New Site: Texas Students for Life

Texas Students for Life (TS4L) is an exciting new student organization at UT. It’s a prolife group and I have the pleasure of being the official webmaster. Here’s the site I designed for them from the ground up:

Texas Students for Life - TS4L

Today is our launch day so go check it out!

If you are excited about create a campus culture of life at UT Austin, please drop by and lend a hand. Share a post with the nice social media integration or stay updated yourself. This is TS4L’s official mission statement:

Texas Students for Life seeks to educate our UT family on life issues such as abortion, euthanasia, stem cell research (adult and embryonic), and human cloning in a peaceful way. We also strive to support men and women who are experiencing an unplanned pregnancy or are hurting from a past abortion.

This is my first site to theme and launch on my own, and so now I’m starting up a Portfolio. Maybe soon I will start adding other projects I’ve done for school, work, and in my free time (haha… free time…). Oh, and I plan to come out with my first official WordPress Plugin… soon. How soon? I have no idea, but the code is on GitHub.


Ronald Reagan “Cut and Run”

Ronald Regan - 40th President

1982. The Invasion of Lebanon. President Ronald Reagan decided to support the Israeli offensive and invade Lebanon. After a horrible car bomb killed 241 American Soldiers in Beirut, Reagan “cut and run” (or that’s what I think many neo-cons would be calling that kind of troop withdrawal today).

Today, we can all learn a lot from what Ronald Reagan wrote afterward concerning that incident and the Middle East in general:

“Perhaps we didn’t appreciate fully enough the depth of the hatred and the complexity of the problems that made the Middle East such a jungle. Perhaps the idea of a suicide car bomber committing mass murder to gain instant entry to Paradise was so foreign to our own values and consciousness that it did not create in us the concern for the marines’ safety that it should have.

“In the weeks immediately after the bombing, I believe the last thing that we should do was turn tail and leave. Yet the irrationality of Middle Eastern politics forced us to rethink our policy there. If there would be some rethinking of policy before our men die, we would be a lot better off. If that policy had changed towards more of a neutral position and neutrality, those 241 marines would be alive today.” (From his autobiography)

Ronald Reagan is often seen as the role model of a “strong foreign policy” – Yet in retrospect he advised “neutrality” in the Middle East. We need to take a lesson from our past, President Obama.

Seriously… Arabs don’t attack because you leave them alone

Picture of Muslim Worship in Mecca

Most conservatives today would say that withdrawing troops from the Middle East is nothing short of cut and run – abandoning the mission and admitting defeat. To that I say: so what? An important part of growing up is knowing that sometimes you shouldn’t fight.

One lesson to learn from the Lebanese invasion of 1982 is that afterwards no terrorists attacked us at home. Terrorists don’t attack us because they think we’re weak; usually they see themselves as defending their homeland.

Image you’re a typical jihad recruit: a young, zealousness, poor Muslim man. Which motivation is more likely to motivate you:

  • “See the American on your back door! Defiling your home land! Go attack.” OR
  • “The Americans are leaving us alone. They’re afraid. Go to a foreign land and kill as many as you can.” ?

Seriously, it’s ridiculous to think that radical Muslims will more zealously attack us in our own country just because we leave them alone. Ronald Reagan’s expedition into Lebanon is evidence to that point.

The Principle of the Matter

The best advice on the subject of foreign relations was given by George Washington in his Farewell Address:

George Washington Portrait. Courtesy of Wikimedia.

“The great rule of conduct for us in regard to foreign nations is in extending our commercial relations, to have with them as little political connection as possible. So far as we have already formed engagements, let them be fulfilled with perfect good faith. Here let us stop. …It is our true policy to steer clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world…”

For all their talk, “Conservatives” don’t seem to follow the founding fathers on this point. Do you think Republicans today are walking in the Reagan legacy? Or are they repeating all the mistakeshe told us to rethink? My rule is “…peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations, entangling alliances with none…

Previous post on the topic: How Bush would have been against the Iraq War before he got elected.

Why quoting an expert isn’t evidence

Thanks to everyone who made this weekend’s Advanced Debate Camp a success!

At the camp I taught three classes: on evidence, the constitution, and counterplans. Here are the slides (powered by Prezi) for my class “Why Quoting an Expert Isn’t Evidence: Using Science and Stories”:

Teaching highlights

It’s important to know how to prove something for yourself. You shouldn’t be dependent on quoting a bunch of other people and let them do the thinking for you. This class was designed to answer a basic question of: “how do you prove something to a judge?”

  • Don’t say “I have a piece of evidence.” This phrase means nothing to a new judge and is code for “now it’s time to doze off” to an experience judge.
  • Use more interesting descriptive words like quote, study, example, story, investigation, etc.
  • Believe it or not, there is a template for good stories. There are three common categories for good stories: Challenge, Connection, and Creativity plots. All of these formats work by giving something unexpected; the way they are unexpected is what distinguishes them from each other.
  • Good story writing isn’t as creative as you might think. The template for the plot of a good story is pretty standard: introduction, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution. “Who, what, where, when, and why” is a really boring format. Use it to only check a story once you’ve created it using the 5-step Freytag’s plot.
  • Science is both a process and a way of thinking. Science is not ruled by scientists; it is ruled by the scientific method. The mark of a good scientist is not having all the answers but actually knowing the limits of the conclusions.
  • The development life cycle (the process): is the engineer’s version of the scientific method. Before a product is ready for production (or use as a case), it goes through several steps: analysis, design, implementation, testing, and evaluation. Notice that implementation comes before testing. A debater that has an expert who says “technology A is ready for implementation” doesn’t mean that it’s error-free or ready for the market. It often means that it has not been tested yet. It’s still in “beta.” (Example: Smell-o-vision in the 60s. Believe it or not, they made a Smell-o-vision movie.)
  • Error margins (the way of thinking): mathematical ways to show how uncertain a result is. The easiest way to look at them is in the polls, but they also represent a greater idea: it’s important to not just know an expert’s opinion, but to also have some idea how sure they are of that opinion. So ask the other team for an error margin: how sure are the conclusions? They can’t be 100% sure of anything, can they?
  • Best example to take away from this talk: is the before and after Debate Story. In this example, I took a seemingly boring quote on “foreign aid frangibility in India” and turning it into a creativity plot that could actually hold someone’s attention. Combining science and stories is a potent combination and can turn an article into evidence for your judge.


Big thanks to PHD Comics and xkcd for providing some spice to this teaching. (and some insight, too) Also thanks to Bible Art and stock.xchng for helping me find some great clip art.

Let me know what you thought about the camp or about this material in the comments below. Got a good example of a boring scientific paper that become an exciting story? Let me know.

NCFCA Debaters: Check out the Advanced Debate Camp

What have I been up to this summer? What has been so important that I’ve ignored my blog? Well, apart from working at Castle Media Group, attending NCFCA Nationals, and Patriot Academy, I’ve been volunteering for the Austin Rhetoric Club, and I can’t help but give a shameless pitch for the Advanced Debate Camp:
Debate Camp

Calling All NCFCA Debaters! You have one more week to register for the most intensive two days of debate training to hit Austin! Meet the Advanced Debate Camp. Coming to Austin, Tx August 19-20.

Daniel Gaskell, Alex MacDonald, Thomas Umstattd, Shaney Irene, yours truly, and many other names you might recognize will be lending their expertise. You are going to learn a lot from these experienced instructors; they are some of the best NCFCA alumni and coaches.

But this is a camp; not one long lecture. The whole philosophy behind the Advanced Debate Camp is to 1: learn from experience (teachers) and 2: learn by experience. That means you’re going to grow through hands-on practice and coaching. In fact, one of the goals of this workshop is to put together a student-created sourcebook. Cool, hu?

Interested? Go ahead and register today. This is literally the best debate camp you’ll find for the price.

“Determined more”: the missing LD key

Anyone who has debated the NCFCA LD resolution has run into the same problem: what in the world is “legitimacy?” The biggest problem is that even if both teams agree to a definition of “legitimate government” they can still disagree about how to apply it. Looking for a way to get around bad wording? This is the post for you.

Resolved: A government’s legitimacy is determined more by its respect for popular sovereignty than individual rights.


…is usually defined as “conforming to high standards”, “meeting the original purpose”, “widely accepted”, or sometimes simply “good.” The problem is how do any of these allow you to clearly distinguish legitimate from illegitimate governments?

So, I was thinking about this road block and trying to find a detour in the resolution. I was walking to the fridge when the most random insight hit me. There’s a loophole! One specific word in the resolution…


I asked a simple question: is it possible to answer “is ___ more important?” without answering “what is ____?” I came up with yes. Here’s the skinny:

Something is more important that something else if it doesn’t have a substitute.

Imagine you’re baking a cake (not something I do often…) and now imagine you’re an LDer or a philosophy major and you’re into answering useless questions (like this year’s resolution). 🙂 The question is: what ingredient is MORE important to the cake?

In this scenario, we have the same problem: what do you mean by “important?” All the ingredients are important! But the one that you need least is the one that you could substitute. You don’t desperately need to get a carton of milk if you have powdered milk in the fridge. Simply put, the irreplaceable ingredient is the most important not matter what idea of “importance” you’re using!

Excited? Because I was pretty excited about this. Ok, now back to how it relates to LD…

Does popular sovereignty have an alternative?

I think that you could easily say “no” (as affirmative) by arguing the word “respect.” There’s no way to respect the “will of the people” without respecting it!

Application: before the American revolution, the English elites had the idea in their head of “virtual representation.” Namely, even though we didn’t get a voice our taxes, the mother country understood the colonists and had their best interests in mind. That seems pretty stupid, doesn’t it? Needless to say, we had a revolution over it and rejected England’s legitimacy over us.

On the other hand, the British did it right in other cases. Entirely without democratic elections, the empire created rules in Hong Kong that made it one of the most prosperous and least corrupt cities in the world. So, by pointing out the complexities of the “people’s will” (there’s more than just one), you could easily argue (as Negative) that there are ways to do what’s best for people (and what they arguable will want) without caring about popular sovereignty.

Is there an alternative to individual rights?

Yes. If you haven’t yet, every LDer needs to read Frederick Bastiat’s The Law. His idea is that if Individual Rights are the point of government, then people will gradually demand more and more rights until they start taking rights from others.

That’s why he believes in negative law. Instead of saying “you have a right to life”; the law says “you don’t have a right to murder.”[*] Debaters facing this idea on negative might say: a little nit-picky?

Perhaps. There’s some room for interpretation. Can denying someone rights be “respect for individual rights”? Does “respect” carry over the “and”? There’s some room either way. But there will still be clash! That’s what makes debate fun.

So, the whole concept of this post is that you can answer the resolution by talking about more determined and not legitimacy. Hope some of you take this idea and run with it. If you figure out how to do something with this concept, let me know in the comments. I’d love to see this idea actually become something. It might make a good affirmative (or maybe a negative…) case.

[*] Alexander Hamilton argued the same thing in the Federalist 84: “I go further, and affirm that bills of rights… are not only unnecessary in the proposed constitution, but would even be dangerous. …Why for instance, should it be said, that the liberty of the press shall not be restrained, when no power is given by which restrictions may be imposed?”

Why you shouldn’t use a Table of Contents

Too many people treat their speeches like term papers. Great recipe for putting your audience to sleep! In the odd case the you aren’t a sleep therapist and have to speak to people at some point in your life, you might want to read this post.

Don't like boring speeches? (Courtesy of Shilly Shallys World on Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Don’t give the punch line away

Your introduction is important. The first 30 seconds is when the audience decides whether to listen or tune you out. If they already know everything you’re saying, they’ll stop listening. If you reveal everything you’re going to say… well, would you listen for ten minutes when you already know everything in the first minutes?

Your speech is not a book. You don’t need a table of contents. Think of it this way: when was the last time you were deciding whether to read a book from the table of contents? Seriously; your introduction should look like the back cover of a book; not the table on page xii.

Don’t bury the lead

Anyone who knows anything about journalism knows this is key. Don’t bury your lead. Taking too long to get to the meat of the argument also puts your audience to sleep.

The trick is to give your audience just enough to want more. Use a good murder mystery as your guide. Good authors always give you just enough to ask questions (“whose the killer?” “who is going to find him?” “is the victim telling the truth?”) but not enough to guess the end. Sometimes it’s even useful to mislead the audience in order to bring to light and shatter some misconception they may have.

Make your audience ask questions - like it's a mystery. (Image from Gregory Wake - used under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

“Say what you’re going to say, say it, and then say what you said.”

Probably the worst advice for a speech you want people to listen to. Definitely the most boring.

Still, can’t really blame those who give this advice. I mean, repetition is good. It’s the root of learning. Instead of saying the same thing over and over and over, come up with different example, application, and phraseologies. Keep hammering the same point, just use a different hammer. Say it a different way each time. (get my point?)


just take it from me. Go read Beth’s the three points of death.

This is a big ‘ol list of “don’ts.” To hear about the “dos” of making ideas interesting, my recommendation is Made To Stick by the Heath brothers.

He’s The Almighty!

I helped some behind the stage of this project and know all the main faces behind the music and the acting you see above. Through various stages, I’ve been a doubter. I wondered secretly if this would come out as another cheesy Christian music gig. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

WOW guys. I am supper impressed with what God has done. He put together all these people who each were gifted in different ways, and this is what they did. The video leaves me spell-bound every time.

What do y’all think? Do you agree that this is a great mix of quality and message? Sure, it’s not perfect; it’s better than perfect in my opinion. It’s beautiful. It’s… God-breathed. If you are impressed and God puts it on your heart, please share this.

For more information, check out the website: Almighty Music Video [dot] com