Walter Russell Mead and flawed paper

At the City College of New York, on April 15, 2013, Walter Russell Mead delivered the inaugural Anne & Bernard Spitzer Lecture in the Colin L. Powell Center. It was entitled “America’s Asia pivot at a time of upheaval”. There’s a catchy title for you.

Mead begins at 4:20, and ends at 48:57 for Q&A but I would urge you first to watch his introduction by Rajan Menon. Even a professor of political science needs to learn about microphone technique if he is to fulfill this function properly. It has been several months since I last had need to moan here about someone popping on a microphone, but Menon more than makes up the shortfall. How hard would you have to work to pop more than this? What he has to say is interesting and provides a good background for what is to come, but he leans in towards the microphone to ensure that his percussive consonants have his column of breath unerringly hitting the microphone’s diaphragm every time. His aim is flawless.

He commits another error. Leading applause from the lectern feels right, looks wrong and sounds worse because the microphone compounds the felony.  Who would have thought there were so many little things to know?

Mead is taller than Menon so the microphone is aimed just south of his beard. Furthermore he doesn’t lean in to the microphone. As a result we finally hear the name ‘Spitzer’, and words like ‘policy’ or ‘polarization’, without a pop. This continues till 6:49 when Mead adjusts his microphone, and in the process the popping makes a nostalgic return – but only partially. He stands up, doesn’t lean into the microphone, and consequently pops a little less than Menon. A better microphone might eliminate it altogether, but in the meantime it’s there.

The issue being discussed is globally important. It comes from a respected commentator. It is being imparted to a knowledgeable audience in a specialized faculty within a respected seat of learning. Why then am I dwelling on this small detail?

Precisely because of all the above.

Were this a published document which Mead had written, and the paper was so transparently thin that the reader was constantly distracted by seeing other writing through what he was reading, and of such poor quality that it kept tearing when the page was turned, it would not be doing justice to the subject matter – just as in this case.

There is more to public speaking than merely an ability to convey concepts. Mead manifestly knows his subject and has much of importance to say. He argues his case skilfully and very compellingly, he shoots it spontaneously from the hip, with occasional histrionic outbursts that spice up the experience. It is very interesting and I commend this as a speech to be watched.

I just bemoan that it is printed on flawed paper.

One thought on “Walter Russell Mead and flawed paper

  1. I find Walter Russell Mead always worth reading (or listening to, in this case). Agree completely about the popping, a distraction and quite annoying. Another irritation is when mikes malfunction, are not switched on or are too far away from the speaker – even when I don’t entirely agree with someone, still want to hear what they have to say!

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