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Jim Morris's Thought of the Week (or month, or year, ...)

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

We Need Debate Referees!

Referees play a vital role in sports. Since political campaigns verge on being a sport, why don't we have referee's who say "Five yards for evading the question" or "Fifteen yards for talking bullshit"?

The referee is a relatively recent invention. According to Wikipedia:
The term referee originated in association football (soccer). Originally the team captains would consult with each other in order to resolve any dispute on the pitch. Eventually this role was delegated to an umpire. Each team would bring their own partisan umpire allowing the team captains to concentrate on the game. Later, the referee, a third "neutral" official was added, this referee would be "referred to" if the umpires could not resolve a dispute. The referee did not take his place on the pitch until 1891, when the umpires became linesmen (now assistant referees). Today, in many amateur football matches, each side will still supply their own partisan assistant referees (still commonly called club linesmen) to assist the neutral referee appointed by the governing football association.

I'm sure it is difficult to spell out the rules for debate and rhetoric, but NFL referees have to make very nuanced judgments every Sunday. If we anyone could write down some debate rules, a referee could interpret them.

In a court trial the judge is a sort of referee. In my observation (of e.g. Law and Order) they seem to intervene only on very formal grounds, usually in response to an objection by an attorney. If some more rules like "The witness is not being responsive." could be added we might have start. Are there traditions where the judge is more proactive?

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posted by Jim Morris @ 9:06 PM 


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