Thursday, March 23, 2006

A Guide for Aspiring Politicians

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper
showing the way.

Speech making is a delicate art, especially without a teleprompter.

And there’s the trouble. Dollars.

Teleprompter from Prompter People,
with its mouth open, cheeping for more dollars.

In fact, the whole package (color LCD, 60/40 glass beamsplitter and dual screen teleprompter software) is going to set you back US$799. Now, granted, that isn’t a lot for a piece of quantum mechanical software, but, still, why squander split beams of light like that?

Fiscal prudence is, after all, hard to talk about, and hard to practice. Better to just do it quietly, without a lot of fuss.

If it’s fuss you want, you might end up with something like this, from The Financial Express:

NEW DELHI, FEB 27:  The Economic Survey has underlined the need for resuming the fiscal consolidation programme from the next fiscal to eventually meet the fiscal and revenue deficit targets prescribed in the Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management (FRBM) Act by the terminal year 2008-09.

The Budget for 2005-06, it may be recalled, temporarily halted the fiscal consolidation programme because of various factors, including the implementation of the Finance Commission award.

It kind of reads like a poetry terrorist insinuated himself into an Indian government accounting department.

Fortunately, there is help. When all else fails, turn to the alchemists and their interest in the ancient Art of Memory. In their hands, what was originally an ancient art, like history, music, poetry or sculpture, became an attempt to contain the whole world within an alphabet.

After mastering that, if you said your ABC’s in the right order, you could remember the Garden of Eden.

Heck, you could speak the Garden of Eden.

Reentry to the Garden of Eden
An Alchemist Practicing Memory in a Memory Garden
Note Eve at the bottom, about to reenter, to the marriage with her soul.

Of course, we have OCR software for that now. Kind of the hair shirt version of poetry writing.

The following is a paid political announcement:

Eve: Does this mean you’re going to be out of a job now, Harold?

Harold: Not at all, my dear. But poetry is getting more expensive to write all the time.

Eve: I like the look of that garden, Harold.

Harold: Me, too.

Sponsored by the committee to reelect Adam.

We now return to regular programming.

Teleprompter scrolling up: While preparing a speech, Roman orators imagined themselves walking through their villas, room by room, or, if the speech was particularly long, through some important public building, even between adjoining buildings, even making their way building by building around a civic square or down a street.

Wanna try it?

Eve (interjecting from the press scrum): Okay.

View From a Roman Orator’s SUV: Route 66
Lemmee see: the highway’s bristling with gas, coffee, Motel, Liquor, and, of course, Best Western, all reaching for the light out of the undergrowth.

Easy as pie, isn’t it.

Walking down this baby, you could have American foreign policy down pat in about twenty seconds.

And you maybe thought the Yanomamo were an isolated tribe of stone age Indians with strange customs worthy of study by anthropologists?


Just drive south of the 49th parallel and write it all down. That’s all you need to do. What you see is what you get.

As Wikipedia puts it, so alchemically:

The term describes a user interface that allows the user to view something very similar to the end result while the document or image is being created.

It implies the ability to modify the layout of a document without having to type or remember names of layout commands.

Yanomamo Children Bristling With Good Humour at the Thought

But we were talking about how to survive the hurly burly of contemporary politics and look good, without splitting in two.

After all, even that Wikipedia reference came with a warning:

Applications may deliberately deviate or offer alternative composing layouts from a WYSIWYG because of overhead or the user's preference to enter commands or code directly.

That’s where the line between poetry and politics becomes a little blurred, to say the least, and that’s where the romans come in.

Adam: Ah, the catholics.

No, just the Romans.

Eve: Why the Romans, Harold? I don’t think I like the romans. (She shivers.)

Roman Orator Looking for His Next Soundbite
Note the stacked tiers of the memory garden around him.
This method of appealing to the voters is why the art of memory declined in late roman times.

Eve has every right to shiver.

Well, the romans were masters of the art of memory. Think of it as playing the stradivarius with your mind. Think of it as writing The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire with your hands tied behind your back.

Since desire was imputed as a crime, and marriage was tolerated as a defect, it was consistent with the same principles to consider a state of celibacy as the nearest approach to the Divine perfection. Gibbon, on the state of addressing your conscience in late Rome: another example of a teleprompter gone wrong.

Still, memory was, and remains an art, a kind of yoga most dangerous to political centrism, because it’s something you definitely can do at home.

Bruno Wagner’s Depiction of Eve Working her Magic
from the April 2000 exhibition "Light years...ago" in Warsaw.

Ah, memory.

Adam: Takes you back, doesn’t it!

It’s like doing the Jackson Pollock with your audience, while they sit out there in ranked rows, with their alchemical Blackberries in their hands: the prompted prompted to prompt the prompted who is prompting them to prompt him!

Hence the shiny apple in Eve’s hand.

You run the risk of putting yourself out of the loop, sure, but, hey, what’s life without risk, right?

I mean, that’s why it might be useful to remember things, right?

American Painter Jackson Pollock Preparing His Teleprompter
Note the steel-toed boots.
Note the matching colours of his clothing and his paint
(displays fiscal prudence in regards to laundry bills).
These are the little technical details that mean the difference
between success and failure.
You’re welcome.


Teleprompter (scrolling up): Upon entering a building, a Roman orator would imagine a character in a corner of the entrance hall, a man with winged sandals, Hermes for instance, or a woman with flowers blooming in her eyes and whose fingers were snakes, anything dramatic and memorable and, preferably, tied to a character, or a combination of characters, from mythology, and somehow reminiscent of the opening thought of the speech.

To try it out, what image would you like to put with this quote from Prime Minister Harper:

There is a Canadian culture that is in some ways unique to Canada, but I don't think Canadian culture coincides neatly with borders.
Stephen Harper

Do you understand that?

Eve: No.


Adam: Nope.

Did you know Canada had such an international presence?

Adam: I bet you didn’t.

Harold: Just a sec... hold that thought...

Ta da! An Art of Memory Placeholder
No sirree, it ain’t Barbie.
It’s Bild Lilli, a German sex doll from the 1950s.
She sold a lot of newspapers.

No surprise there.

See, now when you want to remember the quote from Harper, just think of Lilli’s pointed shoes, and you’ll have it.

Nice, huh!

Ah, yes, Stephen, it’s easy when you have the right technique.

Stephen Harper Demonstrating His Technique for Making Apple Pie
Easy isn’t the half of it!
The sugar coating helps, too.

So, now that we’ve practiced that, let’s try it out by throwing the teleprompter out the window.

To a character like Lilli, an orator would assign the opening of his speech, according to some intuitive symbolic connection.

After that initial plunge, he was on his way, walking in step with his thoughts. As he strolled along through his villa, real or imagined, he would populate it with characters room by room, corner by corner, until the whole speech was inhabited or, to put it another way, until the whole speech was civilized, made civic, made into a city, such as, say, oh, I dunno, Toronto with the moon falling on its head.

Or Maybe An Apple with a Little Codling Moth Problem
Just a little example of what happens when a gardener turns his back for five minutes in his little garden paradise.

Hey, it could happen.

To deliver the speech, the orator stepped back into the building in his mind, confronted the images he encountered there, and spoke to their significance. An elegant speech of some four or five hours could be laid down in this way — without the resort to alchemy.

Memory Lying in Wait for Woman on Her Way Up
from The Wit of the Staircase
As they say, they take their name from the French phrase 'esprit d'escalier,' literally, it means 'the wit of the staircase', and usually refers to the perfect witty response you think up after the conversation or argument is ended. "Esprit d'escalier," she replied. "Esprit d'escalier. The answer you cannot make, the pattern you cannot complete till afterwards it suddenly comes to you when it is too late."

So, enough theory.
Now that you’re an accomplished memory artiste, you’ll probably like to know how it all works out in practice.

I don’t blame you.

I warn you, though. All these teleprompters have divided the world into two. Bringing it back together again may prove a little shocking.

Here, for example, is one downside of eating every shiny apple that a pretty girl hands to you from a pear tree.

Orator Speaking to the Significance of Eve’s Resurrection as Bild Lilli
Oh, give the man an apple.

And here, here is a master politician displaying that rarest of political attributes: knowing when to stop.

George W. Bush Giving a Speech
Yup, it looks Like He Can’t Eat Another Piece

Next Week: Mad Cows.


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