Dec 31, 2010

the seventh son of the seventh son of top ten lists

This is the seventh in an annual tradition, and because I am lazy, bereft of ideas, and still moping about with a shoulder injury, there are going to be seven lists of seven. Besides, seven is a lucky number, and we could all use a little more luck in 2011.

Happy New Year, almost.

[Previous entries from 2004, 2005, 2006, 20072008, and 2009 are also available.]

Top Seven Top Seven Lists
7. Top 7 "nontroversies" of 2010
For the record, I did not invent the word "nontroversy."
6. Top 7 recycled fashions
Where else are you going to find a Speedo frock?
5. Top 7 space stories
Arsenic and ol' space.
4. Top 7 Russian words of the year
Блогосфера is the best, obviously.
3. Top 7 parenting controversies
Sometimes--actually, lots of times--I'm glad I don't have kids.
2. Top 7 Justin Bieber-themed Etsy creations
Two things you couldn't escape in 2010: Etsy and Justin Bieber.
1. Top 7 Coen brothers films
Coen brothers? Yay! No Raising Arizona? Boo!

Top Seven Movies
As of today, I hadn't seen Dogtooth, Toy Story 3, Four Lions, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, or The Social Network, so don't gripe that they're not on this list.
7. Exit Through the Gift Shop
6. A Prophet
5. Winter's Bone
4. The Fighter
3. Mother
2. True Grit
1. Inception

Top Seven Middle Names
7. Terrific
6. Milhous
5. The
4. Peter George St. Jean le Baptiste de la Salle
3. , Alias
2. Duke
1. S

Top Seven Predictions for 2011
7. Sarah Palin involved in Facebook dust-up
6. Coffee approaches $150 per barrel
5. Boise State Broncos go 25-0; still uninvited to BCS championship
4. America experiences cultural renaissance thanks to revived MySpace
3. Julian Assange returns to home planet
2. Seattle sports scene sucks, except Sounders
1. Apocalypse arrives a year ahead of schedule; Mayan scientists claim "well within the margin of error."

Top Seven Things We Could Probably Live Without
7. Throw pillows
6. Mascots
5. Aluminum siding
4. Redbox
3. Smart phones
2. A functional acromioclavicular joint
1. Tron Guy

Top Seven Excuses
7. I thought it was a documentary!
6. You can't make an omelette without killing a few chickens!
5. Everything's better with Jell-O!
4. Twitter said to!
3. It was in the Urban Dictionary!
2. But I just don't believe in expiration dates!
1. Court order! Sorry!

Top Seven Tweets
As determined by science.
7. No, I will not proofread your manifesto.
6. Revenge is a dish best served cold, and with a citrus garnish.
5. "Does the staff room smell like fetal pig to you, Mr. Anderson?"
4. Next time your parents tell you it "builds character," tell them you're hiring a subcontractor.
3. "It starts with pattycake, and ends in heartbreak."
2. It's not plagiarized. It's just edited to include 30% post-consumer recycled content.
1. Purple plaid is the color of self-esteem.

Dec 28, 2010

RIP, Denis Dutton

Denis Dutton, founder of the essential Arts and Letters Daily, has passed away. Nick Gillespie's kind words are worth reading.
In effect, Denis created the world's greatest coffee house and magazine rack, a place where interested customers could dawdle all day while reading an endless stream of fascinating material pulled from the far edges of the galaxy.

Added: Stephen Metcalf's appreciation is also good.

Dec 27, 2010

LD mailbag: juvenile recidivism rates

Regarding the LD January-February 2011 topic, a reader writes,
How would I counter the neg claim that recidivism rates are lower in juvenile courts? I have yet to find a solid turn/take-out.
I would have to see specific warrants before offering specific advice, but in general, there are reasons to cast doubt on such claims. They may involve unfair comparisons or, even when they don't, sampling bias.

Unfair Comparisons
For instanace, it would be unfair to vompare recidivism rates for the entire adult sytem to the entire juvenile system, since the resolution only pertains to juveniles charged with violent felonies. It would definitely be unfair to compare the entire juvenile system to only those juveniles charged as adults.

Sampling Bias
It would even be unfair to compare recidivism rates for juveniles charged with "the same" crimes--because there is likely a difference in the type of juvenile offender charged as an adult, which is the reason a prosecutor has charged them that way. In fact, if the prosecutors are sucessful at determining which defendants are more "hardened," and in their view, deserving harsher punishment, we should expect a higher recidivism rate for a juvenile charged as an adult. In this case, a lower or similar rate would demonstrate that prosecutors have failed at their jobs. (It's possible that some juveniles charged as adults voluntarily acknowledged "capacity," accepting treatment as an adult.)

Without a careful, randomized study employing sophisticated statistical instruments, it would be extremely difficult to tease out any potential sampling bias, making any such statistical comparison automatically suspect.

In sum, here are critical questions to ask about these claims:

1, What groups are being compared? Are the groups roughly equivalent in number and kind?
2. Is it an apples-to-apples comparison? In other words, is the comparison fair?
3. Does the comparison account for sampling bias?

If you have a sample piece of evidence that you'd like evaluated in the light of these questions, share it in the comments.

Dec 26, 2010

make your own ice sling

Problem: You have a separated shoulder, requiring ice every few hours. But you can't just hold a Ziploc bag up there for twenty minutes at a time; after all, you have books to read, or topics to blog about.

Solution: Make your own ice sling.

Materials: Ice, quart-sized freezer bag, duct tape, neck tie.
Painkillers and holiday arrangement not included.
1. Take an empty freezer bag and press it flat on a countertop. Set aside.

2. Cut 2 pieces of duct tape, in roughly 1.25" (3.2 cm) and 3.25" (8.3 cm) lengths.

3. Carefully place a shorter piece in the middle of a longer piece, adhesive-to-adhesive. (This is for making a "belt loop," with an inch of adhesive on both ends.) Affix to the front of the bag, about 1 inch from the edge.
The ice sling in action.  Note its stylish comfort.
4. Repeat steps 2 and 3, affixing the second loop near the other edge, completing the belt loop.

5. If you want, you may reinforce your loop by adding a strip of duct tape above and below (see illustration).

6. Thread the necktie through the loops, fill the bag with ice, place it tape-side down on your shoulder, and tie the tie around your neck. (Its's probably best to have a friend assist you at this juncture; if unavailable, tie the knot loosely before placing the ice, and adjust using a mirror.)

7. Ice your shoulder as recommended by a physician.

8. Blog about it.

Dec 24, 2010

LD theory for beginners

A reader, H Siddiqi, has answered the call and offered to guest-blog. The topic: using theory in LD.
So a lot of you have probably heard experienced debaters talking about theory. Perhaps some of you may have been unfortunate enough to have to go against it during a round. However, unless you debate in the national circuit you probably are not going to have to go against it. Nevertheless, it is always nice to know what theory is (I have hit theory in lay tournaments as well).

To begin, a quick definition of theory. Many of you may be wondering - what is theory? I cannot stress this enough; theory is nothing more than an argument with a different format (which we will go over later). A difference is that theory is not exactly resolutional. In other words, it is not an argument about the resolution, but about something that you have done. Also, the stakes in theory are often higher – when someone runs it, they usually run it with the argument that it is a reason to reject the opponent and vote for the theory-runner.

But, when does one run it? Theory is meant to be a check on abusive cases in debate. If someone is being ridiculously unfair, it is good to run theory. Unfortunately, however, several (annoying) debaters run theory whenever they get the chance.

So how does one run theory? What is it made of? Currently, theory has a complicated format; it is comprised of four parts (you need to remember these):

A – Interpretation – This is the rule that you think that there is in debate.
B – Violation – This basically says that your opponent violated this rule.
C – Standard – This answers the question: Why is that violation bad? What does it cause? Link your standard to the voter (see below) here.
D – Voter – This should be either fairness or education. You MUST explain why (1) it is important and (2) why this theory shell comes before the substantive (the resolutional arguments) debate (i.e. why to vote for you here).

An example of a case in which I ran theory is at a recent tournament. The affirmative was a novice debater who simply said mid-speech “The negative has the burden to argue that drugs are good.” You can probably see why that is abusive. So, below is the theory shell I ran.

a) Interpretation – The affirmative can not put any extra-topical burdens on me.
b) Violation – The negative has imposed the burden of arguing that drugs are good, which is not implied in the resolution.
c) Standard – Ground [my standard]. Under this burden, I have to defend this burden AND negate the resolution, while all he has to do is affirm. This is a clear argument disparity and thus unfair [link to voter].
d) Voter – Fairness is a voter because debate is a competitive activity. If debate ceases to be fair, then no one will debate. Vote him down because he is committing an act that will lead to the extinction of debate if left unchecked. This comes before substance because if the substance is unfair and skewed, you can not vote here.
My two cents: It's probably wise to ask your judge if they vote on theory before running it; lay / novice judges are extremely unlikely to follow your argument, and some will find it tiresome to "debate about debate." Regardless, it's essential to understand in contemporary LD, even if you never run it. Thanks for sharing, Mr. Siddiqi.

Added: For another perspective, go to this link, and scroll down to Chad Henson's post titled "SO WHAT IS THEORY, ANYWAY?"

If you're interested in having your work similarly featured, email me!

Dec 23, 2010

light posting

Today I tore my acromioclavicular joint while trying to reenact my childhood, by which I mean sledding down a steep, snowy slope. Typing is now a chore, and so, for that and other reasons, posting will be light for the next few weeks. I'll do my best to answer your questions in the comments, but be patient.

If you are interested in guest-blogging about LD debate--and a fair number of you could be quite good at it--shoot me an email.

And remember: snow kills.

Dec 22, 2010

gift-off: The Suburbs vs. The 'Burbs

Arcade Fire, The Suburbs
"...a generously paced collection of meditations on familial responsibility, private disappointments, and fleeting youth..."

Availability: Everywhere melancholy indie rock is sold. Which is pretty much everywhere.

Price: $9.99ish

Coolness Factor: Medium. when one of your songs is featured in an ad for the NFL, you've lost significant chunks of your hipster cred. Even if you donate all the proceeds to Haiti.

Warnings: "Rococo rococo rococo rococo. Rococo rococo rococo rococo."

Joe Dante's The 'Burbs
`The 'burbs" tries to position itself somewhere between "Beetlejuice" and "The Twilight Zone..."

Availability: On DVD, or, for the impatient, on Netflix Instant View.

Price: Depends on if you want it sullied or unsullied. Unsullied is gonna cost you about $12.99

Coolness Factor: Low. The late 80s comedy aesthetic has aged about as well as the late 80s fashion aesthetic.

Warning: Tom Hanks.

Dec 20, 2010

liberal pinko commie

My lone contribution to the corpus of Google Ngram-based scholarship is to note the approximate date when "commie" permanently surpassed "pinko" as the anti-liberal insult of choice: roughly June 1967.

Dec 19, 2010

The Fighter

If I was a little road-ragey on the drive home yesterday afternoon, it wasn't just because the freeway was clogged by idiots (58 in the left lane! Merging at the last possible second! Random brake-slamming!), but because I had just seen The Fighter, and was a little caught up in the testosterone.

The film is just that good. Perfect casting, a tight script, and great camerawork keep it from veering too close to cliché or caricature. Mark Wahlberg is solid as Micky Ward, a boxer who has to escape his family in order to chase his title dreams. His older brother Dicky, played by Christian Bale, has a boxing philosophy that sums up how the film affects the viewer: "Head Body Head." I'd rate it my second favorite boxing flick of all time, right after Body and Soul.

Let's hope it boosts tourism in industrial Lowell, Mass.

Added 12/20: Sports Illustrated interviews the real Micky Ward about the film. A snippet:
On his family's reaction to the film's often unflattering portrayal
"I'm sure it's hard for Dicky to look at it and see the way he was. He'll never go back [to that life] again. I don't know how my sisters and mother are going to feel, either. I'm not sitting next to them when they see it!"

Dec 16, 2010

when fear is a virtue

The fascinating case of "SM," the woman who feels no fear:
She apparently hasn't felt fear as an adult, not even 15 years ago in an incident described by the researchers. A man jumped up from a park bench, pressed a knife to her throat and hissed, "I'm going to cut you."

SM, who heard a church choir practicing in the distance, looked coolly at him and replied, "If you're going to kill me, you're going to have to go through my God's angels first."

The man suddenly let her go. She didn't run home. She walked.

"Her lack of fear may have freaked the guy out," Feinstein said.

But it also got her into that situation in the first place, he noted. SM had willingly approached the man when he asked her to, even though it was late at night and she was alone, and even though she thought he looked "drugged out."

SM's actions are clearly irrational--because rationality is a pattern woven in the fabric of emotion. Or perhaps there's a more fitting analogy. Regardless, those who would try to isolate reason from the texture of emotions discount both.

Related: when a tumor makes you utilitarian.

brother wrote a book

Congrats to my brother, who will soon have his first book published. (First solo project, anyhow, which counts more than sharing a volume with a bunch of other essayists, right, Bro?)

It's been a labor of much love for him--hopefully more love than labor--and will quite possibly cement his reputation as one of the premier young evangelical thinkers in the U.S. Expect to find it on bookshelves this June, or you can go ahead and preorder it at Amazon. (What better way to spend your Christmas giftcard?)

If we judge the book by its handsome cover, the potential audience for Earthen Vessels is composed of evangelical Christians, theologians, philosophers, various other assorted intellectual types, and, quite possibly, highly confused semi-literate adolescents.

Dec 15, 2010

value and criterion pairs for the juvenile justice resolution

The NFL LD resolution for January / February 2011 offers all kinds of interesting possibilities, since it considers potential distinctions between adults and juveniles in the U.S. criminal justice system.

Below is a list to get you started in your analysis. In the comments, suggest your own, or critique these offerings. Remember two things: that the resolution concerns those charged with violent felonies, and that we're dealing with serious crimes, not minor offenses, which may affect arguments about the ability of juveniles to be rehabilitated.

V: Justice (defined as "to each their due," or a similar concept)
C: Retribution
Trending AFF. If the aim of the criminal justice system is to punish the guilty, then we must determine the proper punishment for guilty parties. Retribution (or its philosophy, retributivism) offers a moral justification for punishment, as well as a limit: proportionality, based on the principle that the punishment must fit the crime. The Aff argument, in a nutshell, is that adult crimes (violent felonies) deserve adult punishments. For one view of retributivism, see here.

V: Societal Welfare or Justice
C: Rehabilitation
Trending NEG. If the purpose of the justice system is to rehabilitate criminals, then perhaps the juvenile justice system offers better prospects for young offenders. This, of course, presumes that the juvenile justice system is founded on the principles of rehabilitation--which, historically, it is.

V: Societal Welfare
C: Utilitarianism
Utilitarianism is quite possibly the closest allied moral framework with democracy. After all, if the goal is the greatest good for the greatest number, what better way, societally, to achieve this than through democratic means? If the ultimate aim of a democratic society is its own well-being, then utilitarianism offers a way to determine whether treating juveniles as adults in the criminal justice system either adds to or detracts from overall happiness. More specifically, the utilitarian theory of criminal justice is based on the beneficial outcomes of punishment: preventing future crimes through deterrence, incapacitation, and rehabilitation. However, in the wider context of utilitarianism, punishment is counterproductive if its costs outweigh the benefits. Any statistical argument about rehabilitative outcomes or deterrence is most likely utilitarian in nature. The weakness of utilitarianism, of course, is that it offers no internal constraints on punishment.

V: Justice
C: Rawls' first principle of justice (or, more generally, the Rawlsian social contract)

V: Justice
C: Equal protection of the laws
Trending AFF. Juveniles charged as juveniles may not have all the rights and protections of adults (most notably, the lack of a jury trial). Is this just?

V: Justice (defined in terms of morality)
C: The Categorical Imperative
Trending AFF. According to Kant, moral actions are good in and of themselves. Furthermore, Kantian theory applies to all rational agents--criminals and law enforcers alike. Those who punish criminals are bound by moral obligation to punish them to the fullest. This argument, of course, hinges on whether juveniles are fully rational agents. Oh, and warning: many people misunderstand Kant and the Categorical Imperative, so make sure you do the research first.

V: Justice
C: Governmental Legitimacy / the Social Contract
Trending AFF. A government that oversteps its bounds with unjust laws--even those that are initiated through democratic processes--has violated the Social Contract, which is a rough approach to balancing rights claims as a precursor to the formation of a State. Any State that, through some loss of sovereignty, can or will no longer enforce the law, has violated the Contract, and is no longer legitimate. If juveniles aren't fully punished for committing violent felonies, perhaps the State has not fulfilled its obligation to protect the public and enforce the law. Furthermore, if juveniles' privacy is protected in the juvenile justice system, the public won't/can't know about potential felons in its midst.

V: Individual Rights
C: Reducing state power
Similar to the argument above: we live in an age of ever-expanding state power. The justice system in the United States is a well-oiled machine, grinding individuals to powder. Does treating juveniles like adults give the state more power? Or less?

V: Justice
C: Constitutionalism
Trending NEG. In the United States, the Constitution, as the supreme law of the land, is the ultimate standard of justice. Is treating juveniles like adults Constitutional? At least in one respect, no: juveniles aren't to be given life without parole or a death sentence. But what about otherwise? Is it cruel and unusual punishment to throw a juvenile in adult prison? Or, on the other side, do juveniles deserve a "speedy and public trial," which isn't guaranteed in the juvenile justice system?

V: Virtue
C: Virtue Ethics
Trending NEG. Why not? By the doctrine of parens patriae, the State may intervene when juveniles run afoul of the law, and their parents are nowhere in sight, morally speaking. What if the role of juvenile justice is not to punish, or even rehabilitate, so much as to educate in virtuous conduct?

V: Justice
C: Moral Responsibility / mens rea
Trending NEG. To be punished for a crime, a criminal must be morally responsible for it. Are juveniles charged with violent felonies as morally responsible as adults?

V: The Future
C: Optimism
Trending NEG. Juvenile Justice preserves optimism in two ways: one, it retains hope that juveniles can be reformed, preserving their potential future (with the possibility that past crimes can be "wiped out" when the offender is old enough, with no permanent criminal record dogging the offender for the rest of his or her life. Two, it prevents juveniles merely charged with violent felonies from having their reputation destroyed by a sensationalistic media.

V: Societal Welfare
C: Communitarianism / Education
Trending NEG. "It takes a village to raise a child."  The community has an interest in ensuring that children grow up well and whole.  The juvenile justice system seems predicated on this concept, which requires a decidedly more active approach by the State in educating and enculturating youth. Seen in this way, the juvenile justice system is an extension of the education system (or a parody of it, in a more cynical view, or indistinguishable from it, in the most cynical view).

V: Justice
C: Jury Trials
Trending AFF. The jury is a foundation of criminal justice in a democratic republic.  By denying juveniles jury trials, we not only fail to educate them about the values of the community (since criminals are punished not only by officials of the State, but by the people themselves), but prohibit the community from having its proper role in weighing the facts and determining guilt.  Community standards evolve over time, and there is no more efficient way to adjust to evolving standards than direct community input in the application of justice.

differences in the treatment of adults and juveniles in the criminal justice system

The January / February 2011 resolution asks us to consider the merits of treating juveniles as adults in the U.S. criminal justice system. What are some of the salient differences in the way they're treated?

Procedural Differences
These are the inherent features of the system, and thus, potentially, the strongest ground on which to argue the resolution.
1. Detention in juvenile facilities while awaiting trial.
2. Media blackout. (Juvenile defendants' names are not generally made public.)
3. No jury trial.
4. Separated from adults when incarcerated.
5. Possibility of having criminal record expunged upon reaching the age of majority.
6. At present, defendants charged as juveniles cannot receive life without parole or the death penalty.

It is important to note that the Negative does not have to uphold the status quo. There may be other potential differences, from a Negative perspective, that are not currently features of the U.S. juvenile justice system, but should be. For instance, the Neg could argue that juveniles should not receive any due process rights, or that juveniles should be punished more harshly than adults, and still negate the resolution. (Such a "turn case" could be risky, but might catch some Affs napping.)

Empirical Differences
These are research-dependent, and thus contestable differences.

1. In interrogation, juveniles may be more likely to waive due process rights due to their relative ignorance of the proceedings, perhaps combined with manipulation or coercion by adult authorities (administrators, police, prosecutors).
2. In the current system, juveniles may have a greater likelihood of informal, ad hoc solutions. According to the Oxford Companion to American Law,
Following the arrest of a juvenile, law enforcement officers may either send the case to juvenile court or divert the case out of the system. Although most cases are routed into the courts, substantial numbers of youths are released following their arrest. For cases directed to the juvenile courts, an initial decision is made about whether to proceed to a formal hearing, dismiss the case, or handle the matter informally, perhaps through referral to a social service agency. A large number of cases are dealt with informally, often ending in dismissal or an agreement between the juvenile and the court. A formal procedure involves either a waiver hearing to determine whether the juvenile should be ordered to stand trial in adult criminal court or an adjudicatory hearing before the juvenile court judge.
3. Juvenile punishments are considered by many to be more lenient--or even too lenient.
4. Juveniles might not be able to handle incarceration with adults, for psychological or developmental reasons, perhaps making it a form of cruel and unusual punishment.
5. If incarcerated with adults, juveniles would likely face the prospect of abuse by other prisoners or guards.
6. If incarcerated with adults, juveniles might be more likely to be granted parole.
7. Perhaps most important from a utilitarian perspective, juveniles incarcerated with adults may have higher recidivism rates.

Regarding the empirical differences, I haven't found all the research out there to warrant these intuitions (although #7, I believe, is pretty easy to warrant). If you find any, feel free to post it. Of course, I'll have more specific, detailed information in the coming days and weeks.

Dec 12, 2010

sample resolutional analyses for the juvenile justice resolution

Below are some sample Resolutional Analyses and Observations written for the January / February juvenile justice resolution.

Each has its strategic advantages and counterarguments. I'll add any that I think of along the way. Feel free to suggest your own (or critique these) in the comments.

Added: Where useful, I've marked which ones match particular sides of the argument.

RA #1 (Aff)
Since acquitted juvenile defendants are no longer charged with violent felonies, and since we cannot presume the guilt of juveniles that are merely charged with violent felonies, the timeframe of the resolution extends only from charging to conviction. Potential punishment is excluded from the discussion.

RA #2
Since this is value debate, the Aff has no burden to implement a plan, and the Negative has no burden to uphold the status quo.

RA #3 (Aff)
Since the burden of the Aff is to prove the resolution true as a general principle, the Aff need not precisely delineate every single way that juveniles ought to be treated as adults in the criminal justice system.

RA #4 (Aff)
Since the burden of the Aff is to prove the resolution true as a general principle, the Aff need not argue that juveniles charged with violent felonies be treated as adults in every single case, or in every single way. Rather, the Aff must show that juveniles charged with violent felonies be treated as adults in the majority (or preponderance) of cases, and in the majority of ways.

RA #5 (Aff)
Since the resolution says "juveniles charged with violent felonies," and the prepositional phrase employs a plural noun, we concern ourselves only with juveniles charged with more than one violent felony.

RA #6
Since the resolution concerns the United States criminal justice system, and since the terms "juvenile" and "violent felony" are clearly defined in U.S. Code, and for the sake of clarity and fairness to both sides, we should use federal definitions of both terms (linked above).

Observation #1 (Aff)
It is important to remember that a juvenile charged with a violent felony has not been convicted of the crime.

Observation #2
Regardless of any other considerations, any arguments that do not meet Constitutional muster can be rejected out-of-hand.

Observation #3 (Aff)
Any bright-line distinction between juveniles and adults based solely on age is completely arbitrary.

Observation #4
The legal process is inherently political.

Dec 10, 2010

imagine your cravings away

I spent a good thirty minutes imagining blogging about this article, and yet, sadly, the desire to blog about it only grew stronger.

Well, at least it works for food.

Dec 9, 2010

scattered thoughts on the juvenile justice resolution

Some scattered thoughts regarding the January / February 2011 LD resolution. Before proceeding, let's recall its exact words:
Resolved: In the United States, juveniles charged with violent felonies ought to be treated as adults in the criminal justice system.
  • Juvenile detention is primarily based on rehabilitation; the state hopes that it's not too late for young criminals to turn it around, to become functional (or, at least, non-dysfunctional) members of society. Combine this with the prospect that justice as a deterrent may not work when juveniles can't consider the far-reaching implications of their actions, and you have two initial reasons to choose a retributive version of justice for the Affirmative.
  • How are juveniles different from adults in legally or morally significant ways? Part of the distinction is sentimental: kids are kids. They're cute. They say and do funny things. They are innocent and naive. When a kid turns violent, our sentimental shock leads us in two opposite directions: either to minimize their individual responsibility (blame society, bad parenting, bad genes, insufficient brain development, etc.) or to declare them a moral monster (a "superpredator," a sociopath capable of inhuman evil). Is there a rational middle path?
  • What does "treating like an adult" entail?
  • And, a trickier question, what is its temporal extent--or, in other words, how long does it last? In this chain of events...
    Arrest - booking / charges - detention - setting bail - arraignment - preliminary hearing - pre-trial motions - trial - deliberation - verdict - allocution - sentencing - serving time - release from incarceration or punishment - reentering society.
    ... the resolution begins at the "charging" stage. But where does it end?
  • One can argue that the resolution concerns only those charged with violent felonies--and thus it only concerns everything from the charging stage to the verdict. After all, at that point (or at any point until charges are dropped), juveniles that are innocent are cleared of the charges. This would define the Aff ground much more narrowly, making privacy the primary difference in treatment. The Aff would argue that juveniles would have to be named in public records (and, most likely, in the media), since it's in the public's interest to know the identity of a potentially dangerous person. The Neg, of course, would argue that such a public accounting might ruin a juvenile's reputation for life, even if they're found innocent at trial.
  • If the resolution covers the entire process from charging through the rest of a juvenile's time in the justice system (whenever it ends), then punishment is part of the picture. In this case, is there a way for the Aff to at least minimize the likelihood that a 6-year-old is going to be thrown into The Hole in a maximum security prison?
  • Yes.
  • Since we're talking about the U.S. justice system, we have to include prosecutorial discretion and jury sympathy in the equation. It can be politically unfavorable for a prosecutor to aggressively go after juveniles; it can also be strategically difficult. In the face of arguments that juveniles have diminished responsibility, the Aff can turn the argument: that very fact keeps juries from viewing juvenile defendants as fully culpable, and so a jury that is faced with levying a maximum sentence on a 12-year old will act very cautiously.
  • What about the death penalty, or life without parole?
  • In the classic conception of crime, two elements are jointly necessary for someone to be culpable: the actus reus, or guilty action, and the mens rea, or guilty mind. A person who only thinks about murdering their enemy may have a guilty mind, but has not committed a guilty action, and is thus not culpable. Meanwhile, a demon-possessed madman who kills a random stranger may have committed a criminal action, but was unable to appreciate the distinction between right and wrong, and is thus not culpable. (Such a person may be incarcerated in a mental institution until the end of time, for others' safety, but that is the justifying reason, not their individual culpability.) We use similar logic to deny the death penalty to adults without the cognitive faculties to distinguish right and wrong.
  • Why does mens rea matter? Because it seems tacitly unfair to punish someone for an accident, for circumstances beyond their control, for something they did not will of their own accord, or would have willed differently if they had been of sound mind.
  • Are juveniles fully capable--or, at least, capable enough--of distinguishing right and wrong?
  • If we were to punish actions regardless of will or mental state, what might happen?

Dec 8, 2010

comments are now moderated

I've turned on comment moderation. Sorry for the inconvenience; one spammer has been going crazy, and so we all have to suffer for a while.

Dec 5, 2010

definition of "violent felonies"

The January / February 2011 LD resolution asks us to consider treating as adults those juveniles who have been charged with "violent felonies."

In U.S. law, what constitutes a "violent felony?" We can look to federal statutes for the most widely applicable definition. According to Section 924(e)(2) of Title 18 of US Code (a section added under the Armed Career Criminal Act of 1984),
(B) the term "violent felony" means any crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year, or any act of juvenile delinquency involving the use or carrying of a firearm, knife, or destructive device that would be punishable by imprisonment for such term if committed by an adult, that -
(i) has as an element the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against the person of another; or
(ii) is burglary, arson, or extortion, involves use of explosives, or otherwise involves conduct that presents a serious potential risk of physical injury to another
Note the dual criteria for the phrase. First, the punishment must meet a precise minimum of severity, and second, that the crime itself involves force or the threat (or even "serious potential risk") of force or injury.

In U.S. sentencing guidelines, felonies range from Class E (1-5 year sentence) to Class A (life imprisonment or the death penalty). Examples of violent felonies include murder, kidnapping, arson, crimes against children, armed robbery, aggravated assault, rape, firearm use in certain cases, or firearm possession in certain cases.

Lastly, it's probably preferable to use define this legal term of art as a phrase, rather than by combining dictionary definitions, since it'll help clarify the debate and place it into a specific, research-ready legal context.

the risks of punishing juveniles as adults

If we treat juveniles charged with violent crimes the same way we treat adults, the argument will go, we will--must?--punish them the same way we punish adults.

Why might that be problematic? In his article "The Contradictions of Juvenile Crime and Punishment," found in the Summer 2010 edition of Daedalus, Jeffrey Fagan offers several reasons. First, from a rehabilitative standpoint, it backfires:
... even short-term exposure for youths to adult prisons has risks for youths and for public safety. To the extent that legislators ignored these risks, the wholesale transfer of minors to the criminal courts was a reckless experiment. A robust body of research shows that recidivism rates are in fact higher for youths sentenced as adults, after controlling for relevant offender and offense characteristics....
Why is this the case?
One explanation for the elevated recidivism rates may be the effects of adolescents' exposure to prison life and adult convicts. While likely to be separated physically from older inmates, the institutional climate on the youth side may hardly differ from other blocks in the prison: the separation may be one of degree rather than kind. Indeed, it may even worsen the chaos and violence of correctional confinement by concentrating youths who are at their peak ages of criminality and diminished self-control.
The experience is more psychically damaging to youths, as well:
Only a few studies have compared the correctional experiences of youths in prisons and juvenile incarceration, but all agree that placing youths in prisons comes at a cost: they are less likely to receive education and other essential services, they are more likely to be victims of physical violence, and they manifest a variety of psychological symptoms.
Of course, the affirmative rejoinder is that juveniles who have been charged with violent felonies are potentially beyond rehabilitating in first place--and that the reluctance of society to punish juveniles like adults might give juveniles an inflated sense of invincibility.

Dec 1, 2010

Resolved: In the United States, juveniles charged with violent felonies ought to be treated as adults in the criminal justice system.

The NFL Lincoln Douglas debate resolution for January / February 2011 has been released:
Resolved: In the United States, juveniles charged with violent felonies ought to be treated as adults in the criminal justice system.
Definitions will be critical. In the United States, what currently defines juveniles and adults in the criminal justice system? How are they treated differently? (One massive point of controversy concerns the temporary nature of juvenile charges--they are essentially erased when the juvenile reaches the age of majority.) More important, why is the distinction drawn? What notions of proportionality and moral responsibility are involved? Furthermore, what constitutes a "violent felony?" What might make a violent crime a special case, worthy of adult-like treatment? And what does it mean to be "treated as an adult?" For instance, would that require juvenile violent felons to be housed in the same prison facilities as adults, or would it merely mean that the juveniles are charged and tried under the same criteria as adults, with a permanent criminal record (and public access to their criminal history; right now, juvenile criminals are not identified to the public).

Thinking about it further, there is a case to be made that the "treatment" does not extend past the arrest and trial phase--after all, they are juveniles that have been charged, not convicted. Hmm. Although the counterargument is probably that whatever distinguishes pre- and post-sentencing treatment for juveniles and adults is morally relevant to distinguish them in the first place.

This was my fourth-favorite resolution for this year, and although it tracks a little closely to the previous resolution, since it's focused on criminal justice, the topic is different enough to not feel stale. Plus, it'll be easy to research and fun to debate.

More links, analysis, and observations to come. As always, share your questions and ideas in the comments--they're what make this site so useful for so many!

P.S. Don't worry: the Nov./Dec. 2010 illegal drugs resolution post is still active, at least until January.

Added 12/2 / Clarified 12/31: The Federal Bureau of prisons defines "juvenile delinquent," which means a person who was charged as a juvenile (under 18); the upper age range for a juvenile delinquent is 21. Title 18 of US Code defines "juvenile." Could be a useful definition, especially to counter the "different states have different definitions" argument. The Supreme Court's ruling (and dissents) in Roper v. Simmons are also worth checking out.

Added 12/3: The Office of Juvenile Justice is a treasure trove of useful statistics.

Added 12/5: What are some of the risks of punishing juveniles like we punish adults? Also, how should we define "violent felonies?"

Added 12/9: Some scattered thoughts on the resolution.

Added 12/10: I cooked up a few resolutional analyses and observations for this resolution.

Added 12/15: What are some key features of the way juveniles are / may be treated in the criminal justice system? Also, here's a list of Value/Criterion pairs.

Added 12/20: The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy has a useful intermediate-level introduction to moral justifications of punishment. (See also its article on legal punishment.)

Added 12/27: I answer a question about juvenile recidivism statistics.

Added 1/3: Guest-blogger Bri Castellini discusses the psychological implications of the Neg.

Added 1/9: Bri Castellini promotes Objectivism as a criterion, and generic case ideas for this resolution. I discuss matters of age and arbitrariness.

Added 1/19: I answer reader questions about punishing juveniles as adults.

Added 1/20: A quick thought about emotions and the law.

Added 1/24: Deconstructing the argument from brain-based differences.

Added 1/30: Due process rights for juveniles are considered.

Nov 29, 2010

the day the backlight died

Friday evening, November 26th. Comatose from turkey, football, and jigsaw puzzles, the family decides to watch How to Train Your Dragon for our annual Family Movie. (Review: surprisingly decent, if you like Scottish Vikings.)

Five minutes before the film starts, I'm sitting in the living room, watching the end of a meaningless game while updating my Netflix queue. Suddenly, my school-provided laptop goes dark. It's been doing this for a few months, at random, usually when the power cord is removed, and the short-term solution is to hit the brightness button until sanity is restored.

Only this time, it doesn't work.

I start to panic, thinking that the hard drive has crashed (Again? That's unpossible!), until I notice that I can barely see the faintest image of the desktop. Whew. It's just the monitor. Or, more precisely, the backlight.

Over the course of the weekend, I learn several things.

1. If you shine a flashlight on the screen, you can see everything, albeit a little awkwardly.
2. If I had tried this same technique with a torch, essentially, I would have been behaving as a 21st-century caveman.
3. I can live without the internet, for a few hours at least, until overcome by the urge to check email and update comments on a Google Doc or tweet on Twitter or post cryptically on Facebook or check college football scores on ESPN or... blog. (If I was a little slow answering your question about LD this past weekend, that's part of the reason.)
4. Mooching is one of the top five life skills. Maybe number one.
5. If you are an introvert or a germ-phobe, do not shop at Best Buy on Black Friday.
6. Life without a laptop is a life free of nagging responsibility.
7. I am not sure that I want a life free of nagging responsibility.

Nov 24, 2010

when it's icy in Seattle, stay home

Video of a street in Capitol Hill, where determined drivers vastly overestimate their skills on black ice. Steering out of a skid is not intuitive, even for a professional bus driver.

(About the videographer... usually I'm the kind of person who gets out and helps. But I guess they're performing a public service of sorts. And hey, no one was hurt.)

[via Cory Doctorow]

Nov 22, 2010

civil commitment and the illegal drugs resolution

Is it possible for a public health approach to the abuse of illegal drugs to be coercive? In a previous post, citing quarantine as an analogue, I argued that it is. Thanks to a conversation with Mr. Cushman, an attorney friend, I'll explore a second potential analogue for a non-criminal yet coercive public health approach: civil commitment.

Civil commitment is
... process in which a judge decides whether a person who is alleged to be mentally ill should be required to go to a psychiatric hospital or accept other mental health treatment.... A civil commitment is not a criminal conviction and will not go on a criminal record.
On what grounds can someone be civilly committed?
A person can be committed if after hearing from witnesses a judge finds by clear and convincing evidence that the person has a mental disorder and, because of that mental disorder, is:
  • Dangerous to self or others, or
  • Unable to provide for basic personal needs like health and safety.
Why shouldn't similar criteria justify civil commitment for drug abusers, under the supervision of medical personnel?

And, on the other side, what's the difference between this and a criminal penalty, other than the lack of a criminal record? Is it a distinction without a difference? (And does that point flow Negative?)

It's important to point out that civil commitment is a procedure that exists in free societies, although not without controversy, especially since it clearly violates Mill's harm principle.

Nov 21, 2010

countering The Spread

Some debaters can talk really, really fast. Beyond auctioneer fast. Beyond reasonable human being fast. Beyond propriety and decency fast. When you run into a verbal avalanche, an opponent trying to bury you with 20 contentions, what should you do?

Here's my advice for countering The Spread, as an expansion of a previous comment.

Before the Tournament

Learn to talk and listen faster.

  • Practice reading your case as fast as you can, while still enunciating. Have someone else listen to you so you're sure you're making sense.
  • Use the "pen trick." Hold a pen between your teeth, as far back as it'll go, flat on the top of your tongue so both ends of the pen stick out the sides of your cheeks. Then read your case, quickly.
  • Watch Policy Debate rounds on YouTube. Even if you don't understand the argument, practice flowing it. If you can keep up with Policy, you can probably keep up with an LD spread.

Learn to write faster.

  • Develop abbreviations.
  • Learn a form of shorthand.

Study up.

  • Have blocks, ideally 2-3 responses, prepared for all common framework choices, so you don't have to waste time thinking of refutations.
  • Keep your responses to bullet points--as clear and concise as you can manage.
  • Cards as blocks are okay, but they may take too much time.
  • Predict the weaseliest Resolutional Analysis and definitions you can imagine, and prepare blocks for them.

In Round
When flowing...

  • Focus on taglines; if nothing else, you'll at least be able to respond to the logic of their case.
  • Use arrows and symbols.
  • Use the abbreviations you've developed.

In CX...

  • Get clarity. It's not the best thing to do with your CX time, but it's better than going into your rebuttal without a clue.
  • As your opponent to provide the overarching thesis of their case. If they can't, you can go after them on grounds of consistency and coherence.

In your prep time...

  • Breathe. You're going to be fine.
  • Ask to see your opponent's case. If they're not just spreading because they're a jerk, they'll probably let you examine it.
  • Use most, if not all, of your time preparing for your first rebuttal.
  • Look for the overarching theme or thesis of your opponent's case. If you can, attack your opponent's case at the root: show how its framework is so flawed that the rest of the advocacy is immaterial, or how it's all predicated on a baseless assumption about human nature, the law, morality, etc. Note: if you're going to take this tack, you probably should just go with it and not do a "line by line" to hedge your bets. Otherwise, it'll seem that you lack confidence in your strategy.
  • Especially watch out for a priori arguments and burdens. Your opponent will argue that a drop in these circumstances is an automatic ballot for them.

In your rebuttal...

  • Go fast. Do not repeat yourself--there's no time.
  • Focus your efforts. Remember that a spreading debater is going to have to drop some points, too, so make sure any drops on your part are minor.
  • Group contentions like mad. Take out whole contentions (or more) at the same time.
  • If going for a wholesale attack on the case, or undercutting a key assumption, use the metaphor of sawing down a tree at the trunk to ensure that your judge "gets" your strategy.

Upon Reflection
Note that much of my advice is judge-dependent. If your judge says "Speed kills" and glares at your opponent during their constructive, feel free to employ arguments about fairness, education, and human decency.

Suggest tips or ask questions in the comments. What are your preferred strategies for countering The Spread?

Nov 17, 2010

Vlatko Vedral and the demon machine

I've blogged about demons from time to time, and I've blogged about physicist Vlatko Vedral from time to time, too.

And now, two of my favorite topics are together at last, in an article about a demon-powered bead.

Masaki Sano, a physicist at the University of Tokyo, and his colleagues have demonstrated that a bead can be coaxed up a 'spiral staircase' without any energy being directly transferred to the bead to push it upwards. Instead, it is persuaded along its route by a series of judiciously timed decisions to change the height of the 'steps' around it, based on information about the bead's position. In this sense, "information is being converted to energy", says Sano....

Vlatko Vedral, a quantum physicist at the University of Oxford, UK, says that it will be interesting to see whether the technique can be used to drive nanomotors and artificial molecular machines. "I would also be excited to see whether something like this is already at work in nature," he says. "After all, you could say that all living systems are 'Maxwell's demons', trying to defy the tendency for order to turn back into randomness."
If you're a living system--and let's hope you are--as Cake would put it, Satan is your motor.

Nov 16, 2010

legalization and time: another LD Mailbag

There seems to be quite a bit of confusion regarding the role of legalization in the illegal drugs resolution of November / December 2010.
Resolved: The abuse of illegal drugs ought to be treated as a matter of public health, not of criminal justice.
For instance, via email:
One of my opponents kept arguing (when I was Aff) that legalization had nothing to do with the debate. This confused me, but I thought it was just something with her. Then I get a judge who, upon being asked her paradigm, said that legalization is nonresolutional. What is all this about? I thought that was what the debate was about. What grounds, then, does the Aff have? And I mentioned what you said about manufacture and distribution could be illegal, but apparently that's still nonresolutional....

In my Aff case I talked about how drug abusers aren't guilty of a crime as they do not harm others; if they do then the law can interfere. However, my opponents said that since the resolution says "illegal drugs," drug abusers are clearly guilty of a crime, and apparently I don't have the power to change the drugs' legality.
In one sense, full legalization could nonresolutional--after all, if there exists no such substance as an "illegal drug," then there's nothing to debate. Flawless victory, Negative.

However, some form of decriminalization seems necessary, thanks to the word "not." I've argued many times before that making abuse (shooting up, smoking, inhaling, sniffing, ingesting) a matter of public health still gives the Negative ground to pursue manufacturers and distributors of illegal drugs.

Now I'm starting to think there may be another way. Let's look at the temporal aspect--how affirming and negating play out in time.

If we talk in terms of "possible worlds," we don't concern ourselves with time. The resolution is or is not true, always and forever. Thus, illegal drugs are always illegal, and full legalization (as opposed to partial decriminalization) is completely nonresolutional.

However, if we talk in terms of the status quo, with an eye toward the future (thus with time as part of the equation), then the Aff can argue the resolution can be true now--we "ought to" legalize drugs at some point in the future, in order to stop treating them as a matter of criminal justice--and that once legalization occurs, the resolution isn't false, but unnecessary.

In this line of thinking, legalization--complete and utter--is a valid Affirmative option.

What do you think?

Nov 14, 2010

a few good books

Let me take a little breather from debate-blogging to suggest some good reads.

See What I'm Saying, Lawrence D. Rosenblum
If you trained yourself, you could echolocate like a bat. Not as well as a bat, of course, but pretty darn well, considering. Rosenblum's first chapter explains how, while the rest of the book illuminates other surprising features of the senses. The upshot: it's actually misleading to think of a discrete batch of five senses; we all, to varying degrees, have what Rosenblum calls "multisensory perception." At least, that's how I smell it.

The Black Swan, Nassim Taleb; Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error, Kathryn Schulz
Of course, if our powers of perception are much better than we imagine, our cognition is much worse. These books aren't intended to be therapeutic, but, at least from this wrongster's perspective, they are, in the best possible way.

The Man Who Lied to His Laptop, Clifford Nass and Corina Yen
What can we learn about human nature by studying our interactions with machines? Hopefully, a great deal. This book provoked me to reconfigure the way I give feedback--and how I teach students to give each other feedback.

Here's Looking at Euclid, Alex Bellos
Love the title, and, even more, the explanations of mathematical concepts, which are entertaining and accessible in equal measures. Because the best math teachers always have the corniest jokes, right?

Nov 10, 2010

"Swung on and belted!"

Dave Niehaus, the soul of Mariner baseball, has passed away at seventy-five. In his honor, 710 ESPN has compiled some of his most memorable calls, late summer sunshine for a cold November night.

More audio at

Nov 9, 2010

definitional tricks; carrots and sticks: the LD mailbag

Regarding the illegal drugs resolution, a reader writes:
Would it be possible to argue on the affirmative that we use a joint system. As the resolution states, "The abuse of illegal drugs ought to be TREATED as a matter of public health not of criminal justice," wouldn't the debate settle on which means we need to treat with. Looking at the resolution with treating as the key point allows the affirmative to say we need to treat with public health but punish and mandate with criminal justice. Do you think this could flow in a debate and if so do you have any ideas on how to run it in a case?
Definitional tricks in LD have to pass the "eye-roll" test. If they make the judge roll her eyes and think, hoo boy, chances are your opponent--if at least minimally qualified--will have an easy way to defeat your definition.

I think this one barely passes, because the word "treat" does have a medical definition that works, somewhat, in the context of the resolution. The problem, as I see it, is that it's too easily defeated by a broader definition--"to deal with / handle"--and by the complete phrase "treated as a matter." Conditions are treated by (doctors, nurses, public health officials), or treated with (medicine, surgery, bed rest, kissing a boo-boo), not treated as.

A tricksy definition may not last beyond CX. For instance, today in practice, one of my debaters was trying to define the "abuse" of illegal drugs to include the manufacture and distribution of drugs. After all, he said, to "abuse" a drug is to "use it wrongly." So what does "use" mean? "Well... to inhale, or inject, or snort, or..." Or manufacture or distribute? "Uh... sure." To paraphrase the old song, "Two of these things are not like the other things."

Another reader writes:
I just debated the current topic last weekend, and a lot of negatives went for a permutation of criminal justice and a public health approach. They claimed that the only way to require people to go to rehab or to use another public health approach is through a court sentence or another criminal justice approach. Would you be able to post anything that can help the Aff maintain uniqueness? Thanks!
Lots of responses for that line of thinking.

1. Why require rehab? If we have a society in which government forces people to rehabilitate themselves, then we not only clear a path to authoritarianism, but we lose a sense of personal responsibility and moral agency. We fall prey to a mindset that drugs have incredible powers over us, and that addiction is a disease. (This line of reasoning is rebutted and rebuked in the excellent Pain Control and Drug Policy.)

2. On the other hand, maybe addiction is a disease--giving public health officials quarantine powers.

3. There are plenty of noncoercive public health approaches: education, needle sharing, community outreach, treatment centers, and, someday, quite possibly, anti-drug vaccination. Or why not offer economic incentives to help abusers clean up?

4. In a rights-based or retributivist framework, questions of efficacy are the wrong questions. Inviolable rights are inviolable, no matter how well intentioned, or how good the potential outcome. If drug abuse (the act of getting high on illegal drugs) is itself not a crime, then a criminal justice approach is not only morally wrong, but a category error.

Nov 7, 2010

cross-examining the illegal drugs resolution

Readers have been asking about potential CX questions for the illegal drugs resolution. I've been a little leery about posting them, since no general set of questions is going to apply in most circumstances; cases vary in so many ways. My own approach to CX is more situational and impromptu--but then, I usually have a general strategy heading in.

So, here are a few things to ask about, for both sides, whenever your opponent assumes or glides over them. Note: these are not the questions themselves. Frame your questions for strategic advantage; see the example below, and this note.

1. What justifies criminal punishment? Who determines what proper punishment should be?
2. What limits punishment, if anything?
3. What is the nature of the society in the resolution? Will the outcome change if the society is democratic, authoritarian, or a constitutional monarchy, among many other options?
4. Why are illegal drugs illegal?
5. What does abuse mean? Is it mere misuse, or a pattern of sustained, debilitating misuse?
6. What are some of the potentially distasteful options for public health treatment?
7. What are some empirical examples of nations or governments that have tried a public health approach?
8. Does the phrase "illegal drugs" include legal drugs used off-label or without a prescription?
9. Is there an agreed-upon approach in the international / medical community?

One of the primary goals of CX is to expose the flaw or weakness in the opposing advocacy, which is why one of the best CX techniques is a species of reductio called the reductio ad ridiculum or reductio ad incommodum. Here's an example.
AFF: Your criterion is utilitarianism, correct?
NEG: Right.
AFF: Under that criterion, how do we justify criminal punishment?
NEG: By measuring its effect.
AFF: And how do we do that?
NEG: By looking at whether society is overall improved.
AFF: But that's hard to do, isn't it, when you have an essentially harmful response to a harm? For instance, how does it improve society to imprison drug abusers?
NEG: I guess I mean that it reduces crime. It keeps criminals from committing more crimes while imprisoned [incapacitation], and also warns others away from committing crimes, or from spreading their drug habit to friends or family [deterrence].
AFF: But what if the most effective way to incapacitate drug offenders (and to frighten away future abusers) is to shoot stoners on sight?
NEG: But that's ridiculous.
AFF: Why?
At this point, the Affirmative has given the Neg several awkward choices.

The Neg could argue for some kind of "side constraint" on a utilitarian approach to punishment--that some punishments are just too awful--which might help the Aff show why a deontological approach is superior, because it rules out such punishments on principle, rather than ad hoc.

The Neg could also try to argue that society won't flourish with the population living in fear of summary execution--but will likely have no evidence, and, more important, no bright line for distinguishing more or less draconian punishments (and how they might affect society more broadly).

It's also quite possible that the Neg will swallow the bitter pill of consistency and try to defend a draconian approach as legitimate.

Regardless, the Affirmative has the Neg on the defensive, which is the point of CX.

That's all I have for now. In the comments, suggest questions (or lines of questions) that might work--or have worked for you.

yours, mine, and ours

Thoughts, we imagine, belong to us. Even when we share them (speaking, writing, smiling, Facebook-liking) or when others can divine them (ESP, brain scans, Spock-like mind-melding), the origin of our thoughts, geographically speaking, is local. In the other direction, we resist efforts to implant unwanted thoughts in our minds (indoctrination, propaganda, brainwashing, manipulative sales tactics) and get uncomfortable at the prospect of Inception-esque thought implantation.

In the physicalist account of consciousness, nothing would theoretically prohibit the direct transmission of thoughts from one brain to another, given the right wiring--perhaps complicating the notion of my thoughts versus your thoughts.

Nature, of course, has the proof of concept.
They are the rarest of the rarest of the rare. Tatiana and Krista are not just conjoined, but they are craniopagus, sharing a skull and also a bridge between each girl’s thalamus, a part of the brain that processes and relays sensory information to other parts of the brain. Or perhaps in this case, to both brains. There is evidence that they can see through each other’s eyes and perhaps share each other’s unspoken thoughts. And if that proves true, it will be the rarest thing of all. They will be unique in the world.

They have been drawing international attention, both public and scientific, since before their birth. Dr. Douglas Cochrane, a neurosurgeon at Children’s Hospital, is part of the team that has been watching over them since they were in the womb. Last year he conducted tests in which one twin looked at an object while he measured the brain activity in the other. “Their brains are recording signals from the other twin’s visual field,” he cautiously concluded. “One might be seeing what the other one is seeing.”
It's not just a neurologist's theory:
The family regularly sees evidence of it. The way their heads are joined, they have markedly different fields of view. One child will look at a toy or a cup. The other can reach across and grab it, even though her own eyes couldn’t possibly see its location. “They share thoughts, too,” says Louise. “Nobody will be saying anything,” adds Simms, “and Tati will just pipe up and say, ‘Stop that!’ And she’ll smack her sister.” While their verbal development is delayed, it continues to get better. Their sentences are two or three words at most so far, and their enunciation is at first difficult to understand. Both the family, and researchers, anxiously await the children’s explanation for what they are experiencing.
As do the rest of us amateur philosopher-types.

[via Cory Doctorow]

Nov 4, 2010

when elections don't matter

I was going to blog extensively about Glenn Greenwald's recent visit to South Puget Sound Community College, but I see that Berd beat me to it.

Instead, the abridged version.

1. At this point, in the Obama presidency, at least as it relates to civil liberties, you're either naive or cynical. Consider his track record, as summarized by Greenwald:
Civil liberties were at the forefront of the critique of the Bush-Cheney administration. Yet virtually all of these powers are still in place, or have been strengthened.

Obama symbolically ended...
* Authorization for torture. (It was no longer in use by the time he was inaugurated.)
* The use of CIA black sites. (They were already empty.)

Obama continued Bush-era practices for...
* State secrets
* Guantanamo Bay detention
* Drone attacks
* Covert activities / "interference" (that fuels terrorism, in Greenwald's view)

Obama invented...
* The right to order the CIA to target American citizens for assassination

Greenwald's summing-up: "The idea that Barack Obama would do more to institutionalize and entrench and strengthen Bush-era policies... was something that not even the most cynical Democrat would have foreseen."

2. Greenwald seemed much more upbeat about the Tea Party and the Republican "shellacking" than many in his liberal audience. Partisanship, if nothing else, deflates the president's ego.

3. New Mexico Republican Gary Johnson: savior of civil liberties? From an unidentified woman in the Question and Answer session: "I had drinks with Gary Johnson, and got a little bit drunk. He's really awesome.... He's a Republican and he's completely awesome."

Nov 1, 2010

how to earn more speaker points: from the LD mailbag

Recently, a reader wrote:
Dear Jim,

I am a novice in LD but I have attended a debate camp over the previous summer and competed in my first tournament last Saturday. I went 4-0 but only placed 3rd in the novice division due to speaker points. Unfortunately, many of the tournaments we have around here do not have elimination rounds. I was wondering how I could possibly increase my speaker points. Maybe you could give me a top 10 things to do or something similar. The debate camp I went to was more focused on JV and V levels and thus were focused on argumentation and higher level debate skills, many of which I picked up quickly. I really enjoy your blog and it has helped me.

Thanks in advance,
Ten seems like a good number. Here are a few things you can do to increase your speaker points. (Have other ideas? Suggest 'em in the comments.)

1. Work on your prose.
Write your cases so they're elegant, not just functional. Learn some rhetorical devices and employ them (judiciously, of course). I particularly like anaphora and epistrophe, especially when allied with asyndeton and polysyndeton. Your case, at least on the Affirmative, is your first chance to shine. Don't waste it.

2. Work on your prosody.
The best speech is like music, with discernible rhythm and melody. Bust out of monotone, slow down a little, and emphasize the words that really count.

3. Introduce and conclude.
I know it's the fashion for some debaters to skip the "fluff" because, in their view, it wastes precious time, time that could be spent warranting or analyzing the resolution or dropping a second underview (yeah, I've seen it). However, don't underestimate the power of a snappy quote, or, heaven forfend, a poignant anecdote.

4. Be charming.
Simple things: eye contact, a smile. Don't ask your judge, "What's your paradigm?" Instead, ask what school they're from, or "What do you look for in a round?" or "Anything we should know before the round starts?" Sound like a human being, not Debate Robot 3000.

5. Be forceful, but not irritable.
Don't sound, or look, like a jerk.

6. Be gracious in defeat--and moreso in victory.
Say "Good round" when it was. On the other hand, don't say "Good round" if you thoroughly trashed your opponent. You will sound insincere and condescending. Thank the judge for judging instead, and don't speak unless your opponent wants to talk with you.

7. Have an organized approach.
Have a roadmap: "First I'll address my opponent's points, then rebuild my own." Line-by-line is safe for starters.

8. Be witty.
Pepper your thoughts with pithy quotes by folks like Mark Twain or Mae West. If you're good at telling jokes, use one as an analogy. (If you're not good at telling jokes, please, don't.)

9. Don't suck up to the judge.
Seriously. Don't compliment them (it'll ring hollow). Don't shake hands (it's awkward for some of us, and it spreads disease). Don't over-apologize for being late (it happens to everyone; it's usually extemp's fault).

10. Videotape yourself, and learn from the experience.
You'll be glad you did.

Oct 31, 2010

the most destructive drug

Mentioned in an article that may be of interest to students debating the current LD resolution, a new Lancet study has determined the overall most destructive drug.

Hint: most places, it's legal.
When drunk in excess, alcohol damages nearly all organ systems. It is also connected to higher death rates and is involved in a greater percentage of crime than most other drugs, including heroin.

But experts said it would be impractical and incorrect to outlaw alcohol.

"We cannot return to the days of prohibition," said Leslie King, an adviser to the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and one of the study's authors. "Alcohol is too embedded in our culture and it won't go away."

King said countries should target problem drinkers, not the vast majority of people who indulge in a drink or two. He said governments should consider more education programs and raising the price of alcohol so it isn't as widely available.
Non-rhetorical question: Why not take the same approach to all drugs?

Added: Sullum (linked above) highlights and critiques the study.

Oct 25, 2010

value and criterion pairs for the illegal drugs resolution

The NFL LD resolution for November / December 2010 offers many options for frameworks.
Resolved: The abuse of illegal drugs ought to be treated as a matter of public health, not of criminal justice.
The following list--a work in progress--should be taken as a set of suggestions. You might have better ideas, and you know what you know, and what you'll need to research. If you have any brilliant ideas or questions, feel free to share in the comments.

I've separated the pairs into three groups.

Trending Affirmative

V: Justice (defined as "to each their due," or a similar concept)
C: Retribution
Some varieties of retributivism match well with the Affirmative argument that drug abuse itself is not a crime, and hence punishing it is as such is immoral. For the dissenting view--that drug abuse could represent a violation of "equal liberty for all," and its punishment justified on retributivist grounds--see here.

V: Liberty or Autonomy
C: Mill's Harm Principle
Liberty is the basis of human rights and flourishing. Its close cousin, autonomy, precedes any sort of societal or law-and-order consideration, because it is the foundation of human rights and societal order. If the Aff can show that drug abuse is a separate moral matter from drug manufacture or trafficking, then people have a right to hurt themselves through drug abuse. (If they hurt others, we already have justification enough for punishment.)

Trending Negative

V: Health or Societal Welfare
C: Paternalism (via Utilitarianism)
One Aff strategy will be to declare that drug abuse is a "victimless crime." To a paternalist, this is irrelevant; the state has a responsibility to keep folks from harming themselves. (A utilitarian justification exists: one's suffering, or even lack of productivity, inevitably affects society.) The danger, of course, is a slippery slope to tyranny. A paternal state is seldom satisfied with the limits of its power.

V: Societal Welfare
C: Upholding Moral Standards
Morality is good because it holds society together. (There may be social contract implications lurking beneath the surface of this structure.) If the core value of a society, then we are justified in punishing those who commit offenses against morality.
Strategy for Success: This criterion respects differences across societies, since the resolution doesn't specify any particular society. However, it also leaves one open to the attack that morality is difficult to define and agree upon, even within a society.

Could Go Either Way

V: Societal Welfare
C: Utilitarianism
The utilitarian theory of criminal justice is based on the beneficial outcomes of punishment: preventing future crimes through deterrence, incapacitation, and rehabilitation. However, in the wider context of utilitarianism, punishment is counterproductive if its costs outweigh the benefits. Any statistical argument about treatment outcomes or deterrence is most likely utilitarian in nature.

Strategy for Success: Be sure to show how Util leads to SW. Watch out for the "50.01% can kill 49.99%" response, an oversimplification of Utilitarianism. Learn about the nuances and varieties of the moral philosophy. They're worth exploring.

V: Human Rights / Justice
C: International Law / International Human Rights Norms
Since the resolution does not specify a particular society, we can't be 100% certain which rights must be protected. Best, then, to look to the prevailing standards of international law--the rights that people across societies, cultures, and even times have agreed are essential. Is this criterion open to attack? Certainly. But it also presents a clear, highly defensible set of rights (and jurisprudence as evidence). It's worth looking into the international perspective on drug offenses, and whether it supports a public health or a mixed approach.

V: Justice
C: Rawls' first principle of justice (or, more generally, the Rawlsian social contract)

V: Justice
C: Equal protection of the laws

V: Human Rights
C: Locke's Social Contract

V: The General Will
C: Rousseau's Social Contract

V: Justice (defined in terms of morality)
C: The Categorical Imperative
According to Kant, moral actions are good in and of themselves. Furthermore, Kantian theory applies to all rational agents--criminals and law enforcers alike. Those who punish criminals are bound by moral obligation to punish them to the fullest.
Strategy for Success: Many people misunderstand Kant and the Categorical Imperative, so make sure you do the research first.

V: Justice / Societal Welfare
C: The Rule of Law
The Aff could argue that criminalizing drug abuse leads to a War on Drugs, that dehumanizes drug abusers, empowers criminals, sets children against parents and parents against children. This diminishes respect for the law, which is the closest approximation to real justice in a given society. Further, diminishing the rule of law has wider social consequences. (Or, on the Negative, would decriminalizing drugs via a public health approach do the same? Do we risk a slippery slope to drug-fueled, soporific anarchy?)

Oct 23, 2010

advice on cross-examination

Words of advice from Mr. Cushman, a friend and fellow LD aficionado.
Cross-examination is a speech you force your opponent to make on your behalf, by asking loaded and leading questions.

It should be organized like a speech, using principles of primacy and recency. Start and end strongly, with attack questions.

If you have clarifying questions, ask them in the middle, so they don't detract from the rhetorical force of cross-examination.

Oct 22, 2010

from the retribution vault

The November/December resolution for 2010 invites us to contrast a public health approach to a criminal justice approach to illegal drug abuse. One of the most fruitful ways to address the conflict is through the lens of retributive justice.

I haven't sketched out an entire position for each side--I'm too busy helping my debate team figure out their cases--but I do have time to post some links to previous writing on the subject. Enjoy.

1. Gerard Bradley's take on punishment as a way of maintaining "equal legal liberty for all."

2. Sharon Dolovich's Rawlsian perspective arrives at a similar destination by a different route.

3. There's more than one kind of retributivism, mind you.

4. A while back I wrote a case about plea bargaining that employed several good retributive arguments.

5. On the other hand, how about a virtue ethics approach?

Oct 20, 2010

the eleventy-sixth amendment

I've been staying out of the political fray this season, since I'm far too busy with far more pressing things. (Today in Debate: a half-hour skirmish on the meaning of history.) Why am I posting this, then? I don't know. I guess it's because I loathe confident ignorance.

I tried to watch Christine O'Donnell's dust-up with Chris Coons over the interpretation of the First Amendment, and whether it lays the groundwork for the separation of church and state. I was hoping to see if O'Donnell's reported ignorance ("The First Amendment?") was, in fact, an uncharitable fallacy of accent in interpretation. (Point. Counterpoint.)

I couldn't get that far. It took only 1 minute and 8 seconds to determine that O'Donnell's grasp of the Constitution is tenuous, if not fatuous. When Coons argues that schools shouldn't be allowed to teach religious doctrine, O'Donnell fires back,
"Public schools do not have the right to teach what they feel? [Turns to the audience.] Well there you go. Do you want a senator who would impose his beliefs? Talk about imposing your beliefs on the local school!
At this point, O'Donnell is at least courting an actual controversy. Local school boards have long wrestled with the First Amendment, and there are plenty of folks who want to keep the feds out of their schoolhouse. (Ironically, a lot of them are the same folks who voted for the president most responsible for the raging federalization of education, George W. Bush.)

But then, after reiterating her support of teaching Intelligent Design in the classroom, O'Donnell tries to hammer the point home:
You have just stated that you will impose your will on local school boards, and that is a blatant violation of the Constitution."
Which Constitution? The one that hides out in the National Archives makes no mention of education, leaving the matter entirely to the states. Nothing in the Constitution would prohibit the establishment of a national education system, which seems to be the trend these days.

So I never made it to the moments when O'Donnell reportedly was baffled by the placement of the establishment clause in the First Amendment. I was too astonished at her novel interpolation of the Eleventy-Sixth.

Oct 19, 2010

LD mailbag: what the drug resolution is all about

Recently I received a string of great questions about the illegal drugs resolution that deserve reply in a complete post. Hence, the latest LD Mailbag, non-email edition. Enjoy.
I am new to debate and we have to learn LD first and she threw the topic on us and showed us how to format it but i am so stuck!!!!!! I dont want to quit debate but i am so lost... I am stuck on Aff and Neg cases... the cases are due tomorrow! I am so screwed!
1. Don't panic.
2. Have you read about how to write a case?
3. Seriously: breathe. And keep reading.
Neil Mehta said...

Hey Jim,
First of all I'd like to say that your blog helps me and all my friends start our cases each year. But this year, especially this topic, I'm having trouble grasping what the resolution actually means and what we are supposed to be debating
Thanks for the help.

Public health is a largely preventive approach to medical matters that affect the community--harms inflicted by disease, malnutrition, environmental hazards, and the like. Its primary tools are education, inoculation, sanitation, and regulation. Criminal justice, on the other hand, is society's response to harms inflicted by individuals. It employs punishment for many reasons, chief among them retribution, incapacitation, rehabilitation, and deterrence.

Which is a more effective approach? That's the utilitarian or pragmatic (and hence empirical) question.

Which is a more just, fair, or moral approach? That's where we bring in arguments based on rights, liberty, the "harm principle," and more.

All kinds of questions circulate around us. What is crime? What is the purpose of punishment? Is drug addiction a disease? When, if ever, is the state justified in forcing someone to seek treatment?

Anonymous said...

Hey Jim, your site has always been very helpful to me, and I'd like to sincerely thank you for all the help; the articles you post really jumpstart my cases.

As for this resolution: I'm having a really hard time grasping what the rez is asking of us, and which philosophy each side pertains to. I feel as though both aff and neg can argue many of the same philosophers and things, and its really confusing me. Both sides can use Kant, Societal Welfare, Rawls, the Social Contract, and something to the effect of: "deterrence of crime is necessary."

I guess the most stable affirmative ground would be proving that public health is effective in reducing drug use, and that criminal justice isn't.. and then linking it all together with claims to Justice or Societal Welfare

I guess the most stable negative ground would be proving that public health does not actually deter drug use, and that crime only has one solution: criminal justice.

Both seem to clash well, but I don't think they get to the heart of the rez, which is: what should be done of the individuals who commit these actions.. and whether those individuals are responsible for their actions.

At this point, I'm putting together cases with tape and toothpicks because I don't quite understand what it is I truly should be debating as a traditional debater. Any insight would be greatly appreciated.

For "tape and toothpicks," I think you're doing rather well. One of the primary philosophical questions is whether the state is justified in coercing drug abusers into treatment for what, in many cases, is a "victimless crime." The resolution focuses on abuse, which may not imply that anyone is even suffering personally from the effects of the illegal drug. Most drug users, statistically, are not hardcore heroin addicts or tweaked-out meth-heads.

But what of those who are? Abetted or spurred on by the abuse, they can wreak havoc on society, and, via the social contract, we expect them to suffer, and society to respond to their crimes with fitting punishment.

But it's not so simple: even a public health approach can be coercive, as doctors take on the role of law enforcers, infringing on liberties without strict guidelines to limit their power. At least in the criminal justice system, you have an adversarial framework meant to protect the rights of the accused. When it comes to the "soft power" of public health, the experts always seem to win.

I agree that there is a strong element of either-side-can-use-the-same-framework, but, honestly, that's often true of LD resolutions, the most recent nuclear weapons resolution being a perfect example.

Anonymous said...


I noticed you mentioned drug courts as a matter of criminal justice. Is there any way for the negative to include drug courts in his advocacy, and if so, how?
Drug court (Wikipedia has a decent summary), a relatively modern invention, is a great way to focus a balance Neg, in which you argue that criminal justice and public health officials need to join forces. Mandatory treatment with improved recidivism rates: what's not to love?