Thursday, February 14, 2008

Scotland and Our Return South of the Border

Having been in the US now for three days, I thought it might be wise to wrap up this blog and post before distant friends began wondering about my whereabouts. After Cardiff, I felt rather euphoric about Team America’s performance and my prize winnings. The eight hour train ride to Edinburgh was a great way to relax and see some of the country side. As we rolled into Edinburgh, we were greeted with a thick layer of fog that made it nearly impossible to see further than 20 feet. We met Rob Mars, the ultimate Scottish tour guide, at the train station and we were immediately assured that there was indeed a castle that would be visible if the fog ever lifted. Our hotel was in Old Town right off the Royal Mile and approximately 10 feet away from a pub called ‘The Tron,’ which brought back fond memories of my days at Tryon as an undergraduate and the awesomeness of ‘Tron,’ the best movie from the 1980s. Random references aside, with Rob’s assistance, we navigated our way to Edinburgh University to participate in the debate team’s evening practice session. After picking up a pint from bar downstairs, I prepared to debate the resolution, “This house would prefer environmental protection over economic development.” Rob judged the round and assured us that we performed quite well as the first opposition, although our arguments in favor of the Kyoto Protocol did not go over well with the Scots, who were skeptical of any American supporting the treaty. After watching the next round about the Archbishop of Canterbury’s statement regarding the adoption of Shari’a law in the UK, we socialized for a few hours and then headed back to our hotel.

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.

Best regards,


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

Our Claim to Fame

Despite this being posted under my name, it's actually a collaborative post with Meredith. We're posting from a Starbucks in Cardiff where I have just finished emailing back my papers while listening to Welsh natives Future of the Left - review-/-myspace)

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

Yoshitoshi and the defeat at ASL

Because Malmaison Oxford is particularly posh, I am able to take advantage of the internet once again and share some stories from the past few days. Firstly, Malmaison is situated inside of Oxford castle (or very close to it), which was build in 1071 AD by order of William the Conqueror shortly after the Norman conquest of England. The hotel has apparently maintained two original cells from the prison that was in use for hundreds of years. Needless to say, when I return to Oxford I will be returning to this hotel--the bathroom was even equipped with 'snog me senseless' breath freshener. Really, anything that reads 'snog' will have won over my American hear (it's just a shame that winning over the hearts and minds in Iraq isn't quite that easy). BTW, the picture to the left is of Dublin Castle.

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.

More later.


Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Westminster and The End of the American Century

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


We successfully made it to Dublin after waking up at 6:00 am to pack and get our stuff to the ESU so we wouldn't have to carry our bags around. We made it to Gatwick in plenty of time to catch our flight, and thankfully traveled on the luxurious RyanAir. We found a cute little pub for lunch, and I ordered the Guinness Steak Pie, a true staple of the local cuisine. Afterwards we met Stephen Boyle, a real life Irish debater, who was kind enough to show us around the city. We did an open bus tour with him, and he supplemented the tour with a few bits of historical information he knew and personal stories. A few highlights from the tour included Trinity College, The Guinness Factory (we did not go in for a tasting), Phoenix Park (which you can fit two NY city central parks into, and are less likely to get stabbed), The Spire, Christ Church Cathedral, St. Patrick's Cathedral, The Four Courts (the center of Dublin legal), and St. Stephens Green. Darryl and I have committed to visiting Christ Church Cathedral tomorrow, and to walk around some of the parliament buildings. We have to leave around 12:00/1:00 pm to get to the airport in time to catch our flight back to London so I plan on getting an early start.

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

What the Heck We're Talking About

After my last post, it occurred to me that some of our readers might be utterly perplexed by pretty much everything I was writing. And by "it occurred to me" I mean that I was made aware by Meredith's family in the comments section. If you already know what British parliamentary style debate is, or have read this snazzy wikipedia article, you can probably go without reading this. Or you can correct me in the comment section: your call.

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.

Fabulous London & Debate

Darryl has been kind enough to write up some of our experiences in the past few days—he has a fancy iPhone that I’ve been drooling over. On our first full day in London I desperately needed to rest, having stayed awake the entire trip from the US. For some reason, I was completely unable to sleep on the flight. I decided to tackle the London tube system on February 1st, and successfully made it to The Globe and the Tate Modern. I was listening to Andrew Bird (fabulous musician) and waling around by myself—it was so beautiful. Here are some of my favorites from the Tate Modern: Malevich (Dynamic Suprematism) | Kandinsky (Swinging) | Jasper Johns (0-9) | Matisse (Snails) | Joan Miro (Woman and Bird in the Moonlight) | Jackson Pollack (Birth, Summertime, No. 93) | Bernard Frize (Splitz) | Paul Klee (Walpurgis Night) | Fiona Rae (Night Vision). I was so moved walking through the TM—I would try to describe the feeling to you, but I’m not sure I can do the experience justice.

When I returned to our hotel (Victoria neighborhood in London), I changed into a very ‘Ralph Loren’ outfit, that matched Darryl’s outfit quite well, and headed off to the English Speaking Union (ESU) in Green Park. Green Park is absolutely gorgeous, and one day I plan on buying a flat over there. Here’s to dreaming. We met up with Patrick and we left for a pub nearby so that he could explain British Parliamentary debate to us. I wrote down what he instructed us to do on a sticky note note, and consumed my pint as quickly as possible as we were running late to the tournament. We made our way to Inner Temple, which is an incredibly impressive area of London, full of barristers, and more importantly The Witness Box (a very cute pub). I honestly had difficulty adapting to BP debating the first day—I changed the way I was flowing (i.e., writing down my arguments), was trying to not be mesmerized by the British accents, and find a good balance between rhetoric and refutation. Ironically, I was told by some of our judges the first day that I was too rhetorical. In the U.S., I am better known for being a very aggressive refutation based debater. Alas, on day 2 of Inner Temple IV I was able to figure it out, and Darryl and I hit our stride (even though we stayed at the pub until 2 o’clock in the morning). In BP, there are four teams of two in a round, and each team is ranked 1-4 at the end. We managed to take straight 1’s that entire day. We broke to the semifinal round (a first for any American team at the Inner Temple IV), and I was the 16th speaker and Darryl was the 18th speaker overall in the tournament. One of our hosts from the ESU, Patrick, admitted he did not to expect us to do so well, so I reminded him that we are ‘All American’ bad asses. Darryl is working on a summary of Inner Temple on a round-by-round basis. I will say that I met some very interesting people and had some wonderful conversations. I am proud to say that in our semi-final round, Darryl and I won over a barrister who strikingly resembled my boss’s boss, Dana Hayter. We celebrated by visiting with some of Britain’s future barristers at the Shakespeare Pub and some other posh joint across the street (I didn’t catch the name).

Today I woke up with a bit of a headache, which I am blaming on the Guinness. After regaining my composure, I went to a small cafĂ© to have a traditional English breakfast (or a heart stopper) and some tea. After that, I hopped on the tube at Victoria Station, and went to Oxford Circus to catch the Central tube. I got off near the British Museum, and navigated my over by finding tourists with maps that seemed to be pointing at the BM location. Darryl was not feeling well and had papers to grade, so I went on another adventure by myself. I’m starting to feel like such a Londoner, maybe not so much seeing as I am staying in pretty touristy and safe areas, but nonetheless I do love the city. I saw the China’s First Emperor The Terracotta Army display, and wandered through the free exhibits. I loved the Ancient Egypt exhibit, the Roman Empire Wolfson Gallery (with an adorable vase called the Portland Vase), and particularly the Asia display rooms (Chinese jade, India: Amaravati, and China, India, South and Southeast Asia)—particularly the stuff from the 18th century. After enjoying the museum, I decided to get back to our hotel.

Our itinerary for the rest of the trip is as follows: Ireland on Monday & Tuesday (we are planning on having some very serious discussions about debate, but not actually competing) | Tuesday (arrive back in London and find our hotel and a pub) | Wednesday (The Great Shakespeare Debate, and the UK-US Debate at the American School in London where we will be supporting the motion, “This house believes that the American century has ended”) | Thursday (Day in Oxford) | Friday (Travel to Cardiff) | Saturday (Cardiff IV) | Sunday (Day in Wales) | Monday (Day in Bristol or Exeter) | Tuesday through Thursday (Trip to Scotland) | Friday (Fly out of Gatwick at 12:00 PM). Of course, this itinerary is subject to change. I am very excited to be going to Ireland!!!!

On a final note, you’ll notice the template for this blog has changed. It was making Darryl sick to his stomach, so I relented and have chosen a more simple background.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

The First Competition

After getting a briefing on British Parliamentary style from Patrick at the ESU, we headed to Inner Temple for our first round in the activity. Though we still haven't quite figured out what Inner Temple is (a society of barristers, perhaps?), we were suitably impressed with the grandeur of the hall in which the tournament was hosted. Stained glass set into high ceilings light up heralds of notable members in an imposing room filled with debaters in suits and ties. A little bit nicer than the digs we're used to.

If you're looking for our final result, you can skip to the end. For those of you curious about how it went down, read on.

Our first round started out well enough - we were the first prop in a round with teams from Royal Holloway, Cambridge, and LSE on a topic about providing developing countries with nuclear technology. As we tried tried to figure out what it is we were doing, we also somehow managed to come in third. Happy to get the point, we moved on to the second round where we promptly took the four. In fairness to us, the resolution called for the abolition of private health care in the uk - where the nhs provides universal care, for all you American readers. Apparently, this ridiculous idea isn't really a topic of discussion here, which is probably good since the nhs is overburdened as is. We were the second prop. Badness ensued.

The night finished out, or rather started, at a pub where two of our judges told us we were better than our records indicated. This helped a bit, but the drink tickets and the finger sandwiches helped a little bit more. We were starting to get the hang of the activity. Sure enough, the next morning saw us as the first prop on a resolution about digital file sharing - we were first prop and took the 1. The next two rounds brought closed adjudication, and we argued about citizen travel bans and the use of adultery in determining divorce settlements. Of course, we had no idea how these worked out for us and we wouldn't until the break was announced. We gathered for tea and the breaking teams were projected on a powerpoint. By this time, I'd already removed my tie and rolled up my shirtsleeves, convinced we would be watching the semifinals rather than competing in them. The first six teams appeared, and then...

7. ESU A

We woke up this morning and didn't drop a point - going straight firsts in our last three rounds. Our goals of a respectable showing having been met, we turned our sights to the next task: winning the semis.

Lucky for us, the Brits had to suffer their own version of an American debating an nhs topic- that the us government should pay reparations to the governments of Latin America whose democracies we subverted in the cold war. We were the second prop - a difficult spot on a tough resolution, but one that we had sympathy for.

It turns out that I'm writing this during the final round (though thankfully editing it on my computer later). We had a strong showing and surpassed our goals, but it still stings to watch finals and not be in it. Well, there's always Cardiff!

Friday, February 1, 2008

One Day Down

Our first day in the UK is now behind us. Though I’m likely posting this on our second day, it’s being written on our first night in London. Sitting in bed in the Days Inn Westminster off the Pimlico tube stop on the Victoria line, Meredith is asleep and I’m taking a break from grading papers to write this post.
Though Meredith’s flight from Portland to Minneapolis was a less than pleasant experience, thanks to the foul-smelling New Englander in the seat next to her, she survived the ordeal to meet up with me for our flight to London Gatwick. Scattered between catching up, grading papers, eating mediocre airplane food, and watching The Beach on our in-flight entertainment systems, I managed to catch a few hours of shut-eye, but Meredith was awake for nearly the whole thing. When we arrived at 9am, we were already looking forward to a nap.
After a bit of confusion, we met up with Patrick from the ESU at Victoria station. We braved the drizzling weather on the way to our hotel to drop off our bags, but we couldn’t yet check into our room. Having abandoned our luggage to the check room, we headed toward the ESU - a trip we’re sure to become quite familiar with. The weather took a turn for the worse, however, sending us Underground for the trip as we got drenched by the ever growing downpour. To quote Meredith, she looked like a “drowned rat.” I, of course, always look like a rat, so the change wasn’t as drastic on my part.
Walking into the ESU, we were struck by a grandeur and class that seems entirely impossible in America. Understated and very comfortable, the lobby of the Dartmouth House has a sign asking members not to use cell phones or laptop computers. Founded in 1918, the Union acquired the building not too long afterwards, and has its the offices across a courtyard in the back. Ascending the labyrinth of stairs, we found ourselves in a much more familiar environment - a debate office. Almanacs, computers, and messy desks occupied by the people who would be helping us out over the next two weeks.
I haven’t mentioned lunch yet, and if you’re wondering when we were going to eat, you know how I was feeling. When James, one of our email contacts at the ESU, suggested we head to the pub, we readily agreed. The Red Lion is a short walk from the Dartmouth House and everything I hoped for in an English pub. Dark wood, strange beers on tap, and a menu that quickly led all of us to ordering fish and chips - the seemingly safe call. And a good one, as it turned out, since we all inhaled our meals while discussing the etymology of “recent,” the history of Cardiff, and disgraced members of the US Congress.
After our meal, we finally had our chance at that nap. While my first hope was to spend the time grading papers, I found myself utterly incapable of forming thoughts into sentences. Seeing as my students seem to be capable of this, it seemed unfair to grade them while in this state, so I decided to - and did - fall asleep twenty seconds later. To say I woke up refreshed would be a lie that would put my country’s administration to shame, so I’ll be honest: after two hours of rest, I wanted nothing more than to get some more. Knowing that it would make the jet-lag far worse, however, I pulled myself groggily out of bed and onto the streets of London to head back to the ESU. By way of contrast, Meredith was fully awake and had all of her faculties about her. It was entirely thanks to her lucidity that we didn’t end up taking the tube in the wrong direction or walking accidentally into the Thames.
Upon our arrival, we learned that we really would be seeing “a good deal of the UK,” as vaguely promised in an earlier email. Starting tomorrow, we will be competing in the Inner Temple IV here in London, and will be sticking around the city until February 7 when we head to Oxford. From there, we head to Cardiff for the IV on February 9. Though our plans for the next few days are still being settled, we’re really not too concerned because we head to Scotland on the 12th. We leave on the 15th, and if the itinerary is any indication, we will have done a whole lot before then.

Thursday, January 31, 2008


We just arrived in London and have dropped our bags off at the hotel, only to be whisked away to the ESU where we're starting to learn about all the crazy awesome things we're going to do. Yes, crazy awesome.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008


This time tomorrow, I'll be in the air on my way to the UK to start the tour. I'll be leaving behind the Seattle Sonics and their (just broken!) 14 game losing streak, and arriving back just in time for the NBA All Star Break and the release of the new Mountain Goats album. Oh, and that Super-Duper-Mega-Tuesday business. I'll be arriving as Man City is scheduled to take on cellar dwellers Derby and league leaders United and Arsenal, and an American hipster rock band (of whom I'm rather fond) tries to take over London. We'll also be walking into a broiling debate about new terror legislation - which should make us Americans feel right at home.

Of course I'm ecstatic about the debating, but for now I'm happy just to be heading across the pond.

The Day Before Our Departure

Darryl and I have discussed our hopes, fears and goals for the 2008 Tour of the UK and we are ready to take on the Brits. Last night we determined what we needed to coordinate to throw it down gangsta style at the Feb. 6th Hip Hop Debate Extravaganza. Indeed, we do have costumes planned out. I am hoping Darryl finishes his laundry, we have promised each other that we would do our best to maintain proper hygiene. We are anticipating tour details from the folks at the ESU and participating in some UK debate tournaments.

Now I should get to work!