Category Archives: Research/Links

New Seidenfeld 94

From the future-


BRYAN W. MARSHALL Miami University BRANDON C. PRINS University of Tennessee & Howard H. Baker, Jr. Center for Public Policy  Power or Posturing? Policy Availability and Congressional Influence on U.S. Presidential Decisions to Use Force  Presidential Studies Quarterly 41, no. 3 (September) 2011

We argue that the more important effect of Congress occurs because presidents anticipate how the use of force may affect the larger congressional environment in which they inevitably have to operate (Brulé, Marshall, and Prins 2010). It may be true that presidents consider the chances that Congress will react to a specific use of force with countervailing tools, but even more importantly they anticipate the likelihood that a foreign conflict may damage (or advantage) their political fortunes elsewhere—in essence, the presidential calculus to use force factors in how such actions might shape their ability to achieve legislative priorities. To be clear, presidents can and do choose to use force and press for legislative initiatives in Congress. Taking unilateral actions in foreign policy does not preclude the president from working the legislative process on Capitol Hill. However, political capital is finite so spending resources in one area lessens what the president can bring to bear in other areas. That is, presidents consider the congressional environment in their decision to use force because their success at promoting policy change in either foreign or domestic affairs is largely determined by their relationship with Congress. Presidents do not make such decisions devoid of calculations regarding congressional preferences and behavior or how such decisions may influence their ability to achieve legislative objectives. This is true in large part because presidential behavior is motivated by multiple goals that are intimately tied to Congress. Presidents place a premium on passing legislative initiatives. The passage of policy is integral to their goals of reelection and enhancing their place in history (Canes-Wrone 2001; Moe 1985). Therefore, presidents seek to build and protect their relationship with Congress.


And possible winners win type card from the next paragraph

Presidents rely heavily on Congress in converting their political capital into real
policy success. Policy success not only shapes the reelection prospects of presidents, but
it also builds the president’s reputation for political effectiveness and fuels the prospect
for subsequent gains in political capital (Light 1982). Moreover, the president’s legislative
success in foreign policy is correlated with success on the domestic front. On this
point, some have largely disavowed the two-presidencies distinction while others have
even argued that foreign policy has become a mere extension of domestic policy (Fleisher
et al. 2000; Oldfield and Wildavsky 1989) Presidents implicitly understand that there
exists a linkage between their actions in one policy area and their ability to affect another.
The use of force is no exception; in promoting and protecting U.S. interests abroad,
presidential decisions are made with an eye toward managing political capital at home
(Fordham 2002).

New Monkeys throwing darts!

And its sweet

In an unprecedented “forecasting tournament,” five teams will compete to see who can most accurately predict future political and economic developments. One of the five is Tetlock’s “Good Judgment” Team, which will measure individual differences in thinking styles among 2,400 volunteers (e.g., fox versus hedgehog) and then assign volunteers to experimental conditions designed to encourage alternative problem-solving approaches to forecasting problems. The volunteers will then make individual forecasts which statisticians will aggregate in various ways in pursuit of optimal combinations of perspectives. It’s hoped that combining superior styles of thinking with the famous “wisdom of crowds” will significantly boost forecast accuracy beyond the untutored control groups of forecasters who are left to fend for themselves.

Other teams will use different methods, including prediction markets and Bayesian networks, but all the results will be directly comparable, and so, with a little luck, we will learn more about which methods work better and under what conditions. This sort of research holds out the promise of improving our ability to peer into the future.

But only to some extent, unfortunately. Natural science has discovered in the past half-century that the dream of ever-growing predictive mastery of a deterministic universe may well be just that, a dream. There increasingly appear to be fundamental limits to what we can ever hope to predict. Take the earthquake in Japan. Once upon a time, scientists were confident that as their understanding of geology advanced, so would their ability to predict such disasters. No longer. As with so many natural phenomena, earthquakes are the product of what scientists call “complex systems,” or systems which are more than the sum of their parts. Complex systems are often stable not because there is nothing going on within them but because they contain many dynamic forces pushing against each other in just the right combination to keep everything in place. The stability produced by these interlocking forces can often withstand shocks but even a tiny change in some internal conditional at just the right spot and just the right moment can throw off the internal forces just enough to destabilize the system—and the ground beneath our feet that has been so stable for so long suddenly buckles and heaves in the violent spasm we call an earthquake. Barring new insights that shatter existing paradigms, it will forever be impossible to make time-and-place predictions in such complex systems. The best we can hope to do is get a sense of the probabilities involved. And even that is a tall order.

Human systems like economies are complex systems, with all that entails. And bear in mind that human systems are not made of sand, rock, snowflakes, and the other stuff that behaves so unpredictably in natural systems. They’re made of people: self-aware beings who see, think, talk, and attempt to predict each other’s behavior—and who are continually adapting to each other’s efforts to predict each other’s behavior, adding layer after layer of new calculations and new complexity. All this adds new barriers to accurate prediction.

When governments the world over were surprised by this year’s events in the Middle East, accusing fingers were pointed at intelligence agencies. Why hadn’t they seen it coming? “We are not clairvoyant,” James R. Clapper Jr, director of national intelligence, told a hearing of the House intelligence committee. Analysts were well aware that forces capable of generating unrest were present in Tunisia, Egypt, and elsewhere. They said so often. But those forces had been present for years, even decades. “Specific triggers for how and when instability would lead to the collapse of various regimes cannot always be known or predicted,” Clapper said.


Avoiding Straw Men

Most people learn by the end of their first day of camp not to cut straw man cards in the vein of “some people say”. But I have often commented in post rounds that debaters do themselves a disservice by purposefully underrepresenting (or misunderstanding) their opponents arguments in the round/when responding to them. This article and an older journal piece it links to do a good job of explaining why this tactic is a bad one for you to employ in your debates.

Discussion: Alternatives to Dropbox?

Lifehacker has a lengthy post today about Dropbox and its alternatives. Dropbox seems to be the default service that debate teams have used for file sharing but the quality of the alternatives is increasing and Dropbox has had a series of recent mishaps. Have you tried any of the alternatives? Is Dropbox still the best fit for debate teams? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Topic Lecture from NASA

Here is a lecture from the Emory debate camp given by Susan Kroskey. Chief Financial Officer (CFO) at NASA’s John F. Kennedy Space Center (KSC), Emory University Graduate and former member of the Debate Team and  Russell R. Romanella. Associate Director for Engineering and Technical Operations at NASA’s John F. Kennedy Space Center (KSC).


There are some great T discussions someone will no doubt transcribe and read, so be warned.

A good Hitler Pants card

The classic analytic answer to many K impacts has now become the “Hitler wore pants” arg, and as persuasive as clothing analogies can be here is a pretty good card that says something similar but in a (arguably…) more intelligent way


As a history teacher, I’ve always found it interesting to discuss with high schoolers the complicated idea of ‘causation’ (that is, what caused, what contributed to, past events).


What’s striking about conversations involving this topic is the extent to which students are willing (often through no fault of their own) to attribute events to ideologies – as if Nazism itself were responsible for the Holocaust.


Regarding Nazism (and Fascism, too), I stress that, without Nazis, Nazism (as an ideology) would have been unable to do, well, to do anything.


This, I think, is key: that students confront the idea that systems of belief are not, in and of themselves, capable of destruction. Ideology becomes dangerous – in a historical sense – when individuals activate their core tenets.


At the high school level, conversations involving causation can lead in other directions as well. Most rewarding, I think, are those which involve the idea of ‘attribution.’


Continuing for a moment with the example of the Second World War: students must address in their thinking the notion that Germany (with a capital ‘G’) was not in itself responsible for the Holocaust.


True, that country initiated the events which conspired against Europe’s Jews, but again, a nation cannot act without individuals. To attribute to Germany (as many text books do) blame for the Holocaust seems, therefore, as irresponsible as attributing that same umbrella of blame to Nazism.


After discussions involving ideology and attribution, students, I find, are more effectively positioned to handle the crux of the issue involving causation – that is, that individuals, and individual action, trigger historical events. To get at the Holocaust, students need to wrestle with documents which reflect the mindset, the priorities, of the German people.


New Free OCR Tool

Daniel Gaskell has recently released ScreenOCR, a front-end for the Tesseract engine that lets you instantly OCR anything visible on your screen with a single click. After playing around with it, ScreenOCR gets my official stamp of approval: it’s the easiest way yet to OCR text so that it can be copied into your debate template. The download is available online for free along with some suggestions for using the software. One hint that I’ll echo: make sure you zoom in so that the text is very large before using ScreenOCR. Once I figured this out, OCRing text from Google Books became a snap. Thanks to Daniel for making this software available to the debate community.