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.