America’s Frontline Doctors heard

On 27 July, on the steps of the US Supreme Court in Washington DC, a group of white-coated people gathered to conduct a press conference. They called themselves America’s Frontline Doctors, and their videoed presentation was introduced by Congressman Ralph Norman from South Carolina. Within a handful of hours the video had gone viral, and within twenty-four hours it had been banned by social media companies.

Have the cretins who order these bans never heard of the Streisand Effect? The immediate impact of the banning is to invite the question “why?”, and in searching for an answer to “why” far more people go out of their way to listen than would otherwise have done. I am one of them.

Mark Zuckerberg, in answer to a question at a Congressional hearing, said

We do prohibit content that will lead to imminent risk of harm…

Sounds reasonable, but who decides? I am prepared to believe that there is a Facebook medical panel. I am unable to list any of its members, but I am able to list the doctors in this video.

Ralph Norman hands over to Dr Simone Gold. We later hear from Dr Bob Hamilton, Dr Stella Immanuel, Dr James Todaro, and Dr Joseph Ladapo. They are worth hearing, making “why?” even more of a conundrum.

I spent a little time searching for doctors who had arguments to gainsay the ones in this video, and merely found several people targeting these doctors with argumentum ad hominem. I also found several more doctors saying very much the same thing as these.

Furthermore, I found this short video concerning the infamous article in The Lancet which was pulled only a few days after publication.

Nothing that I found proved that the doctors in the video (shooting all their speeches from the hip by the way) are right or that they are wrong, but it did suggest that there is an important debate to be had on the matter. It is always foolish not to pay close attention to information coming to you from the coalface, and even more foolish to act to silence it.

So finding myself still asking “why?” I ask myself Cui Bono? – who benefits? The only answer I can find is anyone who stands to gain from extending the crisis or from producing another prevention or cure and, in view of the medical, social and economic costs of this pandemic in the mean time, there are no pretty answers to that.

P.S. On 6 August it emerged that both Facebook and Twitter had censored the following video on the grounds that it contained “false claims”. Again, who decides? Is their information superior to that available to POTUS?

Andrew Roberts: masterly

At the end of June 2012, United States Army War College posted on YouTube a video of a lecture by British historian, Dr Andrew Roberts. I think we can assume the lecture took place at very much the same time. The lecture was entitled Why Hitler Lost the War.

Before even clicking to start the video I believe I spot something in the image below that emphasises to me Andrew Roberts’ Englishness. I think he’s wearing a Free Forester tie. Free Foresters is the name of a distinguished English Cricket Club.

Before we address the rhetor stuff let’s get one important thing out of the way. This talk is absolutely fascinating, and I wholeheartedly commend it. It makes me want to read The Storm of War, his book on which some of this talk is based.

Roberts has manifestly researched the subject to within an inch of its life, and has such a comprehensive command of it that he’s easily able to shoot the lecture from the hip. This man is a very fine speaker, and regular readers of this blog will know what therefore comes next. I am going to get super-picky – when they’re this good I always do.

Referring again to that still image of the video you will see that he has pointedly come out from behind the lectern, and placed a tiny piece of paper on its corner. That piece of paper is the target of my pickiness. It is his crib sheet.

I know what’s on it: a series of signpost words or phrases that indicate the path he wants the lecture to take. So far, no problem; I don’t so much mind its existence, but what it causes.

Very soon I can predict each time he is about to glance at it, because the smooth flow of the narrative has begun to fragment. He glances and moves on, but the fragmentation is still there for a sentence or two till he is back in his rhythm. This a sure sign that the speech is modular, a compilation of tried-and-tested modules.

Again I have no quarrel with that, modular structures work very well, but time and trouble has to be spent in building and refining bridges between the modules in order to smooth over the joins, maintain the narrative thread, and obviate the need for a crib sheet. If I were advising him I would concede that bridges can fail, particularly when adrenaline has a nasty habit of robbing you of some of your capacity to think on your feet, so his crib sheet might still be desirable. Nevertheless I’d suggest that he put it in his jacket pocket. Its very presence would reassure him, suppress the adrenaline, and make it redundant.

And there is another more prosaic problem with his crib sheet. On two or three occasions during the talk he produces The Storm of War, in order to read out where he has quoted things others have written. (In passing, this is one of the short list of circumstances where reading during a speech is not only acceptable but commendable.) When he does so he shows us that he needs reading spectacles (don’t we all). But understandably he doesn’t bother to use his glasses to glance at his crib sheet, and that could be causing each glance to be slightly more problematic. That crib sheet needs to be made redundant.

I told you I was going to get super-picky; but I now have a final bouquet to bestow. His finish, his final sentence, is masterly.

Jordan Peterson and thumbnails

About two years ago the Oxford Union invited Dr Jordan Peterson to deliver an address and Q&A. It was around the time that I had him on the blog before, and having re-read what I said I stand by it. I also see that I resolved to find more of his speeches, and am shamed that it took this long.

The general terms of reference I laid down for myself in this blog eight years ago, and have only occasionally broken, stated that I would focus on talks as distinct from Q&A. That is because most of my work is in helping people to succeed in the one-way traffic of a speech, because technically it differs hugely from the more familiar two-way traffic of conversation. I mention that because a glance at the way the stage was set, with two armchairs but no lectern, suggested that even though a talk was flagged this would be mainly Q&A. That impression was correct, and gloriously so.

He enters to an enthusiastic greeting, and acknowledges it graciously. That is followed by a brief exchange between him and the host. He assumes a 30-minute talk followed by Q&A, but the host suggests 15-20 minute talk. He immediately acquiesces, and launches straight into telling the audience he’ll be discussing hierarchies.

He is pensive, halting, repetitive in laying out his stall, and as he gets into his stride those three adjectives recede but never completely go away. He could have eliminated them completely and had a smooth, beautifully parsed monologue by having a script, but if he’d done so he’d have had difficulties in cutting down the talk from the expected 30 minutes.

Far more importantly it would have been glaringly obvious to everyone that he was sitting there merely regurgitating something he’d written previously, whereas here it is equally obvious that from a baseline of vast learning he is expressing ideas and concepts to which he has devoted a great deal of thought and is continuing to do even as he speaks. What we are seeing is transparent, spontaneous sincerity. What we are seeing, if you will forgive me a metaphor, is a live music recital as distinct from someone miming to a record. What we are seeing is the reason I continue to bang on about proper speakers not using paper, and why I tear paper out of the hands of my trainees. This is proper speaking, and everyone is capable of doing it.

Editing himself on the hoof he gets his talk down to about 10 minutes and then, for more than an hour, he takes questions. The questions are good. They probe and provoke, and he clearly revels in that. I find it riveting, but shall not even attempt to single out any points he makes. How do you précis something that is already academically concise?

Instead I’d like to praise his metaphor for low-resolution versus high-resolution examination of concepts. He speaks of low-resolution being thumbnail sketch overviews, and I like that. Inevitably I try applying it to myself. I am reassured that my habit of collecting masses of thumbnails (he’s got me doing it now) leaves enough space in my brain for high-resolution images reserved for work, family and principal interests, meanwhile enabling me to understand just enough when working with experts in their fields or listening to someone like him.

George Carlin still stands up

I seldom cover after-dinner speeches on this blog, nor do I often cover stand-up comedy. My speciality is public speaking. After-dinner speaking and stand-up are quite different from that. In terms of pacing they are actually even different from each other.

Nevertheless I’m always prepared to make exceptions.

On May 13, 1999, The National Press Club in Washington D.C. invited the late George Carlin to deliver an after-dinner speech. (In fact it was after-lunch, but who’s counting?) Carlin died in 2008, so there’s a whole generation who never knew him and his work.

Carlin is introduced by the Club President, Larry Lipman. As tends to be the case with all club meetings a certain amount of time is taken, before anything else, with club housekeeping business. If you are less than fascinated by the housekeeping of 21 years ago, you can skip to the actual introduction at 2:50. Carlin begins speaking at 5:25, ends at 35:23 and the rest is Q&A.

His comedy routine here falls into the category of what I call The Cavalry School. It’s a rare process these days, consisting of galloping along, gags flying out all the time, audience constantly tittering, but almost afraid to laugh in case they miss any, and so on. (On my side of the pond, Ken Dodd was possibly the most prominent cavalry charger – though very different in actual style.)

Each charge, though, has to conclude sometime; and at the conclusion he hits them with a punchline, stopping in a welter of pent-up laughter before gearing up the next charge. That punchline pause is almost unknown today. For one thing it requires the speaker to be one hundred percent confident of the punchline. The confidence comes from having practised and tested his punchline technique to destruction. The testing would have taken place in a long series of differing comedy venues, a testing ground barely available any more. That is why today’s comics almost never pause on a punchline, forging on till the audience’s reaction forces them to pause. Some of us are old enough to remember when they always paused (like George Burns cueing us to laugh by taking a puff of his cigar).

When he made this speech Carlin had recently published a book called Brain Droppings, a volume in which, among other things, he explored some of the vagaries of the English language. His various cavalry charges here likewise study words, and he’s tailored them to his audience. His audience consists of journalists, and he’s speaking in Washington D.C. No prizes for guessing therefore that he charges while brandishing some of the political double speak that we still hear.

For that reason this speech stands up remarkably well today twenty-one years after delivery. Yes a sad student of speech like me may spot technical variations from today’s norm, but it is still funny.

There remains one further observation I think worth making. If we assume, as I think we may, that he was given a half-hour slot then he ended two seconds before the end of it. That’s professional.

Liam Halligan loses a slice

In March, 2018, nearly two years after the British people had handed their government their instruction to leave the EU, we still had not done so.

(Today more than two years after that, we still have not done so, though just over a week ago at the end of June we passed the deadline after which another extension of the transition may not be granted. Now, the rules state that on 31 December we leave – for better or worse – with whatever deal has been agreed, or without one. Back to 28 March 2018 …)

The Bruges Group held a conference, entitled Clean Brexit in Princess Alexandra Hall in London. One of the speakers was Liam Halligan.

If you clicked the link that I customarily attach to the speaker’s name, you will see that Halligan is a distinguished columnist and broadcaster. To most, that combination would guarantee that he crafts good arguments and can convey them to an auditorium. By no means is this necessarily true: broadcasting and public speaking are enormously different.

You need only glance at the still picture above to see that Halligan is reading his speech. Therefore before we hear a word we know that the speech is not as good as it could or should be. His website tells us he speaks often, but if he has not done himself the favour of learning how to dispense with paper then however good the words he will not do justice to their delivery – at least not to the bits that he reads. If only he knew how easy it is!

He starts well. It’s a funny opening. His self-deprecating summary of himself as an economist trips off his tongue with the smoothness of the oft-repeated, but I have no problem with that. Nor has he: thorough road-testing of such routines are what make them work. Then at 1:33 his eyes go down to his article and, no longer being spontaneous, a fat slice comes off the top of his stage presence.

As readers go, he’s a pretty good one. He’s expressive and lively, but he’s still a talking head. You could close your eyes and know from the sound alone that he’s regurgitating something he wrote previously.

But not always. At 6:26 he gets excited and doesn’t look down again for nine seconds. That may not seem much time, but for those nine seconds the whole tenor of the delivery lifts markedly.

Those nine seconds are also long enough to lose him his place in the script, and a lame pause ensues. For about the thousandth time on this blog I’m shouting at the screen, “Throw the bloody script away!” He could do it, easily: he just doesn’t know he could.

Otherwise, it’s not a bad speech.

Hans Rosling – amazing!

Many of my trainees at first assume that I disapprove of visuals, because I don’t appear to use them. It’s true that there are almost never any slides in my lectures, but I have a couple of visual props that I use. Essentially my rule is that a visual should be used only if omitting it would significantly impoverish the promotion of your message. Never allow yourself to be voice-over for a string of pictures, competing with you for the audience’s attention.

The finest user of visuals that I have encountered – one of my heroes – was the late Hans Rosling. He has been on this blog twice – here and here – but not since his sad death in 2017. I chanced upon today’s offering and decided to feature it, because one of his most endearing characteristics was his cheerfulness, and we seem to need cheerfulness at the moment. My own expectation of cheerfulness is slightly dented by the realisation that Rosling outlived this performance by barely two years, notwithstanding the comment we will hear him make at 25:33.

I believe he had a superb team of techies, preparing his slides, because they always illustrated his point in a revolutionary fashion and always animated. But I have never before seen, from him or anyone else, what we see here. At 2:26 he builds a graph in the air between him and his audience. What is it: a hologram? I don’t know, but it’s brilliant.

Then suddenly we are watching some video footage, but what does the audience in the hall see? The same video on a screen there, probably, but where is Rosling while the video is playing? I don’t know, but being obsessed with a speaker’s relationship with his audience I’d like to.

Here’s my point. Many speeches are delivered to live audiences and incidentally videos are made of them. Other speeches are made specifically for the video market and an incidental audience is invited to the filming, not least to supply audience reaction. Either way it’s a bit of a compromise, because there are subtle differences in how you present to each medium. But not here. Rosling appears effortlessly to be straddling the two. My word, but he was good!

So concerned have I been with the technicalities, that I haven’t mentioned the message. If you are familiar with his work it will not surprise you to be told that he is exploding the widely held fallacies about the world and the way it is going. Materially the world – all of it! – is going not to the dogs but getting better. Nearly all metrics indicate that global life is getting better – and he illustrates the data in a hugely entertaining fashion. Watch that speech, and it’ll be one of the shortest hours you ever knew.

Yes, there are still some – a rapidly decreasing number, but some – for whom life remains a hard struggle. We see them on video, tackling their struggle with good humour, and my mind flies off to other recent video footage of spoilt kids in rich countries, rioting and burning and looting because of some imagined victimhood.

He addresses climate change – lukewarmly, but he addresses it. I reckon he has to for a lot of understandable political and financial reasons, but I’d like specifically to address a few seconds of video footage of a chimney starting at 52:20. Try going there and pausing the video.

What do you see? A factory chimney belching out filthy, sooty smoke? No. That can’t be smoke. Smoke doesn’t create itself out of nothing after an appreciable gap of a few feet above the chimney. That gap is the giveaway. What we’re seeing is steam – a colourless gas which you can’t see – coming out and cooling to vapour – which you can see. Look closely at the spout of a boiling kettle and you’ll see the same thing. Yes, the vapour from the kettle is a very different colour, but this bit of video has had a colour filter applied. It’s phoney. I’ve seen countless examples of this cheat, so I spotted it immediately.

True, there are factory chimneys with real smoke coming out of them but smoke doesn’t look dramatic enough so they cook up this piece of phoney film. I’ll say no more on that, except I’d like to think that Rosling didn’t make it but used a piece of library film that others supplied.

It’s an amazing lecture, though, and I’m so glad I found it.

Trevor Phillips and censorship

In February 2020, The Free Speech Union was founded by Toby Young. At the launch party, there was a speech from Trevor Phillips, who is the Chair of Index on Censorship.

Nice opening! One of the mantras that I drill into my trainees is that ultimately public speaking is just talking. Yes, there are differences between standing on a platform, speaking before an audience of hundreds, and chatting to friends over a cup of coffee, and it’s obviously worth exploring those differences, but still it’s just talking. Phillips, in this relaxed opening, embodies that philosophy. I repeat: nice opening.

Who edited this? I’m not just complaining about how many edit points there are, but how easy it is to spot them. I’m exercising my right of free speech when I declare that this has been edited with fists of ham.

This is a very good speech, prompted by bullet points on a smartphone to be sure but still a very good speech on a very important topic. I want to hear it, warts and all. I want to hear the real Trevor Phillips uttering the real words, all of them, because they’re good and wise words. I don’t want someone else’s idea of a sanitised version. I suspect that the removed bits are just a few “ums” and “errs”, but I want to hear those too. They are part of the authenticity. A string of obvious edit-points opens this up – with ludicrous irony – to accusations of censorship. Duh!

Raheem Kassam looks left

In August 2019 The America Conservative Union and Liberty Works brought CPAC to Australia. One of the speakers was Raheem Kassam.

Nice introduction, whoever that is. Quirky, funny, and above all short.

The introduction tells us that Kassam is likely to be jet lagged. Strangely enough I’ve found that jet-lag, far from ruining speeches, is often a beneficial source of peripheral stress. Perhaps it triggers an extra helping of adrenaline. The key to combatting it is to have had plenty of sleep. At any rate Kassam seems to be on the ball.

He conspicuously comes out from behind the lectern, wearing a clip-on lapel mic. Does this mean that he’s going to shoot this all from the hip? Not quite.

I become puzzled by how much of the time he is looking to the left (stage left: his left). I wonder whether the auditorium is asymmetric. That would be weird, but not entirely unknown. The hypothesis deflates when I see the lectern standing square to the stage. No there has to be another reason, and I soon spot it. He is being prompted by notes on the lectern – probably just bullet-points, judging by how seldom he looks, though he also conspicuously and correctly reads a quotation – so whether looking at the notes or not he is more comfortable with the lectern in view. That’s irrational: lecterns don’t walk away, but it is a less obvious symptom of let-lag.

There are two solutions. Discipline yourself always to monitor the whole arc of audience and/or learn to do without even bullet-points. From the quality of his speaking I suspect that he’s on top of both. He came out from behind the lectern, because he’s happier not having that between him and his audience. But then he decided to play safe with bullet points because these are special circumstances – jet-lag again.

Yes, jet-lag may not impair the speech, but it can introduce tiny tendencies that get spotted by sad specialists like me. Enough of all that; what about the speech itself?

It’s very good indeed, and delivered well. Worth watching. There’s stuff in there that is relevant to things going on right now.

Thomas Sowell’s answers

It’s a matter of great frustration to me that I am unable to find recent speeches from the man I consider to be one of the clearest and wisest thinkers I have heard or read, Thomas Sowell.

Nevertheless there are many interviews with him, frequently conducted by my namesake Peter Robinson. He is an outstandingly good interviewer of the old school. He works on the basis that the purpose of the interview is to tease information from the guest for the enlightenment of the viewer, so he becomes a frame in which the interviewee is the picture. Too many interviewers today regard the guest as a platform off which they may flaunt their own bigotry.

Conversations between these two very often give us invaluable insight into current issues, their cause and possible solutions. This one is a prime example for the background to events of this week. My blog may be primarily devoted to actual speeches, but I consider circumstances to dictate exceptions.

William Happer and Klingon

The Heartland Institute held a conference in Madrid in mid December 2019, to coincide with COP25 – The United Nations Climate Change Conference – also in Madrid. One of their speakers was Dr William Happer.

I had intended to feature another Happer speech, made at Princeton in September 2014. I enjoyed that one, not least when at 4:25 he shows photographs from Al Gore’s book, Our Choice. Gore has created an image of what the world will look like if we don’t follow his lead over climate. Gore is full of such predictions as we remember from his film An Inconvenient Truth. Predictions in that film have long passed their sell-by date, and none has materialised. The prediction in this image from the book has similar themes like land disappearing under the rising sea, and an abundance of hurricanes. Happer points out that one of the hurricanes is depicted revolving the wrong way round. Along with the audience I laugh out loud at such an elementary error.

However, that other video being six years old was very fuzzy. How technology has improved since I began this blog!

Happer begins by thanking “James for that kind introduction”. At the beginning of this video we momentarily see James leaving the platform. James is James Taylor, and we see him properly later when Happer’s speech gives way to Q&A.

Since beginning this blog in 2012, I have lost count of the climate speeches I have studied – several times as many as I have featured. Very early I spotted that whereas alarmists focus on alarm, sceptics focus on data. When you fail to show the workings that underpin your argument, what does that say about your argument? Not only did sceptics show their workings but they provided links to the data. I’m not a scientist, but I’m quite good at spotting whether one number is higher than another; and over the years I have developed a habit, when I hear the media announcing some alarming climate news, of going straight to the data source to check. It’s almost tedious, the regularity with which the alarming news is shown to be nonsense.

Einstein is quoted as having said something like if you can’t explain it to a five-year-old you don’t properly understand it yourself. Happer is pretty good – when necessary – at explaining to a non-scientist like me; but here he is speaking to a scientific audience, and therefore there is a brief section where he could be speaking Klingon for all I get from it.

However, to my delight, at 18:50 he addresses the infamous 97% consensus thing. My data-checking habit long-since revealed that 97% to be garbage. There have been a couple of supposed surveys that claimed to have established it, and both collapse under scrutiny, but it doesn’t stop alarmists and lazy journalists from parroting it.

Even before I began analysing speeches for this blog I had been made suspicious. Al Gore used to bang on about how “the debate is over”. What debate? I had never seen or even heard of a debate. I now have seen very many sceptics challenge alarmists to debate, but somehow the alarmists always run for cover – meanwhile calling for sceptics be no-platformed.

Today the matter has gone far beyond science into politics, the economy (the climate industry is worth trillions), even religion. This last is witnessed by e.g. the Pope supporting it; and at 1:09 Happer quotes a Hawaii Senator as saying that climate is more religious than scientific. These are powerful forces to be ranged against the holding of a debate when their case is as thin of substance as the air.

President Trump has promised a debate, and he tends to honour his promises, but his presidency has thus far been beset with a range of distractions. If he gets a second term will he honour this one? Happer has worked with several administrations as senior adviser on matters scientific. That includes Trump’s, so if there is a debate perhaps we shall hear a lot more of him.