Katie Hopkins: stupidly brave.

“There’s stupid, there’s very stupid, and there’s Katie Hopkins”

Is that a precise quote? Probably not: it’s more likely to be a close paraphrase, but I have better things to do with my time than check it by sitting yet again through the speech from which it came. It was Tariq Ali at the Oxford Union.

I recently came across a speech that Katie Hopkins made. The posting simply said that the speech was ‘outstanding’ and received a standing ovation. Not where or when it was given. A little detective work persuades me it was at CPAC 2018. There are two clues: the date – late February 2018 – and the wallpaper behind her. There’s another February 2018 video of her delivering very much the same message but much more quietly and soberly at a panel discussion at CPAC, with very similar wallpaper behind her. That panel speech can be found here, but I want us to look now at Hopkins working an audience.

I’ve watched more speeches than is probably good for my health, but I’ve seldom if ever seen an audience made to laugh so loud so close to the beginning of a speech. Overt humour that early is a classic minefield, but Hopkins is evidently not phased by minefields, and the audience loves her for it.

It has to be said that Hopkins is very brave indeed, and for that I salute her. I also salute that, one by one, she targets and obliterates every PC icon in sight.

I have stated often and loud enough that I absolutely detest political correctness. Don’t ask me to itemise PC attitudes to which I object, because that’s a straw man. What I loathe is the concept itself. That anyone has the effrontery to declare any opinion ‘correct’ or ‘incorrect’ gives me spots before the eyes. Politics is opinion and therefore to be subject to civilised debate: it is never ‘correct’ or ‘incorrect’ except in totalitarian dictatorships, and they give me spots before the eyes also.

Hopkins claims absolute freedom of speech, and exercises that freedom with considerable abandon.

This is an astonishing speech! It’s constructed well, delivered well, and crammed full of things that we need to hear but which – appallingly, disgracefully and shamefully – have become dangerous to say or even think.

This is one brave woman.

Hillel Neuer stirs it

In March 2007 the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC) was treated to a speech from the Executive Director of United Nations Watch. News reports subsequently called it a “stunning rebuke”. Council President Luis Alfonso de Alba called it “inadmissible”.

UN Watch has a stated mission, “to monitor the performance of the United Nations by the yardstick of its own Charter”, and regularly draws attention to the HRC being peopled largely by representatives of countries with lamentable human rights records.  Its Executive Director is Hillel Neuer. Considering this speech stirred a hornets’ nest perhaps we should watch it.

He’s not sitting on any fences, is he!

That is a blunt and brutal anaphora at 0:39 – “its response has been …”

My aversion to speakers reading speeches is well known, but I can understand when someone reads a speech like this. For posterity there will be a publishable transcript, and if you are pronouncing something as controversial as this you want to ensure that what is published is accurate to the letter. What safer way than personally to supply the transcript, having read from it?

I am curious as to what happens off camera at 2:46. For a few seconds Neuer becomes slightly distracted, and you can see his eyes following activity of some sort.

He finishes at 3:10, and Council President Luis Alfonso de Alba begins speaking. It seems that (again off camera) Neuer, is either already packing up to leave or perhaps someone else is speaking to him, because de Alba has to repeat that he shall not be thanking him for his statement. He goes on to censure him for his tone, his terminology, and his lack of deference. Interestingly, he does not refute a word of what Neuer has said. Could it be irrefutable?

With all the respect that de Alba clearly considers himself and his council to be entitled, his pronouncement puts me in mind of the short speech with which Dogberry closes Act 4, scene 2 of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. It’s the one that begins,

“Dost thou not suspect my place? Dost thou not suspect my years?”

In 2017, Neuer stirred it again in the same place. Perhaps we should look at that speech soon.

John Wedger. A very brave man.

The International Tribunal for Natural Justice formed a Judicial Commission of Inquiry into Human Trafficking and Child Sex Abuse. It was launched at what they called their Westminster Seatings where filmed testimonies were delivered by several people between 16 and 18 April, 2018.

One such was police whistleblower, John Wedger. If you search the name on YouTube you will find very many examples of Wedger speaking, being interviewed, etc., but if you look for him on Wikipedia you do so in vain. As far as they are concerned he might not exist. You may conclude from that what you will.

His introduction, read by Sacha Stone, includes the words “one of the bravest men in the country”.

I sit and listen to this horrendous story, forming thoughts and ideas on how best a solution can be found, but feeling impotent. Nevertheless at least I can help to spread the information  by publishing the speech.

I am assailed by déja vu. My recent posting covering a speech by Andrew Norfolk concerned an almost identical problem – child sex abuse, official rank-closing, and establishment cover-up. What Wedger is telling us here is not just that appalling crimes are being committed, but that officialdom is in it up to its corrupt neck.

I want to rant that this revolting story is symptomatic of an even deeper malaise. We have allowed too loose a rein to our political representatives and those to whom they have assigned authority on our behalf. They have become too remote, too unaccountable. The supine media has been complicit.

They all need to be severely reined in. They need to be brought to heel. They need to be accountable.

An unaccountable bureaucracy gets (at best) flabby, ineffective, inefficient, and too big. At worst it gets self-serving and corrupt. Politicians and bureaucrats forget that they are representatives and public servants, calling themselves ‘leaders’.

Who is to blame? We are. We the people. We let it happen. We allowed ourselves to become lulled into turning a blind eye for the sake of a quiet life.

Two years ago on 23 June 2016 we the people ‘grew a pair’ and gave instructions to our political servants concerning the complete dismissal of one huge overseas bureaucracy. Reluctantly, and glacially slowly, they appear to be just about following our command. They had better do so: we are watching.

The next step is for us to work to clean up the bureaucracy at home. A fish rots from the head down. What else is going on?

It seems that we have our own swamp to drain.

Steven Pinker and optimism

The Breakthrough Dialogue 2017 was held in Sausalito, California, exactly a year ago (and the 2018 Dialogue is happening as we speak). The Breakthrough Institute describes its annual Dialogue as the “anti-Davos”, and I can think of few more appealing recommendations.

One of their speakers last year was Steven Pinker with a talk called “Why do progressives hate progress?” which title seems to suggest that it was at least partly airing matters covered in his latest publication Enlightenment Now.

It is no idle accident that Amazon brackets Pinker’s book with Factfulness, by the late Hans Rosling. Rosling, with his legendary and hilarious use of creative visuals, appeared twice on this blog – here and here – and preached a similar optimistic message that despite what is too often implied life for humanity is getting measurably better.

Why do I keep sensing signals of nervousness? Pinker is a hugely experienced lecturer: I have watched many of his outings. Yet he seems here not entirely at ease. Could it be something to do with an unaccustomed audience? Most of his speaking that I have found was to universities, and I know how easily you can find yourself adopting a wavelength that works with familiar demographics.

When I say ‘works’ I mean things like response to humour. You get used to a particular type of bounce-back to the way you phrase and time things. Then when that bounce-back is different you start imagining that this audience isn’t getting you.

Or it can happen with unfamiliar technology. You are so comfortable with a certain variety of – e.g. – slide projection that you can almost make it sing! Then one day you are faced with a remote control whose buttons are in the wrong place, and that can be stressful. I notice that he clearly has a ‘slave screen’ below him to his left, and he constantly checks that the audience is seeing what they are meant to be seeing.

Or perhaps I’m the one that’s imagining it? There’s little, if anything, wrong with the way this talk is prepared and delivered. I just sense an undercurrent of edginess.

Its message is wonderfully optimistic and fascinating. I am especially captivated by the ‘tone-mapping’ graph telling us that the media and other opinion-pundits consistently offer a depressing view of a world that is constantly improving. Pinker proposes a range of explanations that seem to make sense (and slightly exonerate those pundits). It’s a very good speech, and ends with a satisfactorily up-beat tone.

And for the reader who follows this blog in the hope of learning something about speaking, there is the moral that if you find yourself out of your comfort zone and in some way in unfamiliar territory, then trust your game and relax.

Mark Steyn makes me LOL

The Heartland Institute’s Tenth International Conference on Climate Change on June 12, 2015, had a keynote speech from Mark Steyn.

I include Mark Steyn on this blog every couple of years or I start suffering from withdrawal. The man is great listening, because he’s opinionated, articulate, and funny. I marvel that the first time I covered a Steyn speech here I castigated him for reading it. I knew then that he didn’t need to (no one needs to) but I hadn’t yet seen him shooting from the hip or, if I may mix my metaphors, spreading his wings and flying. I have now, very many times; in fact the speech we’re watching today was eventually chosen from three over which I spent an enjoyable afternoon agonising.

Actually if I’m going to be desperately picky, and I get desperately picky only with speakers who are desperately good, Steyn does have a script – or at least notes. The difference though, since his first appearance here in March 2013, is that he now writes it in spoken, as distinct from written, English. What’s more he has perfected his technique to the point that his glances at the lectern are barely noticeable.

He has a few speaking mannerisms, like that of repeating his phrases a huge amount, but I’m prepared to bet that without my pointing it out almost no one would notice. It’s my job to spot such things, so I do, but I always tell my trainees the same about mannerisms. If you are interesting/entertaining/absorbing enough no one will ever notice. Steyn’s interest/entertainment/absorption is far more than enough, and that’s another reason that his glances at the lectern are barely noticeable.

And he’s funny! He’s laugh-out-loud funny. He really knows how to do it, and let’s not belittle that skill: it is hugely difficult. Steyn can write funny as well as speak funny, and that’s an unusual combination. A central plank of his spoken comedy is that he doesn’t try to do it all the time, when he does he plays it straight-face and throws it away. Throw-away is a wonderful comedy technique, because it doesn’t pressure the audience by begging them to laugh. Nevertheless it is not speaker-proof: it still needs expert timing, and he has that timing.

At one point – and I won’t spoil it by telling you where – Steyn uses his script as a comedy prop. It’s hilarious enough for me to forgive him the script.

And anyway, though a few years ago I could have easily had him throwing his paper away, if he came to me today I would tell him not to bother. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, and it certainly ain’t broke.

Mosab Yousef: a disrupter

The scene is a United Nations Human Rights Council Debate on 25 September, 2017. The council is filled overwhelmingly with people harbouring a shared obsession. Accordingly here they can spew out poison, couched in diplomacy-speak, safe in the belief that no one will gainsay them. Let us watch.

The difficulty with that video is in trying to concentrate on what the lone voice says while being gloriously distracted by the reactions of those who have hitherto been enjoying their cosy hate-fest. We heard that his presence at this debate is to represent United Nations Watch whom we have followed in the previous two postings here and here, and whose terms of reference are to do precisely what this man is doing. But who is he? His name is Mosab Yousef, and he can answer the rest for himself. He is speaking at a multicultural summit in Garden City, Kansas in 2016.

This video appears to have been topped’n’tailed so losing the opening and closing. Or Yousef has deployed a beautiful bald opening. Either way the student of public speaking can see how powerful a bald opening can be. “The mystery of life…” is a fabulous way to start.

It has also been edited: you can easily identify many, unsettlingly many,  edit points. I like to believe that this was not to censor him but to shorten the video a little.

I love the quiet, pensive, almost hesitant way he is delivering. This decorum conveys a level of sincerity that is seldom seen so transparently on a speaking platform.

The speech appears to be essentially autobiographical, pure ethos, and perhaps the editing was intended to restrict the video to that. For me it certainly fleshes out the image of the character who so rudely disrupted the well-manicured diplomats at the UN.

Nevertheless there is also a crucial, kernel, takeaway message between 4:18 and 6:12. If enough people reflected upon this it could become far more disruptive than his contribution to that UN debate.

Ruth Deech: an expressive reader

My previous post was of a speech made at the UN Watch Gala Dinner 2018. I later explored further into such speeches, and found Baroness Deech speaking at the Gala Dinner in May of 2017.

I am a quiet admirer of hers, and the causes she espouses. I also like that she is content to be described as a politician while sitting as a Cross-bench peer. When people idly imply that if it isn’t partisan it isn’t politics I want to bang heads. On the contrary, if all parties agree on a viewpoint it usually warrants more careful scrutiny.

In her opening acknowledgements Deech mentions “Hillel”. He is the Executive Director of UN Watch, Hillel Neuer, and you may confidently expect him to appear in this blog before long.

This is an excellent and valuable speech, but she is reading it. She is being a talking head.

Many defenders of that practice, including (so help me!) some public speaking trainers, argue that without a script speakers will not find the best words to utter. I have spent the past quarter of a century proving that to be nonsense. I have videoed trainees reading their sample speech, then tinkered both with the structure of the speech and with the speaker’s mindset, and then videoed the speech delivered again shooting entirely from the hip. The result is more fluent, more animated, more engaging, and it employs phrasing, vocabulary and figures of speech at least as good as the script it replaces.

Yes there can be stumbles just as in ordinary conversation, but stumbles from a speaker shooting from the hip are intrinsically more audience-friendly than stumbles from someone mis-reading. Do you want an example of the latter? It’s a tiny one, but you don’t get this particular type of stumble from someone shooting from the hip. Listen to Deech slightly tripping over the word “in”. It occurs at 0:58.

The presence of that script throws up a screen between speaker and audience. In this case it’s a very thin screen, because Deech is a much better and more expressive reader than most, but still her delivery would soar if she knew how to dispense with that script, and had been shown that she could trust herself to speak spontaneously.

Another argument that is put up in favour of scripts concerns security of timing. Again it’s nonsense. Suppose on an impulse you throw in a digression – which, being spontaneous and shot from the hip, will probably be the best bit of the speech – then suddenly you are destined to over-run. Being shackled to a script you are running on rails so skipping a section is very problematic, so you start speaking faster, which is disastrous. Speaking fast makes you less intelligible and is futile: the time it saves is negligible. If you are shooting the whole speech from the hip you can skip a section easily.

In today’s world where formal oratory is virtually extinct and the ubiquitous fashion is for ‘conversational sincerity’, scripts are the speaker’s enemy.

Back to the subject of timing, any long-term regular reader of this blog will know that I castigate conference organisers who do not provide a clock for speakers to check their timing. At 05:23 we see a shot that shows, placed on the floor in front of the lectern, a large digital clock counting down. A bouquet for UN Watch!