Nov 25, 2014

rationality as a value

Regarding the "Right to be Forgotten" resolution for November/December 2014, reader @ayfreewilly writes, and I'm paraphrasing a little:
"Could rationality be run as a value? I'd tie it to the difficulty of implementation."
The short, unhelpful answer: yes, it could. The short, helpful answer: no, there are better choices.

Here's why.

Rationality is difficult to pin down, requiring a meta-standard.
If we use a common definition of rationality, we get to the heart of the problem.
rational: agreeable to reason; reasonable; sensible
This really just pushes the problem back. What does "reasonable" mean? Logical? Or just in accordance with offered reasons? And whose sense determines the sensibility?

Even determining that "rationality" reduces to logic, we can agree on the soundness of our reasoning, but disagree on the premises. Rationality works well in this respect if a particular chain of reasoning can be found to be irrational, but no amount of logic per se can prove a premise true, in and of itself.

Rationality, then, becomes "logical consistency" or "logical coherence" and functions more as a criterion than a value.

Rationality is an instrumental value at best, and thus trumped by other values.
If a resolution aimed at the education system comes along, then rationality as an end in itself might be a good value. However, most of the time, we use rational approaches to achieve other values--or to choose between conflicting values. This goes right along with the last paragraph above.

The reasons that actually motivate people may not be fully rational.
David Hume said it this way: "Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them." Blaise Pascal had another way to put it: "The heart has its reasons which reason knows not." We can use reason, in this rendering, to justify our choices, but our preferences that dictate those choices are inherently irrational. The bonds of family, the demands of justice, the whirlwind of love, the height of inspiration: what makes us human isn't reason, but passion. Rationality is cold and soulless and dehumanizing. (At least utilitarianism, for its faults, attempts to make happiness the core of public policy, rather than the abstract morality of pure Kantianism.)

Implementation is only indirectly related to rationality.
The second part of the reader's original question conflates rationality and practicality. In a negative sense, this is clearly defensible; it's usually irrational to promote or attempt something that you think (or know) is difficult to implement (or even impossible). However, there might be perfectly rational reasons for attempting something impractical or seemingly impossible: gaining political allies, inspiring future generations, signaling one's wealth or power, tricking one's opponents into a false competition. ("Star Wars," the U.S.'s ultimately fruitless attempt to install anti-nuclear weaponry in space, is sometimes credited with hastening the collapse of Russian communism, as the Soviet military diverted precious resources into wasted efforts.)

We return to the first objection. The difficulty of implementation can be measured by various standards, among them effort, funding, preparation, time, resources, and labor costs. If rationality is shorthand for "cost-benefit analysis," the precise balance of costs and benefits is a complex affair.

In short: rationality as a value isn't the most... well... rational choice.

May 21, 2014

not everyone needs a four-year degree? gasp!

I wish this message resonated louder and farther: you can have a perfectly excellent career without a four-year degree. Yes, you can:
Those who pursue short-term degrees in high-demand areas are being rewarded with living-wage jobs in our state. And they can reach those well-paying jobs faster and more efficiently (and often with less debt) than longer, less-focused educational paths…. It’s only now in the aftermath of a shifting economy that these critical mid-level occupations in manufacturing, healthcare, IT and other growth areas are gaining the exposure they’re due.
Cindy Zehnder, the blog post's author and current chair of Washington's Workforce Training & Education Coordinating Board, points out that the Evergreen State is actively attempting to engage more students in the education that leads to "middle-skill jobs."
One way we’re forging these connections is through, which features details on nearly 6,300 Washington education programs along with performance report cards (when data is available) on how many students obtained well-paying jobs in the industry for which they trained. Another resource:, which ties together the 34 community and technical colleges and their full range of career-focused educational offerings.
It's been five years since I read Shop Class as Soul Craft's incisive critique of the academy's stifling focus on "knowledge work." Sadly, it's taken that long for the critique to reach the mainstream--and largely due to a lingering recession and crippling college debt. If the WTECB's efforts gain traction, and more students turn toward fulfilling careers in critical industries, maybe there's hope for us yet.

May 4, 2014

Carsten's words

At just over 19 months, Carsten, pictured above, not only has fantastic hair, but an ever-expanding vocabulary. For the sake of history, here's a list of the words he knows how to "say," which reveal more about his family's influence than any of us would care to admit. Since he's learned words in various ways, I've broken down the list into several categories, and included pronunciations, as best as I've been able to translate. This is, of course, a work in progress.

Words + Signs
Mama / Mommy
Dada / Daddy
Wind / windy ("bindy")
Banana ("bana")
Cheeks ("geeks")

Words + Sounds
Puppy (+ "Arf Arf")

Signs + Sounds
Bear (plus "roar")
Lion (plus "roar")
Tiger (plus "roar")
Cow (plus "moo")
Horse (plus "neigh")
Frog (plus "ack ack")
Car (plus "broom broom")

"Nanda" (Miranda, his oldest sister)
"Gaga" (Keira, his other sister)
"bitsy bitsy" (the Itsy Bitsy Spider)

Signs Only
Eat / Food
Squeezie Packs (a made-up sign that I taught him; he pretends to squeeze near his mouth)

Words Only
Burp (pronounced "bip")
Funny (often goes along with "bip")
Vent (just above his changing table, and so, a constant focal point)
Candy ("dindy")
Truck ("guck")
Yuck ("guck")
Bed ("butt")
Bus ("bush")
Fry (for "French fry")
Draw ("daw")
Moon ("min")
Meat ("mean")
Pants ("bents")
Blanky ("binky")
Tissue (one he says almost perfectly)
Sofa ("fofa")
Sky ("guy")
Eyelash ("eyechah")
Tie ("die")
Try ("jie")

Orange ("awnj")
Blue ("boo")
Green ("geen")

Sounds Only
"Mow" (for cat)
"Arf Arf" (for dog)

Apr 29, 2014

the short baseball life of Luther Lane Stuart

I'm not sure what drove me to imagine a major league ballplayer who had one monstrous at-bat, and then never did anything at the plate again. That vision, of course, led me to Google, which led me to a Wikipedia page that is both insightful and tragic. If the Wikipedians are to be trusted--and the Baseball Almanac corroborates--as of this date, there are 114 big-leaguers who smacked a home run in their very first at-bat. Eighteen of those men have since retired from the game with only that single dinger to their name. (Four others are still active, and who knows what glory awaits?)

None of those players exactly fits the description, as all had plate appearances to follow their lone homer.

One comes close, though: Luther "Luke"
Lane Stuart.

Luke Stuart played a grand total of three games for the St. Louis Browns in the late summer of 1921. In his first time up, he walloped an inside-the-parker off the inimitable Walter Johnson, becoming the first of only two MLBers to clear the bases the hard way in their debut. (The other: Johnnie LeMaster.)

Stuart is one of eleven alumni of the Guilford College Quakers to reach the big leagues. As Charlie Bevis describes in his biography of the one-hit wonder,
On August 8, at Griffith Stadium in Washington, Stuart again played in the late innings of a blowout, this time for McManus. Washington scored seven runs in the bottom of the eighth inning to push the score to 16-3 when St. Louis came to bat in the top of the ninth inning against future Hall of Fame pitcher Walter Johnson. With a 13-run lead, there were likely few spectators left in the stands, and probably even fewer newspaper writers. Those who stayed witnessed Stuart crack a two-run home run off Johnson to make the final score 16-5.
After an 0-2 outing in his next game, Stuart was sent back to the minors, where he spent the rest of his career--three short years. After time away selling insurance and real estate, Stuart circled back to baseball, scouting for the Yankees.

Perhaps already succumbing to a fatal condition, Stuart died at his own hand 21 years later.

The North Carolina Room blog has a great two-part summary of his life and context. In the first part, you learn that Luke Stuart once saved a teammate from an opponent / gangster by the name of Snipes. In the second, you learn more about Stuart's career, and his post-baseball existence. Both are interesting slices of Americana, and just another reason to love the Internet.

Mar 26, 2014

joy in doubt: the State Public Forum Championship

Until a few days ago, it had been an up-and-down year for my Public Forum squad. Back in 2013, we had not one, but two teams preparing for Nationals, the first time we had ever closed out PuFo in the Western Washington District. However, in the 2013-14 season, not only did we fail to qualify a single team for Nationals, we had just one team make State. Our previous best finish was second place at the Puget Sound Invitational. I wasn't going to complain if that was the end of our season, but, to be honest, I would've been disappointed.

But we still had a shot at State. So, on March 21st, Max and Tate headed back to the University of Puget Sound, researched and ready to debate the merits of single-gender classrooms in American public schools.

After the first day of competition, Capital's duo were 6-0, earning the top seed in the elimination rounds. That gave us a first round bye on Saturday morning. I figured we had better run a full practice round to warm up, so we trudged over to Howarth Hall, found an empty room, and debated, Max and Tate running their Pro case against me--and their own Con.

If there had been a judge in the room, I'm guessing he would've voted for Max and Tate. They held their own against my improvised rebuttals, and got me thinking that a state title was well within reach. I didn't want to say anything, though, and went back to the judging pool, trusting that they'd be fine.

After the eighth round, Tate's brother Ben, who had been judging for CHS late in the season, decided to quit watching Capital's round--they were getting too nerve-wracking. I enlisted him to help set up the room for the final round, and we dragged tables and chairs around, chatting to stave off our nervous anticipation, and then greeting the community members who had volunteered to judge the final round.

Then the text came: Max and Tate had won their eighth and semifinal round, and, for the final, were about to face a fantastic Mount Si team--the team that had defeated them to win the Puget Sound tournament in January. The prospect of redemption was just too perfect.

Even better: once everyone had arrived and the coin toss started the round, we won the toss. "We'll take--" and I already mentally finished the sentence. Max and Tate always chose Con. They were undefeated in seven rounds running the Con. I liked their Con case better. I thought the Con arguments were stronger. Of course they would take...

"--second speaker."

And then Mount Si took the Con.
It took me a moment to register what had happened. I turned to Tate's older brother, Ben, who had been judging for us late in the season. "They picked 2nd speaker. Why? Why in the world wouldn't they pick the Con?"

"They felt pretty confident after running it against you," he said.


Thirty-five minutes later, I wasn't feeling too great about our chances. I thought the Con had established a lot of doubt about our Pro's statistics, and that we were relying too heavily on the choice argument--"let every kid, every parent have the choice that otherwise is only for the rich." The opposition was also a little bit smoother in delivery. As the round wrapped up and the judges began their internal deliberations, scribbling endlessly on their ballots as the room waited in silence, I whispered to Ben: "I think we lost."

Ten interminable minutes passed. Ben quietly noted that the longer it took, the better he liked our chances. That seemed right.

Five agonizing minutes later, at long last, the ombudsman gathered up the ballots and announced, "By a 2-1 decision, your state champions: Capital High School!" I leaped out of my seat, just about hitting the ceiling. I had known it was possible, but I couldn't believe it. As the judges began their post-round critiques, the two voting for CHS talked about the strength of the choice argument in pushing their vote for the Pro.

The dissenting judge, though, said almost word-for-word everything I had been thinking throughout the round.

Good thing there weren't more of me in the room.

The upshot: your 2014 Washington State Champions in Public Forum are two of Capital's finest, a class act who never doubted themselves, who worked harder than anyone to reach the summit, who ended up going undefeated in the most intense and thrilling fashion.

Am I sorry for doubting my own team? No, not really. Debate is as subjective as it gets. But on the right side of the ballot, the doubt created by that subjectivity can lead to the greatest joy. As the coach of this year's champions, I couldn't be happier.

Mar 17, 2014

a story template for literary naturalists

I've loved teaching American Literature this year. It's the first time I've had the class since I was a student teacher, so the material feels completely fresh to me. (It's also dredged up memories of my own high school experience, and the inimitable Dr. Dunn, who ultimately inspired me to take up a career in English teaching.)

My favorite facet of the course is its link to various philosophies. As we march through the history of American letters, we encounter the surge and retreat of various perspectives on life, love, nature, God, and the Universe. It's a long way from the Pequots or the Puritans to the Postmoderns, but, in the grand scheme, it's not so far a journey after all.

If I had to pick a favorite among favorites, I'd go with the Naturalists, with their scientific pessimism and earthy realism. As a junior, I was struck by Stephen Crane's cynicism, and wrote a (terrible) short story in the style of "The Open Boat." The experience changed me. (Probably for the worse.)

And so, as an English teacher, of course I've foisted that activity on my students. To help them--and you--to write a story in the Naturalist style, I have invented a template. Feel free to copy with attribution, and if you make any money on your masterpiece, I get 25%.

The Naturalist Story Template

an [average / poor / desperate / stupid / ugly / cruel ] person

struggles against [disease / poverty / racism / nature / temptation]

in [a desert / a jungle / the Arctic / a forest / the streets / factory / prison]

ultimately [losing / failing / dying / going mad / wasting away]

at the hands of [human cruelty / human indifference / an indifferent universe / inability to understand herself / bad luck]

That's it. Fill in the template, write away, and publish a bestseller.

Oh, and whatever you do, give it a third-person narrator, an ironically tragic (or tragically ironic) ending, and some faintly purple prose. You can't go wrong with purple prose.

Mar 5, 2014

political realism in LD

A Twitter follower has asked me to elaborate on one of the V/C pairs I listed for the humanitarian aid resolution. Over at that post, I wrote:
V: Prudence (defined as carefully weighing political options; see Morgenthau)
C: Political realism
The idea here is that nations act in their best interests, independent of overarching moral considerations, charting a careful course in a chaotic, Hobbesian world. Justice isn't a proper description of international relations, so the resolution is a category error, analogous to claiming that numbers are too heavy, or colors are too fearful. (Be aware that some judges hate political realism. I mean really, really hate it.) Realism can also be turned, potentially, in the way the Social Contract argument can be turned, if realism is discussed in terms of its consequentialist impacts, rather than in its inherent approach.
I'll start by explaining what realism isn't, and what it is, and then how to use it in an LD round, not just for this particular topic.

Political Moralism
If you believe that states are inherently moral agents--or that the people who make decisions for states are moral agents, regardless of whether states themselves are moral--you are not a realist. Instead, you're a political moralist. There are several ways states might have moral obligations: there might be some objective moral law that all states ought to follow, or there might be contractual obligations (treaties, alliances, international law, etc.) that have actual normative force.

Regardless of the efficacy or enforceability of these norms, a political moralist believes they are real, and ought to guide and constrain state actions.

Whether these obligations are positive (i.e., states should act in certain ways to achieve specific ends), or negative (i.e., states should refrain from acting in certain ways), is another question.

Political Realism
In contrast, if you believe that states are not inherently moral agents--and that the people who make decisions for states do not need to concern themselves with traditional morality when making political decisions--you are a political realist. States are only interested in preserving their own power in an anarchic system, and must often make difficult decisions that would not survive scrutiny in a traditional system of ethics. As Hans Morgenthau writes,
Realism maintains that universal moral principles cannot be applied to the actions of states in their abstract universal formulation, but that they must be filtered through the concrete circumstances of time and place. The individual may say for himself: "Fiat justitia, pereat mundus (Let justice be done, even if the world perish)," but the state has no right to say so in the name of those who are in its care. Both individual and state must judge political action by universal moral principles, such as that of liberty. Yet while the individual has a moral right to sacrifice himself in defense of such a moral principle, the state has no right to let its moral disapprobation of the infringement of liberty get in the way of successful political action, itself inspired by the moral principle of national survival. There can be no political morality without prudence; that is, without consideration of the political consequences of seemingly moral action. Realism, then, considers prudence--the weighing of the consequences of alternative political actions--to be the supreme virtue in politics. Ethics in the abstract judges action by its conformity with the moral law; political ethics judges action by its political consequences.
Note that Morgenthau doesn't deny the existence of morality overall; rather, he claims that the good--defined as rational aims successfully carried out--is the aim of statecraft, not the right. Prudence, not justice, is the goal; success, not virtue, is the measure of action.

This view traces back to Thucydides, who Morgenthau name drops; Machiavelli, who applied it in his classic text The Prince; and Thomas Hobbes, who developed the idea of a "warre of all against all" in the state of nature. Contrasted with these three, Morgenthau is actually the least controversial and least cynical in its view of human nature.

As I described above, judging state actions in moral terms, in the realist view, is a "category error." Morgenthau again:
This realist defense of the autonomy of the political sphere against its subversion by other modes of thought does not imply disregard for the existence and importance of these other modes of thought. It rather implies that each should be assigned its proper sphere and function. Political realism is based upon a pluralistic conception of human nature. Real man is a composite of "economic man," "political man," "moral man," "religious man," etc... Recognizing that these different facets of human nature exist, political realism also recognizes that in order to understand one of them one has to deal with it on its own terms.
In other words, our decisions in different contexts are made with different considerations--and, in Morgenthau's (controversial) rendition, no single role trumps all others. The political is the political, and nothing more.

Using Political Realism in a Debate Round
As Morgenthau argues, the supreme virtue of political realism is prudence: treading cautiously in a dangerous world. You may set that up as your value, and political realism as your criterion, if you're using this line of argument. However, you might also value truth or reality, and have a criterion of "properly assigning responsibility," if you view the resolution through a truth-testing lens.

For the humanitarian aid resolution, either will work; the point is that states are held to a different standard than individuals.

Even if they aren't, state actions are contextual and situated, which means that realism is a perfect counter to Kantian (or any other) absolutism.

Defeating Political Realism
Realism doesn't necessarily have a good answer for the inherent worth of actions bad states might take. If states should act pragmatically in their own interests, what if such actions are, from a moral standpoint, evil? This question may have a good answer within the realist framework, but it's difficult, and the strong biases of some judges against realism may make it a losing issue. One of my debaters had a judge who described his sentiments thusly: "I'll go barf in a bucket, then vote Neg."

Realism might also be wrong, for several reasons. First, if Morgenthau is wrong about human nature, then the whole philosophy collapses. In other words, it might be that "political man" is no different from "economic man" and "moral man." There's only humanity, which can't be contextualized or situated away.

Second, if the global political system truly isn't anarchic--witness the rise of international law and human rights norms--then there is a global contract that supersedes (or at least equates with) individual contracts between states and their citizens. In Morgenthau's time, such norms and contracts may have seemed as thin as tissue, but in the 21st century, they seem to have strengthened. (If Russia ends up successfully occupying Crimea and destabilizing Ukraine, I take it all back.)

For Further Reading
"Political Realism in International Relations"
"The New New World Order"

Feb 22, 2014

Emmanuel Levinas, ethics, and LD

This post is inspired by Max, who wrote an LD case for the March/April humanitarian aid resolution based on the work of Emmanuel Levinas. Thanks for the idea, Max.

I'll quote from two useful sources in my discussion: Adriaan Peperzak's To the Other: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Emmanuel Levinas, which is available in its entirety online, and Benjamin Yost's "Responsibility and Revision: A Levinasian Argument for the Abolition of Capital Punishment." Any misrepresentation of their work--or of Levinas--is entirely my own. (Debaters who lack the hours to peruse Peperzak's exegesis will find use in Bettina Bergo's capably brief summary of Levinas's life and work.)

Why Levinas?
For debaters who are tired of the same old Utilitarianism vs. Deontology arguments, Levinas' approach offers a way out. It is profoundly humanistic, and critical of all-encompassing formulas or categorical imperatives. Although Levinas' prose (translated from French) can be intimidating, his core idea is understandable with a little effort.

The Core Idea: Responsibility
A human's first encounter with another human--the Other--shocks us out of our unreflective egoism, an egoism that other ethicists confuse with selfhood. According to Levinas, it is not until we recognize the existence of the Other--and their infinite claims to our attention, resources, and time--that we develop a sense of responsibility to them, and understand our own nature. As their needs are infinite, our responsibility to them must be infinite; and, as Yost explains,
...responsibility is asymmetric--meaning that the other has no responsibility to me--and radically singular--my responsibilities are mine and cannot be passed of to, or shared by, anyone else.
Or, as Peperzak puts it,
[a just] being does not concentrate on its own happiness or even on the sublime form in which this happiness can present itself within the framework of a belief in human immortality or soul... [since] it has turned from egoistical injustice in order to dedicate itself to the service of the Other.
Levinas' critical project is aimed straight at Kantian and contractualist defininitions of justice as reciprocity between free agents. Yost again:
This is because Levinas puts responsibility where Kant, and the liberal tradition more generally, would put freedom--to be human is to be responsible, and the other’s needs constitute the fundamental value. Being responsible for others is about transcending the drive toward self-preservation and self-enhancement.... As a result, our responsibilities for others cannot be determined by, nor limited by, the responsibilities others bear for us. Duties are not cut from the cloth of reciprocity. This view is in sharp distinction to liberal justice.

Levinas' position, square in the critical camp, makes using his ideas a challenge for LDers, as on the one hand, it places justice and ethics at the first priority, but on the other hand, makes no specific normative claims. As Peperzak explains,
[Levinas'] ethical terminology... does not point the way to a system of commands and prohibitions. It describes the situation of responsibility that precedes every ethics--a relation that "constitutes" me even before I can ask: "How should I conduct myself?" or "What should I do?" As an adequate description of the subject, insofar as it escapes the order of Being, ethical language is pre- or meta-ontological. As characteristic of a situation that precedes freedom, it is also pre- or meta-ethical.
Levinas rankles against the systematizing impulse of most ethical theorizers, framing such an impulse as a sort of abdication of moral responsibility. Back to Yost:
Now, if responsibility is singular and asymmetric, it is non-generalizable, and cannot be used to deduce moral norms that bind anyone other than oneself. Indeed, to convert singular demands into generalized norms will turn out to be, in some sense, a betrayal of responsibility. In doing so, one shirks one’s responsibilities by passing them off to others.... Levinas cannot, therefore,address the basic concern of mainstream normative ethics, which is to establish a catalogue of moral duties. Instead, Levinas encourages vigorous criticism of these catalogues, on the grounds that they justify limits on our responsibilities.

... And How to Overcome Them
That doesn't preclude what Yost calls "Levinasian" arguments in favor of universal human rights (or, in Yost's own view, against specific policies such as the death penalty). Justice itself is a universal principle, as Peperzak explains:
The simultaneity of many others distances me from the infinity of my responsibility. The contradiction caused by an infinite claim that is multiplied can only be overcome by the opening up of a dimension in which all others are served, respected, and treated justly: the dimension of universal justice. The infinite "principle" of transcendence... necessitates its own universalization and therewith a certain limitation. This is the "origin" of justice as the concern for a universally just order. This justice demands comparison (of unique and incomparable others), coexistence (of those whose "truth" can only "appear" in a face-to-face), gathering, equality (of the differents), administration, politics (which necessarily includes totalization), and so on.
Or, as our house's resident ten-year-old Keira summarizes, "There was a dimension where he went into a dimension, and then found the face-to-face of justiceness."

Can we go farther, and link this "justiceness" to the lived reality of political justice? Peperzak says that Levinas says yes.
The infinite obligation now becomes the duty of justice. I must be just in the distribution of my attention and devotion. I must compare and calculate, correct and order, treat others as equals and conduct myself as a judge.... The ethical relation of the One-for-the-Other obligates us to the rational organization of society, in which justice is exercised and violence is suppressed.
Yost adds,
Those who argue that Levinas’ philosophy has political implications include (Burggraeve 2002), (Caygill 2002), (Critchley 1992), (Critchley 2007), (Perpich 2008). Critchley and Perpich defend very general implications. Caygill and Burggraeve derive more concrete ones, especially with respect to the extension and protection of human rights.
The full cites:

Burggraeve 2002. "The Wisdom of Love in the Service of Love : Emmanuel Levinas on Justice, Peace, and Human Rights. "
Caygill 2002. Levinas and the Political.
Critchley 1992. The Ethics of Deconstruction : Derrida and Levinas.
Critchley 2007. Infinitely Demanding: Ethics of Commitment, Politics of Resistance.
Perpich 2008. The Ethics of Emmanuel Levinas.

I haven't read them, but you're welcome and encouraged to.

And, for extra credit, compare and contrast Levinas' idea of responsibility with Sarte's "anguish."

Feb 19, 2014

SB 5246 goes down in flames

Probably because I blogged about it, the terrible Senate Bill 5246 was voted down in the Senate yesterday.
The legislation failed 19-28, with minority Democrats joining with seven members of the Republican-dominated Senate majority coalition to vote no.
The state is at risk of losing $44 million, but then we also stand to gain roughly $190 million from recreational pot sales, apparently.

Federalism taketh away, and federalism giveth.

Feb 16, 2014

President's Day facts

If, as punishment for enjoying a day off, your teacher has assigned you a report on President's Day facts, look no further than this handy list. It contains all the President's Day facts you will ever want or need.

The original name of "President's Day" was "Prime Minister's Day." It was intended to celebrate Great Britain's most beloved Prime Minister, Winston Churchill. When the United States broke free of British rule, George Washington, the first president, declared the name change by executive order, his first and only legislative act.

If all the presidents were laid end to end, they would stretch clear from Muncie to Skokie.

Herbert Hoover, nicknamed "Silent Cal," would wear a paper bag over his head each President's Day. After he broke his nose by running into one of the White House columns, Hoover decided to cut eyeholes in the bag.

The German translation of "President's Day" is "Präsidentsehnsuchtgemeinschaftsgefühl."

The movie "Independence Day" was almost titled "President's Day," but the director, George Lucas, is notoriously apostrophe-phobic.

According to data from Facebook, President's Day is the fifth most popular day to post a new relationship status, but first overall for status changes to "single."

Despite the fact that the best anagram of "President's Day" is "Padres destiny," the San Diego Padres have yet to win a Super Bowl.

The most popular President's Day food is cabbage. The most popular beverage is cabbage juice.

President's Day has been canceled only once in its century-plus history, when a molasses factory's terrible spill flooded the streets of Washington, D.C. for forty-eight hours. Woodrow Wilson, president at the time, declared a national day of mourning, followed by a national day of cookie baking.

Only one president--Hillary Clinton--was born on President's Day.

Feb 13, 2014

value / criterion pairs for the humanitarian aid resolution

This post consists of value and criterion pairs for the March-April 2014 LD humanitarian aid resolution, which states:
Placing political conditions on humanitarian aid to foreign countries is unjust.
These ideas are intended to kickstart your own thinking. Feel free to adapt them for your own purposes. I can't claim they'll win you any rounds, but if they do, be sure to give me 80% of the credit, more or less.

Also, this is a work in progress, so feel free to suggest additions in the comments.

Trending Affirmative

Value: Justice (defined morally)
Criterion: Preserving human dignity.
Humans are worthy of fundamental respect and have inherent worth. Regardless of role or station, we have a moral obligation to preserve human dignity. Political conditions have the potential to deny aid to those who need it most, use humans as bargaining chips and human suffering as leverage, and, if based on partisan bickering, are a moral obscenity and an affront to human dignity.

V: Justice
C: Protecting Human Rights
If protecting human rights is essential to justice (or morality), and if PPCoHA leads to the loss of human rights (as thousands or even millions suffer and die when aid is denied), then PPCoHA is unjust.

V: Justice
C: International Law / International Human Rights Norms
Since the resolution does not specify a particular society, we can't be 100% certain which rights must be protected. Best, then, to look to the prevailing standards of international law--the rights that people across societies, cultures, and even times have agreed are essential. Is this criterion open to attack? Certainly. But it also presents a clear, highly defensible set of rights.

V: Justice
C: Deontology, especially the 2nd Formulation of Kant's Categorical Imperative
Kant argues that as humans are autonomous moral agents, it is wrong to use them as mere means to an end. Political conditions do this by treating suffering and dying humans as bargaining chips for a nation's purposes.

V: Justice
C: Retribution
In this view, withholding aid for political reasons is a punishment. If this is a correct reading of the situation, it violates a fundamental principle of retributive justice. Innocents should not suffer for the sake of their country's leaders, since they are not due punishment.

V: Justice
C: Rawls's "Law of Peoples"
Rawls's "Law of Peoples" is an attempt to apply his contractual reasoning to international relations. The seventh and eighth rules are most salient: "Peoples are to honor human rights," and "Peoples have a duty to assist other peoples living under unfavorable conditions that prevent their having a just or decent political and social regime."

Trending Negative

V: Justice
C: Social Contract
The resolution uses the phrase "is unjust," which can (should?) be defined in moral terms. The moral obligations of the State are based on its contractual duties and limits. The contract (in most classic formulations) requires no positive obligations toward the citizens of other countries. (There may be negative duties--to not violate the human rights of foreigners--but humanitarian aid is not a moral obligation for states.

A potential "turn" exists if the social contract is linked to consequentialist reasoning (i.e., the State has to act in a way that benefits its citizens or keeps them secure). If unfettered humanitarian aid improves the donor nation's security, it might have a moral obligation to avoid political conditions.

V: Prudence (defined as carefully weighing political options; see Morgenthau)
C: Political realism
The idea here is that nations act in their best interests, independent of overarching moral considerations, charting a careful course in a chaotic, Hobbesian world. Justice isn't a proper description of international relations, so the resolution is a category error, analogous to claiming that numbers are too heavy, or colors are too fearful. (Be aware that some judges hate political realism. I mean really, really hate it.) Realism can also be turned, potentially, in the way the Social Contract argument can be turned, if realism is discussed in terms of its consequentialist impacts, rather than in its inherent approach.

Could Go Either Way

V: Justice
C: Consequentialism (or Utilitarianism, Act or Rule)
Any case predicated on a body count, a dollar figure, or any other quantifiable metric of success is essentially consequentialist. If justice is defined morally, and the State looks to consequentialism as a way to decide whether its actions are moral, then consequentialism can work as a criterion for justice. However, this seems like a weaker link (as it makes justice into a matter of majority rules). Also, any affirmative would have to beware of potential turns.

Feb 12, 2014

SB 5246: test scores for me, but not for thee

Washington State stands to lose $44 million in federal funds if the legislature fails to meet Obama Administration demands to include state test scores in teacher evaluations, The Daily O reports:
State law already requires that student growth data be a significant factor in teacher and principal evaluations. But current law allows the districts to decide which tests to use: classroom-based, school-based, district-based or statewide.

The U.S. Department of Education has set a May deadline for the state to change the system in order to keep its waiver.
Solution #1: pressure the DOE to backpedal.
[S]ome Democrats are hoping that the state’s congressional delegation will persuade U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan and the U.S. Department of Education to grant Washington a waiver anyway, even if state lawmakers fail to specify which tests must play a role in teacher evaluations.
It's a risky strategy, given that other states have already been denied waivers. Hence, Solution #2:
Senate education leaders are trying to address the problem themselves, rather than relying on members of Congress. A Senate education panel last week advanced a bill that would not only require students’ scores on statewide tests to be used in teacher and principal evaluations, but also specifies how.
That how is found in Senate Bill 5246, which is currently sitting in the Rules Committee. It's worth a closer look, as it contains not one, but two problematic features.

First, the bill establishes evaluations that are inherently unfair, by holding otherwise similarly-situated teachers to different standards.
...for teachers who teach reading or language arts or mathematics in a grade in which the federally mandated statewide student assessments are administered, one of the multiple measures of student growth must be the student results on the relevant assessments.
"Student growth" is statutorily defined as progress measured in two points at time. So, if I'm a high school English teacher (and I am) teaching sophomores who are taking the Writing HSPE (which I'm not), then my students have to improve their performance over the last time they tested.

It sounds reasonable, until you take the time to reason it out. Even if the middle school test (the MSP) is carefully calibrated to be "the same" assessment of student ability, and even if the student performs to her true testing level in each session, and even if we can rule out natural maturation, there's a massive structural flaw.

As it stands, the assessments are taken three years apart. There's no good reason to praise the latest teacher for growth--or to punish the same teacher for lack of the same--when there are two or three (or maybe more) teachers who contribute to that growth in a three-year timespan.

Even if the assessment cycle can be kicked into higher gear--say, a pre-test in the Fall, and the "real deal" in the Spring--the system, at least above the elementary school level, still fails. I'm not going to take sole credit (or blame) for my hypothetical sophomores' argumentative writing skills, which they've honed (or dulled) in science or social studies and any other class that includes essay-writing. My class isn't offered in a vacuum.

The inequity exists horizontally as well. If you teach Band, Psychology, Calculus, or any other high school course that lacks a federally mandated assessment, you are held to a different standard; so, of course, the pessimistic (likely?) conclusion is that, in the name of rigor, policymakers will rush to test in those subjects as well.

Of course, should you get a raw deal in this dubious system, you can expect your district to navigate the nuances with respect for your unique situation and all the complex variables, right? Well...
Districts must use student growth data to create a rank order of teachers based on the amount of average student growth achieved in each teacher's classroom. The bottom quartile of teachers in the rank order shall be identified by the district as requiring additional support.
The arbitrary relative ranking proposal would force a high-performing district to provide "additional support" to its least awesome employees, even if their entire workforce is already awesome.

And I haven't even considered the practical and mathematical impossibilities of ranking teachers with diverse curricular assignments (for instance, I teach two "traditional" classrooms and two online-based Apex courses, so good luck comparing my impact to someone who teaches five 9th-grade Physical Science classes), or the inequity of ranking teachers who are test-bound against those who aren't.

I have no idea what the bill's prospects are. It could die a quiet death in the Rules Committee. It could fail on the Senate floor. It could get jammed in the House or in a conference committee. It could fail to get ink from Governor Inslee. Or, it could lurch zombielike past all those obstacles and start tearing at the guts of teacher morale.

Time will tell, and I will blog.

Feb 9, 2014

does humanitarian aid forestall political solutions?

As someone who watched Phil Hartman kill it on Saturday Night Live in the early 90s, I'm old.

Hartman's second-to-note Bill Clinton impersonation is on full display in the classic skit in which the rotund politician interrupts his mid-morning jog to meet, greet, and eat with regular folks at a local McDonald's. As Clinton finds a way to sample nearly everyone's meal, he discourses on various policies, including a memorable analogy for why an international military force would be necessary to secure humanitarian aid in Somalia.

Also, I'm old.

The serious point, which I'm winding toward, is that humanitarian aid isn't delivered in a vacuum. By changing the cost of inaction, aid can potentially forestall political solutions. This point is argued by Tamer Qarmout and Daniel Beland in "The Politics of International Aid to the Gaza Strip," found in The Journal of Palestine Studies, Summer 2012.
Within the context of the Israeli occupation, international aid to the [Palestinian Authority] has allowed Israel to sustain its occupation without bearing the expenses of providing for the basic humanitarian needs of the people under occupation. In this environment, donors play an integral and direct role in the conflict by alleviating any sense of urgency to end the occupation.
Even if you're inclined to balk at the loaded terms in their analysis (I don't intend to wade into a debate about the legitimacy of Israeli and Palestinian territorial disputes), the analysis raises the troubling prospect that aid perpetuates a problematic status quo.

Mark E. Manyin makes a similar argument in "Assessing U.S. Assistance to North Korea," from Asian Review's Fall 2003 issue.
From a humanitarian perspective, sending food to North Korea arguably diverts limited supplies of food aid from other needy, and more accountable, countries. Furthermore, as discussed above, the volume and consistency of international aid has allowed the North Korean government to institutionalize emergency food assistance as part of its annual budget needed to feed its people and remain in power. Therefore, although international food aid has saved thousands of lives, it also has indirectly subsidized Kim Jong Il's regime and allowed the government to avoid making much-needed economic reforms.
The age of the evidence--11 years and counting--only bolsters the claim that continuing aid has potentially contributed to the perpetuation of Jong Il's repressive dynasty.

Berhanu Nega and Geoffrey Schneider, in "International Financial Institutions and Democracy in Africa: The Case for Political Conditionality and Economic Unconditionality," found in The Journal of Economic Issues, June 2011, note that
..there is evidence that foreign aid is used by dictatorships for political purposes and that humanitarian aid is frequently denied to families that are considered opponents of the regime (Human Rights Watch 2010), which argues for the denial of all forms of aid to the worst-behaving dictatorships. Properly structured aid programs may be able to exert pro-democracy pressure while preserving aid for the poor, but this may not always be possible.
The upshot is that, in a consequentialist framework, the equation isn't simply aid saves lives, therefore aid good. Political conditions, long term, may be necessary to prevent suffering.

Feb 6, 2014

defining "political conditions" in the humanitarian aid resolution

An important way to divide up ground between the Affirmative and Negative in the humanitarian aid resolution...
Resolved: Placing political conditions on humanitarian aid to foreign countries is unjust.
... is to fairly define "political conditions."

"Conditions" seems easy enough--to get this consequence, do this--but "political" is another story.

Look at some dictionary definitions of the word:
1. of, pertaining to, or concerned with politics: political writers.
2. of, pertaining to, or connected with a political party: a political campaign.
3. exercising or seeking power in the governmental or public affairs of a state, municipality, etc.: a political machine; a political boss.
4. of, pertaining to, or involving the state or its government: a political offense.
5. having a definite policy or system of government: a political community.
The first definition links circularly to the noun "politics," so we'll ignore it. The second is slanted toward the Affirmative, as it would make political conditions into a partisan affair, which would be difficult to justify. The third and fourth are quite broad, and also arguably the most contextual. The fifth is the most specific, which will relate well to operational definitions described later.

Under the broadest definitions, what counts as a political condition--and what doesn't? Pace Atmar, should we distinguish security conditions (your government must ensure basic aid worker safety) and capacity-building / development conditions (your government must invest in critical infrastructure projects) from human / civil rights conditions (your government must enact feminist reforms)?

Perhaps a way out is to investigate the topic literature. Tamer Qarmout and Daniel Beland, in "The Politics of International Aid to the Gaza Strip," found in The Journal of Palestine Studies, Summer 2012, p. 34, have a fairly concise operational definition:
Political conditionality usually links donor aid to the recipient's implementing programs in such areas as democratization and good governance.
More specific, to be sure, but also slanted toward the Negative, as it presumes generally beneficial aims. Still, even as it stands, it provides a clearer value comparison than just "saving lives vs. indeterminate government action."

We can get even more specific, though. The Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation's definition of political conditions tied to development aid is extensive (and typical):
The main criteria which are applied in a specific situation and to the behavior of other countries are failure to make efforts to achieve good governance, e.g. the deliberate and consistent blocking of reform-oriented measures; serious violations of human rights, in particular grave discrimination of minorities; the interruption or revoking of democratization processes; serious infringements against peace and security (war, warmongering, state terror); reluctance to accept the right of return of nationals (refugees).
It's important to note, though, that in Swiss practice, humanitarian aid is entirely exempt from these conditions. (That doesn't change the definition of the conditions themselves, of course.) Whether that's warranted, of course, is the whole question of the debate.

I'll be on the lookout for other definitions, and if you've found something useful, share it in the comments.

Feb 4, 2014

the agent of action in the humanitarian aid resolution

The March/April LD humanitarian aid resolution invites a careful parsing.
Resolved: Placing political conditions on humanitarian aid to foreign countries is unjust.
One of the primary questions: who or what is the agent of action in the resolution? In other words, who or what would be described as "unjust" when placing political conditions on humanitarian aid?

The question matters for several reasons, which will be outlined below amid various agent options.

The agent is an indeterminate government or nation-state.
I place this reading first, as I think it's the preferred interpretation, given the general-principle nature of LD, and the fact that states are the entities most likely to impose political conditions on humanitarian aid, whether mediated via sanctions regimes, or through direct aid dispersal. Furthermore, the aid is directed "to foreign countries," which is a clean semantic fit with the idea of state-to-state bargaining.

What defines justice vis a vis the State? For the Affirmative, the answer may lie in Kantian respect for persons, Rawlsian calculations of fairness, consequentialist cost-benefit analyses, or, if the resolution is situated more in the "real world," norms such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, or international legal frameworks such as the Geneva Conventions.

The Negative has Rawlsian and consequentialist options as well, but I'd go for a contractual argument, based on the word "foreign." Nations have no obligations to give aid to foreign citizens, in the classic social contract stance. Thus, it may be sad or heartless or mean, but it's not unjust to set political conditions. In fact, given the state's obligation to the welfare of its own citizens, such conditions might be preferable or even required.

Another Negative strategy is to blow up the notion of State obligations, taking a Morgenthau-esque "realist" position. In the anarchic international system, the State has to act to safeguard its own interests. Political conditions aren't "unjust" because justice isn't applicable to the State. Prudence is the only path. (This is a similar "category error" approach taken in Randian kritik-esque arguments about the fallacy of "collective nouns.")

The agent is the government of the United States.
This is a common way LDers attempt to parametricize the resolution: by arguing that since we live in America and take part in the American educational system and can easily place ourselves in an American-oriented policymaking stance. I wouldn't go this route, but your mileage may vary.

The agent is an indeterminate nonprofit / nongovernmental organization (NGO).
NGOs certainly have the ability to impose political conditions on their aid, but in my initial survey of the literature, it seems that they are the least likely to. For good reason: due to their principled neutrality, groups such as Doctors Without Borders oppose any and all political conditions. This reading of the resolution is likely to trend Affirmative.

The agent is an individual actor within a government agency or NGO.
Do obligations to corporate aims trump individual morality, or must individuals act justly regardless of their office, status, or context?

The agent is an individual actor without any particular corporate obligations--a philanthropist.
I see this as the least likely reading of the resolution, as it's the least likely aid scenario.

In sum, I see state-based analysis as the most fruitful for both sides, although I'm willing to be persuaded otherwise if you have better ideas. At any rate, the definition of justice--and the proper application of the term to various agents--seems to be the matter of most concern in this debate. Is justice essentially moral, political, or legal? (Or some combination of the above?) Good luck finding the answer, and good luck in your rounds.

Feb 2, 2014

eight years in the making

In 2006, the Seahawks lost the Super Bowl.

In 2006, Walter Jones cleared lanes for Shaun Alexander and pass protected for "We want the ball and we're gonna score" Matt Hasselbeck. The Hawks' eventual undoing came at the hands of a quarterback who shares Wilson's adeptness at improvisation, and/or at the hands of a referee who later apologized for "kicking several calls."

In 2006, Pete Carroll was just another college coach to root against, Russell Wilson was a two-star prep athlete, Marshawn Lynch was breaking tackles for the Cal Bears, and Richard Sherman was probably trolling someone on XBox between classes at Stanford.

In 2006, I didn't live-blog the Super Bowl, nor did I tweet it, as Twitter was invented, oddly enough, that same month.

In 2006, I wasn't a dad.

* * *

In 2014, I have three kids. Carsten, at sixteen months, can sign "football," although he says it "buh-baw." Keira and Miranda, 10 and 11, rebuff the neighbor kids who think the Hawks can't win it all.

In 2014, I'm not going to live-blog the game, but I'd imagine I'll work out my issues on Twitter, as we all do.

In 2014, Pete Carroll is a guru of self-actualization, Russell Wilson is the Little Quarterback Who Could, Marshawn Lynch silently beast modes through hails of Skittles, and Richard Sherman trolls his opponents after he takes away their Precious.

In 2014, Walter Jones is a first-ballot hall-of-famer. Shaun Alexander lives out the Madden Curse somewhere in Federal Way. Matt Hasselbeck is a backup quarterback for the Colts. No one from the '06 Seahawks remains on the squad--and no one on the Seahawks has a shred of Super Bowl experience. It doesn't matter.

In 2014, the Seahawks are going to win the Super Bowl.

Feb 1, 2014

Resolved: Placing political conditions on humanitarian aid to foreign countries is unjust.

The National Speech and Debate Association (formerly the National Forensic League) has released the March-April 2014 Lincoln-Douglas debate topic.
Resolved: Placing political conditions on humanitarian aid to foreign countries is unjust.
There's a lot to consider, from the meaning of "political conditions" (are we talking about free elections, regime change, partisan bickering, or all of the above?) to the standard for justice. The word "foreign" invites analysis of international and domestic legal frameworks for aid, but without a specified agent of action, should we focus on US aid efforts, throw the EU in the mix, consider the UN the focus, or debate abstract principles? Is there a difference in the interests of state actors and private agencies?

Of course, you can expect much of the debate to boil down to frameworks. For instance, my immediate inclination is to take a Kantian stance, arguing that using humanitarian aid as political leverage treats suffering citizens of other countries as mere means to an end. Consequentialism may point us in entirely different directions, though, especially since humanitarian aid has been diverted by bad actors, fueled corruption and state capture, and isn't necessarily effective in the long run.

A few countries and regions that spring to mind include North Korea, the Sahel, the Central African Republic, Syria, Afghanistan, Palestine, Haiti, and Myanmar. Agencies include USAid, ECHO (the world's largest donor, according to their website), UNICEF, Doctors Without Borders, and more. Many more.

These are just a few thoughts at the onset. Watch this space in the coming weeks for links, analysis, and value and criterion pairs, and, as always, feel free to pose ideas and questions in the comments.

1. I take a closer look at potential agents of action in the resolution, and their strategic implications.

2. How should "political conditions" be defined in the resolution?

3. Does humanitarian aid forestall political solutions?

4. A list of value / criterion pairs to get you started, if that's your thing.

5. Two external links you might find useful: Stanford's article on International Distributive Justice, and IEP's on Global Ethics and on Moral Egalitarianism (potentially useful for the Aff).

6. Levinas seems useful for this resolution. Who is Levinas, you ask?

7. I go into a little more depth about political realism.

Jan 30, 2014

the zen mastery of Marshawn Lynch

The Seattle Seahawks--this blog's Super Bowl favorites--are blessed with two of the greatest talents in football. One has talk to match the game; the other is all game, no talk.

I refer, of course, to Richard Sherman and Marshawn Lynch.

Sherman recently made waves for a post-game tirade that sent shock waves through Twitter, woke up a bunch of dumb racists, gave some pundits the vapors, fired up a million op-eds on the State of Sport, launched at least sixteen sociology lectures on otherwise dull college campuses, led to an eventual apology, jazzed up an already-hyped Media Day, and is probably still echoing in Centurylink Field at this moment.

Lynch, on the other hand, garnered a since-retracted $50,000 fine for not talking with a microphone in his face, and then turned a mandatory Media Day appearance into a series of zen koans.

No, really:
It was legendary. It’s like he was speaking in yearbook quotes. “I’m just ’bout that action, boss” single-handedly got me fired up for Super Bowl. “I ain’t never seen no talking win me nothing” should be our answer to stupid questions everywhere. “Lay back, kick back, mind my business, stay in my own lane” is the American Dream and should be printed on money.

And in the end, the only thing I’ll always remember from my first media day is the one guy who talked the least, and someone I never actually saw in person. For an event that makes no sense in 10 different ways, that’s pretty much perfect.
Since Marshawn Lynch is likely to be the Super Bowl MVP (you read it here, though I doubt first), I offer him some epigrams to deploy at the post-game presser.
"Whereof one cannot speak, one must thereof be silent."

--Ludwig Wittgenstein

"The wren
Earns his living


"Silence is more eloquent than words."

--Thomas Carlyle

"The talkative parrot is shut up in a cage. Other birds, without speech, fly freely about."

--Saskya Pandita
Pick any one, but just one, Marshawn. You're welcome.

And Go Hawks.

Jan 29, 2014

you are going to die

You are going to die.

Don't be scared. (Unless you are Shakespeare's greatest waffler.)

There are two basic options, vis-à-vis the outcome.

a. You'll stop existing as your body returns to the earth. If you live on, it's in your offspring, others' memories, history books, legacies, ineradicably embarrassing blog posts, and the repurposed carbon fragments for which the future thanks you and your corpse.

b. You'll continue existing as your soul departs for the afterlife you deserve. Actually, maybe you should be scared.

Regardless, you are going to die.

So don't worry whether your children's produce is organic.

Jan 26, 2014

how to parametricize an LD resolution

One of the hot buzzwords cropping up in debates about the "environmental protection versus resource extraction" resolution is the matter of parametricization.

If your browser red-squiggly-underlines the word, like mine does, it's just as confused about parametricization as you are. And, even if you know what it means, you may not know the way to make parametricization fit within a traditional LD round.

Parametricization is fairly straightforward. A debater, usually the Aff, wants to limit the ground of the debate--how much she has to defend or advance--so she changes the parameters. For instance, rather than argue a general principle that the environment should be prioritized, the Aff specifies a particular country or issue--Niger's uranium extraction, for instance, or just uranium mining in general--and then talks about the benefits of affirming in that instance. This is often a straight-up plan; if not, it's a quasi-plan, discussed in terms of Util impacts and/or solvency.

The word comes out of Policy Debate theory, as LPNelson explains:
Parametric analysis when applied to debate makes the resolution a parameter for the debate and is what allows the affirmative team to choose one example of reform/change (thus creating the plan-focused debate we’re all familiar with) within the bounds of the resolution.
Contrast this with the traditional view of LD:
Resolution centered debate, however, is what you will see if you participate in things like Lincoln-Douglas or Public Forum debate. This is where instead of having plan-focused debate, ALL of the argumentation in the round is about whether or not the resolution as a whole should be affirmed or negated – meaning that all examples in the round need to be typical of the resolution in its entirety (which is why occasionally you’ll hear LDers accusing each other of “parametricizing” the resolution).
More on this problem later.

In progressive LD, many debaters will run parametricized cases without any additional warranting; however, in a traditional tournament, this is likely to meet with resistance. Some debaters use fairness as a warrant, claiming that the vastness of the topic literature makes it impossible to run a "general principle" case, while others claim that parametricizing is about the educational value of debating things as a policymaker, especially given the real-world context of the resolution. (This tactic seems less apt when the resolution is written more abstractly, such as, say, "Resolved: the spirit of the law ought to take precedence over the letter of the law," which isn't inherently specific to any nation, agent of action, or other context.)

This is where things get a little dicey for the parametricizer. Unless LD rids itself of the "general principle" language and the explicit prohibition of plans (the NSDA, formerly the NFL, says they're a no-no), then a parametricized case is dependent on judges who ignore or flout the rules.

Furthermore, a parametricized Aff won't clash with a general-principle Neg, a situation I saw develop several times in January. Beefing up mangroves for the potential solvency benefits offers little inherent defense against, say, a rights-based Neg talking about minerals, fish, and timber. This leads to three (or more)-pronged Neg attacks in the 1NR: a topicality theory shell, followed by a disad, followed by an alternate framework and case structure. Good luck defending all that in the 1AR.

A Proposed Solution
I think it's fair to parametricize within the traditional context of Lincoln-Douglas as long as the resolution can still be affirmed as a general principle, avoiding unnecessary topicality debates.

One is to consider the range, scope, and magnitude of impacts. For instance, in the environment vs. resource extraction resolution, it's empirically verified that among developing nations, China, India, Brazil, and Russia own a relatively large share of carbon emissions, due to their growing industrial output and larger populations. Secondly, the impact of carbon emissions is huge and potentially catastrophic. Thus, a Util-based argument focused largely on these four nations has enough of a potentially large impact to justify affirmation as a general principle, in a way that, in contrast, ending uranium mining in Niger can't--at least, not without tenuous link chains and the tactical disadvantages described above.

Another strategy is to include an argument for why a particular scenario is typical of a wider pattern, making the parametricization more of a "focal point." For instance, given the example of Niger above, it'd be easy for the Aff to spend a paragraph rhetorically linking the situation to a wider context, given that Niger isn't the only developing nation (or even the only African developing nation) to have problems with foreign corporations extracting critical resources. This strategy precludes Neg responses of "cherry-picking" or "hasty generalizations," as it functions more as a "case study." The weakness is, once again, the potential lack of clash against a more general Neg.

In sum, not all parameters are created equal, and there seems to be fair ways to carve up ground within the traditional rules, ethos, and style of Lincoln-Douglas debate.

Bonus Question
I recently heard a debater say, theoretically justifying her parametricization case, that 50% of the developing nations / environmental topic literature is about...
a. Brazil
b. China
c. Russia
d. India
Wrong. Uganda.

Jan 24, 2014

improving borscht

The other day, we made borscht. Well, beet soup, really, as "borscht" has a certain charm that "beet soup" just doesn't merit. Our beet soup may have had flavor, but it had no class.

We used Slate's "You're Doing it Wrong" recipe, which is fine, especially the lemon juice part, although it takes longer to cook the beets to puree-able softness than L.V. Anderson (no relation) lets on.

The real secret to delicious beet soup: let it sit a day in the fridge after cooking. Lazy flavors taste better on the palate. Cheese, aged beef, wine, borscht, all the foods that lounge on the sofa and won't even get up to find the remote so they're watching infomercials at three in the afternoon, not even Judge Judy. Sloth makes taste.

(Don't eat sloths. Wrong noun.)

Since L.V. Anderson could improve beet soup through good old fashioned gumption, I figured this Anderson (no relation) could do the same. So I grabbed an armful of spices from the cupboard and sauces from the refrigerator, donned a hazmat suit, and got to work.

Here are the tasting notes. In all cases, I added a dash or a drop to a tablespoon of otherwise unadulterated soup.

Sriracha ("Rooster Sauce")
Do you like spicy beets? You could probably learn to like spicy beets. They taste like regular beets, only spicy.

"Tastes like fall." Serve with turkey and deep-fried political angst. See also: Parsley.

Soy Sauce
Accentuates the potatoes, says Stef. I notice extra savor, but little more. Should beet soup have extra savor?

A warmer, smokier spiciness. Not bad, but not exactly delicious.

Little difference in flavor, but I'm just proud of the fact that I can type "Worcestershire" without having to check the label, and that I can pronounce "Worcestershire" properly, as I am a chimney sweep.

A1 Steak Sauce
It is impossible to tell when A1 Steak Sauce has gone bad. Pass.

Beets taste beetier with nutmeg.

Mustard Powder
Gives borscht a fruitier complexion. I'm not sure why I included mustard powder in the tasting; it's not really a reach-for spice in the Anderson house.

Spicy, of course, and bright and zesty and prone to bust out an accordion.

Not good.

Tapatio, Soy Sauce, and Pumpkin Pie Spice
A bonfire by piles of fallen leaves. Hot cocoa. Brisk mornings and first frosts. Football on the television. None of this has anything to do with beet soup. All of this has everything to do with beet soup flavored with smoke, salt, and love.

Jan 21, 2014

do the rules of LD actually matter?

This post is aimed at my Washington state colleagues, but you're welcome to read it, too. It's about something I first considered three years ago, when invited to Washington state's premier progressive debate tournament. Since then, the past has become the present, and the present keeps scrolling down to the future.

Where are we now?

We're at the point, when responding to a resolutional analysis based on interpretations of the NFL's Competition Events Guide--parallel burdens, burden of clash, burden of resolutionality, fairly banal, but necessary in these random times--a judge writes on the ballot, "I don't care about the LD rule book."

Now, I'm guessing this judge was oversimplifying for the sake of clarity, and wasn't advocating total adjudicative anarchy. The LD rule book, after all, is why we have prescribed times, and I haven't heard of any judges allowing Aff or Neg filibusters.

But... then... why not? If debate is about "fairness," defined nebulously and warranted empirically, and ultimately up to the interpretation of a judge with a 4000-word paradigm (no offense, Matt Z, just giving an example), and if the time skew is real, why not call for any given judge to throw out the standard times as a micropolitical solution?

The fact is, in varsity LD in these parts, the rules are becoming obsolete. (At least, until debate hipsters make the old school cool again.) At worst, they are unknown; at best, unenforced. Consider some of the rules for Washington State LD. For instance, when was the last time you heard a debater give a proper source citation?
b. The first time a particular piece of evidence or source is used, the speaker must give the author, publication, date of publication, and pages. Once the source/author is used in the round, then the citation may be shortened to author, page, and year.
Or did you know that...
Lincoln-Douglas debating encourages the development of a direct and communicative delivery style. Emphasis is placed upon the issues involved rather than strategy in developing the case. The statement of the topic is a RESOLUTION OF VALUE rather than of policy. This results in emphasizing logic, theory, and philosophy while eliminating "plan" arguments.
At the Puget Sound invitational, I was mildly surprised to hear a debater run "plans required" theory, which is about as opposite to their elimination as you can get. Never mind "tradition" or "ethos;" any time a Washington State judge votes for an LD plan, an angel gets its wings clipped.

Oh, and spreading? The WSFA isn't going to have it:
Because of the time limits, a wealth of evidence cannot be used, but research by good background reading is necessary.
No brightline, I know, but a principle that is as trendy as parachute pants.

My point isn't to defend the utility or justice of these particular rules, but to point out that they are actually rules.

That is, if we're going to enforce them.

We have two choices: we take the rules seriously and educate judges who don't know them or don't care about them, or we change the rules to fit the evolving event. As a coach concerned with educating his students and preparing them for success in LD, I'll adapt to either scenario. But both require change and commitment. We can't accept the status quo.

We have to care about the rule book.

Jan 19, 2014

a closer look at the LD time skew

What follows is an analysis of particular empirical evidence for the fabled "time skew" in Lincoln-Douglas debate.

The Context
I've heard several theory shells that rely heavily on time skew arguments, all sharing the same warrants. For the uninitiated, "time skew" is the idea that in LD, the Negative has an unfair time advantage in the 1NR--7 minutes to run all sorts of attacks, disads, theory shells, meta-ethics, a prioris, interpretive dances, killer bee swarms, whatever--that the Aff simply can't respond to in the 4 minute spittlefest known as the 1AR. Compound this with the 6 minute 2NR, and the measly 3-minute 2AR in response, and the modern LDer feels significantly cramped while affirming.

Often, the "fairness" portion of the shell's standard appeals to an empirical fact: at the Tournament of Champions in LD, the Negative has won over 50% of the ballots.

This, of course, raises all sorts of questions.

* Is this a historical trend, or the result from one tournament?
* If one, what was the resolution? Would its own presumptions and associated judge biases cause the skewed results?
* If it's an identifiable trend at the TOC, what is the root cause?
* Do judges have a contrarian bias that favors the Neg? (Good luck answering this one in a mere blog post.)
* What if it's abusive tactics that actually create the problem?

These questions, of course, presume that the statistic is true. Is it?

To find out, I crunched the numbers myself, because I'm the fact-checking sort.

I used the 2011-2013 LD results, based on the first six rounds, presuming that this would provide an even number of Aff-Neg opportunities for each individual debater, with the exception of 2011, which had 8 rounds for each. I counted each by hand, double-checked, and then ran the results through a spreadsheet. I eliminated two 2013 ballots, as they were both forfeits, one on each side, which doesn't significantly alter the results or the conclusions. Of course, I didn't count byes.

Out of 772 preliminary round ballots in the past 3 years of competition, 345 went for the Aff, or 44.7%. Negs took 427 ballots, or 55.4%.

Before we declare the skew to be real, we have to account for the margin of error. For a sample of this size, at a 99% confidence interval (i.e., only 1 in 100 results could be explained by pure chance), we would expect an error margin of +/- 4.57%.

Thus, the lowest "expected value" for the Aff is 368 ballots, or 47.7% of the total, while the highest is 404, or 52.3%. Any result within this range isn't far enough away to be anything but intriguing.

But the actual total, 345, is well below the range. Even being optimistic, the Aff has won only 94% of the times they "should have" won, while, at worst, they've won only 85% of the times they "should have" won at the TOC. (Consider also that the skew would be stronger in the 2012-13 tournaments, which went 7 rounds in prelims, as roughly half of the debaters had one extra round on the Neg.)

The time skew is statistically significant. The numbers indicate that at the TOC, the Neg picks up at anywhere from 1 to 3 extra ballots per round.

What causes the skew, though? The simplistic answer is the seeming structural disadvantage of the 1AR, described above. But this is a bit like saying, "Honda Civics built in the mid-1990s spend more time in the shop than other similar makes from that era, and are thus defective," when an equally plausible explanation is that that Honda Civics are preferred wheels for crazy drivers who YOLO their way through life / the Interstate Highway System.

In other words, the TOC's emphasis on progressive, spread-based tactics has potentially created the skew, whereas it may not be a problem in a more traditional form of LD.

We might be on firmer ground if we compared results to NFL tournament preliminary rounds to draw firmer conclusions. (Maybe that'll be the subject of a future post.)

First, never uncritically accept a statistic, even one as potentially intuitive as this one.

Second, if the timeskew is inherent--or, as TOC tactics are now mainstream in many regions, will eventually become ubiquitous, which at that point may as well mean it's inherent--then I propose a solution: 6 3 7 3 5 6 2. Give the Aff an extra minute to work with in the 1AR, and turn the 2AR into a voters-only speech. I think it's elegant, workable, and fair. (I typically have a high opinion of my own ideas.) I'd love to hear of a tournament trying it, and getting enough data to draw meaningful conclusions.

Third, if you're running a theory shell using the TOC data, here's an easy citation.
ANDERSON: "In the past three years, over 55% of TOC elimination-round LD ballots went to the Neg, a statistically significant advantage."
Fourth, if you're running against a similar theory shell, and wish to debate the point, here's another easy citation.
ANDERSON: "It is possible, and even likely, that spread tactics themselves are the root cause of the skew, which may not exist in more traditional LD clashes."
Hint: don't run this if you're the one who started the ruckus by spreading.

Meanwhile, I'll be speeding down the freeway in my tricked-out Civic. Or in the shop getting it fixed.


Jan 15, 2014

a blog reborn

I'm back.

I should say: we're back.

I never anticipated reviving decorabilia, but with my wife's encouragement and blessing, and with (slightly) fewer professional obligations these days, and with a brain full of ideas and a need for an archive of interests and experiences--not to mention an LD program at CHS that's undergoing a renaissance--I have every reason to blog again, and no good reason not to.

Here are a few photos that illustrate how much richer and amazinger my life has become in the past three years.

These cherubs are Miranda and Keira. They're 11 and 10, full of energy, wit, and charm. The pumpkins are nameless.

This is Carsten, the newest addition to the family. At nearly sixteen months, he already knows everything.

And, of course, my wife Stefanie, whose smile captured my heart from the first. She's a co-founder of Olympia's only doula triumvirate.

For its biggest fans--high school debaters, my family, and various flotsam of the wide open Internet sea--decorabilia will be pretty much the same as it always was. I may update the look at some point, and you may see ads popping up--if you didn't notice, I have three kids whose tuition is being banked daily--but the heart and soul of the blog will never change. It'll be as random and as insightful as I can make it, or it won't.

Here's to new beginnings and second chances, resurrections and reincarnations. Here's to thinking and writing and experimenting. Here's to love and family, which matter more than any of the rest of it.

Here's to an unknown future, a future that once again includes this blog.