07 April 2008

Snow, Speakers'

A few days ago, it was finally warm enough to wear shorts to read outdoors. The man who religiously roasted chestnuts all winter next to Charing Cross had been replaced by a different man selling ice cream. We finally moved our clocks forward and spring had officially begun. But I looked out my window this morning to see inches of snow piling up on the overhangs across the street. Throughout the day, I saw snowmen in Green and Hyde parks, too. So, the shorts will go back in their drawer for a few more weeks.

The Olympic Torch passed through London today, mostly on foot, but also by boat and bus. At least thirty-five anti-Chinese, pro-Tibetan protestors were arrested along the torch’s route. Some came armed with fire extinguishers, but most weren’t as focused or prepared. I didn’t get a chance to actually see the torch in person, but the view from the BBC helicopter camera was better than I could have expected in person.

The highlight of my day, though, was my first trip to Speakers’ Corner with D. For those unfamiliar, people stand on stepladders (replacing the soap boxes used in the past) to engage in lively debate with anyone who should cluster around him in this corner of Hyde Park. This has been a regular Sunday gathering for more than 150 years.

Today, there were 6 or 7 clusters of people around stepladders. The vast majority of the discussions were religious in nature. Most of them were extremely informal, but the most popular of the religious debates was governed by some understood rules of order. Two men, one Christian and one Muslim, each on his own stepladder, have an organized, civil, public debate each week.

Wandering from cluster to cluster, we eventually ended up with five other people around a man in a black coat wearing a hat bearing a red star on its front. The next couple of hours were pretty interesting. Keep in mind that there were only seven of us gathered when D & I joined the conversation. In no time at all, we were talking about entrepreneurship, risk, capital, and other related topics. The debate got livelier, and the crowd doubled. We started talking about property ownership and the recent problems that banks have been having, and the crowd doubled again. By the time we wandered off, there were more than thirty people gathered and D & I (identified by our American Finance degrees) were leading a defense of capitalism.


The Marxist (and his posse) has been coming to Speakers’ Corner for twenty-one years. Over the course of two decades, it seems that one learns certain rhetorical ‘tricks’ to get out of a tough spot. Among these tricks: elevating the volume of one’s voice; changing the subject; the straw man; and appealing to a small, bald man who, in response to every question, invoked a scientific study of a chicken that thought it was a cat.

[And never fear, a Dublin post will be on its way.]

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