Dec 31, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dec 30, 2009

school resource officer program saved

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

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

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

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

into the sunset

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

Dec 28, 2009

Terminator: Misdirection

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

Within two years, Skynet would perfect its technique.

Dec 25, 2009

Merry Christmas update

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7. Merry Christmas.

Dec 21, 2009

toward smarter teaching

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

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

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

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

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

Dec 17, 2009

an offer you should probably refuse

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

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

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

Dec 16, 2009

well, this is heartening

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

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

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

Either way, a tragedy might have been averted.

alternatives to economic sanctions

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

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

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

* Canceling ministerial and summit meetings with a target country;

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

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

* Blocking a target country from joining international organizations;

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

* Withholding foreign aid; and

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

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

Dec 15, 2009

Stephen Toulmin passes on

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

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

Dec 13, 2009

value and criterion pairs for the economic sanctions resolution

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

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

Trending Affirmative

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

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

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

Trending Negative

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

V: National Security or International Stability
C: Preserving Hegemony

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

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

Could Go Either Way

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

V: Peace
C: Pacifism or Isolationism

the eye of--and on--the storm

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

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

Dec 10, 2009

what rhymes with humbug?

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

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

Dec 8, 2009

LD mailbag: for the autodidact

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dec 7, 2009

education amputation

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

Dec 6, 2009

calculating the true costs of economic sanctions

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

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

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

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

Dec 3, 2009

a new tacky tie

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

Not any longer.

be afraid

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

Dec 2, 2009

do sanctions even work?

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

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

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

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

Dec 1, 2009

Iraq and the "terrible price" of sanctions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Iraq and the "terrible price" of sanctions.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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