Trevor Phillips and censorship

In February 2020, The Free Speech Union was founded by Toby Young. At the launch party, there was a speech from Trevor Phillips, who is the Chair of Index on Censorship.

Nice opening! One of the mantras that I drill into my trainees is that ultimately public speaking is just talking. Yes, there are differences between standing on a platform, speaking before an audience of hundreds, and chatting to friends over a cup of coffee, and it’s obviously worth exploring those differences, but still it’s just talking. Phillips, in this relaxed opening, embodies that philosophy. I repeat: nice opening.

Who edited this? I’m not just complaining about how many edit points there are, but how easy it is to spot them. I’m exercising my right of free speech when I declare that this is been edited with fists of ham.

This is a very good speech, prompted by bullet points on a smartphone to be sure but still a very good speech on a very important topic. I want to hear it, warts and all. I want to hear the real Trevor Phillips uttering the real words, all of them, because they’re good and wise words. I don’t want someone else’s idea of a sanitised version. I suspect that the removed bits are just a few “ums” and “errs”, but I want to hear those too. They are part of the authenticity. A string of obvious edit-points opens this up – with ludicrous irony – to accusations of censorship. Duh!

Raheem Kassam looks left

In August 2019 The America Conservative Union and Liberty Works brought CPAC to Australia. One of the speakers was Raheem Kassam.

Nice introduction, whoever that is. Quirky, funny, and above all short.

The introduction tells us that Kassam is likely to be jet lagged. Strangely enough I’ve found that jet-lag, far from ruining speeches, is often a beneficial source of peripheral stress. Perhaps it triggers an extra helping of adrenaline. The key to combatting it is to have had plenty of sleep. At any rate Kassam seems to be on the ball.

He conspicuously comes out from behind the lectern, wearing a clip-on lapel mic. Does this mean that he’s going to shoot this all from the hip? Not quite.

I become puzzled by how much of the time he is looking to the left (stage left: his left). I wonder whether the auditorium is asymmetric. That would be weird, but not entirely unknown. The hypothesis deflates when I see the lectern standing square to the stage. No there has to be another reason, and I soon spot it. He is being prompted by notes on the lectern – probably just bullet-points, judging by how seldom he looks, though he also conspicuously and correctly reads a quotation – so whether looking at the notes or not he is more comfortable with the lectern in view. That’s irrational: lecterns don’t walk away, but it is a less obvious symptom of let-lag.

There are two solutions. Discipline yourself always to monitor the whole arc of audience and/or learn to do without even bullet-points. From the quality of his speaking I suspect that he’s on top of both. He came out from behind the lectern, because he’s happier not having that between him and his audience. But then he decided to play safe with bullet points because these are special circumstances – jet-lag again.

Yes, jet-lag may not impair the speech, but it can introduce tiny tendencies that get spotted by sad specialists like me. Enough of all that; what about the speech itself?

It’s very good indeed, and delivered well. Worth watching. There’s stuff in there that is relevant to things going on right now.

Thomas Sowell’s answers

It’s a matter of great frustration to me that I am unable to find recent speeches from the man I consider to be one of the clearest and wisest thinkers I have heard or read, Thomas Sowell.

Nevertheless there are many interviews with him, frequently conducted by my namesake Peter Robinson. He is an outstandingly good interviewer of the old school. He works on the basis that the purpose of the interview is to tease information from the guest for the enlightenment of the viewer, so he becomes a frame in which the interviewee is the picture. Too many interviewers today regard the guest as a platform off which they may flaunt their own bigotry.

Conversations between these two very often give us invaluable insight into current issues, their cause and possible solutions. This one is a prime example for the background to events of this week. My blog may be primarily devoted to actual speeches, but I consider circumstances to dictate exceptions.

William Happer and Klingon

The Heartland Institute held a conference in Madrid in mid December 2019, to coincide with COP25 – The United Nations Climate Change Conference – also in Madrid. One of their speakers was Dr William Happer.

I had intended to feature another Happer speech, made at Princeton in September 2014. I enjoyed that one, not least when at 4:25 he shows photographs from Al Gore’s book, Our Choice. Gore has created an image of what the world will look like if we don’t follow his lead over climate. Gore is full of such predictions as we remember from his film An Inconvenient Truth. Predictions in that film have long passed their sell-by date, and none has materialised. The prediction in this image from the book has similar themes like land disappearing under the rising sea, and an abundance of hurricanes. Happer points out that one of the hurricanes is depicted revolving the wrong way round. Along with the audience I laugh out loud at such an elementary error.

However, that other video being six years old was very fuzzy. How technology has improved since I began this blog!

Happer begins by thanking “James for that kind introduction”. At the beginning of this video we momentarily see James leaving the platform. James is James Taylor, and we see him properly later when Happer’s speech gives way to Q&A.

Since beginning this blog in 2012, I have lost count of the climate speeches I have studied – several times as many as I have featured. Very early I spotted that whereas alarmists focus on alarm, sceptics focus on data. When you fail to show the workings that underpin your argument, what does that say about your argument? Not only did sceptics show their workings but they provided links to the data. I’m not a scientist, but I’m quite good at spotting whether one number is higher than another; and over the years I have developed a habit, when I hear the media announcing some alarming climate news, of going straight to the data source to check. It’s almost tedious, the regularity with which the alarming news is shown to be nonsense.

Einstein is quoted as having said something like if you can’t explain it to a five-year-old you don’t properly understand it yourself. Happer is pretty good – when necessary – at explaining to a non-scientist like me; but here he is speaking to a scientific audience, and therefore there is a brief section where he could be speaking Klingon for all I get from it.

However, to my delight, at 18:50 he addresses the infamous 97% consensus thing. My data-checking habit long-since revealed that 97% to be garbage. There have been a couple of supposed surveys that claimed to have established it, and both collapse under scrutiny, but it doesn’t stop alarmists and lazy journalists from parroting it.

Even before I began analysing speeches for this blog I had been made suspicious. Al Gore used to bang on about how “the debate is over”. What debate? I had never seen or even heard of a debate. I now have seen very many sceptics challenge alarmists to debate, but somehow the alarmists always run for cover – meanwhile calling for sceptics be no-platformed.

Today the matter has gone far beyond science into politics, the economy (the climate industry is worth trillions), even religion. This last is witnessed by e.g. the Pope supporting it; and at 1:09 Happer quotes a Hawaii Senator as saying that climate is more religious than scientific. These are powerful forces to be ranged against the holding of a debate when their case is as thin of substance as the air.

President Trump has promised a debate, and he tends to honour his promises, but his presidency has thus far been beset with a range of distractions. If he gets a second term will he honour this one? Happer has worked with several administrations as senior adviser on matters scientific. That includes Trump’s, so if there is a debate perhaps we shall hear a lot more of him.

Peter Shore is passionate

Some speeches featured on this blog are within days of delivery, some a few years old. Today’s is possibly the oldest, yet still as topical and relevant as can be.

This week forty-five years ago in 1975 was notable for both the momentous and the trivial. You may ponder on which was which. Snow on the Monday (yes, in June) caused the abandoning of first class cricket matches, and the UK rang to the strains of Don Estelle and Windsor Davies performing Whispering Grass. The Thursday of that week saw the UK going to the polls in a referendum to decide whether the country should remain in the European Economic Community, now called the European Union.

On Tuesday June 3rd, 1975, Labour Member of Parliament, the late Peter Shore, delivered a speech in The Oxford Union in a debate ahead of that referendum.

Wearing my rhetor hat I struggle with the sense that any negative observation would be impertinent. This is really an outstanding piece of passionate oratory, but …

It is also one of the clearest examples I have heard of a particular diction flaw. I refer to disproportionate syllable stress. In raising his voice to be heard throughout the hall, he heavily emphasises those syllables that should be stressed. So far so good: Peter Shore speaks with beautiful clarity, but he sometimes neglects the non-stress syllables to the point of virtual inaudibility.

Curiously it is a flaw to be most commonly found in speakers who are especially conscientious about their speaking. (One of the finest speakers around today, Daniel Hannan, commits this, and I have said so in this blog a couple of times. Ditto Barack Obama.) Also if you point out the sin to the sinners they deny it so vehemently that without a recording it is desperately difficult to persuade them of it. I understand their incredulity. Some years before this speech I was receiving training from a genius called Kate Fleming, and when she accused me of this I ferociously denied it till circumstances forced my hand. (There’s an account of that in my booklet, Every Word Heard.)

This speech is fantastic, and is made even more entertaining through the cutaway shots of – e.g. Jeremy Thorpe and Edward Heath. We first see the latter smiling smugly, and later again when the smile has gloriously frozen after Shore’s treatment. Is that Barbara Castle sitting in the background? Anyway I commend it to you.

Yes, that was an interesting week. The snow on the Monday cleared quickly, and by the weekend there had started a heatwave and accompanying drought. The drought continued, on and off – chiefly on – till the August Bank Holiday more than a year later.

The effects of that referendum are only just finishing now (Deus Volent).