Posted by: normanlgreen | March 24, 2013

Dream, March 24, 2013 Preparation vs. Improvisation


Dream, home,2:47 am

Unprepared, I am thrown into a debate competition between four pairs of older adults. One of the teams scheduled to compete has failed to show. I am paired-up with a woman, perhaps thirty years old, shorter than myself with straight black hair and a serious straight mouth. She too has been wrangled into the position at the last minute.

The other couples have had time to prepare their resources and learn the subtleties of the question, while my partner and I only learn the proposition to be debated when we arrive as observers. While the other three teams have tidy file folders arranged in stacks of bankers’ boxes – evidence that they can access and present as they argue their position – we have only our ability to listen and to think on our feet.

The room — likely on the second floor of a school – has dropped tiles ceilings and dim light. Long tables have been arranged in a line at one end. Chairs for the debaters stand to one side of the table, opposite the seating provided for the audience.

Lots are drawn to see which two teams will compete first. Our team is chosen for the first round – we have no chance to observe and learn. We move up to the tables and introduced to the team that will take the “Pro” position – a married couple in their middle sixties. A young man moves their resources into place at the left end of the table. My partner and I look each other in the face, both of us pleading with the other to take the leading role. We are to take the “Contrary” position, arguing against a complicated proposition of medicine and legality.

The judge is brought out to sit in the center of the long table, between the teams. He is Terry Gilliam, the film director. My friend Ray rushes from behind me to give Gilliam a hug. They have worked together and are excited to find themselves in the same place. Some of the audience voices the opinion that our team will have an unfair advantage. That question is not dealt with. There is a feeling in the room that few want to put our team at any further disadvantage.

Everyone, with the exception of the man on the “Pro” team, takes their seats. The man states his team’s position, delivered in impenetrable legalese, the gist of which is that people with terminal cancer should be exempted from certain legal penalties, including prison time. The woman then stands and lists three examples people dying in jail while serving their sentences.

I take my turn.

“This is a simple point of law. Though we can all sympathize with those who have a short time left on Earth, we cannot offer them a parallel set of rules. We can abstract the terminal illness and describe it as ‘ill-fortune’. Should we offer everyone who has faced bad luck exemption from the law? Should there be a sliding scale of justice based on the severity of their crisis? This would make the practice of justice within the courts impractical and deny the ‘equal protection’ clause of the Constitution.” I sit and turn to my team-mate.

“I don’t know anything about ‘point of law’.”  She speaks no further.

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