Mar 31, 2009

why torture doesn't work

From time to time, this blog has discussed the morality of torture, which, for its proponents, hinges on one thing: whether it works. But even the severest utilitarian would have hard time justifying a practice that, as far as we can tell, is worse than useless. Consider the newly-released details of the CIA's investigation on Abu Zubaida. Ed Brayton points to the story, found in the Washington Post:
When CIA officials subjected their first high-value captive, Abu Zubaida, to waterboarding and other harsh interrogation methods, they were convinced that they had in their custody an al-Qaeda leader who knew details of operations yet to be unleashed, and they were facing increasing pressure from the White House to get those secrets out of him.

The methods succeeded in breaking him, and the stories he told of al-Qaeda terrorism plots sent CIA officers around the globe chasing leads.

In the end, though, not a single significant plot was foiled as a result of Abu Zubaida's tortured confessions, according to former senior government officials who closely followed the interrogations. Nearly all of the leads attained through the harsh measures quickly evaporated, while most of the useful information from Abu Zubaida -- chiefly names of al-Qaeda members and associates -- was obtained before waterboarding was introduced, they said.
Zubaida's "confessions" produced garbage, yet his captors, even when faced with evidence that further waterboarding was pointless, continued to torture him. Brayton comments,
This is one of the main problems with such interrogations and it has nothing to do with those famous "ticking timebomb" scenarios we hear so much about. They're convinced they have a high value target in detention but in fact he's just a low level flunkie who has little to tell [them]. So when he doesn't give them useful information, they're convinced they have to torture him to get the information they're sure he has.

And even after they torture him and he tells them everything he thinks they want to hear to make them stop, and even after they waste time and resources chasing all the false leads he gives them, they never think to question their own assumptions either for that person or for others. Even after the failure of their first instance of torture, they continued to approve others.
I see at least two reasons for this. First, in the heightened emotional state brought on by the combination of crisis-thinking and moral abnegation, the ordinary distortions of confirmation bias are amplified until the noise drowns out the signal. Second, torture is a sort of moral Rubicon--once crossed, there's no going back, no possible admission of failure, for it would reveal a truth too ugly to comprehend--not only to the outside world, but to the torturer.

students are brilliant

Yesterday, in the middle of a discussion of "you," specifically as it pertains to narrative fiction (and more specifically in The Death of Artemio Cruz) one of my students referred to the pronoun as "the unanimous person." We had just written full-page pieces directly addressing "you," and shared snippets from each one, reading around a circle, creating an instant poetic tapestry similar to those found in Fuentes' masterpiece. Afterward, reflecting on the process, the student let slip the phrase.

It might have seemed like an error to some--substitute "anonymous"--but in the context of the discussion, it made perfect sense. Intuition tells us, and research confirms, that narrative focused on "you" can be strangely compelling. Its multiplicity, its simultaneous singularity and generality, make it both universal and personal. The mirror of the Whitmanic I. The "unanimous person."

I am still jealous. That is positively brilliant.

Mar 30, 2009

playing chicken in the legislature

The budget details from the Senate are out, and if you're an educator, or anyone who cares about educational quality in Washington... better grab your beta-blockers.
Senate Democrats delivered on a promise to slash state spending, unveiling a proposed budget this morning that includes more than $1.3 billion in cuts to public schools and higher education.

Budget documents indicate cuts of $877 million for public schools. Lawmakers would reduce funding for Initiative I-728, which was approved by voters in 2000 to reduce class sizes; trim levy equalization money for property-poor districts, and cut spending for other programs. Exact cuts by category were not immediately available.
I-728 would be practically eliminated--a 93% reduction. In the Olympia School District, where I teach, that would mean the loss of 48 full-time teaching positions. There's simply no way retirement or other normal attrition can account for that, which means that should this budget pass, we're facing steep, painful cuts.

Or is all this a ploy to get Washington's citizens to pay higher taxes, and to force Governor Gregoire into a political corner? A spectacular game of legislative chicken?

Update: The House budget is only slightly less painful.

e-cigarettes: back to the future

Life, always a few miles per hour below the speed of parody:
Last summer, a Florida company began aggressively marketing e-cigarettes - which emit a nicotine vapor with the help of a computer chip - but the U.S. Food and Drug Administration now seems poised to pull e-cigs from the market because the agency considers them "new drugs." That means they need approval from the FDA, which requires companies to back up their claims with scientific data....

Invented in China several years ago, the e-cig not only "smokes" like a cigarette, it also looks like a cigarette, feels like a cigarette, glows like a cigarette and contains nicotine like a cigarette.

But it's not a cigarette. It's a slender stainless-steel tube.
Wonder if they drew their inspiration from the source of all foolishly great ideas: The Onion.

Mar 29, 2009

Don McLeroy, a Texas-sized embarrassment

"Somebody's got to stand up to experts that are just--I think--I don't know why they're doing it, they're wonderful people, but the fossil record doesn't do it--why take it out, if evolution is so true and has no weaknesses, I can't see any reason for putting it in there, all it does is give them an extra standard to argue for it. Yes, it's hard to stand up to very brilliant, wonderful people."

Wish we could say the same about Don McLeroy. It's tough to find a worse extemporaneous speaker. (Don't worry, it's not impossible, just tough.)

[via Reed Cartwright]

Mar 28, 2009

elite eight: Whitman sings the blues

For inspiration on this first day of the Elite Eight, we turn not the spirits of the game, who are notoriously fickle, but rather to the spirit of Walt Whitman, the mangy prophet.

Song of a Quarterfinal

I loaf and lounge in the TV's gaze, observing a game of college hoops.
I, now thirty years old in close-to-perfect health begin,
hoping to cease not till commercial break.

I recline and let the apparitions of a thousand layups, fadeaways, alleys-oop,
born of the merging of desire and dream,
play and re-play on this electric canvas.

The jumpers and the dribblers, the passers and dunkers: the same.
The short, the tall, the lunky, the lanky: the same.
The Lawsons, the Thabeets, the Aldriches, the Hansbroughs: the same.

Glass, steel, cord, hardwood, paint,
glaze of sweat and the supplication of a halfcourt heave,
out of this tumult of noise and smell and motion,
four visions arise.

Tigers, shelled by a shot-block, innards drooping from the husk.
Panthers locked in death-dance with wild-cats, brother against brother, clawing and scraping until the elders collapse in defeat.
Cardinals swooping, spiraling, unstoppable.
Tar Heels choking in the dust of a hundred thousand covered wagons.

I recline, lodged between the seeing and the knowing,
waiting for the whistle, this call in the midst of the crowd:
My own voice, orotund sweeping and final.

Mar 27, 2009

an open letter to CBS

Dear CBS:

63-62 with :26 left > 85-66 with 6:52 left.

So what's with the manic back-and-forth?



Mar 26, 2009

now Discover Card knows they're making me angry

But do they know why? That visit length--0 seconds--troubles me.

what I did today

1. Today I encouraged students to write in a fresh way: to abandon punctuation, or to embrace it with inexplicable passion. It massively disrupted their thinking, and led to insightful discussions and some darn clever pieces.

2. I have several students who, whenever we're blogging or researching things online, almost literally have to be dragged away from Google Maps. The lure of nostalgia is too strong. I thought I was immune until today, when I buckled and spent five minutes virtually walking through the streets of White Sulphur Springs, Montana. Memories surge back, and yet they're thin, missing the smells and sounds and textures of the place, which I suppose I'd have to recover by actually going there.

3. My NCAA brackets are just about completely gone. (Don't pick a team that can't shoot free throws. Don't pick a team that can't shoot free throws!) I watched them implode this evening. After Mizzou's performance, I have high hopes for Gonzaga. They are irrational and I accept them as such.

4. My urge to immortalize the tournament in verse, however, is as strong as ever. The Muse crouches at the door.

5. Today I received my first official 30th birthday present, over a week late.

Mar 25, 2009

stop me if you've read this before

Two and half years ago I linked to an article describing how scientists had learned how to create "déjà vu on demand." That kind of research is providing a window into consciousness, turns out.
It is possible that both Moulin and Cleary are correct. The perirhinal cortex may store information about spatial relationships, rather than time, place and sequence of events, and so normal familiarity feelings could come largely from layout and configuration, backing Cleary's findings. Indeed, there may be many ways to produce false familiarity, according to psychologist Alan Brown of Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, author of The déjà vu experience (Psychology press, 2004). His own experiments indicate some other possibilities. For example, he has induced the feeling by distracting volunteers while they saw a glimpse of a scene and then moments later giving them a good look. "If you take a brief glance when distracted, and look at the same scene again afterwards, it can feel like you've seen it before but much earlier," says Brown. He has also induced it by showing people images of things they had forgotten. "Just as a stomach ache can hurt the same way but be caused by lots of different processes, it could be the same way with déjà vu," he says.

The real problem with explaining déjà vu, however, is not how we can get familiarity without recognition, but why it feels so disturbing. "We'd get it all the time if it were just familiarity with real experiences," says Ed Wild from the Institute of Neurology in London. He suggests that mood and emotion are also important contributors to the sensation of déjà vu. We need the right combination of signals, not just the layout of a scene but how we feel at the time, to believe something is familiar when really it is not.
The entire article's well worth a read.

worst-case scenario

David Goldstein outlines the scary no-new-taxes budget coming out next week:

Mar 24, 2009

Discover Card is making me angry

I've been a Discover Card holder for a decade now, mostly happy with the service. All my gas purchases go on the card, for a hefty 5% rebate each month. Five percent is nice. (Spend it on a Borders gift certificate and it's 6%. Even nicer.)

Tonight I call to activate two "new" cards. The automated system takes all my info, and I reach the final choice: "Press 1 to activate another card; press 2 to finish." Can't I just hang up? Weird... But I press 2 and hold my breath.

After a couple rings, a voice. "First and last name please.... thank you... 3-digit number on the back of the card... thank you." Great. So now I'm verifying the information I already entered. Second red flag.

"Okay, Mr. Anderson. I see you've been with Discover for ten years--thank you for your business. I also see you have a large reward headed your way. Do you understand how to request it?" After ten years, I'd better, I think, but only say "Yes."

"Excellent. You're also eligible for a double Cashback bonus on all home improvement purchases in April, Mr. Anderson, and I'll send you a letter with the details." Whatever, it's your stamp. "And I'll also send you a packet of information about our Identity Theft Protection--with enrollment it's only $9.99."

Oh, no. Not again. A couple months ago I had to deal with this nonsense: Discover employee talks about the program, says they will send info, adding some ambiguous phrase about enrollment costs, only on the next month's statement, you discover--that, my friends, is a world-class pun--that you've been charged ten bucks for merely acquiescing to what you thought was just an information packet.

I cut off the rep. "No thanks--I'm not happy with the fact that you're preemptively enrolling me in something I don't want."

Though she doesn't dispute the claim, she fights back anyway. "But it's a great service that--"

"It may well be. But I've been a member for a decade and I think I'd know if I wanted that service by now."

"But a lot of people don't know about the option--"

Boy, is she persistent. So am I. "That's nice. I do. And all I wanted from this phone call was to activate my new cards."

That shuts her down, and the call ends after fifteen seconds of formal non-conversation. As I set down the receiver, I imagine her sighing and muttering about how she's just doing her job and reading some stupid script, or maybe she's being chewed out by some smarmy middle manager for failing to hook another customer, or maybe she's blithely on to the next sales pitch, just another cog in the factory churning out canned bullshit.

Discover Card folks, if you're out there, care to tell me why you're treating long-time customers this way?

Mar 23, 2009

Japan defeats South Korea in an instant Classic

I'm glad I was able to make it back from tonight's staff development / cult recruitment in time to watch Japan edge out South Korea in a hard-fought contest. There's something magical about a stadium rocking with baseball fans--truly insane, be-costumed fanatics--in March.

I hope the World Baseball Classic can work out its kinks, which mostly involve coddling Major Leaguers, and eventually become the true World Series. (We can rename the World Series the Professional Championship of Mostly American Franchises With an Increasingly International Flavor.) Maybe someday, after the Mayan Calendar expires, we'll all live together in perfect post-apocalyptic harmony and settle our global differences on the diamond.

P.S. Oh, and why would you pitch to Ichiro with runners in scoring position in the top of the tenth? The guy's sworn mission is to triumph over the South Koreans. (It's why I picked Japan to beat the U.S. in the semifinal.)

P.P.S. The wife, looking up from her novel about 9:43 p.m. PST: "Oh, it's over, Japan wins." Except it's an hour early--and a clip from 2006. Good predicting, though.

RIF option on the table for Olympia School District

Anyone who's been following this year's state budget implosion will have seen this coming. The Olympia School District is investigating a RIF process as a way to balance the budget in the face of declining revenue, an email from the District's HR Director Beth Scouller reports.
This evening at the Board of Director's meeting, the Board of Directors will be asked to approve Resolution 451. This resolution directs the Superintendent to recommend a reduced education plan, including a reduced staffing plan, for the 2009-2010 school year. As required by state law, such action is necessary when the District does not anticipate the financial resources to maintain programs and services at the present levels.

At this time it is unfortunate that the District does not know the extent of the impact on District revenues due to our current state and national economic situation. Although we are hopeful that cuts and reductions will be minimal, the District is preparing for a reduction-in-force in case deep cuts to programs, staff and services become necessary.

Appendix A in the OEA/OSD Bargaining Agreement addresses the specific steps and processes for a reduction in our certificated staff. Please feel free to contact your OEA building representative, OEA President, or me if you have questions regarding the language or process of a District reduction in force. At this time, no reduction-in-force (RIF) notices are being prepared. You will continue to receive communication from me as we move through this process.
I couldn't make the meeting, so I don't know what action has been taken on the resolution. (My guess is they passed it; the RIF process isn't binding, but it's necessary to make any future cuts.) I'll post an update when I know for sure.

Seven years of teaching in the district; three RIFs, potentially. I'm not the albatross, am I?

First Update: Perusing the minutes, it appears the resolution was presented for first reading, which means it wouldn't be approved until the next meeting, April 20th. I'll update again when the podcast is posted and I can have a listen. (If you were there, feel free to comment. The Olympian--which we should now refer to as The Tacoma News-Extension--isn't much help today.)

Second Update: I spoke with a source in the District who noted that I-728 funds are potentially going to be axed by the State. The District employs 50 teachers using these funds, which would not only necessitate a RIF process, but likely deep cuts in other programs as well. One thing is certain: class sizes will be larger next year.


You are allowed only one neo- per noun.

[via Mark Frauenfelder of BoingBoing]

419 for the 411

Teaching a little lesson on critical thinking and reading for information, I had students skim over a 419 scam email, without telling them its nature, and had them highlight the passages that would help them answer the question, "Is this a good deal?" We discussed what we'd highlighted, and then I told them to use a different color to mark any "red flags." (I was amazed at how many had never heard the idiom.)

Finally, the jig was up, and I told them that I'd received the spam in my email that morning, and that it was a complete and total fraud. Some of them were glad to have their suspicions confirmed, while others were totally shocked that someone could lie so blatantly in an email. In the end, the lesson worked on two levels: as a way to focus their reading, and as a way to keep them from losing big bucks to a crafty sleazeball.

If only this U.S. attorney had taken my class.

Mar 22, 2009

let my yes be no

Earlier this year, I volunteered to observe teachers at other schools. We ended up visiting North Thurston High School, Bush Middle School, and Reeves Middle School, watching a variety of classes and teaching styles. The experience was so useful and invigorating that I volunteered to lead another team of observers. And then, flush with leadership, I volunteered to undergo "Professional Learning Community" training--although, despite the wishes of some, not in order to become a principal.

Four sessions at the ESD, three hours each. My calendar could fit four sessions, but it turns out the PLC training is actually six sessions long.

Thus, if you have a favor to ask of me, do me a favor and don't.

sweet 16: an NCAA bracket poem in sixteen lines

Old Father Gumption and his mistress, Lady Luck, have together whittled the NCAA bracket down to sixteen. Eight games arrive Thursday and Friday. Only poetry can provide a prediction of the outcome. Poetry with YouTube links, that is.

2009 Sweet 16 Bracket Prediction Poem

Forget the past. '08 is just a memory.
Mizzou falls to the cats from Memphis, Tennessee.

Sorry, Purdue. You beat Huskies from Washington,
But Calhoun earns top dollar, so your time is done.

Xavier, in a down year, brought back super yields,
Until the crash. Meet Tyrell Biggs and Levance Fields.

The Pope declares: hatred of Duke is not a sin.
Duke gets the calls, no doubt. But 'Nova gets the win.

Gonzaga brings their A-game against UNC;
The spirits forecast Heytvelt over Psycho-T.

The Orangemen hope to dominate Blake Griffin's squad,
However, sadly, nothing rhymes with Devendorf.

The Arizona Wildcats--only 12th seed left--
Will take the game from Louisville. A major theft.

Lastly: this year's Kansas takes on Izzo's crew.
'08 is just a memory. Winner: MSU.

an Orwellian nightmare compliments of the Blackberry Curve

Q: What if delivery people ran the world?

A: 1984, plus a few dings, dents, and scratches.

Mar 21, 2009

how Nestle Toll House Milk Chocolate Morsels nearly ruined my birthday

Mom made two batches of Nanaimo bars for my 30th birthday. Below is how they're supposed to look, fresh outta the oven. Notice the smooth, glistening chocolate topping. Heaven on earth.

And this is how they look if you should mistakenly use Nestle Toll House milk chocolate morsels. Lumpy, chunky, grainy. Gross.

Thank goodness Mom made two batches.

are snowstorms ethical?

Great headline from the Times: "Mayor wants ethics review on snowstorms."

I read it, but I don't get it

The title of this post is stolen from one of the best books any English teacher (or any secondary teacher, for that matter) can buy. I thought of Tovani's classic while attempting to read this paper [pdf], offered as "homework" by blog-neighbor Mark Olson. Here's a sample:
If either one of these functions, say θF/a , is influenced by some information that is free in the above sense (i.e., not a function of A’s choice of directions and events F-earlier than that choice),then there must be an an earliest (“infimum”) F-time t0 after which all such information is available to a. Since the non-free information is also available at t0, all these information bits, free and non-free, must have a value 0 or 1 to enter as arguments in the function θF/a . So we regard a’s response as having started at t0.
You can be the world's most competent reader--me--and still have no idea what you're reading, if you lack the requisite background knowledge.

math WASL: one and done?

If Governor Gregoire signs HB 1562, students who fail the math WASL wouldn't have to keep taking it and taking it. Instead, they'd have to earn at least two more math credits during their high school career.
"To me, it makes perfect sense rather than retaking the WASL," said Jean Lane, Richland School District superintendent.

What students need if they're failing the 10th-grade math test is more math education, not more testing, she said.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn has proposed phasing in a replacement for the WASL that would be less on general knowledge and instead test students at the end of a course on knowledge they gained in that class.

Dorn spokesman Nathan Olson said that form of assessment should be in place by 2013, when the proposed law would expire.
Why change things now?
Ron Williamson, assistant superintendent for secondary education for the Kennewick School District, said dropping the requirement to retake the test in 11th and 12th grades would cut down on confusion.

"From a school perspective and a parent perspective, this probably helps because there is so much information about the WASL and the changing requirements that parents get mixed signals," he said.
So another change will help cut down the confusion caused by all the changes.


Update: She signed it.

Mar 20, 2009

for the love of the Olympia School District

If you in any way care about the future of the Olympia School District, I urge you to take the ten minutes to fill out the 2009-2010 Budget Survey. It's not difficult, and if it helps set better priorities for spending, then it's well worth the time.

Below are the really tricky questions. What are your crazy/brilliant ideas? Share them!

Mar 19, 2009

Shakespeare's identity determined once and for all

Move over, Edward de Vere's moldering corpse. Can it, Francis Bacon's ghost. It is quite possible that a famed Shakespeare portrait is actually an image of Sir Thomas Overbury. Obviously, we would deduce from this the ineluctable truth that Overbury was in fact Shakespeare.

fashion rules for teachers and school administrators

Ignore these at your peril, teachers and administrators.

Compliments of an office student aide.
1. No dress shirts / ties with cargo pants.

2. NO cowboy boots under any circumstances.

3. No navy blue + black together.

4. NO school fleece vest with nice clothes.

5. No "Ferrari" shoes.

6. NO purple velvety shirts. EVER.

7. No tucking your glasses into your shirt!
Thankfully, I have never violated any of these. Nor been tempted to.

Mar 18, 2009

it's not a debate if you don't invite actual debaters

This sounds like quality television--which is to say, horrifyingly, shockingly bad debate:
The debate over whether Satan exists is hardly going to be settled in a 30-minute television show.

But that's not stopping a rather curious lineup from debating that question for ABC's "Nightline."

The debaters: megachurch Pastor Mark Driscoll of Seattle; alternative-medicine author Deepak Chopra; a former Las Vegas escort who founded Hookers for Jesus; and a former Pentecostal preacher who was branded a heretic for saying everyone — not just Christians — could go to heaven.
This is why the word "stultifying" was invented. Says the producer:
"We went for the most interesting voices we could find," Goldston said.
Really? Hugo Chavez wasn't available?

guest blogger offers Neg arguments for vigilantism resolution

Guest-blogger and frequent commentator comakid has graciously offered to share some favorite Neg arguments on the vigilantism resolution. I edited lightly, mostly for spelling.
It's rather hard to write this, because I didn't really have a "set," pre-written case; on the neg, I found it more useful to go through my opponent's arguments one-by-one. I (and my judges, apparently) liked the extreme amount of clash.

On the other hand, I did have my favorite arguments, so I'll post the ones that make it nigh impossible for the affirmative to win.

My bias is a Policy background; I debate based on what outcome will be best. That means I tend to go for reductio ad absurdum and other stuff. Also, empirical examples make or break the round; reality always overrides theory.

Here we go:

I negate the resolution, Resolved: Vigilantism is justified when the government has failed to enforce the law.


Should be easy to defend. Yes, that IS a Hobbesian state of nature I'm referring to.

Value Criterion: Obviously, Governmental Legitimacy. I usually referenced the need for a federal monopoly of violence (thanks Jim!).

Here are my favorite contentions/ideas that I used during the round; they're solid.

Zero: Effort
Vigilantism is a short-term solution; my opponent can agree that a long-term application of vigilantism in any situation wouldn't solve crime, as violence perpetuates violence. Also, such a system would depend on vigilantism ALWAYS being morally correct and perfect, and at that point, there's no need for law or government anyway, since individuals would be... Christ-like, apparently. Ignoring that line of argumentation, the only real solution would be to put effort into rebuilding a NEW government or REFORMING the old one. Otherwise, you undermine the government's ability to rule, and we fall into a Hobbesian state of nature.

One: Naturalistic Fallacy
The resolution states that the government only needs to fail to enforce the law to justify vigilantism. But, is vigilantism justified when the law isn't good? My opponent has assumed that all laws are good and righteous, when I can easily point out such things as Jim Crow laws. Does my opponent REALLY want to stoop to that level? If he does, then:
A) He agrees the government doesn't have to support Jim Crow laws.
Oh, then all laws aren't justified then. And, therefore, vigilantism isn't justified (sometimes) when the government fails to enforce the law. That's conditional affirmation. He loses.
B) She says that a vigilante wouldn't support such laws.
My opponent fails to take groups like the KKK into consideration.
C) She finally admits that such laws would have to be enforced, for whatever reason.
My opponent has no moral standing. She's freely advocating, at this point, a government that freely abuses and dehumanizes certain members of society. And, at that point, there's no point in the law for those members of society; (and, by now, your opponent has probably turned her whole case around. You can say why vicious racism is wrong, right?)
D) He says Jim Crow laws don't count; I need a broader view.
How about China's One-Child policy? Should vigilantes enforce THAT law if the government fails to do so? It gets worse and worse from here on out.

Two: Social Contract Theory (don't bring up the word: "Hobbes")
A government's job is to represent the people's best interests; the reason we concede power to it is because it NEEDS that power to protect our interests. Therefore, we also put power into the GOVERNMENT to decide when and where to enforce the law. It is not the right of the people to choose when and where to support the government's decision; otherwise, my opponent is directly choosing a state of nature, with no government. I already said why that's bad; that's why peace is my value.

Three: Overkill (My fav.)
Killing shoplifters.

What? Not enough?

Okay. Obviously, the resolution has stated that the "jury" part of due process has failed to work. I'm fine with that; it's the single advantage (for all intents and purposes) that the affirmative has. The other part of due process is the punishment. The resolution only says that vigilantism is justified; we have no clue what such a person could do. Let's say the government decides that a shoplifter (a single mother in poverty) doesn't have to pay a fine or spend jail time. At that point, the government has failed to enforce the law. Let's say Joe Brown, our vigilante, comes up and brutally murders the girl to "enforce" the law.

Even better, one opponent said that vigilantes could simply "imprison" bad people. That brings vivid images of poor shoplifters in basements, chained to a wall for months, maybe years, all across the nation... yuck. Clearly, there's no philosophical basis for this argument, but I (and my judges) liked it.

Mar 17, 2009

bracket, buster

1. Do not pick UNC to win it all.

2. Do not choose victors based on mascot battles.

3. This year, ignore the 12-5 upset.

4. Forget everything I just said.

5. If you plan to train monkeys to throw darts at your NCAA tournament bracket, make sure that they are Velcro darts.

That is the sum of my NCAA bracket wisdom for the year.

Mar 16, 2009

breaking news: CHS may now stay open in light snow

This just in from the boss:
Today Tim Byrne worked with the city and reached an agreement that we could hold school at Capital with more than a dusting of snow on our roof. School will be closed if there is more than two inches of snow.
In March, what are the chances?

(Please don't answer that question. Thanks.)

guest blogger on Locke and vigilantism

As a dissenting view to my recent post on Locke versus the vigilante, I offer the thoughts of Sharry Grewal, this year's Ohio State OHSSL champion. The words are hers, slightly edited by me.
First, actually read the Second Treatise by Locke. If you do, you will find valuable info for the Aff.

In my first contention, I argued that when the government fails to enforce its laws, that state is considered dissolved and society is in the state of nature. I had a quote from Locke supporting this. The quote ended with "and the people are at liberty to provide for themselves."

In my second contention, I argued that the right to punish criminals is a natural right. I had a quote from Locke that said that in the state of nature, vigilantism was needed to enforce natural law, and was a right of all men. I then argued that any right that someone had in the state of nature was a natural right. It is important to note that the right to enforce natural law and punish criminals is the only one that individuals give up when the state is formed. However, when the state dissolves, as in C1, individuals can reclaim this right.

In my third contention, I argued that vigilantism provided the necessary enforcement of natural law to protect the community. I had excellent anthropological evidence of this (from a cross-cultural study) from Dr. Ray Abrahams. Three overarching patterns that Abrahams found: 1. Vigilantism is a frontier phenomenon; occurs in areas where a weak state has a large power vacuum. 2. Vigilantes tend to protect, rather than violate property rights. 3. Vigilantes tend to reduce chaos.

On to the Negative. I took the standard, yet persuasive procedural justice angle here, as well as a disproportionate punishments angle. I proved that disproportionate punishments were inherent to vigilantism because 1. vigilantes had a mob mentality and 2. they let their emotions, rather than a desire for justice take over.

In rebuttals for the negative, I established that vigilantism wasn't needed in the state of nature, because in the state of nature, cooperation would occur. This was established through a Robert Axelrod card. I then gave an excellent statistic to prove this. Out of 196 countries, only 15 are currently at war. I also gave examples of this on the national level. 1. When Fransisco Franco lost authority in 1936, groups of workers in cities. 2. Since 1991, the private sector of Somalia has very little crime rate because its citizens have cooperated. I then claimed advantages of this by saying that cooperation would bring about the re-establishment of the state. I proved that the Aff destroyed this cooperation by locking society into an endless cycle of violence, and consequently, into a state of fear. Whenever an Aff claimed that I wasn't allowing criminals to be punished, I responded that individuals who refused to cooperate will be ostracized (this included criminals and non criminals, so it wasn't vigilantism). Example: economic sanctions on the international arena. I then pointed out that very little crime would occur as a result of the fact that individuals feared reciprocity (if I don't cooperate with you now, you won't cooperate with me in the future) and had a sense of duty to the community. I always was able to extend the international anarchic arena statistic to prove that very little crime/conflict would occur.
Thought-provoking all around. Thanks for sharing, Ms. Grewal.

today's don't links

1. Don't set goals. [via ALDaily]

2. Don't rely on eyewitness testimony.

3. Don't mourn for the WASL.

4. Don't sit in traffic.

5. Don't mess with Perry Mason. [via Obscure Store]

6. Don't trust anyone over 30.

LD mailbag: the vigilante and the social contract

A reader writes,
I was hoping to run an Aff with Justice as the Value and Locke's Social Contract as the Criterion.

Upon researching a bit more, however, it does become clear that Locke would have been against vigilantes. Is there a way to modify Locke or simply use a generic 'social contract' criterion on the Aff side without getting rocked?
As I (and others) have mentioned elsewhere, classical approaches to the social contract are difficult for the affirmative. Locke disapproves. Hobbes wouldn't countenance it. Rousseau is anyone's guess.

Does that mean the Affirmative has no place to go?

Not quite.

Often in LD debate, competitors name-drop any of the Big Three without fully understanding the nuances in their positions. While this might make them seem well-researched, it can backfire, as a better-informed opponent can point out weaknesses in that philosopher's theory of the contract--or a judge, familiar with the philosopher, will set teeth on edge when hearing his work mangled.

This doesn't have to happen. Why use any of these particular theories when a more generic perspective will suffice? And why rely on crusty dead guys for your contractual logic? This is the beauty of LD: you are allowed to state your own premises and draw your own conclusions. A good argument is a good argument no matter who says it, and anyone who says otherwise is walking head-on into a trap called ad hominem.

For inspiration on the general theory underlying Social Contract thought, a good place to head is the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, which distinguishes two major strains: contractarianism and contractualism.
Contractarianism, which stems from the Hobbesian line of social contract thought, holds that persons are primarily self-interested, and that a rational assessment of the best strategy for attaining the maximization of their self-interest will lead them to act morally (where the moral norms are determined by the maximization of joint interest) and to consent to governmental authority. Contractarianism argues that we each are motivated to accept morality, as Jan Narveson puts it, "first because we are vulnerable to the depredations of others, and second because we can all benefit from cooperation with others" (1988, 148). Contractualism, which stems from the Kantian line of social contract thought, holds that rationality requires that we respect persons, which in turn requires that moral principles be such that they can be justified to each person. Thus, individuals are not taken to be motivated by self-interest but rather by a commitment to publicly justify the standards of morality to which each will be held. Where Gauthier, Narveson, or economist James Buchanan are the paradigm Hobbesian contractarians, Rawls or Thomas Scanlon would be the paradigm Kantian contractualists.
Once you've chosen your foundation, you'll have to set about showing why the Social Contract produces a legitimate government (or achieves justice or social stability or welfare or whatever your value is), why the government's failure to enforce the law is interpreted as a breakdown in the Contract, and why the vigilante is therefore justified in taking the law into her own hands. It will probably take you a couple pages to hash everything out--and when you're done, you'll have a completed Affirmative case.

A few things to watch out for: a savvy Neg may argue that the law is not The Contract--which is technically true. You might want to pre-empt this by arguing that it doesn't matter; failure to enforce the law perpetuates social disorder, and is a widespread failure of the government to uphold its end of the bargain. Vigilantism, then, is justified for either of two reasons: for the same reason revolution is justified, or for propping up the State.

Also, a great way to get the Negative to agree to the Contract as a valid criterion for justice (if that's your value--which might be a good idea) is to ask a great CX question: What gives the State the right to punish criminals? Chances are their answer will dovetail nicely with your contractarian / contractualist view. If not, you can hammer 'em in your 1AR for failing to warrant the State's legitimacy versus that of the vigilante.

Last, a deontoloigcally-minded Affirmative might be on more solid ground, simply because the bar for justification is set a little lower. We don't have to argue that vigilantism is smart or best for society, only that it's justified. To the deontologist, that means, quite simply, that it's morally right. End of story.

Mar 15, 2009

a little dose of tacky

Patterns are staid, conservative even. Except when they arrive from the 70s via a time warp.

This beauty, when seen from a distance, is an explosion of pastels, but up close is reminiscent of Rothko--if Rothko had tuned in, turned on, and dropped out. (Oh, wait--he did!)

[Photos cross-posted here.]

the YouTube symphony of funk

Had to pass this along: "the mother of all funk chords." Not just a great musical mashup, but a cleverly edited visual display as well. Outstanding all-around.

[Via BoingBoing's Mark Frauenfelder.]

last stop on Jim Cramer's media circuit

Word is, Jim Cramer is going to be appearing on this blog sometime soon to offer perfunctory apologies, unctuous self-pity, and a few stock tips.

Mar 14, 2009

king of Extemp Prep

You think you know everything there is to know about running extemp prep, but every tournament is going to present its own unique challenges.

Today, for example, at the Washington State IE Tournament, I was asked at 7:39 if I could run the extemp room, starting at 8:00. Sure, I said. What I didn't know: the usual location, a lecture hall, was take up by some kind of conference, so all 60-odd extempers and their massive tubs of evidence were crammed into one tiny, echo-y classroom upstairs. Luckily another was available across the hall, so I split 3A and 4A in two, figuring I could monitor both groups pretty easily.

But there still wasn't enough space. One team camped out in the hall for the first round. It wasn't working. Eventually we cleared a third classroom next door, so in all, I'm running three prep rooms at the same time.

I'm amazed it's working.

Mar 13, 2009

vigilantism in various ethical perspectives

Joe Nusz of The Debate Files has written a few articles on the vigilantism resolution, analyzing it from a couple different ethical perspectives. (Each of his links below points to a longer piece in PDF form.)

To Nusz's take on the Big Three Social Contract positions (Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau), I would add that Hobbes' position, though strongest for the Negative, also puts the Neg in the bind of defending a form of sovereignty that contemporary folk find unappealing. Thus, Locke is probably the best option for the Neg, since his theory of the contract is less autocratic, yet his condemnation of vigilantism is unequivocal.

Nusz also introduces the philosophy of Bernard Williams (for advanced debaters, I'd say), and discusses good ol' Immanuel Kant. Whether you're looking for a new direction or a classic approach, there's something there for you.

roof collapse leads to mysterious Public Records Request

This crawled into my email inbox this afternoon, via Peter Rex, the communications guru for the Olympia School District:
Earlier this week, we received a public records request for any documents, emails, reports or correspondence related to the roof collapse at Capital High School. Under state law, citizens have the right to request any document that we produce as public employees. Failure to comply with the request can lead to significant financial penalties for the District.

The request is for any emails, reports, correspondence or other documents that you have relating to the roof collapse for the period of January 8 through March 10, 2009....

I would like to have all documents to me no later than Tuesday, March 31st so I can process them and run any questions I have by our legal counsel.

I understand that this is an inconvenience and not the most productive use of your time, but I do appreciate your cooperation. Call me if you have any questions.

Thank you.
I have reviewed the (very few) emails I sent about the collapse. They are uniformly boring.

I'd love to know what the request is about, but I'm willing to live in suspense for now.

Bonus: Read the latest info on the collapse here [pdf].

Mar 12, 2009

Syracuse wins in six (count 'em) overtimes

They nearly won in regulation on a miraculous last-second three that left Eric Devendorf's fingertips less than a tenth of a second after the clock stopped. They never led in overtime until the sixth extra frame. At long last, though, Syracuse defeated UConn, both teams down to their second- and third-stringers in a bedraggled marathon of a game, as exhausting as it was exciting.

Johnny Flynn played the whole game, yet still had enough oxygen in his lungs and his brain to provide a quick interview at 1:25 in the morning, smiling all the while. Incredible.

Syracuse plays West Virginia tomorrow night. Provided they can still play.

questions people ask about calcium

1. Am I getting enough calcium in my diet soda?
2. Does calcium play a role in global warming?
3. What pop songs mention calcium?
4. What is the Japanese word for calcium deposits on your gums?
5. Does the IRS offer a calcium tax deduction?
6. How many people work on a calcium ranch?
7. Is my region threatened by the rise in calcium-related violence?
8. Will calcium increase in value in the fiscal quarter?
9. Who loves calcium more: Democrats or Republicans?
10. Calcium: overrated?

[160th in a series]

Mar 11, 2009

the anecdote thief

A true story.

Another "snow load day" meant we were done at ten in the morning. I graded papers and worked on planning for a few hours. When hunger struck, I stowed my gear and headed out to the car, figuring I'd sit down for lunch before leaving for the afternoon's debate tournament.

Briefcase on the back seat. Key in the ignition. Cold hands. Gloves? Where were my gloves? Must've left 'em in the classroom. As I headed back, I thought, Might as well see who's still around. M.'s still here. He'll want to grab a bite, too.

He was sitting at his computer, finishing a sack lunch and chatting with a colleague. "If you'd been here five minutes ago," he said when I asked. "Good idea, though." Just then the intercom squawked, Free pizza is available in the staff lounge in five minutes. The three of us looked at each other, and there was immediate tacit agreement. We stood up together.

Along the way, I mentioned to M. the accidental nature of my visit, how this whole thing hinged on forgotten gloves. "That's funny," he said. "It reminds me of a story Z. told me about this one time when he found a bottle cap by the school, and through a long chain of delays caused by stopping to pick it up, he eventually was in a car accident."

"M," I said, "You mean, a story I told you. That's my story."

"You're joking, right?" he said. "Z. told me that. I remember it perfectly. I'm absolutely certain."

"But it's my story," I said, and commenced to run down every last detail: the yellow "Lucky 20" Pepsi cap on the ground, the moment of indecision where I saw the cap but wondered if it was worth it to stoop and examine it, after all, who would leave a winning cap on the ground?, the second it took me to cave to curiosity, the surprise and elation at the triumph, the drive across town, the concatenation of events that would precipitate the accident, the crash, the frantic ex-con driving his parole officer's Taurus, and my successful attempt to talk him down from a hit-and-run. Contingency.

"Wow," M. said. "But Z's been telling it like it belongs to..." He trailed off.

I made the inference. "Stealing my anecdote. An anecdotal plagiarist."

We stopped outside the copy room, the back way to the staff lounge. "I don't know what to say," M. said.

"I can't believe that about Z.," I said. "It must be your memory. You've conflated Z.'s story with my story. That happens all the time. Z.'s not like that. He's a good guy. I refuse to believe that Z. would do that."

M., a reasonable man, granted it was indeed possible, but said he was still sure Z. had hijacked my anecdote. Our mutual colleague noted that the pizza was going to be cold by the time we finally got there, so we dropped the subject and continued on our mission. Cold, it turns out, was an optimistic assessment. We arrived to see the box opening and the pizza disappearing within seconds.

Once again, contingency ruled. At least this time I didn't have a totaled car.

Disappointed, we split up, and my hunger nagged louder and louder. Disregarding it for a moment, on the way back to my car, I stopped by my classroom to find the wayward gloves that started my trek to the precipice of misanthropy. Nowhere to be found. Had they been.... Students were milling around after class.... But again I refused to consider the worst case. I gave up looking and went to lunch, marveling at the thought that someone could possibly steal an anecdote, or, worse, believe that someone had actually done so.

Oh, and the gloves? They were in my briefcase the whole time.

American shibboleth


Seer-up or surr-up?

your lying shoulders

I've been teaching my students about the value of posture, eye contact, gestures, and other nonverbal signals. About four minutes into this hilariously tragic segment by Jon Stewart and the crack research team* at The Daily Show, Jim Cramer (he of "Mad Money") begs viewers to buy Bear Stearns. Watch his body language. Cramer's slumping shoulders and wayward irises are hallmark symptoms of a bullshitter dubious of his own bullshit.

*You've been warned.

Mar 10, 2009

Barack Obama hearts merit pay

Perhaps as a way to help Americans escape from their economic nightmares, Obama's talking about merit pay. It's working.
In his first major speech on education, Obama said the United States must drastically improve student achievement to regain lost international standing.

"The future belongs to the nation that best educates its citizens," he said. "We have everything we need to be that nation ... and yet, despite resources that are unmatched anywhere in the world, we have let our grades slip, our schools crumble, our teacher quality fall short and other nations outpace us."

His solutions include teacher pay and charter school proposals that have met resistance among members of teachers unions, which constitute an important segment of the Democratic Party.
I am--gulp--a union member who sees room in educational compensation for merit pay. I know this means coming out of a closet of sorts, but if research connects teacher quality to student achievement, and teacher longevity to competitive compensation, then some reasonable form of merit pay combines the best of both worlds.

What I haven't seen is a merit pay scheme that is truly fair. I can't see any worthwhile use of test scores. For example, as a high school teacher with two vastly different sets of classes--say, two periods Remedial Math and three periods AP Calculus--then roughly 60% of my performance is not directly comparable to the other 40%. Furthermore, I'm standing on the shoulders--or running with the parachutes--of 10 or more elementary and middle school teachers.

Show me a sophisticated metric to fairly compensate performance, Obama team, and I'll be on board.

Until then, I'll remain cautious, optimistic, and--yep--hopeful.

(Charter schools? Evidence of their success is pretty thin. But I'm open to persuasion.)

Olympia nerds talk politics, Twitter

I'm sitting in the Fish Tale with the bloggers from Olympia Time, Oly Ost, and einmaleins (that's Emmett, Mark, and Mathias, if you didn't know). We're talking about the upcoming elections this fall--City Council mostly, with a little School Board--and figuring out how to use all the digital tools at our disposal to not only supplant The Olympian's local coverage, but provide a virtual forum for more and more residents to actually involve themselves in the conversation.

I am learning the actual--no, really--utility of Twitter.

It scares me.

a random Olympia afternoon

nationalizing banks the curriculum

These days, everybody's talking about nationalizing banks. What many are missing: the nationalization of American education.
I encourage you to go have a look at what people are posting...because I get the impression that this discussion isn't going to subside anytime soon. If anything, we're just at the beginning of this rhetoric...and perhaps not too far from words becoming actions.
I'm not terribly afraid of national standards designed by experts in assessment and instruction. (Call them... teachers.) I am wary though, of national standards dictated by politicians, textbook makers, ed-school "theorists," corporations, lobbyists, and the like.

I disagree with The Science Goddess only slightly: though there's been a recent uptick in national standards rhetoric, this blog predicted its rise over two years ago. It's one of the ironic legacies of the No Child Left Behind Act, which only went partway, allowing states to maintain their own standards, one of the reasons for the act's failure. Now, we're clawing our way out by reaching for a French-made rope.

L'école Américaine normalisée. Bush, père.

I learned it in Student Congress: part V

On average, five hours of scoring and acting as parliamentarian of Student Congress translates into at least three weeks of education. What, though, are the lessons?

time passes faster than you think
"Go back to World War I. When that ended, the Depression hit."

make up any word you want
"...when scouted by college scouters..."
"...ethnical backgrounds..."
"We can't afford populizing Mars."

algae-farming is a "more better alternative"
"It's probably healthier than harvesting oil."

there's no accounting for taste
"We don't eat algae--at least, I don't."

petroleum gets tired, too
"All the oil is exhaling..."

coal plants don't, in fact, exist
"The electricity, you're just gathering it from the power grid. You don't have to burn anything."

we have heretofore unknown cosmic allies
"If we could join with two or three space countries..."

people can be offended by surprising things
"To 'terraform'--if you don't mind me using that word..."

sometimes the obvious is not so obvious
"Micro-organisms are not quite on the same level as humans."

hope lies around the corner
"Because our world is already crap, we have to find some way to evolve from that."

and finally, believe in what you believe
"I am a believer in firm affirmation of this bill."

more CHS StuCo success

Last night, Jesse Noviello made Capital proud by earning First Alternate in the Senate at our district NFL qualifier. For those keeping track, that means CHS has one team definitely going to nationals in Birmingham, and two alternates. (I'm secretly hoping for two more snow days--like today--because if that happens, I won't have to miss any finals.)

And yes, this means I'll be sharing the collective wisdom of the Congress in my next post.

Mar 9, 2009

vampires and zombies and...

An Italian researcher thinks he's found a vampire skeleton, and zombies have cell phone networks and banks under their control, and cannibal planets roam free in our galaxy, and chimps have gone beyond spontaneous outbursts to actually plotting strikes against human targets...

We must be only weeks away from the apocalypse.

jamming cell phones at school is just plain stupid

Mount Spokane High School is trying to jam cell phone signals.

This is foolish for two reasons.

1. Students aren't the only ones at school using cell phones.

2. Cell phone abuse is a management issue. If a teacher can't keep students from texting during class, they're not really trying.

school canceled at CHS again

We made it through two periods before the City said "enough." An inch of wet snow, with more on the way, means that we're out until tomorrow. Of course, with potential record lows tonight and tomorrow, and more of God's dandruff in the forecast, we'll likely stay home on Tuesday.

Mar 7, 2009

learn a few new words

  • contradictal
  • fewly
  • historicallywise
Heard in a late Lincoln-Douglas debate round, yesterday evening.

They have an almost Shakespearean flavor. Use them often.

Birmingham bound

I'm proud to report that at this weekend's National Forensic League qualifier at Federal Way High School, Capital's public forum team, Vamsi Chunduru and Cameron Seib, went undefeated, earning a spot at the national tournament in Birmingham.

Congrats to both, and to Anthony Macuk, who ended up as the first alternate in LD.

Birmingham in June. Should be fun.

Mar 4, 2009

doodle your way to a better memory

Doodling isn't a distraction, it's a memory aid. Really:
40 members of the research panel of the Medical Research Council's Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit in Cambridge were asked to listen to a two and a half minute tape giving several names of people and places, and were told to write down only the names of people going to a party. 20 of the participants were asked to shade in shapes on a piece of paper at the same time, but paying no attention to neatness. Participants were not asked to doodle naturally so that they would not become self-conscious. None of the participants were told it was a memory test.

After the tape had finished, all participants in the study were asked to recall the eight names of the party-goers which they were asked to write down, as well as eight additional place names which were included as incidental information. The doodlers recalled on average 7.5 names of people and places compared to only 5.8 by the non-doodlers.

"If someone is doing a boring task, like listening to a dull telephone conversation, they may start to daydream," said study researcher Professor Jackie Andrade, Ph.D., of the School of Psychology, University of Plymouth. "Daydreaming distracts them from the task, resulting in poorer performance. A simple task, like doodling, may be sufficient to stop daydreaming without affecting performance on the main task."
I'm not surprised; in fact, I've asked students to doodle while I've read excerpts from essays or stories, since I found it allowed them to better concentrate on the task at hand. It's nice to have science backing me up.

[via Futurepundit and Instapundit]

narcissism is exhausting

I was dragged into Facebook by circumstance and the tide. And now Twitter, thanks to a certain friend who begged and begged.

Add that to the four blogs I consistently produce content for, not to mention my school blogs, and you can understand why I will automatically say "no" to any further social networking, and at the first hint of mental unhinging I will amputate Twitter.

Mar 3, 2009

a libertarian view of vigilantism

Examining the vigilantism resolution, blog-neighbor Jason Kuznicki has weighed in on the vigilantism resolution, offering a libertarian perspective--and a corrective to what he sees as a flawed understanding of the libertarian view. In a sample passage, Kuznicki considers whether the affirmative should look to the inverse of the resolution for inspiration.
It may therefore be worthwhile to turn matters around, and to ask whether we could defend the proposition “Vigilantism is never justified when the government has failed to enforce the law.”

Accepting this proposition would require a sort of legal quietism; we might be forbidden from ever enforcing laws ourselves, even in cases of revolution, civil disorder, or state collapse. Indeed, we might even be forbidden from forming a new government, at least as long as representatives or partisans of the old government were still committed to it. The right of revolution, particularly of revolution in the peaceful or conservative traditions, would be read out as well. This concedes an awful lot.
For the alternative--and for some interesting questions for the Negative to consider--read the whole thing.

vigilantism and evolution

Regarding the March/April vigilantism resolution, Peter Wall has posted a third entry in his wide-ranging study of vigilantism and the rule of law. In a central passage, he refers to the "evolutionarily stable strategies" noted by John Maynard Smith and Richard Dawkins:
Dawkins and Maynard Smith were, of course, talking about populations of animals whose organizational complexity is of a much lower order than that of humans, but I have long thought that if we could pull back law to expose its roots, we would find an ESS. In other words, we would find that human life cannot exist without the kind of widely agreed and consensual strategies for social organization and dispute resolution that typically fall within the realm of “law.” It is the combination of our consent and its function that makes it law, not the success of coercion to achieve security. Those are abstract ides that only make sense when, as people like Yoo argue, the institution of government is a good in itself, whose primary goal is its own self-maintenance. But government separated from the governed and given its own independent existence is like a train going off the tracks.

So what does all of this have to do with vigilantism?
You'll have to head over there to find out. (And you'll be glad you did.)

Mar 2, 2009

school board madness

Because sometimes it's the only sane thing to do.

modern vigilantes

Those looking for stories to match the March/April vigilantism resolution have plenty to choose from. Consider the experience of the Subway Vigilante, Bernie Goetz.
Bernhard Hugo Goetz, better known as Bernie Goetz, (born November 7, 1947) became a symbol of New Yorkers' frustrations with high crime rates when he shot four men intent on robbing him on the Seventh Avenue 2 express subway train in Manhattan in 1984. The incident sparked a nationwide debate on the issue of crime and self-defense.

In the incident, Goetz fired an unlicensed revolver five times, seriously wounding three of the would-be muggers and rendering the fourth a paraplegic. The unknown shooter, dubbed the "Subway Vigilante" by the New York press, was both exalted and vilified in the media and in public opinion.

Goetz surrendered to police nine days later and was eventually charged with attempted murder, assault, and reckless endangerment, as well as with several gun law violations. A Manhattan jury found him not guilty of all charges except a single gun law violation, for which he spent eight months in jail. Goetz and others have cited his actions as a contributing factor to the groundswell movement against urban crime and disorder in subsequent years.
More recently, Washington state's Tammy Gibson gained internet notoriety for beating a sex offender she had seen chatting with her teenage daughter--the summer before.
And even after her conviction Friday on assault charges, Tammy Gibson says she still has no remorse for what she did.

According to police documents, Level-3 sex offender William A. Baldwin had moved into his uncle's Puyallup home in early June. Following his move, Pierce County deputies distributed flyers around the neighborhood to alert residents of his presence.

On June 19th, Gibson, an area resident, went to Baldwin's house in the 1800 block of River Road and asked for him.

When Baldwin stepped outside, she claimed she was going to kill him because Baldwin had molested her children. Gibson then proceeded to hit Baldwin repeatedly with her bat, the document said, leaving him with an injured arm.

"I kept swingin' and swingin', and swingin'," Gibson told investigators.

Contrary to what she had said to Baldwin, Gibson later told investigators Baldwin had not molested her children.
Baldwin has since moved to Seattle. Asked if she'd handle it diferently if given another chance, Gibson said, "No, I'd do it again if not better." Her sentence: 90 days in jail.

Mar 1, 2009

that new tie smell

In the past few weeks, I've scored some new tacky ties, gifts guaranteed to beat depression, illness, and anomie.

At right, the classic "flying toasters" (with concomitant toast) get the neckwear treatment. More found here.


A while back I accused Microsoft Songsmith, a sort of karaoke-meets-instant-music-creator, of violating the Geneva Conventions. And that was before people started uploading their Songmsith versions of classic tunes to YouTube. (Strip the track down to the vocals, feed it into the program, and see what comes out.)

For instance, did you know that The Cars' "Just What I Needed" is a ballad?

The chord patterns matched by the program to the original vocals are, to put it charitably, interesting.

[via David Post]

welcome to March

February was weird. With all the interruptions in the schedule--due to the roof collapse back in January and the ongoing "snow load" shutdowns, as well as the President's Day holiday--we didn't have a single normal five-day week of school at CHS all month.

March offers my students a chance to get back to normal, provided that the recent flu outbreak that's sidelined at least 20% of them is finally on the wane. Normal--at least until the WASL arrives for the last time. My schedule reaches its commitment peak this month, with three weekends consumed by speech and debate, and another full of family celebrations.

In like a lion, they say.