Thursday, February 14, 2008
Darryl and I both firmly believe that if Rob is unable to make a career of debate, or law as his mother apparently pushes quite often, he could easily become a tour guide in Edinburgh. Thankfully, the fog lifted and we were able to see the beautiful architecture and city views. Our tour began by strolling through the Princes Street Gardens up to Edinburgh Castle. We had wonderful panoramas of the entire city and could see the private school where Tony Blair was educated, and in the general direction of Fife, where Gordon Brown hails from. Rob also pointed out the luxurious castle where our friend Alex was educated. The labyrinth that led us to the crown jewels was very educational, and Rob supplemented this with his personal knowledge of Scotland. My favorite thing displayed with the crown jewels: the stone of destiny. This stone was stolen by nationalistic college students from Glasgow. Luckily, our visit was timed such that the cannon blasted as we were leaving. Apparently, the city is reminded that it is indeed 13:00 every day. Very kind, and thoughtful. The rest of the day included a visit to a retro restaurant called ‘Monster Mash,' a thorough tour of the Royal Mile, a glimpse at her majesty’s royal home in Scotland and the newly redesigned Scottish Parliament building. We ended our evening by enjoying the company of John and Jon from the ESU Scotland at a pub in the New Town. This pub was equipped with the ‘ring of destiny’ (as I like to call it) to assist locals or foreign travelers with their whisky selection. Seeing as I love spontaneity, I chose the path of the ring of destiny, and hereby pledge that if it is ever taken from Scotland I will go to great lengths to return it.
Our final day in Edinburgh was a bit rushed, as I realized there was still so much to see in the city and not much time to get to everything. I did enjoy the National Gallery and the Modern Arte Gallery before meeting up with Darryl for some fabulous Indian food. Edinburgh won my heart after having the best Indian food I had on the entire trip, as well as falling for the gorgeous architecture among many other things. I am proud to announce that Darryl and I won our public debate at the ESU that evening by receiving 75% of the vote, including the vote of the ESU Scotland Board Chairman, Jon. The resolution was “This house would give the Republicans four more years.” Darryl and I spoke in opposition of the resolution, and must have reached out to Obama and Hillary supporters out in the crowd.
The 2008 Tour of the UK came to an abrupt end in London the next day (the south of the border referenced in the title of this post, not Mexico). We checked into the ever familiar Holiday Inn near Victoria Station, and prepared to meet up with friends. I followed the recommendation of a friend made on the tour and visited Karl Marx’s grave, and then proceeded to Hamley’s to buy a Scrabble board for one of our hosts in London. I love performative contradictions (as well as making random American parli jargon references). It was particularly bitter sweet parting with good friends made on the tour—shout out to Tarit, Kallina and Patrick for joining us until last call. The flight back to the US went smoothly for me, and I was greeted at work today with 482 emails, a fake rat in one of my desk drawers, and a cabinet full of ping pong balls that fell all over my person and cubicle after deciding to investigate for further traps. The office pranks have begun, and this may very well be my first war of attrition. I will say that I feel more plugged into the American primary season being back home, and I can’t wait until Oregon’s primary (which might actually matter this year—register to vote by April 29th if you haven’t already!). I hope to return to the UK sometime soon, particularly Scotland. Darryl and I are also interested in taking names and crushing dreams at World’s (Cork or Turkey, who knows). A sincere thanks to the English Speaking Union for graciously hosting us during the tour, and each person that made everything run so smoothly. This was an amazing program, I made many friends and learned so much about the UK and the debating style on the other side of the pond. If any friends ever visit the US, please get in touch as I would love to show you some fabulous sites or get you in touch with someone who would be able to fill the void for me. I have a few pictures to upload to this post, but Blogger is acting up and I have other work to finish tonight. I will try again when I get a chance.
Wednesday, February 13, 2008
I considered starting this post off discussing the things I knew about Wales, but that didn’t seem particularly positive. Not that I wasn’t expecting great things, but everyone I’d met had sapped my expectations lower than the Clinton campaign. Yay, topical humour! As it happens, Cardiff is actually a pretty fantastic place. Some travels are hi-lighted by gorgeous sites, visits to places of notable significance, or spectacular scenery. Others are made memorable by the people and the experiences that make the places you stumble upon so special. While it’s possible that Cardiff possesses all of the former, it’s the latter that made Cardiff a fantastic stop on the trip. We didn’t see the castle, nor did we stop by the waterfront, but I wouldn’t trade a moment of the weekend for anything.
We headed out of Wales by train, led by Oxford by Aled and Joe, two members of the Union who were headed to participate in the same tournament as we were. We met Joe on Friday evening, when he took us to dinner at Jesus College lodge before we dashed to the train station to just miss the first connection to Cardiff. Though it ended up working out in the end, we only made it into the Welsh capital around ten-thirty that evening. We registered for the tournament, where we found out the final round motion (This House would hand Kosovo back to Serbia) and that the top team and top speaker would receive cash awards. All of this news excited us, but we needed to check into our hotel, so we couldn’t join in the evenings festivities at the pub. Perhaps this was for the best, however, as we woke up rested and ready to debate the next morning.
The tournament started off in usual fashion for Meredith and I - taking a third in the first round - before we found our stride and began debating much better. There were resolutions on genetically modified food aid, contraceptive pills for minors, military action in Kurdistan, rights of ethical refusal for physicians, and the division of revenue from state assets among citizens all of which were fairly interesting, even if we were both less than glad to advocate universally withholding the Pill from women under the age of 18. We made the best of it, and the rest of the resolutions, and were surprised and excited to find out at dinner that we’d made it to the final round, along with our friends from ULU and teams from Bristol and Warwick.
The draw for the final round happened, and we were the first opposition on the final round motion - supporting the independence of Kosovo. It was an interesting and fun debate, though apparently we didn’t do quite enough and did not win the round. Still, we had the next best outcome: Kallina and Pantellis won the round and Meredith won top speaker for the tournament! That’s right, Meredith was the best debater at the tournament. Whether or not we were the best American team to do the ESU tour, Meredith is THE BEST AMERICAN EVER. Not American debater on the tour, or American debater, the best American. Full stop. All caps.
This called for celebration, and we obliged. The rest of the evening was spent in the familiar haze of all post-tournament successes as we hung out with all the wonderful people we’d met over the weekend in the student union’s club. Yes, the student union has a “club.” Like, techno music, alcohol covered floors, shout-outs from the DJ, dancing and all that jazz. Well, no jazz. But some 50 Cent did make it on the playlist. But eventually we had to call it a night - the day of debating had taken most of our energy. Clearly, we had our priorities out of order.
The next day was spent inhabiting the haunts of central Cardiff - watching Six Nations rugby while we had the rules explained to us and later enjoying the 2-1 victory of City over United in the Manchester Derby. We didn't so much "see Cardiff" as we experienced it, in all its pubs-and-Indian-food glory.
For some reason, comment moderation was turned on, so if you had trouble posting comments, it should be taken care of now. If you’ve read all this, and find yourself still wanting more, I’ve posted some more pictures to my flickr accout and I have a new piece up at neon hustle tangentially related to the tour. Indeed, most everything there is tangential, as I and the other two contributors tackle anything and everything in long-form and essay. The (fantastic!) opening video is from Los Campesinos, a Cardiff band whose debut album comes out February 25… in the UK.
Sunday, February 10, 2008
Using the phrase “august institution” is rather trite unless you’re actually talking about an organization founded and intended for the late summer month, but it seems entirely appropriate when discussing the Oxford Union. With its grand libraries and imposing chambers, I’ll leave it to Wikipedia to fill you in on the organization’s history, but we’ll tell you a little bit about it’s recent goings-on.
We arrived in Oxford by train to find ourselves at Malmaison, a prison converted into a boutique hotel which was, by far, the swankest accommodation we have yet come across. Meredith paid more attention to the details of it all and filled you in her last post – Darryl was too busy napping on the fantastically comfy pillows.
Unfortunately, we couldn’t stay in our new digs forever: we were on the guest list for that afternoon’s event at the Union. The famous and powerful Alex Just had kindly accepted the arduous task of looking after Team America. Antonin Scalia, Justice on the Supreme Court of the United States of America and distinguished advocate of Originalism, was speaking. Regardless of your opinions on the legal philosophy, it was fantastic to hear his defense of it. While we both still wholeheartedly disagree with him, it was nice to hear the arguments put forward as something other than the caricatured treatment that it often receives (though perhaps deserved). He was an engaging and interesting speaker, but we had actually put most of that part of the afternoon out of mind until writing this post. Not through any fault of his, but because we found out before the start of his speech that our night was going to be a very, very interesting one indeed. After watching him speak, Meredith would be seated next to the Justice at dinner before that evening’s debate. Meredith (indeed I am now officially writing about myself in the third person) would be happy to share any of the intimate, juicy details she learned about him at dinner on an individual basis. Having the honor of sitting next to a Supreme Court Justice, and across from a famous former Oxford Union President was quite a thrill.
That debate was an event in itself. 75 years ago, the Union debated the motion “This house would under no circumstances fight for King and Country.” It was 1933, and the passage of the motion caused a massive commotion. In a hearing even better attended than the debate, Randolph Churchill and his supporters, who felt that the passage of the motion presented the country as weak in the face of Hitler, attempted to expunge the motion. 75 years on, in the midst of the Iraq war, the motion was to be debated again. Speaking for the proposition was a former Labor MP who was removed from the party conference by force, despite being in his 80’s, and tried under the Prevention of Terror Act. Alongside him was a three-time Nobel Peace Prize Nominee, Niwona Peace Prize winner, and noted author as well as a pro-peace activist who has been living on Parliament Square across from Westminster since 2001 in opposition to military action. On the other side was the Shadow Home Secretary Neil Harvey, an MP from the Liberal Democratic party, and a British Military officer who was to have flown back from Iraq to participate. Was to have flown back. Unfortunately, he could not make it, and thus, Darryl was to stand in his stead. We should actually say Professor Darryl, because somehow he became an expert on moral philosophy. Ironically, we had a discussion two days prior regarding Darryl’s lack of qualifications in that field. Nonetheless, Darryl made America proud and many believe won the debate for side opposition.
The rest of the evening was a blur – Meredith chatted with Scalia, Darryl helped rally the Union to vote in opposition to the motion, and then we followed up a with a few hours of socializing in the Gladstone room and then with Scrabble ‘til five in the morning with our gracious host as always, Alex. In the interim, plenty happened, but I’ll leave it to another post to talk about my debates with the former MP over the history of Kosovo and to Meredith to recount her evening with Justice Scalia.
Our day in Oxford, which started comfortably late the next day, featured a fantastic tour and plenty of coffee. The city is, to err on the side of understatement, absolutely gorgeous. When one imagines academia, we guessed it would be shadows of Oxford. We didn’t imagine how right we would be. Before we began out tour, Alex directed us to a cafe serving traditional English breakfasts in the central market area. We walked through the central market and then toured the many different Colleges of Oxford University. Alex explained to us the university system and any other bits of history he knew off hand. We saw the original “ivory towers” at All Souls College (we believe), the posh Christ Church College, and one of the first libraries built in Oxford. We climbed to the top of the University Church of St. Mary tower for an excellent view of the entire city. After wandering separately for a few hours longer in Oxford, we met up with Joe (a member of the Oxford debate team) so that we could navigate our way to Cardiff. He was an excellent guide, and made sure we arrived at our B&B safely. Patrick, again, chose a wonderful person to make sure we didn’t end up drunk in a gutter.
Thursday, February 7, 2008
Secondly, a return to days past and back to Ireland-- after successfully making my way back to the Holiday Inn, Darryl and I woke up early in the morning so that we could enjoy Temple Bar and various other sites. We enjoyed a delicious traditional Irish breakfast and wandered over to Dublin Castle. I took some wonderful photos (which I promise to upload onto this site at some point) and then we found the Chester Beatty Library. I was not expecting to find such an amazing collection of rare manuscripts from Islamic, Christian and Buddhist/Hindi and other Eastern religions. One of the displays actually showed the oldest manuscript from Saul (Paul) and Deuteronomy, 150-250 AD, before the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in the 1940s. If that doesn't knock your socks off, one of the temporary exhibits in the museum was of traditional Japanese Woodblock Prints by Tsukioka Yoshitoshi (1839-1892). Yoshitoshi's work was absolutely magnificent, and was marked by the pivotal Meiji Restoration period that transformed Japan as it returned to an imperial power, heightened its military prowess, opened up to the west, introduced a new constitution and industrialization, and other social and political reforms. The perspective, color and detail in Yoshitoshi's works distinguish them from traditional woodblock prints. I had difficulty dragging myself away from the exhibit to explore more of Dublin. After we finished up, we went to the Christ Church Cathedral. We made it to the noon prayer, admired the architecture and went down to explore the crypt. Historically, the crypt was a major place of commerce and trade. I thought the contrast between the Gothic and Romanesque archways was very interesting. We walked past St. Patrick's Cathedral and then through Stephens Green (one of the city's Georgian parks). At that point we had run out of time and needed to get on a bus and catch a plane back to London. I must say Dublin was a bit of a whirlwind experience and I would truly like to have more time to explore the city.
Lastly, our return to London began by meeting Sir Happy Face Patrick (our Scottish/English comfort blanket) at Victoria Station. We picked up our bags from the ESU and met our formidable competition, A-L Squared, before returning to the Holiday Inn in Victoria. Ali and Alex were kind enough to take us South Bank to find dinner and of course, a pub. Darryl describes both of these events in the below post, and I would simply echo his sentiments regarding our visit to Parliament. We are very grateful to Patrick for arranging this opportunity for us and allowing us to see Parliament up close and personal (or at least behind a large piece of glass that was put up in the gallery after some angry parents dropped condoms full of exploding purple flower onto the floor of the House of Commons...). On Wednesday we debated Ali and Alex at the American School in London to debate the resolution, "This House Believes the American Century Has Ended." After thoroughly trash talking the UK team, they still managed to beat us in front of 20,000 person audience (some fuzzy American math - I am sure that eventually that many people will hear about our discussion on the US century). If I had a time machine, I would have refuted the arguments about JT, B. Spears, and American pop culture in general. I will say, however, that the world should begin anticipating Team America's political campaign ads and A-L Squared should start shakin' in their booties. My discussion on the global economy and the American educational system must not have been sexy enough (who doesn't love discussions on No Child Left Behind, school funding, standardized tests, capital markets, trade account deficits, multinational corporations, and the Bretton Woods institutions?). After the UK team's defeat in the American prison at the end of their tour through the US, we were quite happy that they were able to end their career as a team on a positive note. For the record, I did offend a 13-year-old Texan girl, and for that I am truly sorry, but I stand behind my analysis on Texas' educational system. We went and tried some more traditional British ales, and I had my first pint of Bitter. Despite the loss, I felt wonderful about the experience and quite privileged to make the acquaintance of Mr Alex and Mr Ali.
Today in Oxford we will be attending the Paper Debates sponsored by Oxford University. I will not be giving away all of the juicy details that we expect to develop tonight, but I am sure we will have an excellent time.
Wednesday, February 6, 2008
When I was at the World University Debating Championships, I had to take an “adjudicator’s test” to determine my competence. The first question had me list my experience with British Parliamentary style. Though I’d cleared as the top seed at a tournament in the form six years ago, I figured it was adequately long ago and I was taking the tournament lightheartedly enough that I’d rather open my CV with something more carefree. Thus, I noted that I was a regular watcher of “Prime Minister’s Questions” on C-SPAN.
Today, we found ourselves scheduled for a tour of Westminster, but with the bad news that we wouldn’t be able to make it into PMQs. Having returned from Dublin the previous afternoon, we spent that evening with Alistair and Alex, the two UK debaters sent by the ESU to the USA on the reverse of our tour for three months toward the end of 2007. They showed us around the South Bank of the Thames and some nifty art galleries, theaters, and graffiti covered impromptu skate parks before settling in for a stellar dinner on what was apparently Shrove Tuesday or somesuch occasion on which pancakes are customary. This was of course followed by the pub and the hunt for a late-license drinking establishment, a common search in London, before turning in to get some sleep before our early morning tour appointment. This was after finding "Portland: Food and Liquor," whose picture I took after barely dodging traffic in the name of West Coast loyalties.
We arrived at the Westminster tube station and found our way to the Sovereign St. entrance, where we met a representative of the MP Andrew Mitchell’s office. Having given us the form to get through security and onto the tour, she then told us that she’d come across two more tickets for Prime Minister’s Questions, and that we were welcome to them, should we like. Of course, I was giddy at the prospect.
Having given tours of the US Capitol as an intern, I have a great deal of respect for tour guides, especially ones who can competently weave narratives from start to finish while appealing to all levels of interest in the audience. Lord knows I couldn’t - being more apt to ramble on about whatever random interesting tidbit I learned about a given Statuary Hall figure that week - but this fellow could. He usually worked in the House of Lords, and gave us an insider’s perspective of the functioning and history of the House of Commons and House of Lords. Apparently, the leadership can’t hold votes open indefinitely in the UK. An eight minute egg timer until the voting is done wouldn’t give the leadership nearly enough time to whip the majority into line in America! They do, however, have a charmingly similar bell system.
We were able to walk on the floor of the House of Commons, and I stood at the very box, containing a Bible and New Testament on which the Prime Minister leans during Question Time, and leaned on it myself. Rather than bore you with all the trivia we learned (Prince Albert’s changing room had an authentic Crapper!) I’ll just say it was an incredibly illuminating experience for a politics and trivia nerd like myself. But the tour couldn’t hold a candle to Prime Minister’s Questions!
We sat in the gallery and watched Gordon Brown get unfortunately torn to shreds by David Cameron, who accused the Prime Minister of “dithering” rather than acting on any number of policies. Having spent the last week immersed in UK Debate, it was interesting to see the parallels, where the style of question and answer in this particular PMQ particularly mirrored the quips of points of information in a British Parli round. It wasn’t Blair, but it was still pretty fantastic to see in person. Democracy has at it heart certain principles of accountability and transparency that are often disguised in America, but here they are put on blatant and glorious display.
Of course, this wasn’t the end of our day - we were headed to the American School of London to debate the resolution “This House Believes that the American Century has Ended.” We were proposing, with Alex and Alistair in opposition. Though I somewhat underperformed my opening speech, Meredith more than made up for it and I provided a strong summation. Alas, it was no match for Ali and Alex whose three months of public debates in the US, and razor sharp wits, helped them win the division of the house. It was really no matter, as they joined us, Patrick and James from the ESU for dinner afterwards before we continued on for drinks.
Tomorrow, we’re headed to Oxford and we won’t be back in London for another week. While a bit sad to be leaving the City, we’re excited to see some new sights, try our hand at another tournament (the Cardiff IV), and visit Scotland.
Monday, February 4, 2008
After the tour, Stephen took us to see The Book of Kells at Trinity College in Dublin. The art and detail that went into creating The Four Gospels is quite impressive. I was also moved by The Old Library. Since 1801, Trinity College Library Dublin has had the right to claim a free copy of all British and Irish publications under the relevant copyright acts and has a stock of nearly three million volumes housed in a total of eight buildings. The Long Room houses around 200,000 of the Library's oldest books. It was very impressive sight indeed.
I did manage to do some exploring on my own while Darryl was catching up on some sleep (for some god awful reason he stayed up all last night grading, etc.). I made my way to a local pub where I literally understood about 25% of what some gents were saying to me. I can say that I successfully had two pints of Guinness and paid nothing for them-- a plus when your running low on euros and didn't tell your bank you would be in the UK and Ireland. I watched some football, Tunisia versus Cameron, ate a salad, and came back to the hotel. All in all, I had a great day in Dublin.
Sunday, February 3, 2008
British Parli is a form of debate wherein four teams compete against each other, which is perhaps rather confusing to Americans who are accustomed to debate rounds with two teams per round, or who can't fathom an argument outside of black-and-white, diametrically opposed sides... such as our president. These four teams are each assigned a position in the debate: first proposition, first opposition, second proposition, and second opposition. Each of these two person teams then tries to establish themselves as the best in the round through some combination of 'role fulfillment,' style, and good argument.
The round opens with the first prop speaker presenting a case in favor of the resolution. For example, our third round topic was, to paraphrase, the non-profit file sharing of digital media files should be legalized. In my first prop speech, I argued that no longer prosecuting file sharers would move us toward open source software and away from the present day music industry. This position is sometimes called the prime minister.
Then came the first opposition speaker, or leader of the opposition. His or her obligation is to refute arguments put forward by the first prop speaker and to introduce new matter in opposition to the resolution. In this round, he attacked our points about open source and the music industry before moving on to arguments about how it would harm the economy to endorse our model since it would harm revenue and cost jobs.
The second proposition speaker then begins, who is sometimes called the deputy prime minister, rebuilding the case of the proposition, largely by refuting the arguments of the leader of the opposition and introducing more justifications for the resolution. In our round, Meredith talked about the marketplace of ideas improving as a result of increasing communication.
The second opposition speaker, or deputy leader of the opposition, then performs a role similar to that of the deputy prime minister by refuting arguments and introducing new matter - in this case, arguments about the decline of the movie and game development industries.
At this point the first proposition and first opposition team are done with their speaking time for the round. These speakers will hope that their arguments are strong enough to stand and remain relevant throughout the round and in the eyes of the judge, and perhaps help that along with some well placed points of information, or questions, to the non-debater.
The back half of the debate then begins with the third opposition speaker, the first to talk on behalf of the second proposition. This speaker, also called the member of government, will aim to distinguish their side from the first proposition without contradicting (knifing) them. They might bring up more principled points if the first prop focused on pragmatic issues. In this round, the third prop speaker talked about benefits that would come from regulating digital file sharing.
The third opposition speaker then does pretty much the same thing for the other side. In our round, the first speaker from the second opposition team discussed problems that would arise from hacking, among other points. This speech is sometimes called the member of the opposition.
The last two speeches, the fourth proposition and fourth opposition, are rebuttal speeches in much the same way they would be in any other debate activity. While answering the arguments raised by earlier speakers, the debaters, sometimes called the government and opposition whips, convince the judge to see the round in light of their side of the resolution, and ideally to convince them that their half of the bench (which is to say the second and not the first prop or opp) is the reason for that victory.
Following the round, the judges deliberate to reach a consensus about the round. In probably the biggest contrast with American debate, the three or five or however many judges do not render individual decisions, and then total them up to determine a winner. Rather, the judges agree on the raking of the teams by convincing one another to see things their way. In this process, the teams are ranked 1-4 and speakers are individually assigned points. While I can't speak to how speaker points work, the ranks are totaled up to determine the teams that advance to the break rounds. You get three points for a 1, two for a 2, one for a 3, and zero points when ranked 4. At the Inner Temple Inter-Varsity, we were able to clear with a minimum of ten points or so. Ranked 3-4-1-1-1 in our five preliminary rounds, we received points of 1-0-3-3-3.
With eight teams advancing to two semi-final rooms, the top two teams in each of those rounds advanced to the final round. At some tournaments, such as this one, the final topic is announced beforehand so that people can prepare arguments for a higher quality round. Indeed, the final, featuring a slew of law students on a topic about the charter on human rights and the power of UK courts to enforce its provisions, was one of the substantively better parli debates I've seen.
Well, if this makes our descriptions a little less confusing, we're glad. And if you're a brtish pali style who wants to correct us, we heartily encourage you to do so. If you're an American debater looking to start a flame war about the activity being lame, go ahead: the comment counts make us feel loved.