LA Times: Does this debase debate?

Los Angeles Times:

IMAGINE a presidential debate in which John McCain answers Hillary Clinton’s arguments by stripping down to his underwear or breaking into a rap song.

Strange as it might sound, such tactics are gaining cachet — and victories — in a top breeding ground for future politicians: America’s college debate circuit.

In recent years, renegade rhetoricians from Cal State Fullerton and other underdog schools have clobbered debate kingpins from Harvard and UC Berkeley with a hodgepodge of unorthodox methods known as “performance debating.”

Instead of relying on scholarly research to foil opponents, the teams employ guerrilla tactics such as reading from Dr. Seuss, impersonating pirates or ballroom dancing with a chair.

“People call us the terrorists of debate,” says Fullerton student Brenda Montes.

The goal of performance debate is threefold: Knock rivals off stride, impress judges with creative forms of argument and open the heavily white-male field to new voices.

. . .

When performance teams face each other, things can get pretty weird. Long Beach State once faced two women from Concordia College in Minnesota who stripped down to G-strings and talked about reclaiming their bodies from objectification by men.

The all-male California team couldn’t get past the distraction. “Their brains left them,” said Neesen, their coach.

Another contest pitted a Fort Hays student dancing with a chair against a Northwestern team reading the script of “Dr. Strangelove.” The topic was federal control of Native American land.

“It was a wild debate,” Shanahan said. “Strangelove” prevailed.

WashPost: Seeking Iran Intelligence, U.S. Tries Google

The Washington Post:

When the State Department recently asked the CIA for names of Iranians who could be sanctioned for their involvement in a clandestine nuclear weapons program, the agency refused, citing a large workload and a desire to protect its sources and tradecraft.

Frustrated, the State Department assigned a junior Foreign Service officer to find the names another way — by using Google. Those with the most hits under search terms such as “Iran and nuclear,” three officials said, became targets for international rebuke Friday when a sanctions resolution circulated at the United Nations.

. . .

That may be why the junior State Department officer, who has been with the nonproliferation bureau for only a few months, was put in front of a computer.

An initial Internet search yielded over 100 names, including dozens of Iranian diplomats who have publicly defended their country’s efforts as intended to produce energy, not bombs, the sources said. The list also included names of Iranians who have spoken with U.N. inspectors or have traveled to Vienna to attend International Atomic Energy Agency meetings about Iran.

It was submitted to the CIA for approval but the agency refused to look up such a large number of people, according to three government sources. Too time-consuming, the intelligence community said, for the CIA’s Iran desk staff of 140 people. The list would need to be pared down. So the State Department cut the list in half and resubmitted the names.

Reuters: Only six fluent in Arabic at US Iraq embassy-panel

One would think that one of our most valuable embassies in the Arabic-speaking world would have more than 0.6 percent of its staff fluent in the language of the host country, wouldn’t you think?

Nah, that’d make too much sense.


WASHINGTON, Dec 6 (Reuters) – Among the 1,000 people who work in the U.S. Embassy in Iraq, only 33 are Arabic speakers and only six speak the language fluently, according to the Iraq Study Group report released on Wednesday.

“All of our efforts in Iraq, military and civilian, are handicapped by Americans’ lack of knowledge of language and cultural understanding,” the bipartisan panel said in its report. “In a conflict that demands effective and efficient communication with Iraqis, we are often at a disadvantage.”

The report, written by five Republicans and five Democrats, recommended the U.S. government give “the highest possible priority to professional language proficiency and cultural training” for officials headed to Iraq.

Wired News: New Rubber Lets Sweat Out

Wired News:

by Cyrus Farivar

Hazmat suits to protect against biological and chemical attacks are often made of thick, synthetic rubber that’s impervious to the nastiest toxins. But they’re also impervious to sweat, and people wearing them can typically only work for short periods before succumbing to exhaustion, heat stroke and, occasionally, death.

Now, a joint team of scientists from the University of Colorado and private firm TDA Research have developed a breathable rubber suit made from butyl rubber impregnated with liquid-crystal molecules.

Cross-linked with the rubber, the liquid-crystal molecules arrange themselves into tiny tubes big enough to allow the passage of water molecules but too small for toxic chemicals.

“(The liquid-crystal molecules) organize around water to make little nanoscale water conduits,” said the suit’s co-inventor, Douglas Gin, a professor of chemistry at the University of Colorado. “These little tunnels never dry out and they let water vapor, or anything that’s water-soluble, go in and out.”

Rolling Stone: “The Man Behind The Mustache”

Rolling Stone:

At the time, the proto-Ali G was a slightly more upper-class character who delivered wack monologues and went by various monikers, among them MC Jocelyn Cheadle-Hume (named after an area of Chesire). But one day, everything changed: Baron Cohen, while filming an MC Jocelyn Cheadle-Hume segment, saw a group of white skateboarders who were also dressed like wanna-be gangstas. Baron Cohen and Toppin decided it might be fun to interact with them.

“Afterward,” he recalls, “me and Mike looked at each other and suddenly had this realization that people believe this character. And at that point, a tourist bus turned up at a bus stop right next to us. I looked at Mike and he looked at me, and I said, ‘All right, follow me.’ So we jumped on and essentially commandeered the bus. I took the microphone and I was like, ‘Yo, check it out. I is here, and this is me bus. Booyakasha.’ ”

High from their high jinks, Baron Cohen and crew marauded on to a pub, where he started break-dancing until the police were called and they were thrown out. “Then we saw this building, which was a home of a multinational company. I went into the lobby and said, ‘I’m here to see my dad; he works on the sixth floor.’ So we went up and essentially we were thrown out by security after about twenty minutes. We were walking over the Waterloo Bridge, back to the London Weekend Television studio, and the adrenaline was pumping and we were just so excited, because here was this new form of comedy that we discovered. Probably it existed, and other people had done it, but we’d never discovered it before — this idea of taking a comic character into a real situation.”

No, Foreign Policy, thank you!

I wrote a piece for Foreign Policy for the November/December 2006 issue, but just today got a letter from Editor-in-Chief Moisés Naím, thanking me for my work. I’m not sure if this is standard for all FP contributors, or just new freelancers, or if my tiny back-of-the-book piece was so great that it warranted a thank you note, but either way, I was mightily impressed by his letter:

Dear Mr. Farivar,

Thank you for contributing an excellent article to the Net Effect department of FOREIGN POLICY. “Scene Machine,” in the November/December 2006 issue, provides readers with an original and interesting report of how new technologies are changing the way police departments communicate with experts who can help them save lives.

We appreciate your agreeing to write the piece for us, accommodating our deadlines, tailoring the piece to fit our needs, and the effort that went into reporting the piece. In the future, we hope you will continue to think of FOREIGN POLICY as a venue for your writing.

Thanks again.

Moisés Naím

NYT: Cheating on an Ethics Test? It’s ‘Topic A’ at Columbia

The New York Times:

Cheating is not unheard of on university campuses. But cheating on an open-book, take-home exam in a pass-fail course seems odd, and all the more so in a course about ethics.

Yet Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism is looking into whether students may have cheated on the final exam in just such a course, “Critical Issues in Journalism.” According to the school’s Web site, the course “explores the social role of journalism and the journalist from legal, historical, ethical, and economic perspectives,” with a focus on ethics.

Nicholas Lemann, dean of the journalism school, said that students had to sign on to a Columbia Web site to gain access to the exam, and that once they did, had 90 minutes to write a couple of essays. But he was unwilling to detail how the cheating might have occurred.

Mr. Lemann said that no student had been formally accused of any violation, but that the issue had become “Topic A” at the school.

The situation was reported yesterday by

The course was taught by Samuel G. Freedman, a professor of journalism at the school who also contributes columns on education and religion to The New York Times. Mr. Freedman confirmed yesterday evening that “there are allegations of cheating.”

The Great Teacher of Journalists, by Kim Jong Il

This book was originally published in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in 1983. From the preface:

“New innovations and wonders which are being made every day in the press, the growing up of real men or genuine writers, and emotional legends of love for people are unthinkable from the wise guidance and utmost care of the dear Comrade Kim Jong Il, a great leader and a benevolent teacher.

“He is always among journalists and teaches them every detailed problem arising in their activities, and kindly leads them to write and compile excellent articles that arouse the sentiments of the masses in keeping with the Party’s intentions. He also brings up journalists to be the Party’s reliable writers under his wings and takes meticulous care of every facet of their life and activity…

“This book introduces some of the legendary stories about the dear leader, a great guide and teacher.”

Kim Jong Il (1942- ) is leader of North Korea (1994- ). Kim Jong Il succeeded his father, Kim Il Sung, who had ruled North Korea since 1948.

I think I know exactly what I want for Christmas.

BBC: Spy camera warning for Iran women


Iranian women have been warned to be on the look-out for cameras hidden in places where they undress, such as fitting rooms, gyms and swimming pools.

The chief of Iran’s police, Esmail Ahmadi Miqadam, said some shop owners were fitting spy cameras themselves.

Iranian authorities want to stop a wave of secretly-filmed pornographic DVDs hitting markets and internet sites.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been championing a drive to banish unwanted Western cultural influences from Iran.

Last year, Western and “indecent” music was banned from state-run TV and radio stations.

Correspondents say the release of pornographic DVDs of privately-filmed events is a growing trend in Iran.

Finally, a Kazakh who gets Borat

The Associated Press:

ALMATY, Kazakhstan (AP) — A leading Kazakh writer has nominated actor Sacha Baron Cohen for a national award for popularizing Kazakhstan. Novelist Sapabek Asip-uly called on the Kazakh Club of Art Patrons to give Baron Cohen its annual award, according to a letter published by the Vremya newspaper Thursday.

Baron Cohen’s fictional character Borat ”has managed to spark an immense interest of the whole world in Kazakhstan, something our authorities could not do during the years of independence,” said Asip-uly.

Government officials in the former Soviet republic have been enraged by Borat’s unflattering portrayal of Kazakh life in the spoof documentary, ”Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan.”

”If state officials completely lack a sense of humor, their country becomes a laughing stock,” Asip-uly said.