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.