The Straw Man and the Hallucinating Goldfish

Scientific American explains two media manipulation techniques, the “straw man” and the “weak man”. Know how to spot them and help fight the Hallucinating Goldfish.

In Getting Duped: How the Media Messes with Your Mind, Yvonne Raley and Robert Talisse write:

One common method of spinning information is the so-called straw man argument. In this tactic, a person summarizes the opposition’s position inaccurately so as to weaken it and then refutes that inaccurate rendition. In a November 2005 speech, for example, President George W Bush responded to questions about pulling troops out of Iraq by saying, “We’ve heard some people say, pull them out right now. That’s a huge mistake. It’d be a terrible mistake. It sends a bad message to our troops, and it sends a bad message to our enemy, and it sends a bad message to the Iraqis.” The statement that unnamed “people” are advocating a troop withdrawal from Iraq “right now” is a straw man, because it exaggerates the opposing viewpoint. Not even the most stalwart Bush adversaries backed an immediate troop withdrawal. Most proposed that the soldiers be sent home over several months, a more reasonable and persuasive plan that Bush undercut with his straw man.

The Weak Man tactic is a twist on this…

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Ah, questions!

I was going to write a serious piece comparing the George W Bush and Ronald Reagan presidencies, and discuss the links John Howard’s time as PM. But I’ve been distracted. Instead, I’ve been looking at the questions which led people to this website.

This isn’t original. Meg Tsiamis was there first. As she observed, people find one’s website through some astounding searches.

I’ve mentioned before that the most common search bringing people here is “steve irwin jokes” — something I find quite depressing. The Top 10 includes such gems as “gerbil sex”, “royal gay sex”, “glory hole” and “bestiality”. Classy eh?

But scroll down the list’s long tail, through 580 different keyphrases so far this month alone, and you’ll find actual questions. Here, then, are some of the answers. If you can expand upon them, please do!

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Rudd’s +2 charisma roll: thanks, Al!

Photographs of Kevin Rudd with Al Gore, and John Howard with George W Bush

Al Gore’s Nobel Peace Prize is like a Magic Cloak of Invincibility. Now anyone wanting to criticise him had better have all of their ducks in a row — feathers freshly preened and all lined up like the North Korean Army — before they dare open their mouths.

And, through the magic of televisual political frottage, Kevin Rudd gets a +2 on his charisma too, since he’s been seen wandering Melbourne with The Big Al himself, quietly discussing… well, discussing something anyway. Does it matter exactly what?

Kevin Rudd knows Al Gore! AL GORE! He must be cool!

Since the US of A is our best friend and protector, mentor and high-tech stuff salesman, these pairings of potential PM with an Important American define our future.

We have Kevin Rudd, the quiet and unassuming Supernerd who can crack jokes with the president of China in his own language. Next to Kevin we have Al Gore, who everyone knows through that movie.

OK, some people want to spoil the fun by pointing out a few errors, but hey we all got the message.

Al Gore hasn’t yet said whether he’ll run for President, but former president and Nobel Laureate Jimmy Carter is behind him.

And then we have the Man of Steel and his submissive relationship with the Lame Duck President, digging up coal and uranium and oil and gas and whatever else they can find and selling it as fast as they can. Dubya is on the nose politically and has been for months, and the Man of Steel is making up policy on the fly.

Gee, there’s a choice, eh?

Howard’s submissive body language

Photograph of John Howard with George W Bush

John Howard’s body language worries me. I want a leader, a statesmen to lead Australia, not a lapdog.

Some years ago, the ABC had vision of Howard greeting some visiting American dignitaries — I think Colin Powell was one of them. Anyway, as people got out of limos and approached each other the US visitors strode forward, calm and confident. Meanwhile Howard hunched down and cautiously extended his hand in a classic primate gesture of submission.

It was like a small-time shopkeeper receiving a visit from The Big City Bank Manager. It was embarrassing.

On the weekend, Howard was still behaving like a puppy-dog to George W Bush, as I think the photo (right) from the Sydney Morning Herald shows. OK, it’s only one frame, but I think it shows a nervous John Howard anxiously looking for approval from The Boss. What do you think?

But hey, have a look at the rest of the photos. At least Hyacinth is in her element. A shame Laura couldn’t make it, eh love?

Who’ll be PM on Wednesday?

Cover of John Winston Howard: The Biography

It’s a good thing John Howard’s very bestest of best friends George W Bush left APEC a day early. Howard could avoid talking about yet another fall in the opinion polls.

On the cover of the recent Howard biography (left), the Man of Steel looks stern and concerned. Apt. If those poll figures are repeated on election day, even with the usual minor swing back to stability, it won’t just be a Labor victory. It’ll be a complete rout of the Liberal/National Coalition.

APEC won’t be the poll boost Howard was looking for. John’s Bestest Best Friend stumbled through his speech like a village idiot — you choose good friends, John! Kevin Rudd looked like a 21st century statesman, cracking jokes in Mandarin with the Chinese president.

Pretty much everybody is saying it’s time for Howard to go — as Annabel Crabb’s witty poem makes clear. But the Man of Steel is in his bunker, fighting to the end.

I do intend to contest [the election], I intend to contest it as leader. That question was settled last year.

In the SMH today, Peter Hartcher says the Coalition would be mad to switch leaders now. I disagree.

Continue reading “Who’ll be PM on Wednesday?”