Monday, October 31, 2005

Tory Debate No. 10: An American Empire?

I attended my ninth Tory debate (the Tories’ tenth over-all) on Thursday, October 27. The resolution was “Resolved: America Will Never Be an Empire.”

I thought that the resolution would give me and excellent opportunity to discuss not so much the actual question of whether America will become an empire, but whether it ought to. There are, I was prepared to point out, many positive aspects of imperialism – not necessarily for the imperial power itself, but for the countries being colonized.

I began my preparation for the debate after I finished with classes, starting traditionally with a search of the Weekly Standard archives. I found a number of interesting pieces on the benefits of imperialism (especially of British imperialism) and assembled the best points into a page of notes.

After an hour or so of reading I had a good speech outline, but it still lacked that extra little bit of pizzazz. Where is the best description of what imperialism involves? The answer came immediately to mind: Kipling – “Take Up the White Man’s Burden.” (Of course).

I looked up the text of this magnificent poem online and read it through once. Then it turned out to be so good that I had to read it again. I was suddenly struck by a burning desire to see the poem in print (and an internet printout does not suffice) so I grabbed my jacket and dashed over to Sterling Memorial Library.

I had never taken a book out Sterling before. In fact, to be perfectly frank, it had been years since I’d taken any book out of any library – there are so many books at my house that I have never been left lacking any text that I looked for. I was determined, nonetheless, to get my book.

I went through Sterling’s main entrance into the cathedral-like structure that houses the card-catalogues, with various connecting passageways to computer “clusters,” reading rooms, and the Stacks themselves. (The “Stacks” refers to the multi-story book tower that holds the largest part of Yale’s collection – about 4.5 million books).

I decided to handle the entire matter in a very traditional fashion (which I’m sure the Tories would appreciate) and started by looking for the appropriate volume’s call number in the card catalogue. The card catalogue itself stopped being expanded in the 70s in deference to a computer system known as “Orbis” (subsequent acquisitions are documented, but not in nearly as dignified a manner). This notwithstanding, there are several million cards to look through in the cabinets that line both walls of the nave, all the way from one end to another. I quickly found the right section, and was happy to see that Kipling has an entire drawer devoted to him on the left-hand side of the building, about halfway down.

I found a likely looking title – the 1920 Rudyard Kipling’s Verse: Inclusive Edition 1885-1918. The first of our copies was in the rare book collection, but two more copies were in the Stacks. I made note of the call number and took the unprecedented step of actually asking for “directions” – one of the librarians at the front desk was only too happy to tell me how to use the call number to find the right floor.

Apparently I wanted floor “2M.”

Not exactly sure what the M was for, I nevertheless inferred that if I were to start on the first floor and work up, it would be impossible to miss. I presented my Yale ID to the guard by the Stacks’ entrance and passed into the colossal book collection for the second time in my life.

I quickly found 2M and wandered around for a few minutes to get my bearings – Milton was right next to the stairwell. Walking through the corridors of books (and pressing the little button at the end of each row that would illuminate it for a few minutes) I was able to locate the Kipling collection, and selected the least banged-up of the copies of his verse – which wasn’t in terribly good shape itself. I checked to make sure the poem I wanted was in there (it was; page 371) and I found my way out of the Stacks without too much difficulty and made my first official checkout with some sense of accomplishment.

Now I was in high gear – back in my dorm I paced back and forth, quoting the poem out loud and making expansive, Churchillian gestures with my free hand. I decided that I would be better off bringing just a single prop (as opposed to notes and book). I therefore decided to memorize the notes and keep them in my breast pocket during the debate.

As debate time approached I installed my suit – this time with a black necktie that I bought locally (which I near-instantly recognized as a mistake; color and price). Nevertheless, the tie deserved to be worn at least once, and so it was selected for the evening.

I set out for the debate, which was to be in the JE Common Room as it had been last week. I was once again on schedule to be the first there, and so I stood outside for a few minutes waiting for a Tory to show up.

It wasn’t long before the former chairman appeared with an ice bucket and a bagful of refreshments. He explained that the provost was in the process of taking a midterm, and that he would handle the provostly duties this evening.

The former chairman and I went into the common room and began to set up – choosing for our chairman a more comfortable seat than we’d given him the last time.

It wasn’t long before the other Tories began to come in. Among those in attendance was the Brazilian freshman who had made his first appearance last week, and a member of the Conservative Party (a friend of our chairman). The former chairman’s grandparents also showed up later in the evening and managed to stick it out to the end of the debate. I walked about with my Kipling volume clasped in my hand, occasionally asked to explain what I was doing with it. I would take care my these explanations not to come too close to the wording of my speech.

I was in the middle of an interesting poetical discussion with the Englisher when the chairman called the debate to order. I went over to take my sofa-seat to the chairman’s left and leaned back for the reading of the minutes. After a minor correction was made, the minutes were approved, and secretary stood to read the topic of our debate.

“Resolved: America Will Never Be an Empire.”

The chairman asked for an opening speech in the affirmative, but no one offered to give one. After about ten seconds, I raised my hand for a point of information:

“Is it not in fact the cast that the chair frowns on a one-sided debate?” I asked.

“Or a zero-sided debate,” the chairman and I added simultaneously. He rapped his gavel and asked the chief whip, whom I had thought planned to be in the negative, if he would give an opening speech.

The chief whip agreed, and proceeded to give a surprising talk on the exploitive and yet unprofitable nature of empire. I understood that in part he was being accommodating in speaking opposite to where he had planned, though he added in his speech that on reflection, this was indeed the side for him. Nevertheless, his points did give me a good occasion to segue into a discussion on the positive points of empire, and so I resolved to offer myself for the first negative speech of the evening, provided there were no immediate volunteers senior to myself.

After the chief whip answered his questions and was thanked, the chairman duly asked for an opening speech in the negative. No one immediately volunteered, so I grabbed the opportunity and was recognized by the chairman.

“Thank you, Mr. Chairman,” I said, rising to give my second consecutive opening speech.

As I started my next sentence, I was appropriately cut off by the chairman’s request for a prop-related motion. This was made by the former chairman, and seconded. It was, however, opposed by the SSCY, who had for a few debates decided to object to all props. Nevertheless, he was heavily in the minority, and I was allowed to continue:

“The prop in question is this book of Kipling’s verse. Kipling, of course, is the author of the great Empire-related poem ‘Take up the White Man’s Burden.’ This struck me as just the sort of poem the body would like to hear, and so you will hear it, later in my speech.

“First there is to be discussed the basic nature of empire. It does not have to be, as has been suggested, an empire of military control. As the great naval strategist Alfred Mahan pointed out, there are empires of influence as well; I shall run on the premise that America may does not have to become a military empire in order to contradict the resolution.

“It has also been suggested that empires are a bad thing. This is not so. In reality they can do tremendous good. An empire may not be so good for an imperial power – it does cost a lot of money and require constant attention. But look at what the great British Empire actually accomplished – it exported capitalism, democracy, rule of law [these were points made in Max Boot’s review of Empire for the Weekly Standard]. It removed trade barriers – in fact it was responsible for the first “wave” of global trade. Since Britain’s leaving its colonies, the abandoned countries have regressed from all these things and are heading back to an uncivilized state.

“Empires export money, people, law. They export civilization. They civilize countries that cannot govern themselves or civilize themselves.

“Being a colonizer is not an easy job, though. That is what Kipling talks about in ‘Take Up the White Man’s Burden’ which he wrote at the height of the British Empire in 1899.

“I am very fond of this poem. It has, however, become rather unpopular of late. One of the reasons is that, because of the refrain ‘Take Up the White Man’s Burden,’ it has been unfairly characterized as a racist poem. Of course when Kipling talks about the ‘white man’s burden’ he is referring to the burden of Great Britain. And at that time it was indeed the white man’s burden. Now, I will attempt to show, it is our burden.

“The second reason that volumes of Kipling have been generally unpopular is that, when Kipling had to decide what ‘signature mark’ he would have printed on and in all of his books, he unfortunately chose a symbol that we would come to know some years later as the “swastika.” As you can see it’s here on the cover as well as the title page [I showed the book around the room at this point]. It wasn’t Kipling’s fault of course, that’s just the way it goes.

“So here is ‘Take Up the White Man’s Burden.’ Follow closely its trenchant explanation of what empire involves:

“‘Take up the White Man's burden--
Send forth the best ye breed--
Go, bind your sons to exile
To serve your captives' need;
To wait, in heavy harness,
On fluttered folk and wild--
Your new-caught sullen peoples,
Half devil and half child.

Take up the White Man's burden--
In patience to abide,
To veil the threat of terror
And check the show of pride;
By open speech and simple,
An hundred times made plain,
To seek another's profit
And work another's gain.

Take up the White Man's burden--
The savage wars of peace--
Fill full the mouth of Famine,
And bid the sickness cease;
And when your goal is nearest
(The end for others sought)
Watch sloth and heathen folly
Bring all your hope to nought.

Take up the White Man's burden--
No iron rule of kings,
But toil of serf and sweeper--
The tale of common things.
The ports ye shall not enter,
The roads ye shall not tread,
Go, make them with your living
And mark them with your dead.

Take up the White Man's burden,
And reap his old reward--
The blame of those ye better
The hate of those ye guard--
The cry of hosts ye humour
(Ah, slowly!) toward the light:--
"Why brought ye us from bondage,
Our loved Egyptian night?"

Take up the White Man's burden--
Ye dare not stoop to less--
Nor call too loud on Freedom
To cloak your weariness.
By all ye will or whisper,
By all ye leave or do,
The silent sullen peoples
Shall weigh your God and you.

Take up the White Man's burden!
Have done with childish days--
The lightly-proffered laurel,
The easy ungrudged praise:
Comes now, to search your manhood
Through all the thankless years,
Cold, edged with dear-bought wisdom,
The judgment of your peers.’

“It’s remarkable isn’t it. Kipling underlines for us the difficulty inherent in being an exporter of civilization – they build roads and ports, and nudge primitive peoples ‘slowly toward the light’ as he says, but at the same time it is a very tough and thankless job for the colonizers.

“Even though the job is hard, someone needs to do it. At the time Kipling was writing, Britain was the nation that could do that job. Now it is the Unites States: we have the money, we have the power, and the mandate. It is the right thing to do, and America will do what is right. That is why I believe that America both should and will become an empire, and with that I yield the floor to questions.”

It was question time for me, and I got to answer plenty. In particular, there came finally from the secretary one question that I had prepared for and desperately hoped would be asked: What about us? Were we not one of Britain’s colonial possessions? Does the gentleman think that we should still be a colony?”

“I thought this question would come up,” I answered. “In the case of the Unites States, and Canada and Australia, and the lady mentioned, the British were dealing not with an ordinary colony but with one that they themselves created. Their subjects there were British descendants, and that particular race was one that the British simply could not control – perhaps we were just too evenly matched. We behaved in a matter dramatically different from other kinds of colonies. In India, following the British pullout, more than 200,000 people died in the ensuing intercommunal struggle. Similar situations followed in Cyprus and Palestine and in the African colonies the British removed themselves from. In America, however, we formed a government, and we governed ourselves. We did not sink immediately into violence. There was of course the civil war, a hundred years later, which had nothing to do with an inability to govern ourselves.”

The last remark was a bit of a faux pas, quickly picked up on by the other members, but I was able to make a quick recovery:

“Our civil war was not an intractable struggle, unlike the ongoing wars in other former colonies. It was fairly brief; it had a beginning and an end; some people had a great time; others were killed and didn’t have such a good time; and it brought along with it the added benefit of the abolition of slavery, which I would say is a substantial point.”

Another question came from the right-hand side of the room: “Alright, so this is a hard job and someone has to do it. Why does it have to be us?”

“Tony Blair was asked quite a similar question when he last addressed the joint session of congress in the US,” I said, “and he made quite an eloquent answer. He said, ‘You may indeed ask, “Why me? Why should I be the one to do this job?” and the only answer you can make is that the job is there and it is yours to do.’”

After a few more questions I was thanked, and allowed to return to my seat.

The one issue that the speakers of the evening could not get together upon was what an empire actually consists of. The former chairman spoke the affirmative and claimed that the one essential point in being an empire is having the government recognize itself as such. Considering, though, that the USSR certainly didn’t admit to being an empire (much less an evil one) this definition seemed incomplete.

The current chairman spoke in the negative, and supported a looser definition of empire, claiming that we had been one in the past and could in fact be considered to be one now.

The SSCY spoke in the affirmative. He, however, viewed empire as being hard on the colonized countries, whereas the former chairman, had spoken on the same side but described empire as being hard on the colonizer. The SSCY also suggested in his speech that, contrary to Mr. Gelernter’s suggestion, most empires are not created out of a benevolent desire to help the colonized countries. He also used as a semi-comic example countries like Holland, which are not empires and yet are perfectly happy.

The SSCY’s last pair of points gave me an opportunity to make a few more of my own in the form of a question:

“The SSCY has pointed that empires are not often created for the purpose of helping other countries. While this may be true, I am sure he will concede that projects often end with a different purpose than that which they were started with. The Civil War began as a war over states’ rights and ended as a war to end slavery. The British Empire began as an effort to help Britain and ended up as an effort to help the colonies. The original intention of an enterprise does not detract from what it accomplishes. [“Short speech,” remarked the secretary – a reminder that the body prefers short questions.]

“The gentleman has also mentioned the happy Dutch. They may indeed be happy, but they are also a little pipsqueak country, and will remain one. We on the other hand are in a different position – is there nothing to be said for greatness? [“Long speech,” the secretary corrected herself.] The SSCY has advocated our doing what is in our interest – does he not concede that ultimately it is in our interest to do what is morally right?”

It was rather long for a question, but I was relieved to have made the rest of my points. The SSCY did not feel that striving towards greatness was a sufficient justification for empire (nor was the moral compulsion). In the final instance, he seemed happy to let America become a huge model of happy Holland.

Later in the evening the Brazillian fellow decided to give a speech. He was recognized by the chairman, and, despite his marked accent, eloquently proceeded to demand that America become an empire for the sake of the stability of the world (not to mention the stability of the world’s economy). He handled himself extremely well in questions and we were duly impressed with his command of the language. The traditional motion to thank a gentleman for his maiden speech on the Tory floor was moved, seconded, and passed, and we all rose to shake his hand. (The chairman always initiates this process – though he cannot make a motion himself, he will ask if there is “an appropriate motion on the floor” which cues someone else to propose it).

The evening continued to wear on – another pair of speeches was made and our caucus became the longest debate of the year. When the chairman finally asked the acting sergeant at arms to divide the body, it was quite nearly 11 o’clock and our attendance had dropped off quite a bit.

Saying that he was a little too tired to think of anything remarkably clever, the acting sergeant at arms declared simply, “affirmatives to my right, negatives to my left.” The floor vote was close enough that the outcome depended on the votes of the sergeant at arms and the secretary.

Presently the chairman leaned over and the result was whispered in his ear; he spent a moment in silence and then announced, “By a vote of seven in the negative, four in the affirmative, and one abstention, the resolution is, sadly, affirmed.”

The motion that we adjourn to Yorkside “as is traditional” was made and passed with all speed, but unfortunately it was too late for most of the Tories to go. In point of fact, it seemed as if it would just be the chairman and myself.

We walked over to Yorkside together, not wishing to let this tradition fall into disrepair (though we might have stopped for ice cream at Ashley’s, had they not been closed). We were seated in a back booth, and it was only a few minutes before we saw the Brazillian fellow come in and find his way to our table. We eagerly bade him join us, and spent a very interesting half-an-hour or so in discussion – chiefly about what it meant to be a conservative, and a Tory.

It was around midnight when I finally got back to my dorm. I wanted to start writing this one up right away, but the need for sleep was more pressing, and won – I said a fond goodbye to yet another Tory debate.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Tory Debate No. 9: Marriage and State

On October 20, 2005, I attended my eighth Tory debate. This was the ninth debate of the year – I missed one a week earlier (a joint Tory-Liberal debate) because of Yom Kippur. The reader will also find that an account of the year’s seventh debate is also missing from my series of essays – I simply waited too long to write it up, discovering after about 500 words that I had forgotten the details of nearly every speech except my own.

This debate was to be in the Jonathan Edwards Common Room – a place I had never visited before. As the standard debate time of 7:30 approached, I installed my suit and was forced, thanks to the low temperature, to wear my long black overcoat as well. Cutting a somewhat imposing figure (as one of my suitemates remarked) I left my dorm a quarter-hour before debate time and went off in search of JE Commons.

One of the nice things I have come to rely upon in Yale life is the map available on the wall of any residential college just inside the entryway. Despite the absence of the little red “you are here” dot, they are still tremendously useful as far as locating the Common Room is concerned. After cleverly figuring out where on the map I was, I quickly found the Common Room, only fifteen yards away. I did not, however, go in, as there was a student practicing the piano and I couldn’t see any Tories.

I walked about for a few minutes in the general area, checking the map once again, and was soon reassured by the arrival of the former chairman, who was followed shortly thereafter by the secretary and chairman.

The chairman shared with us an invitation he had received from our daughter debate party, the Edmund Burke Society at the University of Chicago. They had invited us to attend the 200th debate caucus of their noble and “antient” [sic] society. We found the ancient spelling of “ancient” amusing, as well as their declaration of ancientness – they were founded by Tory alumni some years after the Tory Party itself was formed in 1969.

At seven thirty the pianist left and other Tories began to drift in. The chief whip brought his father along with him, a man who would apply his keen mind to our debate at several points during the evening.

Another freshman who had given a maiden speech a few debates back brought a friend along with him. The friend was a Brazilian whom, after being inundated for a few weeks with e-mail from all six parties, had decided that ours would be a good one to check out. Another guest (intermittently present) at the debate that night was the YPU’s floor-leader of the left.

After the customary bit of friendly milling around, the chairman’s gavel signaled the meeting’s coming to order.

I sat down next to the former chairman on the left side of the room. There were about fifteen of us present.

The chairman asked the secretary to read the minutes from last week’s debate – the one that I’d missed. The joint Tory-Lib debate had been on the subject of the unions. As the secretary recounted, we learned that the Libs do not have points of information, nor are they allowed to hiss at speakers. In addition, as it is their tendency to show up early and leave early, whereas Tories do the reverse, the evening ended in the unions being soundly defeated.

The secretary then read the night’s resolution: “Resolved: Separate Marriage and State.”

I found this resolution a little puzzling; I had assumed, beforehand, that this argument would center on the question of gay marriage. With that in mind, I had done a good deal of research on the topic, and was prepared to speak decisively against it, which I thought would put me in the resolution’s affirmative. When I got to the debate, however, I saw for the first time the recently printed whipsheet, which seemed to suggest that the morality of gay marriage was not at issue. This meant that the resolution didn’t say very much – those in the negative would simply argue that some connection between marriage and state was necessary.

I still hadn’t made up my mind on the resolution when the chairman called for first speeches in the affirmative. No one volunteered immediately, so the chairman decided to ask the provost if he was willing to give one.

The provost obliged, and came to the center of the room. He made a brief speech, arguing that the government should have no connection with marriage whatsoever, and that this way we would be free to define marriage however we want to – whether we turn to religion or something else. (The provost said that he himself was not a religious man, drawing hisses from myself and others). I found his suggestion that the definition of marriage is fluid disturbing, and his suggestion that we turn to various “other” sources for marriage amusing. I therefore posed him the question:

“Excluding, as the gentleman has done, both government and religion, how is he planning to get married?”

The provost’s answer was that he didn’t have a “solution” in this case, which was nice of him to admit but did make the point seem rather silly. He did, though, suggest that there was room for different definitions of marriage from different religions.

After being shelled by questions for a few minutes, the provost was thanked. The chairman asked for speeches in the negative. I didn’t see anyone raise his hand immediately, so I offered my services, and was recognized. This would be my first time giving an opening speech.

I had no remarks prepared in advance to use – I had simply been spurred to action by the provost’s remarks. I opened by saying that I had been unsure of which side to support until about four minutes ago, but that the idea that people should be free to manipulate the meaning of marriage was intolerable, and that government was therefore necessary to insure that the meaning of marriage would not be distorted. My speech was very brief, and I saw a look of mild surprise on the former chairman’s face as I declared myself open to questions.

The first question I got was from Mr. Prosol the Elder (as the chairman referred to him during the debate). His lengthy question (a short speech, really) discussed the origin of marriage and its existence independent of government. In the main, he was worried that government intervention could force the term “marriage” to apply to gay and polygamous unions.

I assured the gentleman in my answer that I was equally concerned about the protection of marriage, and that, much as I distrust government in general, a government under the control of the American People was the best way to insure that marriage would not be destroyed by people attempting to apply the term to whatever they want. (I realized that my argument, at this point, was incomplete, as just because someone says he is married, you don’t have to believe him unless the government grants the union legal status. Nevertheless, as I held the floor in the negative and nobody seemed to have thought of this yet, I decided it would be better not to bring it up). I did, however, state emphatically that the definition of marriage is static and is a product of religion, and that the government can only be used to protect the religious definition.

I was then asked by the visiting floor-leader of the left if I would still allow religion to define marriage if, for example, the Anglican Church were to authorize gay marriage (as it seems to be near doing).

“I would say that if the Anglican Church were to do such a thing, they would have gone insane, ceasing to be a religion and becoming instead a whacko cult. Religion is based on tradition, and that is not something one can vote to change. The Anglican Church could (and might) also vote that God doesn’t exist, but that decision like the former one would have no bearing on religion itself.”

Everyone seemed to like my answer, excepting the floor-leader of the left. After a few more questions, I was thanked and resumed my seat next to the former chairman.

The chairman asked for a speech in the affirmative, and a visiting upperclassman was recognized. Having misremembered the resolution, however, his speech was actually in the negative (on the same side as mine had been). The thing about his speech, however, was that I violently disagreed with it. He argued that government intervention was necessary in order to insure that people who wanted to get married could – though he didn’t exactly care what sort of “marriage” it was.

I would continue through the evening to be swayed from side to side by the speeches – each new statement would repel me into the opposite camp. Only occasionally would a speech contain worthwhile points.

A very interesting and typically hilarious speech came from the SSCY, who claimed that he would just as soon get rid of marriage (as the Scandinavian countries have effectively done). Nevertheless, if we are to protect marriage as what it is, it would seem better to leave the government out of it, as their power to protect marriage is not nearly as great as their power to damage it.

The SSCY’s speech did give me a chance to use some of my pre-debate notes, in the form of a question (if one wants to make a little speech during question time, he can simply make a statement and tack “would the gentleman care to comment on this?” to the end of it). I was able to point out first that the essential abolition of marriage in the Scandinavian countries was accomplished thanks to their legalization of gay marriage, which has had a deleterious effect on real marriage. The result of this is that married childbirth there is now a minority phenomenon, and this absence of family life has lead to a major increase of what I called “thuggery” on the streets.

As the evening drew on, a major highlight was the chairman’s speech in the negative, which was notable for his saying that people, if not somehow chained together, would tend to fly apart like so many “pieces of gas.” That particular expression drew much laughter from the body, and, while the acting chairman did rule subsequent mixed metaphors out of order, this continued as a theme for the rest of the evening.

The night’s closer was a second speech from a freshman. Despite it’s being around 10:15, violent hissing on the part of the body failed to dissuade him from giving his speech, in which he examined the “pieces” of burning gas that make up stars and compared this to fiery and unstable love, untempered by marriage. Though we were getting a little away from the resolution, the humor of the closing moments was well worth it.

Following his speech, the chairman quickly went through the formality of asking for first, second, and even third speeches (as one fellow had already given a second speech, it was in theory necessary to invite him to make a third, if he felt so compelled). Fortunately, there were no more volunteers.

The chairman selected an acting sergeant at arms, and the body was divided. I had considered abstaining, but reflected upon the fact that (whether for better of for worse) I had never encountered a topic on which I wasn’t able to make up my mind. I decided therefore to interpret the resolution in its most basic (but relatively meaningless) sense, which was to suggest that marriage cannot properly survive without at least some form of government recognition.

I stood on the negative side of the room, and saw that I was heavily in the majority. With a final vote of 14-4 with one abstention, the resolution decisively failed.

Following that declaration by the chairman, the motion was made that we adjourn to Yorkside “as is traditional.” The motion was seconded and our caucus was declared adjourned. It was our longest debate of the year (up to the current point).

As we began the friendly post-debate milling around session, one of the freshmen there walked over to the piano at the end of the room and began to play Beethoven’s Opus 2. no. 3. In a few minutes I was at the pianoside with another freshman, watching the fellow play. I saw an opportunity to give my own fingers a workout, and asked the piano player if he knew anything with stride bass. He said he did not, and graciously asked me to demonstrate, which I was more than happy to. I thus drew a crowd playing the piano-roll transcription of Gershwin’s “Someone to Watch Over Me.” We chose to ignore the “no playing after 10PM” sign hung over the piano and decided that quietish music might be permitted until around 10:50. The piano was a Steinway and the action was lovely – one of the best I’d ever played (there are more than enough disappointing Steinways on campus – I’ve already found most of them).

As the chairman commanded “to Yorkside” I cut the last chorus short and grabbed my overcoat off the rack. We arrived after a quick but chilly walk.

There were ten of us for the Yorkside snack. We ordered some garlic bread to be shared by the community and I split a mint milkshake with two other freshmen. I sat across from the former chairman at the rightmost of the five two-man tables that had been pushed together to accommodate us. We spent most of the evening in discussion of religion, and I was tremendously impressed that the former chairman was familiar with the English version of many of the passages I quoted in Hebrew. The mutual exchange of the details of each other’s religion was becoming the traditional theme at Yorkside for the both of us. We also discussed the future plans of one the bordering freshman, who planned to earn a living writing but to make his life’s work improving Kings College in New York. Far more important, he looked forward to being a good father and educating his children.

It was nearly midnight when we paid our bill. I walked back to my dorm with two freshmen and the chairman, parting their company at High Street. It was time to start looking forward to next week’s debate.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Public Schooling: Tory Debate No. 6

The Tories held their sixth debate on Wednesday, September 28. As is traditional, I was there for every bit of it.

This week we were to debate “Resolved: The Wall between School and State should be High and Impregnable.” The language, of course, reminds us of Jefferson’s famous (and often misinterpreted) remark in a letter referring to a wall between church and state. The Tory line, like Mr. Jefferson’s, is not by any means free of ambiguity. I decided to interpret the resolution as meaning that government may give money to people to allow them to get an education, but that the government should not run or interfere with educational institutions. Reading the resolution this way, I would be in the affirmative.

I digested several pieces on the subject, including an LA Times piece by my favorite writer, David Gelernter, called “Let’s Get Rid of Public Schools.” I also reached back into the files of my blog to pull up the results of a culture quiz I had conducted at my school a year before. I assembled about a page-long outline of the speech I would give that evening.

The debate was scheduled for 7:45 (which meant that it would start no earlier than 8:00). My weekly Wednesday night shiyur had been postponed by the rabbi, who had business from the previous night that needed to be wrapped up. As a result, I would be able to make it to the Tories as early as I wished.

I put on a brand-new grey suit (that I had bought with the Tories in mind) and a burgundy tie. Looking sharp – looking like a Tory should look – I left for the debate at 7:30. We were located in the Berkley Commons this time, which is long room that runs parallel to Berkley’s dining hall. The Common Room is separated from the dining hall by a ten-foot wall; the ceiling is high above that (around twenty feet in the Common room and perhaps forty feet in the dining hall. Despite the atypical layout, we were quickly able to turn it into a comfortable debate area by gathering in all the chairs and sofas and forming them in a circle at the center of the room. Then all we had to do was carry over a table for the provostery and we were in business.

I had arrived at the same time as a few Tories and the chief whip (who, true to his advertisement on the whipsheet, brought pizza). After we had the room set up we began a pre-debate debate, over what the precise meaning of the resolution actually was. Most of us agreed that we would be talking about school and government in general (as opposed to Yale and the surrounding town) but it was unclear whether a “high and impregnable wall” would preclude the government’s giving money to students to enable them to go to charter and private schools. After some discussion, the majority seemed to interpret the resolution as allowing for such government help, which was fortunate in that that was the view I had taken in preparing my speech.

As we moved towards debate time, our showing was on the anemic side; I expected that it would gradually improve as it had last week.

The president of the YPU showed up for a second time in a row. Also among our group was one freshman I hadn’t seen since the first debate, and two others who were here for their first time. They were appropriately welcomed by the former chairman (who is always careful to make everyone feel at home) and it was not long after their arrival that the debate was called to order.

We began as always with the secretary’s reading of the minutes. My speech from last week had been well captured, even mentioning that I had been asked to rank all the parties in the YPU according to their ability to handle natural disasters. The actual ranking I had produced was not, however, recorded in the minutes, so I proposed an amendment showing that I had put the Tories at the top of the list. The amendment was, of course, seconded and passed.

The minutes also recorded that last week’s resolution had succeeded, despite only a plurality being in favor. This matter was still under investigation, so no correction to the minutes on this point was proposed.

The minutes being approved as amended, the secretary was asked to stand and read the topic of the night’s debate:

“Resolved: The Wall between School and State should be High and Impregnable.”

The first speaker in the affirmative was the chief whip. He had come with a “prop” (just as I had). An appropriate motion being passed to allow him to use it, he took the floor brandishing a thick volume entitled Triumph : The Power and the Glory of the Catholic Church.

“You see here,” he began, “many words which we are no longer allowed to use in society today: ‘Triumph,’ ‘power,’ ‘glory,’ and the ‘Catholic Church.’… ‘And’ and ‘the’ are still considered acceptable.”

The chief whip spoke of Sparta (which he is fond of doing) and described a system of education that was extremely efficient, if also a little on the brutal side. The conception of schools as preparing young man to serve their countries and to make those men tough and to build character is gone from society today. Putting those things into an education is not something that modern governments are capable of doing (particularly in Europe, but in America as well).

I always admire the chief whip’s arguments for their emphasis on strength and accepting the responsibility of taking care of oneself. He argued for complete severance of the state-school relationship, though he agreed (on my question) that the state can provide a voucher-like system to insure that poor students would also have the opportunity of an education.

After the chief whip answered his questions and was thanked, we were ready for the first speech in the negative, which was given by the former chairman. He started with a poke at the chief whip, saying that in preparation for his term as chairman, he had gone to visit “The Edmund Burke Society,” which was founded at the University of Chicago by Tory alums and which debates weekly in a style similar to ours. One peculiarity of their society is the annual “Charge of the Light Brigade Award for Sophistry.” The former chairman stated that if we had such an award at Yale it would just have been won by the chief whip. He then claimed that those in the affirmative on this issue generally promote fallacious arguments and he urged the body not to let them get away with it. Getting to the gist of his speech, the former chairman claimed that the public school is an integral part of our society and that problems with the system should be fixed – it would be better to improve on public schools than to destroy them.

The chairman too answered questions (including one very detailed one concerning the meaning of “general Welfare” in Article I, Section 6 of the Constitution) and was thanked. We were now in line for a second speech in the affirmative. I volunteered and was recognized.

I pulled my page of notes from my breast pocket and unfolded it in view of the chairman, who asked if there was an appropriate motion on the floor.

“For a motion, Mr. Chairman,” said the former chairman, who was recognized. “I move that the gentleman be allowed to use a prop.”

“Second,” said another Tory. The chairman noted the motion as having passed, and I began my speech:

“I am going to avoid the waffling type of argument the former chairman has accused us of making and be as specific as possible – I will be talking about American public schools. I will further avoid the ‘dire predictions’ that the former chairman had accused us of making. Instead, I will talk about what is going on right now.

“I myself am a product of the public school system, so I am in a position to tell you what I saw. And it was very bad.

“I had English teachers who could not speak English, math teachers who could not do math, and history teachers who did not know history.

“My teachers would often demonstrate that they did not know what they were talking about. For example, there was one English class I had my senior year in high school in which I would often harshly criticize the books we read because they were, after all, no good. My teacher finally told me that I should ‘critique without judging.’ That doesn’t mean anything! It would have been exactly the same statement had she told me to ‘judge without criticizing.’

“Aside from this, I ran into any number of infantile assignments. In one instance, also in a senior-year English class, our teacher gave us a final assignment for a novel we had just completed. This senior-year final project was to make a patchwork quilt. Each student would make a couple of patches: one would have a drawing, one would have a quotation. Then we would bring them all in and staple them together and hang it on the wall and this would add to our depth of understanding of the book.

“I have been interested for some time in discovering just how good, or rather how bad, my public school education was. To this end, I decided to give a representative sample of students at my school a sort of ‘culture quiz.’ I would ask these students five questions* that were basic to American or world history. If a majority, or a great majority, of students couldn’t come up with the answers, one can only assume that this is material that isn’t being covered adequately in our schools.

“These are the questions that I asked: One: Who was the first American in space? Two: Who perpetrated the Bataan Death March? Three: Name the first book of the Bible. Four: Who wrote, “With malice towards none, with charity to all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right…” – one of the greatest statements ever made by an American. And five: To whom did Churchill refer when he said, “Never in the field of human conflict, has so much been owed, by so many, to so few.”?

“It took me several months to get this poll out, because I was violently opposed by some at my school. These are the results:

“The question we did best on was ‘name the first book of the Bible.’ A whopping 54% of students knew that it was Genesis. The second strongest showing was the Bataan Death March question – 28% of students, a little more than a quarter, knew that it was the Japanese. This embarrassingly poor showing is hardly surprising in view of the fact that, while our history text spent several pages on America’s relocation of the Japanese at the beginning of World War II, it spends only one sentence – one sentence! – on the Bataan Death March, which was one of the most terrible atrocities of the war.

“Just 4% of students knew that the first American in space was Alan Shepard. Popular answers were Neil Armstrong, the first American on the moon, the trumpet player Louis Armstrong, and the Tour de France cyclist Lance Armstrong.

“Slightly over one in twenty (6%) recognized Abraham Lincoln’s famous line from the Second Inaugural Address; some attributed the quote to Gandhi or Martin Luther King Jr.

“Fewer than one in twenty – only 3% – knew that Churchill was thanking the Churchill was thanking the Royal Air Force for its heroic victory in the Battle of Britain. More than twice as many (8%) thought that Churchill was talking about the Nazis – an extraordinary answer suggesting either an inability to read English or to think straight.

“40% of students could not answer a single question.

“These problems do not appear to be restricted to my high school. A recent survey in The Weekly Standard showed that only 12% of graduating high school seniors are proficient in science. We ranked 19th out of the 21 countries surveyed.

“This doesn’t guarantee that things aren’t bad at private schools, but private schools have a crucial advantage in that it is radically easier to fire bad teachers and cut out bad curricula. Private schools can – and out of necessity must – operate efficiently.

“Public schools, on the other hand, are extremely incompetent – if there were a Platonically ideal model of incompetence it would probably be the public school system. They are as bad as you can get…”

“For a point of information,” offered the secretary, who was recognized. “Is it not in fact the case that the New Haven Police Department is the most incompetent organization in America?”

“This is…” the chairman paused for a moment of reflection, “not in fact the case.”

“Point of information,” said another Tory. “Is it not in fact the case that the IRS is the most incompetent organization in existence?”

“This is in fact the case,” admitted the chairman with another rap of his gavel.

“This merely goes to underline my point,” I continued, “that government is in general extremely incompetent.

“A writer named John Chubb did some investigative reporting on this subject. He compared two school systems that function side by side – the New York City public school system, and the privately run New York Catholic school system (which does not only educate Catholics – their pupils are in fact mostly minority non-Catholic students). On the one hand the Catholic school system is achieving considerable success, while on the other hand the public school system is failing. Mr. Chubb decided to ask of both these organizations just one question. He went to the New York City district Central Office and asked them, ‘How many people are working here?’ It took them a week to come up with the answer, and the answer was, ‘we don’t know.’ All they could do was give an estimate; they estimated between seven and eight thousand people. Mr. Chubb then asked the same question of the Catholic school system’s central office, and they had the answer right away – the total was twelve.

“Now, I do believe that we have an obligation to help everyone get the education he deserves. This does not mean that we need public schools. A very fine article on the topic pointed out that while we need an air force of planes built with public money, they are built by private companies. The case is exactly parallel to that of the schools, the one difference being that students are not armed with air-to-air missiles.

“So, what can we do to fix this problem? We can take the money we spend on the public school system and give it to students so they can afford private or charter schools. If we give students a choice of schools, these schools will suddenly have to compete for business. They will have to provide good teachers and good curricula or the students will leave and they will collapse.

“And we will be better off. And with that I yield the floor.”

There were plenty of questions for me, but I handled myself well. Upon being thanked for my speech and returning to my seat, one of the freshmen (the same one who had been acting sergeant at arms two weeks ago) proposed a motion to thank me again for my speech in light of the original research I had shared with the body. The motion was passed and I was thanked a second time.

I was extremely happy with my speech, which had largely fallen together as I was speaking it, helped along from point to point by my notes. It had come off just right, with laughs and applause in all the right places and plenty of energy throughout.

It is only as a write this now that I realize that at no time during the debate was I the least bit nervous. Now, you may ask, why should I nervous? When I came to my first debate it was a daunting task to succinctly state and defend my opinions in front of a roomful of thinking men. I have heard such sentiments expressed by other Tories as well. Nevertheless I had thoroughly enjoyed my speech, from the “Thank you, Mr. Chairman,” that precedes all statements on the Tory floor, to the last question I answered.

There were several speeches to follow; there was one in the negative by the secretary, and then one in the affirmative by a Tory of long standing. We were subsequently ready for a speech in the negative, and one of the new freshmen volunteered. His speech, and the subsequent speech in the affirmative, also given by a new freshman, made a very interesting pair.

The freshman arguing in the negative declared that he had attended private school, and it was far from good (he said that a cafeteria custodian had been promoted to the level of history teacher when funds ran dry – a story which I do not doubt for a minute). He claimed that if there were only private schools, they will feel free to raise prices as high as they want – so long as wealthy people can afford to pay it. They would obviously prefer $15,000 per student than a $5000 government voucher. The problem of the inevitable inequality in a no-public-school system troubled him. Following his question time, the appropriate motion was made to thank the gentleman for his fine maiden speech on the Tory Floor. It was passed and we all went over to shake his hand.

The freshman arguing in the affirmative also made a very good speech (perhaps even better than the last). He made the important point that inequality will always exist, but that it is actually a good thing – it is necessary in a competitive society. If he has two products to choose from, one of them will obviously be better than the other. A similar choice should be available as far as schools are concerned. He also managed to point out that taxation bears remarkable similarity to theft, and while charity is part of his Christian duty, if one makes it mandatory it is no longer charity. As he finished answering his questions, the appropriate motion was made to thank the gentleman for his maiden speech and we rose once again to shake hands.

Following his speech, the president of the YPU gave a speech in the negative. The most memorable moment was when she explained that, in third grade in a private school, she had been forced to learn some concept of math by folding pieces of printer paper. She therefore stated that Mr. Gelernter was not alone in having to do construction paper projects – these things happen in private schools too. I then offered the point of information, “Is it not in fact the case that the lady is comparing something she did in third grade to something I was forced to do in 12th grade?”

This was in fact the case – an amusing restatement of the laughable incompetence of the public school system.

Following the president of the YPU’s speech, the chairman gave what turned out to be the final speech of the evening. He spoke in the affirmative. He was shocked, he said, that we had barely discussed the vital issue of the need to teach patriotism in the schools, and that this was something that public schools were failing to do. He was therefore proud to support a new system that is privately operated and that, by force of demand, will not only teach students to read and write, but also to instill them with love of country.

After his question session was wrapped up, we were ready to put the matter to a vote. The chairman selected an acting sergeant at arms to divide the body. I walked over to the affirmative side and saw that things were looking good. There were six Tories, including myself, on the affirmative side of the room, and only four on the negative side. Nevertheless, the sergeant at arms and the secretary had yet to vote. The sergeant arms counted, and then whispered something to the secretary, who, in turn, whispered something to the chairman.

At length the chairman announced, “By a vote of seven to six, the resolution is affirmed.” This meant both the sergeant at arms and the secretary had voted in the negative, but that the chairman had stepped in to break the tie – and voted on my side. I had won my second debate of the year, and was now 2-4 overall. The decision was roundly applauded by the affirmatives, and I seconded the traditional motion to adjourn to Yorkside in exceptionally good spirits.

Eight of us moved off to Yorkside for our traditional wrap-up, where we discussed things such as the fictitiousness of the Spanish language. After a pleasant 45 minutes or so I adjourned yet again, this time to my bed.

* It should be noted that my poll actually contained six questions; the sixth question returned results just as bad as the other five, however I neglected to mention it in my speech.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Disaster Relief: Tory Debate No. 5

Wednesday, September 21 marked the fifth Tory debate of the year. It was scheduled to start at 7:30, but I was depending on the habitual half-hour delay (I myself would not show up until around eight o’clock).

I was learning with the Orthodox Rabbi over at the Slifka Center from seven to eight that night. He had very nicely arranged a weekly private shiur for me, and we began Isaiah that evening.

I had installed my jacket and tie beforehand, so as eight o’clock rolled around I was able to make a quick dash direct to the debate. We were in the Branford Trumbull room for a third time in succession.

It was getting dark as I approached the Trumbull room (coming from the Saybrook side) and through the windows I could see the former chairman already on the floor. I hoped I hadn’t missing much.

I opened the door and plunked myself down in the first seat that presented itself. We were still in the “opening announcements” phase that precedes the reading of the minutes; I had just made it. I looked around the room and noticed a rather week showing – a number of regular Tories weren’t there. This suggested that the switch from Thursday to Wednesday created problems for several of our members. Over the course of the evening our strength gradually increased, as Tories wound up their evening commitments and headed to the debate.

The reading of the minutes proceeded uneventfully and they were approved as read. The secretary then stood to read the topic of the night’s debate: “Resolved: Disaster Relief is a Federal Obligation.” This had been a tricky topic for me to decide on – it was not until two days earlier that I decided I would come down in the negative. This would be my first time opposing a resolution.

The first speaker in the affirmative that evening was the provost. I had done some research in advance, mostly concerning the incompetent local and state-level response to Hurricane Katrina, and as I listened to the opening speech I began to glue together ideas for my own speech in my head. The provost argued that local and state government were incapable of handing great natural disasters, and further pointed out that insurance can cover damages but will not take care of evacuating people from rooftops. He tried to demonstrate the need for federal help in case of disasters, but was challenged by the former chairman for not successfully linking one man’s need to another man’s obligation.

As the provost finished answering his questions and was thanked, I was ready to give my speech in the negative, and raised my hand. It was the chief whip whom the chairman recognized, however, and he took the floor to give the opening speech in the negative. Opening speeches, especially the affirmative one, present a great opportunity to the speaker in that he has a chance to define terms that will be used for the rest of the debate. The term “relief” in this resolution, for example, could mean a whole range of things from giving money to providing emergency rescue services. The opening speech, in this case, took relief to include both things mentioned above and therein set the tone for the evening.

The chief whip’s speech in the negative took quite a different tack from the one I was rehearsing in my head. He suggested that when you live in an area that is known to be prone to natural disasters you must accept the consequences. The government cannot tell you that you can’t build your house on a geyser, and in turn you can’t demand that they give you money after it destroys your house. He reminded us of the value of being strong and responsible for one’s own situation (as much as is possible) as opposed to relying on support from any outside source.

I waited for a turn to speak through one more cycle, and ended up giving the third speech in the negative. The chairman recognized me at long last and I rose to give my fifth consecutive speech on the Tory floor:

“The provost pointed out in his opening speech that, while insurance will cover damage to property, the insurance companies will probably not help fly stranded people off of rooftops. This does not mean, though, that this is the responsibility of the federal government. I do believe that there is an obligation to help people in trouble – we can’t leave them to die, obviously – but it is a responsibility that lies with local and state governments.

“There are some states that have been able to handle natural disasters quite capably by themselves. Florida, for example, has had more than her share of hurricanes. Under sturdy leadership, she has dealt with them efficiently and internally.

“In the case of Katrina and New Orleans, which I’m sure is on everyone’s mind, we have an incompetent governor and an incompetent, corrupt, and perhaps illiterate mayor. They combined to fail their state in this disaster – the mayor was so panic-stricken that he did not even call into action the city’s emergency plan. I’m sure many of you have seen the photograph of the 400 or so busses sitting ruined half underwater because the mayor did not release them for evacuation duty. When the mayor finally did sign an emergency evacuation order it was immediately countermanded by the governor, who also refused to call in the National Guard.

“This merely demonstrates that the people must take their responsibility to vote seriously. If they wish to be protected in time of disaster, they should elect competent officials as opposed to Democrats. And with that I yield the floor.”

“Does the gentleman feel that in a case such as hurricane Katrina, where the local and state response is inadequate, that the federal government should turn its back on the people of the affected area?” I was asked.

“No, I’m not suggesting that,” I answered. “In cases such as that the state may ask the federal government to help and the federal government should help, but it does not have an obligation to do so as it is a case of the local and state governments having failed to do something they had the money to do. The federal government should not have an obligation to penalize my wallet thanks to short-sighted planning and allocation of funds in another state.”

The SSCY posed me the next question: “What does the gentleman say to ‘loyal Republicans’ who vote for responsible leaders but happen to live in heavily Democratic areas?”

“They must accept responsibility for choosing to live in a liberal-infested environment and the danger inherent in that choice,” I answered.

Finally, for a well-timed spot of comedy, the chief whip asked me if I could rank all of the parties in the YPU according to their ability to respond to a natural disaster.

“I would be happy to do so,” I said. “Coming in number one is certainly the Tory Party [the room erupted into applause and it was some moments before I could continue] because in 1970 they responded to a disaster and rescued the US flag from desecration. The five other parties are at the bottom.” Applause continued throughout my statement, forcing me to repeat it a couple of times.

I was then pressed by the chairman to give a complete ranking, and so I continued, “First, as I said, is the Tory Party. The p.o.r. comes in second, for their being conservative (which is a good indicator of readiness to handle disaster). Third are the Conservatives, who are not quite conservative enough. Fourth is the Independent Party, as they are liberal; fifth would be the Progressives, who are barely organized enough to have a weekly debate. At the bottom is the Liberal Party, for being very liberal.”

“For a point of information,” said the chief whip, who was recognized. “Is it not in fact the case that the chairman of the Liberal Party is standing right next to me?”

“This is in fact the case,” said the chairman.

“I was quite aware of that, but I thought they might as well know the truth,” I said.

In the same vein, I was asked why I ranked the Conservatives, with their small number of members, above the Independent Party, which has 60 members, in their ability to handle a natural disaster. Don’t the numbers count for anything?

“In the first place,” I answered, “I think one can argue that any collection of 60 liberally-inclined minds is a natural disaster. Aside from that, the Conservative ability to take care of disaster makes one Conservative in a dangerous situation worth any number of members of the IP.”

That was my last question (we had gotten somewhat away from the original point). I was thanked for my speech and I returned to my seat.

The debate continued through two more cycles. The SSCY gave a speech in the negative, arguing rather amusingly that the only money the federal government owes Louisiana is the precise amount to compensate for 7,000 members of their National Guard being in Iraq. He had waded through the National Guard website (having to watch a very cheesy flash movie intro that he could not skip) to find the monetary information, and had calculated that the bill comes to around $180 million (with a chuckle he gave a figure calculated to the dollar).

Finally I could see the debate was rapping up. I had been on the losing side the last two times; equally I had believed during the debate that the reverse was true. This time though, judging from the number of speakers for each side and knowing the allegiances of many other members in the room, I had calculated with some certainty that I would be in the majority. By a final curse of fate though, four or five members of the Liberal Party walked in to our debate just as the last speaker was finishing and they were subsequently allowed to vote without having attended the debate! I was incredulous of course, but it is apparently part of our open-floor policy. I don’t mind an open floor of course, but I think that people who vote should be required to spend some time on it.

In any event, it was time for the sergeant at arms to divide the body. Our official sergeant at arms had not been able to come to any of our debates (for reasons unknown) so each week the chairman selects an acting sergeant at arms to serve in his stead. This time his eye fell on me.

“Mr. Gelernter, why don’t you divide the body?” He asked.

I was delighted to accept, and walked over to pick up the Tory Temporary Sword.

“What can I do with this great and mighty weapon?” I asked.

“Open a letter,” ventured the chief whip.

“True, but I can also divide the body. Those who can take care of themselves on my right and those who need the government to hold their hands on my left. Once again, negatives on my right, affirmatives on my left.”

To my horror, I saw the affirmative side of the floor being artificially inflated by the liberal latecomers.

I made a careful count of both sides. I was then to add my own vote to the tally and report the result to the secretary, who would add himself to the vote as well, and report to the chairman (the chairman will only vote if he will change the outcome).

I saw nine in the affirmative, six in the negative, and one abstention. With my own vote, we were up to seven, and the secretary added her vote in the negative to make eight. Still this was not enough.

The final act of the evening, in retrospect, has become the subject of some controversy. The motion was declared as passed by the chairman, and has been so recorded in the minutes. After the debate however, I was recounting this outcome to another freshman who had just shown up and he stated that he believed our constitution required a majority to pass a resolution. As the vote of the evening had had only a plurality of 50% in the affirmative, the resolution should have failed, even though there was one less vote in the negative than in the affirmative. As I write this, the issue is still being investigated – I hope that the decision to record the resolution as passing may be overturned in our next debate.

After the traditional motion of adjournment was passed, the former chairman took me over and introduced me to the chairman of the Liberals, and to the other Libs who had just shown up. The former chairman declared that we traditionally enjoy a friendly sort of relationship with the Libs. I of course, was perfectly happy to cooperate, provided I would be allowed to make fun of them occasionally (I have no doubt that the Tories are occasionally “discussed” on the floor the Liberal Party). We had an amicable but brief conversation with the Libs and I promised to attend one of their debates (at some point).

It was quite late (almost 11 o’clock) when we cleared the Trumbull room out and locked it up, but I did not plan to set a precedent in missing a post-debate adjournment to Yorkside. I closed off my evening with a relaxing conversation with the five Tories who remained.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

On the Judiciary: Tory Debate No. 4

Thursday, September 15 marked the fourth Tory debate of the year. The resolution this time was the highly philosophical, “Resolved: Judges should apply unjust laws.” I decided after some thought to support the affirmative.

The chairman had asked me the week before if I wished to give one of the opening speeches. The topic, however, was difficult (perhaps impossible) to research, and I could not develop much of a speech beforehand. I decided that I would need a few points from the first speaker in the negative to respond to, and decided to give the second speech in the affirmative.

The debate was scheduled for 7:30 and was to be held in the Branford Trumbull Room as it had been the last time. I put on my grey suit and a blue tie and walked over to the debate at 7:00.

When I showed up, the room was still locked. It suddenly struck me that this was the first debate without the half-hour meet-and-greet period beforehand. In other words, I was a half-hour early. (As it would turn out, there is always about a half-hour pre-debate warm-up and chatting period no matter whether time is allotted for it or not. As a result, the debate this night started at 8).

I decided to walk around in the Branford courtyard for a bit, keeping an eye out for a Tory and admiring the view. I stuck close the archway whose right-hand wall contained the Trumbull Room doorway. As I was milling about, an oriental girl walked by me slowly and then turned around and came back.

“Excuse me,” she said, “but are you rich?”

This was just about the funniest question I’d ever been asked, but I tried to respond as honestly as possible:

“No miss, I’m not rich; I’m a Tory.” I then proceeded to explain who the Tories were and what one of them was doing wandering around the courtyard in his best (and only) suit. It transpired that she was looking for the spot where the auditioning carilloneurs were supposed to be. (The Trumbull Room is attached to the base of Harkness Tower, which contains Yale’s famous and gigantic carillon).

The young lady went off in search of her audition and I stood by. An irritating and incessant siren suddenly started blaring and in a couple of minutes the oriental girl walked by me again, and said that the Branford fire alarm had gone off but there was no sign of fire. Despite the constant noise and the slow flashing of strobe lights visible in windows everywhere, no one seemed the least bit alarmed. Indeed, it was not terribly exciting – just annoying. I soon decided, however, that it would be wise to remove oneself from a building that may be on fire, and I strolled through across the Branford quad, through the archway on the far side and then through the Saybrook quad (the two colleges are attached). I finally reached the gate and exited onto Elm Street.

I made a big loop around, deciding to approach Branford again just as I had the first time to see if anything interesting was going on. By the time I got back to the other side, there was a pair of fire engines on the street. A few security guards had pedaled up on their bicycles as well. Three firemen in full gear entered the gate that I myself had gone through a quarter of an hour ago. The funny thing was that students also continued to use this gate, going in and out freely. It seemed fairly obvious (even to the firemen) that nothing was burning.

Still I thought I would walk about outside, on the pathway that separated Branford and JE, and wait till the alarm had been switched off. I made of a couple of calls to Tories whom I knew to be in Branford, but nobody answered.

The fireman having poked around and found nothing to extinguish, the alarm was finally turned off. It was now around 7:25, and I decided to take a look at the Trumbull room again. This time it was occupied by a few Tories, who were busy setting up our paraphernalia. The secretary and I tried to find a nice spot for the Tory banner (which is a large blue flag with white letters proclaiming: “The Tory Party”). The banner is present at every debate, but for some reason I had never found it worth describing before. We failed to find a spot that could improve on the one it held last time, so we set it up across some of the windows on the far side of the room.

I took another moment to look at my surroundings and discovered that I had misremembered the appearance of the room in describing it for my last piece. It did indeed have oak paneling around the fireplace, but the rest of the room was grey-white stonework crossed by vertical and horizontal beams. A very English-looking atmosphere.

People started wandering in in clumps. A large number of strangers showed up – the chairman of the YPU, a p.o.r. member, an Independent or two, and many first-time visitors. Also present was the Mr. Gonzales of the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, a conservative think-tank that takes 60 college students each year into an honors program at either Princeton or Cambridge. The ISI was also apparently in a position to offer us a little financial support, so we were ready to give our all in the debate.

By starting time there were 25 or so people in the room. Most of them would wander off in the first hour though, so that we were left with a fairly standard number for the vote at the end.

The chairman, dressed very snazzily in a three-piece suit with golden a watch-chain peeking out of the vest, called the meeting to order. He asked the secretary to read the minutes from the previous debate, which she did, once again recounting in brief each speech from last time.

When she finished, the chairman asked for any amendments, corrections, or additions, and recognized the former chairman.

The former chairman said that he thought the minutes were unfair to the SSCY, in that they claimed he advocated an approach to the China problem that was free of moral constraints. (I, however, thought the minutes were perfectly accurate). He requested that the minutes be amended to soften the language.

“Second,” said the SSCY.

“Objection,” said I.

“Seeing that the amendment has been both seconded and opposed, I will call for a voice vote,” said the chairman. He asked for the ayes and the nays, and the amendment was passed over my objection by a small but audible margin.

There being no more amendments, corrections or additions to the minutes, the minutes from the previous meeting were approved as amended and the secretary stood again to read the topic of tonight’s debate:

“Resolved: Judges should Apply Unjust Laws.”

The first speaker in the affirmative was the chief whip, who, in siding with me once again, continued his record as the only Tory who has agreed with me on every single debate topic. He argued succinctly that we should not give up our right to decide what is just to judges, and that the judicial branch was not meant to be a second legislature. These were roughly the points that I was planning to make, so I looked forward to the first speaker in the negative’s giving me something else to chew on.

The first speaker in the negative was the former chairman. He had been unsure of which side to support when the topic was announced a few days ago. Having been asked to give the opening speech in the negative, however, he was prepared to defend it. He made a surprising and (from my perspective) a completely wrong speech. He declared that the Supreme Court is better suited that the common folk of America to decide what justice is. They are the highly educated top – the former chairman actually applied the term “aristocracy” to them and declared that that is the sort of thing we need.

This of course gave me a good opportunity, and I took it. After the former chairman had answered his questions, I volunteered for the second speech in the affirmative and was recognized. My speech was very brief this time. I had only roughly outlined it, and so continued to work it out as I spoke, making sure I worked the essential points in. I had originally planned to present my speech below including, in brackets, points that I would have made in retrospect. This is not really fair, though, so my speech will appear exactly as given:

“I do not know what group the former chairman would consider himself a part of, but I am part of what he describes as the ‘masses’ or those poor, dumb, uneducated, ‘common people’ and I would be loathe to give up my right to decide what is just and what is unjust to some group of high and mighty justices who have proven their unreliability in the past. The United States classically frowns on aristocracy. It is in our Constitution, which lets us know who was forming this country. Does it begin ‘We the aristocrats…’? No, it begins ‘We the people.’ The United States has demonstrated an inherent sense of justice that transcends the knowledge of the tiny collection of men on the Supreme Court.

“It has been pointed out that the courts are the most disconnected from public opinion of the three branches, and it has even been suggested that this is a good thing. I see it as extremely dangerous. Once a Supreme Court justice is seated, we cannot reach him. Indeed we have seen that, for example, a judge like Justice Kennedy can be appointed ostensibly as a Conservative, and then, over the course of his career, become gradually insane.

What would happen if every judge were free to decide for himself what justice was? Where would the rule of law end up?

It is not a judge’s job to create law; it is his job to apply existing law. A remarkably perceptive line from a classic Spencer Tracy movie was the statement that, ‘the law is the law – good or bad. If it’s bad, the thing to do is to change it, not to bust it wide open.’ That is exactly what judges will be doing. And that is the point of my short speech, and I yield the floor for questions.”

There were no very difficult questions posed to me – my favorite one came from the chief whip. Since the chief whip and I are normally in agreement, a question he asks me is generally designed to give me an opportunity of further discussing what he considers to be an important point. This time his question was of a decidedly less debate-related nature:

“Since the gentleman has conceded that the Supreme Court is least dangerous when it is doing nothing at all, does he feel that the Supreme Court’s time would be best spent playing tic-tac-toe, or tiddlywinks?”

I was fortunately prepared for this one, and gave my immediate reply: “I would generally favor tic-tac-toe.” At which point a point of information was volunteered to the effect of: “is it not in fact the case that tic-tac-toe has a very limited number of outcomes and is therefore further than tiddlywinks from allowing outside democratic control?” I countered by saying that I preferred the type of tic-tac-toe played with a larger number of squares, and so this was not in fact the case.

There was a motion made that this exchange be carefully minuted by the secretary.

The next negative speech was given by the Englisher, who seemed to take a pro-aristocracy (and even a pro-monarchy) view. At this point, a distraction began to emerge in the form of an exceptionally noisy party going on in the small courtyard outside the Trumbull Room. The chief whip went to try and quiet them down, while I helpfully volunteered the point of information: “Is it not in fact the case that blasting such rotten, garbage-type noise right outside of at Tory debate is in exceptionally bad taste?” This was, of course, the case.

The chairman himself took the next speech in the affirmative, handing the gavel over to the SSCY for temporary control. The chairman’s speech was very perceptive and strikingly eloquent.

It was approaching 10 PM when the debate rapped up – the Independent Party visitor had actually made two speeches. He was a good political speaker, in the sense that he spoke in coherent sentences that created the illusion of a coherent whole. He was, of course, both in the negative and wrong.

When there were no more volunteers for speeches in the affirmative or in the negative (or second or third speeches in the affirmative or the negative) the chairman asked the acting sergeant at arms to divide the body.

The sergeant at arms picked up our miniature Excalibur, said simply “affirmatives to my right, negatives to my left.” I had had a confident feeling throughout the debate, but I could see I was on the loosing side again. The one recompense was that for the first time the SSCY was voting on my side. Even so, it wasn’t enough – five in the affirmative, nine in the negative, one abstaining. The resolution failed.

A motion to adjourn “as is traditional” was made, and our trip to Yorkside followed, where the conversation focused for the long stretch on religion. The former chairman, seated across from me, was very well versed in the Christian Cannon, and we discussed with the surrounding Tories the interesting basic differences in Judaism and Christianity. The similarities between the two religions were still more interesting – they demonstrated why Judaism and Christianity are capable of harmoniously co-existing. The mood of the discussion was saved from becoming overly serious by the arrival of a Tory’s milkshake that was one-half mint flavor and one-half cookies and cream. At length we were rewarded with the check and I put it my two bits and headed back to my dorm.

I had failed to win a second debate in a row, but I was reminded by a veteran Tory earlier in the evening that success comes in many flavors – if I had succeeded in converting one man to my side it was a victory. So I ended the evening satisfied, perhaps with a small victory on my hands.