Oct 31, 2008

LD mailbag: aff and neg case ideas

Today's LD mailbag, about the Nov/Dec LD resolution, comes with two shell cases. Let's see if we can add a little yolk.
I'm a fairly new debater and I'm having a little trouble building my case (I've already been working on it for two days) and I'm still a bit stumped. I was wondering if you could give me a few pointers or just point me in the right direction.

Here is my Aff case so far.

Value- Justice
Criterion-Distributive Justice

cont 1-Felons are citizens
sub point A -all citizens should have the same rights
(evidence saying because all felons are citizens and they follow the same laws and have same legal duties the government should not be able to take away their rights if the felon has already served their sentence or is serving at the time)

sub point B-felons are equal to other citizens
(evidence supporting that felons are just like other people not completely moral or immoral and disenfranchising them is unjust)

Cont 2 Disenfranchisement is unjust punishment (I'm not quite sure how to tie it into my value and criterion if possible)

subpoint A-does not serve as a deterrent
(no evidence yet)

subpoint B- works against rehabilitation
(no evidence yet)

cont 3-???
First, "distributive justice" doesn't seem to fit as a criterion, since it doesn't match the second contention, and only obliquely relates to the first. Instead, we might have a dual criterion. One is a utilitarian justification: just punishment deters crime and rehabilitates felons (Contention 2). The other is a side constraint: punishment must be given within the bounds of due process and equal treatment under the law (Contention 1). I think those, if properly argued and defended, could be sufficient grounds to reject disenfranchisement of felons.

Subpoint A of the first contention needs help, though. If all citizens deserve the same rights, what justification do we have for taking away felons' rights to life, liberty, and property? We have to show either that voting is fundamental to citizenship in a way that those rights aren't, or come up with some other principle of justice that disenfranchisement violates, and retool the contention.

Okay, on to another case.
I'm a novice and I was to hoping to get away from the social contract on the negative side.

A teammate gave me the idea of running how felon's mindset is bad for enfranchising them. Also, something about how that is demonstrated by a town with a non-felon population of 3,000 and in the same county there's a prison with a population of 5,000.
My value would be societal welfare, and my criterion would be governmental legitimacy.

The problem is, I'm having a hard time understanding how to link it all together and how to argue it without being subjective... especially after writing my affirmative case.
The first argument, that felons are somehow unfit to vote, is usually argued in this way: felons have committed a crime and therefore have bad moral judgment; the state has the obligation to protect itself against those with bad moral judgment; therefore, the state has the obligation to disenfranchise felons. Still, the social contract lurks just outside, reappearing should any affirmative ask one simple question: in a democratic society, where does the right to vote come from?

The mathematical hypothetical example given, at first, seems powerful. If 5,000 incarcerated felons vote en masse to elect a soft-on-crime candidate, despite the wishes of the peaceful minority, won't the social fabric be torn apart?

Not exactly, for several reasons. First, a society in which more than half the population are felons is hard to describe as "democratic;" it would be so awash in criminality to necessitate a tyrannical government, or have such terrifyingly bad laws as to strain credibility. Second, such a society would be so economically stagnant and hard to manage (who's going to keep that many prisoners under lock and key?) that it would soon implode. Third, the only realistic scenario under which this would take place is a "prison town" where the inmates are mostly residents of some other locale. (That's how it works in the U.S., at least. The prison isn't your legal residence.)

So, unless I'm making some huge error in fact or reasoning, I find that argument difficult to sustain.

If you have case questions, either post them in the comments or email them to me, and I'll tackle them here on the blog.

Oct 30, 2008

a lukewarm defense of democracy

The Nov/Dec LD resolution forces debaters to consider the value of voting. In an otherwise unrelated blog post, Jason Kuznicki, who has a knack for clearly explaining complex ideas, provides a connection between the social contract and the right to vote.
Voting is a tricky thing, since it’s a positive, or government-created right; you don’t have a right to vote in the state of nature. The social contract creates voting.

By entering into society, you surrender a distinctly limited number of your natural rights, for instance the right to extract restitution forcibly from those who have wronged you. In compensation for giving these up, the state gives you some other rights (like voting, and trial by jury). All the other rights not clearly mentioned in the deal are yours to keep, at least in theory. And there’s no sense in saying you’ve given up more than you really have.
Negatives who are running the social contract analysis need to frame the distinction between natural rights and positive rights; it's essential to establishing the government's warrant for taking away the right to vote when a felon is convicted.

I like Kuznicki's answer to the objection that the social contract is a mere construct (call this the "I didn't sign any social contract" objection). Kuznicki writes,
The real question is not whether there was a discrete moment in which you entered into society. Clearly there was no such moment.

We tell ourselves the story of the social contract as a way of comparing real life to a situation that is obviously just. The more that real-life outcomes approximate the obviously just situation of the social contract, the more confident we can be in the justice of the actual situation. Likewise, the less they resemble an obviously just case, the more we can doubt their justice. Thus, although you never entered into society as you would enter into a contract, we still evaluate society as if you did — and when we find things that you would never accept in a contract, there is a plausible case to be made that these things are unjust.
Later on, in the comments, we get a social contract-esque defense of democracy.
I see the greatest value to democracy as follows: It ensures, better than any other system we know, a peaceful and orderly transition of power. Peace and order are still worth keeping, even if I disagree with the policies of the candidates running.
Kuznicki calls this "lukewarm." Still, from a realistic perspective, lukewarm might be the hottest water we can get.

Added: Oh, and if you need them, here are Kuznicki's bona fides.

a real life example of the felon voting resolution

As if to say, "Please use his name in every LD round concerning the November / December resolution," the fates have intervened, allowing convicted Alaska senator Ted Stevens to vote for himself in the upcoming.
Stevens was convicted Monday on seven counts of trying to hide more than $250,000 in free home renovations and other gifts that he received from a wealthy oil contractor. Alaska law says "a person convicted of a crime that constitutes a felony involving moral turpitude under state or federal law may not vote in a state, federal, or municipal election from the date of the conviction through the date of the unconditional discharge of the person."

But state legal officials say that since Stevens has not been sentenced yet, he is eligible to vote in the general election, said Gail Fenumiai, director of the Alaska Division of Elections.
He won't be sentenced until sometime next year.

Besides, when you're given the chance to say the phrase "moral turpitude," how can you resist?

Oct 28, 2008

extemp world rocked: Christian Science Monitor to go online-only

Extempers have relied on the Christian Science Monitor for years. No other citation carries so much weight with such panache. The CSM, though, apparently lacks readers outside the forensics community, and is dropping its print circulation to focus on its digital reach.
Come April, the Boston-based general-interest paper — founded in 1908 and the winner of seven Pulitzer Prizes — will print only a weekend edition after struggling financially for decades, its editor announced today.

The Monitor's circulation has fallen from a peak of 230,000 in 1970 to about 50,000 now, while its online traffic has soared. The newspaper gets about 5 million page-views a month, compared with about 4 million five years ago and 1 million a decade ago.

The Monitor was one of the first newspapers in the country to put content online, beginning in 1995, when correspondent David Rohde was taken prisoner in Bosnia.

"Obviously, this is going to help with our costs, but it also enables us to put much more emphasis on the Web and basically put our reporting assets and our editorial assets where we think growth will be in a very tough industry in the future, which we think is the Web," said Editor John Yemma, who was The Boston Globe's multimedia editor before he moved to the Monitor in June.
Well, National Forensic League, when're we going to drop the facade altogether, and allow Google in the prep room?

Oct 27, 2008

color: coordinated

Warning: highly addictive.

An incredibly nifty algorithm lets you search Flickr photos by color scheme. But don't try to click on more than ten colors, lest you incur the wrath of the Search Limitations Act of 1729.

[via BoingBoing]

Oct 26, 2008

LD mailbag: felons and Foucault

Readers have sent in some good LD questions regarding the current "felon voting" resolution. I'm answering them here in the hopes that others will gain insight as well. As always, add further questions or constructive criticism in the comments.
I'm pretty new at debating, and I'm having trouble writing cases. (I've been at this computer for the last six hours and still haven't come up with much!)

Here's my affirmative so far:
V: Justice
VC: ?
C1: The right to vote ought to be inalienable for all people in a democratic society
[backed up with evidence, etc.]
C2: ?
C3: ?
And my negative:
V: Justice
VC: ?
Obs.1: Felons = incarcerated AND ex-felons, affirmative must prove both
C1: Currently incarcerated felons are wards of the state and do not pay taxes, thus they should not retain the right to vote.
C2: Felons have shown lack of judgment by committing felonies, thus they cannot be trusted to vote.

Blargh. I'm so bad at this writing cases thing. What should I do?
I think either case is workable, with a few tweaks. Here's how I'd go about fixing them.

It seems like your criterion is "protection of rights." If justice is what people are due, then in a democratic society, they are due their rights. Right?

So, let's set up the affirmative this way:
1. The right to vote is inalienable for all people. (Felons are people, too.)
2. The right to vote is fundamental to other rights. (Which ties into the third contention.)
3. If felons are disenfranchised, society can use the law to disenfranchise dissent, a precious right in a democracy. (In the South, some disenfranchisement laws were drafted specifically to target African Americans.)
Now, for the negative.

C1 is not very strong, at least compared to other potential arguments. The elderly, for example, often pay zero taxes because all their income comes from social security. Yet they are allowed to vote.
C2 is workable.
C3 might be that felons have violated the social contract.

If the value was societal welfare, and the criterion the Social Contract, we could have two contentions.

C1. Felons' lack of judgment, combined with the right to vote, would threaten social order (thus tearing apart everything the social contract is meant to establish and maintain).
C2. Felons' violation of the social contract inherently warrants disenfranchisement.

Another reader writes,
I was wondering if you knew how Foucault's Normalization theory could be applied to the new LD resolution on felon disenfranchisement.
I'm no expert on Foucault--I'll leave that to Josh--but I think Foucault applies to this resolution in several ways. I mention one here.

"Normalization" is the process by which society standardizes its norms as a means of control. Felon disenfranchisement laws are perhaps the least subtle instance of this tactic, since they rely on the reason in the negative C1 listed above: that felons are "abnormal," and thus lose the right to vote. For a primer on Foucault's theory of societal punishment, check out this article.

So, Josh: any other thoughts?

Oct 25, 2008

whoa... we're wireless at Gig Harbor: part II

8:16 a.m.
I have to add the a.m. suffix, now, since this is Day Two of the Gig Harbor tournament, and we're smack dab in the middle of Round One, Pattern A. I'm running on zucchini bread, an egg, slightly caffeinated coffee, and moxie. If you're awake and reading this "live," my empathy is boundless.

I watched a Public Forum round. The resolution: that the United States government should implement universal health care based on the French system. Negative contention one: "universal" means "covering every condition at 100%" and since the French system isn't "universal" in this way, it's logically flawed and we can't affirm. Never mind that in the context of health care, "universal" and "comprehensive" aren't synonyms. Shorthand version of the contention: the framers are stupid.

Competing in Lincoln-Douglas debate means knowing what ICCPR stands for. It's great reading, trust me.

Pattern B--Impromptu, Humorous Interp, Oratory, and, as my former coach called it, I Can Read. The ratio of nervous energy to fatigue is reaching a critical level.

With his wireless connection, Mr. Anderson liveblogs, or, in better moments, helps debaters research important statistics or arguments to bolster their previously-demolished contentions. August, on the other hand, downloads service packs onto a jump drive so he can transfer them to his wireless-less tablet PC.

What is the carbon footprint of a debate tournament?

"Did somebody not take a Gandhi quote? How do you not take a Gandhi quote?"

Moyer on the mound tonight

This blog has declared its abiding love for Greg Maddux on many an occasion. Today, we salute Jamie Moyer, who not only pitches with eagle-like intensity and crafty intelligence, but is a humble guy to boot.
How can you not fall head over cleats for a guy who, after more than 20 seasons in the majors, still sits on the dugout bench and contemplates the simple beauty of a baseball game? Yeah, it's corny. That's what makes it so great. He doesn't care that it's corny.

"When I was 8 years old, I started playing baseball," Moyer says. "And I'm 45 and I'm still playing, at a different level, but it's still the same game. That you can never take away. That is never going to leave, this part of the game.

"Six outs to a full inning. In a major league game, you're going to play 8½ or 9 innings. That is never going to change. The money changes. People change. But the game itself is never going to change. … The people who designed this thing are brilliant."
I wish I could watch you pitch tonight, Mr. Moyer. Here's hoping you can turn it around this postseason. It'd be nice to know that at least one regional sports hero is enjoying success in something.

Update: Moyer's strong effort was almost derailed by a shaky bullpen outing, but the Phillies hung on to win and have a 2-1 series lead.

Cougars grind out win, beat North Thurston 29-24

Down by two TDs, the Cougars were being shut down by a tough North Thurston defense, until Joe Tolman gathered it up and returned it to the domicile.
Following North Thurston's second touchdown in a span of just 28 seconds, Tolman returned the ensuing kickoff 93 yards to put Capital on the scoreboard and seemingly wake up the slumbering Cougars.

The defense soon rebounded and Riley Wall and the offense took care of the rest as the Cougars emerged with a 29-24 Olympic/Western Cascade League win over North Thurston at South Sound Stadium.

"We haven't been in that position all year, but we knew they were going to come to play," said Wall, who ran for 168 yards and two touchdowns. "We knew they were going to come ready, we just needed to step it up."
At last, the Cougars are in complete control of their own destiny in the OWL.

Up next: Yelm.

Oct 24, 2008

whoa... we're wireless at Gig Harbor

6:27 p.m.
Gig Harbor has wireless, so this is a semi-liveblog of their speech and debate tournament. It's early Friday night, the time when the grease of pizza and the caffeine of soda have joined together in perfect harmony in your small intestine, and you have a nagging itch to argue over trivia. Example. In the middle of downtime, two CHS debaters are arguing whether XP or Vista is the superior Microsoft OS. A bit like asking which Titanic bathroom is the cleanest.

"You get better food for judging. No, let me rephrase that. You get free food for judging."

Another round needs to start, and soon. Nerd-gaggles slowly creeping back into the cafeteria. The rustle of pantsuits and cheap silk ties.

I watched my first round of the evening, after spending most of my time coaching from the sidelines. It is so hard to avoid making faces when people make putrescent arguments. So hard.

Has any debate tournament in the history of debate tournaments ever begun and ended on time? Methinks we'd have to travel back in history to at least the Middle Ages, when the Oxford Aquinians faced the Locke Posse, the former forfeiting due to perceived bias when the adjudicator declared himself a "tabula rasa" judge.

It is nearly 9:00 Debate Standard Time, which is long past midnight elsewhere.

This concrete block disguised as a bench has won the battle with my lack of sufficient padding. Thanks, genes + diet. (Exercise is not in that equation, remarkably.) I'll sign off because--hope against hope--we'll be leaving soon. And to think: I'll be back here at 7:30 tomorrow. Maybe even blogging.

go time

Our first debate tournament of the season starts this afternoon. If the blog seems a little quiet, with random outbursts of philosophizing, that's why.

From Tacky Ties 10 24 08

From Tacky Ties 10 24 08

This week's ties originally posted here.

parents and the dropout rate

Contention one: Parents are key to high school success.
Contention two: Kids are less likely to graduate than their parents.
Satirical conclusion: Parents are secretly undermining their kids' chances.

In all seriousness, it's good to see major media reporting on the dropout rate, and why it, not standardized testing, is the central educational problem of our time.

Oct 23, 2008

contest opportunity for high school journalists

Forest Taylor of the Allstate Foundation passes this link along, writing,
Essentially, by writing an article about smart driving and having it published in their school paper, high school journalists can help make a difference and create awareness about the No. 1 killer of teens. To help writers get started, The Allstate Foundation has provided story topic ideas, tips on smart driving, startling facts, and other resources at www.keepthedrive.com/journalist. Submissions will be accepted until September 1, 2008 to March 6, 2009.
The grand prize is $3,500. Not bad.

Oct 22, 2008

a general debate case rubric

When students are critiquing others' cases, I find it absolutely critical to provide a basic framework, so their comments are as specific as possible. (When it comes to feedback, there's nothing worse than "good job.")

Thus, I present to you a debate case critique rubric, which is applicable to any sort of debate case in general, although it's expressly created for Public Forum debate.

Download it for yourself here.

Oct 20, 2008

science in action

They may not be award-winning, digitally retouched masterpieces, but they're real photos of real science in action, sent by a loyal reader who will remain anonymous unless he chooses to break the silence.

Up first: Demodex follicularum, a mite that inhabits the sebaceous glands on your face. (Normal light microscopy.)

Second: A crawfish nerve. (Confocal microscopy.)

Oct 19, 2008

Capital shuts out Timberline, 21-0

Last week's loss to North Kitsap was essentially the result of crucial injuries, as the Cougars went without Reid and Riley Wall and quarterback Kellen Camus. This week, Riley and Kellen were back, and combined with Capital's stingy defense, the pair led the Cougars to a 21-0 victory.
Late in the third quarter, Camus, a 5-foot-8 junior quarterback, scrambled out of trouble and completed a 41-yard touchdown pass to Jourdan Weiks, who had gotten behind the defense near the goal line.

"It was a broken down play and I was scrambling," Camus said. "But Jourdan was still running his route. I saw him deep."

Weiks caught Camus' pass and dove into the end zone for a 15-0 lead with 33 seconds left in the quarter.

Camus struck again on Capital's next possession when he completed a 13-yard touchdown pass to Hunter Sapp for a 21-0 lead with 10:21 left in the game.

"We talked about that play on the sidelines and what the linebacker was doing," Camus said. "We knew we could throw over the top of him. I just put it up and Hunter made a great catch."
Unfortunately, Riley Wall was reinjured late in the game, and his status for next week's contest against North Thurston is questionable.

Oct 18, 2008

can USC score 100 points against the Cougs?

They're playing Washington State this afternoon, a week after the Cougars ceded 63 to Oregon State. (Wazzu has given up 233 points in 4 Pac-10 matches!) I'd say the Trojans' chance of passing the century mark is around 50%.

Anyone wanna bet a can of Cougar Gold cheese on a miraculous upset?

Update: 69-0, the first shutout in 280-odd games for Washington State, and perhaps a fitting way to end the streak: in abject and utter humiliation.

today's umbrage links

Adam Kirsch describes how, in his Rawls-directed ire, Raymond Geuss is a modern-day Thrasymachus.

Jacob Weisberg takes several shots at libertarians. The cheapest:
The worst thing you can say about libertarians is that they are intellectually immature, frozen in the worldview many of them absorbed from reading Ayn Rand novels in high school.
Emily Yoffe parses the evolutionary roots and social utility of umbrage.

The Transportation Security Administration is, apparently, bad beyond umbrage. Read the whole thing. Like the novel 1984, the last sentence is the saddest. [via Mark Frauenfelder]

"But our favorite Canadian import walked."

The incredible Red Sox comeback that you, and practically everybody else, missed because you had given up on the 7-0 game in the 7th? Bill Simmons was still watching.

Oct 17, 2008

poly and rayon

Two tacky ties, each a little late. It's been... busy. No injuries, at least.

more nifty science images

Another science photography competition, another group of fantastic photos. Enjoy.

The first batch is found here.

more definition analysis for the felon voting resolution

Regarding the Nov/Dec LD resolution, Guest Blogger OkieDebater writes,
Regarding definitions, I think there are lots of ways with this resolution to frame it to where it is advantageous to your side (without your opponent catching on until after they've already agreed to your definitions).

-When defining "felons", it is to the Aff's advantage to select the broadest definition possible. Two examples, both from Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary are:

"1. (Law) A person who has committed a felony.
2. A person guilty or capable of heinous crime."

With this first definition, one is making sure that the debate is not necessarily about currently incarcerated felons, but anyone who has ever committed a felony. This could include ex-felons (those who have completed their terms) and pardoned felons.

(Out of curiosity, would the Neg even make a distinction between a felon and a pardoned felon? IS there any inherent distinction that would account for different rights? Can justice be sold?)

With the second definition of felon, one could try to make the argument that almost anyone is capable of a heinous crime depending upon circumstances. This one is admittedly more of a stretch (unless you've seen the classic Spencer Tracy/Katherine Hepburn movie "Adam's Rib")

-Regarding "ought", the affirmative or negative have several options, depending on if their cases are consequentialist or retributive/deontological. An example of the two (from the American Heritage Dictionary) are:

1 Used to indicate obligation or duty.
2 Used to indicate advisability or prudence

The first is deontological while the second is consequentialist. This is the kind of definition that if your opponent let's you use, it can really become important in a rebuttal as you've already created a foundation as to why your philosophy is more relevant/paramount/superior.

-When defining "retain", there are not nearly as many options that are beneficial to Aff. The Neg can use definitions that obviously include currently incarcerated felons. If this is detrimental to your Aff case, I would suggest going with a definition such as this one, from Princeton University's WordNet 3.0:

"secure and keep for possible future use or application"

This seems to at least give the possibility that is something that can be put off for a later time, thereby potentially excluding incarcerated felons while still being a fair reading of the resolution (assuming, of course, that your opponent doesn't provide and defend a more typical counter-definition, such as "To maintain possession of" from the American Heritage Dictionary)

-I will try to find some good definitions for "democratic society" and "right to vote" later. The last (and probably most controversial) definition I want to put is "a". Yes, the word "a". It seems to me that there could be room to argue based off of this (Of course, as someone who has won a round based off of the definition of the word "is", I always think there's ground to argue). The options I see in this word are conditionality versus universality. While a "conditionality statement" (a statement that one just needs to prove one example to be true to uphold one's burden of proof) is never agreed to, a definition of "a" will most likely be passed by. Here are two definitions of "a", both from Dictionary.com Unabridged:

1. not any particular or certain one of a class or group: a man; a chemical; a house.
2. a certain; a particular

The first would be a foundation for the argument that this would have to apply to ANY democratic society. The second would be more similar to a veiled conditionality statement, as it could be a foundation for saying that you are proving that felons ought to maintain the right to vote in a particular democratic society.
This could be a tough sell depending on your judges, but your opponent would most likely not expect you to define the word "a", much less argue anything based off of it.
(Note: I realize you probably wouldn't want to use a dictionary.com Unabridged definition. There are other definitions that are similar and could potentially lead to the same arguments, although they are not as clear)

That's all for now. More definitions and/or random thoughts to come later.
I would add my own editorializing: unless you have a definition of "retain" like "secure for possible use," I'm not sure the argument that ex-felons are part of the equation (using the broadest legal definition of "felon") will fly.

If "retain" means "keep," or, in other words, "not have taken away," then the Affirmative isn't discussing a world where ex-felons can't vote, because in the affirmative world, they never lose that right. (This also probably requires a general definition of "a," to ward off the clever tactic of promoting one democratic society as typical.

As you can see, those definitions matter muchly.

Oct 15, 2008

not to belittle fantasy football, but...

Average IQ, by design, is 100.

You do the math.

[ad found here]

no rest for the aged

This morning, a surprise frost meant a surprise scrape o' the windshield, throwing my schedule out of whack. I missed the bus I usually take, settling instead for a later route.

My usual compatriots are a quiet lot. Their tranquility is the fruit of fatigue, and respect for others' fatigue.

Not so this batch. Six women, a clan of matriarchs, gaining in strength at every stop, engage in excited chatter. They know regular riders' names and berate them for appearing lethargic. They sing little ditties:
Good morning to you,
Good morning to you,
You look really drowsy
In fact you look lousy...
They commiserate, loudly. Endless procedures, tests, scans. "Clump clump clump," one sings out, and the ladies laugh. I can't quite make out the context, but frankly, I don't wish to.

I'm reminded of a scene in Jerry Lewis's (minor) classic, The Disorderly Orderly. As Lewis pushes her wheelchair around, an elderly woman converses with her ailing peers, endlessly describing her symptoms. "My bile," she says, "is always dripping, dripping, dripping." Lewis suffers from excessive sympathy, feeling the squeeze in his own liver.

Today I rode that bus.

Oct 14, 2008

travails of the Mac

I'm no Alec Baldwin in Glengarry Glen Ross, but I have my own ABC:

Always Backup Computer.

My school-provided Mac seems to think it's fun to crash, then delete all user profiles on restart. This morning the tech guy "blasted" it, figuring a little scorched earth precedes a forest of flowering data.

If I hadn't saved what I'd done, I'd have lost everything. Again.

Back up, son. Back it up.

Oct 12, 2008

value and criterion pairs for the felon voting resolution

Here are several value/criterion structures to consider for the November/December resolution, "In a democratic society, felons ought to retain the right to vote." Each value is chosen under the assumption that it could be defended as the core value of a democratic society.

I won't say which goes with either side; many, if not all, could apply to either Aff or Neg. That's determined largely by the arguments and evidence you assemble.

This is a first draft; as I go along, I'll add analysis to every offering.

Feel free to suggest your own--which I'll tack on at the bottom--or critique the various offerings, in the comments.

V: Human Rights
C: International Law
A democratic society, to be truly democratic, must uphold human rights. (You can figure out why.) Since the resolution does not specify a particular society, we can't be 100% certain which rights must be protected. Best, then, to look to the prevailing standards of international law--the rights that people across societies, cultures, and even times have agreed are essential. Is this criterion open to attack? Certainly. But it also presents a clear, highly defensible set of rights (and jurisprudence as evidence).

V: Freedom
C: Protecting Human Rights
Perhaps human rights themselves are only means to a greater end: freedom. Once you explain why freedom is the ultimate value of a democratic society, you can explain why prserving rights is essential to human freedom. Note that this structure works well for Aff or Neg; you have to provide the reasoning for either.

V: Justice (defined as "to each their due," or a similar concept)
C: Retribution

V: Justice
C: Another applicable criterion for punishing felons

V: Justice
C: Rawls' first principle of justice (or, more generally, the Rawlsian social contract)

V: Moral Pluralism
C: Tolerance

V: Societal Welfare
C: Utilitarianism
Utilitarianism is quite possibly the closest allied moral framework with democracy. After all, if the goal is the greatest good for the greatest number, what better way, societally, to achieve this than through democratic means? If the ultimate aim of a democratic society is its own well-being, then utilitarianism offers a way to determine whether felons' suffrage adds to or detracts from overall happiness.
Strategy for Success: Be sure to show how Util leads to SW. Watch out for the "50.01% can kill 49.99%" response, an oversimplification of Util. Learn about the nuances and varieties of Utilitarianism.

V: Autonomy
C: Respecting Human Rights

V: Human Dignity
C: Respect for Autonomy

V: Justice
C: Equal protection of the laws

V: Societal Welfare
C: The rule of law

V: Human Rights
C: Locke's Social Contract

V: The General Will
C: Rousseau's Social Contract

V: Societal Welfare
C: Upholding Moral Standards
Morality is good because it holds society together. (There may be social contract implications lurking beneath the surface of this structure.) If the core value of a democratic society, then we are justified in punishing those who commit offenses against morality.
Strategy for Success: This criterion respects differences across societies, since the resolution doesn't specify any particular society. However, it also leaves one open to the attack that morality is difficult to define and agree upon, even with in a society.

V: Justice (defined in terms of morality)
C: The Categorical Imperative
According to Kant, moral actions are good in and of themselves. Furthermore, Kantian theory applies to all rational agents, which are the foundation of a democratic society. Felons are rational agents, and must adhere to the Categorical Imperative. Those who punish them are bound by moral obligation to punish them to the fullest.
Strategy for Success: Many people misunderstand Kant and the Categorical Imperative, so make sure you do the research first.

V: The Common Good
C: Deliberative Democracy
The resolution concerns the aim of a democratic society, and the balanced or opposed interests of innocents and criminals. If deliberative democracy is the moral means to the common good, and felons threaten the deliberative process when they are allowed suffrage, then we ought not allow felons the right to vote.
Strategy for Success: Requires quality research and a quality debater. Not for beginners.

I think that reader Anand's analysis here is better than my hastily conceived idea. (Scroll down through the comments to see the discussion.) Anand writes,
Jim, I think we agree that deliberative democracy isn't directly applicable.

But I was just thinking about it, and one could argue that since the resolution is discussing what felons ought to have in a democracy, it requires a picture of what a democracy ought to be.

Obviously a democracy can exist regardless of whether felon can vote. So the challenge is showing that enfranchising felons leads (or doesn't lead on the neg) to a more ideal democracy.

Therefore, if you can show that your conception of an ideal democracy is more ideal than your opponent's, and if your ideal demands felon suffrage, you should win.

I don't think that I'm necessarily using deliberative democracy, but my case will have a strong Rawlsian framework with additional analysis on punishment and ideal democracy from behind the veil.
V: Freedom
C: Libertarianism / Minimal State

everything is consolidated

Jonathan Safran Foer was close.

November, following the Postal Service's lead, The Olympian will print in Tacoma. It's only a matter of time before the local rag mutates completely into the branch campus of the News Tribune.

Still, it was fun while it lasted.

a brief intro to standards-based grading

Want to get the jump on the trendiest trend in educational trends? Visit Dr. Pezz's classroom, where he introduces some of the basic principles of standards-based grading.

Oh, and here's a followup.

If your building isn't talking about standards-based grading, they will be soon. Trust me.

Cougars lose to North Kitsap, injuries

With Riley Wall out with a hurt ankle, and Reid gone for the season, and Kellen Camus out, the Cougars stacked an inexperienced group against a tough North Kitsap squad, losing 24-6 on Saturday night.
Capital was forced to punt on four of its first five possessions in the first half and never found much of a rhythm.

The Vikings (5-1 overall, 3-1 league) first score came after a defensive stop in the second quarter.

DeShano ran up the middle on a draw play and broke a tackle from Joseph Ingman for a 41-yard touchdown run at 11:21 of the second quarter. It was the only score in the first half.

Zach Sampson added a 43-yard field goal to open the second half and give NK a 10-0 lead.

Later in the third quarter, Capital's Alex Everson fumbled a handoff and the ball trickled into the end zone. NK lineman Jacob Glushko fell on the ball for the score and a 17-0 lead with 1:11 left in the third.

"It was a big game — for all of us," NK coach Steve Frease said. "Capital's pretty banged up, and we made some breaks tonight."
The loss puts the Cougars at 3-1 league, tied with North Kitsap and North Thurston for second place. We face first place Timberline next week. Hopefully Capital can get healthy soon--otherwise, we'll have a short stint in the playoffs. Right now every win is critical.

Oct 11, 2008

the lasting value of high school debate

Debate coaches everywhere: here's some free advertising, compliments of Eric E. Johnson of Prawfsblawg.
I feel kind of funny outing myself as a high school debater, but, as I’ve tried for years to convince my wife, being a debater actually was cool at my high school. Now, we weren’t as cool as the cheerleaders and football players, but we often hung out with them. (When I try to explain this to my wife, I can tell she doesn’t want to harsh on my reality, but her mouth just involuntarily screws up into an uneven grimace of dubiety. Hey, it’s not like we were mathletes.)

Honestly, I give credit to high school debate as being the single-most important intellectual training I’ve received. Not that the $100,000 I spent on law school didn’t come in a close second, of course. But in all seriousness, I think if I had Warren Buffet’s problem of having billions of dollars that I needed to give away, I’d cleave off a healthy chunk to seed high school debate programs, especially in disadvantaged school districts.
Hear, hear.

Of course, my unstated assumption is that teaching law is a valuable occupation. But I can warrant it on request--thanks to training in high school debate.

[via Ilya Somin]

axis of evil drops a spoke

Is this good news?
North Korea has agreed to all U.S. nuclear inspection demands and the Bush administration responded Saturday by removing the communist country from a terrorism blacklist. The breakthrough is intended to salvage a faltering disarmament accord before President Bush leaves office in January.

"Every single element of verification that we sought going in is part of this package," State Department Sean McCormack said at a a rare weekend briefing.

North Korea will allow atomic experts to take samples and conduct forensic tests at all of its declared nuclear facilities and undeclared sites on mutual consent. The North will permit experts to verify that it has told the truth about transfers of nuclear technology and an alleged uranium program.
Not everyone thinks it's good news.
Critics pilloried the development because it addresses only the North's plutonium program and does not deal with its involvement in spreading nuclear weapons technology or alleged uranium enrichment activities.

"With today's action, the administration has given up a critical instrument of leverage," said Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. "By rewarding North Korea before the regime has carried out its commitments, we are encouraging this regime to continue its illicit nuclear program and violate its pledge to no longer provide nuclear assistance to extremist regimes."

"We are also sending a strong message to other rogue nations, such as Iran and Syria, that we will not hold them to their commitments, even as we give in to their demands," she said.
The farthest-reaching legacy of the Bush administration may not be the wars fought, but the war avoided.

I hope it's good news.

Oct 10, 2008

bus stop blogging II

Can a computer die twice in one school year?

Yes. Yes it can.

This time, not total death, though. My computer is "mostly dead." I can't login (and neither can the admin), but my data's still there. Or so I've been told.

How it happened: Inserted student jump drive, since the student needed to print a document. Printed it, no problem. Ejected jump drive by dragging it to the trash. Computer froze. Had to hard reboot. On reboot, this lovely little Mac didn't recognize any saved profiles, even the administrator.

The tech guy tells me he can have it back by the weekend. So I'm sitting at the bus stop, blogging with a borrowed laptop and a thimble's worth of hope.

Oct 9, 2008

the microbe ate uranium (byproducts)

Another breakthrough in origin-of-life research: a gold bug, but not outta Poe.
Chivian's analysis shows that D. audaxviator gets its energy from the radioactive decay of uranium in the surrounding rocks. It has genes to extract carbon from dissolved carbon dioxide and other genes to fix nitrogen, which comes from the surrounding rocks. Both carbon and nitrogen are essential building blocks for life as we know it, and are used in the building blocks of proteins, amino acids. D. audaxviator has genes to produce all the amino acids it needs.

D. audaxviator can also protect itself from environmental hazards by forming endospores – tough shells that protect its DNA and RNA from drying out, toxic chemicals and from starvation. It has a flagellum to help it navigate.

"One question that has arisen when considering the capacity of other planets to support life is whether organisms can exist independently, without access even to the Sun," says Chivian. "The answer is yes and here's the proof. It's philosophically exciting to know that everything necessary for life can be packed into a single genome."
It's quite probable that the bacterium is over 3 million years old. If it can survive there, who knows what might be living elsewhere.

standards-based grading: coming to a school near me

I read about North Thurston's switch to standards-based grading in elementary schools...
Teachers no longer will include homework or students' behavior as part of a letter grade; the mark only will represent the student's learning achievement, measured by test scores, key assignments and observations. Work habits, homework and behavior will be evaluated separately.

Other changes include:

• Late assignments will not reduce a grade

• Extra credit or bonus points also will not typically factor into the grade

• Grades will not be based on attendance

• Homework will not be factored into grades, but rather used as practice and to guide teachers on what to focus on.

• Grades will be organized by standards or learning goals rather than on one specific subject. For example, the third grade report card will measure students' reading skills based on fluency, vocabulary and comprehension.
... and the next day was asked to read a slightly overgrown pamphlet about standards-based grading "fixes," including all the changes listed above. The goal: prepare me to participate in a book group examining Capital's assessment practices.

I detect a trend.

never mind the recession

Tuesday and Thursday, in succession.

Because these guys could stand some polyester cheer.

Oct 7, 2008

Rawls and the rights of felons

Why might you use Rawls for the November/December resolution? Answer: Rawls is all over democracy. In fact, a Rawlsian conception of a "democratic society" could be the basis of an interesting case.

In "Political illiberalism: The paradox of disenfranchisement and the ambivalences of Rawlsian justice," found in the January 1997 Yale Law Journal, Jesse Furman, who aims to critique Rawls, shows the strengths and weaknesses of a Rawlsian approach to punishment as it relates to felon voting.

Furman describes Rawls's view of a democratic society:
Rawls's principal aim in Political Liberalism is to specify a "political conception of justice" given the "fact of reasonable pluralism": the fact that a democratic society is characterized "not simply by a pluralism of comprehensive religious, philosophical, and moral doctrines but by a pluralism of incompatible yet reasonable comprehensive doctrines." The political conception is conceived as the focus of an "overlapping consensus" of these differing comprehensive doctrines.
From the clash of perspectives behind the veil of ignorance arises a complete framework for a liberal society.
[T]he first principle of justice as fairness is that each person is to have an equal right to the most extensive total system of basic liberties. This principle is defined as prior to the second principle, meaning that greater social or economic advantages can neither justify nor compensate for a deviation from the institutions of equal liberty.... [T]he "worth of the political liberties to all citizens... must be approximately equal, or at least sufficiently equal, in the sense that everyone has a fair opportunity to hold public office and to influence the outcome of political decisions." Principal among all the basic liberties, therefore, are the political liberties; principal among the political liberties is the right to vote. As Rawls writes in A Theory of Justice: "[A]ll citizens are to have an equal right to take part in, and to determine the outcome of, the constitutional process that establishes the laws with which they are to comply."
Furman cites Supreme Court Justice Abe Fortas, who noted that the franchise "is the sacred and most important instrument of democracy." Furman, quoting Rawls, then explains the reason for the centrality of suffrage.
First, the political liberties are "essential... to make sure that the fair political process specified by the constitution is open to everyone on a basis of rough equality." Second, they are crucial "in order to establish just legislation." As a result, "it is not implausible that these liberties alone should receive the special guarantee of fair value. This guarantee is a natural focal point between merely formal liberty on the one side and some kind of wider guarantee for all basic liberties on the other." This argument is based principally on pragmatic concerns: Political liberties are crucial because they provide access to the process that determines the value of all the basic liberties.
Two Supreme Court cases that take a Rawlsian stance: Yick Wo v. Hopkins, and Wesberry v. Sanders, which held that
"No right is more precious in a free country than that of having a voice in the election of those who make the laws under which, as good citizens, we must live. Other rights, even the most basic, are illusory if the right to vote is undermined."
The work of the Affirmative running Rawls, then, is to show how denying felons the franchise undermines the value of the vote, by using "justice as fairness" as the value of a democratic society, and Rawls' first principle as a criterion.

There is a foundational critique of Rawls, though, for the Affirmative who's running something else and facing a Rawlsian neg (and a warning to both sides who run with Rawls). Consider the "original position," from which the putative members of a just society choose the rules. Reasoning from this plural starting point, Rawls aims to establish a democratic society that not only meets the approval of a vast majority of its members, but is warranted to the degree that criminality can be punished. To this end, Furman notes, Rawls argues that not only is a democratic society reasonable, but its principles are obviously reasonable to all, even to criminals. In other words, it is simply unreasonable for someone to consider the principles derived from the original position to be unjust.
Perversely enough, therefore, the dissonant individuals themselves are considered participants in their own treatment or punishment. Indeed, this insight forms the basis of a brief critique of social contract theory by the French philosopher Michel Foucault: "In effect the offense opposes an individual to the entire social body; in order to punish him, society has the right to oppose him in its entirety. It is an unequal struggle: on one side are all the forces, all the power, all the rights." The criminal in such circumstances faces a penalty that "seems to be without bounds," while because he is a part of the social body that is bound by the contract, he cannot object--he wills his own punishment....

Thus it seems that justice as fairness is voluntary and liberal only up to a point: only for those whose self-understandings would have them voluntarily comply with it in the first place, or whose self-understandings are easily adaptable to the mandatory self-understandings prescribed by justice as fairness. For all others, Rawls can only say: "Your nature is your misfortune."
Anyone considering the core values of a democratic society must include tolerance in that list; a democratic society that cannot handle friendly dissent, as Karl Popper noted, is ceding to its totalitarian impulses. Rawls seems to be edging close to a reasonable totalitarianism by majority rule.

What's the alternative, then? Furman describes a "duty to engage in dialogue" as the answer to Rawls' overreliance on reason. Democracy is messy, and a democratic society simply has to live with that fact.

On the other hand, see here for a Rawlsian defense of punishment.

All Hail Rawls Addendum
I'm holding on to this thought for the next time a U.S.-centered resolution rolls around, and I need to warrant Rawls as my criterion-maker of choice:
Rawls's liberal political philosophy is the theory most closely aligned with the way we live and view ourselves in America today; his ideals reflect and inform those ideals that American institutions attempt to fulfill.
There may be other ways to put it, but this one has a certain grace. (Read the whole article to learn why Furman is convinced of Rawl's dominion over American political thought.)

Final Note
This post is a little disjointed and rushed, for the sake of getting out there so you could critique it with all due haste. So, have at it.

I am not liveblogging the McCain / Obama Town Hall

Dignity demands restraint.

Oct 6, 2008

Oct 5, 2008

the Bible as a magazine

A fascinating project by Sweden's Dag Soderberg: the Bible in magazine form. It reminds me of the 1970s-era "Living Bible," except more sophisticated in its construction: the gospel according to Wired.

[via BoingBoing]

defining democratic society in the Nov/Dec LD resolution

"In a democratic society" establishes the context for the November/December LD resolution. Defining "democratic," then, is important to determining the choice of a value and a criterion. In fact, I'd argue that this could be the most important definition. Any value chosen by either side must be defended as the core value of a democratic society.

So, let's see some definitional choices. You have several options: you could define each word separately (which we'll do first), or define the phrase (which we'll attempt at the end).

Dictionary.com (Random House):
1. pertaining to or of the nature of democracy or a democracy
And, of course, democracy means:
government by the people; a form of government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised directly by them or by their elected agents under a free electoral system.
Merriam-Webster: 1: of, relating to, or favoring democracy. Democracy, of course, meaning:
1 a: government by the people ; especially : rule of the majority b: a government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation usually involving periodically held free elections
Black's Law Dictionary (8th edition) defines democracy thusly: Government by the people, either directly or through representatives.

Notice a pattern? All of these are focused on democracy as a form of government, which is fine--and defensible. When combined with "society," the phrase would mean a people or culture sharing a representative or directly-elected government. This is the definition that probably squares best with a "social contract" case based on Rousseau's conception (in particular) or Locke's version (with slight modification or allowances).

However, "democratic" also has a different connotation. Dictionary.com:
2. pertaining to or characterized by the principle of political or social equality for all
3: relating to, appealing to, or available to the broad masses of the people <democratic art>4: favoring social equality : not snobbish
These definitions work best with a value of equality or equal treatment under the law.

Next, "society." This shouldn't be too problematic. I like Merriam Webster's here:
3 a: an enduring and cooperating social group whose members have developed organized patterns of relationships through interaction with one another b: a community, nation, or broad grouping of people having common traditions, institutions, and collective activities and interests
Either one would probably work for the purposes of your case.

Can we define the phrase as a phrase? Perhaps. A definition that comes quite close is found in an analytical passage from Cuban Communism, by Horowitz and Suchlicki, p. 430:
A truly democratic society is defined not only by its party structure, constitution, delegation of authority, or electoral representation, but by its capacity to tolerate and incorporate dissent.
If felon disenfranchisement becomes a way of squelching dissent, we have a germane definition.

If I can find better examples, I'll update this entry.

Last, for a more substantial analysis of the normative attractions and problems of democracy, see the Stanford Encylopedia's entry on the subject. Particularly useful is the section discussing the values justifying democracy--a few of which could be used as core values in your constructive.

how much ya bank?

If you're a teacher, you probably know where you stand on the salary schedule. But what about your teacher friends? Or what if you're a curious civilian? Teacher pay, after all, is a matter of public record, right?

In steps The Olympian.
School district employee salaries are the latest addition to The Olympian's online Data Center, which also lists pay for other public employees, restaurant health inspection results, property transfers and other public information.

All of the databases are based on information available to the public and will be updated regularly.

The school salary database was obtained through a public-records request of the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction. It includes data from all of the school districts in Washington.

The Olympian's salary database can be searched by last name or first name, as well as by district and position.
I checked it out and the data, although one year distant, is otherwise solid. Surprisingly, "not enough" isn't included in my listing.

[SNL's classic "How Much Ya Bench?" transcript found here.]

Oct 4, 2008

Lacey's red light cameras head to court

Yesterday, as my wife and I drove through Lacey, we watched as several citizens were photographed running solid reds at Sleater-Kinney and Pacific. The darkness of overcast skies accentuated the flash. They're working, I thought. As in, the cameras are on. But are they really working?

The Olympian reports this morning that the first batch of citations have entered the court system. So far, not so good, at least from an enforcement perspective:
The nine people who appeared Friday before Thurston County District Judge Susan Dubuisson were the first to go to court to challenge the $124 tickets issued under Lacey's red-light photo enforcement program.... Dubuisson ended up upholding the full fine for just one person, Evaline Fuik of Olympia....

She dismissed three tickets. John Kenney, an elderly man who's hard of hearing, testified that his caregiver, not he, was driving the car at the time of the infraction; under the law, the cameras can only take pictures of the license plates and not the occupants. Lacey city prosecutor Joe Svoboda moved to dismiss and said the caregiver could receive a ticket.
We have no idea, right now, how many citations have been issued, and whether the cameras are anywhere near cost-effective, never mind effective, never mind fair from a due process standpoint.

Any system that drags the geriatric owner of a vehicle into court when the caretaking driver is at fault has a few flaws. My wife, furthermore, is certain that a few red light runners were missed by the system. If the error rate potentially tops 33%--that's simply unacceptable.*

Here's another bothersome point:
American Traffic Solutions is charging the city $9,200 a month to operate the two cameras. The city will receive money only if fines collected cover the fees and unpaid balances. The city needs to collect fines from 75 violations each month to pay costs.
What we don't need: extra pressure on our judges to meet a subtle quota.

Longer yellows are just too cheap and efficacious, I guess.

Oh, and the tacky tie is Thursday's. I wore it for "Do Work Day." I dressed, appropriately, as a judge.

*Of course, not knowing how many citations aren't being challenged, this number is a total back-of-the-envelope calculation; it could be a wild overestimate, or, depending on how many violators the system misses, it could be an underestimate. That we don't know the number is problematic enough on its own.

the future of science in the Olympia School District

Is up to you:
A community roundtable forum Monday will help shape what science instruction will look like in the Olympia School District in the future.

Curriculum director Debbi Hardy said the discussion will cover more ground than what's covered in the district's K-12 science.

The forum won't just focus on the science curriculum or the new science standards that are being developed by the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction. It will discuss the way that science is taught, she said.

"This conversation Monday night is a bigger conversation" than just curriculum, Hardy said. "The purpose of this forum is to talk about what our community really values about science and science education. To have the kind of dialogue that will help us as we look at our whole system."
The event runs from 6:30 to 8:30 at the Olympia High School commons, Monday, October 6th.

My two cents: science is fun, and the pace of discovery and change in various disciplines has ratcheted up in recent decades. All teachers should cross-pollinate a little science lovin' into all content areas.

collateral damage: disenfranchising felons is extraneous punishment

Affirming the Nov/Dec LD resolution means showing why, in a democratic society, felons should retain the right to vote. In "Lock Them up and Throw away the Vote," found in the winter 2005 edition of the Chicago Journal of International Law, Robin Nunn creates a compelling argument to that effect.

Nunn gives several reasons.

1. International law has established the centrality and sanctity of the right to vote.
a. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 2, states,
Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.
If "felon" is a "status," we have problems. Furthermore, felony disenfranchisement laws disproportionately affect minority groups (and, in many cases, were specifically intended to have this impact).
b. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Article 25, states,
Every citizen shall have the right and the opportunity, without any of the distinctions mentioned in article 2 and without unreasonable restrictions: (a) To take part in the conduct of public affairs, directly or through freely chosen representatives; (b) To vote and to be elected at genuine periodic elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret ballot, guaranteeing the free expression of the will of the electors; (c) To have access, on general terms of equality, to public service in his country.
There are reasonable restrictions allowed, it must be noted; but Nunn will argue that disenfranchising felons is unreasonable.

2. International courts have a dim view of disenfranchisement.
Some cases worth examining:
a. August and Another v Electoral Commission and Others (South Africa)
b. Sauvé v Canada (Canada)
c. Hirst v United Kingdom (European Court of Human Rights)
All of these ruled in favor of a prisoner's right to vote; all contain strong rhetoric about the essential, instructive, and dignifying aspects of voting, even for felons.

3. Many countries allow felon suffrage.
In Germany, the law obliges prison authorities to encourage prisoners to assert their voting rights. A few countries restrict the vote for a short period after conclusion of the prison term. For example, in Finland and New Zealand, persons convicted of buying or selling votes or of corrupt practices would have their vote restricted after serving their sentence. In South Africa, prisoners helped elect one of their own: Nelson Mandela. In Israel, an incarcerated felon led the Shas Party in its victory in gaining seats in the Israeli parliament. According to research by Penal Reform International, prisoners generally maintain their right to vote in countries such as Japan, Norway, Peru, Poland, Kenya, Denmark, the Czech Republic, Romania, Zimbabwe, the Netherlands, Sweden, France, Norway, and Germany.
4. Ultimately, felon disenfranchisement is worthless, since it is imposed automatically, above and beyond the retributive purpose of criminal punishment. The process ensures the "invisible" nature of disenfranchisement:
Since statutory law determines whether felon offenders retain their right to vote, criminal disenfranchisement is not imposed by order of a judge as part of a criminal sentence. It is a collateral consequence of conviction that occurs automatically and administratively.
For an affirmative running a case based on a value of justice, with a criterion of retribution (in the context of a resolution advocating felons' rights, this may be a good idea), disenfranchisement is purely gratuitous. Other nations and international bodies realize this; with research, careful reasoning, and persuasive delivery, so will your LD judge.

Oct 3, 2008

Capital pummels Bremerton, 33-0

I convinced my dad and bro-in-law to come with me to Capital's homecoming match against the Bremerton Knights, to see the rain-dampened spectacle (which didn't disappoint) and to gaze on in wonderment as an offensive powerhouse ran it up against an overmatched league opponent. Despite the absence of Reid and Riley Wall (for unspecified reasons) the Cougars dominated on both sides of the ball, racking up 33 points while allowing none.

When my dad, bro-in-law, and I left in the 4th quarter, Capital was holding its lead , thanks to a punishing ground attack led by sophomore Tyler Sundberg and junior Joe Tolman, who scored the game's first touchdown with 7:51 left in the first. Sundberg finished with 3 touchdowns (and 3 fumbles--none damaging, ultimately). Senior Hunter Sapp had a touchdown catch in the 1st, and John and Joseph Ingman came away with a couple interceptions between them.

Bremerton's offensive play-calling was at times mystifying. Capital's consistent blitz pressure led to a series of overthrown passes, and the Cougars' speed on the corners kept Michael Powell, the Knights' bruising tailback, from getting anywhere. It wasn't until late in the third quarter, though, that Bremerton started moving the chains, throwing in a few playaction passes. Too little, far too late.

Unfortunately, Capital's quarterback Kellen Camus went down in the 4th quarter, going down awkwardly, eventually walking off the field with assistance while favoring his right leg. The status of his injury was unknown at the time.

Story of the game: on 4th and short in the 3rd quarter, the Knights, down 26-0, went for it. Another overthrown pass. The coach, fuming on the sidelines, chucked his clipboard, appearing to hit one of his players on his helmet. On their next possession, Bremerton actually started making progress, causing us to joke that all it took was abandoning all pretense of strategy. Better luck next time, Bremerton.

The Cougars look to continue their dominance of the WCC/OWL when they face North Thurston Kitsap next week.

Update 10/4/08: The Olympian reports that Riley Wall, CHS's leading rusher, was out with an ankle sprain. Twin brother Reid is gone for the season due to a neck injury. Tough losses both.

defining felons in the Nov/Dec LD resolution

When it comes to the Nov/Dec LD resolution, defining "felons" is, of course, vital to the way the debate runs. Since the resolution is focused on "democratic societies," and not on the United States in particular, it's important to note that the definition must apply outside an American legal framework. Still, since the U.S. has the most comprehensive disenfranchisement among modern democracies, we can examine the multiple ways felons lose the franchise in different states.

In "Lock Them up and Throw away the Vote," found in the winter 2005 edition of the Chicago Journal of International Law, Robin Nunn delineates at least four potential ways felons are disenfranchised.
Maine and Vermont are the only states without some form of felon disenfranchisement. The remaining forty-eight states can be divided into one of four disenfranchisement practices: (1) disenfranchise prison inmates, (2) disenfranchise felon offenders who are incarcerated or on parole, (3) disenfranchise felon offenders serving any type of sentence (incarcerated, on parole, or probation), or (4) disenfranchise felon offenders after completion of sentence. Specifically, in the fourth category, fourteen states mandate that exoffenders who have fully served their sentences remain disenfranchised for a certain period of time, usually a minimum of five years after they are released. Seven of these states deny the right to vote to all ex-offenders who have completed their sentences. As a result, nearly three-quarters of this disenfranchised population is not in prison. Rather, these individuals are on probation or parole or have completed their sentences.
Though this list concerns the system in the United States, the affirmative can argue that the negative has to defend at least the first three categories, which are found in some form all over the globe. (Regarding the fourth, the United States is unique in disenfranchising ex-felons.)

Negatives should watch out for affirmatives using a dictionary definition that includes no time limit, and doesn't presume ex-felon status. Consider, for example, dictionary.com:
1. Law. a person who has committed a felony.
An affirmative using this all-inclusive definition would try to pin the fourth category (above) on the negative, and make disenfranchisement permanent, which is much more difficult for the negative to defend.

Even Black's Law (eight edition) merely defines a felon as "a person who has been convicted of a felony." Without an expiration date, the negative is in trouble.

The key, then, for the Neg, is to differentiate felons and ex-felons, and declare category four out-of-bounds in the debate.

The Neg needs to have a reasonable definition of "felony," too, in order to stave off any potential Aff argument that felonies vary too widely in different democratic societies, making disenfranchisement unjust.

Any other definitions worth considering? Post them in the comments.

Oct 2, 2008

Jabberin' Joe vs. Baked Alaska: the VP debate liveblog

It's coming your way in 22 minutes. Stay tuned. (Oh, and here's the previous matchup between McCain and Obama, if you missed it.)

Tension defuses in the Anderson household, as the blogger uses the magic of headphones to save his marriage.

"Can I call you Joe?"

Tina Fey looks a lot like Sarah Palin tonight, don't you think?

Biden is gaffe-free for 90 full seconds. Palin is folksy from the get-go. "As advertised" may be a cliche, but it's a true cliche. "The barometer is going to be resounding." First mixed metaphor of the night, and it's a good one from the Governor.

Whoa. That was a heck of a wink from Palin. "A team of mavericks." Palin is a metaphorical wonder.

A subtle sigh from Joe Biden, just before Palin, Joe Sixpack, and Hockey Moms rail against the corruption on Wall Street.

John McCain: a good man. Joe Biden borrows from the Obama playbook, and builds up before knocking down.

Joey Dank (Denk?) is the first named anecdote-filler of the night.

Oh, to live in Alaska, land of federal dollarpalooza, when a mayor can freely cut property taxes while everyone gets a cash dividend from oil.

The bailout still looms large, in the silence, smiling and chuckling under its breath.

Biden and Palin are both much more direct about addressing the television audience directly.

Oh, and the first laugh of the night: Biden's "I call that the ultimate 'bridge to nowhere.'" Palin has to wait to rebut, too, letting the jab sink in.

"I had to take on those oil companies," take their tax money, and brag about cutting taxes on the way. Classical conservatism is dead.

Palin vs. McCain: are we going to get a windfall profits tax? Biden points out Palin's support for Obama's energy plan. If it's true, it's a pretty good "turn."

Palin: "It's a toxic mess on Main Street that's affecting Wall Street." I'm guessing she flubbed it, switching streets.

Palin: "How are we going to get there to positively affect the impacts?"

"Barack Obama and Senator O'Biden." That's my favorite of the night. Not going to be topped, I imagine.

An interesting direction, completely different from everything before: same sex marriage. A strange and labored agreement is the result.

Palin scores big by quoting Biden against Obama on the (oft misunderstood) war funding vote. But Biden comes back lashing. This sounds mysteriously like the last debate. New revelation, though: Joe Biden has a man-crush on John McCain.

CBS is cutting out, so I'm switching to the ol' radio.

If you had to do a pushup every time Joe Biden said "fundamental," you'd have ripped pecs by now.

Nukeyular is back. Oh yeah.

My internet connection is suddenly spotty. Also, Gwen Ifill is making things too easy. We need a question that doesn't lead to an answer, something the candidates have to respond to without obvious prompting.

"He has been the maverick, and he has ruffled feathers." Keep that bull out of the chickencoop!

Palin: "Nuclear weaponry would be the be-all end-all." I do not think that phrase means what you think it means.

Palin calls the top general in Afghanistan, McKiernan, "McClellan." Wrong war, there.

Oh, and from a while back: I noticed this one, too.

Palin gets all outsidery and mavericky.

John McCain knows what evil is: earmarks.

Another silly question: what would you do if your running mate died in office? What are they going to say? This is a terrible, terrible debate.

"A team of mavericks" comes up again. Is it like an anarchist convention? (Somebody else notices.)

It's a battle of neighborhoods! Down-homies, mount up!

"Say it ain't so, Joe, there you go again." No comment.

Palin wins my vote: "Teachers need to be paid more." That's all it takes. Flat out bribery. (Whoa... NCLB is too inflexible? Emphasis on the profession? Top-of-the-line? More attention in that arena? Oh yeah.) (Zing!)

The Vice President presides over the Senate. Let us hope that is all s/he ever does.

One radio deficiency: I couldn't see it when he broke up.

The word "maverick" just smashed through the ceiling and whizzed into space.

I like the next question: what major change in judgment have you undergone in your political career? Biden talks about judge selection. Palin (who completely ducked the "Achilles heel" question) rambles on about "quasi-caved in" and "zero-base budget."

Found: jobs, deceased. One suspect. Detective Palin on the case.

I tuned out around "national security freedoms" (Palin) and "fundamental" (Biden). Who won?

Oct 1, 2008

several reasons felons should have the franchise

The November/December LD resolution poses a curious question: should convicted criminals have the right to vote? In his article "Liberal and Republican Arguments Against the Disenfranchisement of Felons," found in the Winter 2005 edition of Criminal Justice Ethics, Jeffrey Reiman discusses three philosophical justifications for disenfranchising felons, then knocks them down in order.
Disenfranchisement is either aimed at "preserving the purity of the ballot box," that is, protecting the electoral process from morally unsuitable voters; or it is viewed as criminals' rightful punishment; or it is viewed as ratifying the criminal's own surrender of his right to vote by violating the social contract.
1. The first reason is proffered by small-r republicans, those who believe that government is an arbitrator, inculcator, and encourager of virtue. Felons are less virtuous, goes the basic claim, so they should be denied the vote. In response, Reiman essentially establishes that criminals are, for the most part, just like everybody else. They may "act out" in certain contexts and at certain times, but so does everyone--it's just that criminals get caught. To demonstarate, Reiman cites a study that finds that
...in a recent survey of 522 professional criminologists, 25 percent admitted to committing battery, and 22 percent to burglary, at some point in their lives. Nineteen percent admitted to committing tax fraud at some point, 7 percent in the past year [Zaitzow and Robinson, "Criminologists as Criminals"].
Reiman argues, and I agree, that criminologists are probably as decent a representative sample as any. Furthermore, plenty of noncriminal behaviors aren't exactly virtuous--debauchery, adultery, gambling--but since they're not illegal, we don't disenfranchise drunks, Lotharios, and high rollers. Reiman rebuts several other reasons a republican might disenfranchise felons, but ultimately, his argument concludes with a turn:
In addition to believing that virtue is necessary for political participation, republicans also believe that political participation enhances virtue. Thus, as strong as any republican case may be for felon disenfranchisement, an equally strong republican case can be made for the value of enfranchising felons.
More on this in a bit.

2. When discussing the use of disenfranchisement as a punishment, Reiman concedes that denying a felon the vote is logically compatible with retribution. His objection is instead pragmatic.
Though it is compatible with just retribution, it is a futile form of retribution since most criminals do not even know that their crimes can result in loss of the right to vote and, given the young age at which most crimes are committed, most criminals probably do not care about voting at the time they commit their crimes. Consequently, I contend that disenfranchisement is not sensible punishment policy: it will not deter crime, nor will offenders see it as their just deserts. It is pointless as incapacitation, and it goes without saying that it serves no rehabilitative function.
3. What of contractarian arguments, then? Here Reiman first goes on the defensive, then positively argues for the franchise.
a. Defensively, Reiman claims that criminals, although they flout the social contract, still recognize its legitimacy (although the counterclaim here is that actions speak far louder than thoughts). Thus, they haven't "taken back" the social contract, much as a person who breaks a promise can still feel the sting of guilt.
b. Criminals still possess rights, even civil rights, after conviction.
When criminals are apprehended, they still have legal rights against certain forms of treatment, and they have the legal right to appeal to a judge to enforce those rights.... Moreover, when they are imprisoned, they not only retain many of their rights, they also retain their legal duties.... Though criminals violate the social contract in committing crime, we do not thereby treat them as surrendering all the rights that they have under the contract.
c. On the offense, Reiman compares disenfranchisement to a Lockean conception of slavery, but only extends that line of reasoning to ex-felons. However, from a virtue angle, Reiman is able to justify suffrage for felons and ex-felons alike.
Allowing felons to vote offers the possibility of instilling and strengthening civic virtue in them. On the other hand, by opening ourselves to fellow citizens who have gone afoul of the law, by allowing ourselves to see their normalcy and to hear from them the way society looks to them, we enlarge our own social sympathies and social knowledge, and we exercise a civic version of the virtue of charity. In addition, by granting felons and ex-felons the right to self-government to which they are entitled as human beings, we exercise and strengthen in ourselves the civic virtue of justice. Enfranchising felons can make us all better citizens.
Voting for felons: good for them, and good for everyone else.

Resolved: In a democratic society, felons ought to retain the right to vote.

The November/December Lincoln-Douglas debate topic has been released:
In a democratic society, felons ought to retain the right to vote.
Some potential Aff values: democracy, justice, human rights, human dignity, equality, autonomy, societal welfare. Some potential Neg values: democracy, justice, the rule of law, societal welfare.

Obviously, one of the most critical definitions is that of a "democratic society." Who determines what counts as democratic? What is the core value of a "democratic society?"

Some baseline question: why does anyone have (never mind deserve) the right to vote? Why is it stripped from felons? What's the difference between a civil right and a human right?

A tricky question: when is a felon not a felon? If your definition doesn't involve the expiration of a felon's term, watch out.

Much analysis coming: value/criterion pairs, crucial definitions, important articles, and more. Watch this space, and, as always, post questions, comments, and wild ideas. They're what make this blog most useful to all who come by for (quality, free) advice.

Articles and Analysis
1. I review an article explaining several reasons felons ought to have the franchise. [10/1]
2. International law analysis and links, plus a retributive perspective. [10/4]
3. A Rawlsian stance on the affirmative.
4. A list of potential value/criterion pairs.
5. State-by-state felon disenfranchisement laws are broken down here. [pdf]
6. Foucault makes an appearance.
7. Alaska senator Ted Stevens' "moral turpitude" disenfranchises him--but not quite yet.
8. Jason Kuznicki simplifies the connection between the social contract and voting.
9. I critique a couple cases in the latest LD mailbag.
10. Considering social contract neg cases, I ask a critical question.
11. A couple more cases, including two Social Contract negs, come in the mail.
12. I sketch a dignity-based neg.

1. The importance of defining "felons."
2. "Democratic society."
3. Guest blogger OkieDebater defines key terms in his own way.

[A good introduction to different moral stances is here. For novices, some basic resources are here. For information on the Sept/Oct "permissible killing" resolution, go here. Also for novices: which philosophers should you study first?]

Update 12/1/08: The topic for January / February has been posted.