Dec 31, 2007

where we were

Mount Adams.

Well, as close as we could get without traction tires.

The wife, I, and a portion of the inlaws spent a couple days near Trout Lake, long enough to enjoy fresh snow and an outstanding view of the Lesser Rainier, but not long enough to get trapped for the winter.


I'll post photos as soon as I can. This morning, the air was clear and crisp, and the mountain especially photogenic.

Update: Photos here.

Dec 28, 2007

choosing Olympia's Person of the Year

OlyBlog's Guglielmo has the scoop:
Every year, Time Magazine exercises its privilege to name the "Person of the Year." Hitler, Stalin, the computer, Bill Clinton, and even "You" have been persons of the year. Who is your candidate for the hyperlocal person of the year? No arguments please, just names and the reason they deserve the recognition.
You have to go over there and log in if you want your vote to count.

Unofficially, I'll second Rob Richards' nomination of the folks running Camp Quixote. Even the curmudgeonly Olympian has changed its heart on this one.

First runner-up: Emmett O'Connell. The man is passionate about politics because he's passionate about people.

Second runner-up: Sarah of OlyBlog. She often links here, and for that, she's awesome.

defining "acquisition" in the nuclear weapons resolution

A reader writes,
Throughout my researching of this topic I have a found a sticky issue that may be extremely important in the debate round for this resolution. Needless to say I would like some help in "resolving" this issue.


How have you defined the term "Acquisition"?

Does it entail something newly acquired, or just further acquisition by states that already have them?

Also, can "acquisition of nuclear weapons" be interpreted to mean the acquisition of knowledge or specifications to build nuclear weapons?
Great questions.

It's helpful to consider the dictionary definition of acquisition: "the act of acquiring or gaining possession." (All the other options are, as far as I can see, semantically indistinct.) Acquisition is the act of acquiring. So, what does it mean to acquire?
1. to come into possession or ownership of; get as one's own: to acquire property.
2. to gain for oneself through one's actions or efforts: to acquire learning.
If both are valid, then the resolution allows interfering in a nation's efforts to beg, borrow, steal, or purchase nuclear weapons, and in a nation's efforts to build its own nuclear weapons. (Note that these processes aren't necessarily exclusive; South Africa, for example, borrowed nuclear know-how from Israel when developing its nuclear program, but used only South African nationals, equipment, and material when building the actual weapons.)

So, let's examine each successive question in turn.

1. The resolution could be fairly read to imply that the nation in question doesn't already have nuclear weapons--but it's only an implication, not a narrow reading. A negative might argue that since the resolution doesn't explicitly rule out attacking a nation that already possesses nukes, then the risks of preemption are multiplied.

2. The resolution clearly states, "to prevent the acquisition of nuclear weapons." If, using definition #2 above, this includes a nation's own efforts to build a bomb, then preventing such an effort might require disruption at any point in the process--whether in the planning, building, testing, or deployment phase. The word "prevent" here is key.

The Sports Gal is living proof

Filling in for The Sports Guy, his wife does an admirable job explaining why betting on sports is foolish.
Don't get me wrong, I knew what I was in for when I married him. Still, it's been nice to trounce him this season and humiliate him on a famous sports Web site. Even though he claims that this was the point of our ongoing picks experiment -- "the more you know, the less you know" -- I say he's lying through his teeth and he'd much rather be the one who is 23 games over 50/50. What kills him is that he knows how little thought I put into my picks. Here, watch. I'll take you through my picks process and "think out loud." I looked at each game, jotted down my thoughts and quickly made the pick, then expanded them for each pick after the fact.

If I didn't make it clear enough, I never spend more than 90 seconds total on my picks.
Just to prove the point, here's her rationale for picking the Bengals over the Dolphins:
If it's an all-animal matchup, I always try to weigh that accordingly. Dolphins are cuddly and nice. I don't understand why any NFL team would wear aqua blue unis and call itself "The Dolphins," then not expect to get its butt kicked. They should go with the Spearfishers. I would have taken them if they were the Spearfishers.
Remember, she could lose every pick this last week, and still finish ahead of Bill.

Don't bet on sports.

Dec 27, 2007

your legislature, hard at work: part I

For interested Washington State residents, I've compiled a list of passed educational House bills, big and small, from the 2007 session. There were more than I remembered.

up in the House

What the legislature wrought, 2007 education edition. Government sure didn't shrink any over the session.

educational legislation: 2007 House Bills in review

In 2007, regional media types paid all kinds of attention to the fate of various Washington State educational laws. Joint Resolution 4204, which passed by a Gregoire-thin margin to allow simple majorities for levies, was probably the best-known, while HB 2079 was the most controversial. But lots more were passed. Here are the highlights from the House's year in educational legislation. (I've focused on the elementary and secondary level, with a few postsecondary bills thrown in there as they relate to high school instruction. If I've missed one, let me know.)

Kevin's Law: ESHB 1050
IEP students must be allowed to walk in a grad ceremony with their peers, even if all they receive at the time is a "Certificate of Attendance."

Completing High School at a Community College: HB 1051
The most concise summary comes from Governor Gregoire's partial veto:
Sections 1 through 8 of this bill provide for the development of two pilot programs at community or technical colleges. The programs are intended to support certain students as they work to meet the State's academic standards in reading, writing, mathematics or science. For these students, demonstrating proficiency in one or more of these subjects is the final step in meeting their high school graduation requirements and obtaining a high school diploma. The legislation outlines the student eligibility and program criteria, authorizes the financial support, waives student tuition and fees, and provides for a study of the program's results in two years' time.

Section 9 of the bill creates and recognizes a new state certificate for high school students who do not meet the requirements for a high school diploma, the Certificate of Academic Completion (Certificate). The Certificate may be conferred by school districts to students who meet all state and local requirements for graduation with the exception of passage of one or more of the high school assessments in reading, writing and mathematics. Our students are working very hard to achieve the skills necessary for success in their endeavors beyond high school. By creating the Certificate of Academic Completion we will be sending a message to these students that they do not need basic skills required for the high school diploma. This is wrong.

Get Students Involved: HB 1052
This little bill provides greater access for middle and high school students to the Legislative Advisory Council, plus grants for students to participate in civic education competitions such as Model UN.

Postsecondary Opportunities: HB 1096
Globalization, according to the legislature, requires need-based grants for workers to gain certification or skills training in "high demand occupations" from community or technical colleges.

Book Savings For All: HB 1224
Community colleges were added to the ranks of institutions that must pursue policies that keep book and material costs down, or, at the very least, make options and alternatives publicly known.

Cash for Computers: HB 1280
If I understand this correctly, this bill allows districts to pay for major technology upgrades out of existing "capital projects" levies, instead of having to run a special techno-levy. (Another minor bill, HB 2357, would allow districts to use timber money for capital projects, too.)

Service Credit for ESAs: HB 1432
Might as well quote the bill itself:
Beginning in the 2007-08 school year, the calculation of years of service for occupational therapists, physical therapists, speech-language pathologists, audiologists, nurses, social workers, counselors, and psychologists regulated under Title 18 RCW may include experience in schools and other nonschool positions as occupational therapists, physical therapists, speech-language pathologists, audiologists, nurses, social workers, counselors, or psychologists. The calculation shall be that one year of service in a nonschool position counts as one year of service for purposes of this chapter, up to a limit of two years of nonschool service.
It's only for the salary schedule; retirement counts only school service.

Dealing With the Dropout Problem: HB 1573
Sections 1 through 7 of this bill provide for the development and implementation of a grant program that, through collaborative school district, family and community partnerships and services, support vulnerable students who are at risk of dropping out of middle or high school. The grant program will be called the Building Bridges Program.
This is perhaps the most ambitious attempt the state has made at reducing the dropout rate. I still see this as the problem at the high school level, come low or high WASL.

Defining a Counselor: HB 1670
Up until this year, for all legal intents and purposes, school counselors didn't exist. Now they do.

Agency Shop Fees Clarified: HB 2079
10 + 10 - 10 = 10. Now, which 10 is left? This bill says: not yours, shop fee payer, that the Supreme Court may be mollified. Whew. That was a dire emergency.

Add a Little Spice: HB 2154
Now ESD board members will come up for election in odd, rather than even, years. That oughtta bring out the vote.

Bonus Bonus: HB 2262
Become certified by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, collect $5,000--or more, if you teach in an impoverished district. For me, this was the incentive that tipped the scales away from ProCert to NBPTS. Apparently, a lot of other teachers feel the same way.

Investing in the Common Schools: HB 2396
On the same day she signed the Rainy Day Fund into law, Gregoire also allowed the state to invest its permanent common school fund in equities, in hopes that it would earn at a rate at least equal to inflation.

Killing Gainsharing: HB 2391
On that same day, gainsharing died, and teachers mourned.

Let's Have a Poet Laureate: HB 1279
Why not? By the way, it's Samuel Green.

top twelve posts of 2007

It's the end of December, time for self-evaluation and top ten lists. Why not combine the two? Here are the 12 best decorabilia moments of 2007, as chosen by yours truly. As far as I can tell, there's no obvious pattern in my choices. Maybe that's the pattern.

January: when the truth isn't true enough: We Are Marshall
Apparently this season's WAM is "The Great Debaters."

February: I choose Jesus
Word is, it made my mom laugh.

March: least realistic movie about gangs spurs attempt to reduce real gang violence
Sometimes bloggers are criticized for criticizing, rather than digging up, the news. But some stories should just stay buried.

April: new wine in old wineskins
I'm still not settled on an opinion.

May: you shall know them by their decorabilia
That about sums up my life philosophy.

June: Walt Whitman, idiot?

July: cuffing the language police
We don't have to lose friends over grammar.

August: virtual morality, virtual ontology
In which I map out the Canny Valley of Intelligent Design.

September: Brian Baird comes to CHS: a decorabilia liveblog exclusive
The media event of the school year so far.

October: dream trio with tacky tie duet
The title is self-explanatory, mostly.

November: "blue ghost" spooks the stupid
Sad. Truly sad.

December: how to debate without sounding like a jerk
Note to self: practice what you preach.

Update: Mark Olson lists his most-commented-upon top 12.

compliment a zebra day

Update: C'mon, people. We can do better. Get on over and gab for a good cause.

Via T/R/P, a unique opportunity: compliment a referee to raise cash for a good cause.
Welcome to the first ever Say Something Nice About a Ref for Charity Day (a.k.a. Buck-A-Comment Day). For every comment made up to 250 (save the abusive ones), I will donate a dollar to the Special Olympics in my home state. In addition to that, whichever comment is determined to be the best comment of the day will get to select where a matching batch of cash (up to $250) goes, provided it is a 501(c)3 charity.

What should you say?

Well, anything, pretty much. Talk about officials in general (i.e. “Gee, it’s a hard job”). Talk about a specific official (i.e. “Gosh, Ed Hochuli sure has nice guns.”) Talk about a cool call that you like (i.e. “Wow, the replay showed he was in-bounds.”) Hell, I’ll even take a left-handed compliment (i.e. “Huh! You don’t suck so bad.”) Just stop for a second and say something that isn’t utterly abusive. My standards are quite low.
Join me and say something nice about a ref, an umpire, a line judge, a timekeeper. You don't even have to give anything out of your own pocket.


Dec 26, 2007

the Platonic planet

Not your usual rocket ship cockpit banter:
"You know, Captain, every year of my life, I become more and more convinced that the wisest and the best is to focus our attention on the good and the beautiful, if we just take the time to look at it."
God bless you, Phantom Planet.

Added: Here. 3:30 in. God bless you, YouTube.

"S" stands for idiot

John A. Davison, step aside. Salvador Cordova, front and center.
The reason I would discourage Atheists from wearing of the scarlet letter “A” is that some Atheists are such bad apples, the bad atheists have given even the good atheists a bad reputation. These bad apples have caused the general public to form a stereotype in their mind that atheists are mean-spiritied amoral people like Madeline Murry O’Hair. O’Hair regularly courted criminals as her cronies and was punished by God through cruel death. But I know for a fact there are many atheists I would have no problem offering praise for and befriending….

However the fact remains, many associate “Atheist” with the likes of O’Hair and PZ Myers. Thus, it is easy to suppose that “A” doesn’t stand for atheist, but rather for Rectum. I would therefore encourage my dear atheist friends from wearing the “A” as people might perceive them not as atheists but rather as rectums.
It's filed under "Humor," and funny for all the wrong reasons.

[via PZ]

gotta take the good with the bad

Good: Shaun of the Dead, especially in tandem with Hot Fuzz. I had forgotten scenes that tie the two together in a brilliant, brilliant way. Thanks to my wife, to Christmas, and to British humor everywhere.

Bad: Sinus infection.

Bad: Alexander Graham Bell might have been a patent-peeking hack.

Good-Bad: The NFL and its eponymous network have caved, and will let nonsubscribers watch the Patriots' first-rate second string against the Giants' second-rate second string in a potentially history-making matchup. Yay!

Bad-Bad: Aliens Vs. Predator: Requiem. Does a non-sequel sequel require a sequel? No. It does not.

Jim Romenesko, man of many flavors

I've visited media watchdog Jim Romenesko's Obscure Store for several years now, and read Starbucks Gossip now and then. Today's interview in the Times reveals the man behind the mavenry:
Q: How serious is your coffee habit, and how much of it is satisfied at Starbucks?

A: I only drink drip coffee. I start the day with a cup at home — I roast my own beans with a mini-roaster at home — then head to my neighborhood Starbucks in Evanston. I'm there by 6 a.m. From there, I move to an independent coffee shop with free Wi-Fi and I'll nurse a personal cup. By the end of the day, I've probably had a half-dozen cups.

Dec 25, 2007

'twas the season / 'tis the season

Jayson Stark runs down the numbers on some pretty improbable occurrences that all took place in one marvelous baseball season. My favorite:
Happy Halladays Dept.: Roy Halladay knocked off a four-start stretch in August and September in which his innings pitched went: 9, 8, 9 and 8. Just as we all expected, he came out of that with two complete games. Just as nobody expected, neither of the nine-inning starts counted as a CG, because they both went extra innings. But he did get complete games out of the two eight-inning starts because they were both losses on the road. Go figure.
Happy Halladays, indeed.

Or, as some might say, merry Christmas and a happy new year, to you, yours, and everyone else who wants 'em.

Dec 24, 2007

do I amuse you?

If you wonder why some guys are funny, and other guys not so much: blame testosterone.
For the doc­tor, Sam Shus­ter of New­cas­tle Un­ivers­ity, U.K., uni­cy­cling be­gan as a hob­by. But it be­came a study of hu­man na­ture as he wheeled about lo­cal streets and no­ticed the mul­ti­tudes of jokes he sparked—of­ten lame and pre­dict­a­ble, he said, and usu­ally from men. Guess­ing this might re­flect a bi­o­log­i­cal phe­nom­e­non, he pro­ceeded in a year-long in­ves­ti­ga­t­ion to doc­u­ment over 400 peo­ple’s re­ac­tions to his one-wheeled jaunts.

Over 90 per­cent re­sponded phys­ic­ally, he found, such as with ex­ag­ger­at­ed stares or waves. Al­most half re­sponded ver­bal­ly—more men than wom­en. He­re, said Shus­ter, sex dif­fer­ences emerged in force: 95 per­cent of adult wom­en praised, en­cour­aged or showed con­cern, while men in­stead un­leashed of­ten-snide jokes 75 per­cent of the time. Equally strik­ing, he said, was the jokes’ re­pet­i­tive­ness. Two thirds re­ferred to the num­ber of wheels, such as “lost your wheel?”

One of the most con­spic­u­ous find­ings, to Shus­ter, was the way the male re­sponse changed with age.

It started with cu­ri­os­ity in child­hood, years 5 through 12—the same re­ac­tion as young girls. But around the ages of 11 to 13, boys’ re­sponses de­gen­er­ated in­to phys­ical and ver­bal ag­gres­sion, Shus­ter found; these scamps in fact of­ten tried to get him to fall. Re­sponses be­came more ver­bal dur­ing the lat­er teens, turn­ing in­to mock­ing jests or songs, Shus­ter re­ported. This lat­er evolved in­to adult male hu­mor, char­ac­ter­ized by put-downs that Shus­ter as­cribed to la­tent ag­gres­sion. Par­tic­u­larly pug­na­cious re­marks, he said, came from young male mo­torists at the ages of peak viril­ity.

But the com­bat­ive­ness waned as life wore on, Shus­ter found: old­er men gave more neu­tral or friendly re­marks.
Anyone who watched Goodfellas or The Sopranos for more than an hour would soon figure out that much male humor, if not more, isn't just gut-busting, but (to put it bluntly) ball-breaking.

Canada's greatest jazz pianist dead at 82

Oscar Peterson: how to describe his style? Smooth, svelte, and speedy over the keys, with a penchant for hitting just the right note, turning just the right chords, in an approachable yet brilliant way. He could bend around a chord progression twenty times in twenty seconds, and never once slip out of sync.

Oscar wasn't a path-breaking genius, but a classic jazz showman. He lived music, even to the end. He will be missed.

Dec 23, 2007

divorced from context?

A while back, my brother linked, without comment, to this Christianity Today piece on divorce by David Instone-Brewer. The author addresses Jesus's and Paul's teachings on one of the most contentious of theological issues, focusing in particular on Matthew 19:3-12, where Jesus seems to flatly condemn divorce except in cases of "marital unfaithfulness." Instone-Brewer describes an ivory-tower epiphany:
But does the literal text mean what we think it does? While doing doctoral studies at Cambridge, I likely read every surviving writing of the rabbis of Jesus' time. I "got inside their heads" enough to begin to understand them. When I began working as a pastor and was confronted almost immediately with divorced men and women who wanted to remarry, my first response was to re-read the Bible. I'd read the biblical texts on divorce many times in the past, but I found something strange as I did so again. They now said something I hadn't heard before I read the rabbis!

The texts hadn't changed, but my knowledge of the language and culture in which they were written had. I was now reading them like a first-century Jew would have read them, and this time those confusing passages made more sense.
Instone-Brewer's article is worth reading in full, not only for its fascinating and defense of a liberal view of divorce, but because it brings to light a hermeneutic crisis.

Look at Instone-Brewer's summary of his thought process:
Reading the Bible and ancient Jewish documents side-by-side helped me understand much more of the Bible's teaching about divorce and marriage, not all of which I can summarize here. Dusty scraps of parchment rescued from synagogue rubbish rooms, desert caves, and neglected scholarly collections shone fresh light on the New Testament. Theologians who have long felt that divorce should be allowed for abuse and abandonment may be vindicated. And, more importantly, victims of broken marriages can see that God's law is both practical and loving.
And compare some of his readers' responses:
Alain Maashe
[W]hat David Instone-Brewer proposes goes beyond illumination of the text and turns into an exercise of reading between the line and mind reading well beyond what is revealed by the text itself. He lacks internal evidences to cast the exchange that Jesus had with his audience against the proposed background. Even if one grants the distinction between "divorce for 'any cause,'" and "divorce for any cause" that he proposes, his reading of the text still does not account the very negative reaction of the disciples in Matthew 19:10 "If the relationship of the man with his wife is like this, it is better not to marry." (a passage conveniently ignored).The response of Christ also confirms the difficulty of the teaching and the fact that only few will accept it. Why would the disciples react like that if there still remained a variety of reasons to divorce?

L. James Tieszen
The exegetical technique used here is dreadful. Non-biblical ancient documents should be used to help us understand the words of the text. But, non-biblical ancient documents must not be used to change what the text actually says. Jesus allowed only adultery to be used as as a legitimate reason for divorce. To make decisions about how Jesus was interacting with the customs of his day is an attempt at mind reading and results in guesswork. How dare we reframe the meaning of Jesus' words with guesswork.

Following Mark Galli's 9/7 piece "A Hidden Treasure" about how "there's a divine reason" that the church mirrors our culture's depravity, this furthers CT's sad trend toward unbiblical "scholarship" masquerading as Truth. First, I'm confused how the man-made opinions of rabbis in Jesus' day are relevant to the question of what the BIBLE teaches about divorce! Clearly, Ex 21:1-11 has no bearing at all on modern divorce/remarriage and in no way justifies the author's "abuse and neglect" exemption. Moreover, 1 Cor 7:10-11 says "the wife should not leave her husband (but if she does leave, she must remain unmarried ... and that the husband should not divorce his wife." Paul goes on to write that if one has an unbelieving husband/wife who "consents to live with" him/her, then he/she cannot initiate a divorce. Where are the supposed exceptions? "What therefore God has joined together, let no MAN separate" (Matt 19:6). This is another misguided attempt to rend Scripture to suit the culture.

God hates divorce is a good and clear statement and all christian couples need to obey this command. Finding clauses to excuse one's behaviour is a cop out. God is the final judge.

Eric P.
It is a real shame that people continue to twist the word of God into supporting their own man-made theories. What do you mean the early Church "forgot" what Jesus' teaching were on divorce? I take this to be a denial of the Holy Spirit working in the early church.

You haven't really let the text speak for itself within the whole of Scripture. (Mark 10:11-12 and Luke 16:18.) Certainly separation is necessary for anyone whose safety is in danger--divorce and remarriage are difficult, I would say impossible, to justify with the Lord's words.

Don't want to be unfair, but it does seem the Rev. Instone-Brewer is parsing the words of Jesus in the same way he says the Hillelites were parsing the words of Moses. His argument is an evasion of what Christians have generally understood is the plain meaning of Christ's teaching on marriage. That the early Christians forgot the true teaching of Christ on something as central to life as marriage, and that this was finally cleared up two thousand years later by a scholar "doing doctoral studies at Cambridge" is a cause for wonder. The social chaos in today's society is clearly tied to the breakup of the family. As sincere as Rev. Instone-Brewer is in attempting to reaffirm marriage, his effort falls short.

I suppose that I should not be so frequently astounded when "scholars" discover (by means of the most obscure sources) that the Bible "teaches" exactly that which the contemporary world wants to hear.

Thanks for pointing out the continuity of Bible/OT-NT! The Bible really is it's own interpreter.

Lance E
The Author needs to do some praying and more studying. While a person may at anytime and for any reason get a secular divorce, they remain married until death or sexual infidelity. But, one won't know this without spiritual revelation. (It is in the scriptures)
The diversity of critiques is fascinating. Instone-Brewer is attacked from all angles: mind-reading, cherry-picking, context-ripping, missing "plain meaning," echoing the wider culture, daring to use outside sources, and, perhaps most pointedly, failing to pray enough.

So: who's right, if anyone? Do we have to put ourselves in a 1st-century mindset to properly understand the Bible? Is that practical, or even feasible?

Sidebar: Ever since words first stained a page, humans have pored over texts for authoritative answers to life's big questions. Now that the tyranny of texts is waning, and the power of Google is waxing, what will be the first Internet-based religion? (And no, a parody like Flying Spaghetti Monsterism doesn't count.)

I'm glad we cleared that up

First we have to overcome the ambiguities in language.
I was recently contemplating how ambiguous English is — though I imagine this is true in large measure of all commonly spoken human languages — and I was reminded of this cool example. Take the word "and"; surely that must be about as clear as it gets. It isn't used figuratively; it doesn't have slang meanings; it's eminently concrete and functional.

Then think about the phrases "I like coffee and tea" and "I like whiskey and soda." How can English speakers even function? And yet we generally manage just fine.
Context is supposed to provide the decision rule, but what about an ambiguous context? Consider:
I like iced tea and lemonade.
Does this person like iced tea and lemonade separately, or are they a fan of an Arnold Palmer? (Perhaps we risk a "Surely you're joking, Mr. Feynman" moment if we screw it up.)

And then we have to pray we didn't make any mistakes.
IN FEBRUARY 2007, 12 F-22 Raptors, the US air force's new stealth fighters, left Hickam Air Force Base in Hawaii, bound for Okinawa, Japan, on the high-tech planes' first overseas outing. Things went smoothly until they reached the 180th meridian - otherwise known as the International Date Line.

Some of the pilots suddenly found themselves without any navigation aids. With nothing to tell them their compass heading or even whether they were level or not, it was as if the pilots had been instantaneously transported from the cockpit of the world's most advanced aircraft into one dating from the first world war.

Fortunately the skies were clear, so the squadron did an about-face and was able to follow its in-flight refuelling tankers back to Hickam.

The error was diagnosed as a problem with a "partial line of code" that had pitched the planes' computers into an infinite loop of trying and failing to calculate their position while dealing with an unexpected date. A fix was issued, and three weeks later the planes made their trip to Japan without a hitch.

"Reliance on electronics has changed the flight-test process," says Donald Shepperd, once head of the US Air National Guard. "It used to be tails falling off, now it's typos that ground a fighter."
Or, to paraphrase Clemenceau, war is too important to be left to the programmers.

Dec 22, 2007

ethical pluralism as a consequence of experimental philosophy

D. A. Ridgely, upon reading a recent Times piece on the subject, initially declared experimental philosophy "silly," later qualifying:
Without belaboring the matter further for now, I have to say that nothing I have read so far leads me to retract my former, admittedly somewhat hasty use of the term “silly” to describe experimental philosophy. I still think it is all to the good that philosophers might do better at confronting their prejudices and the extent to which their supposedly competent, careful and even “robust” intuitions may differ significantly from those of ordinarily (merely?) competent speakers. Beyond that, however, the notion that research regarding the latter’s intuitions does any more than cast doubt on the reliability of the more ‘robust’ and thus decidedly non-ordinary intuitions of academic philosophers is, no pun intended, ill conceived.
Read the comments, where readers attempt to disabuse Ridgely of the notion.

I had intended to weigh in earlier, but more pressing concerns arose. Then, while checking out the always-useful Online Papers in Philosophy, I came across this paper [pdf] by X-philosophers on the grounding of moral intuitions and moral theories. Ultimately, the writers argue that established neural differences in moral reasoning might compel us to adopt ethical pluralism:
What we are arguing is this: our best understanding of the psychological facts indicates that moral judgment is accomplished by multiple systems that sometimes yield conflicting outputs, and consequently we are likely to be stuck with multiple moral theories that sometimes yield conflicting judgments. As a psychological phenomenon, we should expect this conflict to play out not only between individuals, but also within the minds of individuals. As a practical matter we suggest that our efforts are best directed toward perfecting individual theories rather than choosing between them, and that we should also recognize the dilemma as a distinct class of moral problem that has multiple answers.
The authors appeal to analogy: just as a rapper doesn't try to become a better beat poet, neither should a consequentialist try to join the deontological ranks. Both systems have their places, and the dilemmas faced by each are essentially intractable.

The argument, if I'm reading it correctly, essentially takes a different route to a conclusion have already made [pdf].

Is it silly? No. Warranted? Maybe. But it's certainly interesting.

Dec 21, 2007

weird questions to ask about Jesus

1. What are the most-played indy rock songs on Jesus's iPod?
2. When Jesus gets a phone call, does he say, "I'm sorry, you must be looking for the Jesus in Santa Monica?"
3. Could you imagine Jesus at a day spa?
4. Does Jesus ever get tired of people seeing him at the airport and bugging him for autographs?
5. How long does it take Jesus to finish the Sunday Times crossword?
6. Would Jesus prefer Survivorman or Man vs. Wild?
7. Has Jesus ever considered shaving off the beard?
8. When Jesus plays golf, does he ever intentionally lose?
9. Does Jesus's Camry have one of those fish on it?
10. When is Jesus going to return his overdue books?

[149th in a series]

I meant what I said, and I said what I meant

Mike Huckabee, despite his penchant for swilling "Jesus juice,"* has tried to make it clear that he's not running for "pastor of America."

Panderer-in-chief, though, is still a live option.

*His words, mind you.

church is like, cool, man

Way cool:
During what REUNION Christian Church calls its "gatherings," the pastor, Hank Wilson, proved deft at weaving in elements from pop culture without seeming trite or like he's pandering. The worship team played a Death Cab for Cutie song in between sets of contemporary praise ballads. He played a clip from Good Will Hunting to illustrate a point about intimacy. And when Wilson referenced a dated Saturday Night Live skit of Eddie Murphy channeling Buckwheat, he had a solution for all the young congregants looking lost: "YouTube it."
I suppose linking and quoting is commentary enough.

Dec 20, 2007

how to write an LD case

Disclaimers: This is a work in progress. I am only one debate coach out of thousands nationwide. My word is not gospel; if you don't like my methods, suggest your own. Shared knowledge makes for better debate. Floss daily.

There are several parts of the process of writing an effective LD case. Their order may change depending on your experience and your thinking style. However, all of them come into play at some point.

Understanding the Resolution
This is where you always have to begin: by making sense of the resolution. Your experience level, though, dictates whether you can slide over the trip to the dictionary on your way to brainstorming, or whether you want to make a dictinoary vist the beginning of your brainstorming process.

Let's say you don't understand the resolution at all. Grab a will do nicely, since it includes all kinds of definitions--and look up every important word. Or phrase, since some words shouldn't really be defined on their own.

I've made up a sample resolution for analysis.
Resolved: It is immoral to use performance-enhancing drugs in an attempt to gain athletic advantage.
"Immoral," "performance-enhancing drugs," and "athletic advantage" are crucial here. "Attempt" is included to maintain a reasonable burden of proof, so the Aff doesn't have to show that the drugs in question are successful.

Brainstorm reasons for and against the resolution. A value / criterion structure will arise out of the reasons. In other words, simply put "because..." at the end of the resolution, and think of every possible way to fill in the rest of the sentence. (At this point, if possible, it's wise to collaborate with a teammate, or check out an online resource for arguments you haven't considered.)

Draw a line down the center of a piece of paper--and on either side, write a "because..." for and against. Don't start with just an affirmative or negative position--instead, use both sides to shape your thinking.

Eventually, you might have 10-12 reasons for, say, the affirmative. What do you do with them? You have to choose either one that stands alone, strong enough to build a case around, or choose 2-3 that are united under a common value and criterion.

You have to ask, What are the big questions here? What are the assumptions underlying the resolution? Your primary questions, given this resolution, might include, What is the overall purpose of sport? Does sport have its own moral obligations, or does it fall under a larger moral system?

Where Values and Criteria Come In
The resolution contains important aims, ends, goals, or aspirations. Every "because..." promotes an implicit value, and points to a way to judge how that value can be achieved (criterion philosophy #1) or how to weigh that value against other values (criterion philosophy #2). (For my extended thoughts on criteria, see here.)

I find it useful to operate, as in other forms of persuasive writing, with a thesis at the center. Let's consider an example. If you have three reasons...
1. Drug use destroys fair play.
2. Drug use puts winning before character.
3. Drug use is a lazy, cheap route to success.
All of these could be subpoints under an overarching thesis, "It is immoral to use performance-enhancing drugs in an attempt to gain athletic advantage, because it defeats the virtuous aims of competition."

Now you have a value of morality and a criterion of virtuous competition. Since the resolution is framed in negative terms--"immoral" instead of "moral"--each subpoint will be a criterion violation. Hold on to that for now, as we talk about other potential values.

Morality. The word "immoral" gives us a strong hint that "doing the right thing" could very well be the most important aim of the resolution. "Virtue" or "Integrity" might be allied concepts here. (Health is an important aim, but since the resolution focuses on morality, health issues would have to relate to that.)

Human Dignity. Perhaps morality isn't the core value, but rather a means of protecting human dignity (and thus morality is the criterion). If drug use degrades humanity, it is immoral.

Societal Welfare Perhaps morality is a means to ensuring the good of society, and athletic drug use has effects beyond its users. This works well with a criterion of utilitarianism, ensuring the greatest good for the greatest possible number.

On the negative, we might have...

Victory. It could be argued that the goal of sport is to win; call this the "Vince Lombardi" value, after his famous admonition: "Winning isn't everything. It's the only thing."

Freedom. Athletes, it could be argued, should be free to ingest whatever substances they wish. (Freedom could also be a criterion to a value of morality--we would judge any given moral system as valid based on its respect, or lack of respect, for human freedom. This is known as libertarianism.)

Potential criteria under a value of morality:

Equality. Drugs might "level the playing field," and overcome natural inequalities such as differences in height or muscle mass. However, if everyone's doing drugs, the Aff might respond, those with natural advantages will still rise to to the top.

Entertainment. Perhaps the true role of sport is to entertain; this is either a negation of some grand moral purpose for sport, or in fact its major moral purpose: to provide joy to spectators and participants. Either way, perhaps drugs, by allowing athletes to perform at higher levels, increase the entertainment value of sport.

Consequentialism (and one form, Utilitarianism) vs. Deontology. For how these theories play out, see here.

The basic structure of an LD case
So you have some definitions of key terms, and good reasons allied under a value and criterion structure, as expressed in a thesis based on the resolution. What then? It's time to organize your ideas into a case. The following structure is strongly encouraged.

1. Introduction. Some sort of snappy quote.
2. The resolution. Cited exactly as worded.
3. Any necessary definitions. Be sure to provide sources if your definitions are controversial or counterintuitive.
4. Any resolutional analysis. Only if you need to clarify some important aspect of the resolution that helps explain the format or framework of your case.
5. Your thesis.
6. Your value.
7. Your criterion.
8. Your contentions, in order. Any applicable evidence must be properly sourced and cited.
9. Your conclusion. It works well to call back to the introduction.

Each part of the case will be numbered below in the sample.

Michel de Montaigne once said, "There are some defeats more triumphant than victories." I agree, and [1] affirm the resolution, Resolved: It is immoral to use performance-enhancing drugs in an attempt to gain athletic advantage. [2]

For clarity in the round, I offer the following definitions: "Immoral" is defined as violating principles of right conduct. "Performance-enhancing drugs" are chemicals or substances ingested to boost speed, metabolism, muscle mass, or some other biological feature relevant to "athletic advantage," which is defined as benefit or gain in the context of a sport. An example of athletic advantage might be the ability to throw a discus ten feet further, or to run a mile thirty seconds faster. [3]

Also, I offer an important resolutional analysis: the resolution, since it includes the word "attempt," does not require the affirmative to show that the drugs in question provide an actual, measurable advantage. Instead, the affirmative must show that the act of taking the drug in hopes of gaining advantage is itself immoral. [4]

My thesis: It is immoral to use performance-enhancing drugs in an attempt to gain athletic advantage, because it defeats the virtuous aims of competition. [5] Sport has many forms of worth, but its greatest benefit to its participants is the development of their character. Thus, my value is morality,[6] and my criterion is the virtuous competition. [7] Sport without a moral framework is just exercise.

Contention One: Drug use destroys fair play. [8]
One of the fundamental aspects of competition is fairness, the idea of a "level playing field." Inherent to virtuous competition is playing within the rules and abiding by referees' decisions, ensuring that both sides have, at least in theory, an equal chance of success. Although natural gifts--height, muscle mass, endurance--are inequitably distributed, there are virtuous ways to overcome the odds--and this is key--that are inherent in the competitive activity. Practice, determination, effort, on the field and in the gym. Drug use turns sport into a competition among chemists, and, mostly, a battle of bank accounts.

Contention Two: Drug use puts winning before character.
The old saw, "It's not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game," is a central axiom of virtuous competition. Drug users, by relying on chemical cocktails to improve their performance, in essence are fixing their eyes on winning above all. This has multiple effects: it makes them more likely to cheat in other instances--tripping an opponent when the ref isn't watching, knowing that the win matters above all. It could lead to boorish or selfish or even self-absorbed, limelight-hogging play. Instead of playing for the spiritual, emotional, or even physical benefits, winning becomes the only motive, and all else is sacrificed.

Contention Three: Drug use is a lazy, cheap route to success.
The most important virtue of competition comes from the challenge. By reducing the natural barrier to success, the drug abuser has to work less to achieve the same results. This not only negatively affects the individual, but harms teammates, who will be more likely to take the lazy route, and even harms society, as youth, who look up to role models, decide to imitate their indolence.

As we have seen, the aim of sport is not exercise, or fun, or even eternal glory, but the development of moral character.[9] Performance enhancing drugs, by corrupting fair play, by promoting winning above character, and by shorting the challenge, destroy the virtuous aims of competition, and thus their use is immoral. For these reasons you must vote affirmative. I now stand open for cross-examination.

(Should this or something like it ever become an actual LD topic, you might consider reading this debunking of steroids stats. Also potentially of interest: a libertarian debates in favor of PEDs.)

Dec 19, 2007

the unnamed heir of the mother of all top ten lists

[An annual tradition. Installments from 2004, 2005, and 2006 also available.]

Top Ten Top Ten Lists
Worst gadgets of 2007.
Save yourself a load of cash and grief.

Worst Band Names of '07
More than ten. Far more than enough. (Blue language alert.)

Top 10 Stylish Celebs
The people you should, can, and will imitate.

Slate's ten most popular stories.
This is what people want to know. This is what people want to know?

Most Fascinating Urinals
If you've never entered a men's room, here's a sneak peak at some of the best.

Top Ten Most Wanted Fugitives
He's still on the list?

Top Ten Worst Christmas Cracker Jokes Ever
Josh, help me understand.

Top Ten Wildlife Conservation Success Stories of 2007
Because all is not gloom and despair.

Top Ten Unfounded Health Scares of 2007
Itself an annual tradition, and for good reason.

Top 50 Top 10 lists!
Take that!

Still More Top Ten Lists That Don't Exist
vowel clusters
reasons to remove that stump already
null sets
Oingo-Boingo hits
cattle futures
gender-ambiguous aliases
ivory-tower all-stars
hors d'oeuvres
moments in miming

Best Films I Saw in 2007, in No Particular Order Except the First Two
No Country for Old Men
Hot Fuzz
The Simpsons Movie
Superbad / Knocked Up
The Bourne Ultimatum
The Host

Films I'd See in a Heartbeat
Live Long and Die Prosperous
Shrek The Last, Promise
Lions Over Lambs at 8:1
Georgia Rulz, LOL
The Astronaut Warmer
Nancy Sketched
I Am Legend, Hear Me Roar
Things We Looted After The Fire
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Low Down No Good Dirty Rotten Stinking Yellow Bellied Chicken Robert Ford

Scientific Advances Due To Intelligent Design Theory
February: "Specified Complexity Is Great For You and Me" tops the Billboard chart for its third straight week.
March: Michael Behe shaves.
April: Somewhere, someone reads Of Pandas and People and snickers.
May: ID's poster-organism, Cdesign proponentsists, is honored with a collectible stamp.
August: Gravity is disproved, once and for all.
November: William A. Dembki's foray into videography is well-received.
December: John M. Lynch recants Darwinism, vowing to enter a monastery.

Top Ten Multimedia Postings on This Here Blog
a portrait of the blogger as a young boy
fungi and friends
photos of Westport, Grayland beaches
a hunka hunka burnin' car
Yellowstone photos, and nothing but

to watch would be a crime
there is only shared culture
some call it rugby
an Off! night for Joba Chamberlain
my faith in American public education is restored

Top Ten Presidents Who Could Never Be Elected in 2008
George Washington (insufficient governing experience)
Thomas Jefferson (problematic personal life)
Andrew Jackson (successfully rid nation of debt)
Millard Fillmore (Whig)
Abraham Lincoln (too much facial hair)
Warren G. Harding (had no nickname)
Calvin Coolidge (too quiet)
Herbert Hoover (unfortunate last name)
John F. Kennedy (vulnerable to Swift Boat treatment)
George W. Bush (ran out of terms)

Top Ten Things to Look Forward To in 2008
National Board certification: done--maybe even passed.
The Celtics: NBA champs.
Melissa's college degree: attained.
CHS Cougar football: state-bound.
Rubik's Cube The Movie: in development.
Late-breaking cold: conquered.
Tom Tancredo: retired.
The Mariners: less moribund.
The school year: awesome.
Time: dilated.

Dec 18, 2007

in the time of the plague

The Anderson house tiene gripe today. This is the wrong time for such infirmity: the start of winter break, for me, and the continuation for Melissa. Just as the family was set for yuletide merriment.

I shouldn't have gone to school today, but I did. And now I pay the price.

Dec 17, 2007

oh Hotmail, where art thou?

Yes, I'm one of those 20th-century Hotmail users still using. Maybe not for long, though. I wonder if my account's been hacked: I get a weird message when I try to log in. It appears that everything's working as I enter my username and password--but then the site tries to access and ten or fifteen times in rapid succession, and then this pops up:
The Windows Live Network is unavailable from this site for one of the following reasons:

* This site may be experiencing a problem
* The site may not be a member of the Windows Live Network

You can:

* You can sign in or sign up at other sites on the Windows Live Network, or try again later at this site.
I've tried different computers and different browsers. I'm going to try a different ISP next, and see if that's where the problem lies. MSN says there are no network errors, so I wonder if it's just me suffering at the hands of some soda-swilling hacker.

Update: It might have something to do with my mandatory 72-day password change. Still awaiting official word from Microsoft; the robo-mail was prompt, but, well, robotic.

WASL retakes a smashing failure

Ouch. Sure, 657 students are closer to graduating, having passed the August retake in reading, writing, or both.
August retakes of the high school Washington Assessment of Student Learning pushed 657 seniors closer to graduation, with 84.5 percent of the more than 73,000 students in the class of 2008 now meeting standards in reading and writing.
But 8,239 tested, including roughly 7,000 are seniors, which makes the retake success rate less than 10%. No matter what, over 11,000 seniors aren't on track to matriculate, if I'm correctly reading the numbers.

And I say "if." I didn't have to pass the Math WASL, and neither did you.

Update: Somehow, the P-I manages to spin this as good news. Combined with the low number of students signing up for the alternate portfolio assessment, I can't see it as anything but disaster.

Dec 16, 2007

Americans love their fast food

Yesterday, I spent a good part of my morning driving Kaz to the airport. He had been in the United States for several months, studying English in Evergreen's exchange program, and, by inhabiting the Starbucks where my wife works, had become a friend of the family. The day he was supposed to return to Japan, his buddy flaked out, so I got a call at 8:30 asking if I could drive him to SeaTac.

Like all our conversations, our trip talk mixed grammar and idiom instruction with an American culture FAQ. As we drove through Lakewood, Kaz asked, "Why is it there are so many tubbies eating fast food in America? I go to Burger King and see people there eating two burgers, two Cokes, and fried potatoes. Why is that?"

This marketing ploy / social experiment / "prank" / Greek tragedy by Burger King is the answer.

I'm not surprised by the surprise felt by the folks in the video. After all, Burger King has spent millions upon millions over the past decades socializing us to love it for its flagship meat patty-wich. What amazes me, though, is the depth of passion some folks have for the Whopper. It's not Burgerville, people.

Around the 4:14 mark, throw in a little homophobia or sexism, take your pick:

"If Burger King doesn't have the whopper, they might as well change their name to Burger Queen."

Too late! Already taken!

[via The Hater]

Dec 15, 2007

the world is my enclave

Will Web 2.0 separate us even as it brings us together? Cass R. Sunnstein thinks so:
The Internet makes it easy for people to create separate communities and niches, and in a free society, much can be said on behalf of both. They can make life a lot more fun; they can reduce loneliness and spur creativity. They can even promote democratic self-government, because enclaves are indispensable for incubating new ideas and perspectives that can strengthen public debate. But it is important to understand that countless editions of the Daily Me can also produce serious problems of mutual suspicion, unjustified rage, and social fragmentation — and that these problems will result from the reliable logic of social interactions.
I'm not sure if this is an insurmountable problem--or even an significant harm compared to the world-opening nature of the internet.

Consider: before I discovered the Web, I was limited to whatever media were accessible in small-town western Washington. I loved the public library, but its selections were limited. Even inter-library loan couldn't allow access to the mountains of material now available online. I couldn't read every newspaper out there, from global to podunk, and, what's more, wouldn't know a paper had factually goofed unless it was admitted in the errata. I would never imagine that my ramblings on any given subject could be read, for better or worse, by people who'd need a passport to visit me in the Evergreen State.

Now it's possible to see points-of-view all across the spectrum, organized and available within a two-click distance by Google Reader. I might choose to submerge myself in an echo chamber, but I don't. The opposition enlightens even as it frustrates, and when I'm wrong, I'm corrected too fast to feel the full weight of humiliation. I feel two times more politically savvy, at least 6.5 times more libertarian, and a thousand times more cosmopolitan than the Jim Anderson who stalked the shelves of the Elma Timberland Library a decade ago.

Pettitte speaks

NEW YORK -- Today Andy Pettitte acknowledged that he might have played a role in his own involvement in the scandalous findings of the Mitchell Report, if the news is to be trusted and if the interpretation of the findings is, in point of fact, correct, all things considered.

"If what I did was an error in judgment on my part, I apologize," Pettitte said Saturday in a statement released by his agent. "I accept responsibility for those two days."

"I can't say this myself--I mean, who am I to speak on behalf of me?" Pettitte's agent translated via email from Latin, the phenom's preferred language in a time of crisis. "But if what I might have done in those mysterious moments which will forever remain enshrouded in mystery--what conceivably could have been the actions I engaged in, if those actions were objectionable to any parties concerned--to those persons or entities I offer sincere apologies for having had to cause so much pain by apologizing."

Pettitte offered to meet with Pat Robertson and discuss the status of his apology.

Monty Hall's evil twin

Fans of the Monty Hall problem who have time to burn should visit Jason Rosenhouse's blog and try their brain at a fresh incarnation.

questioning the UN's legitimacy in adjudicating conflict

One of the arguments I've seen used for the nuclear weapons resolution: it's not the United States' job to take out rogue nations' weapons projects, even if such an action would ensure a safer world. Rather, only the United Nations possesses the authority and the responsibility. For example, in West's Encyclopedia of American Law, the editors note:
The aims of the Kellogg-Briand Pact were adopted in the Charter of the United Nations in 1945. Under the charter, the use or threat of force as an instrument of national policy was condemned, but nations were permitted to use force in individual or collective self-defense against an aggressor. The General Assembly of the United Nations has further defined aggression as armed force by a state against the sovereignty, territorial integrity, or political independence of another state, regardless of the reasons for the use of force. The Security Council is empowered to review the use of force, and therefore, to determine whether the relevant circumstances justify branding one nation as the aggressor and in violation of charter obligations. Under the modern view, a just war is one waged consistent with the Kellogg-Briand Pact and the Charter of the United Nations. [From "Just War," Eds. Jeffrey Lehman and Shirelle Phelps, 2005.]
There's no need for a negative going up against a "just war theory" to try and defeat all of the theory (though it's possible). Instead, the negative can argue that a preemptive strike by the United States would violate the Kellogg-Briand pact and the UN Charter.

What about an aff response? There are reasons to question the UN's legitimacy.
No permanent and impartial international body has been created to administer the rules of war. Although the United Nations has acted with multinational support in the Korean and Gulf Wars, and the International Court of Justice has adjudicated claims against democratic and totalitarian regimes alike, neither body exercises sovereignty over individual member states in any meaningful sense, and powerful countries generally wield more influence over these bodies than do weaker countries. [From "Rules of War," Eds. Jeffrey Lehman and Shirelle Phelps, 2005.]
Thus, to any negative running a UN case, the aff has a potential block. Not only is the UN practically ineffective, it's principally unprepared to adjudicate conflicts. When it comes to a nuclear threat, the United States can't wait for the UN to act.

the poetry sweatshop

In Princeton, no less.
A young man in horn-rimmed glasses who said he majored in English at Princeton challenged someone to write a villanelle. “On what subject?” asked Kate. He thought it over a bit and said, “Monkeys.” It seemed to me he was trying to stump them — requesting an intricate and difficult form on an inconsequential topic — though I couldn’t tell if it was out of whimsy or smarminess. Either way, the guy was astonished when, a couple of minutes later, Kate handed him a villanelle — which we’d practiced in the studio, but only once — that was as flawless as it was instant....
You'll have to click through to read it. It ain't bad.

Dec 13, 2007

no crying for baseball

The D.A.R.E. Lion wept today as Major League Baseball got pantsed by the Mitchell Report.

skipping out on the WASL--alternative

Maybe they don't know, maybe they've forgotten, or maybe they just don't wanna:
Friday is the deadline for seniors who want to sign up to submit a portfolio with a "collection of evidence" as an alternative to passing the math, reading or writing sections of the test, commonly called the WASL. The portfolio is due in February.

As of Wednesday, no students who still need to pass the math portion have signed up for that option in Olympia or Tumwater, and one student signed up for it in North Thurston, district officials said. More students are taking the portfolio option for writing and reading.
The other option is to take the ACT or SAT, or score highly on AP tests. Which, of course, makes one wonder why we can't just make the SAT mandatory and skip the costly, time-consuming, late-result-ridden WASL.

Dec 12, 2007

multi-touch with a Wii remote

Nerdness. And pretty darn cool.

[via Videocracy]

self-defense... for your online reputation

I've predicted potential consequences of the digitally-enhanced 24-hour surveillance society, but nothing like this:
Dustin Hoffmann, a borough musician who has worked at the coffee and doughnuts chain for 10 months, said he fought back because he wanted to "look good" if the surveillance tape turned up on the popular video-sharing Web site.

"What was going through my mind at that point was that the security tape is either going to show me run away and hide in the office or whack this guy in the head, so I just grabbed the cup and clocked that guy pretty hard," Hoffmann said Monday.
YouTube stops crime in a doughnut shop. Never would have guessed.

[via Obscure Store]

defining "military threat" in the nuclear weapons resolution

What constitutes a "military threat" to the United States? The current resolution puts the question at the forefront.

Looking at the United States' relations with China, an emerging world power that threatens American hegemony, is instructive. How much of a threat is China?
Richard C. Bush III, director of the Center for Northeast Asian Policy Studies at the Brookings Institution, says, "Most experts would define 'threat' to mean a combination of capability and intentions. There's no question that China is building up its capabilities, but China has displayed no intentions of using those capabilities against the United States."
There you have it: capability of attacking the United States, its forces, or its allies, and intentions of doing so.

The resolution puts no qualifier on the immediacy or imminence of the threat, which could lead to a potential negative line of attack. Consider again:
"Our Pentagon is in charge of seeing a threat and building against a threat. Unless political leadership is out in front, keeping the cooperative elements higher in priority and reassuring the other guys, the self-fulfilling prophecy is in danger of taking hold," he says. "As Joseph Nye says, if we treat China as the enemy, it will become the enemy because of how it perceives what we do."
The neg can argue that the resolution permits a rather loose reading of threat, which only raises the potential for disastrous consequences--as the recent Iran intelligence flap demonstrates in a very real way.

Update: A sharp-eyed reader notes that the threat may not have to be toward the U.S., as I pointed out when the resolution first arrived. If I may quote myself:
Does the resolution imply that the threat must be toward the United States, or would it include a unilateral action taken in the name of global security?
I think the latter would be answered with a "yes."

Dec 10, 2007

Ranch House to reopen!

Simply magnificent news:
Last Monday, co-owners Amy Anderson and Melanie Tapia watched as a wall of mud slid from the hilltops surrounding their property and swallowed up their barbecue restaurant during the state's devastating storm. It destroyed the water and septic systems, the smokers that made their signature barbecue meats and the warm checkered curtains that welcomed the restaurant's customers.

The losses were estimated at $4 million and insurance did not cover any of the damage, said Tapia.

Last week, the owners received a call from Sandra Miller, vice president and general manager of the Governor Hotel in downtown Olympia.

She has offered to let the barbecue business use the hotel's kitchen for free — no charge for rent or utilities — until the owners can get on their feet.

Tapia said she and Anderson cried when they heard the news.

"We never in our wildest dreams thought we would have had such a fabulous offer," said Tapia. "And free of charge. That's amazing."
It's the feel-good and eat-well story of the day.

Mike Huckabee and the bona fide immigration flip-flop

Maybe this is the year of the Republican flip-flopper. It's no secret that Mitt Romney exudes an aura of charmed convenience. A leading rival, Meteoric Mike Huckabee, seemed immune to the charges until now. Christopher Beam explains:
Mike Huckabee’s new immigration plan, unveiled today, is a case in point. Titled the “Secure America Plan,” its bullet points include “Build the fence,” “Increase border patrol,” and “Prevent amnesty,” with this little sub-bullet:
“Propose to provide all illegal immigrants a 120-day window to register with the Citizenship and Immigration Services and leave the country. Those who register and return to their home country will face no penalty if they later apply to immigrate or visit; those who do not return home will be, when caught, barred from future reentry for a period of 10 years.”
What happened to the Huckabee-approved “pathway to citizenship”? Here’s what he said in an inteview last year: “To think that we're going to go lock up 12 million people or even round them up and drive them to the border and let them go might make a great political speech but it's not going to happen."

Why the switch from “pathway to citizenship” to deport-and-blockade? Chalk it up to the tuition breaks flap. In the past few weeks, Huckabee has defended an Arkansas program that would have reduced tuition for the children of illegal immigrants. He claims he doesn’t want to punish children for their parents’ crimes—or, as he says, “sins.” But his opponents, and Romney in particular, have no trouble grilling his cakes over it.
The lengthier Huckabee riff on immigration, in the full transcript, adds whiplash to the flip-flop.
I tend to think that the rational approach is to find a way to give people a pathway to citizenship. You shouldn't ignore the law or ignore those who break it. But by the same token, I think it's a little disingenuous when I hear people say they should experience the full weight of the law in every respect with no pathway, because that's not something we practice in any other area of criminal justice in this country.

We have everything from plea bargainings to suspended sentences to probation to clemency. There's a whole gamut of ways in which there are lesser than the full penalties applied for a whole variety of reasons -- everything from jail overcrowding to non-violent offenses.

To think that we're going to go lock up 12 million people, or even round them up and drive them to the border and let them go, might make a great political speech, but it's not going to happen. What should happen, however, is exactly what I think the president has proposed, and that is that we create a process where people make restitution for the fact they have broken the law.

It's not an amnesty, and I know that there are some who think that anything less than essentially grabbing them by the nape of the neck and tossing them over a fence, real or imaginary, is amnesty. But I think that's ridiculous. And whether it's Patrick Kennedy, Rush Limbaugh, or an illegal immigrant, there ought to be some rationality in how we apply our law. We do that every day.

I would imagine if any of us checked the record of prosecutors in my state or yours there are far more sentences that are plea bargained than actually go to trial. And that it's pretty darn rare that a person even convicted at trial gets the maximum sentence on every charge brought. It's just not always the way we do it.

Suddenly to say that these people that came over here to pluck a chicken, pick a tomato, or make a bed should suffer the full consequences of the law as if somehow they've totally violated our peace and prosperity, is absurd. Now, should they have to pay some type of fine? Should they have to get in line behind the ones who are going through the legal process? Sure. That's quite appropriate. But criminalizing beyond what they've already been criminalized, I mean, they've already broken the law. But to make them felons and in essence to say we're going to put our heel on their head, what's the point of that?
The point of that, to use Huckabee's own words, is to pander to the "certain segment of the population that is truly exercised about this and virtually nothing but this. And they've gone to seed on it." Now who else has gone to seed?

Update 1/16/2008: Wow. I thought Huck's transformation into Tancredo was disingenuous, but I never imagined it was a complete sham.

Dec 9, 2007

marriage, history, government, society

I first noticed Coontz's article about the purported "privatization of marriage" a couple weeks ago. Since then, I've read my brother's critique of its historicizing, confirmed by an extended (and, I think, compelling) critique by Michael Fragoso. Fragoso's analysis, as my brother later notes, shows the nuances and "public character" of the tradition of marriage in the West, and, as I noted before, its continual evolution within a basic framework. Just before summing up, Fragoso, who is hostile to the prospect of gay marriage, writes,
As a rule, the more marriage was enshrined in law, the more freedom under the law was given to men and women who sought marriage. This was often the case in the ancient world, and emphatically the case in the medieval world...

Not only do these laws ensure the continuation of society through the rearing of subsequent generations; they also aimed to protect the rights of men and women. For example, laws in favor of free consent as well as those proscribing consanguinity and affinity protect individuals from being forced into marriage for the sake of dynastic concerns. Likewise, public marriage banns protect women from being two-timed by bigamist rakes.
This, to my mind, is why extending the right--the rite--to gay couples is good for society. Combined with adoption, it would promote stable families for children in need of loving parents. It would protect all parties involved from unscrupulous advantage-taking. Most important, it would recognize and elevate the cultural significance of devotion for all couples, gay or straight. A state truly serious about the institution should shore it up by legitimizing gay marriage.

how to debate without sounding like a jerk

Being aggressive is essential in a debate. You have to appear confident in your arguments and strong in your refutations. But what happens when your opponent lacks that same confidence?

A debater writes,
At a recent tournament, I made my opponent cry because I crushed the criterion of utilitarianism with the slavery argument--saying that it leads to a tyranny of the majority, which would justify slavery. I was wondering if that was a bad thing, because my coach says, "Always be polite while debating, and if you are able to destroy your opponent's argument, destroy it politely." I attempted to be polite, yet the tears still came and my judge docked points because I was "rude." Any tips on how to "destroy" my opponent's arguments politely?
That's a tough call--without being there, it's impossible to know what your tone of voice was, precisely what words you used, etc. And sometimes it's just not your fault. I had a competitor one time who, frustrated because she had never heard of a particular philosophy before, broke down during the round and ran out crying. Her opponent hadn't done anything wrong--he was unfailingly polite in his presentation.

That said, here are some general things to do / watch for:

1. Pay attention to your opponent's experience level. If you can tell they're a rookie, ease up a bit. If they don't understand something, and ask for clarification in CX, provide it for them, even if it gives them an avenue to attack you. The judge will appreciate the fact that you're helping the educational purpose of the activity.

2. Use less combative language. Instead of saying "My opponent would justify slavery..." say, "If we affirm the resolution, we might justify slavery." The "we" makes it sound inclusive for all, making the same point while less pointedly attacking the other side. Don't say "evil" or "heinous" or "disastrous," which, in some arguments, will make *you* sound unreasonable or dogmatic, anyway.

3. If you must talk about your opponent, include specific phrasing to make them sound reasonable. After all, they're obligated to uphold that side of the resolution not for personal reasons, but because that's how it works. Say, "My opponent's choice of utilitarianism is well-intentioned, but flawed, since valuing the greater good over individual happiness can lead to persecution of a minority. I'm sure my opponent would agree that slavery is a dreadful consequence of such logic, so we must look to my criterion of individual rights in this round...."

4. Breathe deeply. Relax. Smile. If you seem uptight, you'll seem more jerk-ish.

5. Look at the judge. Furrowed brow? Stern gaze? It's probably a cue to back off.

6. Record yourself debating, either on video or audio. Listen to your vocal quality. Look at your body language, your gestures and posture, your facial expressions. Do they radiate confidence or arrogance?

Most important, persist in your willingness to ask about these things. Such honest self-appraisal will carry you far.

is Tree of Smoke a literary hoax?

B.R. Myers puts the smack down:
Having read nothing by Denis Johnson except Tree of Smoke, his latest novel, I see no reason to consider him a great or even a good writer, but he is apparently very well thought of by everyone else. According to The New York Times, which in 2006 sent a questionnaire to writers, editors, and critics, a collection of Johnson’s short stories titled Jesus’ Son is regarded by some as the best American book of the past 25 years. He is often called “a writer’s writer,” with the customary implication that this is far better than being a reader’s writer. Denis Johnson is, in short, the sort of novelist whose work one expects to be reviewed on the cover of every prominent newspaper’s book section, as Tree of Smoke was in September. Equally predictable was the reviewers’ implicit injunction that we should ask not what the book can do for us, but what it can do for Johnson’s place in American letters. This much is standard Important Writer treatment, and for all I know, Michiko Kakutani (The New York Times), Jim Lewis (The New York Times Book Review), and other reviewers consider Johnson worthy of it no matter what he puts out. What I find difficult to believe is that they admire Tree of Smoke. For one thing, their own prose is better than anything in it. For another, they try to lower our expectations for the book even as they cry it up as the main event of the fall publishing season. Lewis, for example, gives a marveling nod at the part in which “two drunken soldiers, one of them an amputee, have a long, inane conversation, during which the disabled one announces, ‘My invisible foot hurts.’”

An amputee with a phantom limb, fancy that. Lewis’s aside that Tree of Smoke “doesn’t feel like a Denis Johnson novel” lends weight to the assumption that a writer cannot become famous by writing like this, at least not yet.
Read the whole thing for samples of Johnson's lavender prose, or check out the first five pages using Amazon's "Search Inside The Book" feature. If you think "Bulwer-Lytton contest entry," you're not alone.

I can't decide if the novel is a serious effort, a parody of The Things They Carried, or a fraud, a literary Sokal Affair--but I'm not going to shell out $16 for certainty.

MTV has fallen farther than you can possibly imagine

The T/R/P describes:
They are profiling a kid from a rival school for their show Made. Apparently, a ditzy cheerleader wants to be taken intellectually seriously, so they're re-making her by having her join the debate team.

That's all well and good...more power to her. But I'm a little bummed out with a lot of the process and with MTV in general.

First off, the concept of the show is that they bring in a coach--somebody good-looking and ever so painfully-hip--to help the kid. So instead of the school's excellent coach, they've brought in some dude in his mid-twenties. I overheard him describing Public Forum postings to the camera operator, and describing them incorrectly. This kid can make herself simply by walking into the actual coach's office after school. But that won't do, of course...he's in his fifties and doesn't have slick, spiky hair. Instead, MTV has brought in a less-qualified, more-hip outsider.

Second, as my wife points out, the fact that a kid who wants to be taken intellectually seriously decides the way to do that is to call MTV...well, that's a pretty comical premise to begin with.

Third, MTV and/or Hip Spiky-Haired Coach have decided that, for yesterday's meet anyway, that the kid should compete in Student Congress and Interpretive Reading.

Seriously? Congress?
Like the T/R/P, I starred as a parliamentary officer this weekend--off-camera, thankfully, considering I had to intervene after The Worst Speech in the History of Speeches, which linked "Don't Ask Don't Tell" to... I can't even say it. It wasn't just offensive, it was stupid offensive--both illogical and factually wrong. Yet our love-me-love-me Presiding Officer had to be prodded to take a stand for professionalism.


Anyhow, some highlights:

Describing what it's like to stand beside a heavyset woman in a tube top, ordering a combo meal at Burger King
"If I had to see that, I would feel perverted."

The future presidential candidate exchange
Speaker: "I spoke with several servicemen in my hometown. They said that knowing a member of their unit was gay would wreck morale."
Questioner: "Why is that? How does that work?"
Speaker: "I won't presume to know. I don't inquire into the minds of other people."

The malapropisms
"I am in strong negation of this bill."

"This bill is benefiting crimedoers."

"This would lead to a pattern of felon-type behavior."

"Their skills would be reduced, physically and coordinationly."

Things that are a "step in the right direction"
  • Repealing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"
  • Providing healthier school lunches
  • Using gene doping to create a race of super-soldiers
Added: As always, The Onion has the last word.

Dec 8, 2007

gone away

Through the rest of today, far into the evening. It's another debate tournament, so my schedule's booked. I'll be back tomorrow, with tales that will scratch the chalkboard of your very soul.

Yes, it's too early to metaphorize.

Dec 6, 2007

I can see the future

Arrived at school today, ready for round two of testing, anticipating another day of sitting in a tiny office as students sweated out commentaries on famous literature. Flash back to Tuesday, as I'm preparing the class for the assessment:
Me: "Oh, and if school should be canceled or late, don't come here expecting to test. Safety first."

Students: "But Mr. Anderson, the weather's improved, and the forecast is good."

Me: "Yeah, well, there could be a freak storm or something."

Students: "Not really."

Me: "Sure, but you never know what can happen."
Flash forward to a dark morning illuminated by flashing blue and red lights. Locked gates to the parking lot. Frantic and gleeful students shouting the rumor du jour. Administrators sending them home--for now--because somebody thought it would be funny to... well, you can guess the rest.

All I'll say is that I'm surprised it didn't make The Olympian's website. Yet.

Update: And now it has.

finding a subjective correlative

Neuroscience and literary criticism meet, wonderfully and strangely, in this piece by Philip Davis. By developing and testing hypotheses on literature's effect on cognition, literary neuroscientists are looking for what I'd call a "neural correlative."

Imagine a critic scanning a text for what TS Eliot called the "objective correlative," famously described as
...a set of objects, a situation, a chain of events which shall be the formula of that particular emotion; such that when the external facts, which must terminate in sensory experience, are given, the emotion is immediately evoked....
Similarly, literary neuroscientists would look for the effect, not the cause--examining the brain, not the text. Davis explains:
With the help of my colleague in English language Victorina Gonzalez-Diaz, as well as the scientists, I designed a set of stimuli—40 examples of Shakespeare's functional shift. At this very early and rather primitive stage, we could not give our student-subjects undiluted lines of Shakespeare because too much in the brain would light up in too many places: that is one of the definitions of what Shakespeare-language does. So, the stimuli we created were simply to do with the noun-to-verb or verb-to-noun shift-words themselves, with more ordinary language around them. It is not Shakespeare taken neat; it is just based on Shakespeare, with water....

So far we have just carried out the EEG stage of experimentation under Dr Thierry at Bangor. EEG works as follows in its graph-like measurements. When the brain senses a semantic violation, it automatically registers what is called an N400 effect, a negative wave modulation 400 milliseconds after the onset of the critical word that disrupts the meaning of a sentence. The N400 amplitude is small when little semantic integration effort is needed (e.g., to integrate the word "eat" in the sentence, "The pizza was too hot to eat"), and large when the critical word is unexpected and therefore difficult to integrate (e.g., "The pizza was too hot to sing").

But when the brain senses a syntactic violation there is a P600 effect, a parietal modulation peaking approximately 600 milliseconds after the onset of the word that upsets syntactic integrity. Thus, when a word violates the grammatical structure of a sentence (e.g., "The pizza was too hot to mouth"), a positive going wave is systematically observed.
Davis's excitement at the results is as measurable as the N400 effect:
This, then, is a chance to map something of what Shakespeare does to mind at the level of brain, to catch the flash of lightning that makes for thinking. For my guess, more broadly, remains this: that Shakespeare's syntax, its shifts and movements, can lock into the existing pathways of the brain and actually move and change them—away from old and aging mental habits and easy long-established sequences.
To switch poet/critics, this is something akin to Wordsworth's "flash upon that inward eye," magnetically measured.