5/31/2011

Alternate Titles for Famous Books

So many book titles just don't provide the information that a reader really needs to make an informed judgment about the content of the story.  Take Gone With the Wind.  There is no wind, and no clue from this title that the book is the Civil War equivalent of The Devil Wears Prada.  Wouldn't it be helpful if book titles actually let you know what you were in for?

By the way, this isn't my idea: I stole it from a wonderful website called Bestbooktitles.com.  But couldn't resist having a go at it myself.

The World According to Garp, by John Irving
Alternate Title: "The World According to 1975"



Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel
Alternate Title: "The Story of Henry VIII With Absolutely No Titillating Details"


The Jefferson Key, by Steve Berry
Alternate Title: "Yet Another DiVinci Code Ripoff, But With Pirates!"


 


 The Girls From Ames, by Jeffrey Zaslow
Alternate Title: "Other People Had Way More Fun in High School Than You Did"


Madame Bovary, by Gustave Flaubert
Alternate Title: "Girls Just Want to Have Fun"


The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, by Stieg Larsson
Alternate Title: "The Author With the Critic-Proof Franchise"


Walden, or Life in the Woods, by Henry David Thoreau
Alternate Title: "The World's Most Pretentious Account of a Camping Trip"

Twilight, by Stephenie Meyer
Alternate Title: "Vampires Make Sucky Boyfriends"


Gulliver's Travels, by Jonathan Swift
Alternate Title: "Jonathan Swift's Really Bad Absinthe Trip"
 

The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexandre Dumas
Alternate Title: "I'll Be Back"

5/22/2011

20 Common Logical Fallacies

 
Is anyone else weary of politicians using simple rhetorical tricks to bamboozle credible/gullible citizens into believing night is day, black is white, and that whatever's wrong in the world is definitely someone else's fault?

If I ran the school system, all kids would get mandatory instruction in rhetoric, more commonly known as "the art of persuasion".  They would be required to learn both how to compose logical arguments, and how to recognize/expose logical fallacies in the arguments of others.  I believe that if U.S. citizens were to start out calling politicians for trying to bamboozle us with rhetorical "tricks", our lawmakers would be forced to assume a drastically more rational approach to governance.

Have drawn examples from real life/news to illustrate each fallacy.  Some of these examples are inevitably partisan.  To compensate, I've tried to pick examples from all points along the political spectrum, from extreme liberalism to extreme conservativism.   Please don't let your opinion of the issues distract you from the fact that each example demonstrates a flawed argument.  (How many of these have you fallen for?)

  1. Drawing conclusions from too little evidence.
    DEFINITION: Generalizing from incomplete information.
    EXAMPLE: If ________ is a Republican, he must believe in tax cuts.  (Failing to acknowledge that individual Republicans may hold different opinions than their party on some issues.)
  2. Overlooking alternatives. 
    DEFINITION: Saying that two items are causational (one causes the other), when in fact they merely correlate (tend to happen together; or, are both caused by the same external factor)EXAMPLE: Families that eat dinner together have students who do better in school.  (Family dinners don't cause intelligence - rather, the value system that promotes family dinners also promotes other values that positively impact school performance.)
  3. Ad absurdem.
    DEFINITION: Extending an argument to the point of absurdity.
    EXAMPLE: If we let gays marry, what's next - letting people marry their dogs?
  4. Ad hominem. 
    DEFINITION: Attacking a person rather than his/her qualifications. 
    EXAMPLE: What does Sarah Palin know about government?  She was a beauty queen! 
  5. Ad ignorantiam.
    DEFINITION: An appeal to ignorance.  Arguing that a claim is true just because it has not been shown to be false. 
    EXAMPLE: Standardized testing will improve the academic performance of students
  6. Ad misericordiam. 
    DEFINITION: An appeal to pity.  
    EXAMPLE: I was a prisoner of war; I deserve a chance to run the country that I've served so nobly.
  7. Ad populum. 
    DEFINITION: Appealing to the emotion or the common consensus of the crowd. 
    EXAMPLE: Lots of folks in the Iowa straw pole voted for Huckabee - he must be a serious candidate.
  8. Affirming the consequent. 
    DEFINITION: Basically, if cause = effect, then effect = cause. 
    EXAMPLE = When oil supplies are low, gas prices go up.  Gas prices are high, so oil supplies must be low.  (Doesn't acknowledge that there are other factors, besides supply, that impact oil prices.  Think about that the next time a politician argues that the key to lowering oil prices is releasing inventory from the Strategic Fuel Supply.)
  9. Begging the question/ circular argument. 
    DEFINITION = Implicitely using your conclusion as a premise
    EXAMPLE = I know intelligent design is true because the Bible says so.
  10. Complex question.  
    DEFINITION = Posing a question or issue in such a way that people cannot agree or disagree with you without commiting themselves to some other claim you wish to promote.
    EXAMPLE = Do you agree that the economy has gotten worse since the Democrats took office? (If you say no, you're admitting to a certain level of dimness; if you say yes, you're implying that you agree that Democrats were the cause.)
  11. Denying the antecedent. 
    DEFINITION = If p means q, then not-p means not-q
    EXAMPLE = When a country is under despotic rule, people revolt.  People in China are not currently staging revolutions; therefore, the country is not under despotic rule.
  12. False dilemma. 
    DEFINITION = A generic term for a questionable conclusion about cause and effect.
    EXAMPLE = If we cut government spending, Medicade will suffer.  (Doesn't acknowledge that government spending can be cut without touching Medicade.)
  13. Non sequitur.
    DEFINITION = A conclusion that is not a reasonable inference from the evidence.
    EXAMPLE = Democrats are pro-choice.  They hate Christians.
  14. Persuasive definition/loaded definition. 
    DEFINITION = Defining a term in a way that appears to be straightforward but that is in fact loaded/biased.
    EXAMPLE = The Tea Party is dedicated to the issues that matter to ordinary Americans.   (Who are these "ordinary Americans" they speak of?)
  15. Poisoning the well. 
    DEFINITION = Using loaded language to disparage an argument before even mentioning it
    EXAMPLE = Some liberal diehards still clinging to the 1960s will tell you that American needs to resume its isolationist stance towards the rest of the world.
  16. Post hoc, ergo protor hoc. 
    DEFINITION = Literally, "after this, therefore because of this" - arguing that because something happened after something else, the first thing must have caused the second. 
    EXAMPLE = The economy got worse after George Bush took office, so clearly it's his fault.
  17. Red herring. 
    DEFINITION = Introducing an irrelevant or secondary subject to divert attention from the main subject
    EXAMPLE = Obama wasn't born in the United States! And he's a muslim!
  18. Straw man. 
    DEFINITION = Characterizing an opposing view so that it is easy to refute.
    EXAMPLE = Do you want politicians telling you how you have to spend your money?
  19. Weasel word. 
    DEFINITION = Changing the meaning of a word in your argument so that your conclusion can be maintained, though its meaning may have shifted radically
    EXAMPLE = Torture is unethical!  But waterboarding is okay because it's not technically "torture" 

5/10/2011

Book Look - Lady Chatterly's Lover, D.H. Lawrence



Am choking down my respect for D.H. Lawrence and my fear of being flamed by fellow English majors everywhere in order to go public with my honest but politically incorrect impression of this work: If you actually read the parts before, in between, and after the sex scenes, Lady Chatterly's Lover turns out to be a rather pompous, tedious tirade on how industrialism, socialism, feminism, intellectualism, modernism, and the class system are sucking all the tenderness from the world.

Goodness knows I wanted to be more impressed - I've enjoyed Lawrence in the past- but in this instance I found the author's prose style annoyingly repetitive, his characters unsympathetic, and his "evidences" of society's decline strident, hyperbolic, and unconvincing.

I understand that in a post-WWI society, Lawrence might justly have been upset about industrialization destroying pretty rural towns, about "smart young things" embracing a sort of pretentious intellectualism over common sense, about artists embracing modernity over tradition, etc., but this overly-pedantic volume seems more misanthropic than anthropologic. Can Lawrence really believe the world would be a better place if only humans would eschew money, intellectualism, politics and technology in order to revert to a minimalist, naturalistic, essentially animalistic existence? Or is he trying to say that since this is as unrealistic an option as the alternative, there really is no hope for humanity? Either way, this reads as a the bitter rant of a misanthrope rather than what I hoped/expected it to be: an innovative and daring exploration of the nature of love, passion, compassion, honor, duty and society.

Admit I can't help wondering: if it weren't for the book's notorious reputation, would anyone still be reading this? Or would it have slipped into place among the ranks of "lesser" works by otherwise great authors?

5/05/2011

40 Ways to Tell Someone You Love Them (Without Saying the Words)

"I love you" may be powerful words, but even more powerful are the non-verbal things you can do every day to make your loved one understand how much you care for them.
  1. Solicit their opinion
  2. Respect their opinion
  3. Help them tackle a chore you know they've been dreading
  4. Quietly polish off some of their chores, so they can relax
  5. Fix their favorite meal
  6. Wear an outfit you know they like on you
  7. Choose a movie you know they'll like, even if it's not exactly your cup of tea
  8. Make them smile/laugh
  9. Compliment them on their appearance
  10. Compliment them on something they do well
  11. Compliment them in front of someone else
  12. Compliment them to other people when they're not even there to hear it
  13. When they are on the right side of an argument, admit it gracefully
  14. If they need to relax, let them - even if it means postponing some chores or errands
  15. Don't drag them on errands they clearly won't enjoy
  16. Fix their coffee the way they like it
  17. Occassionally bring them a little gift for no reason
  18. Stuff a note in their backpack or briefcase wishing them a happy day
  19. Share stories you know they'll enjoy
  20. Keep stories to yourself that you know will unnecessarily anger or worry them
  21. Give them a hug
  22. Squeeze their hand
  23. Let them read the best part of the newspaper first (before you)
  24. Let them listen to their favorite radio station while in the car
  25. Care about what it is they do for a living
  26. Let them know you empathize with their worries/concerns
  27. Let them know what they do that makes your life better
  28. Let them know what it is they do that makes the world a better place
  29. Thank them for something they do as a matter of course
  30. Greet them with a smile, even when you're in a bad mood (assuming it's not their fault)
  31. Give them the benefit of a doubt
  32. Forgive them for something they've done
  33. Let them have the last cookie/piece of cake/piece of pizza
  34. Give them a backrub
  35. Treat the members of their family with respect, even the ones you don't like
  36. Treat their family traditions with respect, even the ones you don't agree with
  37. Spend a weekend doing something they want to do
  38. Make sure your vacation includes activities that they will find enjoyable/restful
  39. Call them up just to share a funny story or happy thought
  40. Say "good night" and kiss them before you go to bed, every night