Ann Coulter shows no pretence

I  found myself looking at almost identical tag lines for two speeches by the same person but at different venues, “Ann Coulter just gave an OUTSTANDING Speech, gets standing ovation”. I just had to watch this paragon. The two speeches turned out to be very similar, but the video of one of them was a bit of a technical mess, so I chose the other which was less of a mess though the camera work was sloppy.

Ann Coulter has been described as the undisputed star of the rightwing American loudmouths, and while preparing this posting I watched her fillet Jeremy Paxman without breaking sweat.

The speech that I chose to cover here was at the Oxford Union, not normally regarded as a hotbed of right wing extremism, and I was fascinated to see how they took to her uncompromising approach to her opinions.

Coulter brings newness. President Trump is possibly the most polarising figure I can remember, and people’s attitude towards him has become tedious. I suffer from Trump fatigue to such an extent that when his name gets mentioned I want to be somewhere else. Trump haters will not hear a word on his behalf, not even over the promising developments in North Korea. Trump lovers will not hear a word against him. I’d given up waiting for an evaluation of his presidential progress that wasn’t buried under bigotry.

Here we have someone who, in her own words, is holding his feet to the fire. Very much a supporter she is nevertheless highly critical of him. I don’t have to agree with her to find that refreshing.

Her speaking style is likewise refreshing, being stripped of pretence. She just talks! Her focus is where it should be – on her message and her audience, she has plenty to say and she keeps it simple. I enjoy listening.

I also enjoy transatlantic echoes. In the early days of this blog I went out looking for speeches beyond British shores, many of them American, and got mildly involved in American politics. Despite the differing political systems the similarities with Britain are almost spooky. It was not mere chance that the Brexit vote and Trump’s election occurred within a few months of each other: both nations were facing similar fundamental issues. As an example, take a sentence that Coulter utters as part of her explanation for Trump’s electoral victory…

For twenty years both political parties have been lying to us…

From the evidence of this video Coulter didn’t get a standing ovation. The audience did laugh a couple of times, but in the main greeted the speech in respectful and thoughtful silence, applauding at the end. If they departed the hall disagreeing with every word she spoke, they didn’t do it from ignorance. They heard her out, probably learnt something, and that’s the value of free speech.


John Redwood: a Speaker’s speaker

In 2011 the Speaker of the British House of Commons, John Bercow, launched a series of lectures in aid of a parliamentary charity. On 20 February 2018, the lecture was delivered by John Redwood MP

You need only look at that still image below to see where Redwood’s eyes are pointing. He is reading his speech. You probably expect me to castigate him for this, and though I shall examine how much better he would have delivered it without a script I shall not castigate him because he is subject to one of the few sets of circumstances whereby a script is necessary. More of that anon.

John Bercow’s introduction is well delivered. I have some reservations concerning the sightly self-conscious content; but he fulfils one of my prime delivery requirements, namely that he speaks with his audience as distinct from at.

Of the many parliamentary positions John Redwood has held, he has yet to be Chancellor of the Exchequer. Why on earth do I bring this up?

I mentioned earlier that there are circumstances when a script becomes regrettably necessary for a speaker. In my book I cited those occasions when someone has been supplied with a transcript, because you kinda need to say what that transcript does. (The Speaker’s office publishes these lectures.) I then added a brief advice section on how best then to handle paper, including everything from layout on the page to how to avoid needing to lick your finger all the time.

Redwood turns over his pages which is needlessly clunky. It is smoother to have your pages printed on just one side, sitting in a pile of loose sheets which you simply slide one at a time across the lectern. This lectern is wide enough. That technique is customarily employed every year in the House of Commons during the delivering of the budget speech by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Redwood has never been Chancellor, and I rather feel that he and scripts are relative strangers. A good thing too.

Redwood speaks well without the aid of a script. I’ve seen him do it, not least when he appeared in this blog before. We see here the huge lift in the quality of communication at 11:40 when he departs from his script to recount an experience. For a minute and a half we see his unmasked personality shining out before he returns to being a talking head.

It’s a very good speech, and I know that the word ‘lecture’ strictly means a reading, but it is a pity when a man who communicates so well is forced by circumstances to operate under the tyranny of paper.

Ann McElhinney made me weep.

Texas Alliance for Life hosted, in Austin on 5 October, 2017, a talk from Ann McElhinney. If you click the link on her name you will reach a page devoted to both her and Phelim McAleer, her husband. The pair are a formidable and fearless team dedicated to investigative journalism and the search for truth behind news stories, and it was a close race as to which of them would be examined in this posting. Phelim will undoubtedly feature before very long.

She is speaking both on the book they wrote about Kermit Gosnell and also their film on the same subject.

There’s something about the Irish accent! Perhaps it’s just memories of happy times I have spent there, but for me the sound is immediately friendly. Phelim, her husband, has Northern Irish vowels but she is clearly from the Republic, west coast I reckon.

Her start is likewise audience-friendly. This sort of apparently scatty sorting-out of technical bits and pieces is a great way of fighting nerves. I tell trainees that relaxing your audience is a very effective way of relaxing yourself. She has an important opening question for her audience, but she camouflages its weight behind the performance of technical faffing around. Scatty she ain’t! This is one smart woman. Friendly she may be, but only if you are on the side of the angels.

Silence from the audience in response to a brief and unexplained section beginning at 04:10 referring to Representative Murphy shows that this Texas audience doesn’t know the story. If you want enlightenment you could start by looking here.

This is my type of speaker! She has notes to which she refers for slides and things, but essentially her speaking is all shooting from the hip. Even more important than that is that I detect no vestige of speech mode. What you see is what you get, and what you get is the genuine person. She lets all her idiosyncrasies hang out, because she couldn’t care less about herself: all that matters is her message and whether her audience is getting it. That is the ideal speaker’s mindset, and it is what makes her so powerful. Could she tidy up the structure? Perhaps a tiny bit, but the narrative thread is so strong that we are swept over all the bumps in the road.

And the road certainly is bumpy! This is not a pretty story, but by heaven it’s an important one. On this blog over the years, in 360+ postings, I have covered some very valuable speeches. I rate this in the top three, maybe higher. People absolutely need to learn what she has to tell.

Watch this speech, and at the end you may find yourself like me in a puddle of tears.

Dinesh D’Souza nails The Big Lie

In September 2017 Dinesh D’Souza spoke at Liberty University in Virginia, USA. This is not the first time we have looked at a speech delivered there: we saw Trey Gowdy likewise. At the very beginning of this speech D’Souza makes the point that unlike far too many universities and colleges in America, indeed the West, Liberty conscientiously hosts speakers from all backgrounds and political persuasions. It is disgraceful that this requires highlighting, education surely being about challenging young minds with a variety of opinions, but it does.

This speech first caught my eye when its online posting declared it to have been an amazing speech that earned itself a standing ovation. The second thing I noticed was that it was about The Big Liea book I read in hardback months ago when it was first published.

There’s an interesting thing about D’Souza’s jaw-dropping assertions, namely that no one succeeds in refuting them. In his previous book, Hillary’s America which I also read, he declared that at the outset of the American Civil War all American slaves belonged to members of the Democratic Party, and defied anyone to find an exception. That was published in July 2016 since which the silence has been broken only by smears and name-calling, the halfwit’s substitute for argument.

I was highly sceptical that this speech could in thirty minutes do more than merely trail the book. I was wrong. D’Souza is such a master of structure that watching this speech may well make you want to read the whole book, but you don’t have to unless you want to probe the detail in depth. I’m sorry if this inhibits his sales, but it’s all here, and magnificently shot from the hip. D’Souza is an astonishingly good speaker, and this an astonishingly good speech.

Have you noticed how everything that can be described as reprehensible is always characterised as ‘right-wing’?  (In fact, that is essentially the BBC definition.) Has it puzzled you when told that Stalin for instance, though a Communist, suddenly adopted ‘right-wing tendencies’ when he went about killing people? Mao and Pol Pot ditto? Have you been led to believe that the political spectrum is actually circular, and that is why the extreme left emulates the extreme right in its brutal authoritarianism? Have you been told that authoritarianism is itself a right-wing thing, despite the right always calling for smaller government? Has it ever bothered you how the ‘moderate’ left will go to extreme lengths to prevent you hearing anything from the ‘extreme’ right?

Then you are a victim of The Big Lie, and you need to watch this speech. And if you are a lover of good public speaking, then you definitely need to watch this speech.

Princess Mabel naturally.

In November 2017 the Oxford Union hosted a talk by Princess Mabel van Oranje. She chairs an organisation called Girls Not Brides: The Global Partnership to End Child Marriage.

Her speech lasted a tad more than thirty minutes, and the rest of the time consisted of questions.

She’s a natural speaker, and that’s wonderful! We watch the real person, with no speaker’s mask, expressing transparently genuine, unselfconscious passion.

She’s a natural speaker, and that’s a problem. We are bombarded by a relentless flow of words, most of which fail to stick.

Natural speakers are probably the most difficult to coach. I watch this, knowing that if this speech were properly structured it could say at least as much, with considerably more productive impact, with much better memorability, in two thirds of the time. I also dread the possibility of anyone trying to structure the speaker. That glorious naturalness should never be allowed to be compromised.

Greg Lukianoff and the 1st Amendment

I have lost count of the number times I have covered on this blog speeches extolling the virtues, or condemning the restriction, of free speech. I can though remember the first time: it was in November 2012 and a Christopher Hitchens speech which he had delivered at a debate in 2006. Here we are, twelve years after that debate, and free speech is under worse attack than ever.

My interest in the subject must be obvious. My occupation is my obsession and based on communication. In my opinion anyone who strives to curtail communication is either imbecilic or possessed of dangerously questionable motives; and it seems that most of western academia, officialdom, and too many of our political representatives can be thus categorised. It’s worse than depressing: it’s frightening.

I hate the word ‘hate’ when it is used as a legal adjective.

Here we see a lecture on Free Speech delivered by Greg Lukianoff, the president of FIRE – The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. It was at Williams College, Massachusetts, in April 2014.

Check out the size of the audience!

As part of his opening ethos Lukianoff amusingly introduces himself as a specialist 1st Amendment lawyer. We in Britain do not have a 1st Amendment: we do not even have a written Constitution to amend. What this lecture tells us is that even with full constitutional backup to protect it the USA has free speech problems pretty much as severe as ours.

Generally I would disapprove of his slides carrying so much verbiage, because of the risk that the speaker can find himself in competition with himself. But when he sticks important, historic, Supreme Court rulings on the screen, then to quote key passages from them I have to say I think it works by dint of the weight of the passages.

I find him a joy to listen to because he lays out his arguments with stunning clarity, but then he’s a lawyer. In half an hour I find the whole free speech thing more cogently expressed than I have heard elsewhere.

He actually goes on for more than half an hour, finishing and inviting questions at 34:30, but the last four minutes are specifically aimed at American students and the benefits of FIRE membership. Then it’s questions.

This speech was four years ago, since when these matters have appeared to have got worse even though the official political culture, if not the culture of  academe, has turned through 180 degrees. For my own private interest I must go and find what he is saying now.

Thierry Baudet: nearly fantastische

Late in 2017 The Oxford Union hosted a debate on the motion, This House Believes the Decline and Fall of the European Union is Upon us. One of the speakers proposing the motion was Thierry Baudet.

Baudet is Dutch, which of course means that – like many Northern Europeans – he speaks English better than most English people. I have almost rid myself of resentment of this, my late wife and mother of my sons having been Danish; but how well does one of these linguistic geniuses deliver a speech? Let’s find out.

Immediately I delight that other than that little piece of paper, visible in the still shot and presumably bearing bullet-point signposts, he is shooting from the hip. I think he looks at it only once. Because none of my trainees needs even that little paper I am tempted to put this tiny failing down to whatever crumb remains of language barrier. I’d be wrong. When researching him my eye was caught by another speech described as “Fantastische”, and though I could understand not a word and though that audience audibly enjoyed it, I can tell you that it was read from a script. Could it be that for him public speaking is actually easier in English?

I am thrilled to be able smugly to point out an error. Where the noun is ‘instability’, the adjective is ‘unstable’. Yes of course it’s an anomaly, but what’s new? – this is English. He repeatedly describes the EU as ‘instable’. He’s absolutely right in his diagnosis, just wrong in his idiom.

I thought that Oxford Union debate speeches were allowed eight minutes, but he has bells rung at him when he has barely cleared six minutes. This seems to unsettle him a little. It’s a pity because he is both articulate and coherent, and he certainly has the measure of the EU – and not just its instability. He kicks its dogma.

Among other things you will find that he effortlessly demolishes the fallacy that past European conflicts in general and WW2 in particular were built on nationalism. The reverse was the truth.

He’s good. He’s very good. He’s nearly fantastische.