Jim Carrey and his perfect wording

Maharishi International University, in Fairfield, Iowa, invited actor Jim Carrey to give the Commencement Address to the 2014 graduation class.

I remember being introduced to Carrey by one of my sons who had a video of one of Carrey’s early films. At the time I pointed out, as gently as an opinionated parent can, that pulling faces isn’t acting. It was some years later that I saw another of Carrey’s films and was forced to admit that the boy can play.

His splendid outfit here goes with his having been presented with an honorary doctorate of Fine Arts.

The introduction by Dr Bevan Morris is beautifully enunciated, overwhelmingly florid and very short.

Carrey doesn’t quite get hold of his opening gag, which is surprising for a pro. He slightly over-eggs it, and then mismanages his salvage attempt which is received a little half-heartedly. It’s not bad, just not quite as brilliant as it should be. It’s brave, in fact foolhardy, to try to hit the high comedy that hard that early.

Up to the four minute mark Carrey is appropriately zany, his material full of in-jokes of which I understand very little. Who cares! – it sets a good scene, and that is what he has intended. Then there is a gentle move towards matters poetic, and that is when I get uneasy.

It’s not that it’s poetic, it is that the spontaneity has gone and this sounds synthetic. It is a script. Has he learnt it, or is he using autocue or one of the other prompt-technologies? These things hide pretty well, and from our camera angle it’s difficult to spot, but yes it’s there! He’s reading this. What a pity!

I’ve heard all the arguments, and none of them stands up. If you are able to write it you are able to say it spontaneously. If you write it in the belief that you need to find the “perfect wording” then that “perfect wording” will never sound spontaneous but stilted, pretentious – yes, synthetic.

Worst of all it won’t sound sincere.

Admittedly I’m not his audience: those in the hall are lapping it up, but not as enthusiastically as they did his zany first minutes. The zany bit may have been a well-trodden comedy routine but still this actual performance of it was spontaneous. The poetic bit is the regurgitated results of sitting sweating over finding the “perfect wording”, and however warm’n’wonderful it may seem it is limp in comparison to when he wasn’t script-bound.

If he’d been shown how, he could have said all that poetic stuff spontaneously. And the audience would have lapped even more enthusiastically. What a shame!

AKA Posie Parker

Some time in 2018 at a “We Need To Talk” event at The Jam Jar in Bristol, England, an activist who goes by the pseudonym of Posie Parker gave a speech.

It seems that Parker has been banned from various social media platforms, not just by that name but by her IP address. She has also been interviewed by police under caution for publishing a definition to be found in dictionaries. In Orwellian Britain it seems that we are approaching a time when everything is policed except crime.

My previous post showed a TED talk by Susie Green where she described how her son transitioned to become a girl. In many ways it was a moving and heartwarming story, but there are always two sides to every argument. The civilised thing to do is to explore both sides.

She is reading her speech.

To me you are not a proper speaker till you can, and do, speak without notes; but Parker does not presume to be other than a parent who is concerned enough to protest, so portraying herself as not a proper speaker rather adds charm. Nevertheless she avoids presenting herself as charming; she is in a battle.

She certainly has audience instinct. She gets an excellent response to her ad lib concerning the microphone that won’t stay where placed, and she expertly stokes the laugh when it comes.

She also has instinctively followed one of my cardinal guidelines by giving this presentation a very clear Face

Does my eleven-year-old daughter have the right to go into a female changing room and not see an adult penis?

If we want to get technical it’s slightly too many words for a Face, but they’re powerful. And she repeats them several times.

Parker has at least as good a case as does Susie Green and, if I may borrow the exemplary title of the event where Parker is speaking, “We Need To Talk”. But we don’t: one side of this debate is officially muted.

A lesson we learn in our youngest days, coping with arguments in the school playground, is that the party that refuses to listen to the other almost certainly has no case. Both sides in this argument have cases, and in a climate of goodwill fairly obvious solutions present themselves; but one side is silenced and goodwill crushed. This currently applies across many areas of opinion and in many countries, where only one opinion is deemed acceptable and the other is silenced by officialdom – international officialdom.

Who or what has that sort of reach? And why should they want to sow discord? I have a theory, but this is neither the time nor the place.

Susie Green and Jackie

In December 2017 there was given a TEDx talk in Truro, Cornwall, by Susie Green, CEO of Mermaids, an organisation set up to advise and support parents of gender nonconforming children.

I seldom cover TED talks, because the actual process of speaking is made fairly uniform and therefore gives me little to cause my rhetor hat to be donned. However I chose to explore this one as there is another speech giving a contrary view; and we will look at it in the post that follows this.

Thirty six years ago my elder son, likewise aged four, came home from nursery school one day and startled his mother and me with the declaration that he now knew the difference between boys and girls. We gulped gently and asked him to explain. He announced –

Girls cry and boys don’t.

A four-year-old boy barely knows what girls are, other than that they get treated differently, get dressed differently, and play with different toys. Unless he has a sister he probably won’t know the physical difference, and even then won’t care. If any four-year-old boy would rather fancy being treated as they do that other sort, have longer hair like them, wear those softer, freer, more fluid clothes, and play more gently, so what? Plenty of girls play football, even rugby, or climb trees. Our world is astonishingly rigid in its adherence to certain gender stereotypes and interpretation of non-conformity.

It’s not our fault: we were brought up from the cradle in these rigid conventions, and that conditioning goes very deep. It’s probably high time we dismantled much of it; but the current fashion for gender-nonsense, far from dismantling, actually reinforces the stereotype because its default interpretation of simple preference seems to be dysphoria. “If he wants to wear a skirt, he must want to be a girl” – why? He may be too young to have yet been conditioned, and may grow up to be a prop-forward. Convention aside, what is inherently female about a skirt? What is inherently male about climbing trees? I have no doubt that genuine gender dysphoria exists, but the way a whole industry is growing around it, must surely give us pause.

This speech tells a very moving and heartwarming story about a mother and child, and may be true in every detail. It may – in every detail – have happened to Susie and Jackie Green, or she may have cherry-picked some bits from others’ true stories with which to embellish it – as CEO of Mermaids she certainly has access to material.

[If that is thought to be an accusation of scurrilous behaviour, I would point out that there is noble precedent. We are in the season of celebrating the story of Christ’s nativity, the details of which we have cherry-picked and cobbled together from multiple sources. Nowhere in the Bible is there a star over a stable. St Matthew’s Gospel has the star, etc, St Luke has the manger, etc. Just about the only overlap detail is Bethlehem as the venue. Back to Susie Green …]

I get slightly concerned when Green supports gender realignment with statistics about the terrible rate of suicide among trans people, but fails to tell us how much of that happens after treatment. That is the sort of counter-information to be found in a blog called 4thWaveNow, which is far more knowledgeable and informative on the subject than I.

Nevertheless, misguided or not, she makes a good case in this speech. Whatever our views, those conventions are there and will cause the sort of adverse reaction from some people who were conditioned like the rest of us and don’t understand. It is therefore important that an organisation like Mermaids exists among parents trying to cope with a situation in their children that is at best confusing and at worst life-threatening.

In my next posting we will examine the opposing argument.

Martin Howe pulls no punches.

The British Conservative Party Conference at the beginning of October 2019 was an interesting affair. Parliament had been turned, by those bent on betraying the biggest democratic mandate in Britain’s history, into a bad joke. A disgustingly partisan Speaker in the House of Commons had assisted opposition parties in breaking many traditions, including that of suspending parliament during conference season. Other parties had been able to hold their conferences without their members of parliament needing to be in London to debate legislation, but not the governing Conservatives. Not only was parliament sitting while their conference was on, but crucially important business was in hand. Nevertheless the conference did happen, and much of the talk was about the foregoing in this paragraph.

During the conference the Bruges Group held a meeting which was addressed by Martin Howe.

The introduction by Barry Legg, Chairman of the Bruges Group, is delivered in tones that barely disguise desperation. There is an air of persecution. The fight to honour the people’s instruction to secure Britain’s independence from the EU is looking to be in peril. Britain’s Establishment has shown that it is prepared to descend to whatever depths are necessary, breaking any rule to thwart it, and its scrupulousness has seemed to be winning.

Howe reveals his early nerves by clinging umbilically to his script. He even looks down to be prompted to say the words, “this afternoon”. He knows that every syllable spoken at this meeting will be picked over. It is a measure of the seriousness of the political environment when a highly experienced legal advocate feels himself to need such strict circumspection.

Nevertheless he does not pull his punches. Parliament has made itself illegitimate; its activities are unconstitutional; the administration is entitled to ignore its instructions. I take this as meaning that, on 31st October 2019, the Surrender Act notwithstanding, the Prime Minister is entitled to use the Royal Prerogative to break with the EU, something he has repeatedly promised –

“No ifs or buts”

– to do. That, and the same in other equally uncompromising terms, he has made more times than I care to count.

Yet on 31st October he didn’t. Why not? What other pressures were brought to bear? It seems that the principal one was that this wretched excuse for a parliament, rotten from the Speaker upwards, would not allow a General Election to take place unless the PM undertook to break that promise he had repeatedly made. He had been rendered powerless – at least that was the story we were persuaded to understand.

So now we are into a General Election, still haven’t left the EU; and I for one know not what, or whom, to believe. It barely matters because the only feasible alternative to his party is so horrendous, that we have no choice but to elect him.

Unless the PM is party to a very deep conspiracy, and the people are being duped into believing his new assurances to return him to power only to have him renege yet again on everything he has said and lock us deeper into the EU, Boris Johnson will form a new government with a bigger majority and take us out. If he reneges, I shudder to think what will happen. The anger of the people will be ugly, just as it has been in France for the past year; and as in France we could have EU armoured vehicles on the streets of Britain. And I fear that I will not be too surprised: why do we suppose that the mainstream media in Britain has avoided showing us what has been going on in France?

But while we still can, let us try to remain optimistic and assume that the PM is sincere. High on his agenda then should be root-and-branch reformation of the Establishment. It makes the Augean Stables look like a sterile operating theatre.

Tom Daley dismisses the unimportant

The Oxford Union hosted a talk, followed by Q&A, from Tom Daley. The video of it was posted on YouTube on 2 January, 2018, so was probably recorded shortly before everyone broke for the Christmas holiday 2017.

When he enters I am pleased to note that he carries no paper. I later discover, from the way that his eyes occasionally flick down to the lectern, that his notes have been placed there beforehand. Full marks for planning and stage-setting, coupled with admiration at how discreetly he later consults his notes, easily swamp whatever small disappointment I might feel for his using paper at all.

I always feel sympathy for anyone invited to deliver a speech about themselves. What the hell is there to say? If you are famous, which under the circumstances is likely, the audience already knows plenty about your fame. All then that is left is your private life which is none of their business. In Daley’s case he is a prodigiously successful high-board diver, and he’s gay. The former we can follow on the sports pages if we’re interested, the latter we can follow on other pages – again if we’re interested.

Speakers square this circle in various ways, and Daley has elected to make this motivational. His message is that you should combat stress by being yourself, trusting your game, and caring less about peripheries.

Almost a bald opening. It is clear that a pure bald opening was planned, but a delayed train forced him to squeeze in front of it his apology for tardiness. I forgive him.

The early part of the speech, almost a quarter of an hour, is spent with Daley recounting several ways and occasions through his childhood when his late father used to embarrass him in public. That sentence probably doesn’t exactly drag you in to watch it, and indeed it is rather garbled, prone to needless repetition, and clumsily recounted. There were many times I found myself editing and improving it in my head.

The strange thing, though, is that when he reaches a description of his standing with his toes at the edge of a ten-metre diving platform, with an Olympic medal riding on how he performs the next few seconds, you understand how he attributes his father’s eccentric behaviour to his now being able to wipe from his mind that which doesn’t matter in order to focus on that which does. And the garbled nature of that early section of the speech helps to paint it as belonging to those things that don’t matter. It’s an interesting structural device, whether or not it’s intentional.

At 18:30 the speech gives way to Q&A, which too quickly homes in on his being an LBGT &c. icon; and I’m afraid at that point I couldn’t care less. His, or anyone else’s, sexuality is their business and, for me, slightly less interesting than whether they are left- or right-handed. This is not least because my wife is left-handed so always folds up the ironing board the wrong way.

Roger Hallam and claps

From 30 July till 2 August this year there was a Green Gathering Festival somewhere in Wales. Provided the weather was good, it looks as if they probably had a wonderful time. I was too young and impecunious to visit San Francisco before 1976, and therefore missed their Summer of Love hippie fest of 1967. On the other hand I and my guitar spent the whole summer of 1965 being irresponsible in a (then) minuscule and almost unknown Algarve fishing village called Albufeira. I can vividly recall the intoxicating sense of freedom, so I begrudge no one the urge to return to what feels like nature.

But there was a difference. A great deal of our intoxication came from an overwhelming sense of optimism (and, let’s not deny it, sangria, sun and sex). Yes, there was The Bomb; yes, there was Vietnam; yes, we young people rebelled (all young people do), but still we felt that the future of the world was wonderful and out there to be seized. Today’s message is that there is no future; and the message is a dangerous lie.

On 2 August, the Green Gathering was addressed by Extinction Rebellion co-founder, Roger Hallam.

It is overwhelmingly tempting to give this speech a good kicking: it is such an easy target. It makes a long series of assertions, that claim to be scientifically proved but which are easily exploded via reference to authoritative data in the public domain, and does so with a desperate lack of coherence.

It is also tempting to mock it. I was genuinely startled to hear him repeatedly predicting universal ‘claps’. I understood that woke orthodoxy had outlawed the practice of normal applause in favour of ‘glad hands’. It was a second or two before I realised he foresees collapse.

Also is that a stain on the front of his trousers? If so, do I even want to know what it is? No. Quite a long way into the speech someone in the audience comes and tidies some fabric wrapped around a lead,

He tells us that he has been, for five years, at King’s College doing PhD research into how to cause trouble effectively. Though surprised that there should even be such a course, I believe him. This autumn has witnessed an astounding amount of trouble caused, and he has been largely to blame.

Nevertheless, looked at as a whole, this could easily be quite a good speech. His delivery, constantly on a falling cadence, is tedious; but though incoherent he manages to get his message across.

The question I ask myself, as he spews out this hate-filled stream of disinformation, is whether he is a fool or a knave. He makes it clear very early that he dislikes people, so wholesale merchants of disinformation would have found him a vessel eager to be filled. His organisation, Extinction Rebellion, is a misnomer twice over. There is no acceleration of extinctions, and when teachers take children out of school to join demonstrations there is no rebellion.

Problems are always upstream of the symptoms, and Hallam is merely a symptom – a puppet sideshow. There are very rich and powerful forces upstream, and legions of puppets – of varying degrees of influence – downstream. The climate industry is unimaginably big. The disinformation is parroted by the high, the mighty, and the rapidly getting richer on the back of it.

It is the disinformation that is stealing the children’s childhood.

The world is a wonderful place full of mainly wonderful people, and the environment is overall getting better all the time: the data make that very clear. If ever there was a moment in the whole story of homo sapiens for bright-eyed, smiling optimism and love and hope this is it. But there are forces who prefer – for reasons that no doubt make sense to them – to sow discord.

Getting picky with Adam Afriyie

On 26 March 2018, the AltFi London Summit had its opening keynote speech from Adam Afriyie MP.

That’s what I call a snappy introduction. It’s hard to be certain but it looks to me as if it is made by David Stevenson, Executive Director of AltFi, and he is to be congratulated on not fannying around but getting the speaker quickly onto the platform.

Every speaker has what I call a Hump, that brief period of extra nervousness at the beginning of a speech. Find me a speaker that appears not to, and I’ll find you one that has got good at disguising and abbreviating it.

There are some effective hump-busting techniques, but opening with something light, fluffy and inconsequential is not one of them. It may make for an amusing opening, and be admirable for that, but counter-intuitively it won’t help the nerves. The reason is that while drawing a chuckle or two from the audience you are also procrastinating the moment that you address the meat of your message; and that is when the hump will recede.

Afriyie opens with thanks for the invitation, moves into a little joke that is too overt to get a laugh so early in the proceedings (but which he salvages by throwing it away), an assurance that his talk will be brief to allow time for questions, and a nano-biography by way of ethos. The biog morphs into a description of the parliamentary group which he chairs. That last happens at 1:27, and up till then he is hump-bound. The second he gets into the terms of reference of his parliamentary group he’s on a roll – a good one – that carries him through to the end of an excellent speech.

I don’t want to delve into the subtle body-language hump-symptoms that I read, but there is one clear signal that everyone can see when I point it out. He has bullet-point notes on the lectern, which is infinitely better than having a script, and he looks down at them before telling us that he is Member of Parliament for Windsor. Does he need to do that? Does he not know? Or is that a classic security-blanket impulse? We know the answer. Once on a roll he barely glances at his notes again.

If I were advising him I would have him opening baldly with – e.g. “Good morning, I’m Chair of the all-party group…etc” Had he done that his hump would have lasted barely ten seconds instead of a minute and a half, and all those things in his hump-bound preamble he could have slid in later if necessary.

I’ve said it before in this blog, and I sincerely hope I’ll say it again …

I get this picky only when they’re good.