Archive for the ‘communication’ Category

Though my line of work has me handling a lot of different business cards, a curious difference between those from Americans and Germans had escaped my notice until a colleague pointed it out to me: taking a pile sitting on my desk, he demonstrated that while all American business cards were the standard 3.5” × 2” format, the German business cards followed no standard dimension and could be grouped into at least three different formats.

The disarray of many different business card sizes hardly seems in Ordnung, but I’ve found that German businesses tend to be far more individualistic and more interesting in graphic design than their American counterparts, in contrast to what might be the expectation.

As it happens, just a day after this discovery I came across a collection of nifty business card designs from all around the world. A few of my favorites are below the fold…↓


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After struggling with his faith in rhetoric in two blog posts, Jeff calls for Aristotle to provide sweet reconciliation. Just then, Aristotle descends from the heavenly firmament—not too fast, not too slowly, but at just the right speed.

Aristotle: Jeff, you called for me?
Jeff: Why yes, Aristotle, I did.
Aristotle: What for, my son?
Jeff: I was having trouble coming up with a suitable conclusion to my thoughts and decided to utilize the deus ex machina.
Aristotle: You’ve never read my Poetics, have you?
Jeff: That and I’ve always been partial to dialogues—wait, what?
Aristotle: Never mind.
Jeff: Anyway, now that you’re here, I need sweet reconciliation.
Aristotle: Concerning what?
Jeff: Your ideas on rhetoric.
Aristotle: Aha! Yes, do continue.
Jeff: My problem is that politicians seem to use rhetoric to lead people away from truth.
Aristotle: Not possible.
Jeff: Why?
Aristotle: Didn’t you read Rhetoric?
Jeff: Yes…
Aristotle: Jeeeeeff?
Jeff: Ok, I skimmed a little. I only read enough to make me sound smart at cocktail parties.
Aristotle: You talk about rhetoric at cocktail parties? What a ball of fun you must be.
Jeff: Go choke on some hemlock!
Aristotle: That was Socrates.
Jeff: Yeah, well it’s all Greek to me.
Aristotle: Touché.
Jeff: Just answer the question, please!
Aristotle: The simple answer is that politicians aren’t rhetoricians.
Jeff: How so?
Aristotle: Well, if I may quote my own work: “the term ‘rhetorician’ may describe either the speaker’s knowledge of the art, or his moral purpose.” Politicians may have knowledge of the art, but we can’t use the term ‘rhetorician’ to describe their moral purpose.
Jeff: So what do we call them?
Aristotle: Sophists. And what makes a man a ‘sophist’ is not his faculty, but his moral purpose–he is not concerned with truth and justice, but instead seeks power.
Jeff: In other words, a politician!
Aristotle: Exactly.
Jeff: Oh, wow–my faith in rhetoric remains! You’re good!
Aristotle: I know.
Jeff: A shame that most of your work is lost to history.
Aristotle: WHAT!
Jeff: Yeah, gone.
Aristotle: Did my cookbook survive?
Jeff: I don’t think so.
Aristotle: Oh, that raises my ire.
Jeff: Hey Aristotle, is it true you were a racist?
Aristotle: I don’t know, what’s a racist?
Jeff: Someone who thinks one race of people is inherently superior to another, basically.
Aristotle: Oh, well yes, then. Of course.
Jeff: And men are inherently better than women?
Aristotle: Does a Spartan train naked? Come man, what’s the point?
Jeff: Wouldn’t you think that might encourage somewhat imperialistic tendencies?
Aristotle: Ok, wait a minute–I see where you’re going with this, and it needs to stop.
Jeff: He conquered virtually the entire known world, Aristotle.
Aristotle: Listen, Alexander was always a little impetuous, but I do not appreciate the insinuation that I was somehow responsible for his conquests.
Jeff: His formative years were under your tutelage. He kept a copy of The Illiad you gave him under his pillow. Don’t you think hearing about the wrath of Achilles roused him up a bit?
Aristotle: Oh for the love of Zeus! Alexander had daddy issues, not teacher issues. Go summon Philip II if you really want to know what was going on with Alexander.
Jeff: Oh all right. Besides, I suppose if we’re going to start blaming philosophers for atrocities committed with the seeming endorsement of their teachings, we’d probably start with Nietzsche anyway.
Aristotle: Ooo–what happened there?
Jeff: Well let’s just say someone with a will to power took Nietzsche’s idea of a master race just a wee bit too far.
Aristotle: I totally fail to see how that the idea of a master race could be misapplied.
Jeff: I know you do–listen, I appreciate all your help with rhetoric and everything, but do you think we can call it a day?
(Deep, gravely voice in the distance): Yes, we can! Yes, we can!
Aristotle: What is that aggravatingly affected sound!
Jeff: Oh crap, it’s Barack Obama—and he’s coming this way! Listen, I don’t suppose you have any drachmas on you, do you?
Aristotle: No—why?
Jeff: Well, he’s always calling for change, so I figured giving him some might be a good way to get him to shut up.
Aristotle: I think you’d best run.
Jeff: Would that I could, Aristotle, but he’s half Kenyan and running marathons is that country’s national pastime. Any other suggestions?
Aristotle: I suggest you forget what I said about the aesthetic undesirability of the deus ex machina and conjure up one to get you out of here. Anyway, I’ve got an appointment to get my beard trimmed. Later! (Vanishes)
Jeff: But you were my deus ex machina! He’s almost here! Oh the humanity!

(Just then, Jeff sits up in his bed in a cold sweat. He realizes it has all been just a dream.)

Jeff: Oh, well that tied everything up nicely, and I didn’t even have to think of a new deus ex mach—oh, right.

–The End–

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In the previous post, I presented two simplified and contrasting views on the worth of rhetoric by Plato and Aristotle. On one side, Plato argued that rhetoric is used to render the rhetorician “more persuasive with the ignorant than he who has knowledge,” while on the other side, Aristotle argued that because “things that are true and things that are just have a natural tendency to prevail over their opposites,” rhetoric serves to bring truth and justice into sharper relief for the masses. One essential difference, as I see it, is that Plato seems to assume most people are credulous and easily lead away from truth, while Aristotle confers on them a higher measure of confidence to vet the worth of the rhetorician’s arguments. I’ve always favored Aristotle over Plato on this matter, but after watching the multitudes—especially my peers—engage in a sort of hero worship for Barack Obama in the past few weeks has given me pause to wonder.

It is only with politics, I think, that my confidence in the worth of rhetoric begins to waver, for it is especially in this murky realm that truth (or at least truth according to knowledgeable experts) can be so blithely ignored or abandoned so that one can become ingratiated with an audience. I pick on Mr. Obama (admittedly unfairly) not because he owns a political monopoly in talking nonsense from time to time, but because he seems to have an above average faculty for discovering the means for persuading the electorate—rhetorical skill, in other words. But Mr. Obama, thus far in his campaign at least, seems to be following the typical political and Platonic path of using his skill to flatter audiences with what they want to hear. In trade policy for example, Mr. Obama’s protectionist discourse, while sounding righteous to workers who have lost their jobs in the Rust Belt, does not reflect the views of most economists (of any political persuasion), nor indeed that of his (former?) economic advisor. And some of it is just flat wrong.

But I am not interested in a Platonic relationship yet. Aristotle granted that rhetoric could be used for disingenuous purposes, even when the audience was smart. He maintained, however, that the propensity of rhetoric would be to the good, and not to the bad. Further, Aristotle argued that rhetoric was necessary because the truth can be boring or hard to understand, so a skilled rhetorician would make truth easier to obtain, using some combination of the following three modes:

The first kind depends on the personal character of the speaker [ethos]; the second on putting the audience into a certain frame of mind [pathos]; the third on the proof, or apparent proof, provided by the words of the speech itself [logos].

Aristotle conceded that while pure, logical argumentation is the best mode of persuasion, it cannot be relied upon alone. The manner in which a rhetorician speaks and the emotions he is able to imbue in the audience also matter.

But alas, though Mr. Obama is good at pathos and ethos, his logos seems to be a no-gos (I already sighed loudly as I wrote that last bit, Dear Reader, so you don’t have to). Worse still, on the things which I am knowledgeable about, Mr. Obama is leading the multitudes away from truth. Is this, and 99 percent of all political discourse, really rhetoric? Give me sweet reconciliation, Aristotle!

Just then, Aristotle descends from the heavenly firmament—not too fast, not too slowly, but at just the right speed.

What tidings he brings will come in the exciting third installment! Stay tuned!

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I’ve been pondering Obamamania in the past few weeks, which has in turn caused me to begin mulling over the contrasting views of Aristotle and Plato on the worth of rhetoric, something that has interested me since I took a class on the subject in college.

Definitions of rhetoric abound, but the definition I was taught and still use declares rhetoric to be the faculty of discovering the available means of persuasion—a definition which allows rather broad applications. In ancient Greece, however, rhetoric was chiefly concerned with spoken persuasion because the main form of communication was still verbal. Thus, spoken arguments were unsurpassed in importance in courtrooms, legal assembles, and philosophic debate. Studying rhetoric understandably became a desirable activity for any man aspiring to gain a position of importance.

But rhetoric was not without its critics, Plato being foremost among them. In a dialogue written by Plato entitled Gorgias, Socrates (who serves as Plato’s mouthpiece) converses with the dialogue’s namesake, a well known teacher of rhetoric. In the dialogue, Socrates teases out from Gorgias what he thinks rhetoric is and what he deems the nature of rhetoric to be. Initially Gorgias proclaims breathlessly that rhetoric belongs to the “greatest …and the best of human things,” because:

What is there greater than the word which persuades the judges in the courts, or the senators in the council, or the citizens in the assembly, or at any other political meeting?-if you have the power of uttering this word, you will have the physician your slave, and the trainer your slave, and the money-maker…will be found to gather treasures, not for himself, but for you who are able to speak and to persuade the multitude.

Gorgias then explicitly defines rhetoric as an “artificer of persuasion” that deals specifically the “the just and the unjust.” After some further prodding, Gorgias is then compelled to admit that rhetoric’s source of persuasion is belief rather than knowledge. In other words, the rhetorician does not instruct, but instead creates belief.

Now that these basic premises have been settled on, cold Socratic/Platonic logic goes in for the kill:

Soc. You were saying, in fact, that the rhetorician will have, greater powers of persuasion than the physician even in a matter of health?

Gor. Yes, with the multitude-that is.

Soc. You mean to say, with the ignorant; for with those who know he cannot be supposed to have greater powers of persuasion.

Gor. Very true.

Soc. But if he is to have more power of persuasion than the physician, he will have greater power than he who knows?

Gor. Certainly.

Soc. Although he is not a physician:-is he?

Gor. No.

Soc. And he who is not a physician must, obviously, be ignorant of what the physician knows.

Gor. Clearly.

Soc. Then, when the rhetorician is more persuasive than the physician, the ignorant is more persuasive with the ignorant than he who has knowledge?-is not that the inference?

Gor. In the case supposed:-Yes.

Soc. And the same holds of the relation of rhetoric to all the other arts; the rhetorician need not know the truth about things; he has only to discover some way of persuading the ignorant that he has more knowledge than those who know?

Socrates point is clear: by Gorgias’ own admission, the rhetoricians’ true talent is to be more persuasive to the layman than the knowledgeable expert. And if this is so, how can rhetoric be considered virtuous or great—it will after all, only serve to flatter the audience with what they want to hear rather than to impart knowledge. To make the point clearer, Socrates provides an analogy:

cookery : medicine :: rhetoric : justice

It is not hard to imagine that children, if given a choice, would be easily persuaded that the crispy confections of cookery were more beneficial to health that the bitter medicinal pill. But any reasonably intelligent person would recognize the ruse, and just as cookery can only pretend to know what is best for the body, rhetoric can only pretend to know what is best for justice.

And here is what I consider to be the crux of the matter: Plato’s main claim is, insofar as the rhetorician is speaking to a stupid audience, the inevitable result is not the clarification but the obfuscation of truth. Rhetoric is thus a trifling habitude and nothing else.

Aristotle, on the other hand, who was quite positive on rhetoric and has laid the firmest foundation for the study of rhetoric as a worthwhile pursuit, framed the matter in the exact opposite way. Namely, that insofar as the rhetorician is speaking to a smart audience, the inevitable result has to be the clarification rather than the obfuscation of truth. Clever audiences will not be duped, so rhetoric could only presuade them closer to the truth.

Simply put then, I’ve always considered the major disagreement between Aristotelian and Platonic views of rhetoric to be the basic assumption that people are either smart or stupid. If one assumes the former, rhetoric can easily be argued to be noble, if the latter is assumed, it’s hard to escape the conclusion that rhetoric has a baneful proclivity.

Since I’m quite sure I’ve strained my readers’ attention spans quite enough, what this has to do with my thoughts on Barack Obama will be the subject of the next post.

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Missing The Point

Lost in my thoughts today on a train, I recalled how several members of the fairer sex have independently told me that my biggest problem with the ladies is that I overthink things with them.

I subsequently spent the rest of the ride racking my brain for a solution.

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I got a haircut this morning after approximately a month of putting it off. I delayed so long not because I was afraid of receiving a bad coif (it’s really hard to mess mine up), but rather because I was nervous about communicating in a salon-setting.

Thing is, I don’t really like getting a haircut even at home because I don’t like my vanity being made manifest in public–sitting in a chair and talking for twenty minutes about how I want my hair to look makes me feel like Narcissus staring into the pool of water. Something inside me, either by nurture or nature, tells me that the experience is far too self-indulgent for my own Good. And when one combines that guilt with a lack of German vocabulary vis-à-vis haircuts, one finds oneself finding any excuse to avoid the experience.

In the end the experience went fairly smoothly. The hairdresser seemed to know intuitively what I wanted, and given that her salon is only a five minute walk from my dorm, I suspect she’s rather used to cross-cultural clipping. What’s more, the trim only cost 8 €, tip included.

I’m glad to be done for another reason, too–it’s been several years since I’ve waited more than a month between haircuts, so the 2.5 months I waited this time meant that my hair was longer than it’s been in a very long time. For most that extra inch would be unnoticeable, but for me it was maddening–so much so that I was afraid of developing trichotillomania.

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One of the top priorities of many last week was to seek out a cell phone in order to be able to easily call America, other PPPlers, or both. As a result, many discussions centered on which calling plan to purchase. We already had been advised that prepaid cell phones were the best bet, but several alternatives with different rates still existed. I sat back while others diligently sought ought the best value, partly because buying a phone was not an immediate priority for me, partly because it was easier to let others do the work for me (See: Free Rider Problem), and also partly because I recognized that waiting would allow me to better benefit from the network effect, which for me has more impact on the true cost of my plan than the explicit rates. Sure enough, soon many had decided on a particular network and I happily bought the same plan and a cheap phone, smugly confident that I was getting the best deal possible.

Sometimes simply doing what everyone else does is the most economically rational thing to do, despite what Momma says.

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