Jan 31, 2008

I want you to channel surf

This is the greatest country on earth. Not only do we mandate that every television station must soon be broadcast in beautiful high definition...
Starting Feb. 18, 2009, full-power television stations in the U.S. will turn off their old-technology analog signals and broadcast only in a digital format, potentially leaving millions of televisions displaying nothing but snow.

Consumers Union, the nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports magazine, says 36 percent of respondents in its survey were unaware of the transition - a big number, but much lower than what has been reported in studies from a year ago.

The great majority of consumers - anyone whose television is hooked up to a cable or satellite service or owns a digital set - will not be affected.
...but we will pay so that the poor saps stuck with antennas can get free converter boxes.

Keep television free and legal!

Just War Theory and consequentialism

In a new paper, Thomas Hurka of the University of Toronto discusses how Just War Theory considers consequences, but in a deontological framework. [pdf]
But this interpretation is neither most intuitive nor truest to how the conditions have usually been understood. A more attractive reading departs from consequentialism, first, by distinguishing among types of benefit and harm, saying only some are relevant to the assessment of a war or act in war while others are not. Second, it distinguishes among causal processes,saying benefits and harms with one kind of causal history can count toward the assessment of a war or act while the same benefits or harms with another history cannot. Finally, it does not always weigh benefits and harms equally but gives more weight to harms an act directly causes than to any benefits it produces. In all three respects the resulting theory assesses consequences in a deontological way.
The paper is highly useful to anyone running--or running against--Just War Theory in the present resolution.

(For further information, check out Hurka's "The Consequences of War," which goes into more depth.)

NoSpace for atheists

Previously, aesthetic and snobbish reasons were enough to keep me away from MySpace forever. Now refusing to join the worst website in the world has acquired a moral dimension: MySpace has deleted an atheist / agnostic page just because some Space-cases find it offensive.

Jan 30, 2008

things to come

Huckabee will bow out after Super Tuesday. It'll be sad--I'm going to miss his baffling foreign policy views, his bizarre supporters, and his folksy lite wisdom / recipes.

The Giants will win the Super Bowl. Up against the soulless, life-crushing machine, they may not have the odds behind 'em, but they've got heart. Rocky IV comes to Arizona this Sunday.

In a surprise move, John Edwards will endorse John McCain. Think about it.

No Country for Old Men will win the Best Picture Oscar, but not Best Director. Or vice versa. I think it deserves both, but I didn't get a ballot.

Update: The Giants won, thanks to the most incredible postseason catch since the Immaculate Reception. All hail Tyree!

Jan 29, 2008

don't walk like an Egyptian

Around 8:00 tonight, I drove over to Evergreen's library, almost-due books in gloved hand, warily navigating the treacherous ice-trap that is Red Square. I watched as one incautious fellow slipped and fell, and narrowly avoided the same fate at least thrice. No gait is as graceful and clumsy as the shuffle-slide of an icewalker.

Ten minutes away, at CHS, the ground isn't even frozen. Evergreen is a microclimate unto itself--and not just ideologically.

[Today's tie brought to you by the letter G.]

crunching the words

A natural-language computer analysis shows that Bush's latest SOTU is a "legacy speech," while psychologists note that SOTU speeches tend to become simpler as elections near.

Someday, we'll find out that computers have been writing the SOTU since at least 1997. Will that be terrifying, liberating, or both?

Jan 28, 2008

primary? caucus? I already voted.

In the only election that really matters: Best of South Sound.

So many write-ins.

snow rumors confirmed

Today was a snow day; the Olympia School District, like so many others, canceled classes. No complaints here. I had plenty to work on, including...
  • A letter of recommendation
  • Plans for Finals (which might be pushed back, if the snow dares to fall again)
  • National Board self-analysis
  • Reinstalling Windows XP (Service Pack 1!) on a dying HP, in hopes that a fresh start means fresh life
To cap the day: a trip through the Black Hills. Wish me luck.

wake me when the science happens

I haven't blogged much about Intelligent Design lately, because--and this is going to start sounding like an echo--not much of real interest happens with ID this days. Its pitchmen are a collective embarrassment who do nothing in the way of research and much in the way of antics. Sad.

what are the chances?

Chances are, you're bad at probability. Don't fret too much, though--comes with being human. Your emotion overrides your calculation*, and you tend to be very bad at probability quizzes. Try this one:
1. What's more common in the United States, (a) suicide or (b) homicide?
2. What's the more frequent cause of death in the United States, (a) pool drowning or (b) falling out of bed?
3. What are the top five causes of accidental death in America, following motor-vehicle accidents, and which is the biggest one?
4. Of the top two causes of nonaccidental death in America, (a) cancer and (b) heart disease, which kills more women?
5. What are the next three causes of nonaccidental death in the United States?
6. Which has killed more Americans, bird flu or mad cow disease?
7. How many Americans die from AIDS every year, (a) 12,995, (b) 129,950, or (c) 1,299,500?
8. How many Americans die from diabetes every year? (a) 72,820, (b) 728,200, or (c) 7,282,000?
9. Which kills more Americans, (a) appendicitis or (b) salmonella?
10. Which kills more Americans, (a) pregnancy and childbirth or (b) malnutrition?
Answers found at the bottom of the linked page, which goes into great depth explaining just how bad at probability you probably are.

Don't bet on sports.

[via Joe Carter]

*I don't say "reason," because Spock-like, emotionless reason is humanly impossible, as Antonio Damasio's work shows.

Jan 27, 2008

reassessing the WASL

Make it shorter, make it smarter, make it actually useful to teachers. Small changes, if legislators go along:
With a five-year testing contract set to expire this fall, state lawmakers are discussing adjustments that would address many criticisms of the WASL, which is given each year to students in third through eighth grades and grade 10.

Educators have long complained, for example, that the WASL eats up too many days of instruction, and teachers can't use it to figure out what help students need.

In her budget, Gov. Christine Gregoire included money to create short classroom tests that teachers can use to determine whether students are on track to pass the WASL, and another set to diagnose why they fail. She supports reducing the length of the WASL for students in third through eighth grades (but not grade 10), which would mean less testing time, quicker results — and cost savings.

She also proposes translating the math and science sections into six languages, so that many immigrant students can show what they know even if their English skills aren't strong.

In all, Gregoire is asking for about $38 million for the WASL program in the 2008-09 school year. That includes about $4.3 million in enhancements, and takes into account an estimated $12.5 million in savings from shortening the exam.
No proposed changes for 10th grade in Gregoire's / OSPI's plan. For those who think the WASL's too costly, and was never meant to track individual student progress, this news won't change a thing. But at least it's an admission that, from a teacher's and parent's perspective, the WASL as it stands isn't reaching the standard implied by the second letter of its acronym.

Meanwhile, trouble still brews in the 12th grade...

Jan 26, 2008

the week in lies and ties

In the same week hackers declared war on the lyingest cult that ever culted, and America was introduced to the pseudoscience of televised lie detection for fun and profit, and two journalistic nonprofits counted up 935--no more, no less--"false statements" Bush et. al. made justifying the Iraq War, and Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama cast aspersions on each other's characterizations....

In this very same week Tussaud's began dumping its un-wax-museum-quality heads on collectors everywhere.


[Ties from Tuesday and Thursday of this week.]

the new new world order

What is America's role in the world? LDers coming across--or using--hegemony or political realism cases for the current resolution might want to check out two recent essays.

The first, by Parag Khanna, declares that American hegemony is in its last throes.
At best, America’s unipolar moment lasted through the 1990s, but that was also a decade adrift. The post-cold-war “peace dividend” was never converted into a global liberal order under American leadership. So now, rather than bestriding the globe, we are competing — and losing — in a geopolitical marketplace alongside the world’s other superpowers: the European Union and China. This is geopolitics in the 21st century: the new Big Three. Not Russia, an increasingly depopulated expanse run by Gazprom.gov; not an incoherent Islam embroiled in internal wars; and not India, lagging decades behind China in both development and strategic appetite. The Big Three make the rules — their own rules — without any one of them dominating. And the others are left to choose their suitors in this post-American world.
Khanna, after analyzing the present situation, calls for a modest pragmatism as a stabilizing strategy for the future--no American exceptionalism, and no dreams of empire. The entire essay is well worth digesting.

Derek Chollet and Tod Lindberg, however, take a slightly different view. Though they also realize that unipolarity is not an option, they still want to preserve the "moral core" of American foreign policy.
Moving beyond the slogans, would a truly values-free foreign policy really secure U.S. interests, strengthen U.S. power, and draw the sustained support of the American people? We think not. American values are an indispensable component of the U.S. role in the world — they are a key part of what unites the United States to allies in Europe and elsewhere and distinguishes the United States from countries like China. Instead of dividing conservatives and liberals, American values in foreign policy can in fact translate into a moral core that both sides can rally around. In the current political environment, as we approach the first post -9/11, post-Bush election, building such a policy bridge will be difficult. But given the stakes, it is imperative.
How this plays out in practice is outlined in the rest of the essay. Again, worth reading for insight, ideas, and blocks.

Jan 25, 2008

the voices outside my head: thoughts from Mitt Romney

Hello, I'm presidential candidate Mitt Romney. I'm running for president of the United States, and I approve this message, since, in all probability, I had a hand in drafting it. I mean, I at least endorse its sentiments until they prove unpopular.

More than any other politician, I know how to listen to the vox populi. That's a little Latin for "voice of the people." These days, I've noticed, the people tend to sound like a stage whisper.

One time the people whispered, "If you build it, he will come," so I hustled to make sure Utah got an Olympics bid. "He" turned out to be thousands of German tourists, which was nice.

Another time the people whispered, "Rosebud," so I moved to Massachusetts where the snow falls like in one of those cool globey things. I was there to shake things up, let me tell you.

Now I'm asking you, America, to whisper loud and clear what you want from me. Don't whisper "raise taxes," because I know that's just help with a trick question. Even though I love Ronald Reagan, who once raised taxes, I love not raising taxes more, because I love you, America, more.

But if you really want me to, I'll do it.

breathe easy

Calabasas, the much-loved City of Shining Air, is back in the news. Perhaps in response to Belmont's no-smoking-and-we-really-mean-it measure, the city has banned smoking in most apartments.
Last week the Calabasas City Council unanimously approved an ordinance that requires landlords to reserve 80 percent of their units for nonsmokers as of January 1, 2012. The law (PDF), which was supported by the L.A. chapter of the California Apartment Association (clearly a bad sign), not only allows smokers to rent up to one-fifth of apartments; it grandfathers current tenants who smoke.... The ordinance's one saving grace is that it "prohibits smoking on all multi-unit apartment residence balconies, porches and patios." Now there's the Calabasas I love to hate.
Even though the summertime toking of my downstairs neighbor bugs the crap out of me, I'm not going to throw down the wrath of the State upon him over some bogus health concern--and I'm entirely uninterested in making him homeless.

snow, and rumors of snow

No snow. Yet. Everyone's hoping. But in all probability, we're going to get dumped on over the weekend, which, from any student or teacher's perspective, is as good as no snow.

Meanwhile, Hershey's is halting production of mints that look like packages of snow--the other kind, of course--since police are worried that children might get confused and think that drugs are fun.

In related news, General Mills is giving up the flour business, fearing that children will try to make cocaine cookies in their Easy-Bake ovens. No worry, though, because Easy-Bake is shutting down production, too, fearing that meth-heads are using the lightbulb ovens in mobile meth labs.

Jan 24, 2008

a time for heterodoxy

The problem:
While the basic education funding from the state follows the student to the new district, the bill to the student's home district is determined with a formula that takes into account the amount of the high school district's levy, said John Molohon, fiscal assistant superintendent of Educational Service District 113.

So, when the levy rises in the high school district, the smaller district's bill also rises, whether or not its taxpayers would have approved the levy, Brannam said.

That's a situation that's applies only to high school students who live in areas without a high school, he said.

If a transfer student comes to Griffin — as 20 percent of its students do — they are funded only through state basic education funds, leaving the district to cover the rest.
The solution:
"We wouldn't be so reliant on our special levies as we are if the state funded us at the right level," [WSSDA's John Dekker] said.
Amen and amen. Simple majorities are a bandaid, but the wound's still bleeding.

Jan 23, 2008

Atlantic Monthly lowers the paywall

Starting now, The Atlantic Monthly won't charge for online content. At least, they won't charge you. Advertisers will cover it.


[via Eugene Volokh]

support your local librarian: part II

Permanent funding for librarians not coming from levy dollars? Sounds crazy enough to work.
[Rainier's Steve] Coker is set to testify today in support of Senate Bill 6380, which would provide state funding — $12 per student — for materials, and require a certain number of certified-teacher librarians based on the size of the district.
Hope that went well for you, Mr. Coker. In today's techno-climate, we need teacher-librarians--and a stable funding structure--more than ever.

Jan 22, 2008

yelling "shush" in a crowded theater

Yesterday my wife and I saw There Will Be Blood, my last cinematic excursion until at least April. We went with another CHS teacher and his wife, meeting at the theater. As the women stood in line for overpriced snacks (free popcorn--thanks, Crown Club!), the men scoped out and saved seats in the #6 auditorium.

He and I were chit-chatting about the merits of Daniel Day Lewis's recent work when an elderly grouch in front of us turned around. "Excuse me," he snapped. "I didn't come to the theater to listen to you two talk."

We sat in stunned silence for about thirty seconds, and then busted out laughing. You see, he shushed us during the pre-preview commercials. Feeling no need to apologize, I eventually griped, "Yeah, well, I didn't come here to watch TV, but with these hard times, whaddayaget?" We turned to the folks behind us, who shrugged in sympathy.

Our spouses returned, snacks in hand. Five minutes later, the sound quit during the previews, a surreal, music video-esque experience. I ran out to find a manager, and then came back, explaining to the crowd that help was on the way. Crabby Pants just sat and stewed.

Once the show started, we were perfectly quiet angels throughout--so quiet that at the end, the wiseacre behind us said, "Okay, y'all can talk now."

I respect cinema. I respect the lovers of cinema. I turn off my cell phone and shut my yapper. That's part of my moral code.

But so is the First Amendment, and I'll exercise it during the commercials. Sorry.

Jan 21, 2008

there will be Paul F. Tompkins

Paul F. Tompkins has a bit part in There Will Be Blood. All sixteen other roles are played by Daniel Day Lewis.

(Ten second review: I came out impressed, but not gasping. I stand by my previous assessment.)

show me the WASL

This parent's eye view of the WASL is worth reading for this fact alone:
Out of a total of 1.5 million WASL test booklets marked in 2007 by Washington students in grades 3 through 12, tests from just 746 students have been shown to parents.
That's because receiving the booklet is at the parent's insistence. It ought to be a required mailing by the state, at least to every student who hasn't met standard, both to parents and teachers. The limited data currently available--scores broken down into categories, with no detailed interpretation--are as helpful as a personals ad.

If the WASL survives the current legislative session, which is likely, given a threatened Gregoire veto to any attempt to quash it, we should still push for reform in the way the middle-level tests are structured, delivered, scored, and shared. Otherwise, they're meaningless as an individual assessment.

WCC shrinks, but won't disappear

The Western Cascade Conference, which seemed to be on the verge of nonexistence, is going to stick around as a four team league, The Olympian reports. Capital, North Thurston, Timberline, and Yelm held the line. We'll have a heavy nonconference schedule versus our foes in the South Puget Sound League. The only wrinkle that hasn't been pressed out:
The non-league arrangement with the SPSL does not include football. The WCC is awaiting a decision by the Olympic League on whether the four schools will join that league in football only. The Olympic League consists of Bremerton, North Kitsap, Olympic and Port Angeles.
The fun starts this fall.

Jan 20, 2008

tricky phrases in the nuclear weapons resolution

What does it mean to "pose a military threat?"

That's a question I mulled over this past weekend, as I listened to affirmatives and negatives try to parse the complexities of the nuclear weapons resolution.

There's no easy, or good, answer, for either side.

1. In one view, "pose a threat" and "threaten" are semantically distinct. To threaten is to demonstrate intent to harm. The locus of agency is the person or entity making the threat.

To "pose," in the context of "posing a threat," (or its semantic cousin "posing a risk") is to come to one's attention. The locus of agency is the person or entity who feels threatened.

2. This would make "pose a threat" a more subjective concept. It would be up to the threatened to show why, say, France poses a military threat, even if France hasn't made an express warning or action against a particular nation.

3. But an affirmative might say that this reading of the resolution takes away too much Aff ground. If, as many seem to be assuming, "pose" means to "present," the locus of agency returns to the threatener. "Pose a military threat" and "militarily threaten" would mean the same thing.

So, as I see it, Affs want a narrow view of "pose a military threat," or else they are stuck defending military force in response to another nation's mere possession of a military.

What does "prevent the acquisition of" imply, if anything?

An affirmative could also narrow the resolution by arguing that "prevent the acquisition of nuclear weapons" implies that the nations in question are not already armed with nukes. Two reasons:

1. The word "prevent." As Webster's notes, "prevent implies taking advance measures against something possible or probable." If a nation already possesses nukes, prevention is too late; nuclear weapon acquisition is already "actual," instead of "possible" or "probable."

2. The ever-shrinking Affirmative ground. Saying that the resolution encompasses nations that already possess nuclear weapons gives the Neg too many angles of attack in a resolution already heavily Neg-weighted, because of the ridiculous number of words and phrases that require Aff definition.

Your thoughts and comments, as always, are welcome.

weekend recap with Tom Cruise

Tom Cruise is shilled for, and shills for, Scientology and "LRH technology." Weirdness galore in these bizarre and highly addictive videos. [via Slate]

McClane! McBain! McCain!

Endured and enjoyed the Federal Way tournament. Worst / best quote I heard, regarding political assassination's chaotic aftermath: "That would be killing the head, and leaving the wriggling body to figure it out." Synonyms for "raising": upping, highering, and highering up.

One more teacher learns the hard way that camera phones are your worst pedagogical nightmare.
A Boulder teen has been arrested for using his cellphone camera to snag a teacher's computer password and change math scores for himself and 48 other students.

"He said he was changing grades just enough to ensure that if a student didn't do well on the final, their grades wouldn't be impacted," Boulder police spokeswoman Sarah Huntley said today.

The 16-year-old Fairview High School student, who wasn't identified because he is a juvenile, was arrested Wednesday and faces a felony charge for tampering with the grades.
Better and worse news: most younguns aren't as techno-savvy as you might think. You stereotyper.

[First link via Obscure Store]

Listen to Sean Paul, have a seizure. But science has the cure. (Not sure if there's a similar procedure possible for "Exploding Head syndrome.")

Jan 18, 2008

no substitute


WASHINGTON – A year is a long time in a child’s education, the time it can take to learn cursive writing or beginning algebra. It’s also how much time kids can spend with substitute teachers from kindergarten through high school – time that’s all but lost for learning.

Despite pressure on schools to increase instructional time and meet performance goals, the vacuum created by teacher absenteeism has been all but ignored – even though new research suggests it can have an adverse effect in the classroom.

The problem isn’t just with teachers home for a day or two with the flu. Schools’ use of substitutes to plug full-time vacancies – the teachers that kids are supposed to have all year – is up dramatically.

Duke University economist Charles Clotfelter, among a handful of researchers who have closely studied the issue, says the image of spitballs flying past a daily substitute often reflects reality. “Many times substitutes don’t have the plan in front of them,” Clotfelter said. “They don’t have all the behavioral expectations that the regular teachers have established, so it’s basically a holding pattern.”

Clotfelter’s examination of North Carolina schools is part of emerging research suggesting that teacher absences lead to lower student test scores, even when substitutes fill in. And test scores have gained heightened importance, because the 2002 education law penalizes schools if too few students meet testing benchmarks. The goal is to get all kids reading and doing math at their grade levels by 2014.

Raegen Miller, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Washington, is examining the impact of teacher absences on fourth-grade test scores in a large, urban school district that he chooses not to identify. His findings show that 10 teacher absences within a year cause a significant loss in math achievement. When the regular teacher is gone for two weeks, it can set students back at least that amount of time.

“Teachers often have to re-teach material, restore order and rebuild relationships after absences,” said Miller, who is conducting the research with Harvard University education professors.

Nationwide, the number of schools reporting that they used substitutes to fill regular teaching vacancies doubled between 1994 and 2004, according to Education Department data. The latest data showed more than a fifth of public schools use subs in this way.

Miller found big differences in teacher absence rates among schools in the same district. He said the “professional culture” of a school and the relationship between teachers and administrators affect absenteeism.


To find the Education Department’s data on substitute teachers, go to http://nces.ed.gov. Click on the “Surveys and Programs” tab at the top of the page. Click on “Elementary/Secondary,” then scroll down to “Schools and Staffing Survey.”

Jan 17, 2008


So much for the planned condoization of the Ugly Building. The Olympian reports:
Downtown's vacant Capitol Center office building will not be remodeled for condominiums, the project spokesman said Wednesday.

Instead, the developer will spend the next year remodeling the eight-story building as a possible home for state offices, spokesman Neil Falkenburg said.

A slower residential real-estate market and rising remodeling costs killed the condo idea, he said....

"The building, as an office, is ideally situated for state government," he said. "Nobody's going to argue it's an amazing location."
And nobody's going to dispute its ugly, ugly exterior. Or the sky-abrader's remarkable longevity. Long live the Ugly Building!

military force, nuclear weapons, and a tacky tie

A few odds-and-ends questions from readers regarding the nuclear weapons resolution, which I've been remiss in answering until now. Questions are indented and edited for clarity, and each answer follows the question. Enjoy.

I can't find any intelligent definitions of military force beyond that of an actual army... Any help?
On the affirmative, you might combine definitions of "military" and "force," since the common definition makes it seem like we're referring to a military unit. On the Neg, I like Rupert Smith's description from The Utility of Force: "Force is the basis of any military activity, whether in a theatre of operations or in a skirmish between two soldiers. It is both the physical means of destruction--the bullet, the bayonet--and the body that applies it... Military force when employed has only two immediate effects: it kills people and destroys things."
What about saying that nuclear weapons pose a threat to our inalienable rights, which justifies the use of military force because it is a government's priority to protect these rights?
That's a decent starting point, based on social contract logic. However, you still have to get from "they're a military threat" (To whom? The resolution doesn't specify.) to "they're threatening our rights" to "so we have to keep them from getting nukes by using military force."
I have a clarification to make. For Affirmative, we are saying that it is just for United States to use military force, and in Negative, we will be arguing that it is unjust for United States to use nuclear weapons... I just wanted to make sure I am on the right path...
Not exactly. The Neg doesn't have to declare it unjust for the US to use nuclear weapons, unless they're making the claim that "military force" is so broad that it potentially includes nuclear war. The Neg's ultimate goal is to show that preventing a nation from acquiring nuclear weapons is unjust. It could have nothing at all to do with whether the US has, or doesn't have, its own nukes.
I have a quick question. What would the best way to establish each nation's right to protection? Although it's undisputed in law, I feel as though I need to concretely establish it in round.
Social contract theory (pick one). International law (UN Charter). Self-imposed constitutional obligations.
On the affirmative - I have a good connection between justice and human rights, but I'm struggling to prove that preemptive force best protects human rights. Any suggestions on which direction I should look for evidence?
Daniel Zupan's analysis, cited here, is a good start. Not just "preemptive force," but preemptive force to prevent the acquisition of nuclear weapons. If Zupan is right, that makes a huge difference.
How can the US stop a country form acquiring weapons without engaging in aggression or a war? How will military blockades stop countries from acquiring such weapons? I am trying to find non-violent ways to use 'military force.'
Morally speaking, force always involves at least a threat of violence, so I'm not sure this is a distinction that matters. Especially since there's nothing in the resolution to limit military force to "nonviolent" forms. The Aff essentially has to describe the wide range of options, from special ops to surgical strikes, the majority being prudent and / or proportional, and point out that the burden is to prove the resolution true "in general," not in every tiny detail. It's a heavy burden, for sure.
Even though The United States is trying to block nuclear weapons from other countries, in order to do so, where did the US get the power to use military force on other countries? Also, had the United Nations given power to keep nuclear weapons only for U.S. and not other countries?
By "power" you probably mean "right," in which case it depends on if you care about international law. If you don't, argue that the U.S.'s moral commitment is only to its own citizens, justifying unilateral action. If you do, argue that the UN charter permits preemption in the case of preventing nuclear proliferation. It can be done. Or just argue for abolition, period.
Okay, In my case, I am upholding that nuclear weapons pose a threat to our citizens' inalienable rights, therefore it is the OBLIGATION of the United States to use military force, but I just can't think of any more arguments. Can anyone help?
Expand your moral concern to the world at large. See here for tips.
how do u define justice for affirmative...? please help me...cuz i defined justice as right action, but i dont think it is such a strong definition...especially for this resolution
Giving each their due... what is due to each? Right action... what is the right action to take? Equal treatment... how do we define "equal?" Every definition of justice has advantages and flaws. Pick one you like, work out the consequences, and warrant your choice with connection to international law, the social contract, general moral principles, or something else.
So I need to qual for state at my next tournament...I need some major help. I wrote a neg case that has never failed me- but I can't seem to win any aff arguments. I'm running Justice, safety..and an observation about "Double Effect" -A just action is one that produces good consequences, the ends outweigh the means..that kind of thing. My contentions only explain why nuke war is bad, and since using military force would for sure prevent this, according to Thomas Aquinas and his double effect doctrine and according to consequentialism...it would be just. So what am I doing right? What can I do to improve/strengthen my case?
Your framework is not the major problem. It's when you get into your contentions: military force would "for sure" prevent nuclear war? That's a stretch.
My coach said that using preservation of rights for the basis of my case isn't strong. I thought that if I show that nuclear weapons are a threat to our rights, and it is the U.S. has an obligation to protect them, then it has to be just.
Before I contradict your coach, I'd need to know why rights preservation (the foundation of the traditional social contract view) is "weak." A government that doesn't protect its citizen's rights is patently unjust according to the S/C view.
I was thinking about using preemptive war as one of my negative contentions. Would that be smart or would it pertain more to the past PuFo topic?
That's a defensible way to approach the topic. Since, as I describe above, the resolution doesn't limit the definition of "military force," it's easy to pin the Aff for supporting preemptive war.

More questions? Ask away! I'll do my best to answer as I'm able. No guarantees, your mileage may vary, always seek a second opinion, floss daily.

Jan 16, 2008

summer WASL math remediation stinks

Mathwise, the astounding failure of WASL retakes has much to do with the quick-fix nature of the summer remediation offered.
The PAS program enrolled only 14 percent of eligible sophomores in summer 2006, and of those, only 28 percent passed a retake of the math WASL in August 2006. The results were only slightly better than those of students who didn't participate in the state-funded program.

The failure of the emergency remediation efforts was one factor in the Legislature's decision to suspend math as a graduation requirement until 2013. Students still must pass reading and writing to graduate.

The PAS summer math program, with a curriculum developed by the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI), was only four weeks. Administrators from several Snohomish County school districts said that was too little time to help most students.

"For the vast majority, what we could do in four weeks was not sufficient," said Ken Limón, assistant superintendent for Edmonds schools. Edmonds didn't offer the math summer PAS program this year because the earlier results were "so ineffective," Limón said.
Four weeks of math to close the gap? The words "optimistic" and "foolhardy" come to mind, followed closely by "ill-conceived" and "ridiculous."

The 4-week crash course might have helped more students who scored L2+ (close to passing, L3), but apparently, those students were more likely to take the WASL again without losing a precious month of summer. In the end, it may have made little difference; we have to account for the possibility that the L2's who signed up for the summer course just might have been the go-getters of the bunch.

As for the "modest" increase relative to non-participants, the WSIPP report notes [pdf]:
The gains made by PAS participants reported in Exhibit 6 are relatively modest when one considers that reading scores range from 225 to 525 points and math scores vary between 200 and 575 points. For example, PAS participants improved by only 1.3 points relative to non-participants on a 300-point reading scale.
Cost to taxpayers: $28.5 million. Cost to OSPI's pedagogical credibility: incalculable.

Huckabee's theocentric constitutionalism

Some folks are stunned and upset about Mike Huckabee's statement that we should change the Constitution to conform to God's laws.

There should be little surprise: Huckabee said roughly the same thing months ago at the Value Voters summit.

When I hear people say, "Oh, we don't want to change the Constitution, we don't want to amend it," well it was meant to be amended. But let me give you another thought. I'm very tired of hearing people who are unwilling to change the Constitution, but seem more than willing to change the holy word of God as it relates to the definition of marriage.... We do not have the right to move the standards of God to meet new cultural norms. We need to move the cultural norms to meet God's standards.

ride that skeptical wave

Over at The Skeptical Surfer, it's the 78th installment of the Skeptics' Circle. The bogus wipes out every time.

Mike Huckabee and "acts of God"

I find this story from a decade ago almost unbelievable.
The Arkansas Legislature scrambled today to rewrite a bill intended to protect storm victims after Gov. Mike Huckabee, a Baptist minister, objected to language describing such natural phenomena as tornadoes and floods as "acts of God."

Mr. Huckabee said that signing the legislation "would be violating my own conscience" inasmuch as it described "a destructive and deadly force as being 'an act of God.'" The Governor, a Republican, said the legislation was an otherwise worthy bill with objectives he shared.

Mr. Huckabee did not veto the bill but instead asked that it be recalled by the General Assembly. He suggested that the phrase "acts of God" be changed to "natural disasters...."

Governor Huckabee's explained his objections in a letter to the bill's authors, saying: "I feel that I have indeed witnessed many 'acts of God,' but I see His actions in the miraculous sparing of life, the sacrifice and selfless spirit in which so many responded to the pain of others."
Theologically shallow and politically irresponsible. That's Mike Huckabee.

Jan 15, 2008

the halo effect

Shouldn't surprise anyone that when people think they're getting something expensive, they enjoy it more. It's a psychological phenomenon called the "halo effect." Expectation not only modifies perception, but creates it. I'm happy because I smile, not the other way around.

Today's example: tell an oenophile they're drinking vintage pinot noir, and they'll savor it. Tell them they're guzzling $6 merlot, and they'll spit it out. Don't argue; it's science.
A $90 wine was provided marked with its real price and again marked $10, while another was presented at its real price of $5 and also marked $45.

The testers' brains showed more pleasure at the higher price than the lower one, even for the same wine, Rangel reports in this week's online edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

In other words, changes in the price of the wine changed the actual pleasure experienced by the drinkers, the researchers reported.

On the other hand, when tasters didn't know any price comparisons, they rated the $5 wine as better than any of the others sampled.
Does a "halo effect" exist in education? Almost certainly. In its negative form, we call it "labeling." Positively, it's a Jedi mind trick: this is fun, students, because I say it's fun, and believe it's fun, and you're going to have fun. Fun fun fun.

I firmly believe in the halo effect, which is why I wear ties twice a week. Gotta keep the halo polished.

not emo enough

Eric G. Wilson worries that we're becoming too happy:
Why are most Americans so utterly willing to have an essential part of their hearts sliced away and discarded like so much waste? What are we to make of this American obsession with happiness, an obsession that could well lead to a sudden extinction of the creative impulse, that could result in an extermination as horrible as those foreshadowed by global warming and environmental crisis and nuclear proliferation? What drives this rage for complacency, this desperate contentment?

Surely all this happiness can't be for real. How can so many people be happy in the midst of all the problems that beset our globe — not only the collective and apocalyptic ills but also those particular irritations that bedevil our everyday existences, those money issues and marital spats, those stifling vocations and lonely dawns? Are we to believe that four out of every five Americans can be content amid the general woe? Are some people lying, or are they simply afraid to be honest in a culture in which the status quo is nothing short of manic bliss? Aren't we suspicious of this statistic? Aren't we further troubled by our culture's overemphasis on happiness? Don't we fear that this rabid focus on exuberance leads to half-lives, to bland existences, to wastelands of mechanistic behavior?
Wilson's gist: our flaws make us interesting, and we need a good dose of sadness to appreciate, explore, and grow out of pain. It's well-trodden ground, and potentially rebutted by a healthy dose of existentialism, but well worth thinking about.

I'm surprised that Wilson seems to miss the whole "emo" movement, where melancholy is oh-so-hip. Must be his level of teaching. Maybe by university, kids grow out of Dashboard Confessional.

At least, I hope they do.

an open letter to Netflix

Dear Netflix,

Thanks for providing unlimited access to select movies via my subscription. Netflix is already cool, and this just makes it that much cooler.

Now, how about some Mac support?


Jim Anderson
Olympia, WA

is being in the spelling bee nerdy?

No. Not at all. Not in the very least. No, no, and no.

Negative. N-E-G-A-you know the rest.

In fact, surveys show that spelling bee participants are rated among the least nerdy members of our society, right up there with movie stars, professional athletes, and supermodels. They are revered and respected. They are admired and imitated. They are beatified and bedecked. They receive their nation's highest plaudits and prizes. Most of all, they are loved.

Unsure? Just look at me.

That's right. You should join up. And you will.

Because you're cool.

Spelling Bee cool.

[150th in a series]

Jan 14, 2008

David Blomstrom: take out the clowns

David Blomstrom: Terry Bergeson's "chief opponent," or just another quixotic candidate a-blowin' in the wind? You make the call:
You're right...but you forgot to mention that that was probably the most scr*wed up election in state history. There were certain counties that had information about just one or two SPI candidates - or no candidates at all - on their websites. The Secretary of State posted a link to my website that led to a different website (not one of mine).

As usual, the corporate media scarcely mentioned any candidates aside from their favorites. In that particular campaign, they focused on the three women candidates, scarcely mentioning any of the male candidates. I was invited to just ONE forum.

So, yes, I fared rather poorly against candidates with far more money and corrupt endorsements, in the midst of a virtual media blackout and a political election that was nearly wrecked by the folks in charge.

To put it another way, the last election was just another free ride for Terror Bergeson. Which isn't to say the current election will be any less corrupt. Ultimately, the ball is in the public's court. Will teachers, parents and taxpayers care enough to get involved this time around?

Will people ask questions about Bergeson's bizarre relationship with Seattle attorney Judith Lonnquist and right-wing education assassin Don Nielson? Will people finally recognize the fact that public education is being privatized and take a stand?

Oops, sorry to bore you with ISSUES, something Terry Bergeson likes to ignore. You sound like one of the clowns who like to vote for establishment candidates with no issues but lots of money (and corrupt endorsements).

P.S. You might want to do a little research on the candidates I ran against last time around. What were their issues? How about their track records? Are they still fighting the good fight?

You might find the results illuminating.
I can sympathize with a Ron Paul type who is "scr*wd" by the established media just because of his outsider-ness. I have a much harder time sympathizing with a petulant rabble-rouser whose message is drowned out by his antics. (Media blackout, eh?)

Playing the educational village atheist might earn Blomstrom 6th place just by pulling out the protest vote, but it sure doesn't make him Bergeson's "chief opponent," unless we're using froth as a metric. Even Ron Paul is smart enough to know that publicly calling his opponents "whores" would doom his chances.

So complain away, Mr. Blomstrom, about "corporate media" (which you mostly ignored or avoided in the school board election, so no more whining about "media blackouts"), make up more clever nicknames for your opponents ("Tricky Dick" Semler? Richard "Dissembler?"), and by all means keep churning out amusing websites. If you somehow manage to reach the general election, I'll personally contribute $100 to your campaign.

Now, excuse me while I go strap on my clown shoes.

If it weren't for the internet, David Blomstrom might win friends and influence people. Blomstrom, if you didn't know--and chances are you didn't--is running against Terry Bergeson. Sadly, his positions on the issues--the WASL sucks, education is being privatized and corrupted--get obscured by his rancor. At least, when he's sitting at the keyboard.

It doesn't have to be this way:
His appearance on the program — by phone — was absent any of the name-calling and ranting that characterize his Web site (he refers to his opponent as "Whorium") and he gave thoughtful answers to questions from the host and callers.
If the medium is the message, maybe Blomstrom just needs a better medium.

Jan 13, 2008

weekend recap with tacky ties

The Seahawks got Favred. I spent over 24 hours at the UPS speech and debate tournament. It didn't snow. Fred Thompson awoke from hibernation. I posted these tacky ties too long after the fact.

Jan 12, 2008

CSI:West Des Moines

It sends a message, but I'm not sure what it means:
Stolen pig fetuses that showed up on car antennas in the Dowling Catholic High School parking lot this week have been traced to the Roosevelt High School swim team, whose coach Friday promised punishment.
As bad as our local rivalry gets, it ain't that bad.

gratuitous !

Punctuation, matters!?

Panic at the Disco doesn't.

science odds and ends

Some semi-random notes and observations.

1. I'm late on this, but it's still good. Edge Magazine's yearly question for scientists: What have you changed your mind about? I'm perpetually amused by the number of completely contradictory answers, usually in the most interesting fields, like neuroscience and artificial intelligence.

2. One answer that caught my eye, and got me thinking: Linda Stone's thoughts on breathing.
In observing others — in their offices, their homes, at cafes — the vast majority of people hold their breath especially when they first begin responding to email. On cell phones, especially when talking and walking, people tend to hyper-ventilate or over-breathe....

The parasympathetic nervous system governs our sense of hunger and satiety, flow of saliva and digestive enzymes, the relaxation response, and many aspects of healthy organ function.... Shallow breathing, breath holding and hyper-ventilating triggers the sympathetic nervous system, in a "fight or flight" response.

The activated sympathetic nervous system causes the liver to dump glucose and cholesterol into our blood, our heart rate increases, we don't have a sense of satiety, and our bodies anticipate and resource for the physical activity that, historically, accompanied a physical fight or flight response. Meanwhile, when the only physical activity is sitting and responding to email, we're sort of "all dressed up with nowhere to go."
This clicked: the recent research linking sleep deprivation and diabetes could be pointing to poor breathing as an underlying cause.

3. A miracle cure for Alzheimers? Maybe. It's a limited study, and short-term. Back in the 1960s, L-Dopa, when first administered to Parkinson's patients, provided the same sort of wonderful transformation, but over time, its effects would fade and symptoms would return.

There's hope, though. [via The Speculist]

4. Parasitic butterflies trick ants into raising their young. Some call it day care.

Jan 11, 2008

with no malice aforethought

An Ohio State University student newspaper learns the difficult truth: you can't control for connotation.

[via Obscure Store]

Rich Nafziger resigns from Olympia School Board

This is a remarkable turn of events:
Nafziger, who was elected to the board in 2003 and re-elected in an uncontested race in November, said Thursday that his position on the board conflicts with his job as chief of staff of the Washington Senate Democratic Caucus. He accepted his new job in October, after he had filed for the November election, and his resignation from the board is effective Monday.

Nafziger said he hoped to find a way to avoid the potential conflicts and stay on the board, but "I wouldn't be able to do either (job) well," he said.

During most of Nafziger's term on the board, he was chief clerk of the House, a job that mostly was administrative. The House attorney determined that the job wasn't a conflict of interest.

Education will be a hot topic in the upcoming legislative session, and attorneys with the caucus and the Senate Ethics Committee said there would have been a perceived conflict of interest between Nafziger's new job and his elected position, he said.

"My job is to give senators information on education policy," he said.
This leaves Barclift, Lehman, Shirley, and new member Frank Wilson to determine his replacement. I'm curious if Nafziger will comment further on his blog. The upshot, though, is that Board politics just got a lot more... interesting.

most politics is local

Think about getting into politics, but don't know what it's like to get caught up in an election? Blog-neighbor Emmett O'Connell shares his state-and-national experience in the Bill Richardson camp.
2008 was the election when every campaign that mattered bought Blue State Digital's campaign suite and expected the excitement of 2004 to automatically replicate itself. Which, at least in my mind, it didn't. The tools you offer don't bring life, people using their own tools and the campaign letting that happen is what brings life to a campaign.

That said, its not all the campaign's fault, I ran into a lot of unimaginative people along the line. I received a lot of emails from people who had contacted the campaign, willing to help, but were frustrated that they hadn't received any direction.

I should have asked them, why do you need direction? You like Bill, you know where you live. Just do something, see if it sticks. No one is going to take out a contract on your life because you designed and printed up some signs and they aren't exactly what the campaign wanted.

Ok, so blogging is different for me now. After the 2004 election, I started blogging at different places, such as westerndemocrat.com and eventually washblog.com. I moved from my own place to places with larger communities and attention. As I moved away from the Richardson-o-sphere this fall, I also pulled back from those places as well.

My civic life is also getting different. One place I didn't pull back from was olyblog.net, my hyper local community. I also have been reflecting on my local involvements, too see where I can do a better job and where I might be able to better focus my attention. What I take from everything above is that if I have time beyond my local commitments, I'll try larger things again. But, local is first.
I am more and more convinced that Emmett is right.

never mind me

Sporadic weekend updates, since I'll be coaching at the UPS invitational speech and debate hootenanny. Go about your business.

Jan 9, 2008

a true story

I stop at a local fast food joint this afternoon, since the wife has a migraine and I'm in a hurry to get to the legislative forum. The place is empty except for the guy on duty, who assembles my order and starts to ring it up on a computer register.

"Oh, crap," he says. "Do you know anything about computers? I've got this weird virus message."

"You're using Windows?" I ask, incredulous.

"Yeah. Look, man, I'm totally computer illiterate. What do I do?"

I ask him if I can hop behind the counter and check it out. He says okay. Sure enough, an Internet Explorer window is open, warning about some German-sounding virus. "Click the baloon to eliminate the threat," it warns, and a little icon pops up on the start menu.

I close the IE window, and the screen returns to the regular checkout. "Don't click anything else," I say. "Better call your manager. Your computer has no antivirus, and you can be pretty sure it's already infected, and he's gonna have to deal with it."

Walking around the counter, I return to my proper role. I plop down $8, and he reaches under the counter. "Here, man," he says, handing me a paper cup. "Have a soda, on the house."

Dr. Pepper it is.

WEA Chinook legislative forum liveblog

An impressionistic account of the WEA Chinook legislative forum on January 8th, 2008 in Tumwater, Washington. All rights reserved.

5:15 p.m.
Arrived at headquarters. Walked through the Burger King-imbued mist to the forum. Snacked.

"I know our lobbyist checks out your blog from time to time," said one of our union reps.

"It must be pretty good, then," said the fellow who was trying to get me on the wireless network. One reboot later, I was good to go. And here I am, liveblogging the legislative forum.

5:35 p.m.
Teachers, EAs, retirees, and hangers-on are still milling about the cheese tray. The muckety-mucks aren't here yet. I'm guessing that Karen Fraser and Brendan Williams will be fashionably late, that Sam Hunt will arrive first, that Gary Alexander will smile until his cheeks split, and that Tim Sheldon will join the Republican party before coming.

5:36 p.m.
Am I the only person who confuses Sam Hunt and Gary Alexander?

Sam is taller.

Gary Alexander (20th District) and Sam Hunt (22nd District) take the stage first. Karen Fraser's running late, visiting flooded areas, says WEA's Kathie Axtell. Alexander gets to talk first. "Good--let me eat, and you talk," says Hunt.

Alexander talks about his experience, committee assignments. A new gig: the Gambling Committee. "I'll find out what my responsibilities are tomorrow," he says. "Wanna bet?" Hunt quips, and then launches into his own résumé and educational bona fides.

Fraser (22nd District) appears, introduces self, long list of political positions. "I have managed to lead a real life in spite of all that."

Axtell thanks the legislators for coming, near the start of the short session, and introduces WEA prez Mary Lindquist. Axtell's first question: what are the "hot spots" in the upcoming session?

Alexander: The flood. He's happy with the Congressional, legislative, and gubernatorial responses so far, but wants to ensure that the work keeps moving forward. Sees a need for budgetary restraint--worries that we're going to spend ourselves into a deficit if we don't pare down in this "supplemental budget year." Interested in seeing what educational and health care task forces will come up with.

Hunt: The flood. Transportation--ferries, viaduct, 520 Bridge, Seattle congestion. Sums up the problem of securing funding for new projects or fixes: "If it doesn't fall down, you're not getting any money." Worries about state education revenue--according to recent forecasts, growth may slow in 2009-2010 to 3%. "Where we're going on WASL, I don't know." Going to try to focus on real "emergency" needs. "We have enough dilemmas to last us at least 60 days."

Fraser: The budget. "If there's anything we can do smarter, we should do it." Says the capital budget is "oversubscribed," but is no public demand for revenue increase (what you might call, say, "taxes"). Flood. K-12 construction competes with prisons. "Always engage on prison and sentencing discussions, because it affects you." I-970 makes some budget decisions especially difficult.

Hunt jumps in to point out that the fastest-growing cost is in health care, and that environmental issues are also major priorities this year.

Question / comment time begins.

Glen Hunter, a math teacher at WF West, talks about the difference between 1973 and now. Back then, he was 1 out of 150 applicants for a math job. This year, the school posted a math job that got two applicants. How do we get more, better qualified math and science teachers?

Alexander blames school districts for taking additional funding for math and science and "spreading it around" to other positions. Sees "nothing wrong" with providing incentives for filling difficult positions.

Hunt disagrees, saying that our salaries lag behind other neighboring states, and that the legislature has failed to step up. "The ceiling becomes the floor," he says, but I'm pretty sure he means the opposite.

Another commentator talks about the substitute shortage, too. In Australia, she says, subs are put on per diem pay, which keeps their numbers up. Another chimes in: I shoudln't have to find the principal.

Samantha Chandler, Olympia, a 6th-year teacher, talks about the debt new teachers can take with them into their early years in the classroom. (Read the NEA article here.) Her idea for cutting back: how about reducing sentences for nonviolent drug offenders? Also, "Development should pay for development," instead of providing loopholes for companies like Cabela's.

Fraser notes that the legislature has been very cautious about the drug issue, because they might appear "soft on crime." She's disappointed by the deal Cabela's got.

Hunt adds on, saying that the legislature's habit of increasing crimes to felonies adds costs. Thinks that we're "looking at that much more carefully" now.

Betty Hauser, North Thurston para-eduator, asks about the distinction between cost-of-living increases for teachers, and similar increases for EAs. The former went straight to the individuals, while the latter was trickled down to districts--and sometimes stopped there. What gives?

Alexander bites first, saying that he's frustrated that districts have ignored the intent to have individuals compensated directly--and that this is the first time he's heard about it. (This surprises Axtell.) Furthermore, Alexander says the GOP caucus would support having a separate education budget first. Sees a lack of funding for special needs as well. Hunt appends here, noting that other agencies have ignore legislative directives, treating them as mere "guidelines." Fraser basically agrees. Alexander says that redistributing appropriations "goes beyond local school district authority."

Hunt talks about one of the major weirdnesses in our system: teachers funded by the state get a 3% raise... and "levy teachers" don't. To keep everything equitable, districts are forced to make up the difference.

Rebecca Angus: What about the COLA that we should've got, but didn't?

Alexander: "I don't think it'll be this session." He notes that it's usually more costly to play "catch-up" than to just fund our obligations in the first place. It's "sexier" to build new schools than to fix old ones, Hunt adds.

Jenny Morgan, CHS counselor: What about class size?

Fraser says to keep fighting for expansions beyond K-3. Hunt says we'll get smaller classes "When we get tax reform, and a new funding formula for basic education." Alexander believes that the issue is still debatable and is open to arguments on either side, but sees success in earlier years. Wants K-3 money to go there, and not somewhere else. Hunt thinks "295 school districts is at least 150 too many."

Angus presses Hunt on the issue of reform: when will this happen? Hunt says that public pressure isn't out there, at least not yet.

6:50, one hour in
A commentator named Kathy Tarabolski (sp) from North Thurston asks about the WASL and special needs. What do we do with the students who aren't meeting standards on our state's test, when it seems to be such a poor measure of certain students' abilities?

Hunt questions the questioner: as a teacher, what would you do?

Another teacher talks about the European style, separate "avenues" for those who aren't supposed to be "scholars."

Alexander agrees, saying we need an earlier form of vocational tracking in schools.

Axtell explains that we lost the WAAS-DAW (the WASL alternative) when it was axed by the federal government. Tarabolski seconds this.

Fraser says that we should re-examine how much time, effort, and money is going into

Carmel Berg, White Pass: as a citizen and teacher, how can I get involved to make changes? Did we fail somehow when the WASL first came about?

Fraser: I don't think we anticipated the outcome. The entire educational establishment was for the WASL when it was originally conceived.

Hunt: "The WASL became the canary that ate the cat." HB 1209, the WASL bill, included a list of goals that were meant to be fulfilled concurrently, but weren't.

Betty Hauser speaks again: the test itself isn't the real problem, it's what we do with the test.

Mike, a math teacher, talks about how "wrong-headed" the WASL has been since the beginning. And some other things. His major point: learn about other systems. While he's filibustering, I check out the original WASL bill [pdf]. Those were heady days.

Other teachers talk about how the federal government, especially through NCLB. Will we take a stand against NCLB as a state?

Hunt encourages teachers to start pressuring their legislators en masse. Also, "I'd like to see this reversed" next year, so legislators can listen to a teacher panel. Be careful what you wish for, Representative...

I finally ask my question. No one committed yet; Hunt "hasn't met" Rich Semler, and has no current endorsement in the upcoming. "That's a good question for all of you," he says. "We're on it," Axtell responds. Later, she talks about how the WEA went out searching for a fresh face for OSPI, but couldn't find anyone. Is Semler going to cut it? Will someone else step up? Or is Bergeson a lock?

And we're done. I'll wrap up in a little while, once I've had time to reflect and check a few quotes on my voice recorder.

Jan 8, 2008

go ahead, ask

Tomorrow, I'll spend an evening listening to Gary Alexander, Brendan Williams, Sam Hunt, Karen Fraser, and Tim Sheldon at a union-sponsored legislative forum in Tumwater. WEA prez Mary Lindquist might make an appearance, too.

If I get the chance, I have one question for the folks in charge.
Terry Bergeson is up for reelection. Would you support a change in leadership at OSPI?
If you have some music you'd like a state muckety-muck to face, suggest a question in the comments. I'll report back later.

Update: As is sometimes my custom, I'm liveblogging the event over at 5/17.

Western Cascade Conference in jeopardy

Capital High School made the switch to 3A, and to the Western Cascade Conference, in the 2006 school year. Now, a year and a half later, another shakeup: football powerhouse Lakes is gone (oh, well), as is Clover Park (no big loss), both jumping ship to the South Puget Sound league. Once Shelton completes its move to 4A by joining the Narrows League (which means they can establish a new rivalry with Olympia), four teams remain: Capital, North Thurston, Timberline, and Yelm. Looking at the present alignments, there's no easy answer to the question:

Where do we go from here?

Update 1/8 Today's article outlines some of the options.
The four Thurston County schools have applied to be part of the SPSL in hopes of the league having two divisions, Olympia School District athletic director Jeff Carpenter said.

"We have to see if the SPSL is interested," Carpenter said. "If they're not interested, we'll go to a split league."

That split league would be a 3A/2A split with the four remaining Class 3A WCC schools and possibly the five schools in the Class 2A Nisqually League, Carpenter said.

Another option down the line would be a 4A/3A split league, bringing in Olympia and Shelton, he said.

"At this point, we're looking at a few options," Carpenter said. "We're looking to do this as quickly as possible."
Update 1/11: The SPSL isn't interested. 27 schools, apparently, is enough for them. No word on what happens next.

Pat Robertson is the sound of one hand clapping

I was going to let Pat Robertson's shameful and stupid prediction die a quiet, lonely death, but Ed Brayton's not so kind.

the vampire math fallacy in action, again

I don't understand the attraction of "vampire math." It's clearly fallacious, and it leads otherwise reasonable people to make goofy claims. Case in point: Joe Carter.

At first glance this seems so obvious as to be unworthy of notice. Since we humans do, in fact, continue to exist, it shouldn't be surprising that vampires (and other V-class objects) do not exist. But this begs the question of why humans exist and V-class objects do not. Their existence is, after all, as probable (or improbable) as the existence of humans. And the non-existence of any V-class objects is as statistically improbable as the aligning of dozens of independent physical constants that give rise to life.

The anthropic principle could therefore be restated as claiming that the existence of human life requires both (a) the alignment of several cosmological, chemical, and physical constants and (b) the non-existence of all V-class objects. The probability that each of these stochastically independent events could align precisely as they have, without any intervention, is roughly 0 -- in other words, it can't happen. The evidence therefore points to "fine-tuning" of these conditions.
As I point out on Joe's site, the range of conceivable V-class objects is infinite; thus, it's impossible to calculate their probability, or improbability.

Whenever you have the urge to invoke vampire math, resist it. Please.

from debater to Supreme Court Justice

David Postman on the newest member of our state's Supreme Court:
Stephens was appointed by Gov. Chris Gregoire to fill the seat that had been held by Justice Bobbe Bridge. She will have to run for the seat this fall. Stephens was appointed to the Court of Appeals last year and ran unopposed to the full-term last fall.

Stephens took the oath of office Dec. 31 and started officially as the court’s 92nd justice the next day. Today, though, was a formal swearing-in, with remarks from fellow judges, Gregoire, and Stephens herself....

Stephens was a champion debater in school and later a debate coach. She attended Gonzaga for under-grad on a debate scholarship. Words are obviously very important to her. She said today that the justices’ “gift to society, our role, is the written word.” She said the justices are “our culture’s story-tellers.”

Jan 7, 2008

international law as a social contract

Regarding the nuclear weapons resolution, in his typically thought-provoking way, reader le radical galoisien raises several pertinent questions. I'll take up his first question, which is all I have time for at the moment.
My concern so far is eloquently tying this social contract idea to justice, especially since "international justice" is a relatively recent phenomenon: the "rules of war" didn't exist a few hundred years ago. How would you argue that that an action of what is unjust by international consensus (Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, for example) is truly unjust? Basically, how would you eloquently argue that violating another nation's self-determination is an unjust action?...
First, I'd challenge the notion that because rules of war and the cosmopolitan attitude are (relatively) recent, they don't matter now; such an idea would forbid the possibility of moral advancement.

Second, the international social contract is more "real" than the classic hypothetical conception. In "Rethinking the Sovereignty Debate in International Economic Law," in the December 2003 Journal of International Economic Law, Kal Raustiala notes, "[E]xpressed consent is the traditional basis of international law. International institutions derive their powers from the explicit consent of the contracting states."

Raustiala quotes Abram Chayes and Antonia Handler Chayes, who argue,
The largest and most powerful states can sometimes get their way through sheer exertion of will, but even they cannot achieve their principal purposes security, economic well-being, and a decent level of amenity for their citizens without the help and cooperation of many other participants in the system . . . That the contemporary international system is interdependent and increasingly so is not news. Our argument goes further. It is that, for all but a few of self isolated nations, sovereignty no longer consists in the freedom of states to act independently, in their perceived self-interest, but in membership in good standing in the regimes that make up the substance of international life. To be a player, a state must submit to the pressures that international regulations impose . . . Sovereignty, in the end, is status - the vindication of the state's existence as a member of the international system. [In The New Sovereignty: Compliance with International Regulatory Agreements, 1995]
Thus, Rustialia argues,
Given a world in which largely irrevocable changes in the global economy have destroyed the ability of states to prosper under autarchy, and in which states must achieve social objectives to be legitimate, international institutions are now the primary means by which states may prosper and achieve social objectives. Consequently, they are the primary means by which states may reassert or express their sovereignty.
Thus, to warrant the idea of an international social compact, we might turn to a form of Kantianism. In "Human rights and international economic law in the 21st century," in the March 2001 edition of the Journal of International Economic Law, Ernst-Ulrich Petersmann explains:
Kant was the first political philosopher who explained why national constitutional guarantees of freedom and rule of law cannot remain effective without complementary international constitutional guarantees of rule of law among states and cosmopolitan human rights protecting individual freedom vis-a`-vis foreign governments across frontiers. Kant's 'democratic peace thesis' - i.e. that constitutional democracies tend to avoid wars among each other, and that 'negative peace' needs to be reinforced by international trade cooperation and cosmopolitan law - has been confirmed by history, notably by the 1951 and 1957 Treaties establishing the European Communities, which are a new kind of peace treaty based on Kantian principles of national and international constitutionalism.

Since every individual and every government risk abusing their freedom and powers, and rules do not enforce themselves, human rights are the most important legal instrument for empowering individuals to defend their equal liberties against abuses of power and for forcing governments, and also international organizations, to regulate national and international relations in a way promoting maximum equal liberty and individual and collective self-government under the rule of law. Just as economic market competition forces producers to increase their productivity and efficiency for the benefit of consumers, and political competition induces governments to improve public policies for the benefit of their citizens, human rights promote the mutual balancing of conflicting rights and an ever more precise specification of the limits of individual freedoms and property rights and of the constitutional limitations of governmental powers. Yet, historical experience and constitutional theory teach that market competition, political competition, as well as legal competition among citizens and their human rights cannot function in an undistorted manner unless the antagonistic conflicts among the short-term interests of individuals are reconciled with the common long-term interests of rational human beings on the basis of constitutional safeguards, notably equal human rights and national and international rule of law.
The Aff could argue that in acting preemptively to prevent threatening nations from acquiring nuclear weapons, the United States not only fulfills rational self-interest in protecting its citizens, but in keeping other nations from harm, preserving their fundamental rights and dignity, and securing international order and an existence necessary for human flourishing.

(It seems we're returning to the UN vs. sovereignty resolution.)

Jan 6, 2008

"Take the Lead" vs. the race to the bottom

Via the good doctor, some depressing news:
Newly released national education statistics show Washington's average teacher salaries have dropped even further behind the national average and remain dead last among West Coast states. The average Washington teacher earns $12,000 less than the West Coast average.

Washington's class sizes are ranked 46th in the nation.

A separate report from the Washington State Institute for Public Policy
(page 15) shows that Washington now ranks 45th in the nation in per-pupil spending, which indicates a further slide in support for Washington's public school students.
Or is it? What I said about relative rankings a year ago still holds true:
First, can we forever banish 50-state ranking statistics, throw them in the burn barrel where they belong? Someone has to be ranked fiftieth, unless all states spend the same amount, dollar-for-dollar, which will never happen. Imagine if every state spent upwards of $15,000 per student per year. Would the citizens of Mississippi really care if they ranked last at that point? Furthermore, rankings that don't factor in cost-of-living adjustments are worse than useless. Let's talk about benchmarks, baselines. Relative assessments are essentially meaningless.
I'm all for improving compensation--I want to attract more, better teachers--but not in favor of misleading or dubious rankings to help us get there. Show me the absolute numbers, give me the ideal reference point, and let's set a goal and get it done.

abolishing nuclear weapons: a sound affirmative strategy?

Regarding the nuclear weapons resolution, a reader writes,
Do you think that having part of my Aff case be about the total abolition of nuclear weapons is plausible? This would severely shut down a majority of the Neg cases since they have to argue against the use of military force. Also, it would stop the Neg from saying that the US is hypocritical because the United States is wrong to prevent others from possessing nuclear weapons when it continues to possess them.

I stress that I want to run this abolition view in only a part of my Aff case. Is that possible? My value is justice, and VC is protection of human rights.

If so, how do I interweave this position into my case without jeopardizing my VC or other contentions that I might have? Could this be a contention? I could just not mention anything about the US having nukes in the first place.

Also, would abolition even be a relevant issue since the resolution deals with the justification of using military force, nothing to do with whether or not nukes are just.
I'll address each question in an order that makes sense to me.

Is abolition relevant?
Absolutely. If it is wrong, as a moral principle, to possess nuclear weapons, and that justifies the U.S.'s preventive measures against acquiring nations, then abolitionism is a valid affirmative position. If a Neg says, "That's hypocritical," the response is either to say, "That doesn't matter, because justice doesn't require that the agent be perfect," or "That's outside the scope of the resolution." (See here for an example of the first response.)

Is it plausible?
Maybe. Although I think the hypocrisy charge can be dismissed, it might stick with certain judges, especially if the Neg is running an anti-hegemony-style case. Also, a Neg might claim that abolition on the Aff is abusive, merely a form of super-negation. I don't know whether I'd buy that.

Would it work with a value of Justice and a criterion of Protecting Human Rights?
I think so. For example, in Nuclear Disarmament in International Law, Haralambos Athanasopulos argues that the use of nuclear weapons is both genocide and a crime against humanity*, violating human rights and international law.
[T]he prohibition of genocide is not only a positive norm of international law, but has become a compelling rule of international law with universal applicability and binding legal force.... Therefore, the use of nuclear weapons under any circumstances against an enemy state or in the context of a total nuclear war would directly violate the Genocide Convention and would constitute a punishable crime of genocide....

The UN General Assembly Resolution 1653 (XVI), adopted by an overwhelming majority, provides that the use of nuclear and thermonuclear weapons would exceed even the scope of war and cause indiscriminate suffering to humanity and civilization and, as such, is contrary to the rules of international law and to the laws of humanity. The above resolution also states that the use of nuclear and thermonuclear weapons would represent a war directed not against an enemy or enemies, but against humanity in general, since peoples of the world not involved in such a war would be subjected to all the evils generated by the use of nuclear weapons. UN General Assembly Resolution 36/100, also adopted by an overwhelming majority, holds that states and statesmen resorting to the first use of nuclear weapons would be committing the gravest crime against humanity.
Thus, using military force as part of a program of complete abolition could be justified on human rights grounds. (This opens up the Aff to the charge that military force, even as just a part of the program, would lead to greater harms, since nations like Russia or the U.S. aren't going to disarm completely without a fight.)

Will it work with other contentions?
Depends on what they are.

This hasn't begun to exhaust the possibilities. Your comments, as always, are welcome.

*Distinct categories in international law.

Jan 5, 2008

naked bias against Ron Paul

Wow... this is a pretty unsubtle take on a guy who's polling ahead of Giuliani in the state in which the two shared a stage:
Paul, mounting a quixotic campaign, stuck to his insistence that the war should end.
Though Paul may be a different sort of Republican candidate, his supporters are loyal and mobile and loud, and he's got as much of a chance as any of the other second-tier candidates. It's patently unfair to uniquely label his campaign "quixotic."

Seahawks liveblog: the playoffs start here

Jamie Moyer, yes, that Jamie Moyer, raises the 12th Person flag and leads the cheers as Seattle kicks off. We can't lose.

A three-and-out opens things. Our defense is our strong suit this year, and it shows early. Better hope we can keep Portis to short gains all afternoon.

1. Pass to Burleson, first down.
2. Pass to Engram, first down.
3. Timeout, because Hasselbeck, the TiVo quarterback, is overthinking things, as is his custom. Not always a bad thing.

Oh, Hasselbeck. Get that to Obomanu, and we're in business. Instead, Plackemeier has to come in to pin Washington deep. At least the offense appears to have life, which hasn't always been the case this season. We've had a spluttering fuse early, most games.

I can't remember a time this season where the Seahawks forced a team to punt out of the endzone.

Note: an end-around is not a reverse.

Portis stuffed like a Christmas turkey. DEEEE-FENSE. DEEEE-FENSE.

Alexander fumbled? Nope, he was down, thank goodness. How the refs got that one wrong, I'll leave to the T/R/P.

At least they got the replay right. First and 10, Hawks, red zone. And it's a draw play... to... Weaver? Didn't expect that, did you, Washington? 6 on the board. Wow.

Hawks 7, District of Columbia 0.

If Washington's smart, they'll run a lot more playaction passes, the Achilles ankle of the Seattle secondary. If you can freeze Lofa Tatupu for even a split second, the middle opens up. With Other Moss and Randle El, the Washington receiver corps is a scary group.

Kerney busts through and breaks up what looked to be some Portis trickery gone awry. The pass to Moss is broken up, and Washington is punting again. DEEE-FENSE.

Two trends collide: great punt that won't probably pin them deep, after a declined penalty because we'll never get a fourth-and-inches. C'mon, defense. Prove me wrong. Update: They don't, allowing Portis to sneak up to the 12 yard line after a costly offsides penalty.

First Quarter Wrapup
Seattle's offense and defense are both a mixed bag--spurts of greatness, with enough mediocrity to make things interesting. But Washington's looking worse, especially on offense. Too much football left, but I stand by my prediction. We'll take this one by 3.

Was his arm going forward? Kerney nearly ripped it off, but Collins somehow got the ball to scoot forward. Hawks recover, but here comes the challenge flag. I think this one's going back to D.C. Update: Yep. Incomplete pass, tuck rule and all that. Once again, Portis is stuffed like a trophy buck.

Collins looks a little rattled, and the defense holds. Burleson is finding a way to ooch yards out of these returns when it appears all is lost. Fun fact learned in-game: Burleson leads the league in punt return yardage.

I love Hasselbeck's lob pass to Burleson--we've seen that a lot this season. If it weren't for a couple bad drops, we'd be way ahead already. Here comes Josh Brown for the automatic 50-yarder. Oh yeah.

Whose country is this, anyway? Better ask a truck company.

Collins goes to Caldwell, instead of Moss or Randle El, and he drops it. DEEE-FENSE.

Interference. On Hackett. Yeah... Springs had perfect position. Hasselbeck is a tough guy, still in there with a banged-up hand.

Another drop. Ack.

Burning questions:

1. How much of the game's strategy hinges on the Hawks' inability to get a fourth-and-short?

2. At the end of the day, how much will the refs matter in this contest?

3. Can Hasselbeck stay healthy long enough to lead his team to victory?

4. Is this ourrrrr countreeeee?

Yeah, I own the old Chevy Malibu--the rental / grandma car--and it's pretty ignorable. But it holds up well in the snow.

Another sack--this defense, which has saved game after game this season, is looking like one of the best in the league right now.

Nice glimpse of a bloodied, intense Patrick Kerney.

Liveblogging rips a hole in the space-time quilt.

Portis stuffed like a Beanie Baby, and Deon Grant makes a heckuva play. DEEE-FENSE.

A home-field spot, which'll be reviewed. This one... coming back, I fear. Update ...although the epistemic barrier is high...

Thank you, epistemology! Seattle escapes, and can close out for the half, if they're careful. Also, thanks to Washington's decision to receive, we'll get the ball back.

Umm... why are we passing?

Halftime Wrapup
We're in control of the game, but we haven't put the knife under the ribs and twisted it, yet, so Washington's still in it. No surprise, really--they're a tough squad.

Stars of the half:

Julian Peterson and Patrick Kerney, who kept the O-line off balance for a good part of the half.

Ryan Plackemeier, whose punts kept us mostly out of major trouble.

Leonard Weaver, who surprised the hell out of DC's D.

John "Cougar" Mellencamp

Strangest play of the game so far: Holmgren calls timeout with :01 left in the half, and Joe Gibbs--who's made some gaffes earlier in the season, because of some rule changes--wisely runs the football, instead of punting and allowing a potential field-goal try. Clinton Portis gets a pretty good run out of it--for a split second, I'm thinking, Oh no, he's getting into the secondary--but he was tackled to end the half.

If that play goes for a touchdown, do you think Holmgren would retire on the spot?

Whoa... that cars-morphing-into-flying-amoebae thing was pretty wild. I will no longer believe anything I see on television.

Here comes the second half. Another burning question: Has there ever been a nationally-televised Seattle playoff contest that hasn't featured the flying fish?

Alexander narrowly missed breaking that one. Here comes a pass... for no gain. Weird call. Where's the slanty-west-coastness?

Bobby Engram looks like Marcus Trufant on that one. Another deep fair catch: Plackemeier is my hero.

Oooh, some motion in the Washington backfield. Tricks no one.

Grr... Randle El is still the one to stop.

Clinton Portis does his best 2007 Shaun Alexander impersonation. Whoa... Todd Collins is about the worst running QB you'll ever see. A slide for two yards!

Frost has two of the best plays of the game so far: pushing Burleson out in the first half, and now a nice tackle to save a big gain. DEEE-FENSE.

Here's our west-coast-lovin' back. Burleson, Engram for short gains. Let's chew some clock and score, people.

Remember what I said above about those lob passes? Springs is looking pretty terrible in the DC secondary.

A glancing blow instead of a knockout punch. We should run a draw play on 3rd-and-7 and a blitz package, but oh well.

Seattle 13, Foggy Bottom 0.

Randle El and Cooley are saving Collins' bacon right now. Meanwhile, Clinton Portis is having a forgettable day, 17 rushes for 38 yards. No first down on 3rd and 1, either. Ouch.

That's a killer PI penalty, but completely justified. Gibbs' gutsy play call is rewarded. (Hmm... playaction? Who'da thunkit?)

Third Quarter Wrapup
Once again, our inability to put the game away means that Washington has plenty of life left. We're actually 4:00 behind in the time-of-possession battle, unable to sustain a long drive. I'm cautiously optimistic, but can't put the Rolaids away just yet.

No surprise that Randle El is the first to take it home for Washington. Our defense risks getting tired more than anything--we're starting to miss tackles, and having trouble getting to the quarterback.

Seattle 13, Nation's Capital 7.



Sometimes this season, I've thought to myself, "We don't play with any real fire, offense-wise, until we're down." Hope that's true.


The announcer notes what I noticed earlier: Seattle's not getting to Collins, and it's killing us.

I just threw my cell phone at the wall, to see if it would stick.

[Desperately trying to reassemble cell phone as Suisham misses a chip shot.]

How in the heck did Hasselbeck huck it to Hackett?

Also, draw plays make me happy.

Interceptions don't.

Marcus Trufant might have just saved the game. With that friendly bounce, the Seahawks are in prime comeback position. As long as Hasselbeck doesn't toss another pick...

Think Springs is going to have nightmares about this game? What a catch by Burleson.

That was a helluva pump fake. Wow. Hackett takes it to the house, and we're ahead. Pollard redeems himself, and now...

It's up to the defense, as always. DEEE-FENSE. ROOOL-AIDS.

Well......... shades of the Eagles game, earlier this year. I still trust we'll win it.

Thank you, Todd Collins, and DEEE-FENSE, and Marcus Trufant, and no penalty. THANK YOU. Oh, and to Santana Moss, too, who showed us why he's Other Moss by giving up on the play.

And the kick is good.

Seattle 28, Potomac Tribe 14.

Craig Terrill, this time, makes Collins pay. Another screen, and Portis goes down, weirdly. This does not bode well for Washington.

Closing speed! Kelly Jennings bats it down. The secondary, for the most part, is playing tough in the second half. Trufant, especially, saved this game. Nice that he's in on the last gasp for Washington, as Collins throws it too high, too far out. Player of the game.

The new Knight Rider is a... a... Mustang? Yes, that's what I'm reduced to caring about, as this game is done, done, done.

And Babineaux's interception for a touchdown is just so much gravy. Trufant with the nice block, too.

Postgame Wrapup
Nothing much to add--'tis all above. Trufant, game ball. Plackemeier, special mention. DEEE-FENSE finally puts the antacids away for good. Thanks to Emmett and the TRP for hanging out. Bring on the Packers.

Seattle 35, Washington 14