Bret Weinstein deals in truth.

On May 22nd, 2018, Dr Bret Weinstein testified to the members of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform in the U.S. House of Representatives.

He’s reading his speech. I find it difficult to criticise him for this. Even though I am known to be a determined advocate in favour of shooting from the hip when speaking in public, I concede that there are occasions which not only permit a script but when it is effectively demanded. (I make this point in my book, The Face & Tripod.) For a range of reasons, for instance timing, the need for precise terminology (this is testimony) and provision of a transcript, this is one such. Nevertheless my suspicion that Dr Weinstein is able to shoot from the hip when appropriate (and knows it) is reinforced during the Q&A that follows at 5:26.

The tale he narrates is horrifying even if sadly familiar: it describes a riot at a university. There is a political movement which routinely shuts down free expression and even ruins careers and lives. It does it for apparently any reason or none, by use of methods which range from smear to serious violence.

Who are they? What do they want? Who is pulling their strings? Who is financing them? Dr Weinstein offers at 03:20, a clue to their motives.

The students were on a mission. They were unwitting tools of a witting movement […] what is occurring on college campuses is about power and control.

Like most I have theories without proof of that “witting movement”, but I do know that all of us must be prepared to do whatever is necessary to preserve free speech. The seriousness cannot be overstated. Without it civilisation collapses. Free speech is under threat on all flanks, from legislators to shadow-banning social media to the classroom. The threat has metastasised. The attackers present their cases skilfully, claiming all manner of sympathetically warm and cuddly motives, but any threat to free speech, in whatever guise, must be repelled.

During the Q&A, which I commend, it emerges how truth can be made – without anyone having to wrestle inconveniently with trying to gainsay it – to fall into one of the many categories of ‘unacceptable’. And when that happens we can imagine how easily falsehood can be injected into the consequent vacuum. Yes, it’s as dangerous as that.

Dr Weinstein’s testimony was delivered about a year ago, and described events a year earlier than that. Have things improved in the mean time? I do not think so. The adversary is clever and cunning and mutates like a virus to re-emerge in different forms.

In my next post I intend to begin addressing a series of speeches in a recent debate at the Oxford Union on this subject.

Mahathir Mohamad: carefully unexceptionable

On 16 June Dr Mahathir Mohamad, prime minister of Malaysia, spoke at the Cambridge Union. When I read that he had raised both dust and hackles in the process I went searching for it. A speech does not have to be controversial to be good, but a great deal can be learnt from the process of raising controversy.

This video I found was disappointingly calm and courteous. The speech was shot from the hip, so revealed a proper speaker; but, while purporting to be a potted recent history of his country delivering a few polite little barbs in the direction of the west in general and Britain in particular, it gave us nothing to generate more than the occasional naughty chuckle. Where was all this controversy?

The answer was in the Q&A that followed, and to find that I needed a different video…

If you want to see the beginning of the speech you can find it via the previous link, but I wouldn’t bother: you haven’t missed much. There’s a bit of milling around while he gets onto the platform, the obligatory thank-fest, and some stuff about Malaysia having – as Malaya – been a British protectorate. In all, just under 2 minutes.

As I said earlier, this speech is frankly unexceptional and unexceptionable. The questions and the controversy kick off only when he sits down just after 16:00. If that floats your boat, enjoy.

I must say that the Chairman of the event, whose barely audible questions (black mark to the sound crew) tease more controversial stuff out of Mahathir, does an impressive job of dismantling the carefully conveyed jovial great-uncle image that Mahathir had created with his unexceptional speech.

Ha-Joon Chang hasn’t a clue.

The Oxford Union recently hosted a talk with Q&A from Dr Ha-Joon Chang. He spoke about wealth inequality.

I selected, for the link on his name, Dr Chang’s own website, because it lists and links so many of his writings, interviews, etc. I have browsed extensively around them for one very good reason. This guy is obviously somewhat learned; how does he come across in his writing, conversation, and so on? Quite well in fact.

Those are relevant questions because as a public speaker he hasn’t a clue. You could be forgiven for thinking that impossible for a university lecturer, so let me present my evidence.

The first half hour is dreadfully tedious, but in a strange way. Often, tedium comes from the voice sticking on a monotone. Dr Chang however uses plenty of expression in his voice. The problem is rather in what he says. He has mountains of data which he delivers in a manner which is as indigestible as can be imagined. If you dip in at random for a few seconds at a time you will see an animated speaker, keen to impart information which fascinates him. On the other hand if you watch for a sustained period you will be at a loss to decipher what he is trying to tell you. He flits with even less observable system than does the cliché butterfly.

A common feature on this blog, when the speaker is using a script, is for me to point out how the rhythm and tenor lifts when the speaker’s eyes lift and he addresses the audience directly. In Dr Chang’s case it’s the reverse: his ad lib digressions actually reduce the pace, because he tends to insert huge pauses. Pauses are wonderful for letting an important point sink in, and I sense that is how Dr Chang is intending to use them, but the audience does need to know what the point is supposed to be.

At around 24:33 he begins a personal anecdote that I really want to be an audience-grabber, because the speech desperately needs one. He narrates it so lamely that it’s the proverbial lead-balloon, which is sad because it’s a good story.

At around the half-hour mark it begins to emerge through the fog what his eventual message is, and at that point things lift a little. In fact it builds enough so that at 34:00 he actually gets quite a respectable laugh from the audience.

The speech ends at 43:50 to be succeeded by Q&A.

Let me put my cards on the table: I disagree with his message. But then I frequently work on speeches whose message I regard as misguided, and if anything I enjoy those most because they create for me a target. Can I help to make this message so coherent that it might sway even me?

So no: my attitude to the speech was not jaded by my disagreement. In fact I remind you that I considered the best part of the speech began when I came to know what the message was. And I had to sit through thirty minutes of clueless tedium to reach that.

Ann Widdecombe rants

This blog has been quiet for the past week because I’ve been away, and not only have I not posted but I have largely avoided following what has been going on. Nevertheless I was not holed up in a cave, and Ann Widdecombe‘s rant in the EU parliament got itself noticed. It was instantly filed in the back of my mind as something to enjoy upon my return.

This blog has periodically featured ballsy women from all parts of the world, principally because I like speakers who are bold enough to take on all comers. Ann Widdecombe surely has a claim to the title of doyenne.

Two minutes and eight seconds of rant seems suitably brief in current temperatures, and most people could blast away inconsequentially for that duration. But to insert seven meaty details into it takes skill.

  • She noted that she represented the biggest party there,
  • She scorned the absurdity of the “election” of EU officials
  • She pointed out that this parody of democracy betrayed all countries represented
  • She spoke of the historic pattern of oppressed people rising up against oppressors
  • She slipped in a dig at the leaked video of EU pound-store bigwigs congratulating themselves on maintaining the UK as a “colony”
  • She attacked a new ruling concerning fishing net meshes
  • She declared the UK’s departure in three languages.

I’ve seen twenty-minute speeches that said less. The EU probably can’t wait to be rid her, and that’s the whole point.

Billy Crystal does Muhammad Ali

Muhammad Ali died June 3, 2016. The eulogy at his Memorial Service was spoken by the man he called “little brother”, Billy Crystal.

In my training, I take considerable pains to stress that if you use humour in a speech you should do so sparingly. Stand-up comedy has one very dangerous quality: the better it’s done, the easier it looks. Normal humans should not be fooled, but beware this hugely difficult genre. I then go on to give them a few guidelines at sliding a little humour unobtrusively into an otherwise serious speech.

So it is of particular interest when a successful and skilled stand-up comedian delivers a speech at an ostensibly solemn occasion.

At the four-second point he gets his first laugh, and at 14 seconds he harvests a huge one. It is only when that has subsided that we get the Hierarchical Hello. Billy Crystal knows what he’s doing.

For that reason there’s no point in my adding anything else. Just watch it: it’s wonderful.

Anni Cyrus shocks to the core

Six and a half years ago I began this blog for a simple reason. I had already spent more than twenty years helping people speak in public (most of it as a full-time occupation), and had become obsessed with analysing speeches to see what the speaker was doing wrong, or right, or how could it be better, and so on. The internet was a wonderful tool for me to exploit this obsession.

What I hadn’t foreseen was how much insight into the world this activity would give me. This is post number 421, and you can more than double that number for speeches I have watched but not shared. Today we have a speech which I would prefer not to have watched, but could not live with myself if I did not share.

Let’s get the rhetor stuff out of the way. If Anni Cyrus come to me for help with her public speaking I might spend a few minutes discussing ways she could make herself more comfortable with the medium, but the bottom line would be to change essentially nothing. Her discomfort increases her effectiveness. I hope she forgives me that bad news.

The video blurb describes her as a Sharia “survivor”. That word is not idle hyperbole.

I started covering a notepad in points of shock, but gave up. This speech is a continuum of shock. My earnest advice to the reader is to watch it. All of it. Force yourself to watch it all. You need to know. We all need to know what she is telling us. (The shock may persuade you not to believe it.)

They – whoever “they” are – don’t seem to want us to know this stuff. I rather expect this video to disappear – it was published in November 2018. I half expect to have nasty labels attached to me for daring to share it, but some things are more important.

I habitually attach a hyperlink to the first time a speaker’s name appears on my postings. Those links take you either to how they describe themselves on their own websites or to a Wikipedia page about them. Neither seems to be available on line. That is strange – or perhaps it isn’t.

Eva Schloss and Anne Frank

Anne Frank was born 12 June, 1929, so today is her 90th birthday.

Eva Schloss was a friend of Anne Frank and her family, something that emerged during a talk she gave at the Oxford Union in August 2018.

In her opening remarks she tells us how she has read lists of distinguished people who have spoken in this hall, and how privileged she feels to be added to them. A cynic might put this down to simpering artificial modesty, till she unknowingly has what I call a Neil Armstrong Moment. She talks about Hitler having managed to influence “a cultured people like America”. We know what she means, as does the audience being far too well-mannered to react, so she continues not knowing what she said. I am meanwhile noting her significant stress.

The stronger the story, the less need there is to ‘sell’ it. In this case ‘selling’ it would detract. We can imagine all sorts of ways Schloss could enhance her narration, but the story neither needs nor wants it. Speaking in almost a monotone to pin-drop silence she tells us how a man succeeded in seducing much of the world’s establishment in his attempt to subjugate Europe under centralised control, and started a Word War in the process.

She speaks of the spread of antisemitism, culminating in the robbing of the Jewish race of everything from its property to very nearly its existence. Indeed all but its dignity which they refused to make available to be stolen.

Many of us, particularly we older ones, have heard much of this many times before; but still it catches the breath with horror.

Fleeing Vienna, where she was born, her family reached Amsterdam. She was eleven years old and was befriended by another little girl called Anne Frank, whose family were destined to influence her later life.

I could tell you more, but she tells it better. So I urge you to sit through the ghastly but strangely uplifting story, including her somehow surviving Auschwitz.

Lest we forget.