Jan 31, 2010

online high schools: a disappointment?

Initial results from Washington's online high schools, at first glance, seem disappointing:
According to a state report released last month, nearly half of the students taking online classes in 2008 failed with an D or F grade.

Also, online school is not a get-out-of-WASL-free card. Full-time online students must take the test in person at a testing site set up by the school. Part-time students who take one or two classes online still test at their home districts.

Statewide, several online schools have a hard time getting their students to show up for the test, which results in mixed performance reviews.

In the six online schools the state studied, fewer than half of sophomores passed the reading WASL last spring, compared to 81 percent statewide. Less than 20 percent of those sophomores passed the math WASL.

Online school officials say the report is flawed. Students who skipped the WASL counted as a zero, which dragged the school average down.

Take out the “zeros” at Washington Virtual Academy for example, and 77 percent of their sophomores passed WASL reading. In math, 31 percent passed compared to 45 percent statewide....

Online school students at those six schools took the WASL 64 percent of the time, compared to nearly 98 percent statewide, the report said.
I'm pretty sure that the results can mostly be explained by the way online school is currently employed: as a second chance for students who've struggled in a traditional environment. A 50% passing rate, then, might actually represent a genuine success. We'll have to see longer-term results from districts that have a mixed approach. From a cost-benefit perspective, the lower infrastructure and instructional costs, even if the passing rate stays flat at 50%, might still make the project worthwhile.

Jan 30, 2010

your homework, due April 4th

Baseball websites are bursting at the seams with statistics of every stripe. (Yes, I went there--twice.) And now, remarkably, you can find a series of the web's best intros to the various methods of sabermetrics all in one place.

Now you have no excuse.

[via Dave Cameron]

Jan 27, 2010

robots evolve altruistic behaviors

More fun in the field of evolutionary robotics:
In one experimental condition, the arena contained only large tokens, and the only way for robots to increase their fitness was to cooperate in pushing them [37]. Accordingly, robots readily evolved the ability to cooperatively push large tokens towards the white wall in all 20 evolutionary replicates that were conducted. However, when the arena contained both large and small tokens, the behaviour of robots was influenced by the group kin structure. In groups of unrelated robots (i.e., robots whose genomes where not more similar within than between groups), robots invariably specialised in pushing the small objects, which was the most efficient strategy to maximise their own individual fitness them (i.e., large tokens provided an equal direct payoff as a small token but were more difficult to successfully push). By contrast, the presence of related robots within groups allowed the evolution of altruism. When groups were formed of “clonal” robots all having the same genome, individuals primarily pushed the large tokens even though it was costly, in terms of individual fitness, for the robots pushing (Video S6).
Up next: robots evolve jealousy, petty rage, and scorn.

[via Reed A. Cartwright]

Jan 24, 2010

sanctions as "signals or gestures"

Regarding the sanctions resolution, reader Kevin sends along a link to an older CATO institute backgrounder on economic sanctions, which he says is excellent for the affirmative. Some highlights:
U.S. companies are harder hit by economic sanctions than are foreign governments. Although economic sanctions are rarely powerful enough to sway the policy of a foreign government (or to inflict much economic hardship), they can be very punishing or even destructive to specific domestic sectors or businesses, especially when competitiveness requires maintaining global market shares and access to foreign resources....

The nature of economic sanctions has several specific ramifications for policymakers. First, policymakers should recognize that sanctions are almost always signals or gestures rather than pressures that will force high-policy changes: they are congenitally weak policy levers, not effective "economic weapons" against foreign governments. Policymakers should not overstate the economic force of sanctions or their expected results.

That means that as policy instruments economic sanctions do not offer substantially different leverage to achieve goals than do "weak" diplomatic actions, and selections from options menus should not be based on the lingering misperception that they do. Alternative diplomatic signaling options should be reconsidered. In general, these may be expected to send the message with less economic cost to the implementor, and they are easier to control. (There is, of course, the possibility that less costly signals will be perceived as less serious responses than signals that involve more sacrifice.)
Readers should note that the article, written in 1989, can't consider "targeted sanctions" (which have taken hold in the last five years), and, for obvious reasons, doesn't cover the most recent evidence for the efficacy of sanctions, which I've covered elsewhere.

the Gandhi of global warming

What turns a climatologist into an activist?
Here's where the story takes a turn you don't expect from one of America's most senior government scientists. He says the citizenry have to rise up, and if necessary, break the law. He has started to study the writings of Gandhi and reckons if any situation justifies civil disobedience, it's this one, this time. The forces of environmentalism need to prove themselves more determined than the forces of environmental destruction. In Britain, there has been a mass movement of activists who are physically blocking coal trains and new airport runways to stop them from being built. It has succeeded: Politicians felt the heat, and the biggest new runway and all new coal power stations have been canceled. Hansen testified in the defense of these activists and got them acquitted by a jury, which ruled that they were justified because their actions would ultimately save lives.

Hansen has brought this message home. He was arrested at a direct action protest at Coal River Mountain in West Virginia, ostensibly for "stopping the traffic," and in theory could face a year in prison. The fact that the scientist who knows most about global warming is prepared to take these steps to jolt us awake should tell us something.
As a fan of NFL Lincoln-Douglas value debate, it saddens me that science gets very little play in the event. Environmental ethics are marginalized, employed mostly by debaters seeking an out-of-the-box approach, or in the every-now-and-then resolution about valuing the planet over development, or vice versa. Yet the nature of our obligations to nature is a fascinating, complex, and highly debatable topic. How about a "Environmental concerns justify civil disobedience" resolution, eh, NFL?

Jan 20, 2010

I am not a gamer

But if I were, I would totally be addicted to Uncharted 2: Among Thieves. Intense gameplay, ridiculously rendered landscapes, a likable protagonist, cheesy but fun plotting and dialogue, just the right balance of challenge and reward...

I'm not a gamer.

I am not a gamer.

no revenue stream too murky

Today's Olympian lauds outside-the-box thinking by Washington legislators. Two bills that receive a tentative "meh:" adding private vendors to rest stops, and allowing ads on school buses. Since this is an edu-blog, let's look at the latter.
Senate Bill 6466, allowing advertising on the side or inside a school bus, is bound to generate even more discussion and debate than the rest stop bill.

A school district could choose to participate in the program or not. A school district’s board of directors would have the final say on what advertising content or education material could be displayed on buses....

Finding consensus on what would be appropriate advertising on a public school bus will be difficult at best. But the program could have appeal in cash-strapped school districts.
Until all the earnings are wiped out by a lawsuit. Still... While we're, thinking outside the box, let's really think outside the box. Desperate times, etc. How about:

TV for Tots
Add back-seat televisions that run school-appropriate, mind-numbing, non-stop kid-centered commercials. Watch disciplinary incidents drop, and watch corporations compete for a shot at a captive audience. Parents know: TV works.

Principal for a Day
The highest-bidding community member gets to fill in for their local principal. Take calls from angry parents! Mediate political battles between departments! Meet with the union rep! Sign off on a "no freak dancing" policy! Take more calls from angry parents!

Bring Sugar Back
We lost the War on Obesity. Time to negotiate terms of surrender and take all the quarter(s) we can get.

Eliminate Busing in a Five-mile Radius
We're losing the War on Obesity. Time to call in the grunts. If you live within city limits, you might as well walk to school.

Legalize Pot
Unless a citizen initiative gets enough signatures to make the ballot and, miracle of miracles, passes, this one's just a pipe dream.

Jan 15, 2010

1-2-3 Chill

Debaters, you know the drill: in the van, exhausted, driving back to your school parking lot in the waning hours of the evening, your team celebrates the successes and commiserates over the failures. And there's a whole lotta judge hatin' goin' on.

Which is fine, to a degree. We all have to process. We all have to purge ourselves from time to time, to vent the aggression that we'd stored up for the week previous, trying to get our "edge." As a coach, I've endured my fair share of Ride Home Rants, and I've never condemned anyone for expressing their true feelings.

But I offer you a better way: a way to reduce your anxiety at the outset. A philosophy of relaxation, a balance between competitive fire and reflective calm, in three easy steps. Call it 1-2-3 Chill.

Your goal is to break to octas, semis, or what have you. Realistically, you're going to have to end with a 5-1 record, unless you can squeak in with a 4-2. So aim for 5-1.

One of your rounds, almost guaranteed, is going to be a loss. You're going to hit your circuit's third-year champion, the one who ought to be in grad school already, finishing up her degree in deontology, but instead has stuck around to clean up for year number four. Or you're going to get That One Crazy Judge whose paradigm is "distempered." Or you're going to drop the only contention that can sink your incredible Aff case. Whichever way, you're going to lose one round, and lose it badly. No biggie. You've got five to win.

Two of your rounds, almost guaranteed, are going to be wins, because you're on fire, and your competition, fresh up from Novice, is a gasoline-soaked rag.

Three rounds can go either way. They're going to be close, and if you come out thinking you're winning--or losing--you're probably wrong.

It's your job to do everything in your power to rope in the judge for these three rounds. You control your own destiny. These three rounds will determine your success.

So, as you drive up to the tournament, relax: you can lose one round without losing your dignity. And if you bomb your first round, relax: you can lose one round without losing the tournament. You still have five rounds. Two are yours. Three are gonna be close.

Look around you. Inhale. Exhale.

And chill your way to the elimination round.

Your van ride home will be a much more pleasant experience, even if you fare poorly--because you'll know that it's not your judge's fault, or your opponent's fault: you didn't win your three critical rounds.

But you will next time.

Jan 11, 2010

a taxing session

The Washington state legislature convened again today, facing a $2.6 billion shortfall that brought the entire usual cast of characters to the Capitol.
Washington's 147 state lawmakers returned to Olympia today and the Democrat-controlled House and Senate were quickly greeted by conflicting messages about taxation and spending at the Capitol.

Anti-tax crusader Tim Eyman filed another initiative — seeking to re-enact a two-thirds vote requirement for tax increases that voters last approved in 2007. Democratic lawmakers including Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown have signaled they intend to temporarily suspend or in some way alter I-960 to allow easier action on revenue increases in the face of a $2.6 billion budget shortfall.

On the other side, activists with the Rebuilding Our Economic Future Coalition handed about 14,000 petition signatures to Gov. Chris Gregoire in the morning. The petitions asked her to seek new revenues to blunt some of the $1.7 billion in cuts her first budget in early December spelled out to bridge a $2.6 billion shortfall.
Did I mention the $2.6 billion shortfall?

In (related?) news, pot may soon be legal. Make of that what you will.

Jan 10, 2010

economic sanctions as politics by other means

Regarding the economic sanctions resolution, I'm amazed by how many Affirmatives cite the definition of economic sanctions without considering its consequences--and, for that matter, how many Negatives get away with framing sanctions as a moral response to tyranny or proliferation.

For instance, I've heard sanctions defined as "economic penalties imposed for political purposes," or as "Restrictions upon international trade and finance that one country imposes on another for political reasons." These are great definitions for the Aff. Consider that the resolution says that economic sanctions "ought not be used to achieve foreign policy objectives." (And remember that the burden is to prove the resolution true, or false, as a general principle.) This means the Aff can lay a burden on the Neg to prove that foreign policy objectives, as a general rule, justify the use of economic sanctions. Yet I've seen few Negatives that address the overall objectives of foreign policy, other than preventing human rights abuses and nuclear proliferation.

Surely these are not the only objectives of foreign policy; not only is foreign policy a vast entity, but no single nation is implicated! In fact, it might be argued that for most nations, sanctions, for the most part, are a means of keeping their enemies in check. There are no guarantees that political goals are either legal or moral, especially when the Neg cedes to an Aff definition like the one cited above.

It gets worse for the Negative if trade sanctions aren't distinguished from economic sanctions. Then we have a much broader debate about how powerful players keep weaker countries in line. Then sanctions become a tool of economic oppression. (This also makes the free trade argument that much stronger.)

Much better definitions of sanctions, for the Negative, include...
* International Law. action by one or more states toward another state calculated to force it to comply with legal obligations.

* A penalty, specified or in the form of moral pressure, that acts to ensure compliance or conformity.

* A coercive measure adopted usually by several nations acting together against a nation violating international law.
The first and third make it a legal matter, rather than a political matter; the second makes it a moral matter. Either way, you're at least working to avoid the charge that sanctions are, like war, in Clausewitz's famous formulation, merely "the continuation of politics by other means."

it was the best of jobs, it was the worst of jobs

"Teacher" isn't in the top 50, but "Parole Officer" is. "Teacher" sits at 116, sandwiched between "Office Machine Repairer" and "Sewage Plant Operator." Make your own punchline.

("Philosopher" comes in at number 11, right after "Dental Hygienist," and just before "Meteorologist.")

[via Xeni Jardin]

Jan 6, 2010

the franchise for felons?

A little over a year ago, I blogged about an LD topic that led to quite interesting debates: whether felons should have the right to vote. In Washington, if an appeals court ruling holds up, they soon may.
The ruling, handed down Tuesday by a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Seattle, found that Washington's criminal-justice system was so "infected" with racial discrimination that a ban on felon voting violated civil-rights protections.

The state hoped to have the case heard during the U.S. Supreme Court's fall session, McKenna told reporters at a hastily arranged news conference at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.

Meanwhile, the state also plans to file by next week a motion to stall enactment of the court ruling. McKenna said courts routinely grant such motions if a case is being appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
I used to think it was obvious that felons should be denied the franchise--after all, they'd abused the law, so why let them shape it?--but in a democracy, the law isn't perfect, and it's even possible that laws can be shaped with disenfranchisement in mind. At any rate, Vermont and Maine, the two states that allow felons to vote, haven't fallen into the sea... yet.

Jan 3, 2010

question time

I took a brief break from blogging about LD, and during my downtime, questions about the economic sanctions resolution have piled up. I'm going to answer them all here. (There may be minor edits for spelling or grammar.)
Anonymous said...
How would Kant's Perpetual Peace work for the Aff?
Kant's Perpetual Peace is based, among other things, on republicanism, sovereignty, and disarmament. It does require that nations do not interfere with other nations--the sovereignty aspect--which I suppose would preclude the use of economic sanctions. Yet this seems to presume the interaction of free, republican nations, not "rogue nations" gunning for nukes. It's an interesting idea, though, that might be more properly fleshed out by a Kantian expert.
Courtney said...
For Aff:
V: Morality
Cr: Contractualism/Deontology

Which one would work better...can't decide.

Also, I would really like to consequentialism as my criterion for an Aff case, but I don't know what value to do. Any ideas?
Contractualism works well with justice as a value, because it concerns apportioning rights and obligations; deontology will also, since it concerns moral rightness. (See below.) Consequentialism will work for the Affirmative with a value of societal welfare; the reasoning here is that the government, as the agent of action, is responsible to ensure the welfare of its citizens.
Anonymous said...
If you used deontology as your VC,and justice as your V on Aff, you would be essentially be arguing that we are preserving justice by doing what we are morally obligated to do, correct?
You certainly would.
Anonymous said...
Also, would constructive bilateralism work as a VC?
Constructive bilateralism consists of cooperative agreements between two nations; I suppose this is an Affirmative criterion, although there's no reason it would be limited to bilateralism as opposed to, say, multilateralism.
Anonymous said...
Overall, I think that a straight justice or morality argument must be made. Efficiency never has a place in LD, because we are talking about philosophical ideals. Therefore, the Neg has to show that sanctions are moral when used. (They do work sometimes, such as in South Africa, so inefficiency also doesn't work.) The Aff then has to show that, whether they work or not, they are a moral action. "Ought" could be a good link to morality.
You can definitely make that argument, but be aware that there are pragmatic and realistic strains in political philosophy--and consequentialism in general--that not only allow, but require efficacy as a condition of moral action.
lil' petey said...
On Aff I was thinking something simple but effective: How about valuing security (probably could be national but my case works better with individual), backing it up with a criterion of protecting innocence? Basically saying that economic sanctions hurt innocent people in society as much or more than the government they are directed at and that is not just.
That is certainly one of the arguments made against broad-based sanctions; just be ready for the "targeted sanctions" Negative approach.
Anonymous said...
Is there some way (like an RA or a framework or something) that can limit the Aff's disadvantage? It seems like Aff has to prove economic sanctions are always bad while Neg only has to find one example of how it is good to win.
"If I can name one example..." is the lazy route to winning, yet I hear people trying it all the time. The NFL LD ballot puts it clearly (and this language should be in bold at the top of your case in every debate!):
Each debater has the burden to prove his or her side of the resolution more valid as a general principle. No debater can realistically be expected to prove complete validity or invalidity of the resolution. The better debater is the one who, on the whole, proves his/her side of the resolution more valid as a general principle.
Unless the counterexample is large or generic enough to counter the prevailing arguments you've advanced, one example is not going to be sufficient to negate (or affirm, depending).
The Anarchist said...
Could I value Human Rights on the Aff with a criterion of Kant's Categorical Imperative? Or should I go with a value of Governmental Legitimacy?
Kant's second formulation of the categorical imperative is probably most apt here; it prohibits persons from using others merely as a means to an end. That might apply to broad-based sanctions, which punish civilians in order to pressure their nation's leaders to change policies. Using governmental legitimacy as a value isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it leads to the question, does the government have any moral obligations to noncitizens?
Jennifer said...
I'm wondering if you could argue that economic sanctions ought not be used because they promote the aims of capitalism (in many cases) and not the specific foreign policy aims of a specific country or countries. Although I suppose that capitalism and foreign policy aims of first world nations are inextricably linked. Still, could you argue otherwise?
If capitalism is bad, and sanctions are the balled-up fist of the "invisible hand," then I suppose you could make that sort of argument on the Affirmative. This is probably why some are advocating the "Cap K" (Capitalism Kritik) as an Affirmative strategy.
Alex said...
Since it seems that everyone is running Human Rights for their affirmative, I will give my opinion as of Human Rights. Running Human Rights for the Affirmative is a bit sketchy because when using economic sanctions usually aims at protecting the international community and every other nation. IE: the sanction against North Korea is aimed at stopping their nuclear program. Its citizens might be not getting their full potential of obtaining food and medication, but not having economic sanctions threatens the rights of everyone that could have conflict with North Korea considering the proliferation of their weapons. Thus, having Negative use the Affirmatives value of Human Rights as their own.
I agree; a Negative based on "maximizing rights" would be a way to co-opt any Aff running HR.
Anonymous said...
What social contract says that the government has the responsibility to only protect its own citizens?
I'll turn the question around: what social contract says that the government has the responsibility to protect noncitizens?

Anonymous said...
Hi, Im pretty new to debate, and I really like the idea of the "toolbox" metaphor and the National Security/Realism Value criterion pair. My question is, how do you link national security to the resolution? Also, at our school and tournaments, we are advised to put a verb before our criterion, such as "maintaining realism" instead of just realism. Could you explain how realism relates to the toolbox metaphor?
Economic sanctions, at least in the modern era, are related to national security in many ways. One of the foremost: nuclear containment. As to your second question, political realism is the view that prudence, not idealism, should be a government's modus operandi. (Wikipedia has a decent intro to the subject.) A political realist would thus argue that it's in a nation's best interests to keep its options open. Furthermore, a hardline realist will critique the very notion of governments having moral responsibilities--preserving their own power is their only goal. Legitimacy, human rights, and other values are only good insofar as they create or preserve internal and international stability.
Jenny said...
So far, I really can't think of much for NEG. So far all I've seen is how ineffective and devastating to humanity economic sanctions are; they're even compared to WMD. I'm thinking about running social welfare with prudence, but I can't seem to find anything good on prudence to use in my case.

Also, how do smart sanctions fit into the definition of economic sanctions?
I've partly answered your second question at this link. An intro to "smart sanctions" (via Google Books) is available here. As to prudence (realism; see above), it works best with a value of national security.

the sanctions dilemma

Regarding the 2010 Jan/Feb resolution, the U.S.'s potential response to the ongoing crisis in Iran is a perfect contemporary example of the sanctions dilemma.
U.S. and allied officials have been in discussions for months about how to impose economic penalties on Tehran to discourage it from continuing with a uranium enrichment program that the West believes is aimed at developing a nuclear bomb.

But as the Iranian government's crackdown has taken a growing toll on the opposition movement, officials are increasingly concerned that broad sanctions harming ordinary citizens would appear harsh to the outside world and would risk alienating parts of the population with which the West seeks to establish common cause.

The discussions are now aimed at making the sanctions "as narrow as they can be," said a senior State Department official who declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the talks.
This points to a potential Negative line of argument against Affirmatives who base their advocacy on the harms of broad sanctions. (In fact, much of the literature against sanctions assumes broadly-imposed penalties--a fact that might be quite important to raise in CX.) How I've seen it done:

1. The Aff's harms are based on wide-ranging, broad sanctions.
2. 21st century sanctions, however, are targeted and narrow.
3. Thus the primary reason to deny the use of sanctions is obsolete.

The problem, though, is that narrow sanctions have a much lower chance of success (and, it could be argued, less valuable as a deterrent), not only because they are narrower, but because of a critical lack of information. Going back to the Iran example:
Ray Takeyh, who was an administration advisor on Iran earlier this year, agreed that it was now desirable to make the sanctions as "discriminating and selective as possible."

But Takeyh said that doing so would be difficult because the world has so little information on the inner workings of the Iranian economy that it is difficult to calculate the social effects of any economic sanction.

Targeting "surgically... may just not be possible," he said. "And if it isn't, you might want to rethink how you do it and whether you want to do it at all."
This is not an in principle objection, however; is there another line of attack?

One way is to argue that since the resolution doesn't specify "targeted" sanctions, that the Negative must defend broad sanctions as well, or otherwise they're "conditionally negating," adding words to the resolution and ignoring the general principle. After all, nothing limits the use of broad sanctions in the Neg world--especially if they're seen as a moral (or less immoral) alternative to war. (Usually it's the Aff who's accused of "conditional affirmation"--but this is one of those "ought not" resolutions where the Neg is really affirming the morality of sanctions.)

Another line of argument for the Neg is the "toolbox" argument: that the Affirmative would remove critical tools, including targeted sanctions, from the government's disposal. This would lead to a second dilemma, this time for the Affirmative: without the carrot and stick of economic sanctions, the government is left with a feather of noneconomic sanctions and the bloody spike of war.