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.

Evan Sayet champions the good, the right, and the successful.

When Evan Sayet was the introducer in a recent posting examining a speech by Geert Wilders, I observed that it had been a couple of years since a speech of Sayet’s had been on this blog and perhaps it was time for another. Now is that time.

Here he is at The Heritage Foundation, in 2013, talking about his book KinderGarden of Eden.

He is introduced by someone called John whose surname I have been unable to find. The introduction, including all the customary housekeeping details like urging the audience to switch off their cellphones, takes a smidgeon less than three and a half minutes. For my purposes the most interesting snippet is the very first sentence which reveals that Evan Sayet writes his own introduction. That is what I urge my trainees to do.

The speech is about ten minutes long and, at 13:10 he throws it out to questions.

At the very end of his video, after the last of the questions, Sayet boasts that there was no TelePrompter. I am surprised – not that he shoots from the hip, which is what all proper speakers do – but because when he first starts speaking, after fielding a quick question from the floor, his eyes fix upon a spot just below the camera.

Eyes intent upon transmitting look slightly different from eyes intent upon receiving, and my impression in those first few seconds was that they were the latter. I assumed that this prompting was to carry him past The Hump (yes, even speakers as experienced and adept as this have a Hump). I felt I was right when, around a minute later, he got on a roll, his eyes stopped staring at that spot, and never returned. There was never another moment in this speech when he looked to me to be prompted.

He speaks very well, which is hardly surprising when you consider how much he speaks. In fact his voice is here suffering from over-use, and he could use some help in this respect. For my ear, coming from the other side of the Atlantic, the speed with which he speaks causes some loss of comprehension here and there, but this could be a cunning device to persuade me to buy the book. (It worked.)

I am not too transatlantic to pick up, at 12:12, the significance of the words, “You didn’t build that.” It is a notorious Obama quote.

But another transatlantic difficulty I do have is in following his sports analogies. He’s an American addressing other Americans, while I am a foreign eavesdropper, so it’s hardly his fault. But it does highlight something about parallels like this. Sports analogies are brilliantly effective so long as your audience knows what the hell you’re talking about.

The speech, and therefore presumably the book that I look forward to receiving, concerns how and why today’s media promotes messages that are not just untrue, but the precise opposite of the truth. The reasoning is very interesting, and I look forward to absorbing it at my own pace. It’s important because, as he says …

Journalism is the first draft of history.

Bernard-Henri Lévy & Douglas Murray. Class.

In May 2017 Zeitgeist Minds hosted a debate between Bernard-Henri Lévy and Douglas Murray, under the title Can Europe survive the new wave of populism?

Douglas Murray has featured on this blog five times before, though not for a couple of years. I indulge myself by watching his speeches much more often than that, because he is just so good. Bernard-Henri Lévy (BHL) I vaguely knew by reputation; but somehow he had escaped my attention here.

This debate is introduced and moderated (very well, incidentally) by Zeinab Badawi.

It’s taken more than six years and 418 critiqued speeches for me to get around to watching BHL’s speaking. How … on … earth?

I sit, hypnotised by his voice, his gestures, his pace, his emphases. They are all unashamedly idiosyncratic. These are Gallic idiosyncrasies, certainly – particularly with respect to his accent (about which more later) but they are also personal idiosyncrasies; and I love that.

I urge my trainees to be themselves, and that is what BHL is being in abundance. The first time I watch I barely listen, other than vaguely registering that I disagree with what he is saying, but I am in awe of how he is saying it.

Before this video began I had thought that he would have to be very good to go three rounds with Douglas Murray, and he certainly is. Now I find myself wondering how resilient Murray will be. Will he blend his decorum with BHL’s (which is very compelling), or will he have the strength of will to establish his own? I should have had more faith. From the starting gate his tone, rhythm and style are distinctly his own, almost exaggeratedly and defiantly so. I am really enjoying this!

I don’t particularly want to go into the arguments presented because the two of them do it so well themselves. There’s a certain amount of sparring over the definition of ‘populism’, whereas I would have challenged BHL’s cavalier use of ‘Europe’ when he means ‘EU’, but that’s a detail.

After each of them making his 8-minute (ish) opening statement, each has a 2-minute rebuttal, then Badawi questions and challenges each. She unwittingly supports a point Murray makes (about Huguenots) while intending to contradict it, which is mildly entertaining, and then she turns to BHL. At 27:15 she quotes to him a French term, apologising for her pronunciation. That’s wildly entertaining!

BHL speaks very good English, but with an accent so thick you could slice and dice it with a wooden spoon, yet an English speaker apologises for her French pronunciation. We all seem to do that, and I’ve often wondered why.

This debate is really enjoyable, not least because it has become a rarity to find opposing viewpoints being discussed intelligently, with civility and mutual respect. This is class.

Charles Asher Small obliterates the wrong target.

On 21 January 2016 the Oxford Union staged a debate with the proposition This House Believes Holocaust Denial Should Not Be Criminalised. As with many such debates it is worth watching in full. I have and so can you, starting by following this link. The first thing you will learn from the first speaker is that both sides of the house are fiercely opposed to holocaust denial; so the debate is purely about the best means to counter it.

My previous post was from a proposition speaker, Deborah Lipstadt. Today we hear from an opposition speaker, Charles Asher Small. Both of these are professors, both Jewish, both vigorous campaigners against antisemitism and holocaust denial. But they are on opposing sides of this debate, which — part from the quality of the speaking — is what interests me.

He has paper on that dispatch box, but he is using it as a security blanket. Often during the first two minutes he looks at it fleetingly, not long enough to read anything but long enough to reassure himself it is there. This is a common hump symptom, but it’s nearly the only one he is displaying. When, at 2:00, he swings into the history of antisemitism he is firmly on his home turf, the hump dissolves and he scarcely acknowledges the presence of the paper again. Now he is clearly shooting from the hip, and is the more compelling for it.

It’s a powerful speech, an impassioned and well-delivered speech, and against the background of historical antisemitism it highlights incidence and danger of antisemitism as it exists today. That last, inasmuch as it might educate his audience, is its strength.

Its weakness is that both sides of the debate already agree on its message.

Criminalising something reprehensible is a blunt instrument. It appeals to our shallowest instincts, but frequently does little more. It is often counter-productive, serving to create martyrs out of offenders. Prof. Small is very effectively feeding our disapproval of antisemitism, and that feeding and spreading of disapproval is far more effective than applying the dead hand of the law to the problem. Furthermore, though antisemitism may be at the root of the problem it is not specifically the subject of this debate which is about the criminalisation of holocaust denial.

So it’s a very good speech, but not a good debating instrument. Professor Lipstadt, on the other hand, gave us technical legal examples of how criminalising holocaust denial can impede the fight against it. That is why I am not in the least surprised that the motion was carried. Professor Lipstadt’s team won.