Aug 30, 2010

value and criterion pairs for the nuclear weapons resolution

The August/September NFL LD resolution for 2010 offers many options for frameworks. The following list 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.

Note: I'm publishing this list before the analysis is complete, to spur your thinking. More coming soon!

Let's recall the resolution:
Resolved: States ought not possess nuclear weapons.

Often I like to separate V/C pairs into advocacies--those that trend Aff or Neg. However, it seems that many of the arguments cut both ways, as you'll see below. So we'll go straight to the pairs.

V: Human Life
C: Reducing / Deterring Conflict; Preventing Extinction; Environmental Protection; Utilitarianism

V: Morality
C: Fulfilling obligations to the future

V: Justice or Morality
C: Just War Theory

V: Justice or Morality or Gov't Legitimacy
C: The Social Contract
The key to this kind of case is strongly establishing the moral obligations of states.  Since the resolution concerns "ought," which, in a philosophical context, is most commonly defined in moral terms, and since the agent of action appears to be states, the Aff or Neg can argue from a contractarian perspective: that the only rules that bind states, morally speaking, are those of the Social Contract.  Which one?  Well... that's where it gets interesting.  A Hobbesian will definitely argue differently than a Rawlsian.

V: Freedom
C: Reducing state power

V: National Security
C: Deterring Conflict; Preserving the balance of power; maintaining military dominance

The Negative can concede that a world without nuclear weapons is better than one with: but that is not our world, and never will be; Disarmament is a utopian dream, and a dangerous one at that. So, if states must protect their citizens--a key argument that the Negative might want to get the Aff to concede to in CX--then they must fend off potential nuclear (or conventional) attackers. And besides, possession doesn't require use.

But it risks use, the Aff will counter, and raises the stakes of any potential conflict. Add to that the risk of accidents, theft, and the instability of collapsing nuclear regimes (the rise of a nuclear black market, say, after the fall of Communism), and it just might be that national security is better served through conventional weaponry.

Besides, the costs of developing / purchasing and maintaining nuclear weapons means that proliferation is necessarily limited. Furthermore, with international cooperation / enforcement regimes, IF states made a concerted effort to eliminate nukes, it could be done.

Lastly, National Security as a value might be troublesome: any nation that values security above all risks becoming a police state.

V: Peace or Human Life or Morality
C: Reducing "Warism" / Promoting Peace / Pacifism / Disarmament

Warism is "the uncritical presumption that war is morally justifiable, even morally required," according to Duane Cady (whose newly revised text on the subject I'll be reading as soon as I can get a copy through the local college library--hopefully as soon as it's published).  A state that possesses nuclear weapons is itself possessed by warist thinking, which will inevitably promote conflict.

V: Prudence or Security
C: Political Realism / Military Realism

Aug 26, 2010

free weight loss tips

1. Drink 2 cups of water before eating.
"We are presenting results of the first randomized controlled intervention trial demonstrating that increased water consumption is an effective weight loss strategy," said Brenda Davy, Ph.D., senior author on the study. "We found in earlier studies that middle aged and older people who drank two cups of water right before eating a meal ate between 75 and 90 fewer calories during that meal. In this recent study, we found that over the course of 12 weeks, dieters who drank water before meals, three times per day, lost about 5 pounds more than dieters who did not increase their water intake."
2. Exercise.
By a simple food-in/energy-out model, a run on the treadmill or swim in the pool should make you want to eat more. But recent findings have suggested that exercise can actually help to slow overeating. And a new study presents evidence that the body's physiologic response to exercise can help retune the nervous system's cues and make the body feel less hungry, rather than more so.

Appetite is a strange, strange thing, and only partly a function of how much you actually need to eat. Take advantage.

Note: I am not a doctor, and none of the preceding should be construed as medical advice. Free advice is free for a reason. Or, as the Romans would say, caveat dietor.

Aug 25, 2010

the great smoky mountains (of meat)

Our next travelogue takes us the slow-cooked way home: to America's haven of barbecue, wherever it shall be found.  In 2005, lucky David Plotz made the quest:
I had read all the books (Smokestack Lightning, The Barbecue! Bible, Barbecue America etc.), seen the movie (Barbecue: A Texas Love Story), and glutted on Food Network barbecue shows. Now I decided to set out on a pilgrimage in search of the greatest barbecue joints in America, an R.W. Apple-ian gut-stuffing to sample as much 'cue of as many different varieties as I could in a week, to try to figure why barbecue was so distinctly American and where you should go to eat the best meat in the world.
He began at Oklahoma Joe's, which, I can attest, produces some of the finest pulled pork in Kansas City, which is to say, the universe.

Aug 24, 2010

journey to The Bigs

I'm a little jet lagged from a trip to the East Coast, so the next couple posts are going to be link-heavy travelogues. But not mine, because I'm tired and hungry with a brain and stomach three hours ahead of schedule.

In the first series, Jim Caple slices up life at every level of professional baseball in Washington state (with a quick jaunt to its northern neighbor). It's of interest to baseball fans, Pacific Northwesterners, and, most of all, students of the American Dream: doing what you love and being paid for it.

Caple begins his odyssey in Walla Walla:
This fertile region grows everything from wheat to grapes to onions, and pretty much everyone is planting their own dreams here, hoping they'll take root. The general manager sitting behind home plate dreams of running a major league team. The young man in the play-by-play booth dreams of calling games for a top pro team or a big Division I school. The enology and viticulture student running the concessions dreams of operating a world-class winery. Even Sweet Lou, the giant onion mascot, is dreaming up routines for next season.
Continue with him to Victoria, Everett, and Tacoma--and, if you're one of a lucky few, stride into Safeco Field with a number on your back and a fatty paycheck in your pocket. The vast gulf between the majors and the minors will never seem vaster.

And when you're done, watch Sugar.

Aug 22, 2010

some thoughts on the (new) nuclear weapons resolution

The Aug/Sept 2010 resolution asks us to consider whether states (meaning national governments) ought to possess nuclear weapons. After mulling over some of the arguments, here are a few of my thoughts.

The AFF: Why shouldn't states possess nuclear weapons?

1. If states possess them, they will be tempted to use them, which leads to...
* Unjustifiable deaths of noncombatants--both now and in the future (thanks to fallout, "nuclear winter.") It doesn't take a sophisticated theory of Just War to argue that horrific civilian casualties are beyond the pale.

* Horrific environmental destruction, which is unjustifiable even if military use could somehow be justified.

2. Even if the nuclear weapons are not used...
* The potential for accidents, theft / terrorism, associated development and maintenance costs, future Terminator-esque robot uprisings (seems silly now, but wait a decade or two...) make the risks of possession too great.

* Possession leads inexorably to an arms race, increasing the risk and raising the stakes should conflict ever occur

* Possession increases fear and intimidation, not only of one's enemies or neighbors, but of one's own citizenry. This kind of fear is not only psychologically damaging, but fosters and empowers repressive governments.

*Possession sustains the perpetual hegemony of existing nuclear powers--hypocritically, they keep other nations from developing the technology they possess.

The NEG: Why shouldn't states not possess nukes? (I know, it's awkward--but the Neg doesn't have to make the case that states *ought to* possess nukes--only that it isn't wrong for them to possess nukes. Be sure to make that clear at the top of your case.)

1. There is no in principle objection.
a. Social contract theory at best offers flimsy grounds to prohibit powerful weaponry. Nuclear weapons are certainly frightening, but, historically, no more destructive than conventional weaponry. (Think about it for a moment: which has killed more civilians in the past 50 years?) Further, the social contract doesn't apply to non-citizens, which is sad, but necessary to a state's maintenance of its sovereignty and moral responsibility to its own citizens.

b. Another option: individual morality doesn't apply to states, which operate out of pragmatism and self-interest. (Call this "political realism" of a sort, or a Hobbesian view of sovereignty.)

2. Self-defense in a nuclear world requires nukes.
a. States need to defend themselves against other nuclear powers.

b. The only way to be safe without nukes is if no other country has them. That is an impossible scenario, pie-in-the-sky utopianism. "Mutual Assured Destruction" has worked, and will continue to work.

3. Similarly, smaller states need to level the playing field with more powerful nations--in their overall national security strategy, which includes more than just military might.

4. Nuclear weapons are an unfortunate side-effect of nuclear power, which is necessary to stave off global warming.

5. States have to be ready to protect themselves (and the planet) against existential threats (asteroids, space aliens, and the like). Right now, our best hope may be our most powerful weapons.

Some tough questions:

1. What moral rules bind states in the first place? It's likely that a strong debater can make the entire debate hinge on this question. It's the sort of thing that can be given away in CX if a debater isn't paying attention or hasn't thought their case through. If it's "the social contract," which social contract? A hypothetical or constitutional contract? Lockean or otherwise? If it's an absolute morality, is this morality consequentialist (utilitarian even) or not? Or do states even have to follow moral rules? (And if not, can the Aff still argue that "ought" need not necessarily be moral--that it can be pragmatic, and still to a state's advantage, to be nuke-free?)

2. What is an acceptable level of risk? Let's say that possessing nuclear weapons means a 1-in-a-something chance of starting World War III, and wiping out most of humanity. When is that risk too risky? One in a million? A billion? And how does the risk change when another nation proliferates, or disarms? Is such a risk even calculable? The Neg can hammer this question in CX. Without a bright line for risk assessment, even apocalyptic scenarios may lack argumentative force.

3. We also have to determine what the scope of affirmation must be--in other words, what the "Affirmative world" looks like. The Neg might try to press the Aff to support universal disarmament (see below), while the Aff might say the general principle of the resolution doesn't require all countries to abandon nukes--just that being nuke-free, as a general principle, is morally superior.

The NFL's LD rules are helpful here:
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.

No absolute defense of total disarmament is necessary to meet this standard.  (If you're worried about this, you could include this language as a resolutional analysis at the top of your case.)

Coming soon: value and criterion pairs based on some of these arguments. As always, your comments, questions, and criticisms are welcomed.

Aug 21, 2010

parliamentary vs. policy

Michael Horowitz, a former policy debater, debates the merits of his cherished events. His sparring partner: Mark Oppenheimer, author of Wiesenheimer: A Childhood Subject to Debate, who debated parliamentary style as a high school student.

Which will win: the speed king of research, or the consummate B.S. artist? Read and find out.

Aug 16, 2010

correct me no corrections

Every time I tell a stranger my primary occupation, they say a version of the following: "Oh, I guess I'll have to watch what I say!"

"I'm not on the clock," I usually reply. The mock-fear of being corrected by the Grammar Police both saddens and amuses me.

Where does that mock-fear come from? People like this:
Rosenthal, who is in her early 60s, asked for a toasted multigrain bagel -- and became enraged when the barista at the franchise, on Columbus Avenue at 86th Street, followed up by inquiring, "Do you want butter or cheese?"

"I just wanted a multigrain bagel," Rosenthal told The Post. "I refused to say 'without butter or cheese.' When you go to Burger King, you don't have to list the six things you don't want.

"Linguistically, it's stupid, and I'm a stickler for correct English."
No, you are not. You are what you called the barista: an asshole.

Why? Because there's nothing grammatically incorrect about the barista's question. It's a logical problem--a false dichotomy--but only if it's pronounced a certain way. The accent matters. See below:

"Do you want butter or cheese?"
Without any emphasis, the possibility of neither is perfectly sound. Just answer "no thanks."

"Do you want butter, or cheese?"
Now we have the false dichotomy.
And once again, there is a perfectly reasonable and polite way to answer: "Neither, thanks."

One more thing: when you go to Burger King, you certainly do have to decline the things you don't want: the meal deal, the meal deal King-sized (or whatever they call it at Burger King), and whatever else the order-takers have been ordered to upsell that week.

So, in conclusion: step down from your grammatical high horse, Ms. Rosenthal.  The world needs less false dudgeon.

[via Slate's Twitter feed]

Aug 15, 2010

Resolved: States ought not possess nuclear weapons.

The September-October NFL LD topic for 2010-2011 has been released:
Resolved: States ought not possess nuclear weapons.
Simple, clean, and full of lovely clash. Should be good. More thoughts to come soon, but first, a few things to consider.

1. Where do oughts for states come from? Universal objective morality? A particular social contract? The answer to this question very well may determine the entire course of the debate.

2. Has it been long enough to declare the success of "Mutually Assured Destruction" as a deterrent? Or is this post hoc reasoning, and a fallacy?

3. Be sure to define "states" as "national governments," (see def. 5 here) and head off stupid cases about how New Hampshire should be nuke-free.

4. What are the (physical) effects of nuclear weapons? What might make them better or worse than alternatives (biological, chemical, etc.)? Can arguments against nuclear weapons be used against any weapon?

5. Half-serious questions: If states can't possess nuclear weapons, how will we fight off potential alien attacks, seal off catastrophic land-based oil fires, or knock killer asteroids off-course?


Back in '07, we had a similar resolution about whether the US was justified in using military force to prevent other nations from acquiring nuclear weapons. While I'm still working on new posts for this new resolution, I'd like to highlight two relevant posts from the past.

In the first, I showed how nuclear weapons cannot be reconciled with Just War theory--that they "destroy the moral fabric of war." This could be quite useful to any affirmative that shies away from arguing pure pacifism.

In the second, I described the idea of an "international social contract," which could make an interesting advocacy beyond the standard Hobbes / Locke / Rousseau / Rawls options.

Added 8/22: I try collecting and distilling some arguments for and against the resolution.

Added 8/25: Nuking an asteroid, FYI, may not be the best option.

Added 8/30: A list of value/criterion pairs. Your comments and questions are requested.

patriotism is so passé

Update: The NFL chose this for the national tournament topic. (Follow the link for the most recent discussion.)

Third in a series of previews of potential 2010-2011 LD topics.

Resolved: when forced to choose, a just government ought to prioritize universal human rights over its national interest.
Another of the potential topics for the 2010-11 NFL LD season cuts right to the heart of the social contract, and, in a way, is reminiscent of the UN vs. sovereignty resolution from a few years ago.

Some key questions:

What is a "just government?" What is the nature of its social contract? And which contractarian gets it right? If the world is a Hobbsean "war of all against all," the argument is quite different than if the ideal of justice is Rawlsian egalitarianism.

I'd imagine that many Affs would have a value of justice aligned with a criterion of "protecting rights." But the Neg has to ask in Cross-Ex, immediately: where do rights come from? What defines or limits them? If "universal human rights" includes, for instance, trade or labor rights, must nations abandon protectionist trade schemes, or, conversely, stop trading with nations that allow sweatshops--even if it means a loss of economic security?

Why have nations at all? Why not have a universal government? Wouldn't that be the best way to protect universal human rights? Would affirming the resolution lead to a super-state?

Who or what defines "national interest?" Who is the "agent of action" in the resolution? The people? The government? Can we make any assumptions about the nature of the government in the debate?

What situations might lead to a conflict between universal human rights and a nation's interest? (Some might include, but are not limited to, war, torturing terror suspects, immigration / refugee crises, trade agreements, dealing with dictatorships / oppressive societies.)

If a nation's citizens know that its government is going to prioritize universal human rights, will they remain loyal in a time of crisis? What are the upsides of nationalism?

Aug 9, 2010

philosophy dreams bigger

This one's for Aaron.

Sharpie has entered the game of "bust that ontology" with a a "liquid pencil." (As I understand it, there are other products titled "liquid pencils" that aren't graphite-based and aren't erasable like a pencil. And yes, it's ready for purchase.)

So... is it a pencil? Or a pen with graphite ink?

Philosophers? Any help?

[Via Rob Beschizza. Title references Hamlet, if you weren't sure.]

Aug 7, 2010

I forgive Bill Leavy

Bill Leavy admits he goofed:
"It was a tough thing for me. I kicked two calls in the fourth quarter and I impacted the game, and as an official you never want to do that," said the veteran of 15 NFL seasons and two Super Bowls.

"It left me with a lot of sleepless nights, and I think about it constantly," Leavy said of the game in February 2006. "I'll go to my grave wishing that I'd been better."
What is a fan's forgiveness worth? Not much, especially after four and a half years. But I forgive Bill Leavy.

Aug 2, 2010

plagiarism 2.0.1

Jonathan Adler, critiquing a New York Times article on the ostensible rise of plagiarism, writes:
The problem is not that academic standards are too strict for the Internet Age. Rather, it’s that students are not taught that such standards really matter.
Or, from this teacher's perspective, students aren't always taught why such standards matter. We stop just short, teaching them the correct citation style, and perhaps even telling them that plagiarism is wrong, and that they'll receive a zero for a first-time offense. But that's only a threat without a reason.

Why does plagiarism matter? In this teacher's perspective, the educational reasons come before the ethical.* In a classroom where assessment is at the core of instruction, and I establish and maintain the expectation that I need to know what you know, then the corollary is that plagiarism defeats that purpose. There simply isn't room for it.

It's doubly important for an English teacher; our focus on "papers" should be on the process, not merely the product. If we have an eye on each draft, especially with amazing digital tools like Google Docs, plagiarism should be nipped in the bud. Nearly all of the (very few) incidents I've seen in the past few years involved students who hadn't turned in their drafts on schedule. For them, plagiarism was a desperation move.

*Regardless of the varying ethics practiced by students--they're not all going to be Kantians, after all--the classroom ethos of purposeful learning must be foundational.