Ben Sasse educates

Through September, the clamour surrounding the confirmation of the proposed appointment of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) has spiralled to alarming proportions. Yesterday, 27 September, saw Judge Kavanaugh deliver an impassioned, emotional, and defiant defence of himself, his record and his character; though for sheer drama that was challenged by Senator Lindsey Graham who tore into what he saw as a disgusting conspiracy by certain parties. It is perfectly possible that Judge Kavanaugh’s and Senator Graham’s speeches will find their way onto this blog, but for now I’d like to turn to a quieter more reasoned time.

At the beginning of September lawmakers delivered opening statements to the confirmation hearing. Senator Ben Sasse was one of them, and he gave a brilliant speech.

For this Brit, with little more than a sketchy understanding of the workings of the US legislature, this speech is an education. For one thing it seems to explain the creation of what President Trump calls “the swamp”. But it is much more than that, as it also has huge resonances to what ails the political tides in Britain.

When he says “The legislature is impotent: the legislature is weak, and most people here want their jobs more than they want to do legislative work so they punt most of the work to the next branch” I find myself thinking that the British legislature does exactly the same thing, in fact disgracefully punted most of it overseas whence the British people are desperately trying to claw it back.

Sasse strongly advocates restricting responsibility for legislature to the hands of those who can be kicked out of office when they get it wrong. He is referring to SCOTUS being a lifetime appointment for a Justice, but you get no prizes for guessing what I am thinking. Nevertheless let’s stick with Sasse (who, incidentally, later explains even more clearly why politicians punt decision-making away). He says that the judiciary’s having become such a political hot potato stems from the elected politicians’ having failed to do their job properly.

There’s a potent moment for me, a student of audiences, at 0:32. The split screen allows us simultaneously to watch Sasse and the focal point of the audience – Kavanaugh himself. The latter has been listening intently, but now picks up a pen to make notes.

What I think is significant about Kavanaugh throughout this speech is not just the intensity of his concentration, but the dispassion. His frowns convey concentration not disagreement. At no point does his expression display an opinion on what is said. The exception is when Sasse slips in a provocative joke, and Kavanaugh permits himself a smile.

Just before his summary, and beginning at 9:39, Sasse delivers a very strong anaphora – “this is why …”, and then the summary heads unswervingly towards his final two sentences.

“It seems to me that Judge Kavanaugh is ready to do his job. The question for us is whether we’re ready to do our job.”

Peter Thiel: rich in substance

I came across this speech by Peter Thiel at the National Review Institute Summit. It is difficult to establish exactly when it was delivered, as the video was posted on YouTube on 14 March this year, whereas the National Review Institute website dates their summit on 16 & 17 March. One thing we can surmise from the introduction by Rich Lowry is that it took place very shortly after the Presidential Inauguration, and I reckon we are looking here at late January; though puzzlingly Thiel refers to Obama as ‘the current president’, and significantly never mentions him by name at all.

I was interested to witness a speech by Thiel, not just because he is a billionaire but because he is unusual in being a rare republican billionaire. I found other speeches, but chose to cover this one.

Rich Lowry’s introduction lasts six minutes, and he shoots it from the hip which pleases me. I am also pleased that he isn’t fawning completely over his introducee. He leaves us in no doubt that he is less than happy about the (then) very new Trump presidency, and Thiel had very publicly supported the Trump campaign. But then, they are both of the Right which is more tolerant than the Left.

Thiel also shoots from the hip. Perhaps his principal message is that for the past decade, or thereabouts, there has been a startling change in electronic human interaction; but in more substantive areas like energy, travel, manufacturing, the USA has lost what had appeared to be an irresistible momentum. He seems to put this down chiefly to everything being regulated to a standstill.

He is quite obviously highly intelligent and very well read, but the speech suffers here and there from being not clearly structured and therefore a little incoherent. He knows what he is trying to get across, but sometimes for us the thread is difficult to follow. He is a chess player of international standing, and if I try rather clumsily to use a chess metaphor it’s as if he is trying to describe a particular game to those of us unable to hold that many moves in our heads.

Some would say that this would have been solved by his having a script, and to a degree they’d be right, but the price would be a dreadful loss of spontaneity. Here is another of his speeches that is obviously read off a teleprompter; and it makes makes my point by being smooth, fluent and consequently rather tedious.

The choice is not either/or.  You can have both spontaneity and clarity. You just need to know how.

At 29:22 he closes his speech elegantly with a slightly distorted quote from Dylan Thomas; and then we move into Q&A, not with questions from the floor but an interview with Rich Lowry who introduced him.

Here, as so often happens with speakers like this, Thiel comes into his own. The questions provide him with the structure he needed earlier, and the result is clarity.

Thiel is a man who needs to be heard, because there’s so much substance there, but he also needs to be better understood.





Evan Sayet says it

A friend tweeted a link to an article entitled He Fights, published in Townhall. The columnist was Evan Sayet. I commend the article.

Even when I disagree with expressed opinions I am always impressed when writers or speakers have the guts to skewer or bypass the fashionable flim-flam in which PC pieties clothe themselves, to go right to the core of a matter with ruthless muscularity. Evan Sayet takes no prisoners. Immediately I went looking for examples of his speaking, and found plenty. Here is perhaps the most recently posted. It was delivered only in August, at a picnic in Los Angeles hosted by The American Freedom Alliance.

I don’t know the precise circumstances of this speech, even his introduction by Karen Siegemund is cut short on this video, but clearly from the venue, his clothing, and the relaxed way he interacts with his audience this is a very informal gathering. My instinct is that his material is a series of road-tested modules which he is stitching together on the hoof. To many rookie speakers that would be magic: to one who has worked his apprenticeship it is actually not very difficult. I may be wrong, he may have spent many hours preparing it: when you are this good everything looks easy.

Be careful though, for anyone who is not this good it could be a pathway to disaster. Many months ago on this blog I gave a severe kicking to a British politician whose speech to a gathering in Dublin was a disgrace. He insulted his audience by having been too bloody idle to prepare at all.

I see little point in my telling you what Sayet says when he says it so well for himself. Nevertheless I would advise any British reader here, even if you don’t follow American politics his message translates very clearly indeed to the circumstances this side of the Atlantic.




Trey Gowdy doesn’t need a speaker’s platform.

In April 2012 the U.S. House Oversight Committee held a hearing to look into what appears to have been egregious waste by the General Services Administration [GSA]. Quite late in the process, Trey Gowdy delivered his own summary of what had been going on.

We have met Gowdy before on this blog. The previous time he was delivering a formal speech to students, and I described him as a speaking phenomenon. Here he is not on a speaking platform but essentially delivering an impromptu monologue, and my opinion of his speaking ability has – if anything – increased. I have said before on this blog that passion is worth buckets of technique, and the dream ticket is to have both. Here Gowdy is displaying passion, and conveying it with consummate skill. The pen may be mightier than the sword, but the tongue when wielded by a such master is still mightier.

The background to this issue is very clearly laid out here. It’s a relatively short read, and a good way to understand what has caused Gowdy to be so exercised. This matter concerns not my country, but I find myself easily transposing the circumstances across the Atlantic, seeing parallels, and getting likewise exercised.

The above clip begins with forty seconds of  Gowdy putting questions to Brian Miller, The GSA Inspector General, and then Gowdy sets off.

Immediately we get the gist. He is comparing the difference between spending our own money and dipping our paws into a bottomless fund, fed by coercive tax. Most of us could make quite a reasonable fist of that; but not many when talking of a charitable gift (beginning at 1:00) would come up with,

I hate that you robbed yourself of the satisfaction of knowing what it feels like to do it yourself instead of spending someone else’s money to do it.

The amazing thing is that in this monologue that isn’t particularly exceptional. Every time he makes a point he finds a new, different, and particularly telling way of couching it. At 2:25 he even dips into the Book of Exodus to compare the GSA’s profligacy unfavourably with the Children of Israel in the desert, and the parallel is flawless.

He swings into an auxesis at 4:00 with anaphora on the words, “what’s the penalty…”, but when he comes to his actual peroration he doesn’t keep the crescendo going, but suddenly drops into bitter contempt.

Yes, I know that as a District Attorney he will have examined and cross-examined witnesses countless times, and addressed juries as often, and his skill has been honed in the process, but this is mind-blowingly effective.

Since this occasion, and in fact since he was last on this blog, Trey Gowdy has been appointed Chairman of the House Oversight Committee. What a sound choice!


Trump at the U.N.

On 19 September President Trump addressed the United Nations General Assembly. I have seen the speech described with the word ‘hate’. That word has become a catch-all for any opinion ‘with which I disagree’; in fact, disastrously, that almost amounts to a legal definition these days. Therefore like most who actually bother to think I invariably dismiss the term until and unless I have examined the matter in hand.

For example, we were all regaled with how Trump had threatened “to totally destroy North Korea”. There’s an inflammable headline for you! Having now watched the whole speech several times I can bear witness to the accuracy of the quote, just as I can point out how misleading it is without the qualification that preceded it, “if [USA] is forced to defend itself or its allies we will have no choice but…”

Here is the whole speech.

I have no appetite for picking through all his points. There’s more than 40 minutes of speech in which he did that for himself, and you here have the opportunity to form your own opinion. Therefore I shall limit myself to my own speciality interest, the preparation and delivery of the speech itself.

I like his “Welcome to New York” opening. It’s a velvet glove covering an iron fist that says “your building: my town”.

As representing the USA, it is fitting and traditional that he gives a very potted summary of the state of his nation, on the one hand a country battered by hurricanes and on the other a country resolutely and successfully climbing out of economic doldrums. He doesn’t waste the opportunity to point out that the economic turnaround began with his accession. The Dow Jones had been rising for a time before he entered the Oval Office; but it has accelerated since, along with growth and employment. Crime and food-stamp usage have travelled in the opposite direction.

He is much beloved of triads, and I don’t mean oriental crime syndicates. They are scattered all over this speech. “Peace, sovereignty, and prosperity”, “strong, independent, and free”, and so on. They are everywhere, and the commonest ingredient seems to be “sovereignty”. I was put in mind of my own triad in this blog posting almost exactly a year ago where I pointed out that in eight years the previous administration had seen the U.S. become “less free, less safe, and less prosperous”.

At 02:55 I am impressed with Trump’s presence of mind when he switches between TelePrompter screens, misreads a word and seamlessly corrects himself. Later it happens again, and then again. It goes on happening, always the same type of misreading. With my trainees, whenever asked, I tell them how skilled are operators of this sort of equipment, always holding station with the speaker. I think we can safely assume that the United Nations, and/or the White House, have the most skilled of all, yet it seems here that repeatedly Trump’s screens get just behind him. I hesitate to add to the huge heap of conspiracy-theory-rumours that surround this presidency, but I sense a slight odour of the subtlest of sabotage coming off this. Completely unprovable and, probably by anyone other than a saddo like me, unnoticed.

He commits that most widespread of all the diction errors: swallowing the ends of words. He shares this mistake with some of the best speakers in the business, Hannan and Obama to name but two, and there have been others castigated for it on this blog.  I thought you might want evidence of Trump doing it, so I confidently clicked straight to about the middle of the speech and within seconds had an example. At 21:50 he says, “We must deny the terrorists safe haven…” The second syllable of that last word is virtually inaudible.

My having just mentioned Obama, I feel that you might be expecting a comparison between the two presidents’ speaking abilities. This could be a battle of cliché metaphors, but here goes. Trump is no longer the bull in a china shop that he used to be, but he remains a bit of a blunt instrument. Obama is supremely elegant – a fencing master. None of those metaphors answers the question though, because perhaps the prime purpose of a speech is to be memorable. Quote me a sentence from an Obama speech – just one.

Hasn’t it gone quiet!

If I asked you to quote from this speech you’d probably shout, “totally destroy North Korea” but this speech would be cheating because it’s so recent; therefore try Trump’s inaugural speech. Do you remember “Buy American, hire American”?  – or “You will never be ignored again”? If so, Trump wins.

And I bet you never expected me to say that.





Charles Murray is here not inflammatory

In September 2016, at the Baugh Center Free Enterprise Forum at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, Charles Murray was guest speaker.

Though I haven’t previously heard Murray speak, his name was familiar because of a highly publicised near-riot last month at Middlebury College in Vermont, when he and a Middlebury professor had to be evacuated from a hall where he was due to speak. About ten minutes internet research reveals all manner of accusations hurled at Murray. Principal among them is that he is a ‘white supremacist’ which, along with ‘fascist’ and ‘racist’ means these days – especially in seats of learning – that his politics are at odds with those of his accuser.

Nevertheless I did expect some inflammatory stuff to come out of this lecture. Let’s see.

The avuncular, softly spoken, first minute is so bereft of phlogiston as to be almost a disappointment. He quickly mentions his book, Coming Apart, and I accordingly expect him to wade into an overt sales pitch. Again I am wrong, though he does refer to it fairly often. He also mentions the (then) upcoming presidential election, though stressing that it will feature in the lecture only obliquely.

The lecture is about cultural as distinct from economic inequality and, when in the first couple of minutes he refers to a statistic relating to income, he confesses that he hasn’t recently checked it. My interest quickens, because already it appears he is working with broad brush-strokes. Let me explain myself on this.

If this lecture covers roughly the same subject matter as his book, then he is doing what I often find myself helping business executives with. In their case they will be probably presenting some report, and in these cases I find myself dragging them away from the detail because the classic mistake is to try to précis that report. What they should be doing is trailing it. Think about a trailer for a movie. How much of the plot does it give you? Essentially none! It cherry picks a few sexy camera-shots to persuade you to see the movie. Thus the executive presenting a report should be doing nothing other than persuading his audience to read the report, and that usually means broad brush-strokes, glossing over detail and cherry picking sexy assertions. Now back to this lecture …

Murray is broad-brush-stroking his findings concerning the cultural polarisation of American society. His statistics here tend to be ‘ballpark’, though the overview is clear. We do not doubt that his book has precise figures and shows its workings. It’s very effective trailing, though it is revealing how the pace of the speech sags only when he gets too deeply into statistics for a brief section about two-thirds of the way through.

The message overlaps that of Tucker Carlson’s in my previous posting. It’s not the same, and it is presented very differently, but the two do support each other. He is describing the way that America has developed a class system, with an insular elite that views the rest with undisguised disdain. Like Carlson he doesn’t blame that elite, describing them as essentially nice folk following an understandable instinct to be around ‘people who get your jokes’; but the consequences of the alienation is socially and politically destructive. It is also fundamentally un-american.

For me this resonates more than merely my viewing another culture from a distance. There seems to be a similar alienation in Britain. It is rooted differently, but…

Perhaps I shouldn’t get started.

P.S. (April 17)  Charles Murray, in a tweet that links to this blog posting, tells us that this is the lecture he intended to give to Middlebury.  Those rioting students managed to avoid learning something so valuable as to contaminate their university experience.

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.