? It's pretty clear that people who try to narrow things down to torture on the one hand, tea and crumpets on the other are more interested in torture than they are in information.
False binaries are worth avoiding because they make you look stupid, and, aside from the indignity inherent in looking stupid, stupidity isn't usually persuasive (though I admit that in politics there are lots of exceptions). If someone offers you a false binary, the best counter is to politely expose how silly it is, chiefly by pointing out how many alternatives are in fact available.
Above all, remember: you're either with us, or you're with the terrorists.
6. Sham Arguments. A sham argument, in the guise of straw men, platitudes, cliches, and what a website I like calls glittering generalities, is a truism trotted out in arguments' clothing. Here are a few examples, all taken from the real live Internet:
"The president can't just wave a magic wand and fix everything."
"America has real enemies."
"In politics, sometimes you have to compromise."
"Freedom isn't free."
"You can't make an omelet without cracking a few eggs."
"It's as simple as that." (I actually like this one. I always read it as "I'm as simple as that.")
Anytime you argue a truism, your implication is insulting because you're suggesting the other person can't see something blindingly obvious and requires some sort of remedial lesson from you. Ask yourself, why are you making such axiomatic observations? Because you really believe the other person doesn't know these things or that he would argue the opposite? Or because you're trying to insult the other person by implying that he doesn't realize something any child would understand?
The key to recognizing a sham argument is knowing no one would ever take the contrary position. Look at the examples above and restate them as their opposites. No one would ever take such positions. "The president has a magic wand." "America has no real enemies." In politics, you never have to compromise. "Freedom is free." Etc. You might as wall try to persuade someone that "sometimes it's sunny, sometimes there are clouds." The person's already persuaded -- so what's your point? Making such obvious, unimpeachable points just makes you sound stupid and/or condescending. Indulging stupidity and condescension never feels respectful, and what's perceived as disrespectful almost always fails to persuade.
7. Cliches. I mentioned cliches above, but decided to give the topic its own heading here because although cliches are a species of sham argument, they're pernicious too because of how effectively they block actual thought. Sunlight is the best disinfectant... better tried by 12 than carried by six (which is also a false binary, BTW)... If you argue with cliches, you'll come across as a thoughtless, unoriginal automaton. I could be wrong about this, but I've never seen anyone persuaded by a thoughtless, unoriginal automaton, so why would you want to act like one?
8. Digressions. If you want to be listened to, it's best to keep your comments on point. Using a post about Obama's broken habeas corpus promises as a jumping-off point for your thoughts on why you don't like Obama's environmental policies is apt to be unproductive (see the Russell Baker excerpt in the section above on Good Conversation). Someone else's post isn't just a grand excuse for you to offer up whatever else happens to be on your mind, and overriding the topic at hand with your own priorities isn't spam, exactly, but it has a similar flavor.
Look at it this way (and this is advice is applicable more generally, too). In the real world, would you walk up to several people you see engaged in conversation, listen for a moment, learn that they're talking about baseball, and join in by offering your thoughts on the benefits of the Paleo Diet? Of course not, because you know this would be boorish and would encourage polite society to shun you (I hope you know this). Well, look, if it's rude in the real world, chances are it's rude on the Internet, too.
If someone asks you a question, answer it. If someone makes a point, respond to it. A great way to keep yourself honest is to quote the other person's exact words. I know how obvious this sounds, but so many of the comments in blog comment sections are contrary to this elementary advice. Ignoring the other person's attempts to engage you makes you come across as wormlike and gelatinous, leads to unproductive exchanges, and is never persuasive.
9. Separate the Subjective from the Objective. Remember the exchange in the movie version of Nick Hornby's High Fidelity, where Todd Louiso says, "Well, I like the new Belle & Sebastion album," Jack Black cries out, "Bulls**t!", and John Cusack then says, "How can it be bulls**t to express a preference?"
Exactly. "I like the new Belle & Sebastian" is subjective -- that is, not subject to persuasion or proof. It's neither right nor wrong and no one will be able to persuade the speaker that it isn't so. Similarly, "I love America!" is subjective. "America is the best country!" on the other hand, is an objective statement because it's (at least theoretically) amenable to persuasion and proof. Presumably there is some basket of criteria for what makes a country good, and the country that has the most such criteria could be declared the best (though is there a sillier argument than an argument about America's bestness?). For more on this critical difference, here's an exchange on my Facebook page about whether America is the best country to live in. It's also a good example of what happens when ego, in this case, nationalism, is driving an argument and has pushed reason into the back seat.
10. My 10th Point.George Carlin.




To sum up: if you agree that good argument should persuade, you'll argue with intent to persuade. "Intent to persuade" (sounds almost like a legal definition, doesn't it?) means: (i) providing not just an opinion, but evidence in support of the opinion; (ii) attempting to separate subjective and objective factors; (iii) a respectful tone; and (iv) generally speaking, an approach that you would find persuasive if someone else were using it and you disagreed with that person's underlying point.
I think this list is a good start, but I'm sure it's incomplete. Please feel free to add your own thoughts on how to argue effectively, and then help make this advice go viral through Facebook, Twitter, your own blog, and whatever other means are available to you. Together we can improve Internet discourse, and who knows where that might lead? Thanks.

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