Urban Debate

For those of you who don’t know, I met all of our fellow stonesoupers through a league called the American Parliamentary Debate Assosciation. Well, it’s another year, and that means more debate, except it’s a little different this time.

While all of us are done with APDA save Alex, I’m continuing my involvement with debate this year in a different capacity. I’m going to be mentoring for the Boston Debate League. This isn’t your average prep school league which flies across the country all the time, debating on the national circuit. Rather, BDL is an extension of UDL or the Urban Debate League. Basically, each week I’m going to go out and coach kids about a rudimentary form of policy debate, in order to further prepare them for their studies. You’ll notice that I didn’t mention anything about them getting better at debate as that’s not at all important. Many of these kids read at a grade level several years behind, and are generally ill-equipped to go onto any sort of college education, let alone find decent employment in some cases. However, debate seems to have a drastic effect on these kids; according to BDL, those individuals who stay with the program are 46% more likely to graduate from high school.

A few weeks ago, I was actually able to see this kind of improvement in action. I worked for BDL at their annual summer camp which takes place at Suffolk law school, and for a week I had a group of 18 kids who were basically mine to mold. The leaps and bound by which I saw these kids progress was nothing short of inspiring. These kids went from not knowing how to spell basic words like marriage, to talking about Hamid Karzai and Afghan counter-insurgency policy inside a week. Even more amazing, some of them actually seemed to have a pretty decent handle on the material and were generating arguments of their own. Aside from being a transformative experience for the kids, it was also a transformative experience for me. Up until that point, I had studied diligently for the LSAT with every expectation of going to law school next fall. However, after teaching these kids for a week I suddenly realized, that teaching these kids was the only job I’ve ever really enjoyed. I immediately stopped studying for the LSAT and am now applying for teaching programs for next year. It’s a radical change to my life plan, but I’ve never felt better about it. After all, if it doesn’t work out, I can always apply to law school in a year or two.

Anyway, I’d like to leave you all with a question. While I did get some ideas from the BDL camp on how to appropriately convey often dense sets of information to kids while keeping it fun, I’d love for some more tips if anyone has them. Thus, has anyone had any particularly good experiences in teaching kids, or any tricks they’d like to share? It would be much appreciated.

P.S If any of you are in the Boston area, BDL is constantly looking for people to commit a few hours of their weekend to judge these kids. It really is rewarding and I would encourage anyone with the time to volunteer.

R-S-S-P-E-C-T the RSS

RSS feeds are something awesome that my friend Matt introduced me to a few year ago that I still think about half of generally internet-savvy twenty-somethings (who I take to be the bulk of the audience for the blog) don’t know about, so I figured as a public service I’d write an explanation of what an RSS feed is and a little paean to why they’re so cool.

RSS stands for Real Simple Syndication, with the key word there being syndication. RSS feeds take websites that regularly produce content (most commonly blogs, but also other news or media sites) and aggregates them together for you in one place, pushing them to you so you don’t need to constantly check individual websites.  You can also organize the content the various websites produce into folders, so if you’re in the mood to read (say) celebrity news, you can look at all the blogs you like in one place, and if you are feeling sports, you can do the same. All you do is click the little RSS button that should be somewhere to the side of the blog you’re reading; it’ll ask you what feed service you use (I use Google Reader, which works well, but I would basically just use something that you can put onto whatever home page you use). You click the right option, it subscribes you, and then you’ll be updated (on whatever you use to read your RSS stuff, i.e. Google Reader) whenever there’s a new post.

When Matt first showed me this, I didn’t see the point; after all, it doesn’t take much time to check a website to see if there’s a new post. In reality, it’s been a godsend. I think RSS has two basic selling points. First, the time savings are real and much bigger than you’d think. Each time you go to a webpage, it takes a (small) amount of time to type in the link and load up the site. When you add all of these small increments of time, it actually means you’re saving a decent amount each day if you are an inveterate consumer of blogs and media content like me. A fact that demonstrates this is how badly RSS-users hate feeds that require clickthroughs (e.g. the NY Times). Many RSS users won’t subscribe to these feeds because of the perceived inefficiency and time loss.

The second god point about RSS is that it allows you to follow blogs and sources of content that post infrequently. Since RSS pushes the content to you, you don’t need to remember to check that blog you like by the person who only posts once a month. Instead, just add it to your RSS feed, and whenever you check your Google reader, it’ll be a pleasant surprise, much like RSS pleasantly surprised me with its own usefulness.

How to End Don’t Ask Don’t Tell–Without Republican Cooperation.

In the UK, gays can both marry and serve in the military. This did not prevent them from fighting alongside Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan.

:: Edit 10/12/10 :: Judge Phillips issued a worldwide injunction on the enforcement of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. “U.S. Department of Justice attorneys have 60 days to appeal. Legal experts say the department is under no legal obligation to do so and could let Phillips’ ruling stand.”

It comes as no surprise to me that the Senate failed to make any headway in abolishing ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell‘ this week. Yesterday, a successful Republican filibuster foreclosed a vote on a bill that would include the conditional ending of DADT, pending a military study and approval by the military and the president. For one, this policy was created and perpetuated by Congress. Federal law, in this case the National Defense Authorization Act of 1993 and subsequent iterations, prohibit anyone who “demonstrate(s) a propensity or intent to engage in homosexual acts” from serving in the military because “it would create an unacceptable risk to the high standards of morale, good order and discipline, and unit cohesion that are the essence of military capability.” This is notwithstanding the fact that 22 out of 26 NATO countries allow gays to openly serve in the military, and we trusted those countries to support and back-up our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Second, advancements in civil rights in this country have often come out of the judiciary before legislatures, and popular sentiment, followed. It was the courts, after all, that desegregated schools for African-American children. It was the courts that struck down anti-miscegenation laws (my favorite case) and laws that discriminated against women. We turn to the courts to protect our homes from illegal searches and seizures, and the courts to uphold a woman’s right to an abortion. The courts protect our freedom of speech and of the press. In the arena of gay rights, it was the courts that struck down sodomy laws. It is not a shock that the courts should have to take up the rainbow standard once more and end discrimination against gays in the military.

Earlier this month, federal judge Virginia Phillips of the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California ruled, in Log Cabin Republicans v. United States, that the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy is unconstitutional and violates the 1st and 5th amendments after applying an intermediate scrutiny standard. In the absence of Congress affirmatively repealing DADT, this case presents an interesting legal avenue for getting rid of it–the U.S. Government should decline to appeal this ruling.

Continue reading

Editor-in-Chief of TNR says: “Muslim life is cheap.”

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the possible anti-Muslim double standard in the media, in reference to CNN’s firing of an editor over some sympathetic comments she had made about a controversial Muslim cleric. Here I want to aggregate a few news pieces for the convenience of readers. I realize that some of you may have read about this already, and that there is no shortage of existing commentary, but as James Fallows wrote, “The upsurge in expressed hostility toward Muslims — not toward extremists or terrorists but toward adherents of a religion as a group — creates an American moment that isn’t going to look good in historical retrospect. The people indulging in this kind of group-bias speech deserve to be called out.” So, I don’t feel bad for piling-on.

Recently, the editor-in-chief of The New Republic published a controversial piece that criticizes Muslims, and Muslim Americans, for their lack of angered response to terrorist attacks committed by fellow-Muslims, and then ends with a paragraph that, well, read for yourself:

This intense epidemic of slaughter has been going on for nearly a decade and a half…without protest, without anything. And it has been going for decades and centuries before that.

Why do not Muslims raise their voices against these at once planned and random killings all over the Islamic world? This world went into hysteria some months ago when the Mossad took out the Hamas head of its own Murder Inc.

But, frankly, Muslim life is cheap, most notably to Muslims. And among those Muslims led by the Imam Rauf there is hardly one who has raised a fuss about the routine and random bloodshed that defines their brotherhood. So, yes, I wonder whether I need honor these people and pretend that they are worthy of the privileges of the First Amendment which I have in my gut the sense that they will abuse.

Pakistani lawyers burn a U.S. flag while rallying in reaction to a small American church's plan to burn copies of the Quran.

I could not imagine such offensive words written by the publisher of what I had (previously) imagined to be a great magazine of liberal values, one I could point to as the Left’s intelligent answer to, say, The National Review. Though, I should say, their article against Sonia Sotomayor’s confirmation deeply troubled me at the time, but I chalked that up to one careless journalist. Nick Kristof at the New York Times, which, Thank Sulzberger, remains true to its liberal tradition, writes in response: “Thus a prominent American commentator, in a magazine long associated with tolerance, ponders whether Muslims should be afforded constitutional freedoms. Is it possible to imagine the same kind of casual slur tossed off about blacks or Jews? How do America’s nearly seven million American Muslims feel when their faith is denounced as barbaric?” Kristof even thanks George W. Bush for his quick and public preemption of Islamic hate when he distinguished al Qaeda from Islam.

Martin Peretz published an apology this week, but I found it highly lacking. On calling Muslim life “cheap” he points to Kristof’s words that Muslims could be doing more to speak out against Muslim-on-Muslim violence. Of course, if Muslims in Iraq, the Sudan, and the Lebanon had the same First Amendment guarantees in those countries as they do in ours, that might be possible. He might as well ask why some Iraqi Police who cooperate with American military forces wear black masks–they rightly fear for their safety, and that of their families. I’m willing to give the Muslim shop owner in Baghdad and the Palestinian smuggler in Gaza a free pass because they might be killed for loudly expressing their anti-Mahdi or anti-Hamas sentiments in cafes or markets, much less carrying posters in the streets. And what special duty do American Muslims, the followers of Imam Rauf, say, have to publicly express their distaste for terrorist activity? Is it a necessary condition of citizenship that they must march to protest what is obviously abhorrent, and dance for the satisfaction of American television viewers, like some modern version of the loyalty oath we required of Japanese Americans during WWII?**

Additionally, he explains, the idea that Muslim life is cheap “is a statement of fact, not value.” A charitable interpretation of that sentence might translate it to: Some people believe that Muslim life is cheap, particularly Muslim terrorists who routinely kill Muslims. But it also implies that Peretz thinks Muslim life is also cheap, less notably, to non-Muslims. Perhaps Muslim life is thought of and valued as cheap by Peretz himself, who concludes the paragraph with his odious suggestion that Muslim Americans might not deserve constitutional freedoms we yet accord the lowest criminals in society. This line, that Muslim life is cheap, Peretz does not apologize for, and this is made clear by the link to his apology in his original article, which was “for one sentence” he had written.

Peretz does apologize, unconditionally, for that one sentence about First Amendment rights. He writes:

The embarrassing sentence is: “I wonder whether I need honor these people and pretend they are worthy of the privileges of the First Amendment, which I have in my gut the sense that they will abuse.” I wrote that, but I do not believe that. I do not think that any group or class of persons in the United States should be denied the protections of the First Amendment, not now, not ever.

But unfortunately, Peretz cannot credibly apologize for that line. As Brad DeLong pointed out:

It is worth noting–as a matter of communication–that Peretz has written a paragraph that it is logically impossible for him to ever recant. He asks his readers whether he needs to “honor” “these people” and “pretend that they are worthy of the privileges of the first amendment.”

Thus any statement Marty should make to withdraw or amend falls under the shadow of his “pretend.” Any withdrawal or amendment becomes a statement that “yes, I do need to pretend–but I don’t mean it.”

The worst part of this episode is that Martin Peretz is not an ignorant man from some small town in the South or Midwest, a hundred miles from the nearest mosque. He is the publisher and editor-in-chief of a liberal magazine, graduated from a large and diverse high school in New York City (Bronx Science), and earned his PhD and a professorship from Harvard University. It is frankly not possible for a literate man in the post 9/11 world to not have given sincere thought to frequent, crazed assertions from the Far Right that Islam is synonymous with terror–yet he conflates the two. He conflates, as Kristof said, what even George W. Bush, for all his verbal disasters and foreign policy quagmires, expressly de-linked. When Peretz asks why American Muslims don’t more publicly condemn “the routine and random bloodshed that defines their brotherhood“–their Islamic brotherhood–he fans the flames of those rabidly anti-Muslim protestors at Ground Zero, he justifies the discrimination against and suspicion of American Muslims all over the country, and apologizes for the frequent harassment of Muslim children in school and on the playground. How could the schoolyard bully, or the Midwestern bumpkin, know any different when a Harvard professor and magazine editor like Peretz does not? And how could the Muslim in Palestine and Iraq and Iran not think we, Americans, are hypocritical and anti-Islam when fundamentalist clerics can gleefully distribute literature like this, from a purportedly liberal source, no less?

James Fallows at The Atlantic continued in his second piece on the matter:

I suggested that if such a person were any less well-connected, or if the sentiment had been about any other religious or racial group, he would be taking much more heat. (See: Marge Schott, Al Campanis, Trent Lott, Mel Gibson, Pat Buchanan, Dinesh D’Souza, Helen Thomas, etc. Think even of the flap over Lawrence Summers’s comments about gender differences in math-and-science skills, or James Watson or William Shockley on racial differences in IQ. Try to find in one of these cases something approaching “Group X’s life is cheap.”)

It is a shame that he is not. Fallows and Kristof are right; we would not stand for the base description of any other group, and no group in America deserves such generalized disrespect. One writer from Slate points out that Marty Peretz has been doing this for 20 years, this is only more of the same, Marty being Marty. A friend who worked at The New Republic points out that Marty is harmless; Tel-Aviv-based, and away from the office; only a part-owner of the magazine now; who does not seek to influence the message of talented liberal writers like Jon Chait; and a fine magazine should not be judged because one man (the editor-in-chief) occasionally rants about Muslims. But for those not inside the journalistic loop, he can be easily represented as the face of TNR to bigots at home, and as the face of America to our enemies abroad. I would not be sad if he were forced to give up his soapbox.

“A man walks through the crowd at the Ground Zero protest and is mistaken as a Muslim. The crowd turns on him and confronts him. The man in the blue hard hat calls him a coward and tries to fight him. The tall man who I think was one of the organizers tried to get between the two men. Later I caught up with the man who’s name is Kenny. He is a Union carpenter who works at Ground Zero.” via the video description on YouTube. HT: Mondoweiss.

Blegging for TA advice

I promise that tomorrow I’ll post something substantive (and not merely a question as my last three posts have now been), but todayI had something I was thinking about where I realized the StoneSoup audience could be helpful, so I figured I might as well bleg (blog plus beg, get it?) for your input.

This semester, I’m going to be a TA for Michael Sandel’s Justice class at Harvard (essentially an intro to moral philosophy class). It’s important to me that I do a good job teaching, but I realized that the last time I was in a discusin section was about four years ago, and I really don’t remember that well what made me think a TA was particularly good or particularly bad.

Thus, I decided it might be useful to get feecback from others (particularly people who are in college now or who recently graduated) about what they think makes a good or bad TA. Of the TAs you’ve had who’ve led particularly successful sections, what made them so useful for you? What made bad TAs bad? What advice do you have for me in general?

Ask the Audience: Favorite Songs

This week will have a significantly increased level of StoneSoup activity, and what better way to start it than with an Ask the Audience. I tried tweeting this week’s question out. (Late at night. On a weekend.) and (un)surprisingly, got little response, but the one response I did get (from Andrew W.) turned me on to a cool new song and band (Kites by Geographer), so I figured I’d give the question a try to a broader forum:

What’s your most-played iTunes song*?

I hope people will like this question not only because it should help get cool recommendations for music, but also for what it says about your taste in music and what stuff you tend to really like.

For the record, my current top-played song is Florence and the Machine’s “Howl”, with 41 plays. The Ratatat remix of Biggie’s “Party and Bullshit” comes in a close second, with 40 plays, and Arcade Fire’s “Rebellion (Lies)” is number three, with 39. Arcade Fire, The Strokes, and Mgmt take up two slots each in my top ten (though the Strokes rhythm guitarist, Albert Hammond Jr. also has the song “In Transit (Obstinate)” in there as well).

*In case this isn’t obvious, you can find out by clicking on the top-right “Plays” tab on iTunes

Listen to four of my top ten after the jump. Continue reading