Peter Hitchens does not laugh

In early summer 2017 the Oxford Union held a debate on the motion This House Believes A University Should Be A Safe Space.  The Union had the sense to defeat it. On 20 June I covered one of the opposition speeches. It was from Peter Tatchell, whose performance I found disappointing. Perhaps that was one reason I didn’t bother with any more of the debate at the time.

Another is that I no longer critique speeches by students. I have done, and have regretted it. From my position of advanced years I cannot satisfactorily take any public position on either the speech or its delivery. If I praise it I can be considered patronising: if I condemn it I am being unkind.

Then recently my eye was caught by a clickbait caption, Peter Hitchens laughing at Loony Students. It turned out to be the final opposition speech from that same debate.

That is a magnificent opening, largely for what it doesn’t stoop to say. The device is a variety of what I call tactical omission. We watching, with the data immediately available to us can have no idea what he means; and even the audience in the hall is left thinking back to the previous speech to try to work it out. Meanwhile in an irreducible minimum of words he has been brutally scathing. I now know to what he refers, though I had to submit to some ghastly research. I shall say no more (see my second paragraph above), except to confirm that Hitchens is right.

The clickbait caption is a lie, and I should have known. Clickbait usually is. Peter Hitchens has been known to laugh, but not in my experience at his opponents in a serious debate. He may give them a good kicking, eat them, chew them over, spit them out, but not laugh. He is unusually courteous in his destruction, much more so than his late brother.

He shoots this speech from the hip, looking at his papers only for the purpose of reading quotations, and is able to do so because of how well he has structured it. It makes it easy for him to know where he is at any moment, and therefore where he then has to go. The byproduct of this, and even more important, is that the speech and its message are easily followed and digested. Given that this last is the prime imperative for any speech you might understand why I ceaselessly castigate those who mistakenly believe that they cannot deliver a speech without burying their face in a script.

Hitchens definitely doesn’t laugh.



Maryam Namazie twice

Sometimes it’s difficult for me to know how to critique a speaker or a speech.

Recently when I was preparing this previous blog posting I heard Maryam Namazie described as the bravest person he knows. I immediately went looking for her, and found this.

Here we see Namazie trying to deliver a speech, and being thwarted by the boorish bullying of Muslims (presumably) in her audience. In an hilariously graphic example of transference, one of those conscientiously trying to intimidate her is doing so by loudly complaining that he is being intimidated.

This sort of crybully behaviour is becoming widespread wherever we look, and for one very good reason: it works. We as a society not only suffer it, we seem to encourage it. Pressure groups of various persuasions have learnt that if they play the victim card they can get away with all manner of misbehaviour.

Before my hair turned silver it was gold. When I was at school it was considered great sport to declare that gingers had ferocious tempers, and then taunt one till he lost patience and proved you right. It never occurred to me to claim victimhood; but I should have worked out that if I invented a word – gingerophobia, – and accused people of being gingerist, I could get all sorts of preferential treatment that would excuse anything I did. Today, once you get that process rolling, you can reach a stage whereby the worse your behaviour the more privileged you become. ISIS agrees with me: look at the eagerness with which they have been trying to claim ‘credit’ for the activity of that murdering loony in Las Vegas.

Back to Maryam Namazie. Despairing of being able to critique that other example, I found this –

It’s good, it’s fascinating, it’s hugely informative and I commend it. I could fill several riveting paragraphs on how much better she could deliver it if she didn’t read it, but I find my concentration veering back to those louts in the previous video.

What idiocy by our own representatives means we are compelled to put up with this, in what we fondly believe to be a civilised country?


Mohammed AlKhadra and courage

On 23 July, during the Secular Conference 2017 in London, there was a Plenary Session on the theme of Out, Loud And Proud. On the Panel was Mohammed AlKhadra, Founder of the Jordanian Atheist Group. This video of his speech was uploaded to YouTube by John Smith, and you can see from the strap-line at the top of the still picture what he thought of it.

He speaks for nine and a half minutes, and when the rapturous applause dies down the Chairman of the session, Dan Barker, tells us that this was AlKhadra’s first speech.

He opens almost abruptly. He thanks and indicates Maryam Namazie, whom he describes as the bravest woman he knows, and then he plunges straight into his speech. It’s as near as makes no difference a bald opening, and I would bet money that the first few sentences are memorised. Whoever advised him did well (perhaps it was he himself). Some of my trainees take some persuading that a bald opening is a wonderful way of busting a hump till they try it, at which point a typical reaction is “that was so liberating”. I also recommend that they memorise the first minute or two, and thereafter simply follow a clear structure and shoot from the hip. That looks to me the precise path followed by this young man, and it works beautifully.

At the beginning he is smothered in symptoms of nerves which reduce markedly when he pays tribute, at 0:45, to Richard Dawkins in the audience. By the time he hits an elegant anaphora – “How do I know …” just after 1:30 – hump symptoms have almost evaporated and he is in the driving seat. I feel myself relaxing on his behalf.

The speech is shaming. You don’t have to agree with his atheism to be hugely impressed by the courage he has shown and is showing in being true to himself, and how it compares to the whining of the spoilt brats in the West with their imbecilic victim culture, Safe Spaces, No Platforming, and protestations that everything with which they have been told to disagree is Hate Speech which threatens the comfort they claim they ‘deserve’. Consider what he risks with his apostasy and his determination to speak freely, and you might find yourself thinking that the masked idiots of Antifa, wielding their clubs under an alarmingly familiar flag to deprive people of free speech, should have their bottoms smacked and be sent to bed without supper.

It shames the way western politics has polarised into pathetic but vicious tribal nonsense while real and dangerous issues confront us all.

It shames hate speech laws, every one of which should be instantly repealed. In the UK we have had for many years a law against incitement to violence. What more do we need? If we do not have freedom of speech we do not have freedom. The USA, to its eternal credit, has the First Amendment; and political movements, to their eternal shame, try to chip away at it.

It shames the UK’s Crown Prosecution Service which currently boasts 83% success rate against imagined ‘hate crimes’, while drawing a veil over 0% prosecutions for real and widespread FGM.

Like you, no doubt, I fear for this young man’s future. Perhaps his speech will cause us to reflect on how to make fundamental changes to the political climate that endangers him.

And us. And our children. And theirs.


Peter Tatchell: disappointingly insipid

The Oxford Union recently held a debate on the motion, This House Believes A University Should Be A Safe Space. Among the speakers for the opposition was Peter Tatchell.

I have not previously covered a speech by him, which comes as a surprise considering that he is not known for hiding his light under bushels. I was eager to amend the omission.

According to his opening, this is his thirtieth Oxford Union debate in three and a half decades. Then why isn’t he better?

Don’t misunderstand me: I’m not trying to score cheap points. I admit that I am uneasy with many of his political views, but I defer to none in my admiration for the personal courage and principled perseverance that he has shown in the campaigns I have seen him fight over the decades. I genuinely expected this to be a forceful, and forcefully argued, speech.

But it isn’t: compared to what I expected it’s insipid, repetitious, flabby. The insipidness is in the way he is almost speaking down to his audience as if it had been drawn from a primary school. The repetitiousness is just that: he goes over and over virtually the same ground. And it’s flabby because he spends almost as much time apologising for perfectly sensible views as he does expressing them.

In the early minutes he is transfixed by the paper at his right elbow. It seems not to be a script so much as a comfort blanket; but why on earth should someone of his experience need a comfort blanket? What on earth is the matter with him?

He has spent more hours than you or I would care to count being grilled by the toughest the media has to offer, giving it back with interest. I guess I had expected him to light a fire under this gathering, and yet we get a bit of moist rag. Why?

Could it be that his communication skill is in the two-way traffic of hitting back at hard questioning, and he’s never got around to learning how to construct his own one-way traffic? No, it can’t be! Not if he’s been debating at the Oxford Union on average nearly once a year since the early eighties. I don’t understand it.

Was I simply expecting too much from someone like him? This performance would just about suffice for many speakers. I suppose.

It is a puzzlement.

Mind you: his side won the debate.

Robert Spencer exits Plato’s cave

Young America’s Foundation hosted a talk on 18 March 2017 at the Reagan Ranch. The speaker was Robert Spencer, director of Jihad Watch.

I know little of Robert Spencer, other than the normal little bit of research I always undertake into a speaker, before subjecting them to critique on this blog. Thus it was that I learnt that he co-authored a book with Pamela Geller, whose speaking I critiqued last June. He also, I understand, shares with Geller the distinction of having been banned from the UK because of his inflammatory views – banned, that is, under the orders of the British Home Secretary at the time, one Theresa May.

A couple of weeks ago I covered someone else who had a reputation for being inflammatory and turned out to be quite the reverse. I thought I’d be really brave and try it again.

Spencer’s talk begins at 03:27 and ends at 32:27. If we assume a half-hour slot we are looking at a speech lasting a minute less than allotted, and delivered without a script. Regardless of all else I tip my hat to a speaker who knows what he’s doing.

A James Bond Film opening even! He begins with a summary of the Plato’s cave story, which though it may temporarily bemuse those who do not know it, leads beautifully into his message. I tip my hat again.

He then proceeds apparently to narrate the history of the modern day Islamist Jihad. I injected that word ‘apparently’ because not being a scholar of such matters I have no means of knowing the accuracy of what he says. Nevertheless, when claiming to quote from the Koran he always cites chapter and verse, and when quoting incidents always gives names, places and dates. In short, he shows his workings. When one side of an argument does that, and the other seeks to silence them (or worse!) it lends verisimilitude to the party of the first part.

This is twenty-nine minutes of highly authoritative speaking. And with the greatest respect to the British Home Office he never once incites his audience to violence. It is a speech that should be heard.

At 32:27 he throws open to questions. That should be heard too.

Ben Shapiro’s paper gelds his message

On 16 November the University of Wisconsin-Madison live-streamed a talk by conservative commentator, Ben Shapiro. He was invited by Young Americans for Freedom.

We have previously in this blog come across the issue of students agitating to ‘no-platform’ speakers. Shapiro is no stranger to this authoritarianism, having been banned by DePaul, and at California State University, Los Angeles, needed protection from a police escort. The inflammatory topic that caused such uproar was Free Speech on Campus.

Here he begins at 4:13, and ends at around 58:30.

Why is he reading a script?

Actually I already know the answer. He sincerely believes that it is a requirement. He is not alone, but he is profoundly wrong. No one needs a script: I have proved it countless times. Watch him during the Q&A after the talk, and you’ll see how good he can be.

It’s a fairly amusing opening. He pokes fun at so-called Social Justice Warriors. I have heard that first minute just twice and could already shoot it from the hip. So could you. So could he. But he doesn’t: he reads most of it. And it’s the moments that he permits himself to shoot little asides from the hip that cause his effectiveness momentarily to lift. You get to see for a couple of seconds how much better this speech would have been if he had learnt how to throw away the paper, and (at least as importantly) been shown how easily he could.

A very short time into his lecture, the protests begin. Repeated shouts of “shame” and “safety” try to drown him out. At this point he shows that he has an arsenal of pre-prepared put-downs to deploy. They are quite good, and have the side-benefit of getting him away from that bloody paper.

Once they have subsided (temporarily, it turns out) he returns to reading his script; and immediately the guts of his performance haemorrage out. It’s actually good stuff, but crippled – gelded! – by being read aloud rather than spoken.

Within a minute or two the moronic shouting begins again. A girl in the middle of the auditorium rises to her feet and berates the protesters. She delivers a beautifully eloquent piece of ad-lib that can be paraphrased as “Shut the … [front door] … and let us listen to the man!” Her interjection earns her a standing ovation, and shortly afterwards we return to listening to Shapiro reading his good stuff for a few more minutes.

It soon becomes apparent that the protesters are positioned in the side aisles and along the back.  They begin to process down towards the stage, line up in front of it, and chant their imbecilic slogans. The audience responds by counter-chanting.

What is sad is that this trend appears to have become ubiquitous in US academe, and is spilling across the Atlantic. What is even sadder is that it comes from above. The evidence suggests that teachers are feeding this nonsense, and that they got it from their teachers.

At the beginning of last year I covered a brilliant talk by Hans Rosling in which he exposes a series of widely-held misconceptions about the world – misconceptions that are exploded by real data. Although he treats the subject lightly it is clear that these lies colour people’s political views, which is serious. At one point he almost throws away (blink and you’ll miss it) the observation that people cleave to nonsenses that can be dated fairly precisely from the period that their teachers were born. Therefore it’s at least two generations of apostolic succession since this stuff was planted.

I remember when students rebelled. Students are supposed to rebel! Student rebellion has today almost died. They are reduced to parroting poison from their pedagogues, which they parrot from theirs. And the poison is political correctness, and at the root of political correctness is the rule that dissent must be silenced at all costs. That is why they hate free speech.

There is a growing movement to push back. Ben Shapiro is part of that movement. If he would only learn that speaking and writing are not the same thing, and learn to do the former properly, he’d be a lot more effective. Freed from the tyranny of that bloody paper, he’d be as good as he is during the Q&A that begins at the one hour point.

Milo Yiannopoulos likes it two ways

At the Conway Hall in London on 16 August there was held the launch of the Young British Heritage Society. This society appears to be an attempt at an antidote to the National Union of Students. The NUS hasn’t impinged on my life for a decade or four, though I occasionally read their pronouncements in the press.  These indicate that an antidote of some sort might be a good idea.

As the launch-event keynote speaker they had booked the services of one whom they described as “the most fabulous supervillian on the internet”, Milo Yiannopoulos. I featured him on this blog not long ago, but not very satisfactorily. The speech in question dissolved into shambles as many members of the audience staged a noisy walk-out.

Milo has made himself into something of a phenomenon. With his carefully studied OTT campness, he has become a considerable cult-figure. In a sense he is using the same “ain’t I pretty!” tactic as a young boxer called Cassius Clay in the early sixties. It’s a very powerful device to polarise the public into loving or hating you and hence to inflate your box-office value.

But you have to be good enough to deliver. Clay (later to become Muhammad Ali) certainly delivered, and Milo in his field also delivers. He writes well, and has the gift of the gab. Think hind legs and donkeys. As well as being very thoroughly briefed and replete with data, he is remarkably quick-witted. You could put up the most feared interviewers in broadcasting and I wouldn’t back them against him, because whether by accident or design he is possessed of one particular characteristic which is devastating. I may return to that later.

None of the foregoing necessarily makes him a good public speaker, even though he does a lot of it. Let’s have a look.

It’s a tiny bit more than an hour long, one third speech and two thirds Q&A. I’ve watched it all, several times, and now I have both bouquets and brickbats to bestow. Let’s get the brickbats over…

The first third is the weakest. During the 23rd minute he begins Q&A, and at that moment this thing takes off. I mean it goes into orbit. I mentioned earlier how good he is in interviews, so we should hardly be surprised that two-way conversational traffic is his comfort zone – even if he’s the one doing all the talking. Questions are mother’s milk to him.

Preceding the Q&A is a speech. That is one-way traffic; and comparatively it’s clunky as hell. He’s using many of the same modules as during the Q&A, but the bridges between them are non-existent. The reason is that he apparently believes, as far too many do, that the substitute for being asked questions is using a bloody script. Will they never learn!

Also, for one who makes many speeches, his audience-handling is startlingly inept. Too often when one of his outrageous statements triggers a laugh he fails to capitalise. This is sometimes because the laugh is spontaneous and surprises him. The set-piece humour is too contrived and seldom works. Let’s quickly move to the bouquets…

Dip at random into the Q&A and you’ll get the impression is that here’s someone who loves the sound of his voice so much that he just gabbles uncontrollably. Completely deceptive. His answers are actually very disciplined and tight. Consider this statistic. The last 44 minutes end in a six minute peroration (it’s very good), and the previous 38 minutes contain 12 questions and their answers.  Allow ten seconds for each question, and the average answer therefore takes three minutes. Each is laden with hilarious and inevitably outrageous anecdotage, yet still provides its serious answer. The man is brilliant.

He just needs to learn how to make speeches.