Soapbox Speakers

What is Speakers’ Corner?

In Speakers and hecklers. on March 8, 2015 at 11:51 pm

“I would rather have a mind opened by wonder than one closed by belief.” 
Gerry Spence.

Every Sunday, from 2pm until 5pm, people gather in Sydney’s beautiful Domain park to discuss matters. The ones standing on ladders are ‘the speakers’, and they believe it’s their job to educate  their ‘grasshoppers’ or ‘groundlings’.  The ones sitting in chairs believe it’s their job to point out why the speaker is wrong, and to heckle. Both parties are kept busy.

This sums up the relationship between the speakers and the hecklers.

This sums up the relationship between the speakers and the hecklers.

Click here to see their 2014 highlights.
Click here to see their 2013 highlights.

Find past posts  on our Archives site.

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The Speakers and Hecklers.

Steve Maxwell, historian and political commentator.

Steve Maxwell

Steve Maxwell, legend.

Steve Maxwell is the world authority on Speakers’ Corners and soapbox speakers. He has written a book on the subject, travelled to many Speakers’ Corners throughout the world (and participated), he is the author of ‘Steve Maxwell’s Passing Parade‘, and he has spoken at Sydney’s Speakers’ Corner for yonks. We are very fortunate to have him.

In various personas, but always engaging, Steve talks about religion, Australian history and politics. Click here for highlights. To see more videos of Steve, go to the archives site. From his book, ‘Soapbox Oratory‘ Steve writes: ‘In a modern city, there must be a place where strangers can meet and discuss the issues of the day without fear of persecution; where the right to retain one’s individuality is allowed.

Helmut Cerncic, metaphysicist – part-time speaker.

Helmut 4

Helmut once beat Arnold Schwartzenegger in a body building contest and in Sydney worked as the professional wrestler, Helmut Rommel.
More importantly, Helmut knows a lot about metaphysics, and is happy to explain why Isaac Newton was an ignoramus.
Helmut calls his listeners his ‘groundlings’. Here are some highlights.
For more videos of Helmut, go to the archives site and to his own site, Is Science the New Religion?’.

Mirko Terzič, 21st Century inventor – occasional speaker.

Mirko

Mirko has created a phonetic alphabet to be used world-wide, and it’s better than Esperento. He has solved the problem of perpetual motion and has diagrams explaining how to get free unlimited energy from hydropower. Mirko knows how to think outside the square. Here are a few highlights of Mirko. For more videos of Mirko go to the archives site.

Ray, Christian.

Ray is concerned about your soul.

Ray is passionate about spreading the word of God. He takes the task seriously but isn’t confronting. He is a gentle man, willing to answer your questions. Here are a few highlights. For more videos of Ray, go to the archives site.

Mark the Grinner, disquieter.

As a heckler, Mark regularly gets a laugh from the crowd with his meticulously crafted questions. As a speaker his humour is still there, but his talks have substance. He comments on human behaviour and attitudes, and he doesn’t hold back. To see Mark in action click here. Mark’s  companion, Sue, is less vocal, but she has no trouble speaking her mind when she has something to say.

Mr Bashful, epiphany specialist.

‘Epiphany specialist Mr Bashful says he is the spiritual advisor to the Dalai Lama, though that’s yet to be verified. He calls his listeners his ‘grasshoppers’ and his foes ‘garden gnomes’.
  His favourite topic is his evolutionary approach to happiness and resilience, but he ends up talking about almost anything else.  He has presented an Ockham’s Razor talk on ABC Radio National and believes we should burn the Mona Lisa.

One thing he isn’t, is bashful.

To learn more about him click here.

John August (occasional speaker)

John speaks earnestly on a wide range of subjects, and hosts his own show on Radio Skid Row, 88.9 FM every Tuesday, from noon until 2pm.

John is an active member of the Pirate Party, which is a serious political party devoted to making Australia more democratic. He and other pirates speak at the Domain now and then about their policies and other topical matters. (That’s ‘topical’, not ‘tropical’.)

To see videos of John performing at Speakers’ Corner go to his Youtube channel.
John also has a website in which he comments upon current affairs, both here and abroad.
He is a busy man.

THE HECKLERS

Uncle Pete (heckler and occasional speaker)

Peter - best

During the week Uncle Pete teaches students, and if he teaches them with the same verve he has for Speakers’ Corner, they are lucky students indeed. Click here for a few highlights. For more videos of Uncle Pete, go to the archives site.

Max (Quiet listener)
Max

Max is one of the gentler regular visitors. Says little, but when he does speak, it’s sensible. Click here to discover why he visits Speakers’ Corner.

Jack (Quiet observer)

Jack

“The old grey owl sat on an oak.
The more he heard, the less he spoke.
The less he spoke, the more he heard.
Now, wasn’t he a wise old bird?”

Click here to hear a few words from Jack.

Peter the Younger

Pete

The well-read Peter knows an awful lot about many subjects, and in particular: geo-politics and U.S. shenanigans.  Click here to hear why Pete comes to Speakers’ Corner.

Howard
howard

Howard is always polite and reasonable, yet despite that he fits in well at Speakers’ Corner. His contributions are appreciated by all. Click here to hear why he comes to Speakers’ Corner.

Ben the Whisperer

Although Ben is softly spoken, when he does speak, people listen. Click here to hear why he likes Speakers’ Corner.

Jean

Jean 2

Jean tries so hard to be feisty, but she’s just a big softie. Click here to hear why she comes to Speakers’ Corner.
Her husband Albert is below. Both of them are excellent value at Speakers’ Corner.

Albert

Albert 3

Albert may be 94, but he is as alert as anyone, and fit. When he helps Mr B unload the chairs he carries six at a time.
Albert wrote an absorbing book titled, ‘Civilisation Hijacked’. It explains how good men are persuaded to do bad things.

Book
If  you would like to buy a copy ($20) email Albert:  al.morris@optusnet.com.au
Albert is the husband of Jean.

News for Speakers’ Corner, Sunday 22nd November 2020

In News for Speakers' Corner on November 23, 2020 at 11:23 am

‘ . . .  we will ultimately not be judged by our technology, . . .  our intellect and reason. Ultimately, you judge the character of a society not by how they treat their rich and the powerful and the privileged, but by how they treat the poor, the condemned, the incarcerated. Because it’s in that nexus that we actually begin to understand truly profound things about who we are.’
Bryan Stevenson 2012

1.  It was the slowest start of the year today with barely a passer-by, but the second half was the best for the year! We didn’t finish until 6pm.

Last week, Steve Maxwell brought to our attention audio clips of speakers in London’s Speakers’ Corner, recorded in the 1930s. This week he brings you an audio clip of someone speaking in 1943.

To listen to the speaker, click here.

2. A man in the audience asked, “Are the youth of today self-obsessed and addicted to their telephones?” He received answers like, “haven’t all old folk made similar claims since the beginning of time?” and “I bet if you had a phone when you were a child you would have been no different”. But the man did have us wondering.

Anyway, it’s not just kids.
3. We heard the story of the Tibetan mystic, Milarepa: ‘One day his cave was invaded by fearful demons, and no matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t get rid of them. Finally he invited them to stay, and at that point they left. Except one, the largest of the demons. Milarepa placed his head in the demon’s mouth, and that demon disappeared too.’

Face your fears, folks!


4. Helmut was asked
if we would ever colonise a planet similar to the Earth. He said ‘No’ and explained his reasons why.

He was also asked if we might one day land on a planet and encounter people like us. The answer to that question was also ‘no’. Good job, Helmut!



5. For some light relief
we played ‘The Booger Game’ for a few minutes. Simply replace a word in the title of a book, film or song with the word ‘booger’. Mr B’s grasshoppers helped out, but unfortunately most of their contributions are forgotten by your scribe. Here are a few I do remember:
The Booger of Anne Frank.
Boogers and Peace.
Boogers on the Orient Express.
How much do I love thee? Let me count the Boogers.
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Boogers.
Indianna Jones and the Boogers of Doom
The Magnificent Boogers.
The Booginator.
Gilligan’s Boogers.

If you would like to add to the list you are welcome to do so in the ‘comments’ section.

It was not the most intellectual topic that was discussed on the day.

6. Twice now, Christians have told Mr B we don’t need to worry about the world and its environment because God will look after us. Mr B wondered if Australia’s Prime Ministers (and other world leaders?) have the same view. After all, Tony Abbott and Scott Morrison are serious Christians, and they show little interest in arresting climate change.

And it prompts the question: ‘Do a huge number of theists throughout the world secretly hope there is a major catstrophe, so that Jesus comes again and the rapture begins?’

7. While Steve was on the podium and while Mr B stood on the Ladder of Knowledge, Vladimir stood on his ‘collapsible stool of moderate height’ and explained how political correctness has gone too far. He said the people in Silicon Valley are removing words like ‘blacklisted’ and ‘masterpiece’ from their vocablulary.

Vladimir gave us plenty of examples in which the words ‘black’ and ‘white’ reflect attitudes. For example, terms like ‘black sheep’ and ‘black Friday’, and how the bad guys are dressed in black and the good guys are dressed in white. But he also said there were plenty of exceptions to both: ‘Orange is the new black’ and ‘the finances are in the black’, as well as ‘whitewashed’. 

It was an interesting talk well presented.



8. Other topics discussed:
– Steve Maxwell discussed the ‘White Flags of Truce”.

– He also discussed Joan Roland-Martin’s book, ‘The School of Life’ in which she argues for gender equality in education. Both sexes, she says, should learn about maths & science and care & connection.

– Mr Eternity (Bill) dropped by for a few minutes and argued with Mr B about the value of prayer.
  Behind Mr B was Ray, who was telling us the merits of believing in Jesus Christ. Mr B was in between the two men and felt like he was a satan sandwich.

– Mr B was highly critical of arranged marriages.

– Mr B was also critical of the smug atheists who think the question, “Where is your evidence of a God?” is a sensible question to ask. Mr B explained why he thought it is one of the most naive and thoughtless questions an atheist could ever ask. 

– Helmut explained how we can have a complex world with complex life, despite entropy.

– Helmut also had a few harsh words to say about . . . would you believe it . . . Isaac Newton!

– Would you rather be an old person who has lived a wonderful, satisfying life, but have only one more day to live, or be a twenty-year old destined to live another sixty years in a flat, uninspiring life?  The answers the speaker received from his audience were mixed.

– If a footballer makes racist remarks to another footballer to put him off his game, is that person necessarily being racist?
  The responses the audience provided were encouragingly thoughtful and considered. (Not surprising really. The hecklers had left.)

– One grasshopper asked the question: ‘Can an atheist truly be certain there is no God?’ Mr B said ‘yes’ but he was unconvincing.
I guess this postcard from the Postsecret website suggests not every atheist is certain.

9. This week’s unusual creature in the Unusual Creature Series is the deep sea angler fish. These three individuals are barely aware of our Facebook Page.


News for Speakers’ Corner, Sunday 15th November

In News for Speakers' Corner on November 16, 2020 at 11:08 am

‘A person with one watch knows the time. A person with two watches is never sure.’
Unknown.

1.  It was a beautiful Goldilocks day and for the second week running the pests were out in force. There must be something in the pollen, or in the water, because they are relentless.

A woman in the audience claimed that women have ‘power over men’. “What is the power you feel you have over men?” asked the curious Mr B. But we never found out. One man immediately and viciously belittled her while not letting her respond, and then he and three other men figured they would do her a favour and answer the question on her behalf. How nice of them! So, instead of learning something we were subjected to a bitter twenty minute farce.

It was ugly, folks.

Thankfully, the woman remained unflappable. She had enough personal power to remain calm and collected.

The real question is: why didn’t Mr B do something about it? Yes, he tried, but he failed. When it comes to conducting his meeting he claims he is the ‘conductor to his symphony’ but apparently that’s just words. He has no control over his meeting – when it counts – and it’s obvious he commands no respect.

Nor should he complain about the treatment he and the woman got. If he can’t control his garden gnomes, it’s his fault. If they show him no respect it’s his fault. If they take over the meeting it’s his fault. After all, it is his job to command respect and moderate the meeting properly, and if he can’t do that he has failed at his job. No excuses. The buck stops with him.

So, Mr B, I’m afraid this scribe has no sympathy for you. You can put all the effort you like into a meeting but if you don’t have the skills to do it properly there is no one to blame but yourself.

2. Our Speakers’ Corner has something the UK Speakers’ Corner does not have: Steve Maxwell.  Steve is the world’s expert on Speakers’ Corners. He has written a book about Australia’s soapbox orators, and in his Passing Parade page you will find fifty articles written by him. They are about Speakers’ Corner around the world.

In his research he recently discovered audio of England’s Speakers’ Corner in the 1930s and 1940s. If you would like to hear  what the speakers in the 1930s spoke about, click here.

Next week, the 1940s.

3. ‘Like a Wicked Noah’s Ark’. If your scribe is going to plug the UK’s Speakers’ Corner of the 1930s then I might as well also plug this book by Uncle Pete’s daughter. Sarah has written another book and it sounds damned interesting. The blurb says:

Step back in time to 1860s Sydney, when ragged children populated the harbour city’s slums, picking pockets and scraping a living selling matches and watercress. Neglected youths formed the city’s gangs, thieving and assaulting the unwary. These ‘larrikins’ often ended up in gaol, and received a thorough criminal education from Faginesque professors of the art.

In 1867 a solution to this problem was found. Fitted out for the reception of New South Wales’ delinquent and abandoned boys, a Nautical School Ship was moored permanently within sight of Circular Quay on Sydney Harbour. The Colony’s prisons were drained of their young inmates, and they were herded together in their dozens – and later, hundreds – on board.

Like a Wicked Noah’s Ark is the full and close-up history of this ground-breaking experiment in juvenile reformation, which operated continuously until 1911 on the Vernon and Sobraon.

Click here for more information.

4. A few weeks ago Eddie, one of the rangers, brought to our attention the existence of Terrence McKenna’s ‘Stoned Ape Theory’. Mr B did some homework and when Eddie turned up again today we all discussed it together.

Basically, in his book ‘The Food of the Gods‘, Terrence McKenna put forth the idea that the Homo sapian brain grew three times larger between 500,000 and one million years ago, mainly because they began eating hallucinogenic mushrooms. They ‘ate their way to a higher consciousness‘. The psilocybin in the mushrooms rewired our brains, McKenna claimed. He said it reorganised our information-processing capabilities and increased our cognitive skills, and that in turn led to full-blown consciousness, pictography, art, tools, religious beliefs & rituals, and stronger community bonding. And that, in turn, led to an increase in our brain size.

Mr B and his grasshoppers (and two overbearing garden gnomes) discussed the merits and the problems with the theory. And then the conversation turned to the contemporary use of hallucinogenic substances.

Then Eddie himself spoke. He has a good knowledge of the subject, and he spoke clearly and articulately. It was a pleasure to listen to him. Thank you, Eddie! You are welcome back any time.

This postcard is from the Postsecret website.


5. What do mutant bullants
and the origin of the universe have in common? How did such a large universe come into being from something  smaller than a pinhead?  Is the universe infinitely big or is it finite? (Hint: it’s infinitely big.)

6. In this week’s episode on infinity, Mr B’s grasshoppers indicated that they do indeed have the brains of real grasshoppers. For ten minutes they struggled with the following question:

“Bill spends eternity in a red room and Anne spends eternity in a blue room. Which of the two spends more time in the red room?”

Well! You would think the question was not difficult. For normal people it would not have been. But the regular grasshoppers and garden gnomes shouted and complained about not understanding the question. (Sigh). Thankfully, a newcomer fought through the uproar and delivered the correct answer.

It was once suggested that Sydney’s Speakers’ Corner is more intellectual than the London’s Speakers’ Corner. Well, if that is true, the attendies in London’s Speakers’ Corner must have had lobotomies.

Yes, folks, Bill spends more time in the red room.

And yes, Mr B, I can understand why you get exasperated, but stop your whinging. It’s unbecoming.

Mr B then foolishly asked an even harder question: “If every year Bill and Anne swap rooms on Christmas Day, just for the day, does Bill still spend more time in the red room than Anne?”

That finished them off.

What do you think the answer is?

(Hint: no.)

The scenario was created by A. W. Moore in his book, ‘The Infinite’.

7. On infinity again. We were given another quick fun thought experiment from A. W. Moore:  A spaceship travels in a straight line for 30 seconds and then doubles its speed for 15 seconds, and then doubles it’s speed again for 7.5 seconds, and so on. Where will the spaceship be at the end of the minute? It must be infinitely far away, but how can that make sense? Where would that be?

8. Are we aware of ourselves when we dream about ourselves? In a dream we are certainly aware of ourselves: we make the choice to run from the man with the machete. And yet, at the same time, we are unaware of ourselves being in bed dreaming.

What does this mean? How can we be aware of ourselves and not be aware of ourselves? Is one self awareness ‘better’ than the other? If so, which one? And why?

And even if we are aware that we are dreaming, does that mean that one self awareness has supplanted another? Or have the two awarenesses met and made a compromise?

Is the self in the dream the same self as the one we have when we are awake? If not, why do they seem so similar? Why do we feel them both? And if that dream self is not you, who is it?

‘Who are you?’ I asked the watcher in my dreams.
‘Who wants to know?’ came the reply.
 
Paul Broks, neuropsychologist, from his book, ‘Into the Silent Land’.

9. If there is still any doubt about the intelligence of the hecklers . . .

They were asked this question, originally posed by Ian Stewart in his ‘Mathematical Recreations‘ column in Scientific American, April 1988:

‘Suppose you choose a large number of tosses in advance – say, a million – and watch whether Heads or Tails is in the lead.  What proportion of the time, on average, would you expect Heads to take the lead?’

The fact that the hecklers couldn’t even grasp the question was an indication they are indeed as sharp as a bowl of milk. They kept saying there would be close to 50% of heads tossed, and 50% of tails tossed. i.e. They had no understanding of the question.

The answer? Ian writes: “The natural guess is ½.  Actually, this proportion is the least likely.  The most likely proportions are the extremes: Heads stays in front the whole time, or none of the time!”

10. Other topics discussed:
– Who are the bastards? Is it the politicians? The media? The lawyers and bankers? No, said Mr B, it is us. We are the bastards. He gave four reasons why.

– The Good Old Days. Were they really that good?

– We heard a brief telling of O’ Henry’s story, ‘The Last Leaf‘.

– Helmut, Ray and Steve also spoke, but your scribe’s gout wouldn’t let hiim out of his chair to hear them.

– A speaker tried to get more members for his ‘Sycophants for Jesus’ movement. Unfortunately, only a relatively small number of Christians seem eligible.


11. This week’s animal in the Unusual Animal Series is the weta. It’s a New Zealand critter and this one tried to eat our Facebook page.

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