Andreja Pejić surely can’t be so vacuous

On 7 November, 2016, the Oxford Union hosted a talk and Q&A by Andreja Pejić. That link will tell you that she is a Bosnian model who was born a boy, had an androgynous career modelling both masculine and feminine clothes, eventually transitioning fully to womanhood.

What interested me was not so much the sex-change – big deal: she isn’t the first such speaker on this blog – but the subject of her talk. Assiduous followers may remember that when Stephen Fry delivered one such, also at the Oxford Union, I discussed in depth that this can present a real difficulty.

Her life has been more interesting than that first paragraph suggests, given that her mother is Serbian and father Croatian. This is not a biography blog, so I’ll leave it there for others to explore further if they wish.

I am old enough to have happened to witness a particular notorious TV interview. Simon Dee interviewed George Lazenby whose profile at the time was huge, his having played James Bond. Dee began with some obvious Bond question, but Lazenby swatted it aside and launched into a rant about the assassination of President Kennedy with Dee sitting gobsmacked and unable to get a word in edgeways. A new celebrity is a sitting duck to be indoctrinated by conspiracy-theorists looking to hitch a ride on the voice of the moment, and Lazenby was available. Lazenby’s stunt helped Simon Dee lose his career.

I am afraid I get a very similar feel about this talk from Pejić. She herself calls it a rant, and essentially it’s about how we are heading for World War III. Delivering it the day before the US Presidential Elections she sees little optimism in either result. The talk is scripted, and badly. It’s so incoherent that even she has problems following it. I actually doubt that she wrote it, and that others have hitched a ride as described in my previous paragraph. She may even identify them in the web address she gives at 30:27. Her final sentence immediately follows that, is delivered without looking at the script, and though it’s still not very coherent it comes closer than anything that precedes it.

I find myself hoping that Q&A will tap into her own experience and liberate her natural articulacy. No.

Sebastian Gorka has presence

Nearly a year ago on 2 March, 2016 the Institute of World Politics hosted a talk from Dr Sebastian Gorka.

I have watched Dr Gorka a couple of times making mincemeat of aggressive opponents on TV programmes, but that’s dialogue and very different from the one-way traffic of a speech. I was interested to see how good he was in monologue.

Also he is now Deputy Assistant to President Trump, and with the world (as distinct from antipathetic mainstream media) holding its collective breath to see how the new POTUS will shape up, it seems worth while to have a look at those advising him.

He begins by laying out his stall, with particular attention to ethos, and while he is doing it the cameraman experiments with trying to see if he can encompass both the speaker and the screen in a single locked-off shot. We quickly learn that he can’t, so we will hear Gorka refer to slides that we cannot see.

I greet this with mixed feelings. This has happened before with this blog. Sometimes I satisfied myself that nothing was lost, and this raised obviously pertinent questions concerning the need for those slides in the first place. In the event this talk comes close to that same conclusion so, out of curiosity, I went looking for other of his talks to learn more about his use of slides. I found this talk delivered to the Westminster Institute on 23 August 2013. The biggest danger with slides is that they compete with the speaker for the audience’s attention, usually through being too numerous or containing too much information. With that single (and old) sample I found that he used few slides, though they were rather overfilled with verbiage. Nevertheless there is a particular reason that I am confident that his slides will never compete with him.

Dr Gorka has presence.

It is an almost indefinable quality, but unmissable when you meet it. It is a quality that can barely be taught, though it can be nurtured, because it has to come completely from within. It cannot be synthesised, cannot be faked. It is built on a measure of inner confidence in your command of the subject; and that command comes firstly through a huge amount of work and secondly through experience – testing and arguing your opinions to destruction. We in the audience cannot help but believe that Gorka really knows what he is talking about.

That is what makes him so formidable in TV interviews, and what gives him that huge presence. His powerful voice also helps. Note that I said powerful, not loud. There is an important difference.

His self-confidence is not hubris: I picked up a few fleeting glimpses of insecurity, but then everyone has insecurity. So they should: it keeps them sharp.

I earnestly commend both the speech and the brief Q&A. They are both depressing and encouraging. The scenario is depressing, the prognosis reveals pinpoints of daylight. Chief amongst the latter is that he is at the POTUS elbow.

Theresa May be a Good thing.

On 17 January Theresa May, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, delivered a speech which had been eagerly awaited by many. Since the people of the United Kingdom, on 23 June 2016, had decisively voted to leave the European Union the country had seemed to be stuck in limbo. For the benefit of non-British readers, allow me to outline the background.

Mrs May’s predecessor as Prime Minister, David Cameron, had called the Referendum. He had announced, in a highly publicised speech in January 2013, that he intended to renegotiate Britain’s relationship with the EU, and then put this expected new dispensation to the British people in a referendum during 2017. In 2015 there was a General Election in which this promise of an EU Referendum was a central plank of his campaign. He won the election, launched this renegotiation in a fanfare of trumpets while many of us marvelled at how radically he had watered down his promised demands, went off to Brussels, and came back with essentially nothing. The little he claimed to have been agreed was not remotely binding, and even that was disputed by many European politicians. He rushed into the referendum, rather earlier than originally promised, on a platform that we should vote to remain ruled by this ‘reformed’ regime. Nevertheless he undertook that in the event of the British people voting to leave he would immediately trigger Article 50, the EU exit door, and lead the exit negotiations.

The referendum took place, the people voted for Brexit, and Cameron immediately vanished. He simply welshed on all assurances and left everything for someone else to sort out. That someone turned out to be Mrs Theresa May. Her principal problem was that incredibly the British governing establishment had put no contingency plans in place against the vote going for Brexit, so she had to start from scratch. Thus for six months the country was in limbo, with several establishment figures openly attempting to thwart the expressed democratic will of the British people who in turn were supported by little more than periodic assurances from Mrs May and her cabinet that Article 50 would be triggered before the end of March.

This speech had been loudly heralded as a key piece of progress report.

An opening pause. Immediately I am encouraged.

This video, originally a live, streamed feed, occasionally shows live tweets commenting in a separate window. At 11:07 there is one which expresses the hope that the speech gets more interesting. I can understand this up to a point, because in laying out her stall Mrs May has needed to cover very many bases. I however am in possession of information not then available to that tweeter: there is half-an-hour still to come.

Do you have more than 40 minutes to listen to the whole thing? If not I can recommend two short excerpts that summarise effectively. This is so much better than my cherry-picking quotes. It’s safer too, because of being less susceptible to my confirmation bias.

Between 31:08 and 31:43 she very clearly summarises all that she has thus far covered. If you want to stick with it to 32:58 you will hear how she intends to keep her cards face-down,

 “because this is not a game, or a time for opposition for opposition’s sake.”

You may find that this satisfies your curiosity or that it excites your appetite to hear more. Either way, I whole-heartedly commend all this speech.

The other excerpt is her ending. I recommend that you pick it up at 38:55 with the words, “I don’t believe…” I have heard worse perorations, and didn’t care that it had no auxesis, because the content and the occasion did not call for it.

Only a few days later she delivered another big speech, this time in the USA. In it she was busy massaging the ego of a huge ally, but still I felt that she meant what she said. It is this quality that I like. Even if I don’t always agree with everything she says and stands for, I don’t feel embarrassed that she is representing my country. That speech did call for an auxesis to herald the peroration, and it got it. If you don’t listen to the whole thing you can pick up the peroration at 33:00.

Like or loathe her political position, she does not beat around its bush. More and more I sense that this woman is a WYSIWYG – What You See Is What You Get – and I find that hugely refreshing after the dismal succession of duplicitous twits that have been representing us for a quarter of a century. (The word ‘twits’ was a slight edit from the first word there.)

She makes me feel strangely optimistic.

President Trump – find the Face…

You may have happened to notice that on 20 January in Washington DC Donald J Trump was inaugurated President of the United States of America. As is customary he delivered an inaugural address.

One of the central pillars of my public speaking training is, if you want a speech to be remembered, include something that people will remember. I call it the Face of the speech, a purple passage that will be quotable. The word is even in the title of my book.

Past POTUS inaugural speeches have included many quotable Faces. I bet you know who said the following –

The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.

Ask not what your country can do for you: ask what you can do for your country.

You ain’t seen nothing yet!

Reagan, of course, openly plagiarised the third for his second inaugural; but then Kennedy pinched the second from Epictetus. Who cares?

Let’s see what Trump offered in this respect…

The answer is almost everything. After preliminary niceties, from 1:38 through to 4:00 there are six declarations, any of which could be condensed to a golden quote for posterity and all saying essentially that government is being returned to the people.

Thereafter the theme adjusts slightly but the speech is still wall-to-wall purple. Trying to find a Face amongst this lot is like trying to find an individual peak in the Himalayas. Imagining my advising him, I find myself pursuing that very simile – “For heaven’s sake lower the surrounding landscape so that we may identify the mountains!”

Suddenly he hits us with two words, both emphasised with heavy deliberation. He pauses, and then gives them again –

America First!

Is this the Face? It is certainly the opening of a new chapter in the speech. It introduces a section on the subject of Protectionism. At 10:20 he tells us to follow two simple rules –

Buy American: hire American

I am disappointed: three is always many times stronger than two. He knows that: he uses triads often. If he added –

Sell American

– he would have his triad, an epistrophe at that . Also, buying and hiring may move money around but it doesn’t create wealth. Selling does.

A hugely telling moment comes shortly afterwards when he undertakes to eradicate “Radical Islamic Terrorism”. That is the first time anyone has heard those words spoken by an American President, certainly for eight years. They never passed Obama’s lips. Maajid Nawaz calls it the “Voldemort Effect” – the name that shall not be spoken.

For his peroration Trump returns to his original theme, with the words –

You will never be ignored again

– and culminates in a five-element symploce. “Together we will –

Make America Strong Again

Make America Wealthy Again

Make America Proud Again

Make America Safe Again

Make America Great Again!”

– and there it is, literally at last.  The Face.

Interestingly, when I have challenged seminar audiences to quote me anything from either of Obama’s inaugural speeches, I have been greeted mainly by blank faces. Occasionally an optimist has suggested, “Yes We Can”? I have been forced to discard that, because although it was his campaign slogan Obama for some reason did not use it in his inaugural address. Trump on the other hand was not going to squander the words emblazoned on all those baseball caps worn by his supporters. MAGA has been his talisman acronym.

Now he has to deliver…

Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev questions

On 2 January 2017 the Oxford Union posted on YouTube the video of a talk and Q&A by Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev. He had delivered it on 15 November, but they held up online publication in order to present me with a New Year gift.

I jest, of course, but it was a very special New Year discovery. Since I first critiqued a speech of his on this blog on 5 April 2013, I have featured him several times; but I have sought out videos of his teaching very many more times. I have seen him impart wisdom to questions, and I have seen him deliver big, set-piece speeches. He is particularly comfortable with the former, but can also be very impressive with the latter. Usually I watch him merely to soak up wisdom, but occasionally I don my rhetor hat. Having watched many hours of him I have found what I perceive to be a chink in his formidable speaking armoury.

This is not a set-piece speech. For one thing he is sitting, and for another he habitually precedes set-pieces with a brief chant which I understand is not exactly a prayer but a device for self-focus. Here he merely begins talking.

If I were in his shoes, I should do the same. This is not a conference with a clearly defined theme on which he can hang a message. His teaching is so wide and far-reaching that he could take his pick of scores of messages without knowing whether they would chime with this audience. Far better to deliver a decorum-creating homily, and then address questions. The homily lasts for a smidgeon over 27 minutes.

I mentioned a chink in his armoury. He often asks rhetorical questions, not expecting an answer and not getting one. But suddenly sometimes he does demand an answer. What is strange is that this often happens when the answer is glaringly self-evident. Nearly all questions, even the rhetorical ones are followed by –

…isn’t it – yes or no?

If you have your audience under your spell and they are immersed in deep thought, a question with an obvious answer is likely to be treated by them as rhetorical because they want to stay with their deep thoughts. Why then toss a stone onto the glassy surface of that beautifully still pond and break the spell? Most speakers would give their proverbial right arm to get an audience in that receptive mode. Yet I’ve often seen him break his own spell – including on this occasion.

Were I to confront him on the subject I have no doubt he would give me a string of reasons; but I think it’s a mistake and that he should not pursue unnecessary answers. And even up against a Great Teacher, when on the subject of speaking I am – naturally – always right…

Do yourself a favour and watch the whole thing. You may not agree with all of it. I think I may have issues with his position in relation to the question that begins at 47:20 and intend to apply some serious thought to it. I also believe him to be profoundly misguided with the ending of his preliminary homily: I fear that he is lazily following a fashionable piety. But an opportunity to stop for an hour and fall under that spell is always spiritually refreshing.

And I shall be forever grateful to him for having clarified a personal conundrum with which I struggled till I first heard him in 2013. I stopped struggling and began embracing it. He addresses it again in the final question which begins at 58:30.


Dinesh D’Souza straightens the record

On 9 November 2016 – and I bet you can remember what you were doing that day – The Young Americans for Freedom held a meeting at the Southern Methodist University. It was addressed by Dinesh D’Souza.

His introduction by Grant Wolf begins with one of those rabble-rousing cries of “All Riiiiight!”. Here it sounds particularly lame as it goes out into silence of an apparently stony nature. In fact, as this talk unfolds, it emerges that the makers of this video had no ‘atmos’ microphones in the body of the hall, and we barely hear the audience. Therefore some of what comes from the platform seems unbalanced against lack of reaction.

Before we leave the subject of D’Souza’s introduction, I ought to touch on a mistake that Wolf makes. He lists a number of people to thank for the organisation of this talk, and invites applause. Then he leads the applause. Applauding from the platform is one of those things that feels right, but looks wrong. It also sounds awful because it is amplified through the microphone.

The introduction ends at 6:30, and D’Souza begins speaking at 6:50. The twenty second gap consists of a standing ovation. Before you begin speaking, there is nothing like a standing ovation to persuade you that you are among friends.

D’Souza, after a few relatively inconsequential niceties, begins with a history lesson on American politics. It’s interesting. The interest is not only in the content, but in the very clear way he structures it. My pulse quickens. This guy is good.

So good is he that shortly there occurs a moment that has admittedly featured before with this blog, but very rarely. I put down my notepad and just listen.

What a fascinating, riveting speech! I heartily recommend it.

Because of the stranglehold that the Democratic party has on the US mainstream media, and because the UK mainstream media from the BBC upwards are cast in much the same bigoted mould, we have been fed essentially only one side of the story of the US Presidential election. This speech straightens the record.

There is a book and a movie, entitled Hillary’s America. If you follow that link you will find yourself at the same page as was linked by D’Souza’s name in the first paragraph. There he describes it as The most important movie you’ll see before you vote. Admittedly, as a Brit, I didn’t have a vote in the US election so my not having heard about this till now doesn’t matter. Nevertheless he tells us something of how hard the other side of the argument worked to prevent anyone seeing it.

If we learn nothing else from watching this speech, we discover what an extraordinary achievement it was for Donald Trump to win that election against the massed coalition forces of the US establishment. We also learn that all that we think we can expect from the President Elect and his administration may be so biassed as quite possibly untrue. That means we can go into 2017 with hope.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I shall begin that hope by watching nearly half-an-hour of D’Souza’s Q&A.

Happy New Year.

Ben Shapiro’s paper gelds his message

On 16 November the University of Wisconsin-Madison live-streamed a talk by conservative commentator, Ben Shapiro. He was invited by Young Americans for Freedom.

We have previously in this blog come across the issue of students agitating to ‘no-platform’ speakers. Shapiro is no stranger to this authoritarianism, having been banned by DePaul, and at California State University, Los Angeles, needed protection from a police escort. The inflammatory topic that caused such uproar was Free Speech on Campus.

Here he begins at 4:13, and ends at around 58:30.

Why is he reading a script?

Actually I already know the answer. He sincerely believes that it is a requirement. He is not alone, but he is profoundly wrong. No one needs a script: I have proved it countless times. Watch him during the Q&A after the talk, and you’ll see how good he can be.

It’s a fairly amusing opening. He pokes fun at so-called Social Justice Warriors. I have heard that first minute just twice and could already shoot it from the hip. So could you. So could he. But he doesn’t: he reads most of it. And it’s the moments that he permits himself to shoot little asides from the hip that cause his effectiveness momentarily to lift. You get to see for a couple of seconds how much better this speech would have been if he had learnt how to throw away the paper, and (at least as importantly) been shown how easily he could.

A very short time into his lecture, the protests begin. Repeated shouts of “shame” and “safety” try to drown him out. At this point he shows that he has an arsenal of pre-prepared put-downs to deploy. They are quite good, and have the side-benefit of getting him away from that bloody paper.

Once they have subsided (temporarily, it turns out) he returns to reading his script; and immediately the guts of his performance haemorrage out. It’s actually good stuff, but crippled – gelded! – by being read aloud rather than spoken.

Within a minute or two the moronic shouting begins again. A girl in the middle of the auditorium rises to her feet and berates the protesters. She delivers a beautifully eloquent piece of ad-lib that can be paraphrased as “Shut the … [front door] … and let us listen to the man!” Her interjection earns her a standing ovation, and shortly afterwards we return to listening to Shapiro reading his good stuff for a few more minutes.

It soon becomes apparent that the protesters are positioned in the side aisles and along the back.  They begin to process down towards the stage, line up in front of it, and chant their imbecilic slogans. The audience responds by counter-chanting.

What is sad is that this trend appears to have become ubiquitous in US academe, and is spilling across the Atlantic. What is even sadder is that it comes from above. The evidence suggests that teachers are feeding this nonsense, and that they got it from their teachers.

At the beginning of last year I covered a brilliant talk by Hans Rosling in which he exposes a series of widely-held misconceptions about the world – misconceptions that are exploded by real data. Although he treats the subject lightly it is clear that these lies colour people’s political views, which is serious. At one point he almost throws away (blink and you’ll miss it) the observation that people cleave to nonsenses that can be dated fairly precisely from the period that their teachers were born. Therefore it’s at least two generations of apostolic succession since this stuff was planted.

I remember when students rebelled. Students are supposed to rebel! Student rebellion has today almost died. They are reduced to parroting poison from their pedagogues, which they parrot from theirs. And the poison is political correctness, and at the root of political correctness is the rule that dissent must be silenced at all costs. That is why they hate free speech.

There is a growing movement to push back. Ben Shapiro is part of that movement. If he would only learn that speaking and writing are not the same thing, and learn to do the former properly, he’d be a lot more effective. Freed from the tyranny of that bloody paper, he’d be as good as he is during the Q&A that begins at the one hour point.