Tucker Carlson, by the way

On 6 March in Washington DC, Tucker Carlson addressed the International Association of Firefighters.

Situated as I am on the east side of the Atlantic, my relationship with the US media can most charitably be described as sporadic. Nevertheless, in the eternal hunt for speeches I do spend a lot of time on YouTube. So it was that Tucker Carlson crept his way into my consciousness some months ago. He wasn’t making speeches, but he was interviewing many of the speakers into whose background I was delving for the purpose of this blog.

He was interviewing remarkably well, and had a refreshing approach to heavily adversarial, hostile, interviewees. Rather than show anger he would most often deploy one or both of two facial expressions –

  • Little boy puzzled
  • Little boy laughing

He was exploiting his chubbily boyish face, which is highly personable, and making it a hell of a weapon. More importantly the boy could play: he unerringly asked the questions I happened to want asked, couched in the most reasonable terms.

I had vaguely wondered how he would fare on a speaking platform, so when I saw a speech from him on line I pounced.

We don’t see the opening, but come in halfway through a sentence. I understand that people want videos that hit the ground running, but with my niche interest I want to see the opening. Public speaking is like flying an aeroplane inasmuch as the most tricky parts are the takeoff and landing. The rest is relatively easy.

We join Carlson already in the air and climbing. The first words we hear are “By the way” and they herald one seriously attention-grabbing sentence. From there it goes on up. This is a phenomenal speech!

He produces nail after nail and hits each one squarely on the head. I won’t tell you how; I won’t tell you why; you just need to watch it. It answers many questions.

He has a verbal mannerism. I tell my trainees never to worry about mannerisms because if their speech is interesting enough no-one will notice. It just happens to be my job, so I notice. He says “By the way”. I haven’t counted how many times he says it in this speech because I’d rather have a life, but it’s a lot. If I hadn’t mentioned it you wouldn’t have noticed because the speech is spell-binding. It’s refreshing as spring water, coming from someone in the government/media bubble.  Nail-head-nail-head all the way through.

By the way, one of the reasons “By the way” comes out so much is that he has a neat line in micro-digressions. It’s almost as if they supply the mortar between the bricks of his theme.

Another neat line is in self-deprecation – not in an overt simpering way but in tiny, easily missable, almost subliminal throw-away lines. At 13:30 he throws open to questions. See if you pick up the nano-self-deprecation in his final sentence, and ask yourself whether you would have done without my drawing your attention to it.

He’s a very good speaker, and this is a hell of a good speech. Nail-head-nail-head. I’d still have liked to have seen his takeoff, by the way.

Dinesh D’Souza straightens the record

On 9 November 2016 – and I bet you can remember what you were doing that day – The Young Americans for Freedom held a meeting at the Southern Methodist University. It was addressed by Dinesh D’Souza.

His introduction by Grant Wolf begins with one of those rabble-rousing cries of “All Riiiiight!”. Here it sounds particularly lame as it goes out into silence of an apparently stony nature. In fact, as this talk unfolds, it emerges that the makers of this video had no ‘atmos’ microphones in the body of the hall, and we barely hear the audience. Therefore some of what comes from the platform seems unbalanced against lack of reaction.

Before we leave the subject of D’Souza’s introduction, I ought to touch on a mistake that Wolf makes. He lists a number of people to thank for the organisation of this talk, and invites applause. Then he leads the applause. Applauding from the platform is one of those things that feels right, but looks wrong. It also sounds awful because it is amplified through the microphone.

The introduction ends at 6:30, and D’Souza begins speaking at 6:50. The twenty second gap consists of a standing ovation. Before you begin speaking, there is nothing like a standing ovation to persuade you that you are among friends.

D’Souza, after a few relatively inconsequential niceties, begins with a history lesson on American politics. It’s interesting. The interest is not only in the content, but in the very clear way he structures it. My pulse quickens. This guy is good.

So good is he that shortly there occurs a moment that has admittedly featured before with this blog, but very rarely. I put down my notepad and just listen.

What a fascinating, riveting speech! I heartily recommend it.

Because of the stranglehold that the Democratic party has on the US mainstream media, and because the UK mainstream media from the BBC upwards are cast in much the same bigoted mould, we have been fed essentially only one side of the story of the US Presidential election. This speech straightens the record.

There is a book and a movie, entitled Hillary’s America. If you follow that link you will find yourself at the same page as was linked by D’Souza’s name in the first paragraph. There he describes it as The most important movie you’ll see before you vote. Admittedly, as a Brit, I didn’t have a vote in the US election so my not having heard about this till now doesn’t matter. Nevertheless he tells us something of how hard the other side of the argument worked to prevent anyone seeing it.

If we learn nothing else from watching this speech, we discover what an extraordinary achievement it was for Donald Trump to win that election against the massed coalition forces of the US establishment. We also learn that all that we think we can expect from the President Elect and his administration may be so biassed as quite possibly untrue. That means we can go into 2017 with hope.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I shall begin that hope by watching nearly half-an-hour of D’Souza’s Q&A.

Happy New Year.

Jay Lehr sits on no fence

On 29 October the Science Director of the Heartland Institute, Jay Lehr, delivered a talk at the AM 560 Freedom Summit in Chicago. He was always going to be forthright: his published headline reads, “There is not now, nor has there ever been, any scientific evidence proving mankind has affected the climate on a global scale.”

With my trainees, apart from nuanced subtleties concerning structure and so on, I drum into them that ultimately they simply need their audience to leave the venue knowing absolutely and unambiguously what you intended them to hear. Here we have an example of a speaker successfully aiming at precisely that target.

Ah yes! His opening reminds us that he is speaking a week and a half before the US Presidential Election.

I have made the point previously in this blog when the subject of global warming came up that sceptics tend to show their workings, and alarmists tend to show their skill at name-calling. Having covered speeches from both sides of the debate, I have found conformity to this rule to have been astonishingly consistent. It was this that first raised my suspicion of global warming. I remember noticing several decades ago in the school playground that name-calling was a substitute for reason, and I have found that true in a wide variety of fields ever since.

Lehr shows his workings. He churns out statistics almost incontinently. They tend often to be ballpark statistics because he is shooting from the hip, and in this setting statistical precision is not particularly relevant. He is practising a technique that I call tactical omission. By making assertions without always substantiating them, he gets more of them in; likewise statistics that are broadly correct. There is a Q&A session after this talk, and if anyone wants to challenge anything he has said, you can bet every thread on your shirt that he can substantiate his assertions and fine down statistics to several decimal places, but he’ll be doing it in the questioner’s time not his own. It’s a useful tactic.

Also it becomes clear that he is talking to an audience that is not overburdened with scientific knowledge, so his arguments and parallels are couched always in lay terms. Scientists might be tempted to scorn this speech for this reason, but I wonder whether they’d dare debate him face to face?

This is another facet of the climate issue that attracted my attention some years ago. Sceptics repeatedly challenge alarmists to debates, and alarmists use an hilarious range of excuses to duck out. What has kept the ridiculous thing going, even though a baby born the last time there was any warming is now old enough to vote, is political pressure and the lobbying of vested interests on a scale that is eye-watering. The climate change industry is one of the largest in the world, but even if the planet does warm it will be infinitely cheaper to cope with it when the time comes than to pretend that we can do anything about it now. Never has there been so much energy worthy of a better cause.

Since this speech the US have elected their new President, and he has indicated that he plans to dismantle the American contribution to this industry. He doesn’t have to do much. If the taxpayer simply stops subsidising it, the industry will collapse on its own. Like many I am nervous of Trump, but if he finally lays this climate nonsense to rest posterity will bestow on his legacy plaudits more noble than anything Obama can claim. For instance it could unlock untold potential by awakening the sleeping giant that is Africa, kept sedated all this time by expensive energy.

Anyone who has followed the climate issue for any time will find little new in this speech, but I love the forcefulness with which he puts it across – not least in his exploding the preposterous 97% consensus fiction which never anyway withstood more than a few minutes examination. I see that he does a lot of speaking. I’m not a bit surprised.

Michelle Obama’s voice wobbles

On this blog we have already examined the acceptance speech made by Hillary Clinton at the recent Democratic National Convention. There was also glowing praise in the media for another speech, this time by the USA’s current First Lady, Michelle Obama. This was not a surprise: she can do no wrong for the mainstream media, and could probably get away with a turkey of a speech. Nevertheless, I thought I’d lay cynicism aside and view it for myself.

That still frame has a title over it, claiming that she cries when speaking of her daughters. I do hope not.

After nearly three and a half minutes of video and adulation from the crowd, which is absolutely to be expected and under the circumstances fair enough, she begins speaking. Within seconds I am reminded why I do not work in this sort of sphere. I am rather averse to political speaking. My stamping ground is with speakers who have to sway tough cynical audiences without recourse to political smoke and mirrors. A business person caught lying is sacked (unless in the public sector, in which case will probably be unobtrusively promoted). A politician is expected to lie.

I’m not accusing Mrs Obama of lying, but she is playing a rôle in a show that is of necessity built from deceit. Look at the syrupy phoniness of the way this thing is stage managed. Look at the shots of audience members gazing with worship. I try not to.

Though she will have received training she doesn’t cope very well with a teleprompter. You can see that rather glassy stare when the eyes focus just south of the camera. Nevertheless she forges on like a trooper.

The schmaltz concerning her daughters begins immediately, and I admit that it is difficult to conceive what else she could talk about. The First Lady can’t wade in on matters like the systematic dismantling of those parts of the US Constitution that protect the people’s freedoms. She can’t talk about how the country is markedly less safe, less free and less prosperous than it was eight years ago. She absolutely has to stick to how her heart sings with joy when watching her daughters playing on the White House lawn.

That essentially is this speech in a nutshell, and she makes a reasonable fist of it. The audience laps it up. The voice gets a bit of a wobble for a brief moment, and I find myself wishing that her coach had spent that time on the teleprompter instead.

At least she doesn’t cry.

Hillary Clinton talks the talk

On 28 July at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Hillary Clinton delivered her acceptance speech for her nomination as the Democratic Party’s candidate for the upcoming USA Presidential Election.

I tip my hat to whoever wrote this speech. It is a rhetorical masterpiece. I have never seen better. Furthermore, Clinton delivers it very well. Her use of autocue is discreet, her diction exemplary (far better than Obama’s). If I were merely critiquing this as a piece of speaking, I would stop there – what more is there to be said? But the brilliance of its writing and delivery hide more than a multitude of sins. It has quite a high PQ rating.

As I observed when critiquing Donald Trump’s equivalent offering a few days ago, I shall have no vote in the election. Nevertheless because its result will have effects way beyond its own shores, I am still interested.

In Trump’s case I pointed out that though he highlighted America’s ills he failed to offer much in the way of solutions. Clinton doesn’t even acknowledge the ills.  I suppose it might be seen as tactically imprudent – for instance – to make much of the way the Union is insolvent to the tune of $20-odd trillion when you were part of the administration that presided over that state of affairs. One claim I read recently had it at $60 trillion – a trillion here and a trillion there and pretty soon you’re talking real money. At any rate the number contains almost as many zeros as were honoured in Cameron’s lavender list.

I have also read that this President has borrowed more than all previous incumbents put together. Is that true? I don’t know: I don’t have access to the raw data, but with that sort of claim hanging over your CV it does seem tactless to occupy so much of a speech like this boasting about how much more you plan to spend. Sooner or later you will run out of other people’s money (arguably they already have). And speaking of CVs, Clinton’s isn’t exactly squeaky.

Many years, or possibly decades, ago I was in the USA shortly before another Presidential election. I cannot (cross my heart!) remember who the two candidates were at that time, but I do remember being amused by a button badge that was widespread…

Any Turkey for President.

Donald Trump is loud

After the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, a couple of weeks ago everywhere was buzzing with Donald Trump’s acceptance speech. So I just had to go and look!

It is more than 75 minutes long, so I’ll keep my comments brief.

I suppose it is in the nature of such jamborees that the speaker is expected to bellow all the time. My pondering whether Americans have heard of microphones would be less than courteous, and naughty; but in case anyone wonders let me make it clear that with only a rudimentary grasp of microphone technique Trump would be completely audible if he spoke to this hall as if he were speaking across a dining table. If he speaks like this across his dining table I do hope I’m never invited.

Actually, in all seriousness, if he spoke as if across a dining table he would be more audible, because he often commits an error that is quite widespread. I call it disproportionate syllable stress. The speaker, when raising  his voice, hammers the bejabers out of stress syllables at the expense of subordinate syllables which disappear completely. Subordinate syllables are almost always at the ends of words, and there are several parts of this speech where word-ends go AWOL. (Obama does it worse, by the way.)

Other than that technical observation I’ll merely say that Trump is a very good speaker.

I should not be concerned with what says – I am not an American voter – but while we’re here…

If you wrote a memo to your line manager, identifying in detail what was going wrong with your company, he might appreciate your frankness. If in the process you nevertheless failed to make adequate suggestions as to what should be done to correct the problems he might be less than satisfied. This is the principal problem with this speech. Trump highlights very effectively what is wrong with the administration of the USA, but is rather light on suggested remedies.

I shall be looking next at Hillary Clinton’s acceptance speech.