Jan 31, 2009

run a smarter extemp prep room

So you've been asked to run extemp prep. It's daunting. You have to post panels (rooms and speaking order) and topics (three per speaker, every 7 minutes), move speakers around in panels when their debate rounds run late, and keep anxious novices quiet and sane. If you fail, the entire tournament will run late.

Here are some tips to help you not fail.

1. When extempers enter, have them sign in by circling the number next to their code. This lets you immediately know who's late, and, more important who can be moved around. This is the single smartest thing you can do, which is why I'm placing it first.

2. Necessary materials: dry erase board and markers, masking tape (clear tape is too tough to peel off surfaces), scissors, pens, paper, a timer or digital clock, a booming voice, patience.

3. Announce the rules before you start posting. Re-announce them when the tardy teams show up.

4. Keep the rules simple. I have three: no talking, no electronic devices (such as cell phones or iPods), do not leave without permission.

5. Convince tournament authorities to provide an extra half hour between the first A rounds, if they're running successively.

6. Bring something to read when the first three speakers have already left and the pace slows down.

7. Place topics in at least two locations, so you aren't gored to death in the onslaught when you post Speaker #1.

8. Remind students to double-check the posting before leaving.

9. Circulate around the room to check for chicanery.

10. Have a direct way to communicate with the tab room, either via walkie-talkie or cell phone. It may save your life.

11. Do all these things well, and you will be cursed by your success and asked to run extemp prep forever and ever amen.

Jan 30, 2009

surely the Second Coming is at hand

I wasn't aware that registration is part of the process, but I guess it makes sense.

Jan 29, 2009

listen to my advice

1. It's good.
2. It's often free.
3. It comes backed with the best warranty in the business.
4. It's honest.
5. It's safe.
6. It's delivered in a nonjudgmental manner.
7. It's friendly.

Seriously: listen to my advice. But first, listen.

Your most valuable adjective should be "coachable." Especially if I am the coach.

Jan 28, 2009

crrrrrazy ed reform in HB 1410

The WEA is steamed about HB 1410 (2009-10), all 111 ed-reforming pages of it. (Really. You want to read the entirety of the 111-page bill? Go right ahead [pdf].)

What has the WEA in a froth is, primarily, the bill's destruction of the state salary schedule. Adios, degree-based salary advancement (pp. 36ff):
The salary schedule shall not provide increased salaries based on continuing education credits or academic degrees.
No grandfathering, mind you, for the teachers who dutifully went along with the old ways, spending hours, days, weeks, months, or years of their time to get that master's (pp. 41ff):
(1) Certificated instructional staff whose first employment with a school district commenced before the 2012-13 school year have the option to make an irrevocable transfer to the compensation system with salary allocations provided under section 204 of this act....

(3) Any employee subject to this section who has not transferred to the new compensation system by November 15, 2021, shall be automatically transferred effective September 1, 2022.
So you've got ten years to milk that master's for all it's worth. Yet the bill makes it seem like the state is trying to model compensation after the wider professional world, including...
19 (a) Results of the preliminary labor market survey and analysis conducted under this section and other information about average salaries for noneducators in comparable occupations in Washington, including noneducators at the beginning of their careers and various types of educational staff associates working in noneducational settings;
Here's a tip: in other professions, advanced degrees mean a higher salary. Heck, many companies pay for their employees' schooling.

There's more, including a fun phrase, "academic watch," that turns the bill into a miniature NCLB Act, rubrics aplenty, "team-based bonuses," recommended class sizes, Core 24 and much, much more.

The bill's status: it's been sent to the Education Appropriations committee. Here are their phone numbers and emails. They met tonight for a public hearing at 6:00. I wasn't there.

I was too busy reading the bill.

Olympia's best appetizers

Belt-tightening times mean smaller portions. That doesn't mean you have to give up flavor, though, when you're dining in Olympia. (Was that sufficiently newspaperish? I fear for our local rag, and am practicing.)

In no particular order, some of Olympia's best side dishes and appetizers. Suggest your own in the comments!

hot and sour soup, Little Da Nang
Tofu, green onions, bamboo shoots, mushrooms, and more in a tangy, spicy broth. Pair it with the charbroiled pork sandwich, its perfect complement, for only $6.50.

beer-battered onion rings, Iron Rabbit
The best in town. Maybe the best in the state.

baked beans and potato salad, Ranch House BBQ
Why choose only one when you get at least two sides with every meal?

cheesy bread, Brewery City Pizza
With a little marinara on the side. Bring a couple friends, though. It's a big plate.

chips and salsa, Cancun Plaza
Chips are chips. But the salsas: an oniony concoction for bite, and a mild coleslaw for pizazz.

[Oh, and by "Olympia" I mean "The Greater Olympia Metroplex," including Oly, Lacey, and Tumwater.]

Jan 27, 2009

Capital closed again; I miss most of the fun

This morning, I went with a group of CHS teachers to observe at Bush Middle School in Tumwater. We braved the snow and ice to watch eighth-grade classes in action, unaware that our colleagues across town were ushering students out the door, starting at 9:30, when city inspectors declared a "live load" of snow made the building unsafe in certain areas.

Unsafe for students, at least. Our observations finished, we returned to campus for meetings and to finish out the contract day. My sub had a sweet gig: first period prep from 8:00-8:55, and 2nd period from 9:00 to 9:30. Not bad for a day's wages.

The Olympian sums up the state of affairs thusly:
On Monday night, Superintendent Bill Lahmann told the school board at its regular meeting that he plans to ask the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction to waive four of the five days that Capital was closed this month because of the roof collapse.

Lahmann said that the damage to the school's roof would be covered under Gov. Chris Gregoire's proclamation of an emergency because of the severe winter storm that began on Dec. 15.

The fifth missed day would be made up on March 6, which was scheduled to be a district-wide training day for teachers.

All the schools in the district will make up the three school days canceled just before winter break because of snow fall at the end of the year. Olympia's last day of school is scheduled to be June 18.
Now it's all up to Randy Dorn's crew. Hurrah!

Jan 25, 2009

the War on Drugs is rationally indefensible

After a long time thinking about it, and after reading Radley Balko's latest, I'm pretty much convinced that the War on Drugs is the United States' single greatest policy failure of the last half century.

Or, rephrasing the title of this post, the War on Drugs is indefensibly irrational.

Jan 24, 2009

the webbed tree of life

Taken tonight, as sleet combined with a bright light and curved branches to create a spiderweb-like tree--mere hours after I had read this article in NewScientist about how scientists are revising their view of life's ever-evolving web.

My wife and I share credit for the photo. I suggested the shot, while she braved the cold to set up the Gorillapod and Canon and take it.

no normal neckwear

Sometimes students ask, Don't you have any normal ties?

No. I don't.

[Originally posted here.]

Jan 23, 2009

more hard times coming

In today's email, teachers received news from Superintendent Bill Lahmann that the upcoming fiscal implosion at the state level is going to make recovery from our district's own turmoil that much harder.
The governor and state Legislature are facing a shortfall for the 2009-2011 state budget of about $6 billion, and it is likely to go higher. To provide some perspective, that represents approximately 15% of the entire state general fund budget.

This is not good news for our District or our community which is the home to many state government employees. More than 40% of the state budget goes to K-12 public schools so we will almost certainly see some budget reductions here in Olympia, as will every other district across Washington.

If the Legislature makes only modest budget reductions to schools and they allow the District to collect all of the funds approved by local taxpayers in our 2008 levy, we could avoid the most drastic cut options. (Our local voters approved a four-year levy in 2008 and they have continued to support funding for our District to the fullest extent allowed by state law.) On the other hand, if funds for the class size Initiative 728 are eliminated, the District could face a shortfall of more than $4 million in 2009-2010, in addition to other cuts. Obviously if this were to happen, we would need to consider options that would never be on the table in any normal budget year.
Add to that the continued fallout from the collapsing roof at CHS, and the potential for more missed days if it snows again--the City of Olympia says, no more snow accumulation or they'll shut 'er down--and you can guess why things have been a little quiet around the blog lately. Consider it mild case of shock.

(Oh, and it's bargaining time for the OEA. I don't envy the team one bit.)

they're all the same

Deep in an article describing three fish that, though radically different in appearance, are actually members of the same species, is a poignant truth.
Even stranger, males who reach adulthood don't eat at all. Having gorged as larvae, their jaw fuses and they develop a vestigial gut that only stores shells from previous meals. That's an advantage, Johnson said, because in the deep ocean "there's not a lot of food, you're better off taking your lunch with you." The males gorge as larvae and grow a giant liver, storing energy there to live on.

"This thing was basically a set of testes looking for the female," Johnson said.
No further comment.

Jan 21, 2009

because grammar matters

Put that modifier in the proper place. Or else:
After the flub heard around the world, President Barack Obama has taken the oath of office. Again. Chief Justice John Roberts delivered the oath to Obama on Wednesday night at the White House - a rare do-over. The surprise moment came in response to Tuesday's much-noticed stumble, when Roberts got the words of the oath a little off, which prompted Obama to do so, too....

It happened when Obama interrupted Roberts midway through the opening line, in which the president repeats his name and solemnly swears.

Next in the oath is the phrase " ... that I will faithfully execute the office of president of the United States." But Roberts rearranged the order of the words, not saying "faithfully" until after "president of the United States."
[via Glenn Reynolds]

Jan 20, 2009

rating the inauguration

Dianne Feinstein, emcee
Energetic and smiling, she gets in the best line of the day: "This was the moment when the dream that once echoed across history from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial finally reached the walls of the White House." 8/10

Rick Warren, invocation
This was the guy? Really? 4/10

Itzhak Perlman / Yo-Yo Ma / Gabriela Montero / Anthony McGill, classical quartet
Why was the music by John Williams? That second rate hack cribbed from the same notes as Aaron Copland, when not stealing outright from the quintessential American composer. If you're going to use "Simple Gifts," might as well play "Appalachian Spring" instead. 6/10

Aretha Franklin, singer
Mediocre arrangement of "My Country 'Tis of Thee" can't keep the Queen of Soul from reigning. 8/10.

The Cold, weather
Bracing but not a deterrent to a million-plus. 8/10

John Roberts, chief swearer-inner
Where's that paper? Not in this pocket.... Not in that pocket... Musta blown away in the wind... Oh, well, I remember how it goes.... 3/10

Barack Obama, president-electric
Duly rhetorical, somber, and uplifting. 9/10

Elizabeth Alexander, poet
I. Learned. To. Read. Poetry. In. An. Echo. Chamber. 2/10

Joseph Lowery, benediction
Finally, a reason to really smile. 10/10

sure is nice to have an orator-in-chief again

I say that as a grateful teacher of speech, debate, and rhetoric.

Jan 19, 2009

Randy Dorn was never a member of Mothers Against the WASL

Jerry Cornfield is confused.
Randy Dorn pledged to toss out the WASL if elected to run Washington's public schools.

He won the job of superintendent of public instruction. He's ready to make good on his promise.

Wednesday he'll reveal details of an extreme makeover of the exam, beginning with a new name because, as he says, "WASL" is kryptonite.

Questions will be fewer in number, shorter in length and able to be answered and scored on a computer in his blueprint.

His goal is to have students spend less time taking it, teachers spend less time giving it and the state spend less money on it....

Which raises the political question: If it looks like the WASL, sounds like the WASL, reads like the WASL and counts like the WASL, isn't it the WASL?
How about we head over to Randy Dorn's campaign website, then, to see what Dorn actually promised.
We don't need to spend years figuring this out. Drawing on successful tests developed in other states, in my first year in office I will work with the state school board to replace the WASL with a testing system that is diagnostic, tied to technology, more fair, more understandable, and which takes less time so that testing doesn't dominate curriculum and the school calendar. We will then phase this new test in so there is no gap in accountability for current students.
It seems that Mr. Cornfield has projected certain anti-WASL sentiments on to Mr. Dorn. To be fair, though, I know a lot of people who knowingly glossed over Dorn's make-the-WASL-smarter stance, voting for anybody but Bergeson.

Jan 18, 2009

labor of nerdly love

My wife and I are nerds, who, almost superfluously, enjoy playing Scrabble. Case in point: the Anderson re-wedding of ought-five had a Scrabble(licious) theme, including a Scrabble cake.

But this takes it.

[via BoingBoing's Cory Doctorow]

interesting cases for the ICC resolution

What are some of the most interesting cases you've encountered while debating the Jan/Feb international criminal court resolution? List 'em in the comments.

Here are some I've seen...

The Violence Against Women Aff
Since women are the largest single oppressed group, we have a moral imperative and priority to right the wrongs committed against women by joining the ICC.

This case focuses on the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. The reasoning is essentially similar to that of standard ICC cases. One potential advantage is that its jurisdiction is solely over member states; one potential disadvantage is that its scope is narrower, restricted to the Western hemisphere, so it may lack the strength and legitimacy of the ICC. (Here's the Convention that established the IACHR; articles 61ff cover the Court's jurisdiction.)

The Hegemony Aff
To preserve its strategic superiority, the U.S. ought to submit to the jurisdiction of the ICC. It's best to cooperate internationally rather than to try to maintain hegemony alone. (I've seen the Aff try to argue that the ICC wouldn't prosecute an American citizen anyway, since it wouldn't want to risk having the U.S. pull up its stakes and leave camp, but that would seem to make the phrase "submit to the jurisdiction" utterly meaningless.)

The Habermas Neg
Since discourse precedes the establishment of moral universals, and "submitting" means that true discourse is not achieved, the U.S. cannot submit to the jurisdiction of an ICC.

Jan 16, 2009

late on a Friday night

I think Olympia just might be the only place you can live where, after the last debater has gone home and you're trying to drive through town back to your apartment and a few hours' sleep, you have to detour around a protest.

Update: Because I was back at Federal Way early the next morning, I never had a chance to read the paper and learn what the protest was really about. Apparently it turned violent later that evening.
The demonstration was spurred partly by the death of Jose Ramirez-Jimenez of Olympia, who was shot and killed after a police chase in November in Lacey, participant Jeff Berryhill of Olympia said Saturday.

Some demonstrators held road flares, torches and signs; others played banjo and guitar. After gathering about 10:40 p.m. Friday and circling through downtown a couple of times, protesters made their way across the Fourth Avenue Bridge and up the Harrison Avenue hill, Berryhill said. The group was followed by Olympia police and was met by more officers at Thomas Street and Harrison Avenue, diverting them down Perry Street toward a police substation, he said.

Police say protesters then threw lit torches against the station wall and a police car, which were quickly extinguished.
The streets of Olympia were fairly empty otherwise; when it's as cold as it was, people mostly crowd in the clubs or huddle near the entrances, smoking. From what I could see, there were very few spectators, and the demonstrators were able to block only one street.

Jan 14, 2009

a lack of political will

Suppose it turns out that, legally speaking, acts sanctioned by the Bush administration at Guantanamo constitute torture. Actually, you don't really have to suppose:
In her interview, Crawford acknowledges that it was "the combination of the interrogation techniques, their duration and the impact on Qahtani's health that led to her conclusion. 'The techniques they used were all authorized, but the manner in which they applied them was overly aggressive and too persistent. … This was not any one particular act; this was just a combination of things that had a medical impact on him. … It was that medical impact that pushed me over the edge' to call it torture." What Crawford has done here is astounding. She has repudiated the formalistic (and perennially shifting) definitions of torture as whatever-it-is-we-don't-do. She has admitted that there is a medical and legal definition for torture and also that we have crossed the line into it.
What then?
The answer to that question takes you to a very different place when the act is torture, as Crawford says it is. Under the 1984 Torture Convention, its 146 state parties (including the United States) are under an obligation to "ensure that all acts of torture are offences under its criminal law." These states must take any person alleged to have committed torture (or been complicit or participated in an act of torture) who is present in their territories into custody. The convention allows no exceptions, as Sen. Pinochet discovered in 1998. The state party to the Torture Convention must then submit the case to its competent authorities for prosecution or extradition for prosecution in another country.

The former chief judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces and general counsel for the Department of the Army has spoken. Her clear words have been picked up around the world. And that takes the prospects of accountability and criminal investigation onto another level. For the Obama administration, the door to the do-nothing option is now closed. That is why today may come to be seen as the turning point.
All LDers should be watching this situation closely, since it puts a sharp edge on the debate over the current resolution. It's entirely conceivable that a former president and high-ranking officials, never mind the soldiers, doctors, and citizen contractors who participated, could be prosecuted under international law. They won't, of course, since the U.S. will never allow it. And Barack Obama isn't going to press the case.
Just last weekend, Obama signaled in a television interview that he was not inclined to launch sweeping new criminal investigations of detainee treatment and interrogations that took place under the Bush administration. "My instinct is for us to focus on how do we make sure that moving forward we are doing the right thing," Obama told ABC's George Stephanopoulos. "That doesn't mean that if somebody has blatantly broken the law, that they are above the law. But my orientation's going to be to move forward."
What then?

Update: Eric Posner (U. Chicago) lists five reasons Eric Holder, the incoming Attorney General, is unlikely to prosecute torture charges.

LD mailbag: retribution and the ICC

Regarding the current resolution, a reader writes:
I'm really struggling with this topic, but I think I have an idea for a case. However, I'm afraid that I'm misunderstanding the topic or this idea isn't addressing it in the entirety that it needs to. The resolution has been reading to me that the question for the affirmative to answer is whether or not the US should (I'm defining ought as "moral rightness") submit itss citizens to the jurisdiction of an ICC. My idea is to have a value of cosmopolitan justice and criterion of retribution with the premise that justice is the highest value of any society, making it the highest value of the world/global society, and that the way for justice to be best achieved in this situation is for retribution to be fulfilled because retribution will give the just due to those who have harmed. My question is about the retribution part; I'm afraid I'm simplifying the debate too much because I'm seeing all of these other arguments that are much more complex. I see many other arguments about how submitting will support human rights, but is it wrong to interpret the topic as a response to injustice? Obviously, if there is a need for a court, then it's after the fact; the time for preserving rights is past, and now all that can be done is to punish those who have harmed. I interpret the debate to be that the US should submit if more justice will be achieved by doing so; one of the biggest benefits of an ICC is that there is an opportunity for retribution that wouldn't exist without it. The rest of my points are set up to prove that more justice is achieved for both US citizens and the rest of the world by submitting, so do you think that this could work? Or, like I said earlier, am I missing the point of the debate?
I think there's much to work with here.

1. Philosophically speaking, retributivism is perhaps the strongest justification of punishment, it a moral duty, and thus fulfilling the burden of "ought" in the resolution. Utilitarian theories (often based on deterrence) are a harder sell, since they require an empirical confirmation that the Court actually deters crime, and can be shown, absent side constraints, to justify horrific punishments to maximize deterrent value.

2. I don't think your doubts about retributivism are due to its weaknesses, but rather due to a misconception of the strength of rights-based affirmatives. It's much easier to show a duty to right a wrong than to show a positive obligation to prevent a wrong, especially in a world where national sovereignty is still alive and well and realpolitik holds sway.

3. One way retributivism might flow to the Neg is to argue that the ICC (and international jurisprudence, generally) prohibit the use of the death penalty. The worst atrocity crimes, including murder, merit at most life in prison without parole. If we have a moral duty to punish proportionally--almost always a key tenet of retributivist theory--and if mass murder requires the death penalty, then the U.S. should not submit to the jurisdiction of a court that will fail to carry out justice. (Even from a utilitarian standpoint, it could be argued that the ICC's inability to sentence criminals to death reduces its deterrent value to nil.) For a retributivist defense of the death penalty, start with Kant.

4. Varieties of retributivism (and the title of an anti-death-penalty retributivist piece.)

5. More on the different justifications for punishment, from the SEP.

Your thoughts and questions, as always, are appreciated.

Jan 13, 2009

Songsmith violates the Geneva Conventions

Well, not really, since you've been warned.

And, for old time's sake:

the folly I lack

I know you need sleep to have a strong immune system. I know from experience: almost all my colds start during Debate season, primed by the late-Friday-night-early-Saturday-morning turnaround.

But I am not this foolish:
For 14 days, the researchers monitored and recorded the sleep time of 153 healthy men and women ages 21 to 55. They also scored their sleep efficiency, the percentage of time in bed spent asleep.

Then they dripped a solution containing a rhinovirus into their noses and monitored their health for five days. Almost all subjects became infected, and more than a third had cold symptoms.
Did it really take a study to prove this one?

Jan 12, 2009

Alex Trebek and I

Sure, the details are a tad different, but our origins and our destinies are essentially the same.

today's literary links

1. He discovered a document that quoted inflammatory passages from the Secret Gospel of Mark. Or did he forge it?
One way to arrive at certainty seems obvious: study the manuscript pages, using scientific methods to date paper and ink, and assess the script, drawing on the less scientific, but still elaborate, methods of paleography. But if the scholarly disputes over Secret Mark resemble the caucus race from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, the manuscript plays the role of the Cheshire cat.
2. Reading is up.
According to "Reading on the Rise," being issued Monday by the National Endowment for the Arts, just over half of the people surveyed 18 or older read some kind of literature in 2008, up from 46.7 percent in 2002, when the number had dropped by seven percentage points over the previous decade. NEA chairman Dana Gioia called the results "astonishing" and an "important new cultural trend."
That is, until you subtract required reading.

3. Sleep deprivation makes you paranoid. Call it Macbeth's curse.

4. Blagojevich: the corrupt litterateur.
Later, at a news conference following the Illinois House's vote to impeach, he quoted a few verses of "Ulysses," a poem by the 19th Century poet Alfred Lord Tennyson.

" 'We are not now that strength which in old days moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are: one equal temper of heroic hearts, made weak by time and fate, but strong in will to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield,' " Blagojevich said.

The governor's identification with Tennyson's hero might also raise eyebrows: In Greek mythology, Ulysses was less noted for honor than for craftiness, the ancient equivalent of wink-and-nod politics. Of him, Tennyson wrote: "I mete and dole/unequal laws unto a savage race."

CHS open; normalcy around the corner

Capital High School opened as planned at 10:00 this morning, after an extra week's vacation due to a collapsed roof. District officials, Board members and media types arrived just in time to catch what will certainly be the first of many false fire alarms.

With the exposed plywood barricading the library and much of the commons, with circuitous, cramped commutes through crowded hallways, and with the constant movement of construction workers and materials throughout the building, the entire experience is one extended flashback to the remodel we finished a couple years ago.

The biggest headache, now that the mess is largely contained, is shared by the diaspora, the teachers who have set up shop in computer labs or the Career Center for the foreseeable future.

But at least we're back.

Jan 11, 2009

Capital High School reopening Monday

The latest news from Principal Faaren confirms that, barring unforeseen contingencies, the City of Olympia will allow teachers to reenter Capital High School starting Monday at 6:00 in the morning. Classes are set to resume at ten, with a D schedule (yay!) to bring us lurching into education.

Oh, and those "unforeseen contingencies?" Those never happen. Right?

Jan 10, 2009

beware of briefs

I don't want to target any particular LD "brief"-churning website or organization, but one of them was the reason I had to chastise an unsuspecting Novice LDer today.

He quoted a passage out-of-context from an article (that I'm more than familiar with), claiming that it showed how the International Criminal Court or something like it would be unconstitutional--even though the authors go to great lengths to show how it isn't.

In fact, part of the way through his "brief," I thought I detected the start of a paragraph saying exactly that; he blithely read the whole thing, though, not fully understanding what it meant.

So, novice LDers, beware of briefs. If you don't understand what you're reading, don't use it. Also, always track down the original article, and read the passage in context--or have someone help you if you're not sure. The people who cut-and-paste briefs aren't necessarily concerned with their accuracy; all they want is your money. Open LDers, watch out as well. You might be looking for a shortcut to success, but if your judge knows what's going on, you're doomed.

And remember, even I, your source for friendly, free, and sage LD advice, can be wrong. Verify my research, too. You'll be a better debater for it.

(Oh, and if you can guess where I'm blogging from, come on by and say howdy.)

Jan 9, 2009

style makes the magazine illustrator

The end-of-the-year "favorite illustrations" recap from Slate magazine is a fantastic way to start a discussion of artistic style.

Jan 8, 2009

the United States' obligation to further human rights around the globe

Regarding the current LD resolution, any affirmative looking for an actual part of U.S. law obligating the United States to set the observance of human rights as a positive goal of its foreign policy should turn to Ch. 22, US Code.
Sec. 2304. Human rights and security assistance

(a) Observance of human rights as principal goal of foreign policy; implementation requirements

(1) The United States shall, in accordance with its international obligations as set forth in the Charter of the United Nations and in keeping with the constitutional heritage and traditions of the United States, promote and encourage increased respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms throughout the world without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion. Accordingly, a principal goal of the foreign policy of the United States shall be to promote the increased observance of internationally recognized human rights by all countries....

(3) In furtherance of paragraphs (1) and (2), the President is directed to formulate and conduct international security assistance programs of the United States in a manner which will promote and advance human rights and avoid identification of the United States, through such programs, with governments which deny to their people internationally recognized human rights and fundamental freedoms, in violation of international law or in contravention of the policy of the United States as expressed in this section or otherwise.
The chapter is one of the few places in United States law includes the phrase "crimes against humanity," commanding the Secretary of State to report on any potential aid recipients' participation in such crimes, among other things.

in which Burger King saves society

Just found out from PZ that Burger King is running a beautiful promotion: drop your Facebook Friends--10 of 'em--and get a free burger.

I can't believe it took a fast food conglomerate to make people understand the moral imperative of relationship-pruning, but whatever.

Update: Good, and bad, news: the promotion was a victim of its own success.

après le déluge

Several photos of a leaf that fell in a puddle near our apartment, taken between rainshowers this morning. I can't decide which I like best, so I'm posting all of them.

Jan 7, 2009

some strategic considerations for the ICC resolution

Here are some things I've been mentally batting around over the last couple weeks: some strategic moves for the Affirmative and Negative concerning the Jan / Feb international criminal court resolution.

Take 'em with a hefty dose of salt, and suggest your own in the comments.

If I were writing an Aff case, my first choice would have to be whether to go with the real ICC, or something like it. I've presented reasons for the former; however, the latter avoids some of the potential problems with the real ICC, described immediately below.

Thus, it's probably wise to have two Neg cases: one versus the "real ICC" aff, and one against the hypothetical. The real ICC can be attacked in many ways: loopholes, Security Council chicanery, lack of enforcement, lack of jury trials, etc. A hypothetical ICC presents even larger problems: a slippery slope to global tyranny, slippery conceptions of "crimes against humanity," uncertainty about jurisdiction or enforcement.

It's also extremely important to clearly define "crimes against humanity." If you haven't already done so, read this article. (Wikipedia, believe it or not, also has a decent summary.) I don't think the Neg should waste any time trying to minimize the badness of most crimes against humanity; as I mention above, it's more about their potential for prosecutorial abuse, either through slippery definitions or politically-motivated charges.

Many, if not most, Aff arguments I've seen involve the importance of protecting all human rights. It's a moral issue; after all, the resolution says "ought."
If I were running the Neg, I'd immediately place two burdens on the Affirmative:
1. To prove that nations have moral obligations. If they can't do this, we can't affirm, since "ought" is moral.
2. To prove that the U.S. has obligations beyond the immediate good of its own citizens.
In other words, why does any one nation have a duty to humanity as a whole? Don't let Affirmatives merely assert that since something is really, really bad, the US has an obligation to fight against it, etc. They have to warrant this.

A Negative styled after hardline Political Realism would be a perfect way to take Burden #1 above. A Negative based on sovereignty (framed by the Lockean social contract) would be perfect to go with #2.

Another thing no Neg should let the Aff presume is the efficacy of the ICC, real or hypothetical. Aff's running the "real ICC," and Negs facing it, should consider Jack Goldsmith's "The Self-Defeating International Criminal Court," found in the Winter 2003 edition of the University of Chicago Law Review. Not only is the ICC ineffective, Goldsmith argues, but it threatens the effectiveness of current rights protection. A sampling:
The most salient class of human rights violators during the past century has been oppressive leaders who abuse their own people within national borders. Under the traveling dictator exception, the ICC does not touch this class of offenders, even if they travel abroad. Unless oppressive regimes ratify the ICC (something few are expected to do), the ICC simply fails to address the most serious human rights abuses.
The only way to overcome the exception is through Security Council action, which means that "such a referral remains subject to the permanent member politics that so worried ICC supporters." Furthermore, the ICC lacks the resources to extricate a tyrant.

Jan 6, 2009

the budget crisis gets personal

Governor Gregoire's 2009 budget proposal includes a six percent across-the-board cut at the community college level. Since last summer, my wife had been working at Pierce College in Lakewood, assisting adult students in their transition from GED programs to a college education. We had held off major financial changes this winter, knowing that although she had survived the first round of cuts, her job status in June was iffy.

Turns out it was even iffier than we thought. Yesterday she was given her walking papers, since her position has been eliminated as of January 16th. She's over the initial shock, frustrated by having to look for new employment, more irritated than anything, as is her soon-to-be-slammed supervisor.

Our plan to help the U.S. out of the recession was to purchase a home in December. Not anymore. But we can't complain too loudly. We can scale back our dreams a bit, pinch a few more pennies, and weather the storm. And I still have a job in the Olympia School District.

For now.

Jan 5, 2009

the joys of apartment living

We recently moved downstairs to a larger place, and have started to discover its charms--and flaws. Two photos, with concomitant anecdotes.

Last night our new downstairs neighbors decided to celebrate the departure of snow by lighting a fire. Apparently their chimney vents straight into our living room. Internet shopping addicts will instantly recognize the logo on the highly sophisticated smoke-blocking device.

I silently thought to myself, Shouldn't you unplug it or switch off the breaker?, but the maintenance guy seemed pretty confident that he could quickly replace a dead burner light. Turns out the light was just disconnected. As he went to reattach it, I heard a whump and saw a flash out of the corner of my eye. No injuries, just a shorted out switch. "I shoulda known better," said the maintenance guy. The burn mark cleaned off just fine.

Gregoire gone; announcement coming

Local media are in a tizzy over Christine Gregoire's mysterious absence:
Gov. Chris Gregoire is out of state, but her office won't say where she is....

Spokesman Pearse Edwards said that Gregoire will be making an announcement Tuesday morning, and that no further information would be released before then.
I have a hunch. Two, actually.

1. She's in D.C.

2. She's going to announce federal bailout money coming from soon-to-be-President Obama.

Update: Visiting troops in Iraq was my second guess, of course.

Olympia councilmembers can't stop typing

It seems that public figures--just like everybody else who's ever had to sit through a lengthy meeting--can't be trusted with a laptop.
The Olympian obtained council e-mails from six meetings from Sept. 9 to Nov. 3 — the period Ford reviewed. Discussions included sizing up votes and, in one case, insulting a member of the public.

Ford does not say the council is violating the open meetings act, just that its actions are inconsistent with it. But he suggests the council isn't following best practices.

"At the very least, you could say that the spirit of the law is not being followed," he said.

Council members Joan Machlis, Joe Hyer, Jeff Kingsbury, Karen Messmer, Rhenda Strub and Craig Ottavelli sent at least one e-mail to another council member at meetings during the period. Mah did not. Hyer and Kingsbury wrote most frequently
Oh, and this, not blogging, is the real threat to the OPMA. Blogging is public--and, with a no-comment option, hardly a concern to the legally inclined.

Jan 4, 2009

quick flix picks

Slumdog Millionaire
Sentimental but never maudlin, gritty but never exploitative, dark but redemptive, Danny Boyle's latest is at times predictable, but at all times entertaining. Make sure to stay through the credits for the Bollywood finale. Dev Patel is solid, but the supporting cast truly shines.

The Counterfeiters
I'd write my own thoughts, but Jim Emerson (subbing for Roger Ebert) gets it exactly right:
"The Counterfeiters" is based on a fascinating piece of history, raises some wrenching moral dilemmas about the costs of survival under the Nazis, and was no doubt made with noble intentions beyond the usual commercial ones. The trouble is that the storytelling and filmmaking are routine (surely faux-documentary handheld camerawork is the most overused cliche in modern movies), even when the human drama is not.
Winchester '73
I hadn't seen it in years, and was pleasantly surprised at how well written this Jimmy Stewart oater is. I guess I'm a sucker for any movie that features a shooting contest. (Sergeant York, anyone?) Oh, and don't forget plenty of plot twists and yet-to-be-heralded stars. Watch for Rock Hudson and a young "Anthony" Curtis.

The Big Steal
Speaking of plot twists, none surpass the surprises in this tight little noir about a detective who has to ferry a mob widow across the country so she can testify safely. Today, it'd be made with Jason Statham, and would probably stink. As is, though, it's a fun, fast ride.

Jan 2, 2009

CHS to reopen January 12

It'll take at least an extra week to get Capital High School open, The Olympian reports.
Students at Capital High School in west Olympia will get another week off from school after district officials decided today to reopen the school Moday, Jan. 12, so that contractors will have time to make repairs to natural-gas lines damaged during a recent snowstorm.
What does this mean for the school year? Maybe we'll know by tomorrow. Until then, the principal, Nancy Faaren, has informed the staff:
The superintendent will be working with the state and the unions regarding the missed days for Capital and how we will deal with the many issues regarding these days.
This is why you should never make vacation plans.

no regrets

Here are the titles of the posts I didn't finish in 2008. Looking back, some of them are completely opaque to me; I can't remember what I was thinking.
unilateralism, hegemony, and preemption
in defense of just war theory
hero for a day, hero for all time: a writing exercise
finding the soul
April is the cruellest month
on the curse of the common name
a premeditated gaffe
the truth behind heavy metal
all you need is motivation
color me pinko
a robust theory of democracy
neither rain nor snow nor... well, snow'll be trouble
The last one sure was right.

could blogging violate the Open Public Meetings Act?

First, a disclaimer: I am no lawyer, and this is not legal advice.

Russ Lehman, a lawyer putting his name in the hat for --, is concerned that a public official's blogging could violate the Open Public Meetings Act.

I'm surprised by this, given that Lehman (while a member of the Olympia School Board) once asked me if I would publish and wrote several comments on The Olympian's website.

I don't think it could, any more than writing an editorial in The Olympian, or publishing comments on The Olympian's website, or publishing a comment via someone else's blog, all of which Lehman has already done (including on this here blog).

The purpose of the Act is that public officials conduct public business in public. Or, as the Act less elegantly puts it,
The legislature finds and declares that all public commissions, boards, councils, committees, subcommittees, departments, divisions, offices, and all other public agencies of this state and subdivisions thereof exist to aid in the conduct of the people's business. It is the intent of this chapter that their actions be taken openly and that their deliberations be conducted openly.
What do "actions" include?
"Action" means the transaction of the official business of a public agency by a governing body including but not limited to receipt of public testimony, deliberations, discussions, considerations, reviews, evaluations, and final actions. "Final action" means a collective positive or negative decision, or an actual vote by a majority of the members of a governing body when sitting as a body or entity, upon a motion, proposal, resolution, order, or ordinance.
It's quite possible that blogging might be construed as "deliberation" or "discussion," if, say, one person on a school board (like Rich Nafziger, back in the day) posted something germane to Board business, and then another Board member posted a comment criticizing that post--and if that series of opinions and comments could be reasonably considered the transaction of "official business."

So the solution is simple. Post a blog that doesn't allow comments.

Jan 1, 2009

today's New Year links... and more!

Let's ring in the New Year with a few links and a Cathyism.

The Edge annual question for 2009: "What will change everything?" Plenty to digest as you digest in front of the television.

Washington State welcomes 2009 with a higher minimum wage and free e-cycling.

The TRP's blog turned 1000. He's included a best-of from the previous 500 posts.

After a year of gloomy news, anything good to report? Radley Balko says yes.

We were watching the Nittany Lions lose the Rose Bowl as my older sister Cathy shared with me some "strange" answers from a crossword-esque puzzle she had been working on. "Did you know that 'shiftbess' means lazy?" she asked me.

No, I didn't. Other wrong answers included:

"Herrint," a food fish.

"Bandanne," a colorful handkerchief.

"Ephemetal," short-lived.

And I'm spending all weekend with family. "The most wonderful family," Mom says. More juicy quotes, guaranteed.

Happy New Year, everybody.

CHS closed Monday

More damage found = longer winter break for Capital High School.
Capital High School will remain closed Monday after engineers discovered damaged natural-gas lines that will have to be repaired and relocated before the school can reopen, Assistant Superintendent Jim Crawford said today.

All other schools in the Olympia School District will reopen Monday after the winter break, he said.
No word yet on when CHS will reopen. Hopefully soon...

Update: More details in today's edition.
School officials plan to meet through the weekend to discuss what's next, Assistant Superintendent Jim Crawford said. All other schools in the Olympia School District will reopen Monday, he said.