Feb 28, 2009

"My best advice to you: shut up."

One day, I will teach a class on speech, argumentation, and rhetoric based solely on classic sports meltdowns and blowups. (Jim Calhoun provides the latest.)

Feb 27, 2009

these three remain: faith, hope, and justice

Recently I've been blogging (too much, one might say) about the National Forensic League's March/April vigilantism resolution:
Vigilantism is justified when the government has failed to enforce the law.
In an otherwise unrelated blog post by my brother, he gives counsel to a Christian frustrated by a perceived lack of divine inaction in the face of earthly injustice. Matt writes,
Then we come to the problem of lack of fulfillment. The question we must ask ourselves is on what terms we would see justice done–on ours or God's? We pray “Thy Kingdom come,” but if we set the terms for its coming than we shall certainly miss it. The Lord’s justice, in fact, may sometimes be hidden from our sight. We are not allowed to know everyone’s stories, including those who hurt us.

I would suggest, then, that you not give up seeking the Lord’s justice here and now, but if anything renew your efforts. But ensure you are seeking the Lord’s justice, for a transgression has been committed against His child, within the boundaries of His kingdom, and it is much his responsibility as it is his right to avenge it.
Quite unintentionally, my brother makes a formative Christian case against vigilantism: it is too likely to be motivated by vengeance, rather than by what he calls a "purified" desire for justice. Moreover, beyond merely straying into the government's turf, the vigilante risks tampering in God's domain.

So, in a manner of speaking, vigilantism is a matter of faith--and doubt. For the vigilante, "justice delayed is justice denied." But in seeking redress, she places too much faith in her own knowledge of the law, and of the guilt of the accused, and of the best means at her disposal. She doubts the government's potential to ever punish the crime or restore the rule of law. And, ultimately, the vigilante lacks patience to wait for God's timing. After all, vengeance is His, and He will repay.

Update: My brother's further thoughts on the subject turn the sketch into a painting.

rubrics for evaluating delivery

My students are learning aspects of effective public speaking. Today, they gave group mini-presentations on the "rules of happiness." (Context: we've been reading philosophically-minded literature, talking about existentialism and eudaimonia and free will.)

How it works: each student speaks for about 45-60 seconds on their preferred rule. As they talk, two others in the audience, rubrics in hand, watch and listen, writing comments on vocal quality / fluency and nonverbal communication. (For example, if Jolene is speaking, Charlie's listening for vocal quality, and Danielle's looking at nonverbal communication.)

After all the speeches are done, students receive immediate feedback, and then reflect on the process in their journals. I collect the rubrics, and use them to shape further instruction.

I've included the rubrics for those interested in trying something similar. My students report that the categories (and descriptors) gave them a better sense of what to evaluate, allowing them more specific and honest feedback.

Nonverbal communication rubric.

Vocal quality / fluency rubric.

Let me know if you have any trouble opening the files.

take only pictures, leave only footprints

It's amazing to think that human life has persisted through 15,000 centuries. PZ Myers' latest post got me thinking: in a million years, what remnants of our lifetime will be dug up by our descendants? For that matter, will we have any?

HB 1410, SB 5444 die in committee

Neither HB 1410 nor SB 5444 made it out of the Education and Finance committee on Cutoff Day, The Olympian reports.
Despite those bills dying, House Speaker Frank Chopp and Haigh, who serves as the chairwoman of the House Education Appropriations Committee, both said they expect a big-picture measure to pass into law this year.

And Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, said she thinks elements of the task force plan will survive — particularly a piece that would pay for a more uniform accounting and financial-tracking system for schools.
It's too bad in a way; HB 1410 might have been amended into something useful. But as it stood, it was biting off a gargantuan morsel of reform steak, and ended up choking on its own ambition.

Feb 26, 2009

symplectic camels and quantum uncertainty

I'll let the science writer explain a potential challenge to the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle:
Maurice de Gosson at the University of Vienna in Austria thinks that the inability to pin a particle down is due to something called symplectic geometry, not quantum weirdness.

De Gosson realised that a theorem in symplectic geometry had parallels with the uncertainty principle. The concept is known as the symplectic camel after the biblical suggestion that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get into heaven.

De Gosson imagined that a ball represents a cloud of possible positions for a quantum particle. He found that such a ball cannot be squeezed down to the size of one particle to fit through a hole in a plane, because its geometry resists this in some way. The inability to squeeze the ball is analogous to singling out one particle and measuring its position and momentum exactly. De Gosson reckons this geometrical resistance creates the uncertainty in measurement, not quantum fuzziness (Foundations of Physics, vol 39 p 194).
I just wanted to point out the word: symplectic. In my imagination, it is a super-adjective combining the meanings of sympathy and apoplexy.

"Town's full of bright boys."

After sixty-three years, the opening of Robert Siodmak's The Killers still stands as one of the best in cinematic history. The big city menaces the moral order of the small town when two nameless goons descend on a Brentwood diner, looking for "the Swede." They want to kill him. Their intentions are revealed in a dialogue as tense as it is baffling to the locals.

David Cronenberg aimed for the same vibe in the vastly overrated A History of Violence, but failed by, among other things, troweling on the Mystique of Small Town America.

the problem with engineers

As Capital closes its doors for yet another snow-load day, I pause to reflect on the most pressing concern in contemporary engineering. When students of the craft should be learning how to build with concrete, stone, glass, lumber, and steel, their instructors instead force them to work almost exclusively with Popsicle sticks and toothpicks.

advice for a freshly-minted protester

Activism is easy. Changing things is hard.

Feb 25, 2009

step away from the tater tots

Thou shalt not share thy buffet plate.

rumors of snow

Word is, we could have another snow accumulation tonight or tomorrow, meaning that Capital could be closed again. Plan for it, says the email from admin:
Here is what you need to know:

1. Dress in layers the next few days. We will be cranking up the heat at CHS and removing some ceiling tiles to allow the heat to get to the roof to promote snow melt.
2. If school is cancelled, do not plan to come to school. You will need to make up any additional cancelled school days at the end of the year.
3. If we have an early dismissal because of snow, we will not have to make up the school day. Teachers are still expected to put in the full number of hours.
To help things, I'll be lighting a bonfire in B-Pod.

Feb 24, 2009

geniuses procrastinate

I'm pretty sure Leonardo would've been a blogger if he'd had the chance.

[via Arts and Letters Daily]

rhymes to remember the twelve disciples

Sometimes it's easier to remember things that rhyme. Especially important things. (That's why the Pledge of Allegiance is a Shakespearean sonnet, and the Constitution can be sung to the theme of "Green Acres." Never, ever doubt the wisdom of the Founding Fathers.)

So, on to the rhyming list of 12 disciples.

First comes Simon Peter, the Jewish Derek Jeter.
Then follows Andrew, sipping on a tan brew.
James is third. He's the Gospels' biggest nerd.
After him, John, nicknamed "The Leprechaun."
Can't miss Philip, a fan of Pat McKillip.
Sixth is Bartholomew, who waves to wish you all adieu.
Next comes Thomas (as foretold by Nostradamus).
Eighth: James Alphaeus, driving a Prius.
Ninth is Thaddeus. His frown shows how mad he is.
Simon the Cananean brings a jar to keep his brie in.
(Judas Iscariot refuses to carry it.)
Last comes Paul, obsessed with The Fall. (You get half credit if you shouted out "Saul.")

[159th in a series.]


The Teacher/Ref/Poet needs another initial. Head over and congratulate him.

(That's "father," for those who don't like links.)

Feb 23, 2009

collaboration time is baaaaaaaack

The 2009-2010 calendar was approved by the Olympia School Board on Monday, February 9, with little fanfare, as the saying goes. The biggest change: more collaboration time, in the form of eight 1-hour late start days.

At the high school level, it means the creation of Schedule E.

Take a look at the calendar here [pdf]. It's... colorful.

best Oscar speech ever

Thank you, Kunio Kato. (Why does the official transcript lack "Thank you, my pencil?")

where to get your random questions answered

This blogger is an expert in crafting random questions--and pretty good at answering them. But where do you go when your random question needs a forthright, efficient, speedy reply? Try "AskMetaFilter," Slate's Michael Agger argues:
For example, last October, the user "Hands of Manos" posed the following query: "How can I be less cynical?" He went on to explain, "I hate most movies, I lost faith in the God I was raised to believe in as a child and I find very little joy in most things now a days" and noted, "My wife is pissed because I'm so negative and doubtful of everything."

Thoughtful replies were posted immediately, with suggestions ranging from volunteering to banjo playing to avoiding "emotionally toxic" people to reading David McCullough's book on John Adams to looking at a blog that collects examples of how the world is getting better all the time....

Not all AskMeFi questions plumb such depths.... But the questions are all united by having received helpful answers, usually written in complete sentences. This is a small miracle. Where are the personal attacks, the one-word putdowns, the LOLs, the mocking, the off-topic rants? Well, they get deleted.

To understand how AskMeFi encourages valuable typed conversation, I spoke with Jessamyn West, a noted rural librarian and one of the moderators at MetaFilter. From her home base in the center of Vermont, she spends a lot of time each day pruning and cultivating the threads at AskMeFi. Her ground rules are simple: "You have to answer the question. It doesn't matter how funny your joke is, we're going to remove it. Wisecracks don't help solve problems." She says that some members of the MeFi community feel that AskMeFi is too rigid, not playful enough, but West believes in keeping things goal-focused and civil: "It's a living room, a clubhouse, please don't come poop on our floor."
Well, it's certainly not Wikipedia or--horrors--Yahoo! Answers.

calendar changes rankle

Feb 22, 2009

does vigilantism require a law degree?

Peter Wall's first post on the vigilantism resolution attempted to define its scope. His second is now available. In it, Wall draws on the work of H.L.A. Hart, using an example of a vigilante, A, who has to coerce B into obeying the law, to cast light on a difficult epistemic problem for the affirmative.
How do we know that A, by stepping into coercive shoes, is accurately enforcing the will of the government? This raises the problem of interpretation. What if A is enforcing his own preferred interpretation of the obligations apparently imposed on B, and not the actual obligation imposed on B?

Obviously, there are both easy cases and hard cases. But even then, the person with the inferior position in an apparently easy case will often argue that the situation actually presents a hard case, where the result should be the counterintuitive one--i.e., the person with the apparently inferior position should win. Whether that argument does or should work will depend on your legal philosophy. The next level of abstraction, if you’re interested, would be to express skepticism that A can ever have the expertise or the authority to decide whether he is experiencing a hard or an easy case.
To slightly rephrase the question: what degree of legal certainty or expertise must the vigilante obtain in order to enforce the law?

A way to approach this, from a legal standpoint, might be to look into the precise circumstances where "citizen's arrest" is legally justifiable, and, on the obverse, to consider the citizen's duty to report crimes. Both situations presuppose some baseline familiarity with the law's latitude, and both may require the sort of fine-grained judgment that, in the absence of government enforcement, might justify vigilantism.

There's more over at Mr. Wall's blog. Leave your comments there. (I, for one, hope he continues mining this vein.)

good + good = bad

Here's a game: take two words that represent good things individually, and combine them into a common phrase that is bad--or, at best, disappointing. I'll start.

1. steak + sandwich

2. TV + timeout

3. poetry + reading

4. rice + pudding

5. [this is where you come in]

it takes money to get money

Why would the state of Washington send welfare recipients measly $1 checks?
Leo Ribas, head of community services at the Department of Social and Health Services, says there’s a method to the state’s madness....

He says if the state’s food stamp recipients receive just $1 for energy bill assistance, that qualifies them for extra federal assistance. That means someone like Nelson could receive about $30 more per month in food stamps.

Sending out $1 checks cost the state $250,000. DSHS says that could bring the state and additional $43 million in federal funding....

"I think it's an issue of maximizing the federal regulations to the advantage of Washington residents,” said Ribas.
Clever. And also everything that's wrong with the combination of federalism and the welfare state.

Dorn and Obama: the mystic bond

Reading this KOMO article about Randy Dorn's rocky start, I was struck by some compelling similarities between Dorn and President Obama. Think about it: both...
  • Surprisingly defeated a heavily-favored female opponent by calling for change
  • Had to deal with a system in crisis at the outset of their term
  • Stumbled out of the gate, partly because of their own missteps, and partly because of unexpected opposition from entrenched legislators
  • Are not yet the sum of their expectations
I have, as they say, a theory: Dorn and Obama are stigmatic twins.

Feb 20, 2009

an open letter to Ken Griffey, Jr.

Dear Ken Griffey "Junior" Jr.,

I promise in advance not to leak any future "Ichiro and The Kid" karaoke videos to YouTube.



Update: See? See?!

hard questions to ask a girl

Anyone can ask easy questions. But you want tough questions, questions that will dazzle your date.

Each question will be rated from 1-10, 1 being easiest. Context will be provided as well, so you can employ the question at the right time.

For ultimate success, practice! Try these on someone you know and trust.

Question: What are the last four digits of your social security number?
Difficulty: 2
Context: Opener.

Question: When eating broccoli, it okay to stick with just the florets?
Difficulty: 4
Context: Opener.

Question: What's your take on the whole "dark matter / dark energy" controversy?
Difficulty: 4
Context: Opener. If she offers any kind of answer other than "huh?" she's a keeper.

Question: Should people be held morally responsible for their avatars' behavior?
Difficulty: 5
Context: Raise this query anytime between first meeting online and first meeting in person.

Question: Do you feel lucky? Well, do you, punk?
Difficulty: 5
Context: When s/he opens the door.

Question: Will bees survive the menace of Colony Collapse Disorder?
Difficulty: 6
Context: As you hand over the flowers.

Question: Do mathematical truths exist on their own ontological plane?
Difficulty: 7
Context: On the way to the restaurant. Mind you, only if you're driving. You wouldn't want the distraction otherwise.

Question: If we perchance should breed, and our children turn out rotten, should we mostly blame our bad genetic combination or our poor parenting skills?
Difficulty: 9
Context: Wait until dessert.

[158th in a series]

this poem... sucks

Elizabeth Alexander, unlike Maya Angelou, hasn't enjoyed a boost in sales from the inauguration, the news reports. Bafflingly, the article offers no real explanation, just saying that the poem lacked "spark."

There's a better explanation: Her. Delivery. Sank. The. Poem. It sounded trite, even if it might have seemed interesting on the page.

Nobody buys poetry books anymore. And even fewer want bad poetry.

Feb 19, 2009

reaching wikivana

The way to achieve a meaningful life is not through finding love, cultivating friendship, building a corporation, founding a nation, or creating a masterpiece.

The only way to be sure you matter(ed) is to make it onto Wikipedia.

Of course, you can't write your own entry, so you'll have to do something wiki-friendly.

Once you get on there, you can track the progress of your life--at least, your life as Wikipedia knows it--secure in the knowledge that you've at least hurdled the bar.

Oh, and the title? Wikiheaven, wikitopia, and wikihalla were all taken.

community and immunity

Carl Zimmer's latest article for Discover probes the intriguing possibility that some social behaviors are the result of evolving immunity. A sample:
Another prediction of the behavioral immune system hypothesis is that we are more vigilant against getting sick when we are more vulnerable to disease. Carlos Navarrete, a psychologist at Michigan State University, and his colleagues looked into this issue by studying pregnant women. Infections are especially dangerous during the first trimester. When a woman first gets pregnant, her immune system is suppressed so it does not accidentally attack the fetus. In later months the immune system returns to normal and the fetus develops an immune system of its own.

Navarrete and his colleagues had 206 pregnant women read two essays that were written, they were told, by students. One of the essays was by a foreigner who criticized the United States, the other by an American who praised the country. The women then had to rate the essayists for their likability, intelligence, and other qualities. Women in the first trimester were more likely than those in the second or third trimester to give a high score to the American and a low score to the foreigner. The pregnant women’s vulnerability to infection, Navar­rete concludes, brought with it a heightened disapproval of foreigners.
Results of preliminary investigations are far from conclusive. Still, it's fascinating to think that the roots of sociality might partly lie in the body's eternal war against pathogens.

Feb 18, 2009

Griffey is a Mariner, they say

If the latest reports are to be trusted, Ken Griffey Jr. is a Mariner.

I am... unmoved. It's not just the whiplash of yes-he-is-no-he-isn't over the past few days. Nostalgically, I've got nothing. When Griffey roamed Kingdome turf back in the 'day, I wasn't much of a Mariner fan. Geography played the largest role--I lived in Montana during his rookie season, knowing him only through baseball cards--and when we moved to the Evergreen state in the early 90s, I settled on "America's Team" as my team. Atlanta. It was a bandwagon choice, I admit. I was twelve, so I think it's excusable.

It wasn't until I was in my early 20s that I realized that I would bind myself to Washington state for the duration, and so geography redirected my fanaticism. I've been a Mariner fan ever since.

But it's never been about individual players. Free agency precludes that. I may be young, but I'm old enough to remember the waning of the one-hero, one-team era. Kirby Puckett or Cal Ripken types who stayed loyal to the franchise. Those days are long gone, and it saddens me a little that I'm no longer saddened by the change.

Update: More Griffey-blogging, by Emmett O'Connell.

scraping for vigilantism in the political theory jar

Regarding the vigilantism March/April LD resolution, if political theory is a jar of peanut butter, then finding analysis of vigilantism in that jar is like scraping out the last bits at the bottom.

In "Vigilantism and Political Theory," found in Vigilante Politics, Edward Stettner grabs a spatula and digs in. He turns first to the classic social contractarians, more specifically Locke, since Locke has a unique view of the state of nature. Stettner quotes from the Second Treatise, in which Locke claims that, in the state of nature, individuals have the right to pursue justice, having equivalent "executive power" to punish crimes against the laws of nature. However, Locke concedes to the objection that
it is unreasonable for Men to be Judges in their own Cases, that Self-love will make men partial to themselves and to their Friends. And on the other side, that Ill Nature, Passion and Revenge will carry them too far in punishing others. And hence nothing but Confusion and Disorder will follow.
Thus a civil government--some kind of representative scheme with checks on sovereign power--is necessary to enforce the law. Not much room for vigilantism in Locke's view, Stettner argues.

Later on, Stettner attempts to divine a Marxist take on vigilantism. One such position: it's pointless.
Normatively... any attempt to preserve the status quo is of no ethical value, as well as futile. History, for the Marxist, inevitably witnesses the destruction of all established classes until the proletariat is finally triumphant. Any vigilante activity is simply a failure... to accept the inevitable pattern of change...
Combining this with Rosenbaum and Sederberg's observation that vigilantism in inherently conservative, and the Neg can make a Marxist case against its justification.

Last, Stettner offers a broadside critique of vigilantism from the perspective of general political theory.
Much of political theory is ethically inspired.... [Political theorists] tend to discuss attractive goals such as justice, freedom, equality, which can be shown to have a positive ethical content. Other questions important to the theorist, for example discussions of proper political institutions and arguments why government should or should not be obeyed, are related to the means of achieving those ends. Vigilantism does not posit ends which are attractive. It is hard to argue ethically for self-interest, or for order qua order. Moreover, the means of achieving those ends, secret violence, is not morally attractive either. Vigilantism is clearly a sickness in the view of traditional theory, a perversion of both the means and the ends of politics as it should be.
So we've scraped the jar clean, and come up with salmonella. Good for the Negative, I guess.

Feb 17, 2009


My voice box is crumbling.

Is this going to become an annual tradition?

it's about time: Trader Joe's coming to Olympia

Trader Joe's is coming to west Olympia, the paper reports. Sometime this year they'll occupy the building Good Guys used to fill.

I can't believe it took this long. Trader Joe's has always seemed to be the quintessential west Olympia outfit--cheap, casual, organicky.

So... what'll replace Circuit City?

Update 7/15/09: This morning, driving by, the wife and I saw that they're putting signs on the former Good Guys building. I'm going to email the company about a timeline for the opening; if you have specific information, feel free to post it in the comments.

Update Update Word is, August 22nd. Still waiting for confirmation from an official representative.

Update Update Update: Or maybe even the week of August 10th. See this post, and the comment.

the "uncharted waters" of vigilantism

Attorney and blog neighbor Peter Wall has written Part I of an exploration of the March/April vigilantism resolution. Not surprisingly, the topic has taken him into some pretty deep--and, in his words--"uncharted waters."
The problem is not to discover what actually exists—we can experience that in our everyday lives, see it in the news, and read about it in history. The problem is how to answer the moral question of whether vigilantism—taking the law into your own hands—is justified when there are no government enforcers of the law. But if law and government have no separate existence, so that law has no determinate moral content outside of a governed society, then “when the government has failed to enforce the law” might by synonymous with “when the law has ceased to exist.” (This also raises further questions about the scope of the resolution: Are we talking about a failure to enforce a law across the board, or a failure to enforce a law within a subset of the entire jurisdiction? Does the difference matter for the discussion?) And if we are talking about “when the law has ceased to exist,” where do we derive our justification?

The reality answer seems straightforward: we just know if something is justified. And there are probably good biological and sociological reasons for that. But having an inkling of those reasons, I am still not clear on how they fit with the philosophical and legal theories that drive our public discourse, our social narratives, and our political ideologies. If we are going to assert certain political theories as the basis for our “way of life,” then we ought to have a convincing and satisfying explanation for them, so that the reality answer fits with the theory answer. I have not yet seen that explanation.
Wall's question about the scope of the resolution is perhaps one of the most important for the debate. I tend to think that it refers to a society where the government and the law exist in some meaningful sense, especially after reading Rosenbaum and Sederberg, who argue that vigilantism is an essentially conservative enterprise. But nothing in LD can be taken for granted.

The matter of justification within or without the law is also interesting, and something I hadn't thought of. It creates a dilemma: one who argues that the vigilante is justified by a deeper or higher law--prior notions of morality or justice--tacitly conflates enforcement of the law with justice. Yet legal systems almost universally condemn the vigilante. Whither, then, is justification to be found?

I look forward to reading, and linking to, Mr. Wall's further musings on the subject, and thank him for taking his time to dive deep into the "uncharted waters" of this fascinating topic. Comments or questions for Mr. Wall should be left on his blog.

the Maddux of the hardwood

A little hagiography never hurts. Michael Lewis, author of Moneyball, explains why the Rockets' Shane Battier is perhaps the smartest, if not the best, basketballer in the NBA.
People often say that Kobe Bryant has no weaknesses to his game, but that’s not really true. Before the game, Battier was given his special package of information. “He’s the only player we give it to,” [Rockets GM Daryl] Morey says. “We can give him this fire hose of data and let him sift. Most players are like golfers. You don’t want them swinging while they’re thinking.” The data essentially broke down the floor into many discrete zones and calculated the odds of Bryant making shots from different places on the court, under different degrees of defensive pressure, in different relationships to other players — how well he scored off screens, off pick-and-rolls, off catch-and-shoots and so on. Battier learns a lot from studying the data on the superstars he is usually assigned to guard. For instance, the numbers show him that Allen Iverson is one of the most efficient scorers in the N.B.A. when he goes to his right; when he goes to his left he kills his team. The Golden State Warriors forward Stephen Jackson is an even stranger case. “Steve Jackson,” Battier says, “is statistically better going to his right, but he loves to go to his left — and goes to his left almost twice as often.”
Read the whole thing.

[via ALDaily]

Feb 16, 2009

vigilantism as "establishment violence"

Vigilante Politics by H. Jon Rosenbaum and Peter C. Sederberg, is the first chapter in , a landmark 1976 study of the nature, causes, and consequences of vigilantism. It is a valuable resource for LDers considering the March/April resolution.

The first chapter, "Vigilantism: An Analysis of Establishment Violence," is by the editors, and lays out the grounds for the analysis of vigilantism, or, in their terms, "establishment violence." Here are some of the high points.

Unlike revolutionary violence or criminal deviance, vigilantism is fundamentally about preserving the status quo.
The potential for establishment violence is directly related to the degree to which those who have a vested interest in the status quo feel that the formal institutions of boundary maintenance are ineffective in protecting their interests. Essentially, it is a conservative phenomenon.
What does this mean for evaluating vigilantism? Two things.
Ultimately, therefore, an evaluation of vigilantism must be grounded in judgments as to the value of the social order being conserved."
This is an interesting approach for the Negative to take: an argument that vigilantism is worthless in the absence of a legitimate government. If the affirmative merely presumes that the law is just and good and that government is legitimate, we are not yet at the point where we can affirm.

If the affirmative doesn't bite, though, and has set up a social contract framework that withstands this line of attack, the negative can go for an empirical or risk-based approach.
Secondarily, however, one might ask if vigilantism is an efficacious strategy for stabilizing a sociopolitical order and, if so, under what conditions.
Regarding the second point, there are two critical features of vigilantism: it is "negative," in the sense that its goal is to suppress threats to the status quo, and it is ad hoc, arising in response to need on a case-by-case basis.

The authors note, "In general, vigilantism may be initially eufunctional for the stabilization process; but it tends to be dysfunctional over the long run." Why? "[I]t cannot replace formal political institutions and, indeed, it is probably antithetical to their growth."

The costs, long-term, outweigh the benefits.
The potential costs of crime-control vigilantism are obvious: establishment violence can rapidly become worse than the crime itself. Punishments tend to be disproportionate; the innocent have little protection; and quasi-criminal elements are attracted to the movement as a semilegitimate avenue for the expression of their antisocial tendencies. In addition, when law enforcement officials participate in the acts of violence, whatever moral validity the formal system of laws retained may be undermined.
Last, a point that squares with the way the resolution is written:
As an analytical concept, [establishment violence] assumes that there is a recognized sociopolitical order with formalized rules and methods of maintaining its boundaries over time. According to this model one cannot speak of vigilantism where there is no recognized 'establishment,' where conditions of internal war exist, or where there are no rules governing the application of coercion.
This may be important in cases where the affirmative is trying to justify vigilantism in times of anarchy--that the phrase "has failed to enforce the law" represents a massive failure rather than local or situational failure.

Added: I forgot to mention that, quite importantly, the authors distinguish three types of vigilantism: crime-control, social-group-control, and regime-control. Groups such as the KKK would fit into the second category, and, as such, are arguably nonresolutional, although the negative might try to lump them in as a potential risk of legitimizing vigilantism in a society.

The entire article is worth reading, if you can find a copy. If you have any questions or thoughts, share them in the comments.

Kaplan University: pretentious twaddle

Some people like the ad. (The ad, mind you, not the company behind it).

Me, I can't get past the overwhelming aura of vapid pretentiousness. Compare Billy Madison.

The response is eternally appropriate. "May God have mercy on your soul," Kaplan U.

why do people ask random questions?

Why do people ask random questions? I initially thought of answering this question in my trademark, tongue-in-cheek style, but then I realized that people deserve to know why randomness is so darn interesting. (Consider, for example, Slate's attempt to figure out the origin of the "25 random things about me" meme.)

Random questions are primarily social in nature. They can...

1. Impress the asked with the cleverness of the asker.
Probably their primary purpose, if we're honest. Random questions are spiritually akin to the pick-up line.

2. Fill awkward gaps in conversation.
This is the reason we use to convince ourselves or others that #1 isn't our true motivation.

3. Open up new spaces for seeing another's personality.
It's not all about narcissism. Random questions are a kind of cultural shorthand for the new millennium. Their popularity springs from the ubiquity of instant conversation, whether in chat rooms or on social networking websites. They're used as icebreakers on dating / match sites, as introductions to profiles on blogs.

4. Be used as an evaluative tool by potential employers.
Job interviewers like to mix in a random question from time to time, combining the purposes of #1 and #3 above. The interviewer wants to know whether the applicant is creative, thinks quickly on her feet, and has an interesting personality. For example, if you were to be asked, "If you could be any insect, which would you choose?" there's no right or wrong insect. (Okay, "cockroach" is probably wrong.) Whether you wish you could be a cicada or a mantis, the point of the question is for you to create a meaningful response out of the randomness. Good answer: "An ant, because I believe in tirelessly working together with my colleagues to increase profits." Bad answer: "A bark beetle, 'cause I hate trees."

Bust writer's block.
Answering a random question is sometimes the way out of the slough of despair. For a greater challenge, try writing your own truly random questions. It's not easy.

Facilitate learning.
I use random questions for speech or essay or discussion prompts. The process of merely creating the questions, whether individually or collectively, can itself be educational.

Be used in field sobriety tests.
Just kidding. Sort of.

[157th in series]

HB 1758, Running Start, and the death of high school

A while ago, Running Start was in danger of stumbling before the finish line. The current budget mess seemed to present an opportunity to sideline the program, or at least scale it back, but lawmakers seem intent on further strengthening it.

HB 1758, discussed by the Times' Chantal Anderson (no relation), is a case in point.
Running Start students juggling both college and high school may soon be able to graduate from both without completing high school requirements, as long as they complete an Associate's Degree, technical program, or receive a professional certificate....

The Washington Education Association supports the bill.

"If getting an AA degree at an accredited Washington State community or technical college, or completing a professional technical certificate isn't proof of proficiency in basic skills then I think we might as well just give up," said Wendy Rader-Konofalski lobbyist for the organization. "Because I believe that would in fact satisfy those requirements."
Some will complain that this only cements the status of community colleges as High School Plus, and hastens the demise of the traditional high school. I don't know what's so wrong with that--especially if it means that something smarter arises in its place.

Feb 15, 2009

today's Facebook links

1. Last night, at my sister and bro-in-law's place, we got to talking about Facebook awkwardness. What do you do when a friend starts acting not only boorish but a little crazy? At what point do you initiate the de-friending process? Turns out blog neighbor T/R/P is wrestling with those very questions.

2. And of course, Facebook brings out the cyberbully in many of us. D.A. Ridgely notes when not to intervene.

3. Facebook is a juggernaut. Not that that's news.

4. In fact, it's surpassing MySpace in popularity.

5. Which means if you post something with even the slightest whiff of controversy on Facebook, bloodhounds of controversy will hunt you down. [via Obscure Store]

Feb 13, 2009

when vigilantism spurs governmental reform

In a previous article related to the March/April vigilantism resolution, I described the relationship between vigilantism and legitimate state activity as "symbiotic." Just as symbiotic relationships in nature can drive evolution, so can vigilantism create the impetus for government reform.

Suzette Heald, writing in an article titled "State, Law, and Vigilantism in Northern Tanzania," found in the April 2006 edition of African Affairs, describes the history and impact of the sungusungu. She explains:
From the early 1980s onwards in central Tanzania, Sukuma and Nyamwesi villagers villagers began to organize their own form of collective policing which became known throughout Tanzania as sungusungu. Over time, these groups, which initially by-passed the official agents of state, far from being rejected, have become an integral part of the administrative structures of vast areas of rural Tanzania.
Debaters running up against Weber-based cases will be interested in Heald's analysis of the heterogeneity of modern sovereignty.
Conventionally, the state is seen after Weber as having a monopoly on the use of legitimate force. This assumes that the state is a unified entity, a single Leviathan. But modern democratic states are anything but monolithic: they have multiple specialized institutions, claiming different kinds of legitimacy as recognized from both within and without.
It is precisely this lack of unanimity that not only allowed the sungusungu to flourish, but provided them with greater legitimacy.
If the political and administrative arm of the government supported these groups - and continues to do so - it was quite otherwise with the police and the judiciary. Clearly, the actions of sungusungu groups constituted a 'taking of the law into their own hands' and were in any event outside the law, challenging the powers the judiciary took as its own, of arrest, trial, and punishment. They directly undercut the very rationale of the official agents of the law. More cynically, it could be said... that both police and judiciary found not only their role pre-empted but also the graft which accompanied it. They acted swiftly in attempts to suppress these groups through prosecutions. In the process, they demonstrated only further to the ordinary populace, that they were not the enemies of crime but in league with it.
All this is to say that, in the Affirmative view, there are two primary reasons why "the government has failed to enforce the law." One is a lack of capability; a second is corruption. Either can justify vigilantism.

And, as Heald argues, in the long term, vigilantism can spur government reform. In Tanzanzia, the sungusungu
... have altered the nature of state power at the local level and initiated long-term reforms. The sungusungu have come to operate in a distinctive space; co-opting government and, in turn, co-opted by it. Communities have taken back power, developed their own policing capacity and, in so doing, effectively re-invented themselves. With reformatory agendas, they have evolved new normative structures and modes of co-operation and organization which both actually and potentially have far-reaching consequences for economic and social welfare. A new vision of community responsibility is heralded and held out as an ideal. In the same way, perhaps, they have reformed and reclaimed the state, with the administration demonstrating an increasing responsiveness to the priorities of local communities and allowing them a greater degree of autonomy in the management of their own affairs.
When taken in the context of the resolution--justifying the practice only when the government has failed to enforce the law--vigilantism does not have to lead inexorably to lawlessness. Rather, it can help restore and strengthen the legitimacy of the state.

Coraline: 3D spectacle, 2D story

My wife and I watched Coraline in glorious digital 3D this afternoon. While the visuals are stunning, and nearly worth the ticket price, the story lacks a certain oomph, feeling like a mixture of Alice in Wonderland, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Pan's Labyrinth, and Mirrormask. Which isn't to say it won't entertain the kids--there was scattered applause at the film's conclusion--but that adults might be a teensy bit bored. (Or maybe Wall-E just set the bar too high for me.)

The most thrilling and humorous moment, in fact, came right before the movie started, as the 3D previews began, and one child started screaming with terror as images leaped into his eyeballs. "It's not even scary yet!" his dad complained. I think the tyke eventually quieted and watched the movie.

Update: Some folks are finding this blog by trying to figure out whether it's worth the extra dough to see Coraline in 3D. If money is no object, I'd recommend it, but only if you have naturally good vision or contact lenses. I tried to wear my 3D glasses over regular specs, and ended up with a colossal headache. If the recession has cramped your style, though, or your local theater lacks 3D capability, don't worry; the movie will still be equally enjoyable in 2D.

why do Cold Stone employees sing?

1. Because.

2. Because they have to.

3. Because they want to.

4. Because they love to.

5. Because they are inspired.

6. Because they are demon-possessed.

7. Because they are infected with a musical virus.

8. Because they know that every time a creamster sings, an angel gets its wings.

9. Because they fear that if they stop singing, their souls slowly shrivel and die.

10. Because they hope to precipitate the collapse of the walls, Jericho-like, and march outside into sunlight and freedom, singing all the while, sparking a revolution among the permanent underclass of wage-slaves forced to quite literally sing for their measly supper, until all bound by the shackles of corporate hegemony are united as one in the cause of freedom, equality, justice, and rich buttercream.

[156th in a series]

Burgerville northward expansion planned

Recession got you down? Rejoice in the consolation that, if you're an Olympia-area reader, Burgerville is coming to your metroplex.
Now, Burgerville’s president and CEO Jeff Harvey says his company spent the last five years building corporate capacity for an aggressive, significant expansion of its drive-ins in the Olympia-Tacoma-Seattle region, beginning this year.
When, exactly? Where? We don't know yet. But the knowledge of Burgerville's impending arrival is good enough for now. No more half hour trips to Centralia for sustainably delicious fast food.

Now that's a stimulus plan we can all get behind.

Feb 12, 2009

the moral tradition of vigilantism

Blog-neighbor Mark Olson, considering the March/April LD resolution, delves into the history of the practice.
The backwoods folkway were members of a society that in many ways can be described as the libertarian ideal. Personal freedom was extremely high and its heroes such as Patrick Henry were notable for their drive for independence and then after the Revolution completed pushing for independence from the Federal government(s) as well. However the very limited (or perhaps non-existent) central government in these regions in the pre-revolutionary times meant that there were also large somewhat organized predatory gangs. These gangs were larger and more organized than any given homestead could deal with when threatened and as a result, the organizing of townspeople for common defense against such groups was named after similar undertakings by Mr Lynch. This society was libertarian enough that the law books and statutes that existed provided little to no defense in the way of penal strictures against assault and injury to person (but property damage and theft was dealt with in a more standard, for the age, manner). It seems likely that the reason that rape, battery and other insults were either not or [only] lightly penalized is that the expectation [was] that your “folk” would deal with matters themselves.
For the affirmative, it's a scheme worth considering: in a libertarian minarchist paradise, the government's failure to enforce the law is, to some degree, desirable, since it allows citizens--families, friends, and neighbors--to preserve greater autonomy and fulfill their moral obligations to each other and to justice.

Update: Jason Kuznicki provides a libertarian rebuttal.

Happy Darwin Day

Seems pretty appropriate that on the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin's birth, scientists have released a sequence of the Neanderthal genome.
Early glimpses of the genome, which was sequenced by Svante Pääbo, of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, and colleagues, have already cast new light on the ancient human species that went extinct more than 25,000 years ago.

"This will be the first time the entire genome of an extinct organism has been sequenced," Pääbo told the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, in Chicago.

Now study of the more complete genome will allow scientists to examine Neanderthals' relationship with modern humans as never before.
Chuck D. would be happy, I'd imagine.

vigilantism's symbiotic relationship with legitimate enforcement

Poring over recent literature related to the March/April vigilantism resolution, I'm finding that most of it focuses on the history of vigilante violence, or contemporary examples of vigilante groups operating in failed states. It's harder to find analytical approaches; for the most part, contemporary political philosophy seems to be more concerned with legitimacy as a matter of state, rather than individual, focus.

Nevertheless, I've found a few interesting choices, which I'll outline in a series of posts.

First up: "'The only badge needed is your patriotic fervor': Vigilance, coercion, and the law in World War I America," by Christopher Capozzola, found in the Journal of American History, March 2002. The author analyzes vigilantism and vigilance committee that sprung up in the fever-pitch of the war effort during the First World War, which eventually prompted President Woodrow Wilson to issue a proclamation condemning mob violence.

In passing, Capozzola notes,
Vigilantism too has played a recurrent role in American history. Vigilantism is often equated with mob violence and thought to consist of political terror and violent coercion. Use of the term conjures up images of night riders and frontier justice. The historian Richard Maxwell Brown has documented more than 5,400 deaths by organized and unorganized groups between 1767 and 1951. But while vigilantism could and often did become deadly, neither killing nor physical violence is necessary for vigilantism. Rather, vigilantism is fundamentally about law. Political arguments about vigilantism articulate relationships between the political behavior of citizens and the system of law in which they operate. Vigilante actions are undertaken by citizens who are not public officials, even if they sometimes cooperate with officials or claim to act in the name of the state. Vigilantes operate outside the strictures of law as articulated by the legitimate regime, but they typically aim to establish social order, whether defense of the state, control of crime, or maintenance of racial, class, or gender hierarchies. "What is paradoxical about the vigilante position is, of course, that it seeks to perpetuate the existing order, but without law and without accepting the actions of the society's political institutions," according to the political scientist Edward Stettner.
Capozzola describes the wide variety of vigilance organizations, and their popularity in the American consciousness.
Hundreds of thousands of men and women responded to calls for national defense on the home front by forming voluntary vigilance associations. They varied widely in their aims, structures, and membership, from elite societies such as the National Security League and American Defense Society to more menacing organizations such as the Sedition Slammers and the Terrible Threateners to the Boy Spies of America. Over 250,000 men, and some women, enrolled in the largest such organization, the American Protective League.
Were these homespun groups effective in aiding the war effort? Not exactly.
Not a single German spy was uncovered during World War I thanks to the work of these vigilant citizens, and much of what they did was ineffectual or even absurd. Volunteers in New Haven, Connecticut, kept a round-the-clock watch at an antiaircraft device they had installed to protect the city against an (unlikely) aerial invasion from Germany. The earnest patriots of a vigilance group in Portland, Maine, seized a suitcase abandoned in downtown Longfellow Square. They "gingerly" brought the bag to police headquarters, where it was "carefully examined and was found to contain a quantity of men's soiled underwear."
On the other hand, where they weren't useless, vigilance committees could be worse than useless.
During the war, vigilance societies targeted pacifists, suffragists, ethnic minorities, religious fundamentalists, trade unionists, and socialists. Incidents of violent, spontaneous prowar crowd action abound, but organized groups working with the institutions of government and civil society already in place in local communities conducted most political coercion. Those organizations repeatedly glossed over or ignored issues of legal process and wasted little energy on establishing with precision their authority to make arrests--on what grounds and consistent with, or despite, what specific structures of law. They were not thoughtless mobs who believed the Constitution a meaningless scrap of paper, even as they appeared to treat it as such, but organized men and women deeply concerned about the survival of American democracy as they understood it.

The wartime context mattered. Calls for citizen vigilance raised the demand for volunteer policing, and wartime rhetoric and fear of subversion heightened its significance. The war also altered the relationship between private political coercion and the state. Americans were accustomed to private citizens' policing their neighbors' ideas and behaviors, their labor and leisure, before World War I. Yet it was only during the war--as ideas, behaviors, labor, and leisure had to be mobilized, regulated, and governed in order to defeat the enemy--that the practices of citizen policing came to be state projects, even when they were not conducted under state auspices. As the needs of modern war blurred the line between state and society, between mobilization and social control, the war tied private coercions to state interests.
Some of what Capozzola describes is not directly germane to the LD resolution, because of its unique wartime context. However, it illustrates a way that vigilantism can quite ironically legitimize the violent aims of the state. Cappozola's work also shows how well-intentioned corporate vigilantism is still plagued by flaws, the most glaring its lack of due process protections.

I would use a metaphor of symbiosis to describe the relationship between vigilantism and legitimate enforcement. What particular kind of symbiosis it represents--commensal, parasitic, or mutual--is where the argument lies.

Feb 11, 2009

Capital High School closed Thursday, too

Capital's closed again Thursday, February 12th. Teachers get to work in the absence of students for another snow-roof-collapse-day.

Or is it to celebrate Darwin's birthday?

unmitigated awesomeness

Self-defense for women, jujitsu style. Watch for the...
  • Dated genderisms
  • Dry wit
  • Butt-kicking
[More via Cory Doctorow of BoingBoing.]

Capital High School closed again

Yesterday's snow load was apparently too much for safe reentry, so CHS is closed until... tomorrow, hopefully. I don't mind too much; I'm still feeling congested, and can use extra grading time, but with all the closures and this recent illness it's been impossible to establish any sort of consistent rhythm over the past month. Midwinter break arrives on Friday, which means two more days off school. After Monday, we'll reboot and try to keep from crashing until Spring Break.

The District, according to our principal, will now ask for 5 days waived instead of 4. Which means I'll have 35 hours and 35 minutes to make up, either working with students or with colleagues. I'm going to see if I can set up a blog or other online forum so, at least for a few of the hours, we can collaborate from home.

I can't decide on whether this calls for a "blargh" or a "whee!"

Feb 10, 2009

replace the WASL... with what, exactly?

Randy Dorn has already started the chainsaw of WASL reform. That tree's headed for the lumber yard. Gerald Bracey on the plan:
Dorn wants to replace the WASL with shorter, multiple-choice tests. Bad idea. And he wants the tests to be more "diagnostic." Dorn's impossible dream.

First off, in a KUOW interview, Dorn said the new tests would still be valid. He cannot know that. Validity is always an empirical question. Usually, if you make a test shorter, it becomes less valid. Of course, I've oversimplified in that statement. The question really is, valid for what? It's relatively easy to judge the content validity of test items — do they measure what they claim to measure? From the released WASL items I've seen, I'm not certain those items do....

But the bigger validity question is: Does the test make any difference? Are college professors more pleased with students who have passed the test? Are employers? The answer is a resounding, "We don't know." States are afraid to ask this question because, if the answer comes up, "No," they will be seen to have spent millions, even billions, of dollars for nothing. But informal studies by journalists have yet to turn up a positive instance. So forget all the fear-mongering rhetoric that we need these tests in order to compete with China and in the global economy.
The solution is taking the sting out of the WASL. Right now, our school uses a WASLesque reading assessment to help place students in appropriate instruction. It's given on computers, adaptive, and offers near-instant results. It's not perfectly valid for everything, but that's not its point. It's part of a battery of assessments, and it's not a graduation requirement. Its utility has nothing to do with its lack of "high stakes" motivation.

According to Bracey, what alder of progress should arise in the WASL's place? He concludes with a catkin of a recommendation:
What Washington should pursue is a course like Nebraska's, where testing ideas originated with teachers (remember them?) and evolved into something we might call instruction-driven measurement. Right now, what we have is measurement-driven instruction and it is a disaster, both in Washington and in the nation at large.
Bzzt. False dichotomy, five yard penalty. Intelligently-crafted assessment should drive instruction, and instruction should inform assessment. No either-or about it.

an idle mind is the devil's picture-show

Your brain hates nothing so much as nothing, to the point that it will fill the nothing with anything just to have something there. Or something:
The late historian Lord Dacre of Glanton, formerly Hugh Trevor-Roper, was unusual among [Charles Bonnet Syndrome] patients in that he talked openly about what he jokingly referred to as his 'phantasmagoria'.

He would see horses and bicycles racing, and whole landscapes whizzing by as if he were on a train. On one occasion, he found himself trapped in an apparently endless tunnel.

Hallucinations tend to have common themes: simple geometric patterns, disembodied faces with jumbled features, landscapes, groups of people, musical notes, vehicles and miniature figures in Victorian or Edwardian costume. They can be in black and white or colour, moving or still, but they are always silent.

The condition was named after Charles Bonnet, an 18th-century Swiss natural philosopher whose grandfather had seen people, patterns and vehicles that were not really there. Bonnet was the first person to identify that you could have visual hallucinations and still be mentally sound.

The condition can affect anybody at any age with diminishing eyesight. Even people with normal vision can develop it if they blindfold themselves for long enough.
On a related note, this is why artificial intelligence, insofar as it means replicating human cognition, will work only if flaws are designed in. The brain is naturally buggy.

[via BoingBoing's David Pescovitz, who also links to an interview with the perpetually fascinating Dr. Sacks.]

sweet gig redux

Two weeks ago, Capital closed when snow dusted the roof. I was gone, so my sub had a sweet gig: teach half a class for a day's pay.

It happened again.

I was sick this morning, just like yesterday, so I drove to CHS at 6:00 to print out a sub plan, check yesterday's report and assess the room for damage, and then return to bed. I noticed the sky had that impending snow look--a threatening blanket of low clouds--and watched my windshield in agitation as I approached the West Side. Tiny flecks began turning into bona fide snowflakes.

I completed the plan anyway, knowing in my heart that it was probably futile, but not wanting to hang a sub out to dry, even for one period. I drove back home, tried to sleep again. No luck. Came out to the living room and checked the day's news, ate a little breakfast, checked my email, and prepped for Wednesday.

And, of course, about 10 minutes ago CHS announced another closure.

And, of course, I missed it.

Feb 9, 2009

save the Naturopathic Advisory Committee!

Governor Gregoire wants to take a machete to the Advisory Boards that have cropped up, kudzu-like, all over the budget.
The move, which the Office of Financial Management says would save the state about $15 million over the next two years, includes cutting everything from the Ferry Advisory Committees to the Western State Hospital Advisory Board. The state currently has 470 boards and committees.
The list of 150 boards is available in pdf format here.

All well and good, except... the governor includes the Naturopathic Advisory Committee on the list, slated for the chopper by June of 2010.

In a year and a half, do you really want naturopaths running amok in Washington State? Do you?

Okay, so I kid. Really, why are we waiting until then? Cut it now, Governor. Same with the Organized Crime Advisory Board. The dons are doing fine on their own.

National Board recepients recognized

Tonight's Olympia School Board meeting was unusually well-attended, mostly because 10 freshly-minted National Board Certified Teachers--yours truly included--came to be introduced by previous NBCTs and recognized by the Board.

Capital High School has three NBCTs, now: myself, Mike Deakins, and Sally Otton.

A-Rod confesses

He juiced. He initially said he didn't, but his conscience, in the form of a Sports Illustrated investigation, finally caught up with him.
The All-Star third baseman said in an interview with ESPN that he used steroids with the Texas Rangers for three years, from 2001-03, in an attempt to justify his status as the game's highest-paid player after signing a 10-year, $252 million contract.

"Back then it was a different culture," Rodriguez said. "It was very loose. I was young. I was stupid. I was naive, and I wanted to prove to everyone that, you know, I was worth, you know -- and being one of the greatest players of all time."

He said he quit after 2003, his first of three AL MVP seasons, because "I've proved to myself and to everyone that I don't need any of that." He was traded to the New York Yankees before the 2004 season.
The Times story doesn't mention whether former Mariner Bret Boone will come under any more intense scrutiny. Boone, like A-Rod, was named by Jose "Pravda" Canseco as a juicer, right around the same time, and also underwent a mysterious bulking-up with a stat boost unlikely for a middle infielder. Boone flatly denies roiding up. But then, so did A-Rod.

What would really be funny? A confession by Rafael Belliard.

Feb 8, 2009


I spent half the night dream-hallucinating in fevered sleep, a bout with a mild flu strain my reward for an otherwise quiet weekend. I had intended to finish grading a stack of essays, fill out some Comcast rebate forms (we made the switch a week ago), and tune my new floor tom, but now I just want to lounge on the sofa, a blogger in a blanket.

Sub plans... better start making sub plans.

Feb 6, 2009

$7 million roof repair tab; also, no WASL for freshfolks

Initial estimates for repair costs for Capital's collapsed roof run into the meeelions.
"The $7 million figure is the best estimate by our insurers of the potential magnitude of the claim so far," district spokesman Peter Rex said.

However, that won't necessarily cover the entire amount of what it would cost to rebuild the roof and the school's library, which was gutted after the roof collapsed on Christmas Day. District officials won't know the final cost of the reconstruction until they find out what caused the roof to collapse and who is financially liable, Rex said.

It is unknown why a truss supporting the roof failed after a heavy snowstorm, and district officials said last month that it could be several months before the cause is known. Damage might not be repaired until fall, they said.

On Monday, the district will hold a public hearing before the board amends the district's 2008-09 budget to accommodate $7 million in emergency expenses related to the roof collapse.
Thank goodness for insurance. Of course, costs can be expected to climb...

Which brings us to the second budget-related item, the cancellation of the 9th-grade WASL.
State schools chief Randy Dorn eliminated giving freshmen the option of taking the test, part of an effort to save nearly $500,000, his office announced Wednesday night.

Tenth-graders still are required to take the test, as are third- through eighth-graders and some high school juniors and seniors.

Dorn said last month that he will revamp the entire testing system by next year in favor of shorter exams with faster feedback.
It makes sense and it saves money. Dorn's not perfect, but he's made some good choices so far.


Today I gave students a Wikipedia reading assignment as homework.

Feb 5, 2009

Black's Law and the vigilantism resolution

Black's Law Dictionary is the premier source for LD definitions. This is uncontroversial. Because of it, all LDers considering the March / April vigilantism resolution should be very, very familiar with two key definitions from that source.

1. Vigilantism
Black's (8th ed.) defines it as "The act of a citizen who takes the law into his or her own hands by apprehending and punishing suspected criminals."

This is important for at least two reasons. First, it makes vigilantism primarily an individual act, rather than the domain of "vigilance committees," along with the concomitant advantages (it's therefore not necessarily widespread, threatening anarchy) and disadvantages (it may lack popular support or legitimacy). Second, the definition requires that the criminals in question are only suspected, raising an epistemic hurdle that the Aff must be able to clear. Negs are going to argue that individuals lack the resources, time, motivation*, and legal knowledge to fully pursue justice, and that vigilantism is thus inherently corrupt.

*In fact, their primary motivation, it can be argued, is to speed up the process of apprehension and punishment, reducing or eliminating the rights of suspects--if there even is a process!

2. Enforcement
Black's again: "To give force or effect to (a law, etc.); to compel obedience to." This prompts an interesting and critical question: does enforcement include punishment? If not, then the Aff can argue that we're not talking about a situation where the government has failed to convict known criminals. Rather, we're talking about a government that has failed to deter crime. This is good for the affirmative, since it means that the rule of law has, if not utterly toppled, at least reached a tipping point.

I've only begun to consider the implications of these definitions. Your thoughts and suggestions, as always, are welcomed in the comments.

litterbug vigilantes and the nanny state

Here's a perfect example of the potential for petty vigilantism in the Affirmative world of the March / April resolution: A man poses as a state trooper to shame someone who littered.
Police said the unidentified man was driving a red pickup truck with a dash-mounted flashing blue light when he stopped the woman and told her he was an off-duty Maine State Police trooper.

The impersonator never threatened the woman, Toman said.

"He just said, 'I stopped you because you threw a cigarette butt out the window in Augusta,'" Gardiner Police Chief James Toman said. "He didn't ask her for any identification and he certainly didn't show her any identification."
Just what the nanny state needs: freelancing nannies.

[Via Obscure Store]

Feb 4, 2009

search, search again

If at first you don't succeed...

(With StatCounter, search terms display in reverse chronological order.)

Gregoire borrows from the 5/17 playbook

Governor Gregoire has to balance a budget with a $6 billion (or so) shortfall. What to do?
There's an interactive budget calculator on her Web site that lets users add and subtract from major spending areas.

Gregoire's office says 60 percent of the budget is committed to mandatory programs, such as basic education, debt service and pensions. That means reductions have to come from the other 40 percent of the budget.
Try it for yourself here.

Oh, and putting the budget process within the average citizen's reach? This blog was there first.

Feb 3, 2009

value and criterion pairs for the vigilantism resolution

Regarding the March / April resolution. A work in progress.

Suggest your own in the comments!

For the Aff

V: Justice
C: Preserving autonomy
Preserving individual autonomy--including the ability to exercise discretion in going after villains--is a necessary route to justice when the government has failed to enforce the law. Autonomy precedes any sort of societal or law-and-order consideration, because it is the foundation of human rights and societal order.

V: Justice
C: Social Contract
The Social Contract is a rough approach to balancing rights claims as a precursor to the formation of a State. Any State that, through some loss of sovereignty, can or will no longer enforce the law, has violated the Contract, and is no longer legitimate. Thus, not only do individuals reserve the right to seek justice outside the State, but the State also cannot bring any claim against those who protect themselves or their community by doing so. In this way, vigilantism and civil disobedience are two sides of a coin.

V: Justice
C: Popular Sovereignty
Vigilantism, as the resolution would have it, is justified when the government has failed--arguably to a significant degree, since we're debating the "general principle," as the rules of LD state--via notions of justice, which is achieved by recognizing that ultimate sovereignty lies in the people, not the State or the law.

V: Justice
C: Utilitarianism
A utilitarian view of justice is founded on two principles of effectiveness: deterrence and incapacitation. Both fail when criminals neither fear the law nor face its consequences. Thus, utilitarianism justifies vigilantism when the government has failed to enforce the law.

V: Justice
C: The Categorical Imperative
Punishing the guilty is a categorical imperative. A Kantian would argue that if one of the last two people on earth, surviving the apocalypse in a concrete bunker, knew beyond a doubt that his fellow survivor was an escaped murderer, he would have duty to execute the evildoer. This justice-over-all approach warrants vigilantism in the face of failed government enforcement.

For the Neg

V: Justice
C: The Rule of Law
Affirming the resolution threatens the rule of law, since it prescribes no real minimum for the government's failure to enforce its statutes. Allowing vigilantism to flourish devalues the very institution of the law, which is the closest approximation to real justice within a given society.

V: Societal Welfare
C: The Rule of Law
If vigilantism is justified, similarly to the argument above, the rule of law is at risk, and society is a few steps removed from anarchy. The proper response to an ineffective or apathetic government is to reform its institutions, not to tear apart the social fabric.

V: Justice or Dignity
C: Protecting Rights
Vigilantism offers no protections of due process rights, no checks on cruel or unusual punishment, no accountability to any exterior force. Suspects--or even known criminals--are still humans, deserving of fair trials and humane treatment.

Feb 2, 2009

scattered thoughts about vigilantism

Regarding the March / April LD resolution, "Vigilantism is justified when the government has failed to enforce the law."

1. You can't avoid the Batman. In fact, you might be encouraged to bring up his name every now and then.

2. Vigilantism, according to Ron Levi, is "one of the least developed topics in criminology." Great. The dearth of expert advice is a double-edged sword of justice: it means difficult research, but may spark more imaginative cases.

3. What kind of context surrounds the resolution?
a. A society, since "the government" is implicated, and "the law" (especially with the article) takes on a social meaning. See definition 2a here.
b. Thus, a society with some kind of established order, and therefore not anarchy, because of the existence of "the government" and "the law."
c. Thus, society with a weak, distant, apathetic, or evil government, since it has "failed to enforce the law."

4. Any Neg that allows the Aff to equate enforcing the law with attaining justice is well on the way to losing the round.

5. Are private police forces--security guards, mall cops, Disney police, Blackwater--a form of vigilantism?

6. Weber's thoughts on the "monopoly on the legitimate use of violence in the enforcement of its order" may come into play.

7. The resolution simply does not specify which aspects of "the law" have not been enforced; the Affirmative needs to try and limit the discussion to some sort of harmful, dangerous crimes, perhaps using rhetoric about "moral seriousness." Otherwise, this might mean we could fear "420 patrols" springing up in jurisdictions where the cops pay no mind to the stoners at the bus stop.

8. The prospect of individually pursuing justice is equally alluring and terrifying--Romantic with a capital R, and brimming with existential implications. Films like The Ox-Bow Incident and The Brave One and Memento are worth watching just to get in the right spirit for debate.

Feb 1, 2009

metonymy reaches its absurd conclusion

Blog neighbor Emmett O'Connell shows how.

the last analog Super Bowl

...will go to the dynasty instead of the upstart. I don't want it to happen, but the Steelers are going to win, 17-14.

As always, don't bet on sports.

Update: I was a little cautious with the score, but the outcome was as predicted. The Steelers prevailed, barely, in a penalty-racked contest with a stirring finale and, quite possibly, the most coach and booth challenges in Bowl history.

Resolved: Vigilantism is justified when the government has failed to enforce the law.

The NFL has released the March/April topic for 2009:
Resolved: Vigilantism is justified when the government has failed to enforce the law.
Lots to chew on here, and plenty of analysis to come in the days and weeks ahead. Some initial questions to get you thinking:

What exactly is "vigilantism?" Can we set aside its negative connotations? What is the scope / degree of failure that the resolution requires? What is the timeframe? What makes individuals just in determining who is guilty and deserves punishment? Is law automatically just?

You can expect a lot of justice / social contract reasoning.

Sharing your questions and ideas makes this site even more useful. Speak up in the comments!

(Oh, and it's been a decidedly legal year in LD, eh?)

Update: Right now, I'm trying to arrange a carnival of posts on this topic. If you'd like to contribute, email me (the address is on my profile) with the subject line "a very bloggy vigilantism carnival." Feel free to pass this link on to bloggers who might be interested, too!

1. Your standard dictionary sources offer a couple distinct interpretations of "vigilantism," either of which has advantages or disadvantages. One has to do with an ad hoc taking of the law into one's own hands, whether individually or as a group. The other concerns one classic, corporate mode of vigilantism--the "vigilance committee," which is neither a disorganized mob nor an individual acting alone. This is a critical definition choice which greatly alters the ground of the debate. Choose wisely.
2. The law. Note the article. It's important. Define it as a phrase.
3. How Black's Law Dictionary (8th ed.) defines "vigilantism" and "enforcement."

1. Some initial thoughts on vigilantism.
2. Value and criterion pairs. A work in progress.
3. When vigilantism gets ridiculous.
4. The symbiotic relationship between vigilantism and legitimate enforcement.
5. Blog-neighbor Mark Olson gives a historical perspective, and links the resolution both to Hobbes and to Jouvenel.
6. From Tanzania, an example of how vigilantism can spur governmental reform.
7. Some analysis of vigilantism from a landmark study.
8. Blog-neighbor Peter Wall dives into the "uncharted waters" of vigilantism (Part I).
9. Some analysis of political theory regarding vigilantism. Much of use for the Neg.
10. Peter Wall, in Part II, discusses the problem of vigilantes' legal (in)expertise. Do they know the law well enough to step into the government's shoes?
11. One place to go for Negative arguments: religious traditions concerning nonviolence. A Christian perspective is examined.
12. Modern examples of vigilantism.
13. Peter Wall dives into evolutionary theory in Part III. A fresh and interesting perspective.
14. Jason Kuznicki offers a libertarian viewpoint.
15. Links to some analysis of different ethical perspectives on the resolution.
16. More on the social contract and vigilantism. What happens when Locke isn't good enough?
17. Guest-bloggers on a dissenting view of Locke and powerful Neg arguments.

For Beginners
If you're starting out in LD, check out these resources: how to construct cases, use a criterion, major philosophers to know, etc.