Nov 30, 2008

I had a few dreams

The cold still lingers--perhaps it's a particularly virulent, bird-based strain--which means sleep is fleeting.

Which means last night's dreams were doubly weird.

1. My family is hiking in a strange forest, dead trees stacked like cordwood along the trail, a sun and alpine lake glowing red like cranberries. The path descends into an abandoned Forest Service cabin full of bunk beds.

2. As I'm emptying a dryer at a laundromat, the clerk behind the counter flips a switch. Bulletproof glass rises and armor plating swivels into place. "It's a hit," the clerk shouts, and some dude comes busting through the front door, gun blazing. The clerk whips out a .45 and shoots him in the chest.

3. I'm on the roof of some kind of mall, sniper rifle aimed at some dignitary who's sitting at a table at an outdoor food court on a lower level. Quick, clean kill. He slumps over. My radio squawks, "Get the Kennedy team in place." Moments later, a group of dark suits with walkie-talkies wheels out the corpse on a gurney.

4. Having landed an interview for a "president" position at a law firm, I'm beside myself with excitement, so much so that I've forgotten to wear a suit and tie. I walk into the office, chatting up the secretary, who seems surprised that I haven't learned anything about the firm until now. "Here," she says, and hands me a yearbook. "You'll be our student body president if you land the job." Confused, I look at a picture of some feathered-hair golden boy, the prez from decades past, and see that the salary is only $6500 annually. I am stricken with disappointment.

5. I live in a bizarre house with wooden floors that can be removed, like trap-doors, to reveal extra storage spaces. In one, a disassembled wooden pipe organ sits, and I decide to try and put it back together and see if it works.

Nov 28, 2008

sharing our successes


Nav 101

accident postpones Capital-Bellevue match

Eight Bellevue football players were injured, none seriously, when a lost ladder caused their charter bus to leave the roadway and flip on its side.
Another witness, Michelle, told said she was one car behind the bus when the accident happened.

"The car in front (of me) got sideswiped... and the next thing I saw it looked like the bus jumped literally 30 feet in the air like you see on TV shows and the bus went sideways, sliding two lanes across the freeway and went into the embankment."

Many of the players and coaches had to escape via the emergency hatch on the top of the bus.

Pratt says none of the 38 people on board was seriously injured -- mostly just a few bumps and bruises. Eight players were taken to a hospital to be checked out as a precaution.

The team was on its way the Tacoma Dome to play in a state semifinal game, and the fact that the players were wearing most of their football pads certainly helped avoid serious injuries, Pratt said.
The game has been rescheduled to Monday night at 7:00 p.m.

Nov 27, 2008

Cougars in the paper

The day before the state semifinal versus Bellevue, The Olympian focuses on the new spirit of CHS:
Senior Brenna Peterson expects a victory Friday. "We usually get eliminated pretty soon in the playoffs, so the team is like our heroes now," she said. "We're all pretty proud of them."

Doug Murray, a junior defensive tackle, said the pep rally amped up the team.

"We were already pumped up," Murray said. "I just want to make good plays with all my other brothers on this team."

The noise died down when Coach J.D. Johnson spoke to the students.

Bellevue is one of Washington's high school power programs, but Capital has something else, Johnson said.

"Just a lot of heart is what we have," he said. "Just a lot of heart."

Then Johnson yelled: "We Are!"

The team — and many students — stood and shouted back "Capital!"
Meanwhile, two Capital stars get props from the paper, landing on the All-Area Team: Riley Wall, for pretty much tearing up the WCC/OWL on the ground, and Joseph Ingman, he of the eight interceptions.

Congratulations to the Cougars. No matter how you fare tomorrow, you're the best 9-3 team in the state, and you've worked hard to earn your place among the best.

Oh, and while everybody's excited about football, let's not forget that Capital's other varsity squads have been racking up wins and accolades as well, in swimming, tennis, golf and cross country.

Happy Day Before Black Friday

Thanksgiving tradition I enjoy: blogging about Thanksgiving. A year ago:
Today, when I'm not sneaking glances at the football game on the TV, or looking up electric razors, or gnawing on turkey bones, I'm writing up National Board analyses and letters of recommendation.
Let's see how things have changed.

Today's football, so far, has been atrocious--the Detroit Lions, losing 47-10, made a strong case for Worst Team Ever--and the upcoming Seahawks game doesn't promise to be any more competitive. Last winter I gave up on the electric razor dream when the blade gave up on my beard. We haven't eaten turkey yet, though it's coming, and fairly soon. I passed the Board, but I'm not including NBCT in my letter-of-rec signature. Not yet.

Thanksgiving tradition I will take no part in: earlybird/doorbuster shopping. And for good reason.

Maybe the sixth day of my cold is making me a little too snarky to be gracious. But I'm grateful. Thanks for being a part of my blogging world.

Nov 24, 2008

observed / observer / observed

Powerful Teaching and Learning. Is it just a catchphrase, a clever consulting ploy dreamed up by teachers tired of teaching, or is there something to it?

I'm going to find out. In my first official action as a Board Certified Pedagogue, I'm observing classes at an area middle school tomorrow.

Also, I'm taking on an observer from Evergreen's MIT program. It's time to start giving back.

The teacher-who-became-the-student-to-become-the-better-teacher is becoming the-student-teacher-making-or-breaking-teacher.

Not even a week in, and I'm already mad with power. And nasal drip.

Nov 23, 2008

my National Board edge

You can assemble the greatest evidence in the world. You can write and rewrite, revise and re-revise until your printer's out of toner and your brain's out of glucose. You can attend all the workshops and cohort meetings and study sessions you want. But when it all comes down, if you don't have an edge, you're not going to gain National Board certification.

What was my edge?

The ties.

It was all the ties.

grading panacea / grading Pangea

Blog-neighbor The Science Goddess recently gave a talk on standards-based grading at the National Science Teachers of America conference. It was well-attended, which surprised her.
Instead, I had well over 100 people crammed into the room---sitting in the aisles, up at the presentation table and standing in the doorway straining to listen. I'm not sure how many others turned away when they saw the throng...and I know the fire marshal wasn't poking around because the number of people was well over the posted room occupancy. Wowser.

The experience was very validating---not so much for me personally as for the topic itself. Grading has arrived. When I talked to a few of the attendees about their "hardcore" attitude of staying to the end, they said that this was an area of need for them and I was the only one on the schedule talking about it. Others who chose to stay after the presentation to talk to me mentioned that they were trying to do some of these things at their schools---but it was a lonesome experience. It is indeed hard to implement something like this on your own. I got asked about presenting at other schools. Would I come? Would I talk to more than just science teachers? Would I answer the phone/e-mail if there were questions? Of course. But how sad is that people are all out there struggling on their own little islands of grading.
At my school, a miniature book club has met a couple times to discuss progressive grading practices. I get the same sense that TSG does: right now, standards-based grading is an archipelago in a vast, old-school ocean. But as teachers and principals get excited about it, and as word keeps spreading, within a decade I think we'll see a continent born.

Nov 22, 2008

Capital edges out East Valley, 20-19

According to The Olympian, the Capital Cougars defeated East Valley (Spokane) this afternoon 20-19. Riley Wall scored three touchdowns.

I'll post a link to a full writeup when it appears on the site.

Update: Solid defense and a little trickery won the day.
Trailing 13-6 early in the fourth quarter, Capital (9-3) pulled off the reverse pitch pass trick play it used last week. Receiver Greg Hibbard took a toss from Joe Tolman off the reverse and fooled the Knights, throwing to Jourdan Weiks who was all alone.

The play covered 53 yards. It set up workhorse back Riley Wall, who juked his way into the end zone from 15 yards out and scored up the middle on a two-point conversion for a 14-13 lead.

"We threw that against Meadowdale last weekend that sparked a big comeback as well," said coach J.D. Johnson, of last week's 14-10 triumph.
(I also note that The Olympian's title is almost exactly cribbed from mine. Sneaky, editors. But not sneaky enough.)

On to Tacoma!

smearing Jeff Kingsbury? stupid plan.

Via blog-neighbor Emmett O'Connell, word of a story I missed in The Olympian: some idiot* used a mailer to smear Jeff Kingsbury.
The postcard carried a return address for "Kids at Play," a summer theater program run by Capital Playhouse, which Kingsbury founded and operates. The Olympian obtained a copy of a postcard that was postmarked Nov. 18 and mailed to the YWCA of Olympia.

On the front is a picture of Kingsbury and a logo for Capital Playhouse. It reads: "I want your vote for mayor of Olympia, and after that State Senator. As I am destined to be the next Mayor of Olympia I look forward to walking across the street from my business Capital Playhouse Northwest Theater for Youth to my new $35 million dollar City Hall office.

"Lately there has been a bit of an uproar about me calling people 'idiots', what's the big deal, most people are, I am just the guy that's man enough to say it. Just search my name on the local paper's website 'The'."

The postcard went on to make suggestive comments about Kingsbury's sexual orientation — he is gay — and his theater program.

There is no race for mayor next year, and Kingsbury abstained from voting on Olympia's planned $35.6 million City Hall, which would be across Fourth Avenue from Capital Playhouse, to prevent the appearance of a conflict of interest.

The reference to calling people "idiots" refers to Kingsbury using his laptop computer during a recent council meeting to post that an Olympia resident addressing the council was an idiot. He later said he was referring to someone at the council meeting who called President-elect Barack Obama a "mulatto" and asked if Obama would "save the white people from the coming great famine." He later said he learned his lesson after the private Facebook exchange appeared on a local blog.
It's not the first time an area councilman has made a blogging faux pas--Lakewood's Walter Neary comes to mind--but the response, maybe even by the same obviously unhinged citizen, is beyond ridiculous.

In the end, this lunatic scheme will backfire. Kingsbury is a good man and a passionate representative for his constituents. He deserves all Olympians' support.

*Yes, the word "idiot" is intentional.

democracy is danged difficult

If you were enthralled by the Rossi-Gregoire recount of 2004, you might also be interested in Minnesota's senate race between Coleman and Franken, which is currently under review. Why? Because it's close, and, simply put, too many voters just don't know how to vote.

[via Jonathan Adler]

ill and tolerating it

1. The post-NBCT letdown, immune-system-wise, has brought a mild cold, my first of the year. Last night I tossed and turned, waking at 2:00 with persistent nasal drip and unable to sleep seemingly because I couldn't remember the author of À la recherche du temps perdu As a result, I spent an hour mentally listing every Frenchman I could remember. Descartes? Clouzot? Camus? Sartre? Montesquieu? Depardieu?) Eventually I hit on Marcel Marceau, which triggered Marcel Proust, and I was able to doze off again.

2. Schadenfreude.

3. Today's football regret: I'm not able to watch the CHS Cougars tackle East Valley. However, I'm going to polish my Mystery Science Theater skills, applying them to the so-bad-it's-gonna-be-great "Crapple Cup," which I predict will go to the Huskies. Later, thee Texas Tech / Oklahoma matchup promises to be excellent. Red Raiders by a TD. Update: Wow. The Huskies lose in double because of a bad kicking day; the Red Raiders get absolutely stomped on the national stage. Didn't see that comin'.

4. Since I so rarely engage in political advocacy, the potential attempt to classify bloggers as lobbyists didn't get too much attention from me. Maybe it should've. Campaign finance reform is about to enter the 21st century, and it's going to be messy. Thanks, McCain-Feingold, and all of your litigal children.

Bergeson's last "state of education" address

"Mend it, don't end it."

I wonder if Bergeson is actually a little glad to be done. Her successor, after all, has to do all the hard work of fixing her mistakes, as well as repairing the funding system she inherited and did little to change.

But I hear a committee is looking into it.

Nov 21, 2008

four new letters for my name: NBCT

My buddy (and NBCT) the TRP was right: I just had to hang tough, wait until the crush was done, and check my scores, which I did, trembling a little, at 7:05 this morning.

I passed. I am a National Board Certified Teacher.

Thanks to the TRP for encouraging me to try and for telling me (in generic, ethically sound terms) about what to expect. Thanks to my family for putting up with my stress, especially during the holidays. Thanks to Mike Deakins (who also passed) for offering great criticism and support. Thanks to fellow staff and administrators for always asking when my scores were coming, and never letting me forget that Doomsday was approaching.

Thanks, most of all, to my wife Melissa, who told me time and again, "I know you'll pass," and who helped me organize and mail my award-winning portfolio the day before it was due, and who told me this morning, "I knew you'd pass," because she knew what I refused, for safety's sake, to acknowledge.

Now, back to work.

Nov 20, 2008

Thomas Kinkade has a movie!

It's about Christmas! And direct to DVD! And no, I'm not linking to it. If you want to find it, you're on your own.

In other words, it's time to declare a truce to end the War on Christmas. If we all lay down our arms, and walk away without further casualties, at least we can cling to our dignity.

Skeptics Circle reaches 100

And the guy who took it over from Saint Nate hosts, appropriately.

a question for my NBPTS overlords

Why would you release scores on a school day? Why not wait for the weekend?

I mean, if I didn't pass--and that "if" grows larger by the second--I won't exactly be "on fire" tomorrow morning, will I?

Thanks, National Board. Thanks.

Nov 19, 2008

the most important philosophers for Lincoln-Douglas debate

When it comes to Lincoln-Douglas debate, everyone knows you should know a little philosophy--okay, more than a little, a lot--but time is precious. How should you focus your energy and effort?

I've arranged groups of philosophers by their potential usefulness to you. The "basic study" group, for example, is composed of the philosophers you are most likely to hear cited in a round. (I almost wrote "encounter," but realized that the more literal-minded members of my audience might have found such language confusing instead of humorous.)

Warning: the following list is based on practicality, not any Platonic standard of LD-oughtness. Also, the list is provisional--a work in progress. I've almost certainly missed somebody important. Suggest names in the comments, and I'll add them.

Last, if you don't know it already, the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy is a great place to meet--encounter--read about many of these philosophers. Check it out.

The Basics

Plato on justice, rights, and the ideal State (hint: not a democracy)
Aristotle on justice, rights, and democracy
Hobbes on the Social Contract, especially regarding sovereignty, punishment, and the State of Nature
Locke on the Social Contract (but understand his foundations in empirical knowledge and natural theology, which grounds rights)
Rousseau on the Social Contract
Kant on rights, duties, and his formulation of morality encompassing both, The Categorical Imperative
Mill on democracy, utility, free speech, and the Harm Principle
Marx on justice, equality, societal values, revolution, and more
Rawls on a new, pluralist approach to the Social Contract and "justice as fairness," including the Original Position / Veil of Ignorance, the First and Second principle of Justice, democracy, neo-Kantianism
Maslow on value, especially his Hierarchy of Needs

Advanced Study

de Beauvoir on ethics and gender
Berlin on ethics (especially pluralism) and politics
Dewey on moral and political pragmatism and democracy
Hayek on freedom
Hegel on Hegel
Hume on the Social Contract
Arendt on democracy and totalitarianism
Dworkin on morality and law
Dahl on democracy
Schumpeter on democracy
Kierkegaard on reason
Aquinas on Natural Law and Just War Theory
Popper on anti-Platonism
Sartre on freedom and ethics
Habermas on democracy and deliberation
Nozick (especially against Rawls) on rights, freedom, and the Social Contract
Foucault on rights and justice (especially concerning criminality and punishment)
Beccaria on criminal justice and punishment
Bentham on Utilitarianism
Rand on Objectivism, especially as it concerns morality and freedom
Added: Josh's List

Kritik Central

Adorno on critiquing the West
Baudrillard on... good luck.
Derrida on deconstruction
Gadamer on hermeneutics
Levinas on ethics and the Other
Nietzsche on anything
Rorty on pragmatism and democracy

[154th in a series]

dozens killed, injured in War on Christmas

Love that Olympian headline.

The Olympian takes a look inside Capital's huddle

The Cougars head to Spokane to take on East Valley this Saturday.

I'm seriously tempted to ride the rooter bus... again...

when democracy sours

1. Your classroom might have some democratic aspects, but don't pretend it's a democracy.

Especially not in kindergarten.
According to Port St. Lucie police reports, Portillo brought Alex to the front of the classroom that day and asked other students to tell him how his behavior affected them. Alex, who was in the process of being diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome at the time, had left the class twice that day for discipline referrals to the principal’s office.

After classmates talked, Portillo then asked the class to vote on whether Alex should stay in the class. Alex lost the vote, 14 to 2....

[Alex's mother Melissa] Barton in June put the St. Lucie County School District on notice she intends to file a civil lawsuit, claiming discrimination and Alex’s civil rights were violated. She said she expects a lawsuit will be filed by the end of this year.
Portillo's now suspended without pay, and risks losing her teaching license for at least a year.

2. Exchanging one oppressive institution for another, we head to the city jail in Denton.
Mr. Ntel said he was taken to the Denton City Jail, where a jail employee — who was later identified by closed-circuit video as Chris Saunier — dangled a key in front of Mr. Ntel’s face.

“He told me, ‘if you vote for McCain, I’ll let you out right now,’” Mr. Ntel said. “The officer was laughing, but I didn’t think it was funny. He should have been acting like a professional. He shouldn’t have done that.”

Police Chief Roy Minter and his supervisors will decide in the next week what disciplinary action should be taken against Mr. Saunier, Capt. Carter said.
That is why they call it the Tin Star State, right?

[Via the inimitable Obscure Store]

Nov 18, 2008

today's voice links

1. Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan have cut another album. Lanegan is the closest thing we have to Cash: a man whose voice rasps with experience, most of it sinful.

2. "Voice" in writing is just a way of talking about style. For a perfect example, consider Groucho Marx's riposte to a Warner Brothers outbreak of litigiousness. Only Groucho could've written it that way. [via Jesse Walker]

3. Conversely, one of the best films ever made is Buster Keaton's The General, now in a glorious release from Kino. Silence is pure movie gold.

Nov 17, 2008

sketches of a dignity-based neg

For the felon voting resolution, a Neg case based on dignity is sketched out below. Like it? Be inspired by it. Don't like it? Tell me why in the comments.

I negate the resolution.

Resolutional Analysis
The resolution includes the word "retain," which means that felons, no matter their status--incarcerated, paroled, on probation--in the affirmative world, would be allowed to vote. Secondly, we can draw a distinction between felons and ex-felons; those who have served their time or otherwise paid their debt to society are outside the bounds of the resolution. The resolution makes no claims about permanent disenfranchisement.

The right to vote is granted only to citizens who have reached the age of majority and are judged competent.

As Monique Lanoix writes in "The Citizen in Question," found in the Fall 2007 edition of Hypatia, writes, (Bloomington:Fall 2007. Vol. 22, Iss. 4, p. 113-129
The citizen is required to have elevated cognitive capacities; these come with maturity and imply that the individual cannot have significant cognitive impairments such as advanced dementia. In this way, the concept of the citizen is tied to a specific period in an individual's life, namely adulthood with mental competency.
Furthermore, as Robert A. Dahl writes in Democracy, Liberty, and Equality, (pp. 212ff, c. 1986)
Citizenship depends on contingent judgments, not categorical rights. And the contingent judgments need not lead to universal inclusion.... That we cannot get around the principle of competence in deciding on the inclusiveness of the demos is decisively demonstrated by the exclusion of children.... Children therefore furnish us with a clear violation of the principle that a government must rest on the consent of the governed, or that no one should be subject to a law not of one's own choosing, or subject to a law made by an association not of one's own choosing.
Therefore, the state can and must place reasonable restrictions on the right to vote.

With these facts in mind, I offer a value of Dignity.

In "Democratic Liberalism: The Politics of Dignity," Craig Duncan writes,
This discussion of constraining a person's capacity for responsible choice helps us to understand one of our core values, namely, the value of freedom. This is so because constraints on people's exercise of their powers of choice are in fact constraints on their freedom. It thus follows that respect for a person's dignity requires one to respect that person's freedom. And there is yet more that respect for dignity requires.... [T]he ideal of respect for human dignity also underlies the core value of human equality.
Duncan further explains that a dignity-based conception of equality is foundational to democracy.
What, though, about the second threat to dignity identified above, the threat to citizen's equality? This was the risk inherent in any distinction between the rulers and the ruled, namely, the risk of failing to recognize citizens' status as beings capable of leading their own lives via their capacity for responsible choice. The proper response to this threat surely lies in some form of democracy, which gives citizens an equal share of voting power, thereby recognizing in a significant way their equal status as beings capable of responsible choice....The line of argument from respect for dignity to democratic government is thus straight and short.
Since the moral foundation of democracy is dignity, and since dignity is our "capacity for responsible choice," and, furthermore, since democracy depends on the responsible choices of its demos, or voting citizens, I offer responsible choice as my criterion. Responsible choice has two necessary components, as Lanoix explains.
The citizen is one who can be politically active; he must be able to voice his discontent or his assent. For example, in Rawls's theory, the political person must possess two moral powers: a sense of justice and a vision of his ends.
When we choose to violate others' rights, we deny them their dignity, and abdicate our political equality. I will show how this not only grounds, but requires, the disenfranchisement of felons.

Contention One: Criminals deny the dignity of their victims and themselves.
Criminals use other humans as means to an end. They steal property, commit acts of bodily injury, maim, kill, and destroy. Duncan writes,
"[T]reating others as mere instruments for achieving your personal ends is one way of failing to recognize others as responsible beings, and thus one way of failing to treat them as equals."
Contention Two: This denial is proof of felons' failure to make responsible choices.
By treating others unjustly, felons undeniably and irrevocably demonstrate an inadequate sense of justice and a murky vision of their own ends.

Contention Three: The State is therefore justified in denying felons the right to vote.
As was already established, the State has the right to place reasonable restrictions on political participation. Since it is reasonable for society to protect the dignity of its members, and to express the importance of dignity by punishing felons, then there is no moral duty on the state's behalf to maintain felon suffrage. In contrast, the State has a moral duty to disqualify those who violate others' dignity.

two dreams, two ties

My debate-addled mind has been inventing bizarre dreams again. Last night, two, coinciding with the (late) ties featured.

In the first, I am shot in the stomach by someone wielding a plastic, almost toy-like gun that uses magnetic rail technology to rapidly disperse tiny, yet lethal, bullets. My assailant, though he drops me, does not kill me. Which is bad for him when I come back with a higher caliber.
In the second dream, I'm living in Elma again. When I leave my Chevy running in front of the house, a stranger steals it--then, miraculously, drives it through the front door of the neighbors' house, presumably to hide it in the living room. As I wake up, I am jogging, gelatinously, toward him.

[Ties found here.]

Nov 16, 2008

Capital continues march through playoffs

Down 10-0 in the second half, the Cougars rallied, then held on to defeat Meadowdale, 14-10, in state playoff action.
In the first half, Capital drove inside the Mustangs' 25 four times and failed to score in the first round of the 3A state playoffs.

But Riley Wall, Capital's gritty senior tailback playing on a sprained ankle, broke loose for a 73-yard touchdown midway through the third quarter, cutting Meadowdale's lead to 10-7 and giving the Cougars new life.

Wall appeared to be stopped at the line of scrimmage.

"I just kept my feet moving," Wall said. "I didn't run very well in the first half. That time I kept moving. I saw an opening, and I just got on my horse and tried to go."

Wall outran two defenders to the end zone. Prior to his touchdown romp, Wall had 28 yards on his 10 carries.
Our next match is in Spokane this coming Saturday, against East Valley.

In other high school football playoff news, our crosstown rivals were knocked out (and I'd say upset) by Central Kitsap, another home of the Cougars.
Squandered chances on offense and timely execution from Central Kitsap both played a part in sending the No. 3 ranked Bears home for the remainder of the Washington Class 4A state playoffs Friday in a 14-10 loss in front of a near capacity crowd at Ingersoll Stadium.

"We made some mistakes, and Central Kitsap played a great football game," said Olympia coach Bill Beattie, whose team finished the season 10-1. "They came after us; hit us hard on both sides of the ball. We had some opportunities that we didn't take care of. We didn't turn them into points."
I'm more surprised that Olympia's defense gave up 14 points. Their speedy D had stifled opponents all season long.

Last, O'Dea, as I predicted, will not have a chance to face CHS at state this year. The Irish lost to undefeated Lakes. Though they have a tough task in Eastside Catholic coming up next, I wouldn't be surprised to see the Lancers in the championship this year.

It'd be nice if we could face them there.

Nov 13, 2008

Facebook defeats the old-school candidate

Someone has a wee problem with stereotypes--and Web 2.0:
A county treasurer who lost her bid for a fourth term last week to a 20-year-old Dartmouth College student from Montana blames her failed candidacy on "brainwashed college kids."

Republican Carol Elliott said students just voted for the Democratic ticket, which included Dartmouth junior Vanessa Sievers. Sievers won by nearly 600 votes out of 42,000 cast after targeting voters at Dartmouth and Plymouth State University through a $42 ad on the Web site Facebook.

"It was the brainwashed college kids that made the difference," Elliott, 66, told the Valley News of Lebanon. She said she had little faith that Sievers will fulfill her duties adequately.

"You've got a teenybopper for a treasurer," said Elliott, who has held the position for six years. "I'm concerned for the citizens of Grafton County."
So am I. They're about to be overwhelmed by a torrent of competence, all thanks to social networking.

Maybe Facebook does have a good side.

Nov 12, 2008

advice for a do-it-all debate coach

Today's letter comes from a colleague who's run into a problem I'm sure many experienced debate coaches have seen before: what to do with the students who won't take your advice.
Dear Jim,

I'm a former high school CX debater turned high school LD coach, which has been a big challenge for me. In addition to adjusting to the differences in events and regional styles, my biggest challenge is coming from the education side of the activity. Most of my debaters are just starting out and while some of them are excited about the experience, none of them have been especially receptive to the help and encouragement I've been providing. They seem to do very little non-workshop work in researching the topic or writing cases, and they don't seem to take the resources I offer them (including your blog). On top of it all, I've been trying to break them out of predictable case ideas for the past few weeks but they're still clinging to the familiar.

I've tried giving them resources, suggesting readings, and offering to buy research products. In fact, I've written blocks for them and a highly competitive sample case. They don't reject any of it on principle (doing their own work would be a perfectly good reason to do their own work, after all), but they just don't go for it.

So tell me, how do you get a horse to drink when it's already been lead to water?
First, I applaud your commitment to your students, and admire your humility and willingness to learn from others.

Second, I'm not the world's leading expert on LD coaching, and I don't know if I have all the facts I need to make a sound judgment. Nevertheless, here are some key questions I have for any coach in this situation.

What is your philosophy of debate coaching?
I teach my novices a three-tiered approach to the activity: motivation, purpose, results.
  1. Motivation should come from enjoying the activity and having the will to succeed.
  2. Purpose encompasses learning--the event, the philosophies encountered, the skills in rhetoric, critical thinking, and oration--and the pursuit of truth.
  3. Results come from motivation and purpose. If you have the joy and the will, and take the time and invest the energy and effort to learn, you'll achieve the results you desire. That may mean winning, or it just may mean the satisfaction that arises from the activity.
What is the purpose of competition?
Thus, I tell my students, when they're starting out, to first have fun, second, learn all they can about the activity, and third, let the winning follow. I take excess pressure off of them, and off of myself. Competition, especially in the early tournaments, is the highest form of practice. They will have their ideas tested in unexpected ways, and will learn a hundred times what they might take away from class or after-school practice.

Are you willing to let them make mistakes and fail on their own?
Competition is also the fastest route to a "teachable moment." Telling someone that they need to branch out and explore unorthodox case ideas is only so effective; letting them go 1-5 at a tournament as their stock arguments are preempted and destroyed is a lesson that really sticks. Consider this a coach's "strategic retreat." You absorb a few losses--some tears, a glum ride home--in order to win the war. Console your sullen competitors, but don't say I-told-you-so until the next practice, when they're going to ask you what they can do to improve.

Paradoxically, by doing so much for them, you may be holding them back. Take a risk. Let them fail. If they don't, enjoy the pleasant, and genuine, surprise. If they do, support them. They won't want to fail again.

Any other coaches or competitors out there want to weigh in?

Nov 11, 2008

the social networking public forum resolution

Although I spend most of my debate-blogging examining Lincoln-Douglas resolutions, I'd like to point out a worthy starting point for your consideration of the December Public Forum resolution. Blog neighbor TRP has an insightful post asking some questions that get to the heart of the issue, at least philosophically speaking.
The Big Question On Which I Think The Debate Hinges: what have we lost by surrendering place-based communities for interest-based ones? What have we gained? Is it a net loss or a net gain? If we believe--and I do--that talking to smart friends who disagree with you is the best way to grow, do social networking groups do that as effectively as Putnam's dearly-departed bowling leagues???
Check it out, and join the conversation.

Nov 10, 2008

LD mailbag: the unavoidable social contract

Another day, another batch of LD emails regarding the felon voting resolution. Let's wade right in.
I stumbled across your page as I was searching for information for the November/December LD resolution. I'm a novice (so I haven't competed in LD before) and I wanted to use the social contract in my Neg. Here's what I have so far:
“Good and evil; reward and punishment, are the only motives to a rational creature: these are the spur and reins whereby all mankind are set on work, and guided."

What John Locke meant by this statement is that for a society to be functional, good and evil in addition to reward and punishment must coexist within it. In a democratic society, all of the preceding conditions can impact the right of voting.

The value being held in this debate is societal welfare. Most people would contest that societal welfare is the well being of a society in matters of health, safety, order, and economics. So how does a democratic society achieve societal welfare? Abraham Lincoln once said “democracy is the government of the people, by the people, for the people”. Therefore, in a democracy, societal welfare is the responsibility of the people. To maintain societal welfare, we must adhere to the social contract, the value criterion of this debate.
The Locke quote is interesting, since it provides a glimpse into Locke's moral thinking regarding education in virtue. As John Marshall notes in John Locke: Resistance, Religion, and Responsibility, children's fundamental appetite for pleasure could only be moderated by persistent and consistent education. "This task was enormously difficult, but it was possible since the mind at birth was a tabula rasa and since [children] were extremely concerned... with how others viewed them." It might be argued that this extends to individuals' roles vis a vis the State; those who impetuously or impertinently disobey the law show a lack of virtue, thus grounding their disqualification from the franchise in accordance with Lockean contractarianism.

Of course, how upholding the social contract gets us to societal welfare requires some warranting, but it can be done.

I had been looking for the fundamental principle underlying a Lockean approach to disenfranchisement. This angle--that the felon's lack of virtue disqualifies her from voting--would sit well with the argument that felons have, in essence, declared war on the Contract, which is the Lockean argument I've seen argued most frequently in the literature.

Okay, on to another case by a completely different author.
Hi, I'm completely new to Lincoln-Douglas Debate, and was hoping you could review the basic thoughts behind my cases.


V: Justice
C: Utilitarian Punishment

1. Purpose of Legal System is Utilitarian
2. Punishments sanctioned by the U.S. Legal Code are justified through the concepts of deterrence, incapacitation, and rehabilitation.
3. As disenfranchisement does not serve any of those purposes, it is not legally justified.
4. As disenfranchisement is carried out through the legal system, if it cannot be legally justified, it does not serve the system's purpose (utilitarian)
5. As disenfranchisement is carried out through the legal system, it must be justified legally, as it is not, an affirmation of the resolution is forced.
Problem: how do we extend the utilitarian concepts found in the US Legal Code into a general depiction of "a democratic society?" It can be done, but it needs explanation.

Secondly, the "ought" in the resolution must be defined carefully to include a legal perspective. Or, if we stick with a moral "ought," we have to explain why / how utilitarian punishment fulfills a moral obligation.

Be on the lookout, though, for a Neg who argues that utilitarian punishment is not a sufficient criterion for justice; as some critics note, utilitarian concerns might not include "due process" or "cruel and unusual punishment" constraints, as long as it can be shown that society benefits overall from a harsher penal regime.

Next case, same author:

V: Democratic Society
C: Upholding Moral and Political Standards of the Mainstream

1. Basic Purpose of Political Deliberation in a Democratic Society is to uphold the moral and political viewpoints of the mainstream
2. Felons, through committing criminal actions, have classified themselves as having atypical moral and political beliefs
3. Allowing Felons to Become a Constituency would, by the nature of a democratic society which represents the people, cause the degradation of the moral standards of society, and directly work against the purpose of a democratic society
4. As affirming the resolution causes moral degradation on a societal level, and works against the purpose of a democratic society, it must be negated

My main problem is with #3 of the Con Case, in that felons, as an unrealized constituency, despite being 4.7 million in number, are spread out geographically, making their impact on society doubtful. Any thoughts on how to address this?
#1 is interesting; it squares with an older view of democracy that doesn't include provisions for minority rights. (This narrow view, though, is susceptible to the charge that the democracy will use felony laws as a way to purposefully disenfranchise dissenters.)

#3 should be argued along largely theoretical lines, with a nod to perhaps the Florida experience in 2000, when Gore lost narrowly and, according to some scholars, likely would have won if felons had been able to vote. (Note that this example can backfire, though.) Regardless of the particular outcome, felon suffrage could have made a big difference.

# 3 isn't sufficient; it needs some help. What of the victims who, seeing that those who injured them are able to vote, become disenchanted with the system? A government that allows felons to shape its course could be deemed illegitimate by those who had traded their liberties to ensure their security, never thinking that the contract could be gamed by those who don't play by the rules. (Whoa... there's the social contract again, sneaking into every Neg case.)

'Tis all for now. Questions? Comments? Fire away!

Nov 9, 2008

the active idle brain

Every now and then, NewScientist publishes concurrent or even consecutive articles that, taken together, pose a dilemma unnoticed by the editors. The latest issue has a great example of a hidden paradox concerning the value of idling.

In the first, Douglas Fox reports that scientists have discovered a neural network that may form and strengthen memory when we're not actively thinking. [sub. req.]
"There is a huge amount of activity in the [resting] brain that has been largely unaccounted for," says Marcus Raichle, a neuroscientist at Washington University in St Louis. "The brain is a very expensive organ, but nobody had asked deeply what this cost is all about."

Raichle and a handful of others are finally tackling this fundamental question - what exactly is the idling brain up to, anyway? Their work has led to the discovery of a major system within the brain, an organ within an organ, that hid for decades right before our eyes. Some call it the neural dynamo of daydreaming. Others assign it a more mysterious role, possibly selecting memories and knitting them seamlessly into a personal narrative. Whatever it does, it fires up whenever the brain is otherwise unoccupied and burns white hot, guzzling more oxygen, gram for gram, than your beating heart.

"It's a very important thing," says Giulio Tononi, a neuroscientist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. "It's not very frequent that a new functional system is identified in the brain, in fact it hasn't happened for I don't know how many years. It's like finding a new continent...."

The brain areas in the network were known and previously studied by researchers. What they hadn't known before was that they chattered non-stop to one another when the person was unoccupied but quietened down as soon as a task requiring focused attention came along. Measurements of metabolic activity showed that some parts of this network devoured 30 per cent more calories, gram for gram, than nearly any other area of the brain.
In the pages immediately following, Lewis Dartnell describes how researchers are turning to a modified form of "distributed computing" to harness strangers' idle minds.
But there are limits to what even a million computers can do. "Despite computers being very quick and accurate at certain problems, for many tasks they are still far surpassed by the human brain, such as in visual processing, spatial reasoning or problem solving," says Aaron Sloman, who studies artificial intelligence at the University of Birmingham, UK. So now the idea of distributed computing is being turned on its head. Instead of harnessing idle machines, researchers are inventing ways of using the processing power inside the brains of "idle" computer owners.

There seems to be no shortage of this intellectual power going begging. Clay Shirky at New York University has calculated that every weekend in the US alone, 100 million person hours are spent watching TV adverts - the same amount of time it took to create and edit the 2.5 million encyclopedia entries on Wikipedia. If only a fraction of this spare brainpower could instead be channelled into simple online tasks that help science, the contribution would be enormous.
Now the dilemma arises. The brain, at idle, is doing absolutely critical work, consuming 20% of the body's energy. Yet scientists want to essentially de-idle the minds of millions to help solve bafflingly complex problems, at unknown cost. Compound that with the problems of multitasking, and we have no idea of the potential net neurological losses cause by a lack of laziness.

Cougars beat Blanchet, move on to state

Even though the offense never got rolling, Capital's defense stifled Bishop Blanchet, and the Cougars advanced to state with a 7-0 win Saturday afternoon.
Capital senior Riley Wall scored the game's only touchdown — a 7-yard run with 6 minutes, 20 seconds left in the third quarter. Wall finished with 162 yards on 26 carries. He also caught two passes for 17 yards.

"It wasn't the prettiest thing, but we won," Wall said. "It was frustrating, but we had to stay calm and keep on rolling and try to keep the defense off the field."

Despite the low-scoring outcome, Capital had 279 yards of offense compared to Blanchet's 142. The Cougars' defense held Cameron Cutter, the Braves' leading rusher all season, to just 64 yards on 18 carries. Cutter had no carry for more than 10 yards.
As for last year's nemesis, O'Dea? They beat Glacier Peak 47-14. (Glacier Peak doesn't even have a senior class.)

O'Dea unbeaten Lakes next. I'm guessing Lakes stays unbeaten.

Nov 8, 2008

the post-Bergeson future of the WASL

Dick Lilly, on the future of the WASL:
The door is now open to change the type of test from one that is based on a particular educational philosophy (the ultimate problem with the WASL and most tests of its ilk) to one that is content-based. At root, what’s wrong with the WASL is that it is designed in response to the dominant educational philosophy of the past 40 or so years — the “student-centered,” “discovery” learning that de-emphasizes content knowledge in favor of critical thinking. That's a short-hand description and a lot can be said about this approach, but what it amounts to is the contention that you can make profound decisions while looking at a spreadsheet in which every cell is blank.

To get away from this style of testing, Dorn should switch immediately at the high school level to the SAT subject tests (formerly the SAT IIs). These are good if not excellent content tests, as are the advanced placement (AP) tests. Such tests would provide a stunningly clear picture of what our high school graduates know.

Nov 6, 2008

and the floods returned

Driving down Cooper Point Road this afternoon, I watched cars splash through at least a foot of standing water near Yauger Park Retaining Pond. With no end to the rain in sight, it looks like we're headed for another flood like the one we had last year.

Which brings to mind a question: exactly how has the city beefed up its drainage since the Deluge of '07? 'Cause if it has, I'm not seein' it.

Randy Dorn defeats Bergeson

The Seattle Times--and Bergeson's camp--think it's too close to call.
In the race for the state schools chief, Terry Bergeson was disappointed to be trailing challenger Randy Dorn but was not ready to give up.

Given the number of ballots yet to be counted, "Friday is about the earliest we could make a reasonable decision," said Alex Hays, her campaign consultant.
I'm going out on a thick mathematical limb to say that Randy Dorn will be your next Superintendent of Public Instruction.

Here's why.

The counties where Bergeson holds a lead have about 135,000 outstanding votes. Bergeson, overall, trails Dorn by about 35,000. So, she'd either have to win a ridiculously high majority in the counties she's already winning (over 66%) and hold steady elsewhere, or win a solid majority in those counties, and majorly turn around the trends in all the others. That would include King, which is slightly Dornish at 50.4% (293,000 votes left), and Snohomish, which is strong for Dorn at 54.5% (with 100,000 votes left). Snohomish alone wipes out any potential advantage from the smaller counties where Bergeson leads.

Looking at the overall picture, she needs about 53% of the remaining ballots--706,000 in all--to win, and barely. It's just not going to happen.

Mark my words: Dorn is it.

Update 5:30 Wouldn't you know it, Bergeson has conceded a day earlier than her staff predicted. Could it have been due to the astute mathematical analysis found on this blog?


Anyhow, adios, WASL. What will replace thee?

Nov 5, 2008

a critical question for contractarian neg cases in the felon voting resolution

Regarding the current resolution, this is about the clearest statement for the negative position based on retribution and the social contract that you're going to find. It comes from "The prisoner's campaign: Felony disenfranchisement laws and the right to hold public office," by Andrea Steinacker, found in the Brigham Young University Law Review.
The main theory behind retributive punishment is that "someone who has violated the rights of others should be penalized, and punishment restores the moral order that has been breached by the original wrongful act" [citing Ken Greenwalt's article, "Punishment," in the Encyclopedia of Crime and Justice]. Retribution is also seen in terms of fairness to the law-abiding citizen. Under John Locke's concept of the social compact, "[a] man who breaks the laws he has authorized his agent to make for his own governance could fairly have been thought to have abandoned the right to participate in further administering the compact" [citing Green v. Board of Elections]. Under the retributive theory of punishment, those who break the law should not be allowed to participate in making the law, whether as a voter or as a political officer.
Later on, Steinacker quotes from another important felon disenfranchisement case, Texas Supporters of Workers World Party Presidential Candidates v. Strake:
"The State has a valid interest in ensuring that the rules of its society are made by those who have not shown an unwillingness to abide by those rules."
If you note carefully, neither of these quotes really explains why the rulebreaker, as it were, has abandoned the right. It's merely presumed to be "fair" and "valid."

So, here's the question: why? Why is it fair and valid to presume that disenfranchisement is a logical or natural consequence of violating the social contract? In other words, does an argument to the social contract really run deep enough?

Update: Mr. Kuznicki provides an answer.

Bergeson trailing; Gregoire lead seems solid

This is a bit of a surprise to me: even though not-Bergeson won the primary, I was never sure that not-Bergesons would line up for Randy Dorn. Turns out they have.

However, with the most populous county still tabulating results, and with a slight lead for Bergeson in that county, she may still eke out a win.

In the other widely-watched race, Christine Gregoire seems to have locked up a victory over Dino Rossi. Snohomish and King counties, the bulk of the outstanding votes, are solid Gregoire.

Nov 4, 2008

'Tis Over: or, What Sarah Palin Wrought

Mr. McCain, prepare your concession speech; Mr. Obama, your victory speech.

America, buckle up.

2008 Thurston County election results

... will be posted as soon as they become available, around 8:15 tonight. Should be interesting to see how that 12-candidate judicial race turns out.

Update 8:16 Meyer appears to be winning, with about 23% in the 12-person race. Follow that link to see for yourself.

Statewide, here are the results (in RSS). Enjoy!

Nov 3, 2008

I voted.

Democracy: saved.

the state of Washington education in two sentences

OSPI's Jennifer Priddy:
“I have other bad news to share with you,” she said. “I don’t think it’s disputed that the state is underfunding basic education.”
1. Lots of bad news.
2. An underfunded system.

Are those going to be the final grades of the Bergeson era?

The New Media Frontier

When blogging burst into public consciousness--see a sample timeline here--it promised to revolutionize everything. To paraphrase O Brother Where Art Thou: out with the old media mumbo-jumbo, in with the new democratized world of critical thinking. Every person a pamphleteer, every nabob a newspaperman. A veritable age of reason--just like the one they had in France.

In the last decade, what've we got? A few big blog-broken stories, a few bankrupt newspapers, gallons of the same old partisan fractiousness, and several gazillion pixels of gossip, confession and half-baked thought.

But I'm not all cynicism and snark. At their best, blogs connect the previously unconnectable. Academics reach an audience far beyond the readers of obscure journals. Ordinary people become niche experts and artisans and artists. Writers get discovered. Others get duly buried.

In an attempt to make sense of--and something good out of--this woolly world, the sixteen Christian bloggers in The New Media Frontier offer advice to interested believers. Unfortunately, because of the target market, non-evangelists will miss the title and some of its enormously practical advice.

My brother's chapter, the splash of cold water on a crackling blog-fire, moves past the traditional criticism of the medium* to focus on its soul-changing effects on the blogger. First, he claims, the new media threatens to numb its creators; the feverish pace of participation shuts out reflective silence. Second, virtual communication lacks the depth and authenticity of the face-to-face, creating a subtle pressure and permission to create what he calls "selective self-disclosure." Our online personas exaggerate or mask the true state of our being. These are good points, and any serious blogger, Christian or no, should take them seriously.

I want to focus on the third and final caution, not because I think it is off the mark, but because it is the least worrisome. My brother writes,
As a novice blogger, I advocated adopting the medium on the grounds that it made me more attentive to things happening around me. "I am always looking for my next blog post," I claimed. Such an approach, however, crippled my ability to understand reality and experience it as reality.... The productions of our interpretations of reality becomes a more important end than our own understanding of reality itself.... Reality is a mystery rich enough, good enough, and powerful enough to hold our fascination, but only as long as it remains outside of us as a good to be sought for its own sake.
Certainly the blogger who can't play backgammon without mentally writing his next blog post has lost a little balance in life. But the opposite extreme is even more deadly, mentally speaking. My brother begins his chapter by writing about a high school class, new media fish unable to describe or even perceive the water they swim in, and "resistant" to critical examination of their habitat. I have those same students--but they are students who need to start blogging, to try and understand their world, and, more important, to have their understanding refined by fellow bloggers.

Last, a parable. I'm a Wired subscriber, cashing in a few unused frequent flier miles a couple months back so I could keep up with the ongoing technological revolution. Its editors, whenever they're breathless about some kind of paradigm-shifting invention, need to remember that they're still publishing a print magazine, feet firmly planted in the 15th century.

As Jesus might have put it, the page we will always have with us.

*By way of comparison, consider an excerpt from Andrew Sullivan's blogging apologia in The Atlantic.
If all this sounds postmodern, that’s because it is. And blogging suffers from the same flaws as postmodernism: a failure to provide stable truth or a permanent perspective. A traditional writer is valued by readers precisely because they trust him to have thought long and hard about a subject, given it time to evolve in his head, and composed a piece of writing that is worth their time to read at length and to ponder. Bloggers don’t do this and cannot do this--and that limits them far more than it does traditional long-form writing.
Sullivan's critique is what my brother what describe as "uninteresting," since it makes the obvious point: blogs are ephemeral. Or perhaps just Emersonian.

Nov 2, 2008

Dave Mcnett: a life of service

Dave McNett, longtime volunteer and birder, has passed away. I first met Mr. Mcnett--I never did call him Dave--in my first teaching assignment, a summer school psychology course, when he wandered into class in the middle of a lesson. He rattled off some research results that he'd read in the paper, asked me some tough questions, and, apparently satisfied with my answers, wandered off in search of another classroom.

That was Mr. Mcnett's way. When I landed a stable gig at Capital, blundering my way through my first full year as an English teacher, he wrote himself an invitation to come by whenever he saw fit, dispensing tidbits of knowledge from his vast storehouse, or, more pointedly, cracking jokes about the Bush administration. At the time I thought it amusing, if a little strange. Only later did I learn that he spent almost all of his time mentoring and tutoring students, or, to use a more suitable metaphor, taking them under his wing.

A couple years ago, I wrote, " If I hadn't met the love of my life, I'd have ended up just like him: a polyglot, polymath bachelor." And, I should add, a funny, passionate man with a charitable soul, a man who was a better teacher than many of us who claim the label.

Nov 1, 2008

the brains of an amoeba

Amoeba memory? Maybe.
Di Ventra's team thinks there is an intrinsic memory storage device within the amoeba. As with the human brain, that device can strengthen and store memories for some time. But if the memory isn't used, it gradually fades away.

Now they have identified a potential storage device. The amoeba's interior contains a watery sol – a solid suspended in liquid – within a thick viscous gel. The sol flows through the gel like water through a sponge, creating a network of low-viscosity channels. Those channels are strengthened as long as the amoeba continues to respond to a static environment, but if that environment changes the channels gradually break down and a new network appears as the amoeba adapts. For a short while, though, the amoeba retains a “memory” of those earlier conditions.

Di Ventra's team took advantage of the development this year of memristors – electrical resistors that retain a memory of earlier voltages or currents applied and vary their resistance accordingly – to design a simple circuit that models the amoeba's gel-sol system. Their circuit contained just four basic elements: a resistor, capacitor, inductor and memristor. By changing the external voltage in a regular way they could model the changing temperature conditions studied by Nakagaki's team. When they did this, they found that their circuit could “learn” and predict future voltage fluctuations.
Earlier this year, I linked to the very same article in the blockquote, citing this passage:
Chua, now close to retirement, is thrilled at the finding.... "We can now expect many new unconventional applications, including super-dense memories and brain-like computing chips."
I wonder if Chua expected an amoeba to take the lead.

Cougars trounce Yelm, ready for playoffs

Capital High School clinched the Olympic Western League title with its sixth conference victory, defeating the Yelm Tornadoes 56-7 as senior Riley Wall led the charge.
"He did a great job," Capital coach J.D. Johnson said of the senior, who averaged 12.6 yards per carry before taking a seat with 6:15 left in the third quarter. "We wanted to let him get going a little bit. He missed two games, his numbers were down a little bit in the league and we felt bad for the kid. I told him, 'We'll let you go, but there's going to be a point in time where we're going to pull you out.'"

By then the damage was done.

Capital (6-3, 6-1 OWL) scored on four of its first five possessions, racking up 260 yards of offense through the first two quarters and jumping out to a 28-0 lead.

While Wall patrolled the ground, quarterback Kellen Camus took to the air. The junior completed 6-of-9 first-half attempts for 111 yards. He also bowed out early in the second half after his 24-yard touchdown strike to Joe Tolman put the Cougars up by five touchdowns. The long TD pass was Tolman's second of the game and Camus' third through the air.
The Cougar defense held Yelm to 7 points on only 59 rushing and 102 passing yards.

The playoffs begin next week, either Friday or Saturday. Expect this team to muscle its way back into the state tournament. Don't expect a rematch with O'Dea, though--last year's nemesis will probably have to get past dominant Eastside Catholic first.