Mar 31, 2011

new views

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Check out this blog's optional formats, starting with "Flipcard," pictured above, and found at

Mar 29, 2011

Wye Oak brings the noise

Put Wye Oak's Jenn Wasner and Andy Stack in front of a brick wall in a wood-floored record shop, and expect some kidney-rattling, soul-shaking rock.

Wasner describes their method:
We won't admit this to ourselves often, but the way we play live is based on loud-quiet breaks, like super-huge jumps in volume and distortion. Sometimes it's really important to explode with huge amounts of volume. Whether it's out of a creative impulse, or just an angry one where it's like, "Hey everyone, look over here!" We wanted to have the option of having dynamics and volume work to our advantage in certain conditions. And it's fun to absolutely dominate a room for a couple of seconds.
On Monday night, dominate they did, blistering the bricks at Sonic Boom Records in Seattle, with thirty minutes of free music from Civilian and My Neighbor / My Creator.

Early in their set, Civilian's "Holy Holy" was a perfect encapsulation of Stack and Wasner's dynamism, beginning with driving, distorted guitar and then settling into an aggressive, thumping groove. The chorus, the first time, sounds hymnlike--which happens now and then in Wye Oak's music--but the second time, the distortion kicks back in and, if we're still in the sanctuary, at least we're blasting out the stained glass windows.

Live, Wasner's voice is stronger, Stack's drumming more urgent. See them when you get the chance, and worship at the church of rock and/or roll.

Mar 27, 2011

at the Washington Mock Trial state championship

At the prompting of an attorney friend, I spent a good part of Saturday afternoon observing the YMCA Mock Trial state championship at the Thurston County Courthouse. I sat in Courtroom One, which I remembered fondly from my drug trial--by which I mean, the time I was called in for jury duty, but, as so often happens, a plea bargain cut things short and I never got my chance to pay my civic dues.

Someone who blundered into the room would've figured they were interrupting a real trial. Students were competent attorneys, fielding motions and objections, making speeches, and handling incisive questions from Snohomish County Judge Bruce Weiss. Witnesses put on a great show, too, whether as the unctuous colleague of the defendant, the punctilious crime scene investigator, or the nervous garbage truck driver. Teams had been preparing since October, and it showed.

The fictional case, written by Judge William Downing, was all too timely: a police officer on trial for 2nd-degree murder, having shot a "person of interest" in an arson investigation. The case featured dark alleys, ambiguous turns of events, conflicting testimony, dubious emails, political fallout--all the hallmarks of the nightly news.

With one exception: there must be some sort of rule requiring jokey names in a mock trial. When I was in 7th grade, I tried to prove that Herschel C. Lion was responsible for the murder of a local salmon. Saturday's trial featured a Detective Josephine Viernes ("Joe Friday") and medical examiner "Dr. Kildare." (Generation gap, anyone?)

Apparently I lucked into one of the best rounds ever, at least according to Judge Weiss, who had effusive praise for the young advocates, saying that they "did better than a lot of attorneys who appear before me as a part of their job." I was also quite impressed by what I saw, which I think was my friend's intent. Is Capital going to be able to field a Mock Trial team? I don't know. It requires a lot of training and prep work, and I'm already a stretched-thin debate coach. But it's certainly worth pursuing.

Mar 23, 2011

LD mailbag: 1AR tactics and analytical warrants

Now that the postseason is winding down, it's time to focus primarily on general LD questions. The first concerns tactics in the first Affirmative rebuttal (1AR). A reader writes:

On the negative, all the reading I've done suggests limiting a case to 1-2 contentions. Some of my opponents, though, have negative cases with 3 contentions, 3-4 subpoints apiece. I understand the idea of prioritizing arguments when I'm aff, but when I don't address all of the subpoints explicitly in the 1AR, flow judges extend the individual subpoints and often vote on these "dropped" arguments. One thing I've tried is grouping subpoints under a main idea (e.g. group his contention 1 subpoints because they all pertain to how PMFs aren't accountable), but this is often too general a response. How can I avoid this dilemma in the 1AR?
There are a few ways to handle this.

1. If you know you have a flow judge who can handle speed, go faster and hit every subpoint, even if only with a blippy argument. This may be better than the phantom "drops."

2. Effective grouping may depend on which way you're addressing your opponent's argument. Are you actually taking down the whole argument at once, logically speaking, or just claiming that you are because you think it's necessary?

For instance, consider an opponent who argues:
C1: Private Military Firms (PMFs) are necessary for military operations
a) Speed
b) Flexibility
c) Staffing
d) Superior Resources
If you group and try to argue that PMFs aren't necessary because we could always institute a draft, in a way you've taken out the whole contention, but you haven't really addressed its logic. A draft defeats warrant (c), but doesn't compete with (a), (b), or (d). So your opponent could legitimately argue that you've dropped 3 out of 4 warrants, and her point still stands.

If you group and try to argue that PMFs are both morally abhorrent and that overstretch is good because it limits US military foreign adventuring, now you have two reasons to dismiss the entirety of the contention without even addressing its warrants--first, that moral considerations trump practical considerations, and secondly, a retort or "turn" that actually provides you with offense.

3. The problem with drops is asymmetric, since you lack the time in the 1AR to dismiss your drops as irrelevant or insignificant (if you're taking the "bigger picture" approach), yet your opponent has time to extend and impact those drops. So, if you're in front of a flow judge, you might try this: at the end of your 1AR, say something to effect of, "In her next speech the Neg is going to point out that I've dropped several inconsequential subpoints. In my closing, I'll crystallize the round and explain exactly why those drops don't matter." In that way, you've prepared the judge for your approach.

It may be risky, but it's better than leaving the drops for the judge to deal with in the absence of any direction from you--and with plenty of prompting by your opponent!

Let's move on to a couple of questions about evidence.
My second question is regarding the justifications behind a source. I've found that judges in my state often respond much better to studies/statistics over analysis from a professor/expert, but I know that expert analysis is definitely valuable. How do I respond to claims that "just because a professor says it, it isn't true"? Do I just need to better understand my evidence, or is there some argument I can make to save my analytical warrants?
Your opponent may be correct about the potential dubiousness of expert opinion--but if a professor's expertise and analysis are dubious, what about the analysis of a high school student? Ad hominem is a nonstarter. Instead, argue that your opponent hasn't actually addressed the logic of the analysis, which stands or falls on its own. (Decry the "ad hominem" attack and call it out as a fallacy if necessary.) And besides, the so's-your-old-man to the statistical card is "Figures lie and liars figure." Evidence battles, unless there are good reasons to doubt the evidence, are pretty boring and obnoxious to most judges.

I have one more question for you after going over some recent flows. One of my opponents spewed a lot of evidence at me in one of my debates, but they didn't actually READ said evidence...they paraphrased in 1-2 sentences and provided a brief citation at the end. Call I call them out on that, or is that allowed?
This is a gray, foggy area. Academics do this all the time--and it's quite likely that the cards being cited by debaters in rounds are actually footnoted paraphrases themselves! But without a direct source, we have to hold it in faith that our opponent isn't cherry-picking, card-stacking, context-ripping, or improperly summarizing. That's quite a leap, and it's fair in cross-ex to ask for a direct citation for any "evidence" that sounds too good to be true. But only for evidence that sounds unreasonable or dubious. Otherwise you'll sound like a nit-picker, which is the cardinal sin of evidence-challenging.

When writing your own case, use direct quotations whenever feasible.

If your opponent is doing something genuinely abusive, and you're sure you can convince the judge on this point, then make it a voting issue.

Debaters are encouraged to submit their examples, tactics, or questions regarding the above scenarios.

Mar 21, 2011

don't fear the radioactive reaper

Did I use xkcd's awesome radiation dose chart in class today, to anchor a discussion of visual literacy, risk assessment, weather patterns, movie hype, nuclear physics, unreasonable fear, and the awesomeness of nerds?

Yes I did.

And I'd do it again.

Mar 18, 2011

why you should learn big words

Why is your teacher encouraging, exhorting, or even nagging you to learn roots, to study vocab, and to read with an eye and ear for language?

The reasons are manifold.  Augment your vocabulary...

To become a better, more engaging writer.
To better comprehend your reading.
To confuse people.
To connect subjects (math --> English --> science).
To define unknown words more easily.
To express yourself more effectively or accurately.
To feel more confident with little words.
To feel sophisticated.
To gain access to power.
To gain knowledge--to not be clueless.
To get good grades.
To get out of a bad situation.
To have deeper, more intelligent conversations.
To have fun.
To have options when choosing a word.
To impress a date.
To know what you're being accused of or charged with.
To know your rights.
To land a better job.
To learn how to say exactly--precisely--what you mean.
To learn the history of language and culture.
To make money.
To master the English language.
To not be afraid of things you don't understand.
To place more emphasis on other words.
To protect yourself from scams or risks.
To read between the lines.
To read more expressively.
To sound intelligent.
To sound professional.
To sound smart.
To succeed in a future career.
To understand difficult subjects.
To understand more knowledgeable people.
To understand ourselves and others.
To understand politics.

And, most important:

To win at Stump Mr. Anderson.

Mar 16, 2011

the squishy self

If V.S. Ramachandran has a new book out, you can bet your sweet occipital lobe I'm going to link to Colin McGinn's review.
Why is neurology so fascinating? It is more fascinating than the physiology of the body--what organs perform what functions and how. I think it is because we feel the brain to be fundamentally alien in relation to the operations of mind--as we do not feel the organs of the body to be alien in relation to the actions of the body. It is precisely because we do not experience ourselves as reducible to our brain that it is so startling to discover that our mind depends so intimately on our brain. It is like finding that cheese depends on chalk--that soul depends on matter. This de facto dependence gives us a vertiginous shiver, a kind of existential spasm: How can the human mind--consciousness, the self, free will, emotion, and all the rest--completely depend on a bulbous and ugly assemblage of squishy wet parts? What has the spiking of neurons got to do with me?
I disagree with McGinn: neurology isn't any more fascinating than physiology, because as Lawrence Rosenblum's See What I'm Saying compellingly argues, neurology and physiology are blissfully codependent.  You are the mind your body builds, and the body your mind conceives.

Mind-body problem solved.  Wasn't that simple?

Mar 14, 2011

nerd is a nerd is a nerd is a nerd

Me, circa a long time ago.

why are left-handed people evil?

I started class today by asking, "Why are left-handed people evil?"

It's a loaded question, but it has a purpose: to surprise students into thinking about etymology. In this case, I gave a quick lecture on the history of cultural bias against lefties contained in the word "sinister." (The Wikipedia entry on the linguistic history of left-handedness is a great place to start, although I'm surprised that "gauche" doesn't get a mention. You see, left-handers are also klutzes.)

I asked my 9th grade class to theorize an answer in their journals. The gist of my favorite response: as they write in pencil, lefties smear lead on their skin, and the lead leaches through the epidermis and, eventually, winds its way into the brain. The results speak for themselves.

Oh, and--of course--the lone lefty in my 3rd period class was born on the Ides of March.

Note to the clueless or the scold: graphite isn't plumbum, and southpaws aren't evil.

Mar 12, 2011

the suspect sat near the front

As a teacher, I've seen students of nearly every stripe, but I can say with some confidence that I've never had a suspected ax murderer in the mix.

Ellen Laird's account compels without sensationalizing. Read it.

[via ALDaily]

Mar 7, 2011

utilizing force in the postmodern world

The March / April LD resolution asks us to consider the use of PMFs to pursue U.S. military objectives abroad. How does the changing face of war impact this debate?

Traditional war, Rupert Smith argues in The Utility of Force, is obsolete. In its place arise two distinct and yet related phenomena: the extended police action and state-building project known as the War on Terror, and perpetual peacekeeping and conflict management. These phenomena, which Smith calls "War amongst the people," demand new strategies, in which the ends are obscure or distant. As Smith writes,
The ends for which we fight are changing from the hard objectives that decide a political outcome to those of establishing conditions in which the outcome may be decided.... We fight so as to preserve the force rather than risking all to gain the objective.

This idea of force-preservation is central to every development in the postmodern military landscape.

1. The military must evolve.
As Defense Secretary, following in the footsteps of Donald Rumsfeld, Robert Gates has pushed the U.S. military toward greater flexibility and mobility. Fred Kaplan summarizes:
The Army needs to shift from a garrison peacetime force that's preparing for a possible head-on armored clash against a foe of comparable strength to a mobile force that's fighting actual "asymmetric" wars against rogue states and insurgents. The Air Force needs to pull back from its traditional obsession with high-tech air-to-air combat and focus more on joint operations—surveillance, precise air strikes, cargo transport, and rapid rescue—that help the troops on the ground. The Navy needs to focus less on aircraft carriers and more on vessels that can maneuver in coastal waters.
Now that Gates' tenure is ending, it'll be interesting to see whether this momentum keeps building. Necessity would seem to demand it.

2. So long, Social Contract.
In the absence of industrial war, and with Gates' quick-strike model of military supremacy, notions of a draft are no longer with us. The U.S. military is a professional force, and with that, it's only natural that Americans let the professionals handle it. To put it in other words, when security is the project, we're happy to subcontract.

3. Objectives subject to change.
A year ago, would anyone have predicted that the U.S. would consider military involvement in a Libyan civil war? Of course not. Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, and North Korea would have been the "obvious" concerns, with a rising China and perpetually dysfunctional Russia seen as long-term threats. The situation on the ground changes far too rapidly in a postmodern world.

4. Speed is power, and power corrupts.
Eric Wilson's "Speed / pure war / power crime," found in Crime, Law, and Social Change, 2009, is an interesting read for anyone considering a critical perspective. Following Paul Virilio's analysis in Pure War, Wilson argues that the increasing speed of conflict isn't a side effect, but a desired outcome of the postmodern corporation.
Speed reduces transparency by means of an 'optical disappearance,' which so hinders detection that the crime is effectively re-constituted a 'non-event;' that is, invisible....

By favouring the high-velocity corporations that respond with near-instantaneity to fast moving 'market forces,' 'private' structures displace traditional public institutions that are temporally encumbered by low-velocity traditional political deliberation and public accountability; nowhere is this more transparent than with the military procurement process. Pure War is identical with the systemic criminogenic environment, or 'corruption,' the covert privatization of government functions,' that is the conflation of the domestic political economy with speed. Power Crime is an emergent property of the political hegemony of speed. The question now becomes whether pure war can, in itself, affect a fundamental reconfiguration of national and trans-national juridical space.
Corruption doesn't just threaten the function of the State; when the virtual supersedes the actual, the State vanishes.

Mar 1, 2011

fresh-mixed metaphor

Today, while the world teeters on the brink on a very nasty cold, I offer you a spot of cheer, the polyester equivalent of chicken soup.

Which would obviously contain M&Ms.

[originally posted here]