Apr 29, 2010

in the works

All's quiet around these parts, a little patch of doldrums in an otherwise turbulent universe. Why I'm not blogging muchly:

1. Capital's ongoing discussion about the relative merits of the IB program, and whether it's worth dropping in favor of AP, for financial and other reasons, is taking up much of my time and intellectual resources. (If you're interested, I'm in favor of keeping IB, beefing up our course offerings, and working hard to recruit more students into the program. In the end, though, the decision isn't up to me.)

2. The topics for the National Forensic League national tournament--in tangy Kansas City--won't be released until Saturday. I'll be blogging about LD because that's what I do, and will be helping my PuFo team research in preparation for the trip.

3. A strange fundraising opportunity will be arriving shortly. I can't share any details yet, but I will say that I wish I would've caved sooner.

4. The Stanley Cup playoffs are better than I imagined possible. In HD, anyway.

5. The connection between #3 and #4 will make sense, eventually.

Apr 25, 2010

things I will recommend to you

Because I am your arbiter of taste.

In no particular order.

1. Life on Mars (the British import). Snappy humor mixed with non-sappy drama. And incredible polyester ties. My favorite period pieces are always from the 70s--for good reason.

2. Xinh's Clam and Oyster House. Shelton's best restaurant, perhaps, and some of the best seafood in the area. The one thing I can't figure out: why it took me two decades to try the place. Melissa had the swordfish with peanut sauce, and I had pan-fried geoduck. My recommendation: pass on the bread (it's lackluster, bland and dry) and save room for dessert. Pick any bivalve; you can't go wrong.

3. Wye Oak, The Knot.

4. PDE Auto Body in Olympia. Heaven forfend that your automobile need a facelift, but if it does, trust it to PDE.

5. Twister Donuts. Great doughnuts at fair prices. The fritters are particularly good. Weak spots: the coffee is subpar (and Olympia is a coffee town, so what gives?), and the bacon maple bar pales in comparison to the famed treat from Portland's Voodoo Doughnut. You can't go cheap on the bacon.

Apr 20, 2010

why do we still have a War on Drugs?

Jason Kuznicki on the War on Drugs:
Considered as a whole, the War on Drugs is the single worst violation of liberty perpetrated by our government. Nothing else even comes close.

The War on Drugs imprisons hundreds of thousands for no greater crime than owning a chemical or an herb. It breaks up families. It ends educations. It ends careers. It poisons. It incites murder. It makes citizens mistrust one another and mistrust the police. It robs us all of our dignity, even if we don’t use drugs. It turns the Fourth Amendment into nothing more than a pious fiction....

The most depressing part is that nothing in the above is even remotely news. It was true last April 20, and it will in all likelihood remain true next April 20. These are overwhelmingly self-inflicted wounds. Why, Americans, do we do this to ourselves? And why does pointing it out have so little effect?
Because of inertia. Because of dirty hippies. Because of heavily invested Drug Warriors. Because of special interests and government conspiracies. Because of Doritos. Because of rampant hypocrisy. Because of ignorance, willful or otherwise. Because of misplaced moral concern. Because of... because.

After all, being unreasonable is just that.

Apr 17, 2010

we join the 21st century, now in progress

Back when the National Forensic League was considering the use of computers in Debate, I wrote:
In a 5-3-1 vote, the Council decided to allow a one-year trial where laptop computers may be used within Policy Debate rounds, with District competitions to have the option. There are provisions forbidding the use of wireless networks, but really--are judges going to have to check in between every speech to make sure no one's cheating? I hope and pray computers never become a fixture in Lincoln-Douglas.
Looking back, it was only a matter of time before the NFL's trial policy evolved and expanded into standard procedure.

This morning, the Washington State Forensics Association voted to allow computers in Cross-Examination and Lincoln Douglas Debate, while forming a committee to investigate adding them in Congress and Public Forum. (On a related note, they're now allowed in Extemporaneous prep as well.)

And I voted yes.

In three and a half years, what changed my mind?

1. Computers are far more affordable.
2. More and more resources are available online.
3. I tried flowing on a laptop once, and really liked it.
4. Quality coaching matters more than anything when it comes to quality debate. And computers seem to help more than they hinder.
5. Let's waste less paper. My team extensively uses blogs, Google Docs, Gmail chat, and Facebook to collaborate when preparing. The less we have to print, the better.
6. The Internet allows instant fact-checking. During rounds, I've heard too much obviously bad information that could have been easily shot down by a thirty second Google search.

The WSFA's new rule requires that evidence on the computer be available for the other team's investigation, whether printed out or on a second laptop. It also requires equity in Internet use--a team may use the Internet in-round only if their competitors have access as well. That's an interesting and reasonable concession, I think. The likelihood of cheating is still there--but that's what coaches are for. We're supposed to train our charges to be ethical. Especially if we're debating ethics.

Thanks to foot-dragging people like me, it took the WSFA only 10 years to join the 21st century. And now: "We're gonna see a brave new world where they run everybody a wire and hook us all up to a grid. Yes, sir, a veritable age of reason. Like the one they had in France. Not a moment too soon..."

Apr 14, 2010


1. Most of what you know is wrong.

2. Even what's right is only mostly right.

3. Part of the problem is the residue of half-facts and pseudofacts, the detritus of actual memory that becomes indistinguishable from truth in the cluttered mind.

4. Or, to use a different metaphor, from a grab-bag of anecdotes and factoids, you are likely to pluck something stale or half-eaten.

5. It's not whether you're wrong--because you probably are--but whether you are willing to intellectually clean house, or, again switching metaphors, pick that stale factoid out of your teeth.

For what it's worth, a slew of articles--this one in particular--punctured a myth I'd believed true, and prompted this post. As a teacher who loves an impromptu lecture, I've assembled a vast mental trivia collection, always ready to deploy a fact that might amplify a point I'm making. It hurts to be wrong, but it hurts more to be confidently, persuasively wrong in front of a class full of eager learners.

So I become my own Snopes.com, constantly fact-checking myself. And although the folks who run Snopes worry that extreme skepticism is harmful to knowledge, in my experience, in the grand scheme it's dwarfed by gullibility, intellectual laziness, and false confidence in fake facts.

Apr 6, 2010

breakfast sandwich piracy

"It's not that original, but it's only a buck."

I haven't decided whether Burger King's winking-but-honest approach is to be jeered or lauded. Maybe it's a form of post-ironic whiplash.

Apr 5, 2010

do The Census!

To the annals of horrific government-sponsored "rapping," we can add the Census Rap:

Warning: this blog is not responsible for eardrum- or taste-related injuries.

Although nothing tops the worst "rap" in the history of "rap."

Apr 4, 2010

time-space synaesthesia

How does the mind construct its perception of the passage of time? In some cases, in a nearly tangible way: a condition called time-space synaesthesia.
"In general, these individuals perceive months of the year in circular shapes, usually just as an image inside their mind's eye," says David Brang of the department of psychology at the University of California, San Diego.

"These calendars occur in almost any possible shape, and many of the synaesthetes actually experience the calendar projected out into the real world."

One of Brang's subjects was able to see the year as a circular ring surrounding her body. The "ring" rotated clockwise throughout the year so that the current month was always inside her chest with the previous month right in front of her chest.
Of course, when wearable computer/projectors really take off, we'll all be time-space synaesthetes.