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Sunday, June 13, 2004

Battle Pursuit of Happiness - Judges' Comments

The closing arguments are up, the debate is done, the Battle is ovah!

On the panel for this battle:

On the Left, Joel C. of Nightmares for Sale and Michael S. of Musing's Musings.

On the Right, Jheka of The Daily Blitz and Urthshu of Urthshu.

Let's see what the Judges have to say.

Opening Arguments

Joel:

Kudos to The Challenger for starting out with a tight focus. The battle
was introduced in some pretty broad terms and I like how The Challenger
immediately cut it down to a specific question—one that would likely be
important to whatever approach the Iron Blogger took. “Victimless
Crimes” is a popular phrase and assertion and The Challenger does an
excellent job of knocking down this argument. Very persuasive in
pointing out the damaging aspects of these crimes that are often overlooked.
The Challenger does leave himself open to certain attacks, though, and
that is the drawback of his tight focus. Therefore, this is not a perfect
opening but it is certainly a strong one

IBLib makes some very broad arguments, rather than going with specifity
like The Challenger. I like the comparison of a Rights-based approach
and a utilitarianism approach. IBLib also gives a good summary of the
Libertarian position in regard to rights. I particularly like the way IBLib does not pretend that drug use is bad but instead takes the position that the illegalization of drug use leads to greater harm than good. The argument is backed up well with the Cato study, but even more evidence would only serve to strengthen the assertion. I also thought the introduction of the concept of self-monitoring through the reference to the recent HIV scare within the pornography industry was a nice point.

Michael:

The Challenger has found some good quotes from our early leaders suggesting that they viewed gambling and prostitution, at least, with alarm. But the Challenger has not taken into account the fact that the Framers, on the whole, talked a good game but did not always practice what they preached. The Challenger's opening statement is clearly written and forcefully argued. It is, however, highly moralistic in tone and does fail to address several of the points raised by the Chairman in the battle challenge. Particularly in a battle on pursuit of happiness, I was expecting to be played with, titillated, and amused. The Challenger, though making a good opening, merely lectured at me.

The Iron Blogger's opening statement takes a more philosophical turn, addressing some of the more basic questions posed by the Chairman in the challenge. On the whole, however, I found the Iron Blogger's train of thought to be a little loose. On a couple of occasions, I had to go back and re-read something to determine exactly how it related to what I thought the Iron Blogger was saying. The Iron Blogger's opening statement was very stylish. He used humor appropriately, his tone was more informative than preachy, his quotations were apt and were worked into the substance of his statement. The overall lack of focus, however, prevents me from awarding him full marks in the style department.

Jheka:

The challenger spends an awful lot of time and 100% of his sourcing on the opinions of the founding fathers, latching on to a rhetorical device used by the Chairman to introduce the broader philosophical topic. However, even the Challenger acknowledges that "Of course, this isn't supposed to be about what the Founders thought . . ." and yet, he never gets away from Jfferson and Washington and their peers to address the broader, less factually grounded question that was laid before him. The founding fathers thought gambling was bad? Many of them also thought it was OK to own, buy and sell people and to count human beings as 3/5 of a person and women as nothing at all. I point this out not to denigrate those men but to suggest that their moral compasses and the general morality of a quarter millenia ago may not be the deciding or even a very persuasive factor in the instant debate. Whatever Jefferson or Washington thought of, for example, gambling, the fact is that today the gaming industry keeps many thousands of decent, tax paying citizens employed, state lotteries contribute billions of dollars annually to education budgets and Church bingo and raffles have been a staple of American life for generations. Moreover, the Challenger seems to have latched onto gambling, prostitution and drug use while the question was obviously both broader and narrower than that. It is not limited to these activities but rather, to the larger question of which activities should be proscribed by law and why. Finally, the Challenger makes a number of rhatorically bold assertions (e.g. the average lifespan of prostitutes is 40) without supporting them. While he documents his assertions regarding the founding fathers, as I have stated, I believe that this is completely tangential to the question presented.

It's a broad topic but the question, as I see it, s a straightforward one: What activities ahouls be legal or illegal and, more importantly, what is the criteria upon which we should make these decisions.
The IB takes a very, very broad topic and breaks it down into manageable philosophical categories which will serve as the base for his arguments. He also provides numerous examples and good sourcing (upon reviewing the argument, I see that I was too harch in giving the IB a "2" for sourcing and have updated it accordingly ... I think that I was subconsciously trying to keep a manageable margin between the IB and his challenger but, upon reflection, that is fair to neither participant). The "utilitarian" vs. "Rights" approaches to the problem is an important point and was well explained.

Urthshu:

Dean has made an appeal to the Constitiution and Founding Fathers, which
is always a decent & sound tack. The problem is that he says the
Constitution has no force of Law, which I take exception to; I don't
feel that he is correct in that pronouncement. Unfortunately, this takes
up a good deal of room, and it is a reply to the Chairman rather than to
the topic as well. His second part, whereing he questions the
'victimless' tag, is stronger, and so tips the balance.

The IB is introducing his Libertarian beliefs, so there is some 'party
line' being toed here. Nevertheless, it was good beginning, setting the
stage for further argument, I think. In Substance, it was good; in
Soundness, only so-so, to my mind. Well-structured and good use of white space, blockquotes, lists. It was easy enough to follow without being boring. I can detect that this blogger is capable of much snarkiness, yet it isn't present with this post.


First Rebuttal

Joel:

Interesting story at the beginning. The Challenger does a good job
making the case that prostitution, drug use and gambling are all very
harmful activities. Nice point about none of these really being a
“right.” Finally, I like how The Challenger juxtaposes the supposed
right to these vices with his own right not to have these vices
unfolding in his neighborhood. He sidesteps the issue, however, that
these activities are still going on in someone's neighborhood, as we
know very well at this point that illegalization has not stopped the
activities. This is a big opening in the argument that IBLib can use.

A strong rebuttal. IBLib does an excellent job of going, point by
point, through the dangers of having a black market instead of a
legitimate market. Using prohibition as an example, of course, is an
excellent move. It's always an advantage when history provides you with
a very similar situation. Great examples from prohibition about the health problems caused by a black market. This is a strong aspect of IBLib's argument.
Interestingly, though, the source linked to for the prohibition bit
actually contains this quote: “While national Prohibition did much to
reduce the consumption of alcoholic beverages by Americans”. This is
actually a potential counter-argument and, while I understand why you
didn't address it, your rebuttal would have been that much stronger if
at some point in the post, you dealt with this reality.

Michael:

This first rebuttal was extremely disappointing. It is shrill and
judgemental in tone, cavalierly dismissive of actual or potential objections
raised to the Challenger's positions by several of the commenters on his
opening statement and the Iron Blogger Libertarian. Moreover, while the
Challenger *mentions* the IBL's opening statement, he does so only to
dismiss it and continue his screed. The Challenger failed to address in any
substantive way any of the points raised by the IBL in his opening
statement.

The Iron Blogger's First Rebuttal is a solid piece of work. He has rebutted
points raised by the Challenger, and done so in a respectful manner by
citing appropriately sourced facts and pointing to alternative constructions
of the facts relied upon by the Challenger. There is still a certain
looseness in the Iron Blogger's chain of reasoning: I would have liked to
see matters more firmly nailed down, for example, in his fourth point when
he asserted that although so-called "victimless crimes" had deleterious side
effects (if you will), but that the responsibility for these effects did not
rest with the law.

Jheka:

This is kind of a mess. The challenger sets off on a story that is interesting and probably great at a party (remind me to tell you about what happened to me in Brazil around 1986 ... now that was scary) but which fails to address the points raised by the IB. It seems that the Challenger is addressing points that he assumed would be made. The IB never asserts that various activities don't have negative consequences. He does suggest that said consequences may be related to the very fact of their illegality; a point that is left largely unaddressed by the challenger. The challenger asserts that the activities are not rights because there are laws against them. He also says that they are not victimless because they affect third parties. Well, activities that negatively affect third parties are, by definition, not victimless (For example, if I paint my house in the middle of my 30 acres bright pink, I am not doing anything immoral or illegal and no one can say anything against it. However, if I do the same thing in a gated community, thus lowering my neighbor's property values and hurting their eyes, I may very well have broken a local law and probably a contract). This is a neat little tautology that, once again, sidesteps the question, which is about what SHOULD be, not about what IS. The same can be said for private sex for money transactions, gambling, drug use, etc. Context matters. The challenger then suggests, at the end of his rebuttal, that he thinks that the activities that he is railing against should be legal. This needed to be said in his opening or at the beginning of his rebuttal, since it is obviously a central point. One is left to wonder what the challenger's main point actually is. Is it that citizens have the right to make various activities illegal? Is it that addictions of various kinds are bad? It's unclear.

The discussion of positive vs. negative rights is outstanding and the reference to Reagan and his views on the issue is both on-point and timely. I have deducted one point from sourcing since it was adequate but not extraordinary.

Urthshu:

Dean stays with his tried and true [I guess] blocky post structure.
Nothing breaks the monotony except one bolded sentence, some links, and
his narrative. That's the thing, though: His narrative is quite good. If he could get
creative in presenting, I wonder if it would detract from the power of his words? Unsure, but his minimalist style works, however that might be. He gets points for his dramatic prose and delivery; He is speaking with the voice of Reason but the tone of Emotion- he needs to watch that.

Substance is OK, Soundness [again] is lacking; for instance, in the 1st
'rebut' paragraph, the IB claims that 'drugs are peddled at schools
rather than Walgreens becoz of illegality'- this is poppycock as it
ignores what the prevailing market [teens & young adults] is for drugs.
I'm thinking there is a good argument to be made here, but in this case
the IB is adopting a stance that, fairly easily, can be predicted to
cause more positive harm than otherwise. Which is interesting, because I
support the legalization/decriminalization of all drugs, including
Heroin. If anything, he's changing my mind about that in a direction
opposite to his.

Second Rebuttal

Joel:

The Challenger offers up a quiet and effective second rebuttal. This is
an excellent post. Switching gears and summarizing his views, The
Challenger brings home the point that he is not arguing for prohibition
so much as arguing for the right of voters to decide these issues. In
doing so, The Challenger makes a very persuasive case. He has already
established that the vices in question have not at any point been
considered rights and that lends credibility to the argument that they
should be able to be regulated by voters. Not a perfect post, of course.
The Challenger again asserts that these are not victimless crimes, which is true. However, some of the problems cited may very well be reduced or eliminated under a legal system, despite The Challenger's statement, “Because all of these "victimless crimes"--all of them--have their victims, whether they are legal or not.” But yes, I would agree they will still have their victims even if legal, much like alcoholism does.

IBLib comes back with his best post yet in a nice move to counter a
strong argument from The Challenger. Taking up The Challenger's
statement that the voters have the right to regulate the vices in
question, IBLib does a magnificent job of showing how voters should be
limited in what they can do. Great job pounding home the point that the United States is a liberal democracy. I also was impressed with the breakdown of unenumerated rights, which proved to be a strong rebuttal to The Challenger's assertion that these vices are not rights at all.

Michael:

The Challenger has improved! His second rebuttal is a cogent and concise
discussion of points raised by the Iron Blogger Libertarian. Unfortunately,
the Challenger's argument contains a serious flaw, in that he has conceded
the IBL's point that prohibition is not the most effective means of
regulating or coping with some vices, yet the Challenger argues for
prohibition all the same. The Challenger thus leaves himself wide open to a
devastating line of attack from Iron Blogger Libertarian, at a time when he
should be battening down the hatches, dotting his I's, and crossing his T's
in preparation for his closing statement.

The Challenger opened the door, and Iron Blogger Libertarian blasted a tank
right through it. This was a cogently argued and well-sourced rebuttal of
the omissions in the Challenger's second rebuttal. Yet it was ultimately an
unsatisfying argument, in that while the Iron Blogger pointed out the
inadequacies of the Challenger's position, he never really nailed down the
correctness of his own position. It will not suffice, in a debate of this
nature, merely to point out that one's opponent has not made his case.

Jheka:

The challenger changes playing fields in the second rebuttal ... very, very late in the game ... and admonishes the readers (IB Lib & commentators) for not understanding his point earlier. Count me in that group. Also, consider me a person who thinks it's incumbent upon the writer to make his meaning plain, not upon the reader to discern it. Moreover, the subject of the debate (it seems to me) is, generally "what SHOULD be legal or illegal" which is an interesting philosophical question. The Challenger decides to abadnon the topic almost entirely and writes about what CAN be legal or illegal, which is a rather dry, legalistic topic and not, as far as I can tell, the issue before the debaters.

The IB used his second rebuttal to, well, rebut and he should get points for doing what the challenger largely refused to. The fact is that it is an effective and well thought out rebuttal of the Challenger's argument that what IS is not necessarily what OUGHT to be. well stated and well sourced.

Urthshu:

Dean did a good job of parsing degrees of meaning here, and a thought
came to my mind which was implied, though never stated, by his
arguments: The Constitution itself is a legislation of morality. There
was no compelling reason for the Founding Father's to have adopted the
reasonings [and thus, morality] of the Enlightenment in lieu of, say,
Despotism, thus the argument that 'everything goes' is patently false!
That idea, unbidden yet implied, increased my understanding of our
nation in a unique way, so I would say I learned from it.
I couldn't decide if that should've gone into this category or the
below, but I put it here since the issue of legilating morality forms
the basis of defense, and thus Soundness.

Ugh. This was boring. More than once, I found my mind wandering, "when
the heck is he going to get to the point?" I began to imagine different
scenarios: How about a positive right to punch people in the nose? I'm
supposed to punch you in the nose, you're supposed to punch me in the
nose, we all walk around with bloody noses and have a beer, right? The
argument falls apart into absurdity. He is ignoring that social ills
*are* ills; additionally he is identifying the wrong source of the
social ill- guns are legal, yet there are still black markets. Obscuring
the point loses the argument.

Closing Arguments

Joel:

The best post from The Challenger yet. He does a great job of summing
up his argument in a tight package. He makes a very persuasive case
with his argument and really hits home with his reiteration that these
vices in question are not rights in any definable way in our society today.
Yet the destructive nature of prohibition hangs over The Challenger's
argument. I understand that his argument is that the effectiveness of
the laws is not a matter of concern, but rather whether or not voters
should be allowed to regulate these vices as they see fit. However,
IBLib's point made in an earlier rebuttal that people are dying because
of these laws is very real—and there is no doubt that there is a right
to life. Therefore, by essentially agreeing with and then dismissing
the argument that prohibition has caused great harm, The Challenger
leaves a significant weakness within his argument, even though the
specific logic of his argument is strong.

Michael:

The Challenger is grasping at straws in his closing argument. Although he
appears to take a strict constructionist view toward the Framers' attitudes
about gambling (reusing all of the links to early documents and legislative
proposals on that subject that he included in his opening statement), he
then turns around and argues, against the Iron Blogger Libertarian, that
when the Ninth Amendment speaks of non-enumerated rights that are "retained
by the people," what those words really mean is that any rights "the people"
might have by virtue of the common law or their state's constitutions are
not to be disparaged. I fail to see how that meaning could reasonably inhere
in the words actually used in the amendment, and the Challenger has not
provided any information (in the form of debates at the Constitutional
Convention, or in the Federalist Papers, for example) that would suggest the
Framers did so, either.

I found the Iron Blogger's switch to the third person in his closing
argument both incomplete (in that he still uses "I" and "we") and
ineffective. His style through the rest of the battle was much preferable to
this awkward "IB Libertarian proposed..." Otherwise, his closing statement
was a soundly reasoned and succinctly stated summary of his position. The
Iron Blogger carefully and correctly recapped the positions taken by the
Challenger, and equally carefully recapped his own demolition of those
points in his rebuttals.

Jheka:

The Challenger, as I have already mentioned, painted himself into a corner at the very start by stubbornly refusing to engage in the stated debate topic. He initially (and, in my opinion, unpersuasively) criticized the chairman for choice of topic and then latched onto what was clearly a rhetorical device for introducing the topic (reference to the Declaration of Independence) to go off on a tangent of his own. Specifically, an exposition of the founding fathers and what they thought was right and wrong. From this tangent, the challenger sought to establish a couple of points that are difficult to argue with. First, that "vices" cause harm and second that Americans have the "right" to outlaw any behavior that is not specifically granted by the Constitution. He never managed to persuade this judge that causing harm to oneself by engaging in entirely voluntary behavior which one knows has the potential for harmful consequences makes an individual a "victim" in any meaningful sense any more than me deciding to engage in the perfectly legal but inherently risky activity of downhill skiing makes me a "victim" if and when I get hurt. If that were the case, there would be millions of victims of downhill skiing and innumerable other risky but perfectly legal and morally neutral activities. That is, just because something can and does cause harm does not automatically make it "bad" or necessary to outlaw. Of course, I do not know what the founding fathers thought of downhill skiing, if they had any opinion on it at all. I suspect that they may well have outlawed it as pure lunacy had they had occasion to think about it.

Stylistically, the IB went off the rails a bit by referring to himself in the third person. I had to check to make sure that I was reading the right person's arguments. It's confusing and unnecessary. Unless you want to sound like Bob Dole or Roy Jones Jr. Moreover, in his second full paragraph the IB switches from 3rd person to 1st person in consecutive sentences. Then he did the same thing in the very next paragraph. It made my head hurt and caused momentary vertigo. That being said, the closing recaps and reinforces the arguments well and points out the flaws in the Challenger's arguments. A persuasive, solid but stylistically clumsy closing.

Urthshu:

Startlingly, Dean has broken his mold, using blockquotes and lists.
These are quite normal, but I feared he would continue to use the blocky
style the whole way through. Aside from this, it was a good read: It wrapped up most of his points in quick order, used just enough of the IB's posting to make his own
clearer. A decent job. What kept it from getting top marks is that he dealt with the topics in too short a fashion.

Substance was well represented. Internally, he made good arguments for
his position BUT he was a little too eager to downplay Dean's series of
posts. In particular, when he writes, "the discussion introduced in the
first rebuttal that Society is greater than Government went essentially
unchallenged throughout the rebuttals", he ignores that Dean had made
that precisely the meat of his argument- to wit: Society can vote it
down and *use* the Government to limit the legality of these vices. That
ruined a portion of his Soundness.


The Judges have spoken, only a short time until the verdict is announced.

Stay tuned!
|


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