At the moment Australia is in the grip of a referendum – a postal ballot – on whether same sex marriage should be made legal.
In my constant search for interesting speeches I came across this one from Millie Fontana, lending her voice to the “No” side of the argument. Is Millie a died-in-the-wool bigot? No. Is Millie an ignorant redneck who doesn’t know what she’s talking about? No. Is Millie a spittle-flecked, hate-filled fascist? No. Am I going to tell you about Millie? No. I think it would be better for her to do the telling.
There is a stress symptom that is very widespread. Those who study such things in depth tell me that it seems to be hard-wired into us. Most tiny babies do it when they are tired (one of my sons did: the other son just curled up and slept). The symptom involves a hand doing something somewhere around the back of the head. It can be rubbing the neck, fiddling with an ear, scratching the scalp, anything like that. Now watch Millie and her hair. Millie is stressed, and why wouldn’t she be?
I shall now doff my rhetor hat and leave you alone to listen to her story. It is a very important one. Her message even more so.
On 19 September President Trump addressed the United Nations General Assembly. I have seen the speech described with the word ‘hate’. That word has become a catch-all for any opinion ‘with which I disagree’; in fact, disastrously, that almost amounts to a legal definition these days. Therefore like most who actually bother to think I invariably dismiss the term until and unless I have examined the matter in hand.
For example, we were all regaled with how Trump had threatened “to totally destroy North Korea”. There’s an inflammable headline for you! Having now watched the whole speech several times I can bear witness to the accuracy of the quote, just as I can point out how misleading it is without the qualification that preceded it, “if [USA] is forced to defend itself or its allies we will have no choice but…”
Here is the whole speech.
I have no appetite for picking through all his points. There’s more than 40 minutes of speech in which he did that for himself, and you here have the opportunity to form your own opinion. Therefore I shall limit myself to my own speciality interest, the preparation and delivery of the speech itself.
I like his “Welcome to New York” opening. It’s a velvet glove covering an iron fist that says “your building: my town”.
As representing the USA, it is fitting and traditional that he gives a very potted summary of the state of his nation, on the one hand a country battered by hurricanes and on the other a country resolutely and successfully climbing out of economic doldrums. He doesn’t waste the opportunity to point out that the economic turnaround began with his accession. The Dow Jones had been rising for a time before he entered the Oval Office; but it has accelerated since, along with growth and employment. Crime and food-stamp usage have travelled in the opposite direction.
He is much beloved of triads, and I don’t mean oriental crime syndicates. They are scattered all over this speech. “Peace, sovereignty, and prosperity”, “strong, independent, and free”, and so on. They are everywhere, and the commonest ingredient seems to be “sovereignty”. I was put in mind of my own triad in this blog posting almost exactly a year ago where I pointed out that in eight years the previous administration had seen the U.S. become “less free, less safe, and less prosperous”.
At 02:55 I am impressed with Trump’s presence of mind when he switches between TelePrompter screens, misreads a word and seamlessly corrects himself. Later it happens again, and then again. It goes on happening, always the same type of misreading. With my trainees, whenever asked, I tell them how skilled are operators of this sort of equipment, always holding station with the speaker. I think we can safely assume that the United Nations, and/or the White House, have the most skilled of all, yet it seems here that repeatedly Trump’s screens get just behind him. I hesitate to add to the huge heap of conspiracy-theory-rumours that surround this presidency, but I sense a slight odour of the subtlest of sabotage coming off this. Completely unprovable and, probably by anyone other than a saddo like me, unnoticed.
He commits that most widespread of all the diction errors: swallowing the ends of words. He shares this mistake with some of the best speakers in the business, Hannan and Obama to name but two, and there have been others castigated for it on this blog. I thought you might want evidence of Trump doing it, so I confidently clicked straight to about the middle of the speech and within seconds had an example. At 21:50 he says, “We must deny the terrorists safe haven…” The second syllable of that last word is virtually inaudible.
My having just mentioned Obama, I feel that you might be expecting a comparison between the two presidents’ speaking abilities. This could be a battle of cliché metaphors, but here goes. Trump is no longer the bull in a china shop that he used to be, but he remains a bit of a blunt instrument. Obama is supremely elegant – a fencing master. None of those metaphors answers the question though, because perhaps the prime purpose of a speech is to be memorable. Quote me a sentence from an Obama speech – just one.
Hasn’t it gone quiet!
If I asked you to quote from this speech you’d probably shout, “totally destroy North Korea” but this speech would be cheating because it’s so recent; therefore try Trump’s inaugural speech. Do you remember “Buy American, hire American”? – or “You will never be ignored again”? If so, Trump wins.
I came across a fairly short piece of speaking by Amy Wax, Professor of Law. She delivered it on September 26, 2016.
I had recently seen a bit of a Twitter storm about an op-ed she had co-written in the Philadelphia Inquirer, and wanted to see how well she communicated orally. I wasn’t particularly anxious to hear her speaking on that controversy, because a few minutes of online research had revealed that it was just another example of PC-driven imbecility trying to shut down a source of reasoned debate. I’m afraid I find that terminally tedious. It is not tedious that academia is being destroyed and that the spinelessness of its authorities is hastening the process: it’s the PC arguments that are tedious. As often happens, the PC arguments opposing her in this matter make Professor Wax’s case for her.
I just wanted to hear her speak, and this video fulfilled that desire.
I have absolutely no comment to make concerning what she says in this video, because I am barely listening. She is commenting upon a Paper about which I know nothing.
Without that distraction I am able to focus entirely on her delivery.
She is a university professor, therefore delivering a lecture is just another day at the office. She has no discernible problem with nerves.
She is reading her script. My opposition to scripts is well enough known on this blog, so I shall not revisit the fundamentals of that specifically. She is reading exceedingly well, with a huge amount of expression, so all her lecturing experience is bearing fruit and negating many of my issues with scripts.
Like most good readers, she periodically lifts her head for a parenthetic, of-the-cuff digression. I invite you to watch those and see how, even though her reading is bright and expressive, her digressions are more so. It’s nothing to do with voice tone or modulation, which is already easily as good as we could want, it comes down to something as basic as seeing her eyes. As soon as we have her eyes we also have the expressiveness of her face, and that adds a dimension that is beyond price. The funny thing is that I think she knows this. When she returns to her script she seems to wind up the vocal expressiveness a notch, as if to compensate for the loss of her eyes.
Even without listening to what she is saying I find this little talk fascinating as a study of the benefit of learning how to dispense with all paper aids to speaking. Professor Wax is younger than I, but she’s been round the block a few times. Within the limitation of having believed that she needs paper she has taught herself very well. It is mouthwatering to speculate on how good she would have been if she had learned to do without.
The fourth of July is a somewhat significant date in the American calendar, and this year it may also have made itself significant to India and Israel. That was the day that Prime Minister Modi of India arrived in Israel on a state visit.
I was born in India though, having made the decision to leave eighteen months later, I know far less about its politics than I would like. Concerning Modi, report speaks goldenly of his profit; but then the same could be said of a few recent political scoundrels who had good PR arrangements. Anyway I had gathered that India and Israel were developing a good relationship and that a state visit was planned. On 4 July it eventually happened.
For the purposes of this blog I was delighted. I had long wanted to learn more about Modi from his public speaking, but every example I found on line was in Hindi. Though I have a large number of followers in India who would understand that, I was not capable of delivering any sort of meaningful critique. Now, here would be a Modi speech in English!
The speeches start at 3:00, with the welcome from Benjamin Netanyahu, having been preceded by the usual ceremonial inspection of the guard and the two prime ministers winding up seated and shaking hands. They do this very warmly indeed, and if you think this is positive body language you ain’t seen nothin’. You haven’t yet witnessed their mutual greeting at the foot of the aeroplane’s steps, but you will – repeatedly through the video. They engage in a wholehearted embrace. These two really like each other.
Unless I am mistaken Netanyahu’s opening is in three languages, Hebrew, English, and Hindi, but he quickly switches to English.
This, being a welcome, is ostensibly directed at Modi; and speeches like this, by their inevitable nature, put me in mind of speeches near the beginning of plays, wherein one character tells another what the other obviously already knows, but needs to be told here so that the audience can catch up on the back story. That said, the heartfelt nature of it, and the transparent genuineness of Modi’s smile when the camera cuts to him, augur well for the future relationship between the countries.
That is the Face of Netanyahu’s welcome speech. He explains that the formula represents the marriage of India’s industry with Israel’s technology. Seems a pretty powerful combination to me. It’s an excellent little speech.
Modi begins his reply at 8:30. He starts with an opening pause, as incidentally did Netanyahu. These guys know their stuff!
I am beginning to understand why, given the choice, Modi makes speeches only in Hindi. For one thing, he should: it’s his language. For another, though he speaks English well, he fights a little with pronunciation. I find him understandable, but suspect that before he appears again on this blog I shall have to learn Hindi.
4 July features again as Modi reminds us that it was this date on which in 1976 Israel pulled off that astonishing rescue in Entebbe. The operation was led by Netanyahu’s brother who lost his life in the process. He talks of the inspiration of heroes. He also, like Netanyahu, refers to the symbiotic potential of an alliance between their two nations.
Another excellent speech, and it ends at 14:13.
You could leave it there, with another six minutes on the video, but I decided to watch a little longer as Modi made his way down the receiving line of dignitaries. We’ve all seen these as the visiting VIP nods his way along, stopping periodically for a few token sentences with random people in the line. Not Modi! Every single person in that line receives a warm handshake and a brief conversation.
There are women in the line. They are bare-headed and wearing makeup. Why did I bother to mention that? Because Israel, the victim of boycotts from the contemptible PC imbeciles in the west, is the only country for hundreds of miles where you would see that happening, along with democracy, freedom of worship, freedom of association, freedom of sexual orientation and so much else.
Israel aligned with India. I find it heartwarming and mouthwatering.