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 2015 highlights.
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.

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.

Helmut 4

Helmut used to be a professional wrestler going by the name of Helmut Rommel. He took on the likes of Killer Karl Kox, Mario Milano and Spiros Orion. And, he once beat Arnold Schwartzenegger in a body building contest.
More importantly, Helmut knows a lot about metaphysics (more than Arnold Schwartzenegger and Killer Karl Kox combined), and he is happy to explain why Isaac Newton was an ignoramus.
His battles with hecklers are fun. He 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 Terzic, 21st Century inventor.


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.

Mr Bashful, epiphany specialist.

Epiphany specialist Mr Bashful tells us 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’.
  Among other things, Mr Bashful talks about New Age scams,  happiness myths, and why we should burn the Mona Lisa. He has presented an Ockham’s Razor talk on Radio National.
One thing he isn’t, is bashful.
To learn more about him and see videos of him in action, click here.
He now has a Facebook page.

John August (Occasional speaker)

John speaks earnestly on a wide range of subjects, and if you’re in Sydney you can listen to his radio program 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 on the third Sunday of every month, 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 lad.


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 the Sunday passers-by, they are lucky students indeed. Click here for a few highlights. For more videos of Uncle Pete, go to the archives site.

Tony, atheist.

New-Zealand born Tony used to be a speaker and is a fervent atheist scathing of the Catholic Church. When he is not berating Christianity he is either sinking the boot into other religions, or supporting Palestine. In this video  Tony expresses a few of his well considered opinions. For more videos of Tony click here.
Tony now heckles the other speakers.

Max (Quiet listener)

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.

Arthur (Heckler)
Arthur 1

Arthur is not what you call the shy type, and is generous with his opinion. I caught him searching for disciples.

Jack (Quiet observer)


“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


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 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.

Mark the Grinner (occasional speaker)


Mark regularly gets a hearty laugh from the crowd with his meticulously crafted questions. Plus, his serious comments are  insightful. His companion, Sue, is less vocal, but she has no trouble speaking her mind when she has something to say. Click here to hear why Mark 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.

Philip Feinstein

Philip occasionally speaks and is the founder of Music For Refugees. He also runs the Smokenders program, to help people give up smoking.


Click here to hear why Kieron likes Speakers’ Corner.


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 3

Albert may be 92, 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.

If  you would like to buy a copy ($20) email Albert:
Albert is the husband of Jean.


News for Speakers’ Corner, Sunday 15th April

In News for Speakers' Corner on April 16, 2018 at 9:34 am

“There are none so blind as those who will not see.”
John Heywood, 1546

1. Steve Maxwell had two guests today: 2SR radio star John August, and a bloke called Andrew, who spoke about blockchain and cryptocurrencies. Your scribe didn’t get to hear what any of the three men said because he happened to be in Mr B’s audience when Mr B spoke about Black’s Infinity Machine. Or a derivation of it. It was similar to last week’s talk about Thompson’s Lamp.

You have ten packs of playing cards, jokers excluded. (You can reuse the cards in this experiment.) When thirty seconds pass you place a red card face up on the table. After 15 seconds you place a black card on the table. After 7.5 seconds you place a red card on the table. And so on. The question is: when a minute has passed, will the last card be red or black?

Will you ever reach the minute, even though a minute will pass?  Time will always be divisible, so will you be placing an infinite number of cards on the table in infinitely short intervals just before you get to the minute?

You might say that the last card cannot be red or black, because there can be no last card in an infinite series. Yet, a minute will pass and at that precise moment there has to be a card placed on the table. Will it be red or black?

What happens if you leave the jokers in?

2. A conundrum. You don’t need to know anything about sport. You just need a brain to solve this puzzle. It’s an easy puzzle, but only one grasshopper managed to work out the answer. The others’ prejudice against sport worked against them. Can you put aside your prejudice of sport and solve the puzzle?

Two football teams, Hawthorn and Melbourne, have played each other just seventeen times. A sports journalist points out to her readers that “Hawthorn has won 15 of their last 16 games against Melbourne.”

The question is: which team won the first game?

Mr B holding two of Hawthorn’s Premiership cups. 2014 & 2015

3. Don’t shoot the messenger. On last week’s Facebook version of this newsletter your gentle scribe was besieged by commenters. The previous day, at Speakers’ Corner, Mr B had said that the Dept of Family Services will provide you with a bed for the night provided you have the wherewithal to ask for it and make use of it. Your scribe not only dutifully stated what he said, he even went to the Dept itself on Monday morning to verify the claims. After all, as you know, this newsletter has a reputation for being 100% right, and it is your earnest scribe’s duty to protect that envied reputation.

After visiting the Department to ask questions, I put the staff member’s answers on our newsletter and on our Facebook page.

That’s when I got into trouble.

Of course, if anyone should get into trouble, it’s Mr B. But it was me, your poor blighted messenger, who was whacked around the head with objections.

It appears that readers want to believe that the Dept is doing a lousy job of providing beds for the homeless. I guess they see people sleeping in shop fronts and under bridges, and assume that it must be the uncaring government’s fault that the homeless don’t have a bed to sleep in. After all, it’s a common complaint the caring make. To believe that the Department is doing a good job just goes against the grain.

“One of the government’s functions is to act as scapegoat.”
Jon Jermey.

So, on Thursday, your harrangued scribe visited the Strawberry Hills branch to again ask questions.

By the way, on the Facebook page some correspendents confused ‘getting a bed for the night‘ with ‘getting a home to live in‘. That was a bit of a leap! Mr B’s claim last week was that if you visit the Dept you will be assured of getting a bed for the night. He said nothing about being housed permanently.

Scribe to staff member: “To be given a bed, the person has to have an income such as a regular Centrelink payment. What happens if the applicant doesn’t have an income?”
“We help them link to Centrelink. That’s the responsible thing to do.” (Yes, to simply give someone a bed to sleep in without helping them in other areas of their life would be irresponsible. Requiring certain conditions be met means other problems can be discovered and addressed. It’s not bureaucracy, it’s commonsense.)
“What if the person is not eligible for Centrelink or pension payments? What if they are a refugee, for example?”
“Some asylum seakers are ineligible because they don’t have permanent residency and have no government funding. In those rare instances we pass the case onto the manager who has the discretion to give them a bed for the night. We would also liase with an organisation like the Red Cross, who can  assist.”
“What about young children? They don’t have a Centrelink income.”
“Under-eighteens rarely, if ever, come here, but if they do, we have a policy to assist them, depending on their age. We might, for example, contact the Dept of Community Services to ensure they have a refuge to go to.”
 “To link someone to Centrelink might take a few days. Where do they sleep meanwhile?”
“Again, we can pass the case onto the manager who has the discretion to assist. When people fall through the cracks we don’t just turn them away, we seek other avenues for them. For example, we might point them to other organisations that provide social housing.”
  “Are those organisations part of this Department?”
  “No, they are non-government organisations but we help fund them.”
“What about drug addict accomodation facilities? I believe there are places drug addicts can visit to get a bed, provided they stay off drugs?”
“That’s a demeaning term you’re using. We call such places ‘specialist homeless services’. Yes, they exist.”
“I was also told that to get a bed regularly a person has to show that they have been trying to find permanent accommodation. What proof of that search do you require?”
“A diary indicating the places they have approached.” (Again, this is the responsible thing to do. By requiring each applicant to search for permanent accommodation they are helping the applicant. To not have that condition would be irresponsible.)
“So, provided the person has an income and is actively searching for permanent accommodation, then feasibly they could get a bed every day of the year?”
“No, the maximum is 28 days.”
“What happens after 28 days?”
“I don’t know. I haven’t seen it happen yet.”  (Presumably, a person requiring a bed every day would soon tire of having to front up to the Dept every day to get one, especially given that they might each day be given a different bed. So, before the 28 days were up, they would find permanent accommodation for themselves, even if it’s just in a boarding house somewhere. Such places providing permanent accommodation take a percentage of a person’s Centrelink payment. Further, this scribe has no doubt that if someone did exhaust their 28 days, the Dept would not simply turn them out. They would probably point the person to one of the other organisations, such as the Red Cross.)
“I guess you reject some people wanting a bed?”
“Occasionally, if they haven’t tried to meet the conditions.”
“What if someone can’t visit the Dept? What if they have a medical condition that prevents them from queuing?”
“People don’t have to visit. They can ring us and we will find a bed for them.” (
Also, the applicants visiting don’t have to stand while they queue.They are given a number and they can sit on any of the comfortable couches and chairs provided. The place is air conditioned.)

This scribe has to conclude that the infallible Mr B is right yet again: even if 1% of the people asking the Dept of Family Services for a bed for the night are unfairly rejected, that still doesn’t explain why there are so many people sleeping in shop fronts and under bridges. The vast majority of those sleepers would most likely find temporary accommodation too stressful or too isolating.

And, we can’t “kidnap” the homeless and force them into accommodation each night.

Some grasshoppers suggested that the government should supply each applicant with a free bed for the night, in their own room, whenever they want, without any conditions. Holy Moly. (And all supposedly paid for by the amount we would save by not paying for the Department’s bureacracy.)

In short, I’m with Mr B. Let’s not blame the government or society for the homeless people we see sleeping in the streets. Let’s, for a change, not make the government a scapegoat.

I also subscribe to Mr B’s demand that we double the Medicare levy from 2% to 4%, to improve the lives of ALL mentally ill people and their family carers. And for research into mental illness. He is a brilliant man, that Mr B.

4. It should be noted that the Dept of Family Services also places people into permanent housing. Mr B tells me that when he was working in the Dept there was a ten year waiting list for applicants, but urgent cases (the mentally ill, the disabled, the vulnerable) could jump the queue and have a place in weeks when a place became available.

Many people are rejected for a variety of reasons. (Their income might be too high, for example, or they might have pets.) If it were too easy to get cheap, government subsidised accommodation, then many underserving people would apply and get it, and the taxpayer would suffer.

If the mentally ill have access to permanent public housing, why do some sleep in a shopfront? They do so because sometimes a person’s mental illness prevents them from staying in the home they have been given. They find it too stressful or too isolating, or too difficult.

An example of public housing.

5. Mr B explained the difference between emotional beliefs, rational beliefs, and irrational beliefs. He said that most of us have beliefs that are so important to us that we will vehemently defend them, even though a disinterested onlooker would readily see the flaws in our beliefs. People who are otherwise sensible might believe in astrology, or that some peoples are inferior, or that we shouldn’t have sex before marriage, or that they themselves are worthless . . .  Their beliefs are so strong, nothing will change their mind.

We all have such beliefs, said Mr B, and it’s our job to become aware of them, because some of them are disabling us. We can keep the healthy emotional beliefs and ditch the disabling ones. When we become aware of our disabling emotional beliefs we can reduce their influence upon us.

He listed six questions we need to ask of each of our beliefs if we want to know if they are emotional beliefs.

Q1. What evidence would change your mind?  (If you can’t think of anything that would change your mind, your belief is an emotional belief.)

Q2. If someone challenges your belief do you immediately try to prove that person wrong?

Q3. Do you become irritaated when your belief is challenged?

Q4. Do you tend to “misunderstand” the question by going off at a tangent? Do you start to argue about another related matter that feels safer, or you’re more confident about?

Q5. Are you a victim of Confirmation Bias? Do you clasp tightly to evidence that supports your belief, and ignore evidence that contradicts it?

Q6. Do you “just know” that it’s true?

Have you discovered that your belief is an emotional belief? Is it disabling you in some way? Do you choose to keep that belief, or will you one day let it go, when you are ready? Will you let that belief influence you when it’s time to make a decision?

6. Mr B has informed me that this coming Sunday and the Sunday after, he won’t be appearing at Speakers’ Corner. He has chosen to have his wisdom teeth put back in. It’s an awkward operation and he will need time to recover.

7.  Other subjects discussed:
– The meaning of the term ‘cognitive dissonance’.

– Are you condoning live animal exports when you vote for Labor or the Liberals, given that neither party chooses to ban it? Even if you vote for the Greens, does our preferential system of counting votes mean that you’ll end up voting for Labor or Liberal anyway, which means you will still be condoning live animal exports?

– In the tiny town of Swifts Creek in Victoria. a 95 year old woman has had her licence taken from her. Now, to get to Bairnsdale she has to catch a bus. But the bus driver doesn’t pick her up at the bus stop. Instead, he drives to her door and picks her up from there! And, he drops her off at her door when she catches the bus home!
That’s what it can be like in the country.

– Robert Nozick posed the following thought experiment.
You have a choice:
a) to continue to live your life as you are doing now, or
b) you can be put into a deep sleep and dream a long and wonderful life. You dream that your family grow up happy and well. Every book you read is superb. Every film you watch enriches you. You do whatever you want anywhere in the world, and you enjoy it and succceed. You dream an amazing life, and it all seems real. You will have no idea that you are dreaming. You die at a very old age satisfied that you have lived a rich and loving and interesting life. It’s a bit like ‘The Matrix’, but much, much better.

Robert Nozick found that most people chose Option A. When Mr B asked his grasshoppers to choose, he got the same result. We discussed the reasons why most people choose to forgo the experience of living a wonderful life, and choose Option A instead.

8.  No one leaves a comment on this blog, so if you want to read irate comments go to our Facebook page.

Nix and Gerber create these extraordinary models.





News for Speakers’ Corner, Sunday, 8th April

In News for Speakers' Corner on April 9, 2018 at 2:33 pm

“Sure there have been injuries and deaths in boxing, but none of them serious.” 
Alan Minter, Boxer.

1. Lost some keys at Speakers’ Corner? Ring Steve: 97135780

Have you lost some keys?

2. If you look at the video of Webster you’ll find his listeners sitting on the grass quietly listening to every word he says. No interruptions, no absurd questions, no arguments. He received the occasional heckle that give him the opportunity to soar to even greater heights.

Fast forward to today and it’s a farce.

How would Webster have handled Mirko? How would he deal with Uncle Pete? And Mark the Grinner? Peter the Younger? Laurence? Tony? Answer: he would be out of his depth, the same way Mr B is out of his depth. Speaking at Speakers’ Corner today is like trying to talk sense into a flock of budgerigars. Constant squawking interrupts every syllable.

Poor Tommy got the same treatment when he got up onto the Ladder of Knowledge to say a few words, as did Mirko. Though when Mirko gets up, he is the budgerigar.

3. Mr B made some extraordinary claims about homelessness. He said that if you need a meal in Sydney there are plenty of places you can get one. If you want a bed to sleep in at night, there will be one for you if you go to the Department of Family and Community Services in the morning. “The only people who sleep under bridges are those who do so by choice,” said Mr B, “or they are too mentally ill to be able to take advantage of the services.”

Your sceptical scribe doubted Mr B, so this morning I visited the Department of Family and Community Services, Chalmers Street, Strawberry Hills. I got there when it opened at 9am, was at the back of the queue, and received assistance at 10am. The staff member verified that yes, anyone who visits the office will be given accommodation for one to two nights. To get more nights they have to take steps towards getting long term accommodation. That means, provided a person is in some way aiming to get proper long term accommodation, they will be given a bed to sleep in every night of the year.

“What about young people?” I asked. “Why are they sleeping in the streets?”
She answered, “Choice?”
“So you would find accommodation for them if they came here?”
“So, anyone who has the capacity to front up here and then find the hotel room given to them, will have a bed to sleep in at night?”  
“Yes. We even have the beginnings of an outreach program. We go looking for people and we offer them a bed.”
“Do you have interpreter services?”
“Do the applicants have to meet any conditions?”
“Yes. They need to provide some proof that they have some form of income, such as a Centrelink payment or a pension.”
“What if they don’t have that proof?”
“We help them get the documents they need.”
“You said they have to take steps towards getting long term accommodation . . .”
“We help them with that too. We can walk them through each step, we can write the letters they need, we can point them to where accommodation is advertised . . .”
“So unless someone is too mentally ill to be able to come here, no one really needs to sleep under a bridge?”
“I believe we do a good job.”

Your doubting scribe has to reluctantly doubt no more and admit Mr B was right. But, he is right only with regards to Sydney (and other capital cities, presumably). As one grasshopper pointed out, there won’t be those services in country towns.

This postcard is from the Postsecret site.

From the Postsecret site.

4.  The government and the media keep saying how important it is to have an electricity grid that won’t allow blackouts. Mr B wanted to know, “What’s wrong with the occasional blackout? Why not endure the occasional blackout and save ourselves the expense of another power station, and save a lot of coal from being burned?” Eight grasshoppers put up their hands to tell him why.

5. Mr B likes infinity,
and he plugged that topic again today. The philosopher José Bernardete asks us to imagine a building with an infinite number of storeys. The second storey is half the height of the first. The third is half the height of the second. And so on. Result: an infinite number of storeys will be no higher than two storeys. Here is the question: Can that building have a roof?

We also examined (briefly) Thompson’s Lamp, a thought experiment devised by James F Thompson. You are to conduct this experiment for precisely one minute. For the first 30 seconds you have his lamp switched on. For the next 15 seconds you have it off. Then you switch it on for 7.5 seconds . . . and so on. Ignoring the barriers physics might present, and whether or not the lamp was made in China, the question is asked: when the one minute is up, is the lamp off or on?

Unfortunately, the discussion came to a quick halt when Peter the Younger said, “There might be a blackout.”

6. Tommy spoke about our inherent purpose. He claims that we, unlike other animals, can influence one another, and that’s our purpose in life: to influence one another and be acknowledged for it. That’s why so many of us crave to be celebrities, war mongers, or to be famous in other ways. One grasshopper challenged him, saying that we can’t remember who invented the wheel, and that there are plenty of people who don’t crave the limelight.7. In 1956 an electrode was placed in a rat’s brain so that every time the rat pressed a lever the pleasure centre of its brain received a mild electrical current, for one second. It enjoyed the experience so much it pressed the lever 5,000 times per hour and ignored its food. Many rats were tested; some pressed the lever 2,000 times per hour for four consecutive hours. The rat exhausted itself pulling the lever, and had to be force-fed, otherwise it would have died of starvation.

In 1972 a man underwent an experiment similar to that which the rats enjoyed. He was permitted to wear the device for three hours at a time. On one occasion he pressed the button 1,200 times, on another occasion 1,500 times, and on a third occasion 900 times. Each time the unit was taken from him he pleaded for permission to press the button just a few more times.

These two experiments were found in an article by Dr. Robert G. Heath. Pleasure And Brain Activity in Man, and in The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease. Volume 154, No 1. USA. The Williams & Wilkins Co.)

8. Last week Mr B claimed that nothing can go faster than the speed of light. Uncle Pete objected today, saying that nothing material can go faster than the speed of light. He gave two examples: one was unintelligible to this befuddled scribe (it had something to do with the angle a perpendicular ruler makes when it falls to the table.) The second example: tachyons.

Here is a photograph of a tachyon magnified 1 billion times:


9. Other topics discussed:
– The meaning of the term ‘cognitive dissonance‘.  That’s another cheesecake you can bring in with you, Helmut.

– Mirko spoke about his better design of the bicycle. When he was asked if the new motorised bicycles would make his bicycle obsolete he replied ‘No, because everyone is stealing the five hundred dollar batteries in those motorised bicycles.” There, you have it.

– Helmut spoke about soapbox speakers of the past. (They were the lucky ones, remember, who didn’t have a Mirko to deal with.) Helmut then patiently explained to us how Sir Isaac Newton derailed science and sent it backwards three hundred years. Presumably, that means that if Sir Isaac Newton had not been born we would be three hundred years more advanced. We would have colonised the solar system by now, and we’d have cheap fusion power. Bloody Isaac Newton. No wonder Helmut is so scathing of him.

– Who wants to be identified as an atheist?  Do we need to know the derivation of the word to know what an atheist is?

– Can anyone truly be altruistic?

– Should we set goals? Or simply go out and do it?

10. This Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher has subscribed to our Facebook page.

Oriental dwarf kingfisher


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