From: Warren Brancubgates, Philanthropist and Eccentric Billionaire
CC: Kristin Kanthak, Trusted Advisor
Date: August 27, 2007
Re: Invitation to join the Brancubgates Policy Group
I am writing to invite you to join the Brancubgates Policy Group, a collection of individuals I am creating to assess some of the important political controversies of our time. I am doing this in an effort to posit solutions to these policy problems and because this is the kind of thing eccentric billionaires have been known to do from time to time. The end product of the Policy Group will be the Brancubgates Policy Handbook.
The Handbook will have ten chapters, and each chapter will provide an answer to some controversial problem in American politics today. The ten questions are:
- What is the proper role of religion in American politics?
- What is the proper power relationship between the states and the federal government?
- How can we best balance the protection of civil liberties with the fight against terror?
- How can Congress reconcile their responsibility to be leaders with their need to be responsive to constituents?
- When adjudicating cases, should judges try to figure out the “original intent” of the Founders or should they instead think of the Constitution as a living, evolving document?
- Is an objective media a possible, or even desirable, goal?
- What is the proper role of the government in determining how much risk Americans ought to undertake?
- Should we reduce the federal deficit, and if so, how?
- Should we leave health care up to market forces or should government step in?
- What should we do about the War in Iraq?
Now, some eccentric billionaires might simply find an expert on each of the issues and ask his/her opinion. But I am a fan of French mathematician and philosopher the Marquis de Condorcet. I would just ask him, but he died in prison during the French Revolution. So instead, I must do the next best thing, and rely on his utterly brilliant Condorcet Jury Theorem. Basically, the idea is that the more people you have trying to solve a problem, the better your chances of actually getting the right answer (presuming that there is one). Large groups of merely smart people tend to be smarter than small groups of experts. Really. James Surowiecki wrote a whole book on it called “Wisdom of Crowds.” Political scientist James Stimson relates the idea to voting in his book “Tides of Consent.” Bicyclist Floyd Landis recently started a web site giving people access to information about his positive drug test after the Tour de France in the hopes that the wisdom of crowds could find evidence exonerating him. It is an idea tailor-made for an eccentric billionaire like me.
To that end, your participation in the Brancubgates Policy Handbook will be based on two activities. First, you will form 10 groups of about five people each. You will be responsible, along with your group, for preparing a debate on the controversial issue you have been assigned. Second, you will observe the debates of the other groups in the Brancubgates Policy Group and prepare a short review of each of the debate, determining which side of the issue you find most compelling. Note that you are not determining the “winner” of the debate as if the debate were a competition. Instead, you are weighing the evidence, much like a jury would, to determine which side of the issue, in your estimation, has more support. I will then use these votes to construct the Brancubgates Policy Handbook.
To determine who will debate which controversy, each of you will be randomly assigned a state, then you will select your preferred controversy in the order that your state votes in the U.S. Presidential primaries. I selected the Presidential primary calendar because I wish to assure randomness, and even the most powerful supercomputers lack random number generators that can match the capriciousness and arbitrariness of the American Presidential primary system.
As eccentric billionaires are wont to do from time to time, I will be spending the next several months aboard the international space station. My associate, Kristin Kanthak, will provide you with specific work products and deadlines for your participation in the Brancubgates Policy Group. I will return in time to observe the debates and produce the Policy Handbook. At that time, I will also be judging the debates to determine which group produced the best debate. Each member of the winning team will receive a $5 gift card to Starbucks. You have read that correctly. Each one of you is in a position to receive FIVE WHOLE DOLLARS worth of the coffee and coffee-related products of their choosing. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I wish you each the best of luck.
I’ll see you when I get back from space.
From: Kristin Kanthak,
Trusted Advisor to Warren Brancubgates
CC: Warren Brancubgates, LLC
Date: August 27, 2007
The purpose of this memo is to provide you with more specific information about the Brancubgates Policy Group. The policy group will meet regularly on the days outlined below. You will have work products due on many of those days. In an effort to make the importance of each work product perfectly clear, I have fashioned a “breakdown of points” for each work product that would relate to an “undergraduate university class” in which your work on the Brancubgates Policy Group was worth 30 percent of your final grade. This, of course, is a fiction, as Mr. Brancubgates is a real person and this is a real project and all. All readings for the controversies are located in The Enduring Debate, fourth ed. You may have “bought” this book in a place that looks a lot like a “university bookstore,” but this is all part of Mr. Brancubgates’ attempt to make the “undergraduate university class” thing seem more realistic. Eccentric billionaires do that kind of thing.
There are eight parts to your contribution to the Brancubgates Policy Group, each described below.
Selection of “controversial” topics – Sept. 5
Instructions: Read over The Enduring Debate and come up with a list of your choices for controversies. You will select your controversy in class, based on the procedure Mr. Brancubgates outlined in his memo. You will want to bring in a number of choices of controversies, as not everyone gets to be Iowa or New Hampshire.
Media report letter – Due Sept. 12 (Worth two points)
Instructions: Every once in a while, Mr. Brancubgates likes to send helpful letters to public figures who engage in debate tactics he deems are unfair or overly argumentative. First, carefully read the memo provided on CourseWeb that offers a list of do’s and don’t’s for good debating etiquette. Then, take a look at a newspaper or news magazine to find a politician who is engaging in one of the don’t’s. Write a letter, under Mr. Brancubgates’ name, to that person. Explain, as politely as possible, that the statement violated some norm of good debate, and suggest a means of restating the argument so that it becomes a “do.” Remember – this letter will go out under Mr. Brancubgates’ name, so it should be well-written, polite, and to the point. When assessing these letters, I will be considering the following factors:
- Is the debate tactic properly identified as a “don’t”?
- Is the suggested argument a “do”?
- Is the letter clear, concise, cogent, and professional?
“Resolved” statement – Due Sept. 26 (Worth one point)
Instructions: First, carefully read all the essays related to your debate topic. Next, consult the good debating memo to determine how to construct a proper “Resolved” statement. Then, come up with a “Resolved” statement that can be the basis of your group’s debate. Bring two copies of your statement with you to class. You will give one to me for assessment and use the other one in a meeting with your group. At that time, you and your group will determine the “Resolved” statement you will actually use. The statement the group chooses can be one of the statements a group member wrote, it can be an amalgam of one or more group members’ statements, or it can be newly constructed. Hand in the group’s choice before the end of class. You will be graded only on your own statement, using the following factors:
- Is the statement in the proper “Resolved” format?
- Are both sides of the statement defensible?
- Is it obvious from reading the statement that the writer has carefully done the reading and clearly understands the issues?
Group meeting – Oct. 1
Instructions: Each group will meet and determine which members will play which roles in the debate. Note that you do not have to agree with the side you will be supporting in the debate. You just have to support it. There are three roles:
- Master of Ceremonies (one person) – The Master of Ceremonies begins the debate with a four-minute speech that states the problem in question and explains why it is important.
- “Pro” side supporters (two people) – The supporters of the “pro” side will outline an argument for why the “Resolved” statement is correct. Each will give his/her own four-minute speech and will coordinate with each other to ensure that they are covering different parts of the debate.
- “Con” side supporters (two people) – The supporters of the “con” side will outline an argument for why the “Resolved” statement is wrong. Each will give his/her own four-minute speech and will coordinate with each other to ensure that they are covering different parts of the debate.
Three main points – Due Nov. 5 (Worth one point)
Instructions: Each participant in the group will outline the three main points they plan to make in the upcoming debate. Groups will meet in class to ensure that members on the same side of the debate are covering sufficiently different ground. Your points will be evaluated using the following factors:
- Is each of the points one sentence long?
- Do the points show an understanding of the controversy?
- Do the points address some of the main issues of importance?
- Are the points well-written?
Debate assessment – due Nov. 26 (Worth ten points)
Instructions: Write a three-page, double-spaced memo to Mr. Brancubgates in which you outline the important issues of your topic, being sure to tell him what you think about the controversy. The memo will be assessed based on the following criteria:
- Is the memo concise, professional, and well-written?
- Does the memo take a clear stand about whether you are “pro” or “con” the Resolved statement? (Note: You can choose a side other than the one you support in the debate.)
- Does the memo clearly connect the stand on the Resolved statement to evidence?
- Does the memo avoid worthless filler such as “I think this issue is really important” or “Thinking about this issue has really changed my life”?
The debates -- Held in class, Nov. 26-Dec. 5 (Worth ten points)
Instructions: Each group will be assigned a day in which it will execute a twenty minute debate on the “Resolved” statement they chose. Each member of the group will speak for four minutes, in his/her assigned role. There will be three debates each day. Each member of the group will be assessed based on the following criteria:
- Did the statement last about four minutes?
- Was the statement thorough and well-organized?
- Did the speaker rely on notes only, engage the audience and make eye contact or simply read the statement verbatim from a sheet of paper?
- Did the speaker demonstrate an accurate understanding of the issues at hand?
- Was it clear that the speaker had practiced the statement or did he/she fumble with words and use colloquialisms?
- Did the speaker rely on facts and a sophisticated understanding of the material rather than using emotional appeals?
- Was the speaker respectful?
- Did the speaker demonstrate an understanding of the do’s and don’t’s of debate?
Debate reviews – due one week after each group’s debate concludes (Worth six points)
Instructions: You are acting as Mr. Brancubgates’ jury. Watch each debate and determine which side you found to be more persuasive. Note that you are not to assess the style of the debaters, but rather the substance of their debates. You should limit each assessment to ½ - page. You are to write a review for each debate, other than your own, given in class. Each review is due one week after that debate was completed. These reviews will be assessed using the following criteria:
- Is it clear that the author attended the debate and listened carefully to its content?
- Does the author take a clear stand on the Resolved statement?
- Does the author confine comments to the substance of the debates?
- Did the author complete reviews of all of the other debates?
The competition: As Mr. Brancubgates stated, he will attend all the debates at the end of the semester to determine who will go home with five dollars in coffee or coffee-related products. He will then construct the Brancubgates Policy Handbook. This group effort will be available on CourseWeb before the final. You are welcome to make a copy and treasure it always. But alas, there can only be one winner of the debate. I cannot tell you exactly how Mr. Brancubgates will make his decision, but I can give you the following handy tip based on my years of experience working with him.
Remember that individuals don’t win the five dollars (I know – eccentric billionaires are notoriously miserly) in coffee and coffee-related products, nor do “sides” of the debate. The best entire group will win. In this sense, your group is your “team.” To that end, you should be thinking about ways of making your debate as good as it possibly can be, even if that means helping the other “side” of the debate. Mr. Brancubgates’ goal here is to find “truth,” not to see some high school state debate champ mop the floor with some poor kid who is just trying his best to get through the speech without tossing his cookies. So if you are the debate champ, help out the kid with the cookies. Even if you are somewhere in between the champ and the tosser, it is up to you as a group member to ensure that your fellow group members are bringing their “A” game, keeping their eyes on the prize, just trying to help the team in any way they can, and giving 110 percent.
Note that his name is pronounced “Bran-cube-gates,” not “Bran-cub-gates.” He hates it when people pronounce his name wrong, at least partly because he grew up in the south side of Chicago.