Alex Newman rises above his errors.

On 2 November the Heartland Institute, streamed live a talk by Alex Newman which he titled Crimes of the Educators. This is also the title of a book he co-authored with the late Samuel Blumenfeld. If you follow the book’s link to Amazon you will find an exceptional stream of positive reviews.

Lennie Jarratt does the introduction, and deserves a medal. This video was originally live-streamed, which is not that much different from being on TV. Broadcasters are ruled by the clock, and this broadcast has started late. For two-and-three-quarter minutes he takes his audience on a tour of the Institute and its works, delivering a laudable commercial even on the room in which the audience is seated. At 2:45 he finally announces that the speaker has arrived.

This is every speaker’s nightmare, and I put my trainees through it – just keep talking till something over which you have no control happens. In fact I suspect that the speaker had actually arrived before Jarratt began, but Jarratt was giving him a chance to compose himself and load his deck of slides. Nevertheless I tip my hat to him on a sterling piece of filling-in. Newman actually begins speaking at 3:36 and finishes at 34:36, the rest being Q&A.

Half-a-minute into his talk we are faced with his having committed the first of two fundamental speaker’s errors. His slides are smothered in verbiage, and are therefore in constant competition with him for the audience’s attention. Someone needs to take him aside and educate him on this.

(Mind you: simultaneously I find myself tipping my hat to the Heartland Institute whose staging of events and whose attendant technology I have had need in the past to criticise. The split-screening that they use for showing both the speaker and his slides is truly excellent.)

The other fundamental error begins as a suspicion in my mind, and is later confirmed by the speaker. This half-hour talk is a cut-down of a longer one. This is a classic mistake: always start with a short talk and expand when necessary – never the other way around. I could keep you here for hours, explaining the principles behind this rule, but I’ll spare you.

So there he is, rather hyper having rushed here from his last engagement because these book-promotion schedules are notoriously tight, struggling to cut a longer presentation down (and do it on the hoof), working with far too many slides and far too many words on each one.  And yet…

He makes a reasonable fist of it, helped by his being a natural communicator and also having a very powerful message.

I have to admit that for the first few minutes I had him down as a loony conspiracy-theorist, but his documented statistics concerning levels of literacy more than a hundred years ago compared with today shook me to the core. Education standards in the USA really do seem to have travelled southwards at a frightening pace, and a great deal of what he describes is echoed in the UK. Furthermore you do not need conjecture to find deliberate intent on the part of the architects of this trend because that again is documented.

Why does this theme keep cropping up in the activities of unaccountable intellectuals? They embark on noble-sounding projects which always end in tears, but not being accountable they are free to plough on with their ghastly mistakes. The one academic discipline they either do not study, or they studiously ignore, is history. How else would they never learn? How else would they ruin whole societies with their well-meaning but imbecilic ideas?

Or are they really well-meaning? Do we need to examine motives? When you see destruction on this level, that the rest of us could not have achieved more effectively if we’d tried, you have to give space to the possibility that they tried.

As a speech this is abysmally badly composed, but the importance of the message contrives to over-ride that. As often happens on this blog I find myself itching both to read the book and to take this man on one side for a few hours to teach him how to apply his message to this medium.

Milton Friedman discusses humaneness.

Even though he has been dead for eight years, the teachings of Milton Friedman live on as robustly as ever, either directly through his books or indirectly through the works of his students.  He was mentor to the great Thomas Sowell, who continues to publish books like the excellent Intellectuals and Society.

The Free to Choose Network, which is lead by Robert Chitester, the man who probably did more than anyone to promote Friedman to the world at large, and which is named after Friedman’s landmark TV series and book of the same name, keeps his memory and teaching alive. Indeed we have the network to thank that this speech, which he delivered at Cornell University in (I think) 1978, is available to us.

Almost immediately Friedman commits an error.  In the first few seconds he tells an overt gag. All my trainees have been taught that – and why – this is almost guaranteed to fail (I’ll spare you the why). As a visiting celebrity professor, addressing a roomful of awestruck students, he’s packing a shed-load of ethos and could get at this stage a positive reaction from almost anything he said or did; yet listen to how agonisingly slow the reluctant laugh builds despite his working hard to stoke up the process by smiling benignly at the audience. There is a right way and there is a wrong way to introduce a piece of early humour, and this is the wrong way.

That horror dispensed with, he is now into his own territory. He lays out his stall very clearly and launches into his arguments.

Yet something is preventing him from concentrating on the matter in hand. Look how often in the first six minutes or so he loses his own track, stumbles, corrects himself, etc. I find myself searching for an explanation. I see no other symptoms of nervous stress, but something is preying on his mind and getting in the way of smooth thought.

At any rate from around the six-minute mark the gears stop grinding and then he gets properly into his stride.

I have quite often in this blog used the metaphor of aeroplane flight. The take-off and landing are the difficult and dangerous bits; the main body of the flight tends to look after itself. I remain puzzled as to why it took so long for Friedman on this occasion to climb to cruising altitude. Perhaps it was that ghastly opening!

If I remove my rhetor hat my only puzzlement concerning his actual message is that all his arguments and case histories were crystal clear when he made them. We now have nearly forty more years of experience and data proving him right, yet still governments – egged on by intellectuals – continue down their ovine path, making the same appalling mistakes.

We either need to question their motives, or we need to re-examine the definition of the word ‘intellectual’. Perhaps ‘intellectuals’ are merely people who might have read a book or two but otherwise are not bright enough to be called anything else.