Oct 31, 2007

a Web 2.0 pandemic in the making

Ryan wrote about a rising fever of Web 2.0 in education. Now the Seattle Times has caught the bug with its Digital Democracy project:
We asked Seattle public school students to submit, on video, the questions they think are most important to the district's future. We selected five of those questions, and asked each Seattle School board candidate to respond in kind. Now it's your turn to watch the results. Click play on the question to hear what the student asked. Listen to the answers from each candidate by doing the same.
A sample clip from candidate Harium Martin-Morris is provided below. Kudos to the Times and the candidates for reaching out to voters.

Cougars make the playoffs

After last week's disappointment in Shelton, the situation for the Cougs was dire. They had to beat Timberline and North Thurston in a Tuesday tiebreaker. Which is what they did:
At 1-3, many considered Capital not to have a chance at the playoffs.

But then, the Cougars won four games. In Tuesday's tiebreaker, Capital beat Timberline 6-0 and North Thurston 6-3 to advance to the preliminary round. Their reward -- O'Dea, at 5 p.m. Saturday at Seattle Memorial Stadium.
With both teams sporting cardinal and gold, the game's going to look like a scrimmage. Early odds would put Capital at a disadvantage--just too up-and-down this year. It's gonna be a good one.

Oct 30, 2007

more dubious vampire math

You'd think the editors of Skeptical Inquirer would've seen through this one:
If we factor in the human birthrate into our discussion, we find that, after a few months, the human birthrate is very small compared to the number of deaths due to vampires. This means that ignoring this factor has a negligibly small impact on our conclusion. In our example, the death of humanity would be prolonged by only one month.
Sadly, this argument deserves to be called the Vampire Math Fallacy.

Two words: vampire hunters.

lateral thinking

Worn while...

Oct 28, 2007

"I motion to move to call the previous questions."

At the Gig Harbor debate tournament, I split my time between co-running Junior LD tab and prepping novices for their first-ever rounds, so I didn't have the joy of judging much of anything--just one horrific Open Impromptu round, one high-quality Novice LD round, and, sadly, no Student Congress.

Luckily, Josh judged the latter, and has the quotes to prove it.

the morality of plea bargaining

Below are some potential angles of attack for an Aff in the plea bargaining resolution. Negs should read, too, and consider potential responses.

In "The Morality of Copping a Plea," from Maclean's*, July 9-16, 2007, reporter Steve Maich turns to John Langbein, "professor of law and legal history at Yale, and an outspoken critic of the system," for thoughts.
"Plea bargaining works by threat, and it goes like this: Oh, you want to exercise your constitutional right to a jury trial? Please be our guest. But understand that if you exercise that right we will punish you much more severely,'" [Langbein] says. "In effect, that means we are punishing you twice. Once for what you did and once for having the temerity to exercise your right to face a jury."

To Langbein and other critics, the gap in sentences handed to those who co-operate with prosecutors, versus those who maintain their innocence and go to trial, illustrates a form of coercion that underlies practically every serious prosecution in Canada and the U.S. Perhaps the most famous example unfolded in the late 1970s, in the case of Paul Lewis Hayes, a small-time American fraudster and petty criminal. Hayes already had two felony convictions on his record when he was caught forging a cheque for US $88.00. Prosecutors told Hayes he would get a five-year prison term if he pleaded guilty, but if he chose to go to trial, he would he indicted under Kentucky's Habitual Criminal Act, which carried a mandatory sentence of life in prison....

"The problem is, many of the laws these people are being prosecuted under are vague, and are not understood to be breaches of the law. Then the prosecutor comes along and says, I'm going to press charges and put you in the slammer--and in the United States, because of our sentencing savagery in such cases, that means forever and ever unless, that is, you agree to incriminate yourself and whoever it is I really want to nail--whether that's Ken Lay or Jeff Skilling or whoever." Both Canada and the United States are based on a legal tradition that envisions a jury of lay people as a check against potential abuses of power by the state. But plea bargaining concentrates all of that power into the hands of individuals who are, in the U.S., politicians, and in Canada, civil servants.

"What it does is defeat the age-old wisdom that led us to divide the charging and investigative function on one hand from our determinative and sentencing functions," Langbein says. "What's happened is the prosecutor has combined all those functions in one set of hands: he is the investigative officer, the prosecutorial officer, the determinative officer and the sentencing officer." Police, judge and jury in one incredibly powerful office.
When citing the article, be careful to distinguish Langbein's words from the reporter's commentary, which may carry less weight.

*Maclean's is a Canadian magazine, but since Canada's plea bargaining system is similar to the U.S.'s, and the article quotes an American legal scholar, the information is highly relevant to the debate over the current resolution.

conviction trends

For those interested in the current resolution, some interesting trends in felony convictions in state courts, from the Justice Department's statistics:
For every 100 persons arrested for a violent felony in 1994, an estimated 23 were convicted. In 2004, the rate was 31 persons convicted for every 100 persons arrested....

The average sentence length to State prison for a violent felony declined between 1994 and 2004(from 10 years to 71/2 years). However, felons sentenced for a violent felony in 2004 were more likely than those sentenced in 1994 to serve a larger proportion of their sentence before release.
However, only 69% of convictions in murder cases are secured through a plea bargain.

Also, according to the DOJ, 95% of federal convictions are secured through a plea bargain. (The percentage of those garnered through cooperation agreements is unknown to me; I'm searching through data, but haven't found anything good yet.)

lose sleep, lose your mind

I'd say my experience as a teacher and coach confirms this.
Feeling cranky after a bad night's sleep? Now there could be an explanation. Brain activity associated with psychiatric illness has been observed in healthy people who missed a single night's sleep. As well as shedding light on why sleep deprivation makes us feel so bad, the study could change our thinking about mental illness.
By 8:00 Friday morning, after a week of sleep deprivation, students are at their most lethargic. By 5:00 on a Saturday evening, after a short night and a 6:30 bus ride, they're at their most hyper--just before the crash, a phenomenon I call "retrorockets."

But it's not just about adolescents. When I'm sitting on roughly five or six hours of sleep per night, little things change. I try to put the toothpaste cap on the toothbrush, or the oatmeal in the refrigerator. I forget where I placed something, or appointments I've set. I can also feel my emotions amping up--not just in the face of, say, distressing news, but even in my dreams.

Some of this week's themes, brought to you by chronic undersleep:
I'm trying to sneak across the border into Mexico, where a gigantic Y-shaped electrified tower-bridge-fence-thing stands in the way. I discover a subway-esque tunnel underneath--but here, parts of the floor are electrified, leading to one tense trip.

I'm sitting in the front passenger seat of my car. Out of the darkness, rabid raccoons begin assaulting the vehicle. I fight them off by slamming the door on their heads.

In yet another, I'm dealing with a troublesome student. He's pestering his buddy, and just as I'm heading over to quell the disturbance, he punches his buddy in the face. I physically have to drag him to the office, where we meet with the administrators. Since the Dave Matthews Band is coming to CHS for a concert, and the kid's a huge DMB fan, they decide he can go if he promises not to do this again. My anger is immense.

In the middle of a different teaching day, word comes out that the United States is under nuclear attack and has retaliated in kind.

I'm riding around on a boat in the middle of a flooded city, with all my possessions aboard. A fellow teacher, driving, goofs around and ends up capsizing the boat. Most of my tacky ties are seemingly lost. Later, when the water has receded, I find some of them under a bed, damp and somewhat discolored.
Real life is better, as my first batch of debaters, half novices, took home several trophies at the Gig Harbor intro tournament, and now I get to see wife and family this afternoon before heading back to another crazy week.

Jeff Nejedly shares his thoughts

I spoke with Jeff Nejedly, who's running against Frank Wilson for the District 1 seat on the Olympia School Board, and he gave me permission to post this publicly. All blockquoted words are his, unedited except for a removed phone number.
Hello Jim,

I was told by a teacher friend of mine about some of your comments posted on your blog, and went to your web page as well. I’m wondering why you think that I am in favor of pay for performance? I don’t recall this question being asked in the OEA interview. As a manager at the Dept. of Ecology, I am given merit based raises for Growth and Development. I can see why some might consider merit based pay for Principals, as school managers (of course not based on student scores). I personally would have to investigate if and how this has worked (or not) in other high functioning districts like ours, to see if I would support such a proposal.

I do not support Merit based pay for teachers. Although I would think this would be obvious to most, given my background as a teacher’s son who stood on picket lines with my father in Wisconsin, I am adamantly against Pay-For-Performance in any form for teachers. I am also keenly aware of how underpaid teachers are, and as a state worker and manager, I support annual increases in base pay based on time in service which equates to experience.

I was told that the OEA endorsement of Frank was due to his school involvement. I have been very involved volunteering in my children’s schools both in the classroom, school improvement projects, and PTA fundraising. Additionally, my wife was Fundraising chair and PTA Vice President for Boston Harbor, and chaired many other student activities at BHS. My wife also served on the Budget Advisory Group 2005-2006. Additionally, I have been to the majority of Board meetings in the last 2 years, and have learned a great deal.

I have serious concerns when the number of administrators grows in a year (2006) that the BAG is told that they need to carve $2Million off the budget to prevent the significant shortfalls that we are seeing now. I have concerns with the increase in other administrative costs that OSD is experiencing at this same time. It would be terrible to see teachers let go (as happened in 2004) due to budget shortfalls, at the cost of more administration.

I’m also concerned that the Math Adoption Committee was made so political by the district administration. In the past this committee would have been made up of teachers only. No administrators and no hand-selected parents (one was a principal’s wife!). The folks who will be teaching the curriculum should be able to fully weigh in on a decision of this type, as has always been the case in the past.

I opposed the middle school curriculum adoption, not only because the curriculum was weighted too heavily with one teaching style, but more importantly because of the process involved in the adoption. It has cost me politically, but that is fine, since my ultimate goal is not political, but an open, honest, and accountable school district administration. This would benefit the teachers in this district, as well as the students.

Since you’ve met with Frank several times (per your blog) and as of yet haven’t attempted to meet or even talk with me, I realize that you have already made up your mind on which candidate you are supporting. I send you this information, in hopes of clarifying the record.


Jeff Nejedly

I'd like to thank Jeff for his thoughts. Although I have made up my mind, I realize that other voters haven't, and should consider all the relevant facts when doing so.

Three things I should point out: in his first paragraph, Nejedly apparently refers to this post. As readers can see, I was talking about Russ Lehman, who, although he supports Jeff Nejedly, does not share all of Nejedly's views. (I was answering a question about what concerns I had about some of Lehman's--not Nejedly's--positions.)

Second, there's a simple reason I didn't contact Nejedly after the OEA interview process, when I first met him. After members of the committee labored through the difficult decision to support one candidate over another, and once the choice was made, I was asked to speak with Wilson about specific teacherly issues, to act as an informal liaison between the union and its endorsed candidate. Thus, I never imagined that my (small, informal) role in the process would go beyond that. I met with Frank a few times and blogged about the experience--it only confirmed that we had chosen well, especially since we couldn't make a bad choice between the two. Once the school year started, my political activities tailed off considerably.

I support Wilson because of his proven ability to build bridges and work with opposing sides through controversy, because of his kind and thoughtful personality, because of his willingness to reach out and actively seek opinions from those who aren't being heard, and because of his remarkable and highly-regarded career as a volunteer and participant in our schools. I wish I could vote for him. Too bad I live in the wrong district.

Now, back to breakfast.

Oct 25, 2007

"myths and illusions" of cooperation agreements

Here's an important and ground-level discussion of federal sentencing guidelines as they relate to cooperation agreements [pdf].

The authors lay out some interesting facts. Concerning "downward departure," or the reduction in sentence for cooperation, which is made independent of federal guidelines, as the law permits:
Approximately 35% of all federal criminal defendants receive a downward departure for providing substantial assistance and over 26% of those involved in drug trafficking offenses receive a downward departure for providing substantial assistance. Many more try to cut a deal, but the information they offered was either useless or already known to the government. Considering the fact that the average departure for substantial assistance in drug cases is 36 months from the applicable guideline range it is safe to assume that most drug trafficking defendants who received a §5K1 departure still ended up with a substantial prison sentence.
The decision to cooperate is often rushed:
Unfortunately the “window of opportunity” for truly ‘substantial” cooperation is often closed quickly and these decisions must be made rather quickly.
One form of cooperation agreement leads to a WITSEC, or Witness Security, program of imprisonment:
WITSEC involves long stays in Protective Custody meaning the SHU or Segregated Housing Unit, also known as the Hole. Being in PC is not a way to spend your time if it is at all possible. For the most part, you spend your time in the SHU and are treated as a high security risk with a disciplinary problem. You are locked down 23 hours a day and have very limited contact with anyone. In other words, regardless of the reason why you are in the SHU the corrections officers pretty much treat you all the same: As if you are a degenerate, violent criminal with a disciplinary problem. PC is no way to bid and in my experience “SHU time” was the toughest part of my sentence.
PC, or protective custody, can turn out to be a worse punishment than normal incarceration. Also, the plea bargain is a guarantee of nothing:
Regardless of the amount of time called for in the Sentencing Guidelines for a defendants’ particular crime, criminal history, adjustments etc, the court is free to grant as much or as a little a departure as it chooses. By law, the court must consider the factors enumerated in USSG §5K1 but once it does so it is free to grant a departure significantly below the purported mandatory minimums or required under the applicable guideline level.
Those considering the justice of plea bargaining in exchange for testimony are highly advised to read and understand the implications of the system, especially as outlined in Section 5K1 of the US Sentencing Guidelines--and consider how it affects defendants who have "come clean" and are willing to cooperate. Even they aren't always served fairly.

Oct 24, 2007

the magic of the written word

I haven't blogged about JK Rowling's revelation that Dumbledore is gay, simply because

1. It doesn't matter.
2. I don't care.

But now, after reading John Mark Reynolds' take on the controversy, I note an exegetical curiosity. Reynolds claims that the Harry Potter Canon is fixed, and since there is no positive evidence anywhere within it that Dumbledore is gay, he is therefore not gay--nor, in Reynolds' estimation, is he straight. Readers must forever remain agnostic.

I don't know if Reynolds is right; I haven't read the books, nor are they on my to-read list. Assume he is--Dumbledore is asexual, as far as the reader knows. Still, as Reynolds notes:
A story is crafted and then it enters the public. We read it as a whole and accept the world in which it was created. Unless Rowling writes a new book (a prequel?) and changes the canon, then she is stuck with the world she created. In it Dumbledore has no particular sexuality at all.
Apparently it takes another book to magically secure Dumbledore's status--the mere words of the author aren't enough.

Why is it that we should privilege a published text over the words of the author? And, as I've asked before, why should we presume that a text is forever "fixed"--especially while the author is still alive to make changes if she wishes?

[via Mark Olson]

CHS soccer takes WCC crown

With a tough shootout win over Shelton, no less.
The shootout didn't start out in Capital's favor, as Mikaela Cox shot up and over the top of the goal. But Stone came right back and made her first shootout save, diving to make a stop on a shot by Shelton's Nicole Green.

Capital's Hannah Scholes gave the Cougars a quick 1-0 shoot out lead, with a high kick to the back of the net past Shelton goalkeeper Ali Lund. On Shelton's second attempt, Stone once again went to her right, making a save on Shelton's Brit Bowman, who scored the first goal of the game at the fourth minute of regulation.

Jena Russell and Cecil Flores made goals on the Cougars' next attempts, but not before Shelton's Kassi Proffit put the ball out of Stone's reach.

It was up to the Highclimbers' Michelle Robinson to keep the shootout alive. But just as she had done the previous two saves, Stone dove to her right, getting the save.

"I know if I get there, I can get the save," Stone said.
It's our first league girls' soccer title in over a decade. Go Cougs!

Added: While we're on a CHS theme, here's a nice writeup of the crafty Mr. Lobe, a Capital teacher, who, with his wife Liz, turns flotsam into fortune.

Oct 23, 2007

the rise of alternative schools

South Sound High, one of the newer alternative schools in Thurston County, is finally hitting a growth curve.
Last year at this time, 133 students attended the alternative high school, which helps students from other district high schools catch up with their high school credits. This year, there are about 182 students and a waiting list of about 40 more.

This year’s change ends a trend of declining enrollment at the alternative school.

“We told the other schools we can’t take any more, but nearly every day, I’ve gotten calls, and (principal David Warning) has gotten calls,” academic adviser Marlys Martin said. She said that students come to the school to catch up on their high school credits. The school also has a GED program that is attractive to some students.

“The need has always been there,” Warning said. “I think the need is growing, whether it’s because of classes that students need to take because of new state requirements or it’s students who are recognizing that ‘I’m behind on credits.'"
Behind "state requirements" lurks the WASL and the graduation project--mostly the WASL, since some schools have lagged in their remediation planning, and since it's encouraging some students to seek a GED instead of a diploma.

Beyond this isolated example, I see only growth in the future of alternative, online, vo-tech and community college programs. It's not ironic: the Frenchification of public education's main-line experience is going to push more and more students to the options.

McJustice and plea bargaining

Robert M. Bohm, in "'McJustice': On the McDonaldization of Criminal Justice," found in Justice Quarterly, March 2006, describes and analyzes claims that the American justice system values efficiency, bureaucracy, control, and predictability over justice. Much like we want our food fast, and don't care about its nutrition, so we want our justice fast, never mind the losses.

How is plea bargaining implicated in the "McDonaldization" of justice?
Uncertainty is a characteristic of all criminal trials because neither the duration of the trial, which may be a matter of minutes or of months, nor the outcome of the trial can ever be predicted with any degree of accuracy. Plea bargaining eliminates those two areas of uncertainty by eliminating the need for a trial. Plea bargaining serves the interests of prosecutors by guaranteeing them high conviction rates, which is an indicator of job performance and a useful tool in the quest for higher political office. It serves the interests of judges by reducing their court caseloads, allowing more time to be spent on more difficult cases....

Plea bargaining serves the interests of criminal defense attorneys by allowing them to spend less time on each case. It also allows them to avoid trials. Trials are relatively expensive events. Because most criminal defendants are poor, they are usually unable to pay a large legal fee. Thus, when criminal defense attorneys go to trial, they are frequently unable to recoup all of their expenses. Plea bargaining provides many criminal defense attorneys with the more profitable option of charging smaller fees for lesser services and handling a larger volume of cases. Even most criminal defendants are served by plea bargaining. A guilty plea generally results in either no prison sentence or a lesser prison sentence than the defendant might receive if found guilty at trial. Plea bargaining also often allows defendants to escape conviction of socially stigmatizing crimes, such as child abuse. By "copping" a plea to assault rather than to statutory rape, for example, a defendant can avoid the embarrassing publicity of a trial and the wrath of fellow inmates or of society in general. In sum, there is no question that plea bargaining has many advantages, including making the administration of justice more efficient....
In general, then, process and product override principle. Smart affirmatives will look for ways in which the reasons for bargaining given above conflict with principles of justice.

The purported benefits aren't cost-free, either. Indigent defendants are pressured into decisions they mightnot have made, had better counsel been available, and habitual offenders, faced with teh threat of "three strikes" laws, have to plead to avoid mandatory life sentences, even for minor crimes. Most salient to the current resolution, though, are the other ill effects of plea bargaining:
Crime victims are another group whose interests are not always served by plea bargaining, and their plight illustrates further the process's irrationality. Long ignored in the adjudication of crimes committed against them, victims often feel "revictimized" by the deals that prosecutors offer offenders and believe they have been denied the full measure of justice they seek and deserve.

Another problem with plea bargaining is that it precludes the possibility of any further judicial examination of earlier stages of the process. In other words, with the acceptance of a guilty plea, there is no longer any chance that police or prosecutorial errors before trial will be detected.
That's a possibility I hadn't yet considered, and one the Neg should be forced to address.

I've got my eyes closed

And this is what I see.

I really need to get more sleep.

district secretaries hold candlelight vigil

Before the most recent Board meeting, Olympia School District secretaries demonstrated outside Hansen Elementary:
The Olympia Educational Administrative Professionals Association, which has more than 50 members, overwhelmingly rejected the district’s last offer in contract negotiations for the 2006-07 and 2007-08 school years. And the big issue was pay raises, said Dan Cuomo, a union representative with the Washington Education Association UniServ Council.

In the 2007-08 school year, for example, the district offered to give the secretaries a 3.7 percent cost-of-living salary increase that would be funded with state and local dollars.

Plus, the district offered to use local funds to increase pay for employees at a handful of steps on the secretaries’ salary schedule.

But about three quarters of Olympia’s secretaries have so much work experience that they have reached the upper end of the district’s salary schedule. And those employees wouldn’t see much additional money beyond the 3.7 percent cost-of-living increase, Cuomo said.

“The additional monies were almost nonexistent,” Cuomo said. “The very little they were offering was not across the board. That’s the big stumbling block.”

That’s why nearly 50 secretaries and supporters decided to have a candlelight vigil at Hansen Elementary on Monday before the Olympia School Board meeting there.
Commentator X-TAR gets it half right:
Here is a small bit of advise [sic].

If you don't like it..QUIT and find another job that fits your pay requirements.
That cuts both ways. If you want to hire and retain effective staff, you have to pay them a decent and competitive wage.

Oh, and to those who say that school secretaries are replaceable, transferable, or otherwise redundant: with any more than a day's experience in any school, you'll know just how wrong that is. School secretaries of all stripes are the glue that holds the system together.

Oct 21, 2007

Adam Morrison and J.J. Redick watch: the preseason hurts

Morrison, who was having a decent preseason, is likely gone for the year with a knee injury.
The injury occurred with about 5½ minutes left in the third quarter of Saturday night's 113-93 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers. Morrison was attempting to defend Luke Walton on a drive to the basket and crumpled to the floor in severe pain while clutching his left knee.

"Our medical staff has had a chance to review the MRI, and they're saying right now they believe there is some sort of tear," coach Sam Vincent said Sunday, about an hour before the Bobcats took on Phoenix in the second day of the annual Staples Center shootout.

"Until they get in there and do whatever they do, who knows? But they are saying there's a good chance he will be out for the year. So I'm not counting on him playing," Vincent added.
Redick, touring in China, didn't fare so well either.
Redick, who is vying for major minutes after playing sparingly as a rookie, twisted his ankle Wednesday in the first game against Cleveland and struggled staying with Larry Hughes defensively. Making matters worse, Redick's usually reliable three-point stroke was off.

He made just one of six shots Wednesday against Cleveland, had two turnovers and was yanked by head coach Stan Van Gundy twice for defensive lapses. On Thursday, he again struggled to find the range, missing seven of nine.

In the first two games, Redick made just one of seven three-point shots. That's why Redick was in the arena early Saturday, shooting three-pointers 2½ hours before the game.

Van Gundy said that Redick is pressing because of his desire to be in the rotation, and he thinks Redick's twisted ankle is bothering him more than he's letting on.

why I hate cats

I'm allergic to their very existence. Cats are evil.

[via the AV Club, which notes, "Wow, it's a piece of Internet animation with pacing, whimsy, and surprises. Also, it's a piece of Internet animation that doesn't make us want to claw our eyes out. Neat."]

Cougar cross country conquers conference

Capital's cross country teams took their second straight conference title at Fort Steilacoom yesterday, reports The Olympian:
Capital had four of the top five girls finishers, led by senior Amanda Wright, who cruised to victory on the 3.1-mile course in 19 minutes, 23 seconds.

Yelm sophomore Ashley Taylor was second (19:44) followed by Capital's Emily Wallen (19:55), Kailyn Swarthout (20:15) and Johannah Verhulst (20:24).

All five of Capital's top girls finishers, including freshman Brianne Wright (20:49), had their best times on the Fort Steilacoom course. Amanda Wright, Brianne's sister, is the only senior of the bunch.

"One of the things we try to work on with the girls is working with your teammates," Capital girls coach Kevin Wright said. "We tell them to 'run with your teammates as long as you can.' Training together, you know what you're capable of. Why not race together?"

The Capital boys took that philosophy to heart. After Lakes senior Seth Bridges won the boys race (15:39) ahead of Shelton's Dan Paine (16:13) and Lakes' Thaddeus Miller (17:07), Capital runners took the next five places.

Cougars junior Nick Harsell was Capital's top boys finisher (17:08), followed in succession by teammates Josh Echols (17:20), Adam Saul (17:20), Ted Christensen (17:29), Dalton Morgan (17:37) and Nathan Huynh (17:41). Christensen is the only senior of that Cougars pack.
Add to that a resurgent football team, with girls' soccer (9-1 in conference) and volleyball and boys' golf (WCC champs) and boys' tennis at the top of the heap, and you can see why Capital's got a full-blown case of playoff fever.

Oct 20, 2007

trick-or-treats are for squids

I usually loathe jack-o-lanterns. They're either crudely carved or rotten by Halloween. This pumpkin, though, is a work of art.

More insane pumpkinizing here.

non-upset special

Bro-in-law Jon, reeling from a Cleveland loss to the Red Sox, can at least take comfort in a Buckeye win over upset-hungry Michigan State.

Laura Jones, teacher of the year

I don't know about you, but it seems like nearly everything I've been reading about teachers and education in the past few weeks has been negative. Political controversies, funding problems, teacher-predators, school violence...

Some good news, then: a Pasco teacher has been named this year's best in the state.
Laura Jones was among nine finalists for the award, announced at the Museum of Flight in Seattle. The winner represents Washington in the national Teacher of the Year competition....

Jones, 38, who used to work in marketing and public relations, is in her 12th year of teaching. At Pasco, she teaches marketing and specialty-foods marketing, runs the Deca chapter and helps students run the school store. She earned her teaching certification from Central Washington University and her master's degree in education from Heritage University.

Jones said she realized teaching was a calling while she was in her previous job. There, she said, she enjoyed training people and working with interns.

Of her career at Pasco, she said, "I have the most rewarding job in the world, and my students just make my day, every day."
It's a sentiment I'm sure most teachers share. Congratulations to Jones, and to the eight finalists who have been honored by the state.

Netflix killed the cinema star

The wife and I thought about going to see Michael Clayton this weekend, but ultimately skipped it. "Netflix queue," we invariably say in such circumstances.

A theater trip to see a movie like Michael Clayton costs about five times a standard Netflix rental fee. That, more than a film's politics, or morality, or star quality, or special effects, or the theater experience, or any other metric of movie worth, is why box office receipts will continue their decline.

Life's short. Clooney can wait.

Capital shuts down Yelm, 27-0

Last night the Cougars shut down the Yelm Tornadoes, 27-0, scoring 4 rushing touchdowns and giving up only 81 yards of total offense. The Olympian's stat sheet says the Tornadoes fumbled the ball 10 times, losing it three. It says that Capital and Yelm combined for only 7 first downs, but 14 punts. And commentator fb says, "Pinocchio, Pinocchio, you are getting very wet."

I'm guessing the rain was a factor.

Good win for Capital, which moves to 5-3 overall, and needs a victory against Shelton next week to have its best chance at the playoffs. As The Olympian explains:
With the [North Thurston] win, both North Thurston (5-3 overall 3-3 WCC) and Timberline (3-5 overall 2-3 WCC) will need Shelton to beat Capital next Friday.

If that happens, North Thurston and Timberline will be in a three-way tie with Capital for the No. 3 and final WCC playoff spot. It would result in a Kansas tie-breaker to determine the No. 3 seed. If Capital wins, the Cougars receive the No. 3 playoff spot.
With the way Capital's been moving the ball lately, and with a playoff berth potentially on the line, I'm calling this one for the Cougs.

Oct 19, 2007

Oct 18, 2007

the risks of plea bargaining in exchange for testimony

Want an Affirmative that will make the Neg's head spin? Argue that, according to the current resolution, plea bargaining in exchange for testimony is unjust--because it is unfair to the defendant who enters the plea.

In "Beyond the bright line: A contemporary right-to-counsel doctrine," in the Northwestern University Law Review, Summer 2003, Pamela Metzger describes a federal system that slants cooperation agreements against defendants, analyzing American practice under the 6th amendment.
Unlike other plea agreements, a cooperation agreement only requires the prosecution to make vague and largely unenforceable promises about sentence outcomes. The defendant promises to provide complete and truthful information. The defendant also agrees to disclose all past criminal activities. Further, the defendant agrees to testify in grand jury or trial proceedings and, when asked, to participate in monitored telephone conversations or engage in other surveillance-type activities, such as wearing a wire. The agreement also requires the defendant to agree to postpone his sentence until his cooperation is deemed complete.

In exchange, the government makes only one promise: if the defendant provides substantial assistance in the investigation and prosecution of another individual, the prosecution will make a motion to the sentencing judge for a reduction of the defendant's sentence. Several caveats, and even an explicit threat, accompany this promise. First and foremost, the government is to be the sole judge of whether the defendant has truthfully and completely cooperated. The decision as to whether the cooperation rises to the level of substantial assistance will be left to the sole discretion of the prosecutor's office. Often a cooperation agreement does not specify the extent of the departure the government will request. And, even if it did, that request would not be binding upon the sentencing court. Finally, if the defendant fails to perform under the terms of the agreement, the prosecutor's office retains the right to use the defendant's statements against him at a subsequent prosecution for false statements.

Ultimately, the cooperation agreement is a gamble, in which the defendant assumes the risk. The parties expect the defendant's sentence to be tempered by the court's eventual ruling. But, if the cooperation comes to naught, or if the government deems the defendant's cooperation insubstantial, a defendant has no right to withdraw his plea, and he suffers the full penalties prescribed by law. The prosecutor's exclusive determination of whether the defendant has provided substantial assistance is unassailable unless the defendant can show that the government withheld the promised motion for unconstitutional reasons.
These problems are magnified in the practice of "pre-charge bargaining."
Pre-charge bargaining in the federal system has an extra dimension that adds to its importance in determining outcomes: cooperation with law enforcement.... A defendant who cooperates with authorities after all of his coconspirators have already cooperated or pled guilty does not provide substantial assistance, regardless of his candor in confessing and naming names. As a result, many defense attorneys advise their clients to provide substantial assistance before formal adversary proceedings have begun so that they can win the race to the courthouse door.

An agreement to cooperate requires delicate negotiations. The process moves forward through a series of "auditions" that test the likelihood of the defendant's successful performance. Successful cooperation generally requires the defendant to "provide truthful, complete and accurate information" to the government. In exchange, the government agrees to file a motion asking the district court to reduce the defendant's sentence so long as the defendant provides substantial assistance....

Moreover, cooperation and full disclosure carry sentencing risks, risks that may be hidden from the unrepresented individual. For example, because guidelines sentences are based upon "relevant conduct," a candid admission by a cooperator may form the basis for a severe sentencing enhancement. In negotiated cooperation, many defense attorneys obtain for their clients a cooperation agreement that limits the ways in which the government can use information volunteered by the defendant as part of his cooperation. Absent such an agreement, sentence-enhancing information provided by a defendant can and will be used to calculate his guidelines range. With or without counsel, despite their strong motivation to reduce their sentences, cooperating defendants struggle to give candid responses to government questioning. The risks inherent in any cooperation debriefing are exacerbated when a defendant is unprepared for the proffer and lacks experienced counsel to assist him. The government's questions may confuse a cooperator who may be too nervous or too unsophisticated to understand what information the government is seeking. Intimidated by the interview process, a cooperator may not always focus on his best interests; after all, the uncounselled defendant knows only that the government, which arrested him (or has threatened to do so), is now asking him to answer incriminating questions. The cooperating defendant has a complex and confusing relationship with prosecutors and law enforcement. On the one hand, the government seems to be offering him a place, of sorts, on the government team. On the other hand, the defendant and the government have fundamentally adverse interests and, if negotiations break down, the government can withdraw its promised help and protection. In that event, litigation about those failed negotiations will pit the unrepresented defendant against the full weight of the government: it will be his word against the word of prosecutors and law enforcement.

Under the critical stage doctrine, the right to counsel attaches only "at or after the initiation of judicial criminal proceedings-whether by way of formal charge, preliminary hearing, indictment, information, or arraignment." Therefore, by definition, pre-charge bargaining occurs prior to the time when the right to counsel attaches under the Kirby rule. However, the modern machinery of criminal prosecution is so finely developed that it is often "a mere formality" that the government has yet to indict a defendant. Pre-indictment negotiations are increasingly common; yet, the rigid critical stage doctrine means that there is a blanket rule that no right to counsel inheres in these proceedings no matter how concretely adversary they really are.
With a value of justice and a criterion including due process, an affirmative could show that the risks, especially under charge bargaining, mean that defendants who do "make good" and cooperate can still face full punishment, even though they deserve better treatment for their cooperation and admission of guilt. Basically, this pre-turns any Neg case claiming that plea bargaining is just because testifying defendants merit less punishment.

Your thoughts, as always, are welcome.

Oct 17, 2007

the Pharyngula mutating genre meme

Got tagged by dogscratcher over at Tainted Ideals. Go thither for the rules.

The most fanciful dystopian Russian novel in SF/Fantasy is: We by Yevgeny Zamyatin.

The best “bad” movie in Science Fiction/Fantasy is: Dreamcatcher. Eyebrows! Morgan Freeman's monstrous eyebrows!

The best sexy song in classic rock is: “Bang Bang” as performed by Nancy Sinatra. (The video, on the other hand, is decidedly unsexy.)

The best political satire in novelty music belongs to: Tom Lehrer.

Exhausted, I tag no one and thus go extinct.

The Olympian endorses Wilson and Barclift

The Olympian editorial board, joining the OEA, the Principals Association, and dozens of community leaders, endorses Frank Wilson and Carolyn Barclift for positions 1 and 4 on the Olympia School Board.

The Wilson blurb:
Frank Wilson, 42, a digital technician in the printing industry, excels is in his level of involvement in the leadership of schools. He has served as vice president and president of the PTA and as a site council representative in addition to all the fundraising and parental involvement activities associated with education today. He takes a half-day vacation time every week to work in the school, a tradition he will maintain and expand as a school board member.

Wilson supports the decision to change math curriculum, supports a simple majority vote for passage of school levies, would work for a collaborative school board and is endorsed by the teachers’ union and principals’ bargaining unit.

Wilson has demonstrated his commitment to kids through his active involvement in leadership positions in the Olympia School District. Voters should elect Frank Wilson on Nov. 6.
The Barclift blurb:
Barclift has a depth of knowledge and experience that Gentry Meltzer cannot come close to matching. In a board that has seen quite a bit of turnover in recent years, Barclift’s institutional knowledge is needed. She has been an advocate for changing the budget process to smooth out the peaks and valleys, worked on school nutrition and has been a strong advocate for kids and public education at the state and national levels. She has the support of teachers’ and principals’ and voters should re-elect Carolyn Barclift on Nov. 6.

Oct 16, 2007

an interview goes nowhere

NPR's Luke Burbank interviews Icelandic band Sigur Ros, and the results: not just unimpressive, but un-everything, as the interviewer sends up question balloons that are quickly shot down with one-word answers.

Philosophical / ethical interviewing question, with many attempted answers by commentators: when an interview goes south, who's to blame?

Ed Brayton crests the hill

One of the most prodigious bloggers I know has reached 40. Head on over and wish him a happy birthday.

young scientists bring the skepticism

Via NewScientist:
On 9 October, Sense about Science, a charitable trust based in London that works with 3000 young UK-based researchers, published a pamphlet detailing how its irked members had telephoned numerous companies to ask how their products actually worked. Some of the answers are simply amusing, but others - for example, herbal products that claim to clear the body of 100 parasite species - shocked those making the calls.

"The saddest part is that a lot of people who buy these things are desperately ill, perhaps with cancer or multiple sclerosis," says pamphlet author Frank Swain. Yet the firms "seemed completely unprepared for anyone to take issue with their products," says co-author Alice Tuff.
Read the full report here [pdf]. In one of the funnier (sadder?) exchanges, a company rep for a parasite-removing potion sends one of the skeptics a link to a Wikipedia page listing both real and fictitious parasites.


"Sublimity," wrote Longinus, "flashing forth at the right moment scatters everything before it like a thunderbolt."

This tie may have the power of a thunderbolt, but is far from sublime.

Somehow, it perfectly captures my mood. I leave you to decipher its import.

fungi and friends

One of several photos from my wife's visit to the Long Beach Peninsula.

(Dangerous tropical import not included.)

Oct 15, 2007

a Texas judge talks about plea bargaining

For an interesting real-world perspective on issues raised by the current resolution, check out PBS's interview with Judge Michael McSpadden. Some highlights:
What is your role in a plea bargain?
Oversee it, supervise, and make sure that it's within the bounds of our community, what our community expects that plea bargain to be.

I can either accept or reject any plea bargain. If the plea bargain is made, the court's responsibility during the admonishments or in the litany of warnings -- I make sure that that defendant who is pleading guilty or pleading no contest is doing so in an intelligent, voluntary manner, so that he knows exactly what he's doing....

But plea bargains are not transparent in terms of getting at the truth of what happened.
In the great majority of the cases, they want to plead. They know they're guilty. They know they've got the goods on them, so they're trying to make out the best deal they can possibly make. That's the great majority of cases we deal with.

You certainly have to understand that plea bargaining only works if you have experienced competent defense attorneys, experienced competent prosecutors, and a judge who will oversee, make sure this is done correctly. The human element will always [need] be there in order for the plea bargaining system to work properly....

What about times when innocent people plead guilty?
All I can do when I go out there is go through the admonishments. If I feel that anyone's qualifying in their response, [I say], "Are you pleading guilty because you are guilty?" There's a long hesitation, and they'll say, "No, Judge, I really just feel like I have to," I'm not going to take that plea; we're going to set up a trial. As simple as that. If at any time during the litany of admonishments that I give out there, if I in any way perceive this person pleading guilty because of other reasons than being guilty, I'm not going to take the plea. We're going to automatically set up a trial....

But the plea is the easier way for the defense attorney.
A lot of times, the retained attorney gets more for going to trial. They're paid more. So they're going to want a jury trial rather than a plea at times....
The whole thing is worth perusing.

Oct 14, 2007

autumn in Olympia

letting the law lapse

Since I've been thinking overmuch about justice and jurisprudence, I couldn't avoid reading the introduction to what is going to be an interesting series on Slate:
The importance of understanding why and when we will tolerate lawbreaking cannot be overstated. Lawyers and journalists spend most of their time watching the president, Congress, and the courts as they make law. But tolerance of lawbreaking constitutes one of the nation's other major—yet most poorly understood—ways of creating social and legal policy. Almost as much as the laws that we enact, the lawbreaking to which we shut our eyes reflects how tolerant U.S. society really is to individual or group difference. It forms a major part of our understanding of how the nation deals with what was once called "vice." While messy, strange, hypocritical, and in a sense dishonest, widespread tolerance of lawbreaking forms a critical part of the U.S. legal system as it functions.

this year's strange and confusing School Board races

Commentator msndis asks some good questions about the WEA's funding lawsuit against the state, and its relation to the current Board races. I'll answer each in turn.
Have you (as a union member I assume) talked to Russ Lehman about this?
Yes, I'm a (low-ranking) union member. No, I haven't personally spoken to Russ Lehman about why he pushed for the lawsuit without taking steps required by the WEA; my knowledge of the situation comes from discussions with union leaders. If they have more specific comments about the situation, they're free to speak up.
If the union is so in favor of this idea, why aren't the teachers actively working on this? Has the union been working with Nafziger, Parvinen and Barclift on this? If so, why hasn't it been suggested by one of them at a Board meeting? As you know, they do have a majority and can pass anything they'd like.
Since the issue was first floated, the situation has changed immensely. First, Shirley and Lehman voted against the "simple majority" resolution (a resolution strongly supported by the union). Second, Lehman and Shirley surprised the Board with a "merit pay for principals" plan, backed neither by the principals nor the union. Third, Lehman sent a threatening email to the union insinuating that the Endorsement Committee (of which I was a member) had base motives for choosing Frank Wilson over Jeff Nejedly. The strange turn of events, combined with bad timing (now that the campaign has heated up and the crush of the school year is full on), has put the lawsuit issue on the backburner, at least as far as I can see.

Part of the lawsuit issue is that, at this point, the District's joining is largely symbolic, since there are already several other plaintiffs. Add to that a tight budget and the intense personal feelings on both sides, and I'm not surprised that the combination of personal and situational factors had led to the present impasse.
It appears to me the union wants to have the status quo maintained and back the board members who have the majority but aren't doing anything to help the union.
Most people forget that, up until recently, the Board had voted unanimously 90% of the time, largely agreeing on the direction the District should go, and the Board's role in that process. It should be added that all the current Board members have, at various points, disagreed with the union. But there are disagreements, and there are disagreements.
What do Barclift, Nafziger and Parvinen do that benefits the teachers in the district? I'd like specific examples.
Parvinen is a bit of a moot point, since she's leaving, and her replacement, whether Wilson or Nejedly, will be a different voice on the Board. Barclift and Nafziger...
  • By and large, have trusted teachers' and administrators' judgment in instructional and curricular issues.
  • Have advocated at the state level for a more stable funding structure for basic education.
  • Have supported a Strategic Plan to streamline the budget process, reduce waste, and set priorities.
  • Have supported competitive pay for principals and for our Superintendent.
There have been areas of disagreement between the union and Barclift and Nafziger, but always in good faith.
Now, what do Lehman and Shirley do that doesn't support teachers? I'd like specific examples.
They have...
  • Proposed merit pay for principals, despite the objections of principals, the District, and teachers. The scheme, brought out of nowhere at a late budget meeting, and since promoted in The Olympian, is not only counter to the aims of the principals in our district, but is a likely first step toward merit pay for teachers, which brings up all sorts of equity concerns.
  • Proposed increasing collaboration time, at untold cost to the district, without asking teachers whether they need more time taken away from classroom instruction, instead of further compensating the time we take over and above the school day. (I don't need more collaboration time to finish the stack of journals I have to grade this weekend.)
  • Voted against the simple majority resolution because it was "hyperbolic" and had "poor grammar," even though the resolution comes from the Washington State School District Association and, to this English teacher's eye, was a little clunky, but conceptually sound.
This isn't to say that Lehman and Shirley are anti-teacher, or that Barclift and Nafziger are saints. In fact, the OEA's endorsement of Wilson and Barclift was made based on their experience and capabilities, and not on the political wrangling that came to light after we decided, with Board members lining up on either side. I can't emphasize enough how difficult our decision was, considering the strengths of the candidates in this year's election. Wilson, Nejedly, Gentry-Meltzer, and Barclift are all good people--sometimes I think that, as the campaign intensifies, we forget that.

I can only hope that, no matter the outcome, all involved can put the past in the past, and work toward strengthening what's already one of the best districts in the state.

Back to grading stacks of journals.

Oct 13, 2007

LWV forum with Wilson and Nejedly

The LWV forum is finally available online. As you can see, no one in the forum is a professional television personality. And maybe that's a good thing.

For the record, the OEA endorses Wilson.

best upsets of the day

Kentucky is good. No one's shocked that they beat LSU--but what a way to do it.

OSU relishes the spoiler role. This year's broken dream belongs to former #2 Cal. Upset factoid:
But the Bears were unable to handle their own business, becoming the 10th team ranked in the Top 10 to lose to an unranked team already this season.
I'll add videos as they become available.

ad trailer hits Olympia's streets

Seen last night cruising 4th Ave near the State Theater. (Cruising, I should add, is forbidden by city ordinance.) "Hey, it's a Blade Runner mobile," said a cineaste passerby.

God forbid this becomes a trend.

online students posting poor WASL results

Over at Washington Teachers, I discuss the putative WASL struggles of Washington's vanguard of online students.

good fences make good neighbors

And by "good fences," of course we mean "motion-activated webcam-toting nonlethal water cannons."

[via BoingBoing]

Oct 12, 2007

Harlequin's Macbeth: the rundown

We went to see Harlequin's production of Macbeth last night, thanks to friends who happen to be season sponsors. Overall we were quite pleased with the performance, which captures the power and terror of The Scottish Play. A brief rundown:

  • Andrew Heffernan is flawless in the role of the title character. He portrays Macbeth's moral instability and transformation from sympathetic hero to desperate evildoer with nuance and charisma that never borders on camp.
  • A simple stage, effective use of underlighting, a pulsing score, and gritty costumes set a dark and dismal mood. The appearance of Banquo's ghost is particularly noteworthy.
  • Strong supporting characters, including several capable amateurs, back up Heffernan's tour de force. The Porter steals several scenes, Macbeth's wife goes convincingly mad, and the Weird Sisters are as creepy as they ought to be.
  • By Harlequin's and Shakespeare's standards, this one's brief, clocking in at nearly three hours.
  • The graphic, Hollywoodesque murder of Banquo is more than a little overripe: lying lifeless on the ground, he springs back up to fight again before finally getting waxed.
  • MacDuff's son's part gets split with a daughter. Sure, it's defensible, but come on. Let the little "egg" have his scene.
  • Can no one affect a decent Scottish brogue?
  • The porter's rant, calling out lawyers, parking attendants, and urologists while shining a flashlight on the audience, is a major rupture in verisimilitude. This may be a matter of taste, but I found it distracting.
When you add it up, you'll see that the minuses are mostly quibbles. Shakespeare's most human villain deserves the powerful treatment Harlequin provides. Macbeth plays through the 27th, and is well worth watching.

Cougars rack up 42, beating North Thurston

The Rams scored 28, but it wasn't enough to challenge an offense that's finally starting to roll.
After an opening week victory over Class 2A Black Hills, the Cougars (2-2 league, 4-3 overall) were roughed up by crosstown rival Olympia and league bully Lakes, then were shut out by Timberline in a game that featured little offense by Capital.

That wasn’t the case against the Rams.

The Cougars’ balanced offensive onslaught registered 445 total yards and scored 28 unanswered second-half points.

Three touchdowns came in the fourth quarter, as Capital was able to overcome a 21-14 halftime deficit.

“It’s just everyone knowing what their role is on this team and then going out and doing it,” Wall said. “Tonight we just stuck with the game plan and executed. Our defense was kind of forced to carry us during the first part of the season, but now our offense is starting to come around. We’re starting to understand it better.”
The worry around these parts was that Capital didn't have the endurance to play a full four quarters of physical football. We'll let those four unanswered touchdowns speak to that.

The Cougars face Yelm next, Friday, October 19.

dream trio with a tacky tie duet

Some of us, unlike Josh, have strange and wonderful dreams all the time.

1. I'm teaching a class of students I've had before. In the middle of calling roll, I realize that I can't remember one girl's name. She becomes furious, and I lose it: I begin weeping, begging for the class's forgiveness.

2. My wife and I are driving somewhere in a rental car with a CD player. She wants to put in a No Doubt disc, even though I'm happily listening to opera on the radio. I can't get mad, though, since when she enters the CD, the player magically fuses both. "Sunday Morning" needs an orchestra mash-up to go from good to genius.

3. My parents buy me a new (used) car, and slip a $50 bill in an envelope on the dashboard, with a note that says to "get frequent oil changes." No time like the present, so I take it to a shady $9.99-per-change establishment on Olympia's west side. I meet the owner in a barren side office, where he promises to personally handle the work. I pace throughout the lobby, waiting for a change that never comes.

[Ties featured here.]

Oct 11, 2007

a wild one in Pittsburgh

Saw this one last night while grading papers. I just had to stick around through both overtimes--I've never seen two teams with such horrific defenses battle it out. And Wannstedt calling a pass play on 4th-and-goal with McCoy, his best player, not even touch the ball? That's gutsy. Stupid gutsy.

Back to work.

principals endorse Wilson, Barclift

It's official:
Both the Olympia Education Association and the Olympia Principals Association have endorsed newcomer Frank Wilson for the District 1 seat and incumbent Carolyn Barclift for the District 4 seat.
I'm also heartened by what Nejedly and Meltzer have said:
Meanwhile, their opponents — District 1 candidate Jeff Nejedly and District 4 candidate Lucy Gentry Meltzer — both say they would reach out to teachers and principals if elected, despite not receiving those groups' endorsements.
For both endorsements at least for the OEA, it was a difficult decision. We interviewed and deliberated for hours, spoke with teachers and community members throughout the district, and after a few days, made our decision in good faith, long before this race turned into a slug-fest and ended up dividing the current Board.

No matter who wins, I hope the Board can move forward in a spirit of cooperation and trust.

refresh yourself with healthy skepticism

Bad news: Peter Popoff, inexplicably, is back.
On his web site Popoff tells the audience, "I'm going to tell you about the miracle spring water." He says that while holding a very small plastic tube that holds a small amount of clear liquid.

Most infomercials promise amazing results, but Popoff promises outright miracles. Popoff says the little packet of water he advertises says can cure anything from cancer to bankruptcy. And he promises the audience, "You're going to see restoration - you're going to see miracles in your life."
Good news: so is the Skeptics' Circle.

Oct 10, 2007

defining justice in the plea bargaining resolution

The resolution states:
Resolved: In the United States, plea bargaining in exchange for testimony is unjust.
Thus, it's essential to define justice, which I've started elsewhere. Now, I'm going to start collecting professional, philosophically credible definitions. (Add your own, too, in the comments.)

Justice is equal legal liberty for all.
In "Retribution: The Central Aim of Punishment," in the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy Fall 2003, Gerard Bradley writes,
[J]ustice requires individuals to accept the pattern of liberty and restraint specified by political authorities. By accepting the established apparatus of political society and by observing its requirements, legal liberty for all is equalized.
Crime attacks justice for the entire community, Bradley writes:
The central wrong in crime, therefore, is not that a criminal causes harm to a specific individual, but that the criminal unfairly usurps liberty…. The criminal’s act of usurpation is equally unfair to everyone else, in that he has gained an undue advantage over those who remain inside the legally required pattern of restraint. Depriving the criminal of this ill-gotten advantage is therefore the central focus of punishment…. The goal of punishment, in short, is the undoing of the criminal’s bold and unjust assertion of his own will. Punishment assures society both that crime does not pay and that observing the law is important; by doing so, it restores fundamental fairness and equality.
When combined with Lippke's analysis, Bradley's definition of justice (as a value) and retribution (as a criterion) forms the framework for a powerful case.

Oct 9, 2007

today, today

1. Awoke from a dream featuring PZ Myers in a debate with no-show William A. Dembski, wherein the esteemed biologist kept being interrupted by guitar-wielding folksingers. This was followed by a nightmare battle with an ax murderer. (I was armed with a butcher knife.) I can always tell I'm sleep-deprived by the quality of my dreams.

2. Since Melissa's off ethnographizing on the Long Beach peninsula, the house was quiet and the bed was cold.

3. Drove to school at 7:00, discovering on arrival that the network was waffling. I got there early enough to squeak through a couple papers and make a mad dash for the copier. For once, no one was in line before me.

4. I taught. It was good.

5. I'm quite pleased with the quality of this year's new debaters. They are loaded with talent--strong voices, kooky and brash ideas. They're fearless. Combined with our old guard, they should do some damage in the region.

6. Home at 4:00. Time to update the homework blog and cook dinner. (Thanks, Melissa, for posting that fajita recipe like I asked.)

7. Back to school at 6:30, preparing for a presentation to the CHS Parent Organization, who politely listened to my sales pitch for Debate and Improv. Also, they sent me home with cookies. No surprise, really, since most of the parents there are moms.

8. Now I am home, wrapping up tomorrow's plans, typing this, missing Melissa.

gnats and stats

I'm always raging about sports wagering, and Mark Lamster only encourages my vituperation.
The more scientifically inclined will search their spreadsheets, study their data points, and review their equations to determine exactly what happened to this team, and where it was deficient. (Hint: the starting pitching.) I'm all for that kind of analysis, don't get me wrong. I read Baseball Prospectus, and I know my VORP from my WARP. But modeling has its limits. The last time I checked, there's no stat that predicts Pitching Effectiveness During a Gnat Attack. Baseball is a game of the happy, and sometimes unhappy, accident. The postseason will always be something of a crapshoot. Teams can improve their odds with intelligent oversight, but they will always be subject to the vagaries of fate.
And that's why you don't bet on sports.

Oct 8, 2007

100,000 years on ice, and no freezer burn

Microbes are hardy little creatures, NewScientist reports:
Microbes can survive trapped inside ice crystals, under 3 kilometres of snow, for more than 100,000 years, a new study suggests. The study bolsters the case that life may exist on distant, icy worlds in our own solar system.

Living bacteria have been found in ice cores sampled at depths of 4 kilometres in Antarctica, though some scientists have argued that those microbes were contaminants from the drilling and testing of the samples in labs. And in 2005, researchers revived a bacterium that sat dormant in a frozen pond in Alaska for 32,000 years (see Ice age bacteria brought back to life).

Now, physicist Buford Price and graduate student Robert Rohde, both at University of California in Berkeley, US, have found a mechanism to explain how microbes could survive such extreme conditions.

They say a tiny film of liquid water forms spontaneously around the microbe. Oxygen, hydrogen, methane and many other gases will then diffuse to this film from air bubbles nearby, providing the microbe with sufficient food to survive.

Thus, virtually any microbe can remain alive in solid ice, resisting temperatures down to -55° Celsius and pressures of 300 atmospheres.

Under such harsh conditions, the microbes would not be able to grow and reproduce, but they would still be able to repair any molecular damage, keeping themselves viable for more than a thousand centuries, the team says. "It is not life as we generally think about it," says Rohde. "[They] are just sitting there surviving, hoping that the ice will melt."
And waiting for the next great HBO series to replace The Sopranos.

tin whiskers, lead, and you

If you're like me, you see the phrase "tin whiskers" and think, "So that's why I go through so many razor blades."

Tin whiskers, it turns out, are an object lesson in misapplied environmental fervor.
Some companies say the EU rules threaten the reliability of their products, exposing them to unknown risks and possibly threatening people's safety.

But EU officials say the regulations banning lead, cadmium, mercury and three other hazardous substances are needed to protect people and the environment.

They also note that many types of electronics are exempt from the law, including military and other national security equipment, medical devices, and servers, data storage computers and telecommunications gear that use leaded solders.

Exemptions are also granted when alternatives to the hazardous materials don't exist yet, or because the substances can't be replaced without jeopardizing safety.

Still, even some companies with exemptions say it's getting harder to buy the leaded parts. They worry about the increased risk of pure-tin parts, the culprit behind the most devastating tin-whisker-related failures.

"Over time (the failures) are just going to get worse and worse and worse," said Jim McElroy, executive director of International Electronics Manufacturing Initiative, or iNEMI, a group of big electronics makers, government agencies and other parties active in tin whisker research.

"Even if the military is exempt forever, they will be forced to convert because they can't get the components they want," he said. "And that will eventually happen across the board."
Tin whiskers have been blamed for satellite failures, false alarms in nuclear plants, and a raft of other electronic misfortunes. We can only hope that engineers, in their scramble to find a replacement, can scare up something as effective as good ol' plumbum.

Oct 6, 2007

stomach this upset: USC falls to Stanford


Beating USC?

At the Rose Bowl?

Thou shalt not wager on sports.

2:50 left, down by three, on the Florida 7 yard line, 4th and 1, and LSU goes for it.

They get it. And win.

Thou shalt not wager on sports.

four reasons to support simple majorities for levies

Co-blogger and blog neighbor Ryan takes Angie Dorman to task for opposing Resolution 4204, the "Simple Majority" bill just aching to become law.
By all accounts, Ms. Dorman is a sensational teacher. There's no disputing the good that she's done for kids in a tough, tough environment. By standing against the simple majority she's working to deny other kids throughout Washington the same things that she would want for her own students, and that's morally indefensible.
How does Ryan reach that conclusion? Click through to find out.

Board candidates to discuss issues

TCTV will soon have the video for today's forum, sponsored by the League of Women Voters. The forum will feature Frank Wilson and Jeff Nejedly, both squaring off for Position 1 on the Olympia School Board. (Carolyn Barclift and Lucy Gentry-Meltzer were both unable to attend.) I'll post the video as soon as it's available.

Also, interested voters can catch up with the candidates at the following dates and locations:

Sunday, 10/7, First Christian Church on 7th and Franklin at 9:30 a.m.

Tuesday, 10/23, at the Reeves Middle School Library at 7:00 p.m.

Capital squeezes by Lincoln, 23-14

Friday night, Capital raised its overall and league record to the .500 mark with its first road win of the season, downing Lincoln 23-14.
It was an offensive battle most of the way, with Capital (3-3) striking first on a Thor Hansen 1-yard plunge over the goal line in the first quarter.

The Abes struck back, pulling the score to 17-14 in the third quarter with a quarterback sneak, but that's all Lincoln could muster as the game headed into the fourth.

Wall finished the game with 19 rushes for 94 yards. Capital quarterback Kellen Camus went 14-for-21 with 138 yards passing.
Capital stuffed the run, allowing only 43 yards, while racking up 206 yards on the ground.

This is a big win for Capital: its first on the road and first against a winning team. Already a marked improvement over last season.

Box Score here.

Oct 5, 2007

an Off! night for Joba Chamberlain

Update: ESPN dropped the video, so I did as well. We'll see how long this one stays up on YouTube. But here's the scientific explanation for the bug invasion.

Oh, and here's the rundown in Spanish. ¡Sí, señorita!

Tonight Melissa and I watched the strangest playoff moment of all time, in hi-def from a safe but skin-crawling distance, as Joba Chamberlain battled bugs and lost. Everyone at the Brewery City in Lacey was equally transfixed and horrified as gnats or mosquitoes or noseeums--whatever they were--swarmed the field, followed by trainers with Off! cans.

The spray didn't seem to affect the bugs much. Every time the camera closed in on Chamberlain's neck, you could see them feasting on his chemical perspiration. (Expect SC Johnson stock to plummet.)

Long story short: coupla walks, coupla wild pitches, one run; coupla innings later, Cleveland wins.

Take that, LeBron James.

terminal council meeting

Last week, the city council that needed therapy.

This week, the council that needed a body bag.

[via Obscure Store]

aggressive begging, or good old fashioned capitalism?

Seems that Seattle panhandlers are only starting to catch up to their global counterparts.
One of the men came geared with a cardboard sign. The cameras captured him using hand gestures, directing drivers into angled street parking, then directing them to the electronic kiosk used to pay for parking.

Unsuspecting drivers followed him as he took control, showing them how to operate the meter, punching in the parking time and even retrieving the drivers' credit cards from the machine before they could react.

In some cases, the panhandler even took the parking ticket from the machine, accompanied the driver back to the car and placed the ticket on the inside of the driver's car windows.

Then he asked for money.

Public service? Or slick hustle?

Over a month and a half, we watched as the two men targeted car after car, steering them away from pricey parking lots that charge $10 to $12 for two hours, to cheaper street parking spots that only cost $3 for two hours.

"I do this at lots all around the city," said one panhandler who identified himself as Hans Morris Reuben.
KOMO's question is already answered in the title: "Don't fall for Seattle panhandlers' slick parking hustle."

Seattle's ground-market venture capitalists are well behind the curve, however. When I visited Cape Town several years ago, panhandling was an entire secondary service economy. There was a guy dispensing paper towel in every public bathroom for a "tip." Or someone in every parking lot directing you to an open space--or on the street, pointing out free parking. (Apparently South Africans are easily befuddled.) Folks over there just went along, dropping 10 or 25 or 50 cents each time, whether out of charitable feelings, confrontation avoidance, or customer satisfaction.

Oct 4, 2007

we interrupt our regularly scheduled blogging

For tacky ties.

One technological... although a bit against the rules, since it's a clip on...

...and one decidedly old-fashioned.

[link via BoingBoing]

Frenchification effort gaining steam?

As our curricula become more and more centralized, both in Washington State and around the country, the reason for the ironic development* is worth considering. Studies like The Fordham Institute's provide it:
Last week, the results of a national test called the National Assessment of Educational Progress showed that Washington fourth- and eighth-graders score above average compared to their counterparts in other states.

This week, a new report shows Washington is again above average, this time in how it defines "proficiency" on its own tests, the Washington Assessment of Student Learning, or WASL.

A report released today by the Fordham Institute and the Northwest Evaluation Association says the WASL has a higher passing bar in reading and writing than the average in the 26 states examined. The exceptions were reading in grades 4, 5, and 8, where the WASL passing bar was below the 26-state average.

The report, called "The Proficiency Illusion," underscores the fact that proficiency in one state means something very different than it does in others — and sometimes from grade to grade within the same state.

"America is awash in achievement 'data,' " the report says, "yet the truth about our educational performance is far from transparent and trustworthy."
Even if you can quibble with this particular study's methodology, you have to grant that every state has its own assessment, and with nearly no coordination across states, there's absolutely no mechanism to ensure equity under the provisions of No Child Left Behind.

NCLB makes a national curriculum not only necessary, but inevitable.

*For the irony-deficient: Frenchification is brought to you by the same president who served up Freedom Fries.

plea bargaining sample case: due process Neg

Value: Justice
Inherent in the resolution. (Come up with your own explanation.)

Criterion: Due Process
Since the resolution concerns a formal legal procedure "in the United States," we must consider justice in an American legal framework. "Due process" is the right guaranteed under the 14th amendment to the Constitution, and is the way we best ensure justice has been done. It isn't perfect, but no human system can be. Due process is approaches closest to the asymptote of justice. (If you use that, you'd better quote me.)

C1. Plea bargaining is its own form of due process.
In "Trial by Plea Bargain: Case Settlement as a Product of Recursive Decisionmaking," in Law & Society Review, Vol. 30, No. 2. (1996), Debra Emmelman writes,
Viewed as a component of recursive decisionmaking, plea
bargaining can be seen as including multiple episodes of negotiating behavior as well as a wide range of litigation proceedings. Perhaps most important, plea bargaining and trial can actually be seen to converge: not only are plea bargain negotiations "rehearsals of scenes that participants would be willing to portray before a jury" (Maynard 1984b:114), but pretrial and trial proceedings are oftentimes precursors for case settlement.
C2. Plea bargaining restores balance to a process that presumes innocence.
Emmelman again:
It is important to note here McConville's (1986) contention that trials do not guarantee that truth (or perhaps justice) will prevail. Insofar as adversarial procedures do not guarantee that the guilty will be convicted or the innocent set free, and because our judicial system holds that defendants should be given the benefit of doubt (i.e., presumed innocent until proven guilty), it seems this type of plea bargaining system can ensure justice as much or more than trials.
C3. Specifically, plea bargaining in exchange for testimony further expedites due process.
Not only does one defendant admit culpability and face sentencing, but promises to provide testimony to convict another, permitting either the facilitation of a trial or further incentive for the second defendant to enter a guilty plea.

This is a "trial balloon." Your comments and criticism are welcomed.

Update: In order to halt the spread of misinformation, I deleted a couple of my comments that repeated an incorrect statistic. It screws up the comment thread, but you can still get the gist.