The Cambridge lockdown debate

On 28 January, The Cambridge Union conducted a live-streamed debate on the motion, “This House Believes Lockdown Was A Mistake“. The speakers were Sir Graham Brady, Laura Spinney, Richard Tice, Phil Whitaker, Toby Young and Layla Moran.

This blog having brought me to the attention of people overseas, I began a few years ago delivering distance coaching via video link. In the early days it was rather clunky, but trial, error and perseverance prevailed. Though passionately involved with my work I was not getting any younger, and I fondly imagined that virtually trotting around the world delivering speaking training from my study was a reasonable recipe for semi-retirement. Then came Covid and lockdowns.

Somehow word quickly spread that I was a specialist in delivering training by video link and my semi-retirement got busy. When it’s distance training it makes little difference if the person on the other end is in East Africa or West Sussex. Also delivering training via a computer screen nurtured a byproduct skill that was useful now that people wanted to learn how to deliver speeches via a computer screen. There’s quite a list of guidelines, but I’ll restrict here to the essential three.

  • Framing: arrange yourself and the camera so that your face is mainly in the top third of the screen.
  • Lighting: in front of you not behind.
  • Eyes: ay there’s the rub, because in video-link eye-contact is an illusion. If you look at their eyes you appear not to. Look at the camera.

So firstly let’s see how the speakers did on those principles.

Framing: all fairly good, though Spinney and Young were the best. Whitaker would have been ok if he’d sat up, but he looked as if he’d crawled into frame.

Lighting: Moran was startlingly brilliant. The others were good except Spinney whose lighting couldn’t have been worse. I wonder whether she is shy. (I’m not joking: I work often with bright and successful people who are shy. Intelligence and shyness dwelling in the same person is a miserable combination for them.)

Eyes: Sir Graham, script-bound, is conforming to the politician’s habit of reading and looking up periodically at the audience. His assumption is that the audience is on the screen, so we never get his eyes. Spinney is speaking spontaneously and extremely well, but the light is so bad that I can’t really see her eyes. Tice, script-bound, is using the same routine as Sir Graham, except better because when he looks up he looks at the camera. Whitaker’s eyes are all over the place: script, screen, the wall, barely the camera. He does himself no favours as the resultant effect is perceived insincerity. Young is shooting from the hip, with eyes locked firmly on the camera. Moran’s eyes are locked on and she is so slick that, reinforced by other symptoms, I suspect autocue.

Briefly, because this is already getting long, I will address some of what was said. Sir Graham was not just the first but the last to speak, and he accurately summed up a general feeling that had pervaded both sides of this debate. The first lockdown may have been justified because of the dearth of data at the time, but the subsequent ones indicate at best a failure. He reasons and argues very well, as befits an experienced politician.

Laura Spinney speaks with us (that italicised preposition is one of my hobby horses). It’s an excellent skill which makes the hearer want to listen. Apart from the stygian darkness, this is my joint favourite speech.

Richard Tice, has well-marshalled arguments that show their workings – and the workings include some explosive revelations. Being script-bound he sadly loses much of his relationship with his audience, and that isn’t helped by his adopting a phoney, am-dram, emotive tone.

Phil Whitaker begins by telling us what Covid 19 is. It seems not to have dawned on him that over the past year we have kind of gathered all that stuff that he wastes valuable time telling us. In that pointless preamble he implies that the virus is novel in that it can sometimes cause no symptoms. How does he know that is novel? How often has there been a government project to mass-test perfectly healthy people for signs of an infection? “Asymptomatic” surely means “healthy”.

Laurence J. Peter‘s second most famous pronouncement, “Speak when you are angry and you’ll make the best speech you’ll ever regret” nearly applies to Toby Young’s contribution. Having spent months compiling a huge assembly of competing expert opinions on this matter, along with mountains of data, he has formed a view and is able to dispense with a script and speak straight to the camera. Arguments backed up with facts, figures, and quotes from peer-reviewed papers are fired in volleys straight at us. He does get a little too worked up towards the end, nearly causing his case to unravel, but he just manages to hold it together. It’s compulsive watching.

Layla Moran’s advent is startling. Production values including the lighting are brilliant. It’s almost too good. I have in the past had occasion to warn in this blog against perfectionism because if you smooth away every edge you risk sterilising the product. In this case, despite admiring those production values I dislike the speech because of the data torturing. If you quote bald numbers to promote a case, without comparing them to some sort of control, you are merely decorating a shop window. Her opening salvo is cheap and unworthy. All that said, I do admire the elegance of the anadiplosis that begins at 1:04:05.

For the record, the Proposition won the debate.

Dan Crenshaw brightens

A friend asked me to stop posting so many political speeches. I sympathised, and challenged him to find me current speeches that are not political. Politicians, with the enthusiastic cooperation of the media and Big Tech, have closed down the world in defiance of science, so the flow of all normal speechmaking has dried up. Therefore …

Here’s a juicy four and a half minutes from a week or so ago in the US House of Representatives. Dan Crenshaw doesn’t mince his words, even though he feels the need to read them.

He wades into the conduct of Nancy Pelosi, and what he calls the hypocrisy displayed by lockdown-supporting politicians who break the rules. I call it lying.

After all, if you vote for a policy while your behaviour shows that you don’t believe in it, isn’t that a form of mendacity? The trouble is that with lying being the favoured currency of politics, it’s as un-newsworthy as “Dog bites man”.

At 2:46 Crenshaw mentions the viral video of Angela Marsden. If you haven’t seen it, have a look here –

And now register how many seats are occupied in the House of Representatives to hear Crenshaw’s speech. More people need to know about this, but the media won’t help.

Jonathan Sumption’s coherent sense

People are not making speeches at the moment, for reasons I don’t need to explain. For this blog I can mine reserves of historic speeches, and I have done so, but part of the interest I get from critiquing speeches is to learn what views and arguments people are currently promoting.

On the other hand people are being interviewed. The essential difference with an interview is that the speaker is fed questions which dictate the direction of the conversation; and it is a very large part of the public speaking skill to address the direction your conversation would have taken had the audience been able to dictate it.

Lord Sumption, erstwhile Supreme Court Justice, has made no secret of his disapproval of the government’s policies concerning Covid 19, and here is an interview on the subject. It was broadcast in May of this year.

I’ll admit that I did have an actual speech that Sumption had made a few years ago, but I decided against covering it because the subject matter was way out of date and because to my intense irritation he slavishly read every syllable of the wretched thing.

You will see that I have supplied a link to that discarded speech in order that students of public speaking can see for themselves that, by reading it, Sumption made himself not a jot more articulate than he is being here in this interview, while sacrificing a huge portion of the perceived sincerity that spontaneity would have granted. But back to this interview …

What would be beyond belief had we not experienced it is that this interview, and Sumption’s excellently articulated arguments in it, were broadcast half a year ago and politicians are still pursuing the same asinine policies. How dare they have the impertinence to arrogate the right to consider Christmas to be within their gift!

It is not only disgraceful it is politically foolish. The arguments they promote in the name of “science” have become visibly and risibly threadbare and widely debunked by substantial scientific authority. The various degrees of lockdown have done manifestly more damage, not only culturally, socially and economically, but even medically, than the coronavirus ever could. This is vandalism conducted behind a smokescreen of a disease whose puny fatality rate is losing ground to that of hay fever.

The trouble with official idiocy on this scale is that conspiracy theories take hold. When no one is capable of being quite this stupid the only apparent explanation is that there is something else going on. And there are some very plausible and alarming explanations being aired which, if they are only slightly true, suggest that the people concerned are dangerous lunatics.

Dr Daniel Erickson and Dr Artin Massihi dissent.

On Thursday 23 April, in Bakersfield, California, two medical doctors held a press briefing. They are Dr Erickson and Dr Massihi. They tell us more about themselves in the briefing, but meanwhile I can tell you that they are co-owners of Accelerated Urgent Care.

Also, in order that we might listen closely to what they have to say, let me first go over some interesting details concerning this briefing.

This video rapidly went viral (I have seen various figures posted – like 5 million!); YouTube took it down, claiming that it violated its rules; it was quickly reposted by numerous parties with copies. Time will tell how long they will last, so my link is to a posting on BitChute. I seem to be having embedding issues with it, so if it isn’t below simply click the link or copy and paste the URL that is.

The configuration of the audio is distinctly amateurish. If you happen to be listening on headphones you will find that the doctors speak only into your left ear. When questions come via the mic in the audience the audio clicks into mono. There’s a probable reason for this, but I won’t bore you with it. The room looks to be small enough for the audience not to need a PA system, so these microphones are simply for us watching the video. (Because multiple people have been reposting it, there are some versions online that are much shorter – therefore edited – and have had the audio glitch fixed. My link is, I believe, to the raw original.) At any rate this tech mistake strongly suggests that we are watching two medics with something they want to tell us, rather than a slick activist setup.

The doctors happily take and reply to questions while they are going along, rather than restricting them to a Q&A session at the end. I approve of this, and do it myself at seminars, because it provides invaluable detailed audience analysis. By the questions, and the body language of those who didn’t ask but heard the questions, you can glean really penetrating audience feedback on what really concerns them. You are also manifestly demonstrating that you have nothing to hide. It’s not practical for all presentations, but I commend it when it is.

They both shoot from the hip. This conveys sincerity and command of the subject. They read from notes only when quoting statistics or claims that others have made. This conveys accuracy.

Now let us watch the Dr Erickson Covid-19 Briefing

They (mainly Dr Erickson, but both are super-articulate) say what they want to say, and you are quite capable of evaluating for yourself their sincerity, so I think it would be impertinent of me to comment beyond a small autopsy on this briefing.

I came across a link to something claiming to be a refuting of what the doctors had said. It turned out to be a video clip from ABC of a few seconds of a local authority spokesperson saying that the head of the health department had denied, contrary to what you hear at 37:50, agreeing with what the doctors suggested. We did not hear this from the head of the health department, merely hearsay from a spokesperson. The ABC reporter said that further details had been sought, but no answer as yet received.

And finally, I suggest you consider why YouTube (owned, of course, by Google) are so eager to silence what Erickson and Massihi have to say.

I’ll leave it there.