Today's North Korean triumph - how to clap visibly

After posting Alexander Solzhenitsyn's warning about never being the first to stop applauding, here's a  clip from today's Kim Jong-il anniversary with a number of weird aspects for serious students of clapping behaviour (and/or agents of the North Korean secret police).

One is the apparent reluctance of Kim Jong-un to do much applauding at all.

The other is the curious position in which the applauders hold their clapping hands - too high to look or feel  'natural', or just the right height to be visible to anyone monitoring who is clapping when and for how long?

As for the speech, you don't have to be able to speak the language to be able to tell at a glance what a pitiful performance it was...

Last words on Australia regaining the Ashes by Geoffrey Boycott?

Geoffrey Boycott's verdict on Australia regaining the Ashes in Perth. But will anyone who matters take any notice?

Or will it appear on Twitter as yet another #QTWTAIN from @johnrentoul ?

Don't ever be the first to stop applauding

File photo: Chang Song-thaek (left) and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (right) at the People's Theatre in Pyongyang, 15 April 2013

The barmy list of 'crimes' for which the uncle (top left) of North Korea's supreme leader (top right) was executed included half-hearted clapping that apparently 'touched off towering resentment' among those in the audience:

'When his cunning move proved futile and the decision that Kim Jong Un was elected vice-chairman of the Central Military Commission of the Workers’ Party of Korea at the Third Conference of the WPK in reflection of the unanimous will of all party members, service personnel and people was proclaimed, making all participants break into enthusiastic cheers that shook the conference hall, he behaved so arrogantly and insolently as unwillingly standing up from his seat and half-heartedly clapping, touching off towering resentment of our service personnel and people' (more on the offences of this 'despicable human scum' HERE).

The accountability of not clapping or not clapping vigorously enough is something I've blogged about before HERE and HERE.

But the most alarming, if slightly less ruthless, precursor to last week's execution in North Korea was the fate of any audience member daring enough to be the first to stop clapping Stalin in the former Soviet Union, as described by Alexander Solzhenitsyn in The Gulag Archipelago (pp. 60-70):

At the conclusion of the conference, a tribute to Comrade Stalin was called for. Of course, everyone stood up (just as everyone had leaped to his feet during the conference at every mention of his name).... For three minutes, four minutes, five minutes, the 'stormy applause, rising to an ovation,' continued. But palms were getting sore and raised arms were already aching. And the older people were panting from exhaustion. It was becoming insufferably silly even to those who really adored Stalin.

However, who would dare to be the first to stop?... After all, NKVD men were standing in the hall applauding and watching to see who quit first!... At the rear of the hall, which was crowded, they could of course cheat a bit, clap less frequently, less vigorously, not so eagerly - but up there with the presidium where everyone could see them?... With make-believe enthusiasm on their faces, looking at each other with faint hope, the district leaders were just going on and on applauding till they fell where they stood, till they were carried out of the hall on stretchers!...

Then, after eleven minutes, the director of the paper factory assumed a businesslike expression and sat down in his seat. And, oh, a miracle took place! Where had the universal, uninhibited, indescribable enthusiasm gone? To a man, everyone else stopped dead and sat down. They had been saved! The squirrel had been smart enough to jump off his revolving wheel.

That, however, was how they discovered who the independent people were. And that was how they went about eliminating them. That same night the factory director was arrested. They easily pasted ten years on him on the pretext of something quite different. But after he had signed form 206, the final document of the interrogation, his interrogator reminded him:

‘Don’t ever be the first to stop applauding.’

Will Geoffrey Boycott's sporting similes be enough to save England's batsmen?

After Adelaide, England are two test matches down and Australia only have to win the third match in Perth to win back the Ashes.

At the close of play on the first day, our bowlers haven't left us in a very promising position and we still have to wait to see whether or not our batsmen take any notice of Geoffrey Boycott's profound advice after the second test match (above).

I was rather less impressed by his statements of the obvious - such as "You can't win a test match if you can't bat"than by his use of sporting similes:

"We're playing cricket like a 50 over game: crash, bang, wallop - and out."

"It's like climbing a mountain without any shoes and socks on" 


"it's like playing chess: you can't win a chess game in the first few moves; you can sure as hell lose it."

My fear, alas, is that the question at the top of today's blog will turn out to be what Twitter followers of @johnrentoul will recognise as a #QTWTAIN...

How Obama the student discovered he could move a crowd at an anti-apartheid demonstration

In his speech at today's memorial service for Nelson Mandela, Barack Obama referred to his first political experience at a student anti-apartheid demonstration.

He did not, however, mention the fact that it also appears to have been the moment when he discovered that he had an ability to move and interact with an audience - as described in his own words (Chapter 5 of his book Dreams from my Father - with some key passages highlighted in italics):

   It was around that time that I got involved in the divestment campaign. It had started as something of a lark, I suppose, part of the radical pose my friends and I sought to maintain, a subconscious end run around issues closer to home. But as the months passed and I found myself drawn into a larger role-contacting representatives of the African National Congress to speak on campus, drafting letters to the faculty, printing up flyers, arguing strategy-I noticed that people had begun to listen to my opinions. It was a discovery that made me hungry for words. Not words to hide behind but words that could carry a message, support an idea. When we started planning the rally for the trustees’ meeting, and somebody suggested that I open the thing, I quickly agreed. I figured I was ready, and could reach people where it counted. I thought my voice wouldn’t fail me.

   Let’s see, now. What was it that I had been thinking in those days leading up to the rally? The agenda had been carefully arranged beforehand-I was only supposed to make a few opening remarks, in the middle of which a couple of white students would come onstage dressed in their paramilitary uniforms to drag me away. A bit of street theater, a way to dramatize the situation for activists in South Africa. I knew the score, had helped plan the script. Only, when I sat down to prepare a few notes for what I might say, something had happened. In my mind it somehow became more than just a two-minute speech, more than a way to prove my political orthodoxy. I started to remember my father’s visit to Miss Hefty’s class; the look on
Coretta’s face that day; the power of my father’s words to transform. If I could just find the right words, I had thought to myself. With the right words everything could change-South Africa, the lives of ghetto kids just a few miles away, my own tenuous place in the world.

   I was still in that trancelike state when I mounted the stage. For I don’t know how long, I just stood there, the sun in my eyes, the crowd of a few hundred restless after lunch. A couple of students were throwing a Frisbee on the lawn; others were standing off to the side, ready to break off to the library at any moment. Without waiting for a cue, I stepped up to the microphone.
“There’s a struggle going on,” I said. My voice barely carried beyond the first few rows. A few people looked up, and I waited for the crowd to quiet.

   “I say, there’s a struggle going on!” The Frisbee players stopped. “It’s happening an ocean away. But it’s a struggle that touches each and every one of us. Whether we
know it or not. Whether we want it or not. A struggle that demands we choose sides. Not between black and white. Not between rich and poor. No-it’s a harder choice than that. It’s a choice between dignity and servitude. Between fairness and injustice. Between commitment and indifference. A choice between right and wrong...”

   I stopped. The crowd was quiet now, watching me. Somebody started to clap. “Go on with it, Barack,” somebody else shouted. “Tell it like it is.” Then the others started in, clapping, cheering, and I knew that I had them, that the connection had been made. I took hold of the mike, ready to plunge on, when I felt someone’s hands grabbing me from behind. It was just as we’d planned it, Andy and Jonathan looking grim- faced behind their dark glasses. They started yanking me off the stage, and I was supposed to act like I was trying to break free, except a part of me wasn’t acting, I really wanted to stay up there, to hear my voice bouncing off the crowd and returning back to me in applause. I had so much left to say.

   But my part was over. I stood on the side as Marcus stepped up to the mike in his white T-shirt and denims, lean and dark and straight-backed and righteous. He explained to the audience what they had just witnessed, why the administration’s waffling on the issue of South Africa was unacceptable.... 

Thanks to Nelson Mandela for making an uninspiring speech on release from prison

Having been wondering for weeks how to mark the 1,000th post on this blog, the death of Nelson Mandela has solved my dilemma. 

The speech he made on release from prison initially stunned me by what an unimpressive example of how to inspire an audience it was. - until I realised that, had he done otherwise, it would have triggered the start of a civil war in South Africa. 

His genius was, among other things, to have understood exactly what had to be done to accommodate his (and FW de Klerks') dreams of getting rid of apartheid by holding things together long enough to allow time for the successful and peaceful reconstruction of the country. 

So, for my 1,000th post, here's what I wrote on the 20th anniversary of his release from prison:

None of the news reports on the 20th anniversary of Nelson Mandela's release from prison that I've seen have replayed any excerpts from the speech he made at City Hall in Cape Town.

This doesn't really surprise me, as it was far from being the barnstorming piece of oratory that many (including me) were expecting at the time.

Speaking into a microphone held by someone standing next to him, a bespectacled Mr Mandela clutched closely to the clip board holding his script - from which he read extremely carefully (see video below).

Given what might have happened had he done otherwise, it reminded me of the Queen's Speech as an example of the relatively rare occasions when there are very good reasons for not conveying any passion about what you are saying.

Something I posted a while back on The Queen's Speech: an exception that proves the ruler included the following thoughts about Mandela release-day speech.

Why such a 'low key' speech?

A much more surprising case was Nelson Mandela’s first speech after being released from prison in 1990. Here was a highly effective communicator, whose words at his trial 27 years earlier are to be found in most books of great speeches, and who had had the best part of three decades to prepare an inspiring and memorable text.

But it was not to be. As if modeling his performance on the Queen’s Speech, he buried his head in the script and spoke in a flat measured tone that came across as completely lacking in the kind of passion everyone was expecting from someone who had suffered so much and was held in such high regard by his audience.

Having waited for years for this historic event, anticipating something on a par with Martin Luther King’s ‘I have a dream’ speech, I remember being disappointed and surprised by what I saw and heard from the balcony of City Hall in Cape Town. It was only later that it dawned on me that this was another case where rousing rhetoric would have been completely counter-productive.

The political situation in South Africa was poised on a knife-edge and his release from prison had only happened at all because the apartheid regime was crumbling. It was a moment when anything more inspiring from Mandela might have come across as a call to arms and could easily have prompted an immediate uprising or civil war.

But the political understanding with the minority white government was that the African National Congress would keep the lid on things for long enough to enable a settlement to be negotiated.* As when the Queen opens parliament, Mr Mandela knew exactly what he was doing, how to do it and that he could not have done otherwise.

(* On which it's interesting to note that, at the end of this clip, the reporter actually comments on Mr Mandela's concern for keeping things orderly among the crowd).


The sight of freedom looming on the horizon should encourage us to redouble our efforts.

It is only through disciplined mass action that our victory can be assured. We call on our white compatriots to join us in the shaping of a new South Africa. The freedom movement is a political home for you too. We call on the international community to continue the campaign to isolate the apartheid regime. To lift sanctions now would be to run the risk of aborting the process towards the complete eradication of apartheid.

Our march to freedom is irreversible. We must not allow fear to stand in our way. Universal suffrage on a common voters' roll in a united democratic and non-racial South Africa is the only way to peace and racial harmony.

In conclusion I wish to quote my own words during my trial in 1964. They are as true today as they were then. I wrote:

'I have fought against white domination and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.'