Have you ever had a vague but troubling feeling that what the PM is saying does not make sense but you are having trouble pinning down what is wrong with his logic. Perhaps I can help.

Dr Mahathir said recently that he is not in favour of debating face-to-face with opposition leaders. Why? Perhaps Dr Mahathir is not a good debater? We have no way of knowing because he is rarely, if ever, exposed to debate on equal terms. Even the debates in Parliament are tamed by strict House rules. Perhaps Dr M displays debating abilities within the confines of Cabinet
or  within the UMNO Majlis Tinggi? But is there anyone in those bodies with the courage to contradict the Great Leader? I doubt it. The PM's debating skills may have long since disappeared through lack of use. He never has to  actually debate because he always holds all the cards. His word goes. The PM always has the final say - he is always right - at least within the
eerie Orwellian world of the Malaysian mainstream media and among the yes-men and yes-women of the BN.

So we never see the PM actually debate anything seriously. What we DO see and hear, night after night, are displays of hyperbolic RHETORIC. It is through rhetorical tricks that Dr Mahathir can SEEM persuasive. Many unwary listeners have been seduced by his twisted logic (along with a smattering of outright lies, smears, innuendo and unsubstantiated claims). Let's take a look at one of the tricks that he uses almost every day.

The "straw man" argument is one of Dr M's favourite rhetorical tactics.The phrase "Straw man argument" is used by scientists and experts in logic, I am not making this up. When I say that the PM uses straw man arguments this means that he chooses not to argue against an opponents' ACTUAL arguments and accusations. Instead the PM presents a grotesque stereotype of an
opposition argument and proceeds to demolish that. He grossly distorts the views of his adversaries so that their arguments (ala Dr M) appear to be incredibly weak and stupid. In Dr M's hands, the arguments of the opposition become "straw men" - which are easy to blow over, with even the flimsiest and illogical of arguments. It is easy to use the straw man argument when your opponents are unable to reply easily. Hence Dr M's (and all BN leaders') reluctance to debate anyone face to face.

A straw man argument is even easier if it is not attributed to anyone in particular. The PM is almost always vague about exactly who said what when attacking opposing viewpoints. It is vintage Mahathir to hear him lambast "certain opposition leaders" for supposedly proposing some extreme and ludicrous idea. By not actually identifying the "certain quarters" involved no-one can pin down the lie and there is no-one specific to come forward to defend the point (often because no-one ever did make the weak argument which the PM is shooting down).

By now you have probably thought of a few classic examples of Dr Mahathir's  straw man arguments. A recent example is the PM's crass misrepresentation of the DAP's views on NEP policies. The DAP argues that help for the Malays under the NEP should not be going to the super-rich crony capitalists. It is inconvenient for BN leaders to have to reply to this reasonable point
by the DAP. Much easier to pretend that the DAP is against Malay privileges altogether - and argue against that. Better yet, raise the bogey of  "meritocracy" and claim that the DAP wants to remove any help for disadvantaged groups. They never actually said that? No problem, the DAP's replies never make it into the mainstream media (except perhaps in a tiny quote that excludes their main arguments).

PAS promises to auction the Prime Ministerial complex at Putrajaya were also a victim. This popular proposal was somehow "morphed" by BN leaders, so that  we have heard PAS being pilloried for wanting to auction the whole of  Putrajaya, including the new mosque. The PM's favourite arguments against greater freedom of the press are straw man arguments.

The PM's arguments about freedom of the press are full of straw men. He portrays the views of proponents of more freedom as extreme, by claiming they want absolute and unfettered freedom of the press including freedom to incite racial hatred, to spread pornography and to slander and libel anyone. This crude stereotype and exaggeration is certainly easier to shoot down
than the real proposals for more press freedom. I could go on and on but you can have more fun spotting the logical fallacies yourself.

How about playing a game the next time that you cannot avoid seeing the TV3 news or seeing an NST or Utusan. Now watching the biased news can be fun and educational as you compete with your family and friends to identify the latest straw man argument from our illustrious leaders. Points can also go to anyone who spots an outright lie. And why stop there? Get bonus points for spotting and naming all the other logical fallacies in the daily dose of propaganda. Here are a few common logical fallacies or invalid arguments (compiled from a quick web search). Can you spot them in the news today?.

FALSE DILEMMA: two choices are given when in fact there are three (or more) options

SLIPPERY SLOPE: a series of increasingly unacceptable consequences is drawn

APPEAL TO FORCE: the reader or listener is persuaded to agree by force

APPEAL TO PITY: the reader is persuaded to agree by sympathy (did I see the PM crying on TV again tonight?)

PREJUDICIAL LANGUAGE: value or moral goodness is attached to believing the speaker or writer (watch the slippery and emotive way in which BN leaders and media propaganda use words like "loyalty", "unity", "stability" on the one hand versus "foreign", "opposition", "western values", etc. on the other hand)

APPEAL TO POPULARITY: a proposition is argued to be true because it is widely held to be true

1.the opponent's character is attacked
2.the opponent's circumstances are noted
3.the opponent is said to not practise what is preached

FALSE ANALOGY: two objects or events being compared are relevantly dissimilar (for example, is it fair to compare May 13 1998 in Indonesia with the demonstrations in Kuala Lumpur since September 1998?)

POST HOC: because one thing occurs after another, it is held to cause the other (for example, capital controls were imposed, later the economy improves, so obviously the capital controls did the trick, right?)

JOINT EFFECT: one thing is held to cause another when in fact they are both the joint effects of an underlying cause

BEGGING THE QUESTION: assuming the truth of a point raised in a question or discussion, so that it illogically serves as its own proof.

IRRELEVANT CONCLUSION: an argument in defence of one conclusion instead proves a different conclusion

IGNORANTIA ELENCHI (IGNORANCE OF CONCLUSION): Proving a point that is irrelevant to the issue at hand.

EQUIVOCATION: Using an ambiguous word or expression in one sense in a premise and in another sense in the conclusion. (watch how BN leaders use the phrase "overthrow the government" - the perfectly legitimate opposition goal to replace the BN with the alternative via elections is deliberately confused with the more extreme idea of overthrow of constitutional government, as might happen in a military coup or revolution)

FALLACY OF COMPOSITION: because the attributes of the parts of a whole have a certain property, it is argued that the whole has that property. Presuming of the whole what is true of a part. (for example, a tiny minority of demonstrators become violent, which apparently proves that Reformasi is a violent and dangerous movement, right?)

NON SEQUITUR: The premises of the argument do not lead to the conclusion. There are several kinds of Non Sequitur.
* Affirming the Consequent: any argument of the form: If A then B, B therefore A
*  Denying the Antecedent: any argument of the form: If A then B, Not A thus Not B   (the BN government has brought stability, development, etc… therefore if there is no BN government then there will be no more stability or development, right?)
*  Inconsistency: asserting that contrary or contradictory statements are both true (this one is not too hard to spot, just compare the various statements from the PM on why Anwar was sacked)

UNDISTRIBUTED MIDDLE: "all birds fly; bats fly; bats are birds."  (how about his example:  the opposition is calling for more democracy; Westerners  always preach to us about more democracy; therefore obviously the opposition are agents of the Western powers!)

Enjoy the game!