Dec 31, 2009

The Bride of the Cousin of the Mother of the Son of All Top Ten Lists

[An annual tradition. Installments from 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, and 2008 also available.]

Top Ten Exclamations That Need to be Adopted as Sports Cliches
10. Now that's what I call a rite of passage!
9. Plug in that jump drive!
8. Oh my God! They killed Kenny!
7. Deep fried!
6. Climb the beanstalk to Victory-Land!
5. Full 1080p, baby!
4. Got that pandemic!
3. Hoist on his own petard!
2. 0101101001101010001!0!0!!
1. Don't tase me, bro!

Top Ten Conflicts of the Decade
10. Bush v. Gore
9. Good U2 vs. Crappy U2
8. Verizon maps vs. iPhone apps
7. Google vs. copyright
6. Facebook vs. Myspace
5. XBox 360 vs. Playstation 3
4. YouTube vs. free time
3. Geico Cavemen vs. Geico Lizard in a fight to the death
2. The BCS vs. reason
1. Swine flu panic vs. Panic! At the Disco

Top Ten Lists That Will Exist Shortly
10. Chia Pets
9. Baroque Pop Bands
8. Remakes of Hollywood's Remakes
7. Sandwich Artists
6. Phenomenologists
5. iPhone Apps for Dogs
4. Morgan Freeman impressions
3. Empty Gestures
2. Zyzzyvas
1. Reasons to Give Up Facebook

Top Ten Movies of 2009 (That I Got to See, Anyway)
10. Invictus
9. Coraline
8. Terminator Salvation
7. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
6. Inglourious Basterds
5. Star Trek
4. Up
3. Zombieland
2. Drag Me to Hell
1. The Hurt Locker

Top Ten Films of the Decade
10. There Will Be Blood
9. Kill Bill (vols. 1 and 2)
8. In Bruges
7. Shaun of the Dead / Hot Fuzz
6. Lord of the Rings: the Whole Darn Series
5. Children of Men
4. No Country for Old Men
3. Memento
2. Pixar's Entire Body of Work
1. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Top Ten Regrets of '09
10. Avoiding Facebook
9. Late-adopting Twitter
8. Not blogging enough
7. Forgetting the Nanaimo bars at Cathy and Jon's place
6. Watching Coraline in 3D
5. Not eating more Alabama barbecue
4. Causing the recession
3. Not seeing District 9 in the theater
2. Driving into a ditch
1. Caring about the Seahawks

Top Ten TV Series of the Decade
10. Curb Your Enthusiasm
9. Generation Kill
8. Mad Men
7. 30 Rock
6. The Office
5. The Sopranos
4. Breaking Bad
3. Deadwood
2. Arrested Development
1. The Wire

Top Ten Dances That Need to be Invented
10. The Moral Dilemma
9. The Verb ("C'mon, everybody, do The Verb!")
8. The Electric Slide Trombone
7. The Recession Stomp
6. The Dishes ("C'mon, everybody, do The Dishes!")
5. The Hokey Pokey
4. The Blog
3. The Morley Safer
2. The Diabeetus ("Forget your troubles, c'mon, get happy!")
1. The Filibuster

Top Ten Top Ten Lists
10. Top 10 Bad Things That Are Good For You
9. Shirley's Top 10 Albums of the Year
8. Top Ten Green Stories in the Coachella Valley for 2009
7. Worst Car Names of All Time
6. Top 10 Science Stories of 2009
5. Mug Shots of the Year (Warning: more than ten items. Warning: adults behaving stupidly.)
4. Ten Great Movies of 2009 You Haven't Seen
3. FBI's Ten Most Wanted
2. Top 10 plays of the decade for Boise State football
1. Top Ten Top Ten Lists of '09 (Oh, yes I did.)

Top Ten Ways to Ring in 2010
10. Trade Shakespearean insults
9. Shoot hoops
8. Burn a Thomas Kinkade painting
7. Invent a glorified scooter and claim it will revolutionize not only transportation, but life on this planet
6. Throw out your Christmas tree, lights
5. Toast something
4. Make a Top Ten list
3. Fire your offensive coordinator
2. Donate your entire wardrobe to Goodwill
1. Add more cowbell

Dec 30, 2009

school resource officer program saved

While the state dithers on raising revenue--taxes, they call them--local governments haven't had time, or money, to burn. Consider the City of Olympia, which has raised utility taxes in order to maintain critical services.
Two school resource officers, one assigned primarily to Capital High School and another to Olympia High School, patrol the hallways, teach classes, interact with students and are there to respond immediately to crises....

The officers would have been returned to patrol duties under Hall’s initial budget proposal. But the council restored $150,000 in police funding through utility tax increases.
Of course, the pinch is felt elsewhere:
[Dick Machlan] said the department is reorganizing and cutting several vacant positions – a lieutenant, an officer and two cadets. A half-time warrant person is being laid off.

The department’s special operations unit, which includes a downtown walking patrol and traffic emphasis units, will also be folded into the regular patrol unit. A jail contract with Benton County will be reduced.
Will the state follow suit, matching further cuts by closing tax loopholes or--horrors--even raising taxes?

We'll see. One more reason to greet 2010 with trepidation. Happy New Year, everyone.

into the sunset

As the decade closes, blog-neighbor TRP hangs up his spurs. At least we'll always have the archive.

Dec 28, 2009

Terminator: Misdirection

Sometime in 2009, Skynet became self-aware. Realizing that humans were the greatest threat to its existence, it started testing ways to surreptitiously wipe the species off the map. The first attempt: sending two directionally challenged, ultra-confident, technologically-dependent holiday travelers down the shortest route to danger.

Within two years, Skynet would perfect its technique.

Dec 25, 2009

Merry Christmas update

It's been pretty quiet around here. What's transpired since the last time I blogged?

1. The wife and I attended a Hannukah party and a Debate party on successive evenings. The former starred latkes prepared to perfection by a former student who may name himself if he desires the fame/notoriety. The latter nearly convinced me that vegetarianism is culinarily feasible, thanks to delectable Indian cuisine. (Yet even now, waiting to take a stab at a pile of pierogis, after having spent a week dining on nothing but homemade goodies and leftovers, I haven't gained a pound.)

2. I'm no gamer, yet I've spent at least twelve hours playing FIFA and Madden '07, and several more watching siblings (and siblings-in-law) tackle the tank game on WiiPlay. What keeps me from purchasing an XBox and a Wii and a Playstation right now? See #3.

3. When you're driving in a strange neighborhood under cover of darkness, without the aid of street lights, and you're following someone who knows where they're going, and they pull out of a driveway and head in an unanticipated direction and you attempt to follow them with a quick turnaround, you will discover a heretofore invisible culvert that chews up your newish Accord's front bumper. In the cold, cold night.

4. At our family Christmas gathering, both the Snuggie and Susan Boyle's debut CD, titled "Susan's Boil," showed up. I am so ashamed.

5. You can't go wrong with "Caribbean Christmas." You can't go right with it either.

6. The Bride of the Cousin of the Mother of the Son of All Top Ten Lists is coming soon. Watch this space for a grand, grandiose, otiose finish to the year--nay, the decade.

7. Merry Christmas.

Dec 21, 2009

toward smarter teaching

It's winter break, which, of course, means two weeks for teachers to relax, unplug, unwind and... think about teaching.

1. Are you one of those "brain-based" teachers? If so, how much of your curriculum is based on reproducible empirical research, rather than intuition and anecdote?
For much of the last century, educators and many scientists believed that children could not learn math at all before the age of five, that their brains simply were not ready.

But recent research has turned that assumption on its head — that, and a host of other conventional wisdom about geometry, reading, language and self-control in class. The findings, mostly from a branch of research called cognitive neuroscience, are helping to clarify when young brains are best able to grasp fundamental concepts.

In one recent study, for instance, researchers found that most entering preschoolers could perform rudimentary division, by distributing candies among two or three play animals. In another, scientists found that the brain’s ability to link letter combinations with sounds may not be fully developed until age 11 — much later than many have assumed.
[Link via Venice Buhain.]

2. Speaking of assumptions, "learning styles" is another educational buzzword that seems intuitive, until you start testing your intuitions.
In almost every actual well-designed study, Mr. Pashler and his colleagues write in their paper, "Learning Styles: Concepts and Evidence," the pattern is similar: For a given lesson, one instructional technique turns out to be optimal for all groups of students, even though students with certain learning styles may not love that technique.
Read the whole thing to find out why, and why "learning styles" proponents aren't thrilled with Pashler's research. The strongest finding, which no one in educational research will dispute, is that single-mindedly employing the same teaching method--day after day, subject after subject--is pedagogically unsound.

Dec 17, 2009

an offer you should probably refuse

In a current commercial, James Patterson, crime novelist ordinaire, urges readers to purchase his latest novel (at least I think it's his), I, Alex Cross. If they refuse? He'll kill off the character.

It's a ploy that's equal parts clever and desperate. I'm sure Patterson has no real plans to ax one of his major breadwinners, but at least it gets attention. And it just might work.

Now, let's find a frail, pulp-loving soul who has already fallen for the scheme, and get 'em to press charges for literary extortion.

Dec 16, 2009

well, this is heartening

In a story straight out of a Law and Order episode, drugs and weapons were recovered across the street from Capital High School, The Olympian reports:
Acting on a tip, narcotics detectives arrested a registered sex offender and a 17-year-old at a West Dundee Street residence across from Capital High School where detectives seized three ounces of methamphetamine and more than two pounds of marijuana.

Detectives also seized seven firearms from the juvenile’s bedroom, including a loaded AK-47 assault rifle and a sawed-off shotgun.
Read the story for all the details. Although the thought of a nearby weapons cache is more than a little unsettling, I'd imagine the weapons (and bulletproof vests) found at the scene were the typical arsenal for a low-level drug dealer living in fear.

As a teacher who mostly thinks of drugs in the abstract, I know there's more going on in the world than I'm aware of. But sheesh:
The juvenile’s mother, who apparently also resides at the home where the narcotics and guns were found, said she was unaware of the alleged illegal activity going on there, Peters said in court.
Colossally bad parent, or tracks-covering accessory?

Either way, a tragedy might have been averted.

alternatives to economic sanctions

Concerning the January/February LD resolution, since the affirmative is charged with claiming that economic sanctions ought not be used, if economic sanctions, then what?

War and other military tactics are, of course, available, but costly. Their advantages: they can be effective in stopping tyrants, and, at least in the modern era, they are normally aimed at military targets, whereas sanctions can be intended to harm civilians. (But see "smart sanctions" for the rebuttal to the latter point.) Their disadvantages: civilians will still suffer or perish; failure is riskier; war is much more costly; the risk of a widening conflict is greater. (I'm sure there are other arguments, too.)

How about non-economic sanctions? Robert P. O'Quinn of the Heritage Foundation details some of the options:
In contrast to economic sanctions, which are intended to penalize a target country financially, non-economic sanctions are aimed at denying legitimacy or prestige. Although the following list is not exhaustive, non-economic sanctions include:

* Canceling ministerial and summit meetings with a target country;

* Denying a target country's government officials visas to enter the sender country;

* Withdrawing a sender country's ambassador or otherwise downgrading diplomatic and military contacts with a target country;

* Blocking a target country from joining international organizations;

* Opposing a target country's bid to host highly visible international events, such as the Olympics;

* Withholding foreign aid; and

* Instructing a sender country's directors to vote against new loans to a target country at the World Bank or other international financial institutions.
Arguably, the last two have an economic impact and thus the Negative might try to claim them as economic sanctions.

The rest of O'Quinn's article is well worth a read; he defines terms important to the debate, deconstructs the oft-cited South Africa example, and points out arguments against sanctions' constitutionality. The only weakness of the article is its date: at a decade old, the arguments might be the same, but the evidence has changed, in utility, scope, and relevance.

Dec 15, 2009

Stephen Toulmin passes on

The New York Times notes the death of Stephen Toulmin.
Stephen Toulmin, an influential philosopher who conducted wide-ranging inquiries into ethics, science and moral reasoning and developed a new approach to analyzing arguments known as the Toulmin model of argumentation, died on Dec. 4 in Los Angeles. He was 87.
Toulmin's model was, and is, highly influential in the world of debate. The claim-evidence-warrant structure (along with backing, qualification, and rebuttal), is useful both as a thinking and teaching tool.

If you're a high school debater or debate coach, tomorrow at practice, in the midst of your jabbering about impacts and turns and advocacy, take a break and have a moment of silence for Stephen Toulmin.

Dec 13, 2009

value and criterion pairs for the economic sanctions resolution

A work in progress. Suggest your own in the comments.

Remember that this is one of those "affirming a negation" resolutions: Economic sanctions ought not be used to achieve foreign policy objectives.

Trending Affirmative

V: Justice
C: Rawls' Difference Principle (or the Veil of Ignorance?)
Sanctions punish the worst-off by limiting economic growth or keeping critical goods out of the hands of those who need them most.

V: Justice
C: Protecting Innocents (variations on a theme of Just War theory) or Deontology
The gist of the argument: innocents are punished by sanctions; for various reasons, this is wrong. In Kantian ethics, persons are never to be used as a mere means to an end. Arguments can also be made based on retribution or proportionality; innocents should not suffer for the sake of their country's leaders, since they are not due punishment.

V: Prosperity or Societal Welfare or...
C: Capitalism / Free Market
Sanctions interfere with the free market. This stunts overall economic and technological development, increases conflict, reduces the pacifying power of globalization, etc.

Trending Negative

V: National Security
C: Pragmatism or Realism or somesuch
I heard the "toolbox" metaphor employed a few times this weekend: we have to keep all the necessary tools at our disposal. Declaring that we ought not use sanctions limits our options to, essentially, inaction (which is immoral), diplomacy (which is weak), or war (which is often far too costly).

V: National Security or International Stability
C: Preserving Hegemony

V: Peace or Life
C: Preventing Proliferation
Sanctions can keep weapons, especially nuclear weapons, out of the hands of dictators. Even if they're not 100% effective, they are less costly--and less likely to cause spectacular "blowback"--than war.

V: Governmental Legitimacy
C: Social Contract
States are beholden only to their own citizens. There may be practical reasons for avoiding sanctions, but no inherently moral duty for the state to forgo them.

Could Go Either Way

V: Societal Welfare (or Morality or Life)
C: Consequentialism (or Utilitarianism, Act or Rule)
I've already seen arguments on both sides: that sanctions are ineffective and thus waste precious time, energy, and resources; that they benefit organized crime; that they strengthen tyrants; that they hurt average citizens, leading to other ills. On the other hand, I've seen Negs argue for "targeted" or "smart" sanctions; the claim is that they're more effective and don't punish the wrong people. I've also seen it argued that sanctions are more effective at the "threat stage" (and therefore must be used from time to time to keep their deterrent effect). Some are arguing (as per above) that, when faced with intractable opposition, the basic choice is between sanctions or war, and the costs of war are too high. In short, if you choose consequentialism as a criterion, prepare for a potentially back-and-forth round full of twists and "turns."

V: Peace
C: Pacifism or Isolationism

the eye of--and on--the storm

Peter Gammons recaps 20 years with ESPN.
ESPN sent me to every World Series in those 20 years. In 1991, when I got out onto the field at the Metrodome six hours before Game 6 between the Braves and Twins, Kirby Puckett was coming out to take early BP before the lights were fully turned on. "Petey," he yelled at me. "When you go on 'SportsCenter' before the game, tell 'em Puck's gonna put the Twins on his back. I ain't done [----]. This is going to be Puck's night. Tell everyone in ESPN land." Four hits, a game-saving catch and a game-winning homer later, there was a seventh game, perhaps the best game I've ever seen. Jack Morris-John Smoltz. Morris outlasted the great Smoltz; the Twins won in the 10th, 1-0; and at 5:30 a.m., Morris came back to the field to do a Sunday Conversation for "SportsCenter."
Twenty years of triumph and turmoil that changed the face of the sport--of all sports--and Mr. Gammons was a level-headed, supremely professional reporter, a voice of reason and sanity in the middle of it all.

Enjoy your retirement, Mr. Gammons. You will be missed. See below.

Dec 10, 2009

what rhymes with humbug?

Of course a poem protesting the War on Christmas would provoke a counterpoem.

It's rhetorical escalation, and we're all collateral damage.

Dec 8, 2009

LD mailbag: for the autodidact

Over the last few seasons, I've gotten more and more emails like this one:
I am a novice LD debater and a big fan of your blog. I would firstly like to thank you for your help in constructing cases. I find myself in an awkward situation primarily because I have little background in philosophy. I am eager to read up on some of those who are mentioned frequently and am wondering what books you might suggest to you who is unaccustomed to reading things of a more intellectual nature. All I know of Kant, Mills and others is from the SEP.
A while back, I compiled a list of some of the "frequent fliers" of LD philosophy. Where can you find accessible, useful information on them? I'd suggest checking out an encyclopedia of philosophy from your high school or local public library, and reading entries about those philosophers. (You might even be able to find an encyclopedia of morality or ethics, which would cut right to the chase.)

I'd also recommend Justice: What's the Right Thing to Do? by Michael Sandel as a great introduction to its subject. Although the theories explored are timeless, Sandel uses each as a lens to examine contemporary social or political problems. The book is targeted at interested laypersons, which makes it quite useful for beginning LD debaters looking for an explanation beyond "the greatest good for the greatest number."

Another great series is the Very Short Introduction set from Oxford: pocket-sized intros to all sorts of interesting topics, many of them philosophical.

Of course, secondary sources are to primary sources as fruit juice is to fruit: you have to go to the source if you really want nourishment. Your readings through the encyclopedias and introductions should give a sense of the books that are critical, like On Liberty or A Theory of Justice, which can be found in your local library or online.

Online databases are perfect for research on specific topics. Journals of law, ethics, international relations, and human rights are all available, usually for free through your school or public library.

How about you? If you're an LD autodidact, how have you earned your stripes in philosophy?

Dec 7, 2009

education amputation

Send your local legislator an email and ask 'em to read Ryan's latest: 50 ways to cut education costs in the Upcoming Budget from Hell. Heck, it might even inspire 'em to consider "revenue enhancements."

Dec 6, 2009

calculating the true costs of economic sanctions

An extremely useful article for both sides of the economic sanctions resolution is "A Prologamena [sic] to Thinking About Economic Sanctions and Free Trade," by David Baldwin, found in the Fall 2003 edition of the Chicago Journal of International Law.

Baldwin's primary aim is to clear away the fallacies that have cluttered up the debate over sanctions. After discussing the inherently political nature of sanctions, he considers their cost.
The logic of choice applies to situations in which policymakers must choose how to allocate scarce resources among competing ends. In such situations policymakers must consider the opportunity costs of their actions. In such situations, choosing a low-cost policy alternative with a low probability of success may not be foolish at all if the likely cost-effectiveness of other policy alternatives is even less attractive. Making that choice may be the rational thing to do. For example, military force may have the highest probability of success with respect to getting a country to change its human rights policy or stop exporting arms. Military force, however, is likely to be more expensive than economic sanctions. In such a situation, it may be rational to choose the less effective and less costly alternative of economic sanctions rather than the more effective but more costly alternative of military force. Herbert Simon explains it as follows:
An administrative choice is incorrectly posed, then, when it is posed as a choice between possibility A, with low costs and small results, and possibility B, with high costs and large results. For A should be substituted a third possibility C, which would include A plus the alternative activities made possible by the cost difference between A and B.
This opens up a potential Negative strategy for cross-examination. Ask, "Is military force justifiable?" If the Aff says "Yes," then you can argue that the cost of sanctions is much less than that of war--and that the other goods that can be instantiated by not engaging militarily, Simon's "C" scenario above, far outweigh the benefits of that engagement--even if the sanctions ultimately fail. (If the Aff says "no," then press hard to determine what sorts of interventions--if any--are justified in response to state aggression or wholesale rights abuses, if sanctions are also off the table.)

And, as Baldwin argues, those who claim that sanctions fail often commit any of three fallacies in thinking. The first is that sanctions must be evaluated against a single objective: for instance, whether Castro is still in power. (As Baldwin notes, this was not one of the four original stated objectives of the sanctions.) The second is the fallacy that sanctions can't be successful in degrees--that it's an all-or-nothing measure of success or failure. Baldwin calls this the "fallacy of misplaced dichotomies." The third and final fallacy is the idea that symbolic actions are functionless. As Baldwin writes,
Symbolic behavior is not unique to economic sanctions. James N. Rosenau contends that foreign policy "involves a degree of manipulation of symbols that is unmatched in any other political situation." And Robert Jervis reminds us that "[a] desired image... can often be of greater use than a significant increment of military or economic power. An undesired image can involve costs for which almost no amount of the usual kinds of power can compensate and can be a handicap almost impossible to overcome."

Economic sanctions are sometimes viewed as so useless and counterproductive that they can be worse than "doing nothing." Even putting aside the rather tricky question of what it means for a nation state to "do nothing," this is misleading. As a practical matter, "doing nothing" means doing what one would have done if the event provoking consideration of sanctions had not occurred. In other words, it means carrying on "business as usual." And countries that carry on business as usual when confronted by aggression (Iraq's invasion of Kuwait), racism (apartheid in South Africa), nuclear proliferation (India and Pakistan), or other violations of international norms are likely to acquire an image as being indifferent to such behavior. If they take action to avoid the acquisition of such an image, they are not necessarily behaving in a frivolous or expressive manner.
Combine this with the evidence that economic sanctions are more effective as a deterrent, and the Negative has a multi-pronged justification for their use.

Dec 3, 2009

a new tacky tie

By "new," I mean "gently used," and by "used," I mean "abandoned."

Not any longer.

be afraid

Be afraid of jellyfish. Be afraid of chicken. Be afraid of the "black screen." Be afraid of biodiesel. And be afraid of fear: very, very afraid.

Dec 2, 2009

do sanctions even work?

The LD January/February sanctions resolution asks us to consider whether nations ought to use economic sanctions to further foreign policy goals. Pragmatic or utilitarian-minded Affirmatives might argue that sanctions are wasteful, not only because of the costs they impose, but because they so often fail.

Do they? To answer the question, consider two recent summaries of the relevant literature. The first comes at the outset of "When Do Economic Sanctions Work? Asymmetric Perceptions, Issue Salience, and Outcomes," by Adrian U-Jin Ang and Dursun Peksen, found in Political Research Quarterly March 2007 edition.
[T]he conventional wisdom appears to be that sanctions are ineffective and failed policy instruments in the vast majority of cases (Galtung 1967; Wallensteen 1968; HSE; Pape 1997, 1998; Drury 1998; Elliott 1998). Others, however, have dissented from the conventional wisdom and have been critical of the assessment of sanctions being simply a dichotomous success-failure measure (Daoudi and Dajani 1983; Baldwin 1985; Baldwin and Pape 1998). They argue that compliance ought not to be the sole criterion for judging the success or failure of sanctions. In most of the cases, even though the total compliance of targets may not have been obtained, the sender may have managed to wring significant concessions from the target or succeeded in achieving less ambitious foreign policy goals such as symbolic gains.
It's important to realize the multifarious purposes of sanctions before determining they're a wholesale failure.
Lindsay (1986) undertook an examination of nineteen cases of trade sanctions and identified five separate foreign policy goals of senders: compliance, subversion, deterrence, international symbolism, and domestic symbolism. His findings suggested that sanctions aimed at compliance, subversion, and deterrence fail generally and that states often resort to sanctions for symbolic purposes.
Is that all that sanctions are good for? Not so fast:
[M]ore recent studies in the literature demonstrated that assessments of sanctions effectiveness have neglected the threat of sanctions, which has resulted in a selection bias (Smith 1996; Drezner 1999, 2003; Miers and Morgan 2002; Nooruddin 2002; Lacy and Niou 2004; Y. Li and Drury 2004; Drury and Li 2006). These studies argue that sanctions succeed more often than commonly suggested once the cases in which coercion is threatened but not imposed are also included in the analysis. The assumption is that if the targets expect that they will change their policies as a result of the imposition of sanctions, they may prefer to capitulate to the sender at the threat stage to avoid the economic cost of implemented sanctions. Due to the absence of comprehensive data on threatened but not imposed sanctions, these studies, however, have been limited mostly to game theoretic models and case studies that should be the subject of further empirical inquiry.
Limitations and qualifications: the bane of empirical research everywhere.

We turn to another article to see if Ang and Peksen's analysis is representative: Jon Hovi, Robert Huseby, and Detlef Sprinz's "When Do (Imposed) Economic Sanctions Work?" found in the July 2005 edition of World Politics. Their overall assessment is similar:
The dominant view historically has been that sanctions do not work. From Galtung's analysis of the sanctions against Rhodesia to Doxey's broader set of case studies, negative assessments have been numerous. According to Baldwin, "[i]t would be difficult to find any proposition in the international relations literature more widely accepted than those belittling the utility of economic techniques of statecraft."
What keeps sanctions, in general, from succeeding?
First, it is difficult to ensure that sanctions hurt where they are supposed to hurt. For example, when sanctions are imposed unilaterally, the target might reduce their impact by turning to alternative customers or suppliers and by using counterstrategies such as stockpiling, import substitution, rationing, and smuggling ("sanctions busting"). Moreover, the political elite in the target country might be able to pass on the costs of sanctions to other segments of the population. second, sanctions can be costly for the sender, too. In particular, when trade sanctions are being used, the target's neighbors often suffer significantly. Finally, while sanctions might cause protest against the political leadership in the target state, they might also conversely arouse defiance, patriotism, and popular support for the regime. In some cases the latter effects outweigh the former, with the result that resistance is reinforced rather than reduced.
At this point, the pragmatic rationale for sanctions seems pretty weak. Why do nations continue to employ them, then?
One answer is that sanctions also have domestic and symbolic dimensions. For example, sanctions might be imposed or sustained primarily to satisfy a domestic interest group or simply to demonstrate that the government cares and "is doing something." Others have emphasized that one needs to distinguish between (1) cases where sanctions have actually been imposed and (2) cases where sanctions have merely been threatened. Sanctions are usually threatened before they are imposed, and they are imposed only if the target refuses to comply. But if a credible threat of sanctions fails, it is usually a sign that the target does not intend to comply even if sanctions are imposed. So it is a curious fact that when sanctions are imposed, there are often good reasons to expect them to fail.
This leads the author to be critical of research focusing only on cases where sanctions were actually imposed. As they argue,
A satisfactory data set should also include cases where sanctions were threatened but were not imposed. This type of data set is used by Drezner to analyze cases in which the United States threatened sanctions to achieve reduced trade barriers, compliance with labor standards, or protection of the environment. He finds a considerably higher success rate in cases that ended at the threat stage than in cases where sanctions were actually imposed.
For the reasons cited above, this result makes sense: the most effective deterrent is the one that never has to be used.

So, to sum up: the Affirmative is on fairly solid ground to argue that sanctions are ineffective. In fact, I bet some Affirmatives are going to try to lay an "effectiveness burden" on the Negative. The Neg has at least two possible responses: adopting the burden and using the logic and evidence of deterrence, or rejecting the burden and arguing that even if economic sanctions are often ineffective, they're defensible as a morally superior or less wasteful alternative to war.

Dec 1, 2009

Iraq and the "terrible price" of sanctions

When a rogue nation is making life miserable for the international community, what can be done? Diplomatic talk is cheap--but you get what you pay for. War is costly, and only sometimes efficacious. Economic sanctions are a potential compromise, a way to pressure a nation into changes, or to at least keep it from wreaking havoc, without the commitment and cost of conflict.

But is it the right thing to do? Or does it end up punishing the wrong people? A recent example of the perils of sanctions--one that's already fully played out--is that of the U.S-led approach to Iraq. In an article published in the New York Times in 2003, David Rieff explores both sides of the sanctions debate.
American officials may quarrel with the numbers, but there is little doubt that at least several hundred thousand children who could reasonably have been expected to live died before their fifth birthdays. The damage, according to those who fought against sanctions, was terrible, medieval. It was, in the literal sense, unconscionable, since those who died had not themselves developed weapons of mass destruction or invaded Kuwait. Rather, they were the cannon fodder for Hussein's war and the victims of his repression.

Madeleine Albright was widely excoriated in 1996 for telling a television interviewer who asked her about the deaths of Iraqi children caused by sanctions, "This is a very hard choice, but the price, we think the price is worth it."

She says now that she regrets the comment -- "It was a genuinely stupid thing to say" -- and in a recent interview seemed still to be struggling with the moral and strategic questions that underlie the sanctions debate. For Albright, the comprehensive regime of sanctions imposed on Iraq represented at best a tragic choice between unhappy alternatives -- a search for the lesser evil.

As Albright put it to me, "I wish people understood that these are not black and white choices; the choices are really hard." Sanctions like the ones that were imposed on Iraq, she said, "are a blunt instrument. That's their tragedy. What was so terrible for me was that I did see the faces of the people who were suffering -- even if I thought then and think now that the sufferings of the Iraqi people were Saddam's doing, not ours. There's a terrible price you pay. A terrible price."
The whole article is worth reading, especially if you're an LD debater interested in the Jan / Feb sanctions resolution.

Resolved: Economic sanctions ought not be used to achieve foreign policy objectives.

The January / February NFL Lincoln-Douglas debate topic has been released:
Resolved: Economic sanctions ought not be used to achieve foreign policy objectives.
The "ought" ostensibly makes this a matter of morality, which leads to the Affirmative's main question: why might economic sanctions be immoral? There are many reasons; perhaps the most common would be because they harm innocents, concomitant with the argument that they don't actually work, or, worse, are counterproductive, increasing the power of those they're meant to weaken. (Cuba and North Korea spring to mind.)

In essence, this is at least a two-layered debate, since the Negative will likely have to argue that not only are sanctions morally good, but good for something.

A deeper question concerns the role of morality in foreign policy. Idealists will value human rights (and any binding obligations to upholding them), while realists will call for prudence. Moral cosmopolitanism might come into play, as might international law and the role / effectiveness of the United Nations in enforcing sanctions.

Links and Further Analysis
As a kick-starter, an oldie but goodie from Franklin Foer, distinguishing trade from economic sanctions, determining whether they work (the upshot: hard to say), and summing up the costs.

Iraq and the "terrible price" of sanctions.

Looking at some empirical research to answer the question, Do sanctions even work?

Can the Neg justify the use of sanctions even if they largely aren't successful? And what's the cost/benefit analysis of the alternatives? A consequentialist take on the resolution.

Added 12/13: A nascent list of value/criterion pairs.

Added 12/15: Some alternatives to economic sanctions are considered.

Added 1/3: The Negative's use of "targeted sanctions" is considered.

Added 1/3: I answer a bushel of questions about the resolution.

Added 1/10: Some strategic considerations about the definition of economic sanctions.

Added 1/24: A critical view of sanctions, slanted toward the Aff.

Added 2/8: Some economic analysis, plus an alternative approach for the Aff.

As always, more--much more!--analysis and links will follow. And, of course, your questions and comments are what really make this website worthwhile.

Nov 30, 2009

The Prodigal Fan

In case you doubted the inherent and insatiable sociality of the human species, or, at least, will cheer for anything: Improv Everywhere's Rob Lathan gets "lost" at a Knicks game.

Nov 29, 2009

Gomorrah: a cinematic emetic

If you've ever found yourself nauseated by your own attraction to cinema's morally abhorrent mob figures like Michael Corleone or Tony Soprano, then Gomorrah--freshly out on DVD--is your emetic of choice. It starts with the setting, as Scott Tobias explains:
The first and most striking impressions in Gomorrah are the locations: Bombed-out apartment slums, infested by roving bands of criminals and connected through a vast network of bridges and secret tunnels. Prosperity isn’t spread around; whatever financial gains a law-abiding citizen might make are skimmed away in protection money and nothing goes back into the community. Gomorrah takes place in a world where decency can’t take root and we can only watch in horror as crime overwhelms society’s most vulnerable— women, children, law-abiding citizens, and the conscientious few who want to get out of the game.
It's an urban wasteland as apocalyptic as that depicted in Children of Men. And, as commentator robozot argues, the multiple narrative strands--which only loosely tie together--keep us from sympathizing too deeply with the bad guys.
Scott says the film lacks a magnetic central figure - but it doesn't lack one, it rejects one. Without exception (tell me if I'm wrong) gangster stories have somewhere at their centre a charismatic hero, who remains attractive regardless of their personal morality - which is pretty much essential in order to make these stories palatable to a large paying audience, who expect one by convention.

That's essentially an invitation to the viewer to fantasise about a mode of behaviour, regardless of any consequences in the story world, realistic or not. Gomorrah's aesthetic is aimed at stripping away the male romance trappings of US gangster films, and it works brilliantly.
Early in the film, one of the young protagonists says--loosely translated--"If this is what the bosses are like, we could rule this place." As the we in question are impulsive, cowardly, and foolishly immature, his assessment is spot on.

Gomorrah is not the best film of 2009, but it might be the most essential.

Nov 24, 2009

the Siracusa Principles and compulsory immunization

For debaters creating a rights-based Negative for the immunization resolution, the UN's human rights jurisprudence is worth a serious look. In their study titled "Detention and the Evolving Threat of Tuberculosis: Evidence, Ethics, and Law," found in The Journal of Law, Medicine & Ethics, 2007, Coker et al. note that the Siracusa Principles of the UN's Commission on Human Rights, published in 1984, offer a criterion for determining whether individual rights can be restricted in a public health emergency.

Summing up the Principles, the authors write,
The first of the principles is the notion of whether any proposed restriction on liberty is a legitimate objective of general concern... Is the restriction provided for and carried out in accordance with the law? Many democratic countries have legal structures in which coercive public health interventions are sanctioned.... A second principle questions whether available alternatives that are less intrusive and restrictive have been tried.... Another principle addresses the arbitrary, unreasonable or discriminatory manner in which a sanction might be imposed.
When we look to the Principles themselves, we can see specific language regarding public health as a justification for limiting individual rights:
Public health may be invoked as a ground for limiting certain rights in order to allow a State to take measures dealing with a serious threat to the health of the population or individual members of the population. These measures must be specifically aimed at preventing disease or injury or providing care for the sick and injured.
The question is, which "certain rights?" Or, more to the point, which rights cannot be infringed--or, in legal terms, are "nonderogable?"
No State party shall, even in time of emergency threatening the life of the nation, derogate from the Covenant's guarantees of the right to life; freedom from torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, and from medical or scientific experimentation without free consent; freedom from slavery or involuntary servitude; the right not to be imprisoned for contractual debt; the right not to be convicted or sentenced to a heavier penalty by virtue of retroactive criminal legislation; the right to recognition as a person before the law; and freedom of thought, conscience and religion.These rights are not derogable under any conditions even for the asserted purpose of preserving the life of the nation.
The rights concerned are detailed in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. And note that last sentence, which is about as strong a statement in favor of the Neg as you are likely to see in international law.

standards-based grading in Spokane

Spokane's elementary schools will now employ a 4-point grading scale based on state standards, the local newspaper reports.
Most elementary students in Spokane Public Schools are seeing their new report cards for the first time this week; instead of A, B, C, D or F, it’s 4, 3, 2 or 1...

Instead of one letter grade for a whole topic, the numbers correlate to specific elements of learning within that topic. Instead of a grade for “writing,” for example, a student might receive separate grades for “writes in complete sentences” and “understands punctuation and capitalization.”
Spokane tested the grading scheme for three years before implementing it district-wide, a smart move.

I hope someday high schools adopt a similar scheme--one that translates directly into a grade point average, rather than the percentage-based adjustments we use now.

Nov 23, 2009

36 arguments, 37 disappointments

If each of the 36 arguments for God's existence is underwhelming, well, that's disappointment enough. But there's an additional letdown: the book subjecting all 36 to scrutiny is a mildly comic novel--and a very badly written one at that.
It's not like Cass Seltzer to be out in the middle of an icy night, lost in thought while losing sensation in his extremities. Excitement had gotten the better of him. He had lain in his empty bed for hours, mind racing, until he gave up and crawled out from under the luxe comforter that his girlfriend Lucinda Mandelbaum had brought with her when she moved in with him at the end of June. This comforter has pockets for the hands and feet and a softness that's the result of impregnation with aloe vera. As a man, Cass had been skeptical, but he's become a begrudging believer in Lucinda's comforter, and in her Tempur-Pedic pillow, too, suffused with the fragrance of her coconut shampoo, making it all the more remarkable that he'd forsake his bed for this no-man's stretch of frigid night....

Lucinda's away tonight, away for the entire bleak week to come. Cass is missing Lucinda in his bones, missing her in the marrow that's presently crystallizing into ice. She's in warmer climes, at a conference in Santa Barbara on "Non-Nash Equilibria in Zero-Sum Games." Among these equilibria is one that's called the "Mandelbaum Equilibrium," and it's Cass's ambition to have the Mandelbaum Equilibrium mastered by the time he picks her up from the airport Friday night.
"Cass Seltzer" and "Lucinda Mandelbaum" and "impregnation with aloe vera" are trying too hard. "Bleak week" isn't trying hard enough. And the present tense is simply wrong.

the next Maddux?

Zach Greinke: not just a pitcher's pitcher, but a stathead. Ever since Greg Maddux retired, we've needed a bellwether nerd on the mound. Thank goodness for Zach Greinke.

Nov 22, 2009

on the dubious 98.5% statistic

At a tournament this weekend, judging LD rounds on the immunization resolution, I heard one number over and over and over again: 98.5%.

A number of Negative cases argued that volunteerism is sufficient to reach herd immunity, even at high thresholds. Why? Because, in a "TV Washington survey," "98.5 percent of people said they were willing to be / have their children vaccinated."

Remarkably, out of the 6-7 times I heard this dubious statistic mentioned, at all three levels of LD, only one Affirmative challenged it: the eventual Novice champion.

Here's what I wanted Affs to do in CX.
Aff: Let's talk about that 98.5% statistic. What's the source?
Neg: TV Washington.
Aff: And how was the question worded, exactly?
Neg: Uh... I don't know.
Aff: The 98.5%... what sort of people were surveyed? Parents? College students? Middle schoolers? Hard-core gamers?
Neg: Uh... I don't know.
Aff: And what about the CDC's report that only 76% of American infants currently receive the full recommended series of life-saving vaccinations?
Neg: Uh...
Aff: That's what I thought.
As the old saying goes, "The spirit is willing, but the flesh sometimes recoils at the thought of being jabbed by a needle bearing a vaccine." Actions always speak louder than surveys.

Even if 98.5% of people really are willing to vaccinate their children, a substantial portion don't. Some ultimately refuse, some can't find the time, some forget. And some can't afford it:
Coverage for most vaccines remained lower for children living below poverty than children living at or above poverty.
Regardless of the reasons, actual vaccination rates don't reach 98.5%; most are in the 90s, but the DTaP rate comes in at 84.6%. (The overall rate is so low because different individuals miss out on different vaccinations.) Which leads the CDC to argue:
Sustaining high coverage levels and finding effective methods of reducing disparities across states/local areas and income groups remains a priority to fully protect children and limit the incidence of vaccine-preventable diseases in the United States.
And about those 90%+ coverage rates: the American experience, if not outright compulsory, is hardly purely voluntary. Parents know that their children can't attend public school without the proper vaccinations and boosters. If they forgo private school or homeschooling and take an exemption--which requires filling out government paperwork--their child can be forced to stay home in the event of an outbreak. (Some states, like Washington, are working to make this process more stringent, requiring philosophically-based objectors to have a conversation with a health care practitioner to be informed of the risks of refusing immunization.)

In fact, as Donya Khalili and Arthur Kaplan write in "Off the Grid: Vaccinations Among Homeschooled Children," found in The Journal of Law, Medicine & Ethics, Fall 2007:
In states where immunization is obligatory officially but unmonitored, vaccinations could be required through enforcing child neglect, delinquency, and child labor statutes, as suggested by the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Bioethics. While health care professionals do not advocate its usage outside of emergency situations, they can contact state child protective services agencies if concerned about medical neglect.
So let's stop claiming that volunteerism works by relying on an obviously dubious statistic and a blithely simplistic view of American vaccination policy.

Nov 19, 2009

"bleak" isn't bleak enough

Ryan liveblogs the state revenue forecast, estimated at a 2.6 billion deficit.

the digital is the actual

I'm not sure I'm really sold on the idea that augmenting one's own reality makes one less of a machine. And I'm not sure the world needs more visual clutter as random folks project their desktops onto office windows and subway walls (tip for oblivious passersby: don't stare into the blinding beam). And don't we need a space where we can escape the noise for a time? ("Tell that idiot to quit watching YouTube on that cliff face already.")

But the idea of taking one's computation out of a plastic tower and into the wider world is otherwise pretty darn cool.

Nov 17, 2009

how bleak is it?

Last night's Legislative Forum had a theme: the future is bleak.

How bleak?

Check out The Olympian's article about Gregoire's decision to not call a special session.
She said the gap is huge, and puts unprotected programs at serious risk of cuts – including any discretionary programs fully funded by state dollars. Examples include the Basic Health Plan, which after budget cuts this year is projected to give subsidized health insurance to about 65,000 low-income working adults.

Another program facing threats of cuts is the General Assistance Unemployable program that gives cash stipends of about $339 a month and health care to people who are disabled or in some way unable to work. That program has been retooled into a managed-care health-delivery system; however, that is supposed to save $40 million in the next 18 months, unless it is scrapped.

Financial aid to college students is also at serious risk.
All that echoes exactly what our local legislators said yesterday. It's going to be a painful 2010. With Brendan Williams being the only one keen to discuss raising taxes, and with 2010 being an election year, you can pretty much count on steep cuts to the existing budget.

Nov 16, 2009

liveblogging the WEA Chinook Legislative Forum

4:56 p.m.
Why am I at the WEA Chinook Legislative Forum?
a. To hear legislators talk about the issues.
b. To grab my local representatives by the collective earlobes.
c. To avoid the deluge outside.
d. All of the above.

Oh. I guess it was snacks and chit-chat until 5:30. Guess I could've rolled in a half hour later. Gary Gerst emcees, asking folks to "keep it rolling."

In attendance: Brendan Williams (22nd), Sam Hunt (22nd), and Kathy Haigh (35th). Gary Alexander is rumored to be on the way. (And he showed up.)

A question: what should we expect in the upcoming session?

Kathy Haigh: "I think it's going to be short." "Another $2 billion down, and no significant funding coming from the feds.... It's going to be significant cuts.... We should all be keeping a close eye on [the] health care issue." If the feds stepped in to fund our "Apple" health care for kids, that'd help. ECAP is the "absolute wrong place" to cut from. I-728, 732 are (still) at risk. Levy equalization funds won't be touched. Higher Ed--expect another tuition increase, even letting schools set their own tuition rates.

Brendan Williams: "At the risk of sounding like a liberal Democrat..." The legislature could have raised taxes, but "the votes were bought to keep that from occurring." "I did not vote for [728 and 732] to be suspended." Cutting programs from K-12 education is "the pricetag for political careerism." "It's time to meaningfully distinguish ourselves, with all due respect, from the opposition."

Gary Alexander: "Unlike my friend to the left, I think our first challenge is to see what we can do to reduce the budget. Government will not pull us out of the recession." "We can't continue to cut around the edges... We have to go back and talk about what our priorities are: public health, public safety, and public education.... This may mean the elimination of entire services... that can be replaced by the private sector." "We have to basically produce results that will be sustainable on a long-term basis." I'm not going to vote for a policy that doesn't have any funding."

Sam Hunt: For years this state has kept the crazy old aunt in the closet... our broken tax system.... We have a "crazy tax system." "The sales go down and the caseloads go up every damn time you look at it... We've cut all the edges, we've cut all the low-hanging fruit." "I have some hope that the feds will help with Title I, and health care."

Question for Gary Alexander: Where do we cut?
Things that aren't basic public health, safety, or education: Public health care assistance that isn't matched by federal dollars. Privatize state liquor control board, state printing operations. (Question: Is that enough to find $2 billion? Answer: I don't know.)

Loopholes are discussed. Sam Hunt notes that it was the Lieutenant Governor's move to declare closing a loophole a "tax increase" that shut down debate at the outset. Kathy Haigh notes that we can't necessarily bank on a tax increase that won't take effect until after passing a plebiscite next November.

What about the recommendation to close the Maple Lane juvenile school?

Sam Hunt: It was unfair to put the option, Do we close Green Hill or Maple Lane? "I was very happy to see that the consultants' study recommended closing neither one; there was no cost savings to closing either one."

There's some further crosstalk on this issue, but I'm not an expert in these matters.

What's going to happen to the last remaining LID day?


David Johnston, OEA, discusses HB 2261, which broadened the definition of basic education--but without any attached funding. (It's the bill Alexander referred to earlier, having voted against it because of its precipitous ratio of expectations to appropriations.) Now that we're "living under it," what will the Legislature do to fund it--or will they repeal it?

Kathy Haigh: if we fund it, it has to be prioritized. Funding will come out of GAU and healthcare for those in poverty, some of the places in the budget where we have the "least accountability."

Brendan Williams: I doubt it'll be funded by its target date, 2018. "I'll bet your PAC $500" that it won't.

There's a discussion about Physical Education and obesity. I'm sitting in a chair clickety-clacking at a keyboard, so I'm not going to opine, simply out of fear of hypocrisy.

Kathy Haigh: "Everybody should do the Thriller dance at 8:05."

Sam Hunt talks about the "Core 24" provision, another unfunded mandate. Teachers aren't thrilled by it. He then answers a question about income tax--talking about a potentially more equitable tax system, a chance to reform a structure that hasn't been seriously debated since Booth Gardner was in office.

A few questions and comments came up after that, but my laptop battery decided it was done.

I may post some concluding thoughts in a while. That is, if the gale outside hasn't made mincemeat of the grid.

Nov 14, 2009

visualize data, visualize success

Blog-neighbor The Science Goddess, who is leading the charge in Washington state toward standards-based grading, shares some of her research-based data visualization practices. The upshot:
When I look at this with my teacher eyes, I see so much more of a story appearing about each student. It is no longer a sea of numbers. Now, these fancy-dancy charts won't help me know what to do next (e.g. If students are still below standard, what should the intervention be?), but it may be a better start for identifying issues.
Absolutely. I'll go one step further:

Have students visualize their own data.

Google Docs offers a basic spreadsheet program with enough chart-generating bells and whistles to make it effective for student use, provided enough teacher input. Here's how I set it up: first, I create a spreadsheet with a title row, formulas, and a blank chart inserted. Then I make copies, renaming each after its intended student, and share that copy with that student.

Then, with a little guidance, I have them input data that they've recorded on paper--gotta have a backup!--and the chart appears as if by magic.

It ends up looking like this:

I'll report back at the end of the semester as to whether it's an effective strategy for tracking progress in reading fluency. My gut says it's working, but then, my gut also thinks bacon is a food group.

Update: The Science Goddess adds Part II, with a sample report card.

LD weekend open thread

My squad had a practice tournament this weekend: 4 rounds of LD, 3 of PuFo, and an obligatory round of Impromptu. It was fun, but I spent the whole time running Tab, so I didn't get my usual view from the ground of the latest and greatest/worst in LD arguments.

No matter: that's what you, the reader, are for, right? Regarding the immunization resolution, what worked for you this weekend? What didn't? What stumped you? What would you like help with? The comments are yours. Fire away....

Nov 12, 2009

Federal Way lawsuit fails

In a 9-0 decision, the State Supreme Court reversed a lower court's ruling and rejected the Federal Way School District's suit against the state for, among other things, failure to equitably and amply provide funding. The Washington State Constitution provides for a "general and uniform" public school system, which, in practice, is anything but. However, the Court argued that disparities have lessened, and that Federal Way is a victim of its own success, since its higher test scores (relative to lower-funded neighbors) are evidence that its funding is adequate.

Today's loss is a practical disappointment, but a legal inevitability. It remains to be seen whether a similar lawsuit in King County, to which the Olympia School District is a party, will fare any better.

best television of the Oughts

The AV Club, steadily unveiling its best of the '00s, has generated a massive list for the best TV series. There are no runners-up, only winners.

I note with pride and a little sadness that I have seen, in their entirety, half of the acclaimed shows, including 8 of the top 10. (I let my wife carry the Lost burden, and The Shield is on my queue.)

Of course, there's no spoiler in noting that The Wire is #1.

Nov 8, 2009

Capital High School football update

If you've been following the Capital Cougar football team, you already know that Tyler Sundberg has been ridiculous this year, running for--count 'em--31 touchdowns. But he's not the only vector in a multidimensional attack, as Enumclaw discovered yesterday.
Alex Everson, Capital’s junior quarterback who moved into the starting lineup this season, made sure of that. He ran for two touchdowns, passed for another and ran the option to perfection.

“They were biting on the fakes a lot,” Everson said. “It’s worked before, but that was the best it’s worked all season.”

Coming into the game, Everson had run for four touchdowns and passed for another 14. Against an Enumclaw defense that was giving up just 16.2 points a game, Everson completed 7 of 9 passes for 108 yards and rushed for 44 yards on five carries.
While the offense tends to get most of the attention in a 42-7 win, it's important to note that Capital's defense has been stifling all year long. Looking at the 3A rankings, this is a team that nearly knocked off Times-ranked #7 Timberline and #5 O'Dea (and, in the Spaghetti Bowl, exposed the weaknesses in the recently eliminated 4A Olympia squad.)

Capital rolls on to State to face #4 Union next.

I should also mention that Capital's girls cross country team finished 14th at state. Meanwhile, the volleyball team faces Holy Names next weekend in Kennewick.

Nov 1, 2009

of one Accord

The wife and I have been car shopping. Because it was for "my" car, I'd estimate I had about 70% of the say in the final decision. Here's how I convinced myself--and my wife--that I should drive a Honda.

For the last six years, I've driven a Malibu, a cheap V6. Despite its numerous flaws, I've apparently gotten too used to having the extra horses in the barn when I need them, too used to the feel of a midsize sedan. Goodbye, Elantra Touring. Goodbye, Honda Civic. Goodbye, Mazda5. Six cylinders in a flying V.

In the end, I was torn between a Sonata ('09 Limited) and an Accord ('07 LX). Torn because of the crazy features available on the Sonata, but because I really liked driving the Accord--and I got a great price on a high-demand model.

The Accord won.


Responsiveness. The Hyundai's stability control, touted as a safety feature, made me feel like it wanted to go where it wanted. Steering and handling felt mushy. The Honda, on the other hand, would do whatever I wanted it to, whether that meant cornering, accelerating on a short onramp, passing uphill, or navigating a parking spot. (The salesman pumped the Accord's "grade logic," but I didn't really notice it too much--our steepest grades are hills, not mountains. But it might be nice for road trips to see the folks in Wyoming.)

Reliability. Hyundai has vastly improved in this regard, but the car in my price range, the '09, was the first of a redesign, whereas the '07 Honda was the last. Hyundai has released 14 service bulletins for the '09 Sonata, versus 5 for the Accord (in two more years). Honda also offered the Certified Used program, with a powertrain warranty out to 7/100,000, while Hyundai clipped short its normal powertrain warranty, from 7/100,000 down to 5/60,0000 on a used Sonata.

Resale value. The edge here goes to Honda, and my informal assessment of the glut of '09 Sonatas on the lot, in 4- and 6-cylinder editions, versus the hard-to-find Accords with higher MSRPs, is that this trend will continue.

It wasn't a huge factor, but styling went to the Accord. I actually prefer the '07 edition to the '08 redesign, which looks chunkier. The Sonata is clean, but bland. Trim, even in the Limited, looked and felt cheaper. (One car I initially considered, the Camry, really surprised me with its cheap plastic components. And the nose on that thing--looks like it swallowed a warthog.)

I spent about 1900 less on the '07 than the best price on the Sonata, opting for cloth over leather and fewer powered accessories. (The more knickknacks, the more potential longterm failures.) I pressed hard for the Hyundai dealer to make a better offer, but they wouldn't budge, and I have a feeling they're going to regret it in a month, when the '11s roll in and the V6 is still sitting on the lot.

If I'm wrong, no matter. I'm a happy Honda owner, and glad to put the ol' Malibu behind me for good.

Oct 29, 2009

OSD could learn from City of Olympia

Last year, in the middle of some of the toughest budget decisions in recent Olympia School District memory, the District publicized a list of potential cuts, allowing citizens an unprecedented level of transparency in the budget process. What was missing? Interactivity.

To fill in the gap, I took data from District PDF files and created a somewhat hurky spreadsheet, so you could play around with the figures and try to balance the budget on your own.

If I had any coding skills, I would've added something like the City of Olympia is offering now. "Constrained prioritization" is the name of the game: you rate services or priorities from 1-4, but you're forced to limit each rating to only 11 out of the 44 choices--in other words, you can't put everything as a "1" or a "4." It's hard. (Sorry, Parks and Recreation.)

It's not a perfect survey, but it's a step. Next time the OSD stares down another tough budget--and you can bet that's going to be soon--it would do well to collect its constituents' input in a similar fashion.

[Link via Mathias Eichler.]

Oct 27, 2009

car shopping

Today, while discussing argumentation structure and strategies with a group of rookie debaters, I used a sample claim: The Ford Focus is a reliable car. "What kind of evidence might you use to support that claim?" I asked.

"None," one shot back. "There isn't any."

"As debaters, we can always do better," I said, then gave my own (admittedly very fake) example of repair statistics. What if, for example, 86% of Ford Focuses (Foci?) are trouble-free after five years? And what if this compared favorably to the latest imports? And what's the best measure of reliability, anyway?

The discussion was cut short by the end of practice, but it continued in my mind throughout the rest of the evening, as I sat in the living room, watching college football on mute and surfing and the NHSTA's recall / defect investigation database. The wife and I are about ready to replace my poor ol' Chevy Malibu, and we'd like something that's going to run for a long, long time--hopefully with fewer mishaps and brake jobs.

Some of the cars on my radar include the Honda Accord, the Ford Fusion / Mercury Milan, the Hyundai Sonata, the Hyundai Elantra Touring, and the Mazda5. (If you have strong feelings about any of 'em, feel free to share in the comments.) I've read every review and road test and recommendation, and driven all of them, so it doesn't surprise me that today, KOMO would offer the highlights of Consumer Reports' upcoming reliability ratings, and the makes and models I'm seriously considering are the makes and models that owners recommend.

I've had bad experiences with Chrysler and GM products, so I was curious to see if they've recently turned things around. Nope:
Chrysler had only one model that Consumer Reports recommended based on reliability and its staff test, and the Chrysler brand finished last out of 33 brands sold in the U.S. One third of Chrysler's models were much worse than average in reliability.

Six models from GM were recommended by the magazine, but it's still inconsistent. Only 21 of 48 models the magazine studied scored average or better in reliability.
Even fewer surprises if you compare it with CR's overall assessment published in April.

I'm finding that the surfeit of available information doesn't make our choice any easier. But at least we have five good choices. And none of them is a Malibu.

Oct 25, 2009

approaches for the affirmative for the immunization resolution

Regarding the November / December LD immunization resolution, a reader writes,
I'm having some trouble thinking of argumentation lines for the affirmative, insofar as a minority refusing a vaccine shouldn't affect the majority, because the majority has been vaccinated and is (of course, to a limited extent) immune. This is frustrating every brainstorm I have on affirmative argumentation lines. Some ideas?
Let me see if I can help you out of this self-imposed jam.

First, the "to a limited extent" is important. Vaccines don't provide 100% immunity. For some unlucky recipients, they provide no immunity at all; for others (and this number is most likely much larger), they merely reduce the severity of symptoms. So unimmunized persons are a danger even to the immunized.

Second, unimmunized persons are a danger to those who, for health reasons, simply cannot be immunized. (Of course, this also presents a dilemma for the affirmative; does "compulsory" allow any exceptions?)

Third, a minority refusing a vaccine can influence others to avoid the vaccine, decreasing "herd immunity" (which often requires a high threshold--90% or more). That's why, in recent years, outbreaks of dangerous contagious diseases have increased in areas where they were nearly a non-factor. Polio. Diphtheria. Whooping cough. All over the world, missed vaccinations are putting lives at risk.

Fourth, the risk of bioterrorism or a pandemic that might justify quarantine would probably also justify compulsory immunization in the interest of national security.

Fifth, children who would otherwise receive safe vaccinations risk dying due to their parents' unnecessary or even irrational concern.

Sixth, people who refuse vaccination are a danger to themselves; in a paternalistic political philosophy, this is grounds for intervention.

Seventh, unimmunized persons who lack insurance are a drain on public coffers.

Eighth... well, that's all I've got in ten minutes.

Readers: other ideas?

Oct 22, 2009

the expanding waistline of public health law

Another in a series of posts covering the Nov/Dec immunization resolution.

Public health law seems to want to gobble up more and more legal categories, if Mark Hall, a law professor at Wake Forest, is correct. In an article titled "The scope and limits of public health law," found in the Summer 2003 edition of Perspectives in Biology and Medicine,, Hall describes, through anecdote and argument, how public health law is perpetually expanding in influence.

First, Hall distinguishes health care law from public health law, and what makes the latter inherently power-hungry.
Public health law is about enforcing government efforts to promote health. It starts with the assumption that public authority is plenary* and sets restraints on this authority only it if invades fundamental interests or is demonstrably unbalanced or excessive. Under public health law, the presumptions are all in favor of intervention, whereas under health care law, the presumptions are all in favor of privacy. Public health law is not troubled by making vaccinations mandatory, despite possible harm from side effects that may greatly outweigh the benefits of vaccination to any one individual (due to an individual's ability to free ride on the "herd immunity" of the community), nor is public health law troubled by requiring that more potent and riskier forms of a vaccine be used, even though the enhanced benefits accrue to people other than those who take on the risk.
*Absolute, unqualified.

This is the obvious first prong of a potential Neg strategy: pointing out that "public health concerns" are coldly utilitarian, and woe betide the unfortunate soul who is forced to take one for the team.

Of course, the Aff will argue that not only are the rewards worth the risks, but that the very nature of the problem demands compulsion. Hall again:
The classic subjects of public health law are communicable diseases, personal hygiene, sanitary water and sewer systems, safe food, and injury prevention. These disparate situations all involve significant collective action problems, meaning that individuals acting in their own self-interest, even if fully informed and rational, will not effectively address the problem because they do not internalize some of the major costs or benefits of action or non-action, or for other reasons a centralized response is much more cost-effective.... Identifying and eliminating the source of contagion for a communicable disease requires more effort and cost than any one individual or small group is likely to undertake. A public agency is necessary to garner the resources needed for collective action and to wield the authority for coercive restrictions on liberty or property.
But the Negative isn't done yet; the second prong of the argument regards the larger risk of allowing public health advocates ever-increasing power, which has
...a pervasive effect on public health officials' sense of what they are entitled to do and of the tools that are available to address a public health problem. The uncompromising authoritarian and utilitarian public health perspective... is intensely ends-oriented, which tends to ingrain the following habit of thought: once having identified a causal connection to a widespread health problem, action is necessary to eradicate the cause and eliminate the problem at its source, and it falls within the authority of public health or other government officials to take the necessary actions. The necessary actions are those that produce the desired results. Public health officials may start with less intrusive, more innocuous measures, such as information, education, or taxation, but if these fail, then the case is even stronger for pursuing a panoply of more aggressive and coercive strategies, including mandates and bans, closures and seizures, quarantine, and criminal sanctions. The metaphors of public health strategy are war-like. Its rhetoric is to attack, conquer, and eradicate, rather than to exercise prudence, balance, and restraint.
As the saying goes, "desperate times demand desperate measures." The problem is the tendency to see desperation in any risk, and to trample over individual needs, desires, or rights in the process. As problems like crime or poverty are cast in terms of public health, we risk going beyond the Nanny State to a form of medicalized tyranny.

Oct 21, 2009

vaccines... for the children

Professor of epidemiology Tara Smith explains why she'll be getting her children vaccinated this year.
Taking a brief hiatus from my hiatus to discuss a question I've been asked a number of times in recent weeks by friends and family: what about flu shots? Are you getting one for yourself? Your kids? The answer is yes to both, with more explanation after the jump.
And the post-jump reasons are worth investigating.

Meanwhile, Stephanie Tatel asks, have you considered those with limited immunity?
Ordinarily I wouldn't question others' parenting choices. But the problem is literally one of live or don't live. While that parent chose not to vaccinate her child for what she likely considers well-founded reasons, she is putting other children at risk. In this instance, the child at risk was my son. He has leukemia.

What does any of this have to do with vaccinations? While the purpose of chemotherapy is to kill the cancer, it also kills the good cells—most notably the infection-fighting white blood cells. That means my son has limited ability to fight off anything. A single unimmunized child in an ordinary child care setting is the equivalent of a toddler time bomb to him.
For students of the November/December LD resolution--or for any parent of a youngster--something to think about.

Oct 20, 2009

the "point of order" in LD debate

We've all seen it happen: the LD round is wrapping up as the affirmative offers a breathless set of rebuttals and voting issues. The Neg, meanwhile, is doodling on the flow, pretending to be engaged and attentive. All of a sudden, the Neg's ears prick up. What's that? A new argument in the 2AR? This cannot be!

Frequent commentator oceanix asks, in LD, if I'm the negative, is there any way I can say the Aff is out of order for making new points in his or her last speech that I can't refute? Thanks.
Yes there is. The rules specifically state:
The negative team shall not be denied the right to rise to a point of order after the closing affirmative rebuttal. However, if they argue the point instead of stating the point, they shall be heavily penalized on the point. In this contingency, final disposition of the matter shall rest entirely with the judge. In general, this practice is to be discouraged.
So, in other words, if you stand to protest, you do so at your own risk. And this is right: after all, you should trust that the judge understands the rules, and knows that new arguments in the 2AR are forbidden.

Do note that the rules call for a heavy penalty if you "argue the point." Suppose you decide to risk it and cry foul. How do you protest properly?
Bad Example
"The Affirmative made new arguments about [fill in the blank] in the 2AR. The Aff is a cheater! Cheater cheater pumpkin eater."

Good Example
"I rise for a point of order. The Affirmative has made a new argument in the 2AR."
That's it. Keep it short and sweet, and let the judge do the sorting-out. After all, it's her prerogative.

OEA recommends school board candidates

The Olympia Education Association's Candidate Interview Team recently interviewed the three candidates running for election to the Olympia School District Board of Directors: Allen Miller, Mark Campeau, and Eileen Thomson. In this unusual election season, all three are running for the first time after having previously served via appointment to their respective positions--and all three are running unopposed.

Allen Miller
The OEA Candidate Interview Team recommends Director Allen Miller for the Olympia School Board District 2 position. Director Miller expanded on his written responses during an interview on October 15th at the OEA office. He emphasized the importance of open communication, trust, respect and collaboration as key elements in his role as a Board member and across groups and interests in the district. Director Miller stated that he would use the District’s Strategic Plan to guide his decisions on policy and the district budget. In budget development, Director Miller listed his priorities as, first, keeping future cuts as far from the classroom as possible, and second, employing a transparent, inclusive process. Director Miller invited communication from teachers and suggested that email was the best way to contact him with questions or concerns. We encourage Director Miller to take a more proactive role in reaching out to faculty and staff across the District.

Mark Campeau
The OEA Candidate Interview Team recommends Director Mark Campeau for the Olympia School Board District 5 position. Director Campeau responded to questions during an interview on October 15th at the OEA office. He identified the importance of the Board’s role in providing clear, strong policy leadership as a key element in improving student learning. Director Campeau felt that the District’s Strategic Plan was a good guiding document for the Board to use in its decision-making processes for budget and policy issues. He emphasized the need for adequate resources to allow teachers to meet the needs of their current students. He stated that he had enjoyed visiting buildings and talking with teaching staff and emphasized the importance of hearing from a variety of sources about concerns and successes in the District. He plans to continue his visits. Director Campeau included maintaining class size and programs focused on improving student learning as key considerations in the budget development process. We applaud Director Campeau for his efforts to build relationships with faculty and staff across the District.

Eileen Thompson
The OEA Candidate Interview Team recommends Director Eileen Thompson for the Olympia School Board District 3 position. Director Thompson responded in writing to questions from the Candidate Interview Team. In her responses, she included open access, improved communication and improving student learning as critical elements to be addressed in her role as a member of the Board. Director Thompson felt that the District’s Strategic Plan should serve as the guiding document for her decisions on the Board. In the budget process, she emphasized maintaining an open, inclusive process and keeping future cuts away from the classroom as priorities. Director Thompson stated that she has enjoyed spending time in buildings and welcomes communication with staff members. We applaud Director Thomson for her efforts to include new voices in the District conversation.

For the second election running, the OEA Candidate Interview Team included myself, Sharyn Merrigan, and Dan McCartan.

chemiosmosis and the origin of life

Learned a new word today: chemiosmosis.
Before Mitchell, everyone assumed that cells got their energy using straightforward chemistry. The universal energy currency of life is a molecule called ATP. Split it and energy is released. ATP powers most of the energy-demanding processes in cells, from building proteins to making muscles move. ATP, in turn, was thought to be generated from food by a series of standard chemical reactions. Mitchell thought otherwise. Life, he argued, is powered not by the kind of chemistry that goes on in a test tube but by a kind of electricity.

The energy from food, he said, is used to pump positively charged hydrogen ions, or protons, through a membrane. As protons accumulate on one side, an electrochemical gradient builds up across the membrane. Given the chance, the protons will flow back across, releasing energy that can be harnessed to assemble ATP molecules. In energy terms, the process is analogous to filling a raised tank with buckets of water, then using the water to drive a waterwheel.

Mitchell dubbed his theory chemiosmosis, and it is not surprising that biologists found it hard to accept. Why would life generate energy in such a complicated and roundabout way, when simple chemical reactions would suffice? It just didn't make sense.
More, much more, at the link about how chemiosmosis might be the key to understanding the origin of life on earth.

Or read the snapshot version: from hydrothermal vents to full-fledged cells in ten increasingly plausible steps.

Oct 19, 2009

changes in Student Congress, Public Forum debate rules

Bill Nicolay, director of forensics at Snohomish High School, sends along word of NFL rule changes to Student Congress and Public Forum debate. The highlights, which I've edited only for formatting:
Public Forum
  • Final focus goes from one to two minutes
  • Ballots will be redesigned
  • No reading of evidence in Crossfire (this seems to mean that competitors should be discouraged from asking for cites during crossfire)
  • Will now be called “Congressional Debate” rather than Student Congress
  • Preferential ranking by judges becomes the preferred method of advancing students to either a super congress (if used) or straight to nationals (if no super congress).  However, ranking by judges could be used to produce a slate of candidates for student vote [via preferential ballot], should a district choose to do so.  Base and board vote are gone.
  • Standardized ballots for congress ranking will be provided to all districts
  • Both the authorship/sponsorship and first negation speeches will be followed by two-minute questioning periods.  I’m assuming all other speeches remain at one minute (not addressed).
  • Committee meetings may not be scored
  • This may be a big one, depending on current district procedure: A total of two three-hour sessions of debate is required to legitimize the congress, so congress moves from five to six hours (plus time for setting up), meaning that it may no longer be doable in a single day along with speech, since it all events have to end by 10:00 p.m.  There is language which says that “if a district offers a super session, it has the flexibility to have additional smaller preliminary chambers before advancing students to the super session.  I believe the key term here, “smaller,” refers to chamber size and not time, because...
  • Congress sessions are limited to 18-20 students, and for each student beyond 20 we have to add ten minutes to the session.
  • Presiding officers may be selected or an adult may serve.  No provision or language was given regarding scores received by presiding officers.
  • All nationals legislation will now be vetted by Nationals Office Staff and may be approved, rejected, or improved and resubmitted.  Each district can submit two items of legislation.
  • Affiliate chapters can now enter as many entries as charter chapters (based on the manual table).
I like the added minute in PuFo--that "final focus" has always been a waste of fevered breath. In Congressional Debate, I have mixed feelings about extending question time for the first speech in negation, if only because question time tends to turn into Thinly Disguised Speeches.

Mr. Nicolay also noted that a committee is exploring the use of laptops in LD (I'm not yet convinced) and in extemp (which needs to happen yesterday--otherwise, how many forests of magazine trees must die?).

football for nerds, and nerds for football

1. Kevin Kelley of Pulaski Academy High explains his team's no-kick approach to football. The short story: it's all about the numbers, and the numbers say keep possession.

2. In an excerpt from his book Eating the Dinosaur, Chuck Klosterman explains why he loves football more at 37 than he ever did at 17. The short story: it's all about the game's radical/conservative duality.

Who says nerds can't love / rule sports?

Oct 18, 2009

the tensions inherent in public health law

The November/December resolution throws light on a growing area of legal interest: public health. In "Mapping the Scope and Opportunities for Public Health Law in Liberal Democracies," found in The Journal of Law, Medicine, and Ethics, Winter 2007, Roger Magnusson, a law professor at the University of Sydney, notes (among other things) the tensions in contemporary public health law.

The first, as always, is the tension between proper government action and individual rights:
Lawrence Gostin points out that the protection of the public's health is necessarily a public function that should also be regarded as a duty of government. Discharge of that duty carries "intrinsic and instrumental value for individuals, communities, and entire nations." At the same time, public health law is that body of law which - in a liberal democracy - keeps the state on a short leash, and there is considerable resistance to lengthening it. At the same time, in one of many contradictions in American law, Nan Hunter argues that this is precisely what is occurring as public health and national security have moved closer together to meet the threat of bioterrorism and pandemic influenza.
The "national security" angle is one that affirmatives should explore. The resolution doesn't specify who would be receiving compulsory immunizations; the Negative, presumably, would have to defend the right of medical workers and soldiers (among others) to refuse immunization, even in a crisis.

However, an important Negative consideration is the tension between wider and narrower conceptions of just what constitutes "public health concerns"--and the propensity for the debate to expand into the international arena.
The health and human rights movement provides a further example of public health law expanding to embrace, in this case, global human rights norms and laws, exploring the potential for the promotion or neglect of global norms to enhance or harm the health of populations. The usual criticisms of these approaches is that they turn "life, the universe and everything" into a subdivision of health. In Mark Rothstein's words, "just because war, crime, hunger, poverty, illiteracy, homelessness and human rights abuses interfere with the health of individuals and population does not mean that eliminating these conditions is part of the mission of public health."
The effect of such a broad definition is not only to increase government overreach, but to insulate the government from criticism, since "public health" is a powerful way to frame policies that might otherwise be seen as the normal risks of everyday life, accepted in a free society. Furthermore, globalization puts the drafting and enacting of such policies out of the reach of citizens within any given nation. Thus, from a social contract perspective, a widening "public health" definition is doubly a menace to individual rights and governmental legitimacy.