Mar 31

OKCusid: Gender Breakdown by Tournament

I’m not an active CUSID member anymore, but if there is one thing I’ve learned over the years, it’s that there is usually a prolonged discussion of gender in debate following Nats. Usually that discussion is heavily rooted in anecdotes, so I figured I would try to plot the data onto charts so real (albeit approximate) numbers could play a part in the dialogue.

A note on methodology: I chose the important title tournaments that also had easily available data on cusidnet, but there are certainly more I was unable to capture. Also note that I included Northams 2013 because it’s a very prestigious tournament, but APDA’s presence clearly complicates findings from that chart. Feel free to send me an email about any errors or omissions, and I’ll gladly make the corrections.






Based on the above tournaments:


*no data on BP Champs winners for 2011.



I don’t mean this as an indictment on any given debate policy, and I certainly hope this does not trivialize the enormous contributions of those who have been actively involved in improving CUSID gender equity over the years. I do think, however, looking at this data, that there’s still a long way to go.

**Update: two men won BP Nats ‘11. not reflected in charts.

Jan 26

Wente in Combat: Do women belong in combat?

The Globe and Mail published an article today by Margaret Wente titled Women In Combat: Let’s Get Real.

While I don’t have the time or resources presently to do a fact-by-fact check on her account of women in the military, I think there are some glaring errors in her reasoning that need to be pointed out.

The main argument that Wente makes against allowing women to serve in combat positions is that women are, on average, weaker. She writes:

Men are better fighters because they are bigger and stronger and can endure far more physical punishment before they break down.

The average female soldier is “about five inches shorter than the male soldier, has half the upper body strength, lower aerobic capacity and 37 per cent less muscle mass,” Stephanie Gutmann, author of The Kinder, Gentler Military, wrote in the New Republic. “She cannot pee standing up … “

Even accepting Wente’s one-source argument at face value, this is no reason to ban women from combat. Just because women are on average weaker than men does not mean that every woman is weaker than the weakest men allowed to take on combat roles, the standard you would need to prove to justify full exclusion. An obvious point, but one that needs to be made.

A blanket ban cannot be predicated upon an ”average weakness” for two reasons. First, it’s inefficient and harms the military. Soldiers are already selected for these roles an individual basis after thorough strength and stamina testing. If you allow everyone to apply but keep the admission standards the same for men and women, you wind up with the strongest candidates at the end.

Second, a blanket ban based on average makes no sense in any other context because it’s inherently discriminatory. If, for instance, men consistently averaged higher GRE Quantitative scores than women, would she ban women from engineering programs? If men, on average, wrote significantly better columns on military issues, would she be comfortable excluding women from the application process? 

This concern about discrimination is amplified by the fact that in the US military, it’s almost impossible to reach the highest positions without experience in combat units.  An exclusion at this level has broad repercussions for women across the military.

Here’s another problematic argument in this article:

In the real world, few enlisted women want to be on the front lines. 

I do resent this kind of generalization without any attempt to source it or consult with a female soldier. But again, even if this were the case, it wouldn’t call for a ban on applicants, and I think this only weakens her case about women’s presence compromising military efficacy. If demand is so low, what’s the impact?

This article in Slate casts further doubt on her claims.

Her third argument is that women’s presence could distract men, so we should exclude women! (Sadly, an all-too-familiar argument these days.) She writes:

Men serving next to women also exhibit a counterproductive battlefield trait: protectiveness. They want to carry women’s gear and keep them out of harm’s way. As one male soldier told the Journal, “That brother-sister protective thought was always in the back of your mind.”

If this is true (which is questionable given military training procedures), then maybe we should train male soldiers not to do this. Do we really want to exclude women because men patronize them?

But wait, Wente has a response to this:

Outside the developed world, [Riva’s note: Always a good place to start looking for tips on gender policy] women do not take equal roles in war alongside men. There is a reason for this. 

In countries like France, Germany, Finland, Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Australia, New Zealand, Israel and Canada, women do take on these roles. These may be good places to start looking for data on the impact of women in combat before writing another column.

Dec 25

It’s Christmas. Merry Christmas.

It’s December 25. Children and adult children alike are unwrapping their new LEGO sets and SIMS expansion packs. Ham and turkey are being devoured as cardiologists and gastroenterologists bond on standby at local emergency rooms. Midnight mass is complete. It’s time to wish everyone…. “Happy ho-ho-holidays?”

Guys: It’s Christmas. Merry Christmas.

There is something patently absurd about seeing a talk show host, government official, or store clerk clad in a fluffy red Santa hat standing next to colored lights and a Christmas tree wishing their audience “Happy Holidays!” on December 25.

We all know which holiday you’re actually referring to, and you should own it.

For one thing, I don’t think people who celebrate Christmas should feel a need to self-censor their Christmas wishes out of fear of offending others.  Religious greetings do not need to be universally applicable in order to be acceptable to utter in public. According to a 2010 Gallup poll, 95% of Americans celebrate Christmas. For 62%, this includes attending religious services, and for 78%, this means reflecting on the birth of Christ.

If you want to acknowledge this common holiday, I totally understand. As a Jew, I have never felt a need to be ambiguous about what I am celebrating so that no one feels left out. I also don’t feel that my holiday greetings can be universalized and applied to absolutely everyone, or belong in the mouths of public officials. [Please call me out if you’ve ever heard me on Yom Kippur wishing an easy fast to “everyone who might be hungry or otherwise avoiding food, not necessarily for religious reasons.”]

The faux-ambiguity surrounding Christmas wishes can sometimes be frustrating to those who don’t celebrate Christmas.  When someone says “happy holidays,” which other holidays could they possibly be referencing this week? Chanukah, perhaps the most commonly referenced alternative holiday of this season, has long since come and passed. Some people celebrate no holidays at all around this time of year: many Jehova’s Witnesses, devout Atheists, Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, Sikhs.

This is not to say it’s wrong to wish people a merry Christmas, it’s just to say that it’s silly to pretend there is a universal, non-denominational greeting for this season. It’s not holidays for everyone, it’s holidays for people celebrating Christmas, and it’s not fruitful to couch this fact.

It shouldn’t be offensive to wish people a merry Christmas because you assume they are part of the 95% of Americans who celebrate it. It should, however, be a little offensive to pretend that holiday greetings are for everyone and contain no specific religious content.

Granted, it’s nice that people want to accommodate others, be mindful of differences, and avoid offense in their greetings.  And it’s silly to get meaningfully offended one way or the other when people just want to wish others good things. But given that we’ve already put so much thought into this in an effort to be inclusive, we might as well get it right.

Merry Christmas, most of you.

Nov 04

Ira Glass on Storytelling

Ira Glass, host of This American Life, delivered a live version of his show today at Stanford. The subject was the the art of storytelling, and these are some highlights from his speech and the question period that followed. Quotes are approximate.

How radio stories are like sermons:

Structurally, Glass says they’re the same: there’s a parable, then the meaning is made explicit. You have action and then a moment of reflection. This format predates literacy and amplification.

“And hey, if it’s the structure the son of God chose to use, that’s good enough for me,” he jokes.

Glass says to always ask: What is the universal experience we’re relating to in this story? In radio, unlike many other forms of art, you explicitly name it. Radio mimics human conversation, and in conversation we say what things mean.

On crafting images:

“Radio is the most visual medium,” he says, adding, “That’s not actually true…It turns out having pictures is very visual. But it’s your job to help people picture what is happening.”

How he gets good interviews:

“Get someone to recreate the dialogue for you, so it feels like the story is happening in real time.” Glass says when prompted this way, most people tend to launch into character, complete with accents, tone, etc. “You need to harness the primal dialogue-telling we all do.”

Why his guests sound smart:

Glass says people are smart when you’re talking about something that means something to them. But it is “hard to do a radio story about the inarticulate.”

His tips for aspiring storytellers/journalists/artists:

1. Start now. Make a volume of work and write something every day.

2. You can pay people for advice. Instead of grad school, Glass paid reporters to read his work and tell him what he did wrong.

3. Where do stories come from? “Ideas come from other ideas,” he says. Set aside time to notice what is most exciting to you. As an exercise, read  a well-edited newspaper and find a quote that raises a question for you. Start your story there.

4. Glass says there’s too much emphasis on the weight of the world. “It’s more important to amuse yourself with everything you do. You must be excited about what you’re working on.”

On financing stories:

Audience Question: There’s a group of people who want to kill NPR and public radio…

Answer: You mean Republicans? Federal money is only like 7% of public radio’s funding.

There’s a new model now, where if something is good, it can now survive by finding an audience through the internet and building a financial model off of that audience. For instance, 99% Invisible started out as a podcast before raising money on Kickstarter, and is now a viable show.

Coming up… There may be a possible This American Life spin-off where they do the news in This American Life Style. It’s still in the talks..

Is there hope for you?

“Many people are great storytellers. Many suck.”

Oct 07


Sep 17

Muslim Rage? It’s Halal-rious.

Above is Newsweek’s cover today. On twitter, Newseek invited readers to discuss the story with the hashtag #MuslimRage. But since this morning, Muslim twitter users have found a better use for it. I’ve collected some of the best below:

Also, I guess this makes Michelle Bachman Queen of the Muslims?

Aug 15

It’s Okay to Hate Kristen Stewart.

Quick recap: Kristen Stewart bonked her director. At the time, not only was he married with kids, she was in a monogamous relationship. The media and public got angry with her and chastised her. And then, before I knew it: people started coming to her defense. “You can’t criticize her like this, it’s slut shaming! Sexual harassment! She’s just a kid! It’s a power imbalance.”

I’m Stewing.

First of all, it’s not Slut Shaming. It’s Adultery Shaming. And frankly, conflating the two is insulting. People aren’t upset with Kristen Stewart for being promiscuous or open about her sexuality. They are upset with her because she got caught cheating on her boyfriend with her director who she knew to be married with young children.  The allegation that criticizing Kristen Stewart is akin to slut shaming trivializes real slut shaming and obscures a morally salient difference. Slut shaming is serious, and  is generally considered to contribute to rape culture. But in this case, people dislike that Kristen deceived, cheated, and had no respect for her coworker, the director’s wife. Not that she is a sexual being.

Second, I don’t think this is a horrendous double standard. We can and do apply this line of judgment to men as well. Remember the hate-on for Clinton after the Lewinsky scandal? Anthony Weiner? John Edwards? Tiger Woods? Society doesn’t hate women who cheat, it hates cheaters. By all means, shame Rupert Sanders too. But that doesn’t mean she doesn’t deserve her own share. 

And finally, this is not a case of a child caught in a power imbalance. Why are so many people rushing to her defence in the name of feminism, claiming she’s young, he’s her boss, she was harassed and it’s not her fault? First, he is not her boss. The studio is the boss of both her and the director. They’re colleagues. Second, we have no reason to assume she could not consent. She’s 22. Stop infantilizing her. If you want politicians to respect the rights of women 18 and up as rational adults, 22-year-olds can’t become not-yet-responsible children because it’s convenient. It is shocking to me how willing people are to allege harassment when even Kristen Stewart herself hasn’t made that claim.

Granted, this issue receives too much media attention. But so what? People don’t enter the mainstream film industry because they care deeply about keeping their private lives private. If your career is to be in the public eye and please the public, then let the public decide who they like. It might be silly to care so much about what she does, but given that we are giving her attention, I think it’s fine that it’s fairly negative at the moment.

Jun 04

What is the Birth of Venus Really About?

An Art Lesson by Jason and Riva.

This Botticelli painting may be familiar to many of you. But to this day, much remains unseen.

Look harder.

On the far left, CHLORIS is ISRAEL.

ZEPHYR, immediately on Israel’s right, is the UNITED STATES.


IRAN is on the far right.

LEBANON, as depicted, is born of strife. Rising from a shell, it knows not who to turn to for support. Is AMERICA protecting LEBANON, or keeping her down? Should she listen to her mother, IRAN, and put on the veil?

Despite her frank sexuality, she holds her thighs together in refusal.

The season is marked by the winds of change.

IRAN looks healthy, but is slowly growing vines. Has it contracted a virus?

AMERICA looks on, calmly. Its nakedness is the weapon.

Is AMERICA holding ISRAEL back? Are they about to bang?

ISRAEL may look feeble, but it has wings.

ISRAEL holds her position on the far left. The artist is juxaposing ISRAEL’s position on the physical left with its leanings towards the political right. So much tension in the mind of the viewer.

As they look on, falling flowers represent the gravity of the situation.

Are those rose petals, or fight birds sent by ISRAEL?

Jun 03

Robot Cars Are Coming. Rejoice!

Robot cars are ready for the road. Prototypes like Google’s have driven hundreds of thousands of kilometres without accident, and are probably much safer than human drivers. Within ten years, these will probably be common on roads across north america. This might be one of the most significant new technologies in decades. The last ten years gave us a lot of incremental improvements on information technology: faster computers, faster networks, smartphones, and applications like google and facebook that make the internet more useful in lots of ways. These are all great things, but they’re all incremental improvements, and they’re all just about communication.

It’s been a while, though, since there was a big advance in transportation technology. And as great as light-speed communication is, most of us still have to actually *get places* and the costs from doing so are significant. For most people, the cost of buying a car, maintaining that car, paying for insurance, paying for parking, and spending hours commuting every day is a huge part of their financial reality.  Even if you don’t own a car, you have to deal with traffic congestion, pay for public transport, worry about road accidents, and live in cities that are designed for cars. 

Cars driving themselves doesn’t change all of that. But it does make cars a lot more efficient, and probably also means fewer cars overall. When you think about it, most cars are idle most of the time. They are driven to work in the morning, then are parked for eight hours (occupying valuable land that could be put to other use), are driven home again, and then are parked all night. What a waste! But if your car could drive itself, then instead of doing nothing all day it could be driving someone else. We can easily imagine some sort of car share service, or car rental service that would allow fewer cars to serve the same number of people as are served today. That is very exciting!

Also, if you’re blind, or have any sort of physical disability that prevents you from driving, this might completely change your life. That is a big deal!

And now, some interesting reading on the subject:

Volvo is making a robot car system of their own designed for highway driving:

The recent test featured a Volvo XC60 compact crossover SUV, a Volvo V60 sports wagon, a Volvo S60 compact executive car and a truck all connected wirelessly to a lead truck. Such networked “talking” allowed the cars to mimic the accelerating, braking and turning of the human driver in the truck — all while traveling at 53 mph (85 kilometers per hour) on a public highway in Spain.

"People think that autonomous driving is science fiction, but the fact is that the technology is already here," said Linda Wahlstrom, project manager for the SARTRE project at Volvo Car Corp. "From the purely conceptual viewpoint, it works fine and road train will be around in one form or another in the future."

Matt Yglesias points out the barriers to widespread adoption, including double standards of safety and entrenched interests:

A related issue is simply that new things are held to a double-standard and this is particularly true in the realm of the automobile. A lot of the issues around autonomous cars amount to basically “but under some conditions something could go wrong and cars could crash and people die.” Meanwhile, more than 90 Americans die each and every day thanks to automobile mishaps, and 1.2 million are seriously injured every year. There’s a social convention in the United States that we don’t talk about those 90 daily deaths as a serious problem, even though obviously if we had nine people getting killed by terrorists every month there’d be a perpetual state of freaking out. High-speed motorized transportation is a serious business, and conventional automobiles are not held to the same tough safety standards that we apply to most other products, so it’s extremely difficult for something new to compete.

The last thing is that one of the things you’d probably like to do with an autonomously piloted car is build a fleet of them and use them to provide a taxi service. The Uber model plus computer piloted cars would be extremely attractive. This is, however, already an industry that’s subjected to extensive regulation for reasons that have nothing to do with driver safety. The owners of taxi medallions in NYC have made major investments and fully intend to obtain the rents to which they’re due. All across America different regulatory frameworks are in place that involve the interests of human cab drivers and human taxi license holders in different ways and people aren’t going to give those interests up just because futurists like to talk about it.

The NYTimes focuses on the tricky legal issues:

What happens if a police officer wants to pull one of these vehicles over? When it stops at a four-way intersection, would it be too polite to take its turn ahead of aggressive human drivers (or equally polite robots)? What sort of insurance would it need?

These and other implications of what Google calls autonomous vehicles were debated by Silicon Valley technologists, legal scholars and government regulators last week at a daylong symposium sponsored by the Law Review and High Tech Law Institute at Santa Clara University.

This article also provides some good examples of the exact overwrought concerns that Yglesias thinks will impede adoption:

There will also be unpredictable technological risks, several participants said. For example, future autonomous vehicles will rely heavily on global positioning satellite data and other systems, which are vulnerable to jamming by malicious computer hackers.

Because that’s way more scary than thousands of people taking to the roads drunk every day? Also, I doubt that the robot cars are relying on GPS for basic pathfinding and object avoidance. They have frikkin’ lasers on their hoods for that.

May 25

1. Place magazine on a hard surface
2. Bang head
3. Repeat if necessary
4. If pain persists, turn to page 9


1. Place magazine on a hard surface

2. Bang head

3. Repeat if necessary

4. If pain persists, turn to page 9