Nikki Haley: quietly tough

When Donald Trump became US President he made a great many appointments, as new incumbents to such an office do. One of the many things to have distinguished his administration from others, however, is how many appointees have subsequently been fired. This might appear to indicate that he got his first choices wrong, but there is another explanation. He could have chosen individuals with specific skillsets to address particular issues, and then replaced them with other specialists for other issues once the first ones had been dealt with.

The latter process is somewhat alien to the political mindset so few commentators seem to think in those terms, but Trump is not a politician. He operates as a businessman does, and a dispassionate evaluation of his administration thus far cannot but be impressed by how much he has achieved and how quickly.

Trump’s appointment of Nikki Haley to be US Ambassador to the United Nations was immediately interesting because her image is so different to that of the President. He hides astonishing astuteness behind a facade of boorish bluster. Her quiet, understated efficiency camouflages a resolve for which the cliché ‘steely’ is inadequate.

A feature of her Ambassadorship is the extent to which this quietly spoken woman has maintained such a high profile for the job, and it’s easy to see why. Whereas predecessors mouthed the usual mealy diplomatic platitudes, Haley doesn’t do mealy any more than Trump does. She coveys the toughest of messages … quietly. Let’s watch one example.

Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, makes the introduction, and comes fairly close to pre-empting Ambassador Haley’s announcement. Haley begins at 4:00.

Tiny error at the very beginning. Haley looks round fleetingly at Pompeo when thanking him. It’s one of those few things that feel right but look wrong. It feels right, because it conveys warmth. It looks wrong because it looks somehow weak. Spool back and you’ll see that Pompeo, with all his glowing compliments, never weakens his introduction by looking round at her.

It is a significant achievement to describe something as self-important as the UNHRC as “a cesspool of political bias” without sounding strident. Haley is equal to the task.

This speech is about fig leaves. Who needs ’em? The afore-mentioned cesspool has been using the USA as a fig leaf to convey respectability: too many think that the USA needs membership of the cesspool as a fig leaf to confirm their concern for human rights: and so on. Haley makes clear that the USA’s record on human rights is way better than the members of the UNHRC, and she is correct.

There’s a clear equivalent in the USA’s CO2 emissions record being better than any of those countries still espousing the preposterous Paris Agreement.

I opened with my rhetor hat on, and I’ll briefly re-don it to close.

My aversion to scripted speeches is well-known, but I acknowledge that sometimes scripts are necessary. I make that point in my book, heading the list of those circumstances with when the Press has a transcript of the speech. This is such an occasion, so I can’t criticise either Secretary Pompeo or Ambassador Haley for their scripts. But isn’t it interesting that arch-proponents of scripted speaking (and they exist!) try to give, as a principal reason, fluency and lack of stumbles. Both Pompeo and Haley  stumble here, and they do so in that particular way that readers stumble. Those speakers who shoot from the hip (and I bet that includes these two when circumstances permit) also stumble, but their stumbles are different and somehow more audience friendly.

Boris Johnson resignation

On 18 July, 2018, Boris Johnson made a statement in the British House of Commons, explaining why he had resigned the post of Her Majesty’s Principal Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs.

It was streamed live, and we have here the unedited video.

We’re greeted with the bear-garden noise that is characteristic of the House of Commons, and Boris raises his voice to come in over it. That, the tribute he then pays to the government department that he represented for a time, and the constant glowing praise to the Prime Minister (PM), are all par for the course for such a statement.

At around 01:30 the speech morphs seamlessly into addressing its main purpose.

Immediately it is clear that his theme here is to compare the Brexit proposal that emerged from the meeting at Chequers (the PM’s country house) the previous week to the Brexit speech made by the PM on 17 January 2017 at Lancaster House. Thus he sidesteps any accusation that he has changed his allegiance to the PM, and instead implies that she has changed her allegiance to her own stated aims.

He blames this on a “fog of self doubt” which has descended upon her, though he chooses not to analyse the source of the fog. He tells us how well Lancaster House was received not just by him but by commentators, the markets, our world allies, those in the Commonwealth and so on.

This speech is a very eloquent comparison of the bright, sunlit uplands of Lancaster House with the cringing defeatism of Chequers.

Boris points out that he had said at the Chequers meeting that he could not support the proposal on the table. What he does not say, because he does not need to, is that there is only one way for a Cabinet member publicly to refuse to support a Cabinet communique and that is to resign.

His principal message, indeed the Face of the speech, is that there is still time to return to the values of Lancaster House, and pledging his support he urges the PM to do so. It’s a very good speech.

But what of that “fog”? Whence came it?

Let us try to continue to play the game that everyone else has played by overlooking that the PM was a remainer in the referendum: let us take at face value her repeated assurances that Brexit meant Brexit. It requires a certain amount of credulousness because it inevitably assumes that the PM must be stupid, but let’s go down that route. What was she thinking when she surrounded herself with an extremist clique of Brexophobic civil servants and then allowed them to get ideas above their station? Wasn’t that “fog” inevitable?

Boris is right that it is not too late, but May is surely not the one any more. The administration needs a new broom.

Oliver Robinson: science and spirituality

On 5 July, 2018, at Swedenborg Hall in London, Dr Oliver Robinson launched his new book, Paths between Head and HeartIt is already available for pre-order, and will be released in the UK on 31 August and in the USA on 28 September.

Before we see Olly’s launch speech, and also in explanation of my using that diminutive of his name, I must declare an interest. Olly is my nephew and godson, I already have my copy of the book, and I’m enjoying reading it.

I find the subject matter so fascinating that it is a bit of a chore for me to wear my rhetor hat at all, but that’s what this blog is for so I’ll don it briefly.

He’s been here before, in April 2015. Apart from praising his overall speaking I got a little picky about over-use of visual slides, something that is widespread everywhere and almost universal in academe; and also I felt that he was trying to protect his nerves by adopting a persona mask which hid too much of his personality.

Here, he’s come out from behind any mask and is all the more engaging for it.

My guidance on any slide is that thinking it might add something is not enough: it should be included only if its absence would significantly impoverish that part of the speech. The danger of not following that principle is that you find yourself in competition with your own visuals. The editor of that video has limited our exposure to his slides, but I still think he has too many. (Speaking of editors, slides are very useful for hiding edit-points so his editor was probably grateful.)

There’s another factor here which I find interesting. I urge my trainees to speak with their audience, as opposed to at them. I also tell them that passion is worth buckets of technique. Here I am torn over whether his conveying his evident passion for the subject is causing him to lose some of the warmth that you get when you speak with the audience. It’s a balancing act, and the tightrope is very thin. I remind myself that he is a Senior Lecturer in Psychology at the University of Greenwich, and that sort of lecturing tends to lean towards the at preposition to keep students paying attention. I’m in two minds.

On the other hand I am single-minded in wanting to discuss the subject matter of the talk and the book, because I find it fascinating.

On this blog I have covered several speeches from atheists, and I find it tedious that they persist in assuming atheism to be half of a binary choice, the other half being religion. That is intellectually idle: there is another choice. You can be spiritual without espousing a religion. In fact religions carry so much political and doctrinal baggage that their spiritual side gets easily overlooked.  Years ago on this blog I covered six adversarial speeches from an Oxford Union God Debate, and I don’t think the word ‘spirit’ came up once. All the atheists focussed on debunking the doctrine, and ignored the spiritual. They always seem to, and who’s to blame them when religions focus on doctrine also.

In September at Imperial College in London there will be an event consisting of a conversation between Alan Lightman and Richard Dawkins entitled Science and Religion – two truths or one? At a glance you might think they are covering the same ground as Olly, but they’re not. However interesting the event turns out to be that title assumes the same false binary choice and therefore signals a much narrower path.

Though I don’t see him often enough to sit and talk quietly I’ve known for some time of Olly’s interest in the relationship of science and spirituality. I have harboured an excitement to learn more of what he’s found. From this talk I expect to be in for a treat as I dig deeper into the book.

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. We should now be demanding explanations from the politician who was ultimately responsible. The Home Secretary during most of the time in question was Mrs Theresa May.

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 politics and 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.