“Humans’ tendency to describe their own behavior more charitably than the behavior of others.”
Tyler Cowen: “Doesn’t everyone who might suffer a loss have a potential claim to complain? At what percentile of wealth does your claim to complain go away or diminish?” And also: “Beware of moral arguments which do not address ‘At which margin?’”
1. If you can be yourself on stage nobody else can be you and you have the law of supply and demand covered.
Certainly one of the reasons why World War II came to be called “the Good War,” and those who fought it “the Greatest Generation,” and why Americans have reserved their utmost sentiment for the European theater of that war, is because the 1945 discovery that we’d helped shut down a genocide redeemed that theater’s carnage—ex post facto—and bestowed upon that campaign a narrative, moral, and even aesthetic appeal that is exceptional for any war. Saving Private Ryan and Band of Brothers epitomize that theater’s irresistible appeal, with their mix of commendably upsetting, technically brilliant combat scenes and more general uplift. Every mangled limb, every shattered facade, every act of conditioned violence stage-whispers “Sacrifice” amid the gently weeping soundtrack and the faded–Saturday Evening Post color palette, with the overall effect evoking stateliness, esteem, even nostalgia—emotional luxuries that only a comfortable remove can give to the hectic, terrifying nature of combat. All of which takes viewers half out of the moment, despite the kinetic you-are-there cinematography.
It matters a great deal if people have to write out questions in advance, or during the talk, and a moderator then reads out the question. That mechanism improves question quality and cuts down on the first three motives cited. Yet it is rarely used. In part we wish to experience the contrast between the speaker and the erratic questioners and the resulting drama.
I like the second commenter’s suggestion: “Take multiple questions at once. The moderator will take say three questions from three audience members before giving the presenter a chance to answer them one-by-one.”
Use meaningless but weighty-sounding words and phrases. Memorize this list:
- Let me put it this way
- In terms of
- Per se
- As it were
- Ipso facto
- So to speak
The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie — deliberate, contrived and dishonest, but the myth, persistent, persuasive, and unrealistic. Belief in myths allows the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.
Q. Does President Obama make for a good Auto-Tune?
A. You know, what was great from Obama was the campaign speeches. His campaign speeches were excellent, because he was sort of using that almost gospel-preacher rhetorical style.
Since he’s been president, he’s been so relaxed and sort of so laid back and cerebral and sort of intellectual. He’s not been quite as excellent for Auto-Tuning because there’s a lot more of a mumbly tone about him. A lot less of the “Yes we can!” and a lot more of the “Weeeeell, as we see …”
Here are 9 ways to use space in your presentation, basically ways to use your body on stage while you’re speaking. This reminds me of Scott McCloud’s presentation here in Atlanta a couple weeks ago, when he said something along the lines of, “Any way you can describe a story has a spatial/visual equivalent.”
There’s potential for a doctoral dissertation about The Rhetorical Use of Capital Letters in the Writing Of George Saunders. The usage comes in a couple flavors. There are the ineffable concepts, like Freedom and Humility. There’s the personalization of general categories, like Writers and the Little Guy. There’s the tongue-in-cheek categorization of human sub-groups, like, oh, People Who Analyze Capitalization. And it also appears when it’s simply more amusing, e.g. “Oversize Bright-Colored Toy Ships and Trucks.”
This was only my second try at Saunders. I aborted my attempt of In Persuasion Nation. Maybe it’s good. (I think I read so much non-fiction that I have trouble turning the switch every now and then.) And it wasn’t funny. But The Braindead Megaphone is funny. And it stays funny even though he writes about Serious Things and has a really earnest style.
To wander my way back to the Capitalization Issue, it reminds me of what Daniel Day Lewis said in a recent interview: “Perhaps I’m particularly serious because I’m not unaware of the potential absurdity of what I’m doing.” I think satirists like Saunders might agree. While the writing isn’t always serious, it is sincere, and I get the sense that he really kicks his own ass to come up with this stuff. Most of it is really, really good.
As for the meat of the book, the titular essay is a brilliant take on banal popular media. What’s really wonderful is the way he hedges and offers concessions along the way through his thought experiments. What could be a canned, all-too-familiar diatribe becomes a nice little Journey with George.
“Vonnegut was skipping the lush physical details he had presumably put himself into so much danger to obtain. He was assuming these physical details; that is, he was assuming that I was supplying them. A forest was a forest, he seemed to be saying, let’s not get all flaky about it. He did not seem to believe, as I had read Tolstoy did, that his purpose as a writer was to use words to replicate his experience, to make you feel and think and see what he had felt. This book was not a recounting of Vonnegut’s actual war experience, but a usage of it.”
“The writer is right there with us—he knows where we are, and who we are, and is involved in an intimate and respectful game with us. I think of this as the motorcycle-sidecar model of reading: writer and reader right next to one another, leaning as they corner, the pleasure coming from the mutuality and simultaneity of the experience.”
In addition to those gems, there’s some great writing on patriotism in a mock-academic “survey of the literature”; a welcome twist on the tired Letters To & From An Advice Columnist genre; reporting on Minutemen and border patrol; and probably my favorite of a bunch, an awesome essay on what’s so difficult and wonderful about Huckleberry Finn. The only real duds for me were the foreign reporting essays in Dubai and in Tibet. Skip those, and read everything else.
“Reader and writer are in jail together. And the more they cooperate, the more easily they can move together through the complex masses of verbal symbols and levels of grammar that we call writing.” Arn Tibbetts, Ten Rules for Writing Readably (pdf)